The Phoenix Presents… Corpse Talk Season 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolverine First Class: Class Actions


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Phoenix Presents… Bunny vs. Monkey Book One


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman: Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be So Continued…

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

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

©1990, 1996 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit www.readingagency.org.uk

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

Judgment Day and Other Stories


Illustrated by Joe Orlando, written by Al Feldstein & Jack Oleck with Ray Bradbury, Otto Binder & Bill Gaines (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-727-7

During an era of traditionally genre-inspired entertainments, EC Comics excelled in tales that both epitomised and revolutionised the hallowed, hoary themes such standard story categories utilised.

The company had started publishing in 1944 when comicbook pioneer Max Gaines – presumably seeing the writing on the wall – sold the superhero properties of his All-American Comics company to half-sister National/DC, retaining only Picture Stories from the Bible.

His high-minded plan was to produce a line of Educational Comics with schools and church groups as the major target market. He augmented his flagship title with Picture Stories from American History, Picture Stories from Science and Picture Stories from World History but the worthy projects were all failing when he died in a boating accident in 1947.

As detailed in the comprehensive closing feature of this superb graphic compilation (‘Crime, Horror, Terror, Gore, Depravity, Disrespect for Established Authority – and Science Fiction Too: the Ups and Downs of EC Comics’ by author, critic and fan Ted White) his son was rapidly dragged into the company by Business Manager and unsung hero Sol Cohen who held the company together until the initially unwilling Bill Gaines abandoned his dreams of being a chemistry teacher and quickly refashioned the ailing enterprise into Entertaining Comics…

After a few tentative false starts and abortive experiments copying industry fashions, young Bill began to closely collaborate with multi-talented associate Al Feldstein, who promptly graduated from creating teen comedies and westerns into becoming Gaines’ editorial supervisor and co-conspirator.

As they began collaboratively plotting the bulk of EC’s stories together, they changed tack, moving in a boldly impressive new direction. Their publishing strategy, utilising the most gifted illustrators in the field, was to tell a “New Trend” of stories aimed at older and more discerning readers, not the mythical semi-literate 8-year-old all comicbooks ostensibly targeted.

From 1950 to 1955 EC was the most innovative and influential publisher in America, dominating the genres of crime, horror, war and science fiction and even creating an entirely new beast: the satirical comicbook…

Feldstein had started life as a comedy cartoonist and, after creator/editor Harvey Kurtzman departed in 1956, Al became Editor of Mad magazine for the next three decades …

This ninth volume of the Fantagraphics EC Library gathers a mind-boggling selection of science fiction tales – mostly co-plotted by sci-fi fan and companion-in-crime (and Horror and Comedy and…) Gaines – all illuminated by the company’s most successful alumnus: a legendary, chameleonic artist, illustrator, editor and latterly discoverer of new talent who went on to impact the burgeoning comics industry over and over again.

The Amazing work of Joe Orlando (1927-1998) has been gathered here in a fabulous bible of iconic graphic futurism: a lavish monochrome hardcover edition packed with supplementary features and dissertations; beginning with historian and educator Bill Mason’s informative and laudatory essay ‘Orlando Ascendant’.

What follows is a spectacular beguiling, amazing and frequently wryly hilarious panoply of fantastic wonders, opening with an adaptation of one of Ray Bradbury’s most famous short stories taken from his Martian Chronicles cycle. Bradbury – a huge fan of comics – had, after a tricky start (involving an unsanctioned adaptation of one of his works), struck a deal with EC that saw a number of his horror, crime and science fantasy tales transformed into quite remarkable pieces of mature strip magic.

The eerily poignant and disturbing yarn ‘The Long Years!’ was adapted by Feldstein for Weird Science #17, (January/February 1953) and detailed how a relief ship to the Red Planet found an old man and his young family. …Or rather the perfect thinking facsimiles he had built after they had died decades previously. In that same month Weird Fantasy #17 featured an all-original Feldstein/Gaines yarn.

