Valerian and Laureline book 7: On the False Earths


By Méziéres & Christin, with colours by E. Tranlé and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-190-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Stellar Entertainment to last the year through… 9/10

Valérian and Laureline is the most influential science fiction comics series ever created; an innovation-packed, Big-Ideas bonanza stuffed with wry observation, knowing humour, intoxicating action and sardonic sideswipes at contemporary mores and prejudices.

As Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent the strip debuted in the weekly Pilote #420 (November 9th 1967) and was an instant hit. It rapidly evolved into its current designation as his feisty, fire-headed sidekick developed into the equal partner – if not scene-stealing star – of light-hearted, fantastically imaginative, visually stunning, time-travelling, space-warping fantasies which nevertheless always found room to propound a satirical, humanist ideology and let loose telling fusillades of political commentary.

At first tough, bluff Valerian was an affable, capable (if unimaginative), by-the-book space cop tasked with protecting official universal chronology (at least as per Terran Empire standards) by intercepting or counteracting paradoxes caused by incautious time-travellers.

When Valérian landed in 11th century France during debut tale ‘Les Mauvais Rêves (‘Bad Dreams’ and infuriatingly still not translated into English yet), he was rescued from doom by a capable young woman named Laureline. He brought her back to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative capital of the Terran Empire, Galaxity, where the indomitable female firebrand trained as a spatiotemporal operative and began accompanying him on all his missions.

On the False Earths originally appeared in the newly monthly Pilote (issues #M31 to M34 (30th November 1976 -1st March 1977) before being collected as seventh album Sur le terres truquées – spectacularly reinforcing the “spatiotemporal” aspect of our heroes through a beguiling cosmic conundrum…

The story starts in frantic full flow as a very familiar figure fights valiantly and dies ignominiously during a pitched battle in 19th century Colonial India. He doesn’t go easy, however, using his ray gun to disintegrate an attacking tiger before beaming back crucial data stolen from a sinister maharaja equipped with technology he simply shouldn’t have…

In deep space distraught Laureline sees her man die, but her protests are ignored by heartless, man-despising historian Jadna. The scholar cares little for the oafish warrior undertaking a top secret mission for her. After all, there’s plenty more where he came from…

That’s literally the case as, a little later, another Valerian infiltrates Victorian London Society, breaking into a swank Gentleman’s Club and crashing a meeting of the Empire’s greatest movers and shakers. Once again these potentates are communicating with a hidden high-tech master, and once again the star cop expires trying to determine the mastermind’s exact whereabouts.

He resurfaces in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1895 where enquiries arouse the wrath of the local tongs. This Valerian perishes after noting an increasing number of anachronisms – such as an Easy Rider on a chopped Harley Davidson motorbike…

From their secure vantage point on a vast satellite Jadna and Laureline see their agent expire in another artificially constructed historical microcosm. The callous historian ruminates on their mystery opponent: a being capable of reshaping matter, crafting perfect little worlds and recreating human eras with the skill of a master artist whilst remaining utterly hidden from all their probing searches. If the enigma hadn’t been detected rifling through Terran time zones – presumably for research – no one would even know of its existence…

The creator’s simulacrums are progressively advancing through brutal but significant periods of Terran history, but each visit by Valerian brings the investigation team closer to the mysterious maker’s actual location. Soon our hero is cautiously exploring a slice of Belle Époque France, but his enigmatic quarry is cognizant of the constant intrusions and has taken a few liberties with verisimilitude.

Waiting in ambush for Valerian are American gangsters with Tommyguns…

Rubbed out before he can even begin, Valerian is swiftly replaced by another short-lived duplicate whilst the original and genuine lies comatose in a clone-command tank. This last rapid substitution, however, finally allows the watching women to zero in on their target’s true location and they instantly shift their ship through the universal continua to reach the incredible being’s astounding base… and none too soon, as Jadna posits that the creature’s next construction will most likely be World War I…

She is proved painfully correct. As they ready themselves for a confrontation with the maker Laureline and the scholar realise that the astral citadel is a perfect replica of a Great War battlefield. Seizing the initiative Jadna activates and musters all the remaining clones – as well as the original McCoy – programming them to play the marauding “boche” in an apocalyptic re-enactment simply as a diversion to allow her to get to the impossibly powerful being she so admires…

Caught up in the incomprehensible slaughter and its bizarre aftermath the two spatiotemporal agents can only watch in astonishment as Jadna and the seemingly all-powerful artisan discover just how much they have in common…

Trenchant, barbed, socially aware and ethically crusading, Valerian and Laureline stories never allow message to overshadow fun and wonder and On the False Earths is one of the sharpest, most intriguing sagas Méziéres & Christin ever concocted, complete with a superb twist in the tale to delight and confound even the most experienced starfarer.

© Dargaud Paris, 1977 Christin, Méziéres & Tran-Lệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

The Crazy World of Rugby


By Bill Stott (Exley)
ISBN: 978-1-85015-770-0

We are apparently a nation of avid armchair sportsmen here in Britain, so I’ve taken this opportunity to re-examine the so-very-English obsession with chasing balls and incurring life-changing injury through the far gentler medium of cartoon books and in particular a collection of dry, droll and often painfully accurate observations by one of my favourite unsung gagsters.

Another prolific but criminally near-forgotten staple of British gag graphics, Bill Stott’s manically loose line, stunningly evocative drawing and mordantly acerbic conceptions (which basically boil down to “no matter how strange, if it can happen it will happen to you, but only if somebody is watching…”) were a mainstay of Punch, Private Eye, The Times and many other papers and publications from 1976 onwards.

In his other life he was – and probably still is – a degree-level college painting and drawing tutor. Moreover he’s still in the game – such as it is in these days of magazine and newspaper cartoon paucity – and you can check out his latest stuff or even commission an original simply by visiting billstott.co.uk.

There might even be copies of this superb little rib-tickler on sale there…

British cartooning has been magnificently served over the centuries by masters of form, line, wash and most importantly clever ideas repeatedly poking (and here actually bending) our funny bones whilst pricking our pomposities and fascinations, and nothing says more about us than our crazy compulsion to thrash about in mud, smiting perfectly civil strangers in the name of fun and exercise…

Within the pages of the Crazy World of Rugby (released in both English and American editions as a hardcover and paperback) the wary watcher from the safety of the sidelines will learn the horrors and joys of Scrum and Ruck, the utter inefficacy of referees, the amusing things you can do with upright poles and the agonising dangers of tradition whilst developing a fascination for odd-shaped balls…

The role of parental support and the sweet angelic singing of burly men in shorts, the wonders of a robust appetite and attendant health benefits of a little regular fresh air are emphasised and the girl-pulling attractions of broken noses and mouths uncluttered by teeth are counterbalanced with observations on international rule interpretation.

Moreover, the idiosyncrasies of training regimens and the terrific indifference of the rules of physics and Laws of Momentum are redefined, all filtered through the hazy bonhomie of the friendly post-match booze-up…

One of a splendid range of themed collections issued by transatlantic publishing outfit Exley in both English and American editions, this fabulous full colour landscape tome is guaranteed to wring a wry smile from retired competitors whilst confirming for the rest of us what we’ve always assumed about this most manly of sports and most sporting of men…

These kinds of cartoon collection are perennial library/charity shop and jumble sale fare and if you ever see a Stott collections (others in this particular series include The Crazy World of Cats, Cricket, Hospitals, Housework, Marriage and Gardening) in such a place, do yourself a favour, help out a good cause and have a brilliant laugh with another true master of mirth.

As for me and my armchair… Books yes, Rugby not so much…

1988 Bill Stott. All rights reserved.

Batman: Going Sane


By J.M. DeMatteis, Eddie Campbell, Darren White, Joe Staton, Bart Sears & Steve Mitchell (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1821-8

An old adage says that you can judge a person by the calibre of their enemies, and that’s never been more ably demonstrated than in the case of the Batman. Moreover for most of his decades-long existence, and most especially since the 1970s, the position of paramount antagonist has been indisputably filled by the Harlequin of Hate known only as The Joker.

The epic battles between these so similar yet utterly antithetical icons have filled many pages and this slim, shocking tome (collecting stories from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #66-68 and #200 from November 1994 to February 1995 and April 2006) again proves how that unending war of wills always results in top quality Fights ‘n’ Tights entertainment.

LoDK began in the frenzied atmosphere following the 1989 Batman movie. With the planet completely Bat-crazy for the second time in 25 years, DC wisely supplemented the Gotham Guardian’s regular stable of comicbooks with a new title specifically designed to focus on and redefine his early days and cases through succession of retuned, retold classic stories.

Three years earlier the publisher had boldly begun retconning their entire ponderous continuity via the landmark maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths; rejecting the concept of a vast multiverse and re-knitting time so that there had only ever been one Earth.

For new readers, this solitary DC world provided a perfect place to jump on at a notional starting point: a planet literally festooned with iconic heroes and villains draped in a clear and cogent backstory that was now fresh and newly unfolding.

Many of their greatest properties were graced with a reboot, all enjoying the tacit conceit that the characters had been around for years and the readership were simply tuning in on just another working day.

