Devil Dinosaur by Jack Kirby: The Complete Collection


By Jack Kirby, Mike Royer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9037-0

Jack Kirby was – and still is – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are millions of words about what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium.

Off course I’m going to add my own two-bobs’-worth, pointing out what you probably already know: Kirby was a man of vast imagination who translated big concepts into astoundingly potent and accessible symbols for generations of fantasy fans. If you were exposed to Kirby as an impressionable kid you were his for life. To be honest, the same probably applies whatever age you jump aboard the “Kirby Express”…

For those of us who grew up with Jack, his are the images which furnish and clutter our interior mindsets. Close your eyes and think “robot” and the first thing that pops up is a Kirby creation. Every fantastic, futuristic city in our heads is crammed with his chunky, towering spires. Because of Jack we all know what the bodies beneath those stony-head statues on Easter Island look like, we are all viscerally aware that you can never trust great big aliens parading around in their underpants and, most importantly, we know how cavemen dressed and carnosaurs clashed…

In the late 1930s it took a remarkably short time for Kirby and his creative partner Joe Simon to become the wonder-kid dream-team of the new-born comicbook industry. Together they produced a year’s worth of the influential monthly Blue Bolt, rushed out Captain Marvel Adventures (#1) for overstretched Fawcett and, after Martin Goodman appointed Simon editor at Timely Comics, co-created a host of iconic characters such as Red Raven, the original Marvel Boy, Mercury, Hurricane, The Vision, Young Allies and of course million-selling mega-hit Captain America.

When Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations, Simon & Kirby were snapped up by National/DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a fat chequebook. Bursting with ideas the staid company were never really comfortable with, the pair were initially an uneasy fit, and were given two moribund strips to play with until they found their creative feet: Sandman and Manhunter.

They turned both around virtually overnight and, once established and left to their own devices, switched to the “Kid Gang” genre they had pioneered at Timely. Joe and Jack created wartime sales sensation Boy Commandos and a Homefront iteration dubbed the Newsboy Legion before being called up to serve in the war they had been fighting on comicbook pages since 1940.

Once demobbed, they returned to a very different funnybook business and soon left National to create their own little empire…

Simon & Kirby heralded and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not just by inventing the Romance genre, but with all manner of challenging modern material about real people in extraordinary situations – before seeing it all disappear again in less than eight years.

Their small stable of magazines – generated for the association of companies known as Prize, Crestwood, Pines, Essenkay and/or Mainline Comics – blossomed and as quickly wilted when the industry abruptly contracted throughout the 1950s.

After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby had finally established their own publishing house, producing comics for a far more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by an anti-comicbook pogrom.

Hysterical censorship-fever spearheaded by US Senator Estes Kefauver and opportunistic pop psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham led to witch-hunting Senate hearings. Caving in, publishers adopted a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulatory rules. Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high. Crime comics vanished and mature themes challenging an increasingly stratified and oppressive society were suppressed…

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Jack soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if less experimental, companies. As the panic abated, Kirby returned briefly to DC Comics where he worked on mystery tales and Green Arrow (at that time a mere back-up, page-filler in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics) whilst concentrating on his long-dreamed-of newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

During that period Kirby also re-packaged an original super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and Joe Simon had closed their innovative, ill-timed ventures. At the end of 1956 Showcase #6 premiered the Challengers of the Unknown

After three more test issues they won their own title with Kirby in command for the first eight. Then a legal dispute with Editor Jack Schiff exploded and the King was gone…

He found fresh fields and an equally hungry new partner in Stan Lee at the ailing Atlas Comics outfit (which had once been mighty Timely) and there created a revolution in superhero comics storytelling…

After a decade of never-ending innovation and crowd-pleasing wonderment, Kirby felt increasingly stifled. His efforts had transformed the little publisher into industry-pioneer Marvel but now felt trapped in a rut. Thus he moved back to DC for another burst of sheer imagination and pure invention.

Kirby always understood the fundamentals of pleasing his audience and strived diligently to combat the appalling state of prejudice about the comics medium – especially from industry insiders and professionals who despised the “kiddies world” they felt trapped in.

After his controversial, grandiose Fourth World titles were cancelled, Kirby looked for other concepts which would stimulate his own vast creativity yet still appeal to a market growing ever more fickle. His follow-ups included science fiction themed heroes Kamandi and OMAC, supernatural star The Demon, a run of war stories starring The Losers, and even a new Sandman co-created with old Joe Simon, but although the ideas kept coming (Atlas, Kobra, Dingbats of Danger Street), yet again editorial disputes ended up with him leaving for promises of more creative freedom elsewhere…

Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel in 1976 was much hyped at the time but again turned out to be controversial. His new works and creations (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Eternals, Machine Man, Devil Dinosaur,) found friends rapidly, but his return to earlier creations Captain America and Black Panther divided the fanbase.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity, and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on titles as another “Day One”: a policy increasing at odds with the close-continuity demanded by a strident faction of the readership…

Devil Dinosaur is possibly his most divisive creation: sheer anathema to those fans who scrupulously policed the Marvel Universe, perpetually seeking out infractions to the holy writ and demanding “does this fit in?” They were apparently blind to the unfettered, joyous freedom of imagination run wild, the majesty of pulse-pounding thrills and electrically galvanising BIG ART!

For 25 years I taught comics-creation skills and techniques to pre-schoolers through to college graduates and let me tell you, nothing caused more heated debate amongst the adults and generated greater sheer, open-eyed, awestruck glee from the kids.

It’s a monkey man, riding a big red dinosaur, fighting monsters and aliens, for Pete’s sake!

And that is the reason this collection is so welcome. Jack’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill make for a captivating read. His comics should be on every School Curriculum if we want youngsters to get into Graphic Narrative…

Collecting the entire 9-issue run from April to December 1978, this sleek paperback chronicle begins with ‘Devil Dinosaur and Moon-Boy’ as we are taken back to an unspecified time in Earth’s prehistory where various emergent species of hominids eke out a perilous existence beside the last of the great lizards and other primordial giants…

In that perilous world a wide-eyed innocent of the timid but clever Small Folk rescues a baby tyrannosaur from humanoid hunters known as the Killer-Folk. They have already slaughtered its mother and siblings with cunning snares and now torture the little lizard with blazing firebrands which turn its scorched hide a livid, blazing red…

Under the roaring light of a blazing volcano Moon Boy and Devil bond; becoming inseparable companions wandering the vast lush valley which is their home.

The scarlet saurian is no ordinary beast. Blessed with uncanny intelligence and unmatchable ferocity, it soon becomes an equal partner in a relationship never before seen in the world. That does not, however, prevent the duo becoming targets for the ambitious new chief of the Killer-Folk.

Arrogant Seven-Scars wants to be undisputed master of the valley and has devised a lethal scheme with deadly traps to destroy the red terror and its feeble pet…

Sadly for them, the Killer-Folks’ schemes ensnare trusting Moon Boy but his scaly brother is not fooled and ‘Devil’s War!’ soon proves who truly rules in the dawn age…

Issue #3 concentrates on the sheer variety of humanoid life as ‘Giant’ pits our heroes against a monumental man-thing frenziedly hunting for his missing offspring, after which terror descends upon all when bizarre and merciless strangers erupt out of an ‘Object from the Sky’

We’d call them robotic aliens but the only certainty the assorted Earth creatures know is that the monsters are coldly hostile butchers. When the newcomers snatch up Moon Boy amongst their many specimens, the wily crimson colossus strikes up a tenuous alliance with Hill Folk survivors Stone-Hand and his aging mentor White Hairs before leading them in a terrifying ‘Journey to the Center of the Ants!’

