Kiddo


By Antoine Cossé (Records Records Records Books)
ISBN: 978-0-9566330-1-9

Since Britain grew up and joined the rest of the world in accepting comics as a valid and viable art form, the shelves of Albion have been positively groaning with a wealth of superbly fascinating graphic narratives of all types; especially since a number of bold new publishers have either picked up and translated Asian and European material or confidently released new stuff from creators around the world.

Antoine Cossé is a French graphic storyteller living in London. He left Paris to study at Camberwell College of Arts and graduated in 2006 with a degree in illustration. He then began a seemingly non-stop barrage of moody, funny and evocative strips catering to his own need to explore the absurd, the fanciful and the unexpected lurking behind the humdrum passage of everyday lives and kindly invited a growing fan-base to join him in his explorations.

Following a number of short strips, features and collaborations, in 2012 he produced his debut graphic novel – Kiddo – for British outfit Records Records Records Books: an enigmatic, helter-skelter cartoon progression practically devoid of words which combines elements of epic dystopian science fiction with unceasing kinetic forward motion redolent in tone – if not style and content – to the ceaselessly energetic strip works of André Barbe.

Lavishly packaged as a black and white hardback (comfortingly reminiscent of those classily sturdy children’s books of my youth) the stark events unfold as a solitary man plunges through jungles and wastelands, seeking who knows what in a scary big world.

Encountering beasts, a woman, hardship, hunger, booze, a giant monster dog, war, strange phenomena and the encroaching remnants – or perhaps discards – of civilisation, he moves ever onward to a chaotic closing conundrum…

Deeply sly, beguiling reductive and intoxicatingly Primitivist, Kiddo is an irresistible  surge of purely visual drama and a mystery for its own sake which will delight all aficionados of the medium who value comics for their own sake and don’t need answers spoon-fed to them.
© 2012 Antoine Cossé. © & ℗ Records Records Records Books.

The Complete Accident Man


By Pat Mills, Tony Skinner, Martin Emond, Duke Mighten & John Erasmus (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-055-9

We have our share of true blue heroes in Britain, but what we really do best are rakish rogues and cast-iron bastards – both in dull old fact and the much safer realm of fiction.

A fair few of the comics kind have stemmed from the febrile mind of Pat Mills, a man whose singular vision has scarred many an impressionable reader’s psyche…

Now one of his most stylish and far-ranging creations – co-crafted with writing partner Tony Skinner – has been awarded some-long delayed and much-deserved star treatment in the form of a lavish oversized colour hardback compilation from Titan Comics.

In many ways Michael Fallon is a product of his times (the 1990s): a ruthless, flashy, grasping Yuppie who thinks he cares about nothing but his job, instant gratification and the gaudy in-your-face trappings of his success.

That’s unpleasant enough if the antagonist is a Banker, a Broker or Hedge Fund Manager, but Mike is a dedicated proud artisan. He makes human impediments go away – and always makes it look like mischance, not murder…

Accident Man debuted in short-lived, creator-owned British independent comic Toxic! (which ran for 31 full-colour issues between March and October 1991). Easily the most popular feature, he also starred in a reprint special – Apocalypse Presents: Accident Man – and in 1993 crossed The Pond for an all-new 3-part monochrome miniseries from American publisher Dark Horse Comics.

This chilling compendium commences with Mills’ Introduction ‘Rhubarb! Rhubarb! Rhubarb!’ describing the convoluted history of the character and teasingly discussing the still-not-made movie, before the cartoon carnage calamitously starts to unfold in the Martin Emond illustrated introductory saga (from Toxic! #1-6) wherein hubristic hitman Fallon explains and simultaneously demonstrates his particular skill-set whilst evoking the golden rules of the job “Never Get Angry. Never Get Involved. Never Get Caught”…

A successful – for which read undetectable – intervention usually fills him with PMT (Post Murder Tension) most successfully expunged through lavish spending and extreme gratuitous physical violence, but these days something’s not right.

The shallow Fashionista didn’t really care when his wife Jill left him to shack up with another woman and join those loony save-the-planet eco nuts in Women Against the Rape of the Planet, but for some strange reason he can’t stop thinking about her now that she’s been killed in a burglary…

He carries on arranging fatal improbabilities but the joie de vivre has gone, and when he finally works out that Jill’s break-in is the M.O. of fellow assassins Chris and Jim it sets him on a bizarre course that leads to an alliance with Hilary – the “Other Woman” – to take profitless vengeance on the corporate scum really responsible…

More or less his old self again Fallon returned in ‘Death Touch’ (Toxic! #10-16, illustrated by Duke Mighten), drowning in natty threads and conspicuous consumption whilst pursuing his craft and studying with a martial arts master who had promised to teach him the legendary art of killing with a time-delayed kung fu punch…

After scooping his fourth consecutive gong for Most Hits in a Year at the annual Golden Coffin Awards, he begins his next commission – a particularly nasty drug dealer with no respect for animals but a sick, devoted and unforgiving family- utterly unaware that his Sensei Sifu Lo has discovered his profession and deemed him unworthy…

John Erasmus took over the art for ‘The Messiah Sting’ (from Toxic! #17-24) as the woman who seduced Jill away cons the Accident Man into doing worse than murder to David Dake – the Junior Minister for the Environment… and for free!

Hilary is a fanatic in the service of WARP and has a baroque plan to punish the ostensibly “Green” Tory politician who actually protects animal torturers and destroys the countryside he’s supposed to be fighting for, but when Mike gets involved it soon devolves into an explosive confrontation with obnoxious American agents, hookers, rival hitmen, a burgeoning criminal turf war, kung fu killers, drug dealers and the destruction of scenic downtown Amsterdam.

