Modesty Blaise: The Murder Frame


By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78329-859-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Derring-do and the Perfect Postprandial Tonic… 9/10

Infallible super-criminals Modesty Blaise and her lethally adept, knife-throwing, compulsively platonic partner Willie Garvin gained fearsome reputations heading underworld gang The Network. They then retired young, rich and healthy.

With honour intact and their hands relatively clean, they cut themselves off completely from careers where they made all the money they would ever need and far too many enemies: a situation exacerbated by their heartfelt conviction that killing was only ever to be used as a last resort.

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

From that tenuous beginning in ‘La Machine’ (see Modesty Blaise: the Gabriel Set-Up) the dynamic duo went on to crush the world’s vilest villains and most macabre monsters in a never-ending succession of tense suspense and inspirational action for more than half a century…

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

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

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

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

Reproduced in stark and stunning monochrome – as is only right and fitting – Titan Books’ superb and scrupulously chronological serial re-presentations of the ultimate cool trouble-shooters resume here, with O’Donnell & Romero offering four more masterpieces of mood, mystery and mayhem only pausing for effusive Introduction ‘Meeting Modesty’: from crime author Rebecca Chance (AKA Lauren Henderson; Bad Brides, Killer Heels, Jane Austin’s Guide to Dating) who compares the prose perils with the aforementioned strip sagas.

With Chance adding a prologue to each of the stunning strips which follow, the pictorial perils premiere with ‘The Murder Frame’ (originally seen in The Evening Standard from January 6th to June 6th 1997), wherein Modesty and Willie are drawn into a Machiavellian war of wits with a psychopathic old adversary who turns Garvin’s very public minor spat with a local property developer into an unassailable case of murder most foul.

Happily, Willie has lots of friends on both sides of the law and the stitch-up unravels after Modesty teams up with police Chief Inspector Brook to see justice done and the real killer caught…

The tone shifts to electrifying espionage and bloody vengeance for ‘Fraser’s Story’ (9th June – November 3rd) as Tarrant’s placidly, unflappable aide goes off the grid in pursuit of a British traitor-turned-Russian Mafia boss hiding out in Panama.

Victor Randle sold out his country and caused the death of 107 British agents – including Fraser’s only love – and is smart enough to know that Fraser is on his trail. In fact he’s counting on it and has creepy brainwashing genius Dr. Yago ready to pick the would-be avenger’s mind dry of every profitable secret it contains – especially as Victor currently possesses the only other thing the British agent still cares about…

He’s also smart enough to have Fraser’s friends Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin murdered before they can interfere, but tragically not efficient enough to double check that his attempts have actually succeeded…

A startling glimpse into Modesty’s childhood days underpins ‘Tribute of the Pharaohs’ (November 4th 1997 to April 3rd 1998), also revealing Willie’s ultimate nemesis as the strident martinet who ran the orphanage he grew up in. Their reunion on the burning sands of the Bayouda desert near Khartoum also involves brutal bandit lord Mr. J who believes the draconian Miss Prendergast has knowledge of a vast horde of Egyptian gold…

When he kidnaps and tortures the old biddy, Willie and Modesty teach the sadistic thug a lasting lesson before uncovering a treasure and laying a ghost that has haunted Blaise for most of her life…

Wrapping up this trove of titanic tales is a traumatic exploration of the modern slave trade which sees Willie’s teen protégé Sam head out to Thailand as part of a mixed judo team. Sadly her youth, looks and bearing make her the perfect target for human traffickers Rosie Ling and Mr. Nagle-Green who boldly fake her death in broad daylight before stashing her on their ship full of ‘The Special Orders’ (April 6th to September 4th 1998) for rich and ruthless men…

Having been schooled by Garvin and Modesty, Sam is savvy enough to get off a message to the already suspicious (and en route) duo and takes matters into her own hands to rescue the girls. All she has to do is get them all off the ship, hole up in a suitable defensible position and keep safe until the enraged and remorseless cavalry arrives…

These are incomparable capers crafted by brilliant creators at the peak of their powers; revelling in the sheer perfection of an iconic creation. Startling shock and suspense-stuffed escapades packed with sleek sex appeal, dry wit, terrific tension and explosive action, these stories grow more appealing with every rereading and never fail to deliver maximum impact and total enjoyment.
Modesty Blaise © 2016 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.

Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity


By Dave Shelton (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-00-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Boney Fido Mystery Thriller for fans of every stripe… 10/10

Way back in 2012, David Fickling Books launched a weekly comic for girls and boys that rapturously revived the grand old days of British picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

Still going strong, each issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material: a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy. Since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the totally engaged kids and parents who read it…

As is the way of modern comics publishing, their greatest serial hits were soon gathered into a line of fabulously engaging album compilations. This splendidly constructed pastiche of detective thrillers is the latest: a winningly authentic murder mystery with anthropomorphic police pooches doggedly sloping through noir nostalgia (for those of us old enough to recognise it) on the seedily sordid streets of Muttropolis in search of killers – and worse – in the canine counterpart to Hollywood…

It’s not the first outing for curious cur Kirk Bergman (who thinks he’s a four-footed Sam Spade) and his beefy, astute and gently gigantic partner Duncan McBoo. They were previously seen in The Phoenix’s predecessor The DFC – by way of The Guardian, no lessand have lost none of their appeal in this further adventure, crafted as ever by Dave Shelton (A Boy and a Bear in a Boat) with sublime skill, seductive illustration, engaging word-play and a keen appreciation of the value of truly appalling puns …

Film freak McBoo is over the moon when their latest case takes them to Wiener Brothers Studios to investigate death threats against movie mogul Sam Weiner but soon sees that there’s nothing but trouble ahead in Tinseltown.

