Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped – the graphic novel


Adapted by Alan Grant & Cam Kennedy (Waverley Books)
ISBN: 978-1-902407-38-8

Practically as soon as comicbooks were invented, high-minded enterprising souls were using the new medium to get readers interested in great literature: paring down deathless prose whilst adding the sheer power of pictures in narrative sequence.

In most cases over the intervening decades these adaptations have been less than stellar, but every so often a piece of work emerges that is not just a mere distillation, adjunct or accommodation but actually works as well in comics terms as the original literary ones.

One sterling example of such graphic magic came out of the 2004 selection of Edinburgh as the first UNESCO City of Literature, when Scottish funnybook veterans Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy were invited to convert a brace of classic tales by Robert Louis Stevenson to publishing’s hottest medium…

With a bare minimum of abridgement or adulteration and astonishingly augmented by the stunning art and colours of the inimitable Kennedy, the timelessly classic tale unfolds beginning with seventeen year old David Balfour who in June 1751 strides away from rural Essendean and the only home he has even known into peril, terror and astounding adventure…

Upon his father’s death Davie receives a letter which reveals the existence of a relative he never knew he possessed, so he promptly walks all the way to Edinburgh and sees for the first time the dilapidated, broken-down but still imposing House of Shaws.

At a time when the oppressive English conquerors are still openly revelling in crushing the Jacobite Rebellion, his progress is slow and cautious. One day David reaches the manor but is not comforted nor relieved, having heard no good word from any he passed about Ebenezer Balfour and his “house built on blood”…

The Laird is an elderly, scared-seeming, guilt-wracked scoundrel who grudgingly takes David in after declaring himself his uncle. Soon, however, David comes to realise that not only has Ebenezer long ago swindled his deceased brother out of his inheritance but is prepared to kill his only kin to keep it…

Forewarned, outraged and wary, Davie nonetheless falls into a trap when he accompanies his uncle to the family lawyer Rankeillor – purportedly to make amends and square accounts – at Queen’s Ferry. The lad is tricked aboard the brig Covenant where he learns Ebenezer has paid villainous Captain Hoseason to transport him to the New World to be sold as a slave…

Clubbed unconscious and inescapably trapped, David plunges into despair and illness. His unwanted journey is marked with brutality and horror, but marginally improves after he witnesses the murder of the cabin boy Ransome and is compelled to become that poor soul’s replacement.

A week later everything changes after the Covenant collides with a smaller vessel in the fog and a survivor is hauled aboard. The small, ferocious and exceedingly dangerous-looking straggler is Alan Breck Stewart: an earnest Jacobite who spends his days collecting debts for the defeated Highland chiefs-in-exile and smuggling the money to them in France.

More avaricious than political, the captain agrees to ferry Breck to a friendly destination for sixty golden guineas but when David overhears Hoseasons and First Mate Mr. Shuan planning to murder the Highlander, he makes a fateful life-changing decision…

Allying himself with Breck, young Balfour gets his first taste of battle and bloodletting when the pair heroically confront the crew from a readymade fortress in the main cabin. With nine men dead or maimed, Hoseasons has no choice but to negotiate and sullenly agrees to put them both ashore at Linnhe Loch, but even before the Covenant can reach that outpost of relative safety, the ship founders on a reef with David and Breck lost over the side…

Cast away and lost he is eventually reunited with Breck, only to endure hardship, horror, pursuit and personal degradation as he and his contentious, complicated comrade are hunted by Royalist forces for the murder of Colin Roy Campbell, known and dreaded as King George’s agent “the Red Fox” who punishes and persecutes Highlanders and honest men, even selling them into slavery…

Their trials and tribulations as outlaws of the heather, their meetings with kindred spirits, strains on their newfound friendship and eventual bringing to justice of the conniving Ebenezer Balfour are all deliciously revealed in gripping form and glorious imagery (although purists might miss much of Breck’s more esoteric phraseology) as the novel comes to rousing life in an iteration certain to please both devotees and first time readers.

Moody, evocative, fast-paced and gripping, this graphic goldmine was also released in two local languages: translated and dialogued in Lowland Scots as Kidnappit by Matthew Fitt & James Robertson and as Fo Bhruid – a Gaelic iteration translated by Iain MacDhòmhnaill.
Adapted text © 2006 Alan Grant. Illustrations © 2006 Cam Kennedy. All rights reserved.

The Mystery of the Crooked Imp – Tales of Fayt


By Conrad Mason & Neill Cameron (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-42-1

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional anthology comics weekly aimed at girls and boys between 6 and 12 which revelled in reviving the good old days of picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

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

That same year “The Little Company that Could” also began publishing a trilogy of excellent children’s fantasy novels starring the strange denizens of a fantastic place called Port Fayt.

Conrad Mason’s enchanting saga of life’s underbelly in a bustling commercial harbour situated at the other end of the Ebony Ocean is wonderfully redolent of Sir Terry Pratchett’s sublime Discworld – both in tone and scope.

The seething dock community – shared by humans, trolls, elves, fairies, magicians and so many other sorts of fey folk and night people – is revealed though the continuing exploits of The Demon’s Watch – a pan-species band of volunteer police who do what the lackadaisical constables of the official Dockside Militia cannot or will not…

Trade is king in Port Fayt and the “Blackcoats” mustered by the dominant and immensely powerful Trading Companies are supposed to arrest pickpockets, smugglers and other business-harming riffraff, but the ordinary citizenry have far more faith in the Watch’s shark-tattooed brotherhood of bluecoats who do good because it’s right and not because they’re (badly) paid to…

Supplementing the prose novels, this superb graphic outing is magically illustrated by David Wyatt (Peter Pan in Scarlet, the Larklight Trilogy, Mortal Engines, assorted tomes of the aforementioned Mr. Pratchett and J.R.R. Tolkien amongst others) and opens with an informative background lecture in ‘Crafty Crocklewick’s Giude to Port Fayt’: a potted history complete with detailed and annotated maps of the region and its more infamous landmarks such as Manticore Playhouse, The Brig and Bootle’s Pie Shop – HQ and front office of the Demon’s Watch.

Their latest case opens one sparkling midnight when a band of desperate fairies hold up a coach and steal a very unusual human baby. It is most odd: fairies are notorious thieves but generally their preferred loot is sugar, not infants with sparkly eyes…

Next morning the child’s parents enjoy a visit from the Demon’s Watch offering assistance, but the wealthy Rattigans seem more annoyed than upset over little Clarence’s abduction and, whilst half-ogre Captain Newton, troll brothers Frank and Paddy Bootle, ancient elf Old Jon and young magician Hal quiz them, wise and crafty young apprentice Tabitha gets the impression their maid Joanna knows more than she’s letting on…

Soon however the Watch are tracking down the carriage driver – a dwarf by the name of Whelk – but there are still a few unanswered questions to ponder. For instance: where was the baby going in a coach at midnight and why weren’t the parents with him?

For that matter why haven’t these wealthy types called in the Militia?

The investigation leads to insalubrious inn the Rusty Anchor but when they arrive the Watch discover Whelk expiring with a cutlass in his guts. Leaving Hal and Tabitha to tend the dying dwarf, they pursue the assailants and Tabs catches Whelk’s dying words: “the crooked imp”…

In the crowded alleyways below they confront a most motley crew of blackguards and a ferocious battle ensues until late-arriving Tabs joins in and distracts Newton enough so that the killer clowns can escape…

As the elder watchmen ponder the mysteries, downhearted Tabs prowls the market, sulking whilst buying the cakes she’s been despatched for until she encounters a frantically fleeing fairy named Spoon. The flighty fool has become the target of an obsessive and hungry seagull and is most grateful for her help in escaping the feathered fiend. She even spends a little precious time getting acquainted with the self-proclaimed “Free Fairy”…

When they part company Tabs goes back to Pie Shop and Spoon goes home where his formidable mum makes him help feed that appalling human baby they snatched for their human client…

Captain Newton meanwhile has taken his team into the seamiest dives in Port Fayt in search of information, but no one knows of a Crooked Imp. Wily old elf Jeb does know something of a band of garish thugs however. They sound like the nasty cutthroats employed by a maniacally bonkers troll gang-boss known as The Actor

As Jeb fills them in on the monster’s likely lair – an old abandoned playhouse in the Marlinspike Quarter – the suspect is currently taking a meeting with an extremely dangerous client of his own: one nasty enough to give even a psychopathic troll pause and one who really, really wants the baby he was promised…

When the Watch tool up for a serious fight with The Actor’s crew Tabs is furious at being left behind again, but soon finds a new clue when Joanna turns up with a rather dubious ransom note for Clarence. It has been signed by the Free Fairies…

Whilst Tabs frantically hunts down Spoon, at the playhouse The Actor and his frankly terrifying employer are still engaged in heated debate when Newt and the lads storm in for a final dust-up. All manner of pointless carnage ensues but when our heroes return, bloodied, unbowed but without either Actor or Clarence, they find that Tabitha has discerned the secret of the Crooked Imp…

The Watch soon rescue Clarence and solve the case of his kidnapping, but it only leads to even greater danger as the role of the Actor and intentions of his eerie employer – as well as the ghastly Rattigans – is finally revealed. However before they can close the case the maniacs turn the tables on our heroes, capturing them all and attempting to make them walk the plank into a nest of artificial sharks. Once again it’s up to Tabs to save the day, so it’s a good thing she has Spoon and that crazy seagull on her side…

Topped off with a foreboding promise of Things to Come and a handy set of information pages on the Demon’s Watch, this boisterous blockbuster is bright, breezy and packed with pies and punch-ups: a rip-roaring mystery yarn that’s furious fun for the entire family. Grab this and prose novels The Demon’s Watch, The Goblin’s Gift and The Hero’s Tomb and surrender to Fayt…

Text © Conrad Mason 2015. Illustrations © David Wyatt 2015.
The Mystery of the Crooked Imp will be released on April 2nd 2015 and is available for pre-order now.

