The Power of Tank Girl


By Alan Martin, Rufus Dayglo, Ashley Wood & (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-064-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: … 8/10

By golly, doesn’t time – and the occasional burst of bullets – fly! It’s hard to believe that our recent past is so far away. Back in the garishly gritty 1980s when I was tea-boy on Warrior magazine (still one of the most influential independent comics ever produced) there was a frantic buzz of feverish creativity in the British comics scene which seemed to say that any young upstart could hit the big time.

Possibly the most upstarty of all were art-students Jamie Hewlett & Alan Martin (and, tangentially, Phillip Bond) who prowled the local convention circuit impressing the hell out of everybody with their photocopied fanzine Atomtan. At the back of issue #1 was a pin-up/ad for a dubious looking young lady with a big, Big, BIG gun and her own armoured transport. And now it’s suddenly 30 years later…

Commissioned by Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon for their new publishing venture Deadline (a pop-culture magazine with loads of cool comics strips), the absurdist tales of a feisty, well-armed chick roaming the wilds of a futuristic Australia with her Kangaroo boy-friend Booga caught the imagination of a large portion of the public. There was even a movie…

After many years dallying with a sordid plethora of different publishers, the salty, soldierly slapper found her way to Titan Books – self-appointed custodian of the Best of British strip art – who comprehensively remastered her old adventures and spin-offs into a series of unmissable volumes.

Now as Tank Girl continues to periodically sneak out for further frantic capers, they’ve added another tome to the canon as The Power of Tank Girl gathers recent serial exploits The Gifting, Visions of Booga and The Royal Escape (published in the USA by IDW between November 2007 and September 2010) into one stunning pocket – or is that pouch? – sized compendium of exuberant excess and blood-drenched hilarity…

Scripted throughout by Martin, the mucky-mouthed mania begins with a dash of poesy in ‘The Power’ and a pulsating pin-up before a transcendental epic ‘The Royal Escape’ (with art by the incomparable Rufus Dayglo) opens with ‘Part One: The Golden Egg’ wherein Tank Girl, paramour Booga (a most manly and lovable kangaroo) and gal pals Jackie (Boat Girl), Barney and Jet Girl are moments from death at the guns (and bombs, bayonets, RPGs etc…) of an extremely pissed off but much depleted army.

With their backs to the shattered walls and ammo gone, Jet Girl is forced to throw the last thing she possesses: a mysterious golden egg she has owned since childhood…

The deed somehow turns her semi-catatonic and the mismatched team are forced to split up. As the gritty warriors hunker down, Barney and Jackie go on a mystic quest to recover the egg. The trek takes them up a mountain to meet skeevy shaman Wanka in ‘The Bulldog Breed’ who guides them to an eagle’s nest with a broken eggshell containing a teeny-tiny, very confused Jet Girl…

While they yomp back to the battle, the hard-pressed hold-out heroes are reduced to defending themselves with little more than a ‘Dead Man’s Sandwich’ even as their returning friends stumble across a gigantic statue deep in the Bush.

The monolith looks like Jet Girl and when the weeny wonder finds herself compelled to crawl into it, the statue comes to terrifying life…

Now possessed of an awesome unstoppable walking weapon, the wanderers return in time to make ‘A Terrible Souffle’ of the invading army in a shattering spectacle of intense and sustained carnage…

After a potpourri of covers and groovy pics, odd ode ‘Last of the Jensen Interceptors’ leads into a nostalgic nightmare when Tank Girl determines to attend at all costs a reunion gig by her fave girlhood manufactured Boy-Band in ‘The Funsters Will Play’ (with art by Ashley Wood)…

A procession of fearsome fashion pages comes next as ‘Keys to the Tank’, ‘Booga in Extreme Jungle Wear’, ‘Jet Girl in Stealth Flying Gear’, ‘Barney in Urban Camouflage’ and ‘Cruiser Tank in full Racing Livery’ depict how the most stylish mass-murderers make the scene whilst ‘Tank Girl in Bad Camouflage’ and the concluding chapter ‘Uncle Smiffy’s Tombstone’ returns to strip storytelling to deliver a daft drama disclosing the bloodstained origins of Boat Girl…

Dayglo resumes the arty stuff for Visions of Booga which finds the lovers sucked into a Mafia plot and sent to prison in ‘Falling Angel Blues’. Unfortunately they’re also caught up in the daring escape of the Don’s favourite brother from the prison transport and have to go on the lam from both the cops and the mob.

The best disguise seems to be switching genders but perhaps they haven’t really thought it through…

The pursuit continues and intensifies when they kill one of the Mafioso, accidentally acquiring in the process ultimate mystic panacea the ‘Book of Hipster Gold’ and stumbling onto unhappy diner waitress Barney who just happens to have an old SDKFZ 251 Mittlerer Schutzenpanzerwagen parked out back…

On the run again (but now in a perfectly working Nazi armoured halftrack) the fugitives head for the West Coast where a seasoned hippy dwells. He’s the only person on Earth who can be trusted with the eldritch tome of peace and perfection but as ‘Letters to Earth’ shows, The Mob never quit and hippies – even the sublime and most cool Spanky Smith – aren’t what they used to be.

Still, he does find time to marry Tank Girl and Booga before the bad guys turn up for the blistering and bizarre conclusion ‘Which Cuts the Finest, the Sabre or the Blade of Grass?’

Following some more covers, The Gifting opens with a batch of illustrated Beat poems extolling ‘Digging the Lonely Eternity’, before a bit of girl goss gets all scatological whilst solving the pressing mystery of ‘The Dogshit in Barney’s Handbag’ (Wood art) after which Martin & Dayglo spin us back to the 1970s for ‘Tank Girl and Friends in Our Glam Day Out’ revisiting such iconic treats as Evel Knievel, Chopper Bikes, Pub Lunches and much, much more, whilst Wood’s go on the art encompasses a ‘Barney Pull-out Poster’ and extended paean to days past ‘X2-38’ which sees Booga lose his heart to a toy raygun from his childhood which becomes his ‘Reason for Living’, before pausing for a brief ‘Tank Girl Haiku’

Dayglo’s smartly rendered ‘Bonko Patrol’ explains the downside of truly heavy ordnance before Wood wanders back to limn another extended battle against evil and ill manners in ‘The Innocent Die First’.

This sterling parable finds Tank Girl and Booga at a luxurious hotel they’ve just purchased, happily whiling away their days insulting the clientele and starting fights until they offend the wrong punter and start a full scale war in ‘Easy Action’. The conflict naturally escalates until the cataclysmic ‘Attack on the Foreskin Bridge Hotel’ ends the dispute in a most unlikely manner…

‘Barney and Jet Girl in Stone Fox Chase’ (Dayglo) then pairs the dynamic duo with Style Icon Adam Ant for a bout of carnage and chaos after which ‘Tank Girl Tat’ offers the kind of merchandise you’ll never see anywhere else and Wood illuminates a quiet night in with nothing to do but ‘Kill Jumbo’

Booga then plays stage magician to entertain ‘The Kids from 23A’ with horrific results before getting stuck trying to buy lingerie in ‘The Gifting’ and everything wraps up nicely with another selection of moodful poetic meanderings comprising ‘Like a Roast Potato in a Pick-Up Truck’, ‘The Sunshine of Your Arse’, ‘The Ox’ and ‘You Are Loved’

Never too wedded to the concept of internal logic, chronological order, narrative consistency, linguistic restraint or spelling (so if you’re pedantic be warned!), this latest compote of outrageous and hilarious cartoon phantasmagoria revels in a glorious mud-bath of social iconoclasm, in-yer-face absurdity, decades of British Cultural Sampling and the ever-popular addictive sex ‘n’ violence.

