Suicide Squad volume 2: The Nightshade Odyssey


By John Ostrander, Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, Paul Kupperberg, Robert Greenberger, Luke McDonnell, Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5833-7

In 1986, mega-monster continuity reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths led to DC Comics overwriting fifty years of continuity and revamping their major properties. The massive spring-cleaning exercise led to a swarm of boldly innovative titles and a fresh look at how comicbooks could be done.

One of the most unconventional – despite crossing genres and having roots leading back to the very dawn of the Silver Age – was Suicide Squad by John Ostrander and artist Luke McDonnell.

Previously during a psychological attack on the very concept of heroism (as seen in the miniseries Legends and its many tie-ins and crossovers) President Ronald Reagan outlawed costumed crimebusters and sanctioned an ultra-covert governmental black-bag operation to press super-powered criminals into (secret) service…

John Ostrander was new to DC; lured with Editor Mike Gold from Chicago’s First Comics where their work on Starslayer, Munden’s Bar and especially Grimjack had made those independent minnows some of the most popular series of the decade. Spinning out of Legends, Ostrander hit the ground running with a superbly compelling reinterpretation of the long-neglected Suicide Squad: a boldly controversial revaluation of meta-humanity and the role of government in a world far more dangerous than the placid public believed…

As originally conceived by Robert Kanigher, the Suicide Squad first saw action in The War that Time Forgot (Star Spangled War Stories #90, April-May 1960). Paratroops and tanks of “Question Mark Patrol” dropped onto Mystery Island from whence no American soldiers ever returned. The crack warriors discovered why when the operation was overrun by dinosaurs and worse…

Re-imagined for The Brave and the Bold #25 (September 1959) as a quartet of combat specialists, Colonel Rick Flag, medic Karin Grace plus boffins Hugh Evans and Jess Price were officially convened as Suicide Squad/Task Force X by the US government to investigate uncanny mysteries and tackle unnatural threats.

The gung ho gang (another Kanigher, Andru & Esposito invention) appeared in six issues but never really caught the public’s attention – perhaps because they weren’t costumed heroes – and quickly faded from memory.

Then, in April 1967 Our Fighting Forces #106 began the exploits of homicide detective Ben Hunter; recruited by the army during WWII to run roughshod over a penal battalion of prisoners who had grievously broken regulations.

Facing imprisonment or execution, the individually lethal military malcontents were given a chance to earn a pardon by undertaking missions deemed too tough or hopeless for proper soldiers. Hunter’s Hellcats – inarguably “inspired” by the movie The Dirty Dozen – ran until December 1969, in increasingly nasty and occasionally fatal sorties, before being replaced without fanfare or preamble by The Losers and similarly lost to posterity.

Ostrander tied together all these disparate strands and linked obscure comics events to provide a shocking secret history of America: a time when superheroes were forced into retirement after World War II with the military and Task Force X used to (unobtrusively) take out the monsters, spies, aliens and super-criminals who didn’t conveniently pack up with them.

Now substituting super-villains for simple criminals, history was made…

This second collection was designed to tie-in to both the TV and movie incarnations of the Suicide Squad. Reprinting Suicide Squad #9-16, plus a crossover from Justice League International #13, material from Secret Origins #28 and team-up one-shot Doom Patrol/Suicide Squad #1(spanning January-August 1988) – it resumes the story of strident political insider Amanda Waller who convinced President Reagan to sponsor her scheme to make bad guys do good deeds.

He agreed, but only as long as he had complete deniability…

Waller didn’t want society to depend on capricious super do-gooders and recruited Flag’s damaged, driven son to run a new penal battalion working “off the books”, using state-sanctioned metahuman force for the greater good. Knowing criminals can’t be trusted, her devious set-up involves not just bribery – reduced sentences, financial favours and pardons – but coercion.

Field missions are led by traumatised, obsessively patriotic Flag Jr., assisted by amnesiac martial artist Bronze Tiger who ensures everybody stays honest and on-mission. Convict-operatives are picked as necessity demands, but some operatives are in regular use, such as Deadshot, Captain Boomerang and schizophrenic sorceress Enchantress. They are, however, wired with remote-detonation explosive devices just in case…

Backed by a support team which includes Flag’s former lover Karin Grace and Briscoe, a bizarre mystery pilot who has a rather unusual relationship with his seemingly sentient helicopter gunship, the ever-fluctuating team seem ready for anything…

The stories here come from a period when publishers were first developing the marketing strategies of the “Braided Mega-Crossover Event.” This hard-on-the-pockets innovation dictated really big stories involving every publication in a company’s output, for a limited time period – so a compilation like this perforce includes adventures that seem confusing because they are essentially “middles” with no beginnings or endings.

In this instance the unfolding epic is Millennium which saw writer Steve Englehart expand on an iconic tale from Justice League of America #140-141 as well as his run on the Green Lantern Corps

Billions of years ago the robotic peacekeepers called Manhunters rebelled against their creators. The immortal Guardians of the Universe desired a rational, emotionless cosmos – a view challenged by their own women. The Zamarons eventually abandoned the Guardians at the inception of the grand scheme, but after eons apart the two factions finally reconciled and left our reality together.

Here and now they have returned with a plan to midwife a new race of immortals on Earth, but the mechanoid Manhunters – who had in the meantime infiltrated all aspects of every society throughout the cosmos – resolved to thwart the plan, whether by seduction, connivance or just plain brute force.

The heroes of Earth gathered to protect the project and confront the Manhunters in their own private lives… and their own comics…

Thus Suicide Squad #9 (by Ostrander, Luke McDonnell & Bob Lewis) sees a team assembled to destroy a Manhunter Temple deep in the Louisiana swamps surrounding the team’s secret Belle Reve base. However, as they battle their way in with a monolithic bomb – despite interference from Captain Atom, Firestorm and too-good-to-be-true reformed Manhunter Mark Shaw – Flag discovers the person he most trusted is a Manhunter mole…

An unlikely hero then pays ‘The Final Price’ to complete the mission before, unconventionally, the squad pick up a new recruit in the bellicose form of mystery warrior Duchess just as they flee the cataclysmic results of their latest covert triumph…

As counsellor/chaplain Reverend Cramer sets up shop in Belle Reve, a grievous security breach occupies Waller’s attention. Somehow Batman has penetrated the top-secret project and indignantly announces that he will expose the whole sordid show.

When neither Flag nor the squad are able to stop the Dark Knight, Amanda finds a unique way to make the intransigent hero back down in ‘Up Against the Wall’

More politically astute action unfolds in ‘Red Pawn’ (plotted by Ostrander, scripted by Paul Kupperberg with art by Erik Larsen & Lewis from Doom Patrol/Suicide Squad #1) as reactionary right-wing hero Hawk is captured whilst running guns to anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua.

His plight quickly becomes the focus of a humiliating media circus, and, still smarting from his last press roasting for such illicit activities, Reagan orders Waller to rescue or kill the wayward freedom fighter.

Typically, this move angers the NSA advisors of the Leader of the Free World, who take matters into their own hands to fatally embarrass “the Wall” by inveigling recent Soviet defector Valentina Vostok to deploy her comrades in the Doom Patrol to save the tragic, well-meaning patriotic Hawk from the evil Sandanistas…

Already shaping up as a SNAFU of biblical proportions, neither American faction is aware that rival cabals in reformist Russian Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s vast espionage apparatus are also implementing their own undercutting agendas…

Soon the entire country is at war as the Squad battle the undercover Doom Patrol (Celsius, Robotman, Negative Woman and Tempest) until a brigade of armoured Rocket Reds invades the nation. With uncontrolled destruction at maximum, the pointless clash escalates even further as a fourth force comprising Soviet super-soldier Stalnoivolk and KGB master schemer Major Zastrow work their own malignant way towards an acceptable solution to restore the status quo …

Barely surviving the political fallout, Waller’s Wonders are next deployed to destroy a drug-cartel in Suicide Squad #11 as ex-Justice Leaguer Vixen seeks vengeance after her friends are gunned down during a smuggling operation. ‘Blood and Snow Part One’ sees her volunteer for the penal team which is starting to feel the pressure of its own success.

Flag is on the edge of a breakdown and nobody has noticed that incorrigible felon Boomerang is impersonating another super-villain to rob banks in his spare time…

With no time to assess and her best assets still in Nicaragua, Waller assembles a team heavy with government-affiliated heroes such as Black Orchid, Nightshade and Speedy to augment remaining regular players Captain Boomerang, Enchantress and Briscoe. With great misgivings she tasks them with infiltrating the inner circle of Medellin Cartel boss Xavier Cujo to destroy his jungle fortress and vast stores of cocaine.

