Captain Pugwash Comic Book Collection


By John Ryan (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84780-384-9

John Ryan was an artist and storyteller who straddled three distinct disciplines of graphic narrative, with equal qualitative if not financial success. The son of a diplomat, Ryan was born in Edinburgh on March 4th 1921, and undertook his military service in Burma and India. After being de-mobbed and attending the Regent Street Polytechnic from 1946 to 1948, he took up a post as assistant Art Master at Harrow School from 1948 to 1955. It was during this time that he began contributing strips to Fulton Press publications.

On April 14th 1950 Britain’s grey, post-war gloom was partially lifted with the first issue of a new comic that literally gleamed with light and colour. Avid children were soon understandably enraptured; blown away by the gloss and dazzle of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, a charismatic star-turn venerated to this day as well as a host of other spectacularly illustrated stories strips and features.

The Eagle was a tabloid-sized paper with full-colour inserts alternating with text and a range of various other comic features. “Tabloid” is a really big page and you can fit a lot of material onto each one. Deep within, on the bottom third of a monochrome page, was an 8-panel strip entitled ‘Captain Pugwash – The story of a Bad Buccaneer and the many Sticky Ends which nearly befell him’ delivered with dash and aplomb by the aforementioned Mr. Ryan.

The indefatigable artist’s quirkily effective, welcomingly spiky style also lent itself to the numerous spot illustrations required throughout the comic every week and he even found time to regularly produce ‘Lettice Leefe, the Greenest Girl in School’ for Eagle’s distaff companion comic Girl.

Pugwash, his harridan of a wife and the useless, lazy crew of the Black Pig ran until issue #19 when the feature disappeared.

This was no real hardship as Ryan had been writing and illustrating the incomparable and brilliantly mordant ‘Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent’; a full page (tabloid, remember, upwards of twenty cram-packed and meticulously detail-stuffed panels per huge page, per week) from The Eagle #16 onwards.

Tweed ran for three years as a full page until 1953 when it dropped to a half-page strip and was repositioned as a purely comedic venture.

In 1956 the indefatigable old salt (I’m referring to Horatio Pugwash, but it could so easily be Ryan: an unceasing story-peddler with a big family, he still found time to be head cartoonist at the Catholic Herald for four decades) made the jump to children’s picture books and animated features for television.

The not-so-scurvy seadog washed up next in A Pirate Story: a proper illustrated children’s book and the first official first Pugwash chronicle. It was originally published by Bodley Head before the budding franchise switched to children’s publishing specialist Puffin. It was the first of a vast (sorry nautical puns are contagious, they really, really Arrr!) run of children’s books on a number of different subjects. Pugwash himself starred in 21 tomes; there were a dozen books based on the animated TV series Ark Stories, as well as Sir Prancelot and numerous other inspired creations.

Ryan worked whenever he wanted to in the comic world and eventually the books and the strips began to cross-fertilise.

When A Pirate Story was released in 1957, the BBC wisely pounced on the property, commissioning Ryan to produce a series of 5-minute black-&-white cartoon episodes (86 in all from 1957 to 1968, which were later reformatted in full colour and rebroadcast in 1976). In the budding 1950s arena of animated television cartoons, Ryan developed an entirely new system for producing cheap, high-quality animations to a tremendously tight deadline.

Naturally he began with Pugwash, keeping the adventure milieu, but replaced the Captain’s shrewish wife with a tried-and-true boy assistant. Tom the Cabin Boy is the only capable member of an astoundingly affable and inept crew which included such visual archetypes as Willy, Pirate Barnabas and Master Mate (fat, thin and tall – all dim and not at all bloodthirsty) instantly affirming to the rapt, young audience that grown-ups are fools and kids do, in fact, rule.

Ryan also drew a weekly Pugwash strip in the Radio Times for eight years, before going on to produce other animated series including Mary, Mungo and Midge, The Friendly Giant and Sir Prancelot, plus adaptations of some of his many children’s books. In 1997 an all new CGI-based Pugwash animated TV series began. There was even a thematic prequel in Admiral Fatso Fitzpugwash, in which it was revealed that the not-so-salty seadog had a medieval ancestor who became England’s First Sea Lord, despite being terrified of water…

John Ryan returned to pirate life in the 1980s, drawing new Pugwash storybooks. In swift succession he released The Secret of the San Fiasco, The Battle of Bunkum Bay and The Quest of the Golden Handshake, all joyously gathered in this resoundingly ample (194 x 254 mm) full-colour paperback…

The first Pugwash storybooks were traditional in format, with blocks of text and single illustrations illuminating a particular moment. By 1982 however the entire affair had evolved into lavishly painted comic strips, with standard word balloons on splendid panoramic double-page spreads or informative and complex layouts of as many as eight panels per page.

A fitting circularity to his careers and a nice treat for us old-fashioned comic drones, this trio of tales finds the master at his most exceptional and opens with The Secret of the San Fiasco, as the somewhat shaky stalwarts of the Black Pig fetch up in not-so-scenic Bogle Bay on Scotland’s wind-lashed Atlantic coast.

Ostensibly in search of a little holiday-break, the lads are actually hunting a fabulous treasure lost since the days of the Armada, when a gold-packed Spanish galleon apparently vanished into a solid cliff-face.

Many clever, greedy people have failed to find the treasure ever since 1588, but Pugwash is certain he will succeed. However as he and the crew check into draughty Bogle Castle, they are struck by the forbidding nature of the place and the sinister aspect of the only attendant, McGroggie the caretaker. They’re not amiss in their suspicions: as he terrifies them with spooky tales they are blissfully unaware that the old scoundrel is working with Pugwash’s arch-enemy Cut-Throat Jake

After a night of terrifying noises and spooky events the cowardly Captain, Willy, Barnabas and Master Mate are quivering wrecks but intrepid Cabin Boy Tom is on the case and has tracked down the imprisoned Laird, heard the full true story of the San Fiasco’s end and deduced the treasure ship’s final resting place.

Sadly, as he leads his shipmates to the hidden trove, Jake and McGroggie are ready to pounce, but after the villains get away Scot free, the rogues fall out as rogues so often do…

The Pugwash stories are gloriously adrift sometime in the 18th century, never too closely bound by continuity whilst benefiting from many of the most momentous moments of a deliciously pick-&-mix grasp of history.

The wily Captain next bobs up during (another) war between England and France. The Battle of Bunkum Bay sees the seedy seamen sailing to the Pajamah Islands in search of a foundered Spanish bullion ship, but said wreck is slap-bang in the middle of two warring fleets. As has been previously noted, Pugwash is good at plans and sourcing loot, but terrible at keeping secrets, and his endeavours have again been observed by Cut-Throat Jake who follows the treasure-hunters at a cautious distance.

