By Nanae Chrono (TokyoPop)
Fast-paced and quite manic, this superlative historical manga tells of Tetsunosuke and Tatsunosuke, two brothers who saw their parents murdered.
During the days of the Meiji Revolution their father was a diplomat dedicated to bring peaceful change, but Ichimura’s ways were not to everybody’s tastes and his family paid the price. The Revolution or “Renewal” was a series of events and incidents which altered the very nature of Japan in the later 19th century. It spans the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate or Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji Era. It saw the chaotic, irresistible modernization which followed the enforced breaking of Japan’s self-imposed Isolation by the American Commodore Matthew Perry and his “Black Ships” in 1854.
Ten years later Ichimura Tetsunosuke provokes a battle with a squad of warriors from the Shinsengumi, the unofficial, volunteer police force who have taken it upon themselves to restore order to Kyoto. Although only fifteen he desperately wants to emulate his brother Tatsunosuke, who has already joined this militia of brutal warriors. Both of them are driven to avenge their parents’ deaths.
As a member of the uncompromising Shinsengumi Tatsu has access to many secrets from the Revolution’s early days, and slowly he gets closer to solving the ten-year riddle surrounding the death of the man everybody called “the Peacemaker”. But awash in a sea of intrigue, espionage, violence and death it becomes increasingly hard to keep his own hands clean – and his impulsive brother is becoming ever more impatient and unmanageable…
Steeped in actual historical events this canny revenge thriller blends the beginnings of modern Japan with the death of the Samurai way of life, and even manages to weave a canny mystery and the frantic social slapstick of youthful heroes into a compulsive read that promises great things to come.
This book is printed in the ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.
By Frank Thorne (Ken Pierce Books)
Frank Thorne is one of the most individualistic talents in American comics. Born in 1930 he started his comics career drawing romances for Standard Comics alongside the legendary Alex Toth before graduating to the better paid Newspaper strips to illustrate the Perry Mason adaptation for King Features Syndicate. He went to Dell/Gold Key, where he drew Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim, The Green Hornet, and the seminal sci-fi classic Mighty Samson.
At DC he did some unforgettable work on Tomahawk and Son of Tomahawk before being hired by Roy Thomas at Marvel to illustrate his belated breakthrough strip Red Sonja, a fantastic fantasy strip that would shape the rest of his career.
Forever connected with feisty, earthy, highly sexualised women, in 1978 he created the outrageously bawdy (some call her vulgar) swordswoman Ghita of Alizarr for Warren’s adult science fantasy anthology 1984/1994 as well as such adult satirical strips as Moonshine McJugs for Playboy and Danger Rangerette for National Lampoon. He won the National Cartoonists Award for comic books in 1963, an Inkpot Award and a Playboy Editorial Award.
In 1984 he crafted this enchanting moody hard-science detective thriller for Heavy Metal, foregoing swords and sorcery for star-ships and ray-guns, but the sassy, compelling strong woman figure is still present in the darkly sexy police agent Lann. Fresh from a rejuvenation treatment that literally takes years off her she’s sent to the decadent Neon-Six to investigate the kidnapping of two girls – apparently the children of the most notorious gangster in the system. But as is always the case things are not what they seem…
With the frankly useless droid Glitch and her old partner and bed-mate Shard (who’s still awaiting his youth treatment) she negotiates a maze of lies and blaster-fire to uncover a dastardly plot that affects the entire system in this very adult, very entertaining romp reminiscent of both Barbarella and Blade Runner.
This slim oversized tome also includes a couple of photo-articles of the artist and his many lovely models plus a fascinating piece on the storyboarding of the (sadly never released) concept video. The accompanying sketches and notes provide a revealing glimpse of how a true original makes it all happen.
By Paul Cornell, Leonard Kirk, Jesse Delperdang & Scott Hanna (Marvel/Panini UK)
Collecting issues #1-4 of the surprise hit comic, this rousing romp sees mutant super-spy Peter Wisdom helm a new team of British superheroes as part of a big company crossover from Marvel. Secret Invasion described the all-out attack of the insidious shape-changing Skrulls, whose long-term plan to infiltrate all strata of Earth society nearly resulted in the total subjugation of mankind.
