Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné: The Weird of the White Wolf

Adapted by Roy Thomas, Michael T. Gilbert, P. Craig Russell, George Freeman & various (First Publishing)
ISBN: 0-915419-87-4

Elric is a landmark of the Sword and Sorcery genre: the ruler of the pre-human civilisation of the Melnibonéans, a race of cruel, arrogant Sorcerers: Dissolute creatures in a slow, decadent decline after millennia of dominance over the Earth. An albino, he is physically weak and of a brooding philosophical temperament, caring for nothing save his beautiful cousin Cymoril, whom he killed whilst battling her loathsome usurping brother Prince Yrrkoon.

After Elric destroyed his own love and race he wandered the world a broken dissolute wreck. In a series of short prose stories, a number of which (The Dreaming City, While the Gods Laugh and The Singing Citadel) were included with a framing tale The Dream of Earl Aubec into the novel Elric: Weird of the White Wolf, the albino forged his tragic legend across the young planet.

This stellar graphic adaptation adapts not only the novel but also gatherers many of the disparate previous adaptations (partially or in full) in a logical chronological sequence, which originally saw the light of day as a five issue miniseries from the much missed innovators First Comics.

The Dream of Earl Aubec by Thomas, Gilbert and Freeman (with spectacular support from letterer Ken Bruzenak) sees the greatest champion of his world fight his way to the very edge of reality searching for glory and approval from his queen Eloarde of Klant. Where solid ground meets raw unformed chaos-stuff he finds a castle and is seduced by the incredible creature Myshella, the Dark Lady, who shows him visions of the future in the raw Chaos and particularly the travails of a tragic Emperor, Elric.

The first vision is an abridged version of Thomas and Russell’s ‘The Dreaming City’ taken from 1982 Marvel Graphic Novel which is followed by the pair’s superb adaptation of ‘While the Gods Laugh’ which first appeared in the fantasy anthology magazine Epic Illustrated (#14, 1984) wherein the doomed hero searches for the Dead God’s Book, a magical grimoire that promises to answer any wish or desire, picking up the first of many disposable paramours in Shaarilla of the Dancing Mist, as well as his truest friend and aide, Moonglum.

Interspersed with the continuing drama of Aubec and Myshella the collection then moves into an all-new interpretation of ‘The Singing Citadel’ with Thomas and Gilbert co- adapting the saga for the hugely underrated George Freeman to illustrate and colour. Elric and Moonglum take ship and are attacked by the pirates of Pan Tang, before being drawn into the scheme of Queen Yishana who needs a better magician than her own lover Theleb K’aarna to investigate an incursion of melodic chaos into her kingdom.

The invader turns out to be the malevolent Jester of the Lords of Chaos, intent on establishing his own domain without the interference of his superiors…

This is a phenomenal tale of heroism and insanity and the art and colour here fully capture the drama and madness of the original. Gilbert and Freeman are every bit the imaginative, illustrative equals of the magnificent Russell and this book is one of the most impressive graphic fantasies ever produced, and desperately in need of re-release.

Michael Moorcock’s irresistible blend of brooding Faustian tragedy and all-out action is never better displayed than in his stories of Elric, and Roy Thomas’ adaptations were a high watermark in the annals of illustrated fantasy. Every home and castle should have one…

© 1990 First Comics, Inc. and Star*Reach Productions. Adapted from the original stories by Michael Moorcock, © 1967, 1970, 1977. All Rights Reserved.

The Savage Land

By Chris Claremont, Michael Golden, Dave Cockrum & Bob McLeod, Paul Smith & Terry Austin (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-87135-338-5

In the late 1980s as Marvel was just beginning to move away from their experimental graphic novels and towards today’s reprint-only trade paperbacks, there were very few stand out, stand-alone story-lines that fitted neatly into the rather restrictive format they had settled upon: approximately 80 pages (or four issues) worth of story and featuring popular characters in stories strong enough to get the fans to shell out (said fans being assumed to have already got the original comics). Nobody thought the books would have an independent target audience outside the fan-base.