Batman’s popularity was at an intoxicating peak and, as DC was still in the throes of re-jigging narrative continuity, his latest title presented multi-part epics reconfiguring established villains and classic stories: infilling the new history of the re-imagined, post-Crisis hero and his entourage. The icing on the cake was a fluctuating cast of first-rank and up-and-coming creators each getting “their shot” at arguably the most paradigmatic figure of the industry.

Most of the early story-arcs were then quickly collected as trade paperbacks, helping to jump-start the graphic novel sector of the comics industry, whilst the careful re-imagining of the hero’s early days gave fans a wholly modern insight into the highly malleable core-concept.

With that in mind, 4-part psychological study ‘Going Sane’ by J.M. DeMatteis, Joe Staton & Steve Mitchell takes us back to a time when Batman was still fresh to the game and had only crossed swords with the Clown Prince of Crime twice before…

The tale starts with a murderously macabre circus-themed killing-spree in the idyllic neighbourhood of Park Ridge, exacerbated by the abduction of honest, crusading Gotham Councilwoman Elizabeth Kenner. The twin travesties weigh heavily on a far-too-emotionally involved Batman as he furiously plays catch-up, leading to a one-sided battle in front of GCPD’s Bat signal and a frantic pursuit into the dark woods beyond the city.

Driven to a pinnacle of outrage, the neophyte manhunter falls into the Joker’s devilishly prepared trap…

Caught in a horrific explosion, the Dark Knight’s shattered body is then dumped ‘Into the Rushing River’ by an unbelieving killer clown reeling in shock at his utterly unexpected ultimate triumph…

‘Swimming Lessons’ opens with Batman missing and Police Captain James Gordon taking flak from all sides for not finding The Joker or the savage mystery assailant who had murdered an infamous underworld plastic surgeon…

Under Wayne Manor faithful manservant Alfred fears the very worst whilst in a cheap part of town thoroughly decent nonentity Joseph Kerr suffers terrifying nightmares of murder and madness.

His solitary days end when he bumps into mousy spinster Rebecca Brown. Over passing days the two lonely loners find love in their mutual isolation and a shared affection for classic slapstick comedy. The only shadows blighting this unlikely romance are poor Joe’s continual nightmares and occasional outbursts of barely suppressed rage…

As days turn to weeks and then months, Alfred sorrowfully accepts the situation and prepares to close the Batcave forever. As he descends, however, he is astounded to see the Dark Knight has returned…

The mystery of Batman’s disappearance is revealed in ‘Breaking the Surface!’ as the Gotham Gangbuster slowly gets back into the swing of things, laboriously connecting the dots linking the plastic surgeon’s death and the Joker’s wherebouts.

When his broken body was carried out to the sleepy hamlet of Accord the shattered hero was ministered to by Doctor Lynn Eagles, an ex-Gothamite doubly brutalised during her time in the city. A strange relationship grew between her and the troubled man she called “Lazarus”, but his clear yearning for the loving serenity the town offered couldn’t match his inner fire and unshakable sense of duty…

The inevitable, tragic finale arrives with the ‘The Deluge!’ as Joe Kerr – fictive product of a deranged mind which simply couldn’t face life without Batman – pops like a soap bubble when confronted by his somehow-resurrected resolute nemesis.

The World’s Greatest Detective has relentlessly tracked his polar opposite to his new life, without ever knowing the Clown is no longer a threat and, with both unflinching enemies restored, their apocalyptic clash is terrible but never final…

This emotive examination of twinned lives equally deprived of peace and contentment by their own intransigent natures is followed by a more traditional but intensely gripping thriller written by Eddie Campbell and Daren White with art by Bart Sears.

‘Gotham Emergency’ opens with the Dark Knight carrying a dying Joker into the Wayne Foundation Public Hospital ER. The mass-murdering Maniac of Mirth has poisoned himself with his own laughing toxin – “Smilex” – but Batman is ferociously insistent that Doctor Natalie Koslowski desert all her other critical patients to treat the conscienceless killer.

The reason becomes apparent after a Joker-created virus attacks the hospital’s records database as well as all other civic computer systems. It’s part of a sustained assault on Gotham by the Harlequin of Hate and follows two catastrophic detonations already triggered by the dying lunatic.

The first catastrophically went off in a crowded and unsuspecting newspaper office but the second, at the Gotham Knights Stadium, quickly brought Batman and in the ensuing chaos of their combat Joker took a face-full of his own poison.

Now the already-stretched medics must struggle to save him – and his gang of suitably trounced thugs – because the caped crimebuster is convinced that somewhere in Gotham a third bomb is ticking down, hidden in another area packed with innocents: a transport hub, or school or even a hospital…

And no one is prepared for what happens after the dedicated doctors bring the homicidal Harlequin out of his near-death coma…

Perfectly portrayed at his most devious and devilish, this duel between two decidedly different shades of darkness conclusively captures the conniving essence of the Joker making this smart, rocket-paced and chillingly suspenseful extra-length epic another unmissable example the eternal struggle between two of comics’ most potent characters.

Wonderful stories, appealing art, immortal characters, satisfaction guaranteed…
© 1994, 1995, 2006, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Pogo – The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 3: Evidence to the Contrary


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly & Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-694-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Possibly the Best Comic Strip Collection in the World… 10/10

Books of this stature and calibre are worth buying and reading at every moment of every day, and rather than waste your valuable time with my purely extraneous blather, you should just hit the shops or online emporia and grab this terrific tome right now.

If you still need more though, and aren’t put off by me yet, I’m honoured to elucidate at some length…

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and began his cartooning career whilst still in High School as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935 he moved to California and joined the Disney Studio, working on animated short films and such features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio.

His steady ascent was curtailed by the infamous animator’s strike in 1941. Refusing to take sides, Kelly quit, moving back East and into comicbooks – primarily for Dell who held the Disney funnybook license amongst others at that time.

Despite his glorious work on such popular people-based classics as the Our Gang movie spin-off, Kelly preferred and particularly excelled with anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy material.

For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 he created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum, wisely retaining the copyrights to the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive, ridiculously exuberant characters began their strip careers, appearing in the paper six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its New York Star run (reprinted in Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1) the first glimmerings of an astoundingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary had begun to emerge…

When the paper folded Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, debuting on May 16th 1949 in selected outlets across the nation. A colour Sunday page launched January 29th 1950 and both were produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 and thereafter by his talented wife and family until the feature was at last laid to rest on July 20th 1975.

At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries and the book collections – which began in 1951 – eventually numbered nearly 50, collectively selling over 30 million copies… and all that before this Fantagraphics series even began…

In this third and much delayed (due to the sudden death of much missed editor and publisher Kim Thompson) volume of a proposed full dozen reprinting the entire Kelly canon of the Okefenokee Swamp critter citizenry, undoubtedly the main aspect of interest is the full-on comedic assault against possibly the greatest danger and vilest political demagogue America ever endured, but the counterattack against witch-hunter Senator Joe McCarthy is merely one of the many delights in this stunning mix of free expression and wild and woolly whimsy…

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation hardback (boasting three-hundred-and-fifty-six 184 x 267mm pages) includes the monochrome ‘Daily Strips’ from January 1st 1953 to December 31st 1954, and the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 4th to December 26th of the same years.

Supplemental features this time comprise a Foreword from ward winning cartoonist Mike Peters (Mother Goose & Grimm), a wealth of deliriously winning unpublished illustrations and working drawings by Kelly and utterly invaluable context and historical notes in R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ which also compellingly, almost forensically, details the rise and fall of rabblerousing “red-baiter” Joe McCarthy and how Kelly courageously opened America’s fight back against the unscrupulous, bullying chancer (and the movement for which he was merely a publicity-hungry figurehead) with an unbeatable combination broadside of ridicule and cool disdain…

The closing regular biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ by Mark Evanier is supplemented by a comprehensive ‘Index of the Strips’ and a gloriously inspired selection of ‘Noteworthy Quotes’ to fill out the academic needs of the readers, but of course the greatest boon here is the strips and characters themselves.

Kelly was a masterful inventor of engaging and endearing personalities, all of whom carried as many flaws as virtues. The regular roll call (which some commentators reckon to be as many as 1000) included gentle, perpetually put-upon and bemused possum Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous, sensitive Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompously ignorant know-it-all Howland Owl, sveltely seductive skunk Miz Mam’selle Hepzibah, long suffering matron Miz Beaver, maternal Miz Groun’chuck and her incomprehensible, bitey baby Grundoon plus all the other bugs, beasts and young’uns of the swamp, but the author’s greatest strength lay in his uniquely Vaudevillian rogues, scoundrels and outright villains.

The likes of Tammanany Tiger, officious Deacon Mushrat, sinister, sycophantic beatnik communist Catbirds Compeer and Confrere, sepulchral Sarcophagus MacAbre, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport and a trio of brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred were perfect confections to illustrate all manner of pestilential pettifogging, mean manners and venal self-serving atrocities as they intermingled and interfered with the decent folk volubly enduring the vicissitudes of such day to day travails as love, marriage, comicbooks, weather, rival strips, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sport, cadging food, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other…

In this volume the topics of exotically extravagant conversation include the longevity and worth of New Year’s Resolutions, the scandalous behaviour of Porkeypine’s kissing-thief Uncle Baldwin, a get-rich scheme involving dirt and opening shots at the burgeoning phenomenon of commercial television. However the gradual conversion of the Deacon’s Boy Bird Watchers society into a self-policing vigilante committee looking out for strangers and making sure all the citizens are right thinking and true looking would quickly insinuate itself into every corner of the feature…

The anti-foreigner sentiment peaks following the arrival of Deacon Mushrat’s old pal The Hon. Mole MacCarony; a blind, self-aggrandizing politico determined to root out all (undisclosed) threats, enforce conformity and stamp out the diseases obviously carried by strangers.