None of them are particularly bothered by the fact that this is an official assassination mission…

Naturally, the plan is perfect up until the moment it begins and soon the undercover stalwarts are battling for their lives in the blistering conclusion ‘Blood and Snow Part Two’. In the ghastly aftermath, however, Vixen no longer counts herself as a hero of any description…

A crucial crossover began in Justice League International #13. ‘Collision Course’ (inked by Al Gordon, drawn by Keith Giffen and co-written with partner in comedic crime J. M. DeMatteis) revealed how US agent and Suicide Squad point-man Nemesis was being tortured in a Soviet jail: a fact proudly leaked by the State’s media…

He had languished there ever since Waller abandoned him at the end of a disastrous attempt to rescue Russian dissenter Zoya Trigorin, but when Batman learns his old ally is a political prisoner he determines to break him out with or without the help of his JLI associates…

At Belle Reve, Flag – unable to convince The Wall (who is being stonewalled by Reagan) that something must be done – has begun his own illegal attempt to free the American hostage. However, once again unseen Soviet machinations are in play and an ambitious plotter has gulled Russian hero Starfire to inject himself into the growing crisis to bait a devious trap…

Flag’s team then stumbles into and brutally clashes with Batman’s Leaguers who are eventually forced into the uncomfortable position of having to – at least ostensibly – fight to keep Nemesis in Russian custody as ‘Battle Lines’ (Suicide Squad #13 by Ostrander, McDonnell & Lewis) are drawn. With violence peaking everybody gets a grim lesson in superpower Realpolitik before a solution is found…

Dimension-hopping super-agent Nightshade has been working for the Suicide Squad in return for the promise of assistance in a personal task. Secret Origins #28 revealed her hidden history in ‘A Princess’ Story’ (Robert Greenberger, Rob Liefeld & Lewis), detailing how little Eve Eden escaped from her own arcane realm after it was conquered by a marauding mystic entity dubbed the Incubus, leaving her brother behind…

All her life she has trained; as a spy, a superhero and a warrior, readying herself for the moment when she would return to save her sibling and liberate her homeland…

These revelations lead into the eponymous story arc ‘Nightshade Odyssey’ which opens with the moment Waller always dreaded. A criminally corrupt senator has discovered the facts of the Suicide Squad and threatens to destroy Reagan’s legacy unless the team is used to end investigations into his malfeasance and get him re-elected.

A man of resolute convictions, the President immediately caves and orders Waller to get it done…

With The Wall seemingly broken and contemplating resignation, the beleaguered director tells Nightshade to complete her personal mission immediately. With barely a pause for thought Nightshade, Boomerang, Bronze Tiger, Deadshot, Duchess, Enchantress and Vixen are ‘Slipping into Darkness’ to materialise in a place of malign horror concealing a trap decades in the making…

From the mouth of her eternally corrupted brother, Eve learns the truth of the situation, the mystic history of the universes and the Incubus’ diabolical connection to the Succubus force which possesses Enchantress. Then she hears their repellent plans for her…

However the satanic corruptor has never met a fighter like the enigmatic Duchess, who provides a ferocious and world-shaking distraction, allowing Eve to free her comrades and effect an uncontrolled escape from the hellish dimension leaving the ‘Devil to Pay’

Sadly, the pell-mell exit dumps the fleeing fugitives into an otherworldly ‘Deathzone’ (Suicide Squad #13, inked by Malcolm Jones III) between universes where they are doomed to madness and worse, until rescued by a mysterious alien nomad calling himself Rac Shade.

Holding information of a long-extant alien incursion on Earth, “the Changing Man” makes the jump back to Belle Reve where Amanda Waller has come to a momentous decision…

To Be Continued

With covers by Jerry Bingham, Larsen & Lewis, Steve Leialoha & Gordon and Jim Valentino, Keith Wilson & William Messner-Loebs, this is a timeless collection of gritty gripping, hard-edged Fights ‘n’ Tights forays to delight action fans: a still magnificent mission statement for the DC Universe, offering witty cohesive and contemporary stories that appealed not just to superhero lovers but also devotees of spy and crime capers. As such they remain fine fodder for today’s so-sophisticated, informed and thrill-hungry readers.
© 1988, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Marie Antoinette: Phantom Queen


By Rodolphe & Annie Goetzinger translated by Peter Russella (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-029-4

As I’ve previously stated, like so much European art and culture, French language comics (I’m controversially including Belgium and Swiss strips in this half-baked, nigh-racist, appallingly sweeping statement) often appear as a triumph of style over content.

That doesn’t mean they’re bad – far, far from it – but rather that sometimes the writing and plotting isn’t as important to the creators – or readers – as the way it looks on a page and in a book, and complex characterisation isn’t always afforded the same amount of room that scenery, players, fighting or sex gets.

That is not the case in this sublimely evocative and eerily placid episode by eminent Bande Dessinée scenarist Rodolphe D. Jacquette (Le Conservateur, Raffini, Cliff Burton) and former fashion artist turned comics creator supreme Annie Goetzinger (Girl in Dior, Casque d’Or, Aurore, L’Agence Hardy) which seamlessly blends the tone and timbre of two iconic eras in French history in a tale of mystery, imagination and rather indolent intrigue…

First seen in 2011 as Marie Antoinette, La Reine Fantome the translated wonderment follows an enlightening Introduction from Rodolphe, describing the origins and provenance of the story before co-writer and sole illustrator Goetzinger introduces us to artist Maud as she sits in the gardens of the Petit Trianon at Versailles.

It’s October 5th 1934 and her sketching of the scene is a brief yet welcome escape from her problems. Her beloved but far older husband is recently dead, leaving her a vast fortune which her stepson son covets.

Remy constantly pesters her to marry him, but she knows he’s as likely to kill as wed her to get his hands on the inheritance…

Things take a strange turn when her dog breaks loose and scampers away. He is quite the hit with the ladies of the Court when he bounds into a grand building, just as a frantic footman warns Queen Maria Antoinette that they must all retreat to the castle before the peasants besieging Versailles find them. It is still October 5th, but also so very long ago…

As her stepson’s attentions become more obnoxious and intolerable, Maud’s dreams are hunted by potent, tangible glimpses of the dead queen’s final days and close friends Suzy and Maggie convince her to try an oh-so-fashionable séance.

Also attending the affair is attractive psychiatrist Dr. Maurice D’Octrobre, a man of great charm and learning, possessed of a remarkably open mind…

Good thing too, as the ceremony allows Marie Antoinette to manifest, imploring Maud to find her remains and re-inter her so that the tragic queen might rest at last…

And so begins an utterly beguiling and entrancingly sophisticated, classically constructed ghost story with clever plot twists, genteel suspense and even a vile villain who sees his stepmother’s unsuspected psychic gifts as a stepping stone to having her committed and stealing her fortune…

Maud’s path is unswerving and her triumph never in doubt, but she never expected that in addition to the satisfaction of a job well done and a soul saved there would be such tangible rewards for her good deed…

Eerily comfortable and superbly satisfying; balancing melancholy shades of The Ghost and Mrs Muir with the poesy of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Marie Antoinette: Phantom Queen is a superb step back into a lost world of elegant mystery and imagination: one no fantasy lover or mature comics reader should miss.
© Dargaud 2011. All rights reserved.

Marie Antoinette: Phantom Queen will be released on August 18th 2016. It can be pre-ordered now and is also available in all e-book formats.For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Harley Quinn’s Greatest Hits


By Scott Beatty, Kelly Puckett, Jeph Loeb, Paul Dini, Adam Glass, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Rob Williams, Bruce Timm, Mike Parobeck, Jim Lee, David Lopez, Federico Dallocchio, Jock, John Timms, Sean “Cheeks” Galloway, Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Richard Friend & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7008-7

Harley Quinn wasn’t supposed to be a star… or even an actual comicbook character. As would soon become apparent however, the manic minx had her own off-kilter ideas on the matter…

Created by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. Ostensibly for kids, the breakthrough TV cartoon revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and immediately began feeding back into the print iteration, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, reshaped the grim avenger and his extended team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to…

Harley was first seen as the Clown Prince of Crime’s slavisly adoring, abuse-enduring assistant in Joker’s Favor (airing on September 11th 1992) where she instantly captured the hearts and minds of millions of viewers. From there on she began popping up in the licensed comicbook and – always stealing the show – soon graduated into mainstream DC continuity.

After a period bopping around the DCU she was re-imagined as part of the company’s vast post-Flashpoint major makeover and appeared as part of a new iteration of the Suicide Squad. Now, with a massive motion picture and TV show in play, it’s probably time to take a look at her eccentric career path…

Collecting material from Countdown to Final Crisis #10, Batman Adventures #12, Batman #613, Gotham City Sirens #7, Suicide Squad #1, Batman volume 2#13, Harley Quinn volume 2 #21, 2015 and Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fools Special #1, the madcap mayhem commences with a 2-page potted biography of the mad miss in comics form.

