90th Anniversary Double Feature!! Two reviews to celebrate a cartooning milestone

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in Color

By Geoffrey Blum, Thomas Andrae, Floyd Gottfredson, Carl Barks & various: produced by Another Rainbow Publishing Inc. (Pantheon Books 1988)
ISBN: 978-0-39457-519-3 (HB)

Created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Mickey Mouse was first seen – if not heard – in the silent cartoon Plane Crazy. The animated short fared poorly in a May 1928 test screening and was promptly shelved.

That’s why most people cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth Mickey feature to be completed – as the debut of the mascot mouse and his co-star and paramour Minnie Mouse. It was the first to be nationally distributed, as well as the first animated feature with synchronised sound.

The film’s astounding success led to the subsequent rapid release of its fully completed predecessors Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and The Barn Dance, once they too had been given new-fangled soundtracks.

From those timid beginnings grew an immense fantasy empire, but film was not the only way Disney conquered hearts and minds. With Mickey a certified solid gold sensation, the mighty mouse was considered a hot property and soon moved in on America’s most powerful and pervasive entertainment medium: comic strips…

Floyd Gottfredson was a cartooning pathfinder who started out as just another warm body in the Disney Studio animation factory who slipped sideways into graphic narrative and evolved into a pictorial narrative ground-breaker as influential as George Herriman, Winsor McCay or Elzie Segar. Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse entertained millions of eagerly enthralled readers and shaped the very way comics worked.

He took a wild and anarchic animated rodent from slap-stick beginnings, via some of the earliest adventure continuities in comics history: transforming a feisty everyman underdog – or rather mouse – into a crimebusting detective, explorer, lover, aviator or cowboy: the quintessential two-fisted hero whenever necessity demanded.

In later years, as tastes – and syndicate policy – changed, Gottfredson steered that self-same wandering warrior into a more sedate, gently suburbanised lifestyle via crafty sitcom gags suited to a newly middle-class America: a fifty-year career generating some of the most engrossing continuities the comics industry has ever enjoyed.

Arthur Floyd Gottfredson was born in 1905 in Kaysville, Utah, one of eight siblings born to a Mormon family of Danish extraction. Injured in a youthful hunting accident, Floyd whiled away a long recuperation drawing and studying cartoon correspondence courses, and by the 1920s had turned professional, selling cartoons and commercial art to local trade magazines and Big City newspaper the Salt Lake City Telegram.

In 1928 he and his wife moved to California and, after a shaky start, found work in April 1929 as an in-betweener at the burgeoning Walt Disney Studios.

Just as the Great Depression hit, he was personally asked by Disney to take over newborn but ailing newspaper strip Mickey Mouse.

Gottfredson would plot, draw and frequently script the strip for the next five decades: an incredible accomplishment by of one of comics’ most gifted exponents.

Veteran animator Ub Iwerks had initiated the print feature with Disney himself contributing, before artist Win Smith was brought in. The nascent strip was plagued with problems and young Gottfredson was only supposed to pitch in until a regular creator could be found.

His first effort saw print on May 5th 1930 (Floyd’s 25th birthday) and just kept going; an uninterrupted run over the next half century.

On January 17th 1932, Gottfredson created the first colour Sunday page, which he also handled until his retirement. In the beginning he did everything, but in 1934 Gottfredson relinquished the scripting, preferring plotting and illustrating the adventures to playing about with dialogue.

His eventual collaborating wordsmiths included Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris, Dick Shaw, Bill Walsh, Roy Williams and Del Connell. At the start and in the manner of a filmic studio system Floyd briefly used inkers such as Ted Thwaites, Earl Duvall and Al Taliaferro, but by 1943 had taken on full art chores.

Mickey Mouse in Color is a lavish hardback compendium reprinting some of the most noteworthy early strips with fascinating text and feature articles – including interviews with Gottfredson – but the real gold is the glorious strips.

A mix of Sunday page yarns comprising ‘Rumplewatt the Giant (1934)’, ‘Dr. Oofgay’s Secret Serum (1934)’, the magnificent and mesmerising ‘Case of the Vanishing Coats (1935)’ and a whimsical ‘Robin Hood Adventure (1936)’ are, although superlative, mere appetisers.

The best stories and biggest laughs come with the rollickin’ comedy thrill-ride serials ‘Blaggard Castle (1932)’, ‘Pluto and the Dogcatcher (1933)’, ‘The Mail Pilot (1933)’ and the astoundingly entertaining and legendary ‘Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot (1939)’.

Consistency is as rare as longevity in today’s comic market-place, and the sheer volume of quality work produced by Gottfredson remained unseen and unsung for generations until Fantagraphics released a complete library of the Mouse’s US-crafted strip adventures. We’ll be covering those in greater detail over the months to come but until then, books like this comprehensive primer (still readily available through online retailers), should be welcomed, cherished, and most importantly, shared.
© 1988 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in The World of Tomorrow – Gladstone Comic Album #17

By Floyd Gottfredson, Bill Walsh & Dick Moores (Gladstone
ISBN: 978-0-94459-917-4

Floyd Gottfredson’s influence on graphic narrative is inestimable: he was one of the very first to move from daily gags to continuity and extend adventures, created Mickey’s nephews, pioneered team-ups and invented some of the first “super-villains” in the business.

In 1955 – by which time Mickey and his fellow pantheon stablemates were mainstays of comics in dozens of countries – Disney killed the continuities; dictating that henceforth strips would only contain one-off gag strips. Gottfredson adapted easily, working on until retirement in 1975. His last daily appeared on November 15th and the final Sunday on September 19th 1976.

In this still-easy-to-find oversized paperback album from the 1980s, Gottfredson’s middle period of cartoon brilliance comes to the fore and opens with an uplifting and supremely funny saga originally running from July 31st to November 11th 1944 and designed to counteract the woes of a war-weary world…

After D-Day and the Allied push into Occupied Europe, the home-front morale machine began pumping out conceptions of what the liberated happy future would be like. A strip as popular as Mickey Mouse couldn’t help but join the melee and new scripter Bill Walsh produced a delightfully surreal, tongue-in-cheek parable in ‘The World of Tomorrow’: full of brilliant, incisive sight-gags and startling whimsy whilst pitting the Mouse against arch-enemy Peg Leg Pete, who was in extreme danger of conquering the entire planet, using the double-edged advances in modern science!

Walsh, Gottfredson & inker Dick Moores also produced the remainder of this delightful book for kids of all ages, which comprise a dozen one-off gag dailies from 1944 and 1945, plus a cracking sea yarn ‘The Pirate Ghost Ship’ (first serialised from April 17th to July 15th 1944) which found Mickey and faithful hound Pluto searching for treasure, defying black magic and battling sinister buccaneers in a rollicking rollercoaster of fun and frights.

Walsh (September 30th 1913 – January 27th 1975) loved working on the strip and scripted it until 1964 when his increasingly successful film career forced him to give it up.

Like all Disney comics creators these stalwarts worked in utter anonymity, but thanks to the efforts of devout fans efforts were eventually revealed and due acclaim accorded. Gottfredson died in July 1986 and Walsh did achieve a modicum of fame in his lifetime as producer of Disney’s Davy Crockett movies, and as writer/producer of The (original) Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, That Darn Cat!, The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and many others.

He was Oscar™ nominated for his Mary Poppins screenplay.

Even in these modern, accepting times anthropomorphic comics are still often derided as kids’ stuff – and indeed there’s nothing here a child wouldn’t adore – but these magical works were produced for consumers of ALL AGES and the sheer quality of Gottfredson and Walsh’s work is astounding to behold.

That so much of it has remained unseen and unsung is a genuine scandal. Thankfully most of the Gladstone Mickey Mouse albums are still readily available and we now have the scholarly and comprehensive Gottfredson Mickey Mouse Archives so you have no reason not to indulge in some of the greatest comic tails of all time.
© 1989, 1945, 1944 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Ghosts

By Leo Dorfman, Murray Boltinoff, John Broome, Jack Miller, Joe Samachson, George Kashdan, Bob Haney, Richard E. Hughes, Carl Wessler, Tony DeZuñiga, Jim Aparo, Sam Glanzman, Carmine Infantino, Sy Barry, Frank Giacoia, John Calnan, Bob Brown, George Tuska, Wally Wood, Curt Swan, Ruben Moreira, Irwin Hasen, Leonard Starr, Jerry Grandenetti, Nick Cardy, Ramona Fradon, Art Saaf, Michael William Kaluta, Jack Sparling, Win Mortimer, Ernie Chan, Buddy Gernale, Nestor, Quico & Frank Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Gerry Talaoc, Nestor Malgapo, E.R. Cruz, Rico Rival, Abe Ocampo, Ernesto Patricio & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-836-1

Boo! Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Perfect Serving of Sinister Comics Spookiness… 8/10

American comicbooks started rather slowly until the invention of superheroes unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and established a new entertainment genre. Implacably vested in World War Two, the superman swept all before him (occasional her or it) until the troops came home and the more traditional themes and heroes resurfaced, and eventually supplanted the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Whilst a new generation of kids began buying and collecting, many of the first fans also retained their four-colour habit but increasingly sought older themes in their reading matter. The war years had irrevocably altered the psychological landscape of the readership and, as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything, their chosen forms of entertainment (film and prose as well as comics) increasingly reflected this.