The xenophobic dirt-digger was based on Nevada Senator Patrick McCarran who briefly shaped paranoid public opinion on a platform of severely restricting immigration and implementing the speedy deportation of all communists and non-Americans.

Things got much darker – and therefore more effectively ludicrous – with the arrival of Mole’s malicious and ambitious associate Simple J. Malarkey whose bullying tactics soon began to terrify his fellow bigots as much as the increasingly outraged, off-balance citizens…

Eventually the villains fell out and triggered their own downfall with the mortified Deacon sheepishly denying his part in the fiasco. Peace and (in)sanity returned and with sunny days ahead weather-prognosticating frog Picayune debuted, but suffered a great loss when Albert accidentally ingested the amphibian’s pal Halpha – an amoeba who actually did all the meteorological messing about…

Voracious Albert generally swallowed a lot of things, but his biggest gaffe probably occurred after meeting Roogey Batoon, a pelican impresario who – briefly – managed Flim, Flam and Flo: a singing fish acted billed as the Lou’siana Perches

Many intriguing individuals shambled into view at this time: Ol’ Mouse and his tutorial pal Snavely (who taught worms how to be cobras and rattlers), cricket-crazed British bugs Reggie and Alf and family icons Bug Daddy and Chile, but the biggest mover and shaker to be introduced was undoubtedly a sporty Rhode Island Red chicken named Miss Sis Boombah.

The formidable biddy was a physically imposing and prodigiously capable sports enthusiast (and Albert’s old football coach), who wandered in as survey taker for “Dr. Whimsy’s report on the Sectional Habits of U.S. Mail Men” (a brilliant spoof of the societally sensational Kinsey Report on sexual behaviour in America) but her arrival also generated a succession of romantic interludes and debacles which eventually led to a bewildered Mushrat proposing marriage before leaving her in the lurch and disappearing into the deepest parts of the swamp…

Mole had already reared his unseeing head again, causing only minor mischief, but when the marriage-averse Deacon encountered the terrifying Malarkey lurking in hiding with sinister acolyte Indian Charlie (who bears a remarkable resemblance to then current US Vice-President Richard Nixon) the scene was set for another savage and often genuinely scary confrontation…

That’s also exactly what Miss Boombah had in mind as she set out with Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred to hunt down the scoundrel who had left her in the lurch at the church…

Other story strands and insane interludes include such epic mini sagas as the hunt for an abducted puppy – lampooning TV cop series Dragnet – and a long session on the keeping and proper sharing of secrets, much ado about gossip and the art of being a busybody.

Most memorable of all though are Churchy’s sudden predilection for dressing up as pretty little blonde girl, perpetually visiting Martians and poor Pogo’s oddly domestic recipe for A Bombs…

In his time satirical supremo Kelly unleashed his bestial spokes-cast upon many other innocent, innocuous sweethearts such as J.Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as lesser lights likes Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney (U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Governor of Michigan and father of some guy named Mitt), but nothing ever compared his delicious and devilish deconstruction of “Tailgunner Joe” in the two extended sequences reprinted here…

Kelly’s unmatched genius lay in his seemingly effortless ability to lyrically, if not vivaciously, portray through anthropomorphic affectation and apparently frivolous nonsense language comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human.

He used that gift to readily blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre. Generally though he usually toned down the satirical scalpels for the magnificently imaginative ‘Sunday Funnies’: concentrating instead on fantastic and unfailingly hilarious serial fables and comedy romps.

Some of the best he ever conceived conclude this volume, beginning with the epic saga of little faun Melonbone whose search for the Fountain of Youth inadvertently caused Sam Duck to revert to an egg. The distraught drake’s wife was not best pleased at having to hatch her own husband out at her age (she was no spring chicken)…

Churchy and Albert then fell afoul of sharp toothed tot Grundoon as the kid’s inability to converse led the alligator to accidentally swallow his turtle pal, after which the animal crackpots all got very lost for a long time in their own swampy backyard…

Howlan Owl’s latest get-rich-quick scheme – digging to China – resulted in his and Albert’s reluctant consultation of an Atlas and the shocking conclusion that the Russians had taken over Georgia.

The panicked reaction of the chumps then led to their accidentally awakening an oversleeping bear who decided to start celebrating Christmas in the middle of August. Eventually everybody caught up to him just in time for the true Yule event…

After the usual New Year’s shenanigans, 1954 really took hold as everyone’s favourite alligator tried to recount the amazing exploit of ‘King Albert and the 1001 Arabian Knights of the Round Table’ - despite each listener’s evident and express disinterest – before Howlan and Churchy became compulsively embroiled in a furious feud over pugilism.

Soon thereafter Albert was mistaken for a monster after getting his head stuck in a cauldron. Sadly, once the alligator was finally extricated from the calamitous cookpot, other unhappy folk become the infernal alembic’s’s unwilling method of locomotion…

No sooner did that catastrophe conclude than the whole sorry fiasco promptly kicked off again with a lovesick octopus now playing transient chapeau to a succession of unfortunate and duly startled swamp critters …

The hairy, scaly, feathered, slimy folk of the surreal swamp lands are, of course, inescapably us, elevated by burlesque, slapstick, absurdism and all the glorious joys of wordplay from puns to malapropisms to raucous accent humour into a multi-layered hodgepodge of all-ages delight – and we’ve never looked or behaved better…

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement. Timeless and ineffably magical, Pogo is a giant not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent third tome should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the other two.

…Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the all politically astute critters – “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.

Pogo Vol. 3: Evidence to the Contrary and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2014 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2014 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

Spirou and Fantasio in Moscow


By Tome & Janry, colour by Stephane De Becker & translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-193-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: a Wild Ride for Cold Winter Nights… 8/10

For the majority of English-speaking comics readers Spirou might be Europe’s biggest secret. The phenomenally long-lived character was a rough contemporary – and shrewdly calculated commercial response – to Hergé’s iconic Tintin, whilst the fun-filled periodical he has headlined for decades is only beaten in sheer longevity and manic creativity by our own Beano.

Conceived in 1936 at Belgian Printing House Éditions Dupuis by boss-man Jean Dupuis, the proposed new magazine homed in on juvenile audiences and launched on April 21st 1938; debuting neatly between DC Thomson’s The Dandy (4th December 1937) and The Beano (July 30th 1938) in the UK.

In America at that time a small comicbook publisher was preparing to release a new anthology entitled Action Comics. Ah, good times…

Spirou the publication was to be edited by 19 year-old Charles Dupuis and derived its name from the lead feature, which related the improbable adventures of a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed at the glamorous Moustique Hotel (a sly in-joke reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique).

Spirou the hero – whose name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language – was first realised by French cartoonist François Robert Velter under his pen-name Rob-Vel for his Belgian bosses in response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s carrot-topped boy reporter, who had become a guaranteed money-spinning phenomenon for rival publisher Casterman since his own launch on January 10th 1929 in Le Petit Vingtième, the kids’ supplement to Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle.

Spirou magazine premiered with the plucky bellboy – and pet squirrel Spip – as the leads in an anthology weekly which bears his name to this day; featuring fast-paced, improbable cases which gradually eventually evolved into high-flying surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his pals have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939.

She was aided by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the feature, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took over.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the reins, slowly sidelining the shorter, gag-like vignettes in favour of longer adventure serials whilst introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars.

Eventually he created a phenomenally popular magic animal dubbed Marsupilami to the mix (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952 and now a spin-off star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums all his own), crafting increasingly fantastic tales until he resigned in 1969.

He was then succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures that tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times with tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction and three different creative teams were commissioned to alternate on the serial, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry.

Their winning approach was to carefully adapt, reference and, in many ways, return to the beloved Franquin era. Their sterling efforts consequently revived the floundering feature’s fortunes and resulted in fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998.

This one, originally entitled ‘Spirou & Fantasio à Moscou’ from 1990, was their tenth collaboration and the 42nd collected exploit of the tireless wanderers.

Set just after the fall of the Berlin Wall – and effective end of Soviet socialism – there’s a lot of editorial footnoting gong on to maintain understanding and sustain context but it’s all done in a witty and amusing manner, so there’s no loss of narrative traction…

The drama begins with Spirou, Fantasio and Spip heading for a much deserved vacation in the sweltering heat of Tahiti when they are suddenly abducted by a gang of spooks. As the lads groggily recover from cruelly applied chemical coshes, their assailants offer a (hilariously shaded) review of Russian character and recent history since the end of the Communist State, paying especial attention to the fact that even in the newly capitalist country the KGB are still in charge…

Russia is in trouble. The fall of the Iron Curtain has resulted in an influx of gangsterism, with the Mafia paramount in seeking out new territory for their nasty old rackets. Lacking experience in this kind of struggle, the security forces have requested the assistance of experts, and the French government – for it is they who have shanghaied our heroes – are happy to serve up Spirou and Co in return for the return of a couple of well-connected teenagers who got themselves arrested for protesting in the Kremlin…

By the time the press-ganged press-men are conscious enough to refuse they are already on the chilly tarmac of Moscow Airport and being handed badges as fully-accredited – if temporary – members of the KGB…

As they drive – via a torturous and convoluted secret route – into the city under the care of rowdily boisterous Colonel Dubyoutyev, they are briefed on the untenable situation.

