Showcase presents Green Lantern volume 3


By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Gil Kane, Sid Greene & Carmine Infantino (DC Comics)

ISBN13: 978-1-84576-853-9

Firmly established as a major star of the company firmament, Green Lantern increasingly became a series which provided conceptual highpoints and “big picture” foundations that successive creators would use to build the tight-knit history and continuity of the DC universe. At this time there was also a turning away from the simple imaginative wonder of a ring that could do anything in favour of a hero who preferred to use his fists first and ignore easy solutions.

What a happy coincidence that at this time artist Gil Kane was just reaching his artistic peak, his dynamic full-body anatomical triumphs bursting with energy and crashing out of every page…

Green Lantern #39 (September 1965) featured two tales by John Broome, Kane and master inker Sid Green; a return engagement for Black Hand, the Cliché Criminal entitled ‘Practice Makes the Perfect Crime!’ and a bombastic slugfest with an alien prize fighter named Bru Tusfors, ‘The Fight for the Championship of the Universe!’ They were mere warm-ups for the next issue.

‘The Secret Origin of the Guardians!’ was a landmark second only to ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (see Showcase Presents the Flash volume 2 or Crisis on Multiple Earths: the Team-ups volume 1) as Broome teamed the Emerald Gladiator with his Earth-2 counterpart Alan Scott to stop Krona, an obsessed Oan scientist whose misguided attempts to discover the origins of the universe had introduced evil into our reality billions of years ago and forced his immortal brethren to become protectors of life and civilisation in an unending act of group contrition.

Simultaneously high concept and action packed, this tale became the accepted keystone of DC cosmology and the springboard for all those mega-apocalyptic publishing events such as Crisis on Infinite Earths. It has seldom been equalled and never bettered…

Issue #41 featured twisted romance in ‘The Double Life of Star Sapphire!’ as an alien power-gem once more compelled Carol Ferris to subjugate and marry her sometime paramour Green Lantern, and Gardner Fox wrote another cracking magical mystery as the extraterrestrial wizard Myrwhydden posed ‘The Challenge of the Coin Creatures!’

In ‘The Other Side of the World!’ Fox continued a long-running experiment in continuity with a superb tale of time-lost civilisations and an extra-dimensional invasion by the Warlock of Ys that co-starred the peripatetic Zatanna the Magician.

The top-hatted, fish-netted, comely young sorceress had appeared in a number of Julie Schwartz-edited titles hunting her long-missing father Zatarra: a magician-hero in the Mandrake mould who had fought evil in the pages of Action Comics for over a decade beginning with the very first issue. In true Silver Age “refit” style Fox created his young and equally gifted daughter, and popularised her by guest-teaming her with a selection of superheroes he was currently scripting (if you’re counting, these tales appeared in Hawkman #4, Atom #19, Green Lantern #42, and the Elongated Man back-up strip in Detective Comics #355 as well as a very slick piece of back writing to include the high-profile Caped Crusader via Detective #336 – ‘Batman’s Bewitched Nightmare’, before concluding after the GL segment in Justice League of America #51).

The Flash guest-starred in a high-powered tussle with a new nemesis in the ‘Catastrophic Crimes of Major Disaster!’ in #43 and the next issue provide two tales – a rarity as book-length epics increasing became the action-packed norm. Oddly, second-class postage discounts had for years dictated the format of comic-books: to qualify for cheaper rates periodicals had to contain more than one feature, but when the rules were revised single, complete tales not divided into “chapters” soon proliferated. Here though are two reasons to bemoan the switch; Fox’s ‘Evil Star’s Death-Duel Summons’ and Broome’s Jordan Brothers adventure ‘Saga of the Millionaire Schemer!’, offering high-intensity super-villain action and heady, witty mystery.

The Earth-2 Green Lantern returned for another team-up in #45’s fantasy romp ‘Prince Peril’s Power Play’ by Broome, who raised the dramatic stakes with the hero’s first continued adventure in the following issue. Before that, though Green Lantern #56 opened with a delightfully grounded crime-thriller ‘The Jailing of Hal Jordan’ from Fox, before ‘The End of a Gladiator!’ detailed the murder of GL by old foe Dr. Polaris and concluded with his funeral on Oa, home of the Guardians!

Broome was on fire at this time: the following issue found the hero’s corpse snatched to the 58th century and revived in time to save his occasional future home from a biological infection of pure evil in the spectacular conclusion ‘Green Lantern Lives Again!’

Bizarrely garbed goodies and baddies were common currency at this time of “Batmania” so when gold-plated mad scientist Keith Kenyon returned it was as a dyed-in-the-wool costumed crazy in Fox’s ‘Goldface’s Grudge Fight Against Green Lantern!’, although Broome’s showbiz scoundrel Dazzler didn’t quite set the world afire in #49’s ‘The Spectacular Robberies of TV’s Master Villain!’ The story was still a shocker however as Hal Jordan quit his job as a Coast City test Pilot and went on the first of his vagabond quests across America…

With Green Lantern #50 Gil Kane began inking his own art, lending the proceedings a raw, savage appeal. The fight content in the stories was also ramped up, as seen in Broome’s murder-mystery treasure hunt ‘The Quest for the Wicked Queen of Hearts!’ which was complimented by an extragalactic smack-fest in Fox’s ‘Thraxton the Powerful vs Green Lantern the Powerless’ before Broome took the Emerald Crusader back to the 58th century to battle ‘Green Lantern’s Evil Alter Ego!’ in #52.

