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.

Rip Kirby: Gunpowder Dreams Daily Strips 27 March-10 June 1950

By Alex Raymond (Pacific Comics Club)

Does size really matter? That loaded question makes more sense in the context of this rare but wonderful package I dug out in response to hearing that IDW intend to collect the entire saga of Rip Kirby in collector’s editions.

This complete softcover adventure (alternatively entitled ‘Correspondence Crisis’) was selectively released in 1980 and occasionally turns up in shops and on the internet. You can’t miss it, as the book is 340x245mm (that’s nearly 15 inches by 10) and on its glossy white pages presents a superbly compelling exploit of one of America’s most famous fictional detectives, drawn by one of the world’s most brilliant and influential artists. A perfect taste of the heady 1950s style, this yarn will suck you into a captivating world of adventure and resurgent post-war glamour.

In the golden age of newspaper adventure strips (that’s the 1930s, right?) Alex Raymond made Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and Secret Agent X-9 household names all over the world, but when his country called he dropped everything and went to war.

On his return, rather than rekindle old glories he created (from King Features Editor Ward Greene’s concept and scripts) a new kind of private detective. The result was a rather unique individual, a demobbed marine who was intellectual and sedentary by preference, and although physically powerful chose to use his mind rather than fists and guns.

He had a steady girlfriend called Judith “Honey” Dorian and a mousy but competent manservant named Desmond with hidden depths (he was a reformed burglar decades before Lady Penelope hired that guy Parker). Remington “Rip” Kirby debuted on March 4th 1946, to instant approbation and commercial success.

Greene wrote the strip until 1952 when he was replaced by journalist Fred Dickenson and Raymond illustrated it until Sept. 6, 1956, when, aged only 46, he died in a car crash. The hugely talented John Prentice assumed the art duties whilst Dickenson continued writing until 1986 when he left due to ill-health, from which time Prentice did that too. The feature finally ended on June 26th 1999 when Prentice retired.

The story?

Slick, polished and so very modern, this seductive pot-boiler sees the usually worldly-wise Desmond gulled by a con-artist who uses the hearts and flowers racket to fleece lonely men, but when his butler goes missing Rip is more than sharp enough to track him down…

Your chances of tracking down this gem are admittedly quite slim, but well worth the effort if you’re an art-lover, as Raymond’s drawing at this size is an unparalleled delight. Still and all, even in the relatively meagre dimensions modern strips are reprinted the Rip Kirby collections will be a treat you simply cannot afford to miss. Let’s hope we’re not waiting too long…
© 1950, 1980 King Features. All Rights Reserved. Book © 1980 Pacific C.C.

Underworld Unleashed

By Mark Waid, Howard Porter, Dennis Janke & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-56389-447-5

In deference to the season here’s a brief chat about one of DC’s lesser company crossover classics. Underworld Unleashed was a DC universe-wide tale in which an ancient lord of Hell returns to offer heroes and villains whatever they desire – generally manifested as a boost in powers and a new costume – in return for their souls.

The story is more about baddies than goodies and there’s a juicy role for Flash’s Rogues Gallery – especially the Trickster, but the tale wanders too far and wide and though there are a lot of nice character moments there’s some fairly dire bits too.

Moreover the tale lacks conviction and tension, the horror and carnage really doesn’t have any lasting impact, and of course the Tempter has a nasty plan-within-a-plan, but as so often before, DC shot themselves in the foot by only selectively collecting the saga into one volume.

Whereas I can grasp the need to keep a collection manageable (the original event ran to the three issue miniseries included here, 42 assorted tie-ins over three months worth of regular titles and four one-shot Specials) I find it incomprehensible that key ancillary stories can be arbitrarily ignored.

A quartet of supplementary Specials ‘Abyss: Hell’s Sentinel’, ‘Apokolips: Dark Uprising’, ‘Batman: Devil’s Asylum’ and ‘Patterns of Fear’ added a great deal to the overarching storyline yet only the first of these (beautifully crafted by Scott Peterson, Phil Jimenez, J.H. Williams, John Stokes and Mick Gray, detailing the Golden Age Green Lantern’s rescue of the DCU’s magical champions from Hell) is included here. It is a great segment but so are the ones inexplicably omitted.