Goodbye God? – An Illustrated Examination of Science Vs Religion


By Sean Michael Wilson & Hunt Emerson (New Internationalist)
ISBN: 978-1-78026-226-0

I don’t mind if you like Strictly Come Dancing. Why do you care that I don’t?

Faith is the ability to accept as true (believe in) things you can’t prove.

Belief is a choice to have faith (implicit trust) in certain things. Many people choose to believe Evolution doesn’t exist but that won’t protect them from a new strain of Bird Flu, rats that have developed immunity to Warfarin or even a Strep bug which has bred beyond the capabilities of contemporary antibiotics to kill it.

I choose to trust – call it “believe” if you want – in physically measurable, quantifiable, repeatable phenomena which work irrespective of what I want or how much I beg them to change.

I want to believe that I’m in no way socially, developmentally, biologically or genetically connected to racists, homophobes, abusers or cretins but, just like I wish I had superpowers, praying cannot make it true.

You can choose to think of evolution as open to debate and refuse to believe you’re descended from an unending chain of constantly changing and developing animals, but that only makes you more a horse’s arse than a monkey’s uncle.

The comforting notion that any book or unverifiable opinion is infallible and that you are of more significance to the universe than a bee, a rock or a bad odour is equally wrong – and completely pointless too: but if a sense of superiority helps you sleep at night, fine. Just stop killing bees, crushing rocks and making a nasty smell for the rest of us – and don’t even get me started on the kinds of monsters and morons who think their beliefs afford them the right to inflict institutionalised cruelty upon animals or their own children and justifies desecrating art and destroying artefacts of history – whether it be Christians painting over erotic murals at Herculaneum and Pompeii or fanatical Islamic splinter groups pillaging and destroying temples in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq…

I believe know that the above statement was a rant – but a heartfelt and honest one.

I choose to rant and shout and shoot off my mouth because I’m not smart, patient or reasonable, unlike author Sean Michael Wilson and grand master cartoonist Hunt Emerson who have diligently gathered data, arguments, opinions and those pesky imps we call “facts” into a superbly even-handed and open-minded graphic narrative discourse.

Taking up the most commonly employed arguments of Big Religion, Wilson & Emerson have carefully arranged and scrupulously countered them, resulting in a plausibly inviting examination of issues dividing Faiths (all of them, not any one faction who might prefer to and profit from thinking of themselves as persecuted intellectual “martyrs”) from the world as it appears to the rest of us and shining a warm yet uncompromising light of rationality upon them.

It makes for gripping and genuinely revelatory reading.

All religious organisation and faith workers – from the Catholic Church to TV ghost hunters to that shoddy charlatan medium/spiritualist conning your aunty out of her pension – derive approval, power and money from their highly organised activities, but whereas we officially godless individuals may sell a book or two and cop an appearance fee from the occasional chat show, Humanists (people who don’t believe in God and generally can’t even agree with each other) gain nothing from pointing out that – based on the evidence – we are on our own in the world and bear the sole responsibility for taking care of the place and all its inhabitants and fittings.

That’s something to sincerely meditate on…

Following an Introduction by Professor Lawrence M. Krauss (Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University), the dissection of Big Questions and how people choose to react to them opens with Part 1: Evolution and Creationism wherein the ground rules of serious discussion are laid down before ‘Creationism v Evolution’ systematically lists and methodically shoots down one by one the major claims used to “disprove” and cast doubt on the nature of reality, beginning of course, with a clear concise definition of the terms of reference of each side…

A quick précis of the development of Darwin’s discoveries and principles is compared with Christian Creationism’s contention that the world is significantly less than 10,000 years old. Outrageous things many Americans believe are counterbalanced by helpful facts from Richy Thompson of the British Humanist Association before a number of Creationist claims such as Earth’s declining magnetic field, slowing rotation and that all humanity and attendant life came from a survivors of a global flood 4,000 years ago are dealt with…

A hilarious aside explaining just why such fallacious arguments are harmful leads into a skilful dissection of “Intelligent Design” with helpful interjections and clarifications from Philosophy Lecturer Stephen Law with other cognitive heavyweights such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Noam Chomsky piling in to explain why such notions are so harmful to children.

Following a lecture on the damage the proliferation of such propaganda has had on American education and government policy, Richy Thompson pops back to expose the situation in British schools before going on to deliver his own description of the difference between Belief and Fact. The section then ends with a description of the gloriously wry scientific response to Creationism that is Project Steve

This is followed by a review of the wider universe (as we understand it at this moment, and Creationists never will) and concludes with a detailed examination of Law’s Eight Mechanisms, by which all religions – and a goodly proportion of New Age Tomfoolery – introduce, promote and promulgate their particular brand of Revelation and Salvation.

Part 2: Science and Religion then expands the discussion into a broader examination of the debate, pictured as the sporting contest ‘Science v Religion’ and running down the inherent fallacies manipulated by theistic proponents.

Historical examples and contemporary scenes are followed by definitions of Humanism from the likes of Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Isaac Asimov, Gloria Steinem and Kurt Vonnegut as well as AC Grayling, Hitchens and the wonderful Dawkins who offers his own joyous antidote to slavish acceptance of other peoples’ unproven opinions as well as few much-needed debunkings of such religious Whited Sepulchres as the obnoxious contention that people cannot be moral or “good” without God (seen in ‘Darwin = Facism’).

There’s mention of the Catholic Church’s connections to many tyrants and arguments pointing religion’s role in the rise of Hitler, Stalin and too many others…

Also including a gallery of prominent Humanists from John Stuart Mill to Katherine Hepburn and a delicious selection of pertinent and elucidating jokes from Hitchens, this section concludes with lawyer and Democrat politician Sean Faircloth’s ‘10 Practical Points for a Secular America’

This appetisingly sensible treatise also includes essays on both The American Humanist Association (“Good Without a God”) and The British Humanist Association (“For the one life we have”) offering general glimmerings of good tidings for common sense as well as Bios and contact details of the creators.

Any “fact” that comes with a price ticket and pledge of allegiance isn’t worth knowing and sometimes it’s hard to see any space for compromise in this argument, but Goodbye God? is not bloodymindedness in action or the theological equivalent of bear-baiting.

The purpose of this book and the only thing most Humanists want is simple. We’re not telling anyone what to believe or how to act: all we want is to teach nothing but science and scientific principles in science classes.

It would be nice if political and social decisions that affect all humanity were made solely on the basis of rational exploration and logical conclusion, but we’ll settle for giving the next generation all the intellectual tools needed to deal with the increasingly unforgiving and extremely inhospitable planet we’re leaving them rather than blinkering them and having everybody wait for a miracle which will not be forthcoming…

By all means keep your Intelligent Design or Creation Myths if you need them so badly but present them in Religious and Social Studies classes where they belong and where, quite frankly, they can be examined and debated on their own merits and contrasted with other equally baseless suppositions, rather than unquestioningly delivered to developing minds with the same unshakable conviction and intensity which correctly states “fire hot”, “stuff falls to ground when let go of”. You could even hopefully add “some people and animals only want sex within their own gender” and “climate change is real and is going to kill us all”…

If only the rationalists weren’t so patently “preaching to the converted” too…

But don’t you dare take my word for it: examine the book for yourselves and draw your own conclusions…
© Sean Michael Wilson. All rights reserved.

Oculus


By Luke Melia, Vincent Smith, David Anderson & various (Tabella Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-50276-589-5                  eBook ASIN: B00IC4EQJ2

As I’m sure you know by now, I’m a huge advocate of comics creators with the drive and dedication to take control of their own destinies. Late last year I reviewed a superbly written graphic horror tale called The White Room of the Asylum by Luke Melia and a coterie of artists which utterly amazed and impressed me.

Now with a chameleonic, Iain Banks-like shift of genres the indie artistic entrepreneurs are back – specifically writer/letterer Melia, illustrator Vinny Smith and colour-artist David Anderson – with a distinctly disturbing sci fi cop drama that is every bit as gripping and smart…

By 2027 the world has been completely altered by a social media innovation of astounding power and devastating simplicity.

Oculus sells an implanted chip which allows users to record and/or share in real-time whatever they’re seeing and hearing. The service connects with any or all other possessors of the implant and the company claims that to comprise most of the planet.

Live streaming intimate moments of an individual’s everyday life can be with one person, a selection of friends and acquaintances or the entire world. The facility has completely changed every aspect of society.

It has especially transformed the law and policing. It’s really hard to claim innocence if the victim has shared you committing the crime with thousands of viewers and the Oculus mainframe has a record of you doing it…

Police forces are more tech resource teams, video researchers and IT bods than boots-on- the-ground coppers – except for the bellicose, tooled-up, OTT tactical teams designated SABU (Special Armed response and Bomb disposal Unit) – so feckless young graduate Shane Edwards’ first day in the Major Crimes Department of the New Oxford Constabulary is something of a letdown.

He’s already having a tragic life. Despite his being the son of the Mayor – who had to very blatantly pull strings to get him into the police – his best friend (he so wants her to be more) and Oculus intimate Emma Hudson is going through hell because her sister is going to jail.

