Clifton volume 4: Black Moon


By Rodrigue & de Groot, coloured by Liliane Denayer, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-30-4

An infallible agent of Her Majesty’s assorted security forces, Clifton was originally devised by Raymond Macherot (Chaminou, Les croquillards, Chlorophylle, Sibylline) for the weekly magazine Tintin. The doughty exemplar of Albion debuted in December 1959, just as a filmic 007 was preparing to set the world ablaze and get everyone au fait with espionage…

After three albums worth of strip material – compiled and released between 1959 and 1960 – Macherot left Tintin for arch-rival Spirou and his comedic crime-buster forlornly floundered.

Tintin revived him at the height of the Swinging London scene and aforementioned spy-boom, courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Greg (Michel Régnier). These strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

Then it was back into retirement until 1971 when first Greg – with artist Joseph Loeckx – took his shot. He toiled on the True Brit until 1973 when Bob De Groot and illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois fully regenerated the be-whiskered wonder. They produced ten tales after which, from 1984 on, artist Bernard Dumont (AKA Bédu) limned from De Groot’s scripts before eventually assuming the writing chores as well. The series concluded in 1995.

…But Not For Long…

In keeping with its rather haphazard Modus Operandi and indomitably undying nature, the Clifton experience resumed yet again in 2003, crafted now by De Groot & Michel Rodrigue for four further adventures. Although the humorous visual vein was still heavily mined in these tales, the emphasis was subtly shifted and the action/adventure components strongly emphasised…This one, Black Moon, was originally released in 2004 as Lune noire – Clifton: the 22nd of 25 to date and Rodrigue & De Groot’s second collaboration…

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

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

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

Michel Rodrigue really, really likes Rugby. He was born in Lyon in 1961 and eventually pursued higher education at the National School of Fine Arts, where he also studied medieval archaeology.

From 1983-85 he was on the French Rugby team and in 1987 designed France’s mascot for the World Cup. He made his comics debut in 1984 with sports (guess which one) strip Mézydugnac in Midi Olympique. After illustrating an adaptation Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac in 1986 he and collaborator Jean-Claude Vruble produced a volume of La Révolution Française, scripted by Patrick Cothias.

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

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

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

So who’s our hero?

Pompous, irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton is ex-RAF, a former officer with the Metropolitan Police Constabulary and recently retired from MI5. Typically, he has a great deal of difficulty dealing with being put out to pasture in rural Puddington and takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, assisting the Government or needy individuals as an amateur sleuth whenever the opportunity arises.

Sadly, he is also all too keenly aware that he is generally the only truly competent man in a world chockfull of blithering idiots…

In this relatively recent offering the accent is heavily on blistering adventure and sinister intrigue – albeit with a liberal dosing of political satire tipped in – and begins at the end with the murder of Clifton in a seedy hotel in North Korea.

Photos of his bloody corpse are leaked to the press and soon cause a terrific commotion in the secret Headquarters of MI-5. Veteran warhorse and ultra-capable spymaster Colonel Donald Spruce cannot believe the evidence of his eyes and neither can any of his appalled staff…

Agent Brian begins translating the text and recounts how British subject “Marmaduke Brent” was chased by persons unknown through the town of Ptang-Kong before being machine gunned to death. With no other information available all the devastated agents can do is arrange for the body of their fallen former comrade to be shipped home…

To Spruce falls the unenviable task of informing Clifton’s fiery, frequently befuddled housekeeper Mrs. Partridge of the tragedy…

A few days later, with great ceremony a British transport picks up the coffin and the exotic widow escorting it to its final destination. With the plane safely in the air, she quickly opens the box and lets Clifton out before his oxygen supply is exhausted…

Battered and groggy, the old war horse begins reviewing the convoluted path which led to this fine turn of events…

Was it only a month ago that he and the ravishing Miss Jade were approached by Spruce to clandestinely follow the Prime Minister’s idiot nephew Hank to North Korea and infiltrate the bizarre and avaricious Black Moon Cult which had somehow changed an annoying chinless wonder and embarrassing idiot into a blithering nincompoop and danger to the prestige of the nation?

Of course the valiant old soldier accepted the mission, but neither he nor Jade could have known how devious was their masked leader The Great Tralala, how well-established, ambitious and deadly his cult was, nor that they were already a clandestine nuclear power with the entire world in their sights…

Still, with nothing to lose and a world to save, Clifton naturally had to do his utmost…

Fast-paced, action packed and sporting set pieces and a body count that would put James Bond and SPECTRE to shame, Black Moon is a cleverly contrived light romp that will astound and delight blockbuster addicts and comes with a smart line in sardonic social commentary to please every fun-loving sucker for satire.
Original edition © Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard) 2004 by Rodrigue & De Groot. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.

Batman in the Forties


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Jack Schiff, Dick Sprang, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Jack Burnley, Winslow Mortimer, Charles Paris, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0206-3

Part of a series of trade paperbacks intended to define DC’s top heroes through the decades (the other being Superman, of course) these compilations always deliver a superb wallop of comicbook magic and a tantalising whiff of other, arguably better and certainly less unstable times.

Divided into discrete sections (and breaking its own rules by including some material from 1939), partitioned by spectacular cover galleries, this timeless treasure trove of cape-&-cowl action commences with an informative Introduction from comics historian Bill Schelly who adds context and commentary before the exotic nostalgia begins with a selection dedicated to ‘Cover Gallery: Milestones’, re-presenting the compelling Batman #1, Spring 1941, World’s Fair Comics #1, Spring 1941, Detective Comics #27, May 1939 and Detective Comics #38, February 1940.

Detective #27 spotlighted the Dark Knight’s debut in the ‘Case of the Chemical Syndicate!’ from by Bob Kane and his close collaborator Bill Finger.

The spartan, understated yarn introduced dilettante playboy criminologist Bruce Wayne, drawn into a straightforward crime wherein a cabal of industrialists were successively murdered. The killings stopped when an eerie figure dubbed “The Bat-Man” intruded on Police Commissioner Gordon’s stalled investigation and ruthlessly dealt with the hidden killer.

‘Origin’ originated two years later (Detective Comics #33, November 1939). Here Gardner Fox, Kane & Sheldon Moldoff produced the first ever explanation of the hero’s tragic history in the first two pages of a longer tale (‘The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom’ – and not included here), after which Detective #33 (April 1940) spawned ‘Robin the Boy Wonder’ by Finger, Kane & Jerry Robinson.

This story changed the landscape of comicbooks forever; introducing child trapeze artist Dick Grayson whose parents were murdered before his eyes and who consequently joined Batman in a lifelong quest for justice. They began by taking down mobster Boss Zucco, the Graysons’ murderer…

‘The People vs. Batman’ is from Batman #7, October/November 1941, by Finger, Kane & Robinson. Something of a landmark, it’s also a potent and emotional crime melodrama. When Bruce Wayne is framed for murder and jailed, Robin takes over to clear up the case, ultimately resulting in the Dynamic Duo finally becoming official operatives of the Gotham police force. They would not be vigilantes again until the grim and gritty 1980’s…

Concluding this first section is ‘The Origin of Batman’ (Batman #47 June/July 1948, by Finger, Kane & Charles Paris) which added tone and depth to the traumatic event, as the Gotham Gangbuster at last tracks down and confronts the triggerman who murdered his parents…

‘Cover Gallery: Props’ features iconic paraphernalia as seen on Detective Comics #61 March 1942, Detective Comics #127 September 1947, Batman #48 August/September 1948, Batman #10 April/May 1942 before Batman #37 (October/November 1946) offers a magnificent clash of eternal adversaries when ‘The Joker Follows Suit!’