Wildly absurdist, intoxicatingly adorable and packed to the gills with covers, spot art and other pictorial pleasures, The Power of Tank Girl is an ever-so-cool rollercoaster thrill-ride and lifestyle touchstone for life’s incurable rebels and undying Rude Britannians, so if you’ve never seen the anarchic, surreal and culturally soused peculiarity that is Tank Girl, bastard love child of 2000AD and Love and Rockets, you’ve missed a truly unique experience… and remember, she doesn’t care if you like her, just so long as you notice her.
Tank Girl and all related characters are ™ & © 2014 Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin. All rights reserved.

Modesty Blaise: The Grim Joker


By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-711-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: unmissable comics for fans of classic blockbusting adventure… 9/10

Modesty Blaise and her lethally adept, compulsively platonic partner Willie Garvin gained their fearsome reputations as top-flight super-criminals before retiring young, rich and healthy. With their honour intact and their hands relatively clean, they cut themselves off completely from a career where they made all the money they would ever need and far too many enemies.

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 world in their own unique way 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 perpetual storm of tense suspense and inspirational action for nearly forty years…

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

Creators Peter O’Donnell & Jim Holdaway (who had previously collaborated on Romeo Brown) 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, others) assumed the art reins, taking the partners in peril to even greater heights.

The series has been syndicated world-wide and Modesty Blaise has also starred in 13 prose novels and short-story collections, several films, a TV pilot, a radio play, an American graphic novel and nearly one hundred comic strip adventures until the strip’s conclusion in 2002.

The tales are a broad blend of hip and cool capers combining espionage, crime, straight adventure 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-fallible human defenders of the helpless and avengers of the wronged…

Reproduced in stark and stunning black & white – and quite right too – Titan Books’ superb and scrupulous serial re-presentations of the ultimate newspaper troubleshooters continue here with O’Donnell and Romero offering a chilling trio of tales spanning November 1992 to February 1994, each prefaced with informative prose introductions from devotee and historian Simon Ward.

The rollercoaster ride begins with eerie thriller ‘A Present for the Princess’ (originally seen in The Evening Standard from November 3rd 1992 to April 8th 1993) with Garvin deep in the emerald mining region of Montelero, near Colombia.

He is in search of raw materials to create another of his outrageously over-the-top gifts for Modesty and is prepared for trouble from the thugs and bandits who inhabit the region, but not his own partner and guide Ramon who is, after all, a former pal from their long-defunct crime combine The Network

In England Modesty takes it easy whilst entertaining psychic researchers Steve and Dinah Collier – truly gifted individuals Tarrant wants to employ – who are happily on hand when Blaise has a nightmare premonition that Willie is in trouble.

As usual Garvin has told no one of his plans or destination and when Ramon attacked him had no hope of ever being found. However, the indomitable survivor escaped the ambush – barely – only to be washed up more dead than alive miles downriver. He was then nursed back to health by poor peon Rima: a young woman who looks astonishingly like Modesty.

Willie doesn’t recognise the fact though. The brutalised, battered Englishman has lost his memory…

Although his history is denied him Garvin’s deadly skills are intact and he jumps to the obvious conclusion that he is some kind of criminal. His actions disprove this notion, efficiently saving Rima from an abusive landowner and his thugs.

Although she has fallen for him the native girl knows his clouded mind is obsessed with another woman and she treks with him to the capital city Toccopina to obtain papers and possibly passage back to Britain…

At home, with Willie long overdue, Modesty has employed the Colliers and another psychic to search for him. Their endeavours have narrowed the search to the selfsame South American city. They have also resulted in an enigmatic prophecy…

Willie’s gift for card-playing has meanwhile won the wanderers a nice nest-egg but dropped him clueless amongst the city’s criminal element, most of whom have good reason to despise him.

After an old enemy recognises him, Willie is befriended by the wily conman and unknowingly “sold” to local mob boss Senor Strobel, who cunningly convinces the lethally talented amnesiac that he is an evil man wanted for murder who would only be safe if he rejoins the gang as a hit-man…

By the time Modesty arrives, Willie is safely tucked away in a fortress-like nest of bandits, where his inner self rebels from the acts he’s expected to perform. Naturally she has a plan to save her brother-in-arms and make all the guilty parties very sorry indeed…

Following that spectacular and explosive resolution, the tables are turned somewhat for ‘Black Queen’s Pawn’, a riotous African adventure yarn (April 13th – September 10th) which begins in 1834 when Ranavalona, autocratic and utterly insane queen of Madagascar, obtains a treasure guaranteed to make her immortal. She then hides it away from the eyes of mankind and, just to be sure, has every person who knew of it slaughtered…

Now one hundred and sixty years later hard times have befallen the island, as is clearly observed by veterinary surgeon Greg Lawton who has been commissioned by government officials to find a giant fossil egg.

He’s brought old chum Modesty with him, but when they reach the poverty-stricken village of Mandofo they find the place has been taken over by ruthless thugs on a treasure hunt.

The leader Koch has crossed swords with her before and convinces his murderous underlings not to kill the westerners out of hand. If she dies, nothing could stop the absent Willie Garvin hunting them down. Far better to keep her alive and on her best behaviour by holding innocent villagers hostage…

Forced into unwilling neutrality, Modesty and Greg befriend local missionary Father Brienne and discover the savage invaders are seeking Ranavalona’s legendary lost hoard for mysterious millionaire paymaster Salim. As the cleric is also Koch’s unwilling translator of ancient documents, he provides clues which enable Modesty to deduce where the treasure actually is…

The suspenseful standoff continues until Willie – acting on his own uncanny instincts – surprisingly joins the party, but with Garvin now here in front of them instead of lurking unsuspected at their heels, Koch and Salim decide to arrange a little accident.

However with the deadly détente effectively negated their targets know full well all bets are off and, after brilliantly locating the treasure for the gangsters, go on to prove just a bit smarter and more efficient in settling scores…

The addictive action concludes in a classic murder mystery which sees Modesty take a rare personal interest in a news sensation as Britain is gripped by a series of bizarre, baroque and flamboyant murders by a macabre psychopath signing himself ‘The Grim Joker’ (September 13th 1993 – February 9th 1994)…

The killer apparently devises convoluted, extremely public executions for sheer amusement but such callous slaughter for pleasure disgusts reluctant professionals such as Blaise and Garvin.

Soon they have made themselves prime targets for the maniac, unaware that the Grim Joker is not what he seems. The insanely Machiavellian exploits are in fact a cunning blind concocted by a trio of greedy brats eager to expedite an eventual inheritance.

Brothers Matthew and Mark Goodchild, along with their shared girlfriend Prudence, originally set up the crimes to divert suspicion after they decided to bump off their rich uncle, but as they carried out the string of publicity seeking murders, the thrill of achievement affected them.

Prudence especially has become intoxicated with the undertaking, and begs for more before topping their true target and retiring. Her wish is granted after Willie publicly ridicules the Grim Joker on television and arouses the righteous indignation of the brothers.

It’s all a cunning plan by the ex-Network leaders. After consulting old friend Police Inspector Brook, Modesty and Willie have correctly deduced that the crimes are the work of a team not a lone maniac, and Garvin has offered himself as a too-tempting follow-up target.

Relocating to an isolated Scottish island “for a holiday”, Willie makes himself available for his unknown foes, with Modesty concealed waiting to spring their trap.

Unfortunately they’re keeping watch for a couple of strong men, not the frail helpless girl who first washes up on the desolate death trap…

What follows is smart, chaotic and shatteringly thrill-a-minute excitement, before the dust finally settles and the final tally is taken…

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

Modesty Blaise © 2014 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.

