Mighty Avengers: No Single Hero


By Al Ewing, Greg Land & Jay Leisten (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-568-0

In the aftermath of the blockbuster Avengers versus X-Men publishing event, the company-wide reboot MarvelNOW! reformed the entire overarching continuity: a drastic reshuffle and rethink of characters, concepts and brands with an eye to winning new readers and feeding the company’s burgeoning movie blockbuster machine…

Moreover many disparate story strands were slowly congealing to kick off the Next Big Thing with the cosmically expanded Avengers titles forming the spine of an encroaching mega-epic.

The colossal Infinity storyline detailed that grandiose advance into Armageddon as an intergalactic Hammer of Doom fell with an all-out attack by an impossibly ancient race. The Builders claimed to have fostered all life in the universe, but now they were attempting to rectify their mistake on Earth – and woe betide any species or intergalactic civilisation that got in their way.

When the Avengers mobilised most of their assemblage off-planet to tackle the threat before it reached us, old enemy Thanos of Titan took advantage of the dearth of metahuman defenders to invade, leaving the world’s remaining superheroes with an almost impossible task…

Written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Greg Land & Jay Leisten, Mighty Avengers volume 2 #1-5 (released between November 2013 and March 2014) describes how some of those left behind united as a resistance and stayed together as a decidedly different kind of crusading team…

The action begins as Thanos heads for Earth where blithely unaware former Avenger Luke Cage is pitting his Heroes for Hire apprentices – White Tiger and a new, teenaged Power Man – against seasoned super-thief The Plunderer. Their efforts are interrupted and derided by the Superior Spider-Man who orders them to quit and insultingly offers Cage’s kids a real job.

Everybody sees that the Wallcrawler has become insufferable since he technologically upgraded his act and hired a paramilitary gang to act as his deputies. Many of his oldest friends even think he might be going crazy. What no one knows is that the mind inside the arachnid hero’s head is actually arch villain Otto Octavius AKA Doctor Octopus who, despite a passionate initial desire to reform is slowly reverting to his original manner and habits…

The Web-spinner’s derision spurs White Tiger into quitting but only fuels her male teammates into trying harder to prove Spider-Man wrong…

Elsewhere ex-Avenger Monica Rambeau (formerly Captain Marvel and Photon but now calling herself Spectrum) is getting back into the crimebusting game after a bout of retirement. She sorting out her costume and talking over old times with an enigmatic fellow champion when the first wave of the Titan’s invasion force smashes into New York.

Donning a store-bought comedy costume, the stranger joins Monica as a generic “Spider Hero” and converges on the landing site where Cage and the still-enraged Superior Spider-Man are battling Thanos’ soldiers and ferocious warlord Proxima Midnight

Elsewhere Mystic Master Doctor Strange has been possessed and corrupted by the Ebony Maw – the most personally ambitious of Thanos’ lieutenants – whilst at the bottom of the sea forgotten hero Dr. Adam Brashear receives a cosmic visitor.

The Blue Marvel is thus stirred from a lengthy self-imposed exile and grudgingly agrees to return to the world which shunned and sidelined him…

In New York ‘The Assembly’ give battle but the Amazing Arachnid seems more concerned with suing his “copyright infringer” than defeating the invaders and Spectrum is gravely wounded by Midnight.

As Cage tackles Proxima, the ordinary citizens are emboldened and join the struggle, compelling ever-watching Thanos to order a retreat.

It’s not over though, as the ravaged metropolis is then assaulted by an overwhelming aspect of voracious Elder God Shuma-Gorath, summoned by the enslaved Stephen Strange. The rampant horror gleefully begins transforming native New Yorkers into ghastly demon duplicates…

As Blue Marvel rockets to the rescue, temporarily stymieing the devil god and healing Spectrum, the mystically empowered White Tiger and Power Man arrive and Spider Hero, demonstrating a keen knowledge of arcane rites devises a scheme to drive Shuma-Gorath back to its own dimension for good.

Cage then has a eureka moment and realising ‘No Single Hero’ could have managed, declares that they are all Avengers…

Once parked above Manhattan, the Inhumans’ floating city Attilan was destroyed during the war and its ruins now languish in the Hudson River. Moreover when Thanos personally attacked Black Bolt, the embattled Inhuman monarch released genetically transformative Terrigen Mists and created a host of new super-powered warriors from the ranks of the humans below…

Issue #4 is set after the invasion is finally repelled and the city engrossed in rapid reconstruction. The space-bound Avengers are still missing off-world but life is returning to normal.

Sleazy entrepreneur Jason Quantrell despatches his industrial spy Quickfire – a recent recipient of Terrigen-induced abilities – to raid the sunken citadel in search of fresh mutagens that he can monetise whilst in Times Square Cage has turned his old Gem Theatre offices into a storefront Avengers HQ.

He has a bold new idea: opening the heroic volunteer brigade to the public who can come to them with meta-related problems or issues of injustice. Even though Reservist The Falcon has come aboard Spider-Man is becoming increasingly intolerant, alternately demanding to be placed in charge and ordering Cage’s crew to cease and desist.

Unable to convince them, the furious wallcrawler storms off…

Meanwhile Spider Hero – who has some ominous magical acquaintances older fans will recognise – has detected an encroaching mystic crisis and resolved to stay. Adopting the vacant costume and identity of martial arts mystery man Ronin, he invites the team to join him in stopping an impending burglary in Attilan…

It’s not Quickfire’s illegal raid that’s the problem but rather that she’s going to inadvertently awaken the slumbering submerged threat of the Death Walkers if somebody doesn’t stop her…

However, whilst the latest Ronin lead the Avengers to the already happening monster catastrophe, Octavius returns to the Gem Theatre and in a manic fit of frustrated rage attacks Cage with all the paramilitary resources he can muster: mercenaries, spider-robots and urban assault vehicles all primed to shut down the Avengers forever.

Happily the harassed Hero for Free had already contacted his lawyer and is delighted to follow Jennifer Walters’ guidance… which basically boils down to “She-Hulk Smash!”…

Fast furious and fantastically offbeat, this epic epistle also offers a gallery of stunning covers-and-variants by Land, Steve Epting,  Bryan Hitch, Jason Latour, Carlo Barberi, Skottie Young, Humberto Ramos, Leonel Castellani, J. Scott Campbell, Francesco Francavilla, Mark Bagley, Salvador Larroca, Ron Wimberly, Daniel Acuña and Kalman Andrasofszky and a wealth of extra content online for those consumers au fait with the AR icons accessed via a free digital code and the Marvel Comics app for iPhone®, iPad®, iPad Touch® & Android devices at Marvel’s Digital Comics Shop.
™ & © 2013 and 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Steak Night volume 3: Jobs


By various, edited by Babak Ganjei (Records Records Records books)
ISBN: 978-0-9566330-5-7

Some old fuddy-duddies like me still read prose as well as comics, and being a veteran consumer I can honestly say that what I miss most is the time when short stories – everything from epigrams to vignettes to novellas – were a thriving, vibrant pillar of storytelling.