Fed up with failing in all his felonious forays, the Clown Prince of Crime decides that imitation is the sincerest form of theft and begins swiping the Dark Knights gimmicks, methods and gadgets; using them to profitably come to the aid of bandits in distress in a masterpiece of mirthful mayhem by an unnamed author, Robinson & George Roussos.

Most later Batman tales feature a giant coin in the Batcave and World’s Finest #30 is where that spectacular prop first appeared; spoils of a successful battle between the Caped Crusaders and Joe Coyne’s vicious bandit gang ‘The Penny Plunderers!’ (by Finger, Kane & Ray Burnley).

Crafted by Finger and Jim Mooney, the next tale comes from Batman #48 (August/September 1948) and reveals how an escaped convict finds the secret sanctum, leaving us privy to ‘The 1,000 Secrets of the Batcave’. Batman and Robin hunt out the gloating crook, expecting to be publicly exposed when they turn him in, but Fate has a cruel trick left to play…

World’s Finest Comics #3 Autumn 1941, Batman #22 April/May 1940, Detective Comics #42 August 1940, Batman #26 December 1944-December 1945 unite to form ‘Cover Gallery: The Batman Family’ and leads into key tales featuring the supporting cast such as the anonymously scripted ‘Alfred, Armchair Detective’ (Batman #31, October/November 1945).

Part of an occasional series, these were light-hearted supplemental vignettes (possibly written by Don Cameron or Joe Samachson and illustrated by Robinson. This one hilariously depicts how an idle night spent eavesdropping on crooks results in a big arrest of burglars by the dutiful butler…

A suspenseful, shocking high comes with ‘Bruce Wayne Loses Guardianship of Dick Grayson!’ wherein a couple of fraudsters claiming to be the lad’s last remaining relatives petition to adopt him. A melodramatic triumph by Finger, Kane & Robinson, there’s still plenty of action, especially after the grifters try to sell Dick back to Bruce in a real lost gem from Batman #20 (December 1943-December 1944).

From 1947 to 1952, (issues #65-130) Robin, the Boy Wonder had his own solo series and regular cover spot in Star Spangled Comics at a time when the first superhero boom was fading, to be replaced by more traditional genres such as crime, westerns and boys’ adventure stories. The stories blended in-continuity action capers with more youth-oriented fare and adults Batman and Alfred reduced to minor roles – or entirely absent – allowing the kid crusader to display not just his physical skills but also his brains, ingenuity and guts.

SSC #70 (July 1947) introduced an arch-villain he could call his own as ‘Clocks of Doom’ saw the debut of an anonymous criminal time-&-motion expert forced into the limelight once his face was caught on film. The Clock’s desperate attempts to sabotage the movie Robin was consulting on inevitably led to hard time in this delightful romp by Finger, Win Mortimer & Paris.

‘Cover Gallery: The Villains’ culls classics images from Detective Comics #89 July 1944, Detective Comics #73 March 1943, Detective Comics #140 October 1948 and Detective Comics #29 July 1940, before moving on to declare ‘Your Face is your Fortune’ (Batman #15, February/March 1943, by Jack Schiff, Kane, Robinson & Roussos). Here Catwoman returned, taking on a job at a swanky Beauty Parlour to gain info for her crimes and inadvertently falling for Society Bachelor Bruce Wayne…

‘The Scoop of the Century’ by Finger, Kane & Lew Sayre Schwartz, from Batman #49, October/November 1948, finds Batman battling the Mad Hatter for the first time but painfully distracted by a reporter.

Vicki Vale is convinced the Masked Manhunter is actually Bruce Wayne and, although he dissuades her here, she would spend the next fifteen years trying to prove it…

‘Clayface Walks Again’ (Detective Comics #49 March 1941, Finger, Kane Robinson & Roussos) wherein a deranged horror actor recommenced his passion for murder by trying to kill Bruce’s old girlfriend Julie Madison; literally “the one who got away” during the maniac’s previous campaign of terror…

‘The End of Two-Face’ (Detective Comics #80, October 1943 by Finger, Kane, Robinson & Roussos) saw former District Attorney-turned-maniac Harvey Kent seemingly cured of his split personality after a typically terrific tussle.

A different iteration then follows in ‘Half-Man Half Monster’ taken from the Batman Sunday newspaper strips for June 23-August 18, 1946. Here Finger, Jack Burnley & Mortimer re-imagine the turbulent tragedy as actor Harvey Apollo is disfigured on the witness stand while testifying and becomes a deranged, double-edged menace to society until the Caped Crusaders catch him…

After a copious ‘Contributors’ section detailing the lives of the men who made Batman there’s one  last treat in store. ‘The True Story of Batman and Robin’ is an entertaining but highly dubious company puff-piece from Real Fact Comics #5 January 1947 by author unknown and Mortimer “detailing” how Bob Kane invented the strip and how it’s produced. Believe it or don’t…

The history of the American comicbook industry in almost every major aspect stems from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of twin icons published by DC/National Comics: Superman and Batman. It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in a variety of formats from relatively economical newsprint paperbacks like this to stunning, deluxe hardcover commemorative Archive editions.

These are the stories that forged the character and success of Batman. The works of Bill Finger, Bob Kane and their multi-talented assistants are evergreen examples of pure and perfect superhero fiction. Put them in a thrifty, nifty package like this, include the pop art masterpieces that were the covers of those classics, and you have pretty much the perfect comic book. And you really, really should have it.
© 1939-1949, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus volume 2


By Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Jen Van Meter, Christopher Golden, James Marsters, Doug Petrie, Daniel Brereton, Jeff Matsuda, Cliff Richards, Luke Ross, Ryan Sook, Hector Gomez, & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-826-3

A hunger to be frightened is imprinted inn our genes and courses through our surging blood. Psycho-killers, ravening monsters, unsuspected epidemics, funfair rides, overdue bills, undeleted search-histories and a host of other things – daft and not – all trigger our visceral, paralysed fright, fight or flight response and thus always feature highly in our mass entertainments.

These days however the slow-building tension and cerebral suspense of the printed genre has been largely overtaken and superseded by the shock-values and sudden kinetic action of both small and big screens, with the entire oeuvre also liberally doused in a hot sauce of teen alienation, unrequited love and uncontrollable hormones – all making for a heady (if often predictable and flavourless) brew.

The transition was very much the result of a landmark American TV show and assorted media spin-offs which refocused the zeitgeist. However, even decades later, Dark Horse Comics’ clever, witty graphic interpretation of the cult global mega-hit TV franchise Buffy the Vampire Slayer remains a superbly enjoyable fear-feast, so here’s another look at that comics landmark via the publisher’s economical and engaging Omnibus Editions series.

Once the company secured the strip licensing rights, they began producing a regular series, a welter of impressive original Graphic Novels, numerous miniseries, spin-offs and specials. They even featured assorted cast and characters in their own anthology titles such as Dark Horse Presents. Long after the beloved TV show died, from 2007 onward comics delivered creator Joss Whedon’s never-broadcast, continuity-canonical Season Eight and beyond to the delight faithful fans and followers.

Buffy Summers lived in small California hamlet Sunnydale, built over a paranormal portal to the Nether Realms dubbed The Hellmouth. Here, she and a small band of buddies battled devils, demons and all sorts of horror inexorably drawn to the area and whom/what/which all considered humanity an appetiser and planet 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 stud-muffin calling himself Angel

Collected here in the second of seven big bad Omnibus editions are the contents of Buffy the Vampire Slayer #60-63, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru #1-2, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ring of Fire and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Dust Waltz plus pertinent material from anthologies Reveal and Dark Horse Presents Annual 1998, (collectively spanning 1998 to 2003), presented for your delectation as a chronological continuity rather than in original publishing order: well-nigh 300 pages of full-colour mystery, merriment and mystical martial arts mayhem.

