The Phantom – The Complete Series: The Gold Key Years volume 1


By Bill Harris & Bill Lignante with George Wilson (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-61345-005-5

In the 17th century a British sailor survived an attack by pirates, and, washing ashore in Africa, swore on the skull of his murdered father to dedicate his life and that of all his descendants to destroying all pirates and criminals. The Phantom fights crime and injustice from a base deep in the jungles of Bengali, and throughout Africa is known as the “Ghost Who Walks”.

His unchanging appearance ad unswerving quest for justice have led to him being considered an immortal avenger by the credulous and the wicked. Down the decades one hero after another has fought and died in an unbroken line, and the latest wearer of the mask, indistinguishable from the first, continues the never-ending battle…

Lee Falk created the Jungle Avenger at the request of his syndicate employers who were already making history, public headway and loads of money with his first strip sensation Mandrake the Magician

Although technically not the first ever costumed hero in comics, The Phantom was the prototype paladin to wear a skin-tight body-stocking, and the first to have a mask with opaque eye-slits.

He debuted on February 17th 1936 in an extended sequence that pitted him against a global confederation of pirates called the Singh Brotherhood. Falk wrote and drew the daily strip for the first two weeks before handing artist Ray Moore the illustration side. The Sunday feature began in May 1939.

For such a successful, long-lived and influential series, in terms of compendia or graphic novel collections The Phantom has been very poorly served by the English language market. Various small companies have tried to collect the strips – one of the longest continually running adventure serials in publishing history – but in no systematic or chronological order and never with any sustained success.

But, even if it were only of historical value (or just printed for Australians, who have long been manic devotees of the implacable champion) surely “Kit Walker” is worthy of a definitive chronological compendium series?

Happily, his comic book adventures have fared slightly better – at least in recent times…

In the 1960’s King Features Syndicate dabbled with a comicbook line of their biggest stars – Flash Gordon, Mandrake and The Phantom – but immediately prior to that the Ghost Who Walks held a solo starring vehicle under the broad and effective aegis of veteran licensed properties publisher Gold Key Comics.

This superb full-cover hardcover (with equivalent eBook editions for the modern minded) gathers the first eight issues – encompassing November 1962 through August 1964 – and, as explained in fan and scholar Ed Rhoades’ Introduction ‘The Phantom and the Silver Age’, offers newspaper strip tales originally illustrated by Wilson McCoy that had been adapted by original scripter Bill Harris and drawn in comicbook format by Bill Lignante.

The Phantom was no stranger to funnybooks, having been featured since the Golden Age in titles such as Feature Book and Harvey Hits, but only as straight strip reprints. These Gold Key exploits were tailored to a big page and a young readership.

The fascinating history lesson is also augmented by pages of original artwork and ends much too soon for my elevated tastes, but if you’re a fan of pictorial adventure there’s plenty more to enjoy.

Each issue was fronted by a stunning painted cover by George Wilson and the excitement kicks off here with ‘The Game’ (Phantom #1, November 1962) as the international man of mystery encounters Prince Ragon Gil, whose idea of fun is to pit abducted or bribed strangers against ferocious beasts. When an interfering masked man closes down his warped games the eastern potentate swears vengeance and kidnaps the hero’s fiancé Diana Palmer. His plan is to force the interloper to play his savage game, but it’s his last mistake…

That premiere issue concludes with a single-page recap of the legend of The Phantom before #2 (February 1963) resumes the wonderment with ‘The Rattle’ as an exploit from The Phantom’s ancestral past flares up again after tiny bird-riding barbarians start stealing from the local tribes.

The current ghost must crack the casebooks of his forefathers and penetrate a most inhospitable region to get to the bottom of the mystery and bring peace back to the jungle…

A second story taps into contemporary Flying Saucer interest as our hero encounters aliens intent on conquest. Thankfully the purple-clad subject of ‘The Test’ proves sufficient to change their minds…

History’s greatest treasures are stored in The Phantom’s fabulous Skull Cave and the first tale in #3 (May 1963) relates how a rescued white man glimpses ‘The Diamond Cup’ of Alexander the Great and accidentally triggers a greed-fuelled crusade by eager criminals and ambitious chances before the Ghost Who Walks finally restores peace and order…

Rounding out the issue, ‘The Crybaby’ finds frail village boy Cecil given a crash course in confidence and exercise by the enigmatic masked man. The experience is literally life-changing…

In #4 (August) disgraced, fraud-perpetrating witchmen strike back against The Phantom through their manufactured deity ‘Oogooru’, only to be shown what real sleight of hand and prestidigitation can achieve, after which ocean voyager Kit Walker solves the enigma of vanishing villains the ‘Goggle-Eye Pirates’

Two centuries previously The Phantom established a police force dubbed The Jungle Patrol with himself as its anonymous titular head. In #5 (October) those worthy stalwarts are almost outfoxed by a devious gang of bandits known as ‘The Swamp Rats’ until the unseen “Commander” takes personal charge of the mission. The big innovation of the issue is the premiere of a new episodic feature detailing ‘The Phantom’s Boyhood’ as a baby is born in the Skull Cave. Tracing the formative experiences of the current Phantom, the initial yarn follows little Kit from toddler to the dawn of adolescence when his parents regretfully decide it’s time to pack him off to private school in America…

The Phantom #6 (February 1964) leads with ‘The Lady from Nowhere’ as heiress Lydia Land is thrown from a plane and rescued by the masked manhunter. Soon he’s dogging her steps to track down which trusted associate is trying to silence her and steal her fortune…

A life-changing meeting shapes the destiny of the hero-to-be in ‘The Phantom’s Boyhood Part II – Diana’ as Kit falls for the girl next door and makes his mark amongst the cads and bullies of the civilised world…

The peaceful villages of the jungle are thrown into turmoil by the thieving depredations of ‘The Super Apes’ (#7, May) until the Jungle Patrol and The Phantom expose their shocking secret whilst ‘The Phantom’s Boyhood Part III – School’ finds the African émigré making his mark in the classroom, on the playing fields and in the newspapers…

Phantom #8 (August) closes this initial outing with an epic extra-length tale of vengeance as the current Ghost Who Walks finally tracks down ‘The Belt’ and the villain who killed his father and stole it…

Straightforward, captivating rollicking action-adventure has always been the staple of The Phantom. If that sounds like a good time to you, this is a traditional nostalgia-fest you won’t want to miss…
The Phantom® © 1962-1964 and 2011 King Features Syndicate, Inc. ® Hearst Holdings, Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1929-1930: A Brick, A Mice, A Lovely Night


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-529-8

Krazy Kat is quite possibly the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; an immensely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy & Ignatz (as it is in these fabulous commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics) is a creation which can only be appreciated on its own terms. Over delicious decades of abstracted amazement the series developed a unique language – both visual and verbal – whilst abstrusely exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody except a few local newspaper editors…

Sadly, however, it certainly baffled far more than a few…

Krazy Kat was never a strip for unimaginative people who won’t or can’t appreciate complex multi-layered verbal and/or pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a thriving cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been cropping up in his whacky domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Krazy Kat officially debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct intervention and interference – gradually spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (notably – but not exclusively – e.e. Cummings, Frank Capra, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and others) all adored the strip, many regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the comics section.

Eventually the feature found a home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama sections of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s heavy-handed patronage, the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The basic premise is evergreen and deceptively simple: Krazy is a rather effeminate – not to say gender-indeterminate – dreamily sensitive and romantic feline hopelessly in love with rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous Ignatz Mouse. It’s the old story of opposites attracting but here the oodles of affection are unreciprocated and the love is certainly only going one way…

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick (obtained singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly) which our smitten kitten invariably and inexplicably misidentifies as tokens of equally recondite affection.

The third crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, who is completely besotted with Krazy, professionally cognizant of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from removing his diabolical and irredeemable rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to Pupp’s dilemma…

Collaboratively co-populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as dreaded deliverer of unplanned, and generally unwanted, babies Joe Stork; wandering hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable – often unintelligible – Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters, all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Kokonino (based on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“Soff, soff brizz”, “l’il dahlink” or “Ignatz, ware four is thou at Ignatz??”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Oft times Herriman even eschewed his mystical meandering mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops…

There have been numerous Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was rediscovered and reclaimed by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting audience.

This captivating chronicle – covering 1929-1930 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) monochrome softcover tome – as always offers added value as context, background and other cartoon treats. Here Ben Schwartz critically appraises the exalted eccentric content of the material in ‘The Court Jester: Hearst, Herriman, and the Death of Nonsense’ whilst the much-missed Bill Blackbeard delves deeper into the feature’s background in his Introduction essay ‘The Man Behind the Pupp Behind the Mouse Behind the Kat: George Herriman, 1880-1944’; paying particular attention to the sublime scribbler’s relationship with other cartoonists of the era such as Jimmy Swinnerton, Tad Dorgan and a young upstart named Elzie Segar…

On to the strips then: within this strange brew of eccentric emotional overload, the perpetual play unfolds as always but with one major evolution as Herriman begins to indulge in extended storylines and continuing continuity…

The emphasis is strongly on bricks and how to get them in the early episodes with the law mostly having the upper paw. The mouse regularly ends up banged up in the county hoosegow as Krazy pines for passionately propelled portions of brick-shaped symbolism even whilst further pursuing that dream of a singing career.