Intent on using giant termites to invade the alien ship, the strange bedfellows encounter yet another frantic fugitive in the form of furious female ‘Eev!’; allowing Kirby to set up a telling biblical pastiche of the Garden of Eden…

After the termite-wave eradicates the invading metal ship, all that remains is a semi-autonomous computer system the natives deem a ‘Demon-Tree!’ The fancy-speaking thing seduces Stone-Hand, White Hairs and Eev into an idyllic preserve where it grants their every wish, but its increasingly harsh mandates soon make the hominids realise they are prisoners, not guests…

Happily, Devil and freshly-liberated Moon Boy are on hand to offer some destructive assistance…

Having gone back to their inquisitive wanderings, mammal and reptile soon find more peril when Devil is targeted by anthropoid ‘Dino-Riders!’ who want the mighty lizard for their greatest beast of burden. This time it’s Moon who does the saving, but only after convincing his meek Small Folk brethren to unite against their mutual beast-piloting oppressors…

The last issue is certainly the most intriguing as ‘The Witch and the Warp’ sees Devil fall into a naturally-occurring space-time fault seemingly controlled by a peculiar hag and her quirky disciple.

It takes all Moon Boy’s persuasiveness to get her to bring the beast home again, and even after the friends are reunited Devil has no way of relating the details of his shocking adventure in Nevada, circa 1978 AD…

With extras including a complete cover gallery by Kirby, and inkers Royer, Frank Giacoia, Dan Green, Joe Sinnott, Steve Leialoha, Walter Simonson and John Byrne, plus a selection of house ads, editorials by Kirby and ‘Dinosaur Dispatches’ letters columns from the period, this compilation is a dose of utter, uncomplicated comics magic: bold, brash, and completely compelling. How can you possibly resist the clarion call of sheer eccentric escapism?
© 1978, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain Midnight Archives volume 1: Captain Midnight Battles the Nazis


By Dave Gormley, Leonard Frank, Carl Pfeufer, Dan Barry & various (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 78-1-61655-242-8                    eISBN: 978-1-62115-884-4

Captain Midnight began his bombastic life as a radio serial star in the days when two-fisted, troubleshooting aviators were the acme of adventure genre heroes. Created by broadcast writers Wilfred G. Moore and Robert M. Burtt, the show was conceived by Chicago ad-men to promote Skelly Oil in the American Midwest.

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, the sky was the limit: 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 but syndicated as “Jet Jackson, Flying Commando” well into the 1960s) plus a mountain of merchandise such as the legendary Captain Midnight Secret Decoder Ring

There was also a comicbook franchise or – more accurately – two…

The basic premise was that after World War One ended, pilot and aviation inventor Captain Jim Albright returned home having earned the sobriquet “Captain Midnight” after a particularly harrowing mission that concluded successfully at the witching hour. He formed a paramilitary “Secret Squadron” of like-minded pilots and did good deeds -often at the covert behest of the President – using guts and gadgets to foil spies, catch crooks and defend the nation.

Captain Midnight really hit his stride after the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, becoming an early Home Front media sensation of 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 hardback collection (also available as an eBook) gathers tantalising snippets from the vast comicbook canon of the “Sovereign of the Skies”, rather arbitrarily collected from Dell Comics anthologies The Funnies #59 (September 1941) and Popular Comics 76 & 78 (June and August 1942) as well as Fawcett Comics’ Captain Midnight #4-6, 9, 12, 31, 44, 47, 58 and 61, released between January 1943 and March 1948. The solo title was initially released fortnightly with #1 bearing a September 30th 1942 cover-date.

Much of this material is unattributed but amongst the regular writers were Joseph J. “Joe” Millard, Wilford Hamilton Fawcett, Bill Woolfolk and Otto Binder whilst artists included Jack Binder and his art stable, as well as the engagingly workmanlike Leonard Frank, Carl Pfeufer, Ken Bald, Jack Keller, Sheldon Moldoff and – latterly – young but constantly improving legends-to-be Leonard Starr and Dan Barry.

Following a fond appreciation and passionate reminiscences from David Scroggy in his effusive Introduction, the cartoon classics begin with an action-packed but confusing chapter from The Funnies #59. Here Dave Gormley depicts the Captain – still clad in regulation leather jacket, aviator flight cap and goggles – and his Secret Squadron in pursuit of nefarious archenemy Ivan Shark before Popular Comics #76 sees them battling to prevent the insidious Ivan’s airborne conquest of America.

Popular Comics #78 (with art by Bob Jenney) renews and continues that titanic struggle as Shark’s henchman Gardo rushes to his master with information that could destroy democracy forever…

When Fawcett took over the comicbook license in 1942 they gave Albright a stripped-down operation, flashier gimmicks and a rather striking superhero costume. They also abandoned continued serials in favour of short complete adventures as the Sky Sovereign added Nazi and Japanese villains to his macabre rogue’s gallery.

The initial Fawcett offering comes from Captain Midnight #4 (January 8th 1943) as the sabotaging ‘Gremlins of Graham Field’ – possibly illustrated by Frank? – are exposed as malevolent Nazi dwarves whilst #5 sees Albright and his ward Chuck Ramsay overseas in Alexandria proving that ‘The Beasts That Flew Like Birds’ (Carl Pfeufer) were not ancient vampires but far more insidious and dangerous modern monsters…

Plucky mechanic and comedy stooge Icky was one of three regular holdovers from the radio iteration of the Secret Squadron and he eventually won his own back-up strip and codename: Sergeant Twilight.

A brace of tales from #6, begins with ‘Presenting Ichabod Mudd, Cowboy!’ as the homely oaf accidentally outs a band of Nazis masquerading as cattle rustlers in Nevada, aiming to prevent the government feeding its troops, after which ‘Broadcast of Death’ sees more Nazis jamming crucial shortwave radio communications and morale-lifting programs until the Captain and his crew step in.

A trio of tales from Captain Midnight #9 (June 1943) opens with ‘Silent Wings of Destruction’ as the Monarch of the Skies tracks down undetectable planes bombing US war production plants and discovers an astounding Nazi aviation advancement.

In ‘Black Tornadoes’ a German inventor then unleashes all the fury of nature against the Midwest until the Captain tracks him down whilst Albright’s robotic ‘Samson the Mechanical Man’ proves a major breakthrough after uncovering enemy agents in the lab…

Three more classics come from #12 (September 1943) as ‘The Puzzle of the Flying Houses’ finds spies using cloud-cover and dwelling-shaped zeppelins to photograph military secrets whilst ‘Buy War Bonds!’ offers a breathtaking ad from the period before ‘The Sinister Angels’ suborning South American peasants and fomenting rebellion are ultimately exposed by our heroes as craftily disguised enemy agents.

A big jump to Captain Midnight #31 (April 1945) opens post-war proceedings with ‘Sgt. Twilight’s Flying School’ as lovably bumbling goof Icky is gulled into teaching a gang of wily thugs how to commit seemingly impossible crimes with aircraft… before finally wising up and lowering the boom…

Issue #44 (September 1946) heralds the resurrection of a deadly foe as ‘Return of the Shark’ sees the villain copying Albright’s latest invention to facilitate robbing planes in mid-air before a literally mad scientist forces Captain Midnight to participate in a deadly ‘Invention Duel to the Death’

December 1946’s CM #47 tangentially addresses the growing interest in horror material with ‘Fangs of the Werewolf’ (Frank art) as Midnight hunts an amnesiac GI in the US Sector of newly-partitioned Germany and encounters maniacal Nazi holdout Storm von Cloud who plans a wave of terror with his sinister Werewolf Corps of commandos.