‘In the Beginning…’ was a delightfully convoluted time-paradox tale which took flight after Earth explorers landed on a mysterious tenth planet in the solar system, after which

‘Infiltration’ (Shock SupenStories #7, February/March 1953) highlighted Cold War paranoia and repression as a plucky young woman takes up her post in Washington DC and uncovers evidence of alien enemies entrenched in the corridors of power.

Wry irony underpinned the tale of a greedy TV repairman who stumbled upon a crashedUFO and sought to make his fortune by patenting some of the unique components in   ‘Dissassembled!’ (Weird Science #18, March/April 1953), whilst simultaneously, in Weird Fantasy #18, ‘Judgment Day!’ took a powerful poke at America’s institutionalised bigotry and racism with the allegorical tale of an Earthman visiting a colony of robots who had devised a uniquely oppressive form of apartheid.

The stunningly effective story was reprinted in Incredible Science Fiction #33 (January/February 1956) as Gaines & Feldstein’s last sally and parting shot against the repressive, ever-more censorious Comics Code Authority before shutting down EC’s comicbook division for good…

‘Keyed Up!’ from Weird Science #19, May/June 1953 detailed how a drunken spacer who had accidentally killed most of his fellows came a cropper after trying to bury the evidence, whilst that month in sister publication Weird Fantasy #19 ‘Time for a Change!’ saw explorers on Pluto lethally succumb to the tempo and dangers of local rotational conditioners before ‘The Meddlers!’ (Shock SupenStories #9, June/July 1953) revealed how small-town suspicion and hostility turned a scientist into a pariah, a corpse and eventually the doom of scenic Millville

Gaines and Feldstein were as much satirists, reformers and social commentators as entertainers and never missed an opportunity to turn a harsh spotlight on stupidity, cupidity, prejudice and injustice. They struck gold with ‘The Reformers’ (Weird Science #20, July/August 1953), which outrageously lampooned interfering star-roving blue-stocking do-gooders who discovered a planet they simply couldn’t find fault with… no matter how infernally hard they tried.

More importantly this also gave the phenomenally gifted humorist Orlando a rare opportunity to apply his subtler gifts of character nuance and comic timing.

Totalitarianism came under the hammer with ‘The Automaton’ (Weird Fantasy #20, July/August 1953) as a rebellious individual who refused to acknowledge that he was “property of the State” killed himself. Over and over and over and over again…

‘Home Run!’ (Shock SuspenStories #10 August/September 1953) saw a creature trapped on Earth go to extraordinary measures to return to Mars whilst Weird Science #21 (September/October 1953) played with the plot of the Ugly Duckling for the cruel fantasy ‘The Ugly One’.

An invisible, untouchable intruder wreaked havoc with a band of stellar prospectors in the chilling ‘My Home…’ (Weird Fantasy #21, September/October 1953), before Bradbury’s deeply moving family fable ‘Outcast of the Stars’ (Weird Science #22 November/December 1953) confirms Orlando’s artistic star quality with the subtly uplifting tale of a poor man who gives his children the most magnificent gift of all time…

In a genre where flash and dazzle were the norm, the illustrator’s deft ability to portray the subtler shades of being merely human regularly took the readers’ breath away…

Alien archaeologists reconstructed a shocking surprise when they reached Earth and reconstructed ‘The Fossil’ (Weird Fantasy #22 November/December 1953) and ‘Fair Trade’ (Weird Science Fantasy #23, Spring 1954) explored the ever-present prospect of atomic Armageddon before Feldstein adroitly adapted another pulp sci-fi author’s masterwork in ‘The Teacher from Mars’ (Weird Science Fantasy #23 June 1954).

Otto Binder had two writing careers. As Eando Binder he crafted superb short stories and classic space novels whilst as comicbook scripter using his given name he revolutionised superhero sagas as chief writer on Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, assorted icons of the Superman Family and a host of others.

Amongst the legion of publishers he worked for was EC Comics, but he had no part in the adaptation of his deeply moving tale of an alien educator facing intolerance from his human students. The magic comes purely from Feldstein’s sensitive adaptation and Orlando’s passionate drawing.

