Mega Robo Bros volume 2: Mega Robo Rumble

By Neill Cameron with Abby Bulmer & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-81-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Future of Fun… 9/10

After far too long an interval, the second sterling all-ages outing for Neill (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea) Cameron’s marvellous metal and plastic paladins return to share more of their awesome adventures and growing pains!

It’s the Future!

In a London much cooler than ours Alex and his younger brother Freddie are (mostly) typical kids: boisterous, fractious, always arguing, but devoted to each other and not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s no big deal for them that they were constructed by the mysterious Dr. Roboticus (before he vanished from all human knowledge) and are considered by those in the know as the most powerful robots on Earth.

They recently became super-secret agents too, but almost the entire world knows that…

It’s enough for the digital duo that Mum and Dad love them, even though the boys 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 combining boring lessons, fun with friends, playing games, watching TV and training in the covert combat caverns under RAID HQ…

When occasion demands, the lads undertake missions for bossy Baroness Farooq, head of government agency R.A.I.D. (Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence). They think it’s because they are infinitely smarter and more powerful than the Destroyer Mechs and other man-made minions she employs…

However, although Dad may be just your average old guy it’s recently become clear that Mum is a bit extraordinary herself and, as renowned boffin Dr. Nita Sharma, harbours some surprising secrets of her own…

All the same, life in the Sharma household is pretty normal. Freddie is insufferably exuberant and over-confident whilst Alex is at the age when self-doubt and anxiety begin to manifest. Of course, their parents’ other robot rescues can be a bit of a trial.

Baby triceratops Trikey with his dog-programming is ok, but French-speaking deranged ape Monsieur Gorilla can be mighty confusing whilst gloomily annoying, existentialist aquatic fowl Stupid Philosophy Penguin constantly quoting dead philosophers all the time makes most people rapidly consider self-harm or manic mayhem …

Culled from the pages of fabulous UK weekly comic The Phoenix, this fistful of fun kicks off with ‘Chapter 1: Mega Robo Schooldays’ as Alex gets a hard time from classmates Mira and Taia. They used to be best friends, but with all his extra-curricular activities the girls are feeling a bit neglected. Alex’s guilt turns to something far worse on Monday at Oak Hill Primary School after a heated football match leads bully Jamal to make a startling accusation. But actually, how do we know if Alex is a Boy or a Girl…?

Deeply shaken the startled hero naturally asks Mum, and she’s never been more grateful for a sudden sneaky Surprise Giant Robot Attack…

In ‘Chapter 2: Mega Robo Underground’ Alex and Freddie are called in by Baroness Farooq, and jet over to Aldgate Tube Station to battle a colossal driller-droid. Further investigation leads the lads and a R.A.I.D. science team deep, deep into the abandoned transport tunnels beneath the city.

Here they encounter an army of rejected and rebuilt robots all undertaking the bizarre agenda of a crazy bag-lady calling herself “The Caretaker”. When she abruptly loses control of her precious charges, all Hell breaks loose. After a massive fight, she escapes to an even more secret lair and an ongoing repair project with hidden ramifications that will have dire consequences for the bombastic boys and the entire world…

Freddie gets to see Mum’s stern side when she takes him – kicking and screaming – clothes shopping in ‘Chapter 3: Mega Robo Weekend’ after which shameful incident ‘Chapter 4: Mega Robo Celebrities’ zooms in on the price of fame when Prettiest Girl in School Jamila finally notices Alex.

With his shiny head all turned around, he’s in no mood for Freddie’s jealous response: candid home videos posted on VuTube. He’s even less chuffed when the postings go mega-viral but cheers up when Freddie’s celebrity bubble inevitably implodes in a most unfortunate manner…

Wrapping up with a spectacular big finish, ‘Chapter 5: Mega Robo Expo’ finds the kids – and their surprisingly famous mum – as guests of a massive Robot Show. After taking down obnoxious, fame-craving mech-makers Team Robotix in a gladiatorial contest, the lads think the action portion of the entertainment has ended, but then the Caretaker’s darkest secret bursts in with mass-murder in mind…

The huge rampaging robot quickly reinforces all humanity’s fears and anxieties about sentient mechanicals, but as the Mega Robo Bros drive the belligerent Wolfram off, Alex realises with alarm that Mum knows far more about the rogue – and her own “sons” – than she’s letting on…

To Be Continued…

Crafted by Cameron and his doughty colouring assistants Abby Bulmer & Lisa Murphy (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea), this is another exceedingly engaging romp which rockets along like anti-gravity rollercoaster, blending mirth with warmth, wit and incredible verve. Alex and Freddy are utterly authentic boys, irrespective of their artificial origins, and their antics strike exactly the right balance of future shock, family fun and bombastic superhero action to capture readers’ hearts and minds. 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.

And while we’re talking perfect X-Mas gifts, why not pick up Mega Robo Bros volume 1 and enjoy the whole superb saga to date?

Oor Wullie & The Broons: Cooking Up Laughs!

By Robert Duncan Low, Dudley D. Watkins, Ken H. Harrison & various (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-0-84535-614-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Fun and an Ideal Last-Minute Gift… 10/10

We always get a wee bit Caledonian come Christmas in Win Wonderworld, so here’s another loving look at a matched pair of Scotland’s greatest exports whilst simultaneously revelling in the Good Old Days of comics…

If you’re too busy to read yet more of my lecturing, hectoring blather, please feel free to skip the review… just as long as you buy these books for yourself or someone in severe need of a good cheering up and infectious laugh…

Published eternally in perfect tandem, The Broons and Oor Wullie are two of the longest-running newspaper strips in British history, having appeared continuously in the Scottish Sunday Post since their dual debuts in the March 8th 1936 edition.

Both the boisterous boy and the gregariously engaging inner city clan were co-created by writer and Editor Robert Duncan Low (1895-1980) in conjunction with Dudley D. Watkins (1907-1969); DC Thomson’s greatest – and signature – artist.

Three years later the strips were collected in reprint editions as Seasonal Annuals; alternating stars and years right up to the present day and remaining best-sellers every single time.

The shape and structure of British kids cartoon reading owes a huge debt to Robert Duncan Low who was probably DC Thomson’s greatest creative find.

He started at the Scottish publishing monolith as a journalist, rising to the post of Managing Editor of Children’s Publications where – between 1921 and 1933 – he conceived and launched the company’s “Big Five” story-papers for boys. Those rip-roaring illustrated prose periodicals comprised Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

In 1936 his next brilliant idea resulted in The Fun Section: an 8-page pull-out supplement for Scottish national newspaper The Sunday Post consisting primarily of comic strips. The illustrated accessory premiered on 8th March and from the very outset The Broons and Oor Wullie – both rendered by the incomparable Watkins – were its indisputable stars…

Low’s shrewdest move was to devise both strips as domestic comedies played out in the charismatic Scottish idiom and broad unforgettable vernacular. Ably supported by features such as Auchentogle by Chic Gordon, Allan Morley’s Nero and Zero, Nosey Parker and other strips, they laid the groundwork for the company’s next great leap.