As explained in series Editor Scott Allie’s Introduction, although printed sagas and spin-offs were created in a meandering manner up and down the timeline, this series of books re-presents them in strict chronological continuity order, before apologising for the fact that back then an initial lack of up-to-date information often led to a few hairy moments and false starts.

This collection begins with outrageously experimental and enticing strip ‘Angels We Have Seen on High’ (by Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Jeff Matsuda, Hakjoon Kang, Nolan Obena & colourist Dave McCaig from Reveal, November 2002) wherein Buffy – still not settled into her new home – reluctantly takes little sister Dawn to a funfair. When the Slayer is distracted by a pack of feeders, she leaves the brat with a responsible adult who proves to be anything but…

Happily a mysterious leather-clad figure proves to be her guardian angel…

Next up is ‘A Stake to the Heart’ (Buffy the Vampire Slayer #60-63, August-November 2003 by Nicieza, Cliff Richards, Brian Horton, Will Conrad & Michelle Madsen) wherein the family is sundered after Buffy’s dad leaves for a new, less complicated life. Taking out her feelings on Sunnydales’s undead legions, the Slayer is unaware that she is being observed by Angel and his demonic sponsor Whistler as well as malignancy spirits ‘Deceit’, ‘Guilt’, ‘Abandonment’ and ‘Trepidation’ which feed on misery and negative emotions.

Meanwhile in another part of town, a dowdy British scholar arrives and begins his new day job as the librarian at Sunnydale High School…

Despite their cruellest efforts the malignancies have never contended with someone like Buffy before, nor her still-hidden future allies…

Whimsically concocted by Jan Van Meter, Luke Ross, Rick Ketcham & Guy Major, ‘MacGuffins’ originated in Dark Horse Presents Annual 1998, and focuses on fun as Buffy gets a unique educational gift from new Watcher Giles: dutiful agent of the venerable cult tasked with training and assisting Slayers in their anti-arcane endeavours.….

All she has to do is catch the damned things before they wreck her house and life…

Although Buffy was a hot, hip teen monster-killer, as the TV series developed it became increasingly apparent that the bad guys were the true fan-favourites. Cool vampire villain and über-predator Spike eventually became a love-interest and even a suitably tarnished white knight, but at the time of this collection he was still a jaded, immortal, immoral psychopath… every girl’s dream date.

His eternal paramour was Drusilla: a demented, faithless libertine precognitive vampire who killed and turned him. Dru thrived on a constant stream of fresh decadent thrills and revelled in baroque and outré bloodletting.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru #2 – from October 1999 – saw the twisted lovers gradually making their way to Sunnydale, roaming the American South in ‘Queen of Hearts’ (by Christopher Golden, Ryan Sook & Major). Arriving in St Louis they board a gambling palace on a paddle-steamer, just wanting to waste some time and test their fortunes. Unfortunately the enterprise is being operated by a sinister luck-demon with as little concept of fair play as Dru and Spike…

When they finally realise the real stakes, all the forces of elemental supernature can’t prevent the river running red – and sundry other colours – with demon blood…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ring of Fire was scripted by screenwriter/producer Doug Petrie (in his time a writer, director and co-executive producer on the TV show). The art comes from Sook, Tim Goodyear & colourist Dave Stewart. It was originally released as a slim, full-colour, all-new graphic novel which established the artist as a major comics talent.

The tale is set during TV Season 2 (which ran from Autumn 1997 to Spring 1998) when Buffy’s enigmatic vampire boyfriend Angel had reverted to a soulless slaughterer of innocents. His latest victim was High School computer teacher Jenny Calendar, who moonlighted as a gypsy witch and practising technopagan. She was also the one true love of Buffy’s mentor Giles…

One dark and stormy night twelve miles off the coast in ‘The Rising’ a Japanese cargo ship transporting ancient Samurai armour weathers staggering waves and a visit from a ghastly horror calling himself “Angelus”…

The 500-year-old war suit once belonged to warrior demon Kelgor, whose power was tied to it and enabled him to raise an army of undead killers in 16th century Japan. Angelus and his unwilling allies Spike and Drusilla intend sparking the necromantic apocalypse designated “The Ring of Fire” and all they lack is Kelgor’s corpse (hidden by Watchers half a millennium ago). They’re expecting the Slayer to find that for them…

Cool vampire villain Spike was severely wounded and confined to a wheelchair at this time and Dru exulted in tormenting him by playing up to Angelus …

With Giles all but paralysed by grief, “Scooby-Gang” stalwarts, Willow, Xander and Oz are left to search copious reference files for information, but as their painstaking study bears dark fruit Giles is ambushed by Angel and Dru at Jenny’s grave. Buffy is there to rescue him, but that just gives Spike the opportunity to follow the merely human vampire hunters and activate the dead Samurai’s blazing revival spell…

Rushing to their side Buffy manages to (mostly) destroy freshly resurrected Kelgor, but as the Slayer pursues she is arrested by Federal spooks who know exactly what she is…

Frustrated but not thwarted, the terrible trio are at each others throats until Dru realises there is still some life in Kelgor’s remains. Moreover, the demon wants to share his centuries-old back-up plan with them. Hidden with the remains of ‘The Seven Samurai’ graves scattered throughout the state is the secret of true resurrection, and if the vampires gather the contents of those hidden tombs, all their wicked wishes can still come true…

Meanwhile, locked in a covert detention centre, Buffy faces exposure to the world and worst yet her mother. Giles is gone: fallen far off the deep end and reverted to his old, manic persona of “Ripper”, but that’s not a bad thing since he knows the people who arrested Buffy aren’t government agents… or even people. Yet even before he can get to her, back-up Slayer Kendra busts her imprisoned predecessor out.

(Long Story Short: when Buffy briefly died the next Slayer was activated, and even though the Blonde Bombshell was subsequently revived, Kendra, once here, wasn’t going away…)

The action goes into overload as the Japanese hell-lord is finally fully reconstituted to form an alliance with Dru, leaving Angel and Spike twisting in the wind. The “Feds” are then exposed as opportunistic demons trying to secure the resurrection spell for themselves in ‘Kelgor Unbound’. They are ultimately frustrated in that diabolical dream as Ripper has taken off with it, madly determined on bringing back his Jenny…

Across town Buffy, Kendra and the gang are too late to stop the final ritual. Dru and Kelgor exultantly awaken a colossal flame-breathing devil-bird to expedite their conquest of humanity and, forced into a tempestuous alliance with bad boys Angel and Spike, the vastly overmatched Buffy and Co need more magic than young witch Willow can conjure.

They need Giles back or the world is lost…

That cataclysmic clash is followed by the first issue of the miniseries Buffy the Vampire Slayer Spike & Dru: ‘Paint the Town Red’ from April 1999. It was co-written by James Marsters, who played the laconic Spike, with Christopher Golden. Illustrated by Sook & Stewart, the tale is set just after the undead couple split following a terrific love-spat, and follows the heart-sore Cockney Devil to an isolated Turkish village where he establishes a private harem and hunting preserve. Everything is perfect until Dru comes looking for him with her latest conquest, a recently-resurrected necromancer.

