Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back!


By Laura Ellen Anderson (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-87-6

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched an “old school” weekly comics anthology (for girls and boys aged 6-12) which aimed to revive the good old days of British picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in its style and content.

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 totally enthralled kids and parents who avidly read it…

The magazine’s pantheon of superbly engaging strips inevitably led to an equally addictive line of graphic novel compilations, the latest of which is a riotous return romp starring a fabulously fearsome feathered arch-fiend and master of scientific wickedness…

Conceived and created by children’s book illustrator and author Laura Ellen Anderson (Kittens, Snow Babies, My Brother is a Superhero {with David Solomons}), Evil Emperor Penguin lurks in a colossal fortress beneath the Antarctic, where he strives tirelessly towards his stated goal of absolute global domination.

His only assistance – if you can call it that – comes in the form of an army of hench-minions: most notably stylish, erudite administrative lackey Number 8 and cute, fuzzy, loyal, diminutive, utterly inventive abominable snowman clone Eugene.

Evil Emperor Penguin had originally whipped up a batch of 250, but none of the others are anything like Eugene…

EEP then appointed the fluffy, bizarrely inventive tyke his Top Minion but somehow never managed to instil within him the proper degree of ruthless evilness. The hairy halfwit is, however, a dab-hand with engineering, building stuff and cooking spaghetti hoops, so it’s not a total loss…

Following a crucial contents and catch-up page stuck to the bad bird’s Fridge of Evil the nefarious nonsense recommences with two-part thriller-chiller ‘I Will Crèche You’ in which EEP’s incredible De-Agefying Youth Juice causes havoc after Evil Cat (insidious rival in the Word Domination stakes) breaks into the citadel and everybody gets a rejuvenating soaking…

Undaunted, the Penguin of Peril then attempts to increase his own stature with a growth ray but doesn’t consider that his top menial might wander in and accidentally become ‘Hugene’

It’s back to suspenseful two-parters next, as the Barmy Bird decides to digitise and upload himself into the global data net via his Super Computer of Evil. Believing supreme power to be in his feathered grasp once he becomes ultimate virus ‘X-Tremevil’, EEP is instead ambushed in virtual reality by digital demon virus Trojan the Hunk. Luckily Eugene is a dab paw with computer games and comes to his master’s rescue… sort of…

Back in the physical world again EEP is next subjected to a terrifying surreal assault by feathered scavengers and finds himself ‘Pigeon Holed’ before ‘Pop Goes the Easel’ finds him planning an attack on world leaders through the medium of art. Sadly, turning his victims into paintings proves to be a double-edged sword with unexpected repercussions, especially after Eugene tries to help…

Everybody loves cute kittens, which is what Evil Cat’s cousin Debra is counting on when she uses soppy Eugene to infiltrate the fortress and steal all the Spaghetti Hoops in ‘What’s New Pussy Cat’. With the team – and even Evil Cat – helplessly trapped, they must surrender all pride and dignity and call on jolly unicorn Keith to save them in ‘Rainbows to the Rescue’

Without their favourite food, Christmas seems drab and dreary for the entire ice-bound army but when Eugene finds ‘The One Hoop’ it unleashes a torrent of unexpected emotion to tide the Evil Emperor over even though it ultimately leads to deprivation mania in ‘A New Hoop’ Part 1…

Deranged and desperate, EEP is only saved after Eugene and Number 8 track down Debra and steal back the vast cache of spaghetti tins in ‘A New Hoop’ Part 2. Good thing too, as she wasn’t planning on eating them but needed them to power her machine for destroying the world…

‘Eugene’s Day Off’ is an unremitting stream of great experiences for the faithful servitor, but, for the Penguin Potentate – having to make do with substandard substitute Neill – a string of catastrophic and painful disasters, so it’s no surprise and a total tragedy when EEP’s top flunky is lost on a melting ‘berg after watching a pretty sunset ‘On Thin Ice’

Part 2 then sees the unthinkable occur as the cape-clad malcontent megalomaniac teams up with scintillating Keith the Unicorn to save Eugene from dire deep sea doom…

This gag-filled grimoire of perfidious Penguin plans concludes in high style as a sinister scheme to flood the world with scented candles of distilled Ultimate Evil is thwarted after ‘Essence of Eugene’ is added to the wax mix, resulting in a global outpouring of warm, fuzzy euphoria…

Rocket-paced, hilariously inventive, wickedly arch and utterly determined to be silly when it most counts, Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! is a captivating cascade of smart, witty funny adventure, to delight readers of all ages.
Text and illustrations © Laura Ellen Anderson 2017. All rights reserved.

Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! will be released on March 2nd 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

The Phoenix Presents Long Gone Don Book 2: The Monstrous Underworld


By The Etherington Brothers (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-78-4

Kids love to be scared and they thrive on imaginative adventure, especially if it comes liberally dosed with oodles of wry sardonic comedy. Such being the case, it’s quite understandable how Long Gone Don came to be such a popular and enduring feature of British comicstrip phenomenon The Phoenix, where it has run from the first issue.

Since 2012 David Fickling Books have published a traditional weekly anthology comic for girls and boys which has successfully restored the glorious heyday of picture-story entertainment; embracing the full force of modernity whilst telling old-fashioned fun and thrilling stories.

Each issue offers humour, adventure, puzzles and educational strips and material in an exultation of cartoon fun and fantasy. Since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the people who really matter – the utterly engaged kids and parents who read it…

As devilishly devised by The Etherington Brothers – Robin and Lorenzo, whose past successes include Malcolm Magic and Yore (in The Dandy), Monkey Nuts, Baggage and the brilliant puzzle-venturer Von Doogan – this thrilling and hilarious spooky romp stars unlucky Don Skelton, whose proper life of adventure didn’t really begin until after an astounding concatenation of crazy circumstances ended it.

The hapless schoolboy drowned in a bowl of Oxtail Soup and was instantly despatched on an uncomfortable voyage to the most netherly of Infernal Regions. Upon arrival, the bewildered waif discovered his unruly hair had turned milk-white, which looked really striking against the fantastic, green-sanded landscape dotted with familiar objects all super-sized to most unlikely proportions: an uncanny land of strange things and stranger folk…

None more so than a rather lugubrious and excitable crow dubbed Castanet, who took the newcomer under his scabby wing whilst strongly stressing the urgency of getting off the Arrival Plains as Brobdingnagian Causes of Expiration tend to land with a crash every moment…

Castanet introduced Don to his bizarre afterlife, escorting him around the chaotic pit of peril known as Broilerdoom (“Afterlife of the Lost, the Damned and the Generally Terrifying”) where they promptly earned the undying enmity of monstrous dictator General Spode

At least boy and bird won a few allies amongst the denizens of the grotty avenues and alleyways: most especially demonic outlaw/tavern-keeper Lewd and his agile assistant Safina who prowl the sordid, sprawling slums of Krapookerville when not running the iniquitous inn known as the Demon Drink.

Don soon learned his companions were more rebels than rogues and they took his arrival as a sign of the despotic General’s imminent overthrow…

After a handy recap and reintroduction section this second exotic eccentric escapade finds our expired hero and his crafty crow companion visited by an implacable, seemingly invulnerable stranger who tries to steal something from Don’s room at the Demon Drink before being driven off.

Giving chase the gang discover there’s been a rash of thefts throughout Broilerdoom but the populace have bigger things to worry about. The godlike Great Worm Thanatos – whose power is believed to sustain the entire underworld – is dead…

On closer investigation Don discovers his almighty, limbless and prodigious new pal is only “nearly dead” and – after a few more unnerving encounters – learns that someone has stolen the heart of Thanatos so that final expiration is not long off.

If Thanatos is gone for good young Skelton can forget any dream of finding the way back to Earth and back to life…

Determined to recover the purloined heart, Don and Castanet quickly find themselves in the middle of another crisis: everybody in town is going crazy…

Safina reveals the reason in hushed whispers. Everybody in the underworld has a totem carried over from their breathing days: a knick-knack or keepsake which serves to stabilise them in the afterlife and remind them of former, happier times. Now, however, some unknown force has been taking the totems so people are forgetting themselves and going mental as a consequence…

Faced with two impossible tasks before breakfast, Don gets weaving with his undercover underworld investigations and soon sees that a bunch of huge, hulking, mute figures are behind the thefts. Before he can do anything about it though, the silent strangers kidnap Safina…

Castanet thinks he knows where allies can be found, but hates dragging his family into the mess… not because of filial feeling, but because his relatives are really appalling and quite dangerous to know…

Meanwhile an unctuous and unsavoury character named Bone Dry Henson has cockily approached the overwhelmed authorities with a plan to off set the mounting chaos. The fact that he is one of the worst villains in the realm’s history but gets the go-ahead anyway is a sign of just how desperate the times are…

Of course he’s the untrammelled rogue everyone expects him to be, but if the populace had any idea of Henson’s true involvement and the nature of his peacekeeping Porcelain Army they would never have let him become the new Mayor…

Soon doom and disaster are running amok in the crowed shabby streets and the intervention of Don and his new allies have resulted in a completely new kind of monster rampaging through Broilerdoom…

But with splattery death mere moments away Don conceives a bold plan…

Tensely suspenseful, imaginative, enthralling and utterly hilarious, this uncanny adventure is delivered in a beguiling, loving pastiche of the magnificent style of Goscinny and Uderzo, a kind of Asterix in the Underworld meets Eric the Viking.

Long Gone Don is a superb serving of macabre mirth no lovers of daft or dark delights should ever miss.
Text © Robin Etherington, 2017. Illustrations © Lorenzo Etherington, 2017. All rights reserved.

