Altered Boys volume 1: The Book of Billy


By Michael J. Uhlman, Brian Wasiak, Jon C. Scheide, Robert Rath & various (Shinebox Press)
ISBN: 25274-0480-3

The eternally meandering demarcation line between justice and vengeance has been a favoured theme of drama since storytelling began and is never going to grow stale or overused.

Such tales are always about addressing fundamental universal wrongs which impact on our core values, but they generally come seasoned by topical outrages, such as this moody and compelling opening act in what reads to me like a movie or TV miniseries in the making.

Altered Boys is the brainchild of Hollywood insiders Michael J. Uhlman, Brian Wasiak & Jon C. Scheide, brought to vivid life by illustrator Robert Rath.

It tackles, with cathartic venom and a hunger for redress, one of society’s most vile and iniquitous scandals: the historical and ongoing betrayal and abuse of the innocent faithful by their spiritual – and moral – leaders.

With the current global backlash against religions that value their own wealth and reputations over the harm (some) priests inflict upon the most vulnerable of their charges, here’s an honest and understandable reaction, couched in the trappings of a cop drama and conspiracy thriller.

Once upon a time in Boston there were four boys. It was 1984 and Michael, Mark, Christian and Billy were just your average best friends with their entire lives ahead of them enjoying nothing but high hopes and bold expectations. They were also altar boys at the local Catholic church where the formidable Father Fitzgerald officiated…

Today, the long-separated pals are attending Billy’s funeral. It’s a fractious ill-tempered reunion and there’s plenty of guilt to go around about what happened to him – and them – back then. Even more over how he ended up…

Michael can’t let it go and, displaying an unnerving set of strategies and skills, tracks down Fitzgerald, easily penetrating many devious layers of obfuscation the Church provided when they quietly relocated the paedophilic monster.

Their reunion and confrontation is short and very final…

In the aftermath, Michael enjoys a quiet reconciliation breakfast with Mark and Christian before leaving town. He then has a slanging match with his own superiors and starts lying to his bosses…

In Washington DC, FBI Director Rivera has a visitor. The Cardinal has received a disturbing file he doesn’t want but needs to share. Catholic priests are dying.

Many are committing what doctrine and faith considers a mortal sin and taking their own lives whilst others are just being shot in their homes.

It might not be clear to the authorities what’s going on, but His Eminence knows what all these priests have in common…

What nobody yet realises is that it’s not just Catholics or even simply Christian clerics at risk. Something very methodical and efficient is excising deviant officiants of every faith: those who betray their flocks and predate on their congregations whilst relying on their superiors’ silence to safeguard them.

Now person or persons unknown are using the Churches’ own abominable cowardice in covering up scandals to mask an unswerving elimination of the unholy…

Moreover, Michael’s enigmatic bosses are slowly realising their top operative is also off the rails and ministering to his own agenda…

To Be Continued…

Sharing an edgy tone with Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River and elements of both Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight and Amy Berg’s Deliver Us from Evil, this potent exploration of monsters and champions seeks to redefine notions of Good and Evil whilst telling a darkly gripping story of timeless appeal. It’s working so far…

On a personal note: Having been raised Catholic myself before rationality overwhelmed me, it’s an issue that has long personally aggrieved me and shamed every good and decent person I know (as it should everybody on Earth). It’s good to see mainstream adventure comics seriously addressing the issues in mature – if necessarily bombastic – manner. The second volume is in production as we speak and hopefully it won’t be long before we can see the investigation proceed in Altered Boys: The Book of Rebecca
© 2018 Shinebox Press.

Altered Boys: The Book of Billy is available digitally on Comixology and hard copies can be obtained via the website.

Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel


By Eoin Colfer &Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano with colour by Paolo Lamanna (Puffin Books)
ISBN: 978-0-141-32296-4

In an age when the boundaries of good guys and bad guys are constantly blurred and redefined, it’s well to keep your options open. One admirable player for the other side (mostly) is the captivating Artemis Fowl II. A criminal mastermind, scion of Ireland’s greatest family of rogues and villains, he is probably the greatest intellect on the planet.

The wee lad inherited the family business when his father mysteriously vanished on a caper, a loss from which Artemis’ mother has never recovered.

This Machiavellian anti-hero is a teenager so smart that he has deduced that fairies and mystical creatures actually exist and thus spends this first book stealing their secrets to replenish the family’s depleted fortunes and fulfil his greatest heart’s desire…

His greatest ally is Butler, a manically loyal and extremely formidable hereditary retainer who is a master of physical violence…

The first of the eight novels (with four so far making the transition to sequential narrative whilst production of the Disney movie nears completion) is here adapted by the author and Andrew Donkin; illustrated in a kind of Euro-manga style that won’t suit everybody but which nevertheless perfectly captures the mood and energy of the original.

This lavish adventure is also interspersed with comprehensive and clever data-file pages (by Megan Noller Holt) to bring everybody up to full speed on this wild, wild world…

Fowl is utterly brilliant and totally ruthless. Once determining that the mythological realm of pixies, elves, ogres and the like are actually a highly advanced secret race predating humanity and now dwelling deep underground, he “obtains” and translates their Great Book and divines all their secrets of technology and magic.