Koines is her love-slave, a wizard capable of controlling corpses with but a thought. Until she set her death-monger against Spike it hadn’t occurred to anybody that vampires are just another kind of cadaver, but once the mage realises he decides to renegotiate the terms of his rather one-sided relationship with the inventively psychotic vampire virago, and Spike discovers that he is not quite over Dru yet…

The story portion of this immense collection concludes with Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Dust Waltz from October 1998

Scripted by Dan Brereton and illustrated by Hector Gomez, Sandu Florea & Major, it was the very first Buffy comics offering; released as a full-colour, all-original graphic novel which set the tone and timbre for the forthcoming series.

It all begins in ‘Promenade’ as twin ancient vampiric horrors slowly cruise towards California and a showdown in Sunnydale. At school Buffy is still insolently resisting the stern admonitions of Giles to keep training, but a merciful interlude is offered when the Watcher invites Buffy and her gang – Willow, Xander and former mean girl Cordelia – to accompany him to Baytown Port and meet his niece Jane, imminently due to disembark from a world cruise.

It also inadvertently affords the squad their first, albeit unsuspected, glimpse of Vampire “Old Ones” Lilith and Lamia, who have made a pilgrimage to the Hellmouth with their bloodsucking Champions to indulge in savage ritualistic combat.

That night Buffy, on monster patrol with (once more reformed and benevolent) vampire boyfriend Angel, encounters and destroys one of the Champions. Deprived of her tool for the ritual, Lilith decides Angel will be his replacement – whatever it takes…

Tension intensifies in ‘Moondance’ as Buffy hunts for the vanished Angel, with Jane tagging along in defiance of Giles’ wishes. The Bloody Sisters have an army of infernal beasts and creatures with them, however, and the gang is captured and dragged to the Hellmouth even as the Watcher frantically seeks the true purpose of the dark combat ceremony…

Buffy, however, is far more direct and simply marches straight into the monsters’ midst to deal with the threat and save her friends “Slayer-style” in blistering, action-packed eponymous conclusion ‘The Dust Waltz’.

Of course even after trashing the vampire hordes there’s the small problem of un-summoning the colossal elder god the battle was designed to awaken…

Supplementing this compilation of chthonic confabulations are copious photo, Title Page and Cover Galleries with material from Matsuda & McCaig, Horton, Ross, Ketcham & Major and Sook, to complete the eerie excitement experience

Visually impressive, winningly constructed and proceeding at a hell-for-leather pace, this arcane action-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 this 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 ™ & © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Hellboy volume 4: The Right Hand of Doom


By Mike Mignola, with Dave Stewart & Pat Brosseau (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-093-9

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 forth fearsome grimoire of graphic terrors and grave wit combines some new material with a gathering of shorter satanic sagas garnered from Dark Horse Presents #151, Dark Horse Presents Annual #1998, Gary Gianni’s The Monster Men, Abe Sapien: Dreams of the Dead and Hellboy: Box Full of Evil #1-2, communally spanning 1998-1999 and offering insights into different stages in the unique life of the “world’s greatest paranormal investigator”.

‘Part One: the Early Years’ leads with the mordantly surreal and hilarious ‘Pancakes’ (Dark Horse Presents Annual #1998 and seen in colour for first time) as a certain 2-year old terror enjoys his first taste of a human treat and is forever lost to the Lords of the Realm Infernal, after which Mignola begins his engaging, informative and ongoing directors’ notes on all the spooky stories contained herein…

Based on a 6th century English legend, ‘The Nature of the Beast’ (Dark Horse Presents #151 and also moodily coloured by Dave Stewart for this tome) finds a youthful Hellboy circa 1954, attempting to slay a dragon for a strange group of wise men with a hidden agenda before ‘King Vold’ – created specifically for this volume – sees the monstrous monster hunter in magic-drenched Norway in 1956. He’s been despatched by Professor Bruttenholm to aid scholarly colleague Edmond Aikman in confronting the spirit of a spectral wild huntsman, but once again mystic glamour, the promise of power and the allure of gold have turned a trustworthy ally into a dangerous liability…

Following more of Mignola’s insider information, ‘Part Two: the Middle Years’ begins with ‘Heads’ (a back-up from the March 1998 One-Shot Abe Sapien: Dreams of the Dead) with Hellboy exploring a ramshackle Kyoto dwelling in 1967 and outsmarting a six-pack of particularly gruesome Japanese cannibal monstrosities.

‘Goodbye, Mister Tod’ is likewise a back-up vignette (from Gary Gianni’s the Monster Men, August 1999), set in Portland, Oregon in 1979 with the increasingly world-weary investigator called just too late to help a medium who specialised in materialising ectoplasm. All the paranormal problem-solver can do now though is expel the horrific elder god slowly breaking its way into our reality with one of the grossest tactics ever seen in the annals of ghost-busting…

‘The Vârcolac’ originally appeared as six episodes in promo-pamphlet Dark Horse Extra. Here it’s been extensively redrawn and reformatted to fully feast on the action-packed spectacle of Hellboy battling an ultimate vampire so huge it can “eat the Sun and cause eclipses”…

As Mignola explains for ‘Part Three: the Right Hand of Doom’; after half a decade of tumultuous scene-setting, he finally started to answer some long-extant questions about his infernal foundling.

Answers began seeping out in eponymous short ‘The Right Hand of Doom’ from Dark Horse Presents Annual #1998 – presented here in colour for the first time – as the BPRD agent meets a priest with a connection to his arrival on Earth during WWII. Adrian Frost has an ancient document depicting Hellboy’s arcane stone appendage and offers to trade it for the true story of his terrestrial nativity and subsequent career.

The cleric learns how a Lord of Hell and an earthly witch spawned a child of diabolical destiny and how the grand plan was derailed by destiny and a human-reared child who moved Heaven and Hell to live his own life…

That background was soon expanded in 2-part 1999 miniseries ‘Box Full of Evil’ when Hellboy and BPRD associate Abe Sapien return to modern-day Britain to assess a mystic burglary. Old enemy Igor Bromhead has used his magic to steal the ancient metal coffer Saint Dunstan used to imprison a devil, but by the time they find him the vile plotter has opened the box and sold its contents to debauched Satanists Count Guarino and Countess Bellona.

Their facile joy is short-lived as the little double-dealer takes possession of the cask’s true treasure. In return for paltry wealth and appalling knowledge, the freed demon shares the secret name and true nature of Hellboy as well as his Abysmally-ordained destiny. It even helps Igor ambush the investigator, usurping both Hellboy’s true power and ascribed role in the destruction of the universe…

With that misappropriated magical might, the demon begins to end creation but has not reckoned on the incredible will and sheer bloody-mindedness of the paranormal troubleshooter, nor those other ancient powers of the Earth who have no intention of dying before their appointed times…

This astounding tale of hell-bent heroism and cosmic doom is then followed by an all-new 4-page epilogue which offers dark portents of further trials for the monster who will always be his own man…

Wrapping up the spectral showcase is a reproduction of the superb and spooky cover of the French collected Box Full of Evil plus a huge ‘Hellboy Sketchbook’ section, offering a variety of breathtaking drawings and roughs spanning 1993 through 1999.

Baroque, grandiose, fast-paced and deceptively witty, these tall tales will captivate adventure and horror addicts in equal amounts, making this another lovingly lurid lexicography of dark delights no comics fan or fear fantasy fanatic should be without.
™ and © 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2003 Mike Mignola. Hellboy is ™ Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.

Free Comics

I’m interrupting our regular daily dose of comics chit-chat to share with you all a Press Release we recently received from independent publisher Northwest Press.