The bargain-basement Faustian bargains all end well and a kind of order is restored, but this very potentially highly enjoyable tale is unfairly truncated and we’re all the poorer for it. Hopefully somebody will get around to restoring this tale to a more comprehensible state for future editions…

Ooh, that’s the doorbell.

I’m off to throw hard candies at some kids; Happy Halloween reading…
© 1995, 1998 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Iznogoud and the Day of Misrule (Book 3)

By Goscinny & Tabary, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-79-3

In his lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, most read, writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. He still is. Among his most popular series are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and of course Asterix the Gaul. In 1962, scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the deserts when he teamed with the superb Jean Tabary to produce imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah, but it was villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud that stole the show – possibly the conniving little devil’s only successful scheme.

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record with the first instalment appearing in the January 15th issue in1962. A minor hit, it jumped ship to Pilot: a magazine created and edited by Goscinny where it was refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little rat-bag who had increasingly stolen the show.

Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or as he is always shouting “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!” The revamped series, Iznogoud, started in Pilote in 1968, becoming a huge favourite, with 27 albums so far, a TV cartoon show and even a live action movie. When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary assumed the scripting as well as the superbly stylish illustration, moving to book-length complete tales, rather than the compilations of short punchy stories that typified their collaborations.

This third translated album was actually the eighth French volume (released in 1972 as Le jour des fous) and features the best of both worlds. The eponymous lead feature is a whacking great 20 page epic, following the vile Vizier’s best chance to usurp the throne when a festival dictates that for one day masters and servants swap roles. All Iznogoud has to do is ensure that the Caliph isn’t around to reclaim his position at the end of the day: simples no? Apparently not…

This is followed by a delightful 8 page slice of whimsy entitled ‘The Challenge’ wherein the Vizier attempts to embroil his royal boss in a duel with the usual insane outcome and ‘The Labyrinth’ demonstrates the creators solid grasp of classic slapstick as an unbeatable maze proves no match for the Caliph’s incredible luck, and the book concludes with a sharp political spoof that also takes a good-natured poke at unions.

In ‘Elections in the Caliphate’ we discover that only the Caliph can vote; but when Iznogoud gets the notion that he can get a fakir or magician to make Haroun Al Plassid vote for absolutely anybody and not just himself as usual, it opens a truly chaotic can of worms – which is quite handy since on polling day most of Baghdad goes fishing…

Like all the best storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: as a comedic romp with sneaky baddies coming a cropper for younger readers, and as a pun-filled, witty satire for older, wiser heads, much like its more famous cousin Asterix – and also translated here by the master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue. Here their famed skills recall the best – and least salacious – bits of the legendary “Carry On films” as well as some peculiarly Tommy Cooper-ish surreal, absurdity…

Snappy, fast-paced hi-links and gloriously agonising pun-ishing (see what I did there?) abound in this mirthfully infectious series: is a household name in France where “Iznogoud” became common parlance for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and often of diminutive stature.

When originally released here in the 1970s, these tales made little impression but hopefully this snappy, wonderfully affable strips can finally find an audience among today’s more internationally aware comics-and-cartoon savvy British Kids Of All Ages.

I love ‘em – and remember – annual end-of-year gift-giving season is nearly upon us…
© 1972 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All Rights Reserved.

Enemy Ace: War Idyll

By George Pratt (DC Comics)
ISBN: 0-930289-78-1

During the 1960s Marvel gave industry leader National (now DC) Comics an artistic and sales drubbing, overhauling their twenty year position as industry leader – but only in the resurgent genre of super-heroes. In such areas as kids stuff, comedy and romance they still lagged behind, and in the venerable and gritty war-comics market they rated lower even than Charlton.

Admittedly they weren’t really trying, with only the highly inconsistent Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos as a publication of any longevity, but that didn’t stop National’s editors and creators from forging ahead and inventing a phenomenal number of memorable series and characters to thrill and inform a generation very much concerned with all aspects of military life.