Artemis has a plan for the greatest score of all time, and knows that he cannot be thwarted, but he has not reckoned on the wit, guts and determination of Holly Short, an elf who works for the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance Force.

She is the only female LEPRecon operative allowed to work on the world’s surface and has had to prove herself every moment of every day…

Combining sinister mastery, exotic locales, daring adventure, spectacular high fantasy concepts and appallingly low puns and slapstick, this tale has translated extremely well to the comics medium (but that’s no reason not to read the books too, especially as they’re all available in paperback and digital formats), offering a clever plot and characters that are both engaging and grotesquely vulgar – and thus perfect fare for kids.

I especially admire the kleptomaniac dwarf Mulch Diggum, whose species’ biological self-defence mechanism consists of overwhelming, explosive flatulence…

Farting, fighting and fantasy are pretty much the perfect combination for kid’s fiction and boys especially will revel in the unrestrained power of the wicked lead character. This is a little gem from a fabulously imaginative creator and an unrelentingly rewarding publisher. Long may you all reign…
Text © 2007 Eoin Colfer. Illustrations © 2007 Giovanni Rigano. All rights reserved.

The Dick Tracy Casebook – Favorite Adventures 1931-1990


By Chester Gould, selected by Max Allan Collins and Dick Locher (St. Martins/Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0-31204-461-9 (HB)                978-0-14014-568-7 (PB)

All things considered, comics have a pretty good track record on creating household names. We could play the game of picking the most well-known fictional characters on Earth (usually topped by Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse, Superman and Tarzan) and in that list you’ll find Batman, Popeye, Blondie, Charlie Brown, Tintin, Spider-Man, Garfield, and not so much now – but once upon a time – Dick Tracy.

At the height of the Great Depression cartoonist Chester Gould was looking for strip ideas. The story goes that as a decent guy incensed by the exploits of gangsters (like Al Capone who monopolised the front pages of contemporary newspapers) he settled upon the only way a normal man could fight thugs: Passion and Public Opinion.

Raised in Oklahoma, Gould was a Chicago resident and hated seeing his home town in the grip of such wicked men, with far too many honest citizens beguiled by the gangsters’ power and charisma.

He decided to pictorially get it off his chest with a procedural crime thriller that championed the ordinary cops who protected civilisation. He took “Plainclothes Tracy” to legendary newspaperman and strips Svengali Captain Joseph Patterson, whose golden touch had blessed such strips as Gasoline Alley, The Gumps, Little Orphan Annie, Winnie Winkle, Smilin’ Jack, Moon Mullins and Terry and the Pirates among others.

Casting his gifted eye on the work, Patterson renamed the stern protagonist Dick Tracy and revised his love interest into steady girlfriend Tess Truehart.

The series launched on October 4th 1931 through Patterson’s Chicago Tribune Syndicate and rapidly became a huge hit, with all the attendant media and merchandising hoopla that follows.

Amidst the toys, games, movies, serials, animated features, TV shows et al, the strip soldiered on, influencing generations of creators and entertaining millions of fans. If you’ve never seen the original legend in action this collection – still readily available and released to accompany the Warren Beatty movie in 1990 – is a great introduction.

Selected by Max Allen Collins and Dick Locher, who worked on the strip after Gould retired, it presents complete adventures from each decade of the strip’s existence to date, and gives a grand overview of the development from radical ultra-violent adventure to forensic Police Procedural through increasingly fantastical science fiction and finally back-to-basics cop thriller under Collins’ own script tenure.

From the 1930s comes the memorable and uncharacteristic ‘The Hotel Murders’ (9th March – 27th April, 1936) wherein the terrifyingly determined cop solves a genuine mystery with a sympathetic antagonist instead of the usual unmitigated, unrepentant outlaw.

Whodunits with clues, false trails and tests of wits were counterproductive in a slam-bang, daily strip with a large cast and soap-opera construction, but this necessarily short tale follows all the ground rules as Tracy, adopted boy side-kick Junior, special agent Jim Trailer and the boys on the Beat track down the killer of a notorious gambler.

The best case of the 1940s – and for many the best ever – was ‘The Brow’ (22nd May – 26th September, 1944) in which the team must track down a ruthless and brilliant Nazi spy. As my own personal favourite, I’m doing you all the favour of saying no more about this compelling, breathtaking yarn, and you’ll thank me for it, but I will say that this is a complete reprinting, as others have been edited for violence and one edition simply left out every Sunday instalment – which is my own definition of policed brutality.