It is not only the newcomers’ past record of success against the Mob which has brought them, albeit unwillingly, to this sorry state of affairs, but also the fact that they aren’t Russian.

When the Mafia first started operating, they were quickly infiltrated by KGB operatives, whilst the gangsters did exactly the same thing to the state police. Now nobody can trust anybody else and the authorities are forced to outsource credible and dependable assistance…

Just as they are pulling up at the Kremlin the Colonel shows them a fuzzy photo of a strangely familiar face: suspected top mobster and fellow outsider Ivan Ivanovich Tanaziof. Then a shot rings out and the chauffeur slumps down. With the out-of-control car crashing onto the frozen river, in an office of the ministry, Count Nikita Bloyuredov places a call to his boss to claim “mission accomplished”…

Crawling from the wreckage, our battered but still intrepid lads opt to use their freshly-minted credentials to get to the French Embassy. En route in a commandeered taxi, Spirou shares his suspicions. Perhaps the ruthless westerner Tanaziof has some previous connection to them? Perhaps he’s Fantasio’s insane and merciless cousin Zantafio, back with another murderous scheme to grab power and wealth no matter who has to suffer?

They arrive just as a grand Fancy Dress Ball commences and the security guards refuse to let them enter. They do however let them see the Embassy Chief of Protocol and Count Bloyuredov is absolutely delighted to meet them… until he sees his master Prince Tanaziof crash the party with a gang of armed heavies…

Happily Spirou and Fantasio also spot the intrusion and take cover whilst the mobsters boldly rob the gathering and the jumped-up aristocrat arrogantly boasts that his next move to reclaim Russia for his family will be to steal the sacred relic of Lenin’s embalmed body from its utterly secure tomb in Red Square…

As the gangsters gleefully exit, agents “Spirov” and “Fantasiev” are contacted by the miraculously alive and rather wisely deep, deep, deep undercover Dubyoutyev who has also survived the crash…

Trading information, they all agree that Tanaziof/Zantafio is fraudulently proclaiming himself “White Prince of the Russian Mafia” whilst attempting to pass himself off as the next Tsar. The KGB Colonel is horrified to hear of the sacrilegious plot to desecrate Lenin’s mausoleum and dashes off to implement the appropriate security measures but his reluctant agents know it won’t be enough…

Returning to the now quiet Embassy the rightly suspicious visitors finally meet the Ambassador, who merely tells them it’s a Russian matter. On their way out the disgruntled pair receive an anonymous note promising the whereabouts of Tanaziof. Despite the certain knowledge that it’s a trap the neophyte spies later rendezvous at the spectacular outdoor spa known as the Moskva Pool

After a horrific “accident” once again kills the wrong people, delighted and oblivious Bloyuredov heads straight for Tanaziof’s palatial hideout to share the good news, utterly unaware of the two men and a squirrel on his tail…

The plan to steal Lenin is about to commence and without a moment’s pause Spirou and Fantasio disguise themselves and join the raiding party…

Cannily blending wry humour, broad slapstick, light-hearted action and rollicking adventure with a swift-paced espionage caper, all topped-off with the so-satisfying return of a world-class arch villain to sweeten the deal, this rollercoaster romp builds to a brilliantly madcap conclusion as funny as it is breathtaking and all lavishly smothered in oodles of wicked irony…

Since Tome & Janry’s departure both Lewis Trondheim and the team of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera have brought the official album count to over fifty as well as a bunch of specials, spin-offs and one-shots (official and otherwise), creating a vast pool of superb comedy-adventure romps that simply cannot be translated fast enough for my liking.

This kind of lightly-barbed, keenly-conceived, fun thriller is a sheer joy in an arena far too full of adults-only carnage, testosterone-fuelled breast-beating, teen-romance monsters or sickly sweet fantasy. Readily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke, The Bluecoats and Iznogoud so compelling, this is another cracking read from a long line of superb exploits, certain to be as much a household name as those series – and even that other pesky kid with the white dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1990 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2014 © Cinebook Ltd.

The James Bond Omnibus 006


By Jim Lawrence, John McLusky, Yaroslav Horak & Harry North (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-0-85768-591-9

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

It’s annoying to admit but there are very few British newspaper strips to challenge the influence and impact of classic daily and Sunday “funnies” from America, especially in the field of adventure fiction.

The 1930’s and 1940’s were particularly rich in popular, not to say iconic, creations. You would be hard-pressed to come up with home-grown household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, let alone Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon, or the likes of Little Lulu, Blondie, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye and yes, I know I said him twice, but Elzie Segars’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good.

What strips can you recall to equal simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? The Perishers? Garth? Judge Dredd?

I’d like to hope so, but I doubt it.

The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly very many wonderful strips being produced: well-written and beautifully drawn, but that stubborn British reserve plus a completely different editorial view of the marketplace (which just didn’t consider strips an infallible, readership-attracting magnet, as our American cousins did) never seemed to be in the business of creating household names… until the 1950’s.

Something happened in ‘fifties Britain – but I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics (as well as all “mere” entertainment media from radio serials to paperback novels) got carried along on the wave. Just like television, periodicals such as Eagle, the regenerated Dandy and Beano and girls’ comics in general all shifted into creative high gear …and so at last did newspapers.

And that means that I can happily extol the virtues of a graphic collection with proven crossover appeal for a change.

The first 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and was subsequently serialised – after much dithering and nervousness on behalf of author Fleming – as a strip in the Daily Express from 1958. It was the start of a beguiling run of paperback book adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence, a jobbing writer for American features (who had previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) came aboard on The Man With the Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the Fleming canon to strip format. Thereafter he was invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s demise in 1983.

The art on the feature was always of the highest standard.

Initially John McLusky handled the illustration until 1966’s conclusion of You Only Live Twice and, although perhaps lacking in verve, the workmanlike clarity of his drawing easily coped with the astonishing variety of locales, technical set-ups and sheer immensity of cast members, whilst accomplishing the then-novel conceit of advancing a plot and ending each episode on a cliff-hanging “hook” every day.

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who debuted on Man With the Golden Gun offering a looser, edgier style, at once more cinematic and with a closer attention to camera angle and frenzied action that seemed to typify the high-octane 1960’s.

Horak illustrated 26 complete adventures until in 1977 The Daily Express ceased running the Bond feature (with the then-running adventure suddenly switching to The Sunday Express (from January 30th until conclusion on May 22nd).

Later adventures had no UK presence at all, only appearing in syndication in European papers. This state of affairs continued until 1981 when British paper The Daily Star revived the feature with ‘Doomcrack’.

Titan books have re-assembled those scarce-seen tales – a heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death – into the last of their addictively accessible monochrome Omnibus Editions, wherein a dedicated band of creators on top form prove how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe, shaken, stirred and thoroughly entertained…

The frantic derring-do and dark, deadly diplomacy commences with Lawrence & Horak’s final (UK-embargoed) exploit ‘Shark Bait’ - originally running abroad from 1978 to 1979 – finding Bond up to his neck in hot water after boldly abducting Soviet scuba diver Katya Orlova from the Coral Sea.

That high-bodycount encounter is, however, only the starting point in 007’s mission and, after brutally deprogramming her in the searing Australian Outback, they become moving targets for KGB hit-teams as he builds trust before completing his overall game plan: tracking down a colossal shark which has swallowed a stolen computer carrying NATO nuclear secrets.

With the Russians inexorably closing in on the prize, the infallible agent is prepared to do whatever it takes to stop them…

When The Daily Star began their Bond serial with ‘Doomcrack’ (February 2nd to August 19th 1981) Lawrence was still in command of concocting stories but the illustrator was a rather controversial one.

Harry North was a regular and prolific contributor to both the US and UK iterations of Mad Magazine and, whilst his renditions of the regular cast caught the likenesses of the filmic Bond, M, Moneypenny and others, his action and suspense scenes couldn’t escape his comedic preferences and often hinder or even destroy all dramatic effect.

If you can get past that though, the tale of KGB killers, East German intrigue and defector Dr. Vlad Sinescu is a gripping if convoluted one. The avaricious genius wants to sell to Britain his new super weapon – capable of exploding brains at a distance, bringing down aircraft and shaking down cities – but his communist former masters are prepared to do anything to stop the sale.