Enemy Ace first appeared as a back-up in issue #151 of the flagship war comic Our Army at War: home of the already legendary Sergeant Rock (cover-dated February 1965). Produced by the dream team of Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert it told bitter tales of valour and honour from the point of view of German WWI fighter pilot Hans Von Hammer: a noble warrior fighting for his country in a conflict that was swiftly excising all trace of such outmoded concepts from the business of mass-killing.

The tales, loosely based on Red Baron Manfred von Richthofen, were a magnificent tribute to soldiering whilst condemning the madness of war, produced during the turbulent days of the Vietnam War. They are still moving and powerful beyond belief.

As is their seminal sequel, Enemy Ace: War Idyll. Produced in moody, misty, strikingly sombre images by painter George Pratt, it follows the quest of troubled veteran Edward Mannock, recently returned Viet Nam grunt turned photo-journalist, and a man desperately seeking answers to imponderable questions and great truths to cure the damage his combat experiences have caused.

1969, and Mannock’s search takes a pivotal turn when on a routine assignment he discovers Von Hammer. The mythic “Hammer of Hell” is dying in a German nursing home but instantly sees that he and the distraught young man share a deep and common bond…

This is an astounding, deeply incisive exploration of war, its repercussions, both good and bad, and the effects that combat has on singular men. War Idyll is visceral, poetic, emotive, evocative and terrifyingly instructive: with as much impact as All Quiet on the Western Front or Charley’s War. Every child who wants to be a soldier should be made to read this book.

You don’t want me to talk about it, but you do need to experience it, and once you have you’ll want to share that experience with others…
© 1990 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Power Pack Origin Album

By Louise Simonson, June Brigman & Bob Wiacek (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-87135-385-7             ISBN13: 978-0-87135-385-6

By the mid 1980s Marvel was far down a corporate growth-path and headed towards a period of truly dire product; lackluster, unimaginative, uninspired and woefully “safe”, but there was still some spirit of creative adventure to be found – and supported. A perfect example is this is the incredibly appetizing “fun-book” Power Pack which gave a bunch of super-powered kids a brief chance to shine in a world dominated by adults and where every super-powered kid had a grown-up somewhere calling the shots and saving the day…

High above Earth a sentient spaceship and its benevolent alien pilot were shot down whilst attempting to warn the world of impending doom. The aggressors were lizard-like marauders called Snarks determined to steal a new scientific principle discovered by physicist Dr. James Power, whilst the noble Kymellian Aefyre Whitemane sought to quash a secret that had nearly eradicated his own race…

At their isolated Virginia beach-house Power and his wife Margaret are kidnapped by the Snarks, but their four kids Alex, Julie, Jack and Katie, who had seen the Kymellian ship crash, were absent when the lizards attacked, and sheltered by the heroic Whitemane. He reveals that their father’s Anti-Matter energy converter can destroy worlds, but before he can save their parents he dies of his wounds.

The distraught and horrified kids discover they have inherited his fantastic abilities (one each) and with the assistance of Friday, the Kymellian’s “Smart-ship” the now super-powered pre-teens set out to save their parents – as well as the galaxy – and all before bed-time!

‘Power Play’, ‘Butterfingers’, ‘Kidnapped!’ and ‘Rescue’, the first four issues of the monthly comic book (cover-dated August to November 1984) form a perfect modern fairytale, with classic goodies and baddies, rollicking thrills and adventure and most importantly brave and competent heroes who are still recognizably, perfectly realized children, not adults in all-but-name…

This charming thriller, first collected in 1988 was a rare, creatively unique high point in the company’s output (although it wasn’t long before the kids were subsumed into the greater mutant-teen morass of the X-Men franchise) and it still stands as a sensitive and positive example of plucky kids overcoming all odds to match Peter Pan, Swallows and Amazons, Huckleberry Finn or the very best of Baum’s Oz books.

