The Lagoon


By Lilli Carré (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-954-8

What do your comics sound like? What beats and rhythms echo behind your eyes when you absorb pictorial narrative?

The Lagoon presents snatches of young Zoey’s experiences growing up in a rural outpost where she, her parents and her grandfather live beside a cold black lagoon. Within the brackish, weed-choked mire a bizarre, monstrous beast dwells, but her family and the sundry other disparate souls who live nearby gladly tolerate it since it does no obvious harm.

In fact, over the years the incredible, indescribable call of the creature in the night has led to many odd happenings and disappearances. The plaintive cry of the creature obsesses and possesses the humans and as years pass Zoey loses everyone but her grandpa to the night-singer. Her time is taken up with music and learning the piano. But all anyone really hears is that plaint on the midnight breezes…

Dark, ambiguously chilling and comfortable at the same time, the naïve-ist illustration compulsively uses patterns and symbols to depict how sounds look and music appears while recounting the relationship of the creature – far, far more than a dumb beast – and the inevitably maturing and isolated young girl. This intensely experimental picture-parable is mesmerising and powerfully effective for all its brevity.

Lilli Carré first drew critical attention with her short stories (collected as Tales of Woodsman Pete) and this slim black and white tome – her first graphic novel – is another whimsical, expressive and bleakly enchanting exploration of great power and gentle lyricism. Far from our own self-created genre-ghettos this is a perfect book for the discerning reader in search of something different.

© 2008 Lilli Carré. All Rights Reserved.

The Immortal Iron Fist volume 1: The Last Iron Fist Story


By Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, David Aja & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2489-4

Iron Fist sprang out of the 1970s Kung Fu craze, by way of a heartfelt tribute from originators Roy Thomas and Gil Kane to Bill Everett’s golden Age super-hero Amazing Man (who appeared from 1939-1945 in Centaur Comics).

Young Danny Rand travels with his parents and uncle to the mysterious Himalayas. Searching for the “lost city of K’un Lun” which only appears once every ten years, the boy’s father is murdered by the uncle, and his mother sacrifices herself to save her child. Alone in the wilderness, the city finds him and he spends the next ten years mastering all forms of martial arts.

A decade later he returns to the real world intent on vengeance, further armed with a mystic punch gained by killing the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying. When he eventually achieves his goal the lad is at something of a loose end and – by default – a billionaire, as his murderous uncle had turned the family business into a multi-national megalith.

The series ran in Marvel Premiere #15-25 (from May 1974 to October 1975), plagued by an inability to keep a creative team (writers and artists included Len Wein, Doug Moench, Tony Isabella, Larry Hama, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Pat Broderick and Al McWilliams) before Chris Claremont and John Byrne steadied the ship and produced a superb run of issues for his own title (Iron Fist #1-15, November 1975 – September 1977). After cancellation the character drifted, until paired with Luke Cage following a splendid three-part try-out in Power Man #48-50.

Power Man & Iron Fist ran from #51 until the book was cancelled in 1986 (#125). The K’un Lun Kid has died, come back and cropped up all over the Marvel universe as guest star, co-star and even in a few of his own miniseries.

This volume contains issues #1-6 of Immortal Iron Fist as well as excerpts from Civil War: Choosing Sides, and follows the directionless hero as he struggles to find his place in the world. Discovering a plot by subversive super-terrorist organisation Hydra to steal his company Danny also learns the secret history of his dragon-power and the lives of previous Iron Fists when he stumbles across his renegade predecessor Orson Randall, on the run from K’un Lun since the First World War…

The book also includes the eight-page prequel from the Civil War: Choosing Sides one-shot, guest-starring Daredevil, plus a fascinating sketch section that describes the design process for the reworked and new characters and superb covers.

