Pioneers of the New World, Book 1: The Pillory and Book 2: The Great Upheaval


By J. F. Charles (Michel Deligne Co)
ISBN: 2-87135-020-5 and 2-87135-021-3

European comics are different. Despite the notable exceptions of Tintin and Asterix, a huge number of classy and wonderful strips and characters have flown over the heads of the English-speaking public and foundered.

These tragically hard-to-find (but worth the effort) albums are from 1985, when America briefly looked elsewhere for graphic entertainment and the publisher Editions Michel Deligne rushed a rather poorly translated version of Jean-François Charles’ (AKA Bof) utterly compelling 1982 adventure serial Les Pionniers du Nouveau Monde into production.

Set in America and Canada in 1755, the saga follows the life of Parisian wastrel Benjamin Graindall, a hothead whose predilection for duelling makes France too small and far too hazardous for him. Rapidly despatched to Montreal to make his fortune and keep out of trouble, Banjamin joins his uncle at the New France Company, bitter trading rival of England’s Hudson Bay Company.

War is brewing, and feuding native tribes have allied themselves with each Imperial nation, dividing along ancient tribal lines as bitter and hate-filled as Britain and France’s. Thus, when Graindall and experienced trapper Billy the Nantese go deep inland trading furs, they find that Europe’s cold war has turned hot and bloody in the new World.

Rescuing a number of French settlers – including a beautiful aristocrat’s daughter – they make their way towards Fort Niagara, but are captured by the British whose Ox River Fort lies directly opposite the French bastion at the great falls.

As prisoners, they must ensure that their enemies do not realize that the girl Louise is in fact the daughter of Fort Niagara’s commanding officer…

This is classic adventure and historical drama in the grand tradition: sparking with intensity, brim-full of captivating authenticity and yet still entrancingly readable. Charles is a master of incredible wilderness scenes and breathtaking battle sequences, and the story (written from the 7th album with his wife Maryse), is a broad-scoped and powerful one.

Pioneers of the New World Book 2: The Great Upheaval
Further detailing how the west was won or lost (depending on your geographical standpoint), this translation of Le Grand Dérangement resumes the tempestuous history of the struggle between France and Britain in the 18th century whilst relating the story of bourgeois wastrel Benjamin Graindall, who fled Paris for Canada to make his fortune.

At the close of The Pillory Graindall and other French survivors of a massacre are being held prisoners by the British at Fort Niagara. When French forces attack to rescue Louise, Benjamin’s lover and daughter of a French General, the ensuing following the assault provides an opportunity for rescue – at least for trapper Billy the Nantese and the bewildered, bereft woman. Graindall, though, seems to have been killed by cannon-fire…

The liberated French settlers are evacuated to Montreal and Louise, pregnant with the wastrel’s child, is taken by Billy to her aunt in Greenbay on the St Lawrence River.

The war is unrelenting and by 1756 the pair are overtaken by British forces. Until this time the joint Anglo-French Nova Scotia trading company controlled the resources of the New World region of Acadia, but the British advance allows the English to dispossess the French and keep everything for themselves.

Like the Highland Clearances in Scotland (from 1725 until well into the 19th century), French settlers were forced from their lands between 1755 and 1762, literally driven into the sea. Most Acadians made their way down the coast, eventually settling in Louisiana. Forced together by hardship and circumstance, Louisa and Billy grow closer and closer when their ship is forced into safe-harbour in Boston Bay…

Benjamin survived the attack on Fort Niagara. Wounded in the first attack, he was dragged to safety by the wayward firebrand Mary Shirley. Braving the horrors of New England winters and aided by friendly Indians, they make their torturous way to New York and ultimately Albany where Benjamin is astounded to discover that his lascivious wild-child companion is actually the daughter of a wealthy and extremely powerful family.

He grudgingly becomes Mary’s stud and boy-toy, but chafes under the witless pomp and snobbery of the English gentry. At one of the interminable social soirees he accidentally maims malignant Mr. Crimbel, manager of the Hudson Bay Company, during a drunken brawl and is forced to flee.

Frustrated Mary swears bitter vengeance but Benjamin is already in Boston just as a refugee ship carrying Acadians beaches to avoid a winter storm. On the sands the three companions are finally reunited but Louise is torn as her first love and the father of her child greets his long-lost best friend… her current lover…

This powerful adventure saga of classic adventure is an historical drama in the inimitable Franco-Belgian manner, compelling and entrancing. Charles is a master of his visual craft and here natural beauty is augmented by the veracity of historical grandeur he imparts into renditions of genteel English society.

Pioneers of the New World is a minor masterpiece. Translated here are Le Pilori and Le Grand Dérangement, the merest tip of a spectacular graphic narrative iceberg. There have been 20 albums to date in French – with the latest arriving in 2015 – and I sincerely believe this magnificent adventure is long overdue for some wise publisher to revive. After all, there’s plenty to catch up on…

I’d imagine these books are practically impossible to find nowadays, and to be honest the translation and re-lettering are a little disappointing and distracting. But since so much European material is accessible these days, I’d thought I’d mention this series as being one that is crying out for a decent shot from a considerate and dedicated patron. Cross your fingers, mes braves…
© 1985 Editions Michel Deligne SA and JF Charles. All Rights Reserved.

Green Lantern: The Silver Age volume 3


By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Gil Kane & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7847-2

After their hugely successful revival and reworking of The Flash, DC (or National Periodical Publications as they traded back then) were keen to build on the resurgent superhero trend. Showcase #22 hit the stands at the same time as the fourth issue of the new Flash comicbook – #108 – and once again the guiding lights were Editor Julie Schwartz and writer John Broome. Assigned as illustrator was action ace Gil Kane, generally inked by Joe Giella.

Hal Jordan was a brash young test pilot in California when an alien policeman crashed his spaceship on Earth. Mortally wounded, Abin Sur commanded his ring – a device which could materialise thoughts – to seek out a replacement officer: one both honest and without fear.

Scanning the planet, the wonder weapon selected Jordan and whisked him to the crash-site. The dying alien bequeathed his ring, the lantern-shaped Battery of Power and his profession to the astonished Earthman.

In six pages ‘S.O.S Green Lantern’ established characters, scenario and narrative thrust of a series that would increasingly become the spine of DC continuity.

Now that the concept of the superhero was swiftly being re-established among the buying public, there was no shortage of gaudily clad competition. The better books survived by having something a little “extra”.

With Green Lantern that was primarily the superb scripts of John Broome and Gardner Fox and the astounding drawing of Gil Kane (ably abetted by primary inker Joe Giella) whose dynamic anatomy and dramatic action scenes were maturing with every page he drew. Happily, the concept itself was also a provider of boundless opportunity.

Other heroes had extraterrestrial, other-dimensional and even trans-temporal adventures, but the valiant champion of this series was also a cop: a lawman working for the biggest police force in the entire universe.