By the 1950s Gould was at his creative peak. ‘Crewy Lou’ (22nd April – 4th November, 1951) and ‘Model’ (23rd January – 27th March, 1952) are perfect examples of the range of his abilities. The first is an epic of minor crimes and criminals escalating into major menaces whilst the latter is another short shocker with the conservative Gould showing that social ills could still move him to action in a tale of juvenile delinquency as Junior grows into a teenager and experiences his first love affair…

As with many creators in it for the long haul the revolutionary 1960s were a harsh time for established cartoonists. Along with Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon, Dick Tracy especially foundered in a social climate of radical change where the popular slogans included “Never trust anybody over 21” and “Smash the Establishment”.

The strip’s momentum faltered, perhaps as much from the shift towards science fiction themes (Tracy moved into space and the alien character Moon Maid was introduced) as any old-fashioned attitudes.

In the era when strip proportions had begun to diminish as papers put advertising space above feature clarity, his artwork had attained dizzying levels of creativity: mesmerising, nigh-abstract concoctions of black-&-white that grabbed the eye no matter what size editors printed it. ‘Spots’ (3rd August – 30th November) 1960 comes from just before the worst excesses, but still displays the artist’s stark, chiaroscurist mastery in a terse thriller that shows the fundamental secret of Tracy’s success and longevity – Hot Pursuit wedded to Grim Irony.

The 1970s are represented by ‘Big Boy’s Open Contract’ (12th June – 30th December 1978) by Max Allen Collins & Rick Fletcher. Although he retired in 1977, Gould still consulted with the new creative team, and this third outing for the new guys saw the long-awaited return of Big Boy, a thinly disguised Capone analogue Tracy had sent to prison at the very start of his career, and whose last try for revenge tragically cost the hero a loved one and forever changed the strip.

Representing the 1980s, the final tale is ‘The Man of a Million Faces’ (October 5th 1987 – April 10th 1988) by Collins & Dick Locher. Like Fletcher, this illustrator was an art assistant to Gould who took up the master’s mantle.

Despite the simply unimaginable variety of crimes and criminals Tracy has brought to book, this sneaky story of a bank robber and his perfect gimmick proves that sometimes the back to basics approach leads to the best results.

Dick Tracy is a milestone strip that has influenced all popular fiction, not simply comics. Baroque villains, outrageous crimes and fiendish death-traps pollinated the work of numerous strips and comics such as Batman, but his studied use – and startlingly accurate predictions – of crime-fighting technology and techniques gave the world a taste of cop thrillers, police procedurals and forensic mysteries decades before shows such as such as CSI and The Coroner made the disciplines everyday coinage.

This is a fantastically readable strip and this chronological primer is a wonderful way to ease yourself into his stark, no-nonsense, Tough-love, Hard Justice world.
© 1990 Tribune Media Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Skeleton Key: the Graphic Novel – an Alex Rider Adventure


By Anthony Horowitz, adapted by Antony Johnston, Kanako & Yuzuru Takasaki (Walker Books)
ISBN: 978-1-4063-1345-2

If America is the spiritual home of the superhero, Britain is Great because of spies and detectives. Our popular literary heritage is littered with cunning sleuths and stealthy investigators from Sherlock Holmes, Sexton Blake, Campion and Lord Peter Wimsey to the Scarlet Pimpernel, George Smiley and Harry Palmer.  And Bond; James Bond

In 2000 Anthony Horowitz produced Stormbreaker, the first of eleven (with a TV series in the offing and Book 12 due in 2019) rip-snorting teen novels featuring 14 year old orphan Alex Rider: a smart, fit, sports-mad lad like any other, who suddenly discovers that his guardian Uncle Ian has also died. Moreover the deceased gentleman was apparently a spy of some distinction and had been surreptitiously teaching the lad all the skills, techniques and disciplines needed to become a secret agent…

Soon MI6 are knocking on his door…

As well as a major motion picture and video game, the books (five so far) have also been adapted to the comics medium; their easy blend of action, youthful rebellion and overwhelmingly comfortable 007-style pastiche winning many fans in the traditionally parlous older-boys book market. They’re really rather good…

Alex is a highly effective but reluctant agent, preferring the normal life of his boarding school to the clandestine machinations of espionage. However his occasional paymasters at MI6 are always looking for ways to exploit his obvious talents. A seemingly innocent offer to work as a ball-boy at the Wimbledon Tennis tournament leads to him foiling a huge gambling scam by a Chinese Triad.

Unfortunately this makes him a target for Triad vengeance, so his “boss” Mr. Crawford suggests a little trip to Cuba until the heat dies down.

Roll Credits…

Alex soon discovers he has been “borrowed” by the CIA to add camouflage to a reconnaissance mission involving Alexei Sarov, an old Stalinist Soviet general who is up to something particularly nasty with stolen atomic weapons from his isolated fortress on the Cayo Esqueleto or “Skeleton Key”.