As the 1940s drew to a close technological advancement, science fiction and crime became the most popular topics for action tales, and from #58 (December 1947) ‘Test Tunnel’ uses all those elements to great effect as Shark discovers Midnight’s true identity and lays a lethal trap in Albright’s latest plane-proving system…

Wrapping up this glorious grab-bag of Golden Age goodies is a tale of dogged endurance as ‘Captain Midnight Masters Glacier Peak’ (#61, March 1948; credited to Leonard Starr, but it looks like Dan Barry to me) sees Albright embroiled in a brutal struggle between rival Arctic expeditions to claim acclaim and vast riches at the top of the world…

With an eye-popping gallery of covers by Gormley, Binder, Mac Raboy and Frank, plus mesmerising period ads and mini-features such as ‘Captain Marvel Secret Messages’, ‘Captain Midnight’s Air Quiz’, ‘Captain Midnight’s Air Insignia’ and ‘Fawcett Comix Cards’ this is a superbly engaging feast of comics history and timeless thrills.
Captain Midnight Archives volume 1: Captain Midnight Battles the Nazis ® and ©Dark Horse Comics 2013. All rights reserved.

Abigail and the Snowman


By Roger Langridge, with Fred Stresing (Kaboom!)
ISBN: 978-1-60886-900-8 (PB)                     eISBN: 978-1-61398-571-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A New Seasonal Spectacle to Enjoy Over and Over Again… 10/10

Cartoonist Roger Langridge is a very talented man with a uniquely beguiling way of telling stories. He has mastered every aspect of the comics profession from lettering (Dr. Who) to writing (Thor: the Mighty Avenger) to illustration.

When he combines them (The Muppet Show Comic, Zoot!, Fred the Clown, Snarked), the approbation, accolades and glittering prizes such as Eisner and Harvey Awards can’t come fast enough.

He is also a bloody genius at making folk laugh…

Abigail and the Snowman started life as an all-ages comicbook miniseries before being gathered in one single sensational package just in time to become a Christmas favourite.

When nine-year-old Abigail and her father move to a British seaside town just before her birthday she’s not expecting much. Things have been tough lately. It’s just her and Dad now and he’s having job troubles whilst the prospect of starting a new school fills her with dread and resignation…

It goes just like she expected. Whilst the hard-pressed Man of the rented, box-filled House frantically scrabbles for work to make ends meet, she gets the cold shoulder from her new classmates at Shipton-On-Sea Primary School.

At least she’s still got imaginary friend/invisible dog Claude to play with and her dead mum to talk to…

And that’s when things get really strange as Abigail stumbles across a hulking, nattily-dressed and well-spoken Yeti hiding in the playground. He was kidnapped as a baby by a shady department of the government who want to abstract and duplicate the Abominable Snowmen’s ability to cloud men’s minds. He’s just escaped and been on the run for ages…

Thankfully Yetis can walk about unseen in the midst of men, but it quickly becomes apparent that the trick doesn’t work on humans who haven’t endured puberty yet…

Pretty soon the affable giant is a shared secret amongst the kids and weirdo newcomer Abigail is the most popular kid in school. Sadly, the Yeti – who happily adopts the name Claude – has been followed since his escape.

British Shadow Men equipped with special goggles to track him are hard on his hairy heels, and soon trace the snowman to Abigail’s bedroom where he’s comfortably hiding…

When the kid conspirators satisfactorily deal with them, however, the clandestine organisation calls in its biggest gun: a gung ho, total maniac dubbed Mr. Fix-It who never fails and considers collateral damage or civilian casualties as fringe benefits…

With the net closing in, it’s clear that Claude has to leave, but even as Abigail executes a heartbreaking and devilishly clever plan to sneak Claude out of the country and back to the Himalayas, the ruthless, relentless Ministry monster-hunter strikes and, despite the surprising assistance of a few former enemies, Claude has to find a new and lasting solution to all his problems…

Drenched in wit and warmth, this is a hilariously fun and fast-paced adventure romp, loaded with spectacle and action yet concealing plenty of twisty surprises to enthral young and old alike.

In an age of bonuses and extras this slim tome also offers a cover-&-variants gallery by Sonny Liew, Langridge and his faithful colourist Fred Stresing, plus a quartet of mostly monochrome mini-exploits of the shadowy Ministry Men in their alternative career as ‘The Zookeepers’ of the clandestine and fabulous Crypto-Zoo…

An utter delight from start to finish, this yarn is a perfect example of comics at its most welcoming, and don’t be surprised if it turns up as a movie or BBC TV special one of these days…
™ & © 2014, 2015 Roger Langridge. All rights reserved.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 11: The Wrong Head


By André Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-313-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Classic Madcap Mirth and Melodrama… 9/10

Spirou (which translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter using his pen-name Rob-Vel for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in direct response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for rival outfit Casterman.

Thus, a soon-to-be legendary weekly comic entitled Spirou launched on April 21st 1938 with a rival red-headed lad as lead in an anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous boy was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a sly reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually evolved into high-flying, far-reaching and surreal 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 well-seasoned short gag vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials; introducing a broad, engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal the Marsupilami to the mix.

First seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952, the elastic-tailed anthropoid eventually spun-off into his own strip series; becoming also a star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums. Franquin continued concocting increasingly fantastic tales and spellbinding Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969.

He was followed by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures which tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times: offering tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s the series seemed outdated and without direction: three different creative teams 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 many ways returned to the beloved Franquin era.

Their sterling efforts revived the floundering feature’s fortunes and resulted in fourteen wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998. As the strip diversified into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…) the team on the core feature were succeeded by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of amazing adventures…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier efforts from the great man himself.

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, he only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. There he met Maurice de Bévère (AKA Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient). In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis and Franquin began a career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator; producing covers for Le Moustique and Scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

In those early days Franquin and Morris were tutored by Jijé – the main illustrator at Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite AKA Will (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a smooth creative bullpen known as the La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”.

They later reshaped and revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling…

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, (Spirou #427, June 20th 1946) and the new guy ran with it for two decades; enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own. Almost every week fans would meet startling new characters such as comrade/rival Fantasio or crackpot inventor and Merlin of mushroom mechanics the Count of Champignac.

Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Fantasio’s rascally cousin Zantafio.

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle, Boule et Bill), Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe) and Greg (Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Achille Talon, Zig et Puce), who all worked with him on Spirou et Fantasio over the years.

In 1955 contractual conflicts with Dupuis droved Franquin to sign up with rival outfit Casterman on Tintin. Here he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon. Although Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou – subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957 – Franquin was now contractually obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959 on, co-writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem increasingly assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his limit and resigned.

His later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and bleak adult conceptual series Idées Noires, but his greatest creation – and one he retained all rights to upon his departure – is Marsupilami.

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997. His legacy remains; a vast body of work which reshaped the landscape of European comics.

Originally serialised in Spirou # 840-869 in 1954 and subsequently released on the continent in 1957 as hardcover album Spirou et Fantasio 8La mauvaise tête, this sinister yarn begins as Spirou visits his short-tempered pal Fantasio and finds the house a shambles. The intrepid reporter has ransacked his home in search of missing passport photos but his insensate fury abates a bit after Spirou convinces him to come play paddleball.