Ignatz, as ever, hunts for the perfect projectile – heavy, accurate and of negligible cost – but hasn’t learned that nothing comes for free as he regularly falls prey to mountebanks, charlatans and fortune tellers…

Brickmaker Kolin Kelly gets into a shooting war with the region’s other baker – bread pundit Kikkero Kooki – and their search for ammunition leads to much more projectile peril.

Bull Pupp is wiser to the Mouse’s modus operandi these days, prompting Ignatz to take to the skies in a variety of unlikely aircraft and as always there are strictly visual pun sessions to play well against the numerous slapstick antics, as Ignatz devises ever-more complex schemes to bounce his earthen wares off the Kat’s bean whilst the weird landscapes and eccentric elemental conditions as ever add to the humorous inspiration with apocryphal wind witches and snow squaws constantly making their invisible presences felt…

Joe Stork continues to divide his time between the delivery of babies and other, less legal packages and there’s a many a jest regarding the total illegality of easily obtained hooches and fire-waters…

As 1930 dawns change is in the air and – after a series of wintery japes and a surprise eruption of local volcano Agathla – strange yet comfortably unchanging Kokonino get its biggest shake-up of all when amorous predator Monsieur Kiskidee Kuku hits town and make a determined play for the sentiment-starved Kat…

Having made allies of Ignatz and Offisa Pupp, the rascally gallic rogue turns the heads of many of the female inhabitants incurring the ire of many males, but the bounder is also an expert fencer so reprisals are grudging and muted…

Before long one of those troublesome continental ménage-triangle deals is in play and fireworks start brewing before the affairs of dishonour are all settled…

…And always irresistible mischief truly rules, whenever Herriman pictorially plays hob with the laws of physics, just to see what will happen…

Wrapping up the cartoon gold is another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’ (providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed) plus a foray of final fillip offering an example how certain papers played with the layout of the strip to enhance its popularity and a genuine historical find: the sheet music to 1911’s Krazy Kat Rag

Herriman’s masterpiece is a phenomenal achievement: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips. If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this companionable compendium is a most accessible way to do so. Heck, it’s even available as an eBook now so don’t waste the opportunity…
© 2003, 2008 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Lieutenant Blueberry: The Man with the Silver Star


By Charlier & Giraud, translated by R. Whitener (Dargaud International)
ISBN: 2-205-06578-5

Franco-Belgian comics have enjoyed a decades-long love affair with the mythos of the American West and responded by generating some of the most beautiful and exciting graphic narratives in the history of the medium. They have, however, had less success creating characters that have gone on to be global household names.

One that did has made that jump is Michel Charlier & Jean Giraud’s immortal bad-ass Blueberry

Sadly, although many publishers have sporadically attempted to bring him to our thrill-starved shores, there’s no readily available complete catalogue (yet) of the quintessential antihero in the English language. So here’s another ancient but superb album for you to track down. At least these gems still turn up in back-issue bins and in second-hand or charity shops…

Jean-Michel Charlier is arguably Europe’s most important writer of realistic adventure strips. He was born in Liege, Belgium in 1924 and like so many groundbreaking comics creators, began as an artist, joining the staff of Spirou in September 1944, contributing aviation illustrations and a strip about gliders co-produced with Flettner. In 1946 Charlier’s love affair with flying inspired him to co-create fighter-pilot strip Buck Danny, providing scripts for star turn artist Victor Hubinon.

Before long – and on the advice of prestigious senior illustrator Jijé – Charlier was scripting full time and expanding his portfolio with many other series and serials.

In 1951 he co-created historical series Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul which afforded dozens of major artists their big break over the years, and supplemented the series with other strips such as Kim Devil (art Gérald Forton), Jean Valhardi and Marc Dacier (both with artist Paape) and Thierry le Chevalier (with Carlos Laffond) as well as popular scouting series La Patrouille des Castors, illustrated by MiTacq.

In conjunction with Goscinny and Uderzo, Charlier founded the business/industry oriented commercial comics agency Edifrance after which he and Goscinny edited the magazine Pistolin (1955-1958) before launching Pilote together in October 1959.

For the soon to be legendary periodical Charlier created Tanguy and Laverdure (with Uderzo and later Jijé), Barbe-Rouge (with Hubinon) and Jacques le Gall (MiTacq). After a trip to America Charlier created arguably his most significant character – and Europe’s greatest Western comic – which would eventually be known as Blueberry.

In later years, the engaging antihero would support his own equally successful spin-off La Jeunesse de Blueberry (AKA Young Blueberry, illustrated by Colin Wilson) but Charlier never rested on his laurels, concocting further grittily realistic fare: historical biographies in collaboration with Hubinon (Surcouf, Jean Mermoz, and Tarawa) and Martial Alain et Christine in Libre Junior, Rosine in Pistolin), Brice Bolt for Spirou with Aldoma Puig, Los Gringos with Victor de la Fuente and many more. He passed away in 1989.

Jean Henri Gaston Giraud was born in the suburbs of Paris on 8th May 1938. Raised by grandparents after his mother and father divorced in 1941, he began attending Institut des Arts Appliqués in 1955, becoming friends with Jean-Claude Mézières who, at 17, was already selling strips and illustrations to magazines such as Coeurs Valliants, Fripounet et Marisette and Spirou. Giraud apparently spent most of his college time drawing cowboy comics and left after a year.

In 1956 he travelled to Mexico, staying with his mother for eight months, before returning to France and a full-time career drawing comics, mostly Westerns such as Frank et Jeremie for Far West and King of the Buffalo, A Giant with the Hurons and others for Coeurs Valliants, all in a style based on French comics legend Joseph Gillain AKA “Jijé”.

Between 1959 and 1960 Giraud spent his National Service in Algeria, working on military service magazine 5/5 Forces Françaises before returning to civilian life as Jijé’s assistant in 1961, working on the master’s long-running (1954-1977) western epic Jerry Spring.

A year later, Giraud and Belgian writer Jean-Michel Charlier launched the serial Fort Navajo in Pilote #210. All too soon the ensemble feature threw forth a unique icon in the shabby shape of disreputable, rebellious Lieutenant Mike Blueberry who took over as the star and evolved into one of the most popular European strip characters of all time…

In 1963-1964, Giraud produced numerous strips for satire periodical Hara-Kiri and, keen to distinguish and separate the material from his serious day job, first coined his pen-name “Moebius”.

He didn’t use it again until 1975 when he joined Bernard Farkas, Jean-Pierre Dionnet and Philippe Druillet – all devout science fiction fans – as founders of a revolution in narrative graphic arts created by “Les Humanoides Associes”.

Their ground-breaking adult fantasy magazine Métal Hurlant utterly enraptured the comics-buying public and Giraud again wanted to utilise a discreet creative persona for the lyrical, experimental, soul-searching material he was increasingly driven to produce: series such as The Airtight Garage, The Incal and the mystical, dreamy flights of sheer fantasy contained in Arzach

To further separate his creative twins, Giraud worked his inks with a brush whilst the dedicated futurist Moebius rendered his lines with pens. After a truly stellar career which saw him become a household name, both Giraud and Moebius passed away in March 2012.

In 1977 Egmont/Methuen had published four full-colour albums which utterly failed to capture the attention of a comics-reading public besotted in equal amounts by Science Fiction in general, Star Wars in specific and new anthology 2000AD in the main…

It’s a great shame: if the translated series had launched even a year earlier, I might not be whining about lack of familiarity with a genuine classic of genre comics…

After serialisation in Pilote the Fort Navajo adventure L’Homme à l’étoile d’argent became the sixth Blueberry album and this translation was released in America and Canada in 1983.

The tale is actually a bog-standard western fable of greedy land-grabbers and a doughty town-tamer but the glimmerings of Blueberry’s unique character shine through the familiar tropes and trapping and make for a rip-raring if perhaps slightly dated read…

Two days ride from Fort Navajo, the sheriff of Silver Springs is gunned down from ambush. He’s the third in a year and the latest to tell the immensely rich and powerful Bass brothers they cannot do whatever they want.

With a cowed township and a bought-and-paid-for Judge in their pockets, the Bass boys and their pack of hired gunslingers think it’s only a matter of time before they own everything, but when pretty schoolmarm Katie Marsh swears to testify to the sheriff’s murder, nomadic old rum pot Jim MacClure convinces the honest members of the town council to send for a certain cavalryman he’s encountered in his sordid past…

After a perilous foray to the fort, the Colonel – after much effort – is convinced to despatch his troublemaking junior officer Lieutenant Mike Blueberry to investigate MacClure’s claims.

Before long the wily trouble-shooter is using all his gifts to rouse and inspire the town’s broken populace whilst whittling down the Bass brothers’ mercenary army. And when they disbelieving villains eventually try to push back, they soon realise this temporary sheriff doesn’t need the US Army to keep the peace and administer justice…

Although perhaps a tad traditional for modern tastes and nowhere near as visually or narratively sophisticated as later episodes, this sagebrush epic of the immortal Blueberry is an engaging yarn rife with gallows humour and packed with action: a stunning confirmation of the creative powers of Charlier & Giraud and potent testimony to the undying appeal and inspiration of the Western genre.
© 1969, 1983 Dargaud Editeur Paris. English language text these editions © 1983 D.I,P. All rights reserved.

Tarzan and the Lost Tribes (The Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 4)


By Burne Hogarth & Rob Thompson (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-320-7

The 1930 and 1940s was an era of astounding pictorial periodical adventure. In the years before television, newspaper strips (and later comicbooks) were the only visually-based home entertainment for millions of citizens young and old and consequently shaped the culture of many nations.