Crafted by Scott Beatty & Bruce Timm, ‘The Origin of Harley Quinn’ (Countdown #10, February 2008) economically reveals how troubled psychologist Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel arrives at Arkham Asylum to analyse the Joker only to fall under his malign spell and become his adoring, despised slave…

A classic and classy semi-solo yarn comes from Batman Adventures #12, (September 1993) where Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett revealed how Barbara Gordon became a masked adventurer…

Student Babs makes a superhero costume for a party in ‘Batgirl: Day One!’ and stumbles into a larcenous ‘Ladies Night’ when the High Society bash is crashed by rapacious gal pals Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. With no professional help on hand, Miss Gordon has to act as ‘If the Suit Fits!’ and tackle the bad girls herself… but then Catwoman shows up for the frantic finale ‘Out of the Frying Pan!’

A far darker if less comprehensible interpretation graced Batman #613, (May 2003 by Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee & Scott Williams) as an incessant parade of villains du jour in mega-event Hush reached the Joker and Harley and they invaded ‘The Opera’ attended by Bruce Wayne and hidden master villain Tommy Elliot.

It’s visually resplendent and shockingly violent, but story content is virtually zero since the entire farrago is just an extracted episode from a far larger and more complex epic…

Far more satisfactory is ‘Holiday Story’ by Paul Dini, David Lopez & Alvaro Lopez (from Gotham City Sirens #7, February 2010) as new housemates Harley, Ivy and Catwoman split up to celebrate Christmas in their own uniquely different ways. This tale offers a candid peek into the home-life and history which turned dead-end kid Harleen into an overachieving doctor and latterly lunatic super-villain by introducing the inveterate slime-ball who fathered her…

Hitting modern times hard, ‘Kicked in the Teeth’ comes from Suicide Squad volume 4 #1 (November 2011), wherein Adam Glass, Federico Dallocchio, Ransom Getty & Scott Hanna put Harley, Deadshot, Black Spider, King Shark, El Diablo, Voltaic and Savant through hell and torture as mere preparation for their first mission for top spook Amanda Waller whilst ‘Tease’ (Batman #13, December 2012 by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Jock) sees Harley reunited with her main man, only to once again suffer from the pernicious, vindictive whimsy and twisted love of the Joker…

‘Tug A’ War’ (Harley Quinn #21, volume 2, December 2015 by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, John Timms) finds Harley Quinn a bounty hunter battling former squad-mate Deadshot and setting Hollywood ablaze as she seeks top cash-cow Sparrow Adaro

Things quickly go south when she discovers her target is no crook but only the wayward spouse of a Showbiz bigwig who only wants his little lady back. Their twisted relationship touches Harley’s heart and she resolves to help, but the former psychologist never expected so many collateral corpses to accrue as she fixed the not-so-happy family…

This rough and ready compilation concludes with collaborative effort ‘Evil Anonymous’ by Rob Williams, Jim Lee, Sean “Cheeks” Galloway, Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Richard Friend (Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fools Special #1, 2016): a light-hearted, self-referential journey of discovery wherein Harley – prompted by another brush with the Joker – decides to “cure” a number of her fellow criminal killer loons, beginning with bestial winged predator Man-Bat

Soon she’s reverted to a childlike state to tackle Killer Moth, Enchantress, RatCatcher, Toyman and Poison Ivy although things get a little out of hand when she gets Scarecrow on her couch and goes crazy serious when the Justice League step in. Nobody involved is aware of the insidious mastermind actually pulling the strings to get Harley Quinn back to where she really belongs and is most needed…

Fast, furious funny and making precious little narrative sense, Harley Quinn’s Greatest Hits is nonetheless a potent primer of Fights ‘n’ Tights furore that will give newcomers a taste of what motley minx can do and should whet appetites for a deeper exploration of her exploits.
© 1993, 2003, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Tarzan on Film


By Scott Tracy Griffin (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-568-1

Soon after the publication of Tarzan of the Apes in 1912, the character – thanks in no small part to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ acumen as a self-promoter – became a multi-media sensation and global star.

Many sequels followed; a comic strip arrived in 1929, followed by a radio show in 1932 and the Ape-Man inevitably carved out a solid slice of the comicbook market too once the industry was firmly established. However, the earliest and most effective promotional tool – one which took on a life of its own – was Tarzan’s frequent forays into the world of celluloid.

This impressive coffee-table art-book, released to coincide with the latest long-awaited movie, offers an eye-popping blend of intimate background, biographies and a critical overview, supplanted by hundreds of production stills, candid photos and – most welcome to art lovers – movie posters and promotional artwork from each theatre release.

Compiled and written by author and historian Scott Tracy Griffin (Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration), the book catalogues the history of the filmic franchise by focusing on every film and each actor to play the Ape-Man and his mate Jane, as well as finding room to spotlight the most memorable villains, glamorous femme fatales, supporting characters and even that purely filmic innovation Cheetah.

Affording equal importance to the large and small screen iterations – live-action or animated – the history lesson begins after an Foreword from past-Tarzan Casper Van Dien and traces the iconic, world-famous Jungle Lord from Elmo Lincoln in 1918’s Tarzan of the Apes (one of the first six films ever to gross more than a million dollars) through to today’s The Legend of Tarzan, with Alexander Skarsgård delivering the “victory cry of the Great Bull-Ape”…

There’s even a tantalising section on the “Original Kids” CGI series Tarzan and Jane forthcoming from Netflix…

This magnificently monolithic epic (224 pages and 262 x 23 x 333 mm) hardback volume is liberally illustrated with photographic stills and promo art, and also includes examples of Bob Kline’s production art and storyboards, model sheets and stills from the glorious Filmation Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle Saturday morning cartoon show from 1976-1984.

For the technically-minded and those of a completist bent there’s also a full list of The Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, including Tarzan Feature Films, Movie Serials, TV Movies and Series and thematically-linked Additional Films plus Acknowledgements and a copious catalogue of suggested Further Reading

It seems that whatever your vintage, there’s a nostalgia-drenched Tarzan waiting (mine is Ron Ely who starred as both TV and movie Man-Ape from 1966-1970) to spark old memories and foster fresh thrills and this is just the book to get those primal juices flowing.

Tarzan on Film is both intriguing and pretty: enticing and genuinely informative enough to keep any fan happy. If it’s not too soon for the “C” word it might well be this years first suggestion for giant-sized end-of year stocking-stuffer…
Tarzan ® & © 2016 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All images © 2016 Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., Warner Bros, or Walt Disney Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek volume 1


By Mike Johnson, Stephen Molnar, Joe Phillips & various (IDW Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-150-1

The stellar Star Trek brand is one of probably the biggest franchise engines on Earth, permeating every merchandisable sector imaginable. You can find daily live-action and animated screen appearances constantly screening somewhere on the planet, toys, games, conventions, merchandise, various comics iterations generated in a host of nations and languages and a reboot of the movie division proceeding apace even as I type this. There’s even a new rebooted TV series beginning in 2017…

Many companies have published comicbook adventures based on the exploits of Gene Roddenberry’s awesome brainchild. Currently IDW have the treasured funnybook license and have combined great new tales with a choice selection of older examples from other publishers. In 2012 the company also began a long-term project adapting, updating and retelling classic episodes of the original “Five Year Mission” in the context of the 2008 rebooted film franchise as re-imagined by J. J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.

Thus a series of very familiar yarns for older fans starring the visual likenesses of the new Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, Uhura et al, all working under the influence of very different social mores and far more complicated personal relationships, presented in lean, terse, stripped down comics that work with potently understated effectiveness…

Written by Mike Johnson and illustrated by Stephen Molnar & Joe Phillips, proceedings open with ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’ as Chief Engineer Scott pushes his team to complete the million-&-one tasks necessary to keep a starship running. It’s the earliest days of a projected five-year voyage of exploration and rookie captain James Kirk is spending as much time playing chess with his beloved friend and academy comrade Gary Mitchell as his schedule will allow.

The quiet time ends when Science Officer Spock informs him of a distress beacon. It is being emitted by an artefact from legendary lost ship SS Valiant, vanished two centuries past. That vessel was attempting the same task as the Enterprise: finding the edge of the galaxy and seeing what was beyond…

The garbled records-data is unclear but indicates a terrible calamity, crewmen changing, something about extra-sensory perception and then nothing…

Apprehensive but undaunted, Kirk orders the ship onward and soon they are facing an energy phenomenon at the galactic terminus point: an energy-wall preventing further progress which explosively disrupts hundreds of ship-systems and has an agonising effect on many of the crew, especially Mitchell…

Soon the extent of a bizarre metamorphosis is apparent. Gary is no longer human. However, the problem is not the incredible array of psychokinetic abilities Mitchell is increasingly displaying but that he now clearly believes himself above and beyond humanity. When Uhura discovers that the crew of the long-vanished Valiant destroyed their own ship, Spock realises what must be done but finds it almost impossible to convince his wilful, emotionally-encumbered superior of the need to destroy his best friend before it’s too late…

‘The Galileo Seven’ is the next classic revamp as the Enterprise is diverted to deliver crucial medical supplies to a plague-wracked colony world. En route, the ship passes a rare cosmic phenomenon and, over-ruling the doctrinaire career-politician aboard, Captain Kirk allows his science staff time to briefly examine the cosmological treasure-trove before resuming the mercy-dash to Makus III.