As well as Western, War and Crime comics, celebrity tie-ins, madcap escapist comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent. Gradually another cyclical revival of spiritualism and public fascination with the arcane led to a wave of impressive, evocative and shockingly more-ish horror comics. These spanned the range from EC and Simon & Kirby’s astoundingly mature and landmark scary fictions to grotesquely exploitative eerie episodes from pale imitators and even wholesome, family-friendly fear tales from the industry’s biggest players.

The company that would become DC Comics bowed to the inevitable and launched a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the (December 1951/January 1952) release of The House of Mystery, at the same time turning venerable anthology Sensation Comics (the magazine that had starred Wonder Woman since 1942) into a fantasy vehicle with square-jawed he-men such as Jonny Peril battling the encroaching unknown with issue #107.

That conversion was completed when the title became Sensation Mystery with #110 in July 1952.

Everything changed when a hysterical censorship scandal and governmental witch-hunt created a spectacular backlash (feel free to type Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, April- June 1954 into your search engine at any time… You can do that because it’s more-or-less still a free country).

The crisis was curtailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of self-regulatory rules. Horror titles produced under the aegis of the Comics Code Authority became sanitised, anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the appetite for suspense was still high. For example: in 1956 National introduced the sister title House of Secrets which debuted with a November/December cover-date and specialised in taut human-interest tales in a fantasy milieu.

Stories were dialled back into marvellously illustrated, rationalistic, fantasy-adventure vehicles which dominated the market until the 1960s when super-heroes (which had started to creep back after Julius Schwartz began the Silver Age of comics by reintroducing the Flash in Showcase #4, 1956) finally overtook them. When the cape-and-cowl craziness peaked and popped, sales began bottoming out for Costumed Dramas and comics faced another punishing sales downturn.

Nothing combats censorship better than falling profits. As the end of the 1960s saw the superhero boom end with so many titles dead and some of the industry’s most prestigious series circling the drain too, the publishers took drastic action.

This real-world Crisis led to the surviving players in the field agreeing to loosen their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics. Nobody much cared about gangster titles but as the liberalisation coincided with another bump in public interest in all aspects of the Worlds Beyond, the resurrection of spooky stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.”

Even ultra-wholesome Archie Comics re-entered the field with their rather tasty line of Red Circle Chillers…

Thus, with absolutely no fanfare at all, spooky comics came back to quickly dominate the American funnybook market for more than half a decade. DC started by converting The House of Mystery and Tales of the Unexpected into mystery suspense mags in 1968 and followed by resurrecting House of Secrets (August-September 1969) which had been cancelled in 1966.

Soon supernatural mystery titles were the dominant force in the marketplace and DC began a steady stream of launches along narrowly differing thematic lines. There was gothic horror romance title Sinister House of Secret Love, a combat iteration in Weird War Tales and from late summer 1970 a bold new book which proudly boasted “True Tales of the Weird and Supernatural!” and challenged readers to read on if they dared…

This first monochrome encyclopaedia of the eerie and uncanny collects the first 18 issues of Ghosts, covering like a shroud September/October 1970 to September 1973 with lead scripter and supernatural enthusiast Leo Dorfman producing most of the series’ original material for a title he is generally credited with creating.

Dorfman was one of the most prolific scripters of the era (also working as David George and Geoff Brown) and a major scripter of comic horror stories for many DC and Gold Key titles.

The thrills and chills begin with a graphic ‘Introduction’ from Tony DeZuñiga – probably scripted by editor Murray Boltinoff – before ‘Death’s Bridegroom’ (Dorfman & Jim Aparo) told of a conniving bluebeard conman who finally picked the wrong girl to bilk and jilt. Sam Glanzman illustrated the fearsome tale of a shipbuilder slain while sabotaging a Nazi U-Boat who returned as a vengeful ‘Ghost in the Iron Coffin’, after which ‘The Tattooed Terror’, by John Broome, Carmine Infantino & Sy Barry, offers a slice of Golden Age anxiety from Sensation Mystery #112 (November 1952) when a career criminal is seemingly haunted by his betrayed partner.

Broome, Infantino & Frank Giacoia then relived ‘The Last Dream’ (Sensation Comics #107, December 1951-January 1952) when a 400-year old rivalry resulted in death for a 20th century sceptic, and this initial issue ends with a Western mystery in ‘The Spectral Coachman’ by Dorfman & DeZuñiga.

Issue #2 began with a predatory ghost-witch persecuting a Carpathian village in ‘No Grave can Hold Me’ by Dorfman, John Calnan & George Tuska, whilst ‘Mission Supernatural’ (art by Bob Brown & Wally Wood) revealed a WWII secret which perpetually plagued a modern English airport.

A brace of revered reprints begin with light-hearted romp ‘The Sorrow of the Spirits’ from House of Mystery #21 (December 1953, by Jack Miller, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley) wherein a plague of famous phantoms attempted to possess their descendents’ bodies whilst ‘Enter the Ghost’ (Joe Samachson & Ruben Moreira from House of Mystery #29, August 1954) found an actor endangered by a dead thespian jealous of anyone recreating his greatest role…

With Dorfman still writing the lion’s share of the new material, DeZuñiga illustrates the sorry fate of an unscrupulous diver seduced by the discovery of a ‘Galleon of Death’ whilst Miller & Irwin Hasen’s ‘Lantern in the Rain’ (originally from Sensation Mystery #113, January/February 1953) recounts an eerie railroad episode, and Dorfman & Glanzman reunite to tell an original tale of ‘The Ghost Battalions’ who still haunt the world’s battle sites from Gallipoli to Korea.

Dorfman & DeZuñiga visited 17th century Scotland for #3’s opening occult observation wherein a sea-born princess demanded her child back from a wicked Laird in ‘Death is my Mother’, after which ‘The Magician who Haunted Hollywood’ George Kashdan & Leonard Starr, from HoM #10, January 1953) reveals how actor Dick Mayhew might have been aided by a deceased escapologist when he played the starring role in the magician’s bio-pic…

‘The Dark Goddess of Doom’, drawn by Calnan, reveals how a statue of Kali deals with the ruthless collector who stole her, after which the anonymously authored ‘Station G.H.O.S.T.’ (limned by Moreira from HoM #17, August 1953) discloses how a man’s scheme to corruptly purchase a house haunted by his ancestor went weirdly awry.

Tuska draws the saga of a WWII pilot who crashes into a desert nightmare and fatefully meets a ‘Legion of the Dead’, whilst, after a reprinted fact-file on ‘Ghostly Miners’, Jerry Grandenetti depicts the story of a French landowner who unwisely disturbed a burial ground and met ‘The Screaming Skulls’

Ghosts #4 starts with a secret history of one of America’s most infamous killers in ‘The Crimson Claw’ (Tuska & cover artist Nick Cardy) before ‘The Ghostly Cities of Gold’ (Grandenetti) reveals the truth about fabled, haunted Cibola and the first reprint features ‘The Man Who Killed his Shadow’ (Miller, Swan & Burnley: HoM #16, July 1953) wherein a murdered photographer reaches from beyond the grave for justice.

Thereafter, Ernie Chan limns ‘The Fanged Spectres of Kinshoro’ with a Big Game hunter pitting 20th century rationality against an ancient Ju-Ju threat, whilst the superb team of Bob Haney, Ramona Fradon & Charles Paris shine again with ‘The Legend of the Black Swan’ (HoM #48, March 1956) wherein three sceptical American students in Spain have an eerie encounter with doomed 17th century sailors. This issue concludes on ‘The Threshold of Nightmare House’ with Calnan & Grandenetti illustrating the inevitable doom of a woman who was haunted by her own ghost…

During the invasion of China in 1939 a greedy Japanese warlord meets his fate – and the spirits of the Mongol warriors whose tomb he robbed. Issue #5’s lead tale ‘Death, the Pale Horseman’ (by Dorfman & Art Saaf) is followed by ‘The Hands from the Grave’ (Calnan) which somehow saves a young tourist from an early death, after which reprint ‘The Telltale Mirror’ (by an unknown author & Grandenetti from HoM #13, April 1953) shows the dread downside of owning a looking glass that reflects the future…

Original yarn ‘Caravan of Doom’ (Jack Sparling), tells of an uncanny African warrior aiding enslaved Tommies in WWI Tanganyika, and is balanced by uncredited reprint ‘The Phantom of the Fog’(illustrated by Moreira; HoM #123, June 1962) wherein valiant rebels overthrow a petty dictator with the apparent aid of an oceanic apparition, before Grandenetti’s ‘The Hearse Came at Midnight’ ends the issue with spoiled college frat boys learning an horrific lesson about hazing and initiation rites…

With Ghosts #6, the page count dropped from 52 to 32 pages and the reprints were curtailed in favour of all-new material. Proceedings begin with Dorfman & Saaf’s cautionary tale of an avaricious arcane apothecary when ‘A Specter Poured the Potion’ before ‘Ride with the Devil’ (Calnan) told of a most unexpected lift for an unwary hitchhiker whilst ‘Death Awaits Me’ (Grandenetti) exposes the eerie premonition that marked the bizarre death of dancer Isadora Duncan.