Usually I do nothing more than mouth off about things which annoy or baffle me – and the situation described here does both to an extreme degree – but at this time of ever-increasing global stupidity, greed, venality and bigotry, the contradictory actions of an powerful commercial entity increasingly dominant in how we read comics and get informed – let alone how we view and learn about each other – just cried out for a stronger response.

Please read the Press Release carefully and if the issues described call out to you, download the free graphic novel and respond according to your conscience and feelings.

I’m trusting you all to be reasonable. You have every right to disagree in part or in total, but are not entitled to make the issue about you.

I’ve left in the company contact details too, in case you want to contact Northwest directly, and ask you all to act responsibly and not to abuse the gesture.

Normal trivialities will resume here tomorrow. Now go get your free forbidden book…

Apple blocks Hard to Swallow; publisher releases free version

June 13, 2016—Northwest Press submitted their new book HARD TO SWALLOW to Apple’s iBooks two weeks ago, with the intention of having a day-and-date release to coincide with the paperback edition that will be in comic book stores this month.

Unfortunately, Apple rejected the book—as they have the publisher’s past two releases aimed at adults only—for having “prohibited explicit or objectionable content”. The publisher has now decided to offer a censored version of the book for free, to shine a spotlight on what it sees as Apple’s ongoing campaign against sex in art.

In the days before the iPad debuted, Apple repeatedly rejected comic books and apps with gay content—some of which were very tame and included no nudity—and was accused of following a double standard when compared to heterosexual content. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously defended the platform’s restrictions on sexual content by saying Apple provided his customers “freedom from porn”.

Northwest Press Publisher Charles “Zan” Christensen, then a board member with the nonprofit LGBT comics advocacy organization Prism Comics, took them to task publicly for this in an online article.

in 2011, when the iBooks store was opened up to comics content from indie publishers, Northwest Press submitted its very first release, Jon Macy’s Teleny and Camille (which at that time was the most explicitly sexual book they had published). Apple accepted it, and accepted every subsequent release for about two years.

In Fall of 2013, Apple changed its submission process; they added a new “Explicit Content?” checkbox to their iTunes Producer software, which is used to submit titles to iBooks. The first book Northwest Press submitted to Apple since that change was Al-Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon, a gay, erotic, political satire of the War on Terror. This book contained far less sexual content than Teleny, so the publisher was perplexed when the book was rejected. Despite following up and protesting the rejection, Apple’s decision stood.

This happened again when Jon Macy finished the final chapter of his fantasy epic Fearful Hunter, and Northwest Press submitted the collected edition to iBooks. Apple rejected it.

“I pointed out that issues 1-3 were already available for sale on iBooks,” says Christensen. “But they did not budge. Fearful Hunter is apparently like ‘gay Voltron‘; fine in individual pieces, but way more formidable when assembled.”

Now that Hard to Swallow has been rejected as well, the publisher feels that Apple will continue to reject any graphic novel that includes sexual content.

“This is not censorship, per se,” says Christensen. “Apple is not the US government, and they can make their own decisions about what to include or not. But the waters are muddied by the fact that Apple’s devices behave a lot more like a distribution platform than a standalone bookstore, with independent publishers using iPhones and iPads as a means to distribute their work. When Apple blocks material on content grounds—blocking it from being sold in any app installed on a customer’s device, by the way—they are effectively banning the book from being sold on any of Apple’s over a billion active devices.”

“Think of it like this,” continues Christensen, “It’s like the company that makes your television preventing you from buying a spicy movie on pay-per-view.”

To make a point about what Apple’s behavior, Northwest Press has created a special version of Hard to Swallow, which readers can download for free. They refer to it as the “apple version”, because all of the sexual content and nudity has been censored with pictures of apples.

“This is the version of Hard to Swallow that’s acceptable to Apple,” says Christensen. “This is what you get when Apple dictates what you’re allowed to buy.”

The publisher has included an introduction to the special edition, penned by Christensen, as well as several Internet links: one is to an iBooks feedback form where the publisher urges you to share your feelings about content restrictions—”respectfully but firmly”—with Apple. The second is a link to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, who work to protect comic book creators from censorship and legal threats. The third is a link to Northwest Press’ entire catalog on ComiXology, including the two previous books which Apple has rejected.

“Download Hard to Swallow: Apple Version,” says Christensen. “If you enjoy it, but can’t help but feel that something is missing, I hope you’ll let Apple know that you don’t need their opinion on what’s appropriate reading material for you.” # # #

Northwest Press is an independent comics publisher that has been producing quality comics exploring the LGBT experience since 2010. Their full catalog of books can be ordered directly and new books can be ordered through Diamond Comic Distributors.

Breaking The 10 volume 1


By Seán Michael Wilson & Michiru Morikawa (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-021-8

Scottish émigré and citizen of the world Seán Michael Wilson has a splendid and well-earned reputation for “Deep” comics that tackle real issues (Iraq: Operation Corporate Takeover {with War on Want}, Goodbye God? – an Illustrated Examination of Science Vs Religion with Hunt Emerson) but is equally adept at more straightforward and hugely entertaining strip material (The Story of Lee, AX: Alternative Manga).

Here, those seeming opposites collide and combine in a superbly engaging and wickedly barbed tale of lost love, disillusionment and grief-filled reaction that is both hilariously acerbic and potently thought-provoking.

Aiding and abetting a great deal of impious soul-searching is award-winning manga illustrator and poster artist Michiru Morikawa – who worked with Wilson on Yakuza Moon, Demon’s Sermon, Musashi and The Faceless Ghost – and lends a fine gloss to the proceedings which begin with a robbery…

Devout Christian David is still reeling from the death of his wife and child when he decides to confront God and force him to explain his actions and motivations. With no other recourse the aggrieved sinner starts methodically breaking the Ten Commandments – beginning with ‘Thou shalt not steal’ – but is utterly unaware that two antithetical gentlemen are watching him…

Before long they are at his door, introducing themselves as Mr. Black and Mr. White; offering counsel and unwelcome advice the bereaved David doesn’t want to hear. Nor does he believe they are the supernatural advocates they seem to be as, whilst they bicker over him, it becomes clear to the apostate that they don’t yet know what his game plan actually is…

As David continues his celestial attention-getting campaign in ‘Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s… (house; thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is neighbor’s)’ through a spot of coldly calculating seduction, White maintains his surveillance whilst Black slacks off and disappears.

Everything is not as it appears: White may well be the agent of an Interventionist creator, but his opposite number claims to be a simple disciple of a modern humanist rationalism rather than an operative of the Infernal Antagonist…

David doesn’t really care: his first two assaults upon scripture have won him nothing but fleeting physical pleasure so he ups the ante by robbing and desecrating a church before ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy’ finds him contemplating how best to offend all the Abrahamic religions when there’s already seven-day shopping and the entire world has pretty much abandoned the concept of holy days…

The subversive private war takes on a far more public aspect when the bereft zealot creates an obscene statue and posts pictures on the internet, inviting the world to worship Graven Daven, the Indecent Idol in ‘Thou shalt not make for yourself a graven image’

As fanatics of every stripe converge on his house, David ignores his constant prating gadflies and tells all in a candid TV interview, and, with the entire world caught up, subsequently moves on to the darker fringes of his scheme.

Firstly he destroys the gullible couple next door by shattering the edict ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbors’ before – with God still a no-show and with no hint of an apology or explanation forthcoming – planning his end-game.

