Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story


By John Ryan (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84780-721 (PB)            978-1845078218 (HC)

The Day’s coming, Shipmates! Here’s a taste of things to come for all you hearty fun-starved rogues…

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

The son of a diplomat, Ryan was born in Edinburgh on March 4th 1921, served in Burma and India and – after attending the Regent Street Polytechnic (1946-48) – took up a post as assistant Art Master at Harrow School from 1948 to 1955.

It was during this time that he began contributing strips to Fulton Press publications, in the company’s glossy distaff alternative Girl, but most especially in the pages of the legendary “boys’ paper” The Eagle.

On April 14th 1950, Britain’s grey, post-war gloom was partially lifted with the first issue of a new comic that literally shone with light and colour. Avid children were soon understandably enraptured with the gloss and dazzle of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, a charismatic star-turn venerated to this day.

The Eagle was a tabloid-sized paper with full-colour inserts alternating with text and a range of various other comic features. “Tabloid” is a big page and one can get a lot of material onto each one. Deep within, on the bottom third of a monochrome page was an 8-panel strip entitled Captain PugwashThe story of a Bad Buccaneer and the many Sticky Ends which nearly befell him.

Ryan’s quirky, spiky style also lent itself to the numerous spot illustrations required throughout the comic every week.

Pugwash, his harridan of a wife and the useless, lazy crew of the Black Pig ran (or more accurately capered and fell about) until issue 19 when the feature disappeared. This was no real hardship for Ryan who had been writing and illustrating Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent as a full-page (tabloid, remember, an average of twenty panels a page, per week!) from Eagle #16. (I really must reinvestigate the solidly stolid sleuth too sometime soon…)

Tweed ran for three years as a page until 1953 when it dropped to a half-page strip and was repositioned as a purely comedic venture.

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

A Pirate Story was first published by Bodley Head before switching to the children’s publishing specialist Puffin for further editions and more adventures. It was the first of a vast (sorry, got away with myself there!) run of children’s books on a number of different subjects.

Pugwash himself starred in 21 tomes; there were a dozen books based on the animated TV series Ark Stories, plus Sir Prancelot and a number of other creations. Ryan worked whenever he wanted to in the comics world and eventually the books and the strips began to cross-fertilise.

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

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

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

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

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

A 2008 edition of A Pirate Story (from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books) came with a free audio CD, and just in case I’ve tempted you beyond endurance here’s a full list (I think) of the good(?) Captain’s exploits that you should make it your remaining life’s work to unearth…:

Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story (1957), Pugwash Aloft (1960), Pugwash and the Ghost Ship (1962), Pugwash in the Pacific (1963), Pugwash and the Sea Monster (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Ruby (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Treasure Chest (1976), Captain Pugwash and the New Ship (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Elephant (1976), The Captain Pugwash Cartoon Book (1977), Pugwash and the Buried Treasure (1980), Pugwash the Smuggler (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Fancy Dress Party (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Mutiny (1982), Pugwash and the Wreckers (1984), Pugwash and the Midnight Feast (1984), The Battle of Bunkum Bay (1985), The Quest of the Golden Handshake (1985), The Secret of the San Fiasco (1985), Captain Pugwash and the Pigwig (1991) and Captain Pugwash and the Huge Reward (1991). They are all pearls beyond price and a true treasure of graphic excellence…

We don’t have that many multi-discipline successes in comics, so why don’t you go and find out why we should celebrate one who did it all, did it first and did it well? Your kids will thank you and if you’ve any life left in your old and weary soul, you will too…
© 1957, 2009 John Ryan and (presumably) the Estate of John Ryan. All rights reserved.

Quick & Flupke: Under Full Sail


By Hergé, translated by David Radzinowicz (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-4743-6

Once upon a time in Belgium and many other places, the adventures of two mischievous young scallywags rivalled the utterly irresistible adventurer Tintin in popularity. It wasn’t that big a deal for Hergé and his publishers as Quick & Flupke was being produced by the young master and his studio team in conjunction with the dashing boy reporter.

In fact the strip probably acted as a test lab for the humorous graphic elements so much a part of the future world classic and the little terrors even cameoed frequently in the star vehicle…

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a genuine masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky Tintin and his entourage of iconic associates, but the hero was by no means his only creation. Among the best of the rest are Jo, Zette and Jocko and the episodic all-ages – and in the majority criminally unavailable – comedy gems highlighted here today.

On leaving school in 1925 Hergé worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he seems to have fallen under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A dedicated boy scout himself, Georges produced his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for Boy Scouts of Belgium monthly magazine the following year, and by 1928 the artist was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

Hergé was unhappily illustrating L’Extraordinaire Aventure de Flup, Nénesse, Poussette et Cochonnet (The Extraordinary Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonnet) – scripted by the staff sports reporter – when Abbot Wallez tasked him with creating a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues and rubbishing contradictory philosophies and ideologies?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi wanted to incorporate the innovation into his own work. He would create a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning on January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme, running until May 8th 1930.

The strip generated a huge spike in sales and Wallez allowed Hergé to hire Eugène Van Nyverseel and Paul “Jam” Jamin as art assistants. Naturally the Editor wanted to see a return in terms of more product, and – according to Remi’s later recollections – he returned from a brief well-earned vacation to find his staff had played an office prank by announcing that he was about to launch a second weekly strip…

Briefly flummoxed, he rapidly concocted a strip starring a little rascal over a few days, based largely on his own childhood and French film Les Deux Gosses (The Two Kids), and the impertinent pair (or at least one of them) premiered in the Le Petit Vingtiéme for January 23rd 1930. The strip would become Quick & Flupke when, three weeks later, a pint-sized partner in peril debuted, initially answering to “Suske” before soon evolving into Flupke (which is Flemish for “little Phillip”)…

Unleashed in weekly 2-page monochrome exploits, two working class rapscallions in Brussels played pranks, got into mischief and even ventured into the heady realms of slapstick and surrealism in the kind of yarns that any reader of Dennis the Menace (ours, not the Americans’) would find fascinatingly familiar. Readers everywhere loved them…

The strip was immensely successful, although Hergé paid it little heed and frequently only began each week’s episode a day or even mere hours before press-time. The fare was rapid-fire, pun-packed, stand-alone and often fourth-wall breaking which – as eny fule kno – never gets old…

Despite being increasingly sidelined after Hergé began The Adventures of Jo, Zette and Jocko for Cœurs Vaillants at the end of 1935, our likely lads larked about for over a decade, becoming more an artefact of the assistants (and latterly artist Johan de Moor) until the war and the pressure of producing Tintin meant they had to go.

