Clifton volume 1: My Dear Wilkinson


By De Groot & Turk translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905469-06-9

For some inexplicable reason most of Europe’s comics cognoscenti – and especially the French and Belgians – are fascinated with us Brits. Whether it’s Anglo air ace Biggles, indomitable adventurers Blake and Mortimer, the Machiavellian machinations of Green Manor or even the further travails of Long John Silver, the serried stalwarts of our Scepter’d Isles cut a dashing swathe through the pages of the Continent’s assorted magazines and albums.

And then there’s Clifton

Originally devised by child-friendly strip genius Raymond Macherot (Chaminou, Les croquillards, Chlorophylle, Sibylline) for Tintin, the doughty troubleshooter first appeared in December 1959.

After three albums worth of material – compiled and released between 1959 and 1960 – Macherot left the magazine to join arch-rival Spirou and the eccentric comedy crime-fighter floundered until Tintin brought him back at the height of the Swinging London scene courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Greg. These strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

It was back into retirement until the mid-1970s when writer Bob De Groot and illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois revived Clifton for the long haul, producing ten tales of which this – Ce cher Wilkinson: Clifton from 1978 – was the fifth.

From 1984 onward artist Bernard Dumont AKA Bédu limned De Groot’s scripts before eventually assuming the writing chores too until the series folded in 1995.

In keeping with its rather haphazard nature, Clifton resurfaced again in 2003, crafted by De Groot and Michel Rodrigue in four further adventures; a grand total of 25 to date.

The setup is deliciously simple: pompous and irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton, ex-RAF and recently retired from MI5, has a great deal of difficulty accomodating being put out to pasture in rural Puddington. He thus takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, occasionally assisting the Government or needy individuals as an amateur sleuth.

Sadly for Clifton – as with that other much-underappreciated national treasure Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army – he is too keenly aware that he is usually the only truly competent man in a world full of blithering idiots…

In this initial translated adventure first seen in 2005 , the forceful personality is seething at home one night and reading ghost stories when a sequence of odd events culminates in both he and his nationally celebrated cook and housekeeper Miss Partridge witnessing plates of food and glasses of wine flying about and crashing to the floor.

Fortifying themselves with the remaining decanter of sherry the staunch duo repair to their separate beds unaware that a very live presence has been spying on them and playing pranks…

The next day finds the perplexed gentleman at the town library, scanning the stacks for reports of similar phenomena and regaled by one of the whippersnapper counter-staff who just happens to be an amateur and closet psychokinetic; demonstrably and smugly able to move small objects with the power of his mind…

With proof of a rather more rational explanation for recent events and an appropriate reference tome, Clifton begins boning up and is soon made annoyingly aware of a stage performer dubbed the Great Wilkinson who is reputedly the world’s greatest exponent of the art of psycho-kinesis.

A quick jaunt to London in the old red sports car soon sees the former spy getting along famously with the diminutive performer who happily agrees to come down to Puddington and recce the Colonel’s troubled home. To be perfectly frank, the smiling showman is far more interested in meeting celebrated chef Miss Partridge…

A pleasant afternoon is interrupted by old associate Chief Inspector John Haig of Scotland Yard who is drowning in an uncanny mystery and desperately needs a second opinion from MI5’s most self-congratulatory alumnus. Giant safes are going missing, seemingly plucked from buildings as if by mighty, invisible hands…

And so proceeds a wickedly fast-paced romp with a genuine mystery tale at its comedic core. Clifton and Co fumble their way past roguish red herrings and through a labyrinthine maze of clues to the lair of a canny criminal mastermind with what seems the perfect MO. However, long before justice triumphs, the tinderbox temper of the suave sleuth is repeatedly triggered by clodhopping cops, obnoxious officials, short-fused chefs, imbecilic bystanders and a succession of young fools and old clowns all getting in the way and utterly spoiling the thrill of the chase…

Delightfully surreal, instantly accessible and doused with daft slapstick in the manner of Jacques Tati or our own Carry On films (but sans the saucy slap ‘n’ tickle elements), this light-action romp rattles along in the grand old tradition of Will Hay, Terry-Thomas and Alistair Sim – or Wallace and Gromit if you’re a callow yoof – offering readers a splendid treat and loads of timeless laughs.

Original edition © 1978 Le Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1988 by De Groot & Turk. English translation © 2005 Cinebook Ltd.

 

Canardo, Private Eye: A Shabby Dog Story


By Benoít Sokal (Xpresso Books/Fleetway)
ISBN: 978-1-85386-260-6

Artist, writer and games designer Benoít Sokal (Sanguine, Syberia, Amerzone, Kraa) was born in Brussels in 1954. He studied at the École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc De Bruxells, the prestigious art school where legendary creator Claude Renard (Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul, Aux Médianes de Cymbiola, Le Rail, Ivan Casablanca) taught and nurtured many students who would become Belgium’s modern masters of comics.

Sokal joined that select band of professionals in 1978, selling humorous strips and characters to À Suivre and striking gold early. He had been producing short, blackly comedic tales featuring anthropomorphic animals living in a world of contemporary humanity. Amongst the vast cast was a tawdry, unscrupulous, hard-drinking private detective named Inspector Canardo. Although never a true protagonist in those days, the dour duck was always around when events inevitably spiralled out of control…

The occasional series struck a chord with European audiences and soon Canardo was headlining his own series of albums. The first, in 1979, gathered those early shorts into an “Album #0” entitled Premières enquêtes and was followed by 22 more to date: the latest, Le vieux canard et la mer was released in 2013.

Dividing his time between his mallard megastar and more realistic dramas such as police thriller Silence, on Tue! (with François Rivière) and Le Vieil homme qui n’écrivait plus, by the close of the 1990s Sokal made the sideways jump from comics to the burgeoning videogames market, bringing in artist Pascal Regnauld to handle much of the illustration for his foul-feathered fowl.

Although a huge hit on the continent, Canardo struggled to find a place amongst English-speaking audiences. Sporadically released in translation between 1989 and 1991 by Rijperman and NBM for the American continent and through Fleetway’s Xpresso books in the UK, Sokal’s patently adults-only, philosophically nihilistic and bleakly moody homage to film noir came and went largely unnoticed, and I think it’s time some savvy publisher took another shot…

Volume #1 – Le Chien debout (1981 and more accurately translated as The Standing Dog) became initial British release A Shabby Dog Story as Xpresso – the experimental division of publishing monolith Fleetway – when the home of Judge Dredd, Buster and Roy of the Rovers sought to catch a pan-Atlantic wave of interest in comics for grown-ups.

The series readily toys with the internal consistency of storytelling: Canardo and other cast regulars have died several times, timescales are largely irrelevant, early tales have humans, anthropomorphic animals and regular critters cautiously coexisting side by side, science and magic happily co-mingle with the seedily traditional elements of sex, violence, depression and existential isolation and some of the players occasionally refer to themselves inhabiting a comics story.

As previously mentioned, in the earliest escapades the dowdy duck dick is little more than a disinterested spectator; an Éminence grise perfectly capable of shaping events and preventing tragedies but always unwilling to get involved unless there’s a direct benefit for him.

Here the focus is on shady nomad Ferdinand, a hooch-loving hobo pooch whose addiction to garbage brought him low and whose years of aimless peregrination have now brought him back to his hometown. Once an infamous bigwig and ruler of the roost amongst the skeevy bestial characters on the wrong side of the tracks, he’s now unrecognisable to the surviving patrons of Freddo’s Bar, but that’s okay.