And there’s even a sneaky glimpse at out antihero’s early days…

Iconoclastic Howard Chaykin created the risqué and raucous colour covers for the aforementioned Dark Horse miniseries and they seditiously precede the final saga in this magnificent murder file as Mike Fallon takes his particular brand of Olde Worlde charm across the pond – via Concorde, of course – for a job commissioned by a clandestine Government agency: the Special Assassinations Bureau (limned in stark monochrome by Mighten)…

In the Accident Man’s line of business it’s best to be adaptable and always assume everybody is a liar. After an unexpected and exotic liaison with CIA insider Mirror Morgan, Mike hits the Big Apple’s most outrageous sex club and learns his target is a corrupt Senator…

Arranging the improbable with his usual élan, Mike is only seconds away from unknowingly eradicating the chief of the CIA when he spots Mirror with his soon to be tragically deceased mark, and is forced to spectacularly avert his programmed mishap.

CIA boss John Archer is perfectly reasonable and understanding. He knows how easy it is to be duped in the murky world of espionage and international crime. He’s also happy to let Mike go… but only after the misfortune magnate works his magic on the untouchable Capo di Tutti Capo of the Mafia…

And naturally it’s another bloody freebie…

The glitzy sex and shocking violence mounts exponentially as Fallon infiltrates the Mob, winning more enemies than friends along the grisly way, and even after that job’s sorted he still has a bone to pick with the far-from-fair Broker from SAB…

Overwhelmingly violent, manically inventive and ridiculously addictive, this is a lost gem of anarchic, swingeing satire from Mills and Co, and well worthy of this splendid definitive collection. Also included here is a copious Accident Man Sketchbook section featuring cover roughs, page layouts and character designs as well as the now obligatory lowdown on the creative Usual Suspects.

Highly sexed, infallibly capable and ruthless style obsessed, the flashily fashionable assassin is James Bond on the wrong side – his own – and delivers action, intrigue and bold, black humour in astounding amounts…

Don’t leave anything to chance: check him out…
Accident Man is ™ & © 2014 Pat Mills and Tony Skinner. Accident Man Book One © 2014 Pat Mills, Tony Skinner & Martin Emond. Accident Man Death Touch © 2014 Pat Mills, Tony Skinner & Duke Mighten. Accident Man Book Three © 2014 Pat Mills, Tony Skinner & John Erasmus. Accident Man (Dark Horse) Pat Mills, Tony Skinner & Duke Mighten.

It Came!


By Dan Boultwood, Esq. (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-005-4

Once upon a time “retro” only meant rockets, with all those thrilling chilling connotations of clunky spaceships, cardboard robots and men in Baco-foil suits shambling about and terrifying avid children who had stayed up late to watch B-movie sci-fi yarns on black-&-white TV sets.

Jeepers, I miss those days, and so, apparently, does multi-talented, forward-thinking nostalgeologist Dan Boultwood.

In 2013, his 4-issue miniseries offered a tantalising tribute to the fantastic fantasy movies which fuelled the imaginations of British Baby-Boomers: simultaneously recapturing the wide-eyed wonder of the period whilst adding layers of archly post-modern humour to the mix…

This stirring monochrome graphic-novelisation of a faux-classic effort from the rightly almost-forgotten Pinetree Studios outfit now allows modern film fans to experience (or revisit) the quirky delights which wowed their grandparents – and all from the comfort of their own homes – or even whilst out riding in a open-topped omnibus…

Packed to bursting with and supplemented by oodles of outrageous, hilarious, mood-setting ads for everything from Smoke & Choke’um Cigarettes to Johnny Foreigner Engine Oil, the story is a loving but irreverent paean of praise not only to those inspirational filmic marvels but also to the small repertory of actors and producers who made the late 1950s and early 1960s such a cornucopia of movie madness.

Like all such matinee marvels, the main feature here is preceded by a short trailer (for The Lost Valley of the Lost) which serves to introduce our cast, specifically He-Man Lead Dick Claymore as the sexist, pipe-chewing, tweed draped boffin Dr. Boy Brett and strident starlet Fanny Flaunders as his long-suffering, infinitely patient, glamorous-whilst-screaming assistant/secretary Doris Night.

The vintage supporting cast includes Bertrum Cumberbund, Spencer Lacey and Joan Fetlock, stalwart Pinetree thespians all…

It’s 1958 and in a beautiful bit of rural, ill-educated England a colossal robot rampages…

Two days later Dr. Brett from SpaceUniversity is treating working class ingénue Doris to a ride in his Morris Minor. He decides they should stop for a Ploughman’s Lunch in a strangely quiet and quaint village, blithely unaware that the reason it’s so still is because the aforementioned alien automaton has depopulated the shire…

Its subsequent surprise attempt to trap the tourists founders only when it stumbles into a cloying web of obfuscating, celebratory bunting…

After their spectacular close call the harried humans reach the next village over, but despite the boffin’s Old Boy Network connections, it’s the Devil’s own job to get the Ministry to mobilise the Military.

Nevertheless, Boy persists and soon a squad of veterans arrive to take control of the situation (a superb pastiche of the venerable icons of the “Carry-On” film franchise), only to vanish as the rapacious robot strikes again…

Undaunted, Boy drags Doris into more trouble and soon they find themselves aboard a vast Flying Saucer, uncovering the nature of the invaders’ appalling assault. The creepy, apparently unstoppable horrors are imprisoning salt-of-the-earth British citizens and somehow extracting their Stiff Upper Lips…

Following a necessary Intermission for the purchase and consumption of gin and fags, the cartoon/celluloid calamity continues as our hero – and the girl – escape and head for London to warn the authorities, but not before accidentally dropping a handy but unlucky army division on exercises right in the UFO’s marauding sights.

Dr. Brett arrives barely ahead of the indestructible, unbeatable Saucer and, as the World’s Smoggiest Capital burns and founders, he is compelled to stop running and turn his mighty, college-honed intellect to the task of destroying the threat to civilisation…

This collection is also augmented by the original full-colour covers, hysterical background “information pages” on and intimate photos of stars Claymore and Flaunders, blueprints and design sketches for the alien Grurk and Flying Saucer, a selection from the infamous It Came! Cigarette Cards and colour posters for other Pinetree Studio releases such as ‘My Reptilian Bride!’, ‘Rocket Into Space!’, ‘The Lost Valley of the Lost’ and ‘Myopic Moon Men from the Moon’

More revelations are forthcoming in the ‘Metropolitan Police Incident Report on Mr. Claymore’s “eccentric” Drinking Habits’, and Director Boultwood’s photo-feature exposing his Special Effects magic in animating the Saucer for celluloid.