Superbly observed, magically scripted and beautifully drawn this is a book that every comic loving parent will want their kids to read…
© 1988 Marvel Entertainment Group Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Question Volume 3: Epitaph for a Hero

By Dennis O’Neil, Denys Cowan & Rick Magyar (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-996-3

In the “real” world, some solutions require careful Questions…

An ordinary man pushed to the edge by his obsessions, Vic Sage used his fists and a mask that made him look faceless to get answers (and justice) whenever normal journalistic methods failed – or whenever his own compulsive curiosity gripped him too tightly. After a few minor successes around the DC universe Sage got a TV reporting job in the town where he grew up.

This third collection (reprinting issues #13-18 of the highly regarded 1980s series) brings Sage into a thoroughly modern nightmare as he seeks to discover the foundations of patriotism, honour and glory and the roots of domestic terrorism in ‘Be All that you can Be…’ when a team operating on strict military principles carries out a series of murderous attacks on Army recruiting centres and personnel. The ace reporter tracks down the killers only to be captured and experience a harrowing example of their torturous training and a staggering example of their integrity in the concluding ‘Saving Face’.

The major portion of the Question’s adventures take place within the urban hell of Hub City, a ghastly analogue of blighted, Reagan-era Chicago, run by a merciless political machine and an utterly corrupt police force until Sage and the Question returned. His old girlfriend Myra Connelly had married the drunken puppet who is the Mayor and now as he dissolves into madness she is trying to win a mandate to run the city herself. Another unlikely champion is reformed and conflicted cop Izzy O’Toole, formerly the most corrupt lawman in “the Hub”.

‘Epitaph for a Hero’ further pushes the traditional boundaries and definitions of heroism when racist private detective Loomis McCarthy comes seeking to pool information on a spate of racially motivated murders during a tight fought election struggle between Myra and millionaire “old guard” patrician Royal Dinsmore. This startling mystery is not as cut-and-dried as it appears and presents some very unsettling facets for all concerned…

Izzy O’Toole continues his struggle for redemption in a brutal untitled confrontation with mythic underpinnings as illegal arms-dealers Butch and Sundance attempt to turn Hub into their own Hole-in-the-Wall (that was an impregnable hideout used by bandits in the old West), casting the grizzled old lawdog as a highly unlikely “Sheriff of Dodge City”.

The tale continues in ‘A Dream of Rorschach’ which tacitly acknowledges the debt owed to the groundbreaking Watchmen in the revival of the Question, as Sage reads the book and has a vision of and conversation with the iconic sociopath whilst flying to Seattle and a chilling showdown with Butch and Sundance as well as a highly suspicious and impatient Green Arrow in the concluding ‘Desperate Ground’.

Complex characters, a very mature depiction of the struggle between Good and Evil using Eastern philosophy and very human prowess to challenge crime, corruption, abuse, neglect and complacency would seem to be a recipe for heady but dull reading yet these stories and especially the mythic martial arts action delineated by Denys Cowan are gripping beyond belief and constantly challenge any and all preconceptions.

Combating Western dystopia with Eastern Thought and martial arts action is not a new concept but O’Neil’s focus on cultural and social problems rather than histrionic super-heroics make this series a truly philosophical work, and Cowan’s raw, edgy art imbues this darkly adult, powerfully sophisticated thriller with a maturity that is simply breathtaking.

The Question’s direct sales series was one of DC’s best efforts from a hugely creative period, and with a new hero wearing the faceless mask these days those tales form a perfect snapshot in comics history. Whether it fades to obscurity or becomes a popular, fabled and revered icon depends on you people: to make it the hit it always should have been all you have to do is obtain these superb trade paperback collections, and enjoy the magic…

© 1988, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman

By “Charles Moulton” & HG Peter (DC Comics/Tempo Books)
ISBN: 0-448-14531-6-125

Here’s another delightful pocketful of memories in a much-missed (by me at least) format: resized strips as paperback books reprinting a selection of the best stories money could buy. Released in 1978 to capitalise on the popular TV series starring Linda Carter, this dandy little black and white paperback was part of a continuing drive by DC to get out of the down-market newsstands and place their characters regularly onto the shelves of bookstores.