It’s not official yet but Lauren was observed killing her cheating boyfriend in full view of an enrapt and aghast global audience…

After meeting department boss Alan Campbell and the shockingly small team of detectives, Shane is swiftly dubbed ‘Another Girl in the Office’ by astonishingly abrasive colleague Jane. Dogsbody Chris seems okay but the new kid doesn’t even meet old lag Jeff who is supposed to be his mentor and partner…

That introduction only comes in the middle of the night when the grizzled and rather unconventional old plod turns up on the doorstep to drag him to a crime scene emergency. He won’t even let Shane change out of his pyjamas and slippers…

Incident reporting has also been revolutionised by Oculus. Why wait for a scream or a phone call when most crimes are seen by somebody somewhere as they happen; be they perp, witness, victim or even police officer…?

This particular “Shout” is for a grotesquely bloody murder picked up all over the Oculus network, but by the time they arrive on scene, the story is already staring to unravel.

For starters, the girl seen being repeatedly stabbed, screaming her lungs out and expiring is Isobel Bendis, who slashed her wrists and died weeks earlier – and Jane should know: she was the officiating officer and attended the funeral a fortnight previously…

Ascertaining that the broadcast was faked, Jeff employs a particularly cool piece of kit called a Repeat Torch which illuminates the outlines of living bodies on solid objects such as walls… just like electromagnetic Luminol…

The hazy blue rays show two living persons – presumably the grisly, prankish fraudsters – manufacturing the body dump. Following the ghostly trail leads Shane and Jeff through the sewers and into the underground transit system, where the gobsmacked coppers realise at last that they been played from start to finish by some very clever individuals…

The startling events of Oculus are rendered in full colour and cunningly augmented with a wealth of satirical ads for such items as the voyeuristic ‘Extreme Jobs’ site, ‘Wild-Sight’, ‘The Oculus Cloud’, ‘Life in Third Person’ and decision-making app ‘Indie-Sysiv’ – all concocted by Luke & Vivienne Melia, Vinny Smith, David Anderson, Michael Kennedy, Christian David Navarro, Jenna Kyle, James Smith, Bobby Peñafiel and Roel S. Palmaira.

Key background information is provided by a series of faux magazine interviews with the social revolution’s inventor Alan Jensen (designed and illustrated by Ephraim Zev Zimmerman) and following the first of these – ‘The Origins of Oculus’ – the saga resumes with the entire Major Crimes unit – all five of them – reviewing events.

Cliff has established that the “murder” broadcast was recorded, not live, and sent from the username “Dolos”, tagged with a large variety of terms such as “Free”, “Sex”, “Star Trek” and “Anime” all cunningly designed to catch the eye of the widest possible audience…

Unfortunately due to budget constraints Campbell can’t sanction a costly activity report from the Oculus Corporation for what looks like a nasty student prank. Still smarting from looking like a fool and being seen trudging through sewers in pyjamas and tiger slippers, Shane vigorously disagrees. He argues that whoever did this is organised, meticulous, capable of fooling everybody who saw into believing it was real… and live. Dolos also had no problems digging up and stealing a corpse to carry it off…

Campbell relents and agrees to let Shane and Jeff continue to work on it as long as costs stay down: after all, these days there simply isn’t that much work for detectives to do…

Jeff has been in the force for a very long time and knows lots of strange people. Thinking one of them might have a handle on the matter, he drags his excitable understudy to a basement flat to meet inventor and hacker Bentley, a most peculiar individual clearly long off his meds and living in a wonderland of paranoia and bizarre hand-made devices…

‘0.4% Chance It Could Destroy The World’ sees the first lead found as the batty boffin suggests back-street Oculus implants and breaks into the high security Oculus Corporation database records.

Armed with Dolos’s account inception date and the enigma’s Friends List, the dynamic duo hit the quiet streets of New Oxford where Jeff suggests trying a far more traditional method of finding things out…

Fat Maisey is a low-level street rat and if anyone knows about illegal Oculus implants he will. Sadly the chase after the little weasel only leads our heroes into an armed ambush and ultra-violent counter-operation involving the gun-toting gung-ho grunts of SABU…

Barely escaping with their lives Shane and Jeff head back to the station whilst elsewhere two conspirators bicker and agree to speed up the pace of their plan…

Still felling out of his depth, Shane talks things over with “just friends” Emma before going out on a date with old college acquaintance Anna Rice. They end up in bed but since Anna’s idea of having a great time is being seen getting off by hundreds of strangers, close friends and especially herself, Shane’s night does not have a happy ending…

Following another Jensen interview (‘The Origins of PADs and Broadcasting’) the next chapter ‘How Could I Ever Truly Respect Her?’ opens with the boy wonder getting some well deserved ragging from his mentor.

Even Shane’s mum tuned in to the open broadcast and he is – for the third day running – the laughing stock of the New Oxford Constabulary. At least Jeff is amused enough to share some of his own tragic personal history, but inexplicably Emma seems furious with the bewildered newbie…

Events suddenly overtake the mental self-flagellation when Campbell calls them all in to a meeting which also includes members of Operations and Counter-terrorism divisions. All assembled are advised to tune in to a certain Oculus Drive path where Dolos is again broadcasting.

Definitely live this time, the mystery prankster is loading a gun in a public toilet somewhere in New Oxford…

As the frantic law officials follow the progress of the gloved perpetrator through his – or her – own eyes, Shane recognises The Francis Castle Shopping Centre. Dolos, now sitting at the central fountain pretending to read a newspaper, adds more Tag-terms to the live feed: words like “Francis Castle”, “massacre” and “hundreds dead”…

The bigwigs freak out and SABU are dispatched, but Shane uses his own Oculus system to link with a stranger shopping at the mall. Convincing Gabrielle to walk over to the fountain, the police use her eyes but see that no one is there, even though Dolos’s open channel shows the chilling conundrum staring right back at the baffled teenager over his paper…

When the enigma’s eyes show him unwrapping a bomb and scrawling the word “Kaboom” on a wall, full-panic mode kicks in and masked-and-armoured SABU officers storm the centre, frantically evacuating the citizens and using the Dolos view to trail him to the bomb.

Once again there is nothing there, and the baffled cops are just turning to go when a colossal detonation rocks the building…

After Jensen’s ‘How Oculus Changed the Entertainment Industry’ a telling flashback of Shane and Emma at college leads to gloom and despondency in the present as the NOC reel in the aftermath of a disaster that has left 35 dead and hundreds injured.

Brain-fried from constantly reviewing the impossibly divergent Oculus recordings, Jeff and Shane go book-shopping to clear out the nonsensical but inescapable theory of an invisible maniac being behind all their woes…

The second-hand tome is for Jeff’s friend Bryce: a very smart lady who owned a research company which dabbled in camouflage and stealth technologies – although her real area of expertise was human cloning. ‘Oh, And By The Way, There Are Six Of Them’ sees Shane astonished to meet a sextet of his partner’s pal as they pursue the assorted blind alleys regarding becoming unseen…

However, as they all congregate to review the combined synched footage of numerous victims, one of Bryce does identify an anomaly who might just be an accomplice of Dolos…

As Shane tries to re-establish a personal life free of shame and snickering rozzers, the wheels of modern police procedure roll on and soon the mystery man in the recordings is identified and arrested… but only after a little illicit assistance from Bentley…

The next Jensen feature deals with ‘Education and the Workplace’ after which Jeff and Shane conduct their first interview with terrified Rhys Ennis who, after literally spilling his guts, does so metaphorically and explains how the anonymous Dolos hired him…

The kid is clearly just a pawn and the NOC eventually let him go. It’s only later as Jeff tells his protégé about Bryce that Shane realises in a burst of exasperated inspiration the simple trick the terrorists devised to cheat a system the entire world believes cannot be fooled…

As the police swing into action Shane heads home for much needed sleep, but is soon awakened by a live cast from Emma. From under her bed she – and Shane – can see a man with a gun stalking murderously through her house…

Jeff arrives ahead of his partner and chases the assailant off and by the time Shane arrives there’s nothing to do but comfort the distraught Emma. His mentor however has cornered the intruder and with Shane scrupulously tuned in goes down in a hail of bullets in ‘You Can’t Unsee Shit Like That, No Pun Intended’

Bracketed by Jensen interviews ‘Oculus Health Implications & the Law’ and ‘The Future of Oculus’, the incredible truth behind a devilish and misconceived scheme finally comes out in ‘So What Went Wrong?’

However even as Jeff’s colleagues arrest Dolos and sweat the incomprehensible truth out of the last person Shane ever expected to see, events conspire to prove that nothing is as it seems and nobody can really be trusted…

Originally released as an eBook in February 2014, this full-colour printed trade-paperback edition is now available (complete with cover gallery by Anderson) delivering a superbly imaginative, compelling and suspenseful future crime yarn no lover of whodunits will want to miss.
© 2014 Luke Melia, Vinnie Smith and David Anderson. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents: The Pirates of Pangaea Book 1


By Daniel Hartwell & Neill Cameron (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-08-7

Why are pirates so mean? I don’t know, they just AARRRR…

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional anthology comics weekly aimed at girls and boys between 6 and 12 which revelled in reviving the good old days of picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

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

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. It celebrated its first anniversary by developing a digital edition available globally as an app and is continually expanding its horizons.

It is, most importantly, tremendous fun, offering not just comedic comic capers, but games, puzzles, “How-To…” pages and even adventure strips.

Crafted by Daniel Hartwell (Urban Beasts) and Neill Cameron (Mo-Bot High, How to Make Awesome Comics), by far the most engaging thriller so far featured is a sublime combination of classic endeavour and enticing fantasy which blends bold buccaneers, boldly brilliant kids, suspenseful swashbuckling escapades and gloriously gigantic dinosaurs.

The alternate-history lesson begins with twelve year old Sophie Delacourt voyaging out from England in 1717 to join her Uncle Silas, the newly appointed Governor of the lost land of Pangaea.