It Came! is a brilliant and sublime masterpiece of loving parody, perfectly executed and astoundingly effective. It is also the funniest – both visually and verbally – book I’ve read in years, blending slapstick with satire, outrageous ideas with infamous characterisations, and spit-taking puns, single entendres and innuendoes that would do Sid James, Charles Hawtrey or Kenneth Williams proud.

Miss it at your peril, Chaps (and Ladies too…).
It Came! ™ and © 2014 Dan Boultwood.

It Came! is published on March 11th.

Chronos Commandos: Dawn Patrol


By Stuart Jennett (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-006-1

In a marketplace stuffed to bursting point with books and stories that are only parts of a greater whole, it’s a merciful delight to see that some publishers and creators are still sticking to the perfect basics and delivering complete, enthralling and fundamentally cool packages for kids of all ages (at least if you’re a bit liberal/traditional in your views of parenting and accept the intrinsically bloodthirsty nature of children)…

If you’re British a reader of a certain vintage – and more or less male – you never really grew out of the fundamental and sheerly gratuitous entertainment of seeing soldiers, explosions, chases, big guns and dinosaurs, and this spectacularly backwards-looking romp from Stuart Jennett (Warheads, 2000AD) punches all those buttons in a riotous time-travel war story which originally appeared in 2013 as a 5-issue miniseries.

The idea of honking big lizards against honking big guns is venerable, unceasingly cool and simply too good a concept to resist. I believe it all kicked off with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and was refined by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caprona stories (known alternatively as the Caspak Trilogy or “the Land That Time Forgot”, although many of his other novel sequences contained saurian co-stars) providing everything imaginative boys could wish for: giant lizards, humongous insects, fantastic adventures, hot cave girls and two-fisted heroes with lots of guns…

The most successful comics instance of this must surely be Robert Kanigher’s The War that Time Forgot (which debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90, April-May 1960). The stories of US troops fighting Germans, Japanese and hungry monsters ran until #137 (May 1968) skipping only three issues: #91, 93 and #126 – the last of which starred the United States Marine Corps simian Sergeant Gorilla

Whereas this fine new iteration, given a quirkily British spin, boasts no busty babes in either torn but oddly obfuscating scraps of lab coat or fetching muskrat-pelt bikinis (though maybe there’s room in the sequel), it does contain fast-paced, gory antediluvian slaughter and a twisty-turny, time-bending plot to heighten the gruelling, gripping duel between the world’s first full time chronal combatants…

Following Jennett’s Introduction the non-stop action begins deep in dinosaur times and climes as a veteran US Army Sergeant leads his squad in another raid to stop Nazi time-troopers from mucking up history in the Fuhrer’s favour.

Temporal travel is still a new arena for combat and nobody really knows the rules, but the Professor back in 1944 is pretty adamant that visitors to the past should harm or kill as little as possible.

Of course that’s easy for him to say from his nice safe lab…

Time-Landings are haphazard at best and the G.I.s have to cut through miles of swamp to reach their current objective, so before too long only Grease and the Sarge are left to sneak up on the Nazi Time-Bell, doing God knows what to win the war for Uncle Adolf…

In charge is old enemy Kapitan Dieter Richter, Germany’s top Chrono-Kriegsmann, and the wily fox again manages to escape even though the Sarge succeeds in blowing up his base…

Exhausted and wounded, the Sarge treks back alone and triggers his Chronosphere’s return, only to emerge into another blazing firefight. Nazi agents have successfully infiltrated the Allied time lab of Project: Watchmaker and stolen the Professor’s Chronos Core – the invention which powers the trips and enables US time-teams to return home…

A traitor has jumped back to the Cretaceous, intent on handing the core over to a Kraut team and giving them an unbeatable edge in time tech, leaving the Americans with only 30-minutes Relative to prevent the end of Allied Chronal Operations forever.

Frantically, Sarge assembles a 4-man team from the lab’s surviving soldiery to give chase and recover the device, utterly unaware that he has left the Prof unprotected with another insidious Nazi infiltrator…

The grizzled Non-Com would be no happier knowing that he’s bringing one back to the age of reptiles with him too…

What follows is a desperate and ghastly race against time with hungry saurians, deadly giant bugs and murderous bushwhacking Nazis all adding to the body count, whilst in the Age of Man lethal paradoxes multiply and the fragile stability of all time and space begin to fracture…

Riotous and spectacular, explosively gung-ho but still smart enough to pile on the temporal pressures and leavened with sly, knowing black humour, Dawn Patrol offers a bullet-ridden rollercoaster of blockbuster thrills no big kid could possibly resist.

Also included here is a large section of added features from the ‘Chronos Commandos Supplemental Briefing Pack’ which includes such text background as ‘Official Papers Transferring Sgt. XXXX to Project: Watchmaker…’, ‘Black Star Initiative Operational Parameters’, ‘Chronos Commandos Search and Destroy Mission Briefing’, ‘Dr. Herla’s Autopsy Report: including Discussion of His Various Fatal Mutations, and Informed Speculation on the Perils of Time Travel’ and ‘Know Your Enemy Dinosaur Comparison Charts’.

Also included are the tragic fragments of a lost hero’s life in ‘Peabody’s ‘Letters from Home’ and his ‘Vintage Crash Jordan Serial Poster’ as well as Blueprints for both the Allied and Nazi Time Pods, original comics ‘Series Covers’ and extensive excerpts from ‘The Chronos Commandos Sketchbook’.

Chronos Commandos™ and © 2014 Stuart Jennett. All rights reserved.

 

Chronos Commandos: Dawn Patrol is published on March 11th. For details of how to meet the author and get a copy signed, check out our Noticeboard section.