When they all reach the Pajamah Islands, the vile buccaneer hijacks Tom’s brilliant trick to sneak between the combative fleets of British Admiral Sir Splycemeigh-Mainbrace and his French rival Admiral the Marquis de Frilly de Pommes-Frites, but just this once canny Tom has overlooked a flaw in his usually impeccable thinking…

Jake leaves the hapless heroes in a dire death-trap and sails off, only to get calamitously caught up in the middle of the legendarily embarrassing Bunkum Bay maritime disaster, allowing Tom time to save the day and lead the Captain to an unaccustomed profit on his schemes…

Closing the piratical peregrinations is The Quest of the Golden Handshake, wherein our querulous, quivering Captain finds a genuine treasure map at an auction. All too soon though, a bidding-war with nefarious nemesis Cut-Throat Jake turns into a full-blown riot in which the coveted chart is torn a-twain…

Never knowingly daunted, Pugwash and company steal Jake’s half of the map that night but on returning to the safety of the Black Pig are horrified to discover that their rival has had the same idea…

Luckily the brilliant cabin boy had anticipated the move and copied their portion of the priceless document. Heartened and enraptured by thoughts of vast wealth, the crew hastily set sail for the Americas, determined to plunder the fabled Lost Treasure of the Stinkas

Devious Jake, however, smuggles himself and a burly accomplice aboard, planning to let Pugwash do all the heavy lifting whilst awaiting a golden moment to claim revenge and the loot…

Packed with in-jokes, glorious tom-foolery and daring adventure, the voyage to the New World in a “haunted” ship culminates in a splendid battle of (half) wits before Tom, as usual, saves the day in his quiet, competent and deucedly clever way…

Gripping, hilarious and packed with gloriously effective and educational art of the most eye-catching quality these magically wry and enchantingly smart yarns are amongst Ryan’s very best: a humorous hoard of comic gems for fans of all ages.

We don’t have that many multi-discipline successes in comics, so why don’t you go and find out why we should celebrate one who did it all, did it first and did it well? Your kids will thank you and, if you’ve any life left in your old and weary adult fan’s soul, you will too…
© 1983, 1984, 1985, 1992, 2012 the Estate of John Ryan. All rights reserved.

Small Press Sunday


I started out in this game when marks on paper were considered Cutting Edge, making minicomics, collaborating on fanzines and concocting stripzines with fellow weirdoes, outcasts and comics addicts. Even today, seeing the raw stuff of creativity in hand-crafted paper pamphlets still gets me going in ways that threatens my tired old heart…
With that in mind, here’s a selection of tantalising treats that have landed in my review tray recently…
A few days before I began a major writing project with an insane deadline, I reviewed the magnificent GoodCopBadCop collections (still readily available and waiting to make your existence worthwhile…). In the same package was the first issue of the latest storyline and now that my day job’s back to normal – and with deepest apologies to Jim and the lads – here’s that promised review of the new follow-up case…

GoodCopBadCop Casebook #3.1 ‘Only Pigs and Horses’ Part 1
By Jim Alexander and Aaron Murphy, with Chris Twydell & Jim Campbell (Planet Jimbot Comics)

As well as mind-boggling graphic albums, independent publisher Planet Jimbot (Jims Alexander & Campbell with an ever-shifting pool of graphic talent) also delivers proper black-&-white comicbooks: none better than the continuing exploits of the most challenging rozzer in the history of crime.

City of Glasgow Police Inspector Brian Fisher is a worthy, weary, dedicated public servant with the oddest partner an honest copper could ever imagine – his own ruthless, rule-less crazy-man bad side…

Following directly on from the last book collection (GoodCopBadCop Casebook volume 2) this deceptively moody yarn finds Fisher about to start work again after a long period of sick leave. He’s been stood down ever since he caught catching a macabre, mutilating serial killer who left his bloody mark on the seemingly inoffensive Inspector.

Also out of sorts is his assistant Detective Sergeant Julie Spencer, who’s presently kipping on his couch. She was starting to piece together the truth about Fisher’s condition, but just stopped caring when her mother died…

Before he was a quietly effective Detective, Fisher learned his trade in the mounted police division and spent many educational hours doing community policing for the Violence Reduction Unit, visiting schools where the kids were more ruthlessly ferocious than any full-grown bad guy. Moreover, Brian’s condition is not a total secret. Certain higher-ups know that he goes off the rails but no one important has complained yet and the clean-up rate is phenomenal…

Those halcyon days on horseback come back to haunt Brian here and now as a ghastly atrocity is invoked when a new nutter hits the streets and, with astounding overkill, butchers two beat coppers.

Back in the saddle, Brain immediately makes a connection to the events at the Tannoch police stables thirteen years previously and heads to Barlinnie jail to interview an old lag who knew the original perpetrator “Peter the Horse”.

For a sordid and risky moment of quid pro quo, Michael offers Brian the full SP on the maniac – including the fact that he’s been dead for year…

He also reveals that Peter had an acolyte: another Peter the Horse in the making and one that been out in the real world for six months now…

To Be Continued…

This is another beautifully paced, chillingly unfolding mystery soaked in chilling complexity and shocking moments, tailor made to be a movie or late-night Scandi-style drama serial…

This deftly underplayed, chillingly believable and outrageously black-humoured serial is a magnificent addition to the annals of Tartan Noir: smart, compelling, compassionate and fiercely engaging. If you like your crime yarns nasty and your heroes deeply flawed, GoodCopBadCop is a series you must not miss.
GoodCopBadCop Casebook #3.1 © 2016 Jim Alexander (story) and Aaron Murphy (art.)

Planet Jimbot has a splendid online shop so why not check it out?

Von Doogan and the Great Air Race


By Lorenzo Etherington (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-82-7

These days, young kids are far more likely to find their formative strip narrative experiences online or between the card-covers of specially tailored graphic novels rather than the comics and periodicals of my long-dead youth.

Once upon a time, however, the comics industry was a commercial colossus which thrived by producing copious amounts of gaudy, flimsy pamphlets covering a multitude of themes, subjects and sub-genres, all further subdivided into a range of successful, self-propagating, seamlessly self-perpetuating age-specific publications.

Such eye-catching items once generated innumerable tales, delights (and cherished memories) intended to entertain, inform and educate such well-defined target demographics as Toddler/Pre-school, Younger and Older Juvenile, General, Girls, Boys and even Young Teens. Today, sadly, Britain seems only capable of maintain a few paltry out-industry, licensed tie-ins and spin-offs for a dwindling younger readership.

Where once cheap and prolific, strip magazines in the 21st century are extremely cost-intensive and manufactured for a highly specific – and dying – niche market, whilst the beguiling and bombastic genres that originally fed and nurtured comics are more immediately disseminated via TV, movies and assorted interactive media.

There are one or two venerable, long-lived holdouts such as The Beano and 2000AD but overall the trend has been downwards for decades.

That maxim was happily turned on its head back in January 2012 when Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched The Phoenix: a traditional-seeming anthology comic 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.

Still going strong, each issue 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 ones 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 reached issue #100. It is now rapidly approaching its double-century. The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by developing a digital edition available globally as a tablet app and is continually expanding its horizons.