Alan Scott and comedy sidekick Doiby Dickles popped over from Earth-2 to aid against the return of arch nemesis Sinestro in the frankly peculiar ‘Our Mastermind, the Car!’ by Broome and Kane, but found a much less outré plot or memorable foe in #53’s ‘Captive of the Evil Eye!’ whilst artists Carmine Infantino and Sid Greene stepped in to illustrate Broome’s thrillingly comedic Jordan Brothers back-up ‘Two Green Lanterns in the Family!’ as Hal took a job as a county-spanning investigator for the Evergreen Insurance company.

Broome and Kane were reunited for the positively surreal, super-scientific ‘Menace in the Iron Lung!’ (#54), and all-out attack on the Guardians in ‘Cosmic Enemy Number One’, which concluded in ‘The Green Lanterns’ Fight for Survival!’ and the appointment of a second Earthling to the Corps.

Fox scripted a sparkling Fights ‘n’ Tights duel in ‘The Catastrophic Weapons of Major Disaster!’ (#57) and a gripping psycho-thriller in #58’s ‘Peril of the Powerless Green Lantern’ wherein the hero seemingly suffered from debilitating combat fatigue. Sid Greene returned with this latter and stayed to ink the last tale in this volume, another continuity landmark.

In issue #59 (March 1968) Broome introduced Guy Gardner ‘Earth’s Other Green Lantern!’ in a rip-roaring cosmic epic of what-might-have-been. When dying GL Abin Sur had ordered his ring to select a worthy successor Hal Jordan hadn’t been the only candidate, but the closest of two. What if the ring had chosen his alternative instead…?

With a superb double page pin-up from GL #46 to end on this book gathers the imaginative and creative peak of Broome, Fox and Kane, a plot driven plethora of adventure sagas and masterful thrillers that literally reshaped the DC Universe. Action lovers and fans of fantasy fiction couldn’t find a better example of everything that defines superhero comics.
© 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Mickey and Donald – Gladstone Comic Album #26


By Floyd Gottfredson and various (Gladstone)
ISBN: 978-0-94459-929-7

Carl Barks was one of the greatest exponents of comic art the world has ever seen, and he did almost all his work with Disney characters. His work reached and affected untold millions of readers and he all too belatedly won far-reaching recognition.

One of his most talented associates, potentially even more influential and certainly much less lauded, was Floyd Gottfredson, another strip genius who started out in the company animation factory. During the Depression of the 1930s, he was personally asked by Disney to take over the fledgling and ailing Mickey Mouse newspaper strip. Gottfredson would plot, occasionally script, but mostly draw the strip for the next forty-five-and-a-half years.

He took a wild and anarchic rodent from slap-stick beginnings, via some of the earliest adventure continuities in comics history as detective, explorer, aviator and even cowboy, through to the gently suburbanised sitcom gags of a newly middle-class America that syndicate policy eventually forced upon him. Along the way he produced some of the most amazing thrilling comic continuities the industry has ever seen.

Arthur Floyd Gottfredson was born in 1905 in Kaysville, Utah, one of eight siblings born to a Mormon family of Danish extraction. As a child he gravely injured his arm hunting and whiled away a long recuperation drawing and studying cartoon correspondence courses. By the 1920s he had turned pro, selling cartoons and commercial art to local trade magazines and the Salt Lake City Telegram newspaper.

In 1928 he and his wife moved to California, and after a shaky start wherein he had to resort to his old job as a movie projectionist, he found work as an in-betweener at the burgeoning Walt Disney Studios in April 1929.

Veteran animator Ub Iwerks had initiated the Mickey Mouse daily newspaper strip at the end of that year, but was swiftly replaced by Win Smith. The strip was plagued with problems and was an uncomfortable fit, and Disney asked Gottfredson to step in until a regular creator could be found. He worked on it for the next five decades, beginning on his 25th birthday: May 5th 1930. On January 17th 1932, Gottfredson created the first colour Sunday page, which he contiguously handled until 1938.

At first he did everything, but in 1934 he relinquished the final scripting role, preferring plotting and drawing the adventures of one of the planet’s most popular characters. Subsequent collaborating scripters included Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris, Dick Shaw, Bill Walsh, Roy Williams and Del Connell. He briefly used inkers such as the great Al Taliaferro, but re-assumed full art chores in 1943.

His influence on not just the Mouse but graphic narrative is inestimable: he was one of the very first to move from daily gags to continuity and extend adventures, created Mickey’s nephews (prototypes for Donald Duck’s own brood of pint-sized troublemakers), pioneered team-ups and invented some of the first and most memorable “super-villains” in the business. In 1955 Disney killed the continuities by official decree; dictating that strips would only contain one-off gag strips once more. Gottfredson worked on until retirement in October 1975. His last daily appeared on 15th November and the final Sunday strip on September 19th 1976.

Like all Disney creators Gottfredson worked in utter anonymity, but thanks primarily to the efforts of fan Malcolm Willets in the 1960s his identity was revealed and devotees’ voluble appreciation led to interviews, overviews and public appearances, with effect that subsequent reprinting in books, comics and albums carried a credit for the quiet, reserved master. Floyd Gottfredson died in July 1986.

This collection from the wonderful folks at Gladstone presents a classic whodunit (scripted by Ted Osborne, inked by Ted Thwaites and coloured by the wonderfully all-purpose Marie Severin and Mike McCormick) wherein the bold trouble-shooter sets up a detective agency to solve the mystery of ‘The Seven Ghosts’ who have set up home in the vast mansion of Southern Gentleman Colonel Bassett. A canny blend of slapstick and drama, the story first appeared from 7th August to September 12th 1936, a true highpoint of light adventure fiction, made even more delicious because it guest-stars Goofy and Donald Duck.

Supplementing the main feature is a shorter, earlier detective thriller starring Disney’s Big Three entitled ‘The Mystery of the Vanishing Coats’ (17th February – 24th March 1935; words by Osborne, inks by Thwaites, colours by Sue Daigle) and a 1953 Goofy one-pager by Dick Moores from the Mickey Mouse comic-book (issue #32).