All the down-and-out really cares about is seeing his adored Gilberte once more, but after he makes himself known in his traditional manner and hears she’s dead, Ferdinand regains some of his old fire and resolves to find out who killed her…

His anxious successor is Kartler, a blustering hound with a big bark but little bite, although he does have dangerous friends…

When thugs corner him our traumatised shabby dog is soon overwhelmed and left to die horribly, with Kartler’s accusation that Ferdinand was Gilberte’s killer ringing in his floppy, flea-bitten ears. Only as the dog is dying does former cop Inspector Canardo intervene, and only then because of the promise of scoring a stash of drugs…

The duck does offer a little info for nothing, revealing Gilberte had latterly lived with a human doctor named Calhoun after she stopped being Kartler’s main squeeze. Calhoun has a unique and unenviable reputation: a sadistic maniac operating on animals – especially dogs – turning them into mindless zombies for Kartler’s ever expanding army…

When desperate Ferdinand breaks into the surgeon’s compound he quickly discovers that’s the very least of the doctor’s many atrocities…

And back at the bar, against his better judgement a duck with an unslakable thirst breaks all his own rules and decides to get involved. After all, Canardo has known from the very start exactly how Gilberte died…

Stark, wry, bleak, outrageously amusing and almost Brechtian in its tone and execution of a demi-monde society, the saga of Carnardo is a powerful antidote to traditional adventure paladins and a supreme example of the antihero taken to its ultimate extreme. It’s also beguilingly lovely to look upon in a grim traffic accident, bunny-in-the-headlights manner.

Let’s hope some publisher with a little vision agrees…
Le Chien debout © 1981 Casterman. Translation © 1989 Cha Cha Comics. UK edition © 1991 Xpresso Books. All rights reserved.

War of Kings: The Road to War of Kings


By Christopher Yost, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Andy Schmidt, Michael Hoskin, Dustin Weaver, Paul Pelletier, Bong Dazo, Frazer Irving & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3967-6

As every comics fan knows, the world is not enough. Eventually all horizons expand and your favourite character goes cosmic. Marvel Comics have long been capitalising on dramas from beyond the unknown and in 2006 constructed a monumental crossover epic which not only featured the usual stellar stalwarts but was also expansive enough to encompass a host of more Earthbound stars.

Annihilation spawned a cascade of sidereal sequels and in 2008 many of Marvel’s major players became deeply involved in one of the most expansive as War of Kings redefined the role of mutants, Inhumans and three perpetually warring stellar empires.

As usual the tale spread through a number of titles, miniseries and specials over many months, enveloping such disparate do-gooders as the Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, Skaar – Son of Hulk, Darkhawk and more.

This slim compilation collects pivotal opening sallies X-Men: Kingbreaker #1-4, Secret Invasion: War of Kings, War of Kings Saga and pertinent extracts from X-Men: Divided We Stand #2, spanning July 2008 to May 2009.

Crafted by writers Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning and illustrators Paul Pelletier, Bong Dazo, Rick Magyar & Joe Pimentel, Secret Invasion: War of Kings finds a fleet of shapeshifting Skrulls desperately fleeing Earth after their all-out incursion was repulsed.

As part of the scheme the invaders had imprisoned and tortured Inhuman ruler Black Bolt for months, and when his family freed him the silent monarch’s fury knew no bounds…

Conceived as another fantastic lost civilisation and debuting in 1965’s Fantastic Four #44-48 during Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s most fertile and productive creative period, The Inhumans are a race of (generally) humanoid beings genetically altered 25,000 years ago, after Imperial Kree explorers landed on Earth and tampered with the biology of a tribe of primitives, just as they had on hundreds of other worlds.

Consequently the guinea pigs became technologically advanced far ahead of emergent Homo Sapiens and isolated themselves from the world and barbarous dawn-age humanity in a fabulous city named Attilan: first on an island and latterly in a hidden valley in the Himalayas.

Long ago Randac, one of the rulers of the intellectual super-race, took DNA manipulation to its ultimate end, devising the Terrigen Mist process, which mutated citizens into infinitely unique individuals of astounding power. The measure originally met with much opposition and hordes of Attilans quit the city forever, setting up their own isolated enclaves and increasingly interbreeding with their less evolved cousins…

After millennia in hiding, growing global pollution levels began to attack the Inhumans’ elevated biological systems and they relocated their entire city-civilisation to the Moon. This bold act exposed them to military scrutiny and they became known at last to Earth’s teeming masses.

Run along quasi-mystic lines by a priesthood, the Attilan mark of citizenship is gained through immersion in the Terrigen Mists which enhance and transform individuals into radically unique and generally super-powered beings. The subspecies is obsessed with genetic structure and heritage, worshipping their ruling Royal Family as the rationalist equivalent of mortal gods.

Now, following the Skrulls’ shameful debasement of Black Bolt, the citizens are ready to fully embrace their millennial destiny as living weapons and carve a place for themselves in the greater universe.

The shapeshifters are only the first to fall and by the time he has done, Blackbolt has taken the Kree Empire by the throat and made himself its lord…

‘The Hole’ originally saw print in X-Men: Divided We Stand #2, wherein Andy Schmidt and Frazer Irving detailed the ordeal of former X-Men Alex Summers – AKA Havok – and his one-time lover Polaris following their participation in a coup intended to remove the head of the Shi’ar Empire.

That vile potentate was crazed mutant Vulcan (revealed as Alex’s half brother Gabriel Summers) who had risen from the rank of slave to seize power in a blood-drenched, if politically astute, campaign of terror. After failing to destroy his insane sibling, Havok was imprisoned under an ocean on a remote world and systematically tortured by the triumphant Vulcan.

It didn’t matter: Alex bided his time and waited…

Opportunity knocked at last in 4-part miniseries X-Men: Kingbreaker (by Christopher Yost, Dustin Weaver, Paco Diaz, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba & Vicente Cifuentes) which forms the majority of this introductory tome.

After consolidating his position Vulcan, with his Shi’ar queen-consort Deathbird, begin a studied attack on the intergalactic status quo, greedily snatching up new worlds in a devastating war of expansion. With the dominant states of the universe reluctantly ranging against him ,Vulcan is caught off-guard when a coalition of Earth mutants join freebooting space-pirates The Starjammers in a rescue mission to free Alex, Polaris and their own captured comrades…

Stretched and already unstable, the upstart Emperor responds by freeing the five greatest menaces in Shi’ar custody as a penal battalion and is utterly astonished when the devilish malcontents increasingly run amok, killing civilians and even destroying entire worlds…

When the dust finally settles his greatest foes are free and many of his dutiful allies and subjects are thinking of switching sides…

Truly deranged but undeterred Vulcan continues his rush to conquest, turning his attention to The Kree, where newly enthroned Supremor Black Bolt is ready and waiting…

To Be Continued in various War of Kings collections…

Although the sequential narratives end here this catalogue of cosmic calamity carries one last prize as the incipient interstellar insurrection is scrupulously diarised and knitted together from its scattered beginnings through extracts and snippets from a vast number of assorted comics issues collated by Michael Hoskin.

How it all began and where it will lead is diligently tracked via the sterling strip efforts of writers Carlos Pacheco, Rafael Marin, David Hine, Paul Jenkins, Sean McKeever, Andy Schmidt, Joe Pokaski, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Greg Pak, Abnett, Lanning & Yost with the appropriate and stunning visual accompaniments by Ladrönn, Jorge Pereira Lucas, Irving, Jae Lee, Matthew Clark, Roy Allan Martinez, Tom Raney, Jim Cheung, Alex, Maleev, Trevor Hairsine, Billy Tan, Adi Granov, John Romita Jr., Weaver, Wellington Alves & Pelletier to form a mosaic of data vital to further progress whether you’re a Marvel die-hard or callow comic neophyte.

Sprawling, epic and remarkably engaging, if you’re into cosmic conflagration this is a splendid starting point for a grand adventure…
© 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Monsterjunkies Graphic Novel #1


By Eric Daniel Shein & Theresa A. Gates, illustrated by Jay Fotos Studios (ArkWatch)
ISBN: 978-0-9963872-0-0

It’s tough being an outsider and doubly so if you’re a teenager with weird interests and strange parents.