This fabulous paperback and eBook compilation gathers Green Lantern #23-35 (September 1962 – March 1965) and begins without fanfare as our hero tackles the ‘Threat of the Tattooed Man!’

This was the first all Gardner Fox scripted issue and the start of Giella’s tenure as sole inker, as the Ring-Slinger tackles a second-rate thief who lucks into the eerie power to animate his skin-ink, after which ‘The Green Lantern Disasters’ takes the interplanetary lawman off-world to rescue missing comrade Xax of Xaos: an insectoid member of the GL Corps.

Broome scripted issue #24, heralding the first appearance of ‘The Shark that Hunted Human Prey!’ as an atomic accident hyper-evolves the ocean’s deadliest predator into a psychic fear-feeder, after which ‘The Strange World Named Green Lantern!’ (with inks from Frank Giacoia & Giella) finds the Emerald Crusader trapped on a sentient and lonely planet that craves his constant presence…

Green Lantern #25 featured Fox’s full-length thriller ‘War of the Weapon Wizards! as GL falls foul of lethally persistent ultra-nationalist Sonar and his silent partner-in-crime Hector Hammond, whilst in the next issue Hal Jordan’s girlfriend Carol Ferris is once more transformed into an alien queen determined to beat him into marital submission in ‘Star Sapphire Unmasks Green Lantern!’

This witty cracker from Fox is supplemented by his superb fantasy ‘World Within the Power Ring!’ as the Viridian Avenger battles an extraterrestrial sorcerer imprisoned within his ring by his deceased predecessor Abin Sur!

Fox’s super-scientific crime thriller ‘Mystery of the Deserted City!’ led in GL #27 whilst Broome charmed and alarmed with ‘The Amazing Transformation of Horace Tolliver!’, as Hal learns a lesson in who to help – and how.

No prizes for guessing who – or what – menace returns in #28’s ‘The Shark Goes on the Prowl Again!’, but kudos if you can solve the puzzle of ‘The House that Fought Green Lantern’: both engaging romps courtesy of writer Fox whereas Broome adds to his tally of memorable villain creations with the debut of Black Hand – “the Cliché Criminal” – who purloins a portion of GL’s power in ‘Half a Green Lantern is Better than None!’ as well as scripting a brilliant back-up alien invader tale in ‘This World is Mine!’

This issue, #29, is doubly memorable as not only does it feature a rare – for the times – Justice League cameo (soon to be inevitable – if not interminable – as comics continuity grew into an unstoppable force in all companies’ output) but also because the incredibly talented Sid Greene signed on as regular inker.

Issue #30 featured two more Broome tales: dinosaur attack thriller ‘The Tunnel Through Time!’ and a compelling epic of duty and love as Katma Tui, who replaced the renegade Sinestro as the Guardians’ operative, learns to her eternal regret ‘Once a Green Lantern… Always a Green Lantern!’

The same writer also provided the baffling mystery ‘Power Rings for Sale!’ and the tense Jordan Brothers thriller ‘Pay Up – or Blow Up!’ whilst Fox handled all of #32: tantalizing crime caper ‘Green Lantern’s Wedding Day!’ and trans-galactic Battle Royale ‘Power Battery Peril!’ in which Jordan comes to the initially involuntary assistance of an alien superhero team…

Nefarious villain Dr. Light decided to pick off his enemies one by after his defeat in Justice League of America #12. His attempts in various member’s home titles reached GL with #33, but here too he got a damned good thrashing in ‘Wizard of the Light Wave Weapons!’, whereas the thugs in the back-up yarn, as well as giving artist Gil Kane another excuse to show his love of and facility with movie gangster caricatures, come far too close to ending the Emerald Gladiator’s life in ‘The Disarming of Green Lantern!’

Fox had by this time become lead writer and indeed wrote all the remaining stories in this volume. ‘Three-Way Attack against Green Lantern!’ in #34 was another full-length cosmic extravaganza as Hector Hammond discovers the secrets of the Guardians of the Universe and launches an all-out assault on our hero, after which both scripts in #35 – costumed villain drama ‘Prisoner of the Golden Mask!’ and brain-swop spy-saga ‘The Eagle Crusader of Earth!’ – look much closer to home for their abundance of thrills, chills and spills.

These costumed drama romps are in themselves a great read for most ages, but when also considered as the building blocks of all DC continuity they become vital fare for any fan keen to make sense of the modern superhero experience.

Judged solely on their own merit, these are snappy, awe-inspiring, beautifully illustrated captivatingly clever thrillers that amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old devotees. This lovely collection is a must-read item for anybody in love with our art-form and especially for anyone just now encountering the hero for the first time through his movie incarnations.
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Tintin and the Lake of Sharks – A TINTIN FILM BOOK


By Greg & various, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-822-2 (HB)                    978-1-4052-0634-1 (PB)

Although this tale is not strictly canonical, fans of Hergé’s intrepid boy reporter and his tragically now completed series of adventures can always console themselves with this high-quality graphic adaptation of the animated feature-film Tintin et la Lac aux Requins.

The motion picture was originally released in 1972 and – although not directly created by Hergé who only enjoyed a supervisory role – remains a classy piece of rousing fiction directed by publisher Raymond LeBlanc and written by European mega-star Michel Regnier.

As “Greg”, he is best remembered now for his comedic anti-hero Achille Talon (translated into English both in animated cartoons and comic albums as Walter Melon), Luc Orient, Bruno Brazil, Zig et Puce and memorable runs as scripter and/or editor on Spirou and Fantasio, Clifton and many more.

Although lacking the smartly satirical edge of Hergé’s efforts, comedy, action and slapstick are still well represented in this hectic yarn which transforms animation stills into sequential narrative, albeit with admittedly mixed results.

Purists who love the artist’s landmark and legendary Ligne Claire style will be deterred that the designs are laid over and across fully-rendered, moulded and painted backgrounds, but although the result is initially jarring, the story does swiftly carry the reader beyond such quibbles.

Ligne Claire – or the Democracy of Lines as it is sometimes called (in case you were wondering) – is the term given to the dramatically simplified drawing style developed by Hergé which has influenced so very many creators. With it sleek, clean lines of equal strength, thickness and prominence are used to impart an almost diagrammatic value to subjects.

This is in contrast to styles which might emphasise foreground or background with varying line-weights. Line-shading, hatching, feathering and the use of shadows are also ignored or down-played. It’s the perfect base for bold. simple colour and imparts an impressive solidity and immediacy to pictures.

When combined with a stripped-down but accurate character or object design, the effect of hyper or even meta-reality is astoundingly convincing. The term was first used by creator, fan and devotee Joost Swarte in the late 1970s. Here Endeth the Lesson…

In The Lake of Sharks a series of art and gem robberies coincide with a trip by Tintin, Captain Haddock and the detectives Thompson and Thomson to visit Professor Calculus. The savant is sequestered at a villa on the shores of Lake Pollishoff; a huge body of water in the mountains of Syldavia, artificially created by building a dam and flooding a village.