A rare DC outing for mercurial comics genius Richard E. Hughes closed this slimline edition with ‘Ghost Cargo from the Sky’, illustrated by Sparling and exposing the incredible power of wishing to Pacific Islanders in the aftermath of WWII.

Michael William Kaluta stood in for Cardy as cover artist for #7 but Dorfman remained as writer, beginning with ‘Death’s Finger Points’ (Sparling art) as a bullying Australian sheep farmer falls foul of aborigines he’d abused, whilst President in waiting Lyndon B. Johnson becomes only the latest VIP to learn the cost of ignoring a Fakir’s warning in the Saaf-illustrated ‘Touch not my Tomb’.

Calnan then closed things out with ‘The Sweet Smile of Death’ in a doomed romance between a 20th century photographer and a flighty Regency phantom who refused to let this last admirer go…

‘The Cadaver in the Clock’ (art by Buddy Gernale) opened Ghosts #8, as a succession of heirs learned the downside of an inheritance which perforce included a mummified corpse inside a grand chronometer, but Glanzman’s ‘The Guns of the Dead’ shows a far more beneficial side to spectres as US marines are saved by their deceased yet unstoppable sergeant in 1944. ‘Hotline to the Supernatural’ – lovingly limned by the wonderful Nestor Redondo – recounts numerous cases of supernatural premonition, whilst ‘To Kill a Tyrant’ (Quico Redondo) implausibly links the incredible last hours of Rasputin to the so-necessary death of Stalin decades later…

Issue #9 begins with Calnan’s ‘The Curse of the Phantom Prophet’, as an Indian holy man continues his war against the insolent British and rapacious white men long after his death by firing squad, ‘The Last Ride of Rosie the Wrecker’ (gloriously illustrated by Alfredo Alcala) detailed the indomitable determination of a destroyed US tank that shouldn’t have been able to move at all, and Grandenetti’s ‘The Spectral Shepherd of Dartmoor’ showed how a long-dead repentant convict still aided the weak and imperilled in modern Britain. Events end on an eerie note when vacationers see horrific apparitions but discover that ‘The Phantom that Never Was’ has created a real ghost out of a hoax disaster in a genuine chiller drawn by Bob Brown & Frank McLaughlin.

Fact page ‘Experimenters Beyond the Grave’ – from Dorfman & Win Mortimer – details the attempts of Harry Houdini, Mackenzie King and Aldous Huxley to send messages from the vale of shades before storytelling resumes in #10 with the Gerry Talaoc/Redondo Studio illustrated tale of a Vietnamese Harbinger of Doom in ‘A Specter Stalks Saigon’.

Increasingly, a host of superb Filipino artists would take on the art chores for the ubiquitous Dorfman’s scripts such as ‘The Ghost of Wandsgate Gallows’ by Chan, detailing the inevitable fate of an English noble who hires and then betrays a contract killer.

Although naval savant Sam Glanzman could be the only choice for the US maritime mystery ‘Death Came at Dawn’, Nestor Malgapo artfully handles horrific saga ‘The Hell Beast of Berkeley Square’, which for decades slaughtered guilty and innocents alike in prosperous Mayfair…

Ghosts #11 opened with Eufronio Reyes (E.R.) Cruz’s contemporary thriller wherein Nazi war criminals recovering long-hidden loot finally pay for their foul crimes in ‘The Devil’s Lake’, before Chan delineates a subway journey where the ‘Next Stop is Nowhere’.

Graphic master Grandenetti visually captures ‘The Specter Who Stalked Cellblock 13’ (of San Quentin), and Bob Brown returns to illustrate the story of a church organ which killed anyone who played it in ‘The Instrument of Death’, after which Sparling charts the sinister coincidences of ‘The Death Circle’ which dictates that every US President elected in a year ending in zero dies in office.

Of course, not everyone today is happy that the myth has been debunked…

Ghosts #12 featured ‘The Macabre Mummy of Takhem-Ahtem’ (Calnan art): more a traditional monster-mash than purportedly true report, after which ‘Chimes for a Corpse’ (Grandenetti) saw a German watchmaker die for his malicious treatment of an apprentice before the always amazing Glanzman-limned ‘Beyond the Portal of the Unknown’ closed proceedings in magnificent style when French soldiers in 1915 uncover a terrible tomb and unleash a centuries old vendetta of vengeance…

Dorfman & Brown open issue #13 with ‘The Nightmare in the Sandbox’, detailing a war of voodoo practitioners carried out in Haitian garden, whilst ‘Voice of Vengeance’ (Calnan) depicted the macabre vengeance of marionettes on the embezzling official who silenced their maker. ‘Have Tomb, Will Travel’ (Talaoc) sees contract killers using a scrapyard to lose their latest corpse discover that their brand-new car comes with his unquiet spirit as an angry extra… Nestor Redondo then depicts the inexplicable experience of two lost GIs who spend a night in a castle that isn’t there and endure ‘Hell is One Mile High’

In #14, an heirloom wedding dress that comes with a curse doesn’t stop Diane Chapman from marrying her young man in Gernale’s ‘The Bride Wore a Shroud’, whilst ‘Death Weaves a Web’ (by George Kashdan & Chan) sees a bullying uncle live to regret destroying his little nephew’s spider collection – but not for long…

‘Phantom of the Iron Horseman’ (Talaoc) finds a young train driver and a host of passengers saved from disaster by the spirit of his disgraced grandfather before the issue ends with a catalogue of global portents warning of the appalling Aberfan tragedy in 1966 in Cruz’s ‘The Dark Dream of Death’.

Gernale opened #15 with ‘The Ghost that Wouldn’t Die’, another case of domestic gold-digging, ectoplasmic doppelgangers and living ghosts, whilst ‘A Phantom in the Alamo’ (Carl Wessler & Glanzman) revealed the ghastly fate of the American who sold out the valiant defenders to the Mexican invaders. Alcala lent his prodigious gifts to the Balkan tale of a corpse collector who abandoned morality and began profiteering from his sacred trust in ‘Who Dares Cheat the Dead?’ and Rico Rival delineated a gripping yarn wherein a corrupt surgeon was haunted by the hit-and-run victim he’d silenced in ‘Hand from the Grave’.

Ghosts #16 told of a Spanish gypsy cursed to see ‘Death’s Grinning Face’ whenever someone was going to die in a stirring thriller from Rival, and Glanzman again displays his uncanny knack for capturing shipboard life – and death – when, after 25 years, a deserter finally joins his dead comrades in ‘The Mothball Ghost’. Talaoc then delineates Napoleon Bonaparte’s services to France after the Little Corporal dies and becomes ‘The Haunted Hero of St. Helena’

Issue #17 finds a phantom lady save flood-lost children in Dorfman & Alcala’s moving ‘Death Held the Lantern High’ after which editor Murray Boltinoff & Talaoc reveal ‘The Specters Were the Stars’ when a film company tries to capture the horror of the 1920 Ulster Uprising, before Kashdan & Calnan expose the seductive lure and inescapable power of traditional Romani using ‘The Devil’s Ouija’ to combat centuries of prejudice…

This first terrifying tome terminates with Ghosts #18 and Alcala’s account of a hateful Delaware medicine chief who still lures white men to his watery ‘Graveyard of Vengeance’, centuries after his death, whilst Abe Ocampo details the unlikely ‘Death of a Ghost’ at the hands of a very smug inventor who has just moved into a haunted mansion.

Frank Redondo describes how villagers in old Austria knew young Adolf would come to a bad end because the boy had ‘The Eye of Evil’ and the spookiness at last ceases with ‘Death Came Creeping’ – by Ernesto Patricio & Talaoc – when a visiting Egyptian merchant and his unique pet stop a sneak thief’s predations in an age-old manner…

These terror-tales captivated the reading public and critics alike when they first appeared and it’s almost certain that they saved DC during one of the toughest downturns in comics publishing history. Their blend of sinister mirth, classic horror scenarios and suspense set-pieces can most familiarly be seen in such children’s series as Goosebumps, Horrible Histories and their many imitators.