It is, most importantly, big and bold and tremendous fun.

On the other hand, whilst comics companies all seem to have given up the ghost, in this country at least, old-school prose publishers and the newborn graphic novel industry have evolved to fill their vacated niche. With a less volatile business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, book sellers have prospered from magazine makers’ surrender, and there have never been so many and varied cartoon and comics chronicles, compilations and tomes for readers to enjoy.

Naturally The Phoenix is part of that growing market, with a superb line of graphic albums repackaging and re-presenting their Greatest Bits.

The one we’re looking at today is The Phoenix Presents… Von Doogan and the Great Air Race: a dazzling display of cartoon virtuosity and mind-mangling comic challenges composed by Lorenzo Etherington, originally seen as captivating, addictively challenging weekly instalments of The Dangerous Adventures of Von Doogan.

The serial combined captivating cartoon narrative with observational tests, logic puzzles and other kids’ favourite brain-teasers, craftily taking readers and participants on a magnificently constructed progressive voyage of adventure and discovery in 37 clue, game, maze and mystery-packed episodes.

Our hero is a brilliant and intrepid young explorer with a keen sense of justice and an insatiable thirst for action. Here, following his previous exploit, Von Doogan is in the World Adventurers’ Club with the profits of the Golden Monkey caper burning a hole in pocket. Realising he is incredibly bored, he seeks out a fresh a challenge and is soon off and away…

Recovering, decoding and accepting an invitation to a global Great Air Race, our hero sets out in a hurry, gathering on the way supplies, a plane and a pilot in the form of very bad waitress Abby “Ace” Poontoon.

Then it’s a mad dash to decipher routes, maps and clues en route from one clandestine destination to the next; perpetually tackling – with your help – all manner of conundra (each with a daunting icon reckoning its “impossibility level”) as our heroes zero in on the goal.

As if puzzles such as ‘Secret Sandwich’, ‘The Big Choke’, ‘Cockpit Lockout’ and ‘Blazing Maze’ aren’t enough to challenge the keenest intellectual daredevil, there’s also the knotty problem of a saboteur amongst the intrepid contestants slowing and winnowing out the competition at every stage…

‘Doogan’s Discovery’ …

Naturally we aren’t all as smart as Von Doogan or a six-year old so this spectacular colourful cornucopia comes with a page explaining ‘How the Book Works’, an expansive ‘Equipment Checklist’ and a fulsome secret section offering extra help with ‘The Clues’ and – thankfully – it all wraps up with graphically glitzy explanations in ‘The Solutions’.

There’s even a free printable download page providing your own handy dandy copy of ‘Doogan’s Danger Kit’ to stop you cutting up the one in this mesmerising manuscript of mystery.

Story! Games! Action! … and all there in the irresistible form of entertaining narrative pictures. How much cooler can a book get?
Text and illustrations © Lorenzo Etherington 2016. All rights reserved.

To find out more about The Phoenix or subscribe, visit: www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk
Von Doogan and the Great Air Race will be released on April 7th 2016.

Rivers of London: Body Work


By Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, Lee Sullivan & Luis Guerrero (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-187-7

Ben Aaronovitch has been delighting fantasy fans for years, mostly through his television work on others people’s creations (Dr. Who: Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield, Jupiter Moon, Casualty and numerous licensed novels and audio-books), but really came into his own in 2011 when the Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the USA) novel was released.

A supernatural police procedural saga with its sixth volume eagerly anticipated any moment now, it features the adventures of Peter Grant; the first Metropolitan Police officer in 70 years to transfer to the Special Assessment Unit, more commonly known as “Falcon” or the “weird shit” department. This well-known secret squad deals with all the magic and spooky stuff no sensible copper will admit occurs…

Grant’s boss there is the exceptionally dapper and imperturbable Inspector Nightingale who is far older than he looks and knows an awful lot about magic. As previously stated, Grant is his first Wizard’s Apprentice in decades…

The stories authentically resonate within the actual environs and legends of the big city, and amongst the pantheon of paranormal characters most prominent are the living spirits of the rivers which run through, beneath and between the boroughs of the macabre metropolis and the Thames Valley it lurks in…

This all-new yet canonical sequentially-illustrated tale sits between the fourth and fifth prose novels; written by Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel, with art by the splendid Lee Sullivan and colourist Luis Guerrero.

The eponymous ‘Body Work’ started life as a 4-part monthly miniseries in July 2015 and opens, as so many police stories do, with an attention-grabbing death. What looks like a simple drowning gets dead scary dead quick when Peter Grant ambles into the SOCO clean-up, his indefinable instincts calling him to a situation which, although still unclear, is clearly unnatural…

Soon he’s on the trail of a haunted car which should have been destroyed but has instead been broken up for parts, scattering a lethal compulsion amongst an assortment of owners all now unwitting receptacles for a pitiless centuries-old force craving death and somehow connected to water.

Before long Grant and Nightingale (with his inimitable hound familiar Toby) are tracking down leads and the eldritch elder soon uncovers links to his own greatest failure and dereliction of duty…

Fast paced, funny-&-thrilling by turn and packed with intriguing, individualistic supporting characters, Body Work is above all a solid mystery which both curious neophytes and dedicated devotees of the prose iteration will delight in solving along with our quirky cast.

Cheekily augmenting the main case are a series of blackly comedic and often surreal vignettes starring the supporting cast beginning with Tales from the Thames starring Beverley Brook in ‘Off their Trolley’ with the cheeky Naiad teaching some drunken upper-class sods a lesson about dumping trash, whilst sinister serving wench Molly stars in ‘Red Mist’ – a gory Tale from The Folly – followed by another seeing astounding canine wonder Toby triumphing over a zombie apocalypse on the ‘Night of the Living Dog’.

Aaronovitch, Cartmel, Alan Quah & Guerrero then offer a chilling and silent extended Halloween diversion in ‘Sleep No More’ and the extra duties close with a final brace of Tales from The Folly as Toby submits to his sodden fate in ‘Pursuit’ before Nightingale gets the gang together for a festive emergency in ‘Urgent Summons’.

Including a large covers and variants gallery and whimsical page of Creator Biographies, this is a splendid genre-blending yarn for lovers of cops-&-wizards fans who also love playing Dungeons and Dragnets.
Rivers of London ™ and © 2016 Ben Aaronovitch. All rights reserved.

Rivers of London: Body Work will be released on March 18th 2016

GoodCopBadCop

GoodCopBadCop

By Jim Alexander, Luke Cooper, Gary McLaughlin & Will Pickering with an Introduction by John Wagner (Rough Cut Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-9546726-6-9

GoodCopBadCop Casebook #2

By Jim Alexander, Luke Cooper, Will Pickering & Jim Campbell (Rough Cut Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-9546726-7-6

Seasoned old lags at getting the very best out of finite resources, fresh talent and strong ideas, Jims Alexander and Campbell with their compadres at Planet Jimbot have been crafting superbly enthralling – and in this particular case, award-winning – graphic narratives for a goodly time now.