Weird Science Fantasy #25 (September 1954) offered a gem of existentialist philosophy in ‘Harvest’ wherein a robotic farmer questions his never-ending task… until he finally meets the things he’s been growing his crops for, after which Jack Oleck concocts a brace of clever yarns beginning with ‘Conditioned Reflex’ (Incredible Science Fiction #30 July/August 1955) which tells a brilliantly conceived shaggy-dog story about alien invasion and the perils of smoking before ‘Fallen Idol!’ (Incredible Science Fiction #32 November/December 1955) takes us to a post-atomic World of Tomorrow wherein a bold raid on a fallen metropolis promises to change the lives of the barbaric humans and their ambitious leader forever…

The last three stories in this titanic tome are adaptations of Binder’s astoundingly popular pulp sci-fi series starring “Human Robot” Adam Link: ten novellas written between 1939 and 1942.

As detailed in prose introductory briefing Adam Link: Behind the Scenes, the first three prose thrillers were adapted by Feldstein and Orlando at the end of the publisher’s struggle against comics censorship. Orlando returned to the feature a decade later when EC-influenced Creepy revived Adam Link, with Binder himself on the scripts. (Another graphic novel collection, another time, perhaps…?)

Here however the wonderment commences with ‘I, Robot’ (yep, Isaac Asimov didn’t coin the phrase, and was forced to use it on his own anthology of robot tales in 1950) from Weird Science Fantasy #27 (January/February 1955) which saw an erudite, sensitive mechanical man commit his origins to paper whilst waiting for a mob of outraged humans to come and destroy him…

The story continued in ‘The Trial of Adam Link’ in issue #28 (March/April) as crusading

lawyer Thomas Link struggles to clear the robot of a murder charge and win for him the right to be called human before the sequence concludes with ‘Adam Link in Business’ (Weird Science Fantasy #29 May/June 1955) as the enfranchised automaton struggles to find his place in society and is struck low by the emotion of love…

Throughout this collection, encompassing monstrous pride, overweening prejudice, terrifying power and fallen glories, Joe Orlando’s sly and subversive artistry always captured the frailties and nobility of Man and the crazy, deadly and ironically cruel, funny nature of the universe that awaited him. These stories are wonderful, subtle and entrancing and, adding final weight to the proceedings, is S.C. Ringgenberg’s biography of artistic renaissance man ‘Joe Orlando’, the aforementioned history of EC and a comprehensively illuminating ‘Behind the Panels: Creator Biographies’ feature by Arthur Lortie, Tom Spurgeon and Janice Lee.

The short, sweet but severely limited output of EC has been reprinted ad infinitum in the decades since the company died. These astounding stories and art not only changed comics but also infected the larger world through film and television and via the millions of dedicated devotees still addicted to New Trend tales.

However, the most influential stories are somehow the ones least known these days.

Judgment Day is a mind-bending, eye-popping paean of praise to the sheer ability of a master of the comic art and offers a fabulously engaging introduction for every lucky stargazer fan encountering the material for the very first time.

Whether you are an aging fear aficionado or callow contemporary convert, this is a book you must not miss…

Judgment Day and Other Stories © 2014 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All comics stories © 2014 William M. Gaines Agent, Inc., reprinted with permission. All other material © 2014 the respective creators and owners.

Ultimate Fantastic Four volume 2: Doom


By Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1457-4

After Marvel’s financial problems and creative roadblock in the late 1990s, the company came back swinging. A critical new concept was the remodelling and modernising of their core characters for the new youth culture.

The Ultimate imprint abandoned monumental long-grown continuity – which had always been Marvel’s greatest asset – to re-imagine major characters in their own self-sufficient universe, offering varying degrees of radical makeover to appeal to the contemporary 21st century audience and offer them a chance to get in on the ground floor.

Peter Parker was once again a nerdy high-school geek, brilliant but bullied by his physical superiors, and mutants were a dangerous, oppressed ethic minority scaring the pants off the ordinary Americans they hid amongst. There were also fresh and fashionable, modernistic, scientifically feasible rationales for all those insane super-abilities manifesting everywhere…

The experiment began in 2000 with a post-modern take on Ultimate Spider-Man. Ultimate X-Men followed in 2001 and Mighty Avengers reworking The Ultimates came in 2002.