A lightning-paced, sleekly exotic thriller blending contemporary costumed drama with gritty period battles (illustrated by a phalanx of talented veterans including Russ Heath, John Severin, Sal Buscema and Tom Palmer), Brubaker’s compelling script and the stylish, compulsive art of David Aja (with Travel Foreman & Derek Fridolfs) carries the reader to a superb climax but no conclusion. Ending on a strangely satisfying cliffhanger, I’ve no doubt that every reader (even new ones – the script is wonderfully inclusive and assumes you don’t know the characters well) will gladly seek out the second volume. I’m certainly going to…

© 2006, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Beware of the Dog


By Pericle Luigi Giovannetti (Macmillan)
ASIN: B0000CK63L

Pericle Luigi Giovanetti was a huge star in the cartoon firmament in the years following World War II, and a prolific one who appealed to fans of all ages. Born in 1916 in Basel, he launched his most beloved character Max in Punch in April 1953. Max was a small, round furry creature like a hamster, whose wordless pantomimes were cute, whimsical and trenchantly self-deprecating. Don’t ask me how a beautifully rendered little puff-ball could stand for pride and pomposity punctured, but he did. It was also blissfully free of mawkish sentimentality, a funny animal for adults.

So imagine how such a graphic talent would flower when he turned his dry, laconic eye upon Man’s Best Friend? Luckily you don’t have to as in 1958 this fabulous collection of 52 pooches, drawn in a variety of styles and even captioned in two separate languages (French and English), and thanks to contemporary wits Mark Laurence and Richard Maury, three separate comedic styles, is available as your pedigree guide!

Giovanetti was a master of the pen, with a sparse and economical line, and completely au fait with all brush techniques from dry-point to tonal wash painting. The sheer variety he exhibits in this book would make any would-be illustrator weep with jealousy if they weren’t already splitting their sides with mirth.

To my knowledge there were six other Giovannetti books and collections between 1954 and 1961: Max, Max Presents, Nothing But Max, the Penguin Max, Birds Without Words and Hamid of Aleppo – and not one of these gems is currently in print! The sheer artistic virtuosity of Giovanetti is astounding to see. That his work should be forgotten is a crime. If you ever, ever find a collection of his work don’t hesitate!

Fetch!
© 1958 P. L. Giovannetti. All Rights Reserved.

Jumpstart: The Strangers Collection


By Steve Englehart, Rick Hoberg & various (Malibu Comics)
No ISBN:

I sometimes give the impression that I don’t like superhero comics. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I don’t like is mindless retreads or endless repetition – and rubbish.

Mercifully none of those terms applies to The Strangers, premiere team-book of the Malibu Ultraverse. Purpose-built as a shared universe by a potent handful of creators including Mike Barr, Steve Gerber, James Hudnall, Gerard Jones, James Robinson, Len Strazewski, Larry Niven (oh so briefly) and Steve Englehart (probably the most accomplished – at least in terms of commercial success), they had a short burst of impressive creativity before being bought out lock, stock and bombastic barrel by corporate monolith Marvel Comics, who made a cursory attempt to integrate the various properties before shelving the lot.

Nevertheless the introductory yarn ‘Jumpstart’ easily falls into my “lost little gem” category, and as it was one of the very few story-arcs to make it into a trade paperback I can take this opportunity to recommend it and ask for more.

Collecting issues #1-3 and 5 of the comic-book (issue #4 being part of a company-wide crossover entitled ‘Breakthrough’) this breezy yarn introduces us to the Ultraverse as a San Francisco cable car (like our own dear-departed trams) is struck by an energy bolt out of a clear sky. The fifty-nine passengers on their morning journeys are all given different super-powers by the bolt and a motorist hit by the careening trolleybus is critically injured (he’ll eventually become the hero Night Man, with his own great comic and bad TV show).

The story focuses on six of those passengers as they band together to find out what happened to them and to ensure that none of the other passengers abuse their new gifts. Ultimately they’re joined by a mysterious sorceress from a floating island and plunge into the colourful chaos of full-on super-heroics.

Englehart and Hoberg managed to impart fresh characterisation and old-fashioned gusto to a jaded sub-genre, and if you can find this slim volume there’s a huge amount of simple fun to be had here. The entire line was geared to the reading, rather than collector audience, and Marvel – or whoever currently owns these properties – would be very smart to repackage them for today’s graphic novel-oriented marketplace.