Just think how much worse it can be if you’re notionally foreign, have no friends and your family has a long tradition of keeping secrets…

Introduced in prose Young Adult novels The Monsterjunkies: An American Family Odyssey and its sequel Sanctuary, impressionable Cromwell and his far more sociably adaptable older sister Indigo negotiated the tricky path through high school, slowly finding friends and companionship, gradually sharing their clandestine clan’s big secret with the ordinary folk of Foggy Point, Maine.

Now that first gently inclusive tale of integration and assimilation has been adapted into a beguiling graphic novel by original authors Eric Daniel Shein & Theresa A. Gates and opens at the daunting gates of 1313 Road to Nowhere. Within the vast wilderness compound lurk an assortment of oddities who have found safety, anonymity and peace of mind under the custodianship of glamorous cryptozoologist Dr. Talon Monsterjunkie and his eldritch, ethereal wife Pandora.

The dedicated preservationists of everything outré have turned their secluded estate into a haven for the world’s rarest and most endangered lifeforms, and although young Cromwell (he prefers “Crow”) may lack for strictly human companionship he is beloved by the creatures resident on the expansive Eden-like grounds.

Amongst his closet confidantes are Chico the chupacabra, poetry-writing sasquatch Beauregard, pituitary giants Frances and Betty, Periwinkle Pterodactyl, Fan – who runs the family mailbox – and sea serpent Sybil joyously sporting in the waters off scenic Bizarre Beach.

A loner at school, Crow’s life is made even worse by spoiled rich kid and practised bully Rutherford Grimes, but things start to radically change for the better after local lads Larry, Todd and Edgar sneak beyond the forbidding walls on a dare.

Shocked and awed by what they find, the kids are “rescued” by the aloof Goth kid from a succession of terrifying but ultimately friendly beasts and monsters and are soon the best of buddies. They even form a gang of their own to stand up to the predatory “popular kids” at school…

Soon the centuries-long family policy is being gradually tweaked and before long select individuals are being invited to share the hidden treasures of the estate. Ruth Grimes, however, isn’t happy at all and after Crow creates a unique way for school kids to stand up to him the closet psychopath subsequently tricks his boorish, millionaire dad into instigating a malicious whispering campaign to drive the weird foreigners out…

Then comes the worst news of all: daredevil dad Talon has been lost on an expedition to Bolivia…

Comparisons to the filmic Addams Family are unavoidable, but there is a superficial similarity at best. The dark humour of unsettling fear and voluntary isolation which underpins the movies has been replaced here with a cast of warm, accommodating outriders heroically performing great works, eagerly accepting newcomers into their circle and prepared to change and enter the wider world that encroaches upon them…

Wild, imaginative, compassionate and packing a potent and welcome moral message, this is a wonderful interface between modern supernatural thrillers for teens and grand old-fashioned family romps like Willard Price’s “Adventures” series.

And there are more to come…
© 2015 Arkwatch Holdings LLC. All Rights Reserved.

For more information check out http://www.themonsterjunkieuniverse.com/ and www.redanvilcomics.com

Justice Society of America: Black Adam and Isis


By Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2531-5

After the actual invention of the superhero – which means Superman in 1938 – the most significant event in the genre’s (and indeed industry’s) progress was the combination of individual stars into a group. Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces and fan-bases. Plus, of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick.

The Justice Society of America was debuted in the third issue of All-Star Comics (Winter 1940-1941), a communal anthology title featuring established characters from various National and All-American Comics publications. The groundbreaking landmark was instigated by the simple expedient of having assorted heroes gather around a table and tell each other their latest adventure.

From this low key collaboration it wasn’t long before the guys – and they were all white guys (except Red Tornado: a woman who merely pretended to be one) – regularly joined forces to defeat the greatest villains and social ills of their generation. Within months the blockbusting concept had spread far and wide…

And so the Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a milestone in the development of comicbooks. When Julius Schwartz resurrected the superhero genre in the late 1950s, his game-changing moment came with the inevitable teaming of the reconfigured mystery men into a modern Justice League of America.

From there it wasn’t too long before the original and genuine article returned. Since then there were many attempts to formally revive the team’s fortunes but it wasn’t until 1999, on the back of both the highly successful rebooting of the JLA by Grant Morrison & Howard Porter and the seminal but critically favoured new Starman series by Golden Age devotee James Robinson, that the multi-generational team found a new mission and fan-base big enough to support them.

As the century turned the original super-team returned and have been with us in one form or another ever since.

This iteration, called to order after mega crossover events Infinite Crisis and Identity Crisis, found the last surviving heroes of World War II acting as mentors and teachers for the latest generation of young champions and metahuman “legacy-heroes” (family successors or inheritors of departed champions’ powers or code-names).

Such a large, cumbersome but worthy assemblage of raw talent, uneasy exuberance and weary hard-earned experience (for details see Justice Society of America: the Next Age and Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga) can certainly do with some help, and this turbulent tomes collects issues #23-28 of Justice Society of America (volume 3, spanning March – August 2009): finding the august body closing one era whilst nervously embarking upon the next.

Once upon a time Billy Batson was a little boy living on the streets of Fawcett City. His archaeologist parents left him with his uncle when they went on a dig to Egypt. They never returned, his little sister vanished and he was thrown out when his guardian stole his inheritance.

Sleeping in a storm drain, selling newspapers for cash, the indomitable lad grew street-smart and resilient, but when a shadowy stranger bade him follow into an eerie subway, the boy somehow knew it was all okay. Soon after, he met the wizard Shazam and gained the powers of six ancient Gods and Heroes.

Thus began an astounding career as wholesome powerhouse hero Captain Marvel. Billy eventually found his lost sister Mary and shared his nigh-infinite power with her, as they both subsequently did with disabled friend Freddy Freeman.

They battled but eventually reached an accommodation with militant progenitor Black Adam, the wizard’s first superhuman champion who had been reborn in the body of Theo Adam – the man who murdered the Batsons’ parents. However when a succession of crises arose, everything changed. Immortal Shazam was murdered, Billy was exiled to the transcendent Rock of Eternity as his replacement and Freddy became a new Captain Marvel; his mighty gifts supplied by a completely different pantheon of patrons.

Black Adam had found peace and redemption in the love of ascendant nature goddess Isis until she was cruelly taken from him but the worst tragedies befell poor Mary. Deprived of her intoxicating powers she found herself an addict without a fix… until soul-sick Adam shared his dark energies with her. His corrupted spirit fatally tainted the once-vibrant innocent…

The saga resumes here with wrap-up epic ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’ (by scripters Geoff Johns & Jerry Ordway with Ordway & Bob Wiacek supplying the artwork), commencing with ‘The Power of Shazam’ as Adam finds his beloved Isis has been resurrected by sorcerer Felix Faust and turned into his helpless plaything…

Whilst he is savagely saving his revenant inamorata from the mage’s vile clutches, far away in the JSA’s brownstone HQ, the rifts caused by the recent war against space god Gog result in hothead Hawkman quitting in fury over doctrinal issues and how best to train the next generation.

The remaining first rank of heroes continue doggedly debating the way forward as, outside, recent additions fear for their place on the team and beyond time and space Billy the wizard’s tedious monitoring of reality is interrupted by a surprise attack.

Despite a desperate struggle he soon falls to Black Adam and an eerily reborn Isis, who somehow has lost every ounce of the vast compassion and understanding she once embodied, but none of her shattering power…

Stripped of his magical might and adult frame, the terrified boy Billy is ignominiously dumped back on Earth whilst Isis plans her next step and faithful Adam begins to fear that he has made a horrific mistake…

‘Family Ties’ sees indomitable Billy begin the fight back by convincing an extremely dubious JSA to join him in a trip to the Rock of Eternity. The rescue mission first entails sharing his outrageous origins with the adults, backed up by confirmation from teenager Stargirl who has long known Billy’s secrets.

