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.

Justice Society of America: the Next Age

By Geoff Johns, Dale Eaglesham, Art Thibert & Ruy Jose (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-606-1

The World’s first Superhero team reboots itself once more after the interminable series of universal Crises (specifically World War III) and in conjunction with the Justice League of America returns as an organisation of heroic veterans working with and training the next generation of young heroes in this new interpretation of the JSA.

Originally published as issues #1-4 of the latest monthly comicbook series, this gripping thriller sees Elder Statesmen Flash, Green Lantern and Wildcat begin a recruitment drive that leads them to the heirs and inheritors of a number of older mystery men just as the corpse of one of the very first costumed heroes comes crashing through their HQ’s skylight, alerting them to a vicious plot by their oldest foe to wipe out “legacy heroes” forever…

Fast paced, tense and eerily gratifying, the venerable, journeyman and apprentice heroes cut loose against modern super-Nazis and the most evil man alive as they gather Cyclone, a new (or perhaps not) Starman, Citizen Steel, Liberty Bell, Damage and another Wildcat into their burgeoning fold just in time for the incipient JLA/JSA crossover The Lightning Saga and the unfolding Countdown to Final Crisis.

Steeped in DC lore and continuity this won’t be accessible to every reader, but it is still a compelling and enjoyable new chapter for the Justice Society and a worthwhile endeavour for fans of big plots and bold costumed crusaders.

© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Rork 3: the Graveyard of Cathedrals/Starlight

By Andreas (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-150-6

To me a great comic strip begins with the simple line. The greatest drawing is always about the power of black against white. Colour enhances but it seldom creates. For my money, one of the best line artists in the business is the modern fantasist Andreas.

Andreas Martens is an incredibly versatile artist born in East Germany (from a time when that meant another country not a different location), trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf and the Saint-Luc Institute in Brussels. His work has appeared in Le 9e Rêve, and Tintin where in conjunction with his teacher Eddie Paape he created the seminal Udolfo.

Andreas has adapted the works of Francois Rivière (collected as Révélations Posthumes in 1980) and produced a graphic edition of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre for Je Bouquine. Among his many original efforts are Raffington Detective, Cyrrus, Arq and a host of others. All his works are steeped in classical style, draped in period glamour and drenched in visual tension. Many are thematically linked. But before all these he created one of the most stylish and memorable “challengers of The Unknown” in horror fiction with the introduction and continuing adventures of the enigmatic psychic savant Rork.

His pale and moody hero, (who debuted in Pilote in 1978) draws on the tone and sometimes content of dark-fantasists August Derleth, H. P. Lovecraft and especially the Carnacki stories of William Hope Hodgson; traveling the world and the great beyond unraveling great mysteries and discovering startling wonders not for fame or glory but because he must…

In the early 1990s Dark Horse Comics serialized his adventures in their superb anthology of European comics Cheval Noir, and those translations formed the basis of a little seen or remarked upon series of albums from NBM. This volume is a particular favourite of mine (even if the spine and binding are less than robust), featuring two tales in a continuing story arc as the ethereal knowledge-seeker is returned to Earth from a Transcendent Realm to intervene in the inevitably grisly fate of a scientific expedition in the wilds of Central America.

Douglas Holbein was obsessed with the story of The Chavesians, an order of architectural mystics declared heretical by the Spanish Inquisition and banished to the New World by Queen Isabella. The centuries-old sect, which built the great churches of Christendom, did not die in the harsh jungles, but continued the craft, erecting monolithic buildings in the lush wilderness, ever-seeking to learn the secrets of God through their vast stone Faith Machines.

Now Holbein’s team have found the site of the ‘Graveyard of Cathedrals’ they accidentally disrupt a centuries-old truce between the sect’s last adherents with potentially catastrophic consequences and only the reality-shocked Rork can save them…

Following his harrowing return Rork is summoned to the deserts of Mexico by mysterious means to aid an old friend atoning for her past sins in an isolated and ancient pueblo. Increasingly endangered by a jealous Medicine Man, the woman called Low Valley cares for the Indians of the settlement as she awaits a certain lunar conjunction. The swift-approaching night when ‘Starlight’ again rains down on the people promises – or perhaps warns of – radical transformation when the heavens flare again. But the impoverished and desperate people must be made to remember that not all change is good…

Exotic, chilling and lyrically beguiling, the classical mysticism and otherwordly dread of these tales is a continuously heady and captivating brew, especially with the intense, linear illustration and stark design of Andreas to mesmerize and shock your widened eyes. This series should be at the top of the publisher’s list of books to re-release…

© 1996 Le Lombard. English translation © 1992 Dark Horse.