Long Gone Don Book 2: The Monstrous Underworld will be published on January 5th 2017 and is available for pre-order now.
To find out more about The Phoenix or subscribe, visit: www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk

Genre Annuals

The comic has been with us a long time now and debate still continues about where, when and exactly what constitutes the first of these artefacts to truly earn the title. There’s a lot less debate about the Children’s Annual: a particularly British institution and one that continues – albeit in a severely limited manner – to this day.

It’s a rare and tragic individual who never received a colourful card-covered compendium on Christmas morning; full of stories and comic-strips and usually featuring the seasonal antics of their favourite characters, whether from comics such as Beano, The Dandy, Lion, Eagle and their ilk, or TV, film or radio franchises/personalities such as Dr Who, Star Wars, Thunderbirds, Radio Fun or Arthur Askey. There were even sports and hobby annuals and beautifully illustrated commemorative editions of the fact and general knowledge comics such as Look and Learn, and special events such as the always glorious Rupert Bear or Giles Annuals.

Here then is a brief celebration of the kinds of genre celebrations which delighted kids and their parents…

Bimbo Book 1981

By many and various (DC Thomson & Co, Ltd)
ISBN: 0-85116-190-1

Once upon a time – and for the longest time imaginable – comics were denigrated as a creative and narrative ghetto cherished only by children and simpletons. For decades the producers, creators and lovers of the medium struggled to change that perception and – gradually – acceptance came.

These days most folk accept that word and pictures in sequential union can make statements and tell truths as valid, challenging and life-changing as any other full-blown art-form.

Sadly, along the way the commercial underpinnings of the industry fell away and they won’t be coming back…

Where once there were a host of successful, self-propagating comics scrupulously generating tales and delights intended to entertain, inform and educate through periodical publications such specific demographics as Toddler/Nursery, Young and Older Juvenile, General, Boys and Girls, nowadays Britain, America and most of Europe can only afford to maintain a few paltry out-industry, licensed tie-ins and spin-offs for younger readers.

The greater proportion of strip magazines are necessarily manufactured for a highly specific – and dwindling – niche market, whilst the genres that fed and nurtured comics are more effectively and expansively disseminated via TV, movies and digital/games media.

Thankfully old-fashioned book publishers and the graphic novel industry have a different business model and far more sensible long-term goals, so the lack has been increasingly countered and the challenge to train and bring youngsters into the medium taken up outside the mainstream – and dying – periodical markets.

I’ve banged on for years about the industry’s foolish rejection of the beginner-reading markets, but what most publishers have been collectively offering young/early consumers – and their parents (excepting, most notably the magnificent efforts of David Fickling Books and their wonderful comic The Phoenix, or Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly’s Toon Books imprint) – has seldom jibed with what those incredibly selective consumers are interested in or need.

Rant over…

Bimbo was a high production value weekly title intended for nursery age and pre-school children first released by DC Thomson in 1961. The name came from its lead character, an adventurous lad originally drawn by Bob Dewar, whilst the rest of the comic featured numerous strips, stories games and puzzles. Bimbo ran until 1972, with Annuals continuing well into the 1980s.

The comic was especially noteworthy because it wisely adapted stars from its older range magazines to appear in simpler tales suitable to a younger audience.

Amongst the migrants thus gainfully employed were Dudley D. Watkins’ Tom Thumb from The Beano, Patsy the Panda from girl’s weekly Twinkle and Bill Ritchie’s mischievous scamp Baby Crockett from Beezer.

This particular inspirational and entertaining tome hit the shelve in 1980 and adults would have read to their younglings an enchanting procession of beautifully illustrated, full-colour strips, puzzles and stories that challenged little minds but didn’t confuse them with such modern contrivances as word balloons or sound effects. Bimbo was strictly old-school and only offered prose or the traditional text-block-&-cartoon panel comics.

The wonderment begins with an expansive double page spread frontispiece with a battalion of mice attacking a giant cheese – a conceit concluded at the end of the book where readers could see the incredible sculpture the rowdy rodents made while consuming their beloved fave-food – after which a cunning rebus welcomes the audience with ‘A Letter From Bimbo’

The first block-&-text strip depicts ‘A Merry Mouse Christmas’ as little Lily pilfers snacks from the human’s indoor tree to create a feast for her many brothers and sisters after which ‘Wiggles’ the Worm goes looking for a less earthy home whilst tiger cub ‘Brave Little Bertie’ breaks down barriers of prejudice by inviting the fearsome crocodile Snapper to the animals’ picnic in a delightful prose story with superb illustrations by a cruelly anonymous artist.

As the strips resume, the farm animals unite to find a new wallow for ‘Roly-Poly Percy’ after his pig pen dries up whilst bold pigeon ‘Puffy’ and his pal Seagull Sam go sightseeing in London and an unseen artist demonstrates the joys of ‘Dotty Doodles’ with Robby Rabbit

‘Pantomime Puzzles’ then offer a variety of paper-based games and age-appropriate brain-teasers and ‘Patsy Panda’ finds an equitable solution to a farmer’s woes after hungry rabbits start consuming his carrot crop…

Illustrated poem ‘The Christmas Robin’ segues into a mesmerising prose fantasy as little Joanna discovers a magical train still stops at the shut-down rail station near her house. Her eye-opening excursion on the ‘The Bumble-Bee Line’ then leads to strip ‘A Holiday trip for Terry’ as a plodding tortoise gives his invertebrate pals a ride and discovers activities that don’t demand rush or hustle…

‘The Funumbers – the Fun Folk who live in Numberland’ combines comic fun with counting skills after which cover-star ‘Pip Penguin’ (by Bill Ritchie?) turns his new fancy dress costume into a useful new career whilst ‘Twirlies’ share the secret of how to make a transformation game out of old scraps and crayons…

Toy bear ‘Jimpy’ gets up to comic strip hijinks with a bunch of elves whilst a kind-hearted bird helps a wounded fairy and is rewarded with ‘Bobbie’s picnic party’.

Prose parable ‘Lenny’s Long Walk’ teaches a wilful puppy the wisdom of not wandering off and a snowbound mallard experiences ‘Ducky’s lucky day’ after getting warm new attire before wits are exercised with a ‘Zoo puzzle-time’

Young Squirrel-Tail makes himself unexpectedly useful in a ‘Riverbank rescue’, after which strip fun resumes as hedgehog ‘Wandering Willie’ undertakes his evening perambulations in a poetic manner whilst ‘Models-to-make’ imparts D-I-Y details on constructing lions, camels, turtles, porcupines, hippos, elephants and snakes with household odds and ends.

Wrapping up the story time is a worrisome tale of a lost pet who finally resurfaces in ‘Pussycat-kitten gets a name’ and a last lovely strip as a little girl finds her station in life as the Keeper of ‘The Royal Robins’

Superbly entertaining and magnificently crafted, this is a children’s tome certain to inculcate a lifetime love affair with comics.
© DC Thomson & Co., Ltd 1980.

Roy of the Rovers Annual 1995

By many and various (Fleetway)
ISBN: 85037-615-7

Roy of the Rovers started his dazzling career on the front cover of the first Tiger; a new weekly anthology comic published by Amalgamated Press (later IPC and/or Fleetway Publications) which launched on September 11th 1954.

The “Sport and Adventure Picture Story Weekly” was a cannily crafted companion to Lion, AP’s successful response to Hulton Press’ mighty Eagle (home of Dan Dare). From the kick-off Tiger concentrated heavily on sports stars and themes, with issue #1 also featuring The Speedster from Bleakmoor, Mascot of Bad Luck and Tales of Whitestoke School amongst others.

In later years racing driver Skid Solo and wrestler Johnny Cougar joined more traditional, earthy strips such as Billy’s Boots, Nipper, Hotshot Hamish and Martin’s Marvellous Mini, but for most of its 1,555-issue Tiger was simply the comic with Roy of the Rovers. Such was his cachet that he starred in 37 of his own Christmas Annuals between 1958 and 2000.

Roy Race was created by Frank S. Pepper (who used the pseudonym Stewart Colwyn) and drawn by Joe Colquhoun (who inherited it when he took over scripting the feature). The scripting eventually devolved to Tiger’s Editor Derek Birnage (credited to “Bobby Charlton” for a couple of years), with additional tales from Scott Goodall and Tom Tully.

In 1975 Roy became player-manager and the following year graduated to his own weekly comic, just in time for the 1976-77 season, premiering on September 25th and running for 855 issues (ending March 20th 1993).

Roy started as a humble apprentice at mighty Melchester Rovers, and gradually rose to captain the first team. After many years of winning all the glories the beautiful game offered, he settled down to live the dream: wife, kids, wealth, comfort and sporting triumph every Saturday…

The end-of-year Annuals began in 1957 (Roy of the Rovers Football Annual 1958): sturdy hardbacks blending sporting stories and strips with games, quizzes and short fact features. The tradition lasted until 2000, although as the years passed and photography became cheaper to incorporate, the fiction began to lose out to photo features and pin-ups…

This glittering tome comes from 1984 when the comic was regularly selling half a million copies a week. The stories were always much more than simply “He shoots! He’s scored!!!” formulaic episodes: they’re closer to the sports-based TV dramas of later decades like Dream Team (litigiously so, in some cases…).

This particular touchline tome begins with photo-spread ‘Watch Out for Wark!’ featuring a winning moment for Ipswich and Scotland midfielder John Wark, before ‘Roy of the Rovers’ (by Tully or Barrie Tomlinson & David Sque?) sees the player-manager employ horse doctoring methods to get Melchester Rovers match-fit…

A selection of ‘Super Colour Photos’ of players you probably won’t remember leads to a reconditioned reprint in black-&-white as ‘Mike’s Mini Men’ details how a boy expert in tabletop football (definitely not Subbuteo!™) adopts his strategic skills to the real thing after joining the school soccer squad.