Tragically the volatile quasar they’re focused on unleashes all its fury and the shuttlecraft Galileo 7 – carrying Spock, Dr. McCoy, Engineer Scott, Yeoman Rand and crewmen Latimer, Gaetano and Boma – is disabled in a wave of energy and only just manages to crash down on a nearby planet. Although breathable the atmosphere prevents their communications equipment from functioning…

Moreover, Taurus II is not uninhabited and the proto-sentient primitives evolving there don’t like strangers…

As the stranded crew struggle to repair the cracked and crushed shuttle, the first death comes, but even after miracles are wrought and the Galileo is prepped for one last take-off, the sums are done and it’s clear that not all of the survivors are going to be able to ride on the compromised, fuel-deprived final flight.

The closely-circling natives agree…

With a clock ticking and thousands of lives at stake Kirk – after exhausting every avenue left to him – regretfully gives the order to abandon the search for his lost crewmen, but Uhura refuses to leave her lover Spock behind and instigates a mutinous, last-ditch attempt to rescue them…

Also featuring a copious ‘Art Gallery’ which includes covers and variants by David Messina & Giovanni Niro, Tim Bradstreet & Grant Goleash and Joe Corroney plus photos  and pin-ups of the new crew, this book is a simple, no-nonsense, old-yet-new space opera romp to please fans of the franchise and lovers of straightforward science fiction worlds of wonder.
® and © 2012 CBS Studios, Inc. Star Trek and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. © 2012 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Who – The Eleventh Doctor volume 1: After Life


By Al Ewing, Rob Williams, Simon Fraser, Boo Cook & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-385-7

Doctor Who was first seen on black-&-white TV screens on November 23rd 1963 in the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. Less than a year later his decades-long run of adventures in TV Comic began with issue #674 and the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’. Throughout the later Sixties and early 1970’s, strips appeared in Countdown (later re-titled TV Action) before shuttling back to TV Comic.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which evolved into a monthly magazine in 1980 and has been with us under various names ever since.

All of which only goes to prove that the Man from Gallifrey is a hero with an impressive pedigree and hard to kill in any medium…

In recent years the strip division of the Whovian mega-franchise has roamed far and wide and currently rests with British publisher Titan Comics who have sagely opted to run parallel series starring the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth incarnations of the trickily turbulent Time Lord.

These tales starring the Matt Smith incarnation comprise the first five issues of the 2014 monthly comicbook; set just after the Time Lord restarted our imploding universe and saw his companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams married and settled down.

Naturally, the gregarious Galloping Gallifreyan is soon in the mood for a little company, as seen in ‘After Life’ scripted by Al Ewing (Captain America and the Mighty Avengers, Loki: Agent of Asgard) and Rob Williams (Cla$$war, Thanos) illustrated by Simon Fraser (Nikolai Dante, Lilly MacKenzie).

She wasn’t dead, but Alice Obiefune’s life seemed to end after her mother passed way. Things started falling apart and Library Assistant Alice was drifting head-first into a bleak grey world of sucking depression.

Everything changed in an instant when a weird rainbow dog/dragon/thingie raced down the High Street, followed by a strange beanpole man in tweed jacket and bowtie. Barely pausing for breath, he somehow got her to help him chase it.

They would have caught it too, if he hadn’t seen something sinister at the edge of his vision and run into a lamppost…

He then vanished, leaving Alice breathless and bewildered, but popped back a little later when she was safely back in her memory-blighted house. He said she seemed sad and made tea…

Alice was suitably impressed by the incredible TARDIS, but couldn’t help thinking the strange self-confessed alien seemed lonely…

Eager to show off, The Doctor gave her the guided tour of his incredible ship, but Alice kept thinking about the rainbow critter and soon the Doctor was too. Kharitite Joy Beasts home in on negative emotion and bulk up on the mass and energy they generate. However it got there, a miserable, avaricious, angry place like London was no place to leave one wandering about…

The proof of that occurred when they tracked it to the Houses of Parliament in time to stop a riot becoming a bloodbath. Happily The Doctor had a rather good idea about how to calm down the overwhelmed Kharitite…

With new Companion firmly onboard, the roaming wonderment continues in a jaunt to Rokhandi. What was supposed to be a visit to the most beautiful planet in the universe is spoiled when the TARDIS materialises in a cheap and shoddy global theme park…

‘The Friendly Place’ (Ewing & Fraser) is crass, artificial and toxically anodyne but its not long before The Doctor and Alice uncover a sinister presence lobotomising troublemakers, vandals and people who refuse to be happy. With typical rebellious zeal the Time Lord and the Library Assistant challenge the massed delight of the customers and soon uncover a rapacious scheme by corporate powerhouse ServeYouInc

Moreover – thanks to the oddities of temporal mechanics – they meet for the very first time an old enemy who despises them for all their past/future meddling…

Security Chief August Hart is happy to share the secret of the alien wish-granting thing they’ve used to pacify and lobotomise troublesome visitors, but when he makes it enter the Gallifreyan’s mind, the result is not what the moneymen were expecting…

In fact that brief cerebral contact will have repercussions up and down the timeline…

Blithely unaware, the time travellers think it’s “job done” and hurtle home. However, in 1930 Mississippi a most ominous Talent Scout is trading potential fame for relative inconsequentials. The wishes he grants are on behalf of ServeYouInc, but ‘What He Wants…’ (Williams & Fraser) is largely unknown.

He’ll probably get it though, since an ensorcelled Doctor has succumbed to the effects of the corporation’s wishing-entity and become just another of his beguiled slaves. Hopefully Alice and before-he-was-famous Rock Legend John Jones can help bluesman guitar god Robert Johnson work with the consciousness of the TARDIS to save the day and the world…

Some secrets of ServeYouInc and the initial clash with August Hart are then exposed in ‘Whodunnit?’ by Ewing & Boo (Elephantmen, Judge Dredd) Cook, as the charming chrononauts – sucked in by an impending paradox – accidentally arrive at a commercial alien science station in the far future where a years-long conspiracy has boiled over into tragedy…

Something has breached the station and is attacking the staff, plundering their minds and leaving them in comas…

Naturally, nothing is truly as it seems and despite the best efforts of jumped-up, gun-happy temporary Security Chief Hart, the shocking truth about what has been going on in the name of science and profit is exposed when The Doctor, Alice and Jones meet an incredible creature drawn to ‘The Sound of Our Voices’

Smart, warm, edgy and subtly hilarious, this premier volume comes with loads of bonus material such as short comedy strips by AJ and David Leach, Marc Ellerby’s sitcom featuring assorted Pond Life, behind-the-scenes production photos and a vast gallery of alternate and variant covers (photographic, digitally manipulated, painted and/or drawn) by the likes of Fraser, Alice X. Zhang, Rob Farmer and Verity Glass.

If you’re a fan of the small screen Time Lord, this book might well make you an addict to both. After Life is a glorious treat for casual readers, a fine additional avenue for devotees of the TV show to explore and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our art-form to anyone minded to give comics a proper go…
BBC, Doctor Who (word marks, logos and devices) and Tardis are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo © BBC 2009. Tardis image © BBC 1963. First edition April 2015.

Hellboy volume 5: Conqueror Worm


By Mike Mignola with Dave Stewart & Pat Brosseau (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-092-2

Hellboy is a creature of vast depth and innate mystery; a demonic child summoned to Earth by Nazi occultists at the end of the Second World War but rescued and reared by Allied parapsychologist Professor TrevorBroomBruttenholm. After years of devoted intervention and education, in 1952 Hellboy began destroying unnatural threats and supernatural monsters as lead agent for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

This fifth fearsome grimoire of graphic terrors and grave wit re-presents the award-winning 4-issue miniseries Hellboy: Conqueror Worm, originally seen from May to August 2001 and featuring earth-shattering battles, cosmic revelations and a crucial turning point in the life of the “world’s greatest paranormal investigator”.

Following an effusively appreciative Introduction – ‘Mike Mignola is a Genius’– by fan and filmic collaborator Guillermo Del Toro, the eerie epic begins on March 20th 1939 when Hunte Castle is invaded by a select force of American soldiers intent on disrupting the plans of “Nazi Einstein” Ernst Oeming.

In the Austrian alpine fortress fanatical scientists and occultists are counting down to Earth’s first space shot when the crack unit – led by two-fisted mystery man Lobster Johnson – storm in with explosive repercussions…

Sixty-one years later the ruins are the scene of careful scrutiny by the B.P.R.D.