This brace of superbly chilling crime compendia were originally crafted by the team and published by Rough Cut Comics, but since the title has now reverted to the Jimbots (the first issue of the next Casebook will star in a forthcoming Small Press Sunday) it’s long past due to give the series a lingering look…

Writer Alexander’s prodigious back catalogue includes Calhab Justice and other strips for 2000AD, Star Trek the Manga and a broad variety of comics and strips for The Dandy, DC, Marvel, Metal Hurlant, and loads of other places, and here turns his conceptual spotlight on City of Glasgow Police Inspector Brian Fisher; a worthy, weary, dedicated public servant with the oddest partner an honest copper could ever imagine…

Following an effusive and thought-proving Introduction from John Wagner, the scene is set with debut ‘Report Ident: GCBC’ (art by Gary McLaughlin, lettering Jim Campbell) wherein the traditional confrontation between thoroughly-nicked ratbag and legally-hamstrung policeman takes a very dark turn after the other guy in Brian’s head gets out and conducts the remainder of an interview with an axe-murderer in a bloodily fitting manner…

‘Mrs MacPhellimey’ then sees the other Brian leak out and act in most uncharacteristic manner when confronting a little old lady with a husband-shaped patch of dirt in her garden…

This is followed by a stylish tweak on prose short story telling, wherein Fisher’s tediously dogged hunt for legendary burglar ‘the Partick Cat’ is detailed through incident reports submitted alternately by Brian and the other Brian…

Having swiftly established the conceptual set-up, ‘Three Strikes’ returns to strip format and expands the cast with the introduction of Detective Sergeant Julie Spencer, who fruitlessly attempts to get Fisher fraternising with the other officers. The motivational engine then kicks in as Brian finds a child-abductor just a little too late…

Allowing his Other to deal with the killer is the right thing to do, but afterwards the decent copper resolves that since they have at last crossed a real line, he and himself only get two more chances between them…

The prose reports continue with the hunt for that burglar turning up a rather fishy lead, after which the comics crimebusting resumes as Under Investigation’ (illustrated by Will Pickering) offers the first hint that Brian’s condition is not a complete secret.

Despite a scrupulously honest and forthright interview with the Anti-Corruption Unit, relating recent – and excessively bloody – incidents involving a nuclear submarine and a legendary local gang-boss, Fisher is given a clean sheet and pat on the back…

The text trail of the Partick Cat concludes by way of sharp observation and a treatise on the nature of Glaswegian cuisine before the gripping drama ends as every great TV cop show should, with a tensely suspenseful cliffhanger…

‘Tiny Acts of Kindness’ (with Luke Cooper handling the art) opens as Julie gets a glimpse of the other Fisher when they confront smash-&-grab specialist Ricardo Dreyfus and his family crew. Elsewhere in Clydebank, meanwhile, a macabre and grotesque serial killer is having his special kind of fun…

After the bruised and battered Ricardo lawyers up and walks, easy-going, patient DI Fisher moves on to a missing persons case which seems to lead to a local church, but the other Brian still has his mind set on dealing with the Dreyfus clan…

To Be Continued…

Following an Introduction from author Douglas Skelton, the urban Hibernian atrocities carry on in GoodCopBadCop Casebook #2 with the grim continuation and grisly conclusion of ‘Tiny Acts of Kindness’ with Luke Cooper again illuminating Jim Alexander’s stories on our Jekyll and Hyde law enforcer.

It begins with a dismembered body in the river: apparently not that rare an occurrence in Glasgow. DS Julie Spencer is handling the recovery as Fisher is elsewhere.

When the Dreyfus boys turn over a local supermarket, Brian is waiting and happily lets the other Detective Inspector make the arrests… eventually…

Spencer is furious at his solo showboating but soon gets to the nub of the problem: why was Bruce Dreyfus floating in neat sections rather than on the raid with Ricardo and Uncle William?

A quiet chat with their Aunt Morag soon sets them on the trail of a rather odd cleric at the church and his connection to Russian orphans. Not long after, freshly severed fingers start turning up in the post…

And that’s where I’m stopping. The convoluted mystery cleverly unwinds with chilling complexity, loads of twisty-turny surprises and a succession of shocking moments, so if you don’t read these books you’ll have to wait for some media clever-clogs to turn this into a movie or preferably a BBC FOUR late-night Scandi-style drama serial…

You’ll thank me for it in the long run…

Prose Incident Reports – alternately submitted by Brian and Brian – serve to clear the palates whilst offering more thoughts on Glasgow’s gastro-culture and providing fascinating – and scarily hilarious – peeks into Fisher’s early life.

Before he was a quietly effective Detective, Brian Fisher learned his trade in the mounted police division and spent many educational hours doing community policing for the Violence Reduction Unit, visiting schools where the kids were more ruthlessly ferocious than any full-grown bad guy…

The Cops-&-Horrors show closes with a startling turning point as Julie at last sees the other Brian in full flow ‘Twisting the Knife’ (Pickering art) with a wounded suspect. When she quite naturally reports her observations to the Chief Superintendent, she is terrified and astounded by his response…

This deftly underplayed, chillingly believable and outrageously black-humoured serial is a magnificent addition to the annals of Tartan Noir: smart, compelling, compassionate and fiercely engaging. If you like your crime yarns nasty and your heroes deeply flawed, GoodCopBadCop is a series you must not miss.
All characters and distinctive names and likenesses thereof are © Planet Jimbot and used under license by Rough Cut Comics.

Planet Jimbot has a splendid online shop so why not check it out?

Modesty Blaise: Ripper Jax


By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78329-858-7

Modesty Blaise and her lethally adept, knife-throwing, compulsively platonic partner Willie Garvin gained fearsome reputations as infallible super-criminals heading underworld gang The Network before retiring young, rich and healthy. With honour intact and their hands relatively clean, they cut themselves off completely from careers where they made all the money they would ever need and far too many enemies – a situation exacerbated by their heartfelt conviction that killing was only ever to be used as a last resort.

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

From that tenuous beginning in ‘La Machine’ (see Modesty Blaise: the Gabriel Set-Up) the dynamic duo went on to crush the world’s vilest villains and most macabre monsters in a perpetual storm of tense suspense and inspirational action for nearly forty years…

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

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

The series has been syndicated world-wide and Modesty has starred in 13 prose novels and short-story collections, several films, a TV pilot, a radio play, an original American graphic novel from DC and nearly one hundred comic strip adventures until the strip’s conclusion in 2001.

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

Reproduced in stark and stunning monochrome – as is only right and fitting – Titan Books’ superbly scrupulous chronological serial re-presentations of the ultimate trouble-shooters resume here, with O’Donnell & Romero offering four more masterpieces of mood mystery sand mayhem only pausing for intriguing Introduction ‘Modest Morality’: an insightful overview of the wonder woman’s ethics and motivation from author and incurable fan-addict Simon Barnes (How to be a Bad Birdwatcher, The Sacred Coombe, Ten Million Aliens).