The huge island-continent is reputed to be the oldest land on Earth and a place primarily inhabited by colossal reptiles of the land and air. Master Bosun William takes a paternal interest in the girl, explaining the wondrous nature of the place, but nothing prepares Sophie for the experience of a colossal “long-neck” which dives under their vessel and lifts it bodily into the air.

The interior of Pangaea is a vast shifting ocean of long grass afflicted and infested with fast and deadly predators no man afoot could survive or escape, so all ships are picked up out of blue Caribbean waters then carried upon brobdingnagian beasts’ backs between the rocky high points and plateaux where humanity has built its dwellings and settlements.

The big beasts are kept docile and compliant by the administration of a herb dubbed “Snuff” and piloted by the skilful class of inland mariners known as “Snuffmen”…

Sophie has never seen anything so wonderful in her life but, as Snuffman John guides the magnificent Bessie and her formerly-seagoing burden towards the Governor’s capital city, the amazed girl catches sight of the ever-present peril which besets this latest outpost of empire.

Through the shifting verdure comes a pirate ship strapped atop a terrifying black Land Leviathan and soon the voyagers are fighting for their lives in an ‘Ambush on Pangaea’.

Sophie is locked in her cabin as the corsairs’ devastating attack pillages the vessel and, when the insanely cruel Captain Brookes cries victory, making the crew walk the plank to their deaths, she is the only survivor…

The second chapter opens with the Governor’s niece imprisoned on Brookes’ land-ship, a potential goldmine in ransom for the greedy maniac. Furious and defiant Sophie is slowly befriended by brute’s cabin boy Timothy Kelsey. The lad is the tormented last survivor of a previous foray which saw the murder of his mentor and master Dr. Shaw; a naturalist who had come to the lost land to catalogue the ‘Indigenous Fauna of the Pangaean Land-Mass’.

After witnessing Brookes’ cruelty, Sophie agrees to join in the boy’s desperate plan for escape but as they make their move to fly off on the ship’s captive “Great Wing” lizard, they stumble over the Captain’s first mate.

Ten Gun Jones is also engaged in fleeing on the “Razor Beak”, but the noise of their stumbling over each other rouses the ship and the three are forced to flee together into the night amidst a hail of musket fire…

Soon the trio are hopelessly ‘Lost in the Sea of Green’ as their gravely wounded pterosaur expires just short of a high-projecting stony pinnacle. With deadly “Land Sharks” and “Belly Rippers” closing in on them all hope seems lost until an even deadlier beast pounces.

The “Tyrant” makes short work of the circling velociraptors, but its ravening hunger remains unsated. Only sheer terror carries the three fugitives to the relative safety of the rocky islet and, frantically scaling the igneous tower with the horror snapping at their heels, they all tumble into a cave to find themselves inside an abandoned pirate den…

The dusty lair has weapons, lamps, water, liquor and even brontosaur jerky; everything they might need to outwait the roaring giant outside, but after a sleepless night with Ten Gun less than forthcoming about why he was deserting Captain Brookes, Sophie conceives a dangerous idea.

After feeding the monster chunks of the dried meat liberally doused in the Snuff she found in a barrel, in an act of seeming madness Sophie drops onto the horror’s head and soon has it – or rather her – acting like a very dangerous steed…

The fearless lass then explains how an elderly servant in England taught her the secrets of horse-whispering before christening her scaly new pet “Cornflower”. Timothy is elated that they can use the Tyrant to safely cross the lethal Sea of Green to civilisation but Jones has other plans…

The enigmatic pirate’s guarded directions soon bring them to an active volcano which is in truth the neutral port used as a safe-haven by all the freebooters plying the grassy deeps. In a tavern the children learn the ‘Secrets of Raptor Rock’ and are introduced to bombastic Captain Ford, who previously planted Ten Gun in Brookes’ crew to secretly secure the second half of a disputed treasure map…

With both pieces secure the privateer immediately sets to emerald sea, but Ten Gun insists on bringing Sophie and Tim along. They have barely left the rock before Cornflower breaks out of her pen and doggedly follows…

The children are put to work and Sophie soon makes friends with Iwakian Snuffman Tak: a native Pangaean who steers the buccaneers’ bombastic brontosaur Gertrude

The exploratory voyage comes to a sudden end after crossing the eerie “Longnecks Graveyard” when they hove into view of the fantastic plateau known in legend as “The Forbidden Isle”…

An expeditionary party is soon driving inland to a ancient temple in ‘Quest for the Golden Skull’ but upon entering, the greedy pirates are astounded to discover that the invaluable artefact they’re hunting is not a gilded human head but actually a full size tyrant’s skull cast in precious metal…

That’s when ferocious native defenders – the Kron Iwakia – ambush the party, driving them back to the relative safety of Gertrude, but the rapidly retreating raiders have no idea of what’s happened in the meantime.

Young Kelsey, resentful of being enslaved again has – more by accident than design – blown up the ship and stampeded Gertrude off into the Sea of Green just as maniacal Captain Brookes arrives intent on reclaiming his map and slaughtering everyone…

Even though the enraged Iwakians vanished when the ship began to burn, Ford’s rattled crew are no match for the nautical newcomers and things look bleak and bloody. Sophie and Kelsey desperately head back to the temple chased by Brookes’ men and death seems imminent until, from nowhere, Cornflower hurtles into action and eagerly despatches the pursuing pirates.

This prompts the Kron Iwakia to emerge from concealment to guide Cornflower and the kids back to the temple. The natives worship Tyrant lizards and after a strange ceremony deem Sophie and her reptile holy. That’s when Tim realises that the Golden Skull is not a mere ornament but battle armour for a tyrannosaur Chosen One…

With the Iwakians in close support the valiant children return to the ongoing pirate war to settle a number of old scores before taking control of their own destinies…

Superbly engaging and utterly enthralling, this astounding all-action romp is a riotous delight of astonishing adventure and this fabulous first compilation also includes many maps and crucial fact pages on the assorted dinosaurs from Dr. Shaw’s ‘Indigenous Fauna of the Pangaean Land-Mass’ – specifically ‘Sauropoda’, ‘Pterosauria’, ‘Dromaeosauridae’ and ‘Tyrannosauridae’ – all scrupulously crafted, corrected and annotated by erstwhile cabin boy and greatest living expert Timothy Kelsey…

Bright, breezy furious fun for the entire family, so don’t miss this unburied treasure…
Text © Daniel Hartwell 2015. Illustrations © Neill Cameron 2015. All rights reserved.

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 Sparky Book 1975

By many and various (D.C. Thomson)
Retroactively awarded ISBN: 978-0-85116-103-7

For many British readers – whether comics fans or not – the Holiday Season means The Beano Book, but publisher D.C. Thomson produced a wide range of weekly titles over the decades, most of which also offered superb hardcover annuals so this year I’ve opted to feature one of the lesser lights – although as always, the quality and invention of the work is hard to deny…

Way back when, most annuals were produced in a wonderful “half-colour” which British publishers utilised in order 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 range of hues provided was simply astounding. Even now this technique inescapably screams “Holiday Extras” for me and my aging contemporaries. This particular example comes from the barely-yesterday year of 1974 (and would have hit shop shelves in late August) when printing technology had advanced to such a degree that a goodly proportion of the book could cost-effectively be produced in full colour.

Sparky launched as a weekly comic on January 23rd 1965, intended for a slightly younger audience than Beano or Dandy and after 652 issues merged with The Topper (July 9th 1977 issue).

As was often the case its Annual outlived it, generating fun-filled hardback albums from 1965 until 1980, all featuring extra-long or special tales starring its most popular strips.

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

The manic mirth begins with Vic Niell’s ‘Peter Piper’ whose “Magic Pipe Brings Things to Life”.

In this tale the musical mysticism causes chaos by animating a giant dog on a poster which our hero compounds thereafter by having to zap a lot of burly folks into existence to help him catch it again, after which “Britain’s Brightest Coppers” Cedric and Frederic take on a brace of bandits dressed as policemen in an extended and hilarious ‘L Cars’ escapade illustrated by Bill Hill.

A dramatic full-colour painted fact-feature then eulogizes the ancient Vikings in ‘Faces of Man: North Man’ (by an artist I can’t identify) after which the inimitable Bill Ritchie provides his first cartoon contribution with ‘Barney Bulldog and Young Ben’ who enjoy a spot of indoor football whilst ‘Dreamy Daniel – Who Does He Think He Is?’ – by a fill-in artist also unknown to me – details the foolish fantasist’s muddling up fixing a TV aerial with scaling Everest.