The British front saw the aliens attack our Sceptr’d Isles in an attempt to control all Earth’s inherent magic, only to be held at bay by the Dunkirk spirit of Wisdom, Black Knight, Spitfire, John the renegade Skrull, newcomer (and female Muslim hero) Faiza Hussain and a revamped Captain Britain.
I could further outline the plot for you but as this is a lovely example of beguiling, back-to-the-wall, last stand super-heroics with the added advantage of being easily assimilated by even the most uninformed new reader, I’ll simply state that this is a grand adventure of evil aliens, valiant heroes, the Bulldog Breed and spectacular action on a fresh yet ancient magical canvas, which almost any devotee of graphic literature will adore.
By Greg Klien & Thomas Pugsley (Egmont)
This second pocket album featuring the plucky kid who can become ten different alien super-heroes continues the all-ages excitement as Ben, his know-it-all cousin Gwen and their mildly eccentric Grandpa Max once more have to interrupt their vacation to defeat Evil and save the world! This time the threat comes from an actual mad scientist whose mind-bending mutant creations attack the supermarket the Tennyson’s are shopping in.
Dr. Animo’s transmodulator helmet can make primeval monsters out of modern animals and even ancient dinosaur bones but the destruction he’s wreaking in Washington DC isn’t the only thing on Ben’s mind… He’s too distracted trying to get the Golden Chase card to complete his set of Sumo Slammer cards!
Infectious fun and high-adventure mark this good old fashioned cartoon series based on the popular kids show created by “Man of Action” (the collective name for fun-think-tank Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly and Steven T. Seagle) whose hit show bears a comfortingly similarity to two beloved strips from 1960s: Dial “H” for Hero and Ultra, the Multi-Alien.
This second graphic novel from Egmont is aimed at younger readers, and uses actual animation artwork to illustrate another cracking good yarn for kids of all ages. Get it for the young ‘uns and re-experience the good old days yourself.
Alien invasions are part-and-parcel of superhero fare and had therefore become rather devalued as a plot threat until this classy, back-to-basics, backs-to-the-wall thriller was concocted by the Superman creative army in 1992. DC had tried before in 1989 with Invasion!, but that effort, although well-thought and executed, was not happily received by fans and the core concept was further diluted by crossing-over into too many titles.
This stripped down version ran through the winter/spring issues of the Superman family of titles (namely Action Comics #674-675, Superman: the Man of Steel #9-10, Superman #65-66 and Adventures of Superman #488-489) and it keeps its pace and its focus by concentrating on a single master-villain and the deft internal continuity that was a hallmark of the Metropolis Marvel’s Post-Crisis incarnation.
The artificial proto-matter being known as Matrix had been wandering intergalactic space wearing Superman’s form when it (later “she”) encountered the artificial battle-planet Warworld, where the Man of Steel had defeated Mongul (see Superman: Exile, ISBN: 978-1-56389-438-1) months previously. Reverting to her previous Supergirl form Matrix falls under the spell of Brainiac, the new master of Warworld, joining his other super slaves Maxima and Draaga. The Despot’s next destination is Earth…
As the lethal planet nears Earth Superman rallies the World’s heroes into two forces, one to defend our sacred soil from the invading extraterrestrial hordes and another to take the battle back to Braniac…
With guest-stars that include the New Gods, Justice League International, the Golden Guardian, Thorn, Captain Marvel, Gangbuster, Doctor Fate, Aquaman, Deathstroke, Valor (anybody remember him?), the Metal Men, Agent Liberty, Nightwing, Wonder Woman, the Will Payton Starman and a whole bunch of Green Lanterns the accent is on last-stand heroics and all-out action, but there’s still room for enough sub-plot drama to keep the tension tripwire tight.
Editor Mike Carlin squeezed the very best in good, old fashioned four-colour fun out of writers Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson and Roger Stern, whilst artists Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Dan Jurgens, Bob McLeod, Brett Breeding, Doug Hazlewood, Dennis Janke and Denis Rodier, not to mention letterers John Costanza, Albert DeGuzman, Bill Oakley and colourist Glenn Whitmore’s all stretched themselves beyond the call to deliver a cracking good old fashioned graphic blockbuster.
By various & John Byrne/Panini UK)
John Byrne is one of the most prolific and creative talents in the American industry and has worked on every major character in both DC and Marvel’s pantheon as well as on creator owned properties. Since his professional debut as an artist at Skywald magazines (‘The Castle’ in Nightmare #20, 1974) he subsequent worked for Nicola Cuti at Charlton Comics, where he produced Rog-2000 strips for E-Man, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, Space:1999, Emergency and the post-Apocalyptic classic Doomsday+1 before making the jump to Marvel. Along the way he developed a reputation for being difficult but always entertaining and a solid fan-favourite.