Relatively few strips attained near-universal approval and acclaim. Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates and Prince Valiant were in that rarefied pantheon but arguably the most famous was Tarzan.

The full-blown dramatic adventure serial started on January 7th 1929 with Buck Rogers and Tarzan debuting that day. Both were adaptations of pre-existing prose properties and their influence changed the shape of the medium forever.

The 1930s saw an explosion of similar fare, launched with astounding rapidity and success. Not just strips but actual genres were created in that decade, still impacting on today’s comic-books and, in truth, all our popular fiction forms.

In terms of sheer quality of art, the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immensely successful novels starring jungle-bred John Clayton, Lord Greystoke by Canadian commercial artist Harold “Hal” Foster were unsurpassed, and the strip soon became a firm favourite of the masses, supplementing movies, books, a radio show and ubiquitous advertising appearances.

As detailed in previous volumes of this superb oversized (330 x 254 mm), full-colour hardback series, Foster initially quit the strip at the end of a 10-week adaptation of first novel Tarzan of the Apes and was replaced by Rex Maxon. At the insistent urging of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Foster returned when the black-&-white daily expanded to include a lush, full colour Sunday page featuring original adventures.

Maxon was left to capably handle the weekday book adaptations, and Foster crafted the epic and lavish Sunday page until 1936 (233 consecutive weeks). He then left again, for good: moving to King Features Syndicate and his own landmark weekend masterpiece Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur – which debuted in February 1937.

Once the four-month backlog of material he had built up was gone, Foster was succeeded by a precociously brilliant 25-year old artist named Burne Hogarth: a graphic visionary whose superb anatomical skill, cinematic design flair and compelling page composition revolutionised the entire field of action/adventure narrative illustration. The galvanic modern dynamism of the idealised human figure in today’s comicbooks can be directly attributed to Hogarth’s pioneering drawing and, in later years, educational efforts.

Burroughs cannily used the increasingly popular comic strip to cross-market his own prose efforts with great effect.

This third titanic tome begins with the spectacularly illustrated ‘Jusko on Hogarth: An Education in Form and Movement’ with the fantasy artist harking back to his childhood comics experiences and influences after which the astounding action and adventure recommence. At this time, Hogarth was sharing the scripting chores veteran collaborator Rob Thompson, having only recently returned to the feature after a dispute with the owners. He had moved to the Robert Hall Syndicate for whom he produced seminal adventure classic Drago and then United Features where he created comedy strip Miracle Jones. During that time away from Tarzan, Hogarth – with Silas Rhodes – also opened the Cartoonists and Illustrators School which later evolved into the School of Visual Arts.

‘Tarzan and N’Ani’ (episodes #875-896; 14th December to 1948 to 9th May 1948) offers more raw drama as Tarzan visits old friend Pangola only to find the chief dead and his Wakamba tribesmen under the thumb of apparent spirit warriors and their White Queen.

A little spirited resistance and dedicated investigation by the ape-Man soon reveals crooked circus performers exploiting and enslaving the natives but before he can confront the villains they take his wife Jane hostage.

N’Ani’s big mistake is thinking her captive is a weak and feeble civilised woman…

With the bad guys and their trained big cats dealt with the excitement briefly subsides, but all too soon the Jungle Lord is tricked into boarding a scientist’s reconditioned atomic submarine and whisked away against his will to uncanny uncharted regions in the year-long epic ‘Tarzan on the Island of Mua-Ao’ (pages #897-947 running from 16th May 1948 to 1st May 1949).

After some Nemo-like subsea escapades Tarzan and his unwelcome companions fetch up on a Polynesian mini lost continent only to be captured by the scientifically advanced but morally barbarous Lahtian people. Their slave-owning totalitarian kingdom is ripe for revolution and after our hero and worthy warriors Soros and Timaru escape from the gladiatorial arena they go about arranging one.

Of course, that first necessitates traversing the savage jungle hinterlands, surviving its ubiquitous feline predators and making peace with the dominant Ornag-Rimba and Thalian tribes…

A minor complication occurs when local witchdoctor Totama feels threatened and repeatedly attempts to assassinate Tarzan but the Ape-Man counters every plot and foray in his own unstinting and decisive manner…

Eventually, however, Tarzan has his coalition in place and leads an unstoppable assault against the Lahtians which inevitably leads to a regime-change and his return to Africa…

This titanic hardback tome concludes with a macabre yarn and a radical overhaul of the strip. During ‘Tarzan and the Ononoes’ (#948-972) which ran from May 8th to 23rd October 1949, the traditional full-page vertical format was controversially switched to episodes printed in a landscape format, which allowed a certain liberalisation of layouts but inexplicably made the pages seem cramped and claustrophobic…

Narratively the tone is full-on fantasy as Tarzan swears to dying explorer Philip Ransome that he will rescue his lost daughter from the mysterious creatures holding her beyond the impassable Ashangola Mountains.

That mission brings him into conflict with the Waloks – a tribe of intelligent missing-link anthropoids – and their bitter enemies, a race of depraved monsters called Ononoes. These carnivorous horrors are giant heads with arms but no legs or torsos who have a penchant for human sacrifice. Their next victim is to be an outworlder girl named Barbara Ransome

Grim, grotesque and genuinely scarey, Tarzan’s struggle against the rotund terrors is a high point of the strip and promises even greater thrills in the forthcoming final collection.

To Be Concluded…

Tarzan is a fictive creation who has attained an immortal reality in a number of different creative arenas, but none offer the breathtaking visceral immediacy of Burne Hogarth’s comic strips.

These vivid visual masterworks are all coiled-spring tension or vital, violent explosive motion, stretching, running, fighting: a surging rush of power and glory. It’s a dream come true that these majestic exploits are back in print for ours and future generations of dedicated fantasists to enjoy.
Trademarks Tarzan® and Edgar Rice Burroughs® owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Used by Permission. Copyright © 2017 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 3


By Wally Wood, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky, George Tuska, Steve Ditko, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta & various (IDW) ISBN: 978-1-61377-941-5                  eISBN: 978-1-62302-543-4

The meteoric lifespan and output of Tower Comics is one of the key creative moments in American comicbook history. The brief, bombastic saga of The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves was a benchmark of quality and sheer bravura fun for fans of both the then-still-reawakening superhero genre and the era’s spy-chic obsession.

In the early 1960s the Bond movie franchise was going from strength to strength, with blazing action and heady glamour utterly transforming the formerly low key espionage genre. The buzz was infectious: soon Men like Flint and Matt Helm were carving out their own piece of the action as television shanghaied the entire bandwagon with the irresistible Man from U.N.C.L.E. (premiering in September 1964); bringing the whole shtick inescapably into living rooms across the planet.

Archie Comics editor Harry Shorten was commissioned to create a line of characters for a new distribution-chain funded publishing outfit – Tower Comics. He brought in creative maverick Wally Wood, who called on some of the biggest names in the industry to produce material in the broad range of genres the company demanded (as well as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and its spin-offs Undersea Agent, Dynamo and NoMan, there was a magnificent anthology war-comic Fight the Enemy and wholesome youth-comedy Tippy Teen).

Samm Schwartz & Dan DeCarlo handled the funny funnybook – which outlasted everything else – whilst Wood, Larry Ivie, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Russ Jones, Gil Kane and Ralph Reese contributed scripts for themselves and the industry’s other top talents to illustrate on the adventure series.

With a ravenous appetite for super-spies and costumed heroes growing in comic-book popularity and amongst the general public, the idea of blending the two concepts seemed inescapable…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 appeared with no fanfare or pre-publicity on newsstands in August 1965 (with a cover off-sale date of November). Better yet, all Tower titles were in the beloved-but-rarely-seen 80-page Giant format, offering a huge amount of material in every issue.

All that being said these tales would not be so revered if they hadn’t been so superbly crafted. As well as Wood, the art accompanying the compelling, subtly more mature stories was by some of the greatest talents in comics: Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta, Steve Ditko and others.

This third lush and lustrous compilation collects T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #8-10 and includes the second sterling spin-off issue of Dynamo – all originally released between September and November 1966 – with the incomparably cool concept and characters going from strength to strength and a spirit of eccentric experimentation slipping in to sweeten the pot…

For those who came in late: When brilliant Professor Emil Jennings was attacked by the forces of the mysterious Warlord, the savant perished. Happily, UN troops salvaged some of his greatest inventions, including a belt that increased the density of the wearer’s body until it became as hard as steel, a cloak of invisibility and a brain-amplifier helmet…

The prototypes were divided between several agents to create a unit of super-operatives to counter increasingly bold attacks of multiple global terror threats such as the aforementioned Warlord.

First chosen was affable, honest but far from brilliant file clerk Len Brown who was, to everyone’s surprise, assigned the belt and codename Dynamo. Contributing scripter Len Brown had no idea illustrator/editor Wood had puckishly changed the hero’s civilian name as a last-minute gag until the comic rolled off the presses…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent NoMan was once aged Dr. Anthony Dunn who chose to have his mind transferred into an android body and was then gifted with the invisibility cape. If his artificial body was destroyed Dunn’s consciousness could transfer to another android body. As long as he had a spare ready, he could never die…

Guy Gilbert of the crack Mission: Impossible style T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad was asked to beta-test an experimental super-speed suit. Gung-ho Lightning was proud to do so, even if every use of the hyper-acceleration gimmick shortened his life-span…

John Janus seemed the perfect UN employee: a mental and physical marvel who easily passed all the tests necessary to wear the Jennings helmet. Sadly, he was also the Warlord’s mole, poised to betray T.H.U.N.D.E.R. at the earliest opportunity. All plans went awry however, once he donned the helmet and became Menthor.