The suspenseful dramas open with Ripper Jax (originally run in The Evening Standard from May 4th to October 2nd 1995), wherein Modesty and Willie repay an old blood-debt to psychometricist and antiquarian bookseller Mr. Haley. The old gentleman has a daughter who’s a bit of a wild child and now she’s been kidnapped by psychotic, knife-throwing gang boss Ripper Jax.

The thoroughly nasty flesh-peddler is after two million pounds hidden by a thief who is beyond his usual means of coercion and persuasion, but for a man who can find things by mental divination all things are possible…

Naturally the Dynamic Duo leap to the distraught dad’s defence, but a little pre-raid intelligence-gathering around the villain’s medieval castle in Ireland not only reveals the huge odds arranged against them but also that it might not be a simple abduction and trade that’s going on…

Moreover, Jax soon knows the troubleshooters are coming but doesn’t care. He’s always wanted to test his knives and skill against the legendary bladesman Willie Garvin…

The scene shifts to the antipodes for The Maori Contact (3rd October 2nd 1995 – March 1st 1996) as Willie helps some old friends finish a magnificent, hand-carved traditional Waka. The 100-foot native war-canoe is the crowning triumph of British sculptor Jason Nash and his wife Carol, but they have no idea of the problems brewing…

In London, Modesty is just learning from Jason’s uncle Sir Gerald Tarrant that Carol has inherited millions of pounds from a crazy relative she had no notion of, even as Willie and Jason foil an abduction attempt which leaves one kidnapper dead and poor hubby with blood on his hands…

Rushing out on the first jet to New Zealand, Modesty and Tarrant are unaware that Carol’s sole rival for the inheritance is already on his way ahead to them, having hired one of the few criminal organisations in the world undaunted by the lethal reputations of Blaise and Garvin.

Not prepared to leave it at that, Carol’s unknown enemy also recruits an army of local riff raff to play back-up, but has completely underestimated the devious duo’s experience in whittling down overwhelming odds and uncanny ability to find helpful allies in the strangest places…

A startling glimpse into Modesty’s criminal days running The Network underpins Honeygun (March 4th to August 2nd 1996), revealing how her life was saved by a merciless mercenary killer.

Sadly the striking Eurasian assassin was too depraved and kill-hungry to be allowed to join Modesty’s gang and left in a huff with a solemn promise that Modesty owed her a debt which would one day be called in…

Years later that obligation becomes a deadly burden when Willie and “the Princess” are relaxing in their Tangiers home. Modesty is spending time with her occasional paramour Dr. Giles Pennyfeather when Honeygun resurfaces, orchestrating a heist which goes bloodily awry.

Trapped in the Kasbah with the cops closing in, the sociopathic killer calls in her debt and Modesty reluctantly spirits her away before the police can swoop…

Blaise’s misgivings over the rescue are soon proved true when Honeygun kills an Israeli diplomat and his chauffeur and subsequently abducts Giles from his hospital to remove a bullet from one of her henchmen wounded in the exchange of fire…

Torn by guilt, Modesty resolves to stop Honeygun for good. Before long she and Willie have tracked the crazy killer and her increasingly anxious army of hired guns to a derelict Roman fort and begun the perilous task of extracting Giles and cutting down the odds. With the worst storm in decades brewing, Modesty has to deal with one final hiccup when her darling doctor refuses to leave without his critically injured patient…

This catalogue of compelling crookedness and catastrophic crime-busting concludes with a gripping yarn wherein Modesty and Willie rush to the rescue of old friends Dinah and Stephen Collier in the raw heart of the Guatemalan jungle.

The professor and his blind, psychic wife were working for Blaise’s occasional lover John Dall, divining potential drill sites for the billionaire’s oil company when they were taken by a gang of rebels led by the charismatic maniac Durango (August 5th 1996 to January 3rd 1997)…

Rapidly swinging into action, Blaise and Garvin go native and attempt to infiltrate the band in the manner that’s worked so well so often, but things go south swiftly when Durango turns out to be old Network adversary Lazaya who instantly recognises them and decides to ransom them instead….

With everything going wrong the partners in peril have to think fast, act boldly and ruthlessly exploit every advantage to save their friends and themselves, but as always the final arbiter is a study in applied violence…

These are incomparable capers crafted by brilliant creators at the peak of their powers; revelling in the sheer perfection of an iconic creation. Unforgettable shock and suspense-stuffed escapades packed with sleek sex appeal, dry wit, terrific tension and explosive action, the stories grow more appealing with every rereading and never fail to deliver maximum impact and total enjoyment.
Modesty Blaise © 2014 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.

Modesty Blaise: Ripper Jax is available for pre-order now and will be published on March 4th 2016.

Tamsin and the Deep


By Neill Cameron & Kate Brown (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-77-3

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional anthology comics weekly aimed at under-12 girls and boys 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 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…

Like the golden age of Beano and Dandy the magazine masterfully manages the magical trick of marrying hilarious humour strips with potently powerful adventure serials such as the subject of this latest compilation: a wondrous seaside sorcerous saga with intriguing overtones of The Little Mermaid, by way of the darker works of Alan Garner.

Written by Neill Cameron (Mega Robo Bros, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea) and beguilingly illustrated by Kate Brown (Young Avengers, Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Fish + Chocolate), the fishy tale opens with a ‘Prologue’ on the Cornish coast as a young girl berates her older brother Morgan. He promised to teach her how to surf but is just messing about with his mates.

Fed up, she leaves her dog Pengersek on the sands, swipes a bodyboard and paddles out alone. After all how hard can it be?

When the big wave hits and she goes down for the final time, she’s sure she feels a grip on her foot and sees a green fishy face…

The story proper starts when ‘Tamsin’ drags herself ashore coughing and gasping. Somehow she’s drifted miles down the coast and with nobody there to help has to make her own way home. Her leg hurts and the bus driver won’t let her on (she’s soaking wet and without cash) but at least she’s still got that old stick she picked up somewhere to lean on…

There are even more surprises when she finally staggers home. Mum goes absolutely crazy and Morgan is clearly scared. Maybe it’s because their dad was lost at sea nine years ago, but it’s probably the fact that Tamsin vanished a month ago and has been declared drowned…

The police have loads of questions she can’t answer but as far as Tamsin knows she was only gone a few minutes, so eventually life settles back into a normal routine – apart from Morgan acting oddly and her own increasingly nasty dreams.