Tasked with finding out what the old soldier is planning, the American agents at first make him less than welcome, resenting his presence and not trusting a “mere kid”, but I’m sure they changed their minds around about the moment when they got murdered…

Now the only operative in the game, Alex is soon captured by Sarov who proves to be an unbeatable opponent. Moreover, he has a most unique fate planned for the boy after his plans for global annihilation are achieved: he wants to adopt him…

This is an immensely entertaining romp, hitting all the thrill-buttons for an ideal Bank Holiday blockbluster, even though it’s told – and very convincingly – from the viewpoint of an uncertain boy rather than a suave, sophisticated adult. The adaptation is sharp and witty, capturing the insecurities and verve of the young hero perfectly whilst the art by sisters Kanako & Yuzuru Takasaki is in a full-colour, computer-rendered manga style that might not please everybody but does work exceedingly well in conveying the softer moments as well as the spectacular action set-pieces.

Be warned, however, even though this is a kid’s book there is a substantial amount of fighting and a large body count, whilst the violence is not at all cartoony in context. If you intend sharing the book with younger children, read it yourself first.

These books and their comic counterparts are a fine addition to our fiction tradition. Alex Rider will return… why don’t you join him?

Text and illustrations © 2009 Walker Books Ltd. Based on the original novel Skeleton Key © 2002 Anthony Horowitz. All rights reserved.

Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives volume 1


By Bill Everett and others, edited and complied by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-488-7

Thanks to modern technology and diligent research by dedicated fans, there is a sublime superabundance of collections featuring the works of too-long ignored founding fathers and lost masters of American comic books. A magnificent case in point is this initial chronicle (available in both print and digital formats) revisiting the incredible gifts and achievements of one of the greatest draughtsmen and yarn-spinners the industry has ever seen.

You could save some time and trouble by simply buying the book now rather than waste your valuable off-hours reading my blather, but since I’m keen to carp on anyway feel free to accompany me as I delineate just why this tome needs to join the books on your “favourites” shelf.

The star of this collection was a direct descendent and namesake of iconoclastic poet and artist William Blake. His tragic life and awe-inspiring body of work – Bill was quite possibly the most technically accomplished artist in US comicbook industry – reveals how a man of privilege and astonishing pedigree was wracked by illness, an addictive personality (especially alcoholism) and sheer bad luck, but nevertheless shaped an art-form and left twin legacies: an incredible body of superlative stories and art, and, more importantly, saved many broken lives by becoming a dedicated mentor for Alcoholics Anonymous in his later years.

William Blake Everett was born in 1917 into a wealthy and prestigious New England family. Bright and precocious, he contracted tuberculosis when he was twelve and was dispatched to arid Arizona to recuperate.

This chain of events began a life-long affair with the cowboy lifestyle: a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, tall-tale-telling breed locked in a hard-to-win war against slow self-destruction. All this and more is far better imparted in the fact-filled, picture-packed Introduction by Blake Bell. It covers the development of the medium in ‘The Golden Age of Comics’, the history of ‘Bill Everett the Man’ and how they came together in ‘Centaur + Funnies Inc. = Marvel Comics #1’.

Th essay also includes an astounding treasure trove of found images and original art including samples from 1940s Sub-Mariner, 1960s Daredevil and 1970s Black Widow amongst many others.

Accompanied by the covers – that’s the case for most of the titles that follow: Everett was fast and slick and knew how to catch a punter’s eye – for Amazing Mystery Funnies volume 1 #1, 2, 3a, 3b and volume 2 #2 (August 1938 – February 1939, Centaur) are a quartet of rousing but muddled interstellar exploits starring sci fi troubleshooter Skyrocket Steele.

These are followed by a brace of anarchic outer space shenanigans starring futuristic wild boy Dirk the Demon from Amazing Mystery Funnies vol. 1 #3a and vol. 2 #3 (November 1938 and March 1939 respectively).

The undisputed star and big draw at Centaur was always Amazing-Man: a Tibetan mystic-trained orphan, adventurer and do-gooder named John Aman. After years of dangerous, painful study the young man was despatched back to civilisation to do good (for a relative given value of “good”)…

Aman stole the show in the monthly Amazing Mystery Comics #5-8 (spanning September to December 1939) as seen in the four breakneck thrillers reprinted here: ‘Origin of Amazing-Man’; an untitled sequel episode with the champion saving a lady rancher from sadistic criminals; ‘Amazing-Man Loose’ (after being framed for various crimes) and a concluding instalment wherein the nomadic hero abandons his quest to capture his evil arch rival ‘The Great Question’ and instead heads for recently invaded France to battle the scourge of Nazism…

As previously stated, Everett was passionately wedded to western themes and for Novelty Press’ Target Comics devised an Arizona-set rootin’ tootin’ cowboy crusader dubbed Bull’s-Eye Bill. Taken from issues #1 and 2 (February and March 1940), ‘On the trail of Travis Trent’ and ‘The Escape of Travis Trent’ find our wholesome but hard-bitten cowpoke battling the meanest and most determined owlhoot in the territory.

Accompanying the strips is an Everett-illustrated prose piece attributed to “Gray Brown” entitled ‘Bullseye Bill Gets his Moniker’.

Thanks to his breakthrough Sub-Mariner sagas, Everett was inextricably linked to water-based action and immensely popular, edgy heroes. That’s why Eastern Comics commissioned him to create human waterspout Bob Blake, Hydroman for their new bimonthly anthology Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics.