The device awakened his mind’s full potential, granting him telepathy, telekinesis and mind-reading powers, but it also drove all evil from his mind. Such was the redemptive effect that Janus actually gave his life to save his comrades: an event which astounded readers at the time…

This third intense Intelligence compendium opens with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #8 as Dynamo is caught up in a huge multi-state power cut that turns out to be sabotage perpetrated by maverick Warlord Oro. Although the under-Earth evildoer leaves ‘Thunder in the Dark’ (by an unknown author and art by Wood, Adkins & Reese) he is unable to stave off the dogged, determined destruction dealt out by Dynamo…

Invisible agent NoMan then infiltrates ‘The Pyramid of the Warlords’ (Pearson, John Giunta & Joe Giella) and wipes out a hidden horde of the malevolent miscreants whilst super-speedster Lightning investigates tech-stealing ET ‘The Blue Alien’ (Steve Skeates, Sekowsky & Frank Giacoia) only to discover and old enemy using a new gimmick…

With the Warlords using anti-gravity gimmicks, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. bigwigs are forced to innovate and create a flying agent in ‘Enter the Raven’ (Skeates, & Tuska), but have second thoughts after unscrupulous former mercenary Craig Lawson proves to be the only contender capable of piloting the heavily-armed flight-kit…

Following a stunning ‘Warlord Pin-up’ by Wood & Reese, the issue ends with an ensemble team-up as the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents unite in a ‘Final Encounter’ (Wood & Adkins over another anonymous script) that ranges from the bowels of the Earth to the edge of space and seemingly sees the death of the supreme Warlord…

A new era opened with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #9 as affable agent Len Brown is asked to go undercover on an army base in ‘Corporal Dynamo, USA’ (with art from Giunta & Wood). The hunt for traitors selling stolen weapons to subversive sect S.P.I.D.E.R. ends explosively and leads into Lightning’s solo pursuit of modern Prometheus ‘Andor’ (illustrated by Sekowsky, Giacoia & Giella).

Long ago the Warlords stole a human baby and spent decades turning the waif into a biological superman devoid of sentiment or compassion. Sadly, they lost all control of the living weapon once he met fellow mortals. Now, the pitiful misfit’s attempts to rejoin mankind are derailed when a surviving Subterranean re-establishes mental dominance and again tries to crush the surface world…

Giunta limns NoMan’s investigation of ‘The Secret of Scorpion Island’ wherein a UN vaccination program is hijacked to create a pool of chemically-enslaved cultists for a deranged mastermind after which the assembled T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents contest with numerous rival agencies to secure a lethal outer space threat concealed within ‘The Black Box of Doom’ (Adkins & Chic Stone)…

The issue then concludes with a peculiarly quirky tale very much of its time as winged wonder ‘Raven Battles Mayven the Poet’, written and illustrated by legendary craftsman Manny Stallman.

A star from the get-go, Dynamo quickly won his own blockbuster-sized solo title. With an October cover-date, #2 kicked off with the husky hero firmly trapped in ‘The Web of S.P.I.D.E.R.’ (Stone, Wood & Adkins) after he storms into the country the evil empire has illegally annexed. He’s not completely alone, however: sinister sultry siren Iron Maiden is on hand to offer temptation and salvation in equal amounts…

Evil never rests though and in ‘S.P.I.D.E.R. Strikes at Sea!’ (Wood & Adkins) the covert creeps swipe an atomic submarine aircraft carrier and only Len can save the day and return the super-weapon…

Dynamo proudly boasts he’s more brawn than brains which doesn’t help when he has to solve the mystery of ‘The Priceless Counterfeit!’ (Dick Ayers, Wood & Adkins) statue S.P.I.D.E.R. wants to smuggle out of America…

Following a brace of pin-ups – ‘Red Star’ by Sekowsky & Giacoia and ‘Andor’ by Adkins – Dynamo is targeted for assassination by the rival Red Star and S.P.I.D.E.R. gangs in ‘Between Two Enemies’ (Sekowsky & Stone) before T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Weed comedically wraps things up as his dreams of becoming a super-operative bring him into contention with howling maniac ‘The Hyena’ – a Tuska-illustrated gem sadly lacking an author credit as do so many of the tales in this collection…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #10 is the last issue compiled here and opens with Dynamo actually outclassed after S.P.I.D.E.R. springs a number of old foes from jail. Rendered by Wood, ‘Operation Armageddon’ finds T.H.U.N.D.E.R. on the ropes and the muscle-headed muscleman running for his life when personal nemesis Demo steals a machine that fires miniature atom bombs. Sadly the sick killer never realised affable Len Brown could be pushed too far…

Sekowsky, Giacoia & Giella then illustrate Lightning racing after the madman who invented ‘The Air Laser’ whilst Ogden Whitney signs in to draw a team-up of NoMan and Andor as the Warlord’s superhuman pawn hunts down his former masters but is captured once more and compelled to commit ‘Three Deeds of Evil’

When communist brainwashing turns a trusted T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent into a liability the heroes gather to save their comrade in ‘Kitten or Killer’ (Tuska art) and turn the tables before High Spy Raven brings the dramas to a close when ‘The Return of Mayven’ (Stallman) finds the poet and robotics expert again using exploding artificial children to sow chaos across America…

With stories all shaded in favour of fast pace, sparse dialogue, explosive action and big breathtaking visuals, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was decades ahead of its time and certainly informed everything in Fights ‘n’ Tights comics which came after it. These are truly timeless comic classics which improve with every reading, so do yourself a favour and add these landmark super-sagas to your collection.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 3 © 2014 Radiant Assets, LLC. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 1


By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-557-8                  eISBN: 978-1-62302-264-8

There are few comic characters that have entered communal world consciousness, but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

Elzie Segar had been producing Thimble Theatre since December 19th 1919, but when he introduced a coarse, brusque “sailor man” into the saga of Ham Gravy and Castor Oyl on January 29th 1929, nobody suspected the giddy heights that walk-on would reach…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle which endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career. It even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great stylist Bud Sagendorf.

After Segar’s tragic and far too premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the strip as the animated features brought Popeye to the entire world. Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments…

Born in 1915, Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf was barely 17 when his sister – who worked in the Santa Monica art store where Segar bought his supplies – introduced the kid to the master who became his teacher and employer as well as a father-figure. In 1958, Sagendorf took over the strip and all the merchandise design, becoming Popeye’s prime originator…

When Sagendorf took over, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. He wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years. He died in 1994 after which “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London took over.

Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and from 1948 onwards he wrote and drew Popeye’s comicbook adventures in a regular monthly title published by America’s king of licensed periodicals, Dell Comics.

When Popeye first appeared, he was a rude, crude brawler: a gambling, cheating, uncivilised ne’er-do-well. He was soon exposed as the ultimate working class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate, unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not, a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who took no guff from anyone.

Naturally, as his popularity grew Popeye mellowed somewhat. He was still ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows but the shocking sense of dangerous unpredictability and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed… but not in Sagendorf’s comicbook yarns…

Collected in their entirety in this beguiling full-colour hardback (also available in a digital edition) are the first four 52-page quarterly funnybooks produced by the Young Master spanning February/April 1948 to November 1948/January 1949.

The stunning, seemingly stream-of-consciousness stories are preceded by an effusively appreciative Introduction‘Society of Sagendorks’ – by inspired aficionado and historian/publisher Craig Yoe and a fabulous collation of candid photos and letters plus strip proofs, original comicbook art and commissioned paintings, an Activity Book cover and greetings card designs contained in ‘A Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’.

Popeye’s fantastic first issue launched in February 1948, with no ads and duo-coloured (black and red) single page strips on the inside front and back covers. The initial instant episode finds mighty muscled, irrepressible “infink” Swee’ Pea enquiring ‘Were there ever any pirates around here?’ before doing a bit of digging, after which the full-coloured fun begins with ‘Shame on You! or Gentlemen Do Not Fight! or You’re a Ruffian, Sir!’

The salty swab earns a lucrative living as an occasional prize-fighter and here upcoming contender Kid Kabagge and his cunning manager Mr. Tillbox use a barrage of psychological tricks to put Popeye off his game. The key component is electing Olive Oyl President of the fake Anti-Fisticuff Society to convince her man to stop being a beastly ruffian and abandon violence. That only works until the fiery frail learns she’s been gulled…

Swee’ Pea then stars in ‘Map Back! Or Back Map!’ as sinister unprincipled villain Sam Snagg tattoos an invisible secret diagram onto the baby’s body but falls foul of the boy’s garrulous guardian when trying to reclaim the kid and divine the location of Spinachovia’s hidden treasures…

Wrapping up the full-length action is ‘Spinach Revolt’ as Popeye’s pater Poopdeck Pappy kicks up a fuss about constantly having to eat healthy food.

As the first Superman of comics, Popeye was not a comfortable hero to idolise. A brute who thought with his fists and didn’t respect authority, he was uneducated, short-tempered, fickle (when hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes – or thereabouts – at him); an aggressive troublemaker, he wasn’t welcome in polite society… and he wouldn’t want to be.