The locals believe the area is haunted. And no sooner do our picaresque cast arrive than attempts to kill them begin!

Calculus is in seclusion to perfect his latest invention – a 3-D duplicating machine – but a series of strange events leads Tintin to believe that sinister forces have targeted the eccentric genius once again.

Spies, intruders and weird occurrences seem to be a daily threat at the Villa Sprog! Our heroes are not easily cowed, however, and with the help of two peasant children, Niko and Nushka (and their dog Gustav) a dastardly plot by the heroes’ greatest enemy is revealed. This mastermind now calls himself King Shark

This magical, fast-paced romp does the canonical episodes proud and can hold its head high even amidst the incredible legacy of one of the true Masters of the Comic Strip. And besides, your collection is incomplete without it…
Artwork © 1955 Editions Casterman, Paris& Tournai. © renewed 1983 Egmont UK Limited. Text © 1971 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Casey at the Bat and Other Diamond Tales


By Wilford Mullins with Ernest Thayer and various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-814-4

Happy Anniversary!

It’s a memorable day. In 1835 HMS Beagle set sail for Charles Island in in the Galapagos Archipelago. Ten years later the New York Knickerbockers formed and adopted the rule code for what would become “America’s favourite game” and in 1846 Johann Gottfried Galle and Heinrich d’Arrest located Neptune. There’s other stuff too. You should look it up…

Oddly I couldn’t find an appropriate book for two of those above-cited commemorations but here’s something for sports-lovers, cartoon connoisseurs and devotes of smart, big laughs…

Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888 is probably the most famous piece of high-quality doggerel in the English Language. It was anonymously penned by writer and philosophy graduate Ernest Thayer whilst he was working for The Daily Examiner (later The San Francisco Examiner) and published in the June 3rd, 1888 edition.

It should be noted that “Phin”, as he called himself in print, was employed as a humourist, not a sports reporter…

The piece passed without much notice at the time, but was picked up (pinched, stolen, swiped, “popularised”) by Vaudeville performer DeWolf Hopper who made it his star turn on stage for decades to come. It’s mock-heroic excess and powerful meter also caused it to be plagiarized and adapted by other writers on a tight deadline almost continually ever since.

It has been co-opted to stage, large and small screen and almost every manner of media dissemination, with vocal luminaries from Garrison Keillor to James Earl Jones to actual baseball pitcher Tug McGraw all taking a hit at re-immortalising the daft ditty.

An actual landmark of American history and culture, the poem was used by the sport’s governing body in 1953 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the World Series. They issued a set of 14 drinking glasses – with one stanza per mass-produced goblet – as collectable premiums dispensed at ballparks across the nation.

To ensure the desirability of the items the vessels with the verses shared space with suitably comedic illustrations from America’s favourite sports cartoonist – a man who would eventually be awarded the title of “Greatest Sports Cartoonist of the 20th Century”…

Britain never really enjoyed the long and lovingly cherished tradition of sports cartoons enjoyed by America throughout the 20th century – more’s the pity – but in the Land of the Free, illustrated match précis’, captivating portraits, visual biographies, charismatic caricatures and plain old-fashioned gags in drawn form were a vital element of every national and local newspaper… and had been for generations.

Such sporting profiles, sketches, technical tips, skits and lampooning broadsides were borrowed by a new industry to become a staple of Golden Age comicbooks – and far too often the best drawn items in those fantasy-fuelled periodicals.

Willard Mullin (September 14th 1902 – December 20th 1978) captured the magic of America’s favourite game (and other strenuous pastimes) for almost half a hundred years: encapsulating the power, glory, glum disappointment, punishing optimism, heartbreak and incurable unflagging passion of players, managers, owners and fans in spectacular portrait biographies, potent editorial cartoons, gently ferocious caricatures and hilarious, knowing slapstick panels. You can enjoy further examples of his gifts in companion volume Willard Mullin’s Golden Age of Baseball – Drawings 1934-1972

Mullins’ illustrations for Casey were believed long lost until they resurfaced at an auction in 2002, whereupon Fantagraphics reproduced and collated them in this tasty hardback (or eBook) volume, further spiced up with a selection of the master’s other batting triumphs…

Following a Foreword by sporting legend Yogi Berra and a compelling overview in ‘Willard and Casey’: a photo-limned essay from baseball historian (head of Guilderland Public Library and Director of Research at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library), the full saga unfolds in magical form.

Then photo examples of the actual drinking vessels are accompanied by editor Michael Powers’ appreciative biography of ‘The Longfellow of the Sports Page’ which in turn lead to a selection of Mullin’s other pictorial triumphs – all of a similarly jocund and poetic nature…

A brace of very different paeans to ‘Iron Horse Lou’ (Gehrig) precede a hilarious argot script in prime “Brooklynese” and a trenchant revision of Walt Whitman’s O Captain, My Captain suitably framed to target the tragic Dodgers in ‘Brooklyn, My Brooklyn’.

Baseball ABC’s can be learned in ‘From April to Zeptember’ after which James T. Fields’ The Owl Critic is repurposed in tribute to Sal “the Barber” Meglie as ‘The Barber on Kept Shaving’ before the visual triumphs conclude with Mullins’ famous ‘Go-Go Mets!’ cover for Time Magazine.

Fantagraphics Books struck gold twice over by reviving and celebrating a lost hero and a nigh-forgotten sector of graphic narrative arts in this superb commemoration.

Whether you’re a fan of sports in general or Baseball in particular, if you’re reading this you love narrative art, and Willard Mullin was the Will Eisner of his field: clever, funny, bold, dramatic and capable of astounding emotional connection with his readers. This is a book no lovers of our art form should miss.

This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. Willard Mullin and the Brooklyn Bum are ™ and ® the Estate of Willard Mullin, Shirley Mullin Rhodes, Trustee. Other material © its respective holders or owners as noted within.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1182-5 (HB)                    978-0-7851-4296-6 (TPB)

Fantastic Four #1 is the third most important American comicbook in the industry’s astounding history. Just ahead of it are The Brave and the Bold #28, which brought superhero teams back via the creation of the Justice League of America. At the top is Showcase #4, which introduced the Flash and therefore the Silver Age. Feel free to disagree…

After a troubled period at DC Comics – National Periodicals as it then was – and a creatively productive but disheartening time on the poisoned chalice of the Sky Masters newspaper strip (see Complete Sky Masters of the Space Force) Jack Kirby settled into his job at the small outfit that used to be the publishing powerhouse Timely/Atlas.

He churned out mystery, monster, romance and western material in a market he suspected to be ultimately doomed, but as always, did the best job possible. That quirky genre fare is now considered some of the best of its kind ever seen.