That came in December 1937 when Low launched DC Thomson’s first weekly pictorial comic. The Dandy was followed by The Beano in 1938 (Happy Anniversary, guys!) and early-reading title The Magic Comic the year after that.

War-time paper shortages and rationing sadly curtailed this strip periodical revolution, and it was 1953 before the next wave of cartoon caper picture-papers. To supplement Beano and Dandy, the ball started rolling again with The Topper, closely followed by a host of new titles such as Beezer and Sparky.

Low’s greatest advantage was always his prolific illustrator Dudley Dexter Watkins, whose style, more than any other, shaped the look of DC Thompson’s comics output until the bombastic advent of Leo Baxendale shook things up in the mid-1950s.

Hailing from Manchester and Nottingham, Watkins was an artistic prodigy. He entered Glasgow College of Art in 1924 and before long was advised to get a job at Dundee-based DCT, where a 6-month trial illustrating boys’ stories led to comic strip specials and some original cartoon creations.

Percy Vere and His Trying Tricks and Wandering Willie, The Wily Explorer made him a dead cert for both lead strips in the proposed Fun Section and, without missing a beat, Watkins added The Dandy’s Desperate Dan to his weekly workload in 1937, and The Beano’s placidly and seditiously outrageous Lord Snooty seven months later.

Watkins soldiered on in unassailable magnificence for decades, drawing some of the most lavishly lifelike and winningly hilarious strips in illustration history. He died at his drawing board on August 20th 1969. For all those astonishingly productive years he had unflaggingly drawn a full captivating page each of Oor Wullie and The Broons every week.

His loss was a colossal blow to the company and DC Thomson’s top brass preferred to reprint old Watkins episodes in both the newspaper and the Annuals for seven long years before replacement artists were agreed upon. The Dandy reran his old Desperate Dan stories for twice that length of time.

An undeniable, rock-solid facet of Scots popular culture from the very start, the first Broons Annual (technically Bi-Annual) appeared in 1939, alternating with the first Oor Wullie book a year later (thanks to wartime paper restrictions, no annuals at all were published between 1943 and 1946) and for millions of readers no year can truly end without them.

Every kid who grew up reading comics has their own personal nostalgia-filled nirvana, and DC Thomson have always sagely left that choice to us whilst striving to keep all eras alive with carefully-tooled collectors’ albums like this substantial (225 x 300 mm) hardback Gift Book.

Bright and breezy, the compilation focuses on the characters’ relationship with food – particularly Scotland’s unique and evocative cuisine – through festive occasions, seasonal celebrations and in everyday contexts: especially in comedic situations as comfort or consolation or even hard-won prizes. It’s also jam-packed with some of the best-written and most impressively drawn strips ever conceived: superbly timeless examples of cartoon storytelling at its best…

Moreover, rather than a chronological arc tracing from particularly bleak and fraught beginnings in British history through years of growth, exploration and cultural change, we’re treated to a splendid pick-&-mix protocol: a surprise on every turn of a page with Low and Watkins ably succeeded by Tom Lavery, Peter Davidson, Robert Nixon, Ken H. Harrison, Iain Reid, Tom Morton, Dave Donaldson, Morris Heggie and more.

So What’s the Set Up?: the Brown family dwell together in a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street in timelessly metafictional Scottish industrial everytown Auchentogle (sometimes known as Auchenshoogle and based on the working class Auchenshuggle district of Glasgow).

As such it’s an ideal setting in which to tell gags, relate events and fossilise the deepest and most reassuring cultural archetypes for sentimental Scots wherever in the world they might actually be residing. And naturally, such a region was the perfect sounding board to portray all the social, cultural and economic changes that came after the war…

The adamant, unswerving cornerstone of the family feature is long-suffering, ever-understanding culinary commander-in-chief Maw, who puts up with cantankerous, cheap, know-it-all Paw and their battalion of stay-at-home kids. These comprise hunky Joe, freakishly tall Hen (Henry), sturdy Daphne, gorgeous Maggie, brainy Horace, mischievous twins Eck and the unnamed “ither ane” plus a wee toddling lassie referred to only as “The Bairn”.

Not officially in residence yet always hanging around is sly, patriarchal buffoon Granpaw – a comedic gadfly who spends more time at Glebe Street than his own cottage and constantly tries to impart his decades of out-of-date, hard-earned experience to the kids… but do they listen?

Offering regular breaks from inner-city turmoil and a chance to simultaneously sentimentalise, spoof and memorialise more traditional times, the family frequently repair to their But ‘n’ Ben (a dilapidated rustic cottage in the Highlands) to fall foul of the weather, the countryside and all its denizens: fish, fowl, farm-grown, temporary and touristic…

As previously stated, Oor Wullie also launched on March 8th 1936 with his own collected Annual compilations subsequently and unfailingly appearing in the even years.

The premise is sublimely simply and eternally fresh: an overly-imaginative, impetuous scruff with a weakness for mischief, talent for finding trouble and no hope of ever avoiding parental or adult retribution when appropriate…

Wullie – AKA William MacCallum – is an archetypal good-hearted rascal with too much time on his hands who can usually be found sitting on an upturned bucket at the start and finish of his page-a-week exploits.

His regular supporting cast includes Ma and Pa, local beat-Bobby P.C. Murdoch, assorted teachers and other interfering adults who either lavish gifts or inflict opprobrium upon the little pest and his pals Fat Boab, Soapy Joe Soutar, Wee Eck and others. As a grudging sign of changing times, in later years he’s been caught in the company of sensible schoolgirls like Rosie and Elizabeth

A compilation in monochrome – with some full-colour pages – Cooking Up Laughs! was released in 2016 as part of the admirable drive to keep early material available to fans: a lavishly sturdy hardback (still readily available through internet vendors) offering a tasty and tantalising selection curated with an emphasis on the eating habits of the stars.