Everybody loves a good healthy scare – especially today or even on those dark Christmas nights to come – and this beautiful gathering of ethereal escapism (sadly, still only available in monochrome and paperback) is a treat fans of fear and fantastic art should readily take to their cold, dead hearts…
© 1971, 1972, 1973, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Great North Wood

By Tim Bird (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-36-3 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Glorious Ramble to Shake Loose the Cerebral Cobwebs… 9/10

Lots of comics, and most forms of fiction, in fact, depend on strong – or at least memorable – characters and plenty of action to capture the attention. You need to be really good and quite brave to try anything outside those often-infantile parameters.

That’s actually a pretty good description of London-based cartoonist and author Tim Bird whose sundry works explore themes of time and place, history, memory and myth as well as our connection to the planet in such comics as the award-winning From The City To The Sea. He calls these forays psychogeography…

Here that empathy is transformed into a far-too-brief lyrical travelogue and sharing of lost folklore as this oversized (178 x 279 mm) colour paperback traces the slow decline and curtailment of the vast forest that swathed Britain before humanity, whilst highlighting those icons of modernity and great survivors who seem to adapt to all changes with dogged aplomb.

As Man took hold, the trees grew small and fragmented, so our far-ranging focus takes in the range of Southern England described in the title and relates experiences from before writing to just a few moments from now…

The scene is set with symbolic guile in ‘An Ancient Forest’ before focusing in to define ‘The Great North Wood’ then and now. The origins of place names such as ‘Norwood’ and its satellites are accompanied by captivating expositions on local tales such as ‘The Vicar’s Oak’. It’s interesting to consider just how many comics artisans and popular arts creators have lived in the many sites listed in Bird’s introductory map. I’m just one of them. I could list dozens more…

The origin of the ‘Honor Oak’ leads to outlaw glamour in ‘The Story of Ned Righteous’ whilst ‘Gipsy Hill’ (a place and a person) segues beguilingly into ‘Bombs’ after which a visit to the still relatively-abundant ‘Sydenham Hill Woods’ takes us to a hopeful note in ‘A Forest Again’

Even now I’ll recite the chapter headings like a mantra and remember the places cited herein where I’ve lived over the last four decades and feel I’m also part of something bigger than me…

This paean to a feeling of belonging – to both time and space – evokes the same vibrant elegiac tone as Harry Watt and Basil Wright’s 1936 documentary Night Mail (with its evocative poem/soundtrack by W. H. Auden and score by Benjamin Britten). It’s a feeling no one can decry or wish to end…

Sadly, this glorious celebration is not available digitally yet, but that just means you can give physical copies to all your friends, suitably gift-wrapped and ready to be properly appreciated by all the tactile senses as well as cerebral ones…

A graphic marvel to savour and ponder over and over again.
© Tim Bird 2018. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 8

By Gerry Conway, Mike Friedrich, Robert Kanigher, Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, Barry Windsor-Smith, Jim Starlin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6623-8 (HB)

First conceived in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis at a time when the economy was booming and “Commie-bashing” was an American national obsession, the emergence of a new and shining young Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity, wealth and invention to safeguard the Land of the Free and better the World, seemed an obvious development. Combining the then-sacrosanct faith that technology and business in unison could solve any problem, with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil, Tony Stark – the Invincible Iron Man – seemed an infallibly successful proposition.

Of course, whilst Tony Stark was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism – a glamorous millionaire industrialist/scientist and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his alter-ego – the turbulent tone of the 1970s soon relegated his suave, “can-do” image to the dustbin of history.

With ecological disaster and social catastrophe from the myriad abuses of big business the new zeitgeists of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting a few tricky questions from the increasingly politically savvy readership.

With glamour, money and fancy gadgetry not quite so cool anymore the questing voices of a new generation of writers began posing uncomfortable questions in the pages of a series that was once the bastion of militarised America …

This grand and gleaming chronological compendium – available in hardback and digital editions – navigates that transitional period; reprinting Iron Man #39-53 (July 1971 to December 1972) as the title experienced an unprecedented and often uncomfortable number of creative personnel changes whilst the country endured a radical and often divisive split in ideology.

Tone and context for the times comes courtesy of Gerry Conway’s Introduction ‘A Few Last Words’ and the follow up essay from Mike Friedrich writer who replaced before Conway & Herb Trimpe open the graphic proceedings with ‘A Twist of Memory… a Turn of Mind!’ Insidious oriental mastermind White Dragon deviously turns Stark into a brainwashed pawn, thereby inadvertently enslaving the Golden Avenger too.

Stark’s devoted assistant Kevin O’Brian comes to the rescue, but is led down a path to inevitable doom when he assists his mind-locked employer in a torturous ‘Night Walk!’ (by regular penciller George Tuska & Jim Mooney) to save his sanity and defeat their sinister foe.

Simultaneously, Marianne Rodgers, the woman they both love, begins a slow glide into madness as her telepathic powers gradually grow beyond her control and eat at her mind…

Issue #41 continued a long and convoluted storyline dealing with mystery mastermind Mr. Kline. (For the full story you should also track down contemporaneous Daredevil and Sub-Mariner issues: you won’t be any the wiser but at least you’ll have a full set…)

‘The Claws of the Slasher!’ sees a squabbling pair of paranormal saboteurs attack Washington DC during a Senate investigation into Stark Industries; accidentally triggering a psychic transformation in Marianne.

She temporarily morphed into a mind-warping harpy in ‘When Demons Wail!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia), culminating in a blockbusting, extra-long battle against psionic godling Mikas in ‘Doomprayer!’(Mooney inks).

During that cataclysmic conflict O’Brian dons his own super-armour to join the fray as The Guardsman; causing his own mental state to rapidly deteriorate and making his eventual showdown with Stark ever more unavoidable…

Plotted by Conway, scripted by DC A-Lister Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Tuska & Vince Colletta, Iron Man #44 finds Stark near death after his last battle.

In ‘Weep for a Lost Nightmare!’ he is watched over by Kevin and Marianne as Kline dispatches a robotic copy of old Stark enemy The Night Phantom to finish the ailing hero off. The tale is truncated midway and completed in the next issue – presumably due to deadline problems.

Gary Friedrich scripted concluding chapter ‘Beneath the Armour Beats a Heart!’ in #45, after which Stark faces a revolt by his own Board of Directors who convince the jealousy-consumed O’Brian to stand with them.

When student protestors invade the factory, greed-crazed capitalist and reactionary revolt instigator Simon Gilbert convinces O’Brian to don his Guardsman suit and murderously teach the kids a lesson, leading to a horrific escalation in ‘Menace at Large!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) wherein Iron Man intervenes to save lives and causes the out-of-control O’Brian’s death…

In the aftermath Stark traumatically reviews his origins, twin careers and now-obscured objectives in the classic ‘Why Must There be an Iron Man?’ (# 47, by Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith & Mooney) after which, emotionally reinvigorated, the Armoured Ace welcomes new scripter Mike Friedrich and old artists Tuska & Colletta to face a renewed threat from radical incendiary anarchist Firebrand in ‘The Fury and the Inferno!’

Meanwhile, whilst attempting a new start in life, Marianne’s final breakdown begins…

‘… There Lurks the Adaptoid!’ finds her experiencing horrifying precognitive visions of a power-mimicking robot attacking Iron Man, leading to her accidental betrayal of the man she loves when the automaton arrives and evolves into an unbeatable new form in #50’s ‘Deathplay’.

This coincides with equally-troubled Z-list villain Princess Python attempting to kidnap Tony, even as the hero is targeted by power-leeching sub-atomic tyrants, before the bizarre saga concludes with bombastic battle in ‘Now Stalks the Cyborg-Sinister!’

New Age mysticism and West Coast celebrity-cults informed Iron Man #53 as Stark confronts ‘Raga: Son of Fire!’: an emotion-fuelled, flaming maniac trained by an evil guru who subsequently takes over from his failed disciple when things get too hot.

‘The Black Lama!’ (with additional pencils from star-in-waiting Jim Starlin) is also unable to destroy the Golden Avenger, but would subsequently return to become one of the hero’s greatest foes of the period.

Don’t fret folks; it all turns out alright in the end…

The galvanised wonderment also includes the cover of Iron Man Annual #2 and a selection of house ads to wrap up this collection with the Golden Gladiator being carefully politically repositioned at a time when Marvel solidly set itself up at the vanguard of a rapidly changing America increasingly at war with itself.