Quick & Flupke were rediscovered in 1985 and their remastered, collected escapades ran for 12 full-colour albums in Europe and India until 1991.

As English translations, we only ever saw a couple of volumes such as this oversized (221 x 295 mm) hardcover compendium from 2009: delighting us with nearly two dozen sparkling romps for laughter-starved lovers of classic comics comedy.

Hopefully, now we’ve got a burgeoning digital reading base, they will all be available for folk too lazy to learn French (or Dutch or German or…) as digital editions. These lost classics are certainly long-overdue for rediscovery and are perfect light reading for kids of all ages.
© Hergé – Exclusivity Editions Casterman 1986. All Rights Reserved. English translation © 2009 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

Garth: The Cloud of Balthus


By Jim Edgar & Frank Bellamy, with John Allard (Titan Books)
ISBN 10: 0-90761-034-X                   ISBN: 978-0-90761-034-2

British Superman Garth first appeared in the Daily Mirror on Saturday, July 24th 1943, the creation of professional cartoonist Steve Dowling and BBC radio producer Gordon Boshell, at the behest of the editor who wanted an adventure strip to complement their other comic strip features, Buck Ryan, Belinda Blue Eyes, Just Jake and immortal, morale-boosting Jane.

A blond giant and physical marvel, Garth washed up on an island shore and into the arms of a pretty girl, Gala, with no memory of who he was. Nonetheless he saved the entire populace from a brutal tyrant and a legend began. Boshell never had time to write the series, so Dowling, already producing the successful family strip The Ruggles, scripted Garth until a new writer could be found.

Don Freeman dumped the amnesia plot in ‘The Seven Ages of Garth’ (which ran from September 18th 1944 until January 20th 1946) by introducing imposing jack-of-all-sciences Professor Lumiere whose psychological experiments regressed the burly hero back through some past lives.

In the next tale ‘The Saga of Garth’ (January 22nd 1946 to July 20th 1946) his origin was revealed. As a child, he’d been found floating in a coracle off the Shetlands and adopted by a kindly old couple. When grown he became a Navy Captain until he was torpedoed off Tibet in 1943…

Freeman continued as writer until 1952 (‘Flight into the Future’ was his last tale), and was briefly replaced by script editor Hugh McClelland (who only wrote ‘Invasion From Space’) until Peter O’Donnell took over in February 1953 with ‘Warriors of Krull’.

He wrote 28 adventures until resigning in 1966 to devote more time to his own strip; something he called Modesty Blaise.

His place was taken by Jim Edgar; a short-story writer who also scripted such prestigious newspaper strips as Matt Marriott, Wes Slade and Gun Law.

Dowling retired in 1968 and his long-time assistant John Allard took over the strip until a suitable permanent artist could be found. Allard completed ten complete tales until Frank Bellamy began a legendary run with the 13th daily instalment of ‘Sundance’ (which ran from 28th June to 1 October 11th 1971).

Allard remained as background artist and assistant until Bellamy took full control during ‘The Orb of Trimandias’.

One thing Professor Lumiere had discovered and which gave this strip its distinctive appeal – even before the fantastic artwork of Bellamy elevated it to dizzying heights of graphic brilliance – was Garth’s involuntary ability to travel through time and re-experience past and future lives. This simple concept lent the strip an unfailing potential for exotic storylines and fantastic exploits, pushing it beyond its humble beginning as a British response to Siegel and Shuster’s American phenomenon Superman.

The tales in this criminally out of print monochrome tome begin with the aforementioned ‘Sundance’ as mighty Garth is sucked back to 1876 to relive his life as an officer of George Custer’s 7th Cavalry on the Eve of the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The time-tossed titan has a brief but passionate love affair with Indian maiden Falling Leaf before dying valiantly for his beliefs and their love. It is an evocative, powerful tale that totally captures the bigotry, arrogance and futility of the White Man and the tragic demise of the Indian way of life…

Then eponymous epic ‘The Cloud of Balthus’ shows the open, simple elegance of the narrative concept in Garth. Whilst vacationing in the Caribbean our hero becomes embroiled in an espionage plot involving freelance super-spies and a US space station, but even that is mere prelude to fantastic adventure and deadly terrors when he and his delectable, double-dealing companion Lee Wan are abruptly abducted by nebulous energy beings in a taut, tension-fraught thriller.

‘The Orb of Trimandias’ plunges Garth back in time to the Venice of the Borgias, when he becomes again English Soldier-of-Fortune Lord Carthewan: a decent man battling an insane and all-powerful madman for the secret of a supernaturally potent holy relic. This gripping, exotic yarn is replete with flamboyant action, historical celebrities, sexy women and magnificently stirring locales. It’s a timeless treasure of adventure that has the added fillip of briefly reuniting Garth with his star-crossed true love, the ethereal Space Goddess Astra.

This lovely volume (long overdue for re-issue – at least in digital form if no other way is possible) concludes with a high-octane gothic horror story. ‘The Wolfman of Ausensee’ sees Garth as a rather reluctant companion of movie starlet Gloria Delmar on a shoot at the forbidding Austrian schloss (that’s a big ugly castle to you) of a playboy whose family was once cursed by witches.

Despite the title giving some of the game away, this is still a sharp and savvy spook-fest that ranks easily amongst the best Hammer Horror films, and just gets better with each rereading.