So most of those early collections were miniseries like Hercules: Prince of Power and Hawkeye or popular short story-arcs like Thor’s Ballad of Beta Ray Bill or the initial Power Pack story (Power Pack Origin Album). Many starred the X-Men.

This lost treasure (which was reprinted in 2002 as X-Men and Spider-Man: Savage Land (ISBN: 978-0-7851-0891-7) is a well-produced oddment that despite being a rousing yarn is more of a cautionary tale about the comics business itself.

In 1982 the company launched a high-quality anthology magazine entitled Marvel Fanfare: slick paper stock, superior printing and a brief to bring innovation and bold new directions. Indeed, under Al Milgrom’s editorial guidance, a number of notable tales from exceptional creators were published, but cynical me – and not just me – soon noticed that a lot of those creators were the ones that had problems with periodical processes and couldn’t make a deadline even if you bought them a ‘how to’ book and a kit labelled “Deadlines for Dummies.”

These day’s that’s nothing to shout over: comics come out when they do and editors have no real power to decree otherwise, but in the 1980’s it was big deal, with printers booking a project in for a pre-specified date, and charging a punitive fee if the publisher didn’t get a product in on time. That’s why inventory tales were created: fill-in issues that would sit in a drawer until a writer blew it or an artist had his work eaten by the dog. Sometimes the US Mail simply lost the stuff in transit…

This tale teams Spider-Man, Ka-Zar and a bunch of X-Men in a spectacular return to the Savage Land – the antediluvian repository beneath the South Pole where fantastic civilisations and dinosaurs fretfully co-exist – that all kicks off in ‘Fast Descent into Hell’ when a distraught woman tries to find her missing lover, last seen in that lost world. Unfortunately that lost soul is Karl Lykos, a man who feeds on mutants to become a ghastly human Pteranodon called Sauron, and the only way to find him is through Warren Worthington III, the winged mutant publicly known as the Angel.

Worthington’s expedition to the Savage Land includes an embedded news team from the Daily Bugle, including photographer and trouble magnet Peter Parker, who quickly stumbles across a band of evil mutants planning to conquer the outer world by creating mutant hybrids.

In the second chapter of what appears to me an extended Marvel Team-Up storyline that was hit by the “Dreaded Deadline Doom” Claremont and Golden continue the saga in ‘To Sacrifice my Soul…’ as Spidey and Ka-Zar, the Jungle Lord, join forces to crush the mutation plot, inadvertently unleashing the aforementioned Sauron on the sub-polar world.

Golden’s stylish easy grace gave way to the slick, accomplished method of New X-Men designer Dave Cockrum, inked by Bob McLeod for ‘Into the Land of Death…’ as a full team of X-Men (Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Storm) joined the Angel and the Ape-man (sorry, just couldn’t resist – and where’s their collected edition, huh?) to thwart the diabolical dinosaur man and his new mutant allies, before legend-in-training Paul Smith stepped in to finish the epic in grand style with the assistance of inker Terry Austin in the climactic, action-packed ‘Lost Souls!’

This story is premium Mutant Mayhem produced by two of the best artists ever to draw the team as well as featuring some of the best art – and colouring – ever produced by Golden, and far in advance of his groundbreaking Micronauts run. This is an old-fashioned comics treat no true fan should be without.
© 1987 Marvel Entertainment Group. © 2002 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks

By Max Brooks & Ibraim Roberson (Duckworth)
ISBN:  978-0-71563-815-6

I’ve never been the biggest fan of zombie stories but occasionally something really tasty comes along and I’m forced to re-evaluate my position. Such an item is this truly impressive little graphic novel from the writer of World War Z and the Zombie Survival Guide.

Max Brooks is a successful actor and screenwriter (most notably part of the team scripting Saturday Night Live) and cartoon fans might recognize his name from the voice credits of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Batman Beyond and Justice League. You probably laughed at a lot of his dad’s movie’s like High Anxiety, Young Frankenstein and the first version of the Producers.