Eating has always been a perennial and fundamental aspect of both strips (don’t get me started on the sociological value and importance of food in a communal or tribal setting: I’ve been to college twice and did all the reading they told me to!), and the topic has even generated a spin-off line of Maw Broon Cook Books

Divided by colour cover or title-pages from previous Annuals, the endless escapades of the strip stars comprise the happily standard fare: kids outsmarting older folk to score sweets and prohibited provender; pompous male adults making galling goofs and gaffes when cooking; family frolics and festival events: rules of rationing and home-grown garden gifts; etiquette outrages: the penalties of gorging; stolen candies, Christmas revels, how to drink Tea and even some full-colour puzzle pages to digest…

Also on show are Scots-specific treats and techniques such as Clootie Dumpling disasters; the mysteries of Fruit; the makings of “a Piece”; Fish Suppers and the miracle of Cheps; how to present Crofter’s Porridge; the marvel of Mince ‘n’ Tatties; better things to do with Neeps; dieting dos and don’ts and every manner of sweet and savoury sampling of succulence and sinfulness…

With snobs to deflate, bullies to crush, duels to fight, chips to scoff, games to win and rowdy animals (from cats to cows) to escape, the eternally affable humour and gently self-deprecating, inclusive frolics make these superbly crafted strips an endlessly entertaining, superbly nostalgic treat.

Packed with all-ages fun, rambunctious homespun hilarity and deliriously domestic warmth, these examples of comedic certainty and convivial celebration are a sure cure for post-modern glums… and you can’t really have a happy holiday without that, can you?

© D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. 2016.

Misty featuring Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve

By Pat Mills, Malcolm Shaw, John Armstrong, Brian Delaney, Shirley Bellwood & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-452-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Spooky Treats for Every Stocking… 9/10

Like most of my comics contemporaries I harbour a secret shame. Growing up, I was well aware of the weeklies produced for girls but would never admit to reading them. My loss: I now know that they were packed with some great strips by astounding artists and writers, many of them personal favourites when they were drawing stalwart soldiers, marauding monsters, evil aliens or strange superheroes (all British superheroes were weird and off-kilter…).

I actually think – in terms of quality and respect for the readership’s intelligence, experience and development – girls’ periodicals were far more in tune with the sensibilities of the target audience, and I wish I’d paid more attention to Misty back then…

Thus, I’m overjoyed to see this superb first collection from what originating editor Pat Mills reveals in his Foreword was intended to be as iconoclastic and groundbreaking a publication as his previous creation.

You know the one… 2000AD

Despite never living up to his expectations – for all the traditional editorial reasons that have scuppered bold new visions since the days of Caxton – Misty was nothing like any other comic in the British marketplace: a Girls’ Juvenile periodical addressing modern issues through a lens of urban horror, science fictional and historical mysteries and tense suspenseful dramas. It was also one of the best drawn comics ever seen and featured stunningly beguiling covers by unsung legend Shirley Bellwood, a veteran illustrator who ought to be a household name because we’ve all admired her work in comics and books since the 1950s even if we’ve never been privileged to see her by-line…

Unlike most weeklies, Misty was created with specific themes in mind – fantasy, horror and mystery – and over its too-short existence introduced numerous self-contained features serialised like modern graphic novels, rather than the continuing adventures of star characters.

Although adulterated from Mill’s original design, the comic launched on February 4th 1978 and ran until January 1980 whereupon it merged with the division’s lead title Tammy, extending its lifeline until 1984. As was often the case, the brand also continued through Annuals and Specials, running from 1979 until 1986…

The first of a series working under the umbrella of The Treasury of British Comics, this compact monochrome softcover compilation offers two complete part-work novellas from the comic’s canon of nearly 70 strip sagas, starting with the gripping history of Moonchild. Scripted by Mills and illustrated by John Armstrong (Bella in Tammy; The Secret Gymnast in Bunty; Grange Hill), the eerie adventure was based on Stephen King’s Carrie, and ran as lead feature in issues #1-13.

The turbulent coming-of-age of abused and confused schoolgirl Rosemary Black: born into a family afflicted with an apparent curse. All the women who bore a hereditary crescent birthmark on their foreheads were eventually consumed by burgeoning psychokinetic powers…

Rosemary’s mother brutally and zealously tries to suppress her daughter’s growing abilities but with sociopathic mean girls Norma, Dawn and Freda making her a constant target for bullying and humiliation, the force inside Rosemary keeps expressing itself in ever more violent manner…

Moreover, when school physician Doctor Armstrong realises the truth about the girl so often sent to see him, he sees nothing but an opportunity to be exploited…

When Norma’s bullies embark on their most ambitious scheme to torture Rosemary, sheer disaster is barely averted when the Moonchild’s long missing grandmother suddenly appears with a shocking secret to reveal…

Following a handy hints feature – how to make a Witch’s Hat – The Four Faces of Eve carries on the chilling bewilderment.

Created by Malcolm Shaw (Misty’s Editor and writer of dozens of strips in Britain and Europe) & Brian Delaney (Hart to Hart; Grange Hill; The Professionals) this marvel of malign medical malpractice ran in issues 20-31, tracing the seemingly paranoid path of Eve Marshall, recently discharged from hospital still suffering partial amnesia.

Despite returning to her home and her high-powered scientist parents, Eve remains troubled, especially by horrifically vivid dreams of other girls who died painful, violent deaths…

Inconsolable and increasingly suspicious, Eve snoops around the house she doesn’t remember and discovers mounting evidence that the Marshalls are not her real parents. When the house is later burgled the police forensics team uncover another impossible anomaly: Eve’s fingerprints match a thief who died months ago…

Scared and haunted by traumatic dreams, Eve runs away and hides in a circus, only to be tracked down and dragged back home by her faux parents. However, the pieces are inexorably falling into place and she soon has to face the appalling truth she has deduced about herself and the monsters she lives with…

Also including a fulsome tribute to ‘Shirley Bellwood – An Unsung Heroine of British Comics’, creator biographies and one final activity page (‘Misty Says… Be a Devil – and Here’s How’) this slight but supremely engaging tome is a glorious and long-overdue celebration of a uniquely compelling phenomenon of British comics and one that has stood the test of time. Don’t miss this second chance to get in on something truly special and splendidly entertaining
Misty © Egmont UK Limited 1978. All rights reserved.

The Complete James Bond: OCTOPUSSY – the Classic Comic Strip Collection 1966-1969

By Ian Fleming, Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-1-78565-325-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Truly Traditional Licence to Thrill… 9/10

There are sadly few British newspaper strips that can rival the influence and impact of the classic daily and Sunday “funnies” from America, especially in the field of adventure fiction. The 1930’s and 1940’s were particularly rich in popular, not to say iconic, creations and you’d be hard-pressed to come up with household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy or Flash Gordon, let alone Blondie, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye – and yes, I know I said him twice, but Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good. You should really read them if you haven’t yet…

What can you recall for simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? Garth? I’d hope so, but I doubt it. The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly many wonderful strips being produced: well-written and beautifully drawn, but that stubborn British reserve just didn’t seem to be in the business of creating household names.