Garth is the quintessential British Action Hero – strong, smart, good-looking with a big heart and nose for trouble. His back-story gives him all of eternity and every genre to play in and the magnificent art of Frank Bellamy also made his too-brief tenure a stellar one.

Comic-strips seldom get this good, and even though this book and its sequel are still relatively easy to come by, it is still a crime and a mystery that all these wonderful tales have been out of print for so long.
© 1984 Mirror Group Newspapers. All rights reserved.

Spirou & Fantasio volume 12: Who Will Stop Cyanide?


By Tome & Janry translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-355-0

Spirou (which translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter under his nom-de-plume Rob-Vel. The inspirational invention came at the request of Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in direct response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for competing outfit Casterman.

Not long after, soon-to-be legendary weekly comic Spirou launched (on April 21st 1938) with Rob-Vel’s red-headed rascal as the lead of the anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous star was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a wry reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually grew into high-flying, far-reaching and frequently surreal action-comedy dramas.

Spirou and his chums have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was assisted by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the property, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually sidelining the long-established brief, complete gag-vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal the Marsupilami to the mix.

Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic Spirou sagas until his abrupt resignation in 1969, and his tenure is remembered for the wealth of weird and wonderful players and villains he added to the cast. As well as comrade, rival and co-star Fantasio or perennial exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Fantasio’s unsavoury cousin Zantafio, a particular useful favourite was crackpot inventor and modern-day Merlin of mushroom mechanics Pacôme Hégésippe Adélard Ladislas, the Count of Champignac (and sly tribute to an immortal be-whiskered druid dubbed Getafix…)

Franquin was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring yarns tapping into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times: tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

However, by the 1980s the series was looking a tad outdated and directionless. Three different creative teams then alternated on the feature, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde – writing as Tome – and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry, who adapted, referenced and in all the best ways returned to the beloved Franquin era.

Their sterling efforts began with the tale under review here and quickly revived the floundering feature’s fortunes. They contributed fourteen more wonderful albums to the canon between 1984 and 1998, and allowed the venerable strip to diversify into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…).

Tome & Janry were followed on the core feature by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of astounding escapades…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier triumphs by the great man himself. Who Will Stop Cyanide? is the twelfth English-language release and officially the cartoon crimebusters’ 35th collected collaborative caper; originally published continentally as Qui arrêtera Cyanure? in Spirou #2427-2448 in 1984 before being subsequently released as Tome & Janry’s third album a year later.

Funny, frenetically-paced and potently sinister when most appropriate, the tale leans heavily on science fiction paranoia and opens as photojournalist Fantasio tries to return a defective new camera. After some truly appalling customer service he is fobbed off with a bizarre bucket of bolts which seems to be a semi-sentient little robot that takes polaroid snaps…

The “screwball gizmo” is a mischief-maker with a mind of its own and finds a kindred spirit in Spirou’s pet squirrel Spip, but that doesn’t stop it making a cunning bid for freedom at the first opportunity. In hot pursuit, the adventuresome lads frantically trail the demented droid out to worryingly familiar territory: the far from peaceful hamlet of Champignac-in-the-Sticks. However, this time it’s not the mushroom-mad Count who’s behind an increasingly nerve-wracking situation…

Following a stern warning from the harassed Mayor – already well-acquainted with the kind of chaos that follows in Spiro and Fantasio’s wake – the jaunty journalists find the little gizmo at the dilapidated railway station. A furtive search through dank back rooms soon exposes an horrific scene: a beautiful woman tied to a chair and hooded.

The outraged heroes free the distressed damsel and are immediately attacked; both by her and a number of ordinary mechanical objects suddenly imbued with terrifying, violent animation…

After the former captive explosively escapes, the stunned lads meet dowdy Stationmaster Catenaire and hear an incredible story…

The little man is something of an unsung scientific tinkerer and when railway cutbacks left him with time on his hands he started dabbling in robotics. Firstly, he built the little droid – dubbed “Telesphore” – but eventually, craving a more exotic and comforting companion, moved on to formulate a comely android for his personal use.

Sadly, the Marilyn Monroe doppelganger he crafted gained instant sentience and an abiding abhorrence for humankind.

Calling herself Cyanide she played vicious jokes on people and even attacked them. When she started possessing machinery, Catenaire was forced to shut her down. Now, thanks to the gallant impulses of Spirou and Fantasio, she’s free and determined to make all meat-things pay…

And so unfolds a splendidly compelling and frantic game of cat-&-mouse as the lads chase the wicked automaton and she – thanks to the recent unwelcome advent of a huge fully-automated factory in the village – unleashes an army of mechanical monstrosities to crush them before expanding her horizons to encompass the village and eventually the rest of humanity…

Fast-paced and exuberant, Who Will Stop Cyanide? is a funny, thrilling rollercoaster romp easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan. Catch it if you can…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1985 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2017 © Cinebook Ltd.

Suicide Squad: The Silver Age


By Robert Kanigher, Howard Liss, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6343-0

The War that Time Forgot was a strange series which saw paratroopers and tanks of the “Question Mark Patrol” dropped on Mystery Island from whence no American soldiers ever returned. Assorted crack GIs discovered why when the operation was suddenly overrun by pterosaurs, tyrannosaurs and worse…

However, the combat-&-carnosaur creation was actually a spin-off of an earlier concept which hadn’t quite caught on with the comics-buying public. That wasn’t a problem for Writer/Editor Kanigher: a man well-versed in judicious recycling and reinvention…

Back in 1955 he had devised and written anthology adventure comic The Brave and the Bold which featured short complete tales starring a variety of period heroes: a format mirroring that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas.

Issue #1 led with Roman swords-&-sandals epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was side-lined by the company’s iteration of Robin Hood, but the high adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning superhero revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle in the manner of the astounding successful Showcase.

Used to launch enterprising concepts and characters such as Cave Carson, Strange Sports Stories, Hawkman and the epochal Justice League of America, the title began its run of beta-tests in issue #25 (August/September 1959) with the fate-tempting Suicide Squad – code-named Task Force X by the US government to investigate uncanny mysteries and tackle unnatural threats.