As with his previous books the story is told with devastating, deadpan delivery in a documentary manner, with sparse captions and no dialogue, but the superb, tonal black and white artwork of Brazilian Ibraim Roberson transforms this compendium of “authenticated” undead attacks and assorted government’s cover-ups into a truly chilling catalogue of near-disasters.

The Living Dead are animated by a virus millions of years old, transmitted when a sufferer bites a victim. It can be found in every corner of the Earth, and these deadly dozen outbreaks clearly show how lucky we’ve been thus far.

These vignettes depict Us versus Them from Central Africa in 60,000BC to Joshua Tree National Park in 1992AD, via Egypt 3000BC, Scotland 121AD (just before Hadrian built that wall), the Central Pacific in 1579 (on one of Sir Francis Drake’s voyages), in Siberia, 1583, Japan 1611, on a Portuguese slave-ship in 1690, St. Lucia in 1862, a Foreign Legion fortress in 1893, China during Japan’s campaign during WWII, and at a Soviet science station during the Cold War, and the restrained matter-of-fact tone of the pieces make them some of the most gripping horror fiction I’ve ever seen.

Just keep telling yourself “Zombies don’t exist” and you’ll be fine.

© 2009 Max Brooks. All Rights Reserved.


By Kao Yung & Kuan-Ling, translated by Lobelia Cheng and Ailen Lujo (DrMaster)
ISBN: 978-1-59796-153-0 & 978-1-59796-154-7

For romantic comedy in comics form there’s no better place (actually no place at all outside the alternative and small press scenes) than the manga and manhwa marketplace and at least a lot of these stories are readily available in decent translations.

A great example is this brief (2 volume) tale of young Roxanne, a decent, hardworking “plain Jane” school girl in love with the class stud, Logan. Naturally this arrogant bad-boy treats her like dirt…

Her life is made even more miserable by the fact that her older sister recently grew from an ugly duckling to a pretty insufferable swan, and promptly left her behind and alone…

Roxanne’s life changes forever when she frees the Celestial hunk Baphalen from his godly imprisonment in an ancient wall-hanging and he proffers her heart’s desire if she can successfully complete the fantasy tests of Magic Lover’s Tower (a kind of eldritch full-immersion Virtual Reality game and flight simulator).

Should she win her life will change and everything she desires will become real: of course failure could mean death, or worse, make Logan hate her more…

There are the usual cultural barriers for western readers to cross: how people look (appearance and behaviour) is so terrifyingly important in these yarns, as is acceptance and family conformity (although here this does provide many of the better comedy moments), and of course cute and sassy magical animal thingies abound, but there’s also a strong undercurrent of rebellion, a powerful romantic triangle as the seemingly neutral Baphalen plays a hidden game and clever surprise that this grizzled old reviewer certainly didn’t see coming.

This mini-epic is beautifully illustrated and would make an ideal introduction to new readers who’ve long left comics behind but still need a little light fantasy in their lives (and yes, that does mean chicks in general, and your wife or girlfriend in particular,,,)

These books are printed in the traditional Asian front-to-back, right-to-left format.

© 2001 Kao Yung. English translation © 2008 DrMaster Publications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Madame Xanadu volume 1: Disenchanted

By Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (Vertigo)
ISBN13:  978-1-84856-288-2

Matt Wagner further blurs the boundaries between “straight” DC comics and the mature, independent Vertigo imprint – which actually drives continuity mavens raving bonkers – with this superbly fetching and compulsive yarn that manages the cunning legerdemain of telling a stand-alone tale for newcomers which also acts a clever piece of historical in-filling for readers steeped in the arcane lore of the magical aspects of DC universe.

Collecting the first ten issues of the lovely, thoughtful monthly comic, Disenchanted finally provides an origin for one of the most mysterious characters in the company’s pantheon, and makes her a crucial lynchpin in the development of a number of the company’s biggest stars.