Until the 1950’s…

Something happened in the Britain of the New Elizabethans – and I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did. Now we’re moving on.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics got carried along on the wave. Eagle, Lion, the regenerated Beano and girls’ comics in general all shifted into visually receptive high gear… and so did daily newspapers at a time when print was everyone’s major source of staying in touch with the world…

Thanks to another canny and comforting luxury repackaging – just in time for the Christmas presents rush! – I can once more communally reminisce about one of British strip-cartooning’s greatest triumphs, since Titan Books have a new addition to their line of lavish, oversized (294 x 277 mm) monochrome compilations of Ian Fleming’s immortal James Bond.

Debut 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and subsequently serialised in the Daily Express from 1958: initiating a sequence of paperback novel adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence (a jobbing writer for American features who had previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) signed on for The Man with the Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the authorial canon to strip format.

When that mission was accomplished, Lawrence was invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s ultimate demise in 1983.

Illustration of the feature was always of the highest standard. Initially John McLusky provided art the until 1966’s conclusion of You Only Live Twice and – although perhaps lacking in vivacity – the workmanlike clarity of his drawing easily coped with the astonishing variety of locales, technical set-ups and sheer immensity of cast members…

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who also debuted on Golden Gun; instituting a looser, edgier style, at once more cinematic and with a closer attention to camera angle and frenzied action that seemed to typify the high-octane vim and verve of the 1960’s. Horak illustrated 26 complete adventures until 1977 when The Daily Express ceased carrying Bond and the then-running case suddenly switched to The Sunday Express (from January 30th until conclusion on May 22nd).

Here, however, the heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death is at an all-time high in this addictively accessible fourth volume which finds the creators on top form as they reveal how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe and highly entertained…

The frantic derring-do and dark, deadly last-ditch double-dealings commence once superstar screenplay writers Neal Purvis & Robert Wade (The World is Not Enough; Die Another Day; Casino Royale; Quantum of Solace; Skyfall and Spectre as well as Johnny English) share some secrets and observations in their Introduction ‘Adapting Bond’.

Then ‘Octopussy’ (Daily Express 14th November 1966 – 27th May 1967) unfolds: a classic Ian Fleming tale. Originally a short story, under the skilful hands of Lawrence & Horak, a simple smuggling caper in the West Indies blossoms into a complex tale of Nazi Gold, murdered agents and exotic deaths in exotic locales as Bond pits his wits against deplorable rogue Major Smythe….

Bowing to the wave of popularity caused by the blockbuster films of the time, there are even a few Q Branch gadgets on offer. Horak excels at the extended underwater sequences and the action is frenetic and non-stop. Moreover, thanks to the enlarged landscape pages of this edition, every picturesque detail is there to be drooled over…

The sea also plays a major role in ‘The Hildebrand Rarity’ (29th May – 16th December 1967) which details the true fate of a new Royal Navy robot weapon which seemingly fails but has in fact been stolen by flamboyant millionaire and career sadist Milton Krest. At his most dashing undercover best, Bond infiltrates the wealthy sicko’s glamorous circle in a terrific tale full of innovation and intrigue. You won’t believe how many ways there are to kill with fish!

Having exhausted Fleming’s accumulated prose canon, all-original material begins with ‘The Harpies’ (4th October 1968 – 23rd June 1969) as Bond adopts he persona of ex-copper Mark Hazard to infiltrate defence contractor Simon Nero’s factory and rescue a kidnapped scientist whilst seeking to end the depredations of a deadly gang of female flying bandits.

Here Horak’s extreme design style and dynamic lines impart tremendous energy to scenes that must labour under the incredibly difficult restrictions of the 3-panel-a-day newspaper format.

Wrapping up the sinister espionage shenanigans is Lawrence’s second addition to 007 lore – and what a cracker it is! In ‘River of Death’ (24th June – 29th November 1969) Bond must penetrate the Amazon River stronghold of a maniacal oriental scientist and former Red Chinese torturer Dr. Cat. This latest madman is supplying trained animals to international criminals for the purposes of robbery, espionage and murder…

Horak’s intense illustration is approaching a career peak here and easily copes with action, mood, cutting edge science, beautiful women and exotic locales as diverse as the Alps, sultry Rain Forests, London’s underworld and Rio de Janeiro at Carnival time.

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. Here, however, is James Bond at his suave and savage best and as close to his original conception and roots as you will ever find.

Fast, furious action, masses of moody menace, sharply clever dialogue and a wealth of exotic locales and ladies make this an unmissable adjunct to the Bond mythos and a collection no fan can do without. After all, nobody does it better…

Octopussy © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1966. The Hildebrand Rarity © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1967. The Harpies © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1969. River of Death © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd. 1969. James Bond and 007 are ™ of Danjaq LLC used under licence by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
The Complete James Bond: OCTOPUSSY – the Classic Comic Strip Collection 1966-1969 will be published on November 24th and is available for pre-order now.

Thelwell Goes West

By Norman Thelwell (E P Dutton/Magnum/Eyre Methuen)
ISBN: 978-0-87690-189-2 (HB)                  978-0-41701-110-3 (PB)

Norman Thelwell was and remains one of Britain’s greatest cartoonists. His genteel yet rowdily raucous artistic endeavours combined Bigfoot abstraction with a keen and accurate eye for detail, not just on the horse-riding and countryside themes that made him a household name, but on all the myriad subjects he turned his canny eye and subtle brushstrokes to.

His wittily wry observations and gloriously rendered pictures are an immaculate condensation of a uniquely unchanging United Kingdom – everything warmly resonant, resolutely Post-War and Baby-Boomingily British, without ever being parochial or provincial – starring a dangerous realm where all animals and inanimate objects loathe humanity and will go to any extreme to vex or even harm us…

His work has international implications and scope, neatly distilling and presenting us to the world. There were 32 collections of his work during his lifetime and every aficionado of humour – illustrated or otherwise – could do much worse than own them all.

From 1950 when his gag-panel Chicko first began in the Eagle, and especially two years later with his first sale to Punch, Thelwell built a solid body of irresistible, seductive and always funny work. His canny cartoons appeared in a host of magazines, comics and papers ranging from Men Only to Everybody’s Weekly. His first curated cartoon collection – Angels on Horseback – was released in 1957 and in 1961 he made the rare return journey by releasing a book of all-original gags that was subsequently and rapturously serialised in the Sunday Express.

His dry, sly, cannily observed drawings were a huge success and other books followed to supplement his regular periodical appearances. He is most famous for his countryside and equine subjects. The phrase “Thelwell Pony” is an instant verbal shortcut to a whole other world of adroit, goblin-like little girls constantly battling malevolent, chubby mini-horses gifted with the guile of Machiavelli, the mass and temerity of a deranged mule and the cheery disposition of Bill Sikes.

The artist’s fascination and endless reservoir of dressage drollery originated with a pair of short obnoxious muses in the field next door to his home, where also roamed two shaggy ponies. They were, in his own words “Small and round and fat and of very uncertain temper” – and apparently owned by “Two little girls about three feet high who could have done with losing a few ounces themselves….”