Artistic consistency is as rare as longevity in today’s comic market-place, and the sheer volume of quality work produced by Gottfredson that has remained unseen and unsung is a genuine scandal. Mercifully most of the Gladstone Mickey Mouse albums are still readily available, but surely such landmark material should be rewarded with a comprehensive deluxe collection and kept permanently in print?
© 1990 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

True Faith – A Crisis Graphic Novel


By Garth Ennis & Warren Pleece (Fleetway)
ISBN: 978-1-85386-201-0

Following on from a startling debut with Troubled Souls the barely weaned Garth Ennis first hit the controversy circuit with this brilliantly dark and nihilistic exploration of the corrupting idiocy of religion that also catapulted him to the forefront of “must read” comics writers.

Nigel Gibson is a student with a problem. He really fancies Angela Hyman, but she’s a devout Christian, and the only way he’s getting anywhere near her knickers is by hanging out with her ghastly Scripture Union pals. It doesn’t help his hormone-fuelled mood that the teachers are all bullying dicks, his mates are actually brain-dead thugs and that television lobotomized his family years ago.

Terence Adair however was a man with everything: loving wife and baby on the way; successful plumbing business, and the comfort and security of the Lord’s love to keep them all. But when his wife and child both die in the delivery room his world comes apart and he determines to kill the one responsible: God.

With outrageous, magical, cynical wit Ennis engineers the meeting of the horny, disaffected youth and the man of broken faith, and the lad is sucked into Adair’s world of insanity, horror and rage as God’s houses are systematically torched, and his priests shot. Thatcher’s government reels, the SAS are called in and then things get really strange and out of hand…

The manic humour and dialogue is amazingly polished for a wee lad of 19, and Ennis’ deft skill at switching from situations of utter ridiculousness to Byzantine tragedy and stomach-churning horror is a delight. Moreover, coupled with the uniquely enticing, understated art of Warren Pleece this tale becomes an unforgettable experience that only cowardice stopped from becoming a byword for comics creativity.

Please allow me to elucidate: this inexorably captivating yarn for grown-ups was originally serialized in the ground-breaking “comic with a conscience” Crisis (#29-38, October 1989-February 1990) to great acclaim, and was swiftly collected into a graphic novel upon completion. Within days it became the victim of a concerted and organized Christian hate-campaign, and withdrawn – apparently by order of the publisher: that notable ne’er-do-well and chocolate fireguard Robert Maxwell.

Most copies of the original publication were destroyed (as an occasional employee at the time I felt duty-bound to keep my comp-copy in lieu of a pension) but thankfully Vertigo released an edition in 1997, which, if you’re not prone to religious intolerance or offence you should be able to track down fairly easily.

Go on: you know you want to…
© 1990 Fleetway Publications. All Rights Reserved.

Essential Godzilla


By Doug Moench, Herb Trimpe & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2153-4

What’s big and green and leaves your front room a complete mess? No, not a Christmas tree, but (arguably) the world’s most famous monster. In 1976 manga and anime were only starting to creep into global consciousness and the most well known popular culture Japanese export was a colossal radioactive dinosaur that regularly rampaged through the East destroying cities and fighting monsters even more bizarre and scary than it was.

At this time Marvel was well on the way to becoming the multi-media corporate giant of today and was looking to increase its international profile. Comic companies have always sought licensed properties to bolster their market share and in 1977 Marvel truly landed the big one with a two year run of one of the world’s most recognisable characters. They boldly broke with tradition by dropping him solidly into real-time contemporary company continuity.

Gojira first appeared in the eponymous 1954 anti-war, anti-nuke parable directed by Ishiro Honda for Toho Films; a symbol of ancient forces roused to violent reaction by mankind’s incessant meddling. The film was re-cut and dubbed into English with a young Raymond Burr inserted for US audience appeal, and the brobdignagian beast renamed Godzilla. He has smashed his way through 27 further Japanese movies, records, books games, many, many comics and is the originator of the manga sub-genre Daikaijû (giant strange beasts).

The Marvel interpretation began with ‘The Coming!’ by Doug Moench, Herb Trimpe & Jim Mooney (#1 August 1977) as the monstrous aquatic lizard with radioactive fire breath erupted out of the Pacific Ocean and rampaged through Alaska.

Superspy organisation S.H.I.E.L.D. is quickly dispatched to stop the monster, and Nick Fury calls in Japanese experts Dr. Yuriko Takiguchi, his grandson Robert and their eye-candy assistant Tamara Hashioka. After an inconclusive battle of ancient strength against modern tech Godzilla returns to the sea, but the seeds have been sown and everybody knows he will return.

In Japan many believe that Godzilla is a benevolent force destined to oppose true evil, young Robert among them, and he gets the chance to expound his views in #2’s ‘Thunder in the Darkness!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia and George Tuska) as the monolithic saurian resurfaces in Seattle, and nearly razes the place before being lured away by S.H.I.E.L.D. ingenuity.

Veteran agents Dum-Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones and Jimmy Woo are seconded to a permanent anti-lizard force until the beast is finally vanquished, but there are lots of free-lance do-gooders in the Marvel universe and when the Green Goliath takes offence at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the Champions – a short-lived team consisting of Angel, Iceman, Ghost Rider, Black Widow and Hercules – in ‘A Tale of Two Saviours’ (with the solids inks of Tony DeZuniga adding a welcome depth to the art) the humans spend more time fighting each other than the monster.

