Marshal Law: Blood, Sweat and Fears

By Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-526-5

The anti-est of all anti-heroes returns in this prime collection of excessive violence and unnecessary force that further lampoons the All-American Icon of the superhero, courtesy of those Britannic Hero-Harriers Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill.

In 1987 Epic Comics, Marvel’s creator-owned imprint, published a six issue miniseries that starred a hero very much in the vein of Judge Dredd, but one who took the hallowed tenets of the superhero genre and gave them a thorough slapping, Brit-boy style, in the tale a costumed cop who did the Right Thing and did it His Way…

San Futuro is a Metropolitan urban dystopia built on the remnants of San Francisco after the Big Quake. America is recovering from another stupid exploitative war in somebody else’s country, and as usual the demobbed, damaged and brain-fried veterans are clogging the streets and menacing decent society. The problem is that this war was fought with artificially manufactured superheroes, and now they’re back they’re a dangerous embarrassment.

Marshal Law was one of them, but now he’s a cop; angry and disillusioned. His job is to put away masks and capes, but as bad as they are, the people he works for are worse. This establishing series was collected as Marshal Law: Fear and Loathing.

Being a creator-owned property, after a 1989 Epic Comics one shot ‘Marshal Law takes Manhattan’ (reprinted, out of sequence, in the third volume of his collected adventures) old zipper-face went with Mills and O’Neill to the British independent outfit Apocalypse, publishers of the talent-heavy 2000AD rival Toxic, which ran from March to October 1991. That troubled, influential periodical was preceded by a Marshal Law Special ‘Kingdom of the Blind’ at the end of 1990, which provides the first tale in this volume.

Although played for more overt laughs than the Epic tales the vented spleen and venom displayed in this captivating yarn is simply breathtaking as the creators put the boot into the most popular hero of the time. The Private Eye had trained himself to fight criminals ever since his parents were murdered in front of him. For decades he made the night his own, to universal popular acclaim: even Marshal Law thought he was the exception that proved the rule…

But when circumstances force Law to question his beliefs he uncovers a snake-pit of horror and corruption that shakes even his weary, embittered sensibilities, and makes him wonder why nobody ever questioned how one hero could get through so many sidekicks…

A second Special ‘The Hateful Dead’ began a two part odyssey wherein the toughest cop in San Futuro faced an undead plague as a Toxic accident (tee-hee; d’you see what they did there?) resurrected a graveyard full of dead supermen – many of them put there by Marshall Law -as well as ordinary ex-citizens to bedevil the conflicted hero-hunter. The story ended on an incredible cliffhanger… and Apocalypse went bust.

After two years Law jumped back across the pond to Dark Horse Comics, concluding the yarn in ‘Super Babylon’ as the resurgent Bad Cop quelled the return of the living dead and just by way of collateral damage devastated assorted superhero pantheons by ending thinly disguised versions of the Justice Society and League as well as such WWII super-patriots as the Invaders and Captain America (and all this decades before “Marvel Zombies” even stirred in their graves). In addition the creators couldn’t resist one more mighty pop at American Cold-War Imperialism that’s both utterly over-the-top and hilarious – unless you’re a Republican, I suppose…

Fiercely polemical and strident, this is nonetheless one of the most intimate of the Marshal Law exploits as Mills shows us another, softer side to the character and even introduces us to his family; but never fear, the uncompromising satirical attacks on US policies, attitudes and gosh-darn it, a whole way of life, isn’t watered down by sentiment: This is a series that always keeps one last punch in reserve and the superbly memorable art of O’Neill actually improves with every page.

This volume also includes back-up feature of sketches, variant and foreign-edition art to augment the experience of Futuro shock. Classically inappropriate mayhem; just who could resist it?

© 2003 Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill. Art © 1993 Kevin O’Neill All Rights Reserved.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle volume One

By Michael Kupperman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-164-0

Sometimes words mean nothing, pictures tell every story and stuff is funny just because it is. That pretty much sums up the work of absurdist comedy pioneer Michael Kupperman, whose graphic samplings of old comics, strips and magazines – especially the ads – fill the pages of the too infrequent comicbook Tales Designed to Thrizzle.