Madame Xanadu debuted in Doorway to Nightmare, one of the last of DC’s 1970’s mystery stable (February 1978) and a rare deviation from the standard anthology format. She was a tarot reader who became peripherally involved in supernatural adventures of her clients, and was designed by Michael William Kaluta and Joe Orlando. The title ended after only five issues although four further tales appeared in The Unexpected, and one final solo adventure was released as DC’s second “Direct Sales only” title (in the early 1980s comics shops had become common enough that they could support titles that simply couldn’t find an audience on the sale-or-return newsstands).

After lurking in the musty and magical corners of the DCU for decades she finally got another shot at the limelight and to be honest it’s been worth the wait.

In the final days of Camelot the fairy Nimue, mistress of the Sacred Grove and sister to the Lady of the Lake and haughty Morgana, is disturbed by the growing chaos in the land. The puissant clairvoyant is unexpectedly visited by a stranger who urges her to act on her visions but she is proud and reluctant, and drives him away.

Meanwhile her lover Merlin is making dire preparations for inevitable battle and lets his loving mask slip. His dalliance with her is clearly only a pretence to obtain her secrets of immortality…

As Camelot falls and the land burns Merlin summons a demon from Hell to protect him and leaves it loose after the castle falls.  The stranger returns and urges Nimue to beware Merlin’s intentions, but although she is wary of the wizard she will not believe him capable of harming her.

She learns otherwise almost too late, binding Merlin in a magical snare, but the wizard’s revenge is terrible as with his last vestige of power he destroys her enchanted nature: with her potions she will still know magic but never again be magical…

Hundreds of years later she is seer for mighty Kublai Khan when the stranger appears again, guide to the expedition bringing Marco Polo to his heady destiny. Once again the stranger’s warnings are unwelcome but true and her perfect life and innocent friends suffer because she will not listen. She departs aware that the stranger believes he serves a purpose more important than innocent lives but when she confronts him he vanishes, as always, like a phantom…

In France she advises Marie Antoinette, both before and after she is dragged to the Bastille, and begs the ubiquitous stranger to save the tragic queen to no avail. When she finally returns to England she hunts Jack the Ripper, unable to fathom how the stranger can believe any cause more important than stopping this monster, and the story ends in 1930s New York in the fleeting moments before Supermen burst onto the world stage, finally discovering the strangers mission, and learning how her ancient antics shaped it…

Despite a huge coterie of magical guest-stars from Zatarra to Death of the Endless and the close tires to key moments of DC history, this is a delightful, glorious, romantic, scary stand-alone tragedy that any older fantasy fan and newcomer to comics could easily read… and really should.

© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Donald and Gladstone – Gladstone Comic Album #15

By Carl Barks (Gladstone)
ISBN: 0-944599-12-5

Carl Barks is one of the greatest storytellers America has ever produced, beginning his splendid career as a jobbing cartoonist before joining Disney’s animation studio in 1935. He resigned in 1942 to work exclusively and anonymously in comic books. Until the mid-1960s he worked in productive seclusion writing and drawing a treasure load of comedic adventure yarns, creating a Duck Universe of memorable – and highly bankable – characters such as the nefarious Beagle Boys (1951), Gyro Gearloose (1952), and Magica De Spell (1961) to augment the stable of cartoon actors from the Disney Studio. His greatest creation was undoubtedly the crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad sesquipedillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the star of this show.

So potent were his creations that they fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his brilliant comic work was done for the licensing company Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio.

Throughout this period Barks was blissfully unaware that his work (uncredited by official policy as was all the company’s cartoon and comicbook output), was nevertheless singled out by a rabid and discerning public as being by “the Good Duck Artist.” When some of his most dedicated fans finally tracked him down, his belated celebrity began.

Gladstone Publishing began re-releasing Barks material – and a selection of other Disney comics strips – in the 1980s and this album is another one of the best. Whilst producing all that landmark innovative material Barks was just a working guy, generating covers, illustrating other people’s scripts when required.

Printed in the European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) this glorious treat reprints some of the best tales of another Barks creation, one that became the inspiration for the publisher of these fabulous collections. Gladstone Gander was created in 1948 as a foil for Donald Duck, intended to be even more obnoxious than the irascible, excitable film fowl.