However, whilst looking for a lost ball in the woods, Spirou finds one of the missing photos but thinks nothing of it…

That evening strange events begin: Spirou sees Fantasio acting oddly in town and when a jeweller is robbed, a brutalised merchant identifies Fantasio as the smash-and-grab thief…

Seeds of suspicion are sown and Spirou doesn’t know what to think when a solid gold Egyptian mask is stolen on live TV. The bandit is clearly seen to be his best pal…

Spirou is still trying to reason with Fantasio when the police arrive and, with nobody believing the reporter’s ridiculous story of being in Paris on a spurious tip, watches with helpless astonishment as the accused makes a bold escape bid…

Still astounded, Spirou wanders to the ramshackle house where he found the missing photo and finds a strange set-up: a plaster cast of Fantasio and weird plastic goo in a mixing bowl…

His snooping is suddenly disturbed by screams and sounds of a struggle. Following the cacophony he finds one man holding the stolen gold mask and another on the floor. The standing man is too quick to catch and drives away with a third stranger, but as Spirou questions the beaten victim he learns that the loser of the fight is a sculptor who was hired to make astounding life-like masks of a certain journalist…

Soon Spirou is hot on the trail of the criminal confederates and uncovers a diabolical scheme to destroy Fantasio by an old enemy they had both discounted and almost forgotten…

Fast-paced, compellingly convoluted and perfectly blending helter-skelter excitement with keen suspense and outrageous slapstick humour, the search for The Wrong Head is a terrific romp to delight devotees of easy-going adventure.

As if the criminal caper and its spectacular courtroom drama climax is not enough, this tome also includes a sweet early solo outing for the marvellous Marsupilami as ‘Paws off the Robins’ finds the plastic pro-simian electing himself guardian of a nestful of newborn hatchlings in Count Champignac’s copious gardens, resolved to defend the chicks from a marauding cat at all costs…

Stuffed with fabulously fun, riotous chases and gallons of gags, this exuberant tome is a joyous example of angst-free action, thrills and spills. Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan, this is pure cartoon gold: an enduring comics treat, certain to be as much a household name as that other kid reporter and his dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1957 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.

Attu: The Collected Volumes


By Sam Glanzman (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80158-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Blockbuster Entertainment to digest that Dinner by… 8/10

After far too many years as an industry secret, in recent years Sam Glanzman has finally been awarded his proper station as one of American comics’ greatest and most remarkable creators – thanks in no small part to the diligent efforts of publishing house Dover, which has resurrected his groundbreaking graphic novel sequence A Sailor’s Story and overseen the collection of his astonishing semi-autobiographical series USS Stevens.

However, Glanzman has been drawing and writing comics since the 1940s, most commonly in the classic genres – war, mystery, adventure and fantasy – where his raw, powerful and subtly engaging style and wry wit made his work irresistibly compelling to generations of readers

On titles such as Kona, Monarch of Monster Island (and where’s the definitive omnibus collection of those wild yarns?), Voyage to the Deep, Combat, Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Hercules, the Haunted Tank, The Green Berets and cult classic The Private War of Willie Schultz, Glanzman always produced magnificently rousing yarns which fired the imagination and stirred the blood. That unceasing output always sold well and won him a legion of fans amongst fellow artists at least, if not from the insular and over-vocal fan-press.

In the 1990s Glanzman worked with Tim Truman’s 4Winds company on high-profile projects like The Lone Ranger and Jonah Hex whilst concocting a fantastic multi-genre mash-up named Attu. The first two volumes in a proposed series of original graphic novels, they were released at a time when the US marketplace was experiencing a glut of product and a storm of speculator interest. Those of us in the know patiently awaited more sci-fi barbarian wonderment, but it never materialised.

Now the wait is over: the first two books have been gathered into one superbly substantial oversized (278 x 208 mm) monochrome tome, graced and augmented at last by Glanzman’s unpublished third chapter.

Following Jeff Lemire’s fervent Foreword ‘What the Heck is Attu?’ and a fascinating Introduction and behind-the-scenes reminiscence from Tim Truman in ‘Four Winds and Forbidden Caves’, the uncanny blend of action and mystery begins…

On the primal super-continent of Gondwana in 137 million B.C., oddly clean-cut caveman Attu is making himself unpopular to the rest of the Kassar Tribe. Known as the Truth Seeker, the pest constantly vexes and troubles his hirsute, mountain-dwelling fellows and subsequently remands himself and forward-looking boy companion Oom to the lowlands: a place of giants, terrible beasts and uncanny creatures we would know as dinosaurs.

He also finds a lethally booby-trapped cave full of incomprehensible things where a beautiful woman sleeps in a tube of clear, warm ice…

Determined to liberate and possess her, Attu goes an on impromptu walkabout, encountering a multitude of strange monsters and weird men; learning new things and expanding his mind at every opportunity. When he appropriates a peculiar device under most unlikely circumstances, he instinctively knows it belongs with the pillar of

warm ice and the treasure inside…

Book Two: Durenella continues the wild rush of ideas as Attu – no longer a primitive by any means – unlocks the hibernation chamber of an alien princess and is cautiously introduced to and indoctrinated in the star-spanning culture of the Empire of Drago. Hearing – and eventually comprehending – the tragedy of Durenella as her Seeker Ship crashed to the primitive Earth and the crew all died, the caveman realises he now has no place on his own world anymore.

There’s also no place for him on fiercely embargoed and stratified Drago – even after a rescue ship arrives – unless he, the princess and the Emperor himself collude in a shameful and dangerous subterfuge which could topple a dynasty if exposed…

The series stalled for years as the nineties comicbook market turmoil essentially shut down 4Winds, but here the saga continues with the eagerly anticipated third chapter Jan-Uk.

The action-packed, blood-drenched extravaganza surprisingly goes back, not forward, to detail the brutal origins of Attu. As a young warrior barely past his manhood rites, Jan-Uk’s life changes forever after his father is betrayed and murdered and the boy seeks vengeance. His sire was both chief and seer, and before his demise foresaw his son living with strangers who rode strange birds from the stars but all that seems impossible to explain as the young warriors sets out after brutal rival Laanta and his cronies.

When the crime was perpetrated, Jan-Uk stalked the killers across the terrifying wilderness and tracked them up a mountain where even more primitive, half-ape creatures named Kassars lived. And then there was a blinding flash of light…

To Be Continued? (By Gosh I hope so…)

Following the astounding action extravaganza, Stephen R. Bissette offers a vast and comprehensive Caveman Comics Afterword on ‘Deconstructing Attu (Or: How a science Fiction Adventure Graphic Novel Can Indeed Be a Personal Work of Art from One of the Unsung Masters of Silver Age Adventure Comics’ and the book concludes with a bunch of stunning visual Extras including roughs, unused art (and hints of what’s next for Attu) plus charming pinups from Glanzman and celebrity guest contributors such as Michael T. Gilbert and Phil Hester.

An unrepentant fabulist adventure combining pre-history, monsters, murder mystery, political intrigue, super-science and even time-travel, this is a purely delightful slice of old-fashioned comics fun, rendered in stark, savage black and white; a brilliant paean to a bygone style and age. Moreover, it’s still not too late to urge this wonderful graphic master to sort out the next volume…
© 2016 Sam Glanzman. Foreword © 2016 Jeff Lemire. Introduction © 2016 Timothy Truman. Afterword © 2016 Stephen R. Bissette. All rights reserved.

Bob Powell’s Complete Cave Girl


By Gardner Fox & Bob Powell, with James Vance, John Wooley, Mark Schultz & various (Kitchen Sink/Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-700-3

Like every art form, comics can be readily divided into masterpieces and populist pap, but that damning assessment necessarily comes with a bunch of exclusions and codicils.