With this volume Marvel further entrenched itself in the camp of the young and the restless, experiencing first hand, and every day, the social upheaval America was undergoing. This rebellious teen sensibility and increased political conscience permeated the company’s publications as their core audience evolved from Flower Power innocents into a generation of acutely aware activists. Future tales would increasingly bring reformed capitalist Stark into many unexpected and outrageous situations…

But that’s the meat of another review, as this engrossing graphic novel is done. From our distant vantage point the polemical energy and impact might be dissipated, but the sheer quality of the comics and the cool thrill of the eternal aspiration of man in perfect partnership with magic metal remains. These superhero sagas are amongst the most underrated but impressive tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold hard cash…
© 1971, 1972, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Best of Battle

By Pat Mills, John Wagner, Tom Tully, Steve McManus, Eric & Alan Hebden, Mark Andrew, Gerry Finley-Day, Mike Western, Joe Colquhoun, Eric Bradbury, Carlos Ezquerra, Geoff Campion, Cam Kennedy, Colin Page, Pat Wright, Giralt, Jim Watson, Mike Dorey, John Cooper & various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-025-3 (PB)

For most of the medium’s history, British comics have been renowned for the ability to tell a big story in satisfying little instalments and this, coupled with superior creators and the anthological nature of our publications, has ensured hundreds of memorable characters and series have seared themselves into the little boy’s psyche inside most British adult males.

One of the last great weekly anthology comics was the all-combat Battle, which started service as Battle Picture Weekly – launched on 8th March 1975.

Through absorption, merger and re-branding (becoming in swift succession Battle Picture Weekly & Valiant, Battle Action, Battle, Battle Action Force and Battle Storm Force) it was eventually subsumed into the revived, faltering but too-prestigious-to-fail Eagle on January 23rd 1988. For 673 blood-soaked, testosterone-drenched issues, it had fought its way into the bloodthirsty hearts of a generation, consequently producing some of the best and most influential war stories ever told.

This action-packed compendium features the opening salvos of some of the very best from those 13-odd years produced by a winning blend of Young Turk writers – Pat Mills, John Wagner, Steve McManus, Mark Andrew and Gerry Finley-Day – and stalwarts of the old guard – Tom Tully, Eric and Alan Hebden. The art comes from Colin Page, Pat Wright, Giralt, Carlos Ezquerra, Geoff Campion, Jim Watson, Mike Western, Joe Colquhoun, Eric Bradbury, Mike Dorey, John Cooper and Cam Kennedy.

The strips featured are D-Day Dawson (a sergeant with only a year to live and nothing to lose) by Gerry Finley-Day, Ron Carpenter & Colin Page, spy serial Day of the Eagle (by ex-SOE agent Eric Hebden and artist Pat Wright), The Bootneck Boy (a little lad who lives his dream by becoming a Marine), by Finley-Day, Ian McDonald & Giralt, and the legendary Dirty Dozen-inspired Rat Pack, by Finley-Day and featuring some of the much-missed Carlos Ezquerra’s earliest UK artwork.

Ezquerra also shone on Alan Hebden’s anti-establishment masterpiece Major Eazy, whilst Fighter from the Sky is the first of the comic’s groundbreaking serials telling World War II stories from a German viewpoint. Written by Finley-Day and drawn by the superb Geoff Campion, it tells of a disgraced paratrooper fighting for his country, even if they hated him for it…

Hold Hill 109 by Steve McManus & Jim Watson was a bold experiment: basically a limited series as a group of Eighth Army soldiers have to hold back the Afrika Korps for seven days, with each day comprising one weekly episode. Unbelievably, only the first three days are collected here, though, as apparently there wasn’t room for the complete saga!

Darkie’s Mob (John Wagner & Mike Western) is another phenomenally well-regarded classic wherein a mysterious British (?) maniac takes over a lost and demoralised squad of soldiers in the Burma jungles, intent on using them to punish the Japanese in ways no man could imagine.

Then Finley-Day & Campion’s Panzer G-Man tells of a German tank commander demoted and forced to endure all the dirty jobs foisted on the infantry that follow behind the steel monsters, before Johnny Red – by Tom Tully and the great Joe Colquhoun – follows a discharged RAF pilot who joins the Russian air force to fight in the bloody skies over the Soviet Union.

Joe Two Beans by Wagner & Eric Bradbury traces an inscrutable Blackfoot Indian through the Hellish US Pacific campaign, The Sarge (Finley-Day& Mike Western) reveals the trials of a WWI veteran as he leads Dunkirk stragglers back to England and then on to North Africa, and Hellman of Hammer Force (Finley-Day, Western, Mike Dorey & Jim Watson) follows a charismatic and decent German tank commander as he fights Germany’s enemies and the SS who want him dead.

Alan Hebden and Eric Bradbury’s Crazy Keller is an US Army maverick who steals, cheats and breaks all the rules. He was also the most effective Nazi-killer in the invasion of Italy, whilst The General Dies at Dawn sees Finley-Day and John Cooper repeat the miniseries experiment of Hold Hill 109 (this time in 11 instalments, each representing one hour – pre-dating Jack Bauer by two decades) as Nazi General and war hero Otto von Margen tells his jailor how he came to be sentenced to the firing squad by his own comrades even as Berlin falls to the allied forces.

I don’t really approve of Charley’s War being in this book. Despite it being the very best war story ever written or drawn, uncompromising and powerfully haunting, as well as Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun’s best-ever work, it’s already available in beautiful hardback collector volumes and economical paperback editions so the 15 pages here could have been better used to complete Hold Hill 109 or even reprint some of the wonderful complete-in-one-part war tales the comic often carried.

Enough barracking: Fighting Mann, by Alan Hebden & Cam Kennedy, was the first British strip set in Viet Nam, and follows the hunt of retired US Marine Walter Mann who goes “in-country” in 1967 to track down his son, a navy pilot listed as a deserter. This terrific tome (still unavailable in any digital format, as far as I can tell) then concludes with Death Squad!: A kind of German Rat Pack full of Wehrmacht criminals sent as a punishment squad to die for the Fatherland in the icy hell of the Eastern Front. Written by Mark Andrew and illustrated by the incomparable Eric Bradbury, this is one of the grittiest and most darkly comedic of Battle’s martial pantheon.

This spectacular blend of action, tension and drama, with a heaping helping of sardonic grim wit from both sides of World War II – and beyond – offers a unique take on the profession of soldier, and hasn’t paled in the intervening years. These black-&-white gems are as powerful and engrossing now as they’ve ever been.

Fair warning though: Many of the tales here do not conclude. For that you’ll have to campaign for a second volume…
© 2009 Egmont UK Ltd. All rights reserved.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 4

By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8061-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wholesome, Wholehearted Super-Action… 8/10

The day the Justice League of America was published marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned many times since 1960 and other genres have re-won their places on published pages, in the minds of America and the world, Comics Means Superheroes.

The JLA signalled that men – and even a few women – in capes and masks were back for good…

When Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, his Rubicon move came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The JLA debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (cover-dated March 1960) and cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, consequently triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks and spreading to the rest of the world as the decade progressed.

Spanning June 1963 to September 1964, this latest full-colour paperback compendium of classics (also available digitally) re-presents issues #31-41 of the epochal first series with scripter Gardner Fox and illustrators Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs seemingly able to do no wrong…

And while we’re showing our gratitude, lets also salute stalwart letterer Gaspar Saladino for his herculean but unsung efforts to make the uncanny clear to us all…

The adventures here focus on the collective exploits of Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars, Green Arrow, The Atom, hip and plucky mascot Snapper Carr and latest inductee Hawkman as the team consolidate their hold on young hearts and minds whilst further transforming the entire nature of the American comicbook experience…

JLA #31 finally saw the induction of the Winged Wonder into ‘The World’s Greatest Superheroes’ – and not before time. However, in this ancient world of Boy’s Clubs and willing segregation, his dutiful wife and partner Shayera would have to wait for more than a decade before she herself was invited to join as Hawkgirl. Hawkman would be the last successful inductee until Black Canary joined the team in #75.

‘Riddle of the Runaway Room’ sees an alien wish-granting machine fall into the hands of second-rate thug Joe Parry, who nonetheless makes life pretty tough for the team before their eventual victory over his bizarre amalgamized multi-powered villain Super-Duper (no, really!).

The visually impressive Hawkman must have been popular with the creators, if not the fans, as he was prominently featured in all but one of next half-dozen adventures. Issue #32’s ‘Attack of the Star-Bolt Warrior!’ introduces the uncanny villain Brain Storm who attacks the League to avenge his brother who had been “murdered” by one of their number!

The entire universe was once again at stake in time-travelling thriller ‘Enemy from the Timeless World’ as the team strive to counter a chronal monster dubbed the Endless One, after which a persistent old foe had yet another go in #34’s ‘The Deadly Dreams of Doctor Destiny!’: a thriller packed with an army of guest-villains.