It starts during a quiet little chat with the gobsmacked Mr. Black about the big one… the one about killing…

To Be Concluded…

Thought-provoking and deceptively low-key, this repurposing of an age-old question is unlike earlier graphic novels addressing this timeless theme (Eisner’s A Contract with God or Truth Faith by Garth Ennis & Warren Pleece come immediately to mind) as the focus and driver is more about human pain rather than indignation or betrayal. Moreover, by introducing a third philosophical force to counter both God and the Devil, Breaking the 10 moves the debate into fresh territory regarding what makes human beings moral.

Fresh, challenging and superbly enthralling, this is a book no saint or sinner should miss.
© 2016 Seán Michael Wilson & Michiru Morikawa.

Breaking the 10 volume 1 will be in selected retail outlets from June 29th and released on July 21st 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/

Wandering Star


By Teri S. Wood (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80162-9

The 1980s were an immensely fertile time for English-language comics and creators. In America a whole new industry grew around the development of specialist shops as dedicated retail outlets sprung up all over the country. Operated by fans for fans, they encouraged a host of new publishers to experiment with format, genre and content, whilst eager readers celebrated the happy coincidence that for the first time in a long time they seemed to have a bit of extra cash to play with.

Consequently the comics-creating newcomers were soon aggressively competing for the attention and cash of consumers who no longer had to get their sequential art fix from DC, Marvel, Archie and/or Harvey Comics. European and Japanese material started creeping in and by 1983 a host of young companies such as WaRP Graphics, Pacific, Eclipse, Capital, Now, Comico, Dark Horse, First and many others had established themselves and were making impressive inroads.

Most importantly, by avoiding the traditional family-focussed sales points such as newsstands, more grown-up material could be produced: not just increasingly violent or sexually explicit but also more politically and intellectually challenging and even – just occasionally – addressing classic genres with a simple maturity comicbooks had not been allowed to express since the Comics Code shut down EC Comics.

New talent, established stars and different thematic takes on old forms all converged and found a thriving forum hungry for something a little different. Even smaller companies and foreign outfits had a fair shot at the big time and a lot of great publications came – but, almost universally, as quickly went – without getting the attention or success they warranted.

The boom encouraged many would-be creators to take their shot and although the surge led to a spectacular implosive bust, a few truly impressive series weathered the storm and left their mark.

One such was Wandering Star by Teri S. Wood and now the entire epic 21 issue odyssey has been collected in a monumental hardback complete edition, which will hopefully – if belatedly – transform the tale from beloved cult classic to the pioneering trail blazer of comics science fiction it richly deserves to be…

Resa Challender started out as most cartoon aspirants did back then; selling strips to fan press publications (Amazing Heroes), progressing to a regular series gig at one of the smaller companies (Rhudiprrt: Prince of Fur for MU Press) all the while looking for a signature concept to cement inevitable stardom.

For Teri/Resa that was proudly self-professed space opera Wandering Star, which she originally self-published in 1988 without appreciably troubling the comics-buying masses…

That original exuberant, raw-edged first episode is included in the copious Bonus Material section at the back of this book, along with an Afterword from Carla Speed McNeil (and I really must get around to covering her fabulous Finder series sometime soon…), plus a 30-page full-colour section displaying a vibrant gallery of covers and promotional prints created during the series’ original run from 1993-1997.

Nearly 500 pages earlier Maggie Thompson starts the ball rolling with her reminiscence-rich Foreword, recalling the author’s early days and connection to Comics Buyers Guide which Wood expands upon in her own fact-filled Introduction.

When she was ready, Teri S. Wood returned to her 30-page draft of Wandering Star and severely retooled it. The result then launched through her own Pen and Ink Comics for eleven issues of a loudly touted 12 issue maxi-series, before being picked up Sirius Press who took away all the administrative hassles and let her get on with writing and drawing it until its actual conclusion with #21.

I called this a space opera, and it qualifies in the truest sense of the term. The story of an Earthling stuck at a hostile pan-species university who overcomes alien prejudice and with a small group of allies is instrumental in stopping a vast intergalactic war is the very essence of that particular genre, but Wandering Star was different then and still delights today because it avoids all the easy pit-stops and pitfalls of the meme.

There is an overwhelming threat to universal peace, there is a monstrous and dreadful cosmic personal antagonist in the brutal Commander Narz and there is a doughty trusty crew of allies – blind psionic powerhouse Madison, energy being Elli, wise old veteran Graikor, hateful bully turned staunch comrade Mekon Dzn Appogand plus (latterly) fellow human Joey – all frantically hurtling across the cosmos as the embattled heroes try to keep the fugitive vessel Wandering Star out of the clutches of an invading army willing and able to rip the Galactic Alliance to shreds…

From the start Wood opted for emotional involvement rather than over-used action and spectacle to engage her readership; deftly utilising the serial medium to build the characters of her cast and show scary, painful, funny and ultimately intimately revelatory moments.

Stooping to an obvious if rather unfair comparison, it’s something the Star Wars movies could never accomplish and why those characters are so wooden and two-dimensional, whereas TV series like Star Trek, Farscape, Firefly and Killjoys excel at making their players authentic and believable. They use the screen time for interaction not extra action…

That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of cataclysmic cosmic conflict and ominous, last-ditch battles in store, only that Wood knew from the get-go that people – no matter what shape, colour or construction – are infinitely more interesting than one more exploding planet or deadly astral dreadnought, Most importantly, she knew how to use them and when to expend them for maximum impact…

It all begins on peaceful planet Machavia as history student Aldar tracks down celebrated recluse Casandra Andrews and convinces the aged Earther to share the true story of how thirty years ago a bunch of raw kids on the legendary Wandering Star saved the Galactic Alliance from the seemingly invincible, duplicitous and rapacious Bono Kiro Empire

Potent, powerful, uplifting and painfully realistic, this is a war story that deals with consequences rather than as simple victories and defeats.

Wandering Star is a true example of sequential narrative as Art. Wood produced it practically as a labour of love; for precious little financial reward or public acclaim. She improved and gained confidence with every page and every issue and she did it because she had a story that wouldn’t let her go until she told it…

And once you read it, it won’t loose its hold on you either…
© 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 2016 Teri S. Wood. Foreword © 2016 Maggie Thompson. Afterword © 2016 Carla S. McNeil. All rights reserved.

Wandering Star will be published on June 20th 2016 and is available for pre-order now.

Small Press Sundays

Like so many others I started out in the business making minicomics, collaborating on fanzines and concocting stripzines with fellow weirdoes, outcasts and addicts. Even today, seeing the raw stuff of creativity in hand-crafted paper pamphlets – or better yet professionally printed packages which put dreamers’ money where their mouths are – still gets me going in ways which endanger my tired old heart…

With that in mind here are two more superb offerings from one of my favourite independent publishers of the moment…

Wolf Country #5

By Jim Alexander, Will Pickering, Jim Campbell & Liz Howarth (Planet Jimbot)

Go read this review then come back here.

As well as stunning graphic novels, anthologies and one-shots, independent publisher Planet Jimbot (likely lads Jim Alexander & Jim Campbell) also produce proper periodical comicbooks, and damned good ones. Vying for the accolade of their very best of the moment (neck and neck with GoodCopBadCop, depending on which one I’m actually holding) is their eerie otherworld socio-political saga blending the most evocative and captivating genre tropes of Westerns with supernatural horror stories: Wolf Country.

Complementing the recent release of the first WC trade paperback collection, this latest instalment in the expanding saga returns us to The Settlement where a dwindling congregation of devout vampires prove their faith daily by eking out a peril-fraught existence in the midst of their unnatural, pagan enemies; assorted tribes of bestial werewolves.