Twin brother Jack Wiener thinks it’s all a lot of hooey, but since Sam is off sick there’s little the police dogs can do except head back to the precinct. That all changes on the way out when a bomb seemingly intended for aging silver screen idol Dunstan Bassett apparently obliterates his stunt double Bump Henderson instead…

And so begins a cleverly constructed yet deadly game of bluff and deception, crammed to the rafters with hot dames, plucky assistants, raucous bar-fights, thrilling car chases, sinisterly suspicious strangers and quirky walk-on characters in a plot which cunningly twists and curves without ever losing itself in unnecessary complexity.

Bergman and McBoo each plays to his own strengths as they hunt a killer only to find that the victim isn’t dead but not all the suspects are necessarily alive…

Moody, suspenseful and outrageous, this yarn remains deliciously funny whilst honouring a deep dept and displaying a definite soft spot for the crime classics of yore, and is a perfect kid’s book every adult in the house will find impossible to put down.

Text and illustrations © Dave Shelton 2016. All rights reserved.

Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity will be released on November 3rd 2016 and is available for pre-order now.

Why not check out the Phoenix experience at https://www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk/?

The Living Mummy and other Stories


Illustrated by Jack Davis, written by Al Feldstein with Ray Bradbury (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-929-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: What’s Christmas without Ghost Stories… or vampires or werewolves or mad murderers or… 8/10

Jack Davis is probably one of the few artists better known outside the world of comics than within it. His paintings, magazine covers, advertising work and sports cartoons have reached more people than his years of comedy cartooning for such magazines as Mad, Panic, Cracked, Trump, Sick, Help!, Humbug, Playboy, etc., and very few modern comic collectors seem aware of his horror, war and other genre masterpieces for EC, his Westerns for Marvel comics or his pivotal if seminal time at Jim Warren’s Eerie and Creepy magazines.

Entertaining Comics began in 1944 when comicbook pioneer Max Gaines – presumably seeing the writing on the wall – sold the superhero properties of his All-American Comics company to half-sister National/DC, retaining only Picture Stories from the Bible. His plan was to produce a line of Educational Comics with schools and church groups as the major target market.

He augmented his flagship title with Picture Stories from American History, Picture Stories from Science and Picture Stories from World History but these worthy projects were all struggling when he died in a boating accident in 1947.

As detailed in the comprehensive closing essay of this superb graphic compilation (‘Crime, Horror, Terror, Gore, Depravity, Disrespect for Established Authority – and Science Fiction Too: the Ups and Downs of EC Comics’ by author, editor, critic and comics fan Ted White), Max’s son William was dragged into the company by unsung hero and Business Manager Sol Cohen who held the company together until initially unwilling Bill Gaines abandoned dreams of being a chemistry teacher and transformed the ailing educational enterprise into the EC we all know and love…

After some tentative false starts and abortive experiments mimicking industry fashions, Gaines took advantage of multi-talented associate Al Feldstein, who promptly graduated from creating teen comedies and westerns to become Gaines’ editorial supervisor and co-conspirator.

As they began co-plotting the bulk of EC’s stories together, they changed tack, moving in a boldly impressive new direction. Their publishing strategy, utilising the most gifted illustrators in the field, was to tell a “New Trend” of stories aimed at older and more discerning readers, not the mythical semi-literate 8-year-old all comicbooks ostensibly targeted.

From 1950 to 1954 EC was the most innovative and influential publisher in America, dominating the genres of crime, horror, war and science fiction and originating an entirely new beast: the satirical comicbook…

Feldstein had started as a comedy cartoonist and, after creator/editor Harvey Kurtzman departed in 1956, Al became Mad’s Editor for the next three decades…

This 16th volume of the Fantagraphics EC Library gathers a mind-boggling selection of Feldstein’s stories – mostly co-plotted by companion-in-crime Gaines – and all illuminated by the company’s most versatile illustrator: a young hopeful who literally walked in off the street with his portfolio and walked away with the first commissions of a stellar career.

Davis was to grow into a master of macabre mood, earthy true grit and flamboyantly excessive gallows humour and his work has never looked better than in this stark and lavish monochrome hardcover edition packed with supplementary interviews, features and dissertations.

It begins with historian and lecturer Bill Mason’s Introduction ‘Jack Be Quick’ relating how John Burton “Jack” Davis left Atlanta, Georgia – via the Navy – for a life in art after which the groundbreaking pictorial yarn-spinning commences with ‘The Living Mummy’ (from Haunt of Fear #4, November/December 1950) wherein three unwise scientists soon regret revivifying an ancient mummified cadaver.

Then a dutiful man is forced to confront family tragedy and exterminate a lycanthropic loved one in ‘The Beast of the Full Moon!’ in a potent shocker from Vault of Horror #17 (February/March 1951).

A weary, storm-tossed traveller stumbles into the wrong house in Haunt of Fear #5, (January/February 1951) and become a ‘A Tasty Morsel!’ after completely misdiagnosing the kind of monster he’s trapped with, whilst murder strikes close to home in the tale of a comicbook artist embroiled in a lethal romantic triangle in ‘Conniver!’ from Crime SuspenStories #4 (April/May 1951).