Garth Ennis Presents Battle Classics


By John Wagner, Alan Hebden, David Hunt, Mike Western, John Cooper, Cam Kennedy & various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-741-0

In case you don’t know: apart from his other scripting wonders, Garth Ennis is the best writer of war comics in America today. In fact, if you disregard the marvellous Commando Picture Library series published by DC Thomson (which you shouldn’t – but no one admits to reading them in my circle), he may well be the only full-time comics professional regularly working in the genre in the entire English Language.

His credentials are well established now and, despite his self-deprecating tone in his Foreword, Ennis’s affinity for and love of combat tales makes him the go-to guy if you’re planning to re-publish classic war stories and even more so if they all come from his favourite boyhood read…

For most of the industry’s history, British comics have been renowned for the ability to tell a big story in satisfying little instalments and this, coupled with superior creators and the anthology nature of our publications, has ensured that hundreds of memorable characters and series have seared themselves into the little boy’s psyche inside most British adult males.

One of the last great weekly anthology comics was Battle, a strictly combat-themed anthology which began as Battle Picture Weekly (launched 8th March 1975) which, through absorption, merger and re-branding (as Battle Picture Weekly & Valiant, Battle Action, Battle, Battle Action Force and Battle Storm Force) reigned supreme in Blighty before itself being combined with Eagle on January 23rd 1988. Through 673 blood-soaked, testosterone-drenched issues, it fought its way into the bloodthirsty hearts of a generation, consequently producing some of the best and most influential war stories ever.

Happily some of the very best – notably Charley’s War, Darkie’s Mob and Johnny Red – have recently been preserved and revisited in sturdily resilient reprint collections, ably supplemented by a taster tome entitled The Best of Battle, but there’s still loads of superb stuff to be found …

This particular compendium gathers in two of the very best in their entirety and provides a triple dose of short, sharp shockers illustrated by doyen of war artists Cam Kennedy.

In his introductory essay ‘And you expected to die hard: HMS Nightshade, Ennis fills in the background on the strip which disproved the publishing maxim that kids didn’t want to read “ship stories”: detailing how and when the feature began (like Charley’s War in Battle #200, dated January 6th 1979 for 48 instalments) and just why it was so special…

The simple answer is sheer talent: scripter John Wagner (Bella at the Bar, One-Eyed Jack, Joe Two Beans, Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Fight for the Falklands, Button-Man, Batman, A History of Violence etc.) and illustrator Mike Western (The Leopard of Lime Street, Jack o’ Justice, The Wild Wonders, The Sarge and so many more) had worked together on other strips such as Partridge’s Patch and the aforementioned Darkie’s Mob, but here especially their talents synchronised and merged to form a minor classic of grit, determination and courage under fire and despite stupidity and cupidity.

Set in an almost forgotten maritime arena, HMS Nightshade shares the stories of Seaman George Dunn as told to his grandson: grim and glorious events of the Second World War as seen from the rolling decks of a British Flower-Class Corvette.

Escorting the merchant ships and tanker convoys that kept Britain on her feet during the Battle of the Atlantic or constantly re-supplying war materiel to Russia on the Murmansk Run proved to be days of back-breaking toil and unending tedium punctuated by moments of insane amusement or terror-filled tension and sudden death, but the old salt slowly and engagingly reveals how bonds forged between shipmates and the vessel which protected them remain strong – even though old George is the last survivor of those perilous days…

With occasional art assistance from Ron Tiner, the saga begins with young George and his new shipmates Big Stan, Smiffy and Jock McCall joining the relatively tiny vessel in May 1940.

Forced to adapt quickly to life aboard ship, the quartet are just in time to become part of the vast flotilla rescuing British soldiers from Dunkirk, experiencing first-hand and up close all the horrors of war and shocks of personal loss.

Learning to despise the ever-present, merciless U-Boats and perpetual airborne attacks from Stukas and other predatory planes, the Nightshade’s crew soon become adept at spotting and shooting back, but escort duty still consists mostly of barely suppressed panic and the appalling anger and pain as one more tanker or cargo ship under their protection explodes and sinks…

Wagner’s stunning ability to delineate character through intense action and staccato humour carried the series from the North Atlantic, through an astounding sequence in Russia, to Africa: blending sea battles with evocative human adventures – such as an imbecilic merchant sea captain, Smiffy’s tragic marriage and brush with Black Marketeers or George’s vendetta with psychotic bullying shipmate Parsons. That villain’s ultimate fate was one of the most unforgettable scenes in British comics history…

The saga abounds with sharply defined and uniquely memorable supporting stars such as Handsome John, tragic Dennis Flowers and despondent “Never-gonna-make-itBrown – who was so obsessed with his impending demise that every man aboard carried one of his goodbye letters to his mum. Even Dogfish: a half-drowned mongrel saved from drowning whose canine senses proved invaluable in early warning of German air raids became a beloved canine star – which meant nothing to a writer like Wagner who knows how to use sentiment to his advantage…

Constant attacks led to a high turnover and later replacements included Whitey Bascombe who barely survived an immersion in Arctic waters and never felt warm ever again, affable coward and inevitable absconder Tubby Grover and simpleminded body builder “MusclesThomson – who took his repugnant role of “Ship’s Crusher” to his heart…

Packed with intense combat action, bleak introspection, oppressive tension and stunning moments of gallows hilarity, the life and inescapable death of HMS Nightshade is a masterpiece of maritime fiction and war comics, and alone would be worth the price of admission here.

Even so, there are a few more dark delights to tickle the military palate, and the next inclusion offers a view of the conflict through an enemy’s eyes…

As explained by Ennis in ‘Rest Easy, Herr Margen: The General Dies at Dawn is a short yet provocative serial dealing with the concept of “the Good German”, cleverly delivered here as a deathbed confession by a disgraced Wehrmacht officer awaiting execution at Nuremberg.

Scripted by Alan Hebden (Rat Pack, Fighting Mann, M.A.C.H. 1, Meltdown Man, Major Eazy etc) with art by John Cooper (Thunderbirds, Judge Dredd, Dredger, Armitage, One-Eyed Jack, Johnny Red, Dr. Who and so much more) this brief – 11 episodes from October 4th to December 28th 1978 – thriller traces the meteoric career of professional soldier Otto Von Margen.