However, his fertile imagination couldn’t be suppressed for long and when the JLA caught the readerships attention it gave him and writer/editor Stan Lee an opportunity to change the industry forever.

Depending upon who you believe, a golfing afternoon led publisher/owner Martin Goodman ordering his nephew Stan to try a series about a group of super-characters like the one DC was doing. The resulting team quickly took fans by storm. It wasn’t the powers: they’d all been seen since the beginning of the medium. It wasn’t the costumes: they didn’t have any until the third issue.

It was Kirby’s compelling art and the fact that these characters weren’t anodyne cardboard cut-outs. In a real and a recognizable location – New York City – imperfect, raw-nerved, touchy people banded together out of tragedy, disaster and necessity to face the incredible.

In many ways, The Challengers of the Unknown (Kirby’s prototype partners-in-peril at National/DC) laid all the groundwork for the wonders to come, but the staid, almost hide-bound editorial strictures of National would never have allowed the undiluted energy of the concept to run all-but-unregulated.

Fantastic Four #1 (bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, by Lee, Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule) is crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it.

As seen in that ground-breaking premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancée Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and poor, tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. Despite these terrifying transformations, before long the quartet had become the darlings of the modern age: celebrity stalwarts alternately saving the world and publicly squabbling shamefully…

This full-colour hardcover or paperback compendium (also available in various digital formats) collects Fantastic Four #21-30 – spanning December 1963 to September 1964.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos was another solid Marvel hit. Eventually its brusque and brutal star would metamorphose into the company’s answer to James Bond. Here, however, he’s a simple CIA agent seeking the team’s aid against a sinister demagogue called ‘The Hate-Monger’ in a cracking yarn with a strong message, inked by comics veteran George Roussos, under the protective nom-de-plume George Bell.

By this juncture the FF were firmly established and creators Lee & Kirby were well on the way to toppling DC/National Comics from their decades-held top spot through an engaging blend of brash, folksy and consciously contemporaneous sagas, mixing high concept, broad comedy, trenchant melodrama and breathtaking action.

Unseen since the premiere issue, #22 finally featured ‘The Return of the Mole Man!’; another full-on monster-mashing fight-fest, chiefly notable for the debut of the Invisible Girl’s newly developed powers of projecting force fields and “invisible energy”.

After an incredibly long period these would eventually make her one of the mightiest characters in the company’s pantheon…

Fantastic Four #23 heralded ‘The Master Plan of Doctor Doom!’, and introduced his frankly mediocre minions the Terrible Trio of Bull Brogin, Handsome Harry and Yogi Dakor. Even after thy were boosted by Doom’s science the goons were sub-par but the uncanny menace of “the Solar Wave” was enough to raise the hackles on my 5-year-old neck… and still does…

(Do I need to qualify that with: all of me was five but only my precious neck had developed hackles worth boasting of back then?)

Issue #24’s ‘The Infant Terrible!’ was a sterling yarn of inadvertent extra-galactic menace and misplaced innocence, as New York is besieged by a lost and wilful alien child with the power to reshape reality.

It’s followed by a two-part epic that truly defined the inherent difference between Lee & Kirby’s work and everybody else’s at that time.

Fantastic Four #25 and 26 featured a cataclysmic clash that had young heads spinning in 1964 and led directly to the Emerald Behemoth finally regaining a strip of his own. In ‘The Hulk Vs The Thing’ and concluding clash ‘The Avengers Take Over!’, a fast-paced, all-out Battle Royale resulted when the gargantuan green man-monster came to New York in search of side-kick Rick Jones, and only an injury-wracked FF stood in the way of his destructive rampage.

Highlighting a definitive moment in the character development of The Thing, the action is ramped up when a rather stiff-necked and officious, newly-constituted Avengers team horn in, claiming jurisdictional rights on “Bob” Banner (this tale is plagued with pesky continuity errors which would haunt Stan Lee for decades) and his Jaded alter ego.

Notwithstanding the bloopers, this is one of Marvel’s key moments and still a visceral, vital read.

The creators had hit on a winning formula by including their other stars in guest-shots – especially as readers could never anticipate if they would fight with or beside the home team.

‘The Search for Sub-Mariner!’ again sees the undersea anti-hero in amorous mood, and when he abducts Sue the boys called in Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts to aid them… Issue #28 is a superb team-up tale too, most notable (for me and many other older fans) for the man who replaced George Roussos.

‘We Have to Fight the X-Men!’ has the disparate teams clashing due to the machinations of Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker, but the inclusion of Chic Stone – Kirby’s most simpatico and expressive inker – elevated the art to indescribable levels of slick, seductive quality.

‘It Started on Yancy Street!’ (FF#29) begins in a low-key manner with plenty of silly basic comedy on show as the team investigate a crime wave in the slum where Ben Grimm grew up. After dodging cabbages and garbage, things get serious with the reappearance of the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes before the action quickly goes full-on Cosmic…

Abducted into space, the heroes enjoy blockbusting battle on the Moon and another dauntingly close encounter with the omnipotent Watcher

The following issue introduced evil alchemist ‘The Dreaded Diablo!’ who almost breaks up the team while casually conquering the world from his spooky Transylvanian castle. His divide and conquer strategy involved almost curing The Thing of his monstrous deformity, but alchemy, unlike friendship, proves to be fleeting and untrustworthy…

This is a truly magnificent book to read, highlighting the tales that built a comics empire. It’s actually so well-crafted that it could easily work as anybody’s introduction to the most famous family in comicbooks.

The verve, imagination and sheer enthusiasm shines through and the wonder is there for you to share. If you’ve never thrilled to these spectacular sagas then this book of marvels is your best and most economical key to another world and time.
© 1963, 1964, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Chandler


By Steranko (Byron Preiss Visual Publications Inc/Pyramid Books)
ISBN: 978-0-515-04241-2 (Pyramid Books)

Steranko is an artist with many strings to his bow. Whether as publisher, typographer, graphic designer, artist, storyteller, historian, or musical performer he has always excelled.

As a magician and escapologist he found celebrity, inspiring new friend Jack Kirby to create Super Escape Artist Mister Miracle, but it’s as a comics creator that the man of many talents has most memorably succeeded.

At the peak of Marvel’s first creative flowering he revolutionised the telling of graphic stories with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. His retro-revisionist take on Captain America is reverently remembered – as is his brief meddling with mutant outriders The X-Men.

Decades after his experimental forays in Marvel’s horror and romance titles, the results are remembered – if not actually in print anywhere – as high-points in style and cinematic design.

Steranko left Marvel to pursue his other interests and began publication of pop culture mainstay Mediascene Prevue, only rarely returning to the comic medium. If you’ve never seen his strip work you’ll know him by his film production concept art for blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

In the mid-1970s he linked up with comics Svengali Byron Preiss to create this fabulous experimental precursor of the graphic novel: a dynamic and vivid tribute to the hard-boiled detective and film noir genres, and something which perhaps not altogether to the tastes of fans at the time is certainly now very much in the bailiwick of contemporary comics consumers.