There’re only so many cities even the angriest dinosaur can trash before tedium sets in so writer Moench begins his first continued story in #4 with ‘Godzilla Versus Batragon!’ (guest-pencilled by the superb Tom Sutton, inked by DeZuniga), wherein deranged scientist Dr. Demonicus enslaves Aleutian Islanders to grow his own world-wrecking giant horrors – until the real thing shows up…

The story concludes in ‘The Isle of Lost Monsters’ (inked by a fresh-faced Klaus Janson) and #6, ‘A Monster Enslaved!’ begins another extended epic as Herb Trimpe returns and Godzilla as well as the general American public were introduced to another now common Japanese innovation.

Giant, piloted battle-suits (Mecha) first appeared in Go Nagai’s 1972 manga classic Mazinger Z, (and Marvel would do much to popularise the sub-genre in their follow-up licensed comic Shogun Warriors, based on an import toy rather than movie or comic characters but by the same creative team as Godzilla), and here young Rob Takiguchi steals S.H.I.E.L.D.’s latest weapon, a giant robot codenamed Red Ronin, to aid the Big Guy when he is finally captured.

Fred Kida stirringly inked the first of a long line of saurian sagas with #7’s ‘Birth of a Warrior!’ and the uneasy giant’s alliance ends in another huge fight in the final chapter ‘Titan Time Two!’ ‘The Fate of Las Vegas’ (Trimpe and Kida) in Godzilla #9 is a lighter morality tale as the monster destroys Boulder Dam and floods the modern Sodom and Gomorrah, but it’s soon back to big beastie bashing in ‘Godzilla vs Yetrigar’, another multi-part mash-up that concludes in ‘Arena for Three!’ as Red Ronin returns to tackle both large lizard and stupendous Sasquatch.

The first year ends with #12’s ‘The Beta-Beast!’, the first chapter in an invasion epic. Shanghaied to the Moon, Godzilla is co-opted as a soldier in a war between alien races who breed giant monsters as weapons, and when the battle transfers to Earth in ‘The Mega-Monsters from Beyond!’, Red Ronin joins the fray for the blockbusting conclusion ‘The Super-Beasts’ (this last inked by Dan Green). Afterwards, loose in cowboy country, Godzilla stomps into a rustling mystery and modern showdown in ‘Roam on the Range’ and ‘The Great Godzilla Roundup!’ before the final story arc begins.

‘Of Lizards, Great and Small’ in #17 begins with a logical solution to the beast’s rampages as superhero Ant-Man’s shrinking gas is used to reduce Godzilla to a more manageable size, but when the diminished devastator escapes from his cage and becomes a ‘Fugitive in Manhattan!’ it’s all hands on deck whilst the city waits for the gas’ effects to wear off. ‘With Dugan on the Docks!’ sees the secret agent battle the saurian on more or less equal terms before the Fantastic Four step in for ‘A Night at the Museum.’

The FF have another humane solution and dispatch Godzilla to an age of dinosaurs in #21’s ‘The Doom Trip!’, which allows every big beast fan’s dream to come true as the King of the Monsters teams up with Jack “King” Kirby’s uniquely splendid Devil Dinosaur – and Moon Boy – in ‘The Devil and the Dinosaur!’ (inked by Jack Abel) before returning to the 20th century and his full size for a spectacular battle against the Mighty Avengers in ‘The King Once More’.

The story and series concluded in #24 (July 1979) with the remarkably satisfying ‘And Lo, a Child Shall Lead Them’ as all New York’s superheroes prove less effective than an impassioned plea, and Godzilla departs for new conquests and other licensed outlets.

By no means award-winners or critical masterpieces these stories are nonetheless a perfect example of what comics should be: enticing, exciting, accessible and brimming with “bang for your buck.” Moench’s oft-times florid prose and dialogue meld perfectly here with Trimpe’s stylised interpretation, which often surpasses the artist’s excellent work on that other big, green galoot.

These are great tales to bring the young and disaffected back to the comics fold and are well worth their space on any fan’s bookshelf.

© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2006 Toho Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved. Godzilla, King of the Monsters ® Toho Co., Inc.

Troubled Souls – A Crisis Graphic Novel


By Garth Ennis & John McCrea (Fleetway)
ISBN: 0-85386-174-X

Aged 19, Garth Ennis dropped out of college to become a writer in 1989, and certainly kicked off with an enviable bang by creating a mini-masterpiece in the thoughtful and engaging Troubled Souls: a multi-layered and wonderfully even-handed exploration of coming-of-age in Belfast during the undeclared civil war euphemistically called “the Troubles.”

Crisis (63 issues from 1988 to1991) was an experiment in socially edgy adult comics launched by Fleetway Publications during the Dog Days of Thatcher’s regime, and it paved the way for many a starry career in its day. After science fiction series New Statesmen and Third World War concluded the magazine became more experimental, reflecting a more contemporary worldview, and new strip Troubled Souls quickly became an unmissable fortnightly treat.

Tom Boyd is a young Protestant man in Belfast at the end of the 1980s. The constant sectarian bloodshed and British occupation have largely left him untouched, except for the economic cataclysm that has made Northern Ireland a place of no jobs and no hope for the young. He lives with his parents and yearns for something better; girlfriend, career prospects, hope.

At least he’s got enough dole money for bevies with his mates…

One notable night in the pub his friend set him up with a blind date, and that’s fine, but when a British Army patrol comes in on a search, a total stranger surreptitiously dumps a gun in his lap and surrenders himself. Shocked and startled, Tom can’t understand why he doesn’t shop the gunman, but his bewilderment turns to rage when he sees what the Squaddies do to the suspect…

Later Catholic terrorist Damien McWilliams reclaims his gun, and insinuates himself into Tom’s life, challenging his cosy preconceptions, terrorising and blackmailing the lad into participating in a bombing. Through it all Tom is the helpless pawn of powerful, corrupt and hate-filled forces, but still finds time for first love, real life and a true friend, but the centuries of hate that have plagued the country can’t be denied or thwarted and a wholly unique and personal tragedy is going to occur whatever he does or doesn’t do…

Poignant, engaging, genial, funny and scary, this richly moving human drama, set on a stage everybody only thought they knew, is still one of the best stories Ennis has ever written, and fellow neophyte John McCrea has seldom produced such varied, evocative, sensitive art since. Because of the subject matter I can understand why it hasn’t been republished, but with twenty years distance and original copies fetching $50 or more isn’t it about time somebody thought about a new edition? Perhaps combined with its more broadly comedic sequel For a Few Troubles More (coming soon to a review blog near you…)?
© 1990 Fleetway Publications. All Rights Reserved.