But I’m not holding my breath…
© 1994 Malibu Comics Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Tank Girl Two (Remastered)


By Hewlett & Martin (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-759-4

Hard on the funky-booted heels of the first volume, the second in the series of remastered, chronologically complete compilations featuring the wildly absurdist ever-so-cool independent girl who took the early 1990s by storm includes work from Deadline March 1990 to April 1993, plus relevant excerpts from The Tank Girl Postermag, the Comic Relief Benefit Comic and a Christmas prezzie from the December 1990 Speakeasy.

Never too wedded to the concept of internal logic or narrative consistency (or spelling – so if you’re pedantic be warned!), the next couple of years saw the creative team’s energies dissipated by other gigs, with a consequent irregularity of stories about the big-eared social iconoclast. But the level of in-yer-face absurdity, British Cultural Sampling and addictive sex’n’violence remained high in such smuttily psycho-active tales as ‘I’ve Got Friends at Bell’s End’ and ‘Force Ten to Ringarooma Bay’ whilst the introduction of vibrant colour for the 5 part ‘Summer Love Sensation’ (a nominal return to the old homestead for the slap-happy slapper and her mates) plus the visually stunning ‘Sunflower’ from The Tank Girl Postermag did much to cement her position as the style touchstone for the crucially hip of the commercial acid-house generation beyond the world of comics.

In Deadline the work became more radical, experimental and often impenetrable (perhaps rushed would be kinder or fairer). Three-part Seventies crime-spoof ‘Askey & Hunch’ was self-indulgent and far too long whilst the Jack Kerouac homage/pastiche ‘Blue Helmet’ was often clever, sharp, funny and facile at the same time. The art however, was always astounding – radical, fresh and with an underlying patina of unique Englishness made up of equal parts Steve Parkhouse, Brendan McCarthy and sheer original enthusiasm.

Always self-referential, the strip hit new highs with ‘The Fall and Rise and Fall of the Ship in the Bottle’ and ‘Guide to Joy’ (Hewlett & Martin’s observations on swearing, sex, the mind, drugs, comics and fans). The book closes with a selection of strip oddities comprising ‘Booga’s Christmas Carol’ (from Speakeasy), ‘Jet Gurl in Hairy Pussy’ (Deadline December 1992) and the two pages by Hewlett and Martin from the Comic Relief Comic jam featuring a stupendous battle between Dawn “I’m Sorry Jennifer Woman” French and Ben “Student Fridge Sausage Man” Elton. The heady brew is all topped off with a selection of covers from Deadline USA and the Tank Girl II Dark Horse Comics US reprint comics.

Even if you’ve never seen the anarchic, surreal, ultra-violent (in a funny way) and neo-pop-culturally drenched peculiarity that was Tank Girl, or if the gag might be wearing a little thin in places, this is still a culturally viable, generally readable and wonderfully pretty package of Rude Britannia, and a part of our history well worth the occasional visit.

TM & © 2009 Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin. All rights reserved.

Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Vol. 4


By Denny O’Neil, Samuel R. Delaney, Bob Haney, Don Heck, Dick Giordano & Jim Aparo (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-156-4

In this concluding chronicle of the de-powered Wonder Woman (comprising issues #199-204 of her own comic plus her team-up with Batman from Brave and the Bold #105) the unique vision and quirky style of Mike Sekowsky is noticeably absent as sometime scripter Denny O’Neil returns for a by-the-numbers thriller illustrated by Marvel veteran Don Heck, with visual continuity assured by inker Dick Giordano.

‘Tribunal of Fear’ is a muddled, fashion-based crime thriller guest-starring private eye Jonny Double, and the concluding part (WW #200, by O’Neil and Giordano) sees the return of an old foe in ‘The Beauty Hater!’. Perhaps these tales should be best remembered for their covers, crafted by the illustrious Jeff Jones.