Here then (spanning issues #1-5; August 1940 to March 1941), are five spectacular, eerily offbeat exploits, encompassing ‘The Origin of Hydroman’ and covering his patriotic mission to make America safe from subversion from “oriental invaders”, German saboteurs and assorted ne’er-do-wells. after which a Polar Paladin rears his frozen head.

Sub-Zero Man debuted in Blue Bullet Comics vol. 1 #2 (July 1940): a Venusian scientist stranded on Earth who, through myriad bizarre circumstances, becomes a chilly champion of justice. Everett is only credited with the episode ‘The Power of Professor X’ (from vol. 1 #5, October 1940) but also included here are the cover of vol. 1 #4 and spot illos for the prose stories ‘Sub-Zero’s Adventures on Earth’ and ‘Frozen Ice’ (from Blue Bullet Comics vol. 1 #2 and vol. 2 #3).

The Conqueror was another quickly forsaken Everett creation: a Red, White & Blue patriotic costumed champion debuting in Victory Comics #1 August 1941. Daniel Lyons almost died in a plane crash but was saved by cosmic ray bombardment which granted him astounding mental and physical powers in ‘The Coming of the Conqueror’.

He promptly moved to Europe to “rid the world of Adolf Hitler!” and Everett’s only other contribution was the cover of issue #2 (September 1941).

Accompanied by a page of the original artwork from Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #12 (May 1941), The Music Master details how dying violinist John Wallace is saved by mystic musical means and becomes a sonic-powered superman righting injustices and crushing evil…

Rounding out this cavalcade of forgotten wonders are a selection of covers, spot illustrations and yarns which can only be described as Miscellaneous (1938-1942). These consist of the cover to the 1938 Uncle Joe’s Funnies #1; procedural crime thriller ‘The C-20 Mystery’ from Amazing Mystery Funnies vol. 2 #7 (June 1939) and ‘The Story of the Red Cross’ from True Comics #2 (June 1938).

The cover for Dickie Dare #1 (1941) is followed by a range of potent illustrative images from text tales beginning with three pages for ‘Sheep’s Clothing’ (Funny Pages vol. 2 #11; November 1940), a potent pic for ‘Birth of a Robot Part 2’ from Target Comics vol. 1 #6 (July 1940), two pages from ‘Death in a Box’ courtesy of Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #5 (March 1941) and two from ‘Pirate’s Oil’ in Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #13 (July 1942), before the unpublished, unfinished 1940 covers for Challenge Comics #1 and Whirlwind Comics #1 bring the nostalgia to a close.

Although telling, even revelatory and hinting at a happy ending of sorts, what this book really celebrates is not the life but the astounding versatility of Bill Everett. A gifted, driven man, he was a born storyteller with the unparalleled ability to make all his imaginary worlds hyper-real; and for nearly five decades his incredible art and wondrous stories enthralled and enchanted everybody lucky enough to read them. You should really invite yourself onto that list…
© 2011 Fantagraphics Books. Introduction © 2011 Blake Bell. All art © its respective owners and holders. All rights reserved.

Trailers


By Mark Kneece & Julie Collins-Rousseau (NBM/Comics Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-445-X (HC)                   978-1-56163-445-3 (PB)

Josh Clayton is a good kid, pretty much. Sure, he lives in a typical American trailer park, and yes, his mother’s a bit of a tramp, but Josh has never been in any kind of real trouble…

Back from school, Josh is stuck tending to his baby brother again when Ma gets into another screaming match with her drug-dealer boyfriend. This time it doesn’t play out as usual though, and she kills him. When she comes out of the bedroom and tells Josh that he’s got to get rid of the body before his other brother and sister return, his life changes forever.

It’s hard enough being a sensitive teenager in America these days, especially if you’re dirt-poor and got no car. High School is hell and life generally sucks.

If you add to that the fact that the body just won’t stay buried, it all adds up to a pretty miserable time for Josh.

So, when pretty Michele inexplicably makes a play for him, the pressure and confusion soon reach fever pitch. And still Josh’s inevitable slide into a life just like his crappy mother’s seems to haunt him, sucking him further and further down.

Can Josh keep his family together, get the girl, survive school and ever sleep without screaming? Can he break out of this grim, dark spiral, or is he fore-doomed and fore-damned?

The answer makes for a superb slice of modern noir fiction that should tickle the palate of all those “mature” comic fans in need of more than just a flash of nipple and sprinkle of salty language in their reading matter. Neece and Collins-Rousseau (employed at the faculty of Sequential Art, Savannah College of Art & Design), have created an authentic story of realistic young people in extraordinary need. This is the kind of book (available in hardback soft cover and digital formats) that fans need to show civilians who still don’t “get” comics. Sit them down, put “Born to Run” on the headphones and let them see what it can be all about.
© 2005 Mark Kneece & Julie Collins-Rousseau. All Rights Reserved.