A transplant surgeon survives a crippling car crash and is forced to cry ‘Lend Me a Hand!’ (Vault of Horror #18 April/May 1951) before he can continue his life’s work after which ‘Cheese, That’s Horrible!’ (Haunt of Fear #6, March/April 1951) sees a greedy dairy-factory owner come to regret murdering his finicky, idealistic partner even as ‘Mr. Biddy… Killer!’ (Crime SuspenStories #5, June/July 1951) explores the psychological underpinnings of a murdering maniac…

‘The Jellyfish!’ – from Vault of Horror #19 (June/July 1951) – was based on and inspired by Ray Bradbury’s short story “Skeleton” and reveals the grisly revenge of a chemist framed by his own brother for adulterating insulin, before regular writers Feldstein and Gaines resume their grisly games with ‘The Basket!’ (Haunt of Fear #7, May/June 1951): a shocking tale of monstrous deformity and murderous misdirection.

Davis’ art had been gradually developing its characteristic loose energy over the months, and with ‘The Reluctant Vampire!’ (Vault of Horror #20 August/September 1951) entered a new stage: perfectly capturing the grisly humour of a bloodsucker who worked nights in a blood bank and took extraordinary measures to keep the place open in the face of economic hardship and a paucity of donations…

‘The Irony of Death!’ (Haunt of Fear #8, July/August 1951) traces the rise and demise – through supernatural agency – of a metal worker who takes over an iron foundry through judicious marriage and murder; ‘Phonies’ (Crime SuspenStories #7, October/November 1951) is a delicious caper of crooks swindling crooks and ‘Trapped!’ (Vault of Horror #21 from the same month) details the final fate of a fugitive killer whose mad dash for safety came to very sticky end.

‘The Gorilla’s Paw’ (Haunt of Fear #9, September/October 1951) is an extremely gory take on the classic tale of wishes granted in the most grudging manner imaginable whilst ‘Gone… Fishing!’ (Vault of Horror #22 December 1951/January 1952) demonstrates arcane tit-for-tat to an angler who revelled in the inherent cruelty of his sport.

Then, a disgraced bullfighter murders his young rival and pays an horrific price for his sin in Bum Steer!’ from Haunt of Fear #10 (November/December 1951) whilst in Crime SuspenStories #9 (February/March 1952), an ambitious stand-in kills the star he doubles for but is tripped up by his own ineptitude in ‘Cut!’

Davis was probably the fastest artist in EC’s stable and versatile enough to cover any genre. For Vault of Horror #23 (February/March 1952) he provided a brace of chillers, beginning with ‘99 44/100% Pure Horror!’ as a soap factory owner is reduced to packets of his own premium product yet still manages to wipe the slate clean by killing his killer, whilst ‘Dead Wait!’ focuses on the distant tropics as an obsessive thief schemes to steal a priceless gem, unaware that he is actually a pearl of equal price to his most trusted and ruthless confederate…

The rest of Davis’ 1952 was equally impressive and wide-ranging. ‘Ear Today… Gone Tomorrow!’ (Haunt of Fear #11, January/February) told of two bonemeal fertiliser salesmen who mistakenly saw a graveyard as a way to cut costs whilst ‘Missed by Two Heirs!’ (Crime SuspenStories #10, April/May) details the sheer dumb luck which plagued two wastrels eager to off their old man and start spending big.

Shady used car salesmen who gleefully sold un-roadworthy vehicles met justice through supernatural intervention and joined ‘The Death Wagon!’ in Vault of Horror #24 (April/May) before ‘The Patriots!’ (Shock SuspenStories #2, April/May) moved from horror and humour to stark social commentary which still resonates today as a crowd of spectators cheering a parade of recently returned soldiers turns on one man not showing the proper respect to the marching military heroes…

A return to baroque grisly giggles is seen in ‘What’s Cookin’?’ (Haunt of Fear #12, March/April) as two greedy partners in a fast food franchise decide to cut the genius who created the phenomenon out of the profit-equation before Davis demonstrates his speed in a new occasional features – “EC Quickies”.

These were linked 4-page tales on a shared theme and begins with a pair from Crime SuspenStories #11 (June/July): an examination of how con men dupe suckers beginning with ‘Two for One!’ as a cash-strapped business opts for a deal which is literally too good to be true whilst ‘Four for One!’ reveals an even more cunning way to embezzle huge sums from banks…

‘Kickin’ the Gong a Round!’ (Vault of Horror #25 June/July) reveals the lethal lengths to which a boxing champion goes to keep his title after which ‘Stumped!’ (Shock SuspenStories #3, June/July) follows fur trappers in the far north who use ferocious bear traps to make a profit – and remove rivals – after which Davis delineates one of Feldstein’s most visceral and innovate tales in ‘Wolf Bait!’ (Haunt of Fear #13, May/June).

Here a sleigh full of desperate men, women and children frantically outrace a pack of starving predators. However, once all the ammunition is expended and they’ve thrown all the food they have at them, what else can be jettisoned to slow the ravenous pursuit?

The cartoon chills build to a crescendo with another double-feature EC Quickie segment – from Crime SuspenStories #12 (August/September) – wherein two friends go hunting in the deep woods: both of them prepared to kill more than moose to secure a woman they both want.