By the time the contingent of champions arrives, Isis has “adopted” Mary Batson – still polluted with Black Adam’s contaminated powers – as she pushes forward her operation to “fix” the world.

In a blistering blitz attack the JSA are separated: the bulk of the team barely surviving Adam’s frenzied assault, Billy and Stargirl cruelly targeted for torture by Black Mary and elder Flash Jay Garrick lured away by the ghost of Billy’s father…

The frantic furore ends in ‘Family Feud’ as Mary forces her powerless brother to share her debauched and corrupting energies, mutating into psychotic deviant Black Billy. The deadly Adam family then translates back to Earth and their former homeland Khandaq – where the global pariah and his bride are worshipped as messiahs – with the battered but determined JLA hot on their heels.

Flash and Mr. Batson (Deceased) have meanwhile traversed the most dangerous corridors of infinity (but not without consequences that will later threaten the world) to reawaken the only being capable of ending the accelerating cosmic catastrophe, but as the trio speed to Kahndaq the situation has again shifted.

The game-changing moment occurred when Isis casually eradicated her devoted human worshippers and revealed to her shocked husband that her intent is to scour Earth of all life and repopulate with beings of her own making…

By the time Jay arrives with a literal Deus ex Machina in his wake, Adam has repented and switched sides, but that makes no difference to the apocalyptic fury of the world’s enraged deliverer…

Following that tragic and spectacular clash a semblance of normality takes hold in heart-warming “day in the life” tale ‘Black Adam Ruined my Birthday’ (by Johns, Dale Eaglesham & Nathan Massengill) as Stargirl Courtney Whitmore is ambushed with a belated sixteenth birthday party and gets her most fervent wish granted… almost…

Ordway & Wiacek return for one last blast from the past in ‘Ghosts in the Darkness’ as the many-handed team are attacked by a horde of disposed and extremely angry sprits who breach the brownstone’s esoteric, ebon defences to hijack Flash, Green Lantern, Wildcat, Liberty Bell and Hourman.

The shanghaied stalwarts soon discover they have fetched up in Hiroshima moments before that fateful atomic bombing…

With the ghosts revealed to have been manipulated by a Machiavellian old foe, the saga shockingly concludes with a cunning doublecross and sneaky twist, even after nigh-omnipotent former JSAer The Spectre takes relative new kids on the block Power Girl, Damage, Atom Smasher and Judomaster on a time-busting rescue mission against the ‘Phantom Menace’

Tipped in as an added bonus is a doom-laden recap of past glories and upcoming tragedies in a trenchant Origins and Omens strip-vignette courtesy of Matthew Sturges & Fernando Pasarin, deftly laying the groundwork for the horrors to come in forthcoming adventures…

Even with covers, variants and celebratory triptychs by Alex Ross, Ordway & Wiacek, this in one more blockbusting epic that will be all but unreadable to anyone not deeply immersed in the complex continuity of DC’s last three decades, which is a real shame as the writing is superb, the artwork incredible and the sheer scope and ambition breathtaking.

Nevertheless, if you love Fights ‘n’ Tights cosmic melodrama and are prepared to do a little reading around then you might find yourself with a whole new universe to play in…
© 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Essential Thor volume 6


By Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Bill Mantlo, Len Wein, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6329-9

Whilst the ever-expanding Marvel Universe had grown ever-more interconnected as it matured through its first decade, with characters literally tripping over each other in New York City, the Asgardian heritage of Thor and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had most often drawn the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning, unique landscapes and scenarios.

However by the time of this sixth Essential monochrome compendium, the King had been gone – and was in fact readying himself to return to the House of (mostly his) Ideas – for five years and only echoes of his groundbreaking presence remained. John Buscema had visually made the Thunder God his own whilst a succession of scripters struggled to recapture the epic scope of Kirby’s vision and Stan Lee’s off-kilter but comfortingly compelling faux-Shakespearean verbiage…

When these monthly episodes (from Thor #221-247, March 1974 to May 1976) saw print, the Thunder God and his cosmic companions had become a quarrelsome, self-doubting band of fantasy spacemen generally roving the outer limits of the Marvel Universe, only occasionally touching base with Earth and Asgard, but that editorial policy began to change here as more and more adventures began – and ended – in the troubled lands of Midgard…

With scripter Gerry Conway firmly in the driving seat and legendary illustrator John Buscema (aided by inker Mike Esposito) delivering the art, the mythic mayhem opens with ‘Hercules Enraged!’ as the Thor brutally invades Olympus, in search of the Grecian Prince of Power. Asgardian maiden Krista has been abducted and All-Father Odin has seen a vision of her enchained in Hades with the Thunderer’s trusted ally gloating over her beside vile netherlord Pluto

By the time lordly Zeus has stopped the shattering clash that follows, half of the celestial city is in ruins, but in that breathing space he proves Hercules is innocent of the atrocious act and the abashed comrades turn their attentions to the true culprit…

Inked by Joe Sinnott, Thor #222 finds the earnest comrades in search of Hercules’ insidious impersonator and taking advice from a scary sorceress even as war-god Ares receives an eldritch summons to meet his co-conspirator ‘Before the Gates of Hell!’

Sadly he is intercepted by the heroes before he gets there and receives the sound thrashing he deserves, prior to the enraged companions storming their way into the netherworld itself.

At the moment of their triumph however Pluto snatches up his hostage and vanishes. His trail leads to Earth where one final confrontation results in ‘Hellfire Across the World!’ (Esposito inks) and leaves kidnapped Krista near death…

Issue #224 finds Thor resuming his alter ego of surgeon Don Blake to operate on the Asgardian even as elsewhere in Manhattan a rash scientist accidentally reactivates Odin’s unstoppable battle construct and discovers ‘No One Can Stop… the Destroyer!’

With Krista saved Thor joins the sorely pressed Hercules and although outmatched by the Asgardian killing machine they devise a way to stop its human power source – only to then face ‘The Coming of Firelord!’ (inked by Sinnott).

The tempestuous, short-tempered herald of planet-consuming Galactus has been sent to fetch Thor and will brook no refusals…

Issue #226 finds the voracious space god on Earth, beseeching the Thunder God’s aid in ‘The Battle Beyond!’ (Esposito) against living planet Ego, who has seemingly gone mad and now poses a threat to the entire universe…

“Homaging” Jack Kirby, penciller Rich Buckler joined Conway and Sinnott in #227 as the Thunder God and Hercules – with Firelord in tow – go ‘In Search of… Ego!’ Penetrating deep within the raving planet and defeating incredible biological horrors, the trio reach his malfunctioning brain and relive the incredible origin of the “bioverse” in ‘Ego: Beginning and End!’ before contriving an earth-shaking solution to the wild world’s rampages…

In a final act of unlikely diplomacy the Thunderer then finds a replacement herald and secures Firelord’s freedom from Galactus…

Safely back on Earth a new kind of terror manifests in Thor #229 as ‘Where Darkness Dwells, Dwell I!’ (Conway, Buckler & Chic Stone) sees Hercules uncover an uncanny string of suicides amongst the mortals of Manhattan. After consulting the Storm Lord and his recently returned lover Sif, the Prince of Power is ambushed by a shadowy figure and himself succumbs to dark despondency…

Plucked from psychological catatonia by Iron Man and the recuperating Krista, severely shaken Hercules recovers enough to lead Thor under the city to jointly confront and conquer a horrific lord of fear in #230’s ‘The Sky Above… the Pits Below!’ (Buckler & Sinnott).

Of greater moment is the revelation in Asgard that almighty Odin has gone missing…

John Buscema returned in #231, inked by Dick Giordano to limn ‘A Spectre from the Past!’ wherein Thor learns that his former love Jane Foster is dying. Whilst doting Sif fruitlessly returns to Asgard seeking a cure, the grieving Thunderer is momentarily distracted when Hercules is attacked by anthropoidal throwback and disembodied spirit Armak the First Man who possesses the body of an unwary séance attendee and runs amok in the streets.