The stories, design and even tone of the heroes were retooled for the perceived-as-different tastes of a new readership: those tired of or unwilling to stick with precepts originated by inspirational founding fathers Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, or (hopefully) new consumers unprepared or unwilling to deal with five decades (seven if you include Golden Age Timely tales retroactively co-opted into the mix) of interconnected story baggage.

The new universe quickly prospered and soon filled up with more refashioned, morally ambiguous heroes and villains but eventually even this darkly nihilistic new universe became as continuity-constricted as its ancestor.

In 2008, imprint-wide decluttering exercise “Ultimatum” culminated in a reign of terror which excised dozens of superhumans and millions of lesser mortals in a devastating tsunami which inundated Manhattan, courtesy of mutant menace Magneto.

Before that, however, Marvel’s original keystone concept was given an Ultimate working over and this stellar volume collects Ultimate Fantastic Four #17-12 (August to December 2004), and digital-colourist Dave Stewart relates how a subtly different Awesome Foursome began to affect the brand new, yet chillingly familiar world.

The most significant change to Stan & Jack’s breakthrough concept was a rather telling one: all four heroes were far, far younger than their mainstream antecedents…

Whereas in the original, middle-aged maverick genius Reed Richards, doughty friend Ben Grimm, ineffectual girlfriend Sue Storm and her younger brother Johnny survived a privately-funded space-shot which foundered when cosmic rays penetrated their vessel’s inadequate shielding and were mutated into a quartet into quirky freaks, here events transpired in a far more sinister manner…

Infant prodigy Reed was a lonely super-genius increasingly despised by his abusive blue-collar dad, bullied at school and obsessed with other dimensions. His only friend was classmate and school sports star Ben, who had unaccountably appointed himself the wonder-nerd’s protector…

Reed’s life changed the day his High School science project – teleportation – caught the eye of a government talent scout from a high powered think tank. Soon the outsider kid was ensconced in a New York facility for budding geniuses…

Run by brilliant Professor Franklin Storm, the Baxter Building was a wonderland of top-flight resources, intellectual challenges and guarded support, but school was primarily an ideas factory and the 100 strange, bright kids were expected to produce results…

Administrator Storm’s son Johnny was there mostly as a courtesy, but his daughter Sue was a biology prodigy and one of the biggest young brains on Earth…

Pretty hot, too…

Reed’s teleportation researches were just a necessary preliminary to his greater goal: mastery of a strange sub-dimension – a place the Baxter scientists call the Negative Zone. With their aid the passing years were largely spent in trying to fully access it, but regular studies continued too, with quite a few burn-outs and casualties.

Some kids thrived on the aggressive hot-housing; especially creepy, arrogant, insular Victor Van Damme, who after a particularly galling incident with Reed, somehow managed to swallow his seething animosity to collaborate on cracking the dimension calculations…

At last 21-year-old Reed and fractious lab partner Victor were shipped out to Nevada for the first full test of the N-Zone teleport system. The Storms went along for the ride, but as the army technicians counted down, Van Damme argued with Richards before secretly changing the still hotly debated and contested calculations…

At that moment backpacker Ben Grimm had wandered into camp to see his old sidekick after more than a decade apart, and snotty Johnny distracted Reed by disclosing that his sister Sue had the hots for the long-obsessed but crushingly shy wonderboy…

The test firing became a literal catastrophe.

The site was devastated in a shattering release of energy and Reed awoke some distance away as an amorphous blob of eerily boneless flesh, mistaken by the soldiers for an extra-dimensional invader.