[Low Moon]

By Jason, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-268-4

John Arne Saeterrøy, who works under the pen-name Jason, was born in Molde, Norway in 1965, and exploded onto the international cartoonists scene at age 30 with his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) which won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize). He followed with the series Mjau Mjau (winning another Sproing in 2001) and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. He has now achieved international fame and critical status, winning seven major awards as far afield as France, Slovakia and the USA and all areas in-between.

His stories utilise a small cast of anthropomorphic animal characters (and occasional movie and pop culture monsters), delivered in highly formal page layouts telling dark, wry and sardonically bleak tales – often pastiches, if not outright parodies – in a coldly austere and Spartan manner. This seemingly oppressive format somehow allows a simply vast range of emotionally telling tales on a wide spectrum of themes and genres to hit home like rockets whether the author’s intention was to make the reader smile or cry like a baby.

Drawing in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, Jason’s work bores right into the reader’s core, and this movie-based collection of short tales is possibly his best work yet.

Redolent of quintessential Film Noir and especially the writing of Jim Thompson, the poignant tale of vengeance ‘Emily Says Hello’ precedes what is billed as the World’s “first and only Chess Western”. The eponymous ‘Low Moon’ was originally serialized in The New York Times Sunday Magazine in 2008, a surreal spoof of Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 classic High Noon as an old menace returns to terrorise the town until the Sheriff capitulates to his incessant demands for one final return match…

‘&’ is a tragic anecdote of love, loss and marital persistence related in the terms and stylings of a Hal Roach silent comedy and ‘Proto Film Noir’ owes an inspirational tip of the thermally insulated hat to Tay Garnett’s The Postman Always Rings Twice (the 1946 version with John Garfield and Lana Turner) by way of the Flintstones and Groundhog Day, whilst the concluding tale of love, family and abandonment assumes science-fictional trappings to relate the soap-opera, generational tale of a mother kidnapped by aliens and the effects it inflicts on the husband and son she left behind. ‘You Are Here’ is bemusing, evocative and moving yet manages never to fall off the tightrope into mawkishness or buffoonery.

Jason’s comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes. He is a taste instantly acquired and a creator any true fan of the medium should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list. This superb little hardback could be your entry into a brave, old world, so get it while you can because stuff this good never lasts long…

© 2009 Jason. All right reserved.

Kelly Green Book 1: The Go-Between

By Leonard Starr & Stan Drake (Dargaud International)
ISBN: 2-205-06574-2

After years of superb – if thematically anodyne – wholesome family comic strips, two of America’s most gifted graphic storytellers were given the chance to work on a more adult and potentially controversial feature with no creative restrictions; and the result was the second best female adventurer series in comics history.

Leonard Starr was born in 1925 and began his long and illustrious creative career in the Golden Age of American comic-books, before working in advertising and settling in the challenging arena of newspaper strips. He worked on Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch and the immensely popular but now all-but forgotten Don Winslow of the Navy during the 1940s, drew love stories for Simon and Kirby’s landmark Romance line and crime stories for EC, and freelanced extensively for ACG and DC Comics until he left the industry for Madison Avenue. He returned to graphic narrative in 1955 when he ghosted Flash Gordon.

In 1957 he created ‘On Stage’, a soap-opera strip starring aspiring actress Mary Perkins for the Chicago Tribune. He left the globally syndicated feature in 1979 to revive Harold Gray’s legendary Little Orphan Annie (which he continued until his retirement in 2000), simultaneously creating the series ‘Cannonball Carmody’ for Belgium’s Tintin magazine. An experienced TV scripter since 1970 Starr worked as head writer on Thundercats, and briefly returned to comic-books in the 1980s. He received the National Cartoonist’s Society Story Comic Strip Award for On Stage in 1960 and 1963, and their Reuben Award in 1965.

Stan Drake (1921-1997) was another vastly experienced cartoonist who began work in the 1940s. His two most famous series are the superbly compelling romantic drama-strip ‘The Heart of Juliet Jones’ (co-created in 1953 and initially written by Elliot Caplin) and the iconic ‘Blondie’ which he took over illustrating in 1984. He began his drawing career in the pulps, specifically Popular Detective and Popular Sports, before moving on to newly formed Timely Comics and The Black Widow. In 1941 he enlisted in the US Army. After the war he too worked in advertising until 1953 and Juliet Jones. In 1956 he narrowly survived the road accident that took the life of Alex Raymond, and was quickly back to work.