NASA telescopes have spotted a Nazi-emblazoned capsule rocketing back to Earth, clearly a result of that clandestine commando mission’s ultimate failure. With the fallen Reich’s past track record of supernatural surprises, Director Tom Manning wants Hellboy and former foe-turned-new-recruit Roger the Homunculus to see what lost secrets they can uncover.

Guiding them is a local girl with useful connections. Lisa Karnstein grew up near the ruins and now works for the Austrian Secret Police…

Before they finally set off, Hellboy endures a distasteful interview with his new boss. The B.P.R.D. bigwigs have placed explosives inside Roger – “just in case” – and want the crimson colossus to carry the detonator with him at all times…

Furious but committed, Hellboy storms off and soon the cautious trio are nearing the summit and ominous ruins. Their way is briefly barred by an enigmatic figure begging them to turn back from the haunted site, but it quickly succumbs to Hellboy’s already short fuse and thundering fists. Before long they are picking their way towards the entrance when shots are fired from ambush and Roger plunges off the side of the mountain…

Angrier than ever, Hellboy smashes into the derelict building to discover one of his oldest enemies in charge of a restored Nazi mission control suite.

Herman Von Klempt was there when Oeming took off for the stars in 1939 and in the years since has become a major menace to civilisation through his macabre transplant experiments and cybernetic killer-apes. The latest incarnation of the latter is what smashes Hellboy into unconsciousness…

When the investigator comes to he is trussed into a typically sadistic torture device and as he screams in agony the Nazi is smugly boasting of the fruition of decades of planning. He is also congratulating his devoted mole within the B.P.R.D. operation…

Elsewhere, what remains of Lobster Johnson makes contact with a presumed-lost B.P.R.D. agent and begins a desperate counterstrike which might be mankind’s only chance of survival, even as Von Klempt’s technicians guide the vintage space capsule to a safe descent…

With Hellboy freed and liberally wreaking carnage amidst the mad scientist’s forces, a third faction then enters the fray, offering crucial intelligence into the demon-foundling’s true origins and early life.

Ignoring the many ghosts infesting the castle, he also reveals how the plan was never to send a living human into space, but to deliver a corpse which would be inhabited by an ancient, arcane monstrosity from antediluvian prehistory: a creature whose reign on Earth would signal the end and obliteration of humanity…

Before dying he finally offers a meagre weapon to oppose the beast, but it seems utterly inconsequential compared to the hideous transformative majesty of the chthonic horror Von Klempt calls the Conqueror Worm…

With all sides in play the supernatural action goes into ghastly overdrive as Hellboy and his allies strive to destroy the creeping evil and its insane acolytes. Enemies fall and allegiances shift from moment to moment, but when the gift-weapon is shattered only the greatest sacrifice imaginable can halt the monster’s domination.

Moreover, even after Hellboy’s greatest, most important triumph his anger at humankind’s madness and venality force him to make the most important decision of his unconventional life…

Wrapping up the spectral showcase is an ominous Epilogue revealing how a convocation of the Weird Warrior’s most dangerous enemies results in one less arch enemy but more trouble in store plus an expansive ‘Hellboy Sketchbook’ section, offering a variety of breathtaking drawings and roughs detailing the development and visual evolution of the beasties and bad guys populating the story.

Baroque, grandiose, rocket-paced and genuinely flavoured with the taste of imminent Armageddon, Conqueror Worm is an astounding adventure to enthral horror addicts and action junkies: another lovingly lurid lexicography of dark delights no comics fan or fear fanatic should miss.
™ and © 2001, 2002 and 2003 Mike Mignola. Hellboy is ™ Mike Mignola. Introduction © 2001 Guillermo Del Toro. All rights reserved.

Astro Boy volume 4


By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Frederik L. Schodt (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-679-3

From the late 1940s onward until his death in 1989, Osamu Tezuka generated an incomprehensible volume of quality work which transformed the world of manga and how it was perceived. Devoted to Walt Disney’s creations, he performed similar sterling service with Japan’s fledgling animation industry.

The earliest stories were intended for children but right from the start Tezuka’s expansive fairytale stylisations harboured more mature themes and held hidden pleasures for older readers and the legion of fans growing up with his manga masterpieces…

“The God of Comics” was born in Osaka Prefecture on November 3rd 1928, and as a child suffered from a severe illness. The doctor who cured him inspired the lad to study medicine, and although Osamu began drawing professionally whilst at university in 1946, he persevered with college and qualified as a medical practitioner too. Then, as he faced a career crossroads, his mother advised him to do the thing which made him happiest.

He never practiced as a healer but the world was gifted with such masterpieces as Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Black Jack and so many other graphic narratives.

Working ceaselessly over decades, Tezuka and his creations inevitably matured, but he was always able to speak to the hearts and minds of young and old equally. His creations ranged from the childishly charming to the distinctly disturbing such as The Book of Human Insects.

Tezuka died on February 9th 1989, having produced more than 150,000 pages of timeless comics, created the Japanese anime industry and popularised uniquely Japanese graphic narrative which became a fixture of world culture.

This fourth monochrome digest volume (168 x 109 x 33 mm) continues to present – in non-linear order – early exploits of his signature character, with the emphasis firmly on fantastic fun and family entertainment…

Tetsuwan Atomu (literally “Mighty Atom” but known universally as Astro Boy due to its dissemination around the world as an animated TV cartoon) is a spectacular, riotous, rollicking sci fi action-adventure starring a young boy who also happens to be one of the mightiest robots on Earth.

The series began in 1952 in Shōnen Kobunsha and ran until March 12th 1968 – although Tezuka often returned to add to the canon in later years. Over that time Astro spawned the aforementioned global TV cartoon boom and starred in comicbook specials, games, toys, collectibles, movies and the undying devotion of generations of ardent fans.

Tezuka frequently drew himself into his tales as a commentator, and in his revisions and introductions often mentioned how he found the restrictions of Shōnen comics stifling; specifically, having to periodically pause a plot to placate the demands of his audience by providing a blockbusting fight every episode. That’s his prerogative: most of us avid aficionados have no complaints…

Tezuka and his production team were never as wedded to close continuity as fans are. They constantly revised both stories and artwork in later collections, so if you’re a purist you are just plain out of luck. Such tweaking and modifying is the reason this series seems to skip up and down the publishing chronology. The intent is to entertain at all times so stories aren’t treated as gospel and order is not immutable or inviolate.

It’s just comics, guys…

And in case you came in late, here’s a little background to set you up…

In a world where robots are ubiquitous and have won (limited) human rights, brilliant Dr. Tenma lost his son Tobio in a traffic accident. Grief-stricken, the tormented genius used his position as head of Japan’s Ministry of Science to build a replacement. The android his team created was one of the most ground-breaking constructs in history, and for a while Tenma was content.

However, as his mind re-stabilised, Tenma realised the unchanging humanoid was not Tobio and, with cruel clarity, summarily rejected the replacement. Ultimately, the savant removed the insult to his real boy by selling the robot to a shady dealer…

Some time later, independent researcher Professor Ochanomizu was in the audience at a robot circus and realised diminutive performer “Astro” was unlike the other acts – or any artificial being he had ever encountered. Convincing the circus owners to part with the little robot he closely studied the unique creation and realised just what a miracle had come into his hands…

Part of Ochanomizu’s socialization process for Astro included placing him in a family environment and having him attend school just like a real boy. As well as friends and admirers the familiar environment provided another foil and occasional assistant in the bellicose form of Elementary School teacher Higeoyaji (AKA Mr. Mustachio)…

The astonishing exploits resume after ‘A Note to Readers’ – explaining why one thing that hasn’t been altered is the depictions of various racial types in the stories.

‘Robot Land’ originally ran May to September, 1962 in Shōnen Magazine and sees Dr. Haido fulfil his life’s dream by turning the island of Aragashima into an actualisation of the beloved fairytales and legends he read as a child.

The immense theme park is manned by purpose-built robots and receives an early visit from Ochanomizu and Astro, who are amazed at everything they see. They’re less impressed when the truly terrifying simulacra of Satan and The Dragon go online, but Haido scorns their advice to deactivate the ultimate villains…

Mere months later, an exhausted Swan Princess crashes into Astro’s room. She begins to relate the horrors she has escaped from but is cut short by Satan smashing into the house and demanding her return. After a mighty but inconclusive struggle, the monster plays his trump card and claims the fugitive is Haido’s property and must be surrendered. The doctor, it seems, is as debased as his worst creations…

Undeterred, Astro Boy resolves to help and goes undercover, discovering the sweet land of childish fantasy has been turned into a ghastly gulag run like a dictatorship with helpless robots enslaved by Haido and Satan, who pay for their empire of evil by building advanced weaponry for criminals.