The White Room of the Asylum


By Luke Melia, David Anderson, Zev Zimmerman, Bobby Peñafiel, Kat Farjado, Omaik Neiv & Vinny Smith
ISBN: 978-1-50035-876-1

What really happens in our mental institutions?

Who really knows what occurs within troubled minds sequestered for their own good and too frequently at their own request?

Some answers are too appalling to stomach but thankfully political ideology, fiscal neglect and societal disinterest play no part in this inspired dark fantasy of pristine pale reflection…

As I’ve frequently proclaimed, I’m a huge fan of creators with the drive and dedication to take control of their own destinies and that’s never been more splendidly affirmed than with the chilling collaboration between writer (and letterer) Luke Melia and his six illustrative collaborators in this inventively macabre and movingly spooky psycho-drama.

When the police are called to a suicide in a quiet house, it’s just another day for most of them. However for Officer Bardy, tasked with checking the contents of six old audio cassette tapes left with the sad old geezer’s farewell note, the case soon starts to resonate and she finds herself drawn into an incredible story impossible to let go of…

The contents of each tape forms a chapter in a terrifying testament (every one uniquely rendered here by a different artist) and the fantastic voyage begins with David Anderson in ‘The Wicked Relative of the Dreamer’ as the policewoman hears recently deceased Steve describe how he was sectioned in 1982 and admitted to Soraberg Asylum displaying symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.

Steve recounts dreams of being chased by a ferocious, distinctly female monster down an endless accusatory corridor and the relentless waking hours spent mixing with or avoiding the other strange residents.

Terrified of facing the horror again, Steve began hurting himself to stay awake but therapist Maggie stepped in and forced the issue and his inevitable return to sleep…

The tone abruptly changes as the recently deceased describes an incredible, impossible phenomenon.

One night when Steve once more found himself pursued by the monster, he was saved by a superhero who revealed himself as taciturn, unfriendly Ralph. In the outside world he was the weird, standoffish cove who had committed himself to Soraberg and spent all day playing chess with withdrawn Julia

In the dream space Ralph became open and amiable and as they conversed both realised that the featureless limbo was a resource which they could visit at will: a communal landscape to be reshaped by every fleeting whim. Further discourse led them to conclude that the environment was the subject to a cumulative effect: the more you slept, the easier it was to access.

Steve however, as the first to discover it, harboured a strong sense of possessiveness for his “White Room” and didn’t want to share it with any other inmates…

The second tape continues the record with ‘The Suppressed Desires of the Depressive’ (with art by Zev Zimmerman) as idyllic nights of joyous shared adventure in the pale playground were disrupted by the arrival of John the Vegetable who was as loquacious and smart inside as he was comatose and inert in the physical world…

The newcomer was accommodated into the dreamscape but everything changed when Ralph created a simulacrum of Julia as a sexual plaything. After “harmlessly” slaking his desires with the construct in the White Room, the astonished and ashamed Ralph was attacked and nearly killed in the actual asylum by furious Julia, who had somehow experienced every agonising moment of his assault on her proxy…

‘The Relentless Taunting of the Saviour’ (Bobby Peñafiel), begins with another inmate finding his baffled way into the dream world. Persecuted Tim suddenly saw himself in a strange place and able to talk to Steve. The shocked newcomer recounted how Julia suddenly, inexplicably attacked Ralph but was more concerned that here at least he seemed free of the brutal incarnation of Jesus that dictated his every move in the real world: a vicious, man-sized, foul-mouthed, priapic tyrannosaur with impulse issues and a propensity for extreme violence…

When Ralph joined them from his distant hospital bed things seem to settle until Julia suddenly materialised threatening to tell the carers what Ralph had done. In a fit of fury Steve then attacked her for threatening his White World and in the real world her sleeping body died…

‘The Flawed Operation of the Condemned’ (Kat Farjado) found Steve in complete denial as more and more inmates begin continually leaking over into “his” dream world. Soon suppressed hostilities began to manifest, and after John defeated Steve in a spectacular duel of imaginations, the furious schizophrenic threatened to kill the vegetable’s immobile physical form when he went back to the real world.

The act resulted in a schism in the White Room. As everyone else avoided him and played, Steve made plans to escape Soraberg, using the psychoactive landscape to construct a facsimile asylum to practise in…

His big mistake was working with Minefield Frank whose aggressive imagination kept changing the set-up, but before he could get away everything changed again as the first member of staff made his astounded way into the fantasy zone…

With Omaik Neiv handling the art, ‘The Uncertain Conclusion of the Thinker’ saw Steve tortured by helplessness as the medical professionals took charge; methodically transforming the plasmic wonderland into a vast therapeutic environment. Despite his furious insistence that they were all trespassing on his property, the staff began an accelerated program which quickly reaped immense dividends amongst the troubled detainees.

With everyone against him Steve had no choice but to strike back in ‘The Broken Opportunity of the Vegetable’ (illustrated by Vinny Smith), but even against such a remorseless, merciless adversary some of the inmates were not willing to go down without a fight…

Available as a trade paperback and in a kindle edition, the startling events of The White Room of the Asylum are judiciously rendered in a range of palettes from full colour to black & red to overwhelmingly stark monochrome, uniting to highlight the moody power of the narrative and the mesmerising power of the shocking mystery’s conclusion.

Gripping, compulsive and unforgettable, here is a terrifying tale you’d be absolutely crazy to miss.

© 2014 Luke Melia. All rights reserved.

Springheeled Jack


By David Hitchcock (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-129-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: an Xmas scary story in the Grand Tradition… 9/10

Britain can lay claim to impressive and ingenious achievements far too numerous to mention, but the ones I’m honing in on here are our prodigious appetite for inventing myths, our gift for telling scary stories and our plucky tendency to want things done right and thus often Doing-It-Yourself…

In 2005 cartoonist, antiquarian and fright fan David Hitchcock (Spirit of the Highwayman, Whitechapel Freak, Gothic) crafted an intense and beguiling small press yarn in three chapters which went on to win the Eagle Award for Favourite Black & White Comic Book.

Originally released under the Full Circle banner, Springheeled Jack was subsequently released as a collection from Black Boar Press and is now available in a luxurious oversized (295 x 222mm) definitive monochrome hardback from Titan Comics.

The astounding suspense is handily preceded by the author’s introduction, recapitulating the historical reports of the original Urban Legend from the first sightings and police reports in 1838 in ‘At the Heels of the Devil’ before the dark graphic enchantment opens in 1861 with an arcane monstrosity roaming the foul, begrimed rooftops of London to the accompaniment of excerpts from the journal of Sir Jack Rackham.

Although still not without influence, the esteemed Sole Benefactor of Bethlehem Lunatic Asylum has been a broken man since his beloved Evelina was snatched from his helpless arms one foggy night by a monstrous insectoid fiend from Hell…

The thing’s depredations still continue but the authorities scoff at the administrator’s suppositions and ignore his protestations, leading the nigh-deranged Rackham and the few allies he has made to take matters into their own hands.

Although the red-eyed thing primarily snatches women, its malevolent, toxic influence, unbeknownst to all, has seeped into the highest echelons of the empire and the monarchy itself is currently in the greatest peril imaginable…

One person Rackham believes he can count upon is Dr. Henry Jekyll, whose own incredible metamorphic discoveries also stem from encounters with the beast – or, as they speculate, perhaps some being from beyond the stars – but when the physician visits his old comrade he is appalled to se how far Sir Jack has fallen into despair and madness.