Kupperman is a cartoonist who clearly loves to draw and has no difficulty isolating the innate insanity of modern living as well as the way we regard our own past – especially the not-so-important bits – which he delivers in a surreal graphic deadpan style that would turn Buster Keaton grey with envy.

He created the strips Found in the Street and Up all Night, has contributed pieces to The New Yorker, Heavy Metal, The Wall Street Journal, The Independent on Sunday, LA Weekly, The New York Times, Libération, Fortune Screw and many similar reputable magazines as well as in such comics as Hodags and Hodaddies, Hotwire, Snake Eyes, Zero Zero, Blood Orange and Legal Action Comics amongst others.

Kupperman’s first book Snake ‘n’ Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret (2000) led to his breaking into the heady world of adult animation and he has since illustrated many books, but Tales Designed to Thrizzle is his personal star vehicle, allowing him to play his intensely stylish mind-games against a dizzying cultural backdrop of “Men’s sweat mags”, True Confessions pulps, cheesy old comics, B-movies and a million other icons of low-class Americana, all given a unique twist and spin by a man whose head is clearly too small for his brain…

This classy hardcover collects the first four issues in scintillating colour, each individual collected comic-book divided – because propriety counts – into “Adults”, “Kids” and “Old People’s Sections” and contains such instant favourites as the aforementioned Snake ‘n’ Bacon, The Manister (a hero who can transform into a banister), Underpants-On-His-Head Man, Cousin Granpa, Pagus, rowdy half-brother of Jesus, and many wildly misinformative fact features like Remembering the Thirties, Porno Coloring Books, Sex Blimps and Sex Holes or the inadequate meanderings of Storm Cloudfront, veteran weatherman.

Brash, challenging, brilliantly imaginative and always funny this is a book for every grown-up, couch-based life-form that needs a hearty guffaw every now and then – but much more now than then…

All characters, stories and artwork © 2009 Michael Kupperman. All rights reserved.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume II

By Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill (Americas Best Comics)
ISBN: 1-4012-0117-2

The Victorian era saw the birth of both popular and populist publishing, particularly the genres of fantasy and adventure fiction. Writers of varying skill but with unbounded imaginations expounded personal concepts of honour and heroism, wedded unflinchingly to the innate belief in English Superiority. In all worlds and even beyond them the British gentleman took on all comers for Right and Decency, viewing danger as a game and showing “Johnny Foreigner” just how that game should be played.

For all the problems this raises with our modern sensibilities many of the stories remain uncontested classics of literature and form the roadmap for all modern fictional heroes. Open as they are to charges of Racism, Sexism (even misogyny), Class Bias and Cultural Imperialism the best of them remain the greatest of all yarns.

An august selection of just such heroic prototypes were seconded by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill for a miniseries in 1999 that managed to say as much about our world as that long gone one, and incidentally tell a captivating tale as compelling as any of its antecedents.

In short succession there was an inevitable sequel, once more pressing into service vampire-tainted Wilhelmina Murray, aged Great White Hunter Allan Quatermain, Invisible Man Hawley Griffin, the charismatic genius Captain Nemo and both cultured Dr. Henry Jekyll and his bombastic alter-ego Mister Hyde, and including cameos from the almost English Edwin Lester Arnolds’ Gullivar Jones and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars and even creatures from C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet.

As London rebuilds after the cataclysmic denouement of the first volume a savage planetary conflict on the fourth planet ends with the firing of gigantic projectiles at our fragile, unsuspecting world…

This startlingly impressive and effective interleaving of HG Wells’ landmark fantasy classic with the skewed but so-very plausible conceit that all the great adventurers of literature hung out together captures perfectly the feeling of a world and era ending, as internal conflicts pull apart the champions – at no time do they ever even slightly resemble a team – and Moore’s irrepressible imagination and vast cultural reservoir dredges up a further elite selection of literary touchstones to enhance the proceedings.