Once he knows the score, all Astro Boy can do is battle on until the armed camp of evil is destroyed, or he is…

‘Ivan the Fool’ (February-March 1959 in Shōnen Magazine) details how Earth’s first luxury-liner spaceship The Titan is hit by a meteor on its maiden voyage.

As the panicked passengers head for the life-pods, Astro Boy ends up in the same capsule as a disparate and relatively unsavoury cross-section of humanity including a petty bully, a spoiled family, a minor celebrity and a jewel thief…

The crisis is far from over. Lacking sufficient fuel, the pod can’t reach Earth and with tension mounting Astro has to crash the tiny vessel on the Moon. Mystery replaces terror as the survivors discover air, a (relatively) benign environment and evidence of prior civilisation. The desperate situation quickly degenerates into an outrageous holiday experience, but with Astro trying assorted ways to alert Earth to their plight, the mood radically shifts again after a lurking monster is spotted…

When the Mighty Atom finds an old ship he uncovers an incredible story of the first days of Russian space exploration and sorts out a rescue mission, but somebody has noticed a vast field of diamonds and is not ready to leave quite yet. It’s a recipe for death and disaster…

Cultural tradition was acknowledged and updated in ‘A Day to Remember’ (Shōnen Magazine special expanded summer edition 1960) as the O-Bon Lantern (Day of the Dead) Festival was re-imagined to encompass robot copies of departed loved ones annually returning for a 3-day visit. Sadly, this particular year a recent bereavement leaves no time to construct a facsimile and Astro is asked to play the role of the robot revenant for a family whose little boy has died…

His discomfort at playing substitute ends when Astro discovers Jiro was a genius who built a time machine in his bedroom; something his parents only learn after a gangster bursts in demanding a return on the illicit cash he advanced the kid to build it…

After dispensing with the thug Astro Boy hops into the chronal carriage and follows Jiro’s path, ending up in the turbulent 20th century on a rescue mission that promises plenty of peril before the inevitable happy ending…

The exotically eccentric escapades then conclude with ‘Ghost Manufacturing Machine’ from the 1957 Supplement Edition of Shōnen Magazine, which begins with scientists testing their latest horrific discoveries made in the service of the most evil man on Earth.

Premier Hitlini is a madman and ambitious dictator without parallel. His chief boffin Professor Pablos is not coming up with the goods he needs to further his schemes and is about to be replaced by Ochanomizu… even though the benevolent technologist doesn’t know it yet…

A frantic warning arrives too late and Ochanomizu is abducted to totalitarian Golgania, but when Astro Boy attempts to rescue his mentor he is prevented by international law which proscribes robots entering another country without human invitation.

Astro fumes in frustration as the Professor is compelled to work on Hitlini’s dream: a device to make duplicates of the dictator so his tyranny will be eternal. However his family eventually convince him to go, promising to handle the legal repercussions…

The toy boy wonder invades the embattled nation and experiences all manner of subtle horror and brutal threats. Autonomous robots and androids are forbidden. The government has lobotomised most mechanicals, turning them into slaves of Hitlini’s war machine, ever-ready to extend his power.

Soon, however, Astro has joined the Robot Resistance and befriended their leader Quantum. The valiant freedom fighter has a secret: he was built by Pablos and has contacts in the very heart of the dictator’s sanctum…

Meanwhile, deep inside the palace the laboratories are buzzing. Reluctant Ochanomizu is making progress, despite interference from Pablos, but neither suspect what the tyrant has planned for them as soon as they succeed.

…And when Quantum is captured, all long-range plans evaporate and Astro decides his only option is a direct assault. However, neither the Mighty Atom nor Ochanomizu realise the situation has also forced the hand of the secret plotter in the dictator’s inner circle and events have rapidly spiralled into murderous anarchy and chaos…

Breathtaking pace, outrageous invention, slapstick comedy, heart-wrenching sentiment and frenetic action are the hallmarks of these captivating comics constructions: perfect examples of Tezuka’s uncanny storytelling gifts which can still deliver a potent punch and instil wide-eyed wonder on a variety of intellectual levels.
Tetsuwan Atom by Osama Tezuka © 2002 by Tezuka Productions. All rights reserved. Astro Boy is a registered trademark of Tezuka Productions Co., Ltd., Tokyo Japan. Unedited translation © 2002 Frederik L. Schodt.

Star Trek: Gold Key Archives volume 1


By Dick Wood, Nevio Zaccara, Alfredo Giolitti & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-922-4

Star Trek debuted on American televisions on September 8th 1966 and ran until June 3rd 1969: three seasons comprising 79 episodes. A moderate success, it only really became popular after going into syndication, running constantly throughout the 1970s. It was also sold all over the world, popping up seemingly everywhere and developing quite a devoted fanbase.

Being a third world country, Britain didn’t see the show until July 12th 1969 when BBC One screened “Where No Man Has Gone Before” in black-&-white and then proceeded to broadcast the rest of the series in the wrong order.

“Arena” was the first episode screened in colour (November 15th 1969), but viewers didn’t care. We were all hooked anyway and many of the show’s catchphrases – some entirely erroneous or even fictitious – quickly entered the popular lexicon of the nation.

It even spawned a British-originated comic strip which ran in Joe 90, TV21 and TV21 and Valiant from the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Those have also been collected by IDW and I’ll get to them in the fullness of time and space.

In the USA, although there was some merchandising, things were a little less enthusiastically embraced. Even though there was a comicbook – from Gold Key, running for almost a decade after the show’s cancellation – authenticity wasn’t really a watchword and immediacy or urgency not an issue. In fact, only six issues were released during the show’s entire run of three seasons. Published between July 1967 and December 1968, they are all gathered in this first archive Star Trek.

Printing giant Whitman Publishing had been producing their own books and comics for decades through their Dell and Gold Key imprints, rivalling and often surpassing DC and Timely/Marvel at the height of their powers. Famously they never capitulated to the wave of anti-comics hysteria which resulted in the crippling self-censorship of the 1950s and Dell Comics never displayed a Comics Code Authority symbol on their covers.

They never needed to: their canny blend of media and entertainment licensed titles were always produced with a family market in mind and the creative staff took their editorial stance from the mores of the filmic Hayes Code and the burgeoning television industry.

Just like the big and little screen, the product enticed but never shocked and kept contentious social issues implicit instead of tacit. It was a case of “violence and murder are fine but never titillate.”

Moreover, most of their adventure comics covers were high quality photos or paintings – adding a stunning degree of veracity and verisimilitude to even the most outlandish of concepts for us wide-eyed waifs in need of awesome entertainment.

The company seemed the only logical choice for a licensed comicbook, and to be honest, these stories are cracking little space opera yarns, but they occupy an odd position in the hearts of older fans. In the UK, distribution of American comicbooks was haphazard at best, but the Trek yarns were reprinted in hardback Christmas annuals. However, the earliest ones bore little resemblance to the TV version.

Our little minds were perplexed and we did wonder, but as the adventures offered plenty of action and big sci fi concepts we just enjoyed them anyway.

Original British Star Trek yarns came in serialised comic-strip form, superbly illustrated and bearing a close resemblance to the source material. It only appeared as 2 or 3-page instalments in weekly anthologies, but was at least instantly familiar to TV viewers.

I discovered the answer to the discrepancy years later: scripter Dick Wood (a veteran writer who had worked on hundreds of series from Batman and the original Daredevil to Crime Does Not Pay and Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom) had not seen the show when commissioned to write the comicbook iteration, and both he and Italian artists Nevio Zaccara – and later Alberto Giolitti – received only the briefest of outlines and scant reference materials from the show’s producers. They were working almost in the dark…

When you read these tales, you’ll see some strange sights and apparent contradictions to Trek canon lore, but they were all derived from sensible assumptions by creators doing the very best with what meagre information they had.

If you’re likely to have your nostalgic fun spoiled by wrong-coloured shirts or “Lasers” rather than “Phasers”, think alternate universe or read something else. Ultimately, you are the only one missing out…

That’s enough unnecessary apologising. These splendidly conceived all-ages tales don’t deserve or need it, and even the TV version was a constantly developing work-in-progress, as fan and occasional Trek scripter Tony Isabella reveals in his Introduction ‘These Are the Voyages…’

Accompanied by the stunning photo-collage covers and endpapers – a rarity at the time outside Gold Key titles – the quirky collation of cosmic questing commences with ‘The Planet of No Return’ (Wood & Zaccaria, #1, July 1967) as the Enterprise enters a region of space oddly devoid of life and encounters predatory spores from the planet designated Kelly-Green.

It’s a world of horror where vegetative life contaminates and transforms flesh and mindlessly seeks to constantly consume and conquer. After the survivors of the landing party escape deadly doom and return to the safety of space, there is only one course of action Captain Kirk can take…

‘The Devil’s Isle of Space’ was released with a March 1968 cover-date and found the ever-advancing Enterprise trapped in a space-wide electronic net. The technology was part of a system used by an alien race to pen death-row criminals on asteroids, where they would be (eventually) executed in a truly barbarous manner.