Found guilty of Cowardice, Disobedience, High Treason and Defeatism by his fellow generals, he sits in a cell at Stadiheim Military Prison near Nuremburg, on the 20th of April 1945, counting down the 11 hours to his execution by telling his side of the story to his jailer.

Beyond the walls, the surging US army is drawing ever closer…

From early triumphs in Poland to the invasion of Norway, from Dunkirk to Yugoslavia, the Siege of Stalingrad and eventually Normandy – where his constant opposition to the monstrous acts of his own side finally became unpardonable – Von Margen and his devoted comrade Feldwebel Korder proved themselves brilliant, valiant and honourable soldiers.

However their incessant interference in Gestapo affairs and SS battlefield atrocities made them marked men, and finally the General went too far…

The tale of a patriotic soldier who served his country ruthlessly and proudly as a tank commander, whilst conducting a private war against barbaric Nazi sadists of the Gestapo and SS, is both gripping and genuinely moving, and the glittering, dwindling hope of the Americans arriving before his execution keeps the suspense at an intoxicating level…

This epic oversized monochrome collection (256 pages and 312mm x 226mm) then concludes with three complete short stories all illustrated by the magnificent Cam Kennedy (Commando, Fighting Mann, Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Batman, Star Wars, The Light and Darkness War, The Punisher, Zancudo).

Sadly, as explained by Ennis in his prelude ‘Get out, Leave me alone! This is my grave!: Private Loser and other stories’, only the last – and by far best – has a writer credit.

‘Clash by Night!’ is a classic “irony” tale as a group of US Marines on Iwo Jima fall foul of the Japanese trick of imitating wounded American soldiers, whilst the equally anonymous ‘Hot Wheels’ wryly describes the do-or-die antics of flamboyant supply truckers Yancy and Mule as they break all the rules to get a shipment of food and ammo to hard-pressed American troops closing in on Berlin in 1945…

There’s a subtle knack and true art to crafting perfect short stories, and Battle’s veteran editor Dave Hunt shows how it should be done in the impressively gripping ‘Private Loser’ wherein a meek, hopeless failure left to die during a British retreat from Burma in 1942 finally finds a horrific, gore-soaked, existentialist moment where he matters…

Ennis’ Afterword then wraps everything up with appropriate Thank-Yous and some very handy information on where to find even more masterful martial comics madness to enthral and delight anyone whose appetite for torment, tragedy, blood and wonder hasn’t been fully slaked yet…

These spectacular tales of action, tension and drama, with heaping helpings of sardonic grim wit from both sides of World War II and beyond, has only improved in the years since Battle folded, and these black and white gems are as affecting and engrossing now as they’ve ever been.

Fair warning though: this stuff is astoundingly addictive but with no sequel scheduled you might feel compelled to campaign for a second volume…
© 2013 Egmont UK Ltd. All rights reserved.

Garth Ennis Presents Battle Classics is scheduled for release January 9th 2014.

Numbercruncher


By Simon Spurrier & P.J. Holden with Jordie Bellaire (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-004-7

I’ve made a resolution to be more terse and concise in my reviews. Let’s see how long that lasts…

Sometimes a story just cries out to be told – especially if your tastes run to the sentimentally cynical, soppily savage or wide-eyed and jaded. If that’s you, Numbercruncher is just what you need to confirm all your suspicions about life whilst having a really good time.

The tale – by Simon Spurrier (Judge Dredd, X-Men: Legacy, Six-Gun Gorilla and others) & P.J. Holden (that man Dredd again, Rogue Trooper, Battlefields, Terminator/Robocop and more) – began as a creator-owned project in Judge Dredd Megazine before being expanded into a 4-issue miniseries from Titan Comics. Now it’s available as a splendid hardback packed with clever, controversial notions that will delight and astound lovers of metaphysical whimsy, romantic fantasy and unnecessarily extreme violence.

Like The Wizard of Oz and especially A Matter of Life and Death, this story is told on two separate levels of existence and differentiated by full-colour earthly sections and black-&-white views of the Afterlife. Unlike them, it’s a nasty and wittily vicious piece of work; just like handy geezer Bastard Zane, operative #494 employed by The Divine Calculator to enforce the Karmic Accountancy and keep souls circulating through the great cosmic all.

The Universe is just numbers and God is a mean, pedantic bean-counter, only concerned with the smooth running of his Grand Algorithm. Unfortunately, it all starts to fall apart when Zane is tasked by the weaselly Big Boss with stopping an in-love and dying young mathematician from gaming the system.

Genius Richard Thyme, in his final seconds of mortal life, has a Eureka moment and divines the true and exact nature of everything – and how to manipulate it…

Armed with such inspirational knowledge, Thyme’s soul arrives before the Writer in the Grand Ledger and wheedles another spin on the Karmic Wheel – Reincarnation.

Brilliant Richard had been utterly in love with a dippy hippy chick named Jessica Reed, and bargains for another chance at a life with her, and mean, petty-minded Divine Calculator gleefully accepts the proposition.

Thyme will be reborn, with all memories intact, but when this second life ends his soul will be employed by the Karmic Accountancy Agency as a collector just like Zane. The standard term of employment is for eternity – unless he can convince somebody to take his place. The indentured operatives call it “Recirculation”…

There is only one get-out: a “Zero-clause” which means that if Thyme can live a life completely and totally without sin, his contract is null and void. But who could possibly live a mortal life without the slightest transgression…?

Of course, The Accountant doesn’t play fair: stacking the deck so that reborn Richard is unable to even get near his lost love until it’s too late. However when Zane finally shows up in 2035AD, eagerly expecting to close the case-file and retire with Thyme taking his long-suffering place in The Register, the frustrated, cheated genius plays his own trump card.