His first work for the House of Ideas opens this volume; a horror short plotted by Tony Isabella, scripted by David Kraft and inked by Rudy Nebres. ‘Dark Asylum’ appeared in Giant-Sized Dracula # 5 (cover-dated June 1975) an inauspicious start as the Philippino’s heavy inking style utterly masked Byrne’s equally unique manner of drawing.
It’s not much better in the second tale printed herein, where the equally strong brush of veteran Al McWilliams defuses much of the penciller’s individuality. ‘Morning of the Mindstorm!’ is written by Chris Claremont, the last Iron Fist tale in Marvel Premiere (#25, October 1975) before the martial arts superhero graduated to his own title.
Regrettably none of those superb tales made it into this compendium, but a two-part tale from the artist’s stellar run on Marvel Team-Up (#61-62, September and October 1977) did. Pitting Spider-Man, the Human Torch and Ms. Marvel against the Super-Skrull ‘Not All Thy Power Can Save Thee!’ and ‘All This and the QE2’ is a solid action-thriller from scripter Claremont with inks by Dave Hunt.
Byrne’s place in comics history was secured by his incredible six year collaboration with Claremont on the X-Men. For most fans the high-point of this run was the “Dark Phoenix” multi-part epic. To acknowledge this, the concluding episode ‘The Fate of the Phoenix’ (Uncanny X-Men #137, September, 1980, inked by Terry Austin) is included here, and even as a stand-alone tale, it still resonates with power, wonder and majesty.
The Byrne/Claremont partnership was experiencing some stress by 1981 and a parting of the ways was imminent. The artist undertook a short but magnificent run on the Star-Spangled Avenger (collected in its magical entirety as Captain America: War and Remembrance ISBN: 0-87135-657-0), and from that sequence comes the slyly witty ‘Cap for President’ written by old-friend Roger Stern with inking by Joe Rubenstein.
In 1981 John Byrne achieved a private dream of relatively complete autonomy when he was assigned all the creative chores on Marvel’s flagship book. From November of that year comes his fifth issue as writer and artist. ‘Terror in a Tiny Town’ is a 40 page epic to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Fantastic Four (#236, November, 1981) a classic confrontation with Doctor Doom and Puppet Master; still one of the very best non-Jack Kirby FF’s ever published.
Whilst working on X-Men, Byrne had created a team of Canadian super-heroes. When they were given their own series Byrne was again responsible for the total creative – if not editorial – output. ‘…And One Shall Surely Die’ (Alpha Flight #12, July 1984) signalled the tragic, heroic end of the team’s leader (although no one dies forever in comics), another gripping extra-long extravaganza.
In 1985 Byrne drew Avengers Annual #14 (scripted by Stern and inked by Kyle Baker) as part of a major plot-line that guest-starred the Fantastic Four. ‘Fifth Column’ featured a landmark change to the Marvel Universe and seemed to end the menace of the shape-shifting Skrulls forever…
Byrne took charge of The Incredible Hulk in 1986, trading Alpha Flight for the Jade Giant, but infamously clashed with the editor over story direction. Only six issues resulted before the creator left for DC and the revamping of Superman, but that half-dozen tales were fierce and gripping, promising a vast change that never came… From #319 comes ‘Member of the Wedding’ (May 1986, with background inks from Keith Williams) wherein the fate-tossed Bruce Banner finally, Finally, FINALLY married his tragic sweetheart Betty Ross.
Byrne returned to Marvel in 1988, and revived She-Hulk – a character he had made a staple of the FF and a fan favourite. ‘Second Chance’ (The Sensational She-Hulk volume 2, #1, May 1988) is a charming tip-of-the-hat to halcyon days featuring the Ringmaster and the Circus of Evil, written and drawn by Byrne with inks by Bob Wiacek. Displaying a touch for comedy, he turned this series into a surreal, fan-teasing example of fourth wall buffoonery, exploring the dafter corners of the Marvel Universe, but once again he fell afoul of what he felt was editorial interference.