Gordon Bell then limns ‘Spoofer McGraw – He Tells Tall Tales’ as the fibber regales his buddy Bo with the ludicrous story of how crash helmets were invented whilst ‘Hungry Horace’ (by George Drysdale?) is just for once innocent of scoffing all the food in the family picnic hamper before ‘Keyhole Kate’ (maybe Drysdale again rather than original artist Allan Morley) devises a foolproof gimmick to facilitate her nosy voyeurism but becomes a victim of her own ingenuity…

Jim Petrie’s ‘We Are the Sparky People’ offers an unedifying peek behind the scenes of comics production and a warning glimpse at the seedy inner workings of the editorial department on a day when the office mice run riot, after which another full-colour section spotlights the nation’s most infallible espionage agent as ‘I Spy… and the Master Phoney!’ (by Brian Walker or John Fox, perhaps?) pits the diminutive wonder against chameleonic Chinese rogue Wong Numba

Following a little brain-teasing with ‘The Great Sparky Join-the-Dots Game’, John Geering delights with a boisterous outing for ‘Pansy Potter, the Strong Man’s Daughter’ as her long-suffering folks enjoy a quiet holiday by staying home after packing their child off to the seaside…

‘Faces of Man: South Man’ celebrates the prowess of the legendary Zulu warriors before Ritchie enjoys a spot of fourth-wall busting canine metamorphosis in ‘Barney Bull’ and Bob Webster (or a rather good impersonator) delights in an extended tale of every fan’s favourite alien robot in ‘A Tale of Two Klankys’ wherein the well-meaning mechanoid aids little Ernie and Sis Huggins in winning a fancy-dress prize and nabbing some conniving kidnappers…

Malcolm Judge’s ‘Ali’s Baba’ starred an invisible genie tasked with acting as super-nannie to the world’s most trouble-prone toddler and here the ill-starred ifrit exhausts himself after the pestiferous kid smuggles a puppy into the house after which ‘Jumbo and Jet’ (artist unknown but possibly Mike Green?) details how the elephant and mouse duo have a holiday from hell in a seaside chalet…

Probably by the same illustrator is ‘Snip and Snap the Tearaway Terriers’ who take drastic action against an owl interrupting their sleep whilst archest of enemies ‘Puss and Boots’ rejoice in full-colour forays by Geering and ‘Hungry Horace in 2000AD’ speculates on greed and nosh-cadging in the World of Tomorrow.

The rainbow hues continue as the civilisation and accomplishments of China are celebrated in ‘Faces of Man: Eastern Man’, wish-granting ‘Mr. Bubbles’ (Pamela Chapaeu and/or James Fox) turns barnyard swine into gourmet clubbers and ‘A Typical Day in the Life of Peter Piper’ sees the well-meaning lad’s animations generate a rollercoaster’s worth of trouble and thrills…

Back in black and red ‘Spoofer McGraw’ tells more tall tales to Bo – this time regarding the shocking truth behind puppets and marionettes – after which ‘Barney Bulldog’ finds his new job actually costs him cash and ‘Keyhole Kate’ invades a castle and is hoist on someone else’s petard…

Sports day is just another opportunity for a cat-and-dogfight to ‘Puss and Boots’, after which ‘L Cars in France!’ sees the boobies in blue export their ineptitude to Paris whilst ‘Pansy Potter’s Horoscope’ gives her dad plenty of warning about forthcoming disasters on their next holiday together…

‘Invisible Dick’ by Tony Speer finds boy-hero Dick Dixon searching for his real cloaking torch whilst tackling a bullying thug after which ‘Ali’s Baba’ takes up the tactics of a highwayman after being read Dick Turpin at bedtime and ‘Puss and Boots’ indulge in underwater warfare in a backyard swimming pool before ‘Presenting… Sirs View of the Sparky People’ heralds another full-colour section with candid comedic CCTV footage…

Quirky but uncredited ‘The Space Kids’ then reveals how four boys with a stunning secret aid extraterrestrial junk man Zarro after the trader unwittingly collects an occupied lunar module as stellar scrap before a final ‘Faces of Man: Western Man’ describes the life of native American tribes before the White Man came and everything wraps up with another ‘Mr. Bubbles’ escapade as young Wendy wishes she could do handstands like the other girls and soon the entire town is walking upside down…

Bright, breezy and supremely entertaining, this is another unbeatable blend of festive fun and thrills to delight kids of all ages.
© D.C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. 1974

My Enid Blyton Book (1948)

By Enid Blyton, illustrated by Grace Lodge (Latimer House/Marks & Spencer, Ltd.)
No ISBN

Enid Mary Blyton (August 11th 1897-28th November 1968) was English and wrote lots of stories for children – sometimes as many as fifty books a year.

Despite being controversial for much of her career she quickly became part of the very fabric of growing up British and her name became synonymous with childhood. In 1948 another bastion of empire – high-end retail giant Marks and Spencer – began an association with the author which produced three stunning annual collections of fabulous, beautifully illustrated gentle fantasy short stories. This was the first of them.

My Enid Blyton Book 1948 featured a selection of previously told tales taken from the weekly children’s periodical Sunny Stories for Little Folks between 1927 and 1934, lavishly and enchantingly illustrated here in the traditional two-colour process by the amazingly gifted Grace Lodge.

An astute businesswoman, the author had already recycled the material once as two thirds of the 1934 compilation tome The Red Pixie Book (illustrated then by Kathleen Nixon).

A lexicon of clever, charming and funny yarns for youngsters, the book commenced with ‘Who Stole the Crown?’ (from SStfLF #174, September 1933) wherein the King of Pixieland’s summer crown was purloined by persons or creatures unknown and the appalled ruler was forced to turn to a rather smug chap called Little-Cap who used deductive reasoning to ferret out the culprit…

Next follows the salutary tale of a gnome named ‘Clickety-Clack’ (#90, March 1930) whose gruffly unpleasant manner was cured in a trice following a shocking encounter with an aeroplane, after which human children Jill and Norman went on the adventure of a lifetime.

Whilst walking in the woods their pet Puppy-Dog Pincher was turned into a mouse by an outraged brownie. Thankfully a kindly Pixie maid lent them ‘The Little Walking House’ (AKA ‘The House with Six Legs’ from SStfLF #190, May 1934) so that they could travel to the sky castle of High-Hat the Giant and secure a cure. Of course it wasn’t quite as simple as all that…

‘Gooseberry Whiskers’ (#92, April 1930) is a delightful “just-so” story revealing how a thieving gnome trying to hide stolen caterpillar hairs accidentally gave a simple garden fruit bristles and ‘The Pixie Who Killed the Moon’ (#16, February 1927) detailed how foolish Pixie boy Big Eyes was the bane of his mother’s existence and got a big surprise after confusing the lunar orb for a red balloon…

‘Feefo Goes to Market’ (#190, May 1934) is a rather jolly and riotous romp relating how a hardworking gnome with a very large family was held up as an aggravating paragon to his fellow wee folk once too often by many unhappy wives…

As the prosperous onion-pudding maker returned home a bunch of irate neighbourhood husbands lay in wait to teach him a lesson but Feefo was not only industrious but crafty and turned the tables on his lazy ambushers…

Mister Curly was mean, always finding ways to penny pinch and not share time, effort or money. However his life changed radically after he swindled a tinker goblin out of ‘The Little Singing Kettle’ (#187, April 1934) and learned a hard but necessary lesson…

‘Good Old Jumbo!’ (#188, April 1934) detailed how a neglected toy animal rescued a kidnapped Pixie princess Dimple from Red Goblin kidnappers after which a subtle tale from the war of the sexes revealed how a very bad king was controlled by his wise and noble wife through the agency of ‘King Bom’s Ice-Cream’ (#188, April 1934).

‘The Boy Who Pulled Tails’ (#189, May 1934) is another lesson well told as boisterous human boy learned that yanking animals’ tails was only fun for him. His epiphany began after he tugged the sleek tail of a gnome cat which promptly leaped off and attached itself to his rear end. A few days of having his own appendage attacked worked wonders thereafter…

Sometimes however mischief pays off as in ‘Pipkin Plays a Trick’ (#187, April 1934) wherein the wily pixie and his sister Penny duped their selfish neighbours and impatient elders into carrying out tedious arduous chores simply by implying that some money had been lost…

The tale of ‘The Poor Pink Pig’ (#178, November 1933) is a story of witchcraft in which the unhappy porker, fed up with acting as a substitute familiar to his owner Mother Winkle, goes looking for a new home whilst the saga of ‘Mr. Grumpygroo’s Hat’ (#88, February1930) proves how acting nice and smiling can transform even the most surly curmudgeon into a pillar of society and friend to all and everything ends with a sorry saga of recalcitrant imbecility as ‘Fiddle-De-Dee, the Foolish Brownie’ (#103, October 1930) proves over and over again that he is immune to any aspect of common sense…

Sweet, charming, clever, nostalgic and ferociously twee, these tales are nevertheless a superb example of what made Britain British for decades and still retain their mesmeric power, especially when lavishly illustrated by one of the very best artists you’ve never heard of.

A genuine landmark of Annual publication.
© Enid Blyton 1948. All rights reserved.

Valiant Annual 1973

By various (Fleetway)
Retroactively awarded ISBN: 978-0-85037-033-1

Valiant was conceived as a “Boy Paper” in 1962 as the British comics industry struggled to cope with the sudden importation of brash, flashy, full-colour comics from America. A weekly anthology concentrating on adventure features and offering a constantly changing arena of action, the magazine was the company’s most successful title for over a decade and absorbed many less successful periodicals between its launch and eventual amalgamation into new-styled, hugely popular Battle Picture Weekly in 1976.

There were 21 Annuals between 1964 to 1985, combining original strips with prose stories; sports, science and general interest features; short humour strips and – increasingly from the 1970s onwards – reformatted reprints from IPC/Fleetway’s vast back catalogue.

From their creative heyday (this book would have been on sale from the end of August 1972) and sporting a magical Mike Western cover, the all-boys excitement begins with ‘The Sea Warriors’: an illustrated historical feature on the numerous vessels to carry the name “Valiant”.

‘The Wild Wonders’ (Western and probably Tom Tully on script) kicks off the comics capers with a tale of Rick and Charlie Wilde and their long-suffering guardian Mike Flynn. Shipwrecked on remote Worrag Island in the Hebrides, the toddlers were raised by animals and survived to become almost superhuman specimens. When rescued by Olympic swimmer Mike they became sporting sensations able to out-compete most adult athletes in any discipline. They could also talk to animals.

Here they save the seaside resort of Frilsea from a band of marauding thugs and bikers in a splendidly anarchic romp after which ‘The Tuffs of Terror Island’ finds four boys trapped on a tropical paradise filled with giant animals with only friendly caveman Urrg to help them survive.