The scary tales were all illustrated by Kanigher’s go-to team for fantastic fantasy Ross Andru & Mike Esposito and they clearly revelled at the chance to cut loose and show what they could do outside the staid whimsy of Wonder Woman and gritty realism of the war titles they usually handled…

The Brave and the Bold #25 introduced a quartet of merely human specialists – air ace war hero Colonel Rick Flag, combat medic Karin Grace and big-brained boffins Hugh Evans and Jess Price – all officially convened into a unit whose purpose was to tackle threats beyond conventional comprehension such as the interstellar phenomenon dubbed ‘The Three Waves of Doom!’

The quartet were built on a very shaky premise. All three men loved Karin. She only loved Rick but agreed to conceal her inclinations and sublimate her passions so Hugh and Jess would stay on the team of scientific death-cheaters…

In their first published exploit a cloud from outer space impacted Earth and created a super-heated tsunami which threated to broil America. With dashing derring-do, the trouble-shooters quenched the ambulatory heat wave only to have it spawn a colossal alien dragon emanating super-cold rays that could trigger a new ice age…

The only solution was to banish the beast back into space on a handy rocket headed for the sun, but sadly the ship need to be piloted…

Having heroically ended the invader, the team were back two months later as B&B #26 opened with an immediate continuation. ‘The Sun Curse’ saw our stranded astronauts struggling (in scenes eerily prescient and reminiscent of the Apollo 13 crisis a decade later) to return their ship to Earth. Uncannily, however, the trip bathes them in radiations which causes them to shrink to insect size…

Back on terra firma but now imperilled by everything around them, the team nonetheless manages to scuttle a proposed attack by a hostile totalitarian nation before regaining their regular stature…

A second, shorter tale then finds the quartet enjoying some downtime in Paris before the Metro is wrecked by an awakened dinosaur. Of course, the tourists are ready and able to stop the ‘Serpent in the Subway!’

In an entertainment era still dominated by monsters and aliens, with superheroes still only tentatively resurfacing, Task Force X were at the forefront of beastie-battles and their third and final try-out issue found them facing an evolutionary nightmare as a scientist vanished and the region around his lab was suddenly besieged by gigantic insects as well as a colossal reptilian humanoid the team dubbed ‘The Creature of Ghost Lake!’ (December 1959/January 1960). They destroyed the monster but never found the professor…

A rare failure for those excitingly experimental days, the Suicide Squad vanished after that triple try-out run, only to resurface months later for a second bite of the cherry…

The Brave and the Bold #37 (August/September 1961) opened with Karin displaying heretofore unsuspected psychic gifts and predicting an alien ‘Raid of the Dinosaurs!’ which pitted the team against hyper-intelligent saurian whilst ‘Threat of the Giant Eye!’ focussed on the retrieval of a downed military plane and lost super-weapon. The hunt took the Squad to an island of mythological mien where a living monocular monolith hunted people…

In #38 (October/November 1961) the team tackled the ‘Master of the Dinosaurs’ – an alien using Pteranodons to hunt like an Earthling would use falcons – after which the fabulous four fell afoul of extra-dimensional would-be conquerors but still had enough presence of mind and determination to defeat the ‘Menace of the Mirage People!’

B&B #39 (December 1961/January 1962) called “time” on Task Force X after ‘Prisoners of the Dinosaur Zoo!’ saw the team uncover an ancient extraterrestrial ark caching antediluvian flora and fauna and ‘Rain of Fire!’ found them crushing a macabre criminal entombing crime-busters in liquid metal. That was it for the Squad until 1986 when a new iteration of the concept was launched in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Or was it? Superhero fans are notoriously clannish and insular so they might not have noticed how one creative powerhouse refused to take “no thanks” for an answer…

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics, horror stories, superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman and other genres too numerous to cover here. He also scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the very first story of the Silver Age – which introduced Barry Allen AKA the Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the World in 1956.

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932 and wrote for the theatre, film and radio before joining the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945, he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and Lady Cop, plus memorable villainous femme fatales Harlequin and Rose and Thorn. This last he reconstructed, during the relevancy era of the early 1970s, into a schizophrenic crime-busting female super-hero.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into espionage, adventure, westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Amy at War.

He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

Among his many epochal war series were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, the Haunted Tank and The Losers as well as the visually addictive, irresistibly astonishing “Dogfaces and Dinosaurs” dramas sampled in the back of this stunning hardback collection…

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and even used the uncanny but formulaic adventure arena of The War that Time Forgot as a personal try-out venue for his many series concepts. The Flying Boots, G.I. Robot and many other teams and characters first appeared in the lush Pacific hellhole with wall-to-wall danger. Indisputably the big beasts were the stars, but occasionally (extra)ordinary G.I .Joes made enough of an impression to secure return engagements, too…

The War that Time Forgot debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90 (April-May 1960) and ran until #137 (May 1968) skipping only three issues: #91, 93 and #126 (the last of which starred the United States Marine Corps simian Sergeant Gorilla – look it up: I’m neither kidding nor being metaphorical…).

Simply too good a concept to leave alone, this seamless, shameless blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caprona stories (known alternatively as the Caspak Trilogy or “the Land That Time Forgot”) provided everything baby-boomer boys could dream of: giant lizards, humongous insects, fantastic adventures and two-fisted heroes with lots of guns…

In the summer of 1963, a fresh Suicide Squad debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #110 to investigate a ‘Tunnel of Terror’ into the lost land of giant monsters: this time though, a giant albino gorilla decided that mammals should stick together…

The huge hairy beast was also the star of ‘Return of the Dinosaur Killer!’ in #111 as the unnamed Squad leader and a wily boffin (visually based on Kanigher’s office associate Julie Schwartz) struggled to survive on the tropically reptilian atoll…

In SSWS #116 (August/September 1964) a duo of dedicated soldiers faced ice-bound beasts in ‘The Suicide Squad!’ – the big difference being that Morgan and Mace were more determined to kill each other than accomplish their mission…

‘Medal for a Dinosaur!’ in #117 bowed to the inevitable and introduced a (relatively) friendly and extremely cute baby pterodactyl to balance out Mace and Morgan’s barely suppressed animosity, after which ‘The Plane-Eater!’ in #118 found the army odd couple adrift in the Pacific and in deep danger until the little leather-winged guy turned up once more…

The Suicide Squad were getting equal billing by the time of #119’s ‘Gun Duel on Dinosaur Hill!’ (February/March 1965) as yet another group of men-without-hope battled reptilian horrors and each other to the death, after which the un-killable Morgan and Mace returned with Dino, the flying baby dinosaur, who found a new companion in handy hominid Caveboy before the whole unlikely ensemble struggled to survive against increasingly outlandish creatures in ‘The Tank Eater!’