That first untitled tale from Walt Disney Comics and Stories #95 introduces him: as big and blustery a blowhard as Donald, both furiously boasting and feuding, trying to get one over on the other in a series of scams that does neither any good.

That set a pattern but it wasn’t until the second tale that Barks hit on his character masterstroke. Gladstone is slick, lazy and unpleasant – but also the luckiest creature on Earth. Diamonds fall from the skies at his feet, he wins lotteries he never entered… nothing comes hard for him!

In this hilarious yarn (Walt Disney Comics and Stories #143, 1952) Donald is swindled into buying worthless land which he palms off on Gladstone, only for the giddy goose to turn an instant profit. The most intriguing part of these little gems is how Barks managed to craft moralistic endings that taught both these wily birds a salutary lesson.

Walt Disney Comics and Stories #167 (1954) found the pair competing for a sports car in a prize fishing competition but although an incredible fluke naturally nets Gladstone the car, Donald’s display of heroism finally wins him a worthier reward.

The last two stories highlight the other – and highly comedic aspects – of the rivals, namely their extended duel for the favours of Daisy Duck, seen here in the tale of an intimate dinner party that goes nowhere near according to plan, and their superb slapstick one-upmanship that compels them to compete for lead role in a Shakespearian Amateur dramatics production – a hysterical tragedy in the making.

Barks was as adept with quick-fire gag stories as epic adventures; blending humour with drama and charm with action, and even if you can’t find this particular volume, most of his work is readily accessible through a number of publications and outlets. So there’s absolutely no need to deprive yourself of these delightful tales. You lucky devil, you…
© 1989, 1958, 1954, 1952, 1948 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Hook – the Official Movie Adaptation

Adapted by Charles Vess & various (Marvel)
ISBN: -0-87135-800-X

With the Panto season hard upon us I thought this little lost gem, unfairly disparaged for far too long, was worth bringing to your attention. Marvel in the late 1980s and 1990s ran a highly efficient machine in terms of licensing, working closely with many Film Promotion departments – often with less than spectacular results. Oddly, as often as a comic version couldn’t capture the magic of the movies, many other adaptations actually improved upon their cinematic inspirations.

This collection happily falls into the latter category (to be frank how could it do otherwise?) as the story of how Peter Pan, now a world-weary middle-aged corporate lawyer named Peter Banning, reluctantly rediscovers the magic of Childhood when Captain Hook breaks the boundaries of imagination to kidnap his old foe’s children for revenge.

Returned to Never-Never Land Peter must rediscover his enthusiasm and sense of wonder if he is to save everything he loves…

Peter Pan: or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up was written in 1904 by Scottish writer James M. Barrie, who turned it into an expanded novel, Peter and Wendy in 1911. They have both since been produced many times as films and plays.

This movie is a extension and sequel, and to my mind is fatally uninspired, tired and laborious (I’m being judgemental I know and if it’s a favourite of yours I apologise, but have you actually read Barrie’s original work – either book or play?), however the comics adaptation is an unexpectedly visual delight crafted by an incredible accumulation of stylish artists, and Vess’ script is certainly better paced and far more sensitively realised than the film.

The four chapters (originally conceived as a miniseries) are pencilled by John Ridgway, Denis Rodier, Gray Morrow, Ray Lago, Anna-Maria Cool and Craig Hamilton with finished inks from Vess, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Panosian, Rodier, Rick Bryant, John Lucas and Kim DeMulder who all combine perfectly to make the tale the rollicking, rip-roaring joy the film so desperately wanted to be.