The long-running serial strip originated in Lion, drawn by Tony Coleman, but I suspect this one-off, featuring the hunt for a colossal and nutritious cassowary egg, has been handled by a very talented Spanish ghost-illustrator.

Seagoing simpleton ‘Wacker’ (originally “Elmer” when running in Buster) has pet problems before the iconic ‘Captain Hurricane’ (written by Scott Goodall or Jon Rose) makes his first appearance, single-handedly crushing the Japanese in Burma whilst his hardworking batman Maggot Malone sets about ending a food shortage caused by black marketeers…

A brace of comedy capers – ‘The Crows’ by the amazingly prolific Reg Parlett and the astoundingly slick and wonderful ‘Sporty’ by Reg (Sporting Sam) Wootton – segues neatly into prose skiing/smuggler thriller ‘Diamond Run’ with illustrations by Eric Bradbury after which frenetic trend-chasers ‘The Nutts’ cause aerial angst in a superb yarn from Spanish cartoonist Ángel Nadal.

His comedic prowess is also on show in western spoof ‘Hymer Loafer – the Tiredest Man in Tennessee’ whose stagecoach lowjinks here exasperate his hard working mother. The strip was a frequently recycled feature previously entitled Lazy Sprockett and Kip Carson when it appeared in Buster.

A photo-packed essay on Olympic history, ‘The Greatest Games of All’ is followed by another maritime mirthquake with ‘Wacker (He’s All at Sea)’ before a true veteran aviator takes to the skies in ‘Battler Britton and the Flying Fortress’ (possibly illustrated by Italian artist Giorgio Trevisan) wherein the air ace has to retrieve a new bombsight from a downed bomber.

Clearing the palate is another Parlett rib-tickler starring ‘The Crows’ after which a full-colour section highlights period peril for ‘Janus Stark’. The epic “Incredible Adventures” of this fantastically innovative and successful strip were created by Tully for the relaunch of Smash in 1969, with the majority of the art by Francisco Solano Lopez’s studio.

The eerie moodiness of the weekly well suited the story of a foundling who grew up in a grim orphanage only to become the greatest escapologist of the Victorian age. The “Man with Rubber Bones” also had his own ideas about justice, and would joyously sort out scoundrels the Law couldn’t or wouldn’t touch.

A number of creators worked on this feature which survived until the downsizing of the publisher’s comics division in 1975 – and even beyond. Stark escaped oblivion when the series was continued in France – even unto Janus’s eventual death and succession by his son.

Here the monochrome murk gives way to stunning sunlit scenes as the escapologist travels to Egypt, solves the secret of the pyramids and foils tomb-robbers in a fast-paced romp painted by Solano Lopez or possibly Carlos Cruz.

A football-themed Wootton ‘Sporty’ precedes an outdated and rather un-PC selection of gags dubbed ‘Injun Antics’ after which strange facts are recounted in ‘Well Fancy That’ and Leo Baxendale’s ‘The Swots and the Blots’ (possibly ghosted by Mike Lacey) renew their cataclysmic class wars…

A prose tale of ‘Captain Hurricane’ finds the mighty Marine in France thumping “Krauts” and facing off against a steam engine before a recycled and reformatted ‘Kelly’s Eye’ serial pits the indestructible troubleshooter against vampires and a sinister slave-taking mastermind…

The much-loved, long-running strip featured ordinary, decent bloke Tim Kelly who came into possession of the mystical “Eye of Zoltec” gem which kept him free from all harm as long as held on to it. You won’t be surprised to discover that due to the demands of weekly boys’ adventures, Tim lost the infernal thing pretty darned often – and always at the most inopportune moment…

The spectacular artwork of Solano Lopez was the major draw of this series, with Tully and Goodall the usual scripters.

Nadal’s ‘Hymer Loafer’ then stops the trains from running on time – or at all – after which unlikely survivor ‘Billy Bunter’ (Parlett) again overcomes incredible odds to fill his prodigious tum and ‘The Sea Warriors’ reveal the story of HMS Hermes with ‘Wacker’ sustaining the naval theme whilst playing hob with ships’ figureheads…

One of the most fondly remembered British strips of all time is the startlingly beautiful Steel Claw. From 1962- 1973 Jesús Blasco and his small family studio enthralled the nation’s children illustrating the breakneck adventures of scientist, adventurer, spy and even costumed superhero Louis Crandell. Initially written by novelist Ken Bulmer, the majority of the character’s career was scripted by Tully.

Here ‘The Return of the Claw’ offers a superbly illustrated prose drama wherein Crandell has to recover a stolen nuclear missile and ends up trapped in a sinister carnival…

One more funny flight of ‘The Crows’ leads to a full-colour extended outing for gypsy football savant ‘Raven on the Wing’ (Solano Lopez studio) as the wonder boy suffers a loss of form whilst in France and tribal mystic Morag has to invoke her uncanny powers to set him right…

An hilarious dalliance with man-powered flight for ‘The Nutts’ is followed by a photo-essay ‘Sporting Roundabout’, games pages exposing ‘Magic Secrets’ and a fact-feature of astronauts and ‘Star Transportation’ before the frankly bizarre ‘Yellowknife of the Yard’ stars in a text tale (with illustrations by Douglas Maxted?) fighting the depredations of flamboyant mastermind the Crime Master as he confounds the regular Metropolitan constabulary…

A gag-packed selection of ‘Sporting Smiles’ precedes another ‘Billy Bunter’ tale after which Henry Nobbins tries his hand big game hunting in Africa…

Light-hearted everyman ‘His Sporting Lordship’ was one of the most popular strips of the era. Beginning in Smash! it survived merger with Valiant in 1971 and only died just before the comic itself did.

Nobbins was a labourer on a building site when he unexpectedly inherited five million pounds and the title of Earl of Ranworth. Unfortunately, he couldn’t touch the cash until he had restored the family’s sporting reputation by winning the championships, prizes and awards that his forebears had held in times past…

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

The capable manservant had his hands full in this tale (art possibly by Douglas Maxted) as Henry strives to bring back a live lion for the local zoo with Parkinson and Bloggs on wicked top form…

HMS Kent is the final subject of the ‘The Sea Warriors’ feature whilst ‘Who Is It?’ tests the readers’ knowledge of sporting stars after which the seasonal bonanza concludes with a stellar fantasy (illustrated by Luis Bermejo?) as teenager ‘Jon of the Jungle’ and his man-ape ally Zim travel back to Africa only to have their plane crash onto a lost plateau where dinosaurs, cave men and even worse monsters still battle for survival…

Eclectic, wide-ranging and always of majestically high quality, this blend of fact, fiction, fun and thrills is a splendid evocation of lost days of joy and wonder. We may not be making books like this anymore but at least they’re still relatively easy to track down. Of course what’s really needed is for some sagacious publisher to start re-issuing them…
© IPC Magazines Ltd., 1972

Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter


By Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby, Tiernen Trevallion, Jim Campbell & Jerry Brannigan (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-0-99215-085-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: a graphic joy beyond compare… 10/10

Robert Burns was born in 1759 in Alloway. His father was a farmer who went to great lengths to ensure that his children were properly educated. Robert was schooled in the classics, French and Latin and began his creative writing when he was fifteen.

He led a successful, tempestuous life – particularly favouring boozy carousing and roistering escapades with the ladies – and died in 1796 aged 37.

As well as his dialectical and vernacular poetry, Burns selflessly preserved a wealth of traditional Scottish songs and folklore – particularly the bizarre arcane bestiary of supernatural entities God-fearing folk of the 18th century believed in – and is more popular today than he has ever been.

He is the only poet in history to have his own globally celebrated holiday, with his birth anniversary on January 25th an affair universally honoured by food, drink, recitations and well-loved scary stories…

This stunning re-imagining of the venerable wordsmith by scripters Gordon Rennie (Necronauts, Cabalistics Inc., Judge Dredd) and Emma Beeby (Doctor Who, Judge Dredd), breathtakingly illustrated by relative newcomer Tiernen Trevallion (2000AD, Judge Dredd) and lettered by Jim Campbell, owes as much to the modern fashion for stylish tongue-in-cheek horror comedies like Shaun of the Dead, Lesbian Vampire Killers and I Sell the Dead as the beguiling and frequently fantastical works of the poet, but the skilful interweaving of Burns’ immortal lines with a diabolically clever but simple idea make this tale an unforgettable treat whether pages or screens float your particular boat…

Think of it this way: in all those sterling supernatural sonnets and sagas, Burns wasn’t reinterpreting his elders’ supernatural folk tales or exercising a unique imagination, he was simply quoting from his diary…

The wee drama unfolds one night in Ayrshire in 1779 when rascally young gadabout Robbie finds himself on the wrong end of an angry man’s fist after playing fast and loose with the irate hulk’s intended bride. However, even though all the lassies fall for the blithe blather of the self-proclaimed poet, the battered man himself knows he has not yet found his true muse…

Half-drunk and well-thumped, the farmer’s son heads his horse for home but is drawn to uncanny lights emanating from haunted, drear abandoned old Alloway Kirk. Dangerously enthralled he then espies a scene out of Hell itself as witches and demons cavort in a naked ecstasy of dark worship to the satanic master “Old Clootie”…

The lad’s enrapt attention is only broken by a heavy pistol shoved in his ear by a stealthy pair also watching the shocking ritual. Old Mackay is a daunting figure kitted out like a wrinkled human arsenal but Robbie’s attention cannot stray from the dangerous codger’s comely companion Meg, the most astounding woman he has ever seen.