…And then, amidst all the carnage and chaos, insidious criminal cabal S.P.E.C.T.R.E. steps in, grabbing the boffin and his weapon before extorting the world by destroying national monuments. With the situation hopeless it’s no wonder 007 quits and joins the opposition…

Veteran artist McLusky returned to steady the ship for the next explosive epic wherein devious cult leader Father Star uses psycho-chemicals, brain surgery, artificial angels and ghostly special effects to control the actions of bereaved billionaires, generals and politicians. The hunt for the brilliant mastermind with plans of ruling this world, if not the next, takes James around the planet and into many a salacious dive before he can finally crush ‘The Paradise Plot’ (August 20th 1981 to June 4th 1982)…

An insidious millionaire murder-maestro with a revolting terror-weapon turns up in ‘Deathmask’ (June 7th 1982 – February 2nd 1983), leaving a trail of hideously deformed corpses in his wake. It takes the combined efforts of Bond and fellow agent Suzie Kew to defeat deranged Ivor Nyborg’s legion of mechanical monsters, broach the fiend’s astounding undersea lair and prevent a genetically engineered plague devastating humanity…

A policy switch to shorter, less complex stories was instigated with ‘Flittermouse’ (February 9th – May 20th 1983) as vengeful maniac Dr. Cat returned with another diabolically ingenious method of murder before the indomitable super-agent sent him to his final reward, after which ‘Polestar’ (May 23rd – July 15th 1983) saw the end of Britain’s connection to the espionage ace.

The James Bond strip had been a problem for the Star since its resurrection and was abruptly dropped midway through this adventure. The story concluded only in the ever-reliable European syndication market, and thankfully it’s here in its entirety for us all to enjoy.

The short, sharp saga finds 007 in the subzero wilds of Artic Canada discovering a woman frozen to death and exhibited as a macabre scarecrow.

He’s in territory owned by Polestar Petroleum to locate the origin point of rogue missiles which have been launched against Russia and America, but before he can investigate further he is attacked a rabid wolf…

Rescued by native woman Red Doe, James learns the sordid history of Polestar’s megalomaniacal owner Robert Ayr: ruthless tycoon, potential global dictator, serial abuser and killer of Red Doe’s mother.

Soon Bond has infiltrated the company as a fugitive rocket engineer to scupper plans to subject the world to nuclear blackmail whilst the vengeful Cree woman enjoys a long-anticipated meeting with Ayr…

Again working solely for continental readers, Lawrence & McLusky’s final comics collaboration was ‘The Scent of Danger’ (1983), with Bond lured to a yacht off the Italian Riviera and a near-fatal rendezvous with a ravenous shark. The perpetrator is old enemy Madame Spectra who wants the agent out of the way before she uses a (narcotically addictive) high-end fashion perfume to enslave firstly wives and lovers but eventually every politician in Britain. Happily the unkillable hero and ferociously determined journalist Liz Villiers have a plan to stop her…

Despite every effort the strip was clearly nearing its end when Yaroslav Horak returned for the last two adventures beginning with ‘Snake Goddess’ (1983-1984). At the peak of his flamboyant form the illustrator added a superb frisson of tension to the tale of a mystery killer who used serpents to assassinate military men and operatives involved in the deployment of atomic weapons in Europe.

After the snake killer turned his attention to Moneypenny, Bond’s involvement was assured and his subtle investigations led him to Swedish cult rock star Freya. However, the sultry serpentine peace campaigner was only another target for the true culprit: fanatical fan Mr. Vidyala, a billionaire with money to burn and the brilliance to build a huge nuclear sea-serpent submarine.

He planned to provoke World War III and rule the ruins with his unwilling Snake Queen Freya but utterly underestimated the ruthless ingenuity of the British agent he so easily captured…

This astounding dossier of espionage exploits ends in ‘Double Eagle’ (1984): a baroque plot by German agents on both sides of the Berlin Wall planning a spectacular stunt to promote reunification of their sundered country.

Unfortunately the notionally worthy scheme precluded a number of necessary deaths – by robot giant eagles and merciless KGB and Stasi agents – and risked turning the simmering Cold War red hot…

Following a trail of bodies and dodging numerous assassination attempts Bond eventually finds himself in the invidious position of wanting – just this once – to fail…

Fast, furious action, masses of moody menace, sharply clever dialogue and an abundance of exotic locales and ladies make this an invaluable adjunct to the Bond mythos and a collection no fan can do without. After all, nobody has ever done it better…
All strips are © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1987. James Bond and 007 are ™Danjaq LLC used under license from Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.

Iznogoud and the Magic Carpet


By Goscinny and Tabary (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918- 044-3

For the greater part of his too-short lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of the most prolific and most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Incredibly, he still is.

Among his most popular comic collaborations are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and, of course Asterix the Gaul, but there were so many others, such as the dazzling, dark deeds of a dastardly usurper whose dreams of diabolical skulduggery perpetually proved to be ultimately no more than castles in the sand…

Scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the hotly contested deserts when Goscinny teamed with sublimely gifted Swedish émigré Jean Tabary (1930-2011) – who numbered Richard et Charlie, Grabadu et Gabaliouchtou, Totoche, Corinne et Jeannot and Valentin le Vagabond amongst his other hit strips – to detail the innocuous history of imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah.

However it was the strip’s villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud who stole the show – possibly the conniving little imp’s only successful coup.

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record; with the first episode appearing in the January 15th issue. 1962. A minor hit, it subsequently jumped ship to Pilote – a comics magazine created and edited by Goscinny – where it was artfully refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little ratbag who had increasingly been hogging all the laughs and limelight.

Like all great storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: as a comedic romp with adorably wicked baddies invariably hoisted on their own petards and coming a cropper for the youngsters, whilst older, wiser heads revelled in the pun-filled, witty satire of marvellously accessible episodic comic capers.

The same magic formula had made its more famous cousin Asterix such a global success, and just like the saga of the indomitable Gaul, this irresistibly addictive Arabian nonsense is adapted here by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made those Roman Follies so very palatable to the English tongue.

Moreover the deliciously malicious whimsy is always heavily laden with manic absurdity and brilliantly delivered creative anachronism which keeps the assorted escapades bizarrely fresh and inventive.

Insidious anti-hero Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to affable, easy-going Caliph of Ancient Baghdad Haroun Al Plassid, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or as he is always declaiming “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”…

The retooled series launched in Pilote in 1968, and soon became a massive European hit, with 29 albums to date (carried on by Tabary’s children Stéphane, Muriel and Nicolas), his own solo comic, a computer game, animated film, TV cartoon show and even a live-action movie.

When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary began scripting his own sublimely stylish tales (from the 13th album onwards), switching to book-length complete adventures, rather than the compilations of short, punchy vignettes which typified the collaborations.

This sixth Cinebook album was actually the ninth French album (released in 1973 as Le Tapis Magique) with the lead tale ‘The Magic Carpet’ an exceptional, extended 20-page epic bolstered by a triumvirate of shorter yarns and prefaced as ever with a handy catch-up profile page of the usual suspects…

It all starts in glorious bustling Baghdad where the verminous Vizier unaccountably encounters a few famous faces (moonlighting from their day jobs in TinTin) before returning to his plotting on how to remove the gentle, isolated and very dim obstacle to power Haroun Al Plassid…

It’s the corpulent oaf’s birthday and a thought finally occurs to employ impecunious Fakir Khaledonyahn to make a very special kind of rug. Flying carpets are no big deal in the empire and the skies of Baghdad are crammed with them, but the Fakir’s are extraordinary.

They only travel one way. Anybody standing on one of these when the trigger word is pronounced takes a flight to who-knows-where and never returns…

Who-knows-where is actually Ancient Peking and soon the venerably inscrutable and imperturbable citizens there are having their legendary patience tested as carpet after carpet arrives because untrusting Iznogoud continually demands proof of concept before parting with cash whilst the gullibly hapless Caliph can’t get the hang of the magic word his trusted advisor wants him to repeat…

The sharply convoluted pun-punctuated yarn is followed by a sneaky dose of inspired iniquity dubbed ‘Incognito’. The well-meaning Caliph has no idea of the depredations Iznogoud inflicts upon the populace in his name or that his beloved people fear, despise and revile the Caliphate because of excessive taxes, prisons filled with tortured citizens and schools empty of children.

When chimerically inquisitive Haroun Al Plassid decides to go out amongst the populace in all his regal splendour he is disappointed and surprised to find the streets utterly deserted by the terrified common folk. Asking his precious Iznogoud for advice the Commander of the Faithful is then convinced to sneak out alone dressed as a common beggar.

Unable to believe his luck the vile Vizier quickly briefs his bumbling, long-suffering crony Wa’at Alahf and orders the guards to throw any beggars who approach the palace into the deepest dungeon.

On his fact finding mission the shabby Caliph learns a lot he doesn’t like and determines to fix things as soon as he gets back. Unfortunately being a newcomer in his own city he gets lost…

Soon Iznogoud is going insane with the suspense. Al Plassid should be back and languishing in jail by now but as long as he’s out there somewhere the coup cannot begin. Thus the despot-in-waiting and his flunky are forced to disguise themselves as beggars and steal out into Baghdad to search for their missing lord.

In the meantime the Caliph has had the brilliant notion of asking for directions and shambles home just as the Guard is being changed. Nobody even notices the scruffy indigent as he wanders back to his apartments and becomes again The Caliph.

In the city the tired and frustrated plotters give up and head for home, just as the order to arrest all beggars becomes law…

Sheer broad slapstick-riddled farce is the secret ingredient of the perfectly paced saga of ‘The Tiger Hunt’ when Iznogoud convinces his boss to go for a low key safari – just him, the Vizier and faithful Wa’at Alahf, armed with bows and blunt arrows – to bag the perfect bedside rug.

Typically, the murder plot goes hideously awry as a succession of hunters provide perfectly suitable, already skinned rugs to the happy ruler and the only living apex predators they can find are just not interested.