The ferocious, uncontrollable Lycanthropes infest the badlands surrounding the enclave as well as the distant city-state carved out by their forward-looking, progressive vampire brethren who are increasing, leaving the faith in favour of temporal comfort and scientific progress. Sides are being drawn in an inevitable clash of belief systems…

The Settlement has just survived the latest full-moon assault by another pack, this time employing a giant monster wolf. They only survived because of the intervention of heavily-armed Kingdom troops who have imposed their own draconian style of martial law. In the days following, brutal Sergeant Urquhart has tortured settler-scout Carmichael, convinced he knows where the missing boy celebrity Luke – famed in the city as the prophesied “Boy Who Killed Wolf” as gone…

Temporary leader Natasha is in turmoil. Her husband Halfpenny would not stand for these atrocities, but he has been spirited away to the Kingdom on some mystery mission for The High Executor

Her tensions only increase after she contacts Luke through dreams and discovers he has discarded all notions of his foretold destiny and made a life for himself amongst the wolves, humans and lycanthropes in the vast unknown wilds…

Halfpenny would be unable to help even if he knew. His time in civilisation has found him used as a Judas Goat to get close to radical, rebel vampires in a no-go zone dubbed Free State. The attempt led to death, a carefully instigated riot and even greater submersion in the fetid swamp of City politics, but also a tantalising glimpse at a true sacrament of faith and mystery that he must pursue…

Back at the Settlement, Natasha does the only thing she can to spare Carmichael’s agonies and offers to lead Urquhart to where the fugitive Luke and his new family enjoy a life of wild freedom…

To Be Continued…

After a thoroughly beguiling and meticulous stage setting and plot seeding process, Wolf Country is gearing up to a fantastic second act that promises drama, action, suspense and even more mystery. Don’t wait for the next book compilation, climb aboard the feral express right now…
Story © 2016 Jim Alexander (story) & Will Pickering (art).
https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/266647799/wolf-country5

The Samurai

By Jim Alexander, Luke Cooper, Jim Campbell & Ed Murphy (Planet Jimbot)

Clearly men of broad and wide-ranging tastes in term of comics adventure, Jim Alexander and regular collaborator Luke Cooper have turned their creative juices loose on the venerable sub-genre of itinerant Bushido warriors with this deceptively enthralling one-shot.

A nameless, weary swordsman, The Samurai is first seen returning home after faithful service in the wars against Mongol invaders. Tragically, a longed-for reunion with his family is forever forestalled when he finds their dismembered corpses in his burned-out village. Implacably he begins stalking the vile bandits who killed them…

However, in his righteous rage he underestimates his foes and is nearly despatched to join his loved ones until fate monstrously intervenes…

A broken, brooding nomad, his hunt for the remaining marauders takes him to a wooded region and another ravaged house in a ‘Burning Forest Clearing’. His decision to search the dwelling for survivors is a grave mistake as he is ambushed by diabolical cannibals and left for dead, but when a little girl comes to his aid he finally finds the strength to overcome.

Good thing too, as the flesh eaters have returned for their next meal…

An iconic blend of exotic action and philosophy liberally dosed with classic supernatural elements and overtones, this is a no-nonsense romp to delight the senses and fire the hearts of all lovers of ancient oriental excitement.
© 2016 Jim Alexander (story) & Luke Cooper (art)
https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/273712752/the-samurai

Osamu Tezuka’s Original Astro Boy volumes 1 & 2


By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Frederik L. Schodt (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-153-9

There aren’t many Names in comics.

Lots of creators; multi-disciplined or single-focussed, who have contributed to the body of the art form, but precious few Global Presences whose contributions have affected generations of readers and aspirants all over the World, like a Mozart, Michelangelo or Shakespeare.

We only have Hergé, Jack Kirby, Moebius, Will Eisner and Osamu Tezuka.

Tezuka rescued and revolutionised the Japanese comics industry. Beginning in the late 1940s, he generated an incomprehensible volume of quality work that transformed the world of manga and how it was perceived. A passionate fan of Walt Disney’s cartoon films, he performed similar sterling service with the country’s fledgling animation industry.

His earliest stories were intended for children but right from the start his ambitious, expansive fairytale-flavoured stylisations harboured more mature themes and held hidden treasures for older readers and the legion of fans who would grow up with his many manga masterpieces…

“The God of Comics” was born in Osaka Prefecture on November 3rd 1928. As a child he suffered from a severe illness which made his arms swell. The doctor who cured him also inspired the boy to study medicine, and although Osamu began his professional drawing career while at university in 1946, he wisely persevered with his studies 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 unforgettable comics masterpieces as Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Adolf, 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 children and adults equally. His creations ranged from the childishly charming to the disturbing – and even terrifying such as Ningen Konchuuki which we’ve seen in the West as The Book of Human Insects.

He died on February 9th 1989: having written and drawn more than 150,000 pages of comics, recreated the Japanese anime industry and popularised a peculiarly Japanese iteration of graphic narrative and made it a part of world culture.

This superb digest (168 x 109 x 33 mm) paperback gathers two earlier volumes in one massive monochrome compilation; presenting in non-linear order some 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 successful, if bowdlerised, 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 iconic series began in the April 3rd 1952 issue of Shōnen Kobunsha and ran intermittently until March 12th 1968 – although he often returned to add to the canon in later years. Over that time Astro spawned the aforementioned groundbreaking TV cartoon, comics specials, games, toys, collectibles, movies and the undying devotion of generations of ardent fans.

Tezuka often drew himself into his tales as a commentator and here in his revisions and introductions mentions how often he found the restrictions of Shōnen comics stifling; specifically, perpetually pausing the plot to placate the demands of his audience by providing a blockbusting fight every episode.

As further explained in the context-expanding and defining Introduction by scholar and series translator Frederik L. Schodt, Tezuka and his production team were never as wedded to close continuity as fans: constantly tinkering and revising both stories and artwork in later collections. It’s the reason this series seems to skip up and down the publishing chronology. The intent is to entertain at all times so the stories aren’t treated as gospel and their order immutable or inviolate…

There’s a final prevarication in ‘A Note to Readers’ explaining why one thing that hasn’t been altered is the depictions of various racial types in the stories before the cartoon wonders commence with ‘The Birth of Astro Boy’. This was first seen in June 20th 1975 as part of a new story for volume 1 of Asahi Sonorama’s Tetsuwan Atomu reprint series.

In the early days origins were never as important as getting on with having adventures, but here the secret is exposed as the development of a world where robots are ubiquitous and have (sometimes limited) human rights is described in detail, as are the laws of robotics which govern them.

When brilliant Dr. Tenma lost his son Tobio in a road accident, the grief-stricken 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 constructions in history, and for a while Tenma was content. However, as his mind stabilised, Tenma realised the unchanging humanoid was not Tobio and with cruel clarity rejected the replacement. He ultimately 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 the little performer “Astro” was unlike the other acts – or any construction he had ever encountered…

He convinced the circus owners to part with the little bot and, after studying the unique boy, realised just what a miracle had come into his hands…

Introductions over, the vintage tales properly begin with a rather disturbing adventure as ‘The Hot Dog Corps’ (Shōnen Kobunsha March to October 1961) pits the solenoid superhero against a maniac stealing pets. After much investigation our champions discover with horror that mystery villains were implanting canine nervous systems in humanoid warrior bodies to circumvent the Laws preventing robots from fighting humans…

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, and the metal and plastic marvel became embroiled in the bizarre interplanetary plot when his Elementary School teacher Higeoyaji (AKA Mr. Mustachio) had his beloved dog stolen by Cossacks in a flying car…

After many false leads and deadly battles all over the world, the trail finally leads the valiant robot to a hidden polar base and an ancient city on the Moon, where a deranged Russian émigré plans a deadly revenge on the world that abandoned her…

Thankfully with Earth under overwhelming assault, mighty Astro Boy finds that a dog’s love for his master transcends shape and he has a secret ally deep within the enemy’s ranks…

Although a series built on spectacular action sequences and bombastic battles, Astro Boy had a skilful way of tugging heartstrings and hitting hard with the slapstick.