Time changed Popeye and made him tamer, but the shocking sense of unpredictability, danger and anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed, so in 1936 Segar brought it back again…

A memorable and riotous sequence of Dailies introduced ancient, antisocial crusty reprobate Poopdeck Pappy. The elder mariner was a hard-bitten, grumpy lout quite prepared – even happy – to cheat, steal or smack a woman around if she stepped out of line. He was Popeye’s prodigal dad and once that old goat was firmly established Segar set Olive and her Sailor Man the Herculean task of “Civilizing Poppa”. At the time of this tale that’s still very much a work in progress …

Fed up with eating spinach, Pappy hides his meals and steals the wherewithal to secretly subsist on a diet of candy, cakes and sodas. He even inveigles the lad next door into being the mule in his scurrilous scheme but cannot evade the digestive consequences of his acts…

The premiere outing ends with a brace of single pagers detailing how Swee’ Pea deals with persistent salesmen and a day’s fishing before issue #2 commences…

Master moocher Wellington J. Wimpy again has cause to declare ‘Sir! You are a cheapskate!’ before Swee’ Pea and Popeye are swept up in a controversial debate. In ‘That’s What I Yam!” or ‘I Yam! I Yam’ the sailor believes his baby boy tough enough to wander around town unsupervised but has reasons to revise his opinion after the kid vanishes. Moreover, when he does resurface, the tyke is subject to strange transformations and behaviours. It’s as if a class of trainee hypnotists have all been using the kid as a practise subject but forgot to bring him out of his trance afterward…

Pappy stars in ‘Easy Money’, with the greedy reprobate realising how much cash his sterling son earns for each boxing bout. Determined to get on the gravy train too, the oldster shaves off his beard and impersonates Popeye. By the time he catches wise, Pappy has conned Olive and Wimpy into his scheme and set up a punishing bout with a huge purse, so somebody is going to have to fight…

The issue ends with a two-tone short showing the hazards of bathing Swee’ Pea and another full colour back cover gag with a bullying neighbour realising the folly of trying to spank Popeye’s boy…

Popeye #3 leads with an epic 32-page spooky maritime epic as the superstitious sailor reluctantly agrees to transport 250 “ghosk” traps to ghastly, radish – and phantom – infested ‘Ghost Island’: a cunning yarn of mystery and over-zealous imagination starring many cast regulars and preceded by a hilarious map of the route replacing the inside-front cover gag…

Following up is an implausible account of Popeye apparently becoming a violent bully, beating up ordinary citizens in ‘Smash! or You Can Tell She’s My Girl, Because She’s Wearing Two Black Eyes!’ Happily, a doctor at the sailor’s trial is able to diagnose the incredible truth before things go too far, after which Swee’ Pea indulges in too much sugar in the red and black bit and learns the manly way to play with dolls on the colour back cover…

The final inclusion in this outrageous compilation begins with Wimpy up to his old tricks whilst Popeye hunts ducks before another extended odyssey finds the sailor and hangers-on Swee’ Pea, Olive and Wimpy heading West on safari to capture a rare Ipomoea from sagebrush hellhole ‘Dead Valley’

It’s a grim wilderness Popeye has endured before: an arid inferno no sane man would want to revisit unless a scientist hired him to. Sadly, that’s not the opinion of local bandit boss Dead Valley Joe who assigns all his scurvy gang the task of dissuading or despatching the uppity easterners before they uncover the region’s incredible secret…

Back home again, Olive Oyl receives a surprise ‘Gift from Uncle Ben!’ Sadly, the strange flying beast called a Zoop prefers Swee’ Pea’s company and her warm generosity in donating the beast takes a hard knock when a stranger offers a million dollars for it…

One final brace of Swee’ Pea shorts then sees the wily kid orchestrate free baseball views for his pals before indulging in food politics to win over a stray cat and wrap up in amiable style these jolly, captivating cartoon capers.

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought on hearing the name is an unintelligible, indomitable white-clad sailor always fighting a great big beardy bloke and mainlining tinned spinach, that’s okay: the animated features have a brilliance and energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into Thimble Theatre and wouldn’t leave. But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure…

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good, and some are truly excellent. This book is definitely one of the latter and if you love lunacy, laughter and rollicking adventure you must now read this.
Popeye Classics volume 1 © 2013 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2013 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

The Boondocks: Because I Know You Don’t Read the Newspapers


By Aaron McGruder (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-0609-7

Unlike editorial cartooning, newspaper comic strips generally prosper by avoiding controversy. Other than a few notable exceptions – such as the mighty Doonesbury – daily and Sunday gag continuities aim to keep their readers amused and complacent.

Such was not the case with Aaron McGruder’s brilliant and much missed The Boondocks.

The strip ran from February 8th 1996 and ended – despite promises of a swift return – with the February 28th 2006 instalment. You might have seen the adapted and animated version on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim a few years ago…

The feature was created for pioneer online music website Hitlist.com and quickly began a print incarnation in Hip-Hop magazine The Source. On December 3rd, the feature began appearing in national periodical The Diamondback but, after an editorial bust-up, McGruder pulled the strip in March 1997.

Nevertheless, it thrived as it was picked up by the Universal Press Syndicate. Launched nationally, The Boondocks had over 300 client subscribers, reaching – and often offending – millions of readers every day. Such was the content and set-up that the strip was regularly dropped by editors, and complaints from readers were pretty much constant.

What could possibly make a cartoon continuity such a lightning rod yet still have publishers so eager to keep it amongst their ever-dwindling stable of strip stars?

The Boondocks was always fast, funny, thought-provoking, funny, ferociously socially aware and created for a modern black readership. And Funny.

The series never sugar-coated anything – except harsh language – whilst bringing contemporary issues of race to the table every day. This was a strip Afro-American readers wanted to read… even if they didn’t necessarily agree with what was being said and seen…

The narrative premise is deceptively sitcom-simple but hides a potent surprise in its delivery. Huey Freeman is an incredibly smart and well-informed black youngster. He spent his formative years on Chicago’s South Side, immersed in black history, the philosophy of power, radical and alternative politics and The Streets.

His little brother Riley is mired in Hip-Hop and the trappings of Gangsta Rap. Yet suddenly one day they are both whisked out of their comfort zone as their grandfather Robert assumes custody of them and moves the entire family to the whiter-than-white suburb of Woodcrest in semi-rural Maryland.

It’s mutual culture shock of epic proportions on both sides…

Huey (proudly boasting that he’s named for Black Panther co-founder Dr Huey Percy Newton) perpetually expounds his radical rhetoric and points out hypocrisy from the well-meaning but inherently patronising all-Caucasian township but saves equal amounts of hilarious disgust and venom for those overbearing, overhyped aspects of modern Black Culture he regards as stupid, demeaning or self-serving…

Riley mostly likes scaring the oh-so-polite white folks…

In this initial monochrome paperback collection – re-presenting material from April 19th 1999 to January 29th 2000 – includes a potent Foreword from Hip-Hop Activist and Media Assassin Harry Allen on the way we’ve all managed to stop actual progress on the issues of race by politely agreeing not talk about them – the property values start to wobble just a bit when Huey and Riley arrive in Woodcrest.

The place really freaks them out: the air is clean, there are no tagged walls or take-out stores and old white people keep coming up to say hello…

Th first semblance of normality occurs when another new family moves in next door. Thomas and Sarah Dubois are woolly liberals: yuppies and lawyers and Woodcrest’s first interracial couple, and – although she doesn’t understand any of the stuff Huey taunts her with – their daughter Jazmine is the suburb’s third black child… ever…

She never thought of herself as any colour, but Huey is determined to raise her consciousness… when he’s not taking her establishment-conditioned dad to task on what colour he actually is…

Huey’s far less keen on the attentions of Cindy McPhearson, the little girl from school who has fully embraced TV’s version of Black Culture. She wants to meet – or be – Snoop Doggy Dogg. She hasn’t heard the term “Wigga” yet and Huey ain’t doing nothing but avoiding her: a tricky proposition as she sits behind him in class asking dumb questions.

The boys enrolling at Edgar J. Hoover Elementary School caused few sleepless nights for Principal Williams but he cleverly borrowed a few videos (Menace II Society; Shaft’s Big Score) to get him up to speed on the special needs of “inner city ghetto youth” and is confident his terrified teachers can handle any possible hurdles the variance in backgrounds might cause…

Don’t go away under the misapprehension that The Boondocks is a strident polemical diatribe, drowning in its own message. First and foremost, this is a strip about kids growing up, just like Bloom County or Calvin and Hobbes. Some of the most memorable riffs come from the boys’ reactions to the release of the Star Wars: Episode 1 (although admittedly, Jar Jar Binks gets a fully-deserved roasting for his ethnic Minstrel performance), the worthlessness of high-priced merchandise and the insipid, anodyne street names. At least here, Riley and his paint spray cans can help out…

As the year progresses we also see outrageous takes on Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as the boys’ investigation of the Santa Clause and Kwanza scenarios and their own hysterical Inner City, Keepin’ It Real alternative to all those manufactured holidays and causes…

Smart, addictive and still with a vast amount to say The Boondocks is a strip you need to see if you cherish speaking Wit as well as Truth to Power…
The Boondocks © 2000 by Aaron McGruder. All rights reserved.