The team are attacked by their own clothes in issue #35’s supernatural adventure ‘Battle Against the Bodiless Uniforms’, a devilish fall-back plan concocted by the antediluvian demons Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast, which had been slowly percolating since the end of JLA #11.

Issue #36’s ‘The Case of the Disabled Justice League’ sees the team raise the morale of despondent kids with disabilities by overcoming their own recently-inflicted physical handicaps to defeat the returning Brain Storm. This tale was in fact inspired by ‘A Place in the World’, a Justice Society of America adventure from 1945’s All Star Comics #27. That yarn was produced at a time when returning servicemen, maimed and disfigured in combat, were becoming an increasingly common sight on the streets of America…

The third annual JLA/JSA team-up follows, a largely forgotten and rather experimental tale wherein the Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 wrests control of the genie-like Thunderbolt from his Justice Society counterpart and uses its magic to alter the events that led to the creation of all Earth-1’s superheroes.

Then it’s JSA to the rescue in a gripping battle of wits in #37’s ‘Earth – Without a Justice League’ and the concluding ‘Crisis on Earth-A!’

Issue #39 was an Eighty-Page Giant reprinting Brave and the Bold #28 and #30 and Justice League of America #5 (represented here by its evocative cover), so we jump to #40 and the ‘Indestructible Creatures of Nightmare Island’: a challenging mystery wherein an astral scientist’s machine to suppress Man’s basest instincts almost causes the end of humanity. The result is an action-packed psycho-thriller stuffed with villainous guest-stars and oodles of action before this compendium concludes with JLA #41 which introduces a modern version of an old Justice Society villain.

The Earth-1 mastermind called The Key is a diabolical scientist who employs mild-altering psycho-chemicals to control the behaviour of our heroes in ‘The Key – Master of the World!’

With iconic covers by Sekowsky & Murphy Anderson, these tales are a perfect example of all that was best about the Silver Age of comics, combining optimism and ingenuity with bonhomie and adventure. This slice of better times also has the benefit of cherishing wonderment whilst actually being historically valid for any fan of our medium. And best of all the stories here are still captivating and enthralling transports of delight.

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern readers who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic…
© 1964, 1965, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Golden Age Human Torch Marvel Masterworks: volume 1 #2-5A

By Carl Burgos, Bill Everett, Paul Reinman, Joe Simon, Al Gabriele, Harry Sahle, George Mandel, Stan Lee, Sid Greene & others (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1623-3 (HB)                    978-0785167778 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A little fireside fun and frolic… 8/10

During the early Golden Age, a novel idea and sheer exuberance could take you far, and since the alternative means of entertainment escapism for most kids were severely limited, it just wasn’t that hard to make a go of it as a comic book publisher.

Combine that once in a life-time moment with a creative work-force which kept being drafted, and it’s clear to see why declining standards of story and art didn’t greatly affect month-to-month sales during World War II, but promptly started a cascade-decline in super-hero strips almost as soon as GI boots hit US soil again.

In 1940 the comicbook industry was in frantic expansion mode and every publisher was trying to make and own the Next Big Thing. The Goodman pulp fiction outfit leapt into the new industry and scored big through debut anthology Marvel Comics in the Fall of 1939 (becoming Marvel Mystery with its second issue), with both the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner finding huge favour amongst the burgeoning, fickle readership. Two out of seven was pretty good: Action and Detective Comics only had the one super-star apiece…

An editorial policy of rapid expansion was in play: release a new book filled with whatever the art and script-monkeys of the comics “shop” had dreamed up and not yet sold. Shops – freelance creative studios who packaged material on spec for publishing houses – were the big facilitators of the early days, and Martin Goodman bought all his product from Lloyd Jacquet’s Funnies Inc.) Like every other money-man, he kept the popular hits and disregarded everything else as soon as sales reports came in.

In quick succession Daring Mystery Comics #1 (January. 1940) and Mystic Comics #1 (March 1940) followed, with limited success and a rapid turnover of concepts and features. Timely Comics – or occasionally Red Circle – as the company then called itself, had a huge turnover of characters who only made one or two appearances before vanishing, never to be seen again until various modern revivals or recreations produced new, improved versions of heroes like Black Widow, Thin Man, the original Angel, Citizen V or Red Raven.

That last one is especially relevant here. Although fresh characters were plentiful, physical resources were not and when the company’s fourth title Red Raven #1 was released with an August 1940 cover-date it failed to ignite any substantial attention with either title character or B-features Comet Pierce, Mercury, Human Top, Eternal Brain and Magar the Mystic, despite being crammed with the stunning early work of young Jack Kirby.

The magazine and its entire cast was killed and the publishing slot and numbering handed over to a proven seller. Thus, Human Torch launched with #2 (Fall 1940) – the first issue to solo star the flammable android hero, and one which introduced his own fiery side-kick.

Just so’s you know; the next two releases fared a little better: Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941) and inevitably, a singular title for Sub-Mariner (Fall 1941)…

Although the material in this collection is of variable quality and probably not to the tastes of modern fans, for devotees of super-heroes, aficionados of historical works and true Marvel Zombies there’s still lots to offer here. It’s probably best to also remind readers that these stories were created in far less enlightened times and racial depictions and treatments leave a lot to be desired. But that’s history, and we need to see it, warts – not to mention slurs and gross misconceptions – and all…

After a knowledgeable and informative introduction by Roy Thomas, the hot-dogging begins with ‘Introducing Toro – the Flaming Torch Kid’ by Carl Burgos wherein the blazing star discovers a circus boy possessing all his own incendiary abilities, before fighting a criminal strongman with a ray-gun.

The misnamed elder Torch was actually a miraculous android and not at all human, but here he acquires a plucky, excitable teen assistant who would become his faithful comrade for (almost all) the remainder of his career…

This is followed by Bill Everett’s ‘Sub-Mariner Crashes New York Again!!!’ as sub-sea stalwart Prince Namor once more attacks America, after which ‘Carl Burgos’ Hot Idea’ and ‘Bill Everett’s Hurricane’ provide text features supposedly detailing how the respective creators came up with their tempestuous brain-children…

The remaining stories are pretty pedestrian. ‘The Falcon’ by Paul Reinman features a young District Attorney who corrects legal shortcomings and miscarriages of justice as a masked vigilante, ‘Microman’ (Harold Delay & Paul Quinn) stars a young boy exploring his own garden at insect-size before Mandrake knock-off ‘Mantor the Magician’ (by Al Gabriele) saw a fez-topped modern wizard battle crooks posing as ghosts.

Joe Simon’s Fiery Mask actually debuted in Daring Mystery #1 and ended his career here with ‘The Strange Case of the Bloodless Corpses’, with the multi-powered physician hunting a remorseless mad doctor terrorising the city…

Issue #3 is actually pretty impressive, with an ambitious and spectacular untitled 40-page Torch epic which reveals Toro seduced by Nazism, before seeing the patriotic light and burning off Hitler’s moustache, whilst John H. Compton’s text piece ‘Hot and Wet’ has the two elemental stars debate whose creator is best before a 20-page Sub-Mariner crossover (anticipating Marvel’s successful policy of the 1960s onward) finds Namor and the Torch teaming up to trash Nazi vessels sinking Allied convoys, and latterly scuttling a full invasion together.

By Human Torch #4 much of the work is clearly being ghosted to a greater or lesser degree. The Torch takes far too long solving the ever-so-simple ‘Mystery of the Disappearing Criminals’, after which Ray Gill introduces star-spangled hero The Patriot in a 2-page text piece.

At least Everett is still very much in evidence and on top form when the Sub-Mariner takes ten beautiful pages to save an Alaskan village from plague, blizzards, an onrushing glacier and incendiary bombs in a genuine forgotten classic, before lacklustre Captain America knock-off The Patriot shambles through a proper comic-strip tale of Bundist (that’s German/American Nazi sympathizers to you, kid) saboteurs to close the issue.

That line-up continued in the last issue reprinted here (Human Torch #5A, Summer 1941, and the “A” is because the series did a little lock-step to catch up with itself: the next issue would also be a #5). Here, however, the fiery star and his Flaming Kid clash in a two-part epic with a mad scientist named Doc Smart in ‘The March of Death’, then join forces again with Namor in a Stan Lee scripted prose vignette entitled ‘The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner Battle the Nazi Super Shell of Death!’