In the late 1970s he began Pop Idols – a syndicated series of celebrity biographies – whilst still working on Juliet Jones (which he left in 1989) and Blondie (which he drew until his death in 1997). During that incredibly productive time he still found the odd moment to work on Kelly Green – from 1982-1988 – and do the occasional job for Marvel Comics. To relax, he painted portraits of his cartoonist friends (now on display in the Comic Artist’s Museum in Sarasota, Florida). He received the National Cartoonists Society Story Comic Strip Award for 1969, 1970, and 1972 for The Heart of Juliet Jones.

Brave, competent, sexy, and divinely human, Kelly Green debuted in 1981 as a black and white serial in the legendary French magazine Pilote; a boldly contemporary antiheroic drama, with a deft, light tone and grimly mature themes. Within a year colour albums were flying off shelves across Europe, and eventually in the English speaking world, too.

Kelly Green is a stunning red-head who escaped a traumatic and mysterious past when she married Dan Green, a respected New York cop. But her comfortable world comes crashing down when he’s set-up by one of his own superiors and killed during a high-profile raid. Devastated, Kelly is pulled out of a suicidal depression by Spats Cavendish, Jimmy Delocke and the man-mountain called “Meathooks”; three career felons the straight-shooting cop had not only busted but then successfully rehabilitated.

Owing their new lives to the dead hero, the trio of honourable rogues take the widow under their collective wing, teaching her all the tricks of survival in a dirty world and even finding her a new occupation.

Hating the criminals that Dan fought and who finally got him, but despising more the corrupt police force that orchestrated his death, the grieving woman becomes a professional “Go-Between”, a paid intercessionary liaising between crooks and victims who don’t want police involvement. Apparently the job is completely legal and there’s never a shortage of clients…

This first case involves paying off a blackmailer and safely retrieving his damaging “evidence” for a prominent Miami millionaire, but in a dazzling blur of twists and counter-twists the job leads to the murderer of her beloved husband in a tense, terse thriller full of drama and action, and brimming with humour and good old fashioned style.

This beautifully executed crime thriller is still powerful, gritty stuff, and strictly for adults (it was made for France so there’s lots of lovingly rendered nakedness and nudity and even some unclothing), with copies of all volumes still readily available (if fetching rather high prices), so the persistent rumours of a full revival of the character next year are most welcome – and eagerly anticipated.
© 1982 Dargaud Editeur. All Right Reserved.

Hi-Fructose Collected Edition

Edited by Annie Owens & Attaboy (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-713-6

If you’re au fait with such terms as Designer Vinyl, Softies, Plushies, Big Eye, Indy Toy, Constructions, Installations and other buzz-terms that define and compartmentalise the modern art scene then you may already be aware of the magazine Hi-Fructose which spotlights in a cool, hip and wonderfully accessible manner the eye-popping creations of modern artists working in every area of creativity from comic strips to photography, street art to customised toy-building, dress-making to performance.

Cutting Edge is a term I’m always uneasy applying to art of any kind but as a general term for “not your grandfather’s painting or sculpture” it will do as a guide to the literally stunning visual content in this book which collects and enthusiastically expands upon the first four issues of the contemporary arts review.

With forty or so artists displayed and/or interviewed, this quality full-colour hardback explores surreal toy photography, the French company Royal de Luxe (who I think created the giant spider that attacked downtown Liverpool during their recent City of Culture celebration), digital collage, animation, caricature, various styles of painting, a life-sized working version of the old children’s board-game Mousetrap, X-Ray photography, all disciplines of illustration, toy design/customisation, and whole bunches of things I don’t really have handy pigeon-holes for.

Art is not in the eye of the beholder: it is in all the processes of society.

If there is a prevailing theme or fascination linking many (never, never all) of the talented makers gathered here it might well be old views of the future and retro-imagery and co-opted popular cultural nostalgia of childhood. Many creators have also worked in the comics biz (Dave Copper, Chris Ware and Jim Woodring among others), but the overwhelming appeal of this book is the sheer, compulsive breadth and variety of the work.

If your eyes and brain are open to stimulation (and your ethical centre can handle the occasional sexually uncompromising image) this is a book that will stir your creative juices and make your arts and craft mouth water. (Painful metaphors can be ignored at will, other descriptive passages can be applied at readers’ request, and the relative value of critical opinion can go up as well as too far…)

All artwork, photos and writing © 2008 respective artists, photographers and authors. Book © 2008 Ouch Factory Yum Club and Last Gasp. All rights reserved.