Dark and genuinely terrifying the tale unfolds largely unchanged from the original War of the Worlds plot, but the parallel side-stories are utterly gripping and unpredictable, whilst the inclusion of such famed and/or lost characters as Bill Samson, Doctor Moreau, Tiger Tim and even Rupert Bear among others sweetens the pot for those in the know (and for those who aren’t you could always consult the official companion A Blazing World.

The idea of combining shared cultural brands is not new: Philip Jose Farmer in particular has spun many a yarn teaming such icons as Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, Tarzan and such like, Warren Ellis has succumbed to similar temptation in Planetary and Jasper Fforde has worked wonders with the device in his Thursday Next novels, but the sheer impetus of Moore and O’Neill’s steampunk revisionism and the rush of ideas and startling visuals that carry them make this book an irresistible experience and an absolute necessity for any fiction fan let alone comic collector.

This book is an incredible work of scholarship and artistry recast into a fabulous pastiche of an entire literary movement. It’s also a brilliant piece of comics wizardry of a sort no other art form can touch, but as with many Moore craftings there is a substantial text feature at the back, and it is quite wordy.

Read it anyway: it’s there for a reason and is more than worth the effort as it outlines the antecedents of the League in a fabulously stylish and absorbing manner. It might also induce you to read a few other very interesting and rewarding books…

© 1999, 2000 Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill. All Rights Reserved.

JLA: World Without Grown-Ups

By Todd Dezago, Humberto Ramos, Mike McKone, Todd Nauck & others (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-473-2

There are a lot of different aspects that contribute to the “perfect mix” in the creation of any continuing character in comics. How much more so then, when the idea is to build a superhero team that will stand out from the seething masses that already exist? In the mid-1990s a fresh batch of sidekicks and super-kids started cropping up at DC after some years of thematic disfavour, and as the name and modus operandi of the Teen Titans was already established something new needed to be done with them.

But why were kid crusaders back at all? Ignoring the intrinsic imbecility – and illegality if you count numerous child-endangerment laws – of on-the-job training for superheroes who can’t shave yet, why should young champions appeal at all to comics readers?

I don’t buy the old saw about it giving young readers someone to identify with: most kids I grew up with wanted to be the cool adult who got to drive the whatever-mobile, not the squawking brat in short pants. Every mission would feel like going out clubbing with your dad…

I rather suspect it’s quite the reverse: older readers with responsibilities and chores could fantasize about being powerful, effective, cool and able to beat people up without having to surrender a hormone-fuelled, purely juvenile frat-boy sense of goofy fun…

That’s certainly the case in the adventures of the frenetic trio here. Although pitched as a Justice League miniseries World Without Grown-Ups was really a commercially-loaded vehicle intended to introduce the new teen super-team, Young Justice, where teen issues and traditional caped crusading could be seamlessly blended with high-octane adventure and deft, daft home-room laughs.

This irresistibly contagious fun-fest collects that initial miniseries and also includes a related one-shot that appeared as part of that year’s (1998) skip-week publishing event “GirlFrenzy“.

‘Young Justice: the Secret’ (by the Todds Dezago and Nauck, with inks by Lary Stucker) finds Robin, Superboy and the super-speedster Impulse relating the suspicious circumstances that led them to rescue a young girl composed entirely of smoke and vapour from the supposedly benign federal agency the Department of ExtraNormal Operations – a exploit that would have major repercussions in later tales – before the main event kicks off.

‘World Without Grown-Ups’ sees a young boy use an Ancient Atlantean talisman to get rid of all adults, leaving the planet a responsibility-free playground. The planetary guardians the Justice League can only wait helplessly in some other existence as all the underage heroes left on Earth try to cope with the wave of idiocy and irresponsibility trying to cope with the spiralling disasters caused by a dearth of doctors, drivers, pilots and so forth. Robin, Superboy and Impulse meanwhile seek out the cause, desperate to set things right unaware that the malign entity imprisoned in the talisman has its own sinister agenda…

This canny blend of tension and high jinks, comedy and pathos, action and mystery fair rattles along with thrills and one-liners aplenty courtesy of Dezago, Humbert Ramos & Wayne Faucher (kids world) and Mike McKone, Paul Neary & Mark McKenna (JLA sequences) who combine a compelling countdown to calamity with outright raucous buffoonery.