Modern book publishing doesn’t like short stories and most magazines (with the possible exception of DC Thomson’s The People’s Friend) no longer regularly carry engaging snippets of fiction or indeed even value the creative discipline necessary to telling a tale succinctly.

The same was true of comics for years but with the recent surge of independent and small press creators that market is changing. There are now a few regular anthology titles, offering a variety of experiences rather than the far more commercially sensible multi-part epics mainstream print-houses always push.

Every book or comic is somebody’s first but how can you possibly build a solid readership with stories that can be twenty or forty or even more parts long? Life’s just too short.

So let’s all shout “well done” for books such as Steak Night which always offers an eclectic mix of strips, gags, art pages and brief prose pieces in an inviting hardback book format, produced with style, honesty, integrity and a broad range of views.

This third volume contains a selection of works dedicated to the theme of Jobs, and after a stirring pep-talk from the editorial team commences with a penetrating dose of reminiscing and self-flagellation in the text tantaliser ‘Keyser Söze’ by Victoria Manifold. Then multi-talented Tom Hall Colonial illustrates Henry Clark’s truly disturbing recollections of his early days as an undertaker and the charming on-the-job training he received at the hands of ‘The Butcher’

A strange and stridently silent cartoon ‘Jobs’ short about a career in extreme pest-control (also by Hall?) leads into another painful memory as Babak Ganjei illustrates Tom Oldham’s graphic explanation for why he turned down the chance to be a ‘Bigshot’ in the sex trade, after which ‘A Guide to Achieving Your Career Goals’ by Amelia Phillips definitively describes her self-perceived failure in clawing her way to the middle of the publishing biz before becoming a happily desperate freelancer…

Another ferocious fantasy comics page of sci-fi hi-tech ‘Jobs’ creation segues sweetly into an keenly observed if doggedly obscure ‘Office Romance’ by Florian Lunaire & Eleanor Summers, whilst Julia Scheele delightfully describes the dilemma all women face on ‘Sundays at the Comic Shop’ (actually it’s more a 24/7 thing) before Melissa Trender examines the role of women in a resolutely post-feminist society with the heartfelt and disturbing ‘Daughters’.

The industrious giant-bug bashing ‘Jobs’ interludes then end with mankind notionally still on top, whilst ‘Small Hours Dept’ by Peter Cline lovingly and lyrically examines the whimsical moments that quiet times can offer from an elevated position, after which Wallis Eates’ prose-&-picture fable ‘Where Are you Going?/Ground Please’ appealingly compares childhood memories with the solitary insights of a hospital cleaner, before former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong winningly describes his succession of dead-end jobs in Bournemouth (trust me: don’t eat the pizza) in a prose paean to the failings of school careers guidance information entitled ‘The Worst Bad Egg’.

The portmanteau of pictorial pleasures concludes with Harriet Gibsone’s hilariously dark and edgy advice on handling the ‘Big Interview’ and a manic glimpse at what it’s all about in ‘Going to Work’ by Grace Wilson…

Complete with a full contact-&-biography Contributors section, this is another superb sampling of contemporary cartoon culture that no lover of the art of storytelling should miss.
And kids remember, it’s a vocation, not a career, yeah?

© Records Records Records 2013.

Thor, God of Thunder volume 3: The Accursed


By Jason Aaron, Nic Klein, Ron Garney, Emanuela Lupacchino, Das Pastoras & Tom Palmer (Marvel Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-575-8

Since his creation by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby in Journey into Mystery #83 (August 1962) the spectacular adventures of the Thunder God have encompassed everything from crushing petty crime capers to saving universes from cosmic Armageddon. As the decades passed he has also survived numerous reboots and re-imaginings to keep the wonders of fabled Asgard appealing to an easily jaded readership.

The latest shake-up came after blockbuster publishing event Avengers versus X-Men. From that point on, the banner MarvelNOW! indicated a radical repositioning and recasting of all characters in an undertaking designed to keep the more than 50-year-old shared universe interesting to readers old and new alike whilst cannily crafting material suitable for inclusion in the assorted burgeoning movie franchises.

Don’t take my word for it, just Search-Engine-of-Choice how many Marvel characters have been or will be hitting screens soon and how many more are “in development”…

However, as fortuitous fallout, many formally moribund stars are getting a serious rethink in their printed homes too, as this latest compendium of modern mythological mayhem happily proves.

Collecting Thor, God of Thunder #12-18 (cover-dated November 2013 to March 2014) and scripted throughout by Jason Aaron, this third contemporary chronicle slickly and simultaneously accesses the Lord of Lightning’s mythological roots, fantasy trappings and comicbook continuity to tell a classical quest tale with a decidedly Post Modern slant.

It all begins with a moving, untitled downtime episode illustrated by Nic Klein. After travelling the universe and meeting himself in two separate eras Thor returns to Midgard Realm and the Earth he so deeply loves, spending precious people-time with old friends. Visiting his favourite pub, a treasured acquaintance on Death Row and many other normal decent folk always serves to remind him of why he fights so hard for humankind. The elevating vignettes include being the graduation Prom date for S.H.I.E.L.D. Cadet Rosalind Solomon and a sobering conversation with his one-time true love Jane Foster who declines all his offers to find a mystic cure for her cancer…

The main event then begins with ‘The Accursed: The Great Niffleheim Escape or The Svartalfheim Massacre’ limned by Ron Garney and colourist Ive Svorcina, as the Realm of the Dead is invaded by a fanatical band of Dark Elves who endure appalling horrors to liberate one of the most inimical creatures ever to have breathed.

In the city of Asgard, floating above Broxton, Oklahoma, a Congress of delegates from the mystical Nine Worlds of Norse Existence is disrupted when the Dark Elf ambassador keels over in psychic shock, screaming “Svartalfheim is burning!”

Thor, valiant Sif and the Warriors Three rush to the distant dimension and encounter an atrocity: former tyrant Malekith the Accursed is back and inflicting genocide on his own people.

Holding the heroes at bay by threatening a hostage, the Dark Elf Overlord declaims that he intends to scourge his now too-docile race before dealing with the rest of the Nine Realms. To that end he has unleashed the ferocious Wild Hunt

The carnage escalates in ‘The Accursed Part Two’ as the Dwarves of Nidavellir, currently offering sanctuary to Svartalfheim’s Queen Alflyse, become Malekith’s next target, whilst in Asgard All-Mother Freyja, still hosting a conference designed to end animosity between the ever-warring Realms, informs her son Thor that he cannot pursue the massacre-mad Dark Lord.