Issue #121 presented a diving drama when a UDT frogman won his Suicide Squad rep as a formidable fighter and ‘The Killer of Dinosaur Alley!’ Increasingly now, G.I. hardware and ordnance began to gain the upper hand over bulk, fang and claw…

Undisputed master of gritty fantasy art Joe Kubert added his pencil-and-brush magic to a tense and manic thriller featuring the return of the G.I. Robot in stunning battle bonanza ‘Titbit for a Tyrannosaurus!’ in #125 (February/March 1965), after which Andru & Esposito covered another Suicide Squad sea-saga in #127: ‘The Monster Who Sank a Navy!’

This eclectic collection then tumultuously terminates as scripter Howard Liss and visual veteran Gene Colan craft a masterfully moving human drama from issue #128 which was astoundingly improved by the inclusion of ravening reptiles in ‘The Million Dollar Medal!’ and the last tale in this volume).

Throughout this calamitous compilation of dark dilemmas, light-hearted romps and spectacular battle blockbusters the emphasis is always on foibles and fallibility; with human heroes unable to put aside long-held grudges, swallow pride or forgive trespasses even amidst the strangest and most terrifying moments of their lives, and this edgy humanity informs and elevates even the daftest of these wonderfully imaginative adventure yarns.

Classy, intense, insanely addictive and Just Plain Fun, the original Suicide Squad offers a kind of easy, no-commitment entertainment seldom seen these days and is a deliciously guilty pleasure for one and all…
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Captain Midnight Archives volume 2: Captain Midnight Saves the World!


By William Woolfolk, Leonard Frank, Dan Barry & various (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-243-5                  eISBN: 978-1-62115-921-6

Created by broadcast scripters Wilfred G. Moore and Robert M. Burtt, Captain Midnight began as a star of radio serials in the days when troubleshooting All-American aviators were the acme of adventure genre heroes. The Captain Midnight Program soldiered on from 1938 to 1940 until the Wander Company acquired the sponsorship rights to promote their top product: Ovaltine. From there on, national radio syndication led to a newspaper comic strip (by Erwin L. Hess, running from June 29th 1942 until the end of the decade); a movie serial (1942) and – later – two TV serials (1953 and 1954-1956) before being overdubbed, retitled and syndicated as “Jet Jackson, Flying Commando” well into the 1960s). There was also a mountain of now-legendary merchandise such as the infamous Captain Midnight Secret Decoder Ring

And there was a comicbook franchise… one recently reinvigorated for 21st century audiences.

The hero’s basic origin related how after the Great War ended, pilot and inventor Captain Jim Albright returned home having earned the sobriquet “Captain Midnight” following a particularly harrowing mission that concluded successfully at the witching hour.

He then formed a paramilitary “Secret Squadron” of like-minded pilots to continue making the world a better place – often at the covert behest of the President – using guts and gadgets to foil spies, catch crooks and defend the helpless.

Captain Midnight truly hit his stride after Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, becoming an early Home Front media sensation throughout the war years. However, his already fluid backstory and appearance underwent a radical makeover when he switched comicbook horses in midstream.

This stunningly engaging full-colour paperback collection (also available as an eBook) gathers a slew of science fiction-themed tales taken from the latter end of the Fawcett Comics run. Captain Midnight #48, 50, 52-56, 58, 60, 62, 64 and 66 spanned February 1947 – August 1948 and with times and tastes changing the venerable title folded with the next issue…

Following a fervent Introduction from Batton Lash discussing the career of the much-travelled, constantly evolving “Monarch of the Airways” and the telling differences between the radio, screen and comicbook iterations, the contents explosively unfold with a tragic dearth of credit and attributions. Much comic material from this era is criminally unattributed but regular writers known to be active on Midnight at this juncture included Bill Woolfolk and Otto Binder whilst artists included the unflagging Leonard Frank and young legends-to-be Leonard Starr and Dan Barry.

From issue #48 ‘Captain Midnight Visits the Golden Asteroid’ sees Albright and his mechanic Ichabod Mudd piloting their newly invented rocket-ship to investigate a new stellar body only to find that the astronomer who discovered it has an ulterior and nefarious motive for getting to the stellar wanderer.

Illustrated by Frank and from #50, ‘Captain Midnight Spikes the Sun Gun’ pitted the modern Edison against devilish Dr. Pyrrho who had found a way to inflict destructive heat on the already sweltering citizens of the American Southwest after which a return prospecting trip to our nearest neighbour uncovered ‘The Moon Creatures’ (Woolfolk) who aggressively resisted all attempts to colonise Luna…

With the solar system now a regular destination for exploration, Albright began an occasional series of sorties to the planets and picked up some new recurring foes. The first was a plundering barbarian from Pluto who raided Earth for its Uranium reserves in #52’s ‘Captain Midnight versus the Space Raider!’ (Binder & Frank).