Periodical publications, like all pop songs, movies and the entirety of television’s output (barring schools programming), are designed to sell to masses of consumers. As such the product must reflect the target and society at a specific moment in time and perforce quickly adapt and change with every variation in taste or fashion.

Although very much an artefact of its time I consider “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” by The Buzzcocks to be the perfect pop song, but I’m not going to waste time trying to convince anybody of the fact.

For me, and perhaps only for me, it just is.

The situation is most especially true of comics – especially those created before they gained any kind of credibility: primarily deemed by their creators and publishers as a means of parting youngsters from disposable cash. The fact that so many have been found to possess redeeming literary and artistic merit or social worth is post hoc rationalisation.

Those creators striving for better, doing the very best they could because of their inner artistic drives, were being rewarded with just as meagre a financial reward as the shmoes just phoning it in for the paycheck…

That sad state of affairs in periodical publication wasn’t helped by the fact that most editors thought they knew what the readership wanted – safe, prurient gratification – and mostly they were right.

Even so, from such swamps gems occasionally emerged…

The entire genre of “Jungle Girls” is one fraught with perils for modern readers. Barely clad, unattainable, (usually) white paragons of feminine pulchritude lording it over superstitious primitive races is one that is now pretty hard to digest, but frankly so are most of the attitudes of our grandfathers’ time.

However, ways can be found to accommodate such crystallised or outdated attitudes, especially when reading from a suitably detached historical perspective and even more so when the art is crafted by a master storyteller like Bob Powell.

After all, it’s not that big a jump from fictionalised 1950s jungles to the filmic metropolises of today where leather armoured (usually white) Adonises with godlike power paternalistically watch over us, telling we lumpy, dumpy, ethnically mixed losers how to live and be happy…

Sorry, I all comics in all genres from all eras, but sometimes the “guilty pleasure” meter on my conscience just redlines and I can’t stop it. Just remember, it’s not real…

As businessmen, editors and publishers knew what hormonal kids wanted to see and they gave it to them. It’s no different today. Just take a look at any comic-shop shelf or cover listings site and see how many fully-clad, small-breasted females you can spot…

Cave Girl was one of the last entries into the surprisingly long-lived Jungle Queen genre and consequently looks relatively mild in comparison to other titles in regard to suggestive or prurient titillation.

Here the action-adventure side of the equation was always most heavily stressed and readers of the time could see far more salacious material at every movie house if they need to.

End of self-gratifying apologies. Let’s talk about Bob…

Stanley Robert Pawlowski was born in 1916 in Buffalo, New York, and studied at the Pratt Institute in Manhattan before joining one of the earliest comics-packaging outfits: the Eisner-Iger Shop.

He was a solid and dependable staple of American comicbook’s Golden Age, illustrating a variety of key features. He drew original Jungle Queen Sheena in Jumbo Comics plus other Jungle Girl features and Spirit of ‘76 for Harvey’s Pocket Comics.

He handled assorted material for Timely titles such as Captain America in All-Winners Comics, Tough Kid Comics plus such genre material as Gale Allen and the Women’s Space Battalion for anthologies like Planet Comics, Mystery Men Comics and Wonder Comics.

Recently he was revealed to have co-scripted/created Blackhawk as well as drawing Loops and Banks in Military Comics as well as so many more now near-forgotten strips: all under a variety of English-sounding pseudonyms, since the tone of the times was rather unforgiving for creative people of minority origins.

Eventually the artist settled on S. Bob Powell and had his name legally changed…

Probably his most well-remembered and highly regarded tour of duty was on Mr. Mystic in Will Eisner’s Spirit Section newspaper insert. After serving in WWII, Bob came home and quit to set up his own studio. Eisner never forgave him.

Powell – with his assistants Howard Nostrand, Martin Epp and George Siefringer – soon established a solid reputation for quality, versatility and reliability: working for Fawcett (Vic Torry & His Flying Saucer, Hot Rod Comics, Lash Larue), Harvey Comics (Man in Black, Adventures in 3-D and True 3-D) and on Street and Smith’s Shadow Comics.

He was particularly prolific in many titles for Magazine Enterprises (ME), including TV tie-in Bobby Benson’s B-Bar-B Riders, Red Hawk in Straight Arrow, Jet Powers and the short but bombastic run of quasi-superhero Strong Man.

Powell easily turned his hand to a vast range of War, Western, Science Fiction, Crime, Comedy and Horror material: consequently generating as a by-product some of the best and most glamorous “Good Girl art” of the era, both in comics and in premiums/strip packages for business.

In the 1960s he pencilled the infamous Mars Attacks cards, illustrated Bessie Little’s Teena-a-Go-Go and the Bat Masterson strip for the newspapers and ended his days drawing Daredevil, the Human Torch and Giant-Man for Marvel.

This captivating hardback compilation gathers all the Cave Girl appearances – written by ubiquitous jobbing scripter Gardner Fox – from numerous ME publications. The company employed a truly Byzantine method of numbering their comicbooks so I’ll cite Thun’da #2-6 (1953), Cave Girl #4 (1953-1954) and Africa, Thrilling Land of Mystery #1 (1955) simply for the sake of brevity and completeness, knowing that it makes no real difference to your enjoyment of what’s to come.

This splendid tome includes a Biography of Bob, an incisive Introduction from Mark Schultz and an erudite essay – ‘King of the Jungle Queens’– by James Vance and John Wooley, diligently examining the origins of the genre (courtesy of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, William Henry Hudson’s novel Green Mansions and a slew of B-movies); its development in publishing; the effect of the phenomenon and Powell’s overall contributions to comics in a far more even-handed and informed way than I can manage…

That done it’s time to head to an Africa that never existed for action and adventure beyond compare. Cave Girl started as a back-up strip in Thun’da #2; a primeval barbarian saga set in an antediluvian region of the Dark Continent where dinosaurs still lived.

In ‘The Ape God of Kor’ the mighty primitive encounters a blonde stranger who can speak to birds and beasts, and helps her escape the unwanted attentions of a bestial tyrant. When that’s not enough to deter the monstrous suitor, Thun’da and Cave Girl have no choice but to topple his empire…

In #3 the wild woman met ‘The Man Who Served Death!’ – a criminal from the outer world whose hunger for gold and savage brutality necessitated his urgent removal from the land of the living. Cave Girl’s beloved animal allies were being wantonly slaughtered to appease ‘The Shadow God of Korchak!’, forcing the gorgeous guardian of the green to topple the lost kingdom’s debauched queen, after which the tireless champion tackled a trio of sadistic killers from the civilised world in ‘Death Comes Three Ways!’

A rather demeaning comedy sidekick debuted in ‘The Little Man Who Was All There!’ from Thun’da #6 as pompous pigmy bumbler Bobo attached himself to Cave Girl as her protector…

From there the forest monarch leaped into her own title, beginning with Cave Girl #11. ‘The Pool of Life!’ delved back in time to when a scientific expedition was wiped out, leaving little blonde toddler Carol Mantomer to fend for herself. Happily, the child was adopted by Kattu the wolf and grew tall and strong and mighty…

The obligatory origin dispensed with, the story proceeds to reveal how two white explorers broach the lost valley in time to reap their deserved fate after finding a little lake with mystic properties…

Tables are turned when explorer Luke Hardin deduces Cave Girl’s true identity and convinces the wild thing to come with him to Nairobi to claim her inheritance. Already appalled by the gadgets and morass of humanity in ‘The City of Terror!’, Carol’s decision to leave is cemented by her only living relative’s attempts to murder her for her inheritance…

En route home, her wild beauty arouses the desires of millionaire hunter Alan Brandon, but his forceful pursuit and attempted abduction soon teaches him he has a ‘Tiger by the Tail!’