At least not alone, but he can be the Aesir representative in a League of Realms acting in concert to destroy him. Despite understandable reluctance the Thunderer eventually agrees, joining Light Elf Sir Ivory Honeyshot, Screwbeard the Dwarf, Mountain Giant Oggmunder Dragglevladd Vinnsuvius XVII and Ud the Troll in sworn quest to end the menace. Inviting herself along is the villain’s former hostage. Despite – or probably because – he maimed and shamed her, sorceress Lady Wazira of the Dark Elves is determined to join in the grim chase…

By the time they all get to Nidavellir, the Dwarf stronghold is a broken charnel house and despite a pitched battle once again Malekith and his fanatics outmanoeuvre Thor and escape.

Throughout the frantic foray the innate prejudices and overt hostilities of the League have been Malekith’s greatest assets, but as the battered pursuers follow him into the Light Elf idyll of Alfheim they score their first victory over his forces and begin to bond. Things soon turn sour again though when they reach the land of Giants, and ‘Bury My Heart in Jotunheim’ sees one of the League heroically perish.

Worst of all Malekith begins his own Dark Alliance, aligning with the malignant, pernicious Frost Giants

After another cataclysmic but inconclusive battle, the surviving heroes pursue their foes into the dead and abandoned Realm of Vanaheim and realise that there must be a traitor amongst them. On very little real evidence the Thunderer decides who it is and acts accordingly…

‘I Thor… Condemn Thee to Die’ (by Garney & Emanuela Lupacchino) then sees the League seemingly dissolved with only Thor and Wazira following their vile quarry to Midgard where an enclave of Dark Elf refugees are holding a Council of the Unhallowed in the caverns beneath Manhattan.

They have joined together to form a response in regard to the rampages of their former ruler, but the only thing these arrogant lords despise more than interference from the Leaguers is each other. However their tribal grudges vanish when Malekith and his Wild Hunt crash the party…

The saga of The Accursed spirals to a blockbusting, shocking conclusion when, despite becoming ‘The God Who Saved the Elves’ (art by Lupacchino & Garney), Thor has true victory snatched from his grasp by the arbitrary nature of the supposed victims in the affair and has to retire knowing the threat is only stalled, not ended…

After the modern day mayhem this superb fantasy feast ends on a poignant, nostalgic note with a fable of Thor’s Dark Ages days in Scandinavia.

More than a millennium ago the young Storm God caroused and adventured amongst mortals, and ‘Days of Wine and Dragons’ – stunningly illustrated by Das Pastoras – details a salutary episode wherein the wining, wenching, wandering Thunderer became drinking buddies with a colossal, fun-loving wyvern and learned to his eternal shame and regret that even gods and monsters must ever remain true to their natures…

This bombastic book of battles, triumphs and tragedies comes equipped with a gallery of covers-&-variants by Garney, Esad Ribic, Walter Simonson, Humberto Ramos, David Johnson, Leonel Castellani and even a photo cover taken from Thor: The Dark World as well as the ever-popular swathes of extra content available via the AR icon option (providing special augmented reality content available exclusively through the Marvel AR app for iPhone®, iPad®, iPad Touch® & Android devices and Marvel Digital Comics Shop).

™ & © 2013 and 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Hilarious Consequences


By Babak Ganjei (Records Records Records Books)
ISBN: 978-0-9566330-0-2

When I was kid comics weren’t cool and were all a bit the same. You couldn’t find them in most shops and once you got a bit older, you read them from the camouflaging concealment of a large book – or possibly a smutty magazine – so your mates wouldn’t laugh at you.

Now there are strips and graphic novels everywhere, nobody under 90 bats an eye at adults scoping out picture stories and – most importantly – the range, variety and sheer quality of material available today is absolutely staggering.

A wonderful Case In Point is this delightfully enthralling slice of whimsical urban documentary by Babak Ganjei, published by Records Records Records Books.

Hilarious Consequences lovingly details in joyously crushing detail the sad sack saga of an agonisingly self-excoriating, self-effacing, self-proclaimed middle-aging loser who just can’t seem to get his life together…

Babak is a not-at-all successful musician in London. He has a kid, no career, no money and his hair is falling out – which seems to be the most worrisome of his many woes and worries. Still, what can you do, huh?

With nothing better in his future he decides to make a comic strip of his life and that’s also part of the story and another eventual hassle…

We pick up the threads of a fraying life in ‘The Chinese Herbalist’ as the shaggy shambler opts to try alternative medicine to solve his depreciating barnet problem. He feels uncomfortable doing it, unsure it’s working and is unable to pay, but is no match for the pushy purveyors who offer him reasonable-sounding advice and hire purchase terms. He trundles off with assorted unsavoury teas and soups that make his next few days a toxic misery…

His angst levels increase when he reluctantly agrees to go to ‘The Fancy Dress Party’, but just can’t get as invested as his girlfriend Ellie. The booze helps but when he sees a pig-masked person chatting her up, his head – still fiercely shedding follicles – goes to a bad place…

‘Another Morning’ and in the shower there are fresh horrors associated with getting old, exacerbated later when Babak is cajoled into performing at a local acoustic night by Dog, an ambitious kid with a gleaming transcendent mop of healthy hair. There’s no pay but Dog promises really excellent pizza…

Always strapped for cash Babak attends ‘The Interview’ and somehow gets a part-time job at a pub. It’s okay, but the other bar staff think he’s so very old.

He’s thirty…

Shorter moments reveal the more gloomy aspects of ‘The Creative Process’, ‘Drinks’, ‘The Call’ and a ‘Grim Notion’ before Ellie and his son accidentally create ‘Glitter Slugs’ whilst making card presents, leading to a surreal ‘Lynchian Insert’ before a return to the pub proves ‘Tough Work’ can be ameliorated by the right drugs…

After a diversion to ponder ‘Animal Work’, ‘Bad News and Thinkings’ finds our zero compelled to somehow scrape together £300 a week and regretting his childhood educational choices after which a ‘Kaufman-Esque’ confrontation leads to quite understandable ‘Panic’

Then, after a relatively calming ‘Family Hour’ it’s off to the pub and an epic ‘Work Party’ which reveals the problems ineffectual blokes blessed with bushy beards can encounter when trying to snort lines of coke, before things get strange ‘Conversing’ with a homeless guy. And then the slugs return in ‘New Beginnings’

A ‘Near Death Experience’ leads to a half-hearted ‘Work Out’ attempt, but jogging and newspaper headlines result in parental ‘Sadness’ and more self-doubt which even a gallery-hopping ‘Art Trip’ can’t fix.