He’d always expected to be short-changed and made his own Karmic deal. By selling his contract to another Accountancy operative, he had bought another life. And as the psychotically furious Bastard Zane soon sees, Thyme has pulled the trick over and over again. No matter how often Richard dies, he’s already being born again somewhere else…

With the mathematician’s sold-and-resold soul promised to practically every agent in the Afterlife, Zane’s only hope of retirement rests in killing the kid’s each and every reincarnation whilst simultaneously slaughtering all the Karmic operatives who have been suckered into a deal with the lovesick little sod…

And on Earth, despite perpetual setbacks, each brief existence inches Richard slowly closer to Jess. That should make his eventual capture inevitable – but even here the genius has an incredible Plan B in operation which even the Supreme Architect of the Cosmos didn’t see coming… one which could well undo the Algorithm underpinning Everything That Is…

Poignant, funny, outrageously gory, gloriously rude and wickedly clever, this is a ferociously upbeat and hilariously dark black comedy no insufferable incurable romantic could possibly resist.

Moreover, for all us dyed-in-the-wool comics freaks, there’s a host of background features included,

Interspersed between a gallery of covers and variants – plus unused iterations – and loads of original art, roughs and sketches, the ‘Author’s Note’ takes us behind the genesis of the tale, which is further expanded upon in ‘A Comic for Talking to God – an interview with Brian Truitt of USA Today’.

A discussion and explanation of Jordie Bellaire’s colouring process is the focus of ‘Working Flat-Out’ and ‘Birth Placement’ details the procedure for creating a cover, before the usual Creator’s Biographies ends things on a knowledgeable note.

Love, Death, Sex, more Death, Rebirth, lots of Death and Numbers: there’s your Meaning of Life right there…
™ & © 2013 Simon Spurrier & P.J. Holden. All rights reserved.

Numbercruncher is scheduled for release in January 2014.

Merry Christmas, Boys and Girls!

In keeping with my self-imposed Holiday tradition here’s yet another selection of British Annuals selected not just for nostalgia’s sake but because it’s my blog and I just want to…

After decades when only American comics and nostalgia items were considered collectable or worthy, these days the resurgence of interest in home-grown comics and stories means there’s a lot more of this kind of material out there and if you’re lucky enough to stumble across a vintage volume, I hope my words can convince you to acquire it.

Topping my Xmas wish-list would be further collections from those 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 public have never been broader and 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.

The Beano Book 1974


By various (DC Thomson & Co., Ltd.)
Retroactively awarded ISBN: 978-0-85116-077-1

For many British readers – whether comics fans or not – fans, the Holiday Season can only mean The Beano Book, so I’ve once more highlighted another of the venerable, beloved tomes as particularly representative of the time of year.

Way back when, many annuals were produced in a wonderful “half-colour” which British publishers used to keep costs down. This was done by printing sections or “Signatures” of the books with only two plates, such as Cyan (Blue) and Magenta (Red) or Yellow and Black.

The sheer versatility and colour range provided was simply astounding. Even now this technique inescapably screams “Holiday Extras” for me and my aging contemporaries and none more than in this spectacular example which would have hit shop shelves in September of 1963.

As is so often the case, my knowledge of the creators involved is appallingly sub-standard, but I’ll hazard my usual wild guesses in the hope that someone with more substantial information will correct me when I err …

This anarchically rousing compilation kicks off with a double-page splash of ‘Peculiar Pets’ Picture Gallery’ (by Robert Nixon, I think) displaying a number of comics stars and their companion animals of choice, after which Minnie the Minx (Jim Petrie) and a few chums and latterly Biffo the Bear with human pal Buster (by David Sutherland) introduce this year’s annual before Ron Spencer’s Baby-Face Finlayson (“The Cutest Bandit in the West”) imagines life as a giant and not a pipsqueak…

“Fastest Boy on Earth” Billy Whizz (drawn superbly as ever by Malcolm Judge) then learns to respect the power of traffic signs – in his house – before the crafty campaigns of ‘The Nibblers’ (John Sherwood) wins them a grand Christmas nosh-up and sanctuary from the seasonal snows.

Back then The Beano still had the odd adventure strip and perhaps the greatest of these was boy superhero Billy the Cat. Sutherland next proves his astounding visual versatility in The Bash Street Kids where the pupils plump for pop and resist the calming charms of classical music – leading to a camera-shattering pinup of ugly mug Plug – before switching to action mode as the acrobatic champion – now teamed with his cousin as Billie the Cat and Katie - jointly recapture an escaped convict and preserve their secret identities from curious school chums in a splendid rollercoaster romp.

Petrie’s Minnie the Minx then painfully learns that she’s not cut out for pony riding, after which Nixon panoramically maps out ‘A Funny Look at “Beano-Town”’ whilst Bob McGrath details the sub-zero antics of The Three Bears as they try to find fuel to heat their chilly cave.

Also ably illustrated by the tireless Sutherland, Biffo and Buster return as rivals clashing in a man-powered flight competition, after his Pin-up Pup! of Dennis the Menace’s perilous pooch Gnasher leads into a custard-coloured clash between his master and simpering swot Walter.

Spencer’s Little Plum experiences a mysterious clean-up whilst sleepwalking before Nixon’s Lord Snooty and his snowballing pals at Bunkerton Castle get some startling help from the estate’s star stag Angus even as elsewhere – and keeping up the Hibernian humour – Haggis hunters The McTickles (by Vic Neill?) fall foul of their canny shaggy prey…

Pup Parade starring the Bash Street Pups (Gordon Bell) finds the mini-mutts (eventually) enjoying an old dinosaur bone before a dedicated and extended niche chapter from Nixon. Here in an expansive section of his own, Roger the Dodger’s Special Mini-Book offers the rollicking tale of the ‘Disappearing Dodger’, a pin-up, his hilarious, historically inaccurate ‘Family Tree’, ‘A Dodger’s Outfit’, and an informative peek at ‘A Dodger’s Den’ before closing with the final pin-up ‘Dreaming of Dodges’

Biffo’s back – and points south – endure a battering due to the bear’s interest in buttercups (Sutherland) before Nixon reveals how the obstreperous Grandpa still catastrophically refuses to act his age and The Nibblers (Sherwood) again overcome malicious moggy Whiskers to fill their bellies with purloined goodies.