Jekyll can do nothing for his friend, however, as he has been summoned as a matter of utmost urgency to the side of the mysteriously ailing Prince Consort…

In an attempt to keep pace with the monstrous leaping travesty of nature, Rackham has constructed a bat-winged suit which allows him the glide after the beast when he eventually finds it, and now he waits for his opportunity.

In Windsor, upon examining Prince Albert, Jekyll sees something which shakes him to his soul and the doctor consequently dashes back to Rackham to join in his pursuit.

The thing has been going about its secret purposes incessantly, and its influence now even extends deep inside Rackham’s troubled Bedlam Hospital where confined savant Professor Graham claims to have discerned all there is to know about the threat…

That night Jekyll and Sir Jack rendezvous in a graveyard and lay a trap for the horror. The plan apparently works and they follow it to its lair, discovering the shattering secret of its depredations. They set to derailing its plans, but in the struggle a hero is infected and a shocking mutation begins to take hold…

The saga then kicks into ghastly high gear as a game of cat-and-mouse finds the police unjustly hunting the wrong “man”, as all over the capital nature itself rebels from the hideous and almost completed incursion…

The tension rises to fever pitch in ‘The Last Chapter’ which sees a final desperate roll of the dice and a good man is seemingly lost forever before ‘Transmogrify’ finds humanity itself on the verge of its greatest triumph or defeat…

Also included in this titanic tome is a copious 22 page ‘Sketchbook’ section which comprises roughs, layouts, previous covers, physical models and constructions, plus an exploration of Hitchcock’s unique art style which involves preliminary pencils, full inks and a final layer of moody, mediating pencil tones on top of it all to capture the grimy sooty atmosphere of Victorian London.

Stark, gripping and chillingly compelling, Springheeled Jack is a grand, old-fashioned fearsome fantasy no lover of dark tales can afford to miss.

Springheeled Jack © 2014 David Hitchcock & Black Boar Press.

Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying


By the Original Writer, Mick Anglo, Garry Leach, Alan Davis, Don Lawrence, Steve Dillon & Paul Neary (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-621-2

I got my start in comics as the most junior of juniors on Warrior and it was an incredible learning experience. However, producing arguably Britain’s most influential comic magazine was a tense, fraught, high energy, cauldron-like existence and some of those comrades in arms barely talk to each these days.

That’s part of the story behind the fact that the incredible author of most of the stories in this premier compilation doesn’t want his name anywhere near it.

As that’s the case I’m happy to respect his wishes. It is a shame, though, as this is a work which changed the shape and nature of superhero comics forever, even if during the latter days of it in Warrior we all thought the bloody thing was cursed…

If you’re interested in rumour, speculation and/or ancient history, there are plenty of places online to visit for other information, but today let’s just discuss one of the very best superhero stories ever crafted…

This British premier hardback from Marvel/Panini UK is a lavish, remastered re-presentation of the original A Dream of Flying trade paperback, stuffed with extra story content and page after page of lush behind the scenes material, production art and more.

Just in case you weren’t aware: the hero of this tome was originally created by jobbing artist and comics packager Mick Anglo for publisher L. Miller and Son in 1954 to replace a line of extremely popular British weekly reprints starring the Marvel Family as originally generated by US outfit Fawcett.

When a decade-long court case between them and National/DC over copyright infringement ended at the same time the superhero trend nosedived in America, Fawcett simply closed down most of its comics line, overnight depriving the British firm of one of its most popular reprint strands.

In a feat of slippery brilliance, Anglo rapidly retooled defunct Yank heroes Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior and Mary Marvel into Marvelman, Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman; detailing their simplistic , charming adventures until 1963, when falling sales and changing tastes finally caught up with them all and they vanished into comicbook limbo.

In 1982 the characters and concepts were picked up by Dez Skinn for his proposed new independent and proudly British venture and eventually magic was created…

The second end began when a certain US comics publisher started suing Warrior for using the word “Marvel” even though when Marvelman was created they were still calling themselves “Atlas”.

A truism of modern life is that money trumps fact every time…

This volume opens with ‘Prologue 1956: The Invaders from the Future’ (originally created by Anglo and the great Don Lawrence but subtly tweaked by our unnamed “original writer”) as a scene-setting foretaste of what might have been before the deconstructionist main event opens.

In that idealised past epoch, invulnerable time-travellers from 1981 are beaten back by the intrepid trio of superheroes before the real story begins in the drab, humdrum and utterly ordinary world of Thatcherite Britain, circa 1982…

Over-the-hill freelance journalist Mike Moran is plagued by ‘A Dream of Flying’ (illustrated by Garry Leach) as a godlike gleaming superman before being blown up by atom bombs…

This morning, however, he can’t let it stop him getting to the opening of the new atomic power station at Larksmere, even if his concentration is ruined by another of his crippling headaches and the agonising, frustration of a word he’s forgotten lurking just beyond the tip of his tongue…

The press launch is an unmitigated disaster. When a band of terrorists attack the site Mike collapses and while he’s being dragged off something happens. That word comes back to him and, in a catastrophic salvo of heat and light and noise he transforms into the creature of his dreams before comprehensively dealing with the gunmen and flying off into space…

In ‘Legends’ the glittering paragon returns to Mike’s wife and attempts to explain the impossible events and his restored memories of being a superhero in Fifties Britain. Liz Moran cannot help but laugh at the canon of ridiculous absurdities this incredible creature spouts even if to all intents and purposes he is her husband. After all, if his restored memories are correct, why has nobody ever heard of him?

The insane situation is exacerbated next morning ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’. Technological guru and self-made billionaire John Bates calls and Mike remembers the amiable little lad with superpowers who was caught in the same atomic blast which eradicated his own memories.

After he and Liz visit the mogul, Mike realises with horror that his fawning kid partner never changed back but has been slowly using his gifts to dominate the world for the last eighteen years…

Rumbled, Bates ferociously attacks in ‘Dragons’, using abilities which have grown and evolved in two decades of constant if covert use to beat the recently returned Miracleman near to death. The appalling supra-normal duel devastates much of London, only ending in ‘Fallen Angels, Forgotten Thunder’ when the smugly overconfident former Kid Miracleman accidentally defeats himself…

The first inklings of the truth begin to emerge in ‘Secret Identity’ (pencilled by Alan Davis with Leach inking) as Sir Dennis Archer of mothballed, clandestine organisation “The Spookshow” despatches his top assassin to find and sanction a threat he’s thought eradicated in a flash of atomic fire decades past.

Mike and Liz meanwhile head for Dartmoor to test Miracleman’s abilities in private.

Their marriage has suffered since the initial transformation, especially as Mike insists he and his alter-ego are two different people and Miracleman has got Liz pregnant…

Davis took over all the art chores with ‘Blue Murder’ as highly capable hitman Evelyn Cream tracks down and brilliantly takes out Mike. By the advent of ‘Out of the Dark’ the enigmatic killer has inexplicably switched sides, aiding Miracleman as he seeks out the truth of his origins in a top secret military bunker which contains deadly defences, another, lesser superhuman and more.

‘Inside Story’ reveals recovered and reversed engineered alien DNA technologies, cruel and callous genetic experimentation and a deranged, debauched scientist who grew supermen and programmed them to compliance using comicbook fantasies in ‘Zarathustra’

To Be Continued…

The remainder of this stunning collection is rounded out with intriguing snippets and sidebars from Warrior’s then-gestating shared universe beginning with ‘Saturday Morning Pictures’ – illustrated by Davis as a framing device from the Marvelman Special – which originally featured a number of classic, remastered Anglo-era adventures (sadly not included here) and a fascinating peek into what might have been in A Glimpse into the Future

Warrior #4 was sold as a summer special in August 1982 and led with a bold fill-in set three years in the then-future. The long-term plan had been to create a “Justice League” of Warrior characters and ‘The Yesterday Gambit’ – with art by Davis, Steve Dillon and Paul Neary – starred two of them in an interlude from their final battle with an ultimate nemesis.