Forced to improvise Iznogoud finally resorts to digging a huge pit but whilst he’s at the bottom of it Haroun at last finds a way to really tick off a tiger – just before it tumbles into a great big hole in the ground…

The manic mirth concludes with ‘The Box of Souvenirs’ as a visitor from distant Nippon visits fabulous Baghdad with a strange device. Judoka Karate is a destitute tourist whose incredible hand-held cube can turn solid objects into two-dimensional pictures.

Instantly sensing an opportunity Iznogoud, after much spirited dickering, acquires the mystic souvenir maker, but hasn’t fully considered the details. To turn a jug or jewel or Caliph into a black and white image the object has to be the proper distance from the lens and keep completely still for a minute or two.

Confident he can cope, the Vizier has utterly underestimated Haroun Al Plassid’s mayfly attention span and ingrained vanity which has led to big mirrors being placed all over the palace…

Just such witty, fast-paced hi-jinks and craftily crafted comedy set pieces have made this addictive series a household name in France where “Iznogoud” is common term for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and frequently not that tall.

When first released in Britain in the 1970s (and again in 1996 as a periodical comic book) these tales made little impression, but certainly now this snappy, wonderfully beguiling strip has finally found an appreciative audience among today’s more internationally aware, politically jaded comics-and-cartoon savvy Kids Of All Ages…
Original edition © Editions TABARY 1991, by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved. This edition published 2010 by Cinebook Ltd.

Thor: Wolves of the North


By Michael Carey, Alan Davis, Peter Milligan, Michael Perkins, Mico Suayan, Tom Grindberg & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5614-7

Created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, The Mighty Thor debuted in Journey into Mystery #83 (August 1962), heralding a procession of spectacular adventures that came to encompass everything from crushing petty crime capers to saving universes from cosmic doom.

As the decades passed he also survived numerous reboots and re-imaginings to keep the wonders of fabled Asgard appealing to an increasingly jaded readership. An already exceedingly broad range of scenarios spawned even greater visual variety after the Thunderer’s introduction to the pantheon of cinematic Marvels and his ongoing triumphs as a bona fide burgeoning movie franchise.

This slim but surprisingly gripping chronicle compiles material from Thor: Wolves of the North (February 2011), Thor: the Truth of History (December 2008) and Thor Annual volume 3, #1(November 2009), concentrating on clashes with Asgard’s worst menaces and Earth’s other gods and monsters.

‘Wolves of the North’ by Michael Carey, Michael Perkins and colourist Dan Brown takes us to embattled Viking village Redhangir, where valiant warriors are under constant assault by hellish forces. When chief Thorvald is mortally wounded by the marauding ogres’ impossibly huge king, the mortal’s last acts are to make his daughter Einar his successor and order the warriors to never surrender…

This doesn’t go down well with the community’s priesthood who believe the best way to end the conflict is to sacrifice the bellicose young woman to Death Goddess Hela

A tense standoff between church and state is suddenly ended when Thor falls out of the sky in a blast of thunder. Severely depleted, he reveals that Asgard itself is under siege, with the Queen of the Dead sneaking the warrior-legions of her demon-king ally Skald into battle via the backdoor through Midgard. The creatures have but dallied at Redhangir for the sheer sport of bloodletting…

Moreover, although the Storm Lord has been despatched to close the invaders’ devious route, his journey has depleted him. To be effective on Earth he needs a mortal anchor. Selflessly, Einar Thorvaldsdottir offers herself, knowing full that what harms one now will injure both…

A refreshed and reinvigorated Thor starts a cataclysmic rout of the demons, but canny Hela knows all and has her mortal priests attempt to secretly sacrifice Einar, knowing her death means the Thunderer’s defeat and Asgard’s demise.

Of course the Cold Queen and her demon ally have no conception of Thor’s furious determination or a merely mortal chief’s unfailing resolve to save her people…

That grimly compelling fable leads directly into riotous, Kirby-inspired swashbuckling romp ‘The Truth of History’ by writer/penciller Alan Davis, inker Mark Farmer and colourist Rob Swager which opens rather quietly with two archaeologists debating the puzzling climate of ancient Egypt and odd, post-construction alterations to the monolithic Sphinx.

The answers to those great unknowns are then explained by plunging back nearly four thousand years to a time when Thor and a trusty band of Asgardians stopped sorceress Queen Nedra from using an unsanctioned portal to Midgard.

Although the Aesir were victorious, bumbling blowhard Volstagg subsequently fell through the activated gateway and was lost, compelling the Prince of Asgard and boon companions Fandral the Dashing and Hogun the Grim to follow…

The mystic journey lands them in Egypt where their pale skins mark them as demonic invaders whereas the immortal Northmen can only see signs of drought whilst slaves toil building pointless stone monuments and enfeebled peasants starve under the pitiless gaze of fat priests and bestial halflings.

In times long past the world’s scattered pantheons geographically divided up humanity, each abiding over and caring for their worshippers in their own way. Now, as the Asgardians see how the gods of Heliopolis minister to their adherents’ needs, they wonder at the wisdom of the pact…

Elsewhere Volstagg is having the time of his life, fed and feted by glamorous women and guzzling gallons of heady sweet wine. Eventually his questing comrades reach the city of Giza and are welcomed by priests under the stern gaze of a colossal stone griffin.

When the Asgardians throw the sumptuous feast they are offered to the starving peasants outside, they earn the enmity of arrogantly pompous pharaoh Neb-Maat and provoke a pitched battle with his unearthly retinue of beastmen.

Whilst that fight grows in intensity, far below their feet in the catacombs their soused and happy kinsman is being offered up as a sacrifice to an ancient horror, and when his screams reach Thor’s ears the Storm Lord rips the palace apart to reach him. He soon finds himself facing the awesome beast which inspired the griffin statue.

The resultant clash reshapes the fate of a nation and echoes down through history…

This stellar spectacle of blistering intoxicating old-fashioned entertainment is marvellously tinged with wry knowing humour to counterbalance the bombastic bravado and furious action and serves as a perfect palate-cleanser for the darker fare which follows: a chilling and poignant tale of modern vintage.

From Thor Annual volume 3, #1 comes ‘The Hand of Grog’ by Peter Milligan, Mico Suayan, Tom Grindberg, Stefano Gaudiano, Edgar Delgado & J. Roberts, set in the aftermath of the apocalyptic Siege of Asgard.

The story opens in Celestial Heliopolis where Egyptian Death God Seth is summoned by a prognosticator to hear some glad tidings. Despised Thor has suffered an emotional collapse after being tricked into slaying his own grandfather Bor.

The once formidable Thunderer is a broken being ready to accept his ending, but although eager to make it so, Seth is a cautious deity and instead dispatches his servant Grog the God-Slayer and a pack of bestial pawns to hunt down the ailing warrior…

On Earth Thor has vanished. The spirit-sickened hero has taken refuge inside Dr. Don Blake, a pale ghost hiding from his responsibilities. That all changes as soon as the horror squad arrives and begins attacking innocent mortals in an attempt to draw out their prey…

Despite believing himself deprived of his godly might, a stout defence of the weak and helpless resoundingly reinvigorates Thor, but once the danger has passed, he soon reverts to his despondent state…

However when Grog returns to finish off the human survivors in hospital, Blake seizes a slim chance to break his alter ego’s psychological chains. And if it doesn’t work, there won’t be anyone left alive to complain about his radical kill-or-cure remedy…

Frantic, furious and ferociously enthralling, Wolves of the North is a pure blast of mythic Fights ‘n’ Tights fun and frolics no action-loving fantasy fan could possibly resist.

© 2008, 2009, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Original Sin


By Jason Aaron, Mike Deodato Jr., Frank Martin & many and various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-632-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Solid Superhero Blockbuster Entertainment… 8/10

Once upon a time massive crossover events starring an entire company’s pantheon of superstars were rare and eagerly anticipated occurrences. These days, however, it seems costumed champions and aggregated universe-savers stagger from one catastrophic crisis to the next with barely time to wipe their boots or iron their capes.

Still, it’s hard to complain when the results are as gripping and controversial as Original Sin

Spanning April to August 2014, this chunky volume collects miniseries Original Sin #0-8 and the 5-issue follow-up anthology Original Sins, taking a good, hard look at the dark underbelly of the Marvel Universe, removing a number of major characters and laying the groundwork for more shocking revelations in the months to come…

The main event is written by Jason Aaron, with Mike Deodato Jr. illustrating and Frank Martin providing the colours, but before that all unfolds issue #0 cunningly provides invaluable background with artists Jim Cheung, Paco Medina, David Meikis, Mark Morales, Guillermo Ortego, Juan Vlasco and Justin Ponsor setting all the plates spinning in ‘Who is the Watcher?

Sam Alexander is still just a kid but he’s also the newest Nova of the alien peacekeeping force pledged to policing the universe. He’s inherited the role from his dad, a drunken deadbeat the boy had always believed to be a delusional fantasist.