Things get bad again a few nights later. Awakening from a particularly vivid nightmare, Tamsin discovers she’s clutching that stick and riding a surfboard… hundreds of feet above the town! Moreover, from her shocking vantage point, she can see Morgan. He’s slowly walking into the sea…

Without pausing, she zooms into the roaring brine and yanks the sleepwalker out, blithely unaware that hostile, piscatorial eyes are angrily watching…

Morgan is shattered. He’s been having nightmares too, and sleepwalking. It’s probably from guilt but every time he wakes up he’s been heading for the sea…

‘A Nice Day Out’ sees Tamsin taking a little “me time”. Finding a secluded spot to practise flying with the aid of what is clearly a magic stick, she revels in her new gifts but from high above she sees Morgan is still unsettled. He’s sworn not to go near the water and even quit the local surfing competition but he’s clearly scared of something. Later, to cheer up her kids, mum drags them to the beachside amusements where Morgan meets an enigmatic girl who convinces him to re-enter the event…

Tamsin meanwhile has had another strange encounter: after having her ice cream stolen by a pixie thing, she meets a cocky Blackbird (he says he’s a Chough) who snidely and loquaciously tells her it was an Undine before warning her to keep Morgan well away from water…

She’s almost too late: her brother has wiped out in the early heats and is being pulled under by a gloating mermaid when Tamsin blasts into the depths on her board. She explosively rips him free of her clawed clutches, hurtling them both high into the air before landing in a terrified heap on the beach…

With the sorcerous she-wight fuming below the waves and planning further mischief, in the sunshine Tamsin shares her secret with traumatised big brother before discovering a little ‘Family Mythology’ after that smug bird returns…

Knowledge comes at a steep price however and her learning curve involves an awful lot of fighting against a lot of awful creatures before Tamsin is ready to save Morgan from a horrible fate hundreds of years in the making…

Apprised of a fantastic heritage and now fully prepared to combat a generational curse that has seen all the males of her line swallowed by ‘The Deep’, Tamsin prepares herself for a fantastic battle against the finned demon, but the foe is impatient and launches her own monstrous invasion of the surface-world which soon has the entire town in uproar…

Once the foam settles triumphant Tamsin tries to ease back into a normal routine but that ill-omened bird returns for an ‘Epilogue’, explaining that she now has a mission for life – protecting Cornwall from all mystic threats – and her next crisis has already started…

This yarn is a fabulous blend of scary and fabulous, introducing a splendid new champion for kids of all ages to cheer on with the promise of more to come in the forthcoming Tamsin and the Dark

Boisterous, bold and bombastically engaging, this is a romp of pure, bright and breezy supernatural thrills just the way kids love them, leavened with brash humour and straightforward sentiment to entertain the entire family.

Text © Neill Cameron 2016. Illustrations © Kate Brown 2016.
Tamsin and the Deep will be released on February 4th 2016 and is available for pre-order now.

Scarlett Couture


By Des Taylor (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-062-7

During the early 1960s the world went crazy for suave and stylish superspies like James Bond, Napoleon Solo & Ilya Kuryakin, Matt Helm and Derek Flint. They even accepted – to a lesser degree – such distaff operatives as Modesty Blaise, Honey West and April Dancer (The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.).

Now with our multimedia-mad world again embracing the astonishing entertainment value of espionage extravaganzas there’s a healthy new crop of shadowy spooks, urbane operatives and ferocious femmes fatale vying for our attention but none more sleekly eye-catching than this late entry from triple-threat creator Des Taylor…

Simple, straightforward and as on-target as a sinister sniper sortie, this eye-catching yarn deftly blends the ultra-glamorous worlds of high fashion and movie blockbuster spy-craft; with this initial compilation collecting first 4-issue foray ‘Project Stardust’.

As is so often the case, the drama begins with a beautiful woman being tortured by a maniac…

She is no ordinary victim, however, but one of a number of high profile supermodels from the Chase Couture Agency, abducted during gigs in Las Vegas. The story is soon top of the news all over the world, but all those fervid journalists would be even more strident if they knew the truth.

The celebrated cheesecake-and-clothes club is actually a highly specialised CIA front dating back decades to when luscious Chase Carver created “The Showroom” for “The Company”: building a bevy of beautiful, glamorous patriotic honey-traps extensively trained to get information from powerful but ultimately fallible and predictable men…

Now the project is a very visible (quasi) legitimate concern, Chase is the indomitable matriarch of a fashion empire and her daughter Scarlett is the business’ extremely formidable Chief of Security. Some of the most accomplished girls on their books are still proper spies though…

Scarlett is a girl with a past. As a teenager she was kidnapped herself: held for more than a week until rescued by some very special agents who then became her teachers in a number of unique disciplines and skill-sets. Now they also work for mommy dearest…

Tonight the daughter is hot on the trail of her missing employees and has tracked them to a warehouse in Brooklyn, but as she breaches the seedy building all her suspicions are confirmed as a lethal trap closes around her…

The over-zealous gunmen are no match for Scarlett or her support team, but the nasty surprise the crazy torturer left on one of the captive girls almost ends the investigation before it’s begun…

And as the ultra-rich masterminds behind the scheme confer it becomes clear what the stakes are in a truly high risk game: one that has a shocking connection to the Couture family line…

When a third SC model is found executed in her own New York apartment Scarlett and her handler at Covert Investigations Group back-trace her to Vegas too, and attentions switch to Sin City “businessman” Dante Ramon just as the rest of the world’s focus is on the US Secretary of Defense’s visit to the city…

And that’s only the opening gambit in this rollicking, rollercoaster romp set solidly in the style of the Roger Moore/Pierce Brosnan Bond extravaganzas, involving shady pasts, sinister cabals, crazy radical terror groups, Machiavellian Get-Super-Rich-Quick villains, sunken planes, Nazi-bio-weapons and a proper sting in the tale; all the tried-and-true tropes of sexy spy thrillers from Charlie’s Angels via Emma Peel to La Femme Nikita

Delivered in a superbly enticing animation-based illustrative style, this deceptively enticing spicy package also includes Special Bonus material such as ‘Dossiers & Mission Log’ offering profiles on ‘Scarlett Eva Carver’, her mega-mysterious mum ‘Chase Elizabeth Carver’, tutors/sidekicks ‘Spencer Kelly’ and ‘Trent Wayland’ as well as crusty curmudgeon/NYC cop dad ‘Lt. Jack Andrew Gillis’.

Adding to the attractions are a mocked-up photo-cover of ‘Hot Profile Magazine: The Chase Couture Collection Issue’, ‘Somebody Call Security’ a faux fashion-mag interview with Scarlett and a plus-sized ‘Gallery section’ featuring covers, photos (of actual model Viktoria Dobos – the visual inspiration for her), sketches, promo artwork, unused cover art and a selection of book covers from a proposed run of novels entitled ‘Scarlett Couture Pulp Designs’

Glitzy, fast-paced, inviting and superbly seductive, this is an action-packed asset to secure the undying attention of every red-blooded armchair operative.

Scarlett Couture will return in…
Scarlett Couture is ™ and © 2015 Des Taylor.

Blackhawk Album #1


By Dick Dillin, Chuck Cuidera, Jack Kirby, Sheldon Moldoff, George Roussos, Mort Meskin, Nick Cardy, Frank Frazetta, Bill Ely, Bob Brown & various (Strato Publications)
No ISBN:

Here’s another long-lost oddity of the eccentric and exotic British comics market that might be of passing interest to curio collectors and unrepentant comics nerds like me.