The plot involved trans-dimensional teleporting alien samurai Aza Chorn ferrying Miracleman through time to battle himself at different stages of his career and harvesting the expended energies of the combats to use against their unstoppable future foe…

Following that tantalising and portentous introduction The Warpsmiths eventually received their own 2-part tale, reproduced here in captivating full colour and introducing the bizarre and exotic realms the militaristic peacekeepers are sworn to defend.

Tragically the unending, extended conflict with their cosmic antithesis The Qys results in constant, deadly politicking and here innocent kids and two members of their own Warpsmith cadre are sacrificed to expediency in as ‘Cold War, Cold Warrior’ (gloriously rendered and hued by Leach).

The nomadic multiplanar policemen returned in ‘Ghostdance’ (originally published in A1 #1, October 1989) in a direct continuation of that story as the surviving dutiful sentinels grieve and move on in their own uniquely inexplicable manner…

With the story portion concluded, this bonanza chronicle devotes the remaining 59 pages to ‘Miracleman Behind the Scenes’, offering an wealth of pre-production work: sketches, design roughs, pencilled panels and complete original art, colour-indications, pertinent ads, pin-ups and covers by Leach and Mick Austin.

Finishing off the show is spectacular covers and variants gallery of the 26 new images by Joe Quesada, Danny Miki, Richard Isanove, John Cassady, Paul Mounts, Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Laura Martin, Skottie Young, Mark Buckingham, D’Israeli, Jerome Opena, Dean Dean White, Leach, Steve Oliff, Neal Adams, Frank Martin, Davis, Mark Farmer, Arthur Adams, Peter Steigerwald, Mike Perkins, Andy Troy, Mike McKone, Paulo Rivera, Mike Deodato, Rain Beredo, J.G Jones, Javier Rodriguez, John Tyler Christopher, Gerald Parel and Bryan Hitch for Marvel’s 2013 relaunch.

One of the greatest superhero comics sagas ever. There’s nothing else to say…
© 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Modesty Blaise: The Young Mistress


By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-709-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: unmissable comics for fans of classic blockbusting adventure… 9/10

Modesty Blaise and her lethally adept platonic partner Willie Garvin were superior criminals who retired young, rich and healthy – without ever getting too dirty – from a career where they made far too many enemies.

They were slowly dying of boredom in England when British Spymaster Sir Gerald Tarrant 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 of excitement and a chance to get some really evil sods.

With that tenuous beginning in ‘La Machine’ (see Modesty Blaise: the Gabriel Set-Up) the pair embarked upon a non-stop helter-skelter thrill-ride that has pitted them against the World’s vilest villains and maddest maniacs…

The legendary femme fatale first appeared in The Evening Standard on May 13th 1963 and over the following decades went on to star in some of the world’s most memorable crime fiction, all in three panels a day.

Creators Peter O’Donnell & Jim Holdaway (who had previously collaborated on Romeo Brown – a light-hearted adventure strip from the 1950’s itself long overdue for revival and compilation) produced a treasure trove of brilliant graphic escapades until the illustrator’s tragic early death in 1970, whereupon Spanish artist Enric Badia Romero and others assumed the art reins, taking the daredevil duo to even greater heights.

Modesty has been syndicated world-wide and the partners in peril have also starred in 13 prose novels and short-story collections, several films, a TV pilot, a radio play and nearly one hundred comic strip adventures between 1963 and the strip’s conclusion in 2002.

The tales are always stylish and engaging spy/crime/thriller fare in the vein of Ian Fleming’s Bond stories (as opposed to the super-spy’s sometimes over-the-top cinema exploits) although Modesty and Willie are competent, canny, deadly, yet all-too-fallibly human.

Reproduced in stark and stunning black & white – as they should be – Titan Books’ superb and scrupulous serial re-presentations of the ultimate newspaper troubleshooter continue here with O’Donnell and perennial collaborator Romero at the top of their game in a trio of tales spanning August 5th 1991 to November 2nd 1992, each prefaced with informative prose introductions from devotee and historian Lawrence Blackmore.

The rollercoaster ride begins with eponymous thriller ‘The Young Mistress’ (originally seen in The London Evening Standard from August 5th 1991 – January 6th 1992) which delves into the thorny subject of domestic abuse and the high-stakes world of art forgery.

When Modesty and current paramour Dr. Giles Pennyfeather aid a young woman thrashed with a riding crop they are astounded when the terrified Marian Hall refuses to press charges against shady art dealer Bruce Lacey.

Not only does the sadistic bully have unsubstantiated links to the underworld but he clearly enjoys inflicting pain. However when he surprises Marian’s rescuers, his attempts to teach Modesty “a lesson” rebound on him painfully and humiliatingly. They even take his toy girlfriend away…

Safely ensconced with Modesty and Willie, Marian explains that it’s not love but fear and guilt that keep her with Lacey. The young commercial artist is a brilliant copyist and when she first began seeing the astoundingly well-connected gallery owner, he convinced her to counterfeit a valuable painting before selling it on to an unsuspecting collector.

As a participant (albeit innocently) in fraud, she is in the monster’s pocket. Moreover Lacey was intending to use Marian to forge a borrowed Rembrandt and subsequently kidnaps her and her understanding old boyfriend to ensure the talented lass’ compliance in his nefarious multi-million-dollar scheme.

Determined to end the beast’s predations and thoroughly aware that Lacey will never rest until he has subjected Modesty to the brutal tortures that push his sick buttons, Willie and Modesty undertake a convoluted sting to break his power base, but are unaware of just how vicious and violent Lacey can be.

He, of course, has completely underestimated the lengths to which Modesty will go to defend the helpless…

‘Ivory Dancer’ (January 7th – June 5th 1992) changes tack as Modesty and Willie take their feisty, horse-mad prodigy Samantha to Kentucky for a vacation with billionaire John Dall.

The equine enthusiast is an old lover of Modesty’s as well as owner of the world’s most successful and valuable race horse, but the dream holiday unfortunately coincides with a cruel attempt to kidnap the four-legged superstar by ruthless gangster Gallo.

Sadly for the murderous thugs little Sam has an almost preternatural connection with the horse and once the steed goes missing she’s hot on his trail.

…And Willie and Modesty are hard on her heels; in no mood to be gentle with thugs who steal horses and threaten children…

The addictive action concludes in a classic espionage extravaganza as ‘Our Friend Maud’ (June 8th – November 2nd 1992) reintroduces Sir Gerald’s top agent in a clever tale of brainwashing, contract killing and international intrigue.

Maud Tiller is a top operative and when occasional dalliance Willie Garvin is blanked by her in a French restaurant he simply assumes she’s undercover on a mission. However his danger-honed senses are troubled and a little quiet checking reveals that the agent has gone AWOL.

Liaising with Modesty and Tarrant, Willie soon discovers that Maud has been kidnapped by fixer-for-hire the High Contractor and deduces she is being slowly programmed to assassinate somebody important and generally untouchable…

Linking up with Modesty, the outraged Garvin tracks Maud down and with the aid of unconventional Gallic operative Code-Name: Henri proceeds to infiltrate the upper echelons of grand society to rescue his English Rose, consequently dismantling one of the most dangerous international terror rings ever to threaten world peace…

These are unforgettable stories from brilliant creators at the peak of their powers; revelling in the majesty of an iconic creation. As timeless adventure romps packed with sex appeal, dry wit and devastating tension, the stories here are more enthralling now than ever and never fail to deliver maximum impact and total enjoyment.