Alternatively entitled FICTION ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 3 in its pocket digest sized paperback iteration (as well as proper full-sized graphic novel Chandler: Red Tide), it still packs a potent visual and narrative punch.

Chandler is a private eye, in the iconic myth-country of 1940’s New York City. One night a desperate man comes looking for someone to track down his inescapable killer.

Bramson Todd witnessed a mob hit and has somehow been poisoned because of it. With seventy-two hours to live, the walking corpse wants proactive revenge, and as well as a vast amount of money, he offers Chandler the chance to save the other three witnesses from the same fate or worse…

The familiar iconography of the seedy, noble gumshoe is augmented by two-fisted action, flying bullets, sundry thugs and scoundrels, memorable, glamorous women and a ticking clock, all working to make in this loving and effective pastiche a minor masterpiece…

Back then, however, a major stumbling block for many readers was the unconventional format of the book.

Each folio is divided into two columns – in the manner of the classic pulp prose page layouts – with each column comprising an illustration above a block of accompanying text.

Despite Steranko’s superb draughtsmanship and design skill (some spreads form extended visual continuities with four single pictures becoming one large illustration), there is an element of separation between prose and picture that can take a little adapting to. You should try. It’s worth it.

This is still a powerful tale, well told and worth any extra effort necessary to enjoy it. Another contender for immediate reissue, I think…
© 1976 Byron Preiss Visual Publications Inc.
The character Chandler © 1976 James Steranko.

Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes volume 1


By Paul Levitz, Gerry Conway, Paul Kupperberg, Jack C. Harris, Mike Grell, James Sherman, Jim Starlin, Ric Estrada, Howard Chaykin, George Tuska, Walt Simonson, Mike Nasser, Juan Ortiz & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7291-3 (HB)

Once upon a time, a thousand years from now, a band of super-powered kids from a multitude of worlds took inspiration from the greatest legend of all time and formed a club of heroes. One day those Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited their inspiration to join them…

Thus, began the vast and epic saga of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as first envisioned by writer Otto Binder & artist Al Plastino when the many-handed mob of juvenile universe-savers debuted in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), just as the revived superhero genre was gathering an inexorable head of steam in America. Happy 60th Anniversary, Futurians!

Since that time the fortunes and popularity of the Legion have perpetually waxed and waned, with their future history continually tweaked and overwritten, retconned and rebooted time and time again to comply with editorial diktat and popular fashion.

This cosmically-captivating compendium (available in sturdy hardback and digital editions) gathers a chronological parade of futuristic delights from Superboy and The Legion of Super-Heroes #234-240, covering December 1977 to June 1978, as well as an untold tale of their earliest exploits from DC Super-Stars #17 as well as a major event from tabloid colossus All-New Collector’s Edition C-55.

This was a period when the recently impoverished superhero genre had again flared into vibrant new life to gain its current, seemingly unassailable ascendancy.

That prior plunge in costumed character popularity had seen the team lose their long-held lead spot in Adventure Comics, get relegated to a back-up slot in Action Comics and even vanish completely for a time. Legion fans however are the most passionate of an already fanatical breed…

No sooner had the LSH faded than fan agitation to revive them began. After a few tentative forays as an alternating back-up feature in Superboy, the game-changing artwork of Dave Cockrum inspired a fresh influx of fans and the back-up soon took over the book – exactly as they had done in the 1960s when the Tomorrow Teens took Adventure from the Boy of Steel and made it uniquely their own…

Without warning or preamble, the adventure resumes with Jack C. Harris, Juan Ortiz & Bob Smith exploring ‘The Secret of the Quintile Crystal’ (from DC Super-Stars #17, December 1977) as founders Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy relate to Superboy how a theft by diplomats beyond the reach of the law catapulted the kids – and their unique problem-solving gifts – to the forefront of United Planets security planning…

Superboy and The Legion of Super-Heroes #234 then details a contemporary cosmic catastrophe as a clash with a space dragon mutates a squad of heroes into a marauding amalgamated menace. When the call goes out ‘Wanted Dead or Alive: The Composite Legionnaire’ (by Gerry Conway, Ric Estrada & Jack Abel) ultimate mercenary Bounty goes after the victim and he’ won’t let sentiment of the remaining heroes interfere with ‘The Final Hunt!’

Happily, Superboy and energy-being Wildfire have enough power to stop the hunter and cure their companions…

Issue #235 features the kind of story uber-dedicated fans adore. ‘The Legion’s Super-Secret’ – by Paul Levitz, Mike Grell & Vince Colletta) gives a glimpse into the covert mental condition Superboy endures every time he returns to his own era. When the process is abruptly interrupted because of a raid by resource hungry Sklarians, the Legionnaires fear the greatest hero of all time may betray the 39th century’s most dangerous biological deception.

Although a tense and rousing escapade, the sad truth is that this tale was conceived to placate sections of the audience who kept carping on about why clearly fully mature characters were still being designated “Boy”, “Girl”, “Kid”, “Lass” and “Lad”. As if comics never had serious social problems and issues to address, right?

The lead story is far-surpassed by potent back-up ‘Trial of the Legion Five’ (Conway, George Tuska & Colletta) wherein some of the heroes are accused of causing the death of a citizen caught in the rampage of the Composite Legionnaire. Their accuser is an old political adversary bearing a grudge and as ever, things are not what they seem…

S&LSH #236 was a power-packed portmanteau offering and brimming with vibrant new artistic talent. It begins with ‘A World Born Anew’ (written by Levitz & Paul Kupperberg with stunning art from neophytes James Sherman & Bob McLeod). When fantastically powerful alien property speculator Worldsmith starts arbitrarily terraforming the planet Braal, even a full team of heroes is unable to stop him until Princess Projectra deduces a better way to send the crazed capitalist packing.

Levitz, Mike Nasser, Joe Rubinstein & Rick Bryant then provide an all-action prologue to greater sagas ahead as ‘Mon-El’s One-Man War’ finds the formidable Daxamite exerting all his energies to save an experimental star mine during a bloody incursion by the war-crazed Khunds before the moment Legion fans had awaited for decades finally came…

‘Words Never Spoken’ by Levitz, Sherman & Rubinstein at long last saw Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl set the day…

No longer bound by responsibility, they had agreed to quit the team – because teammates weren’t allowed to marry – resulting in a huge tabloid sized publishing milestone released as All-New Collector’s Edition C-55 (March 1978).