Ben came to in Mexico as a huge rocky orange monster, and Johnny eventually called in from a hospital bed in France. He kept catching on fire without ever burning himself…

Sue has simply vanished without a trace…

She was eventually recovered from miles below New York City, gifted with invisibility and force field powers but captured by disgraced and long-missing Baxter Building boffin Arthur Molekevic: a literal Mole Man re-populating ancient, previously inhabited caverns with a selection of his own dish-grown monsters and homunculi…

The unsavoury savant had deduced that the quartet’s uncontrolled projection through N-Space – utterly unprotected from whatever transformative energies and unknown physical laws might apply there – had transformed them on some unfathomable fundamental level. Their incredible new gifts and appearances are the result…

When Mole Man attacked the surface world the foursome had chaotically united to defeat him and this second 6-part saga – by Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and digital colour wizard Dave Stewart – picks up the story as Reed, perpetually pondering and fixating upon what transformed them and how, at last deduces that Victor had tampered with the N-Zone Superpostioner codes…

He is then pressured by Sue into finally submitting to a barrage of biological tests; even convincing barely-reactive, stonily shellshocked Ben into doing likewise. The findings are astounding, unbelievable and – for us readers – rather gross and pretty hilarious…

Victor has been missing since the test went so explosively awry. Unknown to all, he was also transformed into an uncanny new life-form and now lurks in a ramshackle communal squat in Denmark, obsessing on his abusive father and the daily cruelties that direct descent of Vlad Tepes had inflicted upon his only heir in the name of honouring the august and reviled line of Dracula

Victor wants revenge and needs data, so his nimble but malformed hands have cobbled together a lethal swarm of killer spy wasps from discarded cellphones and the electronic detritus scattered in the streets…

As the bugs head for America the last scion of the Draculas advances his other plan: building a kingdom of the wretched from the city’s outcasts and dropouts. They all love and revere him. The electronic tattoos admitting them to his Order of the Dragon guarantee that…

When the swarm at last reaches the Baxter Building they utterly overwhelm and eradicate the military forces “protecting” the unsettling quartet of freaks, but after a spectacular struggle fall before the incredible power of Ben, Sue and Johnny.

Aware at last that the accident has turned the trio into beings as advanced as he, Victor lays new plans whilst largely discounted and loathed Reed frantically attempts to track the source of the assault.

The furious prodigy realises that if he can get the altered N-Zone Superpostioner codes from Victor, there’s a strong chance he can reverse the process and restore them all to true humanity.

Sadly, Professor Storm won’t let them go and instead dispatches a military squad to covertly rendition Van Dammer from sovereign Danish territory, but Reed is no longer the docile star pupil and sneaks off with “his” team in a flying supercar he built when he was thirteen.

He’s going to get those codes out of his treacherous lab partner and have a normal life no matter the cost…

Unfortunately Victor is waiting for them with an horrific range of new powers, deadly weapons and an army of unwashed hippie slaves, but the manic control freak is totally unprepared for the fact that his deadly rival has powers too: a fact none of his death-bugs managed to convey before they were destroyed.

The conflict then spirals completely out of control when US Special Forces blaze in to snatch Van Damme and run slam-bang into an extremely ticked off Danish army a trifle upset by the illegal American incursion…

Rocket-paced, razor sharp and blisteringly action-packed, this riotous romp is also liberally dosed with teen-oriented humour for the era of the acceptable nerd and go-getting geek, delivering a sublimely enthralling alternate view of Marvel’s most important title that will impress open-minded old fans of the medium just as much as the newcomers they were ostensibly aiming for.
© 2005 and 2005 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Batman Chronicles volume 11


By Bob Kane, Don Cameron, Bill Finger, Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene, Mort Weisinger, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics) ISBN: 978-1-4012-3739-4

Debuting a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) cemented DC/National Comics as the market and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry. Having established the parameters of the metahuman in their Man of Tomorrow, the physical mortal perfection and dashing derring-do of the strictly human-scaled adventures starring the Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crimebusters were judged.

This eleventh volume of chronological Batman yarns from the dawn of his career covers Batman #20-21, Detective Comics #82-85 and World’s Finest Comics #12, and again features their exploits from the height of World War II – specifically December 1943 to March 1944.