Modesty Blaise © 2014 All rights reserved.

Lobey’s The Wee Boy! – Five Lobey Dosser adventures by Bud Neill


By Bud Neill, compiled by Ranald MacColl (Mainstream Publishing)
ISBN: 1-85158-405-6

Nobody’s ever accused me of being sensitive to the tone of the times, but with all thoughts directed north of the border for so long now, I’ve decided to feature this superbly unique dose of Celtic (more properly Glaswegian) cartoon magic today.

It’s the work of a tragically near-forgotten genius of pen and brush who should rightly be a household name wherever people like to laugh and ponder the absurdity of existence, no matter what flag they fly.

William Neill – forever immortalised as “Bud” – was born in 1911 in Partick just before the family moved to Troon in Ayrshire. He was a typical kid and fell in love with the brash wonder of silent movies – most especially the rambunctious westerns of William S. Hart.

His other great drive was a love of horses, and he could always be found hanging around stables, trading odd jobs for the chance of a few minutes’ riding.

After finishing school the young artistic star won a place at Glasgow School of Art. In the late 1930s Bud briefly emigrated, working in Canada and absorbing the tricks of America’s greatest newspaper cartoonists in their creative heyday.

He served as a gunner during WWII but was invalided out and became a bus driver. These experiences led to his creating a series of pocket cartoons starring the “Caurs & Clippies” of Glasgow’s tramcar system.

By 1944 Bud was drawing for the Glasgow Evening Times: sharp, wry observational pieces starring the city and its inhabitants, characterised by a devastating and instantly enchanting use of the iconic rhythms, vernacular and argot everyone shared.

In January 1949 The Evening News began running the uniquely surreal escapades of his greatest creation. Sheriff Lobey Dosser of Calton Creek was a brilliant inspiration: the adventures of a canny wee lawman in a hauntingly typical western town populated exclusively by Scots (from Glasgow’s Calton district, presumably) living an outrageously domestic, hilariously apt inner city life all whilst tricked out in cowboy hats and six-guns…

Delving deep into the venerable, anarchic and often surreal material of music hall and pantomime, Bud crafted a supremely odd, anachronistically familiar, bizarrely inviting world of solecism masquerading as local events. The series transferred to The Sunday Mail in 1956 where it became so popular that previous, complete strip adventures were collected in instant sell-out, one shilling landscape booklets (all incredibly sought after collectors’ items these days).

Neill died in 1970 but his work steadily continued to garner fans and acquire a mythical status, so by the middle of the decade Glasgow artist and sculptor Ranald MacColl began work on a biography.

That in turn led to a series of graphic collections such as this one and eventually belated recognition for Neill and his most memorable creations.

Bud was subsequently celebrated in exhibitions, galleries and, following Glasgow’s becoming European City of Culture in 1990, two separate bronze statues (Lobey, Rank Bajin and noble steed Elfie in Woodlands Road and, in Homecoming Year 2009, The G.I. Bride and her “Wean” at Partick Station), funded by public donations, Strathclyde Passenger Transport and private sponsors.

Hard to find but so worth the effort, Lobey’s The Wee Boy! gathers the contents of five of those shilling collections in a sensibly narrative chronological – not publication or even creation – order and is packed with informative extras such as MacColl’s fascinating historical and atmospheric Introduction and a hilarious Prologue by Bud himself from 1958, before the astonishing origin of the champion of Calton Creek is revealed in ‘Lobey Dosser: His Life Story’.

On a rare quiet day the grizzled sheriff recounts his early life to a jail full of impressionable young’uns…

Once upon a time in auld Glesca a mother had one bairn too many and the precocious tyke, to spare her further hardship, put his possessions in a hanky on a stick and headed off to make his way in the world.

Although only a few months old, he rejected being fostered out to his mean Auntie Mabel and joined a merchant ship under the tyrannical Captain Blackswite, unaware that the big shouty blackguard was a pirate…

After many exciting years at sea Lobey jumped ship and was befriended by cannibals and their erudite chief Hannibal which led to more exploring, meeting monsters and other strange things before encountering a race of Oxbridge-educated white savages and happily acquiring a rare two-legged horse.

El Fideldo was to become his greatest friend and inseparable companion. Together they made their way to Mexico where the wee wanderer discovered an unsuspected talent for upholding the law and keeping the peace. After cleaning out a nest of vicious banditos the restless pair headed north and soon fetched up in Laredo, Texas where a disastrous love affair with Adoda, formidable daughter of wealthy Whisk E. Glorr, led to a clash with rustlers led by scurrilous Watts Koakin

His heart broken – even though he had cleaned up the range – Dosser and Elfie kept heading west until they reached Arizona and first met future arch-nemesis Rank Bajin selling out the wagon train he was guiding to the local Sioux…

Rescuing the embattled settlers, Lobey decided to stay with the Scots expats as they built a town in the wilderness.  They called it Calton Creek…

Wild, imaginative and with every daily episode loaded with sight gags, striking slapstick, punishing puns, cartoon in-jokes and intoxicating vernacular, each Lobey Dosser tale was a non-stop carnival of graphic mirth and this terrific tome continues in fine fettle with ‘The Mail Robbery’ wherein nefarious Bajin attempts to incite an Indian uprising amongst the Pawnee of Chief Toffy Teeth and leaves the little lawman to die of thirst in the searing deserts. As the scorched sheriff struggles to survive, the naïve citizens are left to adapt to a protective occupation by flash Yankee G.I.s and airmen…

Sardonic and satirically cutting, the yarn also sports one of the best – and daftest – horseback chases in entertainment history…

Romance and mystery abound in ‘The Secret of Hickory Hollow’ as that Bajin scoundrel buys up the mortgage on Vinegar Hill’s farm and tries to kick out the old coot and his substantial niece Honey Perz. The villain has got wind of a mineral resource on the property that would make a man as wealthy as the Maharaja of Baroda, or perhaps even a regional Deputy Superintendent of the Coal Board…

When Lobey organises the cash needed to pay off the outstanding loan, Bajin reluctantly resorts to the last resort and begins romancing sweet, innocent, hulking Honey…

It all looks bleak for justice until the sheriff befriends an astoundingly good-looking and wholesome uranium prospector named Hart O’Gold who quickly tickles Honey’s fickle fancy…

However nobody – including ghostly guardian Rid Skwerr – is prepared for the soviet spies behind the entire affair to jump in take over and it needs the timely intervention of mystic imp Fairy Nuff to save their accumulated hash before the Dosser can finally expose the viper in the nest…

The local natives are always up to mischief and ‘The Indian War’ kicks off when the railroad tries to lay track through Pawnee Territory just as Chief Rubber Lugs of the Blackfeet Tribe revisits an old and outstanding grudge with Chief Toffy Teeth.

The ineffectual Captain Goodenough arrives with a division of cavalry to safeguard the white citizenry but matters soon worsen, painfully exacerbated when the folk of Calton Creek take advantage of Lobey’s absence (he’s trying to negotiate with both bunches of bellicose braves) to run Rank Bajin out of town and the hooded hoodlum starts freely peddling weapons to both sides…

…And then Bajin kills Lobey and takes over the town.

…And then…

The last yarn in this monochrome tome of tall tales is the most incredible of all as ‘The “Reform” of Rank Bajin’ sees the vile villain scooting around Calton Creek doing good deeds and selling off his astounding arsenal of wicked weapons and cunning contraband. Baffled, perplexed, confused and not sure what’s going on, Lobey asks Boot Hill haunter Rid Skwerr to spy on the no-longer reprehensible Rank and even love-struck Fairy Nuff gets in on the act.