Catwoman contended with the mortal Amazon in #201’s ‘The Fist of Flame’ when Diana and her mentor I Ching journeyed to Tibet in pursuit of a fabulous, cursed gem which precipitated another extra-dimensional jaunt. Designed to introduce DC’s newest property, noted novelist Samuel R. Delaney joined Giordano for ‘Fangs of Fire’, a helter-skelter epic as Diana, Ching and Catwoman battled with and beside Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd the Barbarian and the Gray Mouser (the soon-to-be stars of the brief but superb Sword of Sorcery licensed comic).

This wonderfully extravagant delight was followed by ‘Play Now… Die Later!’ (by Bob Haney and Jim Aparo, Brave and the Bold #105) as Diana joined Batman in Gotham City for a gritty, fast-paced thriller involving kidnappers and South American revolutionaries, before Delaney and Giordano took her into a fascinating new direction in the socially-aware Women’s Rights tale ‘The Grandee Caper’.

Comic fans love to gossip. When the next issue appeared it devoted the first twelve pages to undoing everything that had happened since Wonder Woman lost her powers in issue #179, before revising her mythical origin and returning her to her world of immortal Gods, Amazons and super-villains, with a new black nemesis, Nubia.

‘The Second Life of the Original Wonder Woman’ by Robert Kanigher, Heck and Giordano is not such a bad story, but its abrupt reversals had tongues wagging and heads spinning. Had the series offended some shady “higher-ups” who didn’t want controversy or a shake-up of the status quo?

I think not. Sales were never great on the title, and the most logical reason is probably Television.

The Amazon had been optioned as a series since the days of the Batman show in 1967, and by this time – 1973 – work had undoubtedly begun on the original 1974 pilot featuring Cathy Lee Crosby. An abrupt return to the character most viewers would be familiar with from their own childhoods seems perfectly logical to me… By the time Linda Carter made the concept live Wonder Woman was once again “Stronger than Hercules, swifter than Mercury and more beautiful than Aphrodite…”

Comics are an art-form dictated by markets, driven by sales and influenced by fashion. For a brief moment all these factors and a few gifted creators gelled to produce a compelling, engaging and utterly fabulous tranche of tales that are timelessly perfect and eternally fresh. And now you can read them whenever you feel the need simply by opening these pages…

© 1972, 1973, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Books of Magic


By Neil Gaiman, John Bolton, Scott |Hampton, Charles Vess & Paul Johnson (Vertigo)
ISBN13: 978-1-85286-470-5

Way back when Neil Gaiman was just making a name for himself at DC he was asked to consolidate and rationalise the role of magic in that expansive shared universe. Over the course of four Prestige Format editions a quartet of mystical champions (thereinafter known as “the Trenchcoat Brigade”) took a London schoolboy on a Cook’s Tour of Time, Space and Infinite Dimensions in preparation for his becoming the most powerful wizard of the 21st Century, and an overwhelming force for Light or Darkness.

Shy, bespectacled Timothy Hunter is an inoffensive lad unaware of his incredible potential for Good or Evil (and yes, I know who he looks like but this series came out eight years before anybody had ever heard of Hogwarts, so get over it). In an attempt to keep him righteous the self-appointed mystic guides provide him, and us, with a full tutorial in the history and state of play of The Art and its major practitioners and adepts. However, although the four guardians are not united in their plans and hopes for the boy, the “other side” certainly are. If Hunter cannot be turned to the Dark he has to die…

In Book one, ‘the Invisible Labyrinth’ painted by John Bolton, The Phantom Stranger shows Tim the history of magic with introductions to Lucifer, Atlantis, the Ancient Empires, Jason Blood and the boy Merlin, Zatara and Sargon the Sorcerer.

Scott Hampton illustrates the second chapter wherein John Constantine hosts a trip to ‘the Shadow World’ of the modern DCU, introducing the lad to contemporary players such as Deadman, Madame Xanadu, the Spectre, Doctor Fate, Baron Winter (of Night Force fame), Dr. Thirteen the Ghost-Breaker and Zatanna, who organises a trip to a mage’s bar where the likes of Tala Queen of Darkness and the diabolical Tannarak take matters into their own wicked hands.