Dotted with star pin-ups throughout, the book then offers a photo-feature on reader Malcolm Dickenson who won the Mattel Electrolympics tournament in ‘Champion!’ and ‘Famous Football Funnies!’ from cartoonist Nigel Edwards before ‘Yesteryear’ offers picture-strip histories of Celtic and Manchester United in dazzling red, black & white duo-colour.

Then centre-back Johnny Dexter renews his comedic battle of wills with Danefield United manager Viktor Boskovic in ‘The Hard Man’ (Tomlinson & Doug Maxted) before more men in short shorts are photographically celebrated in ‘Internationals on Parade’.

‘Tommy’s Troubles’ (Fred Baker & Ramiro Bujeiro?) found a footy-mad lad trying to run his own team whilst attending a rugby-only school and outwitting his bullying classmates and – after more ‘Famous Football Funnies!’ from Peter Williams – details in monochrome photo-reportage ‘Saturday at Spurs’

There are loads ‘More Colour Photos’ of soccer stars in action before extended epic ‘Mike’s Mini Men’ concludes and ‘Go For Goal!’ tests sporting knowledge before the two-colour entertainment resumes with manager Dan Wayne and his groundsman Joe Croke continuing their struggles to keep minor league minnows ‘Durrells Palace’ afloat…

Gag veteran Clew provides more ‘Famous Football Funnies!’ before ‘Running For Roy’ photo-focuses on the weekly comic’s editorial team as they competed in the St. Albans mini-marathon, after which ‘Roy’s Talk-In’ reviews recent real-world seasons and – following more footy photos – details the newsworthy events in the comic with clip essay ‘Roy Hits the Headlines!’

‘Mighty Mouse’ (Baker & Julio Schiaffino) then delivers in crisp black-&-white another unlikely exploit of short, fat and myopic medical student Kevin Mouse whose uncanny ball skills and physical speed and dexterity won him a place on the team at beleaguered First Division Tottenford Rovers before proceedings are brought to full time with a closing photo-spread of ‘Norman the Conqueror’ (Norman Whiteside) in a moment of international glory…

Old football comics are never going to be the toast of the medium’s Critical Glitterati, but these were astonishingly popular strips in their day, and produced for maximum entertainment value by highly skilled professionals. They still have the power to enthral and captivate far beyond the limits of nostalgia and fashion – even when they were steadily losing ground to pin-ups and photo opportunities. If your footy-mad youngster isn’t reading enough, this might be best tactic to catch him – or her – totally offside…
© IPC Magazines Ltd., 1984.

Girls’ Crystal Annual 1974

By Many and various (Fleetway)
ASIN: B004HL75TC

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, many of them personal favourites when they were drawing stalwart soldiers, marauding monsters and sinister aliens.

Moreover, whenever I pass a mirror I’m well aware that me and my mates could have benefited from some make-up tips and fashion advice in our formative years…

Seriously though, It’s a bit ungracious – but quite typical – to lump in a token Girls Comic Annual in my Genre section as the quality and quantity of the output for young females was staggering, but it’s an area where my meagre knowledge of British-originated material and creators is practically non-existent, even if my late-found admiration is totally genuine.

I actually think. in terms of quality and respect for the readership’s intelligence, experience and development girl’s periodicals were far more in tune with the sensibilities of the target audience. They read pretty good today too…

The vast range of titles from numerous publishers all had Christmas Annuals and I’ve picked one at random: Girl’s Crystal Annual 1974, a time just before changing tastes slowly transformed the distaff side of the industry from story-based content into photo-packed, fashion and pop trend-led miniature life-style brochures like Cosmopolitan.

The comic had a spectacular pedigree. The Crystal launched on October 28th 1935 before renaming itself Girl’s Crystal nine weeks later. It was another story-paper success for Harmsworth’s Amalgamated Press but retooled as a comic with some prose material with the March 21st 1953 edition. It merged with School Friend in May 1963. As was often the case the brand continued through the Annuals however, running from 1939 (that would be Girl’s Crystal Annual 1940) to 1975 (a 1976 cover-date). I suspect parents and relatives were attracted at Gift-Giving Time to a familiar name from their own childhoods…

Like all such Annuals, this one features a mix of text stories, features, pin-ups, puzzles and comic strips – both new and cunningly recycled reprints – and opens with a duo-hued thriller as little Joanna Jones and her pals stumble across a baffling yet affable boffin whose newly discovered dinosaur becomes ‘The Burglar Catcher’.

The riotous strip is rendered by a tantalisingly familiar Spanish or South American artist and is followed by a cartoon-embellished, light-hearted exposé of ‘Superstitions’ and ‘The Mobile Music Makers’; a prose yarn of young entrepreneurs setting up a travelling discotheque…

Cartoon Fox and Chicken strip ‘Pete and Pecker’ segues into a splendid monochrome reprint yarn as resized and recycled adventure serial ‘Casey of the Crazy K’ (as seen in Schoolgirl Picture Library) kicks of a monochrome section.

The premise was simple but intriguing: British teen Casey Kildare inherits a ranch in Arizona and becomes embroiled in all manner of cowboy shenanigans when she goes west…

Brain-bending follows with ‘It’s Puzzling!’ and dazzling glamour when ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ reveals the history and lore of the gem trade before text thriller ‘All in a Day’s Work’ sees a young ballet student uncover smugglers at work inside her touring troupe.

A modern day Scrooge is socialised after enduring ‘A Carol for Christmas’ (strip art by Ortiz perhaps?) when some subsequent meddling by Anne and her school friends evoke the traditional change of heart. Another perplexing ‘Teaser Time’ leads to a prose panic as a Jean and Julia have a supernatural close shave in ‘The Pine Wood’

That shifts us quite sensibly into an examination of ‘Curious Curses’ before more classic comedy-adventure ensues with ‘Aunt Jemima on the Warpath’: another resized repeat from story digest June and School Friend Picture Library #376.

Here a remarkably adept lady detective in the classic mould of Margaret Rutherford gives her niece Mandy and chums Sue, John and Steve on-the-job training in catching crooks…

At a suitably tense moment the saga pauses to examine quaint ‘Festivals and Customs’ before moving prose poser – illustrated by the wonderful Brian Lewis – ‘Ferdy Comes Home’ details the heroic acts of an extremely challenging canine…

‘Sally: Dancer in Disguise’ (which looks like Arthur Ferrier art to me) sees a world-famous ballerina seek solitude by changing her looks, only to become entangled in a deadly conspiracy, which after a doggy ‘Pin-up’ leads to another lengthy text tale as Miranda helps out at her brother’s hotel and encounters blackmail, scandal and other forms of skulduggery in ‘Never a Quiet Moment!’

Strip ‘The Lady of the Manor’ sees orphan Mary McMay bamboozled into a bizarre bequest tangle after complete – and completely obnoxious – stranger Sylvia McMonk invites her to view a Scottish castle which is apparently their shared inheritance, before ‘Patsy’s Country Walk’ reveals hidden secrets of nature.

Demonstrating all her junior Modesty Blaise aplomb, globe-trotting action-ace Miss Adventure tackles a particularly nasty missing-persons case in ‘Jacey Takes Command’ after which ‘Never a Quiet Moment!’ concludes and ‘With Nature’s Help Look Beautiful’ reveals astounding historical secrets of the cosmetician’s art.

‘Janet’s Day of Dreams’ depicts the idly feverish ruminations of a star-struck girl stuck in bed with measles, whilst herb lore is explored in ‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary’ and ‘Aunt Jemima on the Warpath’ explosively wraps up.

‘The Mystery of Artist Island’ then details in terse text the tale of art student Vicky Danvers who exposes a forgery ring on her holidays.

Upholding a cherished stereotype, equestrian strip ‘No Horse for Heather!’ reveals how an impoverished girl trounces posh snobs in the show ring and wins her own steed, whilst ‘The Girl Who Conquered Fear!’ details the astounding feats of a missionary’s daughter before returning duo-colour signifies the imminent end of our travels.

Gag page ‘Time for a Laugh’ is followed by a fact feature on ‘Wise Old Owls’, ‘It’s Puzzling!: Answers’ and the animal antics of a wild girl in ‘Janie’s Jungle Jinks’ before one last strip reveals how a palace skivvy rises to an elevated status thanks to the interventions  of ‘The Cat and the King’.

Far more wide-ranging and certainly inexpressibly well written and illustrated; this a magnificent example of comics at their most enticing. It’s well past time that there was a concerted effort to get this stuff back into print…
© IPC Magazines Ltd. 1973.

Merry Christmas, Boys and Girls!

In keeping with my self-imposed Holiday tradition here’s another pick of British Annuals selected not just for nostalgia’s sake but because it’s my house and my rules…
After decades when only American comics and memorabilia were considered collectable or worthy, the resurgence of interest in home-grown material means there’s lots more of this stuff available and if you’re lucky enough to stumble across a vintage volume or modern facsimile, I hope my words convince you to expand your comfort zone and try something old yet new…
Still topping my Xmas wish-list is further collections from fans and publishers who have begun to rescue this magical material from print limbo in (affordable) new collections…
Great writing and art is rotting in boxes and attics or the archives of publishing houses, when it needs to be back in the hands of readers once again. As the tastes of the reading public have never been broader and since a selective sampling of our popular heritage will always appeal to some part of the mass consumer base, let’s all continue rewarding publishers for their efforts and prove that there’s money to be made from these glorious examples of our communal childhood.