Since gaining his liberty Firelord had been aimlessly travelling the globe. Lured by Asgardian magic he becomes wicked Loki’s vassal in ‘Lo, the Raging Battle!’

Heartsick Thor meanwhile will not leave Jane’s hospital bedside, prompting Sif and Hercules to travel to the end of the universe to retrieve the mystic Runestaff of Kamo Tharnn. No sooner do they depart than the ensorcelled Firelord attacks and whilst incensed, impatient Thor knocks sense back into him, his evil half-brother leads an Asgardian army in a sneak attack on America…

With ‘Midgard Aflame’ (Buscema & Stone) Thor leads the human resistance and learns for the first time that his father is missing. Odin’s faithful vizier reveals that the All-Father has divested himself of his memory and chosen to reside somewhere on Earth as a hapless mortal…

With the humans preparing to unleash their atomic arsenal against the Asgardians, the invasion suddenly ends with a savage duel between Thor and Loki in ‘O, Bitter Victory!’ (Buscema & Sinnott) after which the Thunderer returns to Jane’s side, unaware that he is being stalked by a merciless old enemy. At the same time Sif and Hercules have clashed with he ‘Who Lurks Beyond the Labyrinth!’ and secured a remedy for Thor’s mortal beloved…

Thor #236 opens as the Storm God revels in furious combat with the Absorbing Man. Unknown to the blockbusting battlers, at that very moment Sif is expressing her own love for her wayward prince by using the Runestaff to fix Jane in ‘One Life to Give!’

…And somewhere in California an imposing old man called Orrin ponders his strangely selective amnesia and wonders how he can possibly possess such incredible strength…

With battle concluded Thor hastens back to Jane and finds her completely cured. His joy is short-lived however as he realises that Sif is gone, seemingly forever…

Issue #237 finds reunited lovers Don Blake and Jane Foster cautiously getting reacquainted and pondering Sif’s incredible sacrifice when a horde of Asgardian Trolls led by ‘Ulik Unchained’ calamitously attack New York. Before long they have made off with the recently restored Jane under cover of the blockbusting melee that ensues…

Gerry Conway concludes his run with Thor #238 as the Thunder God capitulates to his hostage-taking foe and is taken below the worlds of Earth and Asgard on the ‘Night of the Troll!’

Ulik wants to overthrow his king Gierrodur and is confident his hold over mighty Thor will accomplish the act for him, but he is utterly unprepared for the new martial spirit which possesses his formerly frail mortal hostage Jane…

…And in California old man Orrin decides to use his power to help the poor, quickly arousing the ire of the local authorities…

Writer/Editor Roy Thomas and artist Sal Buscema join Sinnott in Thor #239 as the Thunder God brutally ends his association with the trolls even as in California Orrin’s rabble-rousing civil unrest is cut short when a colossal pyramid containing Egyptian gods erupts from the ground in ‘Time-Quake!’

Thor knows nothing on the latest upheaval. He has taken off for distant Asgard, uncovering a mysterious force draining his people of their power and vitality. Warned by duplicitous seer Mimir the anguished godling rushes back to Earth and clashes with the puissant Horus ‘When the Gods Make War!’ (Thomas, Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson). The depleted Egyptian pantheon have desperate need of an All-Father and have conditioned Odin/Orrin to believe that he is their long-lost patron Atum-Re

Jane is already waiting in California when Thor arrives and she is present when the elder deity devastatingly assaults his astounded son. Happily her cool head prevails and soon the warring deities are talking. An uneasy alliance forms and the truth comes out. Horus, Isis and Osiris are in a final battle with vile Death God Seth and need the power of a supreme over-god to assure a victory for the forces of Life…

The cosmic conflict concludes in #241 as ‘The Death-Ship Sails the Stars!’ (Mantlo, John Buscema & Sinnott) with the ghastly Seth and his demonic servants repulsed and Jane again playing a major role: even shaking Odin out of his mind-wiped state…

A semblance of creative stability resumed with #242 as writer Len Wein joined John Buscema & Sinnott, beginning their tenure with epic time travel tale ‘When the Servitor Commands!’ The colossal all-conquering construct had scooped up Thor, Jane and visiting Asgardians Fandral the Dashing, Voluminous Volstagg and Hogun the Grim at the behest of malevolent chrononaut and old enemy Zarrko

The Tomorrow Man is claiming to be on the side of the angels this time: looking for heroes to help stop a trio of entropic entities travelling back from the end of time and destroying all life as they go. Although suspicious, the assemble crusaders agree to help stop ‘Turmoil in the Time Stream!’ caused by the diabolical Time-Twisters

Constant clashes with vagrant monsters and warriors plucked from their own eras barely slows the heroes but neither do they hinder the widdershins progress of the Armageddon entities in ‘This is the Way the World Ends!’ However by the time the voyagers discover ‘The Temple at the End of Time!’ which spawned the Time-Twisters and end the crisis before it began, Zarrko has already reverted to type and tried to betray them… much to his own regret…

This bombastic battle book then concludes with a 2-part rematch between Thunder God and Flaming Fury as #246 reveals ‘The Fury of Firelord!’, following the unworldly alien’s meeting with a lovely witch working for Latin American rebel and would-be tin pot dictator El Lobo.

However, whilst Thor heads south to stop a civil war in Asgard, his boon companion Balder comes to a staggering conclusion: Odin may be back in body but his spirit is still ailing. In fact the All-Father might well be completely insane…

When Thor also succumbs to sinister gypsy enchantments and ‘The Flame and the Hammer!’ unite to crush the feeble democracy of Costa Verde, once again vibrant valiant Jane is there save the day…

To Be Continued…

The tales gathered here may lack the sheer punch and verve of the early years but fans of ferocious Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy will find this tome still stuffed with intrigue and action, magnificently rendered by artists who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, were every inch his equal in craft and dedication, making this a definite and decidedly economical must-read for all fans of the character and the genre.

©1974, 1975, 1976, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Batman: Son of the Demon


By Mike W. Barr & Jerry Bingham (DC Comics)
ISBNs: 0-930289-24-2 (original hardcover), 978-0930289256 (2003 trade paper)

Debuting twelve months after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (joined within a year by Robin, the Boy Wonder) cemented DC/National Comics as the market and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the scope and parameters of the metahuman with their Man of Tomorrow, the magnificently mortal physical perfection and dashing derring-do of the human-scaled adventures starring the Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all four-colour crimebusters were judged.

Batman is in many ways the ultimate superhero: uniquely adaptable and able to work in any type or genre of story – as is clearly evident from the plethora of vintage tales collected in so many captivating volumes over the years.

One the most well-mined periods is the moody 1970-1980s era when the Caped Crusader was re-tooled in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, becoming a driven – but still level-headed – deeply rational Manhunter, rather than the dark, out-of-control paranoid of later days or the costumed boy-scout of the “Camp”-crazed Sixties.

There had been many “Most Important Batman” stories over the long decades since his launch in 1939 but very few had the resounding impact of this pioneering album from 1987, capping a period when DC were creatively on fire and could do no wrong commercially.