Dr. Occult (created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster years before Superman debuted) takes the boy on a journey to the outer lands and the Realms of Faerie, courtesy of Charles Vess in ‘the Land of Summer’s Twilight’: a beautiful, evocative segment that informs much of Timothy Hunter’s life in the Vertigo comicbook series and graphic collections that inevitably spun off from this saga. Cameos here include Warlord, Nightmaster, Amethyst and Gemworld, the Demon, Cain, Abel and the Sandman.

‘The Road to Nowhere’ is painted by Paul Johnson and concludes the peregrination as the ruthlessly fanatical Mister E takes the boy to the end of time, where he has his own plans for him. Beyond Darkseid and the climactic battles and crises of our time, past the Legion of Super Heroes, the end of Order and Chaos, to the moment Sandman’s siblings Destiny and Death switch off the dying universe, Tim sees how everything ends before returning to make his choice: Good or Evil, Magic or mundane?

Despite an “everything and the kitchen sink” tone this is still a cracking good yarn as well as a useful scorecard for all things supernatural, and which still has overwhelming relevance to today’s DC universe. It still stands a worthy primer for newcomers who need a little help with decades of back-story which cling to so many DC tales, even today.
© 1990, 1991, 2001 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

British Cartoonists Album


By various (Panther Books)
No ISBN:

On the 1st April 1960 a bunch of jaded hacks and whackos who made their dubious living from drawing humorous skits and silly pictures of tough men and largely unclad women met in a pub called The Feathers in Tudor Street, London. From that inaugural drunken binge the British Cartoonists Club was formed. (Today they’re known as the Cartoonists Club of Great Britain).

In 1962 this loose agglomeration of the greatest gagsters, pen-men and brush-smiths in the Kingdom produced a wonderful over-sized book in conjunction with Anthony Gibbs & Phillips (subsequently released as a paperback in 1964) that highlighted the talents and achievements of the membership and consequently became one of my favourite books of cartooning ever.

Still available if you trawl that there interweb thing, The British Cartoonists Album is stuffed with examples of brilliant work, both dramatic and comedic from the last days of mass-market cartooning, when our profession was still big enough to differentiate between topical, editorial, sporting, caricature, juvenile (which means for young people, not what you’re thinking), illustrative, technical, sophisticated , saucy and probably a dozen other categories I’m not old enough to remember. The book also and acted not just as a proud example of Cartoon work but also as a professional portfolio for the club which always sought (and still does) ways to further and promote members careers.

With examples from 169 different creators including Bill Tidy, Scarfe, Low, Thelwell, David Langdon, Smythe, Ferrier, Dickens, Giles, Osbert Lancaster, Les Lilley, Roy Nixon, Gammidge, Maddocks, Trog, Sax, Steadman and a host of others, and including a mouth-watering selection of contemporary newspaper strips such Garth, The Perishers, Jane – Daughter of Jane, Romeo Brown, Andy Capp, Buck Ryan, The Flutters, The Larks, Barley Bottom, Colonel Pewter, Useless Eustace, Lindy, Flook, Paul Temple, Matt Marriott, Twick and For Better or Worse this is a lost treasure in desperate need of up-dating and re-release.

Perhaps it’s a little cruel to highlight such a wonderful book that many of you won’t ever see, but the material here and lost in the mouldering pages of thousands of papers and magazines is a vital part of our culture and heritage and their eventual loss is something we’ll all regret in the end, so I’m going to bang on about until someone – be it commercial publisher or heritage wallah does something about it.

Hell, get me an Arts Council grant and I’ll do it myself…
© 1962 Anthony Gibbs & Phillips. All rights reserved. The proprietary rights of all individual trademark and copyright holders is acknowledged throughout.