Kids are all about having fun and this book utterly captures that purest of essences. Unleash your inner rapscallion with this addictive gem but remember not all genies want to get back in their bottle… and not all the Young Justice tales were ever collected.
© 1998 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Greetings From… Mark Ryden’s Tree Show (micro portfolio #5)

A 15 plate postcard set by Mark Ryden (Porterhouse Fine Art Editions)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-716-7

I’m once more straying a little from my accustomed comfort zone with this delightful and evocative little item that landed in my review tray the other day. Whilst not sequential art the fifteen enticing yet profoundly disturbing images that make up this gift-set of postcards are certainly full of technical craft and intense imagination; and moreover the chillingly subversive pictures tell stories the way no thousand words ever could… by boring straight into your brain and making themselves uncomfortably at home.

Mark Ryden comes from a family of artists and has made his name in the last decade as an illustrator, producing book covers for the likes of Stephen King (Desperation and The Regulators) and record covers for Ringo Starr, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Michael Jackson. His work, reminiscent in style to classic Salvador Dali falls into a category of modern art described as “Pop Surrealism”. He was educated at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, graduating in 1987 with a Batchelor’s Degree in Fine Art. And that’s where his first one man exhibition “The Meat Show” debuted in 1998.

Ryden came to prominence with regular features in “Lowbrow” art magazines such as Juxtapoz and has also exhibited in New York, Los Angeles and Santa Ana. Recent shows have included the retrospective “Wondertoonel” and the quirky tour de forceThe Tree Show” (paintings and sculptures to 2007-2008) from which the contents of this set are culled.

Like many contemporary artists Ryden works across many media, illustrating the guitar of Metallica front-man Kirk Hammett, designing the tattoo art for Aerosmith’s album “Pump” and designing for custom action-figure producer Michael Leavitt’s “the Art Army“. Ryden’s eye-popping creepy explorations of beauty, childhood and popular culture can be found in the book collections the Art of Mark Ryden: Anima Mundi (2001), Bunnies and Bees (2002), Wondertoonel Paintings (2004), Blood Show (2005), Fushigi Circus (2006) and, of course, The Tree Show (2009).

Darkly surreal, with sumptuously lush palettes and a subject matter consisting of little girls, teddy bears, animals and monsters against a gloriously “outdoors-y” backdrop, these paintings are simultaneously beautiful and disquieting; a must-have treat for adults who view the Abstract Concept of childhood with something less than saccharine nostalgia…

© 2008 Porterhouse Fine Art Editions, Denver, Co.

Marvel Platinum: the Greatest Foes of Wolverine – UK Edition

By various (Marvel/Panini Publishing UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-422-5

The Wolverine juggernaut rolls confidently on with this bulky yet absorbing compendium of bombastic battles starring a selection of worthy adversaries as rendered by some of the biggest names in comics.

The carnage begins with a sleekly impressive turn from illustrators Paul Smith and Bob Wiacek, as the feral mutant Logan goes wild in Japan after the X-Men are poisoned at his wedding. With fellow mutant powerhouse Rogue in tow Wolverine carves a bloody trail to the Yakuza mercenary Silver Samurai and the deadly mastermind Viper in Chris Claremont’s ‘To Have and Have Not’ (from Uncanny X-Men # 173, September 1983).

This is followed by the concluding episode of the six part miniseries Kitty Pryde and Wolverine (April, 1985). ‘Honor’ by Claremont and Allen Milgrom features a big battle between Logan and an immortal Ninja magician named Ogun, but unless you’ve actually read the preceding five issues somewhere else, that’s about all you’ll comprehend plot-wise from this underrated saga which completely rewrote the character of the youngest X-Man and her relationship to the Canadian crazyman.