Divine Melody Volume 5


By I-Huan, adapted by Sandra Mak (DrMaster)

ISBN: 978-1-59796-177-6

The extended saga of love and obligation in mythical China steps solidly into the arena of forbidden love in the latest volume of this captivating fantasy romance.

The Celestial Fox-Demons are nearly extinct. Only vixens remain and if they wish to survive as a race, they must propagate their kind at all costs. To add to their woes their beloved leader is also fading; her energies and lifespan almost exhausted. It was this Shifu who first stole the infant deity Cai-Sheng and trained her to transform into a male and sire another generation.

Her plan was exceedingly long-ranging and as centuries passed many Fox Demons grew impatient. Some, like Hui-Niang, renounced their powers and married mortals, whilst haughty Yu-Niang turned to the darkest paths of evil…

Little Cai-Sheng was a lonely child. On the day she escaped from her lessons and met two village children she formed an eternal bond with them. The girl Xiao-Que and boy Duo Xi saved the divine toddler from a dog attack (canines being the mortal enemies of foxes), suffering bloody wounds in her defence. Just in time guardian Hui-Niang appeared and killed the hound, and to thank the humans marked the boy’s torn forehead and the girl’s bitten hand with mystic tattoos. No matter how long, nor how many incarnations passed, their sacrifice would be rewarded.

Promising to meet again tomorrow, the children parted, but time is different for celestial beings and the humans never saw their new friend again. Two centuries passed and Cai-Sheng gained the ability to become a beautiful, magically powerful man at will, but the Chosen One never forgot her joyous day with mortal children, when she was briefly freed of duty and destiny. Reunited now with their current reincarnations – wealthy Su Ping and apprentice exorcist Han Yun-Shi – Cai-Sheng had determined to repay their kindness by acting as matchmaker for the pair.

Unfortunately Ping had seen Cai-Sheng’s male form Qin Cai-Sheng, and become enamoured with “him” whilst Yun-Shi had become smitten with Su Ping – but he also held inexplicable feelings for the “weird girl” Cai-Sheng.

The debased fox-demon Yu-Niang has become a creature of pure malice, haunting Cai-Sheng. She wants the power of Cai-Sheng’s male form and will prey relentlessly on the humans of the city until she gets it. Even though Yu-Niang’s cat familiar is torn between serving Yu-Niang and Cai-Sheng, and is playing a double-game, the wicked fox-demon’s schemes are nearing fruition.

To further complicate her life a Heavenly Envoy named Wei Zi-Qiu has been sent to retrieve and purify Cai-Sheng, or if she has shed mortal blood, to kill her. He too has fallen for her, and tries to cover up the fact that she has slain Yun-Shi’s teacher, the exorcist who killed her childhood guardian Hui-Niang…

We’re deep in soap opera territory in this volume with revelations and ultimata flying thick and fast. The ruthless Taoist exorcist Bai-Leng has shown Yun-Shi who killed his master and revealed that the youth has been marked by a demon for all his future incarnations, before entering into an uneasy alliance with diabolical Yu-Niang to gain his dubious ends. Both divine Zi-Qiu and mortal Yun-Shi have declared their love for Cai-Sheng, but the latter is unaware that she is secretly his very definition of a “monster”.

Zi-Qiu’s superior, Lady Peony, has declared her own love for him, and though he loves Cai-Sheng, the deity is preparing to kill his beloved to save him from himself. Su Ping, enthralled and in deadly danger from predatory Yu-Niang is offered a glimmer of salvation by Bai-Leng, and hapless Cai-Sheng, unable to choose between the her mortal and celestial suitors discovers the tragic origins of her cat-demon familiar Gu-Miao, and sees yet another side of love…

This enchanting shōjo tale of legendary China seems hell-bent on becoming a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions. I-Huan’s seamless blend of mythology and romantic melodrama is an increasingly complex web of intrigue and passion that appears incapable of a joyous resolution.

This easy combination of passion, comedy and action examines the big issue of Predestination and Free Will, with family expectation always at odds with personal desire. The beautiful, lyrical art perfectly captures this forgotten age as every character becomes a helpless victim of love and their worlds spiral towards a painful, disastrous collision. A lovely series for the fanciful and romantic, this latest volume further indicates that not every Ever After is Happy…

This book is produced in the traditional Japanese format and should be read from back to front and right to left.

© 2006 I-Huan/Tong Li Publishing Co. Ltd. English translation © 2009 DrMaster Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Bernet


By Jordi Bernet & various, edited by Manual Auad (Auad Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-96693-812-8

¡Perfect Christmas Present Alert! For him or her if they’re “Of Age”

When you’re a thrill starved kid enchanted by comics the first stage of development is slavishly absorbing everything good, bad and indifferent. Then comes the moment that you see subtle nuances which inexplicably makes some features favourites whilst others become simply filler.

I first recognised Jordi Bernet’s work on The Legend Testers. By “recognised” I mean the very moment I first discerned that somebody actually drew the stuff I was adoring, and that it was better than the stuff either side of it. This was 1966 when British comics were mostly black and white and never had signatures or credits so it was years before I knew who had sparked my interest.