Lion Annual 1967

By many and various (Fleetway)
No ISBN: ASIN: B001Q8Y308

From the late 1950s and increasingly through the 1960s, Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtook their London-based competitors – monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press.

Created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century, AP perpetually sought to regain lost ground, and the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed as commercial countermeasures offered incredible vistas in adventure and – thanks to the defection of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid to the enemy – eventually found a wealth of anarchic comedy material to challenge the likes of the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and their unruly ilk.

During the latter end of that period the Batman TV show sent the entire world superhero-crazy. Amalgamated had almost finished absorbing all its other rivals such as Eagle’s Hulton Press to form Fleetway/Odhams/IPC and were about to incorporate American superheroes into their heady brew of weekly thrills.

Once the biggest player in children’s comics, Amalgamated had stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad: keeping their material contemporary, if not fresh. The all-consuming company began reprinting the early successes of Marvel comics for a few years; feeding on the growing fashion for US style adventure which had largely supplanted the rather tired True Blue Brit style of Dan Dare or DC Thompson’s Wolf of Kabul.

Even though sales of all British comics were drastically declining, the 1960s were a period of intense and impressive innovation with publishers embracing new sensibilities and constantly trying new types of character and tales. At this time Lion and its stable-mate Valiant were the Boys’ Adventure big guns (although nothing could touch DC Thomson’s Beano and Dandy in the comedy arena).

From that creative zenith comes this sturdy compendium: the 14th Lion Annual (on sale from the end of August 1966) which opens in a blaze of colour with history-feature ‘Famous Planes of World War II’, delivering the crucial specs on the ten most famous flying craft of the conflict as well as the captivating Contents of what’s to come.

The comic action commences with a fully-coloured painted exploit of a beloved icon. ‘Robot Archie and the Invaders’ (illustrated by Alan Philpott) pits the metal marvel and his human sidekicks Ted Ritchie and Ken Dale against malign interplanetary mechanoids.

Created by E. George Cowan & Philpott The Jungle Robot had debuted in Lion’s first issue in 1952 but vanished from sight after his initial serial. On his return in 1957 Archie became one of the most popular heroes of the British scene.

Prose thriller ‘“Avenger” versus the Atom Sub’ has potent spot illustrations from Bill Lacey and tells how Canadian reporters Rick Slade and Bill Hanley are crucial in scuppering the schemes of mad scientist Dr. Felipe Estramadura and returning a nuclear super submersible to its rightful owners. Then ultra-observant ‘Zip Nolan – Highway Patrol’ motorcycle cop shines in a short strip by Leo Rawlings, explosively capping a blazing oil well…

Joe Colquhoun’s venerable sky warrior ‘Paddy Payne – Fighter Ace!’ solves the mystery of seemingly invisible German fighter planes as a teaser to a glossy monochrome essay feature on pilots who won the Victoria Cross in ‘Warriors with Wings’ (accompanying art from John Batchelor), Graham Coton’s ‘Secrets of the Sea’ shares ghostly tales of nautical mystery and ‘The Bird That Flies Through Space’ reveals the photo-packed details of the then-latest advances in satellite technology.

The fascination of military gaming is explored in ‘War on Your Table Top’ before the comics strike back with medieval crusader ‘Maroc the Mighty’ losing his strength-enhancing magic bracelet yet still overcoming a vile feudal tyrant in a supernatural thriller by Alfredo Marculeta…

Pilot and troubleshooter Steve Darby invades an ‘Island of Secrets’ in text tale of modern-day piracy limned by John Vernon before Tarzan spoof ‘Charlie of the Chimps’ (by Colquhoun or possibly Spanish artist Rafart?) gets into all sorts of bother looking for breakfast.

In ‘The Return of the Sludge’ Lacey paints an all-colour classic as Slade and Hanley face again the all-consuming muck-monster which almost devoured the Earth. With their previous solution now untenable the ingenious journalists are forced to consider a nuclear option…

Coton then embellishes a tense prose tale of Court Martial in ‘Bill Duggan – Sapper Sergeant in King’s Corporal’ before a general knowledge ‘Picture Quiz’ takes us to a Ted Kearnon episode of ‘Zip Nolan – Highway Patrol’ who saves a visiting dignitary from assassination.

The story of the fall of Tippoo Sultan is revealed in text essay ‘The Tiger of Mysore’ after which ‘Robot-Archie and the Z-Ray’ (John Vernon) finds the irrepressible artificial avenger battling a mad scientist in all his monochrome glory before Coton offers more spooky sightings in eerie essay ‘Seen Any Good Ghosts Lately?’

More glossily formal fact-checking follows in photo features on ‘Living Under the Sea’, ‘Trains’, ‘Machines That See in the Dark’ and ‘Armoured Giants’ (tanks to you and me) until the indisputable star of the book makes his unmistakable presence felt.

The Spider was a mysterious super-scientist whose goal was to be the greatest criminal in the world. As conceived by Ted Cowan, he began his public career by forming a small team of crime specialists and when he decided fighting villains was more of a challenge he ordered Professor Pelham and cracksman Roy Ordini to reform too… with limited success.

Painted here in turbulent duo-tones of magenta and black by sublime stylist Reg Bunn, ‘The Spider in Cobra Island’ finds our reformed super-thief challenging a monstrous fiend turning people into zombie slaves and delivers his unique form of justice once again…

Vernon illustrates the prose yarn of ‘The Micro King’ with Special Investigator Mark Zeppelin hard-pressed to catch a maniac with a shrinking ray

In glittering red-&-black the history of elite military regiment The Green Howards is detailed in strip form in ‘The Battling Yorkshiremen!’ before monochrome fantasy fun resumes as ‘Jimmi from Jupiter’ (by Mario Capaldi) uses his alien abilities to teach a bully a memorable lesson and ‘The Rocket Jockeys’ offers a tense text tale of Lunar Mining and meteorite collision with pictures by Selby Donnison.

‘All About the West’ provides cartoon facts and potted history before the Festive furore concludes with mock-heroic shenanigans as a young lad asks ‘What Did You Do In The War, Dad?’ What the boy is told and what artist Bruno Maraffa depicts for us to see are of course radically different tales…

Slowly adapting to a more sophisticated audience, the editors were gradually giving Lion a unique identity as the decade passed. This collection would be the last to feature a general genre feel. Future years had pages filled with increasingly strange and antiheroic – even monstrous – material which made readers into slavish but delighted fanatics. However, viewed from today’s more informed perspectives this book is a splendid collection of graphic treats and story delights to enchant any kid or adult.
© Fleetway Publications Ltd. 1966. All rights reserved.

Batman Annual 1967

By Bill Finger, Jack Miller, Sheldon Moldoff, Joe Certa, Dick Sprang, Henry Boltinoff & various (Atlas Publishing & Distributing Co. Ltd/K. G. Murray Publishing)
No ISBN

Before DC Comics and other American publishers began exporting directly into the UK in 1959, our exposure to their unique brand of fantasy fun came from licensed reprints. British publishers/printers like Len Miller, Alan Class and Top Sellers bought material from the USA – and occasionally Canada – to fill 68-page monochrome anthologies – many of which recycled the same stories for decades.

Less common were the strangely coloured pamphlets produced by Australian outfit K. G. Murray and exported to the UK in a rather sporadic manner. The company also produced sturdy Annuals which had a huge impact on my earliest years (I strongly suspect my adoration of black-&-white artwork stems from seeing supreme stylists like Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson uncluttered by flat colour…).

In Britain we began seeing hardcover Atlas Batman Annuals in 1960 and, due to the vagaries of licensing, once the TV series started in 1966 were soon inundated with a wealth of choices as Top Sellers and World Distributors (Batman Storybook Annuals) released their own collections between 1967 and 1970.

Since then a number of publishers have carried on the tradition but only one at a time…

This particular tome emerged at the start of that Batman phenomenon which briefly turned the entire planet Camp-Crazed and Bat-Manic, and offers a delightfully eclectic mix of material crafted just before Julie Schwartz’s 1964 stripped-down relaunch of the character.

Here crimebusting is intermixed with alien fighting and idle daydreaming with the world’s greatest crime-fighters indulging in a comfortably strange, masked madness that was the norm in the Caped Crusader’s world.

This collection is printed in the cheap and quirky mix of alternatively monochrome, dual-hued and full-colour pages which made Christmas books such bizarrely beloved treats.

The sublime suspense and joyous adventuring begins with ‘The Return of the Second Batman and Robin Team’ by Bill Finger & Sheldon Moldoff from Batman #135 (October 1960): a sequel to a tale within a tale wherein faithful butler Alfred postulated a time when Bruce Wayne married Batwoman Kathy Kane and retired to let their son join grown-up Dick Grayson as a second generation Dynamic Duo.

Here the originals are forced to don the bat mantles one last time when an old enemy captures the new kids on the block…

British books always preferred to alternate action with short gag strips and the Murray publications depended heavily on the amazing output of DC cartoonist Henry Boltinoff. Delivery man ‘Homer’ then suffers a canine interruption before Batman invades ‘The Lair of the Sea Fox’ (Batman #132; (June 1960, by Finger, Moldoff & Charles Paris). The nefarious underwater brigand’s schemes to use Gotham City’s watery substructure to facilitate his plundering soon founders when the Caped Crusaders break out the Bat-Sub…

Boltinoff’s crystal-gazing ‘Moolah the Mystic’ clears up the ether his way as a prelude to the introduction of this Annual’s engaging co-star. John Jones, Manhunter from Mars debuted at the height of American Flying Saucer fever in Detective Comics #225. He was created by Joe Samachson, and is arguably the first superhero of the Silver Age, beating by a year the new Flash (who launched in Showcase #4 cover-dated October 1956).