‘Wounded Wolf’ is a visceral, visual masterpiece from Uncanny X-Men # 205, (May 1986), courtesy of Claremont and Barry Windsor-Smith as Wolverine faces the vengeance-crazed cyborg Lady Deathstrike in a compelling tale guest-starring little Katie Power from Power Pack.

Marc Silvestri and Dan Green illustrated the first part of a classic clash with ex-Hellfire Club villain Donald Pierce (‘Fever Dream’ Uncanny X-Men # 251, November 1989) and his band of cyborg assassins the Reavers, whilst Rick Leonardi and Kent Williams finished Claremont’s brutal tale in the concluding ‘Where’s Wolverine?!?’

There’s no let-up in the extreme action and bloodletting in the untitled tale that follows as Peter David and Sam Kieth introduce the grotesque and decidedly warped Adamantium Assassin Cyber in an eight chapter, 64 page saga that originally ran in the fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents (1991) whilst John Byrne, Jim Lee and Scott Williams pit the old Canuckle-head (albeit incredibly briefly and please don’t make explain that peculiarly inept nick-name) against toxic Cold War living weapon Omega Red in the first part of a much longer tale that begins in ‘The Resurrection and the Flesh’ from X-Men #4 (January 1992).

From the same month in Wolverine #50, Larry Hama, Marc Silvestri and Dan Green’s ‘Dreams of Gore: Phase 3’ reveals tantalizing snippets from Logan’s past life as secret agent when he fights a rogue computer program and a past lover in a choppy but oddly satisfying tale, whilst ‘The Dying Game’ (Wolverine #90, February 1995) by Hama, Adam Kubert, Mark Farmer and Dan Green, although not the final battle between Logan and his arch-foe Sabretooth it was proclaimed, is certainly one of the most cathartic and impressive.

‘Better than Best’ by Tom DeFalco, Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz (Wolverine #123, April 1998) finds a physically depleted Logan imprisoned and tortured by two of his oldest foes Roughouse (a giant troll) and Bloodscream (a vampire) in an unusually insightful tale of perseverance and the grudge matches conclude – once more unsatisfactorily I’m afraid – with parts one and two of the three part epic ‘Bloodsport’ by Frank Tieri, Dan Fraga and Norm Rapmund (Wolverine #167 and 168, October-November 2001). Herein the mutant mite competes in a gory martial arts/superpowers tournament against such second-raters as Taskmaster, Puma and the Terrible Toad just so he can confront Viper and the man he cannot defeat, the telepathic serial killer Mr. X.

The old, old plot still has plenty of punch here but I find it incomprehensible to have 18 pages of data-files and biographies of Wolverine’s foes pad out the book whilst omitting the 20 or so pages that would end the story! Visually this book contains some of Wolverine’s best moments, but I’ll never understand sacrificing story-content for pictures and punches…

© 1983, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1998, 2001, 2009 Marvel Entertainment Inc. and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.

Everybody is Stupid Except for Me and other Astute Observations

By Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-158-9

You probably know Peter Bagge as the fiery, wise-mouthed, superbly acerbic cartoonist responsible for incredibly addictive strips about American life that featured in such wonderful magazines as Neat Stuff and Hate, the inimitable Buddy Bradley stories or even his foray into the more-or-less mainstream with DC’s Yeah!

But the graphic ridiculist has a politically active side as cartoonist and societal commentator for the Libertarian publication Reason, a task he has joyously undertaken for nearly a decade. Now a collection of his best strips (perhaps cartoon “op-ed” columns would be a better description) has been compiled by Fantagraphics and a more powerful argument for the concept of Free Speech you could not find anywhere.

In a mostly full-colour format the deliciously fluid drawings and razor-sharp polemical, questioning, highly rational and deeply intimate quandaries and observations of Bagge skewer, spotlight and generally expose the day-to-day aggravation and institutionalized insanity of modern urban life in 47 strips ranging from one to four pages in length.