Of course this was before they gave up trying to fit their major asset – visual impact – into a limited format and went the European route of albums with such spectacular results that you’re now reading one of many, many blogs dedicated to reviewing graphic novels, trade paperbacks and items of related interest.

And just in case you were wondering why periodical publishers kept trying?

At its best, a comics title could reach about a million unit sales through magazine vendor systems whilst a book – any book – had the potential of reaching four to twenty times that number…

This collection opens with a re-presentation of one of the Amazing Amazon’s earliest exploits with ‘Wonder Woman’s Lasso’ (1942), an engaging yarn of World War II in which the world’s premiere female costumed foe of injustice (written by controversial psychologist and creator William Moulton Marston) battled spies and sister Amazons to win a magical lariat that could compel and control anybody that fell within its coils.

Too much has been posited about the subtexts of bondage and subjugation in Marston’s tales – and frankly I don’t care what his intentions might have been – I’m more impressed with the skilful drama and incredible fantasy elements that are always wonderfully, intriguingly present: I mean, just where does the concept of giant battle kangaroos come from?

Moulton died in 1947 but his fellow creator, artist Harry G Peter, continued until 1958, although the heroine (one of only three costumed characters who maintained a star presence from the Golden to Silver Ages of comics: the other being Superman and Batman) found the outlandish tenor of her adventures considerably subdued under the editing and writing aegis of Robert Kanigher.

From 1955 ‘The Bird Who Revealed Wonder Woman’s Identity’ found her trying to preserve her secrets after a gabby Mynah bird overheard a revealing conversation to mimic, whilst ‘Wonder Woman’s Wedding Day’(1954) is a charming, traditional romp of wicked thugs and wily mad scientists.

Psychological warfare is the subject of 1953’s fascinating ‘The Secret Invasion’ – a plot by the nefarious Duke of Deception, whilst both ‘The Talking Tiara’ (1954) and the concluding entry ‘The Origin of the Amazon Plane’ (1955) reveal the hidden stories behind Princess Diana’s fabulous accessories in tales rife with dinosaurs, aliens, sea monsters and fantastic quests.

Wonder Woman is rightly revered as a focus of female strength, independence and empowerment, and the welcoming nostalgia and easy familiarity to these tales is a delight for all types of reader but the true value of these exploits is the incredible quality of entertainment they provide.

Although there are excellent and comprehensive collections of her earliest adventures the post-War years of the Amazon have been woefully neglected, and are long over due for some serious compilation attention. Until that time little gems like this are all we can turn to…
© 1978 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Essential Avengers volume 3

By Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Barry Smith & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0787-3

Slightly slimmer than the usual phonebook sized tome, this third collection of the Mighty Avengers’ world-saving exploits (here reproducing in crisp, stylish black and white the contents of issues #47-68 of their monthly comic book and their second summer Annual) established Roy Thomas as a major creative force in comics and propelled John Buscema to the forefront of fan-favourite artists. These compelling yarns certainly enhanced the reputations of fellow art veteran Don Heck and Gene Colan and made the wider comics world critically aware of the potential of John’s brother Sal Buscema and original British Invader Barry Smith…

With the Avengers the unbeatable and venerable concept of putting all your star eggs in one basket always scored big dividends for Marvel even after the all-stars such as Thor and Iron Man were replaced and supplemented by lesser luminaries and Jack Kirby moved on to other Marvel assignments and other companies. With this third volume many of the founding stars regularly began showing up as a rotating, open door policy meant that almost every issue could feature somebody’s fave-rave, and the amazingly good stories and artwork were certainly no hindrance either.

Opening this fun-fest is ‘Magneto Walks the Earth!’ from Avengers #47 by writer Roy Thomas (who wrote all the stories contained here), illustrated by John Buscema and George Tuska wherein the master of magnetism returns from enforced exile in space to put his old gang together by recruiting mutant Avengers Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch… whether they’re willing or otherwise…

Tuska assumes full art chores for the second chapter in this saga, ‘The Black Knight Lives Again!’ which introduced a brand new Marvel Superhero, whilst furthering a sub-plot featuring Hercules’ return to an abandoned Olympus and #49, (pencilled and inked by Buscema) concluded the Mutant trilogy with ‘Mine is the Power!’ clearing the decks for the 50th issue tussle as the team rejoins Hercules to restore Olympus by defeating the mythological menace of Typhon in ‘To Tame a Titan!’