The eccentric, often formulaic but never disappointing B-feature strip depicted the clandestine adventures of stranded alien J’onn J’onzz. Hardly evolving at all – except for finally going public as a superhero in issue #273 (November 1959) – the police-centred strip ran in Detective until #326, (1955- 1964 and almost exclusively written by Jack Miller from issue #229 and illustrated from inception by Joe Certa) before shifting over to The House of Mystery (#143 where he continued until #173) and a whole new modus vivendi.

He temporarily faded away during the Great Superhero Cull of 1968-70 but is back in full fettle these days.

His origins were simple: reclusive genius scientist Dr. Erdel built a robot-brain which could access Time, Space and the Fourth Dimension, accidentally plucking an alien scientist from his home on Mars. After a brief conversation with his unfortunate guest, Erdel died to a heart attack whilst attempting to return J’onzz to his point of origin.

Marooned on Earth, the Martian discovered that his new home was riddled with the ancient and primitive cancer of Crime and – being decent and right-thinking – determined to use his natural abilities (telepathy, psychokinesis, super-strength, speed, flight, vision, super-breath, shape-shifting, invisibility, intangibility, invulnerability and more) to eradicate evil, working clandestinely disguised as a human policeman. His only concern was the commonplace chemical reaction of fire which sapped Martians of all their mighty powers…

With his name Americanised to John Jones he enlisted as a Middletown Police Detective: working tirelessly to improve his new home; fighting evil secretly using inherent powers and advanced knowledge with no human even aware of his existence. Here in a thriller from Detective #299 (January 1962) Miller & Certa’s ‘Bodyguard for a Spy’ sees the mighty Manhunter almost fail in his mission because his human assistant Diane Meade is jealous of the beautiful Princess in his charge…

The magnificent Dick Sprang – with Paris inking – astoundingly illustrated Finger’s script for ‘Crimes of the Kite Man’ (Batman #133, August 1960): a full-colour extravaganza with the Caped Crusader hunting an audacious thief plundering the skyscrapers of Gotham whilst ‘The Deadly Dummy’ (Finger, Moldoff & Paris from Batman #134, September 1960) pitted the Dynamic Duo against a diminutive showman-turned-bandit fed up with being laughed at…

Reverting to monochrome, ‘The Martian Show-Off’ (Detective #295, September 1961) poses a confusing conundrum as the eerie extraterrestrial connives to inexplicably deprive a fellow cop of his prestigious 1000th arrest after which ‘Batman’s Interplanetary Rival’ (Detective Comics #282, August 1960) by Finger Moldoff & Paris finds the human heroes constantly upstaged by an alien lawman hungry for fame and concealing a hidden agenda before the interplanetary intrigue – and the Annual action – ends with The Mystery of the Martian Marauders’ (Detective Comics #301, March 1962) as deranged scientist Alvin Reeves fixes Erdel’s robot brain and accidentally brings Martian criminal invaders to Earth. After battling impossible odds the Manhunter triumphs and wins the ability to return at any time to his birthworld…

Cheap, cheerful and deliriously engaging this is a nostalgic treat no baby-boomer could possibly resist
© National Periodicals Publications Inc., New York 1967. Published by arrangement with the K. G. Murray Publishing Company, Pty. Ltd., Sydney.

Smash! Annual 1972

By many and various (IPC Magazines, Ltd)
SBN: 901267-62-7

Power Comics was a sub-brand used by Odhams to differentiate those periodicals which contained reprinted American superhero material from the company’s regular blend of sports, war, western, adventure and humour comics – such as Buster, Lion or Tiger.

During the Swinging Sixties the Power weeklies did much to popularise the budding Marvel universe characters in this country, which was still poorly served by distribution of the original American imports.

Smash! launched with a cover-date of February 5th 1966: an ordinary Odhams anthology weekly which was quickly re-badged as a Power Comic at the end of the year; combining home-grown funnies and British originated thrillers with resized US strips to capitalise on the American superhero bubble created by the Batman TV series.

By a process of publishing attrition it had become Britain’s last general purpose, non-themed weekly of the century. After it was gone all successive debuts were umbrella vehicles specifically focusing on War, Sport, Science Fiction or Humour in dedicated titles such as Battle, Shoot!, 2000AD or Whoopee!

The increasingly expensive American reprints were dropped in 1969 and Smash! was radically retooled with a traditional mix of action, sport and humour strips. Undergoing a full redesign it was relaunched on March 15th 1969 with all-British material and finally disappeared into Valiant in April 1971 after 257 issues. However, the Seasonal specials remained a draw until October 1975 when Smash Annual 1976 properly ended the era. From then on the Fleetway brand had no room for the old guard – except as re-conditioned reprints in cooler, more modern books…

As I’ve monotonously repeated, Christmas Annuals were forward-dated so this monumental mix of shock, awe and haw-haw was probably being put together between spring and September 1971, combining new strip or prose stories of old favourites with remastered reprints from other Odhams’ comics and a wealth of general interest fact features.

Following a contents page/cast pin-up double page spread, the action kicks off with ‘Moonie’s Magic Mate’ – sublimely painted by Carlos Cruz – detailing how the lucky lad’s bellicose genie hijacks him back to ancient Baghdad and gets into a duel with another stroppy wish-granter.

Then the monochrome section starts with Leo Baxendale’s ‘The Swots and the Blots’ – possibly crafted here by Mike Lacey – who put their long-suffering teacher through another hellish week whilst the initial prose thriller sees flying teen ‘Birdman from Baratoga’ return to the island where he was reared by gulls and other avians. Here he encounters a mad scientist with a paralysis ray before prankish ‘Sam’s Spook’ (Terry Bave?) gets his adopted mortal into more trouble.

‘It’s Wacker’ – originally Elmer when first seen in Buster – finds the un-able seaman accidentally sinking every naval berth he occupies, whether land-based or sea-borne, in a riotous romp from Roy Wilson before showman ‘Janus Stark’ makes himself a guinea pig for scientists and discovers a new ability in time to foil an audacious society thief…

Janus Stark was a fantastically innovative and successful strip. Created by Tom Tully for the relaunch of Smash in 1969, the majority of the art was from Solano Lopez’s Argentinean studio, and the eerie moodiness well suited the saga of a foundling who grew up in a grim orphanage to become the greatest escapologist of the Victorian age.

The Man with Rubber Bones also had his own ideas about Justice, and would joyously sort out scoundrels the Law couldn’t or wouldn’t touch. A number of creators worked on this feature which survived until the downsizing of Fleetway’s comics division in 1975 – and even beyond – as Stark escaped oblivion when the series was continued in France – even unto Stark’s eventual death and succession by his son!

Right here, back then we resume with ‘The Haunts of Headless Harry’ which sees the phantom’s pate at war with his torso at a spectral carnival after which monochrome photo-essay ‘“Timb-err!”’ lays out the details on the glamorous career of lumberjacking in Canada.

Hapless fantasist ‘Big ‘Ead’ (another Buster graduate, limned by Nadal) dreams of a life under the big top whilst social injustice and class war catastrophically break out in Reg Parlett’s deliriously witty ‘Consternation Street’

‘Send for Q-Squad’ – by an artist I recognise but can’t name – finds the elite 5-man team cutting short leave in Cairo to track down and destroy an experimental Nazi death-ray projector in an epic-length exploit, after which ‘Monty Muddle – The Man from Mars’ (originally Milkiway – The Man from Mars in Buster) explores Earth’s penal customs and ‘Smash Hits’ doles out a double helping of single-panel gags.

‘Four-Legged Cops!’ gives the photo-essay lowdown on the history and role of police dogs in Britain, after which ‘Percy’s Pets’ (Stan McMurtry or just possibly Cyril Price) adds a truly pestilential parrot to his menagerie before the compellingly macabre school strip ‘Master of the Marsh’ (Solano Lopez) sees enigmatic hermit/P.E. teacher Patchman roughly dealing with his regular tribe of hooligans and poachers too, to save badgers from being sold as zoo exhibits…

You might have noticed a preponderance of supernatural humour strips here and another follows when the magnificent and prolific Reg Parlett ushers us aboard his chaotic ‘Ghost Ship’ and wannabe pop stars ‘Nick and Nat – The Beat Boys’ (originally The Wacks when they played in Wham! – no, not them, the comic Wham!) experience a little guitar trouble. A full-colour photo-feature then reveals all the secrets of life in the Household Cavalry in ‘Men of Steel’

‘The World-Wide Wanderers’ were a literally international team of footballers drawn from many different countries – talk about prophetic! – who here star in a prose yarn about a cup final starting in a country riven by revolution and ending on an aircraft carrier at sea.

More nautical nonsense abounds as Wacker’ leads his shipmates on an insane sea safari sparked by a misidentified treasure map whilst a monochrome ‘Sporting Gallery’ of contemporary stars and headliners leads to more circus calamity in ‘The Haunts of Headless Harry’ before ‘Bulls-Eye’ offers snaps of and facts on Britain’s then-thriving boom in archery for kids.

Light-hearted everyman ‘His Sporting Lordship’ was one of the most popular strips of the era. Debuting in Smash!, Henry Nobbins survived the merger with Valiant and only retired just before the comic itself did.