Comicbook weddings never start well and ‘The Millennium Massacre’ (by Levitz, Grell & Colletta) coincided with a dastardly plot to rewrite history by their greatest foe. As the young marrieds stumble into a honeymoon ‘Murder by Moonlight’, Superboy and a select team voyage to 1988. They’re hoping to prevent the destruction of the United Nations and solve ‘The Twisted History Mystery’ before their comrades and the newlyweds perish in an interplanetary war but the real showdown only occurs after a ‘Showdown at the End of Eternity’

Accompanied by a potted visual history of ‘Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes’ from Gell & Colletta and fact-features ‘The Origins and Powers of the Legionnaires’ and Secrets of the Legion’ by Levitz, Sherman & Abel this epic event set the scene for a darker, more compelling tone…

That began with #237’s ‘No Price Too High’ (Levitz, Walt Simonson & Abel) wherein the team’s financial backer R. J. Brande is abducted by maniac Arma Getten who demands the team bring him ‘The Heart of a Star’, ‘The Stolen Trophy’ and life-sustaining artefact ‘The Crown of the Graxls’ in return for their friend’s life…

Well aware these objects hold the power ‘To Shake the Stars’ the team comply. Apparently…

Due to deadline problems #238 was a hasty reprint of Adventure Comics #359 & 360 and is represented here by its spiffy new Jim Starlin wraparound cover, but the intended tale when it finally emerged was an instant classic.

Plotted and laid out by Starlin, with Levitz script and Rubinstein finishes, #239’s ‘Murder Most Foul’ saw rowdy, rebellious Ultra Boy framed for murdering a prostitute and on the run from his former comrades. Only LSH Espionage Squad leader Chameleon Boy saw something behind the seemingly open-&-shut case, and his off-the-books investigation indicated there was indeed a Legion traitor: potentially the most dangerous opponent of all…

The final inclusion in this mammoth compilation is #240 which offered a brace of thrillers. Levitz, Harris, Howard Chaykin & Bob Wiacek opened with ‘The Man Who Manacled the Legion’ as old foe Grimbor the Chainsman kidnapped the UP President in a bizarre plot to kill the heroes he held responsible for the death of his true love. The book does end on a tantalising high however as Levitz, Kupperberg, Sherman & McLeod take us into the Legion Training Academy to introduce a bevy of new heroes eager to join the big guns. Super dense Jed Rikane (yes, I know, just go with it), invulnerable Laurel Kent and Shadow Lad (Shadow Lass’ younger brother) all show potential and flaws in equal amounts but the mutant tracker mercenary is who really troubles Wildfire. ‘Dawnstar Rising’ shows not only her immense ability but a disregard for her comrades that could have lethal consequences in the days to come, unless the Legion somehow works its inclusive magic on her…

Rounding out the future fun, ‘Notes from Behind the Scenes’ provides glimpses at Levitz’s original presentation for tabloid edition, plots for a Queen Projectra tale and data cheat sheets for Saturn Girl and others.

The Legion is unquestionably one of the most beloved and bewildering creations in comics history and largely responsible for the growth of the groundswell movement that became American Comics Fandom. Moreover, these scintillating and seductively addictive stories – as much as Julie Schwartz’s Justice League of America or Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four – fuelled the interest and imaginations of generations of readers to create the industry we all know today.

If you love comics and haven’t read this stuff, you are the poorer for it and need to feed your dreams of a better tomorrow as soon as possible.
© 1977, 1978, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Campbells volume 1: Inferno


By Jose Luis Munuera, coloured by Sydas and translated by Emma Wilson (Europe Comics)
Digital Edition No ISBN:

Arrr! It be International Talk Like a Pirate Day once morrrre, me Hearties! That gives me license to act like a complete berk whilst plugging a suitably themed graphic yarn. This ‘un be a real cracker, too…

As heavily influenced by a certain Disney movie franchise as continental Europe’s long-standing affection for the genre, and exhibiting a deft hand with the traditions and history of light-hearted freebooting romps, Inferno is the introductory salvo in a convoluted yet engaging family saga about a most unconventional bunch of buccaneers.

Crafted by Andalusian comics veteran Jose Luis Munuera (No Hay Domingos en el Infierno, Merlin, Walter le Loup, Spirou et Fantasio, P’tit Boule et Bill) who has been delighting readers since his debut in 1996, the epic voyage of discovery commences here with smart, snappy episodes introducing an extremely large cast of roguish characters.

First up are devious rapscallion “Captain” Carapepino and his trusty dogsbody Haggins. A very minor player with huge aspirations, the smooth talker is off burying his first chest of treasure on a sun-kissed tropical island when he is ambushed and hijacked by the infamous – and long-missing – Captain Campbell.

Through a most cunning ploy, the pirate’s pirate (with his two young daughters at his side) appropriates the gem-strewn chest and smugly paddles away to another paradisiacal atoll…

The next vignette sees the wonder man at ease in his luxurious haven on Garden Island, patiently watching teenaged Itaca explode again as her obnoxiously bratty sister Genova reads excerpts from her stolen secret diary…

Despite their acting out and outrageous feats of derring-do, the well-educated, ultra-fit kids love each other and desperately miss their mother…

Out in the briny depths, formidable Captain Inferno terrorises victims and his own men. He is a man of dark moods and soaring ambition, but haunted by visions of a dead woman who comes to him often to repeat three horrifying predictions that he cannot escape.

His night terrors are suppressed but not abated by the arrival of the unctuous Carapepino who reveals his encounter with the sea terror’s most despised enemy… and husband of the ghost who currently plagues him…

The Campbells might be a sea-wolves but they are most unconventional ones. Amongst those who love them most are the inhabitants of the Isle of Bakaloo, a leper colony the family regularly visit with supplies of food, books and other life-easing essentials.

On this latest trip, the canny corsairs bring along the latest chest of valuables: after all, what normal, superstitious rogues would risk their scurvy skins amongst the unclean and diseased?

Some days later, the family visit the fiercely neutral township of Bahia Cambalanche, Port Franc. Here all hawks of the seas can meet to trade, carouse and fence their stolen booty. Here and now, Itaca and Genova reluctantly attend lessons arranged by their father.

Right here, right now, Carapepino and a press gang provided by Inferno attempt to abduct the girls only to be beaten back by their unbridled fury and the late intervention of gorgeous teenager Blond Luca.

Itaca is instantly smitten by the glorious hero, blithely unaware that her saviour is a pawn in a dastardly long con…

The deception blossoms soon after as Garden Island is invaded by Carapepino’s borrowed forces. Nevertheless, the trio of Campbells fight free, humiliate the craven dogs and make a bold escape to a new sanctuary…

In the interim, Inferno has not been idle. By ruthless manipulation and scurrilous deals, he has ingratiated himself with English nobility – and Campbell’s oldest enemies – in order to have himself admitted to the top flight of the corrupt aristocracy.