The astounding truth finally emerges: Bajin has a boy who is growing up honest, so he is selling up and returning to the family he deserted in Borstal Bluffs, Iowa to sort the shameful lad out. Knowing the tremendous vacuum his absence will leave in Calton’s exciting landscape, however, he has a recommendation for a locum arch-enemy for his arch-enemy…

Can this possibly all be true or is the beastly Bajin executing his most sinister scheme yet?

Cunningly absurdist, socially aware, humorously harnessed insanity in the manner of Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine and the immortal Goon Show, the adventures of Lobey Dosser are a brilliant example of comic strips perfectly tailored to a specific time, place and audience which magically transcend their origins to become a masterpiece of the art form.

It’s also side-splitting, laugh-out-loud, Irn Bru spit-take hilarious and really needs to be recollected for today’s audiences.

And of course that’s what I really want: a complete reprinting of these sublimely perfect spoofs.

And once you read some so will you…
© Ranald MacColl 1992. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents… Star Cat book 01


By James Turner (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-06-3

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional-seeming weekly comic aimed at girls and boys which sought to revive the good old days of picture-story entertainment Intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and Content.

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

The Phoenix was voted No.2 in Time Magazine’s global list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only UK strip publication started in the last forty years to have passed the 100 issue mark. The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by releasing a digital edition available globally as an app and is still continually expanding its horizons.

It is, most importantly, big and bold and tremendous fun. You should subscribe today…

Moreover, whilst comics companies all seem to have given up the ghost (in this country at least), old-school prose publishers and the newborn graphic novel industry have evolved to fill their vacated niche.

With a less volatile business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, book sellers have prospered from periodical publishers’ surrender. There have never been so many and varied cartoon and comics chronicles, compilations and tomes for readers to enjoy.

This year – at long last – many of the favourite serials and series from The Phoenix joined that growing market, having been superbly repackaged as graphic albums.

One of the wildest rides in the amazing anthology is Space Cat by the astoundingly clever James Turner (Super Animal Adventure Squad, The Unfeasible Adventures of Beaver and Steve). The strip began in issue #0 and has been popping back ever since…

The premise is timeless and instantly engaging, featuring the far-out endeavours of a bunch of spacefaring nincompoops in the classic mock-heroic manner. There’s so very far-from-dauntless Captain Spaceington, extremely dim amoeboid Science Officer Plixx, an inarticulate and barely housebroken beastie dubbed The Pilot and Robot One, who quite arrogantly and erroneously believes himself one of the smartest thinkers in the cosmos.

The colossal, formidable void-busting vessel they traverse the universe in looks like a gigantic ginger tom because that is what it is: half cat, half spaceship. What more do you need to know?

If you could think of something it would probably be answered by the astoundingly accurate Space Table of Space Contents, or the brilliant and informative cartoon cutaway and info-blurb page which reveals all the interior secrets of the mighty moggy cosmic craft and its motley crew in ‘Welcome Aboard the Star Cat’

With introductions over and readers up to speed, the wild rides begins with ‘Star Cat’ wherein the team are contacted by Chicken-with-a-mission The Space Mayor who tasks the solar swashbucklers with recapturing escaped felon Dark Rectangle before the two-dimensional tyrant can rob the Space Bank, a task only completed through sheer dumb luck and the Ginger rocket’s uncurbed predilection for Space Mice

The sinister shape of Dark Rectangle is next seen menacing the lost planet of Inflatia where his plans to deflate the universe are foiled by the team who have mistakenly fetched up there in search of critical stores on what they think is the Ice Cream Planet in ‘The Big Let Down’ after which ‘Nub’ sees the Star Cat ferrying the cutest, most endangered creatures in the galaxy – Nubchicks – to the safety of the Space Zoo.

Unfortunately that planar potentate Dark Rectangle needs the little darlings to power his new Universe Bomb…

When a number of planets are mysteriously drained of all energy, the Space Mayor has no choice but to assign Captain Spaceington and his substandard star warriors to the case, forcing Robot One to pit his transistorised wits against ‘The Horror of Mecha Dracula’, whilst in ‘The Art of Robbery’ the nefarious Rob-Ot’s scheme to swipe the Moona Lisa from the Space Museum of Space Art is foiled by the hapless stupidity of ever-hungry Plixx…

The mis-educated Science Officer’s addiction to cake also wrecks the space/time continuum and ticks off God after she messes up a chronal experiment with a ‘Turnip in Time’ before the good ship Star Cat is invaded by the wicked shapeshifting menace known as ‘The Thingy’ after which a mission to the far edge of space brings them all into contact with a most unpleasant omnipotent entity who tests our weird wanderers – and by extension our entire civilisation – with ‘Incorporeal Punishment’

‘With Friends Like These, Who Needs a Nemesis?’ sees the return of Dark Rectangle when the sorely lacking Spaceington finds his ship and crew requisitioned by the obnoxious, insufferably perfect Captain Starblaze “the Bravest Captain in all of Space”.

Surely it’s not jealousy that makes Spaceington attempt to sabotage his rival’s top secret mission?

Saving the best for last, this stellar saga concludes with a mercy mission that goes awry when the monumental moggy take a shortcut through the Spooky Quadrant and the crew unwisely clash with a ghastly Space Vampyr in ‘Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself (But Fear is Really, Really Scary)…’

The Phoenix Presents… Star Cat is a spectacularly hilarious comic treat: surreal, ingenious, wildly infectious fun. No pet owner, comedy connoisseur or lover of the Wild Black Yonder could afford to miss this brilliant cartoon cat treat.
Text and illustrations © James Turner 2014. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents Long Gone Don Book 1: The Monstrous Underworld


By The Etherington Brothers (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-04-9

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 comics phenomenon The Phoenix, where it has run almost continuously 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…

The Phoenix was voted No.2 in Time Magazine’s global list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only strip publication started in the UK in the last forty years to have passed the 100 issue mark. The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by developing a digital edition available globally as an app and is continually expanding its horizons…

As devilishly devised by The Etherington Brothers – Robin and Lorenzo, whose past efforts have included 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 history doesn’t really begin until after an astounding concatenation of crazy circumstances leave the hapless schoolboy dead in a bowl of Oxtail Soup…

From there it’s a quick and disorienting drop into the netherest of Nether Regions where the bewildered waif discovers his unruly hair has turned milk-white and the fantastic, green-sanded landscape is dotted with familiar objects expanded to most unlikely proportions…

No sooner has he struggled out of the colossal bowl he’s splashed down into than Don is taken under the scabby wing of a rather lugubrious and excitable crow with an outrageous Spanish accent who tries to explain the unlikely situation to the stunned and incredulous lad…

Moreover the antsy avian – one Castanet, by name – strongly stresses the sense of urgency needed to get off the Arrival Plains as Brobdingnagian means of expiration tend to land with a crash every moment…

Having safely escorted the newcomer away from the region of plummeting dooms, Castanet then begins his introduction to the bizarre afterlife by taking Don to the chaotic pit of trouble dubbed Broilerdoom (“Afterlife of the Lost, the Damned and the Generally Terrifying”) where they are promptly robbed and forced to participate in a rigged election.

Don, however, manages to vote for the wrong guy, instantly setting off citywide alarms and immediately earning the undying enmity of monstrous dictator General Spode and his unctuous assistant Valush, if not the supreme dictator’s glamorous but bored consort Regina

Soon boy and bird are being hotly pursued through the grotty avenues and alleyways by the demonic yet incompetent soldiery but are only saved when an even bigger and scarier monster called Lewd makes his terrifying entrance.