Not only did the tale add new depth to the Dark Knight, but the package itself – oversized (294 x 226 mm), on high-quality paper and available in both hardback and softcover editions – helped kickstart the fledgling graphic novel marketplace. In 2006 to tie in with Grant Morrison’s unfolding Batman and Son storyline, a standard comicbook sized trade paperback edition was reissued, but deprived of the panoramic size it seemed somehow lacking…

The hardcover opens with an Introduction by Mark Hamill, illustrated with beautiful pencil character sketches by Jerry Bingham, whose dynamic, cleanly measured realism perfectly augments the terse and suspenseful script by author Mike W. Barr which follows…

The torrid tale begins as the Dark Knight ends a brutal terrorist/hostage crisis with typical efficiency and vanishes before anyone can see how the uncompromising clash has wounded him…

Collapsing on the way back to his subterranean lair, Bruce Wayne is astonished to awaken in his own bed, his wounds bandaged. Hovering over him is Talia, daughter of his most powerful enemy…

The concept of a villain who has the best interests of the planet at heart is not a new one, but Ra’s Al Ghul, whose avowed intent is to cull teeming humanity back to ecologically viable levels and save Earth from mankind’s poisonous polluting madness, hit a chord in the 1970s – a period where such issues first came to the attention of the young.

It was a rare kid who didn’t find a core of good sense in what “the Demon’s Head” planned.

Immortal mastermind and eco-activist Al Ghul was a contemporary and presumably more acceptable visual embodiment of the classic inscrutable foreign devil typified in a less forgiving age as the “Yellow Peril” and most famously embodied in Dr. Fu Manchu. This kind of alien archetype had permeated fiction for more than sixty years and is still an overwhelmingly potent villain symbol today, although the character’s Arabic origins, neutral at the time, seem to embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s post 9/11 world.

Possessed of vast resources, an army of zealots and every inch Batman’s physical and mental match, Ra’s Al Ghul featured in many of the greatest stories of the 1970s and early 1980s. He had easily deduced the Caped Crusader’s secret identity and now wanted his masked adversary to become his ally… and son-in-law.

Talia explains to the wary manhunter how his latest exploit has brought him into conflict with one of her father’s greatest enemies, a murderous fanatic named Qayin. The plot thickens when Batman’s old ally Dr. Harris Blaine (who helped him defeat Ra’s in the Dark Knight’s first epochal clash with the eco-messiah) is murdered and all the evidence points to Al Ghul, despite Talia’s strenuous protests.

Batman boldly accepts her invitation to join The Demon’s Head at his secret base and soon learns the incredible truth: Qayin had once been part of Ra’s’ inner circle before killing Talia’s mother and fleeing. Over the decades he has evolved into a murderous, power-hungry madman whose current plans include blackmailing the world using satellites to weaponise the planet’s weather systems.

However, if Batman wants The Demon’s help in finding Blaine’s killer and ending Qayin’s threat, he must first wed Talia and wholeheartedly join the family…

The moody manhunter acquiesces but after Bruce and the Mrs lead a savage but ultimately futile strike against their nemesis and his allies in the rogue state of Golatia, the Batman receives some shocking news: Talia is pregnant…

The revelation completely skews the once-solitary manhunter’s perspective and when Qayin responds with a brutal counterstrike on Ra’s’ HQ, Batman’s obvious distraction almost costs his life. Seeing how the situation has changed and weakened her man, Talia comes to a horrific decision…

As the war between Al Ghul, Qayin and Batman escalates, encompassing the USA and Soviet Union and nearly sparking nuclear Armageddon, the final showdown with the merciless meteorological terror-monger provokes life-changing decisions for both the daughter and son of the Demon and forces Ra’s into making a choice he will always regret…

As deeply emotional as it is action packed, this stunning yarn is one of the most sophisticated and mature tales in Batman’s canon: intelligent, passionate, tragic and carrying a devious twist to delight and confound fans and casual readers alike.
© 1987, 2006 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 8: Tough Luck Vito


By Tome & Janry, colour by Stephane De Becker & translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-248-5

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 globally popular 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 enterprise 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 improbable adventures of a plucky bellboy and lift operator employed at the glamorous Moustique Hotel (an 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 to counter the runaway success of Hergé’s carrot-topped boy reporter. Tintin had been a certified money-spinning phenomenon for rival publisher Casterman ever 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 his pet squirrel Spip as the headliners in a weekly anthology which bears his name to this day; featuring fast-paced, improbable incidents which 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 major 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 1944 he introduced Fantasio as Spirou’s new best friend and companion-in-adventure: a blonde headed reporter with a quick temper, uncontrolled imagination and penchant for finding trouble.

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

He was 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 so three different creative teams were commissioned to alternate on the serial, until settling at last upon 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. These sterling efforts consequently revived the floundering feature’s fortunes, resulting in fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998.

This one, originally entitled Vito la Déveine from 1991, was their 11th collaboration and the 43rd collected exploit of the tireless wanderers, whose exploits have filled more than sixty albums, specials and spin-off collections.

With the customary cavalcade of gags soft-pedalled in favour of scintillating suspense and riotous action this tale commences with former Mafia mastermind Don Vito “Lucky” Cortizone (last seen in Spirou & Fantasio in New York and now known as “Tough Luck Vito”) attacking his shady pilot Von Schnabbel after the unprincipled scoundrel tries to gouge the gangster for more money.

This is very bad idea as they are currently flying over the Pacific Ocean, ferrying the Don’s enigmatic “get-rich-again-quick” cargo, brazenly swiped from the Chinese Triads…

After kicking the conniving extortionist out of the plane, the infuriated Mafiosi is unable to prevent the craft crashing into a lagoon on a deserted atoll. At least there’s an abandoned hotel to shelter in and plenty of crabs to eat…

Months later Spirou and Fantasio are navigating stormy seas nearby in a sailing boat. Well, one of them is: Fantasio is too depressed and heartbroken over a girl he met in Tahiti to be of any use.

She was far more interested in the guy who rented them the good ship Antares and now the journalist is pining away his tragic existence, a soul-shattered, broken man…

As a result of the tropical typhoon the vessel is soon in a similar condition and barely limps into the shaded waters of an isolated lagoon. The shaken mariners are astounded to find the lovely isle surrounding it has a population of one: a ragged, skinny guy with a weird accent, hungry for food and companionship.

Physically Vito is unrecognisable and as the vessel limps into the sheltered, shark-infested waters he makes his plans to kill whoever’s aboard and sail away. As he laces the lush vegetation with deadly traps and pitfalls he thinks only of coming back and retrieving his precious cargo from the ocean floor.

Those plans swiftly alter when he realises that his rescuers are the interfering whelps who cost him his criminal empire…

They alter again after he walks into one of his own booby-traps and Spirou and Fantasio come to his aid. The do-gooders have no idea who he is and take him back to their boat to recuperate. Spirou even offers to dive down to the plane wreck and retrieve his cargo whilst they’re repairing the Antares’ damaged rudder…

Everything seems to be turning around for the hard-luck kid, but as he gorges on the ship’s stores and shaves, he soon starts to resume his former appearance and, after his first attempt to murder Spirou fails, the duplicitous Don opts for a more subtle revenge…

Drugging the sharp-witted red-haired lad, he then tells Fantasio who he is but claims his privations have made him a new, repentant and changed man. With Spirou apparently bedridden by “tropical fever”, Vito has the utterly gulled reporter finish salvaging the cargo in search of a spurious antidote supposedly packed in one of the sunken crates.

After all there’s plenty of time to kill them both once Vito has all his precious loot back…

Naturally things don’t quite work as he intended, but before our heroes can properly turn the tables on Tough Luck Vito, fate proves the aptness of his nickname when Von Schnabbel and the extremely put out original owners of the contentious cargo turn up, hungry for vengeance and not too worried about the odd case of collateral damage…

Swiftly switching from tense suspense to all out action, events spiral out of control and our now fully recovered heroes only need the right moment to make their move…

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 and their ilk so compelling, this is another cracking read from a series with a stunning pedigree of superb exploits; one certain to be as much a household name as those series, and even that other pesky red-headed kid with the white dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1991 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2015 © Cinebook Ltd.