Nobbins was a common labourer when he unexpectedly inherited £5,000,000 and the title Earl of Ranworth. Unfortunately, he couldn’t touch the cash until he restored the family’s sporting reputation… by winning all the championships, prizes and awards that his forebears had held in times past…

Further complicating the issue was rival claimant Parkinson who, with henchman Fred Bloggs, constantly tried to sabotage his attempts. Luckily the new Earl was ably assisted by canny, cunning butler Jarvis

Here (with art by Douglas Maxted?), the capable manservant has his hands full as Henry joins a basketball team where his nemeses are trying to beat him at his own game…

Photo-facts about winter sports tantalise in ‘Snow Men’ whilst ‘Big ‘Ead’ boasts of his sledding expertise after which ‘Lucky to Live!’ reveals a quartet of actual narrow escapes in a prose essay describing being swallowed by a whale, sinking in quicksand, shooting a man-eating lion and extinguishing an engine fire by climbing onto a plane’s wing… without landing first…

‘The Swots and the Blots’ then tackle a coal mountain in the playground and ‘Master of Escape!’ offers a lavishly illustrated history feature on escapologist Harry Houdini before ‘Consternation Street’ and ‘Monty Muddle’ create a lighter mood as we slip comfortably into the two-colour section (Black and orange, this year) for potted histories of ‘Warriors of the World’ Clive of India and Lawrence of Arabia.

‘Sam’s Spook’ then repopulates a haunted castle devoid of phantoms before Smash’s veteran troubleshooter and action-man barely survives ‘Simon Test’s Million-Pound Gamble’ after two aged One-Percenters wager on his ability to avoid their booby-trapped estate in a supreme thriller by Eric Bradbury or a very skilled ghost-artist…

General knowledge and observational skills are challenged in ‘Mike’s Quick Quiz’, the ‘Ghost Ship’ meets its maritime match and ‘The Beat Boys’ play one final encore as very bad buskers before this compendium of fact fun and thrills concludes with a spectacular and suspenseful Sci Fi thriller reprinted from Buster and moodily limned by Solano Lopez. Here, soon to be veteran villain Doctor Droll debuts, having unleashed a wave of killer action figures on a small English town in ‘March of the Toys’ with only plucky kids Jo and Sandy Douglas aware of his schemes or prepared to stop him.

An interesting and pleasing side-note is that in this lengthy yarn, sister Jo is a crucial component and fully equal partner in the villain’s defeat. That’s a pretty big deal in a boys’ comic story from a period where females almost never appeared except as comedy foils or frustrating authority figures…

As my knowledge of British creators from this time is so woefully inadequate, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve misattributed and besmirched the good names of Leo Baxendale, Mike Brown, Gordon Hogg, Stan McMurtry, Graham Allen, Mike Lacey, Terry Bave, Artie Jackson and numerous international artists anonymously utilised throughout this period. Even more so the unsung authors responsible for much of the joy in my early life – and certainly the childhoods of millions of others…

Christmas simply wasn’t right without a heaping helping of these garish, wonder-stuffed compendia offering a vast variety of stories and scenarios. Today’s celebrity, TV and media tie-in packages simply can’t compete, so why not track down a selection of brand-old delights with proven track record and guaranteed staying power…?
© IPC Magazines, Ltd. 1971.

Doctor Who – The Twelfth Doctor volume 1: Terrorformer


By Robbie Morrison, Dave Taylor, Mariano Laclaustra, Hi Fi, Luis Guerrero & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-177-8 (HB)                    978-1-78276-501-1 (SC)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Timeless Traditional Treat… 8/10

The comicbook division of the Whovian mega-franchise has roamed far and wide and currently rests with British publisher Titan Comics who have sagely opted to run parallel series starring the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth incarnations of the trickily turbulent Time Lord.

These tales – starring the Peter Capaldi incarnation – comprise the first five issues of the 2014 monthly comicbook with the tetchy Time Lord still gallivanting all over creation with schoolteacher and “Impossible Girl” Clara Oswald.

Scripted by Robbie Morrison (Nikolai Dante, The Authority) and illustrated by Dave Taylor (Zorro, Batman, Judge Dredd) with assistance from Mariano Laclaustra, colourists Hi Fi & Luis Guerrero and letterers Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt, the deadly dilemmas begin after the Doctor takes Clara skiing on his favourite ice-world. On arrival however they discover the entire planet has been re-sculpted – down to each trademarked palm leaf – into a tropical paradise by Kano Dollar: the Richest Human in the 25th Century.

His team have transformed the entire eco-structure in a sun-drenched paradise for mega-millionaires to romp through, but things are slowly going very wrong on the most primal levels…

When the Doctor begins throwing his intellectual weight around he quickly discovers the terra-formers’ meddling has awakened an ancient threat locked deep in the planet’s bowels for millennia. In the universes earliest era a race of living suns began eradicating races and could only be defeated by an alliance of Gallifrey with the cosmos’ other great races. Now with the Time Lords gone, only the Doctor is left to face a vengeance-crazed solar devil as “Hyperios Rises”…

Having pulled off another miracle, the chronal voyagers use the TARDIS to answer a plea for help from a former Companion. Tragically they arrive too late to save him and trigger a deadly duel in two time periods – Mumbai in 2314 and Madhya Province in 1825 – against insidious alien bloodsuckers seeking ‘The Swords of Kali’

With the assistance of renegade Indian Amazon and harem guard Rani Jhulka, the Doctor strives to prevent a diabolical mass sacrifice orchestrated by the sub-continent’s wealthiest family which will free the thing that created the cult of Thuggee.

The extra-dimensional devil also claims to be death goddess Kali and almost takes another of the Time Lord’s adored partners in peril before the furious time master pulls off his greatest feat of misdirection and save the day…

Sharp, spooky and wickedly witty, this premier volume comes with a vast gallery of alternate and variant covers (photographic, digitally manipulated, painted and/or drawn) by Mariano Laclaustra, Brian Williamson, AJ, Alice X. Zhang and Rob Farmer.

If you’re a fervent fan of the television Time Lord, this book – also available as a digital download – might well make you an addict to the print iteration too. Terrorformer is a glorious treat for casual readers, a fine additional avenue for devotees of the TV show to explore and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our art-form to anyone minded to give comics a proper go…
BBC, Doctor Who (word marks, logos and devices) and Tardis are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo © BBC 2009. Tardis image © BBC 1963. First edition April 2015.

The Beano & Dandy 2017 Gift Book: Raiders of the Lost Archive! The Beano & Dandy 2016 Gift Book: Pranks for the Memories!


By Many and various (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-604-0 (2017)                  ISBN: 978-1-84535-557-9 (2016)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Seasonal Traditions Celebrated and Ideal Last-Minute Gifts… 10/10

As we’re all feeling a wee bit Caledonian at present here in Win Ha-Ha-Hacienda, I thought I’d take another loving look at some of Scotland’s greatest achievements whilst simultaneously revelling in the Good Old Days of comics…
If you’re too busy to read yet more of my lecturing hectoring blather, 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…

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

Low (1895-1980) began at the publishing monolith as a journalist, rising to the post of Managing Editor of Children’s Publications where he conceived and launched – between 1921 and 1933 – 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 was The Fun Section: an 8-page pull-out supplement for Scottish national newspaper The Sunday Post consisting 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 Dudley Watkinswere its unchallenged 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.

In December 1937 Low launched the DC Thomson’s first weekly pictorial comic. The Dandy was followed by The Beano in 1938 and an 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 to augment the expanding post-war line.

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 brace of giant (225 x 300 mm) hardback Gift Books.

These have all the appeal and panache of coffee-table art books; gathering material from nearly eight decades of publishing – including oodles of original art reproductions – but rather than just tantalising and frustrating incomplete extracts, here the reader gets complete stories starring immortal characters from comics and Christmas Annuals past…

Both of these sturdy celebrations of the company’s children’s periodicals division rightly glory in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through the flimsy colourful pages of The Beano and The Dandy. They’re 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…

However rather than a chronological arc tracing from a particularly bleak and fraught period in British history through years of growth, exploration and socio-cultural change, we’re treated to a splendid pick-&-mix protocol, with a surprise on every turn of a page…

Until it folded and was reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third-longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937). Premiering on December 4th 1937, it broke the mould of its traditionalist British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under sequential picture frames.

A huge success, The Dandy was followed eight months later on July 30th 1938 by The Beano – and together they utterly revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were received.

Over decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and dearly-beloved household names to delight generations of avid and devoted readers, and their end-of-year celebrations were graced by bumper bonanzas of the weekly stars in extended stories housed in magnificent hardback annuals.

As WWII progressed, rationing of paper and ink forced “children’s papers” into an alternating fortnightly schedule. On September 6th 1941 only The Dandy was published. A week later just The Beano appeared. The normality of weekly editions only resumed on 30th July 1949…

And now they are cultural icons commemorated by fabulous compilations such as these.

The 2015 edition – another strand of the company’s growing range of heritage-drenched collectors’ collections and forwarded-dated 2016 like all proper Christmas annuals should be – is subtitled Pranks for the Memories!

This year’s model is codified as Raiders of the Lost Archive!

As the name implies, our initial foray into fun is packed cover-to-cover with brilliant strips celebrating the art of the practical joke and starts on the inside front covers with a wonderful Biffo the Bear moment, illustrated by the astounding Dudley D. Watkins, followed by Davey Law’s Dennis the Menace, Contrary Mary by Roland Davies, Watkins’ cowboy superman Desperate Dan and a pantomimic exploit of Beano’s forgotten cover star Big Eggo by Reg Carter.

Short half-page monochrome of two-toned tales like James Jewell’s Wee Peem and Smarty Grandpa alternate with full-colour complete cover strips such as Korky the Cat by James Crichton (from The Dandy Comic for April 12th 1941), two-colour interior yarns from Hugh McNeil’s Pansy Potter – the Strongman’s Daughter or Leo Baxendale’s groundbreaking Bash Street Kids, all proving they knew how to set up a gag and deliver a punishing punchline…

There’s so many more old friends to revisit or, if you’re lucky, meet for the first time: The Three Bears, Eric Roberts’ timeless Winker Watson, Minnie the Minx, Roger the Dodger (Ken Reid), Lord Snooty and his Pals (represented here by a couple of lengthy Watkins wonders from various Annuals), Bully Beef and Chips (Jimmy Hughes), Tom Paterson’s Fiddle O’Diddle, Ivy the Terrible by Roy Nixon, Little Plum, Ron Spencer’s Baby Face Finlayson and even a relatively recent 16-page mega-epic with the entire Beanotown cast shanghaied into space.