Now invested as Baron of England, with a warrant to hunt all shipping but British vessels, Inferno moves quickly to consolidate power and replace the crown’s agents with his own people…

The Campbells have relocated to Bakeloo where Itaca broods over Luca’s betrayal and her father worries about her distress. Father is blithely oblivious to the passionate adoration of native lovely Nutel-La but the practical islander finally makes a big impression when she suggests that the devoted dad needs to have “the talk” with his swiftly maturing daughter…

Having lost yet another ship, Carapepino and his surviving crew at last link up with former employer Baron Inferno, just in time to become his first prisoners as the newly ennobled provincial ruler moves into his new Governor’s Palace.

The interloper eases gracefully to the head of the aristocratic pack, gleaming in fine clothes, sparkling with newfound power and respectability. After all, aren’t these rich privileged fools just another gang of self-proclaimed predators? Especially the shockingly blunt and ruthlessly amoral Lady Helvetia, who soon becomes his boon companion and more…

However, when the revels end, the Baron’s mind races back decades to the docks of London where he and his bold, inventive, loyal brother picked pockets and sought to escape their monster of a father. How far they have come since then. How far they have drifted apart…

To Be Continued…

Only currently available in English in digital editions, The Campbells is a fabulously engaging rollercoaster of thrills and fun, as good as the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and far more entertaining and satisfying than the rest of that franchise.

Combining smart and constant laughs with bombastic action, an enticing generational war, murder mystery and heartbreakingly winning characters – goodies and baddies! – the series goes from strength to strength. This first volume is captivating from the outset, with its hyper-kinetic Marcinelle School-derived art grabbing the attention and dragging readers along as though caught in a bow wave, with the raffish gags subtly counterbalancing a strong, and complex family-based conflict and just the merest hint of supernatural menace lurking in the shadows.

Don’t wait for a surely-inevitable print release, scour the electric waves and track down this book and series…
© DUPUIS – MUNUERA 2017. Al rights reserved.

Hulk: Return of the Monster


By Bruce Jones, Brian Azzarello, John Romita Jr. & Tom Palmer, Richard Corben & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5346-7 (HB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result. he would unexpectedly transform into a gigantic green juggernaut of unstoppable strength and fury when distressed or surprised.

As both occasional hero and near-mindless marauding monster he rampaged across the Marvel Universe for years, finally finding his size 700 feet and a format that worked to become one of young Marvel’s most resilient and enduring features.

An incredibly popular character both in comics and myriad global media beyond, he has often undergone radical changes in scope and direction to keep his stories fresh and his exploits explosively compelling…

One of the most impressive runs of the entire canon came from noted thriller and horror writer Bruce Jones (see especially his impressive Hitchcock pastiche Somerset Holmes) who injected a stunning dose of long-neglected suspense and pure menace back into the saga, as well as tipping his hat to the peripatetic wanderings of the tormented star of the 1970s and 1980s TV series.

This hardcover and eBook re-presents issues #34-39 of The Incredible Hulk comicbook, spanning January to June 2002, and also includes precursor sidebar series Startling Stories: Banner #1-4 (from July to October of the same year) to set the scene for a terrifying new take on the relationship between Banner and his Inner Demon…

The main tale of guilt, paranoia and pursuit combines Jones’ moody, humanistic writing with the ponderously powerful pencilling of John Romita Jr. and the slickly realistic inking of Tom Palmer to stunning effect.

After decades of building up a huge supporting cast this Hulk also strips away all but the most basic remnants of the series’ lynchpins, leaving Banner and the Beast in new territory and to all intents and purposes going it alone…

Always running from the authorities and himself, Banner has finally lost all hope in the aftermath of one of the Hulk’s most appalling bouts of mindless destruction: a rampage which devastated Chicago and resulted in the death of a little boy, Ricky Myers…

We open with ‘The Morning After’ as a cold and emotionally dead Banner hides in a sleazy hotel. Here he encounters Jerome, a kid so smart that he knows joining a gang is the only thing that can keep someone with his level of intellect alive.

The desperate lad gets a glimpse at another option after he tries to rob the skinny, repressed white guy down the hall and, when Jerome gets in over his head, it is Banner not the Hulk who is the solution…

Incognito, restlessly wandering but with a mysterious online ally keeping him one step ahead of his myriad pursuers, Banner is slowly reconnecting with the humanity he has avoided ever since the monster was first created.

In the wordless, deeply moving ‘Silent Running’ (part of Marvel’s ‘Nuff Said publishing event) the fugitive narrowly escapes capture by enigmatic Men in Black at a roadside diner due to the inadvertent assistance of an autistic child, after ‘The Gang’s All Here!’ introduces a mismatched pair of over-competitive assassins hired by the secret organisation actually behind the current manhunt for Banner and the Hulk.

Both the lethal killer Slater and his rival/partner Sandra Verdugo have been co-opted by the cabal of MiBs with an unspecified interest in ramping up anti-Hulk hysteria. They definitely want Banner, but only in one piece. They also appear to have the literal power of life and death over their unwilling agents…

With Banner’s old friend and erstwhile therapist Doc Samson lured into the pursuit, the cabal makes its move in ‘You Must Remember This…’ but after the gamma-fuelled psychologist is distracted by a small child’s experience of school bullying the murderous Hulk-hunters converge and generate a colossal amount of collateral damage at the ‘Last Chance Café’, before events get totally out of hand and terrifyingly weird in concluding episode ‘Tag… You’re Dead!’

Using the theme of troubled childhoods and imagery based on the classic Frankenstein films that were such an integral part of the Jade Giant’s conceptual genesis, these tales focus on Banner and judiciously limit the use of his emerald alter ego to the point where the monster almost becomes a ghost. Ever-present but never seen (the monster is only on 21 of the 144 pages of this storyline and that includes covers, dream-sequences, flashbacks and spot illustrations) like a catastrophic Rebecca haunting a Midwestern Manderley, the Hulk is an oppressive force of calculated salvation and last resort rather than mere reader-friendly graphic destruction and gratuitous gratification.

Like all great monsters he lurks in the shadows, waiting for his moment…

Moreover, the guys pulling all those tangled strings are still waiting for their next opportunity…

One of the most beguiling and impressive Hulk yarns of all, this book offers merely one third of the complete saga but does sweeten the wait for a conclusion by delivering a stunning storm of relentless action and conspiracy from Brian Azzarello & Richard Corben in Banner.

Notionally set on alternate Earth-20017, here the monster’s rampages – in which massive loss of life are a given – are being tracked by Doc Samson, General Ross and the US Army who are actively covering up all knowledge of the Hulk.