Batman: Annuals volume 2 – DC Comics Classics Library


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton, Jerry Coleman, David Wood, France Herron, Sheldon Moldoff, Lew Sayre Schwartz, Dick Sprang, Curt Swan & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2791-3

There’s a lot of truly splendid 1940s and 1950s comics material around these days in a lot of impressive formats. DC’s Classics Comics Library hardbacks are a remarkably accessible, collectible range of products and one of the best is this wonderful aggregation of four of the most influential and beloved comicbooks of the Silver Age of American comicbooks.

Batman Annual #1 was released in June 1961, a year after the phenomenally successful Superman Annual #1. The big, bold anthology format was hugely popular with readers. The Man of Steel’s second Annual was rushed out before Christmas and the third came out a mere year after the first. That same month the first Secret Origins compilation and the aforementioned Batman Blockbuster all arrived in shops and on newsstands.

It’s probably hard to appreciate now but those huge books – 80 pages instead of 32 and practically no advertising – were a magical resource with a colossal impact for kids who loved comics. I don’t mean the ubiquitous scruffs, oiks and scallywags of school days who read casually then chucked them away (most kids were comics consumers in the days before computer games) but rather those quiet, secretive few of us who treasured and kept them, constantly re-reading, discussing, pondering, even making our own.

Only posh kids with wicked parents read no comics at all: those prissy, starchy types who were beaten up by the scruffs, oiks and scallywags even more than us bookworms. But I digress…

For budding collectors the Annuals were a gateway to a fabulous lost past. Just Imagine!: adventures your heroes had from before you were even born

Those fantastic innovative aggregations in the early 1960s changed comics publishing. Soon Marvel, Charlton and Archie were also releasing giant books of old stories, then came new ones, crossovers, continued stories…

Annuals proved two things to publishers: that there was a dedicated, long-term appetite for more material – and that punters were willing to pay a little bit more for it…

This hardback compendium gathers Batman Annuals #4-7 from (1963-1966) in their mythic entirety: 33 terrific complete stories, stunning pin-ups and those magnificently iconic compartmentalized covers. Also included are original publication details and credits (the only bad thing about those big books of magic was never knowing “Who” and “Where”…), creator biographies and another reminiscing Introduction from Michael Uslan, putting the entire nostalgic experience into perspective

Way back then the editors sagely packaged Annuals as themed collections, the first here being ‘The Secret Adventures of Batman and Robin’ (released November 8th 1962) which started the ball rolling with ‘The First Batman’ (by Bill Finger & Sheldon Moldoff and originally seen in Detective Comics #235, September 1956): a key story of this period which introduced a strong psychological component to Batman’s origins, disclosing how when Bruce Wayne was still a toddler his father had clashed with gangsters whilst clad in a fancy dress bat costume…

‘Am I Really Batman?’ (Finger, Moldoff & Charles Paris, Batman #112, December 1957) saw bona fide mad scientist Professor Milo poison the hero with a rare plant, forcing Robin and Alfred to put the Masked Manhunter through a baffling psychological ordeal to counteract the toxin…

Today fans are pretty used to a vast battalion of bat-themed champions haunting Gotham City and its troubled environs, but for the longest time it was just Bruce, Dick Grayson and occasionally their borrowed dog Ace keeping crime on the run. However in Detective Comics #233 (July 1956, three months before the debut of the Flash officially ushered in the Silver Age) the editorial powers-that-be introduced bold heiress Kathy Kane, who incessantly suited-up in chiropteran red and yellow for the next eight years.

‘Origin of the Batwoman’ by Edmond Hamilton, Moldoff & Paris premiered with the former circus acrobat bursting into Batman’s life, challenging him to discover her secret identity at the risk of exposing his own…

The Boy Wonder began very publicly working solo after ‘The Vanished Batman’ (Hamilton, Moldoff & Paris or Stan Kaye, from Batman #101, August 1956) saw the Gotham Gangbuster declared dead and presumed gone by the underworld whilst ‘The Phantom of the Bat-Cave’ (Hamilton, Moldoff & Paris, Batman #99, April 1956) offered a genuine mystery as persons unknown began somehow stealing and replacing items from the heroes’ sacrosanct trophy room…

‘Batman’s College Days’ (Finger, Moldoff & Paris, Batman #96, December 1955) found Bruce Wayne on a sea cruise with three fellow alumni, one of whom planned murder and had deduced his alter ego, after which ‘The Marriage of Batman and Batwoman’ (Finger, Moldoff & Ray Burnley, Batman #122, March 1959) depicted Robin’s nightmares should such a nuptial event occur whereas ‘The Second Boy Wonder’ (France Herron, Moldoff & Burnley, Batman #105, February 1957) was all too real as a stranger apparently infiltrated the Batcave by impersonating the kid crimebuster…

The Annual ended with ‘The Man who Ended Batman’s Career’ (Finger, Moldoff & Paris from Detective Comics #247, September 1957) which presented a significantly different-looking Professor Milo using psychological warfare and scientific mind-control to attack the Dark Knight by inducing a fear of bats…

The next Annual, released in summer 1963, highlighted ‘The Strange Lives of Batman and Robin’ and opened with ‘The Power that Doomed Batman’ (Finger, Moldoff & Paris, Detective Comics #268 June 1959) as exposure to a comet gifted the Dark Knight with super-strength. Sadly the effect was also cumulatively fatal and forced the heroes into a desperate hunt for a missing man who possessed a cure…

The same creative team dredged up ‘The Merman Batman’ (Batman #118, September 1958) wherein an lightning strike transformed the Caped crimebuster into a water-breather, aroused ‘Rip Van Batman’ (Batman #119, October 1958) who fell into a plant-induced coma to seemingly awake in the future and corralled ‘The Zebra Batman’ (Detective Comics #275, January 1960) when the hero was turned into an uncontrollable human magnet…

‘The Grown-Up Boy Wonder’ (Finger, Moldoff & Stan Kaye, Batman #107, April 1957) detailed what happens when space gas turned the likely lad into a strapping young man – but only in body, not mind – after which World’s Finest Comics #109, from May 1960, revealed Robin and Superman’s tense race to save the Gotham Guardian from an ancient curse in ‘The Bewitched Batman’ by Jerry Coleman, Curt Swan & Moldoff.

‘The Phantom Batman’ (Hamilton, Dick Sprang & Paris, Batman #110, September 1957 showed how an electrical mishap reversed the polarity of the Caped Crusader’s atoms, relegating him to helpless intangibility, and the uncanny yarns end with ‘The Giant Batman’ (from Detective Comics #243 May 1957, by the same team and originally entitled “Batman the Giant!”).

Here the hero was exposed to a well-meaning scientist’s “Maximizer” ray and grew too large to catch the thieves who stole it and the antidote…

Six months later saw publication of Batman Annual #6 (Winter 1963-1964) featuring ‘Batman and Robin’s Most Thrilling Mystery Cases’ which kicked off with ‘Murder at Mystery Castle’ (Finger, Moldoff & Paris, Detective Comics #246 August 1957) as visitors – Batman and Robin included – to a reconstructed medieval fortress witnessed a devilish remote control killing and had to deduce who set the fiendish trap…

‘The Gotham City Safari’ (Finger, Moldoff & Paris Batman #111, October 1957) saw the Dynamic Duo hunting a hidden killer through a fabulous theme-park of exotic locales whilst ‘The Mystery of the Sky Museum’ (Hamilton, Moldoff & Paris, Batman #94, September 1955) found them at an aviation museum on the trail of sinister smugglers.

‘The Mystery of the Four Batmen’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Paris Batman #88, December 1954) was a seagoing enigma with the Partners in Peril seeking a mysterious smuggler with a tenuous connection to bats in one form or another, after which a movie monster made trouble on location, compelling the crimebusting champions to tackle ‘The Creature from the Green Lagoon’ (David Wood, Moldoff & Paris Detective Comics #252 February 1958)…

A stunning chase to expose a killer searching for a lost golden hoard involved solving ‘The Map of Mystery’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Paris, Batman #91, April 1955), whilst a disgruntled family member seemingly threatened to kill every member of ‘The Danger Club’ (Hamilton, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Paris, Batman #76, April/May 1953).