“As the children got near, the ponies would swing round and present their ample hindquarters and give a few lightning kicks which the children would side-step calmly as if they were avoiding the kitchen table, and they had the head-collars on those animals before they knew what was happening. I was astonished at how meekly they were led away; but they were planning vengeance – you could tell by their eyes.”

His observations were best depicted in the classic Penelope and Penelope Rides Again, but in this particular instance, the master of the hounds and hilarious horseflesh cast his gaze a little further afield for a wickedly insightful and memorable draughtsman’s discourse, acutely weighing the benefits and pitfalls (oh, so very many painful falls) of Brit and Yank riding preferences and techniques.

After his introductory comparison/blueprint ‘The English Rider’ and ‘The Western Horseman’ Thelwell pits cocky little Cowboys against surly Show-jumping Schoolgirls in such compelling, picture packed chapters as Western Riding, What to Wear, Western Horses, Quick on the Drawl, How to Understand Your Horse, On the Trail, How to Manage a Mean Horse, How to Cross Water and Rodeo Dough before ending with a comprehensive Western Quiz.

So, which is best: East or West?

The answer, of course, is simple: Best to avoid all close encounters of an equine kind and read this book instead.
© 1975 Norman Thelwell.

Beware of the Dog

By Pericle Luigi Giovannetti (Macmillan)
ASIN: B0000CK63L              BOO3UHYGAA

Pericle Luigi Giovannetti was a brief but transcendent star of the cartoon firmament in the years following World War II, and a prolific one who appealed to fans of all ages.

Born of Italian extraction on June 22nd 1916 in Basel, Switzerland, he was a talented draughtsman and painter who achieved vast fame after debuting – in April 1953 – his most beloved character in Britain’s most prominent satire periodical Punch.

Max was a small, round furry creature like a hamster – or maybe a marmot – whose wordless pantomimes were cute, whimsical and trenchantly self-deprecating. Don’t ask me how a beautifully rendered little puff-ball could stand for pride and pomposity punctured, but he did. It was also blissfully free of mawkish sentimentality, a funny animal icon for adults too: even stiff, ultra-reserved post-war Brits.

Imagine then how such a cartoonist’s observational acumen would bloom when he turned his dry, wry, laconic eye upon Man’s Best Friend?

Luckily you don’t have to as this 1958 hardcover is still readily available from a number of on-line vendors: a fabulous collection of 52 pooches, drawn, rendered and limned in a variety of styles, captioned in two separate languages (French and English) and, thanks to your pedigree guides and contemporary wits Mark Laurence and Richard Maury, curated in three separate comedic styles!

After enduring being a sensation on a number of continents Giovannetti all but vanished at the end of the 1950s. Unknown to most of his fans he had returned to Switzerland and retired to the artists enclave of Ascona where he spent the remainder of the century painting. Apparently, he was pretty damn good at that too, but being extremely reclusive, only purchasers would know as he never exhibited his work.

According to some reports, he never sold or showed his work to anyone, preferring to discuss his other hobbies such as homeopathy, astrology and UFOlogy.

He died in Ascona, aged 85 on August 10th 2001.

As a cartoonist, Giovannetti was a master of the pen, with a sparse and economical line, and completely au fait with all brush techniques from dry-point to tonal wash painting. The sheer variety he exhibits in this book of doggy delights would make any would-be illustrator weep with jealousy if they weren’t already splitting their sides with mirth.

To my knowledge there were six other Giovannetti books and collections between 1954 and 1961: Max, Max Presents, Nothing but Max, The Penguin Max, Birds Without Words and Hamid of Aleppo – but not one of these fabulous graphic gems is currently in print! Surely in this age of digital archives, the maestro’s mastery can all be collected, collated and brought back for a new generation of fans and aficionados?

The sheer artistic virtuosity of Giovanetti is astounding to see. That his work should be forgotten is a crime. If you ever, ever find a collection of his work don’t hesitate!

© 1958 P. L. Giovannetti. All Rights Reserved.

Buster Book of Spooky Stories 1976

By various (IPC Magazines)
ISBN: 85037-199-6

Considering that Halloween is a still a children’s festival (tabloid press and TV reports of bingeing adult excess notwithstanding) I thought I’d re-review this delightful package that epitomises the veritable End of Days of the traditional post-war English Comics industry.

By 1975 the Halcyon era of the children’s periodical publishing business was swiftly fading. Accepted Wisdoms dictating that comics were only read by children who would eventually move on to better and more acceptable forms of entertainment (and these were opinions held by the monolithic managements which produced them!) were gradually being eroded by more creative types within the industry. They still saw potential in the medium and were backed up by an increasingly vocal fan movement which kept on buying and reading the iniquitous, garish little pamphlets even after they had all “grown up.”

Fleetway was an adjunct of the IPC (at that time the world’s largest publishing company) and had, by the early 1970s, swallowed or out-competed all other English companies producing mass-market comics except the exclusively television-themed Polystyle Publications. As it always had been, the megalith was locked in a death-struggle with Dundee’s DC Thomson for the hearts and minds of their assorted juvenile markets – a battle the publishers of the Beano and Dandy would finally win when Fleetway sold off its diminishing comics line to Egmont publishing and Rebellion Studios in 2002.

In 1974 Fleetway’s hidebound, autocratic bureaucracy still ruled the roost, even though sales had been steadily declining in all sectors of the industry (Pre-school, Juvenile, Boys and Girls, Educational) since the end of the 1960s, and increasingly the company were sanctioning niche products to shore up sales rather than expand or experiment.

A dashing young sub-editor on Buster, Dez Skinn – who would go on to produce a number of successful independent publications such as Starburst, House of Hammer and Warrior as well as partially reviving the fortunes of the moribund reprint house Marvel UK – proposed a kids horror comic called Chiller to fill a perceived gap in the market, even preparing new and revised reprint material to show the “higher ups.”

His always reactionary and overly cautious bosses nixed the idea but decreed that the prepared material would be used in one-off annuals as part of occasional themed series “The Buster Book of …”

These one-offs had begun in 1970 with “Gags” and provided cost-effective, profitable items with a longer shelf-life for the lucrative Christmas and summer holiday markets.

Of course, I knew none of this when I picked up this second Buster Book of Spooky Stories in 1975 (UK annuals are forwarded-dated), a period when I was far more interested in girls and beer than funnybooks.

It was a remarkable experience: instant, brand new nostalgia…

Behind its gaudy, soft card covers lay a delightful blend of novel and comfortably familiar; comedy strips, fact-features and scary adventure yarns that had been the stuff of my formative Christmas experiences throughout the 1960s.