Sub-Mariner and guest-star the Angel followed, fighting Nazi zombies in ‘Blitzkrieg of the Living Dead’ (attributed to Bill Everett, but clearly overwhelmed by lesser hands in the inking and perhaps even pencilling stages) after which The Patriot wraps thing up in a bold and experimental job from future art great Sid Greene. Here the Red, White and Blue Home-front Hero tracks down a Nazi who kills by playing the violin…

I’m happy to have this book (available in premium hardback, trade paperback and digital formats), even with all the quibbles and qualifications, but I’m a funnybook addict and can understand why anyone other than a life-long Marvel fan would baulk at a rather steep price-tag, with a wealth of better-quality and more highly regarded Golden Age material available. Still, value is one thing and worth another, so in the end it’s up to you…
© 1940, 1941, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

My War

By Szegedi Szüts (Dover)
ISBN: 978-0-486-79925-4 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Profound and Compelling Commemoration… 9/10

From its earliest inception, cartooning and graphic narrative has been used to inform. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks the sheer power of pictorial storytelling – with its ability to distil technical recreations of time, place and personage whilst creating deep emotional affinities to past or imagined events – has been used to forge unforgettable images and characters within us. When those stories affect the lives of generations of readers, the force that they can apply in a commercial, social, political or especially educational arena is almost irresistible…

Thus, the compelling power of graphic narrative to efficiently, potently and evocatively disseminate vast amounts of information and seductively advocate complex issues with great conviction through layered levels has always been most effectively used in works with a political, social or historical component.

Comics have brought the past to life since they began but they were never the only means of pictorial narrative and emotional communication.

Here is another superb and welcome re-release from Dover Comics & Graphic Novels – available in paperback and digital formats – reviving a lost masterpiece of the art form, first published in in 1932 by William Morrow & Company, New York.

The 206 stark and stunning images rendered by István Szegedi Szüts were his way of processing his participation in the Great War, but they were a narrative designed as a gallery show: telling a personal story much in the manor of a Catholic church’s Stations of the Cross.

The show debuted at London’s Gieves Gallery in 1929, and was only collected into book form in 1931, after being seen by a perspicacious publisher. These compelling sequences were perfect material for the brief Depression-era flowering of silent art narratives known as woodcut novels or linocut books.

Other memorable proto-graphic novels of that era include Frans Masereel’s 25 Images of a Man’s Passion, Lynd Ward’s God’s Man and White Collar by Giacomo Patri.

Szegedi Szüts was born in Budapest on December 7th 1893, a Hungarian painter and illustrator who naturally served when his country went to war in 1914. His experiences are rendered here into potent examination of patriotism and folly that are more akin to visual poetry than anything else: sparse, spartan, debilitatingly expressionistic and summed up by a precision-point epigram/title for each single image page.

The seven chapters reel from evocative triggers such as ‘The Little Hussar wakes up’, ‘Expectance’, ‘Approaching storm’, ‘Hide your face, mother!’ and ‘…who command us to kill?’ and the end result is a wave of shocking revelation and inescapable regret…

After the London show, Szegedi Szüts moved to Caunce Head, Cornwall, married artist Gwynedd Jones Parry and lived as part of the creative colony there until his death in 1959.

This splendid and moving monochrome reconstruction includes ‘Our War: a Foreword by Peter Kuper’ (Third World War, Spy vs Spy), the original Introduction by R.H. Mottram and clipped reviews of ‘Szegedi Szüts as an artist’ from The Times, The Daily Mail and PG Konody in The Observer

It’s not often we comics folk can 100% guarantee that we’ve produced capital A Art and it’s really not that relevant. What you should take away here is that My War is a timeless, resonant testimony to the War to End All Wars from someone who was there, came back and said something about his experiences that all successive generations should take heed of.
Foreword © 2015, Peter Kuper. All rights reserved.

Sandman Mystery Theatre: Book One

By Matt Wagner, Guy Davis, John Watkiss, R.G. Taylor, David Hornung & John Costanza (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6327-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Eerie Mystery-Mood Masterpiece… 8/10

Created by Gardner Fox and first depicted by Bert Christman, The Sandman premiered in either Adventure Comics #40 July 1939 (two months after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27) or two weeks earlier in New York World’s Fair Comics 1939, depending on whether some rather spotty distribution records can be believed.

Head and face utterly obscured by a gasmask and slouch hat; caped, business-suited millionaire adventurer Wesley Dodds was cut from the iconic masked mystery-man mould that had made pulp fictioneers The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, The Shadow, Phantom Detective, Black Bat, The Spider and so many more such household names. Those dark red-handed heroes were also astonishing commercial successes in the early days of mass periodical publication…

Wielding a sleeping-gas gun and haunting the night to battle a string of killers, crooks and spies, he was accompanied in the earliest comicbooks by his plucky paramour Dian Belmont, before gradually losing the readers’ interest and slipping from cover-spot to last feature in Adventure Comics, just as the cloaked pulp-hero avengers he emulated slipped from popularity in favour of more flamboyant fictional fare.

Possessing a certain indefinable style and charm but definitely no especial pizzazz, the feature was on the verge of being dropped when the Sandman abruptly switched to a skin-tight yellow-&-purple costume and gained a boy-sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy (in Adventure Comics #69, December 1941, courtesy of Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris). All this, presumably to emulate the overwhelmingly successful Batman and Captain America models then reaping such big dividends on the newsstands.

It didn’t help much, but when Joe Simon & Jack Kirby came aboard with #72 that all spectacularly changed. A semi-supernatural element and fascination with the world of dreams (revisited by S&K a decade later in their short-lived experimental suspense series The Strange World of Your Dreams) added a moody conceptual punch to equal the kinetic fury of their art, as Sandman and Sandy became literally the stuff of nightmares to the bizarre bandits and murderous mugs they stalked…

For what happened next you can check out the superb Simon & Kirby Sandman hardback collection…

Time passed and in the late 1980s Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith & Mike Dringenberg took the property in a revolutionary new direction, eventually linking all the previous decades’ elements into an overarching connective continuity under DC’s new “sophisticated suspense” imprint Vertigo.

Within a few years the astounding success of the new Sandman prompted the editorial powers-that-be to revisit the stylishly retro original character and look at him through more mature eyes. Iconoclastic creator Matt Wagner (Mage, Grendel) teamed with artistic adept Guy Davis (Baker Street, B.P.R.D.) and colourist David Hornung to create a grittier, grimier, far more viscerally authentic 1930s, where the haunted mystery man pursued his lonely crusade with chilling verisimilitude.

The tone was darkly modernistic, with the crime-busting playing out in the dissolute dog-days of the Jazz Age and addressed controversial themes such as abuse, sexual depravity, corruption and racism; all confronted against the rising tide of fascism that was sweeping the world then.

This is a warning: Sandman Mystery Theatre is not for kids…

This compendium collections the redefining first three story-arcs from issues #1-12 (April 1993 to March 1994) and commences after an absorbing introduction from veteran journalist, critic and pop culture historian Dave Marsh.

Each chapter preceded by its original evocative faux pulp photo cover created by Gavin Wilson and Hornung, the dark drama opens with The Tarantula, taking us back to New York in 1938 where District Attorney Larry Belmont is having the Devil’s own time keeping his wild-child daughter out of trouble and out of the newspapers.

She’s gallivanting all over town every night with her spoiled rich friends; drinking, partying and associating with all the wrong sorts of people, but the prominent public servant has far larger problems too. One is a mysterious gas-masked figure he finds rifling his safe soon after Dian departs…

The intruder easily overpowers the DA with some kind of sleeping gas – which also makes you want to blurt every inconvenient truth – before disappearing, leaving Belmont to awake with a headache and wondering if it was all a dream…

Dian, after a rowdy night of carousing with scandalous BFF Catherine Van Der Meer and her latest (gangster) lover, awakes with a similar hangover but still agrees to attend one of her father’s dreary public functions that evening. The elder Belmont is particularly keen that she meet a studious young man named Wesley Dodds, recently returned from years in the Orient to take over his deceased dad’s many business interests.

Dodds seems genteel and effete, yet Dian finds there’s something oddly compelling about him. Moreover, he too seems to feel a connection…

The Gala breaks up early when the DA is informed of a sensational crime. Catherine Van Der Meer has been kidnapped by someone identifying himself as The Tarantula

Across town, mob boss Albert Goldman is meeting with fellow gangsters from the West Coast and, as usual, his useless son Roger and drunken wife Miriam embarrass him. Daughter Celia is the only one he can depend on these days, but even her unwavering devotion seems increasingly divided. After another stormy scene the conference ends early, and the visiting crime-lords are appalled to find their usually diligent bodyguards all soundly asleep in their limousines…

Even with Catherine kidnapped, Dian is determined to go out that night, but when Wesley arrives unexpectedly she changes her mind, much to her father’s relief. That feeling doesn’t last long however, after the police inform him that the Tarantula has taken another woman…

When a hideously mutilated body is found Dian inveigles herself into accompanying dear old Dad to Headquarters but is promptly excluded from the grisly “Man’s Business”. Left on her own, she begins snooping in the offices and encounters a bizarre gas-masked figure poring through files. Before she can react, he dashes past her and escapes, leaving her to explain to the assorted useless lawmen cluttering up the place.