Krazy and Ignatz 1927-1928: Love Letters in Ancient Brick


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-507-6

The cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is quite possibly the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; a hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz (as it is dubbed in these fabulous commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics) is a creation which can only be appreciated on its own terms. Over its many years of abstracted amazement the series gradually developed a unique language – at once both visual and verbal – whilst abstrusely exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding and without ever offending anybody… except a few local newspaper editors…

Sadly, however, it certainly baffled far more than a few…

Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multilayered verbal and pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been cropping up in his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Krazy Kat debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct influence and interference – gradually spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (notably – but not exclusively – e.e. Cummings, Frank Capra, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and others) all adored the strip, many regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the comics section.

Eventually the feature found a home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s heavy-handed patronage, the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The basic premise is evergreen and deceptively simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender hopelessly in love with rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous Ignatz Mouse. It’s the old story of opposites attracting but here the oodles of affection are unreciprocated and the love is certainly only going one way…

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick (obtained singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly) which the smitten kitten invariably and inexplicably misidentifies as tokens of equally recondite affection.

The third crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, who is completely besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung – by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour – from removing his diabolical and un-reconstructable rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to Pupp’s dilemma…

Collaboratively co-populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as dreaded deliverer of unplanned, and generally unwanted, babies Joe Stork; wandering hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable – often unintelligible – Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters, all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Kokonino (based on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“Soff, soff brizz”, “l’il dahlink” or “Ignatz, ware four is thou at Ignatz??”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Oft times Herriman even eschewed his mystical meandering mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops…

There have been numerous Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was rediscovered and reclaimed by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting audience.

This tantalising tome – covering 1927-1928 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) monochrome softcover edition as always offers added value as context, background and other cartoon treats are delivered by the much-missed Bill Blackbeard in his puckish Introduction essay of short informational snippets ‘Pilfering Mrs. Kwak-Wak’s Good Old Goods and Goodies Bag’

Here press clippings of a near-death experience for Herriman and fellow strip man Jimmy Swinnerton are re-presented beside early gag pages such as Embarrassing Moments and excepts from Hearst Joke Book editions of The Dingbats. Also included are a wealth of strips by Herriman’s contemporaries, rivals and plagiarists…

On to the strips then: within this compelling chronicle of undying amours utterly unhorsed by smirking Fate, the perpetual play unfolds as always but with some of those intriguing supplementary characters increasing coming to the fore.

We open with the change of years bringing weeks’ worth of seasonal disorders and sartorial shenanigans as Krazy further pursues that dream of a singing career. Ignatz, meanwhile, hunts for the perfect projectile which over and again draws him into the clutches of mountebanks, charlatan and magicians…

That search for ammunition leads to many more brick-based broadsides but these days Bull Pupp is far wiser to the Mouse’s modus operandi…

An occasional strictly visual pun session plays well against the numerous slapstick antics, even as Ignatz devises ever-more convoluted ways to bounce his bricks off the Kat’s bean whilst the weird landscapes and eccentric elemental conditions increasingly add to the humorous inspiration with apocryphal wind witches and snow squaws making their invisible presences felt…

Recurring cousins Krazy Katfish and Krazy Katbird pop up to muddy the romantic waters, whilst Kat and Mouse frequently indulge in the growing freedom of the skies and waterways via balloon and other aeronautical apparatus or maritime machine.

Joe Stork continues to divide his time between the delivery of (generally unwanted) babies and other, less legal packages and there’s a many a jest regarding the total illegality of easily obtained hooches and fire-waters…

As the years progress Ignatz spends ever-longer periods in jail yet seldom fails to find a way to deliver the punishing skull blows Krazy yearns for…

Many cast members become obsessed with being struck by lightning and other electrical intercessions, but the biggest surprise is undoubtedly a time-warping origin sequence which carries us back to the obscure infancies of Krazy, Ignatz and Bull…

There are more wandering wonderments as certain elephantine geological features again take up unescorted perambulation and the county even catches a touch of meteor fever as the landscape is beset by falling stars and fiery flotsam from space.

The year again concludes with uncharacteristic chills and spills as Kokonino is subjected to squalls of snow but worst of all is a plague of politicians, prophets and preachers all proselytising on the path to peace, forcing the residents make their feelings acrimoniously clear…

…And always plain mischief rules, whenever Herriman pictorially plays hob with the laws of physics, just to see what will happen…

Wrapping up the cartoon gold is a peek at one of the earliest and rarest of merchandising items – a 1920s wooden Ignatz doll – as well as another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’ (providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed). One final fillip is a selection of out-of-sequence replacement pages plus a sequence of pertinent daily strips which tie into the regular run of Sundays collected here…

Herriman’s epochal classic is a phenomenal achievement: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these comic strips which have shaped our industry and creators, inspiring auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst delivering delight and delectation to generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this companiable compendium is a most accessible way to do so. Heck, it’s even available as an eBook now so don’t waste the opportunity…
© 2002, 2008 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Dargaud Presents Lieutenant Blueberry: Fort Navajo & Thunder in the West


By Charlier & Giraud, translated by Anthea Turner and Derek Hockridge (Egmont/Methuen)
ISBN: 978-0-41605-370-8 and 978-0-41605-370-X

Franco-Belgian comics have enjoyed a decades-long love affair with the mythos of the American West and responded with some of the most beautiful and exciting graphic narratives in the history of the medium. They have, however, had less success creating characters that have gone on to be global household names.

One that did has made that jump is Michel Charlier & Jean Giraud’s immortal bad-ass Blueberry…

Sadly, although many publishers have sporadically attempted to bring him to our thrill-starved shores, there’s no readily available complete catalogue (yet) of the quintessential antihero in the English language. Thus, this first of many forthcoming reviews with a brace of albums that are decades old, although they do still turn up in back-issue bins and in second hand or charity shops…

Jean-Michel Charlier is arguably Europe’s most important writer of realistic adventure strips.

Ever.

He was born in Liege, Belgium in 1924 and like so many groundbreaking comics creators, began as an artist, joining the staff of Spirou in September 1944, contributing aviation illustrations, and a strip about gliders co-produced with Flettner. In 1946 Charlier’s love affair with flying inspired him to co-create fighter-pilot strip Buck Danny, providing scripts for star turn artist Victor Hubinon.

Before long – and on the advice of prestigious senior illustrator Jijé – Charlier was scripting full time and expanding his portfolio with many other series and serials.

In 1951 he co-created historical series Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul which afforded dozens of major artists their big break over the years, and supplemented the series with other strips such as Kim Devil (art Gérald Forton), Jean Valhardi and Marc Dacier (both with artist Paape) and Thierry le Chevalier (with Carlos Laffond) as well as popular scouting series La Patrouille des Castors, illustrated by MiTacq.

In conjunction with Goscinny and Uderzo, Charlier founded the business and industry oriented commercial comics agency Edifrance after which Charlier and Goscinny edited the magazine Pistolin (1955-1958) before launching Pilote together in October 1959.

For the soon to be legendary periodical Charlier created

Tanguy and Laverdure (with Uderzo and later Jijé), Barbe-Rouge (with Hubinon) and Jacques le Gall (MiTacq). In 196, Charlier visited America he created arguably his most significant character – and Europe’s greatest Western comic – which would eventually be known as Blueberry.

In later years, the engaging antihero would support his own equally successful spin-off La Jeunesse de Blueberry (AKA Young Blueberry, illustrated by Colin Wilson) but Charlier never rested on his laurels, concocting further grittily realistic fare: historical biographies in collaboration with Hubinon (Surcouf, Jean Mermoz, and Tarawa) and Martial (Alain et Christine in Libre Junior, Rosine in Pistolin), Brice Bolt for Spirou with Aldoma Puig, Los Gringos with Victor de la Fuente and many more. He passed away in 1989.

Jean Henri Gaston Giraud was born in the suburbs of Paris on 8th May 1938. Raised by grandparents after his mother and father divorced in 1941, he began attending Institut des Arts Appliqués in 1955, becoming friends with Jean-Claude Mézières who, at 17, was already selling strips and illustrations to magazines such as Coeurs Valliants, Fripounet et Marisette and Spirou. Giraud apparently spent most of his college time drawing cowboy comics and left after a year.

In 1956 he travelled to Mexico, staying with his mother for eight months, before returning to France and a full-time career drawing comics, mostly Westerns such as Frank et Jeremie for Far West and King of the Buffalo, A Giant with the Hurons and others for Coeurs Valliants, all in a style based on French comics legend Joseph Gillain AKA “Jijé”.

Between 1959 and 1960 Giraud spent his National Service in Algeria, working on military service magazine 5/5 Forces Françaises before returning to civilian life as Jijé’s assistant in 1961, working on the master’s long-running (1954-1977) western epic Jerry Spring.

A year later, Giraud and Belgian writer Jean-Michel Charlier launched the serial Fort Navajo in Pilote #210. All too soon the ensemble feature threw forth a unique icon in the shabby shape of disreputable, rebellious Lieutenant Mike Blueberry who took over as the star and evolved into one of the most popular European strip characters of all time…

In 1963-1964, Giraud produced numerous strips for satire periodical Hara-Kiri and, keen to distinguish and separate the material from his serious day job, first coined his pen-name “Moebius”.

He didn’t use it again until 1975 when he joined Bernard Farkas, Jean-Pierre Dionnet and Philippe Druillet – all devout science fiction fans – as founders of a revolution in narrative graphic arts created by “Les Humanoides Associes”.