Conceptual walls start to crack as cartooning diarist Babak suffers ‘Writers Block’ which might be why the slugs slurp back in ‘Them Again’ after which Ellie and the boy come home in ‘They’re Back’

That promised acoustic set is looming in ‘Please’ whilst an unsavoury encounter with the still unpaid Herbalist prompts some uncomfortable ‘Advice’ even as the little lad shows off his ‘Interests’ just before the artist expresses his ‘Issues’ with ‘The Big Show’.

Things go badly for the slugs in ‘Blackout’ but when the pizza arrives at least Babak feels a modicum of satisfaction ‘And Then Happiness’

There’s a comic aside to wrap thing up with an ‘Epilogue’

Episodic but utterly appealing, these dire and dolorous everyday antics of a (very) humble contemporary Eeyore offer a gentle, meandering and endearingly self-deprecating ramble through modern life. There’s even a free soundtrack CD that comes with this extremely readable fun feast, featuring: Dignan Porch, Singing Adams, The Bronsteins, Macks Faulkron, Wonderswan, Round Ron Virgin, Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards, Cheatahs, Big Deal, Wet Paint, and Matthew C.H. Tong to sweeten the deal and further facilitate knowing acquiescence…

Hilarious Consequences is the sort of book that becomes a cult hit TV series and certainly doesn’t fail to beguile and bemuse as a cartoon history.

Track it down and feel part of something too big to cope with…
© 2010 Babak Ganjei. © & ℗ Records Records Records Books.

Marvel Knights Spider-Man: 99 Problems


By Matt Kindt, Marco Rudy & Val Staples (Marvel Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-576-5

The Marvel Knights imprint began as a way to produce slightly darker and more mature miniseries starring favourite characters in stories aimed at older readers. Whilst more askance than outside regular continuity, the adventures of familiar stalwarts could be counted as canon or discarded as the readership pleased, but eventually the Knights tales were all absorbed into the mainstream and the imprint generally retired.

In 2013 the subset was revived with a few new limited series…

The classic days of the Amazing Arachnid (i.e. pre-or-post Otto Octavius as The Superior Spider-Man) briefly returned and were subject to a visually impressive plot-light treatment in Marvel Knights Spider-Man: 99 Problems #1-5 which ran from December 2013 to April 2014 and featured a startling scenario for everybody’s favourite original hard-luck hero.

In case you forgot

Outcast, orphaned science-nerd schoolboy Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and, after seeking to cash-in on the astonishing abilities which subsequently developed, suffered an irreconcilable personal tragedy. His beloved guardian Uncle Ben was murdered by a burglar Peter could have stopped but didn’t because he refused to get involved.

Permanently traumatised and feeling irreconcilably responsible for Ben’s death, the 15-year old determined henceforward to always use his powers to help those in need.

Parker loved and lost many more close friends and family during his crime-busting, world-saving career, but eventually won a measure of joy from all the heartache when he married the girl next door, Mary Jane Watson

For years the brilliant, indomitable everyman hero suffered privation and travail in his domestic situation whilst his notorious alter ego endured public condemnation and mistrust as he valiantly battled all manner of threat and foe.

He made a lot of enemies…

Sometimes basics is best in storytelling and the plot here is one constant chase and battle as Parker takes a crummy freelance photo gig and is ambushed, drugged and kidnapped in ‘Let the Games Begin’

Spider-Man battles his way off a plane past a gauntlet of costumed villains but the ‘Arachnophobia’ even continues in the ocean before ‘Combat’ transfers the action to a submarine stuffed with prior punks and perils until the battered but incomprehensibly driven Wallcrawler meets at last ‘The Most Dangerous Player’ on a tropical island.

He thinks he’s worked it all out but Peter still hasn’t faced the instigator of his woes and master of his 99 foes. That happens in the blistering conclusion ‘Game Over’

Scripter Matt Kindt’s catalogue of carnage moves things along at a rollercoasting rocket’s pace but the artwork here deserves the most attention.

This tale is primary a stunning exercise in visual acuity and dexterity from Marco Rudy and colourist Val Staples. Explosive, panoramic, even psychedelic in places, the pictorial narrative sublimely pushes Parker to the extreme limits as the hero faces an army of enemies before finally uncovering the twisted brain behind the concerted attack and finding his ultimate enemy is neither who nor what he ever expected…

With covers and variants by Rudy and Carlo Barberi, this is a stripped down, breathtaking primal comics experience that will delight fans of high octane Fights ‘n’ Tights action.

™ & © 2013 and 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

My Little Monster volume 1


By Robico translated by Joshua Weeks (Kodansha Comics USA)
ISBN: 978-1-61262-597-3

Solidly appealing to lovers of traditional  Shōjo (“girls’ comics”) comes a grand and sassy tale of Right Girl, Right Time, Wrong Boy from enigmatic mangaka Robico, dealing with the thorny topic of wasteful distractions at school…

Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun or ‘The Monster Sitting Beside Me’ debuted in Dessert Magazine in 2008 with the first volume of a dozen collections appearing a year later. The serial ran until June 2013 and spawned a highly successful anime adaptation.

Shizuku Mizutani is a schoolgirl determined to succeed. Only one person has ever gotten higher grades than her throughout her entire scholastic career – and she’s still burned up about it – but otherwise she’s solidly – comfortably – set her sights on exceptional achievement and a great job and nothing’s going to force her off her well-planned, carefully projected course.

Her teen travails begin in ‘My Classmate Yoshida-kun’ as she explains how she’s never seen the boy who sits next to her. He got into a fight on his first day and hasn’t come to school since. That was three years ago.

Now for some incomprehensible reason the ideal student is stuck delivering printouts to the epic absconder as a “favour” (bribe) to teacher Saeko-Sensei. She finds him in the skeevy games arcade where he hangs out. Shizuku wasn’t expecting much, but Haru Yoshida fails to live up to even those low expectations.

He’s a veritable wild boy: manic, ill-mannered, actively extremely rude and his associates are little better than thugs and gangsters.

He even attacks her, accusing her of spying on him.

All the school rumours must be true; how he hospitalised three upperclassmen and was suspended…

The ice broken, Saeko then pushes her star student to lure the boy back to school (his suspension being long expired) but when he starts regularly attending tongues start wagging. He then arbitrarily decides they’re friends and begins to follow Shizuku everywhere…

She’s never been more angry or frustrated. He’s always there, distracting her, getting in the way of her future. She can’t stop thinking about him…

Following a brace of humorous of mini-strips ‘I was Running as Fast as I Could!’ and ‘Spot-Billed Duck’ the School Daze resume with ‘I Don’t Hate You’ as the apparently imprinted malcontent begins appearing everywhere she goes and captivatingly showing his softer, fragile side.