Captain Britain: Vol. 3 The Lion and the Spider


By various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN13: 978-1-84653-401-0

In this third volume collecting the complete adventures of Marvel’s Greatest British super-hero we see the end of his initial run from Super Spider-Man & Captain Britain Weekly # 239-247, continue with the good Captain’s first American tour in Marvel Team-Up #65 and #66 and latterly begin reprinting the seminal fantasy strip he shared with the Black Knight in Hulk Comic Weekly. I fear that as with any decent British hero, the publishing history and back-story has to be as complicated as the Gordian Knot to satisfy our inherent sense of the absurd…

By the time of Super Spider-Man & Captain Britain Weekly # 239 the writing was on the wall. In the best tradition of British comics, a merger of two titles inevitably led to the eventual disappearance of the one after the “&”. Moreover it was clear that the US department responsible for these 6-7 page segments (Editors Larry Lieber and Danny Fingeroth, writer Jim Lawrence and art-team Ron Wilson, Pablo Marcos, Fred Kida and Mike Esposito) were devoting less and less creative enthusiasm – if not effort – to the dying feature.

‘Five Tickets to Terror’, ‘To Shrink in Fear!’, ‘…A Madman’s Whim!’ and Hell Island Climax!’ (# 239-242) detail how the Captain and a plane-load of travellers became the diminutive captives of a mutated madman on a tropical island, whilst the last saga from issues #243-247 ends the English adventures on a relative high-note in a deadly, extended duel with a super-assassin and assorted monsters beginning with ‘When Slaymaster Strikes!’, ‘Dogfight with Death!’, ‘While London Gapes in Horror!’, ‘Tunnels of Terror!’ and concluding with ‘The Devil and the Deep!’ The stories had become increasingly slap-dash, an uncomfortable blend of Marvel House Style and Fleetway generic drama, which couldn’t help but disappoint.

When the Captain reappeared it was in the comfortable style – and home – of the company’s greatest triumphs. ‘Introducing Captain Britain’ by the hero’s original scripter Chris Claremont, appeared in Marvel Team-Up #65, illustrated by John Byrne and Dave Hunt, and found Brian Braddock, on student transfer to New York the unsuspecting house-guest of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man. Before long the heroes had met, fought and then teamed-up to defeat the flamboyant hit-man Arcade.

The original US tale concluded in #66 with ‘Murderworld’ and the entire story is reprinted here in full-colour. As a temptation for Marvel completists however, I should mention that when reprinted in Super Spider-Man & Captain Britain Weekly #248-253, the story was divided into six parts and the necessary extra four splash-pages (by Byrne & Hunt and Wilson & Esposito, it looks like) are included here in historically accurate monochrome.

And then the Lion of Albion disappeared on both sides of the pond until March 1979, when a new British weekly, Hulk Comic, debuted with an eclectic mix of Marvel reprints that veteran UK editor Dez Skinn felt better suited the British market. There were also a number of all-new strips featuring Marvel characters tailored, like the reprints, to appeal to UK kids. The Hulk was there because of his TV show, Nick Fury (by babe-in-arms Steve Dillon) – because we love spies here, and the all-original pulp/gangster thriller Night Raven was by David Lloyd, John Bolton and Steve Parkhouse. And then there was The Black Knight.

This last appeared in issues #1 and 3-30 (all of which are included in this volume) plus #42-55 and #57-63 when the comic folded (and for which we must await a fourth volume). The Black Knight was a sometime member of the super-team The Mighty Avengers but in this engrossing epic, costumed shenanigans are replaced by a classical fantasy saga set in modern Britain with Tolkien-esque or perhaps Alan Garner overtones and Arthurian/Celtic roots.

Dispatched on a mission by Merlin (sometimes Merlyn here) to the wilds of Cornwall the Knight and his winged horse Valinor must battle to save the Heart and Soul of England from Modred and a host of goblins and monsters with the aid of a broken amnesiac Captain Britain.

Delivered in three-page, black and white episodes by writer Parkhouse and John Stokes (joined from #6 by penciller Paul Neary) this fantastical pot-boiler captured the imagination of the readership, became the longest running original material strip in the comic (even The Hulk itself reverted to reprints by #28) and often stole the cover spot from the lead feature.