The resultant chase and recovery took our hero to Mars and first contact with an unsuspected race also under threat of merciless assault by the murderous Jagga

After driving the fiend off and recovering his ill-gotten gains, Midnight next encountered the ruthless Plutonian inflicting ‘Peril on Venus’ in #53. By sending him packing once again, the inventor consequently aided the long-lost last survivors of Atlantis in getting their failing colony onto an even keel in a world overrun by dinosaurs…

In #54 Midnight and Icky encountered yet another embattled civilisation on Ceres: a literally golden kingdom fending off Jagga’s bacterial onslaught and meteoroid bombardments. With the Air Aces’ assistance, the monster was finally driven off in ‘The Asteroid Battle’

There’s a double dose of super-scientific spectacle in #55, beginning with Albright’s perhaps unwise invention of a monumental dirigible intended as ‘The Sky Airport’. When common thugs steal the mobile monolith and use it as a base for air raids on banks, the heartbroken genius is forced into desperate action to clear his conscience…

This is followed by another interplanetary incident when ‘Captain Midnight Finds the Lunar Lair’ and finally brings Jagga to justice in the form of a trial in Earth’s courts. Unequivocally guilty, the beast is sentenced to death by electrocution in #56’s ‘The Last Rites of Jagga’ (Frank art) but said execution proves to be a major mistake and Midnight is called upon to deliver the sentence in his own infallible scientific manner…

A new alien threat emerges in #58 ‘On the Planet of Peril’ when an unknown race reanimates Earth’s greatest villains and monsters…

A month later ‘Captain Midnight Battles the Ice Age’ found our interplanetary explorers on Neptune: changing that world’ climate to give its humanoid inhabitants a big step up the ladder to civilisation, whilst issue #60 saw the return of earthly arch-enemy Dr. Osmosis who terrified and tormented humanity with his explosive ‘Flying Saucers of Death’

Captain Midnight #62 detailed the inventor’s efforts to save America’s ‘Farmers on the Moon’ from sabotage as Earth agricultural entrepreneur Jim Klaw sought to maintain his produce monopoly at all costs…

A new extraterrestrial enemy debuted in #64 as ‘Beyond the Sun’ (Frank) introduced shapeshifting tyrant Xog: a gaseous monster from Saturn who boarded America’s newest spaceships as step one in his plans for interplanetary domination. When Captain Midnight thwarted the scheme and rescued the hostage Terrans, the vile king swore vengeance…

It came in the final tale in this superbly retro rollercoaster of rocket-powered fun – from #66 with art by Frank – as Xog transforms Captain Midnight into sentient gas before invading Earth. Happily, even ‘Without a Body’ Albright was too much for the malign marauder and once more saved the day and the world…

With a stunning gallery of covers by Frank, Charles Tomsey, Dan Barry and Mac Raboy plus cool mini-features such as ‘Captain Midnight’s Air Lingo’, ‘US Army Aviation Badge Insignia’ and ‘Famous Planes’, this fabulous feast of fantasy is guaranteed to satisfy the nostalgic yearnings of every starry-eyed space cadet, whatever their age.
Captain Midnight Archives volume 2: Captain Midnight Saves the World! ® and ©Dark Horse Comics 2014. All rights reserved.

James Bond™ volume 1: VARGR


By Warren Ellis, Jason Masters, Guy Major & Simon Bowland (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-901-0

James Bond is the ultimate secret agent. You all know that and have – thanks to the multi-media empire that has grown up around Ian Fleming’s masterful creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to the latest movie, game or novel.

There are also some exceedingly enjoyable comicbook and newspaper strip versions detailing the further exploits of 007 which have never really found the appreciation they rightly deserve. This collection is just one of the most recent, compiling the first six issues of a regular comicbook series from licensing specialists Dynamite Entertainment and quite possibly one of the top ten Bond adventures ever seen in any medium…

Dumping the decades of gaudy paraphernalia that’s grown around the brand, writer Warren Ellis, illustrator Jason Masters, colourist Guy Major and letterer Simon Bowland have opted for a stripped-down, pared-back, no-nonsense iteration who is all business.

It begins after Bond’s return from a personal mission to Helsinki which culminated in the elimination of the assassin who recently killed 008. On returning to MI6, however, the infallible agent is carpeted by M.

With motions in progress to close the Double-O department, Bond is given a simple assignment: “dissuading” a small European drug dealer from distributing his latest recreational designer dope in the United Kingdom.

Of course, no job is ever simple…

The first snag is a new Home Office ruling depriving Bond of his gun whilst within British borders, but at least Q has few treats for him to use once he’s touched down on foreign soil…

Following an impromptu briefing on his contact – the Intel has come via a CIA informant used by old comrade Felix Leiter, so at least that’s reliable – Bond jets off for Berlin Station, only to narrowly escape being murdered by impossibly strong impostor-agent Dharma Reach as soon as he gets out of the airport…

Taking the near-miss in stride, 007 swiftly starts his surveillance by meeting the CIA’s asset, Serbian geneticist and medical pioneer Slaven Kurjak, who has been making astounding breakthroughs in both pharmaceuticals and powered prostheses.

The exceedingly eccentric doctor puts him on the trail of a minor local gang with a new method of processing cocaine, so Bond sets off on the trail of his new target, resolute but clearly suspicious…

Meanwhile in London, drug addicts begin exhibiting strange, horrific and ultimately fatal side-effects after their latest scores…

Kurjac obviously has his own agenda, but the methodical Bond opts to investigate this disquieting informant’s “information” first and is soon in the fight of his life after stumbling into a major drugs operation run by the huge Al-Zein cartel.