Unfortunately he’s painfully gullible and falls for many embarrassing pranks from his classmates which he responds to with devastating violence. Soon he has gained an irresistibly dangerous reputation…

He also seems to start noticing other girls, but why should Shizuku care about that? She’s far more upset to learn that he was the student who beat her test scores and that even after three years of skipping education he’s probably still smarter than her…

And now for some reason she’s finding it impossible to bear down and study, the only thing she used to be good at…

And then Haru kisses her… but decides they can still be friends anyway…

After micro strips ‘Because She’s a Lady’ and ‘It’s Hard Not to Say It’, the main event starts again with ‘Weird’, wherein the wild boy starts displaying the attention span of a mayfly.

Adopting and then palming off a chicken on his newfound friends and tutoring vacuous Asako Natsune so she can avoid going to Afterschool Classes instead of partying are bad enough, but most significantly he utterly ignores the change in their own relationship, or even that they have one…

Two small interludes with ‘Natsume and Haru’ then lead into the final chapter as Shizuku is forced to admit to herself how much Haru has changed her life. However when she finally confesses just how much she likes the annoying, confusing oaf, all he can say in response is that she’s not a ‘Nuisance’

To Be Continued…

Wrapping things up are two final cartoon vignettes ‘Just as Short’ and ‘That Guy’, plus a Comment from the author and a section of handy Translation notes.

Sweet, cruel and silly by turns, this is a delightful coming of age comedy, brimming with those crucial, critical moments that stay with you for decades after high school ends, but cleverly leavened with light charming characters and situations all superbly illustrated by a master of the genre.

Not everybody’s cup of tea but sheer poetry for those of us who remember love can – and should – be fun.
© 2009 Robico. English translation © 2014 Robico. All rights reserved.

This book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.

Kiddo


By Antoine Cossé (Records Records Records Books)
ISBN: 978-0-9566330-1-9

Since Britain grew up and joined the rest of the world in accepting comics as a valid and viable art form, the shelves of Albion have been positively groaning with a wealth of superbly fascinating graphic narratives of all types; especially since a number of bold new publishers have either picked up and translated Asian and European material or confidently released new stuff from creators around the world.

Antoine Cossé is a French graphic storyteller living in London. He left Paris to study at Camberwell College of Arts and graduated in 2006 with a degree in illustration. He then began a seemingly non-stop barrage of moody, funny and evocative strips catering to his own need to explore the absurd, the fanciful and the unexpected lurking behind the humdrum passage of everyday lives and kindly invited a growing fan-base to join him in his explorations.

Following a number of short strips, features and collaborations, in 2012 he produced his debut graphic novel – Kiddo – for British outfit Records Records Records Books: an enigmatic, helter-skelter cartoon progression practically devoid of words which combines elements of epic dystopian science fiction with unceasing kinetic forward motion redolent in tone – if not style and content – to the ceaselessly energetic strip works of André Barbe.

Lavishly packaged as a black and white hardback (comfortingly reminiscent of those classily sturdy children’s books of my youth) the stark events unfold as a solitary man plunges through jungles and wastelands, seeking who knows what in a scary big world.

Encountering beasts, a woman, hardship, hunger, booze, a giant monster dog, war, strange phenomena and the encroaching remnants – or perhaps discards – of civilisation, he moves ever onward to a chaotic closing conundrum…

Deeply sly, beguiling reductive and intoxicatingly Primitivist, Kiddo is an irresistible  surge of purely visual drama and a mystery for its own sake which will delight all aficionados of the medium who value comics for their own sake and don’t need answers spoon-fed to them.
© 2012 Antoine Cossé. © & ℗ Records Records Records Books.

Stranger Than Life – Cartoons and Comics 1970 – 2013


By M.K. Brown (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-708-6

Sometimes there’s no need to babble on for ages. Sometimes a book just sells itself. However I’m far too vain a reviewer to let things lie without interjecting a few facts and opinions. You guess which is which…

Mary K. Brown was usually my favourite cartoonist in National Lampoon where her uniquely personal, bizarrely surreal, evocatively awry cartoon observations and visions graced the wildly eclectic Funny Pages section for decades.

Her other regular gigs included stints in Playboy, Wimmin’s Commix, Mother Jones, Twisted Sisters, Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker and elsewhere. She was one of a rarefied group of creators tapped by Art Spiegelman for his prestigious The Narrative Corpse project and one of her most intense cartoons was transformed into the other animation segment of the Tracy Ullman Show. (the one you know became The Simpsons).

She keeps her private life to herself but her astounding facility as a painter – particularly watercolours – has won her a second career as a gallery artist.

Now after far too long a time, she’s back as Fantagraphics adds her to its growing list of all-star cartoonist retrospectives; celebrated here with an astonishingly wide-ranging collection and treasury of her gags, drawings and strips.

It’s tempting to say that Brown’s work is no-nonsense, but in fact it’s all Nonsense: of the highest, weirdest, wildest, wackiest and most elevated pedigree. It’s human, humane, off-beat and off-kilter: beautifully designed and rendered – whether in line or colour – and ranges from the most audaciously cringeworthy visual puns (‘Overwrought Iron’) to manically absurdist almost stream-of-consciousness narratives, satirising suburban banality and angst or almost genteelly walloping Post Modern self absorption, consumerism and decadent ennui…

Moreover, this vast and comprehensive compendium (250 pages at 280 x 216mm) understands the value of pictures over words, so Bill Griffith’s Foreword ‘Here’s My Checklist for Everything I want in a Cartoonist’ is brief and punchy as is Brown’s own Introduction, leaving all the more room for her stunning pictorial confections – although she does interject with valuable commentary and background information whenever she feels like it.

And why not? It’s her book…

The works are divided into themed sections beginning with ‘Housepeople’, starring faddy folks from the nouveau riche punk to the domestic goddess in poems, gags and strips like the eponymous ‘Stranger Than Life’, ‘How to Make a Pair of Pants in 20 Minutes’ ‘Snakes in the Bathroom’, ‘Free Glue Sample’, ‘White Girl Dreams’ and much more…

Her astonishing gift for observation was never better seen than in pieces set ‘In the Workplace’: with outré panels augmenting manic features such as ‘Revenge and Forgiveness (A Dental Fantasy)’, ‘Russ de la Rocca – Worm Trainer of the Americas’, ‘Transference’, ‘The Fly Brothers in Hollywood’ or ‘Coping with Chain Saw Massacres’, whilst ‘Science and Technology’ encompasses ‘Fear of the Known’, grasshoppers and their ‘Inroads into Science’ and the ever-thorny conundrum ‘Women: What do They Want?’