Jordi Bernet Cussó was born in Barcelona in 1944, son of a prominent and successful humour cartoonist. When his father died suddenly Jordi, aged 15, took over his father’s strip Doña Urraca (Mrs. Magpie). A huge fan of Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and particularly the expressionist genius Milton Caniff he yearned for less restrictive horizons; he left Spain in the early 1960s and moved into dramatic storytelling.

He worked for Belgium’s Spirou, Germany’s Pip and Primo, before finding work on English weeklies. Bernet worked for British publishers between 1964 and 1967, and as well as the Odhams/Fleetway/IPC anthologies Smash, Tiger and War Picture Library he also produced superlative material for DC Thomson’s Victor and Hornet.

He even illustrated a Gardner Fox horror short for Marvel’s Vampire Tales #1 in 1973, but mainstream America was generally denied his mastery (other than a few translated Torpedo volumes and a Batman short story) until the21st century reincarnation of Jonah Hex – where he still occasionally works.

His most famous strips include thrillers Dan Lacombe (written by his uncle Miguel Cussó), Paul Foran (scripted by José Larraz) the saucy Wat 69 and spectacular post-apocalyptic barbarian epic Andrax (both with Cussó again).

When General Franco died Bernet returned to Spain and began working for Cimoc, Creepy and Metropol, collaborating with Antonio Segura on the sexy fantasy Sarvan and the dystopian SF black comedy Kraken, and with Enrique Sánchez Abulí on the gangster and adult themes tales that have made him one of the world’s most honoured artists, and which culminated on the incredibly successful crime saga Torpedo 1936.

This magnificent commemoration of his career thus far spans those years when he first echoed his father’s style through to the sleek minimalist, chiaroscuric, emphatic line economy that bores into readers hindbrains like hot lead from a smoking 45. Also on view as well as the violence there’s ample example of his sly, witty (and just as hot!) sex comedy material: Bernet is an absolute master of the female form and his adult material – created with Carlos Trillo – such as Custer, Clara De Noche and Cicca is truly unforgettable.

This glorious deluxe hardback gathers together a vast quantity of covers, book illustrations, sketches, drawings, pin-ups and studies, advertising work, and that Batman stuff, with a separate chapter on Bernet’s Beauties, a biography (which could, I must admit, have done with one last proof-read before going to press) and full check-listing of his works and awards. There are heartfelt artistic contributions and tributes from some of his vast legion of fans: Will Eisner, Joe Kubert, Jordi Langaron, Carlos Nine, Josep M. Bea, Luca Biagnini. Al Dellinges, Josep Toutain, Eduardo Risso, Horacio Altuna, Carlos Gimenez, Sergio Aragonés, Carlos Trillo, Juan Gimenez and Hobie MacQuarrie, but the true delights here are the 16 complete stories: Torpedo 1936, Sarvan, Custer, Clara De Noche, and Kraken as well as westerns, war stories, comedies and crime thrillers.

This is an incredible tribute to an incredible creator, and one no artist with professional aspirations can afford to miss: but parents be warned – there’s lots of nudity and violence beautifully depicted here – so be sure to read it yourselves first, Just in case…

All art and characters © 2009 their respective copyright holders. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Annuals volume 1 – DC Comics Classics Library


By various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-215-8

¡Perfect Christmas Present Alert! – all ages

Thanks to the recent re-inclusion of the pre-“Batmania” tales into the Caped Crusader’s extensive canon, there’s a lot of 1940s and 1950s Batman material resurfacing these days in a lot of impressive formats. DC’s Classics Comics Library hardbacks are a remarkably accessible, collectible range of products and the best of them so far is this wonderful aggregation of three of the most influential and beloved comic-books of the Silver Age.

Batman Annual #1 was originally released in June 1961, a year after the startlingly successful Superman Annual #1. This big, bold anthology format was hugely popular with readers.  The Man of Steel’s second Annual was rushed out before Christmas 1960 and the third came out a mere year after the first! That same month (June 1961) the first ever Secret Origins collection and the aforementioned Batman Blockbuster all arrived in shops and on newsstands.

It’s probably hard to appreciate now but these huge books – 80 pages instead of 32 – were a magical resource with a colossal impact for kids who loved comics. I don’t mean the ubiquitous scruffs, oiks and scallywags of school days who read them and chucked them away (most kids were comics consumers in the days before computer games) but rather those quiet, secretive few of us who treasured and kept them, constantly re-reading, discussing, pondering. Only posh kids with wicked parents read no comics at all: those prissy, starchy types who were beaten up by the scruffs, oiks and scallywags even more than us bookworms. But I digress…

For budding collectors the Annuals were a gateway to a fabulous lost past. Just Imagine!: adventures your heroes had from before you were even born

Those compilations of the early 1960s changed comic publishing. Soon Marvel, Charlton and Archie were also releasing giant books of old stories, then new ones, crossovers, continued stories… Annuals proved two things to publishers: that there was a dedicated, long-term appetite for more material – and that punters were willing to pay a little bit more for it…

This vast compendium gathers the first three Batman Annuals in their mythic entirety: 21 terrific complete stories, posters, features, pin-ups, calendars and those iconic compartmentalized covers. There’re also creator biographies and articles from Michael Uslan and Richard Bruning to put the entire experience into perspective and original publication information and credits (the only bad thing about those big books of magic was never knowing “Who” and “Where”…)

The editors wisely packaged the Annuals as themed collections, the first being ‘1001 Secrets of Batman and Robin’ and started the ball rolling with ‘How to be the Batman’ by Bill Finger, Lew Sayre Schwartz and Stan Kaye, wherein an amnesiac Caped Crusader has to be re-trained by Robin, but as always there’s a twist in this tale, whilst ‘The Strange Costumes of Batman’ (Edmond Hamilton, Dick Sprang and Charles Paris) highlighted the specialized uniforms the heroes used in their outrageous careers.