These Golden Age greats are some of the finest tales in Batman’s decades-long canon, as lead writers Bill Finger and Don Cameron, supplemented by Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene and Mort Weisinger pushed the boundaries of the adventure medium whilst graphic genius Dick Sprang slowly superseded Bob Kane and Jack Burnley: making the feature uniquely his own and keeping the Dynamic Duo at the forefront of the vast army of superhero successes.

War always stimulates creativity and advancement and these sublime adventures of Batman and Robin more than prove that axiom as the growing band of creators responsible for producing the bi-monthly adventures of the Dark Knight hit an artistic peak which only stellar stable-mate Superman and Fawcett’s Captain Marvel were able to equal or even approach.

Moreover with the conflict finally turning in the Good Guys’ favour the escapades became upbeat and more wide-ranging. The Home Front seemed a lot brighter as can be seen in Batman #20 which opened with the Joker in ‘The Centuries of Crime!’ (Cameron & the Jack and Ray Burnley) with Mountebank of Mirth claiming to have discovered a nefariously profitable method of time-travelling, whilst ‘The Trial of Titus Keyes!’ (Finger, Kane & Jerry Robinson) offered a masterful courtroom drama of injustice amended, focussing on the inefficacy of witness statements…

‘The Lawmen of the Sea!’ by Finger & the Burnley boys found the Dynamic Duo again working with a lesser known Police Division as they joined The Harbor Patrol in their daily duties and uncovered a modern day piracy ring, before the issue concluded on a dramatic high with ‘Bruce Wayne Loses Guardianship of Dick Grayson!’ wherein a couple of fraudsters claiming to be the boy’s last remaining relatives petition to adopt him. A melodramatic triumph by Finger, Kane & Robinson, there’s still plenty of action, especially after the grifters try to sell Dick back to Bruce Wayne…

In Detective Comics #82 Cameron, Kane & George Roussos explored the dark side of American Football through the rise and explosive downfall of the ‘Quarterback of Crime!’ after which premiere anthology World’s Finest Comics #12 revealed how ‘Alfred Gets His Man!’ (Finger & Sprang), as Batman’s faithful new retainer revived his own boyhood dreams of being a successful detective with hilarious and action-packed results…

Portly butler Alfred’s diet regime thereafter led the Gotham Guardians to a murderous mesmerising medic and criminal insurance scam in ‘Accidentally on Purpose!’, courtesy of Cameron, Kane & Roussos (Detective #83), after which Batman #21 catered an all-Sprang art extravaganza.

The drama opened with slick Schiff-scripted tale ‘The Streamlined Rustlers’ following the Gotham Gangbusters way out west to solve a devilish mystery and crush a gang of beef-stealing black market black hats, after which Cameron described the antics of murderous big city mobster Chopper Gant who conned a military historian into planning his capers and briefly stymied Batman and Robin with his warlike ‘Blitzkrieg Bandits!’

Alvin Schwartz penned the delightfully convoluted romp ‘His Lordship’s Double’ which saw newly dapper, slimline manservant Alfred asked to impersonate a purportedly crowd-shy aristocratic inventor… only to become the victim in a nasty scheme to secure the true toff’s latest invention…

It all culminates with ‘The Three Eccentrics’ by Joe Greene, which detailed the wily Penguin’s schemes to empty the coffers of a trio of Gotham’s wealthiest misfits…

Over in Detective Comics #84, Mort Weisinger & Sprang (with layouts by Ed Kressy)

pitted the Partners in Peril against an incredible Underworld University churning out ‘Artists in Villainy’ before Detective #85 – written by Bill Finger – closes this compilation highlighting Sprang’s first brush with the Clown Prince of Crime. In one of the most madcap moments in the entire annals of adventure, Batman and his arch-foe almost united to hunt for the daring desperado who stole the Harlequin of Hate’s shtick and glory as ‘The Joker’s Double’

This sublime selection of classic comicbook clashes comes in the bold primary palettes of the original release and on authentically textured white newsprint: a true multi-sensorial joy to hold and to read whilst showcasing creators and characters at their absolute peak.