Her trek done, Cave Girl traverses high mountains and finds Alan and Luke have been captured by beast-like primitives and must face the ‘Spears of the Snowmen’ to save them both…

Even the usually astoundingly high-quality scripting of veteran Gardner Fox couldn’t do much with the formulaic strictures of the sub-genre but he always tried his best, as in Cave Girl #12 which opened with ‘The Devil Boat!’ – a submarine disgorging devious crooks in death-masks intent on plundering the archaeological treasures found by Luke… Then when an explorer steals a sacred cache of rubies he finds that even Cave Girl can’t prevent him becoming ‘Prey of the Headhunters!’

Fantastic fantasy replaces crass commercial concerns as ‘The Amazon Assassins’ ravage villages under Cave Girl’s protection, seeking to expand their empire. The Women Warriors have no conception of the hornet’s nest they are stirring up…

Cave Girl #13 took its lead tale from newspaper headlines as the jungle defender clashed with ‘The Mau Mau Killers!’ killing innocents and destabilising the region, after which ‘Altar of the Axe’ features the return of the all-conquering Amazons who believe they can counter their arch-enemy’s prowess with a battalion of war elephants.

Their grievous error then seamlessly segues into a battle with escaped convict Buck Maldin. ‘The Jungle Badman’ is beaten by Cave Girl but it’s greedy buffoon Bobo who quickly regrets claiming the reward.

Powell reached a creative zenith with the illustrations for Cave Girl #14 (1954), his solid linework and enticing composition augmented by a burst of purely decorative design which made ‘The Man Who Conquered Death’ a dramatic tour de force.

When a series of murders and resurrections lead Cave Girl to a mad scientist who has found a time machine, she is transformed into an aged crone but still possesses the force of will to beat the deranged meddler…

A tad more prosaic, ‘The Shining Gods’ finds a rejuvenated Cave Girl and Luke stalking thieves stealing tribal relics only to uncover a Soviet plot to secure Africa’s radium, after which the queen of the jungle is “saved” by well-intentioned rich woman Leona Carter and brought back to civilisation.

Happily, after poor Carol endures a catalogue of modern mishaps which equate to ‘Terror in the Town’, Cave Girl is allowed to return to her true home…

The official series ended there, but ME had one last issue ready to print and deftly shifted emphasis by re-badging the package as Africa, Thrilling Land of Mystery #1. It appeared in 1955, sporting a Comics Code Authority symbol. Inside however, it was still formulaic but beautifully illustrated Cave Girl who exposed a conniving witch doctor using ‘The Volcano Fury’ to fleece natives, restoring ‘The Lost Juju’ of the devout Wamboolis whilst stopping a murderous explorer stealing a million dollar gem and crushing a potential uprising by taking a fateful ride on ‘The Doom Boat’

And then she was gone.

Like the society it protected from subversion and corruption, the strictures of the Comics Code frowned on females disporting themselves freely or appearing able to cope without a man, and the next half-decade was one where women were either submissive, domesticated, silly objects of amusement or just plain marital manhunters. It would be the 1970s before strong, truly independent female characters reappeared in comicbooks…

Whatever your political leanings or social condition, Cave Girl – taken strictly on her own merits – is one of the mostly beautifully rendered characters in pictorial fiction and a tribute to the talents of Bob Powell and his team. If you love perfect comic storytelling, of its time, but transcending fashion or trendiness, this is a treasure just waiting to be rediscovered.
Bob Powell’s Complete Cave Girl compilation © 2014 Kitchen, Lind and Associates LLC. Cave Girl is a trademark of AC Comics, successors in interest to Magazine Enterprises and is used here with permission of AC Comics. Introduction © 2014 Mark Schultz. “King of the Jungle Queens” essay © 2014 James Vance and John Wooley. All rights reserved.

Kings Watch


By Jeff Parker, Mark Laming & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-486-2

Like so many other old fogies and devoted fanboys, I was convinced that I was going to hate this latest reconstruction of three of the oldest characters in comics. The newspaper strip triumvirate of Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician and particularly The Phantom were in many ways the blueprint for all comicbook superheroes who followed them, and as major properties had been re-imagined many times over the years, with varying degrees of reverence and success…

By most lights Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. He debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but rather clunky Buck Rogers strip by Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th, five years earlier). Raymond, however, added two welcome new elements to the wonderment; Classical Lyricism and astonishingly seductive visuals.

Where Buck mixed traditional adventure and high science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted Fairy Tales, Heroic Epics and Mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for spells, swords and steeds – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

Most important of all, the sheer artistic acuity of Raymond – his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for sumptuous detail and just plain gift for drawing beautiful people and things – swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When original-material comicbooks began a few years later, dozens of talented kids weaned on the strip’s clean-lined, athletic Romanticism entered the field and their interpretations of Raymond’s mastery became a ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. To be fair almost as many mimicked Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias) and they didn’t fare too badly either…

For over a decade sheer escapist magic in a Ruritanian Neverland, blending Camelot, Oz and every fabled paradise that promised paradise yet concealed hidden vipers, ogres and demons, enthralled the entire world, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek art deco futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil, animally magnetic Ming, emperor of a fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and fabulous conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to the drab and dangerous real world and made their own mark on the landscape of popular culture…

Regarded by many as the original American superhero, Mandrake the Magician debuted on 11th June 1934 (although creator Lee Falk had originally tried to sell the strip a decade previously), illustrated with effective understatement by the superb Phil Davis.

Educated at the fabled College of Magic in the Himalayas, the suave sorcerer roamed the world with his faithful African friend Lothar and his beautiful companion (and finally, in 1997, bride) Princess Narda of Cockaigne; solving crimes and fighting evil. Star of stage, screen (large and small), radio and a thousand forms of merchandising, Mandrake has always been one of the top guns of strip comics powerhouse King Features Syndicate.

In the 17th century a British sailor survived an attack by pirates and, washing ashore in Africa, swore on the skull of his murdered father to dedicate his life and that of all his descendents to destroying pirates and criminals. The Phantom fought crime and injustice from a base deep in the Jungles of Bengali, and throughout Africa was known as the “Ghost Who Walks”; considered an immortal avenger by the credulous and the wicked. Down the decades one hero after another has fought and died in an unbroken dynastic line, in a never-ending battle…

Lee Falk created globe-trotting Jungle Avenger at the request of his publishers, who were already making history and public headway with his first strip sensation Mandrake. Although technically not the first ever costumed hero in comics, The Phantom was the prototype paladin to wear a skin-tight body-stocking, and the first to have a mask with opaque eye-slits.

He debuted on February 17th 1936 in an extended sequence pitting him against a global confederation of pirates called the Singh Brotherhood. Falk wrote and drew the daily strip for the first two weeks before artist Ray Moore took over the illustration side. The Sundays feature began in May 1939.

Fan favourites for generations, the trio periodically made the sideways move into comicbooks, but never really teamed up until 1986 when TV cartoon series Defenders of the Earth updated and united all three and their support teams into a league resolved to save the world from alien invasion in the distant future of 2015 AD. This iteration had its own short-lived Marvel/Star Comics funny book series.