Sadly, it’s hard not to interfere in a sovereign culture’s private affairs when the doomed criminals hold Federation citizens hostage and want Kirk to hand his ship over to them…

Bombastic and spectacular, ‘Invasion of the City Builders’ (#3 December 1968) saw the legendary Alberto Giolitti take the artistic reigns. Prolific, gifted and truly international, his work and the studio he created produced a wealth of material for three continents; everything from Le Avventure di Italo Nurago, Tarzan, The Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Zorro, Cisco Kid, Turok, Gunsmoke, King Kong, Cinque anni dopo, Tex Willer and dozens more. In England the Giolitti effect enhanced many magazines and age ranges; everything from Flame of the Forest in Lion to Enchanted Isle in Tammy.

His gritty line-work added a visual terseness and tension to the mix, as seen in his first outing as the Enterprise crew land on a planet where automated machines programmed to build new homes and roads have been out of control for a century. Forcing the organic population to the edge of extinction, the mechs build cities no one can live in over the soil they need to grow food. The machines seem indestructible but Mr. Spock has an idea…

Social commentary gave way to action and suspense when ‘The Peril of Planet Quick Change’ (June 1969) finds the crew investigating a world of chimerical geological instability, only to see Spock possessed by beings made of light. The creatures use him to finally stabilise their unruly world, but once the crisis is averted, one of the luminous spirits refuses to leave the Vulcan and plans to make the body its own…

‘The Ghost Planet’ (September 1969) was fast approaching parity with the TV incarnation as Enterprise encounters a world ravaged by radiation rings. The twin rulers are eager for the star men’s help in removing the rings but don’t want them hanging around to help rebuild the devastated civilisation. A little investigation reveals that most of the carnage is due to eternal warfare which the devious despots plan to resume as soon as the Federation ship destroys the radiation rings and leaves…

Wrapping up this first hardback treasure-trove is ‘When Planets Collide’ (December 1969): a classic conundrum involving two runaway worlds inexorably drawn to each other and mutual destruction. What might have been a simple observable astronomical event becomes fraught with peril when the Enterprise crew discover civilisations within each world which would rather die than evacuate their ancient homes…

With time running out and lives at stake there’s only one incredible chance to save both worlds, but it will take all Spock’s brains and Kirk’s piloting skill to avert cosmic catastrophe…

Bold, expansive and epic, these are great stories to delight young and old alike and well worth making time and space for.
® and © 2014 CBS Studios, Inc. Star Trek and related marks are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus volume 4


By Andi Watson, Christopher Golden, Daniel Brereton, Joe Bennett, Hector Gomez, Cliff Richards, Jason Minor & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-968-0

It’s the height of summer here and with “Seen-it Season” well under way and nothing but old movie blockbusters and sundry other reruns flooding the TV ether, I’ve decided to join in the lazy, short-sighted scheduling process with a few comics compilations starring venerable franchise stars. At least the entertainment quality of these golden oldies is guaranteed and there are no ads to fast forward through…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted as a motion picture starlet, but found her home after migrating to the small screen. After securing her status as a certified media sensation, she won her own comicbook in 1998, with smart, suspenseful, action-packed yarns exploding out of a monthly series, graphic novels, spin-off miniseries and short stories in showcase anthology Dark Horse Presents – all complementing the sensational, groundbreaking and so culturally crucial TV show.

Buffy Summers resides in the California hamlet of Sunnydale, built over a paranormal portal to the Nether Realms dubbed The Hellmouth. Here, she and a small band of buddies battle devils, demons and all sorts of horrors inexorably drawn to the area: most of whom/what regard humanity as a succulent appetiser and Earth an irresistible eldritch “fixer-upper” opportunity.

With Rupert Giles, scholarly mentor, father-figure and Watcher of all things unnatural, Buffy and her “Scooby Gang” sought to make the after-dark streets of Sunnydale safe for the largely-oblivious human morsels, ably abetted and occasionally aided by an enigmatic undead stud-muffin called Angel

Collected in this fourth of seven supremely scintillating Omnibus editions (and mirroring events on the show’s third season) are the pertinent contents of Dark Horse Presents #141, Buffy the Vampire Slayer #9-11, 13-15, 17-20 and 50, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Annual 1999, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Wizard #½, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Angel #1-3, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Lover’s Walk and Angel #1-3: collectively spanning 1999-2002 and all re-convened for your delectation as a chronological continuity rather than in original publishing order: well-nigh 400 pages of full-colour mystery, merriment and mystical martial arts mayhem.

As recapitulated in original series Editor Scott Allie’s Introduction, although stories were created in a meandering manner up and down the timeline, this Omnibus series offers them in strict chronological continuity order…

Launching the sundown action is an ambitious 10-issue epic which ran intermittently through the first two years of the monthly comic. ‘Bad Blood’ was written by Andi Watson and illustrated by Joe Bennett & Rick Ketcham and latterly Cliff Richard & Joe Pimentel, opening with a rare romantic moment. Buffy and recently-restored undead lover Angel are in the local cemetery where they are interrupted by a new type of threat. However this particular monster is too quick to be seen and apparently consumes corpses rather than living flesh…

Meanwhile, in a dingy alley formerly beautiful vampire Selke seethes. Even though her kind cast no reflections, she knows her previous clashes with the Slayer have destroyed not only her strength but also her sublime allure…

Even as Buffy’s mom idly considers cosmetic surgery to bolster her fading youth, Selke accosts plastic surgeon Dr. Flitter, offering the challenge of a lifetime and unchanging, undead eternal life in return. Obsession with appearances seems to be epidemic in Sunnydale and when Buffy is approached by talent scout Lana she seriously considers a proposal to become a model. If only it doesn’t cut into her Slaying schedule… oh, and school of course…

Whilst Giles was busy researching the elusive thing that eats cadavers, Ma Summers has regained her equilibrium and decides against going under the knife – which was lucky since Flitter has taken up Selke’s offer to restore her. However, as his normal procedures don’t work, he’s resorting to old books of magic for a solution, and is keeping the impatient nosferatu complacent by feeding her his other clients…

Buffy has prepared to battle what Giles calls “Ghouls” but faces a far worse, emotional, battering from the other models on her first day at work. Selke, meanwhile, fooling herself that Flitter’s efforts are working, has tried to recruit vampire allies from the town’s new undead overlord Rouleau and been utterly humiliated…

Later that night as Angel and the Slayer finally eradicate the ghoul gang, furious Selke puts her increasingly arcane cosmetologist on warning: succeed soon or die horribly… Issue #11 continued exploring themes of looks and sexual politics after sleazy musician Todd Dahl hits town with his band and starts looking for impressionable babes to bed.

After the Slayer forcefully turns him down, Todd brags that he has bagged Buffy and goes on to insult and rebuff more-than-willing teen witch Amy. All too soon, the repulsive love-rat is treated to a scary look at the other side of the bed when he suddenly transforms into ‘A Boy Named Sue’

Flitter meanwhile has intercepted a grimoire intended for Giles’ lore library and deduced a way to heal Selke and even hype-up the strength of her own bite-created offspring. Unfortunately, it involves preying upon other vampires to get the raw ingredients…

The direly dangerous process succeeds and a fully restored, resplendent, deadlier than ever Selke triumphantly puts her plans into play. Soon everyone who ever crossed her will pay and pay and pay in blood and torment…

The wise-cracking action resumes with the formerly disfigured and depleted Selke paying a return visit to undead gang-boss Rouleau. The last time he saw – and spurned – her, she was a pathetic, mutilated bag of scars and bile, but now she is both beautiful and overwhelmingly powerful. She also bears a grudge…

Her pet plastic surgeon has discovered a passion for alchemy to supplement his total lack of morals. Flitter has completely taken up Selke’s cause, restoring and improving her but, since normal scientific procedures don’t work, is stuck with scouring books of magic for a solution. Although his researches turned up a way to turn vampire blood into a super-steroid for Selke and her “offspring”, now she and her newly-minted children of the night must hunt not only humans for food, but vampires for fuel…

Selke, though, is obsessed only with making the Slayer suffer…

Meanwhile, in a vain semblance of normal teen life, the Scooby Gangsters Cordelia, Oz, Xander and Buffy coach brainy, nervous Willow for an upcoming televised inter-school quiz show. Things start to come unglued when Selke incidentally consumes Sunnydale High’s resident nerd Lyle and Cordy, desperate to change her bimbo image, steals a magic charm from Giles and becomes a voracious consumer of facts. Sadly, there’s no off-switch and her brain quickly begins to overload…

Selke’s über-vamps are also making mischief with Buffy and Angel finding them almost impossible to destroy…

Now nocturnal civil war breaks out between Selke’s squad and the town’s regular fangers. Night patrols are crazily broken up by vampires constantly attempting to capture and drain each other, and things take a bleak turn when deadly demon lovers Spike and Drusilla return, keen on turning the mounting chaos to their own decadently amused advantage…

Soon, their unique talents for obtaining information have led them to the secret of the “bad blood”, with Selke and Flitter still oblivious to the new threat to their schemes. The cosmetic alchemist has now discovered a way of mystically cloning their own “Dark Slayer” to take care of Buffy, and Selke wants one right now!