The jollity commences with a Reg Parlett ‘Rent-A-Ghost Ltd.’ 2-page howler, teasing essay ‘Do You Believe in Ghosts?’ and more ghost gags before the first lengthy scare-fest begins…

‘The Ghostly Guardian’ follows the trials and tribulations of young Jim Frobisher who escapes the home of his abusive foster-uncle and takes up residence with a stray dog and his own deceased ancestor – 17th century freebooting pirate Firebrand Frobisher.

This is a resized weekly serial collected from I know not where, but is still resonates with thrills, spills and comedy chills, delivered in beautiful moody monochrome as rendered by the Solano Lopez studio (sadly these credits are mostly guesswork as the work was deliberately un-attributed at the time).

Our eponymous star contributes the first of two ‘Buster’s Dream World’ episodes, followed by a Ken Reid ‘Face Ache’ yarn, the first of numerous ‘Spooky Scrapbook’ fact-files and a short tale of ‘Horace the Hopeless Haunter’ before the real gem of the book begins: the first of two paranormal exploits featuring Cursitor Doom; jazzed up for the sinister seventies by re-jigging them as cases of Curtis Bronson: Ghost Hunter.

Cursitor Doom first appeared in the revamped Smash in 1969, created by Ken Mennell and illustrated by the indescribably brilliant Eric Bradbury, an elderly mystical troubleshooter (Doom not Bradbury) who hires burly he-man Angus McCraggan to be his agent on the physical side of an eternal battle against manifest evil.

Here Angus has been redrawn to resemble contemporary anti-hero Charles Bronson and in ‘The Phantom Friar’ goes solo to defend a couple of damsels in distress from a spectral monk and greedy relative.

The next comedy tranche comprises ‘Angel Face and Dare Devil’, ‘The Creepy Crawleys’, ‘Whacky Waxworks’, ‘Chilling Chuckles’, an extended jape ‘The Mummy’s Curse’ and ‘The Scareys of St. Mary’s’, neatly bisected by terse text terrors ‘Ghost Stories of the Sea’ and another ‘Do You Believe in Ghosts?’ article before the original spooky thrill-fest resumes with ‘The Ghost of Gaunt Manor’ and a suitably themed ‘Puzzle Page’.

Stalking another ‘Spooky Scrapbook’, Ken Reid returns with an hilarious ‘Davy Jones Locker’ gag-strip before nefarious Buster regular Charlie Peace debuts in a Victorian shocker ‘The House of Thrills’.

Then tyrannical 15th century warlord Ungar the Merciless comes a cropper when he tries to steal ‘The Mystic Fountain’, after which ‘Rent-A-Ghost Ltd.’, ‘The Scareys of St. Mary’s’, ‘Whacky Waxworks’ and yet another ‘Do You Believe in Ghosts?’ precede the second and final instalment of ‘The Ghostly Guardian’.

More ‘Angel Face and Dare Devil’, ‘Puzzle Page’ and ‘The Mummy’s Curse’ swiftly follow and a ‘Creepy Cackles with ‘The Scareys of St. Mary’s’, after which ‘The 13th Man’ – a brief western terror-tale – provides some all-new thrills, balanced by more ‘Davy Jones Locker’, ‘Horace the Hopeless Haunter’, ‘Do You Believe in Ghosts?’, ‘The Creepy Crawleys’, ‘Face Ache’ and ‘Ghost Stories of the Sea’

The serialised Mummy’s Curse then concludes as the final section opens with a last witchly romp for ‘The Scareys of St. Mary’s’ whilst ‘Curtis Bronson meets The Snake Mummy’: a Bradbury drawn drama which tingles with menace in which Cursitor Doom makes a telling appearance, albeit in the trendier guise of with-it witch man Septimus Drood.

Just to ensure there’s not too many nightmares ‘Rent-A-Ghost Ltd.’, ‘Spooky Scapbook’ and the other ‘Buster’s Dream World’ take their last bows before the book ends with an activity page, the ‘Haunted House Escape Game!’

In 1984 Fleetway released the short-lived Scream!, an excellent weekly kids horror anthology modelled on the inexplicably (to management, at least) successful 2000AD, but the supernatural zeitgeist of the 1970s was long gone and the comic foundered and was cancelled after four months, which probably means something, but I’m too polite to say what…

This book is a delightful monster-mish-mash and one that will delight older fans and deliver lots of laughs and shivers to the young. Well worth tracking down and rapturously reading over and over again.
© 1975 IPC Magazines. All rights reserved.

Frederic Mullally’s Amanda

By Frederic Mullally, John Richardson & “Ken” (Ken Pierce Books)
ISBN: 978-0-91227-703-5

When I reviewed the comic strip collection Danielle recently, I declaimed at long length about having to become an apologist for some of the themes and content of what used to be called “cheesecake” or “girly” strips: a genre stuffy old-fashioned Britain used to excel at and happily venerate.

After all, aren’t we proud that we’re that sort of culture? Saucy postcards, Carry-On films, ingenuously innocent smut and a passion for double entendre which have for decades obscured and obfuscated genuine concerns such as entrenched gender pay-gaps, unwarranted interest in and control of female reproductive rights and sexual behaviour, double standards for men and women’s work and recreational behaviours, and that incomprehensible Mystery of Mysteries: just why men are utterly certain that anything they fancy automatically fancies them back and is therefore fair game for creepy jollity and unwanted attentions excused as “just having bit of fun” or “paying a compliment”…

Yes, it’s one of those days…

Meanwhile, back at this book and in a time long gone but not forgotten – as John Dakin points out in his introduction to this particular short-lived strip-siren – The Sun (original home of the lady in question) was the country’s best-selling newspaper and was proudly, provocatively populist. That translated into low laughs and acres of undraped female flesh everywhere except the sports section – and even there when possible… because the readers where mostly blokes and lads in search of that aforementioned easily digested little bit of fun…

By 1976 the battle for female equality had mostly moved from headlines and leader columns to the business pages: the frenzied height of the much-maligned “Sexual Revolution” with women demanding equal rights, fair pay and honest treatment had passed (so isn’t it marvellous that they’ve got all those things sorted now?). Contraception-on-demand and burning bras were gone – except for the provision of comedy fodder – and most men had generally returned to their old habits, breathing a heavy sigh of relief…

Written by journalist, columnist, novelist, political writer and editor (of left-wing magazine Tribune) Frederic Mullally, Amanda launched on January 26th 1976, and initially seemed a low-key, low-brow reworking of his prestigious Penthouse satire O Wicked Wanda!