Unfortunately the confrontation between the mortal voyeurs has resulted in Burns’ “innocent” blood being spilled and the satanic celebrants have caught wind of it…

Soon all the denizens of Hell are howling after the ‘mazed mortals but things are not as they seem. The outlandish pair are actually Witch Hunters, ferociously skilled in sending all Satan’s minions back to the Inferno and always armed to the teeth with a fantastic array of ingeniously inventive ordnance…

Having fought free of the black Sabbat, the mortals take flight with the screaming witches in pursuit and when one grabs Robbie as he rides pillion on Meg’s horse, the dazed, half-soused lad blasts the beast with one of his companions’ blessed flintlock pistols.

Tragically in the selfsame altercation the pursuing she-devil had opportunity to mark him with her talons and the would-be poet promptly sobers up when he is informed that he has only three days left to live…

With mounting terror he learns that most mortals so infected become willing thralls of the hellions, but when a seductive minion of The Pit comes for him the next night, the scribbler somehow fends it off long enough for the suspiciously near-at-hand Meg to spectacularly despatch it back to the brimstone realms…

Concluding that’s there might be something of worth to the Burns boy, Mackay and Meg resolve to teach him how to be a true Witch Hunter so that he can defend himself when the horrors come in full strength to collect the Devil’s due. Of course that’s only three days hence…

Renegade are a publisher who value fact as well as fiction and this superb full-colour hardback comes with a fine selection of factual features beginning with a lavish history and appreciation of Scotland’s greatest poet in Robbie Burns: a Biography’ by author and historian Jerry Brannigan as well as ‘Selected Poems’ which provides a tantalising entrée into the uniquely impassioned and eerie world of the grand imagineer with a sampling of some of his most famous works embellished and beguilingly illustrated with a wealth of Trevallion’s pencils sketches of Bogles and Brownies, Spunkies and Sirens and even senior Witch Hunter Mackay.

The rhythmic reveille includes Scots Wha Hae, the totally crucial, groundbreaking spooky saga Tam o’ Shanter (A Tale), the evocative A Red, Red Rose, A Man’s A Man For A’ That, the delirious Address To The Deil and most moving lament Ae Fond Kiss, And Then We Sever

Smart, action packed, skilfully suspenseful, uproariously funny, divinely irreverent and genuinely scary or sad by turn, Robbie Burns Witch Hunter is a gloriously compelling and truly mesmerising romp: a doom-laden, wisecracking rollicking love story no sensitive soul or jaded comics fan could possibly resist. It’s even educational too…
Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter © 2014 Renegade Arts Entertainment, Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby and Tiernen Trevallion.

To learn more and obtain copies check out Turnaround or Amazon.

Channel Evil


By Alan Grant, Shane Oakley, D’Israeli, Suzanne O’Brien & various (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-0-986820021-4-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: spooky chills for dark winter nights… 8/10

As the nights draw in, thoughts just naturally turn to hunkering down by a fire, eating to excess, drinking to oblivion and scaring the bejeezus out of each other with uncanny stories.

In that hallowed tradition comes a stunning (mostly) monochrome treat from veteran comicbook craftsmen Alan Grant (Robo-Hunter, Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Batman, The Bogie Man, plus one or two other things you might have heard of) and Shane Oakley (Fatal Charm, Mister X, Albion) which began life as an apparently cursed miniseries from Renegade and Berserker Comics in 2009.

That story is well covered in the brace of Introductions by author Grant and his film-making partner in creative cooperative Renegade Arts Entertainment, so I won’t waste your time here. However, with Channel Evil finally completed, the spectacular results have been released as a gripping grimoire of wicked wonderment with even more appreciations and reminiscences from horrorist Doug “Pinhead” Bradley in his Foreword before a decidedly different scary story starts in, of all places, Blackpool…

‘Don’t Touch that Dial’ opens with ambitious local TV presenter Jez Manson doing what he loves most: ripping apart and humiliating a minor celeb on his talk show. Having crushed another eager hopeful, the Man of the Hour celebrates by taking his glamour model girlfriend Lian for a walk along the Central Pier and is cajoled into seeing a show starring medium Conni Verona.

The mouthy sceptic is unimpressed with the psychic’s message of universal peace and love as she “channels” her spirit guide Great Horam – but on seeing the packed and enrapt audience Manson knows money when he smells it…

Arranging for Connie to appear on his show is easy and avaricious agent “Fast Mick” also senses more priceless publicity and ratings in store. Unfortunately when Conni is interviewed on Channel X-33 things don’t go as expected as she turns his ridiculing ambush back upon him, daring him to try and contact the spirit dimensions himself.

Forced to comply, Jez has a go and, after four millennia, the pagan god Ba’al finds himself a new and extremely inviting vessel…

Jez’s transformation is terrifying, compulsive and hypnotic… until Conni snaps him out of his possessed state with a smart slap across the face. Manson is dazed and visibly shaken but all Mick can see is the astounding viewer reactions and offers from the major networks for more of the same…

Brushing off Conni’s warning about messing with the unknown, Jez and Mick go on a club-hopping bender but the exhausted interviewer begs off early, heading home to crash out.

Later that night three rowdily drunken stag night partiers are burned to death…

‘Interference Pattern’ sees Lian arrive home after a “Page 3” gig to find Jez in an uncharacteristically gloomy state, morbidly dwelling for reasons even he can’t explain on the triple homicide.

Across town, meanwhile, world-weary Sergeant Niven and his junior partner Detective Tate start their investigations at the morgue. All they’ve got to go on is three crispy charred corpses, a jerry can with an almost useless partial fingerprint and a brain-fried wino who might have witnessed the attack…

Jez is enduring horrific nightmares of slaughter and conquest, punctuated by demands from a supernal maniac that he surrender his body…

Mick does more than amorously solicitous Lian to quash those night terrors. The wily manager has arranged a live broadcast from Louis Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors for Jez to display his captivating new talent before an eager audience and sensation-hungry world. Once again Ba’al does not disappoint…

After a stunningly baroque and grotesque display which brings the gods of television clamouring to his door with their chequebooks out, Jez heads for home utterly exhausted. Exultant Mick finds him there crashed out next day, with no memory of the intervening hours. Lian is there too. Well, at least most of her is…

With Manson utterly oblivious to the situation, Mick does what every good manager does and fixes things. Utterly unaware of what he’s done, the presenter is far more worried by a spate of bloody atrocities across the country. He’s convinced they’re all Ba’al’s work.

The police, thanks to that partial print, have listed Jez as a person of interest and paid a visit, but once again the agent has all the bases covered…

Despite everything he seen Mick is still sceptical, but agrees to fetch Conni Verona to “fix” either Jez’s delusion or – just possibly – the demonic intrusion. When he returns, however, his client is missing, giving the agent time to arrange one more televisual spectacular for the masses…

With the police closing in and Conni and Great Horam poised to banish the invading spirit the stage is set for a cataclysmic climax, but as you’d expect the ferocious ancient god has his own ideas…

Dark, witty, razor-paced and genuinely suspenseful, Grant’s Channel Evil delivers a potent punch to delight modern fans of mood and mystery, couched in slick and subtle terms and illustrated with devilishly stylish aplomb by Oakley and Suzanne O’Brien, but this wicked chronicle does not end there.

Also included is a gallery of covers and variants by Wayne Nichols, Mark Buckingham, Frank Quitely & D’Israeli, a fascinating glimpse into Oakley’s process via an extensive ‘Sketch Book’ feature, and a brilliant, informative and blackly hilarious bonus story as the red-handed storm god himself gives a candid in-depth TV interview which reveals his astonishing history and literally brings the house down in ‘An Evening With Ba’al’

Smart, sharp and unforgettable, this is a spooky yarn no grown-up fear aficionado will dare to miss.
Channel Evil © 2012 Renegade Arts Entertainment and Alan Grant.

The Crazy World of Rugby


By Bill Stott (Exley)
ISBN: 978-1-85015-770-0

We are apparently a nation of avid armchair sportsmen here in Britain, so I’ve taken this opportunity to re-examine the so-very-English obsession with chasing balls and incurring life-changing injury through the far gentler medium of cartoon books and in particular a collection of dry, droll and often painfully accurate observations by one of my favourite unsung gagsters.

Another prolific but criminally near-forgotten staple of British gag graphics, Bill Stott’s manically loose line, stunningly evocative drawing and mordantly acerbic conceptions (which basically boil down to “no matter how strange, if it can happen it will happen to you, but only if somebody is watching…”) were a mainstay of Punch, Private Eye, The Times and many other papers and publications from 1976 onwards.

In his other life he was – and probably still is – a degree-level college painting and drawing tutor. Moreover he’s still in the game – such as it is in these days of magazine and newspaper cartoon paucity – and you can check out his latest stuff or even commission an original simply by visiting billstott.co.uk.

There might even be copies of this superb little rib-tickler on sale there…

British cartooning has been magnificently served over the centuries by masters of form, line, wash and most importantly clever ideas repeatedly poking (and here actually bending) our funny bones whilst pricking our pomposities and fascinations, and nothing says more about us than our crazy compulsion to thrash about in mud, smiting perfectly civil strangers in the name of fun and exercise…

Within the pages of the Crazy World of Rugby (released in both English and American editions as a hardcover and paperback) the wary watcher from the safety of the sidelines will learn the horrors and joys of Scrum and Ruck, the utter inefficacy of referees, the amusing things you can do with upright poles and the agonising dangers of tradition whilst developing a fascination for odd-shaped balls…

The role of parental support and the sweet angelic singing of burly men in shorts, the wonders of a robust appetite and attendant health benefits of a little regular fresh air are emphasised and the girl-pulling attractions of broken noses and mouths uncluttered by teeth are counterbalanced with observations on international rule interpretation.