If only other companies with an extensive Golden Age back-catalogue like Marvel and Archie would follow suit…

© 1943, 1944, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Death Sentence


By Montynero & Mike Dowling (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-008-5

For most of us Sex Sells.

If that’s not you and you’re easily shocked or offended, stop Right Here, Right Now and come back for a less grown up review tomorrow…

As for the salacious, tawdry, vulgar rest of humanity, however, fornication is a force that cannot be resisted and we’re always gagging for it.

One outrageous potential result of that inescapable biological imperative was recently examined and scathingly lampooned in a dark and decadent fable from scripter, artist and games designer Montynero and sublime illustrator Mike Dowling. Death Sentence – after an initial and truncated appearance in Clint Magazine in 2012 – was retooled and completed in a breakthrough 6-issue miniseries which took the comics world by storm when it was released in October 2013.

Now the entire sordid episode has been compiled – along with a scintillating selection of irresistible extras – in a stout and sturdy hardcover collection that promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year…

The author’s own Introduction kicks everything off (and is complemented by another from Rob Williams) before the seductively apocalyptic tale begins with ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ wherein frustrated artist Verity Fette is getting some very distressing news in a Camden doctor’s surgery.

She’s just been diagnosed with G+: a new, universally fatal sexually transmitted disease that has a rather peculiar side-effect.

Although this STI kills in six months, for the length of that time the victim “suffers” from increased vigour, stamina, sex drive and even develops some form of super power…

Over in Primrose Hill, disgraced, shambolic and rapidly fading rock star Daniel Waissel AKA Weasel awakes from another unspecified period of debauched excess and tries to make sense of what his A&R man Russ is saying.

Apparently having G+ might be the only thing to revive his failing career and, if his power is music-related, perhaps he can still get all six of the albums he’s contracted for finished before he joins all the other dead legends going out in a blaze of lucrative glory…

Whilst Verity is quitting her meaningless job, over the river in a South Bank TV studio comedian, media darling, affirmed libertine and G+ carrier David “Monty” Montgomery is charmingly, charismatically, shockingly titillating the nation again; avowing that his final months on Earth won’t alter his pleasure-seeking behaviour or sensuous attitudes…

Later, Weasel’s powers at last manifest when a couple of irate drug dealers turn up, wanting payment for the prodigious amount of pharmaceuticals the creatively blocked musician has consumed, but neither he nor the other two G+ sufferers are aware that a shady government agency is keeping tabs on them.

Unfortunately, when the spooks decide to “acquire” Verity the result is spectacular and very messy…

Determined to keep the populace in the dark, the Department of National Security goes into utter bastard mode: blaming the gory fiasco on fictitious terrorists whilst covertly hunting the terrified ‘Dissolved Girl’ through the seedy streets of London.

Weasel is – as always – an emotional wreck, avoiding decisions – or making rock & roll – via a constant flurry of sex and drugs. His wake-up call comes when he realises his new normal has ended his latest bedmate in a most unsavoury manner…

Monty, however, is completely in control: aware of what he’s doing and not about to let a few interfering coppers get in his way.

Appalled and guilt-ridden, Verity regains consciousness on a remote Scottish island, where a very nice old lady makes her an intriguing offer before inviting the still-frustrated artist into the huge secret base beneath the heather…

‘Royals’ finds bored and increasingly irresistibly Monty pondering how to top his already prodigious and unsurpassed career of licentious excess before heading off to Buckingham Palace…

North of the border Verity is beguiled by talk of a cure and agrees to let Dr. Lunn train her in the use of her rapidly-expanding abilities whilst on a quiet London street fugitive Weasel sneaks into the bedroom of his son.

Leaving Mickey with his mother might well be only good thing he’s ever done in his whole wasted life…

This sentimental act is a big blunder though, as a flotilla of copters leads a blistering military ambush which, after a spectacular chase, finally leads to the capture of the musical rebel without a clue…

When he arrives on the island, the nice doctors are keen on helping Weasel learn about himself and sexy fellow inmate Verity. They happily provide space, time, tuition, medical grade drugs…

Down South, Monty, having crowned himself King of Britain, is barely able to contain his self-absorbed glee. ‘In the City’ sees him really stretching himself, and after a psionic flexing of his mental muscle, bloodily destroying a division of the army as well as the ruling elite of Britain, he declares London a city free from all laws.