The Golden Years of Adventure Stories


By various (DC Thomson & Co., Ltd.)
ISBN: 978-0851165271

Here’s a wonderful compilation commemorating the truly unique DC Thomson comic experience, concentrating on their many action and adventure serials. The Dundee based company has long been a mainstay of British popular reading and the strong editorial stance has informed a huge number of household names over the decades.

The main tenet of the Thomson adventure philosophy is a traditional, humanistic sense of decency. Runner Alf Tupper‘The Tough of the Track’ – might be a poor, rough, working class lad, competing in a world of privileged “Toffee-Nosed Swells”, but he excels for the sheer joy of sportsmanship, not for gain or glory.

There are no anti-heroes in the Thomson heroic stable, almost in direct opposition to the iconic, anarchic, mischief-makers of their humour comics.

British spy Bill Sampson may be the dreaded ‘Wolf of Kabul’ to the Afghan tribesmen he encounters with devoted assistant Chung (who will live forever as the wielder of the deadly “Clicky Ba” – that’s a cricket bat to you and me), but he’s still just an ordinary chap at heart, as are all the other characters spotlighted here. They’re just the sort of people ordinary kids should want to grow up into.

Heroes like Samson actually predate the company’s conversion of prose adventure fiction into comic strips – generally accepted as 1961, when the proliferation of TV sets among the perceived audience dictated the switch from words to pictures.

For many years previously, what children bought were boys’ or girls’ “papers”, packed with well-written text stories and the odd illustration and features page. Thomson held these over in titles such as Adventure until the end of the 1950s, but eventually succumbed to the inevitable, converting their pulp-stars into pictorial idols.

Wolf of Kabul, for instance, began in 1922, but was easily and successfully translated into a comic strip in the 1960s.

In this compendium are both prose stories and strips featuring some of Britain’s best loved and longest running heroes subdivided into categories that mirror the average schoolboy’s interests.

So thrill again, or catch the bug with such Schooldays sagas as The Red Circle School (1940s) and Kingsley Comp (1980s); the sporting triumphs of The Tough of the Track (1949-onwards), Wilson the mysterious Man in Black (The Truth About Wilson: 1943-onwards), or Gorgeous Gus (a millionaire – even before he became a footballer – who didn’t like to run but had an infallible shot).

You might prefer to peruse Cast, Hook and Strike, the story of Joe Dodd: an exceptional angler from the 1970s (yes, a fishing strip, and don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it).

Or perhaps your fancy will be caught by the War stories I Flew with Braddock, Code-name Warlord, and V for Vengeance, or the outrageous heroics of Morgyn the Mighty (Strongest Man in Africa), The Laughing Pirate, or The Hairy Sheriff (a cowboy ape).

And, as ever, Wolf of Kabul will capture your fancy and fulfil that desire to sample simpler times.

These tales, taken from the classic periodical publications Adventure, The Skipper, The Wizard and Rover, latterly supplemented by material from Hornet, Hotspur, Victor and Warlord, are accompanied and augmented by numerous glorious cover reproductions and feature pages, loaded with fun and shiny with nostalgia.

I only wish I could name all the creators responsible, but Thomson’s long-standing policy of creative anonymity means I’d be guessing too many times. I can only hope that future collected celebrations will include some belated acknowledgement of all the talented individuals who between them shaped the popular consciousness of generations, and made childhoods joyful, wondrous and thrilling.
© 1991 DC Thomson & Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe: A Trilogy of Crime


Adapted by Tom DeHaven & Rian HughesJerome Charyn & David Lloyd; James Rose, Lee Moyer & Alfredo Alcala and various (iBooks)
ISBN: 978-0-7434-7489-4          978-1-59687-839-6 (2016 edition)

If you’re going to adapt classic, evocative crime stories into graphic narrative there really isn’t any better source material than Raymond Chandler. This follow-up (reissued in 2016 as Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe: The Graphic Novel) to the adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe: The Little Sister was also packaged by comics visionary Byron Preiss and adapts three short tales from the master of hard-boiled fiction, rendered in a variety of unique and impressive styles.

Opening the show is ‘Goldfish’, first published in 1949, the writer’s ninth short story sale and preceding his first Marlowe novel by three years. Adapted by Tom DeHaven and lettered by Willie Schubert, it’s stylishly illustrated by British designer and artist Rian Hughes in muted colour tones that have only the merest hint of hue to them; the effect is powerfully evocative and atmospheric.

When ex-cop Kathy Horne sidles into the tough guy’s seedy office she brings a tale of lost pearls, an absconded convict and a huge reward just waiting to be claimed. Dragged far out of his comfort zone and sent up and down the Pacific Seaboard, the world-weary gumshoe is just steps ahead of the sadistic and casually murderous Carol Donovan and her gang of thugs in a superb thriller of double-cross and double-jeopardy.

Next up is ‘The Pencil’M scripted by award-winning mystery novelist Jerome Charyn, brilliantly rendered by British comics legend David Lloyd in moody, dry-brush black and white, and lettered by long-term collaborator Elitta Fell. This was Chandler’s twenty-first – and final – Marlowe adventure, published in 1959, shortly after the author’s death. You might know it as Marlowe Takes on the Syndicate, Wrong Pigeon or even Philip Marlowe’s Last Case.