Track it down, read and be rejuvenated and get the kids the Barrie book this December – now that’s a recipe for a happy ending all around.
© 1991 TriStar Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Tarzan Digest #1

By Russ Manning (DC Comics)

The early 1970s were the last real glory days of National (now DC) Comics. As they slowly lost market-share to Marvel they responded by producing controversial and landmark superhero material, but their greatest strength lay, as it always has, in the variety and quality of its genre divisions. Mystery and supernatural, Romance, War and Kids’ titles remained strong and the company’s eye for a strong licensed brand was as keen as ever.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan had long been a mainstay of Dell and Gold Key, as well as a global multi-media phenomenon, and when DC acquired the title they rightly trumpeted it out, putting one of their top Artist/Editors, Joe Kubert, in charge of the legendary Ape-man’s monthly exploits, and putting a whole niche of ERB titles onto the stands in a variety of formats.

The latter days of the Gold Key run had suffered since the brilliant Russ Manning took over the syndicated newspaper strip, and even the likes of Doug Wildey hadn’t been able to revive the comicbook series in the face of increasing prices and a general downturn in sales across the market. The DC incarnation premiered in a blaze of publicity at the height of a nostalgia boom and was generally well received by fans and the company pushed the title in many places and manners.

One of my very favourites is this handy-dandy digest, reprinting a number of Manning’s most fantastic forays with ERB’s fabulous creations, taken, I believe from the Manning Sunday strips, and filled out with Jesse Marsh’s ‘Tarzan’s illustrated Ape-English Dictionary’ and a couple of ‘Tarzan’s Jungle Lore’ features.

Russ Manning was an absolute master of his art, most popularly remembered now for the Star Wars newspaper strip, Magnus, Robot Fighter as well as the comic-book and newspaper strip (dailies from 1969-1972 and the Sundays from 1969-1979) incarnations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s immortal Lord of the Jungle.

Manning’s Tarzan never strayed far from the canonical texts and here he puts the indomitable Greystoke through his paces in ‘Tarzan and the Rite of the Great Apes’ a delightful short fantasy of the Great White God’s relaxing times among his hairy subjects, ‘Tarzan and the Ant-Men’, which sees him return to the diminutive Velopismakusian warrior race stranded behind their impenetrable Thorn barrier, and the epic sequel ‘Tarzan and the Attack of the Beast Men’, which pits and him and son Korak against an invasion of Hyena and Crocodile men from a lost outpost of ancient Egypt.

Spectacular, tantalising, captivating and gloriously beautiful (I cannot think of any artist who drew lovelier women – or men, for that matter) this pocket-sized gem is an unending source of delights.

Eho vando! Tarmangani gree-ah! Kagoda? Now if you had this book you’d probably agree, no?
© 1972 Edgar Rice Burroughs Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.

The Magic Goes Away – DC Science Fiction Graphic Novel #6

By Larry Niven, adapted by Paul Kupperberg & Jan Duursema (DC Comics)
ISBN: 0-930289-19-6

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 contacts from his early days as a Literary Agent to convince major names from the fantasy literature world to allow their early classics to be adapted into a line of Science Fiction Graphic Novels.

The groundbreaking short-story by Larry Niven was released in 1976 during the first energy/oil crisis and was met with almost universal acclaim. Quickly expanded into a novella it is a powerful allegory of conservation and sensible management of resources. The settings and universe were subsequently used for other stories including The Burning City and The Burning Tower (co-written with Jerry Pournelle) and others.

This adaptation is probably the most comfortingly traditional of these experimental comic strip interpretations and comes courtesy of the inexplicably underrated Paul Kupperberg and Jan Duursema, with delightful lettering and calligraphic effects from Todd Klein.

Long ago when the world literally ran on magic, a long-lived warlock noticed that every so often his powers would diminish until he relocated to another part of the world. Warlock built a simple device and used it to prove that Mana, the spark of magic, was a finite thing and could be used up…

A warrior washed up in a sea-side village and it was clear he had survived some appalling catastrophe. When he was recovered he left in search of a magician – any magician. At this time Warlock and Clubfoot, once among the mightiest magicians on Earth, were wandering, assessing the state of a world rapidly running out of wonders, and increasingly aware that humanity was adapting to a life without them.