Influenced as much by a sense of wild liberty as Monty’s surging mental influence, the population descends into gory debauchery, prompting the American President and NATO to take matters into their own hand before the seditious super-maniac works himself up into becoming a global threat…

In Scotland Dr. Lunn is helpless to prevent the DNS frantically turning her research subjects into weapons to use against the rogue G+ victim who has turned London into a sex-fuelled charnel house. Their main concern is to end the affair before the full NATO fleet steaming ominously towards Britain takes the matter into their own terrified, remorseless, thermonuclear hands…

‘This Woman’s Work’ ratchets up the tension as Monty increasingly opts for slaughter over sex whilst Verity and Weasel have no choice but to grudgingly accept that they might be the only way to stop him. The crisis then reaches a catastrophic climax in ‘To the End’…but not in a way you’d suspect or be comfortable with…

Each chapter is bolstered by a series of faux news articles and public service features ranging from ‘Pop goes the Weasel’ to a medical advice website page for potential G+ sufferers, and this lewdly lavish hardback tome also includes a fifteen-strong covers-&-variants gallery, a fulsome, informative and frequently hilarious ‘Death Sentence Commentary’ from Montynero and Mike Dowling, and more.

Bold, slick, immensely engrossing and intoxicatingly enjoyable, Death Sentence is a black, uproarious fairytale for adults that blends superhero tropes with outrageous cheek, deliriously shocking situations and in-your-face irreverence, making it one of the most notable and unmissable comics tales of the last half century…

Buy it, read it and spread it around to everyone…

Death Sentence ™ and © 2014 Montynero, Mike Dowling and Titan Comics. All rights reserved.

Babak Ganjei’s Road House


By Babak Ganjei (Records Records Records Books)
ISBN: 978-0-9566330-7-1

Comics are a uniquely universal and predominantly graphic engine of narrative which can be as clear, concise and precise as a diagram or as shaded and meaningfully obscurantist as “Beat” poetry or The Clangers.

Moreover, when sequential panels are loaded with layers of pristine clarity which are simultaneously hooded or non-specific imagery, the effects can be spectacularly engaging.

According to author/illustrator Babak Ganjei this particular pictorial feast results from a momentary connection of artistic drudgery to a state of pure channelled creativity.

“I was hung-over; sitting in my studio, everyone else was working around me. I had Road House streaming from Netflix, I started drawing it; more than anything just to look busy. However as I got through the first few scenes I thought how it would be nice to truly immerse myself in a project that would take some time and with that time become it’s own thing”

The enterprise grew and, despite overrunning the artist’s self-imposed time and space restrictions, gelled into a compulsive exhibition of artistic motor skills and disassociative construction of story elements. The brain wants logic and sees patterns: the hands and eyes just keep moving. Just ask any freelancer who has spent three days awake finishing a rush deadline job…

In case you haven’t caught it, Road House was released in 1989, a low-budget action flick starring Patrick Swayze, Sam Elliott and Ben Gazarra. It was directed by Rowdy Herrington, and John Wilson (founder of the Golden Raspberry Awards) listed it as “one of the 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made”.

The transformed, reconstituted result is a beguiling 192 page landscape hardback continuity (185 of which are the resultant images) delivered in a stark, enthralling monochrome which offers a truly raw storytelling experience, with one panel per page each captioned with brief, pithy “found” quotes from a wide range of other sources such as Foucoult, Foster Wallace and Baudrillard, Ali to Richard Pryor to Steve Martin…

A moodily effective, oddly gripping little (148 x 210mm) experimental treat, Babak Ganjei’s Road House is practically Dadaist in delivery and ferociously enticing, something no lover of comics or practitioner of the visual arts should miss… and perhaps later attempt for themselves.

Perhaps this is the beginning of a new trend or Olympic sport…

Tantalising thought, no…?

© Records Records Records 2013.