‘Murder the Lover!’ then explores the consequences of one set of circumstances whilst ‘Murder the Husband!’ proffers a grim alternative, but in each example the victorious killer pays a price in pure poetic justice for his crime. The weird wonderment then concludes with sardonic cynical satire in ‘Graft in Concrete’ (Vault of Horror #26 August/September) as the building of a simple road bogs down in layer upon layer of corrupt backhanders and is only expedited by desecration and sacrilege. Of course, certain dead parties take grave offence at the intrusion and make their umbrage known in a most effective manner…

Adding final weight to the tome is an outrageous contemporary caricature of the artist by EC staffer Marie Severin accompanying S.C. Ringgenberg’s biography of the cartoonist who became America’s most popular illustrator in ‘Jack Davis’, plus the aforementioned history of EC and a comprehensive ‘Behind the Panels: Creator Biographies’ feature by Mason, Tom Spurgeon and Janice Lee.

The short, sweet but severely limited output of EC has been reprinted ad infinitum in the decades since the company died. These astounding stories and art not only changed comics but also infected the larger world through film and television and via the millions of dedicated devotees still addicted to New Trend tales.

The Living Mummy is a superb celebration of the astounding ability of a comics legend and offers a fabulously engaging introduction for every lucky fear fan encountering the material for the very first time.

Whether you are an aging fear aficionado or callow contemporary convert, this is a book you cannot miss…
The Living Mummy and other Stories © 2016 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All comics stories © 2016 William M. Gaines Agent, Inc., reprinted with permission. All other material © 2014 the respective creators and owners.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer: The Francis Blake Affair


By Jean Van Hamme & Ted Benoit (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-63-2

Belgian Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs (1904-1987) is one of the founding fathers of the Continental comics industry. Although his output was relatively modest compared to many of his iconic contemporaries, Jacobs’ landmark serialised life’s work – starring scientific troubleshooters Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake – practically formed the backbone of the modern action-adventure comic in Europe.

His splendidly adroit, roguish yet thoroughly British adventurers were conceived and realised for the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin in 1946, and quickly became a crucial staple of life for post-war European kids – much as Dan Dare was in 1950s Britain.

After decades of fantastic exploits the series apparently ended with the eleventh album. The story had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in Tintin but after the first volume was completed the author simply abandoned his story due to failing health and personal issues.

Jacobs died on February 20th 1987 before completing extended adventure Les 3 formules du professeur Satō.

The concluding volume – Mortimer contre Mortimer – was only released in March 1990 after veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor (Bart de Scheepsjongen, Monsieur Tric, Balthazar, Barelli and many others) was commissioned by the Jacobs family and estate to complete the tale from the grand originator’s pencils and notes.

The long-postponed release led to a republishing of all the earlier volumes, followed in 1996 by new adventures from two separate creative teams hired by the Jacobs Studio…

The first was the L’Affaire Francis Blake by Jean Van Hamme (Thorgal, XIII, Largo Winch) & Thierry “Ted” Benoit (Bingo Bongo et son Combo Congolais, Ray Banana) which settled itself into a comfortably defined and familiar mid-1950s milieu whilst unfolding a rousing tale of espionage and double-dealing.

The tale also controversially omitted the fantastic elements of futuristic fiction and fringe science which had characterised Jacobs’ creation. The story also focused on the cool, suave MI5 officer rather than bombastic, belligerent boffin and inveterate scene-stealer Professor Mortimer…

It all begins in the highest echelons of the government’s security services as news of a mole reaches the press and creates a scandal. MI5 chief Francis Blake carefully explains how difficult tracking the infiltrator has become, but none of the great men in the room have any patience for excuses…

Blake explains the dilemma to Mortimer at their Club that evening, but events are unfolding which will soon curtail their cosy get-togethers. British surveillance operatives may be slow but they are inexorably steady and when a photograph of a drop-off reveals that Blake himself is the traitor, MI5 moves quickly to arrest their disgraced leader. Unmasked, the spy master only escapes detention through a spectacular fast getaway across London, leaving shocked friends and associates in his wake.

Despite a mountain of damning evidence, Mortimer cannot believe his greatest ally against evil is a money-hungry villain and begins his own investigations, despite also being the subject of an MI5 watch team. The scientist is also keenly aware that in regard of man with all the secrets like Blake, death is preferable to capture as far as his pursuers are concerned.

Ditching his government shadows Mortimer also goes on the run…

Naturally Captain Blake is completely innocent, and has been playing his own deep game. Now, having has shaken loose the real traitor, our cunning hero has gone straight to the mastermind behind the infiltration of the security services. Sadly that human devil has not been fooled for a moment and acts accordingly…

Mortimer meanwhile has trailed his friends through some skilfully laid clues and breadcrumbs; uncovering Blake’s secret army of off-the-books, utterly loyal sleeper agents who render him every assistance as he closes in on Blake and the true masterminds behind an unbelievably bold plot…

With the country in an uproar, Mortimer heads ever-northward, having deduced Blake’s intended final destination and the incredible real motive behind all the cloak-&-dagger skulduggery. He arrives just in time for a grand reunion with his old comrade and a blistering battle against the forces of evil and subversion threatening our way of life…

Strongly founded upon and in many ways a loving tribute to John Buchan’s classic thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps, this is a devious and convoluted spook show to delight espionage aficionados and a solidly entertaining addition to the canon of the Gentleman Adventurers.
Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1996 by Ted Benoit & Jean Van Hamme. All rights reserved. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

The Art of Sean Phillips


By Sean Phillips, Eddie Robson and various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-420-6

Win’s Christmas Recommendation: A Magical Trawl through Fan-favourite Moments… 9/10

Sean Phillips started selling comic strips in 1980. He was 15 years old, still at school and for all intents and purposes “living the dream”. He’s been doing it ever since, with dedication, professionalism and ever-increasing proficiency.