Moreover, the idiosyncrasies of training regimens and the terrific indifference of the rules of physics and Laws of Momentum are redefined, all filtered through the hazy bonhomie of the friendly post-match booze-up…

One of a splendid range of themed collections issued by transatlantic publishing outfit Exley in both English and American editions, this fabulous full colour landscape tome is guaranteed to wring a wry smile from retired competitors whilst confirming for the rest of us what we’ve always assumed about this most manly of sports and most sporting of men…

These kinds of cartoon collection are perennial library/charity shop and jumble sale fare and if you ever see a Stott collections (others in this particular series include The Crazy World of Cats, Cricket, Hospitals, Housework, Marriage and Gardening) in such a place, do yourself a favour, help out a good cause and have a brilliant laugh with another true master of mirth.

As for me and my armchair… Books yes, Rugby not so much…

1988 Bill Stott. All rights reserved.

The James Bond Omnibus 006


By Jim Lawrence, John McLusky, Yaroslav Horak & Harry North (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-0-85768-591-9

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

It’s annoying to admit but there are very few British newspaper strips to challenge the influence and impact of classic daily and Sunday “funnies” from America, especially in the field of adventure fiction.

The 1930’s and 1940’s were particularly rich in popular, not to say iconic, creations. You would be hard-pressed to come up with home-grown household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, let alone Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon, or the likes of Little Lulu, Blondie, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye and yes, I know I said him twice, but Elzie Segars’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good.

What strips can you recall to equal simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? The Perishers? Garth? Judge Dredd?

I’d like to hope so, but I doubt it.

The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly very many wonderful strips being produced: well-written and beautifully drawn, but that stubborn British reserve plus a completely different editorial view of the marketplace (which just didn’t consider strips an infallible, readership-attracting magnet, as our American cousins did) never seemed to be in the business of creating household names… until the 1950’s.

Something happened in ‘fifties Britain – but I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics (as well as all “mere” entertainment media from radio serials to paperback novels) got carried along on the wave. Just like television, periodicals such as Eagle, the regenerated Dandy and Beano and girls’ comics in general all shifted into creative high gear …and so at last did newspapers.

And that means that I can happily extol the virtues of a graphic collection with proven crossover appeal for a change.

The first 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and was subsequently serialised – after much dithering and nervousness on behalf of author Fleming – as a strip in the Daily Express from 1958. It was the start of a beguiling run of paperback book adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence, a jobbing writer for American features (who had previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) came aboard on The Man With the Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the Fleming canon to strip format. Thereafter he was invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s demise in 1983.

The art on the feature was always of the highest standard.

Initially John McLusky handled the illustration until 1966’s conclusion of You Only Live Twice and, although perhaps lacking in verve, the workmanlike clarity of his drawing easily coped with the astonishing variety of locales, technical set-ups and sheer immensity of cast members, whilst accomplishing the then-novel conceit of advancing a plot and ending each episode on a cliff-hanging “hook” every day.

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who debuted on Man With the Golden Gun offering a looser, edgier style, at once more cinematic and with a closer attention to camera angle and frenzied action that seemed to typify the high-octane 1960’s.

Horak illustrated 26 complete adventures until in 1977 The Daily Express ceased running the Bond feature (with the then-running adventure suddenly switching to The Sunday Express (from January 30th until conclusion on May 22nd).

Later adventures had no UK presence at all, only appearing in syndication in European papers. This state of affairs continued until 1981 when British paper The Daily Star revived the feature with ‘Doomcrack’.

Titan books have re-assembled those scarce-seen tales – a heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death – into the last of their addictively accessible monochrome Omnibus Editions, wherein a dedicated band of creators on top form prove how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe, shaken, stirred and thoroughly entertained…

The frantic derring-do and dark, deadly diplomacy commences with Lawrence & Horak’s final (UK-embargoed) exploit ‘Shark Bait’ – originally running abroad from 1978 to 1979 – finding Bond up to his neck in hot water after boldly abducting Soviet scuba diver Katya Orlova from the Coral Sea.

That high-bodycount encounter is, however, only the starting point in 007’s mission and, after brutally deprogramming her in the searing Australian Outback, they become moving targets for KGB hit-teams as he builds trust before completing his overall game plan: tracking down a colossal shark which has swallowed a stolen computer carrying NATO nuclear secrets.

With the Russians inexorably closing in on the prize, the infallible agent is prepared to do whatever it takes to stop them…

When The Daily Star began their Bond serial with ‘Doomcrack’ (February 2nd to August 19th 1981) Lawrence was still in command of concocting stories but the illustrator was a rather controversial one.

Harry North was a regular and prolific contributor to both the US and UK iterations of Mad Magazine and, whilst his renditions of the regular cast caught the likenesses of the filmic Bond, M, Moneypenny and others, his action and suspense scenes couldn’t escape his comedic preferences and often hinder or even destroy all dramatic effect.

If you can get past that though, the tale of KGB killers, East German intrigue and defector Dr. Vlad Sinescu is a gripping if convoluted one. The avaricious genius wants to sell to Britain his new super weapon – capable of exploding brains at a distance, bringing down aircraft and shaking down cities – but his communist former masters are prepared to do anything to stop the sale.

…And then, amidst all the carnage and chaos, insidious criminal cabal S.P.E.C.T.R.E. steps in, grabbing the boffin and his weapon before extorting the world by destroying national monuments. With the situation hopeless it’s no wonder 007 quits and joins the opposition…

Veteran artist McLusky returned to steady the ship for the next explosive epic wherein devious cult leader Father Star uses psycho-chemicals, brain surgery, artificial angels and ghostly special effects to control the actions of bereaved billionaires, generals and politicians. The hunt for the brilliant mastermind with plans of ruling this world, if not the next, takes James around the planet and into many a salacious dive before he can finally crush ‘The Paradise Plot’ (August 20th 1981 to June 4th 1982)…

An insidious millionaire murder-maestro with a revolting terror-weapon turns up in ‘Deathmask’ (June 7th 1982 – February 2nd 1983), leaving a trail of hideously deformed corpses in his wake. It takes the combined efforts of Bond and fellow agent Suzie Kew to defeat deranged Ivor Nyborg’s legion of mechanical monsters, broach the fiend’s astounding undersea lair and prevent a genetically engineered plague devastating humanity…

A policy switch to shorter, less complex stories was instigated with ‘Flittermouse’ (February 9th – May 20th 1983) as vengeful maniac Dr. Cat returned with another diabolically ingenious method of murder before the indomitable super-agent sent him to his final reward, after which ‘Polestar’ (May 23rd – July 15th 1983) saw the end of Britain’s connection to the espionage ace.

The James Bond strip had been a problem for the Star since its resurrection and was abruptly dropped midway through this adventure. The story concluded only in the ever-reliable European syndication market, and thankfully it’s here in its entirety for us all to enjoy.

The short, sharp saga finds 007 in the subzero wilds of Artic Canada discovering a woman frozen to death and exhibited as a macabre scarecrow.

He’s in territory owned by Polestar Petroleum to locate the origin point of rogue missiles which have been launched against Russia and America, but before he can investigate further he is attacked a rabid wolf…

Rescued by native woman Red Doe, James learns the sordid history of Polestar’s megalomaniacal owner Robert Ayr: ruthless tycoon, potential global dictator, serial abuser and killer of Red Doe’s mother.

Soon Bond has infiltrated the company as a fugitive rocket engineer to scupper plans to subject the world to nuclear blackmail whilst the vengeful Cree woman enjoys a long-anticipated meeting with Ayr…

Again working solely for continental readers, Lawrence & McLusky’s final comics collaboration was ‘The Scent of Danger’ (1983), with Bond lured to a yacht off the Italian Riviera and a near-fatal rendezvous with a ravenous shark. The perpetrator is old enemy Madame Spectra who wants the agent out of the way before she uses a (narcotically addictive) high-end fashion perfume to enslave firstly wives and lovers but eventually every politician in Britain. Happily the unkillable hero and ferociously determined journalist Liz Villiers have a plan to stop her…

Despite every effort the strip was clearly nearing its end when Yaroslav Horak returned for the last two adventures beginning with ‘Snake Goddess’ (1983-1984). At the peak of his flamboyant form the illustrator added a superb frisson of tension to the tale of a mystery killer who used serpents to assassinate military men and operatives involved in the deployment of atomic weapons in Europe.

After the snake killer turned his attention to Moneypenny, Bond’s involvement was assured and his subtle investigations led him to Swedish cult rock star Freya. However, the sultry serpentine peace campaigner was only another target for the true culprit: fanatical fan Mr. Vidyala, a billionaire with money to burn and the brilliance to build a huge nuclear sea-serpent submarine.

He planned to provoke World War III and rule the ruins with his unwilling Snake Queen Freya but utterly underestimated the ruthless ingenuity of the British agent he so easily captured…

This astounding dossier of espionage exploits ends in ‘Double Eagle’ (1984): a baroque plot by German agents on both sides of the Berlin Wall planning a spectacular stunt to promote reunification of their sundered country.

Unfortunately the notionally worthy scheme precluded a number of necessary deaths – by robot giant eagles and merciless KGB and Stasi agents – and risked turning the simmering Cold War red hot…

Following a trail of bodies and dodging numerous assassination attempts Bond eventually finds himself in the invidious position of wanting – just this once – to fail…

Fast, furious action, masses of moody menace, sharply clever dialogue and an abundance of exotic locales and ladies make this an invaluable adjunct to the Bond mythos and a collection no fan can do without. After all, nobody has ever done it better…
All strips are © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1987. James Bond and 007 are ™Danjaq LLC used under license from Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.