Divided into War, Sex, Arts, Business, Boondoggles, Tragedy, Politics, and Our Stupid Country, Bagge uncovers and gives a damn good satirizing to such topics as Drugs policy and attitudes, organized religion, gun control, birth control and abortion, education, homelessness and even Libertarianism itself (and just in case you’re too busy to look it up, we’re talking about a philosophy not a political party – although sometimes it’s hard to tell: Libertarianism in its broadest form is simply the advocacy of Free Will and the belief in personal action and responsibility as opposed to the surrender of liberty and decision making to other – for which we usually mean Big Business and governments, not your mother…)

Challenging, iconoclastic and thought-provoking (or else what’s the point?) this is also a superbly engaging entertaining book, and Bagge is the perfect inquisitor; impassioned, deeply involved and not afraid to admit when he’s confused, angry or just plain wrong. This wonderful use of brains, heart and ink should be compulsory reading before anybody is allowed to vote or even voice an opinion (now there’s a topic for discussion…)

© 2009 Peter Bagge. This edition © 2009 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story

By John Ryan (Puffin)
ISBN: 978-1-84507-919-2

John Ryan was an artist and storyteller who straddled three distinct disciplines of graphic narrative, with equal qualitative if not financial success.

The son of a diplomat, Ryan was born in Edinburgh on March 4th 1921, served in Burma and India and after attending the Regent Street Polytechnic (1946-48) took up a post as assistant Art Master at Harrow School from 1948 to 1955. It was during this time that he began contributing strips to Fulton Press publications, in the distaff alternative Girl but especially the legendary Eagle.

On April 14th 1950 Britain’s grey, post-war gloom was partially lifted with the first issue of a new comic that literally shone with light and colour. Avid children were soon understandably enraptured with the gloss and dazzle of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, a charismatic star-turn venerated to this day. The Eagle was a tabloid-sized paper with full colour inserts alternating with text and a range of various other comic features. “Tabloid” is a big page and one can get a lot of material onto each one. Deep within, on the bottom third of a monochrome page was an eight panel strip entitled Captain PugwashThe story of a Bad Buccaneer and the many Sticky Ends which nearly befell him. Ryan’s quirky, spiky style also lent itself to the numerous spot illustrations required throughout the comic every week.

Pugwash, his harridan of a wife and the useless, lazy crew of the Black Pig ran until issue 19 when the feature disappeared. This was no real hardship as Ryan had been writing and illustrating ‘Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent’ a full page (tabloid, remember, an average of twenty panels a page, per week!) from The Eagle #16. Tweed ran for three years as a full page until 1953 when it dropped to a half page strip and was repositioned as a purely comedic venture.

In 1956 the indefatigable old sea-dog (I mean old Horatio Pugwash but it could so easily be Ryan: an unceasing story-peddler with a big family, he also found time to be the head cartoonist for the Catholic Herald for forty years) made the jump to children’s picture books.

A Pirate Story (first published by Bodley Head before switching to the children’s publishing specialist Puffin) was the first of a huge run of children’s books on a number of different subjects. Pugwash himself starred in 21 tomes; there were a dozen books based on the animated series Ark Stories, as well as Sir Prancelot and a number of other creations. Ryan worked whenever he wanted to in the comic world and eventually the books and the strips began to cross-fertilise.

The first Pugwash is very traditional in format with blocks of text and single illustrations that illuminate a particular moment. But by the publication of Pugwash the Smuggler (1982) entire sequences are lavishly painted comic strips, with as many as eight panels per page, and including word balloons. A fitting circularity to his careers and a nice treat for us old-fashioned comic drones.

When A Pirate Story was released in 1957 the BBC pounced on the property, commissioning Ryan to produce five-minute episodes (86 in all from 1957 to 1968, which were reformatted in full colour and rebroadcast in 1976). In the budding 1950s arena of animated television cartoons Ryan developed a new system for producing cheap, high quality animations to a tight deadline. He began with Pugwash, keeping the adventure milieu, but replaced the shrewish wife with a tried-and-true boy assistant. Tom the Cabin Boy is the only capable member of a crew which included such visual archetypes as Willy, Baranabas and Master Mate (fat, thin and tall – all dim) instantly affirming to the rapt, young audience that grown-ups are fools and kids do, in fact, rule.