This magnificent oversized (234 x 310 mm) hardback reproduces hundreds of comics pages and covers, plus an assortment of out-industry artwork, as accompaniment to an astonishingly forthright extended interview and career retrospective of the phenomenally talented and terrifying dedicated illustrator, covering his earliest cartooning efforts right through to his next big thing. There’s even baby pictures and school work. Of course Sean and his friends did make their first professional strip sale – to the local newspaper – when they were twelve…

Compiled by Phillips and writer and journalist Eddie Robson, with contributions from fellow artists, writers and editors the artist worked with over the decades, the book includes an Introduction from co-conspirator Ed Brubaker and offers many complete strips fans will probably never have seen.

As well as many unpublished works the gallery of visual wonder include early strips on “Girls” comics and Annuals such as Bunty, Judy and Diana For Girls as well as college work, try-out pages and portfolio pieces created with the sole purpose of getting into the cool mainstream…

Phillips is equally adept with paints and pen-&-ink and the book tracks his career as a jobbing artist through Bunty to early “mature reader” title Crisis (Crisis, New Statesmen, Straitgate), 2000AD and The Megazine (Armitage, Devlin Waugh), and that crucial jump to America as part of the “British Invasion”; producing features and one-offs at Vertigo and becoming part of the initial intake who launched and cemented the radical imprint’s look. Of particular interest and strongly emphasised are his runs on Kid Eternity, Hellblazer and The Invisibles.

The longed-for move into super-heroics began with Batman, a sidestep into Star Wars and back to Spider-Man. Early hints of later specialisation can be spotted in Scene of the Crime, Gotham Noir and Sleeper, but he was also busy with Wildcats and X-Men. He truly became a major name through the monumental sensation that was Marvel Zombies, but more attention here is paid to poorer-selling critical hit and career crossroads Criminal.

The parade of pictorial perfection continues with finished pages and original art from many more titles including User, Intersections, Incognito and more, strips and covers for licensed titles such as Serenity, Predator, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower spin-offs and for classic film repackager Criterion. Other non-comics work includes true lost gems such as political strip ‘Right Behind You’ from The Sunday Herald depicting how a certain meeting between George W. Bush and Tony Blair probably went as a certain invasion was discussed…

The comics conversation concludes with sneaky peeks at then-upcoming projects Fatale and European album Void 01 and we know just how damn good those both turned out…

Also sporting a healthy Bibliography section, heartfelt Acknowledgements and a Biography page, this massively entertaining, vibrant tome is as much an incisive and philosophical treatise on work-ethic as celebration of a stellar career telling stories in pictures: a beautiful, breathtaking and brilliantly inspirational compendium for the next generation of artists and writers, whatever their age.

If you already have the urge to make pictures but want a little encouragement, this rousing celebration offers all the encouragement you could possibly hope for – and is just plain lovely to look at too.
© 2013 Dynamite Entertainment. All artworks, characters, images and contributions © their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved.

Bob Powell’s Complete Cave Girl


By Gardner Fox & Bob Powell, with James Vance, John Wooley, Mark Schultz & various (Kitchen Sink/Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-700-3

Like every art form, comics can be readily divided into masterpieces and populist pap, but that damning assessment necessarily comes with a bunch of exclusions and codicils.

Periodical publications, like all pop songs, movies and the entirety of television’s output (barring schools programming), are designed to sell to masses of consumers. As such the product must reflect the target and society at a specific moment in time and perforce quickly adapt and change with every variation in taste or fashion.

Although very much an artefact of its time I consider “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” by The Buzzcocks to be the perfect pop song, but I’m not going to waste time trying to convince anybody of the fact.

For me, and perhaps only for me, it just is.

The situation is most especially true of comics – especially those created before they gained any kind of credibility: primarily deemed by their creators and publishers as a means of parting youngsters from disposable cash. The fact that so many have been found to possess redeeming literary and artistic merit or social worth is post hoc rationalisation.

Those creators striving for better, doing the very best they could because of their inner artistic drives, were being rewarded with just as meagre a financial reward as the shmoes just phoning it in for the paycheck…

That sad state of affairs in periodical publication wasn’t helped by the fact that most editors thought they knew what the readership wanted – safe, prurient gratification – and mostly they were right.

Even so, from such swamps gems occasionally emerged…

The entire genre of “Jungle Girls” is one fraught with perils for modern readers. Barely clad, unattainable, (usually) white paragons of feminine pulchritude lording it over superstitious primitive races is one that is now pretty hard to digest, but frankly so are most of the attitudes of our grandfathers’ time.

However, ways can be found to accommodate such crystallised or outdated attitudes, especially when reading from a suitably detached historical perspective and even more so when the art is crafted by a master storyteller like Bob Powell.

After all, it’s not that big a jump from fictionalised 1950s jungles to the filmic metropolises of today where leather armoured (usually white) Adonises with godlike power paternalistically watch over us, telling we lumpy, dumpy, ethnically mixed losers how to live and be happy…

Sorry, I all comics in all genres from all eras, but sometimes the “guilty pleasure” meter on my conscience just redlines and I can’t stop it. Just remember, it’s not real…

As businessmen, editors and publishers knew what hormonal kids wanted to see and they gave it to them. It’s no different today. Just take a look at any comic-shop shelf or cover listings site and see how many fully-clad, small-breasted females you can spot…

Cave Girl was one of the last entries into the surprisingly long-lived Jungle Queen genre and consequently looks relatively mild in comparison to other titles in regard to suggestive or prurient titillation.