Wracked by guilt, Banner tries to help as volunteer medic and grave digger because he’s tried to kill himself and the green devil inside won’t let him die…

Eventually after a horrific casualty count Samson’s brains trump the Hulk’s brawn and the fugitive is brought in and prepped for a lobotomy. Samson is appalled that Bruce welcomes the procedure and while trying to talk his captive out is mad privy to a most unsettling secret: one Ross and his superiors are utterly complicit in. A man of great intellect and high-minded principles, Samson makes a decision that will cause nothing but trouble…

Also included here are sketches, designs and a rundown of the cover process for Hulk #34-39, the text essay from Startling Stories: Banner #1, two promotional interviews with Bruce Jones, promo art by Romita Jr., Palmer and colourist Studio F, the script for ‘Silent Running’ and a series of covers, pages and designs from Corben’s Sketchbook.

A burst of fresh-thinking which utterly reinvigorated the character and completely refocused the series for the 21st century, these staggeringly engrossing tales are a masterpiece of the form. If you’re new to the series or looking for an excuse to jump back on, this is the book for you…
© 2001, 2002, 2018 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Eclipso


By Bob Haney, Lee Elias, Alex Toth, Jack Sparling & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2315-1

Although it’s generally accepted that everybody loves a good villain they seldom permit them the opportunity of starring in their own series (except perhaps in British comics, where for decades the most bizarre and outrageous rogues such as Charlie Peace, Spring-Heeled Jack, Dick Turpin, Von Hoffman or The Dwarf were seen as far more interesting than mere lawmen).

However, when America went superhero crazy in the 1960s (even before the Batman TV show sent the entire world into a wild and garish “High Camp” frenzy) DC converted all of its anthology titles into character-driven vehicles. Long-running paranormal investigator Mark Merlin suddenly found himself sharing the cover spot with a costumed but very different kind of co-star.

Breathing new life into the hallowed Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde concept, Bob Haney & Lee Elias debuted ‘Eclipso, The Genius Who Fought Himself’ in House of Secrets #61 (cover-dated July-August 1963. It began the torturous saga of solar scientist Bruce Gordon who was cursed to become host to a timeless Evil.

Whilst observing a solar eclipse on tropical Diablo Island, Gordon is attacked and wounded by Mophir, a crazed witchdoctor wielding a black diamond. As a result, whenever an eclipse occurs Gordon’s body is possessed by a demonic, destructive alter ego with incredible powers and malign hyper-intellect.

The remainder of the first instalment showed how the intangible interloper destroyed Gordon’s greatest achievement: a futuristic solar-powered city.

The format established, Gordon, his fiancé Mona Bennett and her father, who was also Gordon’s mentor, pursued and battled the incredible Eclipso and his increasingly astounding schemes. At least he had a handy weakness: exposure to sudden bright lights would propel him back to his cage within Bruce Gordon…

‘Duel of the Divided Man’ saw the helpless scientist attempting to thwart the uncontrollable transformations by submerging to the bottom of the Ocean and exiling himself to space – to no effect, whilst in ‘Eclipso’s Amazing Ally!’ – illustrated by the justifiably-legendary Alex Toth – the malignant presence manifests when an artificial eclipse and lab accident frees him entirely from Gordon’s body.

Against the backdrop of a South American war Gordon and Professor Bennett struggle to contain the liberated horror but all is not as it seems…

Issue #64 ‘Hideout on Fear Island’ finds Gordon, Mona and Bennett hijacked to a Caribbean nation inundated by giant plants for an incredible clash with giant robots and Nazi scientists. Naturally, when Eclipso breaks out things go from bad to worse…

‘The Man Who Destroyed Eclipso’ has the Photonic Fiend kidnap Mona before a deranged physicist actually separates Eclipso and Gordon as part of his wild scheme to steal a nuclear missile, after which the threat of a terrifying alien omnivore forces heroes and villain to temporarily join forces in ‘The Two Faces of Doom!’

‘Challenge of the Split-Man!’ sees Gordon and Eclipso once more at odds as the desperate scientist returns to Mophir’s lair in search of a cure before inexplicably following the liberated villain to a robot factory in Scotland.

Veteran cartoonist Jack Sparling took over the artist’s role with #68 wherein ‘Eclipso’s Deadly Doubles!’ reveal how Gordon’s latest attempt to effect a cure only multiplies his problems, after which ‘Wanted: Eclipso Dead or Alive!’ relates how the beleaguered boffin is hired by Scotland Yard to capture himself – or at least his wicked and still-secret other self…

‘Bruce Gordon, Eclipso’s Ally!’ returns the long-suffering trio to Latin America where an accident robs Gordon of his memory – but not his curse – leading to the most ironic alliance in comics…

‘The Trial of Eclipso’ has the periodically freed felon finally captured by the police and threatening to expose Gordon’s dark secret after which ‘The Moonstone People’ strand the Bennetts, Gordon and Eclipso on a lost island populated by scientists who haven’t aged since their own arrival in 1612…

Even such a talented writer as Bob Haney occasionally strained at the restrictions of writing a fresh story for a villainous protagonist under Comics Code Restrictions, and later tales became increasingly more outlandish after ‘Eclipso Battles the Sea Titan’, in which a subsea monster threatens not just the surface world but also Eclipso’s ultimate refuge – Bruce Gordon’s fragile body…

Another attempt to expel or eradicate the horror inside accidentally creates a far more dangerous enemy in ‘The Negative Eclipso’ after which a criminal syndicate, fed up with the Photonic Fury’s disruption of their operations, decrees ‘Eclipso Must Die!’

It had to happen – and did – when Mark Merlin (in his new and unwieldy superhero persona of Prince Ra-Man) met his House of Secrets stable-mate in book-length thriller ‘Helio, the Sun Demon!’ (#76, with the concluding second chapter drawn by the inimitable Bernard Baily).

Here Eclipso creates a fearsome, fiery solar slave and the Bennetts team with the enigmatic super-sorcerer to free Bruce and save the world from flaming destruction.

All-out fantasy subsumed suspense in the strip’s dying days with aliens and weird creatures abounding, such as ‘The Moon Creatures’ which Eclipso grew from lunar dust to do his wicked bidding or the hidden treasure of Stonehenge that transformed him into a ‘Monster Eclipso’.

Issue #79 saw a return match for Prince Ra-Man in ‘The Master of Yesterday and Tomorrow!’ with Baily again pitching for an extended epic wherein Eclipso gets his scurrilous hands on a selection of time-bending trinkets, before #80 (October 1966) ended the series with no fanfare, no warning and no ultimate resolution as ‘The Giant Eclipso!’ pitted the fade-away fiend against mutants, cops and his own colossal doppelganger.

Not everything old is gold and this quirky, exceedingly eccentric collection of comics thrillers certainly won’t appeal to everyone. However, there is a gloriously outré charm and helter-skelter, fanciful delight in these silly but absorbing sagas.

If you’re of an open-minded mien and the art of Elias, Toth, Sparling and Baily appeals as it should to all right-thinking fans (the drawing never looked more vibrant or effective than in this crisp and splendid black and white collection) then this old-world casket of bizarre wonders will certainly appeal.

Not for him or her or them then, but perhaps this book is for you?
© 1963-1966, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.