Now the boy spends his days on the moon, trying to befriend the austere and aloof cosmic voyeur Uatu the Watcher, an impossibly powerful, immortal being who views all that occurs throughout the vast multiverse but never acts on any of it…

As a tenuous relationship develops Sam learns the tragic origin of the Watcher race’s sacred vow of non-interference and gleans another secret: his long-vanished father is not dead…

The shocks come thick and fast in this thriller which is more murder mystery than celestial Armageddon scenario so I’m attempting to reveal enough to tempt without giving anything away…

In ‘No One is Watching’, a quiet dinner for Wolverine, Captain America, Black Widow and super spy Nick Fury (the original WWII one, not the son who’s currently appearing in all those movies) is interrupted by an ominous phone call. Thor is on the Moon and has found The Watcher murdered…

Rapidly relocating to Luna the heroes see that the all-powerful celestial has not only been shot in the head but cruelly mutilated. His huge, all-seeing eyes are missing. Moreover his fantastic citadel has been demolished and the incredible storehouse of artefacts and weaponry from across the universe pillaged.

Grizzled veteran Fury points out that the limited number of people who even knew about the cosmic observer, let alone possessed the power to harm him, means the suspect pool must necessarily include not only villains but heroes too…

Meanwhile in the great Necropolis of Wakanda, the Black Panther is being updated by a shadowy figure calling itself The Unseen. The nebulous source also emphasises that in the days to come, with the kind of technologies the killer now possesses, nobody can be trusted, urging former King T’Challa to lead a distinctly offbeat team in a clandestine parallel investigation of the cosmic assassination…

Soon mystic master Dr. Strange, current Ant-Man – and former criminal – Scott Lang, Winter Soldier “Bucky” Barnes, telepathic X-Man Emma Frost, “deadliest woman in the galaxy” Gamora, former CIA spook and mercenary Moon Knight and wanted mass-murderer FrankThe PunisherCastle are following up leads somehow not available to Fury and the Avengers, even as on Earth The Thing battles a monster which might be connected to the crime…

The creature is a Mindless One from Dormammu’s Dark Dimension but this particular destructive horror now has a personality and even telepathic powers. It also wants to die and even with Spider-Man’s aid Ben Grimm is unable to stop it committing suicide using the Ultimate Nullifier which used to belong to Uatu…

By the time Fury and the Avengers arrive all that’s left is a scene of devastation, and the retired super spy officially takes over the investigation of what is now clearly a much bigger and growing problem…

Splitting up, the secret searchers travel to vastly differing locations in ‘Bomb Full of Secrets’ with the Panther, Frost and Ant-Man heading to the under-Earth kingdoms and uncovering a vast graveyard of monsters, whilst Castle and Strange voyage to a mystic realm where a magical leviathan has been killed by a incredibly large bore gamma bullet…

On Earth Fury has captured another rampaging No-Longer-Mindless One and is on the trail of the unlikely culprits who have brought the eldritch berserkers to Earth. Dr. Midas, his daughter Exterminatrix and The Orb were never A-List villains – or even contenders – but with one of Uatu’s eyes in their possession not only do they have access to everything the Watcher ever saw but the actual organ also mutates and transforms anything in its proximity into immensely powerful things never meant to be…

When a full team of Avengers raid the bad guys’ New York lair, a cataclysmic struggle ensues which ends as the Orb unleashes all the stored knowledge within the eye. In an instant, heroes, villains and innocent bystanders alike are engulfed in a wave of uncomfortable answers as every hidden detail of trillions of lives seen by Uatu for millions of years is randomly released and psychically downloaded like a ‘Bomb Full of Secrets’ into the mindscape of the world…

In the aftermath ‘Trust No One, Not Even Yourself’ sees the city reeling with the shock of uncounted disclosures – from stolen snacks to secret affairs to murders all coming to light – whilst at the centre of the Earth Ant-Man has finished recovering hundreds of gamma-bullets from the unending field of monster corpses.

In deep space Gamora, Winter Soldier and Moon Knight have followed their trail to a dead world. It takes a subtle shift of perspective and a sneaking suspicion to confirm that they are standing on a colossal, once-living planet-sized organism riddled with gamma-bullets…

The frustrated spacefarers chafe at the lead which has resulted in a dead end, but everything changes as Winter Soldier suddenly teleports out, blowing their ship up as he leaves. The Unseen’s covert investigators now have their first solid suspect…

On Earth Fury is pondering upon who might have Uatu’s other eye when Winter Soldier beams in and kills him…

‘Secret Warriors’ then focuses on growing divisions as Punisher and Dr. Strange steal Fury’s body whilst Barnes, holding the eye taken from his most recent victim, heads to the Watcher’s shattered lunar home before beaming into a hidden satellite.

His infiltration of the stellar fortress coincides with the arrival of his understandably aggrieved former associates and another brawl breaks out. The carnage is only curtailed when The Unseen appears…

It is a trusted ally who has been playing them all from the start…

The betrayer then recounts ‘The Secret History of Colonel Nicholas J. Fury’, disclosing how half a century ago a man named Woody McCord died battling an alien invasion, one of hundreds the hidden hero had stopped without the world even suspecting.

With the covert assistance of millionaire industrialist Howard Stark and his shadowy cabal, the replacement had become a “Man in the Wall”, spending all his days killing monsters, repelling demons and despatching extraterrestrial threats to mankind.

But with his death another – still relatively clean and idealistic – soul had to step in and continue doing all the unavoidable dirty jobs proper superheroes would baulk at.

This was achieved with no one the wiser whilst keeping up appearances in the “day job” as a shiny, bright public champion…

With clearly nothing as it seems, ‘Open Your Eye’ reveals how Dr. Midas, the Orb and Exterminatrix attacked Uatu, taking his eye. In the now The Watcher-mutated Orb demands the traitor tell the rest of the truth.

The second Man in the Wall is now dying too and convened the Panther’s investigation team to ferret out a suitable replacement ready to defend Earth with absolute resolution, deadly gamma bullets and no remorse…

As the failing warrior explains the true circumstances of Uatu’s death in ‘Nick Fury Vs. the World’ the possessor of the Watcher’s other – until now missing – eye is shockingly exposed and the fighting resumes. With Midas making one final push for ultimate power, the mess gets even messier as the Avengers, having pursued their own lines of enquiry, bust in and a frantic free-for-all begins…

With all the secrets laid bare and an event of cosmic importance clearly occurring a group of other Watchers materialise – and does nothing – as the Man in the Wall clashes with Earth’s champions; citing morality and expediency until Midas’ final gambit interrupts everything and already-transformed Orb steals the other eye, triggering a devastating detonation. When the dust settles a transmogrified Orb is loose to roam the Earth, a third Man in the Wall takes up the gamma-gun and waits for the next invasion and a newly transformed figure haunts the Moon as ‘The One Who Watches’

The miniseries generated 44 tie-in issues scattered through 14 other titles, but this compilation skips right to the end, to spotlighting a number of quirky vignettes from Original Sins #1-5, focusing on the fallout from the wave of secrets which were released to blanket the world after The Orb triggered Uatu’s eye.

Eschewing strict chronology for comprehension the exposures begin with all five chapters of Young Avengers serial ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ (by Ryan North, Ramon Villalobos & Jordan Gibson) which sees Hulkling, Marvel Boy and Prodigy attempt a different way of dealing with demon-possessed felon The Hood.

The skeevy rat wants to extract all the knowledge forcibly inserted into the heads of an entire building full of recreational drug-takers who were all high when the “Secrets Bomb” went off… not for himself, of course, but because the data is basting the minds of the already brain-fried kids and killing them.

Happily complying with such a selfless request, the Young Avengers seem to have forgotten one basic fact: demon-possessed felons have secret agendas and often lie…

Following swiftly on, ‘Terminus’ (Nathan Edmondson, Mike Perkins & Andy Troy) finds S.H.I.EL.D. agent Seth Horn pressing commuter Henry Hayes on his other identity as cyborg assassin Deathlok.

The psychic fact-insertions might have pushed incontrovertible truths into people’s heads but it did nothing to augment common sense or self-preservation…

That is also apparent in ‘Black Legacy’ (Frank Tieri, Raffaele Ienco & Brad Anderson) as writer Rebecca Stevens stalks Dane Whitman and challenges him with the bleak history of the curse of the Ebony Blade – a fearsome plight the traumatised Black Knight is already agonisingly aware of…

‘Whispers of War’ (Charles Soule, Ryan Brown & Edgar Delgado) finds newly Terrigen-enhanced (see Inhumanity) Lineage suddenly party to the true story of King Black Bolt’s greatest mistake and thus apprised of a fresh and now unavoidable conflict with the star-spanning Kree in the offing, whilst ‘Checkmate’ (James Robinson, Alex Maleev & Chris Peter) proves to ambitious businessman Gil Carmichael that insider information isn’t everything when the exposed secrets are Dr. Doom’s…

Nick Fury then callously reveals to lifelong comrade Dum Dum Dugan ‘How the World Works’ (Al Ewing. Butch Guice, Scott Hanna & Matthew Wilson) after which the funnier side of secrets comes to the fore in ‘Lockjaw: Buried Memory’ (Stuart Moore, Rick Geary & Ive Svorcina), Howard the Duck learns his place in ‘Before Your Eyes’ (Ty Templeton & Paul Mounts) and a Daily Bugle archivist uncovers the wrong review of Spider-Man’s early showbiz career in ‘Bury the Lead’ (Dan Slott, Mark Bagley, Joe Rubinstein & Mounts).