Here the action-adventure side of the equation was always most heavily stressed and readers of the time could see far more salacious material at every movie house if they need to.

End of self-gratifying apologies. Let’s talk about Bob…

Stanley Robert Pawlowski was born in 1916 in Buffalo, New York, and studied at the Pratt Institute in Manhattan before joining one of the earliest comics-packaging outfits: the Eisner-Iger Shop.

He was a solid and dependable staple of American comicbook’s Golden Age, illustrating a variety of key features. He drew original Jungle Queen Sheena in Jumbo Comics plus other Jungle Girl features and Spirit of ‘76 for Harvey’s Pocket Comics.

He handled assorted material for Timely titles such as Captain America in All-Winners Comics, Tough Kid Comics plus such genre material as Gale Allen and the Women’s Space Battalion for anthologies like Planet Comics, Mystery Men Comics and Wonder Comics.

Recently he was revealed to have co-scripted/created Blackhawk as well as drawing Loops and Banks in Military Comics as well as so many more now near-forgotten strips: all under a variety of English-sounding pseudonyms, since the tone of the times was rather unforgiving for creative people of minority origins.

Eventually the artist settled on S. Bob Powell and had his name legally changed…

Probably his most well-remembered and highly regarded tour of duty was on Mr. Mystic in Will Eisner’s Spirit Section newspaper insert. After serving in WWII, Bob came home and quit to set up his own studio. Eisner never forgave him.

Powell – with his assistants Howard Nostrand, Martin Epp and George Siefringer – soon established a solid reputation for quality, versatility and reliability: working for Fawcett (Vic Torry & His Flying Saucer, Hot Rod Comics, Lash Larue), Harvey Comics (Man in Black, Adventures in 3-D and True 3-D) and on Street and Smith’s Shadow Comics.

He was particularly prolific in many titles for Magazine Enterprises (ME), including TV tie-in Bobby Benson’s B-Bar-B Riders, Red Hawk in Straight Arrow, Jet Powers and the short but bombastic run of quasi-superhero Strong Man.

Powell easily turned his hand to a vast range of War, Western, Science Fiction, Crime, Comedy and Horror material: consequently generating as a by-product some of the best and most glamorous “Good Girl art” of the era, both in comics and in premiums/strip packages for business.

In the 1960s he pencilled the infamous Mars Attacks cards, illustrated Bessie Little’s Teena-a-Go-Go and the Bat Masterson strip for the newspapers and ended his days drawing Daredevil, the Human Torch and Giant-Man for Marvel.

This captivating hardback compilation gathers all the Cave Girl appearances – written by ubiquitous jobbing scripter Gardner Fox – from numerous ME publications. The company employed a truly Byzantine method of numbering their comicbooks so I’ll cite Thun’da #2-6 (1953), Cave Girl #4 (1953-1954) and Africa, Thrilling Land of Mystery #1 (1955) simply for the sake of brevity and completeness, knowing that it makes no real difference to your enjoyment of what’s to come.

This splendid tome includes a Biography of Bob, an incisive Introduction from Mark Schultz and an erudite essay – ‘King of the Jungle Queens’– by James Vance and John Wooley, diligently examining the origins of the genre (courtesy of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, William Henry Hudson’s novel Green Mansions and a slew of B-movies); its development in publishing; the effect of the phenomenon and Powell’s overall contributions to comics in a far more even-handed and informed way than I can manage…

That done it’s time to head to an Africa that never existed for action and adventure beyond compare. Cave Girl started as a back-up strip in Thun’da #2; a primeval barbarian saga set in an antediluvian region of the Dark Continent where dinosaurs still lived.

In ‘The Ape God of Kor’ the mighty primitive encounters a blonde stranger who can speak to birds and beasts, and helps her escape the unwanted attentions of a bestial tyrant. When that’s not enough to deter the monstrous suitor, Thun’da and Cave Girl have no choice but to topple his empire…

In #3 the wild woman met ‘The Man Who Served Death!’ – a criminal from the outer world whose hunger for gold and savage brutality necessitated his urgent removal from the land of the living. Cave Girl’s beloved animal allies were being wantonly slaughtered to appease ‘The Shadow God of Korchak!’, forcing the gorgeous guardian of the green to topple the lost kingdom’s debauched queen, after which the tireless champion tackled a trio of sadistic killers from the civilised world in ‘Death Comes Three Ways!’

A rather demeaning comedy sidekick debuted in ‘The Little Man Who Was All There!’ from Thun’da #6 as pompous pigmy bumbler Bobo attached himself to Cave Girl as her protector…

From there the forest monarch leaped into her own title, beginning with Cave Girl #11. ‘The Pool of Life!’ delved back in time to when a scientific expedition was wiped out, leaving little blonde toddler Carol Mantomer to fend for herself. Happily, the child was adopted by Kattu the wolf and grew tall and strong and mighty…

The obligatory origin dispensed with, the story proceeds to reveal how two white explorers broach the lost valley in time to reap their deserved fate after finding a little lake with mystic properties…

Tables are turned when explorer Luke Hardin deduces Cave Girl’s true identity and convinces the wild thing to come with him to Nairobi to claim her inheritance. Already appalled by the gadgets and morass of humanity in ‘The City of Terror!’, Carol’s decision to leave is cemented by her only living relative’s attempts to murder her for her inheritance…

En route home, her wild beauty arouses the desires of millionaire hunter Alan Brandon, but his forceful pursuit and attempted abduction soon teaches him he has a ‘Tiger by the Tail!’