In 2013, the stars realigned again and Licensed-Properties specialist Dynamite Entertainment produced a remarkably engaging retro-futurist thriller which managed to pay due homage to the past iterations whilst opening the characters up for the latest generation of frantic fans. In the 5-issue miniseries Kings Watch scripter Jeff Parker and illustrator Marc Laming (with the invaluable assistance of colourists Jordan Boyd and letterers Simon Bowland) crafted a fast-paced, suspenseful and, most importantly, fun-filled yarn telling a big, bold, bombastic blockbuster story which also set up the three leads for new follow-up series…

Jeff Parker has worked in all aspects of the industry but is probably best-known for his wide variety of comics scripts, including Aquaman, Bucko, Batman ’66, Agents of Atlas, Spider-Man: 1602, X-Men: First Class, many of Paradox Press’ Big Book of… and more…

British collaborator Marc Laming is an unashamed tea-drinker who has flitted hither and yon throughout the business since 1990, alighting occasionally and only to superbly render such varied projects as bits of Revolver, American Century, The Dreaming, Grindhouse, Planet Hulk, Fantastic Four, Uncanny Avengers and many others.

The story here begins with the world beguiled by lights in the sky and wracked by communal nightmares of invading monster armies. As the ancient and vile Cobra cult searches ruthlessly and relentlessly for a supernal crystal that could spell doom for Earth, in East African Bangalla, in a grandiose hermitage in California and on a palatial estate in Connecticut, three amazing individuals ready themselves to fight the battle of their lives…

Rather than have me ruin the fun for you, just thrill in anticipation to the knowledge that a thrill-addicted playboy, a broken sorcerer and sham hero crushed by the weight of years of service will somehow become the planet’s saviours after intergalactic warlord Ming the Merciless acquires the enigmatic Kings Watch artefact and unleashes the hordes of the empire of Mongo upon an unsuspecting helpless humanity…

The ever-popular Bonus Features include a full Parker script, attendant script-to-completed art production pages and a gallery of covers and variants by Laming, Adam Street and Ramón K. Pérez but the real prize is the superbly fast-paced action-romp which easily mixes monsters, aliens, rocket-ships, mad doctors, feisty capable women, wicked villains, exotic locales and epic battles into a ripping yarn every fan of fantasy adventure will be unable to resist.
Flash Gordon © 2014 King Features Syndicate, Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. Mandrake the Magician and The Phantom © 2014 King Features Syndicate, Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spirou & Fantasio volume 10: Virus


By Tome & Janry, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-297-3

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 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 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 and 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 thirteen 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. This tenth release is officially the cartoon crimebusters’ 33rd collected caper.

Originally serialised in Spirou #2305-2321 in 1982 and subsequently released as an album in 1984, this epic episode begins as a shady figure cases an icebreaker just back from the Antarctic. For some reason the HK Glacier has been placed in stringent quarantine and the observer – soon revealed as enquiring reporter Fantasio – discovers why as he trips over a very sick-looking mariner sneaking off the vessel.

It is old enemy and unscrupulous pirate John Helena – AKA “the Moray” – and he has been infected with a highly contagious disease…

In fact, it’s so virulent anyone in close proximity suffers from allergic attacks, even without contracting the primary sickness…

Knowing he’s on to something big, Fantasio rings partner-in-peril Spirou and has his comrade bring down a van to sneak Helena through the cordon of armed government troops. Safely ensconced in a chapel, the Moray tells them of Isola Red, a top-secret lab in the polar wastes where scientists are working with thousands of different viruses and exactly how he got infected with one of them. He completes his tale of woe by demanding that they take him to Count Champignac – the only man alive who can save him… and the world…

The fungal phenomenon is naturally up to the task but his proposed remedy is both complex and risky and involves the dauntless duo infiltrating Isola Red to use the cached toxins there as part of the cure. What the valiant adventurers don’t know is that the chateau is already under covert observation by a thoroughly shady-looking third-party…

Moreover and meanwhile, in a prestigious government building the mastermind behind everything is dispatching his own clean-up team to make the growing problem go away entirely…

Soon Spirou and Fantasio – with the rapidly declining Helena in tow in a hazmat suit – are touching down at Russian base Mirnov-Skaya. Spip is with them but also has to wear an isolation outfit since the vindictive little tyke couldn’t resist taking a bit of the Moray…

The camp is the last official outpost of civilisation and its gregarious commander Captain Sergeiev is delighted to offer every assistance to reach the secret base somewhere deep in the icy interior. After all, the polar explorer is an old friend of the well-travelled inventor Count Champignac…

After a few embarrassing moments of hilarity, the heroes set off as an official rescue party in borrowed snow-cats, with the camp doctor Placebov, hulking guide/driver Nadia Tovarich and even Sergeiev’s action-loving pet seal Vasily along for the ride. The desperate first-responders are sadly unaware that their unknown adversary’s money has bought a traitor who now rides along with them…

Things seem completely hopeless when the mastermind’s clean-up squad explosively ambush the convoy but the killers too are in the dark: they have been followed by yet another interested party…

Although the assassins are soon driven off, it seems they have done enough: the partial cure Spirou was carrying is wrecked and Helena’s suit is breached. They are all now probably exposed to the virus’s full effects…

Back in Europe, Champignac has been making some waves and his efforts, combined with certain journalistic endeavours, have brought low the hidden mastermind and a government official running a clandestine biological weapons plant at the bottom of the world. With the news still breaking, the Count, a military taskforce and a horde of reporters all set off for Antarctica…

In the meantime the doomed heroes have pushed on to Isola Red, in a hopeless attempt to find some miracle cure. What they encounter is truly shocking but does point the way to a solution to all their problems.

Unless of course, the freshly-reinforced mercenary clean-up squad kills them all first…

Blending rambunctious slapstick, riotous chases and gallons of gags with thrills, spills and – wait for it – chills; this is a terrific tale packed with laughs and superb action, deftly wielding a potently satirical anti-war, anti-capitalist message.

Fast-paced and exuberant, Virus is a joyous yet suspenseful romp happily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan. Catch it if you can…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1984 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.

Mega Robo Bros volume 1


By Neill Cameron with Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-83-4

In 2012 David Fickling Books launched a traditional anthology comic for girls and boys reviving the good old days of picture-story entertainment Intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in terms of delivery and Content. Each strip-packed issue of The Phoenix offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy. In the years since its premiere, the magazine has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who actually matter – the perpetually-engaged kids and parents who read it every week…

Just like the golden age of Beano, Dandy and other childhood treasures, The Phoenix masterfully manages the magical trick of marrying hilarious comedy with enthralling adventure serials… sometimes in the same scintillating strip such as the stars of this latest compilation: a mega-magnificent sci fi frolic packed into an extra-long full-colour lexicon of high-octane comedy-action.

Plunging straight into the enchanting immersive experience, we open in a futuristic London on a Monday morning. Alex and his younger brother Freddie have missed the airbus for school and dad has to take them. It’s a uniquely Sharma-family catastrophe…

In most ways the boys are typical: boisterous, fractious kids, always arguing, but devoted to each other and not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s also no big deal to them that they were created by the mysterious Dr. Roboticus before he vanished and are considered by those in the know as the most powerful robots on Earth.

For now though it’s enough that Mum and Dad love them, even though the Robo Bros are a bit more of a handful than most kids. They live as normal a life as possible; going to school, making friends, putting up with bullies and hating homework: it’s all part of the ‘Mega Robo Routine’

This week, however, things are a little different. On Wednesday the lads meet Baroness Farooq of covert agency R.A.I.D. (Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence) who is initially unimpressed but changes her mind after seeing what they do to her squad of Destroyer Mechs – all while between singing rude songs, reading comics and squabbling with each other.