Reduced to just Hawkeye, the Wasp and a powerless Goliath the Avengers found themselves ‘In the Clutches of the Collector!’ in #51 (illustrated by Buscema and Tuska), but the brief return of Iron Man and Thor swiftly saw the Master of Many Sizes regain his abilities in time to welcome new member Black Panther in the Vince Colletta inked ‘Death Calls for the Arch-Heroes’ which premiered obsessive super-psycho the Grim Reaper.

Next follows the slightly disconcerting cross-over/conclusion to an epic X-Men clash with Magneto from (issues #43-45) that dovetailed neatly into a grand Avengers/mutant face-off in the Buscema-Tuska limned ‘In Battle Joined!’ whilst issue #54 kicked off a mini-renaissance in quality and creativity with ‘…And Deliver Us from the Masters of Evil!’, which re-introduced the Black Knight and finally gave Avengers Butler a character and starring role, but this was simply a prelude to the second instalment which debuted the supremely Oedipal threat of the Robotic Ultron-5 in ‘Mayhem Over Manhattan!’ (inked by the superbly slick George Klein).

Captain America’s introduction to the 1960s got a spectacular reworking in Avengers #56 as ‘Death be not Proud!’ accidentally returned him and his comrades to the fateful night when Bucky died, which segued neatly into 1968’s Avengers Annual #2 (illustrated by Don Heck, Werner Roth and Vince Colletta). ‘…And Time, the Rushing River…’ found Cap, Black Panther, Goliath, Wasp and Hawkeye returned to a divergent present and compelled to battle the founding team of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Giant-Man and the Wasp to correct reality itself.

Buscema and Klein were back for the two-part introduction of possibly the most intriguing of all the team’s roster. ‘Behold… the Vision!’ and the concluding ‘Even an Android Can Cry’ retrofitted an old Simon and Kirby hero from the Golden Age – an extra-dimensional mystery-man – into a high-tech, eerie, amnesiac, artificial man with complete control of his mass and density, and played him as the ultimate outsider, lost and utterly alone in a world that could never, never understand him.

As the adventure and enigma unfolded it was revealed that the nameless Vision had been built by the relentless, remorseless robotic Ultron-5 to destroy the Avengers and especially his/its own creator Henry Pym. Furthermore the mechanical mastermind had used the brain pattern of deceased hero-Wonder Man (see Essential Avengers) as a cerebral template, which may have been a mistake since the synthetic man overruled his programming to help defeat his maniac maker.

Avengers #59 and 60, ‘The Name is Yellowjacket’ and ‘…Till Death do us Part!’ (the latter inked by Mike Esposito moonlighting as Mickey DeMeo) saw Goliath and the Wasp finally marry after the heroic Doctor Pym was seemingly replaced by a new insect-themed hero, with a horde of heroic guest-stars and the deadly Circus of Evil in attendance, followed in swift succession by yet another crossover conclusion.

‘Some Say the World Will End in Fire… Some Say in Ice!’ wrapped up a storyline from Doctor Strange #178 wherein a satanic cult unleashed Norse demons Surtur and Ymir to destroy the planet, and the guest-starring Black Knight hung around for ‘The Monarch and the Man-Ape!’ in Avengers #63; a brief and brutal exploration of African Avenger the Black Panther’s history and rivals.

The next issue began a three-part tale illustrated by Gene Colan whose lavish humanism was intriguingly at odds with the team’s usual art style. ‘And in this Corner… Goliath!’, ‘Like a Death Ray from the Sky!’ and ‘Mightier than the Sword?’ (the final chapter inked by Sam Grainger) was part of a broader tale; an early crossover experiment that intersected with both Sub-Mariner and Captain Marvel issues #14, as a coterie of cerebral second-string villains combined to conquer the world by stealth.