Her trek done, Cave Girl traverses high mountains and finds Alan and Luke have been captured by beast-like primitives and must face the ‘Spears of the Snowmen’ to save them both…

Even the usually astoundingly high-quality scripting of veteran Gardner Fox couldn’t do much with the formulaic strictures of the sub-genre but he always tried his best, as in Cave Girl #12 which opened with ‘The Devil Boat!’ – a submarine disgorging devious crooks in death-masks intent on plundering the archaeological treasures found by Luke… Then when an explorer steals a sacred cache of rubies he finds that even Cave Girl can’t prevent him becoming ‘Prey of the Headhunters!’

Fantastic fantasy replaces crass commercial concerns as ‘The Amazon Assassins’ ravage villages under Cave Girl’s protection, seeking to expand their empire. The Women Warriors have no conception of the hornet’s nest they are stirring up…

Cave Girl #13 took its lead tale from newspaper headlines as the jungle defender clashed with ‘The Mau Mau Killers!’ killing innocents and destabilising the region, after which ‘Altar of the Axe’ features the return of the all-conquering Amazons who believe they can counter their arch-enemy’s prowess with a battalion of war elephants.

Their grievous error then seamlessly segues into a battle with escaped convict Buck Maldin. ‘The Jungle Badman’ is beaten by Cave Girl but it’s greedy buffoon Bobo who quickly regrets claiming the reward.

Powell reached a creative zenith with the illustrations for Cave Girl #14 (1954), his solid linework and enticing composition augmented by a burst of purely decorative design which made ‘The Man Who Conquered Death’ a dramatic tour de force.

When a series of murders and resurrections lead Cave Girl to a mad scientist who has found a time machine, she is transformed into an aged crone but still possesses the force of will to beat the deranged meddler…

A tad more prosaic, ‘The Shining Gods’ finds a rejuvenated Cave Girl and Luke stalking thieves stealing tribal relics only to uncover a Soviet plot to secure Africa’s radium, after which the queen of the jungle is “saved” by well-intentioned rich woman Leona Carter and brought back to civilisation.

Happily, after poor Carol endures a catalogue of modern mishaps which equate to ‘Terror in the Town’, Cave Girl is allowed to return to her true home…

The official series ended there, but ME had one last issue ready to print and deftly shifted emphasis by re-badging the package as Africa, Thrilling Land of Mystery #1. It appeared in 1955, sporting a Comics Code Authority symbol. Inside however, it was still formulaic but beautifully illustrated Cave Girl who exposed a conniving witch doctor using ‘The Volcano Fury’ to fleece natives, restoring ‘The Lost Juju’ of the devout Wamboolis whilst stopping a murderous explorer stealing a million dollar gem and crushing a potential uprising by taking a fateful ride on ‘The Doom Boat’

And then she was gone.

Like the society it protected from subversion and corruption, the strictures of the Comics Code frowned on females disporting themselves freely or appearing able to cope without a man, and the next half-decade was one where women were either submissive, domesticated, silly objects of amusement or just plain marital manhunters. It would be the 1970s before strong, truly independent female characters reappeared in comicbooks…

Whatever your political leanings or social condition, Cave Girl – taken strictly on her own merits – is one of the mostly beautifully rendered characters in pictorial fiction and a tribute to the talents of Bob Powell and his team. If you love perfect comic storytelling, of its time, but transcending fashion or trendiness, this is a treasure just waiting to be rediscovered.
Bob Powell’s Complete Cave Girl compilation © 2014 Kitchen, Lind and Associates LLC. Cave Girl is a trademark of AC Comics, successors in interest to Magazine Enterprises and is used here with permission of AC Comics. Introduction © 2014 Mark Schultz. “King of the Jungle Queens” essay © 2014 James Vance and John Wooley. All rights reserved.

Lovers’ Lane – the Hall-Mills Mystery


By Rick Geary (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-628-0

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 stories, 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 where 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 and Trotsky and the multi-volumed Treasury of Victorian Murder series, Geary has grown into a grand master and unique presence in both comics and True Crime literature. His graphic reconstructions of some of the most infamous murder mysteries recorded 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 scoured 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, with this volume focusing on a little-remembered scandal which seared the headlines during the “Gilded Age” of suburban middleclass America.

Lovers’ Lane – The Hall-Mills Mystery describes a case of infidelity which rocked staid, upright New Jersey in 1922 and – thanks to the crusading/muckraking power of the press – much of the world beyond its borders. The re-examination of the case begins here after a bibliography and detailed maps of ‘The City of New Brunswick’ and ‘Scene of the Hall-Mills Murders’, setting the scene for a grim tragedy of lust, jealousy, deception and affronted propriety…

The account proper opens in ‘Under the Crabapple Tree’ as a well-to-do conurbation of prosperous church-goers is rocked by the discovery of two bodies on park land between two farms.