Ryan also drew a weekly Pugwash strip in the Radio Times for eight years, before going on to produce a number of other animated series including Mary, Mungo and Midge, The Friendly Giant and Sir Prancelot as well as adaptations of some of his many children’s books. In 1997 an all new CGI-based Pugwash animated TV series began.

That first story sets the scene with a delightful clown’s romp as the so-very-motley crew of the Black Pig sailed in search of buried treasure, only to fall into a cunning trap set by the truly nasty Cut-Throat Jake. Luckily Tom, the Cabin Boy, was as smart as his shipmates and Captain were not…

John Ryan returned to pirate life in the 1980s, drawing three new Pugwash storybooks: The Secret of the San Fiasco, The Battle of Bunkum Bay and The Quest for the Golden Handshake as well as a thematic prequel in Admiral Fatso Fitzpugwash, in which it is revealed that the not-so-salty seadog had a medieval ancestor who became First Sea Lord, despite being terrified of water…

The most recent edition of A Pirate Story (2008 from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books) came with a free audio CD, and just in case I’ve tempted you beyond endurance here’s a full list (I think) of the good(?) Captain’s exploits: Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story (1957), Pugwash Aloft (1960), Pugwash and the Ghost Ship (1962), Pugwash in the Pacific (1963), Pugwash and the Sea Monster (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Ruby (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Treasure Chest (1976), Captain Pugwash and the New Ship (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Elephant (1976), The Captain Pugwash Cartoon Book (1977), Pugwash and the Buried Treasure (1980), Pugwash the Smuggler (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Fancy Dress Party (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Mutiny (1982), Pugwash and the Wreckers (1984), Pugwash and the Midnight Feast (1984), The Battle of Bunkum Bay (1985), The Quest of the Golden Handshake (1985), The Secret of the San Fiasco (1985), Captain Pugwash and the Pigwig (1991) and Captain Pugwash and the Huge Reward (1991)

We don’t have that many multi-discipline successes in comics, so why don’t you go and find out why we should celebrate one who did it all, did it first and did it well? Your kids will thank you and if you’ve any life left in your old and weary adult fan’s soul, you will too…

© 1957, 2009 John Ryan and presumably the Estate of John Ryan. All rights reserved.

Batman: Detective #27

By Michael Uslan & Peter Snejbjerg with Lee Loughridge (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-4012-0185-7

For a brief while DC’s experimental Elseworlds imprint, where familiar characters and continuity were radically or subtly re-imagined, was a regular hive of productivity and generated some wonderful – and quite a few ridiculous – stories. Moreover by using what the reader thought he/she knew as a springboard, the result, usually constricted into a single story, had a solid and resolute immediacy that was often diluted by regular, periodical publications where the illusion of change always trumped actual innovation in long-running characters.

A fine example is this intriguing pulp mystery and generational drama that blends the lineage of the Wayne family of Gotham City with covert societies and the secret history of the United States of America.

April 1865, Washington DC: President Lincoln overrides the objections of Allan Pinkerton (who had created the Secret Service to protect him) and goes to see “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre. His assassination prompts the security genius to create a dedicated clandestine force beyond the reach of everything but their mission and their own consciences…

April 1929, Gotham City: a doctor, his wife and their young son exit a movie theatre where they have thrilled to the exploits of Douglas Fairbanks as Zorro. Suddenly sneak thieves confront them and in the struggle Thomas and Martha Wayne are gunned down, leaving a grieving boy kneeling over their bloody corpses. The family butler Alfred packs the coldly resolute boy off on a decade-long world tour to study with masters of criminology around the globe…

Lincoln’s murder was planned by a cabal of Confederate plotters named the Knights of the Golden Circle. Their leader, an early geneticist named Josiah Carr, outlines a Doomsday vengeance plot that will take decades to complete…

January 1st 1939: Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham ready to begin his life’s mission but is diverted when crusading newspaperman Lee Travis reveals the existence of the Secret Society of Detectives and invites the young man to become their 27th operative since Pinkerton…