Nor are these japes and jests one-trick-ponies. There are plus dozens of repeat performances for Biffo, Dennis, Dan, Korky (plus The Kits), Eggo and all the rest from later years and courtesy of the numerous illustrators who took over from the awesome originators…

Sadly none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists, but as always I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course I would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or refute my suppositions…

The 2017 tome is blessed with a similar stellar selection under the umbrella title of Raiders of the Lost Archive!: offering similar childhood treasures and augmenting the humour with the odd – and they really were – dramatic strip presentation.

Contained herein you can become enrapt by the undersea adventures of Danny and Penny Gray in Bill Holroyd’s The Iron Fish and share a brace of seat-of-the-pants time-travel excursions by Jimmy and his Magic Patch (that man Watkins again) as well as a stunning and supremely silly Holroyd outing for schoolboy Charley Brand and his robot pal Brassneck

Beside cover strips of Desperate Dan, Biffo, and Korky the Cat there are also extended Annual larks starring Little Plum, Lord Snooty, Roberts’ Dirty Dick and more Winker Watson strips, in addition to further frolics from those Bash Street Kids, Malcolm Judge’s Billy Whizz and George Martin’s outrageous, voracious and larcenous schoolteacher Greedy Pigg

Topper export Beryl the Peril (by Karl Dixon) repeatedly joins Ken Reid’s Big Head and Thick Head, Baxendale’s Bash Street prototype When the Bell Rings, Bully Beef and Chips, Minnie the Minx, Holroyd’s Willie Fixit, European import Midge, David Law’s Corporal Clott, Roger the Dodger and his female nemesis Winnie the Wangler in unwise antics and silly sorties, barely stopped in each case by the forces of authority, be they parental, scholastic or state-sanctioned police…

Marvels of nostalgia and timeless wonder, the true magic of these collections is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents who have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out again to run amok once more.
© 2015, 2016 DC Thomson & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Dandy Annual 2017


By many and various (DC Thomson & Co., Ltd.)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-605-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Another Crucial Christmas Staple… 9/10

For many British fans Christmas means The Dandy Annual and Beano Book (although Scots worldwide have a pretty fair claim that the season belongs to them with collections of The Broons and Oor Wullie making every Yule truly cool) and both are available this year to continue a magnificent Seasonal tradition.

The Dandy comic actually predated the Beano by eight months, completely revolutionising the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read. Over the decades it produced a bevy of household names that delighted generations and their end of year celebrations were bumper bonanzas of the comic’s weekly stars in brief or extended stories.

The Dandy Annual 2017 is a particularly welcome occasion for traditionalists since the actual comic was cancelled in 2010, subsequently failed as an online edition and now only exists in the minds and failing memories of old folk like me. Moreover the frantic, helter-skelter gag making continues here unabated, just as it always has…

Following the star-studded front (and back) double-page spreads by the Sharp Brothers, timeless superstar super cowboy Desperate Dan gets into more trouble with his colossal Cow Pies thanks to Ken W. Harrison.

Offering four complete strips per page, Funsize Funnies are fast and furious minicomics providing multiple bangs for your buck, with veteran characters such as Korky the Cat, Corporal Clott, Greedy Pigg, Smasher, Bully Beef and Chips and Dirty Dick joining newer turns like Kid Cops and Pinky’s Crackpot Circus. These generally three-panel-wonders come courtesy of modern mirth masters AR!, Lew Stringer, Nick Brennan, Karl Dixon, Nigel Aucterlounie and others and segue neatly into an episodic comedy thriller as Secret Agent Sally and her hapless hunky sidekick Gus investigate an Arctic Science Station and encounter a monster, before the laughs loop back with Nigel Parkinson’s terrible twins Cuddles and Dimples, priming the taste-buds for a team-up tale featuring most of the cast in ‘The Great Dandy Bake-Off’

Desperate Dan experiences some banking woes before the deeply surreal Pepperoni Pig eludes Big Bad Wolf to deliver her first pizza of the season whilst Beryl the Peril looks for a hobby and only finds trouble. Then Andy Fanton’s Bad Grandad and Mason & Stringer’s Postman Prat pay for their sins and skateboard addict Ollie Fliptrik (Dixon) turns beach sand adversity to his advantage

A lengthy exploit of canine marvel Agent Dog 2 Zero frustrating feline felonies leads to tonsorial terror for Cactusville residents when Aunt Aggie decides it’s time Desperate Dan had a haircut, after which Pepperoni Pig rides her Vespa hard and The Jocks and the Geordies renew their age-old class war…

After Secret Agent Sally turns monster-hunter, Jamie Smart’s My Dad’s a Doofus proves the folly of fast food and Bad Grandad nearly spoils Christmas, as a prelude to another octet of Funsize Funnies. More parental grief is provided by Cuddles and Dimples before schoolboy Charley Brand and his robot pal Brassneck resurface to play one too many classroom pranks…

Postman Prat has a snow day after which Wilbur Dawbarn revives devious child of privilege Winker Watson to again wreak terror on the masters at his boarding school whilst Beryl the Peril goes ballooning with Greedy Pigg and Corporal Clott.

Boy boffin Blinky modernises letter writing to Santa, Pepperoni Pig clashes with the wolf again and snow proves no obstacle to wheel-crazy stunter Ollie Fliptrik.

There are plenty of reprise opportunities for Brassneck, My Dad’s a Doofus, the Funsize Funnies gang, Desperate Dan, Blinky, Bad Grandad and Cuddles and Dimples before Secret Agent Sally and Gus broach a master villain’s icy lair and the Jocks and the Geordies finally find something to agree on…

Another colossal star-studded collaboration finds all the Dandy regulars competing in dire dance-off ‘Sickly Come Dancing’. Then it’s back to jolly solo strips for Brassneck, Winker Watson, My Dad’s a Doofus, Pepperoni Pig, Postman Prat, Blinky and the Funsize crowd before Ollie Fliptrik makes merry mayhem…

The cataclysmic conclusion of Secret Agent Sally’s icy escapade follows short stints from Beryl, Grandad, Dan and Cuddles and Dimples and then it’s one more wave of madcap mirth from the cast in solo stories before Desperate Dan closes the book and brings the house down for another year…

A great big (285 x 215 mm), full colour hardback, The Dandy Annual provides an unmissable Xmas treat; as it has for generations of kids and grandparents, and this year the wealth of talent and accumulations of fun are as grand as they ever were.

Fast, funny and timelessly exuberant, this is a true bulwark of British culture and national celebration at this time of year. Have you got yours yet?
© DC Thomson & Co., Ltd 2016.

Beano Annual 2017


By many and various (DC Thomson & Co., Ltd.)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-603-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: No Christmas Complete Without One… 9/10

For many British fans Christmas means The Beano Book and/or its companion tome The Dandy – although Scots worldwide have a pretty fair claim that the season belongs to them with collections of The Broons and Oor Wullie making every Yule truly cool. Happily in these parlous times of uncertainty both are available this year to maintain a magnificent Seasonal tradition and a smidgen of comforting stability.

Unmissable treats for generations of kids and grandparents, this year both great big (285 x 215 mm) full-colour hardback Annual offerings are packed with a wealth of talent and as great as ever…

Beano Annual 2017 takes us through key points of the year and offers a wildly anarchic gathering of stars, opening and closing with chaotically star-stuffed double page spreads by Nigel Parkinson.

The panoply of perilous perishing kids unleashes Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, David Sutherland’s Bash Street Kids, Roger the Dodger, Gnasher and Gnipper!, Calamity James, Minnie the Minx and Bananaman in daily doses of crime and punishments – and the cartoon attractions do so on a regular basis throughout the book as they track through a year in the life of the characters…

However, colossal themed team-ups are all the rage these days, so we have some of those too, as Beanotown Adventures offers a shocking mash-up of little horrors amusing in unison.

Nigel Parkinson delineates the Valentine’s Day calamity after Minnie gets hold of Cupid’s machine gun and starts dispensing love-bullets to all and sundry, providing unspeakable horror and embarrassment to the other characters all over town…

Shorter strips that follow include Nigel Aucterlounie’s The Numskulls, more Bash Street Kids, Wilbur Dawbarn’s Billy Whizz and return engagements for Roger, Dennis, Gnasher, and Minnie, whose time-travel caper takes us from January to St. George’s Day. Then Ball Boy and Bananaman endure inclement weather and the hay fever rites of Spring…

Easter with the Bash Street Kids leads to another multi-star Beanotown Adventure set on a flatulence-filled May Fourth – yes! Star Wars Day

The recurring cast pop up thick and fast in quick solo japes or extended excursions such as Bananaman’s clash with the book’s recurring masked villain “Boy Genius

Amongst the storm of madcap mayhem, Laura Howell’s know-it-all Angel Face puts her foot down and The Numskulls endure even more allergy aggro in Edd’s Head before the Bash Streeters have their own brush with Boy Genius.

More solo strips from old pals then carry us into high summer as ‘Beach Bother’ sees the entire unsavoury cast hit the seaside for another aggregated Beanotown Adventure…

Diverse hands take all those sullen kids ‘Back to School’ and all too soon Halloween rears its misshapen, badly carved orange heads; but even doughty Bananaman can’t stop the little louts sneaking out to a stone age monument for a mass Beanotown party only to encounter ‘The Creature from the Big Rocks Henge!’