The riddle of Billy Whizz’ footwear replacement is solved in a quick-fire yarn by Judge before Bell’s Pup Parade starring the Bash Street Pups tale discloses the secret of their unlikely alliance with a very big cat…

Heading out West, The Three Bears (McGrath) find – and lose – a mountain of gold, The McTickles lose a skirmish with the wily Stilt-legged McHaggises, and Baby-Face Finlayson rewrites a few favourite nursery rhymes before Teacher and even Head have another go at civilising the Bash Street Kids with music – appended with a stomach-churning pin-up of Cuthbert Cringeworthy in Teacher’s Pet’s Picture Gallery

Ron Spencer stretches his artistic muscles providing ghastly genealogical ‘Fun with the Finlayson Family’ and illustrating how Little Plum gets into big trouble trying to recapture girlfriend Little Peach’s pet parrot, before Billy the Cat and Katie swing back into action, turning on the town’s Christmas lights and tracking down a hold-up gang (Sutherland).

Another gloriously funny Lord Snooty strip from Robert Nixon segues into Minnie the Minx’s hilarious crush on an American boy-band – and older readers will cringe with mirth at Jim Petrie’s hilarious spoof of then-sensation Donny Osmond – before Nixon strikes back with a Grandpa yarn involving the old codger’s inability to stay clean…

Beano star Dennis the Menace was only slightly involved in the Annuals of this period as he had his own Christmas Bumper book to run riot in, but he closes this tumultuous tome with an funny educational strip that’s a thinly disguised advert for his solo venture before the merriment closes here with another superb dose of Nixon’s ‘Peculiar Pets’ Picture Gallery’

This is supremely entertaining book, and even without legendary contributors Dudley Watkins, Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid there’s still an abundance of satisfyingly madcap, infectious insanity. With so much merriment on offer I can’t believe this 40-year old book is still sprightlier and more entertaining than most of my surviving friends and relatives. If ever anything needed to be issued as commemorative collections it’s these fabulous DC Thomson annuals…

Divorcing the sheer quality of this brilliant book from nostalgia may be a healthy exercise – perhaps impossible, but I’m quite happy to luxuriously wallow in the potent emotions this annual still stirs. It’s a fabulous laugh-and-thrill-packed read from a magical time, and turning those stiffened two-colour pages is always an unmatchable Christmas experience, happily still relatively easy to find these days.
© 1973 DC Thomson & Co., Ltd.

Pow! Annual 1970


By various (Odhams Books)
ASIN: B003VUO2SC

This splendidly intriguing item is one of my favourite childhood delights: addictively captivating at the time and these days a fascinating indicator of the perceived tastes of Britain’s kids. Most importantly it’s still a surprisingly qualitative read with its blend of American adventure strips playing well with a selection of steadfastly English and wickedly surreal comedy material.

With Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtaking their London-based competitors throughout the 1960s, the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed to compete offered incredible vistas in adventure material and – thanks especially to the defection of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid to monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press (created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century) – had finally 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 that latter end of the period the Batman TV show sent the entire world superhero crazy and Amalgamated had almost finished absorbing all its rivals such as Eagle’s Hulton Press to form Fleetway/Odhams/IPC.

Formerly 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 had been 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.

“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 gag comics – such as Buster, Lion or Tiger. During the Swinging Sixties these ubiquitous weeklies did much to popularise the budding Marvel characters and universe in this country, which was still poorly served by distribution of the actual American imports. Fantastic and its sister paper Terrific were notable for not reformatting or resizing the original artwork whilst in Wham!, Pow! or Smash!, an entire 24-page yarn could be resized and squeezed into 10 or 11 pages over two weeks…

Pow! launched with a cover date of January 31st 1967, combining home-grown funnies such as Mike Higgs’ The Cloak, Baxendale’s The Dolls of St Dominic’s, Reid’s Dare-a-Day Davy, Wee Willie Haggis: The Spy from Skye and many others, British originated thrillers such as Jack Magic and The Python and resized US strips Spider-Man and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

After 53 weekly issues the title merged with Wham!, that combination running until #86 when it was absorbed into Smash! Nevertheless, the title generated a number of annuals, even though, by 1969 when this annual was released, the trend generated by TV Batmania was dying.

Interest in superheroes and fantasy in general were on the wane and British weeklies were diversifying. Some switched back to war, sports and adventure stories whilst with comedy strips on the rise again, others became largely humour outlets.

This was one of the last Odhams Christmas compendia to feature imported Marvel material: from then on the Americans would handle their own Seasonal books rather than franchise out their classics to mingle with the Empire’s motley, anarchic rabble.

The content is eclectic and amazingly broad, beginning with a complete but compacted retelling of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #5 by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby from January 1964.

The full-colour WWII tale found the doughty warrior ‘At the Mercy of Baron Strucker’; beaten and humiliated in a duel with an Aryan nobleman. Soon filmed footage was used as a Nazi propaganda tool and Fury hero was a broken man – until one of his men realised the nonplussed noncom had fallen for the oldest trick in Hollywood’s playbook. The riotous rematch went rather better…

This was followed by a welter of gag strips beginning with an outing for Graham Allen’s The Nervs (revolting creatures that lived inside and piloted unlovely schoolboy Fatty) after which The Swots and the Blots (probably drawn by Mike Lacey) ushered in the economical 2-colour section with another Darwinian example of schoolboy Good vs. Evil and an unnamed substitute for Mike Higgs rendered the comedy caper The Cloak vs. Cloakwoman

Next up is a short Marvel sci fi thriller as ‘Escape into Space!’ (from Tales of Suspense #42 June 1963 by Lee, Larry Lieber & Matt Fox) sees a convict escape to freedom into the void – or does he…? – before Wee Willie Haggis – the Spy from Skye scotches a plot to nobble Scotland’s prime (in)edible export and Percy’s Pets finds the obsessed animal enthusiast in deep water after getting hold of a hyena and crocodile…

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #5 provides a factual page devoted to ‘Weapons of War: Light Machine Guns of World War II’ to restart the full colour fun, which continues with another Swots and the Blots romp ‘n’ riot after which idiot espionage continues with The Cloak vs. Blubberman

Back then to red-&-black for the not-resized Amazing Spider-Man #36 (May 1966, by Lee and Steve Ditko) as the Wallcrawler faces deranged super strong thief the Looter in ‘When Falls the Meteor!’