Furious and humiliated, Dian then insists that she officially identifies Catherine and nobody can dissuade her.

Shockingly, the savagely ruined body is not her best friend but yet another victim…

Somewhere dark and hidden, Van Der Meer is being tortured but the perpetrator has far more than macabre gratification in mind…

In the Goldman house Celia is daily extending her control over darling devoted daddy. They still share a very special secret, but these days she’s the one dictating where and when they indulge themselves…

With all the trauma in her life Dian increasingly finds Wesley a comforting rock, but perhaps that view would change if she knew how he spends his nights. Dodds is plagued and tormented by bad dreams. Not his own nightmares, but rather the somnolent screams of nameless victims and their cruel oppressors haunt his troubled sleep. Worst of all these dreams are somehow prophetic and unrelenting. What else could a decent man do then, but act to end such suffering?

In a seedy dive, uncompromising Police Lieutenant Burke comes off worst when he discovers the gas-mask lunatic grilling a suspect in “his” kidnapping case and again later when this “Sandman” is found at a factory where the vehicle used to transport victims is hidden.

Even so, the net is inexorably tightening on both Tarantula and the insane vigilante interfering in the investigation but Burke doesn’t know who he most wants in a nice, dark interrogation room…

As the labyrinthine web of mystery and monstrosity slowly unravels, tension mounts and the death toll climbs, but can The Sandman stop the torrent of depraved terror before the determined Dian finds herself swept up in all the blood and death?

Of course, he does but not without appalling consequences…

Scene and scenario suitably set, John Watkiss steps in to illuminate second saga The Face (issues #5-8). Attention switches to Chinatown in February of 1938, where Dian and her gal-pals scandalously dine and dish dirt until Miss Belmont meets again an old lover.

Jimmy Shan once worked in her father’s office but now serves as lawyer and fixer for his own people amongst the teeming restaurants, gambling dens and bordellos of the oriental district…

Dian would be horrified to see Jimmy – or Zhang Chai Lao as his Tong masters know him – consorting with unsavoury criminals, and would certainly not be considering reviving her scandalous out-of-hours relationship with him. All frivolous thoughts vanish, however, when the diners vacate the restaurant and stumble upon a severed head: a warning that the ruling factions are about to go to war again in Chinatown. As usual, white police are utterly ineffectual against the closed ranks of the enclave…

Later at a swanky charity soiree to raise money for a school, Dian meets Jimmy again and agrees to a later meeting. At the same shindig she later sees Wesley, and in the course of their small talk, Dodds reveals that he recognises Shan from somewhere…

And in Chinatown, another beheading leads to greater tension between the Lee Feng and Hou Yibai Societies. When an enigmatic gas-masked stranger starts asking unavoidable questions, he finds that both Tongs deny all knowledge of the killings…

As the grisly murder-toll mounts, The Sandman’s investigations lead to one inescapable conclusion: a third party is responsible. But who, and why…

Before the drama closes, Dian will learn more hard truths about the world and the money-men who secretly run it…

Issues #9-12 (December 1993-March 1994) are illustrated by R.G. Taylor and plumb the darkest depths of human depravity in the tale of ‘The Brute’.

The friendship of Dian and Wesley slowly deepens and life seems less fraught in the city, but that soon ends as hulking degenerate stalks the back-alleys, killing and brutalising prostitutes and their clients…

Dodds is also on the mind of boxing promoter and businessman Arthur Reisling who’s looking for a fresh financial partner in his global exploitations. The effete-seeming scholar is hard to convince, though, unlike Eddie Ramsey. He’s a poverty-stricken pugilist and single parent desperate to make enough money to pay for his daughter Emily’s TB medicine. Riesling’s offer to him is just as scurrilous but the broken-down pug doesn’t have the luxury of saying “no”…

Eventually, with Dian in tow, Wesley accepts a party invitation from the speculator and meets his dynasty of worthless, over-privileged children. None of them seem right or well-adjusted…

Later, when Eddie tries to come clean by informing the authorities of Riesling’s illegal fight events, he’s attacked by the promoter’s thugs and saved by the Sandman – at least until the colossal mystery killer attacks them both and they’re forced to flee for their lives…

As Dodds returns home to recuperate, the punishing dreams escalate to mind-rending intensity.

Eddie, meanwhile, is left with no safe option and takes to the streets with Emily. His decision will lead to revolting horror, total tragedy and utter heartbreak…

The Sandman returns to his covert surveillance, silently unearthing the depths of Reisling’s underworld activities and coincidentally exposing a turbulent and dysfunctional atmosphere in the magnate’s home life to match his criminal activities. In this house corruption of every type runs deep and wide, and the masked avenger decides it’s time to bring his findings to Dian’s father. This time, District Attorney Belmont is prepared to listen and to act…

And as the murders mount and Dodds’ dreams escalate in intensity, the strands of a bloody tapestry begin to knot together and the appalling secret of the bestial killer’s connection to Reisling is exposed, only a detonation of expiating violence can restore order…

Stark, compelling and ferociously absorbing, the bleak thrillers depict a cruel but incisive assessment of good and evil no devotee of dark drama should miss, and the period perils come accompanied by a gallery of the series’ original, groundbreaking comicbook photo-covers and posters by Gavin Wilson plus later collection covers and related art from Matt Wagner, Alex Toth and Kent Wilson
© 1993, 1994, 1995, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor volume 2: The Weeping Angels of Mons

By Robbie Morrison, Daniel Indro, Eleonora Carlini, Slamet Mujiono, Hi-Fi & Comicraft (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-175-4 (HC)                    978-1-78276-657-5 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Wonders… 8/10

Doctor Who first materialised through our black-&-white television screens on November 23rd 1963 in the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. Less than a year later his decades-long run in TV Comic began with issue #674 and the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

Throughout the later Sixties and early 1970’s strips appeared in Countdown (later retitled TV Action) before shuttling back to TV Comic.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us under various names ever since.

All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree…

In recent years the strip portion of the Whovian mega-franchise has roamed far and wide and currently rests with British publisher Titan Comics who have sagely opted to run parallel series starring the Ninth, Tenth, and later incarnations of the tricky and tumultuous Time Lord.

This volume collects Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor issues #6-10 of the monthly comicbook, set between the conclusion of the Fourth Season starring David Tennant and the start of the Fifth, spanning November 2014 through May 2015.

Scripted by the ever-excellent Robbie Morrison (White Death, assorted 2000 AD series, Batman, Spider-Man and more) this second volume leads with a moving and memorable centenary tribute to a landmark moment from the Great War.

Illustrated by Daniel Indro and coloured by Slamet Mujiono (with letters from Richards Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt), ‘The Weeping Angels of Mons’ finds the Doctor and new companion Gabby Gonzalez confronting a pack of time-devouring Weeping Angels haunting the muddy trenches and blossoming graveyards of the shattered Belgian countryside in August 1914.

In case you’re not au fait, Angels are chronovores, living off the energy of stolen lifespans. Their victims are exiled from their true place in time to live out their lives in some distant past. Angels look like statues and can only move when you’re not looking…

This is a deeply moving tale packed with solid supporting characters all drawn from decent Scots volunteers from Paisley and put through all kinds of hell in both 1916 and the many final destinations of the victims. The saga bubbles over with loss and tragedy to balance the breakneck action and stunning examples of do-or-die valour of the ordinary heroes. That’s all the exposition you get: I’m not going to spoil it for you.

Suffice to say the Doctor is at his trenchantly wily best, observing Man’s continued follies and glorious better nature, dealing with the horrendous ETs in suitably flashy manner, and coming up with snappy solutions in the blink of an eye…

An utter change of pace comes next with ‘Echo’ (art by Eleonora Carlini and colours from Hi-Fi).

Gabby arrives back home in picturesque Sunset Park, Brooklyn, just in time for the arrival of the sonic life form known as Echoes. The poor persecuted star-wandering creatures are being hunted to extinction by the thoroughly nasty Shreekers and the resultant cacophony is shattering even New Yorker ears.

The Shreekers might have Galactic Law on their side but the Doctor and Gabby know when something needs to be done for a greater good…

This wonderfully worthy package – available in hard cover, paperback and digital editions – also offers another vast gallery of Gallifreyan alternate and variant covers (photographic, digitally manipulated, painted and/or drawn) by the likes of Tommy Lee Edwards, AJ, Verity Glass, Mariano Laclaustra, Boo Cook and more, making this a splendid and timely serving of comics magic starring an incontestable bulwark of British Fantasy.

If you’re a fan of only one form, this book might make you an addict to both. It’s a fabulous treat for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for devotees of the TV show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics a proper go…
BBC, Doctor Who (word marks, logos and devices) and Tardis are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo © BBC 2009. Tardis image © BBC 1963. First edition August 2015.