All too soon it’s Yule time again and after a silly streak of solo stories, the cast all reunite for the big closer as the esteemed Mr. Dickens gets a hilarious kicking in ‘A Christmas Beano Carol’

Fast, irreverent and timelessly exuberant, The Beano Annual is a cornerstone of British culture and national celebration at this time of year. Have you got yours yet?
© DC Thomson & Co., Ltd 2016.

Doctor Who Graphic Novels #23: The Highgate Horror


By Mark Wright, Jonathan Morris, Steve Lyons, Roger Langridge, Jacqueline Rayner, Scott Gray, David A. Roach, Mike Collins, John Ross, Adrian Salmon, Martin Geraghty, Dave Gibbons, John Ridgway, Dan McDaid & various (Panini Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-749-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Tradition… 9/10

The British love comic strips and they love celebrity and they love “Odd Characters.”

The history of our graphic narrative has a peculiarly disproportionate amount of radio comedians, stars of theatre, film and TV: folk like Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Askey, Winifred Atwell, Max Bygraves, Charlie Drake and their ilk, as well as actual shows and properties such as Whacko!, ITMA, Our Gang, (a British version of the Hal Roach film sensation by Dudley Watkins in The Dandy as well as the American comicbook series by Walt Kelly), Old Mother Riley, Supercar, Pinky & Perky and literally hundreds more.

Anthology variety comics such as Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Tornado, TV Comic and Countdown amongst others translated our viewing and listening favourites into pictorial escapism every week, and it was a pretty poor lead or show which couldn’t parley the screen job into a licensed comic property.

Television’s Doctor Who premiered with part one of ‘An Unearthly Child’ on November 23rd 1963, and the following year a decades-long association with TV Comic began in issue #674 and the first instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

On 11th October 1979 (although, adhering to US off-sale cover-dating system, it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which regenerated into a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44), efficiently entitled Doctor Who Monthly. It has been with us through various title-changes ever since. All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree and big shoes to fill.

Panini’s ongoing process of collecting every strip from the prodigious annals and archives in a uniform series of over-sized graphic albums – each concentrating on a particular incarnation of the deathless wanderer – reaches its twenty-third volume here as the Twelfth Doctor returns in another (inter)stellar line-up of comic strip sagas.

This particular tome gathers stories from DWM #484 and #489-500; spanning March 2015 to July 2016; starring Peter Capaldi’s irascible old chrononaut and his saucy sidekick Impossible Girl Clara Oswald in unforgettable action across the universe and every Elsewhen imaginable.

The adventures of the Grumpy Gallifreyan are – as always – described and delineated by a rapidly rotating roster of British creators who also provide a treasure-trove of background information in the Commentary section at the back, comprising story-by-story background, history and insights from the authors and illustrators, supplemented by scads of sketches, roughs, designs, production art and photos.

None of which is relevant if all you want is a darn good read. However all the imagineers involved have managed the ultimate task of any artisan – to produce engaging, thrilling, fun work which can be enjoyed equally by the merest beginner and the most slavishly dedicated and opinionated fans imaginable.

That feast of fun – coloured throughout by James Offredi and lettered by the multi-talented Roger Langridge – opens with ‘Space Invaders!’ by Mark Wright, Mike Collins & David A. Roach as The Doctor and Clara fetch up at an orbiting storage facility just as the owners start their latest sell-off of unclaimed items. Sadly, the time-travellers are not quite quick enough to stop the avid bargain-hunters opening a container full of just hatched planet-eating monster eggs…

Following smart social satire is a multi-part action romp. ‘Spirits of the Jungle’ by Jonathan Morris & John Ross sees our heroes joining an extraction mission to recover lethal intelligent weapons-tech before apparently walking into trap on a planet where the forests have their own definition of World Wide Web…

Gothic horror and vintage thrills permeate Wright, Roach & Collins’ superb chiller ‘The Highgate Horror’ wherein Clara, her immortal straight man and neophyte Companion Jess Collins hunt vampires and satanic covens in a 1970s London cemetery and instead encounter a race of ancient predators who want far worse than mere blood…

As conceived and realised by Steve Lyons & Adrian Salmon, ‘The Dragon Lord’ was a radical activist attempting to save magnificent saurians from human fun-seekers who hunted them for sport on a medieval-themed fantasy resort world. By the time our wandering troubleshooters turn up however, things have turned decidedly bloody and it looks like nobody is getting out alive…

Roger Langridge then offers an all-him treat as Harry Houdini sends out a distress call and old pal The Doctor dutifully answers. Sometimes even fakers and charlatans have power and really resent being de-bunked by upstart human escapologists playing in the ‘Theatre of the Mind’

A new time-bending miscreant debuts in Jacqueline Rayner, Martin Geraghty & Roach’s epic tale of persecution and justice as temporal prankster Miss Chief infiltrates Clara’s workspace. After causing havoc at Coal Hill School the trickster drops Miss Oswald in the vicious clutches of Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, leaving The Doctor to either participate in a time duel or somehow search the entire 17th century for his missing school chum in a ‘Witch Hunt’ with potentially fatal and final consequences…

Our temporal tintinnabulations conclude with a splendidly appropriate anniversary party get-together of old friends and foes that will delight long-tern fans without baffling newbies or casual readers.

Written by editor Scott Gray, ‘The Stockbridge Showdown’ returns The Doctor to the alien-beleaguered British village just as cosmic corporate conqueror Josiah W. Dogbolter thinks he’s finally leveraged the keys to time itself.

As the universe nears a shocking “Going Out of Business” sale, the wily Gallifreyan and many allies from the past 500 issues unite to teach the richest man in creation the paucity of his resources and the lesson of his life in a tale crafted by artists past and current, including Dave Gibbons, Langridge, Salmon, Dan McDaid, Ross, Collins, John Ridgway, Geraghty and Roach…

This is another marvellous book for casual readers, a fine shelf-addition for dedicated fans of the show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics one more go…
All Doctor Who material © BBCtv. Doctor Who, the Tardis and all logos are trademarks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. Licensed by BBC Worldwide. Tardis image © BBC 1963. Daleks © Terry Nation. All commentaries © 2016 their respective authors. Published 2013 by Panini UK Ltd. All rights reserved.

Modesty Blaise: The Murder Frame


By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78329-859-4

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

Infallible super-criminals Modesty Blaise and her lethally adept, knife-throwing, compulsively platonic 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…

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 equally deserving of its own archive albums) produced 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 and short-story collections, several films, a TV pilot, a radio play, an original American graphic novel from DC and nearly one hundred comic strip adventures until the strip’s conclusion in 2001.

The serial exploits are 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 resume here, with O’Donnell & Romero offering four more masterpieces of mood, mystery and mayhem only pausing for effusive Introduction ‘Meeting Modesty’: from crime author Rebecca Chance (AKA Lauren Henderson; Bad Brides, Killer Heels, Jane Austin’s Guide to Dating) who compares the prose perils with the aforementioned strip sagas.

With Chance adding a prologue to each of the stunning strips which follow, the pictorial perils premiere with ‘The Murder Frame’ (originally seen in The Evening Standard from January 6th to June 6th 1997), wherein Modesty and Willie are drawn into a Machiavellian war of wits with a psychopathic old adversary who turns Garvin’s very public minor spat with a local property developer into an unassailable case of murder most foul.

Happily, Willie has lots of friends on both sides of the law and the stitch-up unravels after Modesty teams up with police Chief Inspector Brook to see justice done and the real killer caught…

The tone shifts to electrifying espionage and bloody vengeance for ‘Fraser’s Story’ (9th June – November 3rd) as Tarrant’s placidly, unflappable aide goes off the grid in pursuit of a British traitor-turned-Russian Mafia boss hiding out in Panama.

Victor Randle sold out his country and caused the death of 107 British agents – including Fraser’s only love – and is smart enough to know that Fraser is on his trail. In fact he’s counting on it and has creepy brainwashing genius Dr. Yago ready to pick the would-be avenger’s mind dry of every profitable secret it contains – especially as Victor currently possesses the only other thing the British agent still cares about…

He’s also smart enough to have Fraser’s friends Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin murdered before they can interfere, but tragically not efficient enough to double check that his attempts have actually succeeded…

A startling glimpse into Modesty’s childhood days underpins ‘Tribute of the Pharaohs’ (November 4th 1997 to April 3rd 1998), also revealing Willie’s ultimate nemesis as the strident martinet who ran the orphanage he grew up in. Their reunion on the burning sands of the Bayouda desert near Khartoum also involves brutal bandit lord Mr. J who believes the draconian Miss Prendergast has knowledge of a vast horde of Egyptian gold…

When he kidnaps and tortures the old biddy, Willie and Modesty teach the sadistic thug a lasting lesson before uncovering a treasure and laying a ghost that has haunted Blaise for most of her life…

Wrapping up this trove of titanic tales is a traumatic exploration of the modern slave trade which sees Willie’s teen protégé Sam head out to Thailand as part of a mixed judo team. Sadly her youth, looks and bearing make her the perfect target for human traffickers Rosie Ling and Mr. Nagle-Green who boldly fake her death in broad daylight before stashing her on their ship full of ‘The Special Orders’ (April 6th to September 4th 1998) for rich and ruthless men…

Having been schooled by Garvin and Modesty, Sam is savvy enough to get off a message to the already suspicious (and en route) duo and takes matters into her own hands to rescue the girls. All she has to do is get them all off the ship, hole up in a suitable defensible position and keep safe until the enraged and remorseless cavalry arrives…

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.
Modesty Blaise © 2016 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.