The magnificently strange comic villain Grimly Feendish then fails in another bid to get rich nefariously before tiny terror Sammy Shrink restarts a final segment of full-colour wonders with more boyish pranks, after which the reformatted ‘Death of a Hero’ (Fantastic Four #32, November 1964, by Lee, Kirby & Chic Stone) uncovers the secret of Sue and Johnny Storm’s father: a convict who gains incredible power as the rampaging Invincible Man…

This is a strange and beloved book for me and these are all great little adventures, even though I suspect it’s more nostalgia for a brilliant childhood rather than any intrinsic merit. Feel perfectly free to track this down and contradict me if you like though…
© 1969 The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited.

Superboy Annual 1964-1965


By various (Atlas Publishing/K.G. Murray)
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 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 (strangely) coloured pamphlets produced by Australian outfit K.G. Murray and exported here in a rather sporadic manner. The company also produced sturdy and substantial Christmas 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).

This particular tome of was of the last licensed UK DC comics compilations before the Batman TV show turned the entire planet Camp-Crazed and Bat-Manic, and therefore offers a delightfully eclectic mix of material far more in keeping with the traditionally perceived interests of British boys than the suited-&-booted masked madness that was soon to follow in the Caped Crusader’s scalloped wake.

Of course this collection was still produced in the cheap and quirky mix of monochrome, dual-hued and weirdly full-coloured pages which made the Christmas books such a bizarrely beloved treat.

The sublime suspense and joyous adventuring begins with a rare treat as ‘The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team!’ (by Jerry Coleman & George Papp from Adventure Comics #275, August 1960) offers an alternate view of the Dark Knight.

Teenaged Bruce Wayne was sneaking out on his still-living parents to fight crime as the Flying Fox and the Boy of Steel undertook to give some pre-heroic training after seeing their future partnership in a time scanner.

The task was made simple after the Waynes moved to Smallville but soon an odd rivalry developed…

British books always preferred to alternate action with short gag strips and the Murray publications depended heavily on the amazing DC output of cartoonist Henry Boltinoff. Here a jungle jape starring explorer ‘Shorty’ and a court appearance for ‘Casey the Cop’ herald the start of the duo-colour section (blue and red) before ‘Superboy’s First Day at School’ (Otto Binder & Papp from Superboy #75, September 1959) reveals how another attempt by Lana Lang to prove Clark Kent was the Boy of Steel prompts the lads Super-Recall and reveals how, on their first day in primary school, he inadvertently displayed his powers to her several times…

A big hit during the 1950s, Rex the Wonder Dog featured a supremely capable German Shepherd – and his owners – experience a wide variety of incredible escapades. Here ‘The Valley of the Thunder King!’ by John Broome, Gil Kane & Bernard Sachs from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #14 March-April 1954, finds the dog and soldier Major Danny Dennis discover a lost tribe of Aztecs in Mexico just as a volcano erupts…

‘How Luthor Met Superboy!’ (by Jerry Siegel & Al Plastino from Adventure Comics #271, April 1960) revealed how young scientist Lex and Superboy became friends, and how the genius became deranged after a laboratory fire extinguished by the Teen Titan caused him to lose his hair. Enraged beyond limit, the boy inventor turned his talents to crime…

Boltinoff’s ET gag strip ‘On the Planet Og’ temporarily terminates the two-tone tales and leads into a black-&-white section wherein Rex’s support feature Detective Chimp takes over.

Bobo was the pet, partner and deputy of Sheriff Chase of Oscaloosa County, Florida: a chimpanzee who foiled crimes and here experienced ‘Death Walks the High Wire!’ (Broome, Irwin Hasen & Joe Giella from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #8 March-April 1953), solving the murder of a circus trapeze artist.

The amazing hound then became ‘Rex, Dinosaur Destroyer!’ (Robert Kanigher, Kane & Sy Barry, from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #11-September-October 1953) after an atomic test blast opened a subterranean rift packed with survivors from another age…

‘Little Pete’ and another ‘Casey the Cop’ by Boltinoff augur a return to red and blue tones and an epic 2-part Superboy tale as ‘The Mystery of Mighty Boy! and ‘Superboy’s Lost Friend!’ (Binder & Papp; Superboy #85, December 1960) see the Boy of Steel travel to distant planet Zumoor and a teen hero whose life closely mirrors his own. They quickly become firm friends, but Superboy soon finds good reason to abandon Mighty Boy forever…

Comedy courtesy of Boltinoff’s ‘Professor Eureka’ leads into ‘Superboy’s Nightmare Dream House’ (Superboy #70, January 1959 by Alvin Schwartz & John Sikela) which finds the Teen of Tomorrow teaching a swindler a life-changing lesson before ‘Peter Puptent’ and ‘Casey the Cop’, after which Detective Chimp uncovers ‘Monkey Business on the Briny Deep!’ (Broome, Hasen & Giella, The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #10 July-August 1953) whilst Rex and Danny Dennis Jr. head out west to climb a mountain for charity and brave the perils of ‘The Eagle Hunter!’ (Kanigher, Kane & Barry from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #14 March-April 1954).

This thrilling collection returns to full-colour for one last Boltinoff ‘Doctor Rocket’ funny before ‘The Super Star of Hollywood’ (Siegel & Papp Adventure Comics #272, May 1960) reveals how super-dog Krypto becomes spoiled and big-headed after starring in a Hollywood movie – until Superboy applies a little clandestine reality check…
© National Periodical Publications, Inc. Published by arrangement with the K.G. Murray Publishing Company, Pty. Ltd., Sydney.

These Christmas Chronicles are lavish and laudatory celebrations of good times and great storytelling but at least they’re not lost or forgotten, and should you care to try them out the internet and a credit card are all you’ll need.

Merry Christmas, a fruitful New Year and Happy Reading from Everybody at Now Read This!