The astounding sleuthing ceases after uncovering ‘Doom in Dinosaur Hall’ (Finger, Moldoff & Paris, Detective Comics #255 May 1958) where the curator’s murder at the Gotham’s Mechanical Museum of Natural History led to a fantastic chase and a surprise culprit…

Summer 1964 produced Batman Annual #7 and ‘Thrilling Adventures of the Whole Batman Family’ beginning with the introduction of the Gotham Guardian’s most controversial “partner” – a pestiferous, prank-playing extra-dimensional elf – in ‘Batman Meets Bat-Mite’ by Finger, Moldoff & Paris from Detective Comics #267 May 1959) after which the eponymous masked dog Ace narrates ‘The Secret Life of Bat-Hound’ (Finger, Moldoff & Paris, Batman #125, August 1959) and his part in capturing the nefarious Midas Gang

Finger, Moldoff & Paris enlarged the fictitious family in Batman #139 (April 1961), ‘Introducing Bat-Girl’ as Kathy Kane’s niece Betty began dressing up and acting out as her unwanted assistant, eventually proving adults and boys wrong by taking down the deadly King Cobra and his crew, after which Hamilton wrote the only adventure of ‘The Dynamic Trio’ (Detective Comics #245 July 1957), with a very old friend donning cape and cowl as Mysteryman to help combat a smuggling ring facilitating the escape of Gotham’s fugitives.

Courtesy of Finger, Moldoff & Paris, faithful manservant Alfred personally revealed an early failure and its shocking resolution in ‘The Secret of Batman’s Butler’ (Batman #110, September 1957) before ‘The New Team of Superman and Robin’ (Finger, Swan & Moldoff, World’s Finest Comics # 75, March/April 1955) revealed how a disabled Batman could only fret and fume as his erstwhile assistant seemingly dumped him for a better man…

When Bat-Mite elected himself ‘Batwoman’s Publicity Agent’ (Finger & Moldoff, Batman #133, August 1960) the result was naturally chaos and unbridled craziness but not as much as the “Imaginary Story” devised by Alfred debuting ‘The Second Batman and Robin Team’ (Finger, Moldoff & Paris, Batman #131, April 1960) which would inevitably emerge after Bruce and Kathy wed and Dick assumed the mantle of the bat…

Moldoff’s unforgettable back page pin-up ‘Greetings from the Batman Family’ then wraps this final glimpse at simpler, weirder times.

Strange, addictive and still potently engrossing, these weird wonder tales typify a lost time of gentler danger, more wholesome evil and irresistible fun. They’re also impossibly compelling, incredibly illustrated and undeniably influential. A perfect treat for young and old alike.
© 1962, 1963, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Papyrus volume 6: The Amulet of the Great Pyramid


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by B. Swysen & translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-240-9

Papyrus is the astoundingly addictive magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. Launched in 1974 on the pages of legendary weekly Spirou, it has run to more than 35 albums and spawned a wealth of merchandise, a TV cartoon series and video games.

Born in 1932, the author studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels before going into industrial design and interior decorating. In 1961 he made the jump into sequential narrative, first via ‘mini-récits’ (half-sized, fold-in booklet inserts) for Spirou, starring his jovial cowboy ‘Pony’, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis.

He later joined Peyo’s studio as inker on ‘Les Schtroumpfs’ (The Smurfs) and took over the long-running newspaper strip ‘Poussy’ and launched mermaid fantasy ‘Tôôôt et Puit’ when Pony was promoted to Spirou’s full-sized pages. Deep-sixing the Smurfs, he then expanded his horizons by joining a select band contributing material to both Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974 he worked with cartooning legend Berck on ‘Mischa’ for Germany’s Primo whilst perfecting his newest project: a historical fantasy which would soon occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for the following four decades.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieux, mixing Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction, fantastic action and interventionist mythology. The Egyptian epics gradually evolved from standard “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content to a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Each tale also deftly incorporated the latest historical theories and discoveries into the beguiling yarns.

Papyrus was a fearlessly forthright young fisherman favoured by the gods who rose against all odds to become an infallible hero and friend to Pharaohs. As a youngster the plucky Fellah was singled out and given a magic sword courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek before winning similar boons and blessings from many of the Twin Land’s potent pantheon.

The youthful champion’s first accomplishment was to free supreme deity Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos, restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but it was as nothing compared to current duty: safguarding Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely danger-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a dynamic princess with an astounding knack for finding trouble …

The Amulet of the Great Pyramid is the sixth Cinebook translation (21st album of the series, originally released in 1998 as Le Talisman de la grande pyramide); an enthralling rollercoaster romp through living mythology and a spooky trial for the plucky chosen one which begins when Papyrus is dragged from the palace – and a rare reward from Theti-Cheri for saving her life and soul again – by phenomenally intelligent donkey Khamelot.

The savvy beast of burden belongs to court jester Puin and whenever it comes running in such a manner it means that the funny little man has found trouble…

An eventful trip to the Giza plateau with its royal necropolis and great pyramids of Kheops, Khefren and Mykerinus results in the daring lad finding not only his diminutive friend but also a desiccated and extremely active mummy unearthed by tomb-robbers.

Puin has been hearing ghastly screams emanating from the pyramids and convinces the boy-hero to stay and listen for them too, but he never expected his bold friend to go looking for what made them…

The sinister sounds lead deep into the nobles’ grave fields, but as they proceed the searchers stumble upon another acquaintance. The unconscious man is one of the three Pepi brothers charged with keeping the recently-restored Sphinx free of desert sands …

Leaving the comatose victim in Puin’s care, Papyrus presses on. Before very long though the eerie events prove too much and the panicked Professional Fool bolts.

His pell-mell rush carries him down a passage far under the Kheops pyramid where he is confronted with the spirit of Seneb the Dwarf, magician and priest of that august and long-deceased pharaoh…

The garrulous ghost is in need of a favour and urges his terrified “guest” to carry his jewelled heart scarab to Papyrus who will know what to do with it…

Scrabbling out of the ancient passageway, Puin is eventually rescued by his donkey and impetuous Theti-Cheri – who has again refused to be left out of the action and secretly followed her bodyguard into peril.

Papyrus meanwhile has plunged deeper into the necropolis and been attacked by a pack of spectral jackals. Even his magic sword is no help and the malign mobbing only ends when Anubis himself calls a halt to it. The God of the Dead is angered by the sudden increase in grave-robbing and has taken two of the caretaking Pepi brothers, thinking them to be desecrators.

Unfortunately, rather than admit a mistake, the jackal-headed judge demands Papyrus retrieve Kheops’ heart amulet in return for their liberty. Anubis needs it to weigh the king’s soul before he can remove all the wandering spirits of the region to a place where the living can no longer disturb them…

And thus begins an astonishing race against time as the young champion has to scour the Great Pyramid from top to bottom (magnificently detailed and scrupulously explained in some of the best action illustration the author has ever produced); defeating deadly traps, defying spectral sabotage and godly interventions and solving the riddles of the dead to accomplish his mission.

However even after more than satisfying the demands of Anubis, there’s still the murderously mundane menace of the grave-robbers holding Theti-Cheri hostage to deal with before the canny champion can rest easy…

Epic, chilling, funny, fast-paced and utterly engaging, this is another amazing adventure to thrill and enthral lovers of wonder from nine to ninety-nine, again proving Papyrus to be a sublime addition to the family-friendly pantheon of Euro Stars who wed heroism and humour with wit and charm.

Any avid reader who has worn out those Tintin and Asterix albums would be wise beyond their years to add these classic chronicles to their cartoon chronicle bookshelves.
© Dupuis, 1998 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2015 Cinebook Ltd.