Two years later he revolutionised one of Marvel’s earliest and greatest characters. Namor, the Sub-Mariner had been a chimerical hero/villain since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had revived him in FF#4, but with ‘Purpose’ (#1, April 1990) Byrne and inker Wiacek took firm hold of all the contradictions and blind alleys of the oldest of Marvel super-heroes and made him readable and compelling once again.
This volume ends with the last issue of Byrne’s last work for Marvel. Again editorial problems were the cited cause: when the excellent X-Men: the Hidden Years was arbitrarily cancelled with little or no warning Byrne severed all ties with Marvel. Crafted in homage to the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams/Tom Palmer run on the Merry Mutants the series filled in the gaps between the cancellation of the first series and the revival by Len Wein, Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum in Giant-Sized X-Men #1.
From #22 (September 2001) comes ‘Friends and Enemies’, the second of two parts – and as this book is already a huge 276 pages, surely a measly 22 more could have been found for the first half of the story? It finds Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast and Iceman battling the Mole Man whilst Professor X and guests Sub-Mariner and the FF defeat Magneto and the armies of Atlantis (a slick interweaving with the storyline of Fantastic Four #102-104). With inks by the legendary Tom Palmer this is a delightful taste of simpler times and proof that the entire series is well-worthy of its own collection someday soon. The book concludes with another sterling comprehensive career feature from comics historian Mike Conroy.
John Byrne, for all his curmudgeonly reputation, is a major creator and a cornerstone of the post-Kirby Marvel Universe. With such a huge back-catalogue of work to choose from this book succeeds in whetting the appetite, but a second volume really shouldn’t be too far behind…
By Thomas Pugsley & various (Egmont)
At heart we’re all kids – or at least know one – and whilst a lot of TV animation is pretty poor, every so often something really cool rises above the morass and really catches fire. Most recently that would be the sci-fi action cartoon Ben 10 – a hip, modern tale that feels eerily like all those brilliant shows you grew up with, no matter what age you are.
Comics fans will feel a special affinity with it – and the book on review here – as the concept was created by “Man of Action” (a pseudonym for the entertainment-think-tank comprised of Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly and Steven T. Seagle) and bears a striking similarity to two beloved DC second-string strips from 1960s: Dial “H” for Hero and Ultra, the Multi-Alien.
This cool pocket graphic novel from Egmont recapitulates the pilot episode for younger readers, using what looks like actual animation artwork to tell the story of Ben Tennyson and his obnoxious cousin Gwen, who have both been dumped with their weird grandfather Max for the summer vacation. The kids don’t like each other, but they actively hate being dragged around the countryside in a pokey camper-van for their entire holiday.
After a particularly heated fight Ben stomps off into the woods and discovers a crashed “satellite” with a really nifty wristwatch in it. When the band permanently attaches itself to his wrist he discovers that it’s an alien device with the capability to transform him into any of ten different super-powered extraterrestrials.
The device is the Omnitrix and unknown to Ben the monstrous alien overlord Vilgax will do anything and destroy anyone in his attempts to possess it! Can Ben, even with the help of his annoying family, keep this incredible weapon from the dastardly villain? Even when Ben is a one-man outer space army?
Although the dialogue is a little stiff in places this book is tremendous fun and delivers thrills, spills and chills with a deft touch, great pictures and good instincts. If we’re going to save the comic strip for future generations this is the thoroughly wonderful type of tome that we’ll need to draw new readers and especially the kids back into our four-colour clutches.
By Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC Comics)
Following directly on from the first collected volume (Booster Gold: 52 Pick-Up, ISBN: 978-1-84576-847-8) this hardcover compendium, reprinting issues #7-10 of the monthly comicbook and Booster Gold 1,000,000, details the catastrophic implications of the time-line guardian’s impetuous action in retrieving his best friend from death.
Booster Gold and Ted Kord (the second Blue Beetle) were the class clowns of Maxwell Lord’s Justice League International: a couple of charming frat-boys who could save the day but never get the girl or any respect. When Lord murdered Beetle, precipitating the Infinite Crisis, Booster was shattered but redefined himself as a true hero in the multiversal conflagrations of 52 and Countdown.