The giant outlaw and his agile assistant Safina are no fans of Spode and, after duffing up the militia, take the fugitives deep into the sordid, sprawling slums of Krapookerville where they can catch their breath in relative safety…

Their current base is an inn of iniquity named The Demon Drink where, between brawls, the outlaws give Don a quick lesson in post-life geography and geopolitics. He soon learns his companions are more rebels than rogues and have taken his miscast vote as a sign to strike against the despotic General. Don then meets the freedom fighters’ inside agent…

Seen as catalysts for change, Don and Castanet are despatched to coax the city’s Great Hero Ripley out of retirement. The person Don mistakenly voted for has become a celebrity gardener and has no intention of facing Spode again but he does suggest another potential candidate and rallying point for the masses…

Soon the entire under region is aflame with unrest and rebellion and Don has made the acquaintance of one of the underworld’s most incredible and awe-inspiring entities whilst turning said underworld upside down…

Rocket-paced, spectacular, absorbing and utterly hilarious, this uncanny adventure is conceived and rendered in a gorgeous, loving pastiche of the magnificent style of Goscinny and Uderzo, a kind of Asterix in the Underworld meets Eric the Viking.

Fast, fun and funny, Long Gone Don is a superb serving of macabre mirth no lovers of daft or dark delights can afford to miss.

Text © Robin Etherington, 2014. Illustrations © Lorenzo Etherington, 2014. All rights reserved.
To find out more about The Phoenix or subscribe, visit: www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk

The Phoenix Presents Gary’s Garden book 1


By Gary Northfield (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-09-4

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional-seeming weekly comic aimed at girls and boys which sought to revive the good old days of picture-story entertainment Intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and Content.

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

The Phoenix was recently voted No.2 in Time Magazine’s global list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only UK strip publication started in the last forty years to have passed the 100 issue mark. The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by releasing a digital edition available globally as an app and is still continually expanding its horizons.

It is, most importantly, big and bold and tremendous fun. You should subscribe today…

Moreover, whilst comics companies all seem to have given up the ghost (in this country at least), old-school prose publishers and the newborn graphic novel industry have evolved to fill their vacated niche.

With a less volatile business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, book sellers have prospered from periodical publishers’ surrender. There have never been so many and varied cartoon and comics chronicles, compilations and tomes for readers to enjoy.

This year – at long last – many of the favourite serials and series from The Phoenix joined that growing market, having been superbly repackaged as graphic albums.

Two of them – Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey and Bunny vs. Monkey – were selected for The Reading Agency’s prestigious Summer Reading Challenge (which began on July 12th): the first comic-books ever to have featured on the organisation’s Summer Reading Challenge List.

One of the most rewarding and captivating strips in the comic is marvellous minibeast comedy-adventure Gary’s Garden, crafted by Gary Northfield (Beano’s Derek the Sheep, The Terrible Tales of the Teeytinysaurs).

It is the fourth fabulous release to assuredly delight and enchant young an old alike…

The premise is beguilingly simple and utterly addictive: laggard grown-up Gary, like most of us, doesn’t do as much as he should in his back yard – and the assorted birds, beasts and bugs despise him for it – but at least it means they can all live their lives in relative peace and quiet…

The occasional series began in #2, and this initial collection opens with ‘Chompy’, a rather irascible, over- imaginative but under-achieving caterpillar who here has to set straight a worm with delusions of grandeur…

‘Practice Makes Perfect!’ then peeps in on an artistically pompous spider who makes his enwrapped prey all play in his make-shift orchestra whilst an old worm whinges about the ‘Noisy Neighbours’ in the apples adjacent to his, after which ‘Spring Clean!’ sees the obnoxious garden birds wreak playful havoc with Gary’s socks and smalls as they dry on the washing line…

‘Larry Ladybird, Lord of the Jungle!’ reveals the inner dreamer of an action hero inside a little spotty bug, whilst manic squirrel Rupert kicks into overdrive in ‘Acorn Antics’ when his prospective winter larder is endangered by strong winds and vegetarian mole Thelma. Absolutely no semblance of sanity then returns as the ever-vigilant birds raid Gary’s larder for junk food after suffering a ‘Snack Attack!’

In the pond, slow and sure Jennifer watches with poignant regret as all the tads grow their ‘First Legs’ and rush off pell-mell to join the metaphorical rat-race whilst in ‘Hide and Peek’ readers get a brilliant lesson in camouflage from a leaf bug, a butterfly and a stick…

Clearly a devotee of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mr. Northfield then wryly spoofs the Barsoomian Chronicles, when, in a moment of inspired madness we are introduced to ‘John Ladybird, of Mars’ as the self-appointed explorer crosses dimensions, vast gulfs and a garden trampoline for the journey of a lifetime.

Sadly, Chompy is not the most appreciative of audiences for such tales of wonder…

Birds are not the kindest of characters, but they’re not as dangerous as next door’s cat. Happily ‘Podgy Pigeon’ is smart enough to make fools of them all before heroic night stalkers ‘Boris & Monroe’ enter the picture.

The fox is a veteran ninja of darkness and only occasionally wonders if he was wise to take on excitable hedgehog Monroe as his apprentice…

‘Dream On, Chompy!’ finds our voracious idiot trying to rush nature in his eagerness to join his winged brothers in the sky, whilst an elderly spider tries – and generally fails – to remind everyone to take things easily in ‘“Mornin’ Henry!”’ after which frustrated country music star ‘Terrance the Snail’ makes his noisy debut and Jennifer in the pond makes a disturbing self-discovery in ‘Last Legs’

‘Ronald the Spider’ reveals his tap dancing gifts to a literally captive audience before it’s Flash Gordon’s a turn for a bit of leg pulling – all six of them – in ‘Zarpovia! Pt 1’ when Professor Ladybird Zarpov discovers an incredible alien world teeming with incomprehensibly strange life in Gary’s front room…

Recruiting bold adventurers Larry Ladybird, Lord of the Jungle and John Ladybird of Mars, the trio explore the glass-sided universe in the astounding ‘Zarpovia! Pt 2’, before those masters of darkness return in ‘Boris & Monroe: Bagsie Me First’, to prove that foolhardy bravery and astonishing agility are no substitute for a little caution…

There’s acrimony and dissent at a ‘Camouflage Club’ meeting, leading to a breakaway movement, but in the interim Gary gets a barracking from the birds in ‘Nice Hat’ and wily Humphrey Housefly lives another day after two ‘Grumpy Spiders’ can’t decide on who should eat him.

The splinter group ‘Mimicry Club’ barely survives its first meeting when mickey-taking poseurs gatecrash the event, after which sensitive Ladybird Melissa develops an abiding but unhealthy affection for the coldly distant, stoic ‘Mr Leaf’ to bring a close to our beastly cabaret.

But don’t fret because there’s one last treat in store. ‘Gary’s Garden: Top Chumps’ provides 34 fascinating pictorial Score Cards (also available as free printable download pages), revealing all the silly secrets and dreams of the quirkily quotidian cast.

The Phoenix Presents… Gary’s Garden is a truly laugh-out-loud comic treat: madcap, endearing and absurdly hilarious. Don’t miss out on the perfect opportunity to get back to – or get back at – Nature by…

Text and illustrations © Gary Northfield 2014. All rights reserved.

The Reading Agency is a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. The Summer Reading Challenge encourages children aged 4 to 11 to read 6 books during the summer holiday.

Children can read whatever they like just as long as they are borrowed from the library. Every time children finish a book they get stickers and rewards and there’s a certificate for everyone who finishes. The Summer Reading Challenge is open to all school children and is designed for all reading abilities.

Visit www.readingagency.org.uk
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