‘Plant People’ was a short tale from 1961’s Special Expanded New Years Day Edition of Shōnen which opens with Astro and his school chums playing in the snow. At the height of their sport they accidentally uncover a strange alien flower. Engaging his friends’ rapt attention, the Plastic Pinocchio then describes how he foiled an alien invasion in this location and how a valiant extraterrestrial ally perished on that very spot, only to be transformed into…

Following a leisurely and scathing discussion of violence in his comics and the squeamishness of America’s TX executives over content in the TV episodes, cartoon Tezuka yields focus to Astro Boy for ‘His Highness Deadcross’ (September through December 1960 in Shōnen magazine).

Here the super-synthezoid answers a surreal plea from an embattled leader desperate to save his nation. President Rag rules in the first nation to elect a robot to high office, but although voted in by both an organic and mechanical electorate, the robot ruler is being undermined and targeted for destruction by a sinister cabal he is unable to act against because of his core programming to never harm humans.

Astro is similarly restricted, but he also has a super brain and might be able to find a solution to this dreadful crisis…

Panicked yet emboldened, Deadcross craftily imprisons Mustachio for a little leverage whilst launching an all-out assault with deadly mindless mechanical monsters. Astro valiantly overcomes the invaders, but the mastermind then plays his trump card and replaces President Rag with a subservient substitute…

To make matters worse, Astro – depleted of energy after saving Mustachio – is reduced to fragments by Deadcross’ marauders, and with the nation about to fall to the usurpers, the liberated teacher and recently-arrived Professor Ochanomizu strive mightily to rebuild their robotic redeemer in time to expose the plot and save the day…

‘The Third Magician’ originally appeared in Shōnen between October 1961 and January 1962 and sees Kino, the world’s greatest stage illusionist, captured by another proponent of the art of prestidigitation. That villain calls himself Noh Uno and wants the secret of passing through walls, even if he has to dismantle the presumptuous, uppity robot conjuror to get it…

Like most kids, Astro is a huge fan of Kino and when his super-hearing picks up the magician’s distress he charges to the rescue. Tragically, by the time he battles through Noh Uno’s house of horrors he is too late…

A few days later Japan is shocked by an announcement that the amazing Kino is going to steal one hundred priceless works of art in one go. The police are unwilling to listen to Astro or Mustachio’s protestations that Noh Uno is the real culprit and their diligent preparations only make the heist easier for the villain…

A confrontation between Inspector Tawashi and Kino only convinces the authorities they are correct. It also leads the powers that be to start the legislative process to pre-emptively lobotomise all high functioning robots…

With so much at stake Astro Boy ignores official orders. Undertaking more intensive investigation and amidst increasing political unrest, he tracks down Kino, only to discover that the seemingly-corrupt conjuror has a double possessing all his gifts and tricks.

On the run from the cops, Astro and Kino persevere and lead their pursuers a merry chase which leads to the subterranean lair of Noh Ino and the Third Magician. Now all they have to do is defeat them, clear their names and stop the anti-robot bill…

This initial exploration of a classic cartoon future concludes with a delightful homage to another trans-Pacific antique anime export. ‘White Planet’ came from the New Years 1963 edition of Shōnen and featured a tribute to the early manga works of Tatsuo Yoshida whose Mach GoGoGo and its seminal progenitor Pilot Ace would become another American Anime hit in the 1960s: Speed Racer

In this smart pastiche, Astro aids a boy racer whose intelligent super-car is sabotaged just prior to a round-the-world grand prix. Astro and Ochanomizu have a robotic solution to his dilemma, but it will take a tragic sacrifice to make it work…

Wrapping things up is a potted biography of ‘Osama Tezuka’: making this a perfect introduction to the mastery of a man who reinvented popular culture in Japan and who can still deliver a powerful punch and wide-eyed wonder on a variety of intellectual levels.

Astro Boy is one of the most beguiling kids’ comics ever crafted: a work that all fans and parents should know, but be warned, although tastefully executed, these tales don’t sugar-coat drama or action and not all endings can be truly judged as happy.

The material in this tome plus volume 3 were combined and re-released in 2015 as the first wrist-wrenching, eye-straining Astro Boy Omnibus, but you can avoid injury and ongoing controversy about whether that tome is too small and heavy to read (I admit I found it so) by picking up this splendid, physically accessible and still readily available edition from your preferred internet vendor or online comics service… and you really, really should…
Tetsuwan Atom by Osama Tezuka © 2002, 2008 by Tezuka Productions. All rights reserved. Unedited translation and Introduction © 2002 Frederik L. Schodt.

Clumsy


By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-0-97135-976-5

If you’re a fan of Jeffrey Brown’s cartoon exploits you might understandably admit to a small degree of confusion. In 2012 he scored his first global best-seller with a hilarious spin on the soft and nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son, following up with equally charming and hilarious sequels Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars: Jedi Academy and others.

Before that another Jeffrey Brown was the sparkling wit who had crafted slyly satirical all-ages funny stuff for The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, Marvel’s Strange Tales and Incredible Change-Bots and similar visual venues.

There is yet another Jeffrey Brown: instigator and frequent star and stooge of such quirkily irresistible autobiographical Indy comics classics as Bighead, Little Things, Funny, Misshapen Body, Undeleted Scenes and the four volume “Girlfriend Trilogy”, comprising Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU and Every Girl is the End of the World For Me

Whichever Brown’s your preferred choice he’s a cartoonist of rare insight and unflinching revelation… who still makes you laugh out loud when not prompting you to offer a big consoling hug…

Brown was raised in Michigan; relocating to Chicago in 2000 to attend the School of the Arts Institute and study painting. Before graduating he had switched to drawing comics and in 2002 Clumsy was released, quickly becoming a surprise hit with fans and critics alike.

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: a sequence of non-chronological pictorial snippets and vignettes detailing in no particular order how a meek, frumpy, horny, inoffensively charming art-student meets a girl and tries to carry out a long-distance relationship. Every kid who’s gone to college, got a job or joined the services has been through this, and for every romance that makes it, there a million that don’t.

Drawn in a deceptively Primitivist style with masterful staging, a sublime economy of phrase plus a breathtaking gift for generating in equal amounts belly-laughs and those poignant lump-in-throat moments we’ve all experienced and forever-after regretted, this is a skilful succession of stolen moments which establish one awful truth.

We’ve all been there, done that and then hoarded those damned photos we can’t even look at any more…

With titles like ‘My Last Night with Kristyn’, ‘Don’t Touch Me’, ‘I Draw her Naked’, ‘I Farted’, ‘But I Want to Make Love’ and ‘You Can Ask Me’, a mosaic of universal joy and despair forms as we watch Jeff and Theresa meet, blossom, exult, dream, plan and part…

Packed with hearty joyous wonder and brimming with hilarious examples of that continual and seemingly tireless teen-lust us oldsters can barely remember now let alone understand, Clumsy is a magical delight for anybody safely out of their Romeo & Juliet years and a lovely examination of what makes us human, hopeful and perhaps wistfully incorrigible…
© 2002 Jeffrey Brown.