Defying his mentor Rip Hunter, Time Master, and aided by three other Blue Beetles plucked from their own timelines Booster altered the timeline to rescue Kord, but inevitably the world changed. In this new timeline Lord and his OMAC cyborgs have conquered the Earth, and only a few metahumans are still alive and free. Rallying the survivors Blue and Gold must lead one glorious Last Hurrah of the reformed JLI…
And in the background a shadowy cabal of super-villains calling itself the Time Stealers is manipulating events for their own sinister purposes…
This is a fans’ story for die-hard comics fans, with in-jokes and shared historical moments adding to the unbridled enthusiasm and exuberance of a classy time-busting tale, and that’s a great pity since this is also a very well crafted story that a wider audience would certainly appreciate if only they had sufficient back-grounding.
Gold’s heroism and Beetle’s sacrifice are the very bread-and-butter of superhero comics and even the eccentric post-script wherein our hero meets his ultimate legacy in the 1,000,0000 one-shot all add to a fabulously rounded cape-and –cowl experience.
I’m in touch with the continuity and still struggled occasionally but I’d love to be proved wrong and see if a total innocent could follow this nuanced little gem and get the buzz it gave me… Any volunteers?
By Timothy Truman, Alcatena & Sam Parsons (DC Comics)
In DC’s post-Crisis on Infinite Earths re-imagining of the company’s hottest properties, a lot of beloved continuity was rewritten only to be un-written in the decades since, which only shows how fiercely us fanboys can hold onto our treasures. One of the few incidences of a reboot that deserved to stay untouched was when the Silver Age Hawkman was recreated in the wake of the 1989 braided mega-epic known as Invasion!
Previously Katar Hol and his wife Shayera had been police officers from the utopian planet of Thanagar, stationed on Earth to observe police methods, and subsequently banished here when their homeworld fell to an alien “equalizer plague” and the dictator Hyanthis, but this was all abandoned for a back-story where Thanagar was a sprawling fascistic, intergalactic empire in decline, utterly corrupt, and bereft of all creativity and morality.
Here lords lived in floating cities, indulging in every excess whilst servants and slaves from a thousand vassal worlds catered for their every whim and festered in gutter-ghettos far below. In this version Hol was just another useless young aristocrat, but with an unnamable dissatisfaction eating inside him.
Joining the security forces or Wingmen he saw the horrors of the world below and rebelled. Corruption was the way of life and he used that to advance the conditions of the slave, earning the enmity of his drug-running commander, Byth Rok. His secret charity discovered, Hol was framed and imprisoned on a desolate island where he met alien shaman/philosophers and underwent a spiritual transformation.
Learning compassion he set out to right the wrongs of a world, aided only by the dregs of the underclasses and fellow Wingman Shayera Thal: a mysterious, warped version of his girl-friend, murdered years previously…
This lost classic, originally released as a three-part Prestige miniseries, lovingly blends the most visual, visceral elements of Gardner Fox, Joe Kubert and Murphy Anderson’s iconic Hawkman, with shades of The Count of Monte Cristo, and Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination against the backdrop of the harsh and cynical 1980s to tell a dark moody tale which garnered great success and quickly spawned a compelling monthly series.
By Robert Bloch, adapted by Keith Giffen & Robert Loren Fleming (DC Comics)
During the 1980s DC, on a creative roll like many publishers large and small, attempted to free comics narrative from its previous constraints of size and format as well as content. To this end, legendary editor Julie Schwartz called upon his old contacts from his youthful days as a Literary Agent to inveigle major names from the book world to have their early Sci-Fi and fantasy classics adapted into a line of Science Fiction Graphic Novels.
One of the most radical interpretations came courtesy of Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming, with inks and colours from Greg Theakston and Bill Wray not to mention phenomenal lettering and calligraphic effects from Gaspar Saladino.
August horror fantasist Robert Bloch developed out of the Lovecraftian tradition of the early pulps to become a household name for books such as Psycho and I Am Legend which replaced unspeakable elder gods with just-as-nasty yet smaller-scaled devils like Jack the Ripper. In 1943 he scripted a blackly ironic tale of three ordinary people, researcher Professor Phillips Keith, his assistant Lily Ross and the reporter/pulp horror writer they hire to document their great experiment.
The tense interplay of this claustrophobic chiller is effectively captured by artist Giffen in his multi-paneled homage/distillation of José Muñoz’s stark art style as the experiment proceeds and the parapsychologists proceed to bring the Devil to Earth and trap him a glass cage. But as the lives of the trio spiral down into a miasma of darkness, guilt and regret, we have to ask: “is he really trapped?”