Their ground-breaking adult fantasy magazine Métal Hurlant utterly enraptured the comics-buying public and Giraud again wanted to utilise a discreet creative persona for the lyrical, experimental, soul-searching material he was increasingly driven to produce: series such as The Airtight Garage, The Incal and the mystical, dreamy flights of sheer fantasy contained in Arzach

To further separate his creative twins, Giraud worked his inks with a brush whilst the dedicated futurist Moebius rendered his lines with pens. After a truly stellar career which saw him become a household name, both Giraud and Moebius passed away in March 2012.

Fort Navajo and Thunder in the West were originally released in Britain in 1977 by Euro-publishing conglomerate

Egmont/Methuen; the first two of four full-colour albums which utterly failed to capture the attention of a comics-reading public besotted in equal amounts by Science Fiction in general, Star Wars in specific and new anthology 2000AD in the main…

It’s a great shame: if the translated series had launched even a year earlier, I might not be whining about lack of familiarity with a genuine classic of genre comics…

The magic begins in Fort Navajo as clean-cut West Point graduate Lieutenant Craig takes a break from his dusty journey. The stagecoach stopover is just another town on the border between Arizona and New Mexico but leads to his involvement in a brutal battle sparked by a cheating card-sharp. After the gun-smoke clears the military paragon is appalled to discover that the quick-shooting cad at the centre of the chaos is a fellow officer stationed at his new posting…

Further outraged after Lieutenant Mike Blueberry inadvertently insults Craig’s father – a decorated general – the pair acrimoniously part company but are soon reunited on the trail after the scoundrel’s horse dies even as Craig’s stagecoach encounters the remnants of settlers slaughtered by marauding Indians…

Dying survivor Stanton informs them that his son has been taken by Apaches but Craig’s vow to hunt them down is overruled by Blueberry and the stage’s crew and passengers. Incensed, the young fool sets off in pursuit of the attackers on his own. Despite his better judgement, Blueberry trails him, cursing all the while…

After using an arsenal of canny tricks to repeatedly save Craig from his suicidal notions of heroism, the pair are picked up by a relief column from Fort Navajo led by Major Bascom: a man who sincerely believes the only good Indians are dead ones…

Ignoring his orders and the advice of his officers, Bascom decides to pursue the kidnappers and compounds his insubordination by attacking a group of women, children and old men. The massacre would have been total had not Blueberry “accidentally” given the wrong bugle calls and called the cavalry back too soon. Learning quickly, Lieutenant Craig covertly assists the rogue in calling back the troops…

In the aftermath, Bascom demonstrates how unstable he is by trying to execute Blueberry without convening a court martial and goes almost ballistic when Craig prevents him by quoting chapter and verse of the military code…

Frustrated on all sides, Bascom can only turn the column back to Fort Navajo and plan revenge on the puppies that have baulked his bloodlust. Commanding officer Colonel Dickson is a reasonable man, however, and refuses all Bascom’s entreaties. He even tries to broker a pow-wow and new treaty with great chief Cochise for the return of the kidnapped boy and to forestall the war Bascom so fervently desires. It is a valiant effort doomed to failure. The Apaches were not responsible for the butchery and abduction at all. The true culprits were Mescaleros from across the Mexican border…

Tragically, when Dickson is bitten by a rattlesnake, Bascom seizes command and uses the peace talks to capture Cochise and his delegation. In a flurry of action the aged warrior breaks free and escapes to his waiting armies: determined to make the two-faced soldiers pay for their treachery by bringing blood and vengeance to all of Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico…

The brooding tension resumes in Thunder in the West as affronted tribal chiefs fiercely debate how to liberate the rest of their hostage peace-delegation before their own war-hungry followers start a bloodbath no one can win.

At Fort Navajo Blueberry and Craig ponder the coming dawn and are on hand when a tortured settler arrives to warn them every messenger sent for reinforcements has perished and the Apaches have taken dozens of new prisoners. The weary soul then delivers an ultimatum and final offer from Cochise: safe passage for the soldiers to Tucson or Albuquerque in return for the captive Indians in their custody.

Bascom, clearly beyond all reason, instead threatens to execute the prisoners…

Desperate Blueberry counters with a tactic to forestall the growing certainty of all-out war: he will attempt to cross the siege lines and reach Tucson for reinforcements but before he can start, a fellow officer – half-breed scout lieutenant Crowe – acts precipitately and frees the Indians from the stockade.

Whilst Bascom raves and blusters, Blueberry takes off anyway, undertaking an epic journey through hostile territory and past hundreds of warriors hungry for blood, not just to call for more troops but to get snakebite antidote for Dickson so that he can end the escalating madness…

Capping peril-filled days of fight and flight, the battered cavalryman successfully crosses searing desert only to stumble into a gang of Mexican bandits who almost end his voyage and life until he turns their own greed against them…

Finally, Mike rides into Tucson only to find the town all but deserted as thousands of Apaches have been approaching the outskirts of town for hours…

Frantically batting his way out of the trap Mike, wearily retraces his route back to Fort Navajo. The citadel is deserted except for Crowe, who tells him that after a catastrophic battle he negotiated a truce which allowed the white survivors a means of escape. Now the half-breed has a new plan. He and Blueberry will track down the Mescalero renegades who truly started the war by kidnapping young Stanton…

A feat of staggering bravado, the audacious plan succeeds, but as Blueberry outdistances the outraged renegades and thunders through the mountains with the rescued boy on his horse, he realises Crowe is missing and must go back for him…

To Be Continued…

Although perhaps a tad traditional for modern tastes and nowhere near as visually or narratively sophisticated as it was to become, this epic opening to the saga of the immortal Blueberry is an engaging yarn and all-action romp: a stunning reaffirmation of the creative powers of Charlier & Giraud and potent testimony to the undying appeal and inspiration of the Western genre.
© 1965, 1966 Dargaud Editeur. Text these editions © 1977 by Egmont Publishing Limited, London. All rights reserved.

Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon volume 2


By Don Moore & Mac Raboy (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-911-X

By almost every metric Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but quirkily clunky Buck Rogers (by Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins and also began on January 7th albeit in 1929) two new elements were added to the wonderment; Classical Lyricism and poetic dynamism. It became a weekly invitation to stunningly exotic glamour and astonishing beauty.

Where Buck Rogers mixed traditional adventure with groundbreaking science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted fairy tales, heroic epics and mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying “Rays”, “Engines” and “Motors” substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for galleons, chariots and magic carpets.

It was a narrative trick which made the far-fetched satisfactorily familiar – and one initially continued by Mac Raboy and Don Moore in their run of Sunday strips. Look closely though and you’ll see cowboys, gangsters and of course, flying saucer fetishes adding contemporary flourish to the fanciful fables in this second superb volume…

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for clean, concise detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When original material comicbooks began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean-lines of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Almost all the others went with Milton Caniff’s masterpiece of expressionism Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias).

Flash Gordon began on present-day Earth (which was 1934, remember?) with a wandering world about to smash into our planet. As global panic ensued, polo player Flash and fellow passenger Dale Arden narrowly escaped disaster when a meteor fragment downed their airliner. They landed on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, who imprisoned them in the rocket-ship he had built.

His plan? To fly the ship directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it…!

Thus began a decade of sheer escapist magic in a Ruritanian Neverland: a blend of Camelot, Oz and a hundred fantasy realms which promised paradise yet concealed hidden vipers, ogres and demons, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil yet magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and shattering conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to drab and dangerous reality for millions of avid readers around the world.

With Moore doing the bulk of the scripting, Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’ ran every Sunday until 1944, when the artist joined the Marines. On his return he forsook wild imaginings for sober reality: creating gentleman-detective Rip Kirby so the public’s unmissable weekly appointment with wonderment perforce continued under the artistic auspices of Austin Briggs – who had drawn the daily monochrome instalments since 1940.

In 1948, eight years after beginning his career drawing for the Harry A. Chesler production “shop” comicbook artist Emmanuel “Mac” Raboy took over illustrating the Sunday page. Moore remained as scripter and began co-writing with the new artist.

Raboy’s sleek, fine-line brush style – heavily influenced by his idol Raymond – had made his work on Captain Marvel Jr., Kid Eternity and especially Green Lama a benchmark of artistic quality in the early days of the proliferating superhero genre. His seemingly inevitable assumption of the extraordinary exploits led to a renaissance of the strip and in a rapidly evolving post-war world, Flash Gordon became once more a benchmark of timeless, hyper-real quality escapism which only Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant could touch.

This second 260-page paperback volume, produced in landscape format and printed in stark black-&-white (although one or two strips appear to have been scanned from printed colour copies) covers May 17th 1953 to February 23rd 1958 and opens with a scholarly Introduction on ‘Comic Strip Godfathers’ from Bruce Jones before the previous volume’s cliffhanger is addressed…

With a new spaceship, far-flung travellers Flash, Dale and Zarkov set off for Earth but are forced to land on the Moon where a secret human base had been established. For unknown reasons Dr. Stella and her thuggish aide Marc detain and delay them, but when an increasing number of close shaves and mysterious accidents occur, a little digging by our heroes reveals that they are the unwitting guests of ruthless space pirates…

After expediently dealing with the planetary privateers our heroes head for Earth, only to be promptly seconded to spearhead an urgent exploratory expedition to a newly discovered satellite body. Suitably dutiful, they hurtle off into the void again…

‘(Life on) Titan’ ran from 14th June to September 20th 1953 and details how the little world is populated by giants. However, after capturing one of the hulking inhabitants Zarkov is forced to conclude that the truth is far stranger than the Earthmen could have imagined…

The tireless boffin then builds a single-seater spaceship and required Flash to take a test run out to Jupiter’s moon ‘Callisto’ (27th September 1953 to 17th January 1954). A sudden illness causes the dauntless pilot to crash and Flash awakens in the care of elderly hermit Phylo, who cunningly embroils the troubleshooter in his own struggle against invisible psychic dictator The Mind

After overthrowing the hidden tyrant the indomitable Earthman heads home and actually enjoys a little rest before an ancient mystery unfolds in ‘Flash Gordon and the Thanatos’ (17th January-2nd May).