‘A Seedy Part of Town’ concentrates on domestic investigation and features more searching questions from the appallingly plebeian White Girl and ‘Earl D. Porker – Social Worker’ after which ‘Romance and Social Studies’ reveals how ‘Love Makes the World Go ‘Round’, offers a unique ‘Love Story’ and exposes secrets of the ‘Singles Bar’. Also featured is Brown’s faux bodice ripper ‘A Promise to Remember’, and the packed-to-bursting chapter climaxes with ‘Party Time Paper Dolls’ and the many small adventures of ‘Mercury, Messenger of God’.

The wonders of the world are examined in ‘Travel and Nature’ with particular attention paid to ‘Highlights of Guatemala’, ‘Loud Ties in Nature’, ‘Camel Racing in the Desert’, and sundry bestial broadsides. This chapter also reprints ‘Another True-Life Pretty Face in the Field of Medicine’ (which was adapted as the aforementioned animated adventures of Dr. N!Godatu on the Ullman show), as well as the mad Mountie serial ‘Saga of the Frozen North’, and is as ever surrounded by many more panel gags and mini strips.

The cartoon carnival concludes with ‘Way Out West’: a selection of equestrian and cowboy pieces accompanied by the really true secret reason Brown produced so many of the crazy things.

Included are ‘Custer’s Last Night Stand’, ‘Hillbilly Song Jubilee Roundup Time’, a triptych of ‘Beans Morocco’ sagebrush yarns, a series of strangely sensational gun illustrations and all five chapters of that dern peculiar soap opera ‘Western Romance’

After a steadfastly odd comicstrip ‘Self Portrait’ by the ever-entertaining Brown, cartoonist Roz Chast adds her own observations to an appreciative Afterword to end this beguiling parade of literary legerdemain and graphic incomprehension…

Clever, challenging and utterly addictive humour that is once seen, never forgotten. And that is a fact.

Stranger Than Life: Cartoons and Comics 1970 -2013 © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and text by M.K. Brown are © 2014 M.K. Brown. All other material © 2014 the respective creators. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four: First Family


By Joe Casey, Chris Weston & Gary Erskine (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1703-2

The Fantastic Four has long been considered the most pivotal series in modern comicbook history, introducing both a new style of storytelling and a decidedly different manner of engaging the readers’ impassioned attentions.

More a family than a team, the roster has changed many times over the years but always eventually returns to the  original configuration of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Thing and the Human Torch, who have together formed the vanguard of modern four-colour heroic history.

The quartet are actually maverick genius Reed Richards, his wife Sue, their trusty college friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s obnoxious and impetuous younger brother Johnny Storm; survivors of an independent, non-governmental space-shot which went horribly wrong once ferociously mutative Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

When they crashed back to Earth, the foursome found that they had all been hideously changed into outlandish freaks.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and form force-fields, Johnny could turn into self-perpetuating living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was transformed into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not return to a semblance of normality on command.

The sheer simplicity of four archetypes – mercurial boffin, self-effacing distaff, solid everyman and hot-headed youth, uniting to triumph over accident and adversity – shone under Stan Lee’s irreverent humanity coupled to Jack Kirby’s rampant imagination and sense of adventure.

However, after decades of erratic quality and floundering plotlines following the original creators’ departures, Marvel’s First Family began a steady climb in quality at the beginning of the 21st century which culminated in their own blockbuster film franchise.

To augment the increased casual interest, in 2006 a canny, edgy retelling of the team’s earliest days was produced as a 6-issue miniseries by scripter Joe Casey and illustrators Chris Weston & Gary Erskine, re-examining the quartet’s coming to terms with their new status in terms far more in keeping with the cynical, jaded 21st century…

It opens with ‘There’s Was a Crash…’ as USAF General Walter Montgomery is called to a top secret military installation where four survivors of a fallen space-shot are being held. They were human once but have been hideously mutated by Cosmic radiation.…

The boy keeps bursting into flames, whilst his older sister is totally transparent. The pilot has become a rock-like atrocity and the General’s old friend Dr. Richards has been reduced to a catatonic mound of shapeless flesh.

His coma has nothing to do with the accident however. The scientist is locked into a cerebral mindscape where he is being lectured to by a fifth cosmic ray survivor…

The entity is explaining some facts of life. The facility they are in is a Air Force base designed to hold a variety of cosmically mutated humans. This is not the Government’s first Rodeo…

In ‘Late-Night Creeping’ Sue Storm surreptitiously escapes her cell to check on her companions, but boyfriend Reed is still beyond reach inside his own head. Dr. Franz Stahl is currently explaining to him that a fallen meteor supercharged with C-radiation has been transforming humans under USAF supervision for months and his own forced evolution is the most significant result.

Seeing Richards as a kindred spirit, the mind-ghost shares his radical theories of evolutionary dominance with his fellow future man but Richards remains unconvinced…

‘The Afterburn’ sees Ben Grimm’s fiancée run screaming from him and prompting a minor riot, allowing Stahl to take matters into his own psychic hands and instigate a further distracting crisis. Provoking one of his fellow monstrous transformees to go on a ‘Cosmic Ray Rampage’, the doctor escapes whilst the super-powered quartet gamely assist the soldiers in stopping the unholy horror.

In return Montgomery agrees to release the four on their own recognizance with assurances of Federal backing…

‘Remember the Alamo’ occurs just after the events of Fantastic Four #1, beginning when the heroes escape the atomic destruction of Mole Man’s Monster Island. Reed later briefs Montgomery and they plan to formalise the team. However, Reed is still being regularly mentally shanghaied by Stahl, whose agenda to improve humanity begins with the culling of his own far-too mundane family in ‘Domestic Disturbance’

Ben then heads for a disastrous drink in his old neighbourhood in ‘The Homecoming Dance’ even as Johnny, Reed and Sue all realise that their old “normal” lives are forever denied them.