The early days of the American comicbook industry were awash with both opportunity and talent and those factors happily coincided with a vast population hungry for cheap entertainment.

The new medium of comicbooks had no acknowledged fans or collectors; only a large, transient market open to all varied aspects of yarn-spinning and tale-telling – a situation which publishers believed maintained right up to the middle of the 1960s. Thus, in 1940 even though America was loudly, proudly isolationist and more than a year away from any active inclusion in World War II, creators like Will Eisner and publishers like Everett M. (“Busy”) Arnold felt Americans were ready for a themed anthology title Military Comics.

Nobody was ready for Blackhawk.

Military #1 launched at the end of May 1941 (with an August cover-date) and included in its gritty, two-fisted line-up Death Patrol by Jack Cole, Miss America, Fred Guardineer’s Blue Tracer, X of the Underground, The Yankee Eagle, Q-Boat, Shot and Shell, Archie Atkins and Loops and Banks by “Bud Ernest” (actually aviation-nut and unsung comics genius Bob Powell), but none of these strips, not even Cole’s surreal and suicidal team of hell-bent fliers, had the instant cachet and sheer glamour appeal of Eisner and Powell’s “Foreign Legion of the Air” led by the charismatic Dark Knight of the airways known only as Blackhawk.

Chuck Cuidera, already famed for creating the original Blue Beetle for Fox, drew ‘the Origin of Blackhawk’ for the first issue, wherein a lone pilot fighting the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 was shot down by Nazi Ace Von Tepp; only to rise bloody and unbowed from his plane’s wreckage to form the World’s greatest team of airborne fighting men…

This mysterious paramilitary squadron of unbeatable fliers, dedicated to crushing injustice and smashing the Axis war-machine, battled on all fronts during the war and – once the embattled nations had notionally laid down their arms – stayed together to crush international crime, Communism and every threat to democracy from alien invaders to supernatural monsters, consequently becoming one of the true milestones of the US industry.

Eisner wrote the first four Blackhawk episodes before moving on and Cuidera stayed until issue #11 – although he triumphantly returned in later years. There were many melodramatic touches that made the Blackhawks so memorable in the eyes of a wide-eyed populace of thrill-hungry kids. There was the cool, black leather uniforms and peaked caps. The unique, outrageous – but authentic – Grumman F5F-1 Skyrocket planes they flew from their secret island base and of course their eerie battle-cry “Hawkaaaaa!”

But perhaps the oddest idiosyncrasy to modern readers was that they had their own song (would you be more comfortable if we started calling it an international anthem?) which Blackhawk, André, Stanislaus, Olaf, Chuck, Hendrickson and Chop-Chop would sing as they plummeted into battle. (To see the music and lyrics check out the Blackhawk Archives edition but just remember this catchy number was written for seven really tough leather-clad guys to sing while dodging bullets…

Quality adapted well to peacetime demands: superheroes Plastic Man and Doll Man lasted far longer than most of their Golden Age mystery man compatriots and rivals, whilst the rest of the company line turned to tough-guy crime, war, western, horror and racy comedy titles.

The Blackhawks soared to even greater heights, starring in their own movie serial in 1952. However the hostility of the marketplace to mature-targeted titles after the adoption of the self-censorious Comics Code was a clear sign of the times and as 1956 ended Arnold sold most of his comics properties to National Publishing Periodicals (now DC) and turned his attentions to becoming a general magazine publisher.

Most of the purchases were a huge boost to National’s portfolio, with titles such as GI Combat, Heart Throbs and Blackhawk lasting uninterrupted well into the 1970s (GI Combat survived until in 1987), whilst the unceasing draw and potential of characters such as Uncle Sam, the assorted Freedom Fighters costumed pantheon, Kid Eternity and Plastic Man have paid dividends ever since.

The “Black Knights” had also been a fixture of the British comics reprint industry since the early 1950s, with distributor-turned publisher Thorpe & Porter releasing 37 huge (68-page, whilst the US originals only boasted 36 pages) monochrome anthologies to entrance thrill-starved audiences under their Strato imprint.

This commodious British collection combines a flurry of tales featuring the Air Aces, balanced out by an assortment of mystery and science fiction tales from DC’s wide selection of weird adventure anthologies (primarily culled in this instance from September and October 1957) and kicks off with the contents of (US) Blackhawk #117 and ‘The Fantastic Mr. Freeze’ wherein the paramilitary aviators battle a chilling criminal maniac with a penchant for cold crimes before tackling smugglers masquerading as Vikings in ‘The Menace of the Dragon Boat’.

‘How Not to Enjoy a Vacation’ was seen in many places; a Public Service feature probably written by Jack Schiff and definitely illustrated by Rueben Moreira, followed by prose poser ‘I Was a Human Missile’, relating a technician’s account of when he was trapped during the test firing of a missile – and how he escaped – after which ‘The Seven Little Blackhawks’ become the targets of a ruthless mastermind exploiting their fame and reputations to plug his new movie…

Regrettably most records are lost so scripter-credits are not available (likely candidates include Ed “France” Herron, Arnold Drake, George Kashdan, Jack Miller, Bill Woolfolk, Jack Schiff and/or Dave Wood) but the art remained in the capable hands of veteran illustrators Dick Dillin & Chuck Cuidera: a team who meshed so seamlessly that they often traded roles with few any the wiser…

Moreover although broadly formulaic, the gritty cachet, exotic crime locales, Sci Fi underpinnings and international jurisdiction of the team always allowed great internal variety within the tales…

Here however the uniformed escapades pause as House of Mystery #67 (October 1957) offers the sorry saga of ‘The Wizard of Water’ – a scurvy conman who accidentally gets hold of King Neptune’s trident as drawn by Bill Ely – and, after an always-engaging ‘Science Says You’re Wrong’ page and text terror tale ‘The Mummy’s Revenge’, counts down ‘Five Days to Doom’ (illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff from House of Mystery #66, September 1957) wherein a printer discovers a seemingly-prophetic calendar and uses it to track down aliens planning to destroy Earth.

‘The Legend of the Golden Lion’ (HoM #67 again and illustrated by George Roussos) then described a Big Game Hunter’s confrontation with a leonine legend of biblical pedigree whilst from the same issue the ever-excellent Bob Brown depicted a weird science-tinged crime caper about ‘The Man Who Made Giants’ before the Blackhawks soared back into action battling ‘The Bandit with a Thousand Nets’ – yet another audacious costumed thief with a novel gimmick (from Blackhawk #118, October 1957).

That issue also provided ‘The Blackhawk Robinson Crusoes’ wherein the Pacific Ocean proved to be the real enemy when an accident marooned the Aviators as they hunted the nefarious pirate Sting Ray, followed by much-reprinted western classic ‘The Town Jesse James Couldn’t Rob’ limned by Frank Frazetta and itself a reprint from Jimmy Wakely #4.