They carried their paraphernalia, including the skull of the necromancer Wavyhill, with them as they searched for a location with enough Mana to power the spells which were all but useless everywhere now.  Warlock had a big idea.  Earth’s Mana might be exhausted but the moon’s must be untouched.  All they needed was enough power to get to it…

Then the warrior introduced himself and told his tale.  His nation had tried for uncounted years to conquer magical Atlantis.  When they did, killing all the priests, the island sank. Guilt-crazed Orolandes the Greek determined to make amends and sought wizards to show him how.

With the world more mundane every moment these stalwarts joined other magicians – untrustworthy souls all – in a last ditch attempt to bring back their dying lifestyle. Finding the location of the last god in existence the conclave planned to steal his Mana, and use it to bring the untapped moon down to Earth…

The tale is a delightfully logical and rational exploration and celebration of fantasy that acknowledges all the rich wealth of the genre whilst applying some hard-edged rules to it.  Kupperberg and Duursema walk a dangerous tightrope but joyously capture the marvels of the milieu, whilst depicting the raw tension, and cynicism of a world on the edge of the ultimate systems-crash.

Beautiful and terrifying this is an adaptation and allegory that every consumer (of fantasy or indeed anything) should read…
© 1978 Larry Niven. Text & illustrations © 1986 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Crossing Midnight book 2:

By Mike Carey, Jim Fern, Eric Nguyen & Mark Pennington (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-726-6

Lots of westerners are fascinated with the myths and culture of Japan, but superbly sinister storyteller Mike Carey (his work, not him; he’s a thoroughly decent and upright young fellow) has taken it to a staggering new level of wit and sophistication, blending elegant fantasy with contemporary horror and crime cinema in this tale of a magical quest through the darkest lands of the of the Rising Sun both fabulously mythic and brutally, bewilderingly raw and modern.

Kai and Toshi Hara are twins born either side of the Witching Hour in Nagasaki, and that crucial time difference has shaped and blighted their lives. Born seven minutes after midnight Toshi is no ordinary girl: bold, energetic and utterly immune to all harm from edges and points. No blade will cut her; butt her 14 minute older brother seems painfully weak and mortal.

Their loving parents have problems too. Their mother was killed by Aratsu, celestial Lord of the Knives and restored without a soul whilst their father has been sucked into the deadly world of the Yakuza…

This second volume (collecting issues #6-12 of the impressive and stylish Vertigo comic book) finds Kai still hunting for his missing sister through the darkest, nastiest places of the city, whilst his sister undergoes an esoteric training period before she can become a full – if reluctant – servant to her divine master.

Kai finds an unlikely ally among the police and discovers the utterly mundane horrors of the Enjokosai when a trio of schoolgirls aid him in the hunt for his sister, much to their short-lived regret, as a dreadful supernatural beast comes hunting in those places where innocence is unashamedly for sale.

Enjokosai: “reward” or “compensated dating” is a publicly acknowledged and generally accepted phenomenon and common practice that sees Japanese schoolgirls flirt and accompany men for gifts, and although the girl is nominally dominant and dictates how far she will – or won’t – go, the dangers of openly eroticized children bargaining with sexually predatory men is one that thankfully just isn’t tolerated in many places outside Japan.

Kai’s search brings the vindictive world of the Kami directly to these thoroughly modern ladies with horrific consequences, but they’re just more collateral damage in a millennial struggle that is swiftly approaching a bloody climax.

With war brewing in the realm of spirits and shadows, rebellious Toshi is working to her own agenda but against creatures so ancient and diabolically experienced how can she possibly succeed or escape?

Split into two story-arcs, ‘A Map of Midnight’ and the intensely disturbing ‘Bedtime Stories’ Carey, Jim Fern, Eric Nguyen and Mark Pennington have truly pushed the boundaries of horror fiction, interweaving legendary Nippon and modern Japan with dystopian culture clashes, childhood terrors, gangster action and even social politics into a dazzling and very adult fairytale epic that nearly defies categorisation. It really is a series no mature fantasy fan should miss…
© 2007 Mike Carey and Jim Fern. All Rights Reserved.