The self-explanatory ‘Untold Tales of the Bat-Signal’ (writer unknown, Schwartz and Paris) again used past exploits to solve a contemporary case, whilst ‘The Origin of the Bat-Cave’ (Finger, Sheldon Moldoff and Paris) was only revealed by a quick time-trip back to revolutionary war era Gotham and ‘Batman’s Electronic Crime-File’ (anonymous, Sprang and Paris) is a cracking thriller that highlighted the Dynamic Duo’s love of cutting-edge technology.

‘The Thrilling Escapes of Batman and Robin’ (Finger, Moldoff and Kaye) concentrated on their facility at escaping traps and the excitement peaked in a dazzling display of ‘The Amazing Inventions of Batman’ (Hamilton, Sprang and Paris).

‘Batman and Robin’s Most Thrilling Action Roles’ began with a tension-packed mystery: ‘The Underseas Batman’ (Hamilton, Sprang and Paris), then explored the Wayne’s Scottish connections in ‘The Lord of Batmanor’ (Hamilton, with the assistance of his wife Leigh Brackett, Sprang and Paris) and again tapped into the Westerns zeitgeist with ‘Batman – Indian Chief’ (France Herron, Moldoff and Kaye).

‘The Jungle Batman’ (David Vern Reed, Schwartz and Paris) is pure escapist joy and we get a then-rare glimpse of Bruce Wayne’s training in ‘When Batman Was Robin’ (Hamilton, Sprang and Paris) before returning to foiling deathtraps with ‘Batman the Magician’ (Finger, Moldoff and Paris) and this section concludes with a pivotal tale ‘Batman – The Superman of Planet X’ (Herron, Sprang and Paris): one that forms a key thematic plank of Grant Morrison’s epic Batman R.I.P. storyline.

The third Annual (these too came far more frequently than once a year) featured ‘Batman and Robin’s Most Fantastic Foes’ beginning with ‘The Mad Hatter of Gotham City’ (Finger, Moldoff and Paris), special-effects bandit ‘The Human Firefly’ (Herron, Sprang and Paris) and hyper cerebral mutant ‘The Mental Giant of Gotham City’ (Hamilton, Sprang and Paris) before the Clown Prince of Crime stole the show with a team of skullduggery specialists in ‘The Joker’s Aces’ (Reed, Schwartz and Kaye).

Eerie and hard-hitting ‘The Gorilla Boss of Gotham City (Reed, Schwartz and Kaye) was one of DC’s earliest Ape epics, and although the gripping ‘The New Crimes of Two-Face’ (Finger, Schwartz and Paris) starred a stand-in for the double-dealing psychopath the ‘The Mysterious Mirror Man’ (Finger, Moldoff and Paris) was the genuine article and well worth a modern do-over.

For me Christmas is inextricably linked to Batman. From my earliest formative years every Yule was capped by that year’s British hardcover annual, often reprints of the US comics (somewhat imaginatively coloured) but occasionally all-new prose stories liberally illustrated and based slavishly on the Adam West/Burt Ward TV series.

As I grew older and became a more serious reader and collector (the technical term is, I believe, addict) I became an avid appreciator of the regular seasonal tales that appeared in Batman or Detective Comics and the “golden Age Classics” that too infrequently graced them.  Over the decades some of Batman’s very best adventures have occurred in the “Season of Good will” and why DC has never produced a Batman Christmas Album is a mystery even the World’s Greatest Detective could not solve…

This book might not actually contain any X-Mas Exploits but it is the kind of present I would have killed or died for all those hundreds of years ago, so how can you possibly deny your kids the delights of this incredibly enjoyable book? And just like Train Sets, Scalextric and Quad Bikes when I say kids of course I mean “Dads”…

© 1961, 1962, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Scalped volume 3 Dead Mothers

Scalped-volume-3-Dead-Mothers
By Jason Aaron & R.M. Guéra, John Paul Leon & Davide Furnò (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-997-0

Jason Aaron reaches new heights as he plumbs the depths of human depravity in the intoxicating crime thriller set on a desolate and desperate Indian Reservation. As powerful and compelling as TV’s “The Wire” Scalped similarly examines the survival tactics of a disenfranchised and abandoned minority that has had to make its own rules and then live or die by them. And just like the streets of Baltimore, the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation might be isolated and insular, but the powers that be – legitimate and otherwise – are not prepared to leave them alone…

Dashiell Bad Horse ran away from the squalor of the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation when he turned fifteen. He was always trouble: especially for his mother Gina and her fellow 1970s militant Indian Rights spokesman Lincoln Red Crow. Now Dash is back and working as Red Crow’s sheriff and leg-breaker, since the ex-activist is now Tribal Leader, sole employer and the area’s biggest crime boss.

Gina is still a rebel: she never surrendered, never copped out or joined the real world, whilst Red Crow became as much an oppressor as the White Man ever was. There’s a snazzy new casino but the Rez is still a hell-hole and a demilitarized Zone. Whilst wiping out rival drug and booze gangs Bad Horse is getting closer to the all-powerful Indian Godfather who was once his mother’s closest ally in the Freedom Movement. And that’s good. After all, that’s why the FBI planted him there in the first place…

The third collection (issues #12-18) kicks off with ‘Dreaming Himself into the Real World’; a beguiling prologue and scene-setter illustrated by John Paul Leon, before the eponymous main feature begins.

In ‘Dead Mothers’ Bad Horse is confronted by Gina’s brutal murder, but seemingly unmoved by it as he struggles to solve the equally savage but unconnected slaughter of a crack-whore bar-girl killed whilst her five kids slept in the next room. He’s a stone-cold pro: how did he ever let the kids’ situation get so deep under his skin when even his mother’s death left him unmoved?