It’s still a captivating read, beautifully realized, and the only quibble I have is that the whole thing isn’t included here. If you’re wondering, the sword-and-sorcery action ends on a cliffhanger with our heroic Captain about to regain his long-lost memories…

With the inclusion of a few pages of fascinating character designs this third volume of the chronicles of Captain Britain is a mostly wonderful mixed bag of comic delights that will charm the nostalgic and perhaps kindle the interest of newer fans of the outlying regions of the Marvel Universe. And let’s hope the next volume’s not long in coming…

© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2009 Marvel Entertainment, Inc. and its subsidiaries, licensed by Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved. (A UK EDITION FROM PANINI UK LTD)

Watchmen


By Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-85286-024-0

I’m not going to review Watchmen: there’s already too much hype around because of the movie. But since that kind of media overkill can have a detrimental effect on a property I am going to tell you why – and even how – you should read the graphic novel.

Originally released as a twelve-part maxi-series from September 1986 to October 1987, the work was originally commissioned as a reworking of the Charlton Comics “Action Hero” line (Blue Beetle, The Question, Peacemaker, Nightshade, Thunderbolt and Captain Atom) and follows the events that develop after one of those characters is murdered on an Earth very like yet radically different from our own.

That’s all the plot you get from me.

Watchmen is the perfect example not only of the perfect superhero tale, liberated as it is from the commercial tyranny of periodical publishing, but also of just how the nature of graphic narrative, the seamless marriage of picture, word and symbol, fundamentally differs from all other art forms.

Comics as a business cannot allow valuable properties to wither or die. Their intrinsic value is not as vehicles for great stories but as a means of assuring sales. Superman, Robin Hood, Captain America (and Bucky), Leonidas of Sparta, Hal Jordan, Roland, Barry Allen: in the pantheon of heroic mythology who stayed dead and who got better (or worse yet, replaced)? The great themes of Life and Death, Courage and Responsibility, Duty, Sacrifice and Victory lose their worth if the hero has a guaranteed “get out of Valhalla free” card.

And I’m not saying that any film, TV show, radio play, novelisation or even musical of a graphic novel is necessarily less good than the original material – but they are never a substitute or successor to it. Beyond a basic, fundamental sharing of textual moments and characters they are different. And it works both ways: I don’t care who draws Casablanca or scripts House on the Borderland; the only way to appreciate a masterpiece is in the original form that its creators crafted. Everything else is well- intentioned homage or scurrilous cashing in no matter how much you enjoyed it, or indeed how well the adaptation worked on its own terms. Kubick’s The Shining is not Steven King’s, Romeo and Juliet is a play, not an extended pop-video, and not even a ballet; and South Pacific is a great musical but not the awesome novel written by James A. Michener.

How many of you who have read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or V For Vendetta prefer or are even honestly satisfied by their filmic incarnations?

Watchmen uses its antecedents; it cherishes and celebrates them. It tells a tale with a beginning, a middle and a conclusive end, and tells it brilliantly. It neither deconstructs nor wields a revisionist machete to the core themes of super-heroic tradition. Crusading Legacies, Justice rendered by the individual not society, Costumes, Gadgets, even death-traps and masterminds are accepted on their own terms, not cynically mocked whilst being exploited.

The art by Dave Gibbons is superb and usually understated. At no moment is the reader unsure how to proceed, never does the drawing kidnap the attention, and at no time in this alternate world do we break the flow to wonder at what the intention was: whilst reading, that world is completely real.

Whatever your position on the film, positive or not, I beg you to read the book if you haven’t already. And I’ll even provide these handy “rules for reading Watchmen”:

1) Read the text pages: they’re important and there for a reason.

2) Look at each picture properly: what’s happening at the back, middle and sides of the panel are usually more important than what’s occurring in the foreground.

3) Pay attention: this is not a work to browse. Everything, EVERYTHING has been constructed to work as part of a perfectly completed whole. Nothing is irrelevant – not even the pirate comics stuff.

I’m writing this using my 1987, Graphitti Designs limited, slip-cased collected edition which has loads of extra features in the back but there are many versions available. Heck, even my local library has a couple of copies. There is no better superhero tale ever told. You owe it to yourself to see it in the manner it was made for.

© 1986, 1987 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.