Hollywood 1955: Ikky Rossen was a bad man, a career gangster and mob leg-breaker. When he crossed his bosses he hoped Marlowe could get him safely out of the City of Angels before The Organization’s East Coast Button men could send him to Hell. Marlowe knew that these were people who should be avoided at all costs and only one thing is always true: everybody lies…

Closing the book and somewhat ill-considered and misplaced is ‘Trouble is My Business’ by James Rose, Lee Moyer & Alfredo Alcala, with Schubert again filling the word balloons.

This weak tale of vengeful Harriet Huntress who intends to destroy two generations of wealthy socialites mixed up in the gambling rackets is from 1939: a rather tame and straightforward yarn in comparison to the other stories here, not to mention the landmark first full novel The Big Sleep, also published in that year. Moyer and Alcala do a solid job of illustrating the plot (although it’s a little pretty for my tastes) but the cynical edge that is the hallmark of this brilliant crime creation is muted if not actually extinguished here.

Despite ending on a sour note, this is still a great book of crime comics that any fan will delight in, and the incredible Steranko cover alone is well worth the effort of tracking it down.
Adaptations and illustrations © 2003 Byron Preiss Visual Publications Inc. Original stories “Goldfish” and “Trouble is my Business” © 2003 Philip Marlowe BV (Estate of Raymond Chandler) All Rights Reserved. “The Pencil” © 1971 Helga Greene, Executrix, Estate of Raymond Chandler. All Rights Reserved.

Anarcoma


By Nazario, translated by David H. Rosenthal (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 978-0-87416-000-0

It’s Pride Month and I’m keen to celebrate how far we’ve come as a species and society. Nevertheless – and just because I hate responding to complaints – here’s a note of warning: this book is filled with graphic sexual acts, full frontal nudity and coarse language. If that causes you any offence don’t buy this book and don’t read this review. The rest of us will manage without you.

You know what it’s like: sometimes you’re just in the mood for something challenging, different or just plain nasty, and nothing better sums up that feeling than this startling pastiche of film noir chic transposed into the even grimmer, darker and nastier milieu of the gay-underworld of post-Franco Spain.

Francisco Franco Bahamonde was a right-wing general who ruled the country from 1947 until his death in 1975, “on behalf” of a puppet monarchy helpless to resist him. His repressive, Christian-based attitudes held the country in an iron time-lock for decades as the rest of the world moved an around him.

Vera Luque Nazario was an intellectual, college professor and cartoonist living under the fascist regime, yet fiercely inspired by the freedom and exuberant graphic license displayed in American underground commix, especially the works of R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and possibly Spain Rodriguez.

In a totalitarian state that openly advocated the “curing” of homosexuals, Nazario founded an artist’s collective or “contracultural group” in 1971 to produce home-grown underground commix (El Rollo Enmascarado, Paupérrimus, Catalina, Purita and others) frequently incurring the wrath of the Francoist censors and police. Nazario’s work received far fairer treatment outside Spain, appearing in such groundbreaking mature magazines as It, Actuel, Oz, Gai Pied and L’Echo des Savanes.

When Franco died the country opened up and there was a tumultuous cascade of artistic expression. Extremely strident adult material designed primarily to shock began appearing in new magazines such as El Víbora, Cannibale and Frigidaire. After years of covert comics creation, multi-talented artisan Nazario eventually moved into design and record cover production. In later years he concentrated on painting and his first prose novel was released in 2006. Since then he has become a darling of Spain’s intellectual, educational and art worlds, with his works becoming museum works and national treasures.

In 2016 he published his autobiography The Daily Life of the Underground Artist and the long-awaited third part of Anarcoma as literary release Nuevas aventuras de Anarcoma and Robot XM2. This year at France’s annual Angoulême Festival Anarcoma was nominated for the heritage category, marking it as a work of global importance and influence.

The shocking cartoon rebellion began as strip in a porn magazine, but that quickly folded and Nazario transferred the feature to El Víbora in 1979, revelling in homoerotic excess in a magazine with no censorial boundaries. It ran for years and this long out-of-print hardcover translation was but the first collection of many – but not, sadly, in English translation.

Symbols of freedom never came more outrageously formed than Anarcoma; a spectacularly endowed, star-struck trans private detective who hangs all-out in the notorious red-light district of Las Ramblas.