Sadly Flitter’s first attempts are all woefully inadequate and promptly discarded… even the one which was still sort-of alive…

Buffy’s daylight problems are insane. Sleazy Todd spread very nasty rumours about her before he temporarily turned into a girl, but now he’s male again he’s fallen desperately in love with the girl he wronged. His misplaced passion and rekindled conscience cost him dearly…

Events reach crisis point as the war between leeches escalates. On a rare night off from slaying, Buffy hits one of Selke’s pack with her mom’s (stolen) car and is subsequently ambushed by the whole mob. Even as she impossibly stakes them all, in a hidden lab, Flitter decants his masterpiece – a Summers simulacrum physically identical to and apparently far superior to The Slayer. This sorcerous clone will relentlessly hunt down and slaughter the original…

Accursed by daylight lives approximating normality, Willow, Cordelia, Oz, Xander and Buffy are forced to join in school-type activities by building a float for an upcoming parade. Angel, meanwhile, has captured one of Selke’s new ‘Roid Rage Vamps and started obtaining answers in a manner most un-heroic…

On the midnight streets, Buffy is ambushed by her duplicate and, after a blistering battle, loses. Elsewhere Selke, unaware that a new faction has sabotaged her modified blood supply, gorges herself on the foul brew…

After disposing of Buffy’s body down a handy manhole, the doppelganger attempts to infiltrate the Scooby Gang, but although she has the Slayer’s memories, her attitudes are seriously skewed. For instance, her knowledge of fashion now rivals Cordie’s…

Tensions rise as the clone starts to degrade. Born of Bad Blood, she casts no reflection and can’t see her face, but once she notices the flesh of her shoulder coming off she heads straight back to Doc Flitter…

The cosmetic alchemist has already discovered that someone has adulterated his buckets of blood and Selke is completely out of control when the clone arrives, leaking from many lesions. None of them are aware that, deep below Sunnydale’s streets, Buffy is slowly recuperating, assisted by a shambling earlier prototype previously discarded by Flitter.

As Angel sneaks in and destroys the reservoir of augmented blood, the raging, oblivious Selke orders the duplicate to fetch Buffy’s body and prove she’s dead…

The gory carnival of chaos cataclysmically concludes when the clone confronts the Slayer and her earliest incarnation in the sewers, whilst above ground Willow and Giles examine “Buffy’s” blood on a discarded parade costume and uncover the awful truth…

When Selke sees the decimation wrought by Angel, she goes berserk; her form rapidly mutating into monstrosity, just as the long-awaited procession begins through Sunnydale. Her depredations are interrupted by the battered but victorious Buffy who spectacularly re-emerges to destroy Selke and end the Bad Blood menace forever. However, in the shadows, deadly demon lovers Spike and Drusilla fade from sight, taking new toy Dr. Flitter with them…

A selection of Short Stories comes next, beginning with ‘Bad Dog’ by Doug Petrie, Ryan Sook & Tim Goodyear from Buffy the Vampire Slayer Annual 1999. It depicts how the Slayer, whilst hunting for reluctant werewolf Oz on one of his “wild” nights, encounters a nasty young sorcerer determined to turn himself into a god at gal-pal Willow’s expense…

‘Hello Moon’ – written by Daniel Brereton & Christopher Golden, with art by Bennett & Jim Amash – was the first of three tales from Dark Horse Presents #141: a thoughtful vignette wherein Buffy instinctively attacks a monster on the beach only to realise she has much in common with her target.

The beleaguered fish-man also bears the weight of unwelcome responsibility for his endangered race. No sooner have these two champions made their peace, however, than a band of roving vamps attacks…

From the same source, ‘Cursed!’ by Golden, Hector Gomez & Sandu Florea then sees brooding Bad Boy Angel guiltily regaling Buffy with the horrific events he perpetrated following his rebirth as a bloodsucker in Ireland circa 1753…

Watson, David Perrin & Florea round out the DHP #141 appearances with a glimpse at Giles’ early career as a supernatural investigator tackling a nasty case of bodysnatching, resurrectionism, reanimation and ‘Dead Love’

‘Stinger’ – by Golden, Gomez & Florea – comes from promo premium Wizard #½ – detailing how Xander’s attempts to save Willow from a bullying stalker lead to a clash with a fear-feeding scorpion-thing…

From Buffy #50, Andi Watson contributes hilarious change-of-pace gag strip ‘Mall Rats’ after which Golden & Eric Powell expose ‘Who Made Who’ (Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Lover’s Walk) with Spike and Dru’s notoriously “open” relationship going through one of those spiralling phases that always results in jealousy, spite and mass-slaughter…

Angel eventually spun off into his own TV series, but from the start was a big enough draw to earn his own comicbook title. Angel: The Hollower was a 3-issue miniseries (May-July 1999) and detailed how, even after reverting to exquisite evil before being redeemed again, his past would always haunt him…

It begins in present-day San Francisco where a pair of vampires is attacked by a monstrously tentacled horror. Veteran vamp Catherine barely escapes with her unlife and, having seen the horror before, knows there’s only one being she can turn to…

Back in Sunnydale, Buffy and Angel have resumed their after-dark partnership, even though Giles and the rest of her in-the-know friends are still wary of the recently re-redeemed night-stalker. However, once their monster-killing “date” ends, Angel is jumped by a band of fangers and sees once more a girl he slaughtered and “turned” over a century past…

Although their sworn enemy, his undead captors treat Angel with kid gloves. Catherine only wants to talk, and she wants to talk about ‘The Hollower’

A flashback turns to Vienna in 1892 where Angelus and his pack-mates Spike and Drusilla were amongst many vampires preying on the populace in complete security; oblivious of and immune to all threat or challenge.

However, soon after turning Catherine, Angelus was confronted by starving, terrified vampires fleeing some unimaginable horror that actually preyed on bloodsuckers…

Back in the now, Catherine reminds her sire of the cost the last time the creature manifested and warns him it has undoubtedly tracked her to Sunnydale…

Convinced, Angel agrees to a truce and prepares to battle the thing again. Typically he considers this something he cannot share with Buffy…

In end-of-the-century Austria the first fight against the Hollower unsatisfactorily stalled with only a few undead survivors, whilst now in Sunnydale Angel secretly consults eldritch expert Giles and learns the truth about the beast. He also discovers that, blithely unaware, Buffy is already hunting a huge, subterranean tentacle-horror that prefers vamps to human meals…

Watcher archives reveal a chilling scenario. Everybody knows vampires are actually human corpses with the departed soul replaced by a reanimating demon, using blood to fuel the composite creature. The Hollower, however, sucks out those demonic riders and ingests them. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, except once it’s full – about 3,000 demons is its limit – the horror explosively regurgitates them and the partially digested devils will infect the nearest LIVING body.

If the Hollower succeeds in satiating itself in vampire-infested Sunnydale and subsequently pops, most of the town’s mortal souls will suddenly become rabid, blood-crazed killers…

Despite being fully engaged in the hunt, Buffy can’t shift a nagging, tempting and unworthy notion: if the Hollower sucks out the vampiric part of Angel, will she be left with a normal human lover…?

Whatever the outcome, the Hollower has to be stopped at any and all costs…

The manic mystic mayhem then concludes with a comicbook postscript to the Season 3 TV finale as ‘Graduation Day’ (by Petrie, Jason Minor & Curtis Arnold, from Buffy #20) simultaneously follows Angel as he heads for his new mission in Los Angeles and stays in Sunnydale with Buffy when a demon who feeds on lost hope targets both monster-hunters at once, eager to destroy them both at their lowest emotional ebb…

Supplementing this compilation of mystic madness are Title Page and Cover Galleries with material from Jeff Matsuda, Jon Sibal, J. Scott Campbell, Alex Garner, Liquid! & Guy Major to complete the eerie excitement experience.

Visually compelling, winningly constructed and racing along at hell-for-leather pace, this arcane action fearfully funny fright-fest is utterly engaging even if you’re not familiar with the vast backstory: a creepy chronicle as easily enjoyed by the most callow neophyte as every dedicated devotee.

Moreover, in the era of TV binge-watching, with the shows readily available on TV and DVD, if you aren’t a follower yet you soon could – and should – be…
Buffy the Vampire Slayer ™ & © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2008 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.