Within the Avengers portion of proceedings Hawkeye revealed his civilian identity and origins before forsaking his bow and trick-arrows, becoming a size-changing hero, and subsequently adopting the vacant name Goliath.

The last three issues reprinted here also form one story-arc, and gave new kid Barry Smith a chance to show just how good he was going to become.

In ‘Betrayal!’ (#66, inked by the legendary Syd Shores) the development of a new super metal, Adamantium, triggers a back-up program in the Vision who is compelled to reconstruct his destroyed creator, whilst in ‘We Stand at… Armageddon!’ (inked by Klein) Adamantium-reinforced Ultron-6 is moments away from world domination and the nuking of New York when a now truly independent Vision intercedes before the dramatic conclusion ‘…And We Battle for the Earth’ (with art from young Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger) sees the team, augmented by Thor and Iron Man, prove that the only answer to an unstoppable force is an unparalleled mind…

To compliment these staggeringly impressive adventures this book also includes ‘Avenjerks Assemble!’ by Thomas, John Buscema and Frank Giacoia: a short spoof from company humour mag Not Brand Echh, the five page full-team entry from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and a beautiful terrific team pin-up.

As the halcyon creative days of Lee and Kirby drew to a close, Roy Thomas and John Buscema led the second wave of creators who built on and consolidated that burst of incredible imagineering into a logical, fully functioning story machine that so many others could add to. These terrific transitional tales are exciting and rewarding in their own right but also a pivotal step of the little company into the corporate colossus.

© 1967, 1968, 2001 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Demon With a Glass Hand – A DC Science Fiction Graphic Novel

By Harlan Ellison, adapted by Marshall Rogers (DC Comics)
ISBN: 0-930289-09-9

Long before comics got into the highly addictive habit of blending and braiding parallel stories and sharing universes science fiction authors such as Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven and Harlan Ellison were blazing the trail. Ellison crafted an extended series of short stories and novellas into the gripping and influential War against the Kyben, even going so far as to break out of print media and into television; consequently garnering even greater fame and glory as well as the 1965 Writers Guild of America Award for Outstanding Script for a Television Anthology and the Georges Melies Fantasy Film Award (1972) for Outstanding Cinematic Achievement in Science Fiction Television.

Demon with a Glass Hand was written as a teleplay – the author’s second – for influential TV show The Outer Limits, premiering on 17th October 1964, and only later being adapted into a prose adventure. In 1986 the startlingly talented and much missed Marshall Rogers used the original, unedited first draft of the TV script to create a fantastically effective comics adaptation for the experimental DC Science Fiction Graphic Novel series.

Humanity’s battle against the Kyben lasted ten generations and involved all manner of technologies including time travel. Trent is a man with a mission and huge holes in his memory. Somewhere in his occluded mind is a vast secret: the location of the entire human race, hidden to prevent the invading Kyben from finding and destroying them. Instead of a right hand he has a crystal prosthetic that talks to him, but the glass computer cannot restore his memories until three of its missing fingers are recovered.

Dispatched to the dubious safety of the 20th century Trent has been followed by a horde of aliens determined to secure that fateful secret and they have taken over the skyscraper where those missing digits are secured…

Aided only by the apparently indigenous human Consuelo, Trent’s paranoiac battle is as much with himself as his foes. As he gradually ascends the doom-laden building to find answers he may not want, he finds fighting creatures painfully human and just as reluctant as he to be there almost more than he can bear but at least his mission will soon end…

Or will it? Demon with a Glass Hand is a masterpiece of tension-drenched drama, liberally spiced with explosive action, and the mythic denouement – in any medium of creative expression – has lost none of its impact over the years.

Classy and compelling this is a perfect companion to Ellison’s other Kyben War comic adaptations, collected as Night and the Enemy, and it must be every fan’s dream to hope that somewhere there’s a publisher prepared to gather all these gems into one definitive edition…
© 1986 The Kilimanjaro Corporation.  Illustrations © 1986 DC Comics Inc.  All Rights Reserved.