A stunning blend of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall she works as prostitute and club entertainer while pursuing her dream of becoming a real gumshoe like the ones in the American movies she adores…

Life is complicated: ex-army buddy Humphrey is her current her boyfriend, but he won’t leave his wife and kids. Moreover, Anarcoma’s hobby has won no friends among both the cops and the criminal gangs run by the ruthless Captain Seahorse. Worst of all, there are even weirder and more dangerous folk lurking around…

After a series of profound prose appreciations from Alberto Cardín and Ludolfo Paramio plus a thoroughly absorbing cartoon cast-list, the ultra-explicit adventure begins…

The city is in turmoil: Professor Onliyu’s latest invention has been stolen. Nobody knows what it does but everybody wants it. Anarcoma thinks she has a lead…

The trail leads through all the sleaziest dives and dens, implicating almost everybody at one time or another, but when the manic religious order The Black Count and his Knights of Saint Represent and feminist paramilitaries Metamorphosina and her One-Eyed Piranhas start their own conflicting campaigns for the missing machine, Anarcoma is distracted and almost loses her life to mysterious sex-robot XM2.

Luckily her charms extend and affect even artificial he-men…

Outrageously imaginative, dauntingly brutal and sexually graphic, this devastatingly ironic genre amalgamation is audacious and bizarre, but unflinchingly witty as it probes the role of hero in society and eulogises the heady power of liberation.

Anarcoma was first released in 1980, but even by today’s evolved standards the incredibly violent and satirically, staggeringly baroque pastiche is a shocking, controversial piece of work. Raw, purposefully shocking and wickedly delightful, this is a perfect walk on the wild side for people with open minds and broad tastes.
© 1983 by Nazario. English edition © 1983 Catalan Communications. All Rights Reserved.

The True Death of Billy the Kid


By Rick Geary (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-134-5

Rick Geary is a unique talent in the comic industry not simply because of his style of drawing but especially because of his method of telling tales.

For decades he toiled as an Underground cartoonist and freelance illustrator of strange tales and wry oddments, published in locales as varied as Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated, Twisted Tales, Bop, National Lampoon, Vanguard, Bizarre Sex, Fear and Laughter, Gates of Eden, RAW and High Times.

For these illustrious venues he honed a unique ability to create sublimely understated stories by stringing together seemingly unconnected streams of narrative to compose tales moving, often melancholy and always beguiling.

Discovering his natural oeuvre with works including biographies of J. Edgar Hoover or Trotsky and his multi-volumed Treasury of Victorian Murder series, Geary has grown into a grand master and towering presence in both comics and True Crime literature.

His graphic reconstructions of some of the most infamous murders ever committed since policing began combine a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and meticulously detailed pictorial extrapolation. These are filtered through a fascination with and understanding of the lethal propensities of humanity as his forensic eye scours police blotters, newspaper archives and history books to compile irresistibly enthralling documentaries.

In 2008 he turned to the last century for an ongoing Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, focusing on scandals which seared the headlines during the “Gilded Age” of suburban middleclass America. He has not, however, forsaken his delight in fiction nor his gift for graphic biography.

Delivered in stark monochrome in either luxurious collectors’ hardback or accessible eBook editions, his latest fact-finding expedition (originally released in 2014 as an extremely limited run private publication) diligently sifts fact from mythology to detail the demise of perhaps the most legend-laden outlaw in modern history.

The author is a unique talent not simply because of his manner of drawing but because of the subject matter and methodology in the telling of his tales. Geary always presents facts, theories and even contemporary minutiae with absorbing pictorial precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, re-examining each case with a force and power Oliver Stone would envy.

“Being an Authentic Narrative of the Final Days in his Brief And Turbulent Life”, The True Death of Billy the Kid brings the last days of the killer alternatively known as Henry McCarty, Henry Antrim, William H. “Billy” Bonney or “The Kid” vividly into focus, beginning with ‘Chapter One: The Prisoner’ wherein the subject of our scrutiny languishes in cells of the Lincoln County Courthouse of the New Mexico Territory in April 1881.

Destined for the noose on May 13th, the prisoner provides reveries to encapsulate his sorry, short and blood-soaked life to date. Billy’s actions always seemed justified to him – and many others, both friends, comrades-in-arms and supporters – but nonetheless, his doom is assured.

With that thought ever foremost, The Kid determine not to die easy…

Much of the outlaw’s fame stems from the ‘His Greatest Escape’; broken down with mesmerising meticulousness in the Second Chapter and still a remarkable and spectacular feat of sheer bravado to this day, after which ‘Chapter Three: On the Dodge’ depicts his flight across vast tracts of wilderness before arriving in the rural enclave of Fort Sumner: a settlement well-known to Billy and one where he has many admirers…

In the meantime, veteran career lawman Pat Garrett reads reports and ponders before setting out to the one place he suspects his quarry will eventually hole up…

Events move inexorably in ‘Chapter Four: Death at Fort Sumner’ as Garrett and his handpicked deputies traverse the Pecos, arriving clandestinely in the peaceful hamlet on July 14th to begin surveillance before the last confrontation…

As ever supported by clear, informative maps, portraits of all major players and a copious index of sources consulted, this is a beguiling display of seductive storytelling, erudite argument and audacious drawing which makes for an unforgettable read.

Geary’s superb storytelling is a perfect exemplar of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simple fantasy entertainment. His murder masterclasses should be mandatory reading for every mystery addict and crime collector, and part of every school syllabus.
© 2014 Rick Geary.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/