A Mole Man monster resurfaces in New York ready for ‘Round Two’ and Franz again tries to convince the elastic hero to aid his plan to forcibly fix mankind, but Sue begins to worry that her man has lost all interest in a normal domestic future…

After General Montgomery sets up the four in a fabulous new, government funded HQ – The Baxter Building – the outcasts quickly begin to fall apart in ‘The Ties That Bind’ and no one is available when Stahl invades the Air Force’s secret Cosmic facility in ‘Evolutionary Modern’, intent on taking the life-warping meteor

In ‘Cold, Hard…’ Sue, Johnny and Ben discuss Reed’s distraction and underhandedness whilst the subject of their grievances has opted to tackle Franz in ‘Alone + Easy Target’

As they rush to save him, Reed is locked in psychic combat with Stahl, who has used the meteor to mutate the base personnel into a legion of monsters and has begun his ‘Extinction Event’ for humanity. The battered hero is losing however until his erstwhile cosmic comrades fight their way in and are pulled into the mental arena of ‘Signs and Salvation’ to happily tip the balance…

The titanic battle ends with a ‘Mind’s Eye Open’ leaving the four closer than ever and set upon together ‘Finding Destiny’

Dark, grimly post-modern and disregarded by many purists, First Family nevertheless offers a compelling rationalisation of epochal events from simpler times framed in the context of a more cynical century and certainly inviting to fans of a more grounded, less optimistic society. It’s also a pretty good yarn for open-minded fans who love the baroque theatrics of modern superhero stories.
© 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: – The Silver Age Dailies 1959-1961


By Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan, Wayne Boring &Stan Kaye with Otto Binder, Robert Bernstein & Jerry Coleman (IDW Publishing Library of American Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-6137-7666-7

It’s indisputable that the American comicbook industry – if it existed at all – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s Superman. Their unprecedented invention was fervidly adopted by a desperate and joy-starved generation and quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form.

Spawning an impossible army of imitators and variations within three years of his 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of eye-popping action and wish-fulfilment which epitomised the early Man of Steel grew to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy and, once the war in Europe and the East sucked in America, patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters, all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

In comicbook terms Superman was master of the world. Moreover, whilst transforming the shape of the fledgling funnybook industry, the Man of tomorrow relentlessly expanded into all areas of the entertainment media.

Although we all think of Cleveland boys’ iconic creation as the epitome and acme of comicbook creation, the truth is that very soon after his debut in Action Comics #1 Superman became a fictional multimedia monolith in the same league as Popeye, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse.

We parochial and possessive comics fans too often regard our purest and most powerful icons in purely graphic narrative terms, but the likes of Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, X-Men, Avengers and Superman long ago outgrew their four-colour origins and are now fully mythologized modern media creatures instantly familiar in mass markets, platforms and age ranges…

Far more people have seen or heard the Man of Steel than have ever read his comicbooks. The globally syndicated newspaper strips alone reached untold millions. By the time his 20th anniversary rolled around at the very start of what we know as the Silver Age of Comics, he had been a thrice-weekly radio serial regular, starred in a series of astounding animated cartoons, two films and a novel by George Lowther.

He was a perennial success for toy, game, puzzle and apparel manufacturers and had just ended his first smash live-action television serial. In his future were three more shows (Superboy, Lois & Clark and Smallville), a stage musical, a franchise of blockbuster movies and an almost seamless succession of games, bubblegum cards and TV cartoons beginning with The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 and continuing ever since.

Even superdog Krypto got in on the small-screen act…

Although pretty much a spent force these days, for the majority of the last century the newspaper comic strip was the Holy Grail that all American cartoonists and graphic narrative storytellers hungered for. Syndicated across the country – and perhaps the planet – with millions, if not billions, of readers and generally accepted as a more mature and sophisticated form of literature than comic-books, it also paid better.

And rightly so: some of the most enduring and entertaining characters and concepts of all time were created to lure readers from one particular paper to another and many of them grew to be part of a global culture.

Mutt and Jeff, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, Charlie Brown and so many more escaped their humble tawdry newsprint origins to become meta-real: existing in the minds of earthlings from Albuquerque to Zanzibar.

Most still do…

So it was always something of a risky double-edged sword when a comic-book character became so popular that it swam against the tide (after all weren’t the funny-books invented just to reprint the strips in cheap accessible form?) to became a genuinely mass-entertainment syndicated serial strip.

Superman was the first original comicbook character to make that leap – almost as soon as he was created – but only a few have ever successfully followed. Wonder Woman, Batman (eventually) and groundbreaking teen icon Archie made the jump in the 1940s and only a handful like Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian have done so since.

The daily Superman newspaper comic strip launched on 16th January 1939 and was supplemented by a full-colour Sunday page from November 5th of that year. Originally crafted by such luminaries as Siegel & Shuster and their studio (Paul Cassidy, Leo Nowak, Dennis Neville, John Sikela, Ed Dobrotka, Paul J. Lauretta & Wayne Boring) the mammoth task soon reqired the additional talents of Jack Burnley and writers like Whitney Ellsworth, Jack Schiff & Alvin Schwartz.

The McClure Syndicate feature ran continuously until May 1966, appearing at its peak in more than 300 daily and 90 Sunday newspapers, boasting a combined readership of more than 20 million. Eventually artists Win Mortimer and Curt Swan joined the unfailing Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye whilst Bill Finger and Seigel provided the stories, telling serial tales largely separate and divorced from comicbook continuity throughout years when superheroes were scarcely seen.

In 1956 Julie Schwartz opened the Silver Age with a new Flash in Showcase #4. Soon cosumed crusaders began returning en masse to thrill a new generation. As the trend grew, many companies began to experiment with the mystery man tradition and the Superman newspaper strip began to slowly adapt: drawing closer to the revolution on the comicbook pages.

As the Jet age gave way to the Space-Age, the Last Son of Krypton was a vibrant yet comfortably familiar icon of domestic modern America: particularly in the constantly evolving, ever-more dramatic and imaginative comicbook stories which had received such a terrific creative boost as super heroes gradually began to proliferate once more. Since 1954 the franchise had been cautiously expanding and in 1959 the Caped Kryptonian could be seen not only in Golden Age survivors Action Comics, Superman, Adventure Comics, World’s Finest Comics and Superboy but now also in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane and soon Justice League of America.

Such increased attention naturally filtered through to the far more widely seen newspaper strip and resulted in a rather strange and commercially sound evolution…

After author and educator Tom De Haven’s impassioned Foreword, Sidney Friedfertig’s Introduction explains how and why Jerry Siegel was tasked with turning recently published comicbook tales into daily 3-and-4 panel continuities for the apparently more sophisticated and discerning newspaper audiences. This meant major rewrites, frequently plot and tone changes and, in some cases, merging two stories into one.

If you’re a fan, don’t be fooled: these stories are not mere rehashes, but variations on an idea for an audience perceived as completely separate from kids’ funnybooks.

Even if you are familiar with the comicbook source material, the adventures gathered here will read as brand new, especially as they are gloriously illustrated by Curt Swan and latterly Wayne Boring at the very peak of their artistic powers.