After archaeologist Dr. Sark finds incontrovertible evidence of an atomic blast in the Libyan desert in prehistoric times, our ever-inquisitive action man uncovers an alien in a bottle but is too late to save Dale from being abducted by the mind-bending survivor of an antediluvian starship crash…

Dashing in pursuit as his beguiled beloved heads off-world, Flash is drawn into the parallel dimension or Cortinus where god-like beings dwell. They welcome the intruders from fondly-remembered Earth but are sadly unaware that one of the visitors carries the malevolent spirit of their outcast brother Loki

Once freed the villain proudly boasts how he influenced and dominated many bellicose humans such as Alexander, Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan and now intends ruling two realms for his own benefit. Sadly for him, nigh-omnipotent Loki vastly underestimates the ingenuity and resolve of his mortal opponents…

With a ship donated by head deity Zustra, Flash and Dale re-cross the dimensional divide and arrive in deep space to encounter a scene of horrific barbarity at an Observatory Station. When the ‘Outlaw of the Asteroids’ (9th May-25th July) stole the outpost’s oxygen the crew almost died in hibernation. After pausing to revive the deep-frozen scientists the adventurers set off after the ruthless bandit and discover the reason for his heinous theft was both noble and desperate. The bandit perishes for his sins, but not before leaving young space orphan Pebbles with the only humans he can trust…

By the time Flash, Dale and Pebbles reach Earth the next exploit is already well underway as ‘The Star Tree’ (1st August-17th October) seed survives a meteor crash in the Amazon and immediately propagates itself in fertile soil. By the time our valiant wanderers accidentally land in the region, it has been transformed into an arctic wilderness where a gigantic plant is voraciously consuming every living thing its grasping branches can seize…

The vegetable invasion is no accident and as Flash leads the frozen rain forest’s native inhabitants in spirited resistance, cold-blooded aliens appear. They lived on Earth when it was a giant ice ball and after eons on Pluto want their original world back…

They would have succeeded too, had not one of the invaders found his heart warming to the plight of the disputed world’s current tenants…

With that threat ended normality returns but soon after packing Pebbles off to boarding school Flash, Zarkov and many other unsuspecting Earth folk are shanghaied by eerie metal globes and transported to ‘The Lonely Planet!’ (24th October 1954 to 9th January 1955)…

Here Herculean extraterrestrial barbarians and wily midgets conspire and compete to find fresh fodder for gladiatorial contests, but with the aid of a usurped king, Flash quickly upsets the unlikely alliance and overthrows the twisted regime. However, just as the liberated Earthlings enter home orbit, their always-embattled birthworld is attacked by the insectoid Antomni who require a fresh colony to exploit. The bug beings expect little resistance as they posses the power of Time Migration…

The invaders travel millions of years ‘Into the Past’ (16th January-27th March) to prevent the evolution of humanity but accidentally catch Flash and Zarkov in their temporal backwash, allowing our heroes to inspire a band of dawn men to exterminate the insectoids before returning to their proper time and place…

Always restless, Zarkov then organises an exploratory expedition to ‘Venus’ (3rd April – 19th June) where Flash and Dale find a feudal civilisation in turmoil beneath the planet’s impenetrable cloud layers. Before long they are assisting scientific prodigy Viko and his fellow exiled “Mistiks” in overturning the oppressive, superstition-ruled authorities and introducing rational enlightenment to the Second Planet from the Sun…

Soon after, Africa is beset by a strange sleeping plague and investigations reveal the source is escaped gasses from an unsuspected ‘City Within the Earth’ (26th June – 28th August). The accident also allows toxic oxygen to contaminate the subterranean metropolis of Centra and when its bravest warriors surface to investigate, a concatenation of misfortunes compel them to take Flash captive. Imprisoned and soon to become the treasured possession of flamboyant Princess Amara, Gordon is rescued by the indomitable Dale who braves the depths and deadly air to save her man and seal off the underworld forever…

‘The Dark Planet’ (4th September – 6th November) has lurked undetected at the edge of the solar system for all of humanity’s history but that occlusion ends when murderers Stragg, Rust and Tula are exiled from their advanced culture on the distant world of Ur and dumped on the frigid world.

When Flash, Dale and Zarkov’s planetary mapping mission brings them to the bleak outpost they are ambushed by the killers who then steal their ship. The aliens have never encountered human sneakiness though, and are soon back where they started and engaged in a lethal duel for control of the ship and their liberty…

Human trafficking underpins the saga of ‘Station Crossroads’ (13th November 1955 – 15th January 1956) as our heroes stumble upon a scheme to kidnap and sell human technicians to scientifically backward aliens. The vile human mastermind behind the plot operates out of Earth’s most popular orbital rest-stop but before the slavers are finally crushed Flash discovers a close friend is deeply involved in the abductions…

When Gordon discovers a hidden base at Earth’s North Pole is being used by aquatic aliens he becomes embroiled in an ‘Arctic adventure’ (22nd January-March 25th) where unscrupulous Earthmen use the freezing waters as a cost-free fish-farm to grow giant monsters for mysterious offworlders to consume…

After a far-distant world experiences an atomic accident the aftermath produces a voracious ‘Radioactive Man’ (1st April – 3rd June) who can only exist by absorbing deadly fallout. The authorities’ solution is to blast the mutant into the void where, after years of lonely travel, atomic exile Djonn Toth lands on the planet Rota just as Flash and Dale arrive for a visit.

Before long the humans’ vast troubleshooting experience is employed in defeating Toth’s efforts to enslave the population and consume all their radium…

When the fantastic planet’s eccentric orbit again intersects with Earth, Flash, Dale and Zarkov ‘Return to Mongo’ (10th June 1956 – 13th January 1957) for the first time in six years. However their proposed sightseeing trip inevitably involves them in an icily arctic cold war between Wolf Men and Walrus Men, a battle of wills with would-be supreme tyrant Gant, and clashes with leather-winged Dactyl Men.

This leads to capture by the arrogant cloud dwellers of Paxora where an outbreak of robot duplicates intent on conquest ends Mongo’s most secretive sub-culture. Upsetting the artificial men’s plan eliminates all but one of the inimical automatons, but ‘Rok’ (13th January – 10th March) is like no android the Earthlings have ever encountered before: both patronising protector and unstable enemy in one.

Although safeguarding the humans through the wildest regions of Mongo, the mechanoid’s ultimate aims are always unclear and his manner of demise most unexpected…

Brought to the edge of civilisation Flash, Dale and Zarkov enter a spaceship race, intent on winning a craft able to take them home to Earth, but the ‘Suicide Run’ (17th March-19th May) almost proves their undoing as most of the other competitors indulge in sabotage and subterfuge of every sort to secure the glittering prize…

Eventually victorious, our heroes ‘Escape from Mongo’ only to be lured into ‘The Space Tomb’ (26th May – 14th July) of nebula-dwelling desperado the Gatherer who wants to imprison them beside a legion of other valiant explorers in his vast Sargasso of Space. After outwitting the deranged collector the humans resume their homeward flight but are again diverted, this time by ‘The Space Genie’ (21st July-1st September): a fearsome yet affable, lethally literal-minded being who brings them to planetary paradise Superba.

The inhabitants are not pleased: they only just survived the Genie’s last visit and used all their ingenuity and wish-making ability to get rid of the interstellar pest…

Flash’s argosy home is then interrupted by a string of short interconnected adventures (‘Space Voyage/Strange World/The Wheel Men’: spanning 8th September to 24th November) detailing clashes with space moths, elastic primitives and woman-stealing whirling dervishes engaged in all-out war with sky-residing Gyromen. After brokering a lasting peace between the eccentric extraterrestrials, the humans finally reach Earth in a borrowed Flying Saucer only to fall prey to ‘The Mystery of the Lonely Crowds!’ (1st December 1957 through January 12th 1958). A telepathic plague of depression and rapidly-spreading isolation has an otherworldly cause but is not intended to be a menace. It still culminates in tragedy, however…

This second non-stop rollercoaster ride concludes with the merest start of ‘Missiles from Neptune’ (19th January 1958 to the cliffhanging last page of February 23rd) as the Tyrant of Neptune decides to impress the captive populace by testing his latest Weapons of Interplanetary Destruction against the Earth, prompting Flash and Co to go and discourage him…

Every week that he toiled on the strip Mac Raboy produced ever-more expansive artwork filled with distressed damsels, deadly monsters and all sorts of outrageous adventure that continued until the illustrator’s untimely death in 1967. Perhaps that was a kindness…

Raboy was the last of the great Golden Age romanticist pencillers; his lushly lavish, freely flowing adoration of the perfect human form was beginning to stale in popular taste (for example the Daily feature had already switched to the solid, chunky, He-Manly burly, realism of Dan Barry and Frank Frazetta) but here at least the last outpost of ethereally beautiful heroism and pretty perils prevailed, and thanks to Dark Horse you can visit as easily and often as Flash and Dale popped between planets, just by tracking down this book and the ones which followed…
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.