In fact the only one who really seems broken up by Gina’s death is her long-time ally-turned-opponent Red Crow, and everybody knows he did it…

Pressure builds like an over-ripe boil as Bad Horse’s racist FBI handler puts the screws to him, and as prime suspect in Gina’s slaying Red Crow is getting squeezed by the Asian gangsters who paid for his casino. To assist the gang boss they’ve sent a psycho-sadist “observer” whose appetite for torture may well blow up in all their faces. Yet all Bad Horse can think of is the bar-girl’s death, but when he finds her killer the FBI say the monster is to be left free…

The book concludes with an insightful excursion into the mind and life of Franklin Falls Down, the only decent cop on the Rez, recently returned to duty after nearly dying in shoot-out. In ‘Falls Down’ (illustrated by Davide Furnò) the view of a decent man fighting evil daily in a man-made hell-hole makes a trenchant point after the human tragedy and misery that precedes it, but also hints at worse to come…

Nasty, violent, and sordidly sexual, this fierce Crime Noir is an uncompromising saga that hits hard, hits often and hits home. The exotically familiar scenario and painfully unchanging foibles of people on the edge make this series an instant classic. Grab hold and brace for the ride of your life…

© 2008 Jason Aaron & Rajko Milosevich.  All Rights Reserved.

Casey Ruggles: the Hard Times of Pancho and Pecos – Selected Daily Strips 1950


By Warren Tufts (Western Winds Productions)
No ISBN

Warren Tufts was an incredibly gifted artist and storyteller born too late. He is best remembered now – if at all – for creating two of the most beautiful western comics strips of all time, but at a time when the heyday of newspaper syndicated entertainment was gradually giving way to the television age. Had he been working in adventure’s Golden Age he would undoubtedly be a household name – at least in comics fans’ houses

Born in Fresno, California on 12th December 1925 Tufts was a superb, meticulous craftsman with a canny grasp of character and a great ear for dialogue whose art was stately in a representational manner and favourably compared to both Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant and the best of Alex Raymond. On May 22nd 1949 he began the seminal Casey Ruggles – A Saga of the West as a colour Sunday page, following with a daily black and white strip beginning on September 19th of that year, working for the United Features Syndicate, who owned such landmark strips as Fritzi Ritz and L’il Abner.

Ruggles was a dynamic ex-cavalry sergeant making his way to California in 1849 to find his fortune (the storyline of both features until 1950 where daily and Sunday strips divided into separate tales), meeting such historical personages as Millard Fillmore, William Fargo, Jean Lafitte and Kit Carson in gripping two-fisted action-adventures. The lush, expansive tales were crisply told and highly engaging, but Tufts was a driven perfectionist regularly working 80-hour weeks at the drawing board and consequently often missed deadlines.

This led him to use many assistants such as Al Plastino, Rueben Moreira and Edmund Good. Established veterans Nick Cardy and Alex Toth also spent time working as “ghosts” (uncredited assistants and fill-in artists) on the series.

Due to a falling-out Tufts left the strip in 1954 and Al Carreño continued the feature until its demise in October 1955. The departure came when TV producers wanted to turn the strip into a weekly television show but apparently United Features baulked, suggesting the show would harm the popularity of the strip.

Tufts created his own syndicate for his next and greatest project, Lance (probably the last great full page Sunday strip and another series crying out for a high-quality collection) before moving peripherally into comic-books, working extensively for West Coast outfit Dell/Gold Key, where he drew various westerns and cowboy TV show tie-ins like Wagon Train, Korak son of Tarzan, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan and a long run on the Pink Panther comic. Eventually he quit drawing completely, working as an actor, voice-actor and eventually in animation on such shows as Challenge of the Super Friends.

Tufts had a lifelong passion for flying, even building his own ‘planes. In 1982 whilst piloting one he crashed and was killed.

The Pacific Comics Club collected many “lost strip classics” at the start of the 1980s, including a number of Casey Ruggles adventures. This colossal black and white volume (approximately 15 inches x 10 inches) contains stories that fit between the first and last tale of the previous volume (see Casey Ruggles: The Whisperer), and leads with a cracking mystery tale as Ruggles tracks down a murderous masked outlaw named ‘Black Barney’ in a dynamic tale that undoubtedly influenced a huge number of comicbook Costumed Cowboys.

This is followed by the eponymous ‘Hard Times of Pancho and Pecos wherein the light relief baddies are so down on their luck that they end up as slaves for an unscrupulous rancher until rescued by Ruggles.

Next up is one of the most impressive western strips of all time: an eerie mood-piece more horror story than sagebrush saga as Ruggles faces the seemingly supernatural threat of the fling beast Aquila. As if the tension-soaked drama were not sufficient to chill the blood, the art is a startling monochrome collaboration between supreme realist Tufts and the chiaroscuric stylisation of Alex Toth. No fan of the medium should ever be denied this experience!

This volume concludes with a gripping tale of greed and disaster in ‘Spanish Mine’ as an old treasure map leads to murder, mayhem and a truly spectacular climax…

Human intrigue and fallibility, bombastic action and a taste for the bizarre reminiscent of the best John Ford or Raoul Walsh movie make Casey Ruggles the ideal western strip for the discerning modern audience. Westerns are continually falling into and out of fashion but the beautiful clean-cut artistic mastery of Warren Tufts can never be out of vogue These great tales are desperately deserving of a wider following, and I’m still praying some canny publisher knows a good thing when he sees it…
© 1949, 1950, 1953 United Features Syndicate, Inc. Collection © Western Winds Productions. All Rights Reserved.