Text feature ‘From Caveman to Classroom’ charted the history of map-making after which Blackhawk #118 continues to completion as ‘The Human Clay Pigeons’ found the entire squadron helpless targets of international assassin/spymaster the Sniper, leaving the rest of this collection to astound and amuse with more genre-specific tales such as the Roussos illustrated psychological crime thriller ‘Sinister Shadow’ from House of Mystery #66 Sept 1957.

Also in that issue is Jack Kirby’s eerie mystery of best friends turned rivals ‘The Thief of Thoughts’, Moldoff’s jungle trek chiller ‘The Bell that Tolled Danger’ and Mort Meskin & Roussos’ tragic supernatural romance ‘The Girl in the Iron Mask’.

Rounding out the collection are selections from House of Mystery #64 (July 1957) beginning with Nick Cardy’s irony-drenched riff on the curse of Midas wherein a criminal subjects himself to ‘The Golden Doom’ – pausing briefly for Jack Miller’s prose expose of mind-readers ‘A Clever Code’ (from HoM #66) and another Public Service ad with teen star Binky explaining ‘How to Make New Friends’ (Schiff & Bob Oksner) – before Bill Ely delivers a murderous revelation regarding ‘The Artist Who Painted Dreams’.

A brace of Henry Boltinoff gag pages starring ‘Professor Eureka’ and ‘Moolah the Mystic’ then segues into Bernard Baily’s macabre depiction of criminal obsession in ‘My Terrible Twin’ (HoM #64) to bring the fun to a close on a spooky high note.

These stories were produced – and reprinted here – at a pivotal moment in comics history: the last showing of broadly human-scaled action-heroes and two-fisted mystery-solvers in a marketplace increasingly filling up with gaudily clad wondermen and superwomen. The iconic blend of weary sophistication and glorious, juvenile bravado where a few good men with wits, firearms and an occasional trusty animal companion could overcome all odds was fading in the light of spectacular scenarios and ubiquitous alien encounters.

These are splendidly engaging tales that could beguile and amaze a whole new audience if only publishers would give them a chance. But whilst they won’t your best bet is to seek out books like this in specialist comic shops or online.

Go on; let your fingers do the hard work…

Despite there being no copyrights included in this tome, I think it’s safe to assume:
All material © 1957, 1958, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Rip Kirby Comic Album


By Alex Raymond, John Prentiss & Fred Dickenson (World Distributors {Manchester} Ltd)
No ISBN; ASIN: B004N6P0KM

It took the British a very long time to get the hang of American-style superheroes but we never had any trouble with more traditional genre standards, such as this quirky collection of adventures starring one of the world’s most intriguing private eyes. Another tantalising oddment of UK reprint publishing, the Rip Kirby Comic Album was probably released in 1960: a monochrome affair with soft card-covers, gathering selected yarns from the transitional period when John Prentice took over from all-star originator Alex Raymond.

Although this particular vintage item is relatively easy to find, if you’re properly interested in the armchair sleuth’s career you should seek out the recent hardback releases from IDW: the entire saga of Rip Kirby in splendid archival collector’s editions.

In the golden age of newspaper adventure strips (that’s the 1930s, OK?) Alex Raymond made Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and Secret Agent X-9 household names all over the world, but when duty called, he dropped everything and went to war.

On his return, rather than rekindle old glories, he created (from King Features Editor Ward Greene’s concept and scripts) a new kind of private detective. The result was a rather unique individual, a demobbed marine, intellectual by inclination and sedentary by preference, who – although physically powerful – chose to use his mind rather than fists and guns to solve quandaries.

He had a steady girlfriend called Judith “Honey” Dorian and a seemingly mousy yet deviously competent manservant named Desmond simply sodden with hidden depths (the dapper flunky was a reformed burglar and able sidekick decades before Lady Penelope hired that guy Parker).

Remington “Rip” Kirby debuted on March 4th 1946, to instant approbation and commercial success. Greene scripted the strip until 1952 when he was replaced by journalist Fred Dickenson. Raymond continued to illustrate the wittily urbane serial thriller until September 6th 1956, when, aged only 46, he died in a car crash.

The hugely talented John Prentice was chosen to assume the art duties whilst Dickenson continued writing until 1986 when he retired due to ill-health, from which time Prentice did his job too. The feature finally ended on June 26th 1999 when Prentice retired.

This reprint classic fortuitously represents that transitional tale as the opening case as ‘Rip Kirby in the Elixir of Youth’ (which was originally syndicated from 30th July to 20th October 1956, with Prentice taking over from October 1st) finds aging Hollywood star Mavis Fulton raging against the inexorable ravages of time and taking it out on her makeup man.

As conman “Dr.” Leon de Leon is kicked out of town for his usual charlatanry, he links up with disgraced and recently dismissed cosmetic artist Pancake Murgatroyd and both head East to New York…

In the city they first target wealthy spinster Hattie Hilton for a million dollar scam. All they need is a gullible actress they can cosmetically add fifty years to before very publicly erasing those years with their bogus Fountain of Youth for foolish old ladies…

The scheme proceeds with slow, sure success until Hattie’s butler swipes some of the miracle mixture for his own use and affably shares the benefits with Desmond. When Rip sees their silliness, he immediately leaps to the correct conclusion and quietly intervenes in Miss Hilton’s behalf…

‘Model in Trouble’ (originally entitled ‘The Fatal Photo’ and running from December 9th 1957 to February 8th 1958) focuses on Honey’s modelling career but deviates into deadly danger after her photographer – a notorious letch and Lothario – is murdered during a shoot.

With his girlfriend the only suspect, Rip starts nosing around and soon finds plenty of other likely candidates but things really start popping when he finds the dying shutterbug got a shot at his killer…

The high stakes thrills and chills conclude with the butler centre stage when ‘Desmond Makes a Lucky Strike’ (first serialised from 27th May to August 10th 1957 as ‘Casino Con’ follows the dutiful valet as he beguiles and cajoles his easygoing employer into taking a trip out west.

Awaiting them are husband-&-wife hucksters Belle and “Stogie” Nash and they soon part Desmond from his savings by convincing him there’s uranium in them thar hills…

Rip’s response is typical: organise a few old pals on both sides of the law and set up an irresistible sting to fleece the fleecers…

This arcane album offers a perfect snapshot of one of America’s most famous fictional detectives, drawn by two of the world’s most brilliant artists. A perfect taste of the heady 1950s style, this book will suck you into a captivating world of adventure and resurgent post-war glamour all doled out with deliciously sharp dialogue, smart plotting and plenty of laughs to balance the thrills.

Your chances of tracking down this gem are rather better than you’d expect and well worth the effort if you’re an art-lover or comics curio collector, as Raymond’s and Prentice’s drawing at this size are an unparalleled delight.
© King Features Syndicate Inc. All rights reserved.