However, there were marked differences for anybody looking below the satin-skinned surface…

Amanda Muller is the beautiful (naturally), sequestered heir to the world’s largest fortune, and once her old fossil of a father finally kicks the bucket she decides to become a teen rebel and have all the fun she’d missed growing up in an old castle with only prim staff and her cousins Wiley and Hunk for company. With thief turned companion Kiki, she determines to splurge and spree and have anything she wants…

The strip ran for a year and the first illustrator was John Richardson, a highly gifted artist with a light touch blending Brian Lewis with Frank Bellamy: a veteran visual storyteller who worked practically everywhere in Britain from 2000AD to DC Thomson to Marvel UK, as well as for specialist magazines such as Custom Car, Super Bike and Citizen’s Band.

The introductory story here sees Amanda – shedding her clothes at every opportunity – attempt to buy a noble title, only to fall foul of a Mafia plot to seize control of Italy’s Nudist Beaches, before moving on to a “career” as a pop-star – which once more draws her into a world of unscrupulous sharks and swindlers…

Whilst looking for a new maid, Amanda and Kiki then become embroiled in a continental burglary ring, before the author’s political and ethical underpinnings break loose as brainy cousin Wiley is invited to display his new electronic Chess brain behind the Iron Curtain. Naturally physical Adonis Cousin Hunk wants to come along – it’s just before the next Olympic Games after all – and the girls tag along just for kicks.

Since you just can’t trust a Commie they’re all soon in lots of trouble, but naturally the frolicsome foursome escape with relative ease. The next adventure, and all the remaining strips, are illustrated by somebody who signs him (or her) self “Ken”, and who, I’m ashamed to say, I know absolutely nothing about. Competent, but a tad stiff and hesitant, and lacking the humorous touch of Richardson, I’d lay money on the enigma being an Italian or Hispanic artist – but I’ve been wrong before and I will be again…

Safely home again, Amanda resolves to create a feminist magazine entitled New Woman, and despatches Kiki to interview the world’s greatest Chauvinist Pig – fashion designer “Bruno” – only to once more fall foul of crooks; although this time it’s kidnappers and embezzlers.

Still in editorialising mode, the young proud kids then head to super-sexist banana republic Costa Larga, just in time for the next revolution; infiltrating the “Miss Sex Object” beauty contest with the intent of sabotaging it, before concluding their globe-trotting by heading for a tropical holiday just as the local government is overthrown by a tin-pot dictator…

All my cavils, caveats and frustrated kvetchings aside Amanda was series that started out with few pretensions and great promise, but, the early loss of Richardson and – I suspect – Mullally’s intellectual interests soon overwhelmed what charms it held. Nevertheless, this collection is a good representative of an important period and a key genre in British cartooning history: one we should really be re-examining in much greater detail.

Some of the gags are still funny (especially in our modern world where celebrity equates with exactly where drunken, stoned rich people threw up last) and if you are going to ogle and objectify naked women at least well-drawn ones can’t be harmed or humiliated in the process.

Also, I don’t think a drawing has ever contributed to anybody’s low self-esteem or body-dysmorphia issues; Dear God, at least, I hope not…
© 1984 Express Newspapers Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Modesty Blaise: The Killing Game

By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78565-300-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Derring-do and the Perfect Postprandial Tonic… 9/10

Infallible super-criminals Modesty Blaise and her lethally charming, compulsively platonic, equally adept partner Willie Garvin gained fearsome reputations heading underworld gang The Network. They then retired young, rich and healthy.

With honour intact and their hands relatively clean, they cut themselves off completely from careers where they made all the money they would ever need and far too many enemies: a situation exacerbated by their heartfelt conviction that killing was only ever to be used as a last resort.

When devious British Spymaster Sir Gerald Tarrant sought them out, they were slowly dying of boredom in England. The wily old bird offered them a chance to have fun, get back into harness and do a bit of good in the world. They jumped at his offer and have been cleaning up the dregs of society in their own unique manner ever since …

From that tenuous beginning in ‘La Machine’ (see Modesty Blaise: the Gabriel Set-Up) the dynamic duo went on to crush the world’s vilest villains and most macabre monsters in a never-ending succession of tense suspense and inspirational action for more than half a century. And now this final 30th collected paperback album completes their astounding run of newspaper strip escapades leaving us dedicated devotees delighted and simultaneously bereft…

The inseparable associates debuted in The Evening Standard on 13th May 1963 and over the passing decades went on to star in some of the world’s most memorable crime fiction, all in approximately three panels a day.

Creators Peter O’Donnell & Jim Holdaway (who had previously collaborated on Romeo Brown – a lost strip classic just as deserving of its own archive albums) crafted a timeless treasure trove of brilliant graphic escapades until the illustrator’s tragic early death in 1970, whereupon Spanish artist Enric Badia Romero (and occasionally John Burns, Neville Colvin and Pat Wright) assumed the art reins, taking the partners-in-peril to even greater heights.

The series has been syndicated world-wide and Modesty has starred in numerous prose novels, short-story collections, several films, a TV pilot, a radio play, an original American graphic novel from DC, a serial on BBC Radio 4 and in nearly one hundred comic adventures until the strip’s conclusion in 2001 with the trio of titanic tales collected in this volume.

The pictorial exploits comprise a broad blend of hip adventuring lifestyle and cool capers; combining espionage, crime, intrigue and even – now and again – plausibly intriguing sci fi and supernaturally-tinged horror genre fare, with ever-competent Modesty and Willie canny, deadly, yet all-too-fallibly human defenders of the helpless and avengers of the wronged…

Reproduced in stark and stunning monochrome – as is only right and fitting – Titan Books’ superb and scrupulously chronological serial re-presentations of the ultimate cool trouble-shooters conclude here, with O’Donnell & Romero offering three last masterpieces of mood, mystery, mayhem and macabre mirth. The high-octane drama is preceded by a brace of preambles: affecting reminiscence ‘Modesty and Me’ from O’Donnell’s grandson Paul Michael and the true secret of writing the perfect comic strip in the author’s own ‘All in the Mind’, penned before his death in 2010.

The pulse-pounding pictorial perils premiere with ‘The Last Aristocrat’ (originally running in The Evening Standard from December 16th 1999-19th May 2000), as old – and mostly unwanted – acquaintance Guido the Jinx embroils Willie, Sir Gerald and Modesty in his last journalistic scoop.

Sadly, the stakes this time are terrifyingly high, as a former criminal rival returns selling grotesque bacterial weapons of mass destruction forcing the dynamic duo to infiltrate an island fortress to prevent a disastrous terrorist coup…

As ever each tale is introduced by a connected celebrity: Daphne Alexander who plays Modesty in the BBC radio series adds her thoughts to the first and final adventures whilst eponymous central story ‘The Killing Game’ (22nd May June-October 17th) benefits from the insights of Radio Drama Producer Kate MCall.