Charming and relentlessly compelling, this superb thriller follows two time-lines as the founding Detective hunts the Golden Circle through the years enlisting the covert aid of many historical figures such as Kate Warne (America’s first female detective), journalist and President-to-be Teddy Roosevelt and biologist/monk Gregor Mendel whilst Wayne closes in on the climax of the Doomsday plot with the aid of Babe Ruth and Sigmund Freud, facing customised versions of such classic Bat-foes as Catwoman, Scarecrow, Hugo Strange and the Joker.

There’s even a cameo from the Golden Age Superman as well as a magnificent surprise ending to this two-fisted tribute to the “Thud-and-Blunder” era of the 1930s pulps… This is a conspiracy thriller stuffed to overflowing with in-jokes, referential asides, pop culture clues and universal icons that make The Da Vinci Code look like a bunch of dry words on dusty paper. The only flaw is that writer Uslan and artists Snejbjerg and Loughridge were never able to create a sequel…

And just in case you’re wondering… Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) featured the very first appearance of a certain Dark Knight…
© 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

She Hulk: Time Trials

By Dan Slott, Juan Babillo & Marcelo Sosa and various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-78511-795-7

Let’s re-cap: She Hulk is the cousin of the Incredible Hulk. Her alter-ego, lawyer Jennifer Walters, got a blood transfusion from Bruce Banner and the inevitable result was a super-powerful, ample-bosomed, seven foot tall green Valkyrie who is the poster-child for “As If…”

For most of her comics career she’s been played slightly skewed to the rest of the Marvel Universe. For a good deal of it she was the only character to refer to her life in comic-book terms, with all the fourth wall comedy that could be wrung out of that situation. In this incarnation (reprinting her five issue miniseries from 2005 – in which #3 is celebrated as her 100th full issue) she returns to the prestigious Manhattan law-firm which specialises in the fledgling legal grey area known as Superhuman Law (see also Single Green Female).

This volume is marginally less tongue-in-cheek, but still follows the delightfully accessible formula, albeit with a slightly darker overtone as the human Jennifer needs artificial methods to transform into her seven foot glamazon form due to psychological traumas incurred as a result of the Avengers: Disassembled storyline and her rampaging destruction of the city of Bone, Idaho.

Nonetheless she is soon back at work on a time-travel murder case with a fascinating underlying idea. As everybody in the potential jury pool has been prejudiced by constant media coverage of the attempted murder (the victim isn’t dead yet at time of trial) Jen’s defence team comes up with the brilliant notion of calling jurors from the recent past – courtesy of the multiversal temporal police force the Time Variance Authority…

It’s all going so well until Clint Barton is selected as a jury member: how can Jen work when one of the twelve is secretly Hawkeye – a fellow Avenger she feels responsible for killing!? Guilt-racked and conflicted, Jen decides to break her oath and the rules of time-travel to warn the Ace Archer of the doom that awaits his return to his own time…

The Time Variance Authority is infallible however and when Jen is accused of the capital offence of time-tampering she faces having her entire existence erased from the annals of reality.

This third chapter is also her 100th anniversary issue and features guest art from Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar, Scott Kolins, Mike Vosburg, Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti, Ron Frenz, Joe Sinnott & Sal Buscema, Mike Mayhew, Don Simpson, Lee Weeks and Eric Powell as well as dozens of costumed guest-stars from her jaded career as a hero/villain, whilst #4 is a brief interlude in the greater story (illustrated by Scott Kolins) as She Hulk explores the aftermath of her Idaho rampage with the poignant and rewarding ‘Back to Bone’ before the jurisprudence and chronal carnage concludes with the rescue and return of a dead hero…

This is a priceless, clever romp with devastatingly sharp wit and low, vulgar slapstick in equal amounts plus loads of the mandatory angst-free action: a great read and possibly the Best Whacky Legal Drama since Boston Legal. But don’t listen to me: catch this book and judge for yourself…

© 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.