On returning – shaken, stirred but largely intact – to the MI6 office, he’s intercepted by Slaven’s most dangerous guinea pig Mr. Masters, moments after the chemically-corrupted killer has depopulated the entire Berlin Station. Attempts to lure Bond into a fresh trap have been anticipated, however, and 007 is more than ready when the killer makes his move. Masters’ agonised last words to Bond are “Vargr. Please. Vargr”…

A frustrating confrontation with Kurjac then reveals the shocking truth about the crazy doctor’s hideous plans for the tainted drugs on Britain’s streets, but ends with apparent defeat and Bond stuck in a seemingly inescapable death-trap…

Through his usual blend of ingenuity and inspired insanity Bond survives and returns to London for debriefing but is again ambushed by Dharma Reach. She inadvertently provides a clue to her boss’ whereabouts before explosively expiring…

With a clear target and destination – and determined to end the bloody shambles at any cost – Bond heads to Norway and a final confrontation with Kurjak. The resolution to the mystery of Vargr is cataclysmic and incomprehensibly bloody…

With a gallery of covers by Dom Reardon and 22 variants from Masters, Glenn Fabry, Francesco Francavilla, Gabriel Hardman, Jock, Stephen Mooney, Dan Panosian, Joe Jusko, Aaron Campbell, Timothy Lim, Dennis Calero, Robert Hack and Ben Oliver plus Concept Art from Masters featuring character designs and model sheets, this elegant espionage episode is fast, furious, dryly witty, superbly smart and impeccably stylish: in short, the perfect James Bond thriller.

Try it and see for yourselves…
© 2016 Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. James Bond and 007 are ™ Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Zorro: Matanzas


By Don McGregor, Mike Mayhew, Sam Parsons & John Costanza (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-147-2

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world, “El Zorro, The Fox” was originally devised by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 for a 5-part prose serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’. He debuted in All-Story Weekly for August 6th, running until 6th September. The part-work was subsequently published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co. and Tor respectively.

Famously, Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford read the serial in All-Story on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the adventure as the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro was a global movie sensation in 1920 and for years after, and New York-based McCulley subsequently re-tailored his creation to match the so-different filmic incarnation. This Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and The Spider.

Rouben Mamoulian’s 1940 filmic remake of The Mark of Zorro further ingrained the Fox into the world’s psyche and, as the prose exploits continued in a variety of publications, Dell began a comicbook version in 1949.

When Walt Disney Studios began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957 (78 half-hour episodes and four 60 minute specials before cancellation in 1961), the ongoing comicbook series was swiftly redesigned to capitalise on it. The media corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various quarters of the world.

This series and later iterations also resulted in comics and strips all over Europe from Disney and Marvel in the USA. During the 1990s, Topps Comics spearheaded Zorro’s return courtesy of Don McGregor & Mike Mayhew which led to a short-lived newspaper strip (illustrated by Thomas Yeates) and also incidentally and memorably introducing a salacious “bad-girl” sidekick in the unwisely-clad form of Lady Rawhide

And there were more movies, this time with an actual Spaniard playing the lead role (Antonio Banderas, in case you were wondering…)

In 2008 Dynamite Entertainment reintroduced the Fox in new yarns by Matt Wagner and as part of the package excavated this lost tale from the Topps iteration: an unpublished adventure by McGregor & Mayhew, with colours by Sam Parsons and letters by industry veteran John Costanza.

Zorro: Mantanzas has a chequered history. Part of a longer storyline begun during McGregor & Mayhew’s run on the Topps Comic in the 1990s, the tale was only completed in 2010 for the Dynamite run and released as 4-issue miniseries before being collected as a trade paperback and later an eBook. For all that, however, the lost episode offers a passionate and sophisticated portrayal of the quintessential champion risking his own security and happiness to thwart a macabre and complex villain: a struggle rendered even more appealing by the magnificent illustration of Mayhew and Parsons.

For the uninitiated: Don Diego de la Vega is the foppish son of a grand house in old California when it was a Spanish Possession, who used the masked persona of Señor Zorro (the Fox) to right wrongs, defend the weak and oppressed – particularly the pitifully maltreated natives and Indians – and thwart the schemes of a succession of military leaders and the colonial Governor determined to milk the populace of the growing township of Los Angeles for all they had.

Whenever Zorro struck he left his mark – a letter “Z” carved into walls, doors, faces…

Diego has a whole support structure in place. Although in this iteration his stiff-necked Hildalgo father is unaware of his double life the secret hero has a number of assistants who do. The most important is Bernardo (a deaf-mute manservant) and Jose of the Cocopahs – a native chief who often acts as stableman, decoy and body-double for the Masked Avenger. Diego also occasionally employs a retired, reformed one-eyed pirate named Bardoso to act as his spy amongst townsfolk and outlaws…

The settlement is basking in unaccustomed liberty after Zorro’s overthrow of the military governor, unaware that their new Regency Administrator Lucien Machete is a sadistic fiend with a nasty line in prosthetic weapons nursing a rabid grudge against Zorro – the man who made his replacement limb necessary…

The villain has struck up a friendship with Diego’s father Don Alejandro; an increasingly frustrated grandee who finds his son’s unseemly and unmanly behaviour more and more inexplicable and intolerable.

Infuriatingly, Machete is not talking advantage of the familial rift as ploy; he just likes the old man whilst despising his foppish son, blithely oblivious that the soft poltroon is the black-clad avenger who has thwarted his previous malevolent depredations…

Zorro knows – but cannot prove – that Machete’s credentials are forged and his claims to act as the Spanish King’s official representative are false. The Fox urgently seeks to expose the impostor before whatever vile plot he fosters can be completed. Thus he cannot let anything distract him…

The drama unfolds after Don Alejandro and Lucien attend the Matanza: an annual festival where the young men show off their strength and manhood by ceremonially butchering cattle and other livestock in a gory display of horsemanship and bloodletting. Diego has naturally declined to attend or participate, preferring to surreptitiously watch Machete.

He is wise to do so, for the maniac has malicious plans to sabotage the event with a new addition to his arm’s arsenal…

Taking up position above the killing grounds, Zorro and Bernardo have a perfect position to observe proceedings but their keen surveillance is disrupted by a huge bear attracted to the site by the smell of blood.

Its attack is devastating and leaves the secret champions battling for their lives. By the time they can again turn their attention to the Matanza, Lucien has done his dirty work: good men are dead or maimed and an horrific stampede is underway. Moreover, in the chaos personal tragedy has struck at the De La Vega household and Machete seems to be getting away with murder again, whilst El Zorro is painted as the blackest of monsters…

A simple tell well-told and lavishly illustrated, Zorro: Matanzas is packed with spectacular action and diabolical intrigue in the grand manner and incidentally offers a potted origin and discreet peek at the fabulous subterranean citadel covertly crafted by Diego and Bernardo to facilitate the Fox’s war on injustice.