Here Modesty and Willie are abducted from an innocent British Church Fete by a cabal of ultra-rich, exceedingly jaded “sportsmen” (and woman), intent on spicing up their annual safari by including the proverbial Most Dangerous Game on their private tropical preserve and in their sights…

Marooned in New Guinea, our heroes experience a debilitating setback when they find a stray teenager and her newborn baby obliviously squatting in the killing fields, but as always, Modesty and Willie are up to the challenge and soon turn predators into prey…

The themes shift to criminal skulduggery and doomsday cults – with just a hint of bloody vengeance – in ‘The Zombie’ (October 10th 2000 to April 11th 2001) as an old associate from Modesty’s Network days is kidnapped for use as leverage…

What seems to be a simple turf war between gangs squabbling for markets get decidedly nasty and strange as the kidnappers are revealed as adherents of computer pioneer Professor Nicomede Katris, whose dream is to replace all the world’s fallible, venal governments with an incorruptible super-computer of his own design.

He knows he’s right: after all, his years of programming his doctrines have transformed his own daughter Leda into a coldly logical killing machine and ideal tool of societal transformation.

The wily Prof only ever made two mistakes: ordering his human zombie to guard empathic, charming abductee Danny Chavasse and presuming he could extrapolate and predict the actions of Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin when they inevitably come for their friend…

These are incomparable capers crafted by brilliant creators at the peak of their powers; revelling in the sheer perfection of an iconic creation. Startling shock and suspense-stuffed escapades packed with sleek sex appeal, dry wit, terrific tension and explosive action, these stories grow more appealing with every rereading and never fail to deliver maximum impact and total enjoyment.

And, hopefully, now that the entire saga has been compiled, we can soon expect sturdy hardback deluxe collections in the manner of the companion James Bond volumes…
Modesty Blaise © 2017 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.

Jeff Hawke: The Ambassadors

By Sydney Jordan & Willie Patterson (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-598-9

One the world’s most captivating comics strips is inexplicably almost unknown amongst modern readers, but this appalling state of affairs could so easily be rectified simply by seeking this spiffy deluxe hardback from Titan Books – and its recently reviewed predecessor and falling under the intoxicating spell of some of the wittiest, most intriguing and outright astounding British science fiction ever written or drawn.

In both style and quality these superb tales from the 1960s are the only serious rival to the legendary Dan Dare that Britain has ever produced.

Sydney Jordan began his saga of a thinking man’s Flash Gordon in the Daily Express on February 2nd 1954, writing the first adventures himself. In 1956 his old school friend and associate Willie Patterson moved from Scotland to London to assist with fifth adventure ‘Sanctuary’, and stayed on to script the next one – ‘Unquiet Island’ – whilst sorting out his own career as a freelance scripter for such titles as Amalgamated Press’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, Caroline Baker – Barrister at Law and eventually Fleetway’s War Picture Library series.

Jordan was never comfortable scripting, preferring to plot and draw, but his choice of collaborators was always immaculate – comicbook creator and sci fi novelist Harry Harrison wrote ‘Out of Touch’, (October 10th 1957 – April 5th 1958), Nick Faure and Martin Asbury worked with him in the 1970s and during the feature’s final days Syd hired a couple of talented tykes named Brian Bolland and Paul Neary to assist…

Patterson continued to supplement and assist Jordan intermittently until 1960 when – with fourteenth tale ‘Overlord’ – Patterson assumed the writing duties on a full-time basis, thereby launching the strip’s Golden Age. He remained the wordsmith-in-chief until 1969.

This second superb hardback volume (begging for re-release – or at least revival via a digital edition) opens with another fascinating memoir from Jordan himself before the wonderment begins.

‘Pastmaster’ (August 3rd – October 18th 1961) sees Space Scientist and trouble-shooter Hawke visiting the British Moonbase just as a crazed time-traveller from the future materialises, intent on changing history by transporting the entire complex back 10,000 years, and giving humanity a huge technological jump-start in the race’s development.

A terrific mix of sly comedy and startling action in the inimitable, underplayed style of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the best of John Wyndham, this romp of time-bending cops-&-robbers is a splendid appetiser for ‘The Immortal Toys’ (October 19th – 5th April 1962) which immediately follows.

Here, ancient Hindu jewels in the shape of insects are revealed to be something else entirely, leading Hawke and a rambunctious archaeologist reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s bombastic Professor Challenger to a long-hidden tomb and concrete evidence of alien visitors from Earth’s earliest pre-history.

No fan of Indiana Jones would want to miss this yarn – especially as here all the science, history and stunts are both plausible and possible and there are no nuke-defying fridges to be found anywhere…

‘The Ambassadors’ (6th April 1-13th July) is a winningly sharp, slick social satire with a brace of avian aliens – looking just like owls – arriving in London to offer Earth – free, gratis and for nothing – a device that will do away with work forever.

Instantly politicians and the media descend like vultures and the dry, self-deprecatory comedy of films like The Mouse That Roared resonates beside the wit and influence of Jonathan Swift as events snowball to a conclusion. Patterson could employ humour like a scalpel and, augmented by Jordan’s fantastic artwork and rich, incisive facility with expressions, produced here a gentle satire to rival the best of Private Eye, Tom Lehrer or TW3. If you’re also a devotee of Robert Sheckley or Eric Frank Russell, you’ll delight in how this yarn celebrates and exposes the worst of humanity…

Trust me, you’ll believe an owl can cry…

Exotic high adventure and Big Concept science dominates ‘The Gamesman’ (14th July – September 23rd) as a bored alien employs sub-atomic worlds for role-playing diversions; abducting a giant warrior, a technical wizard, a feisty “princess” and Hawke and his assistant from their respective worlds to play with – and for – him.

Unfortunately, ambition is a universal problem and the extraterrestrial dungeon-master quickly finds himself “played”…

The last tale in this sublime volume is another human-scaled fable touching on contemporary concerns, but although humour is still present in ‘A Test Case’ (September 24th 1962- 2nd January 1963), the over-arching theme is nuclear terror, as a second-rate scientist is granted ultra-advanced atomic knowledge by well-meaning aliens who have no idea how fragile a human mind can be…

The frantic desperation and tension as Hawke and the authorities scour London for a super-nuclear device primed to eradicate them all is chillingly reminiscent of the Boulting Brothers 1950 film classic Seven Days to Noon and makes of this memorable tale a timeless salutary warning…

Maybe we should send a copy to Pyongyang and Mar-a-Lago…

These are stories that appeared in daily episodes and their sardonic grasp of the nature of “the man-in-the-street” make them a delightful slice of social history as well as powerful and pure escapist entertainment.

Jeff Hawke is a rightly revered and respected milestone of graphic achievement almost everywhere except his country of origin. Hopefully there will be further attempts to reprint these graphic gems that will find a more receptive audience, and maybe we’ll even get to see those elusive earlier stories as well for a more receptive audience in the 21st century World of Tomorrow.
© 2008 Express Newspapers Ltd.