As an added bonus the covers of the issues those adapted stories came from have been added as a full nostalgia-inducing colour gallery…

The astounding everyday entertainment commences with Episode #107 from April 6th to July 11th 1959.

‘Earth’s Super-Idiot!’ by Siegel, Swan & Stan Kaye is a mostly original story which borrows heavily from the author’s own ‘The Trio of Steel’ (Superman #135, February 1960, where it was drawn by Al Plastino) detailing the tricks of an unscrupulous super-scientific telepathic alien producer of “Realies” who blackmailed Superman into making a fool and villain of himself for extraterrestrial viewers.

If the hero didn’t comply – acting the goat, performing spectacular stunts and torturing his friends – Earth would suffer the consequences….

After eventually getting the better of the UFO sleaze-bag, our hero returned to Earth with a bump and encountered ‘The Ugly Superman’ (July 13th-September 5th, first seen in Lois Lane #8 April 1959, written by Robert Bernstein and illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger).

Here, the eternally on-the-shelf Lois agreed to marry a brutish wrestler, and the Man of Tomorrow, for the most spurious of reasons, acted to foil her plans…

Episode #109 ran from September 7th to October 28th 1959 and saw Superman reluctantly agree to try and make a dying billionaire laugh in return for the miserable misanthrope signing over his entire fortune to charity.

Some of the apparently odd timing discrepancies in publication dates can be explained by the fact that submitted comicbook stories often appeared months after they were completed, so the comicbook version of Siegel’s ‘The Super-Clown of Metropolis’ didn’t get published until Superman #136 (April 1960) where Al Plastino took the art in completely different directions…

‘Captive of the Amazons’ – October 29th 1959 to February 6th 1960 – combined two funnybook adventures both originally limned by Boring & Kaye. The eponymous equivalent from Action #266 (Jul 1960) was augmented by Bernstein’s tale ‘When Superman Lost His Powers’ (Action Comics #262) detailing how super-powered alien queen Jena came to Earth intent on making Superman her husband. When he refused she removed his Kryptonian abilities, subsequently trapping now merely mortal Clark with other Daily Planet staff in a lost valley of monsters where Lois’ suspicions were again aroused…

Episode #111 ran from 8th February – 6th April. ‘The Superman of the Future’ originated in Action #256 (September 1959, by Otto Binder, Swan & Kaye) and both versions seemingly saw Superman swap places with a hyper-evolved descendent intent on preventing four catastrophic historical disasters, but the incredible events were actually part of a devious hoax…

Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #10 (July 1959 by Siegel & Schaffenberger) offered up a comedy interlude as ‘The Cry-Baby of Metropolis’ (April 7th to May 28th) found Lois – terrified of losing her looks – exposing herself to a youth ray and rapidly regenerating into an infant, much to the amusement of arch-rival Lana Lang and Superman…

Episode #113 May 30th – July 2nd featured ‘The Super-Servant of Crime’ (by Bernstein, from Superman #130, July 1959) which saw the hero outsmarting a petty crook who had bamboozled the Action Ace into granting him five wishes, after which ‘The Super-Sword’ (4th July to August 13th and originally by Jerry Coleman & Plastino for Superman #124, September 1958) pitted the Kryptonian Crimebuster against a ancient knight with a magic blade which could penetrate his invulnerable skin. Once more, however, all was not as it seemed…

Siegel, Boring & Kaye’s epic ‘Superman’s Return to Krypton’ from Superman #141, November 1960) was first seen in daily instalments from August 15th to November 12th 1960, telling a subtly different tale of epic love lost as an accident marooned the adoptive Earth hero in the past on his doomed home-world. Reconciled to dying there with his people, Kal-El befriended his own parents and found love with his ideal soul-mate Lyla Lerrol, only to be torn from her side and returned to Earth against his will in a cruel twist of fate.

The strip version here is one of Swan’s most beautiful art jobs ever and, although the bold comicbook saga was a fan favourite for decades thereafter, the restoration of this more mature interpretation might have some rethinking their decision…

Wayne Boring once more became the premiere Superman strip illustrator with Episode #116 (November 14th – December 31st), reprising his and Siegel’s work on ‘The Lady and the Lion’ from Action #243 August 1958, wherein the Man of Steel was transformed into an inhuman  beast by a Kryptonian émigré the ancients knew as Circe

Siegel then adapted Bernstein’s ‘The Great Superman Hoax’ and Boring & Kaye redrew their artwork for the Episode (January 2nd – February 4th 1961) which appeared in Superman #143, February 1961, and saw a cunning criminal try to convince Lois and Clark that he was actually the Man of Might, blissfully unaware of who he was failing to fool.

Then February 6th to March 4th had Superman using brains as well as brawn to thwart an alien invasion in ‘The Duel for Earth’ which originally appeared as a Superboy story in Adventure Comics #277 (October 1960) by Siegel & George Papp.

Superman #114 (July 1957) and scripter Otto Binder provided Siegel with the raw material for a deliciously wry and topical tax-time tale ‘Superman’s Billion-Dollar Debt’ – March 6th to April 8th – wherein an ambitious IRS agent presented the Man of Steel with an bill for unpaid back-taxes, whilst Episode #120 (April 10th – May 13th) introduced ‘The Great Mento’ (from Bernstein & Plastino’s yarn in Superman #147, August 1961): a tawdry showbiz masked mind-reader who blackmailed the hero by threatening to expose his precious secret identity…  

The final two stories in this premiere collection both come from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane - issues #24, April and #26, July respectively – and both were originally crafted by Bernstein & Schaffenberger.

In ‘The Perfect Husband’ (15th May to July 1st), begun and ended by Boring but with Swan pinch-hitting for 2 weeks in the middle, Lois’ sister Lucy tricks the journalist into going on a TV dating show where she meets her ideal man, a millionaire sportsman and war hero who looks just like Clark Kent.

Then ‘The Mad Woman of Metropolis’ finds Lois driven to the edge of sanity by a vengeance-hungry killer, a rare chance to see the girl-reporter and shameless butt of so many male gags show her true mettle by solving the case without the Man of Tomorrow’s avuncular, often patronising assistance…

Superman: – The Silver Age Dailies 1959-1961 is the first in a series of huge (305 x 236mm), lavish, high-end hardback collections starring the Man of Steel and a welcome addition to the superb commemorative series of Library of American Comics which has preserved and re-presented in luxurious splendour such landmark strips as Li’l Abner, Tarzan, Little Orphan Annie, Terry and the Pirates, Bringing Up Father, Rip Kirby, Polly and her Pals and many of the abovementioned cartoon icons.

If you love the era, these stories are great comics reading, and this is a book you simply must have.
Superman ™ and © 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.