Although more incident than main feature, this is a blistering romp every lover of human-scaled adventure will adore…
Zorro®: Matanzas, Volume One © 2014 Zorro Productions, Inc. All rights Reserved.

Afrika


By Hermann (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-844-6 (HC)                    eISBN: 978-1-62115-865-3

Hermann Huppen is a master of comics storytelling, blending gritty tales of human travail and personal crisis with astoundingly enticing illustration and seamless storytelling. His past masterpieces include Bernard Prince, Comanche, Jeremiah, Towers of Bois-Maury, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16 and many others.

Far too little of his work exists in English translation but this brief yet potent contemporary excursion into the Heart of Darkness is undoubtedly one of his most evocative.

Delivered in an oversized full-colour hardback edition, stand-alone tale Afrika is set on a Tanzanian Wildlife preserve, tracing the final fate of irascible man of mystery Dario Ferrier.

This passionate and dedicated preserver of the continent’s most iconic animals is facing the prospect of outliving the magnificent creatures under his protection. All his team’s efforts mean nothing in the face of the constant depredations of well-funded poachers and the callous indifference of world governments.

Their slide into extinction is inexorable and the battle all but lost yet Dario carries on day after day, bolstered only by the passionate attentions of his woman Iseko and the determination of his comrades-in-arms. However even they are under constant pressure to abandon him…

When a headstrong but gullible European photo-journalist is foisted upon him, Dario sees the end in sight. Charlotte dogs his heels and challenges his cynical assumptions all across the veldt, but when she accidentally films atrocities and war-crimes perpetrated by unassailable people of wealth and authority, the stunned Europeans quickly find themselves the quarry in a pitiless hunt through the bush.

Sadly for the pursuers, however, they have no conception of how dangerous Dario truly is…

Determined to get Charlotte to safety, the world-weary guardian knows his own life is over: all he hopes for is to go out his way…

Plotted with deceptive subtlety, packed with visceral, uncompromising action and painted with breathtaking skill, this glorious tale is a phenomenal vision of modern infamy and the oldest of motivations.

Afrika is a truly perfect adventure comic.
© 2007 SAF Comics.

Wandering Island volume 1


By Kenji Tsuruta, translated by Dana Lewis (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-079-3                  eISBN: 978-1-63008-771-5

Kenji Tsuruta was born in 1961 and studied optical science, intending to pursue a career in photography, but instead made the jump to narrative storytelling as manga artist, designer, book illustrator and anime creator.

A lifelong fan of “hard science” science fiction authors like Robert A. Heinlein and the comic works of Tetsuya Chiba and Yukinobu (Saber Tiger) Hoshino, after years of producing self-published dōjinshi whilst working as an assistant to established manga stars, the 25-year-old Tsuruta began selling his own works in 1986 when his short fantasy serial Hiroku te suteki na uchū ja nai ka (‘What a Big Wonderful Universe It Is’) was published in Kodansha’s Weekly Morning magazine.

Soon after, he began Sprits of Wonder: a dazzling scientific romance of gently colliding worlds. It ran in both Weekly Morning and monthly magazine Afternoon between 1987 and 1996 before making the smooth transition to animated features and an award-winning TV series. Dark Horse Comics published the first translated episodes as a 5-issue monochrome miniseries in 1995-6.

After that the artist pretty much moved out of the manga business, instead concentrating on science fiction illustration and character design; a field of endeavour where he won many awards.

Then on July 13th 2010 Wandering Island debuted in Kodansha’s anthological Manga Box AMASIA before being serialised in Afternoon. The first collection was released in October 2011 and Dark Horse began their English language editions in July 2016.

The slow-moving, elegiac saga is Mr. Tsuruta’s first major narrative work since the turn of the century: a beguiling and enticing modern-day mystery set against a fascinating geological backdrop in a fascinating cultural backwater…

Like Great Britain, Japan is composed of a vast number of islands, many of them located in areas far beyond commercially viable air routes. To cater to those small communities, independent pilots act as postmen, delivery specialists and rapid freight-hauliers.

Freewheeling Mikura Amelia flies an old Fairey Swordfish on her rounds, enjoying a pretty idyllic life as she hops from cetacean research station to trading post to fishing village delivering whatever needs moving for whatever fee she can get.

She used to work with her grandfather Brian Amelia in the family Air Service, but now it’s just her and the cat Endeavour. Her parents moved back to civilisation after the old man died but Mikura loves the freedom of the skies and can’t let go of her grandfather’s great obsession…

Amongst his effects was an undelivered package with her name on it for delivery to Is. Electriciteit – which she translated as Electric Island. There are a few fables about the place, but most people think it’s a myth…

Mikura, however, armed with a keen mind, decades of detailed logs and a strange yearning, becomes as obsessed as her mentor with the mystery. Old Brian vanished trying to find the island, but his logs have entries written after he seemingly perished.

And then one day Mikura actually sees the perpetually shifting, cloud-cloaked atoll – complete with a small town – but cracks up trying to land there. She is rescued by a passing freighter but the frustration of being so close is agonising and unbearable…

She slowly heals and gets back to work and starts to doubt her own memories, but somehow cannot let go. Eventually she puzzles out its secret: Electric Island moves around the Pacific in a complex and convoluted three year cycle.

That only leads to more puzzles, especially after she learns of a friend of Brian’s who shared his fixation: her old English teacher who was actually a brilliant geophysicist…

Another quick trip and one last revelatory interview and at long last Mikura is flying off to a long-awaited rendezvous with the unknown…

To be Continued…

Accompanied by text feature ‘Notes on Wandering Island’, detailing the specifics of floating islands, the antecedents of the series and Tsuruta’s history, Wandering Island is a superbly welcoming introduction into what promises to be a sublime treat for every lover of untrammelled wonder…
© 2011 Kenji Tsuruta/Kodansha Ltd. All rights reserved.