Thursday is even better. As a treat, the entire family goes to Robo World where little Freddy rescues a trio of malfunctioning exhibits. The baby triceratops with dog-programming is ok, but the French-speaking deranged ape and gloomy existentialist penguin will be a handful…

And all because Mum was trying to explain how her sons’ sentience makes them different from all other mechanoids…

Friday wasn’t so good. Alex had another one of his nightmares, of the time before they came to live with the Sharmas…

With the scene exquisitely set, the drama kicks into overdrive with ‘Mega Robo School Trip’ as a visit to the museum gives a hidden menace watching the boys the opportunity to create chaos by hacking the exhibits and forcing the boys to use all their super-powers to set things right. It takes all of the Baroness’ astounding influence to hush up the incident. The boys are supposed to be getting as normal a childhood as possible, with friends and family aware that they’re artificial and sentient, but not that they are unstoppable weapons systems.

Now some malign force seems determined to “out” the Robo Bros for an unspecified but undoubtedly sinister purpose…

Even greater cloaking measures are necessary when the enemy causes a sky-train crash and the boys very publicly prevent a ‘Mega Robo Disaster’, but even they are starting to realise something big is up and Mum is a bit extraordinary herself.

Then Freddy overhears some disturbing news about another one of Dr. Roboticus’ other creations in ‘Mega Robo Full House’

The crisis comes in ‘Mega Robo Royal Rumble’ after Gran takes Alex and Freddy to a Royal Street Party outside Buckingham Palace. When the hidden enemy hacks the giant robot guards and sets them loose on the Queen and her family, the wonder-bots have to save them on live TV beamed around the world. The secret is out…

Now the entire world is camped outside their quiet little house, so Mum has R.A.I.D. restore some semblance of the ‘Mega Robo Status Quo’ by building a super-secret tunnel system in the cellar. It’s a big day all around: Farooq is finally convinced that Alex is at last ready to join R.A.I.D. as a full-fledged operative… after school and on weekends, of course…

Freddy is far from happy to learn that he’s not invited. The Baroness still considers him too young and immature…

He quickly proves it when big brother Alex becomes the ‘Mega Robo Secret Agent’. Freddy at last shares with dad the real reason he’s acting up, but has the opportunity to redeem himself and save the day when the ‘Mega Robo Nemesis’ at last makes his move and Alex finds himself completely out of his depth. Then only Freddy can save the day… if anyone can…

Written and drawn by Neill Cameron (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea), this is an astonishingly engaging tale which rockets along, blending outrageous comedy with warmth, wit and incredible verve. Alex and Freddy are utterly authentic boys, irrespective of their artificial origins, and their exploits strike exactly the right balance of future shock, family fun and bombastic superhero action to capture readers’ hearts and minds. With the right budget and producer what a movie this would make!

Unmissable excitement for kids of all ages and vintage, this is a true “must-have” item.

Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2016. All rights reserved.
Mega Robo Bros will be released on June 2nd 2016 and is available for pre-order now.

Tamsin and the Deep


By Neill Cameron & Kate Brown (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-77-3

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional anthology comics weekly aimed at under-12 girls and boys which revelled in reviving the good old days of picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

Each issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy. In the years since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the astoundingly engaged kids and parents who read it…

Like the golden age of Beano and Dandy the magazine masterfully manages the magical trick of marrying hilarious humour strips with potently powerful adventure serials such as the subject of this latest compilation: a wondrous seaside sorcerous saga with intriguing overtones of The Little Mermaid, by way of the darker works of Alan Garner.

Written by Neill Cameron (Mega Robo Bros, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea) and beguilingly illustrated by Kate Brown (Young Avengers, Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Fish + Chocolate), the fishy tale opens with a ‘Prologue’ on the Cornish coast as a young girl berates her older brother Morgan. He promised to teach her how to surf but is just messing about with his mates.

Fed up, she leaves her dog Pengersek on the sands, swipes a bodyboard and paddles out alone. After all how hard can it be?

When the big wave hits and she goes down for the final time, she’s sure she feels a grip on her foot and sees a green fishy face…

The story proper starts when ‘Tamsin’ drags herself ashore coughing and gasping. Somehow she’s drifted miles down the coast and with nobody there to help has to make her own way home. Her leg hurts and the bus driver won’t let her on (she’s soaking wet and without cash) but at least she’s still got that old stick she picked up somewhere to lean on…

There are even more surprises when she finally staggers home. Mum goes absolutely crazy and Morgan is clearly scared. Maybe it’s because their dad was lost at sea nine years ago, but it’s probably the fact that Tamsin vanished a month ago and has been declared drowned…

The police have loads of questions she can’t answer but as far as Tamsin knows she was only gone a few minutes, so eventually life settles back into a normal routine – apart from Morgan acting oddly and her own increasingly nasty dreams.

Things get bad again a few nights later. Awakening from a particularly vivid nightmare, Tamsin discovers she’s clutching that stick and riding a surfboard… hundreds of feet above the town! Moreover, from her shocking vantage point, she can see Morgan. He’s slowly walking into the sea…

Without pausing, she zooms into the roaring brine and yanks the sleepwalker out, blithely unaware that hostile, piscatorial eyes are angrily watching…

Morgan is shattered. He’s been having nightmares too, and sleepwalking. It’s probably from guilt but every time he wakes up he’s been heading for the sea…

‘A Nice Day Out’ sees Tamsin taking a little “me time”. Finding a secluded spot to practise flying with the aid of what is clearly a magic stick, she revels in her new gifts but from high above she sees Morgan is still unsettled. He’s sworn not to go near the water and even quit the local surfing competition but he’s clearly scared of something. Later, to cheer up her kids, mum drags them to the beachside amusements where Morgan meets an enigmatic girl who convinces him to re-enter the event…

Tamsin meanwhile has had another strange encounter: after having her ice cream stolen by a pixie thing, she meets a cocky Blackbird (he says he’s a Chough) who snidely and loquaciously tells her it was an Undine before warning her to keep Morgan well away from water…

She’s almost too late: her brother has wiped out in the early heats and is being pulled under by a gloating mermaid when Tamsin blasts into the depths on her board. She explosively rips him free of her clawed clutches, hurtling them both high into the air before landing in a terrified heap on the beach…

With the sorcerous she-wight fuming below the waves and planning further mischief, in the sunshine Tamsin shares her secret with traumatised big brother before discovering a little ‘Family Mythology’ after that smug bird returns…

Knowledge comes at a steep price however and her learning curve involves an awful lot of fighting against a lot of awful creatures before Tamsin is ready to save Morgan from a horrible fate hundreds of years in the making…

Apprised of a fantastic heritage and now fully prepared to combat a generational curse that has seen all the males of her line swallowed by ‘The Deep’, Tamsin prepares herself for a fantastic battle against the finned demon, but the foe is impatient and launches her own monstrous invasion of the surface-world which soon has the entire town in uproar…

Once the foam settles triumphant Tamsin tries to ease back into a normal routine but that ill-omened bird returns for an ‘Epilogue’, explaining that she now has a mission for life – protecting Cornwall from all mystic threats – and her next crisis has already started…

This yarn is a fabulous blend of scary and fabulous, introducing a splendid new champion for kids of all ages to cheer on with the promise of more to come in the forthcoming Tamsin and the Dark

Boisterous, bold and bombastically engaging, this is a romp of pure, bright and breezy supernatural thrills just the way kids love them, leavened with brash humour and straightforward sentiment to entertain the entire family.

Text © Neill Cameron 2016. Illustrations © Kate Brown 2016.
Tamsin and the Deep will be released on February 4th 2016 and is available for pre-order now.