The glimpses into minds’ eyes ends with ‘Catharsis’ (David Abadta, Pablo Dura & Erica Henderson) as an anonymous Inuit flashes back to a distant moment in the arctic with a star spangled ice-cube before the whole shebang concludes with an outrageous and hilarious sequence of false memories starring Marvel’s biggest stars in ‘The No-Sin Situation’ by Chip Zdarsky…

With 43 covers-&-variants by Cheung, Ponsor, Julian Totino Tedesco, Mark Brooks, Paulo Manuel Rivera, Skottie Young, Art Adams, Zdarsky, Steve McNiven, Agustin Alessio, Gabriele Dell’Otto, Stephanie Hans, Guice, Marco Checchetto, Paul Renaud, Mike McKone & Jeun-Siik Ahn, this is a stunning and sensational saga that will delight any Fights ‘n’ Tights fan with a passing knowledge of Marvel history and comes fully loaded with digital extras accessible via the AR icon sections (Marvel Augmented Reality App) which give access to story bonuses if you download the free code from marvel.com onto your smartphone or Android-enabled tablet.

™ & © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

The Broons and Oor Wullie: The Roaring Forties


By R.D. Low & Dudley D. Watkins (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-804-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: How the Holidays Must Be Celebrated… 10/10

The Broons is one of the longest running newspaper strips in British history, having run almost continuously in Scottish newspaper The Sunday Post since its first amazing appearance in the March 8th 1936 edition: the same issue which launched mischievous and equally unchanging wee laddie Oor Wullie.

Both the boisterous boy and the gregariously engaging working class family were co-created by journalist, writer and editor Robert Duncan Low in conjunction with DC Thomson’s greatest artist Dudley D. Watkins and, once the strips began to be collected in reprint editions as Seasonal Annuals, those books alternated stars and years right up to the present day.

Low (1895-1980) began at DC Thomson as a journalist, rising to the post of Managing Editor of Children’s Publication and launching, between 1921 and 1933, the company’s “Big Five” story papers for boys: Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

In 1936 his next brilliant idea was the “Fun Section”: an 8-page pull-out comic strip supplement for national newspaper The Sunday Post. The illustrated accessory launched on 8th March and from the outset The Broons and Oor Wullie were the clear stars…

Low’s shrewdest notion was to devise both strips as comedies played out in the charismatic Scottish idiom and broad unforgettable vernacular where, supported by features such as Auchentogle by Chic Gordon, Allan Morley’s Nero and Zero, Nosey Parker and other strips, they laid the groundwork for the company’s next great leap.

After some devious devising in December 1937 Low launched the first DC Thomson weekly comic. The Dandy was followed by The Beano in 1938 and early-reading title The Magic Comic in 1939.

War-time paper shortages and rationing sadly curtailed the strip periodical revolution, and it was 1953 before the next wave of cartoon caper picture paper releases. The Topper started the ball rolling again (with Oor Wullie in the logo and masthead but not included in the magazine’s regular roster) in the same year that Low & the great Ken Reid created Roger the Dodger for The Beano

Low’s greatest advantage in the early days was his prolific illustrator Dudley Dexter Watkins, whose style – more than any other – shaped the look of DC Thompson’s comics output until the bombastic advent of Leo Baxendale shook things up in the mid-1950s.

Watkins (1907-1969) had started life in Manchester and Nottingham as a genuine artistic prodigy before entering Glasgow College of Art in 1924. It wasn’t long before he was advised to get a job at burgeoning, Dundee-based DCT, where a 6-month trial illustrating boys’ stories led to comic strip specials and some original cartoon creations.

Percy Vere and His Trying Tricks and Wandering Willie, The Wily Explorer made him a dead cert for both lead strips in the Sunday Post’s new Fun Section and, without missing a beat, Watkins later added The Dandy’s Desperate Dan to his weekly workload in 1937, eventually adding The Beano’s placidly outrageous Lord Snooty seven months later.

Watkins soldiered on in unassailable triumph for decades, drawing some of the most lavishly lifelike and winningly hilarious strips in comics history. He died at his drawing board on August 20th 1969.

For all those astonishingly productive years he had unflaggingly drawn a full captivating page each of Oor Wullie and The Broons every week, and his loss was a colossal blow to the company.

DC Thomson reprinted old episodes of both strips in the newspaper and the Annuals for seven years before a replacement was agreed upon, whilst The Dandy reran Watkins’ Desperate Dan stories for twice that length of time.

An undeniable, rock-solid facet of Scots popular culture from the start, the first Broons Annual (technically Bi-Annual) had appeared in 1939, alternating with Oor Wullie – although, due to wartime paper restrictions, no annuals were published between 1943 and 1946 – and for millions of readers a year cannot truly end without them.

So What’s the Set Up?: the multigenerational Broon family inhabit a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street, in the timelessly metafictional Scottish industrial everytown of Auchentogle (or sometimes Auchenshoogle), based in large part on the working class Glasgow district of Auchenshuggle. As such it’s an ideal setting in which to tell gags, relate events and fossilise the deepest and most reassuring cultural archetypes for sentimental Scots wherever in the world they might actually be residing.

As is always the case, the adamant, unswerving cornerstone of any family feature is long-suffering, understanding Maw, who puts up with cantankerous, cheap know-it-all Paw, and a battalion of stay-at-home kids comprising hunky Joe, freakishly tall Hen (Henry), sturdy Daphne, pretty Maggie, brainy Horace, mischievous twins Eck and the unnamed “ither ane” plus the wee toddler referred to only as “The Bairn”.

Not officially in residence but always hanging around is gruffly patriarchal buffoon Granpaw – a comedic gadfly who spends more time at Glebe Street than his own cottage and constantly tries to impart decades of out-of-date, hard-earned experience to the kids… but do they listen…?

Offering regular breaks from the inner city turmoil and a chance to simultaneously sentimentalise, spoof and memorialise more traditional times, the family frequently repair to their But ‘n’ Ben (a dilapidated rustic cottage in the Highlands) to fall foul of the weather, the countryside and all its denizens: fish, fowl and farm-grown…

As previously stated, Oor Wullie also debuted on 8th March 1936 with his collected Annuals appearing in the even years.

The basic set-up is sublimely simply and eternally evergreen, featuring an imaginative, good-hearted scruff with a talent for finding trouble and no hope of ever avoiding parental retribution when appropriate…

Wullie – AKA William MacCallum – is the archetypal rascal with time on his hands and can usually be found sitting on an upturned bucket at the start and finish of his page-a-week exploits.

The regular cast includes Ma and Pa, local copper P.C. Murdoch, assorted teachers and other interfering adults who either lavish gifts or inflict opprobrium upon the little pest and his pals Fat Bob, Soapy Joe Soutar, Wee Eck and others…

The Roaring Forties was released in 2002 as part of a concerted drive to keep the earlier material available to fans: a lavish and sturdy hardback compilation (still readily available through internet vendors) offering a tantalising selection of strips from 1940-1949, covering every aspect of contemporary existence except a rather obvious one.

Although for half the book World War II was a brutal fact of life, it barely encroached upon the characters’ lives except perhaps in the unexplained occasional shortages of toys, sweets and other scrummy comestibles…

The parade of celtic mirth begins with – and is regularly broken up by – a number of atmospheric photo-features such as a celebration of film stars of the period in ‘A Nicht at the Picters’ (three glamour-studded showings) and ‘Cartoon Capers’ which reproduces a wealth of one-off gag panels from The Sunday Post by such luminaries as Carmichael, Eric Cook, Campbell and Housley, whilst ‘Whit’s in The Sunday Post Today?’ gathers a selection of the era’s daftest news items.

The endless escapades of the strip stars comprise the usual subject-matter: gleeful goofs, family frolics and gloriously slapstick shenanigans including plumbing disasters, fireplace fiascos, food foolishness, dating dilemmas, appliance atrocities, fashion freak-outs, exercise exploits and childish pranks by young and old alike…

Punctuated by editorial extras, such as ‘Correction Corner’ offering an intriguing look into the strips’ creative process and ‘Dinnae Mention the War’ which reprints a selection of morale-boosting ads and items, are rib-tickling scenes of sledding and skating, stolen candies, torn clothes, recycled comics, visiting circuses, practical jokes, and social gaffes: stories intended to take our collective mind off troubles abroad, and for every thwarted romance of poor Daphne and Maggie or embarrassing fiasco focussed on Paw’s cussedness, there’s an uproarious chase, riotous squabble and no-tears scrap for the little ‘uns.

With snobs to deflate, bullies to crush, duels to fight, chips to scoff, games to win and rowdy animals (from cats to cows) to avoid at all costs, the timeless gentle humour and gently self-deprecating, inclusive fun and frolics make these superbly crafted strips and endlessly entertaining serving of superbly nostalgic an unmissable treat.

So why not return to a time of local blacksmiths and coalmen, best china and full employment, neighbours you knew by first names and trousers that always fell apart or were chewed by goats? There are even occasional crossovers to marvel at here with Wullie and Granpaw Broon striving to outdo each other in the adorable menace stakes…

Packed with all-ages fun, rambunctious slapstick hilarity and comfortably domestic warmth, these unchanging examples of happy certainty and convivial celebration of a mythic lost life and time are a sure cure for post-modern glums… and you can’t really have a happy holiday without that, can you?
© D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. 2002.