Reverend Edward W. Hall of the Church of St. John the Evangelist was found with a single fatal gunshot wound, placed beside and cradling the corpse of Mrs. Eleanor R. Mills, a parishioner and member of the choir. Her fatal injuries easily fall into the category we would now call overkill: three bullet wounds, throat slashed from ear-to-ear and her throat and vocal cords removed and missing…

‘The Victims’ are soon the subject of a clumsy, botched and jurisdictionally contested investigation which nevertheless reveals Reverend Hall was particularly admired by many women of the congregation and, despite being married to a wealthy heiress older than himself, was engaged in a not especially secret affair with Mrs. Mills.

This fact is confirmed by the cascade of passionate love letters scattered around the posed corpses…

The case soon stalls: tainted from the first by gawkers and souvenir hunters trampling the crime scene and a united front of non-cooperation from the clergyman’s powerful and well-connected family who also insist on early burial of the victims.

However, the police doggedly proceed in ‘The Search for Evidence’, interviewing family and friends, forming theories and fending off the increasingly strident interference of journalists.

With pressure mounting on all sides – a persistent popular theory is that the victims were killed by the Ku Klux Klan who were active in the State and particularly opposed to adultery – the bodies are exhumed for the first of many autopsies. Not long after, the youngsters who first found the bodies are re-interviewed, leading to an incredible confession which later proves to be fallacious.

It is not the only one. A local character known as “the Pig Woman” also comes forward claiming to have been present at the killing. Eventually the police of two separate regions find themselves presiding over ‘The Case to Nowhere’: awash with too much evidence and too many witnesses with wildly varying stories which don’t support the scant few facts…

In the midst of this sea of confusion a Grand Jury is finally convened and peremptorily closes after five days without issuing indictments against anybody…

‘Fours Years Later’ the case is suddenly and dramatically reopened when the Widow Hall’s maid – whilst petitioning for divorce – is revealed to have received $5000 dollars to withhold information on her mistress’ whereabouts on the night of the double murder. When the New York papers get wind of this story they unleash a tidal wave of journalistic excess which culminates in a fresh investigation and a new trial, scrupulously and compellingly reconstructed here by master showman Geary…

With all the actors in the drama having delivered their versions of events at last, this gripping confection concludes with a compelling argument assessing ‘Who Did It?’

This is a shocking tale with no winners and Geary’s meticulous presentation as he dissects the crime, illuminates the major and minor players and dutifully pursues all to their recorded ends is truly beguiling.

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.

Seductive storytelling, erudite argument and audacious drawing give these tales an irresistible dash and verve which makes for unforgettable reading, and such superb storytelling is an ideal exemplar of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simple fantasy entertainment. These merrily morbid murder masterpieces should be mandatory reading for every mystery addict and crime collector.
© 2012 Rick Geary.

The Shadow volume 2: Revolution


By Victor Gischler, Jack Herbert, Aaron Campbell, Giovanni Timpano & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-361-2

In the early 1930s, The Shadow gave thrill-starved readers their measured doses of extraordinary excitement via cheaply produced pulp periodical novels, and over the mood-drenched airwaves, through his own radio show.

“Pulps” were published in every style and genre in their hundreds every month, ranging from the truly excellent to the pitifully dire, but for exotic or esoteric adventure-lovers there were two star who outshone all others. The Superman of his day was Doc Savage, whilst the premier dark, relentless creature of the night dispensing terrifying grim justice was the putative hero under discussion here.

Radio series Detective Story Hour – based on stand-alone yarns from the Street & Smith publication Detective Story Magazine – used a spooky voiced narrator (variously Orson Welles, James LaCurto or Frank Readick Jr.) to introduce each tale. He was dubbed “the Shadow” and from the very start on July 31st 1930, he was more popular than the stories he highlighted.

The Shadow evolved into a proactive hero solving instead of narrating mysteries and, on April 1st 1931, began starring in his own printed pulp series, written by the incredibly prolific Walter Gibson under the house pseudonym Maxwell Grant. On September 26th 1937 the radio show officially became The Shadow with the eerie motto “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Men? The Shadow knows!” ringing out unforgettably over the nation’s airwaves.

Over the next eighteen years 325 novels were published, usually at the rate of two a month. The uncanny crusader spawned comicbooks, seven movies, a newspaper strip and all the merchandising paraphernalia you’d expect of a superstar brand.

The pulp series officially ended in 1949 although Gibson and others added to the canon during the 1960s when a pulp/fantasy revival gripped America, generating reprinted classic stories and a run of new adventures as paperback novels.

In graphic terms The Shadow was a major player. His national newspaper strip – by Vernon Greene – launched on June 17th 1940 and when comicbooks really took off the Man of Mystery had his own four-colour title; running from March 1940 to September 1949.

Archie Comics published a controversial contemporary comicbook in 1964-1965 under their Radio/Mighty Comics imprint, by Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, John Rosenberger and latterly Paul Reinman; and in 1973 DC acquired the rights to produce a captivating, brief and definitive series of classic comic adventures unlike any other superhero title then on the stands.

DC periodically revived the venerable vigilante. After the runaway success of Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchman, Howard Chaykin was allowed to utterly overhaul the vintage feature. This led to further, adult-oriented iterations (and even one cracking outing from Marvel) before Dark Horse assumed the license of the quintessential grim avenger for the latter half of the 1990s and beyond.

Dynamite Entertainment picked up the option in 2011 and, whilst republishing many of those other publisher’s earlier efforts, began a series of new monthly Shadow comics.

Set in the turbulent 1930s and war years that followed, these were crafted by some of the top writers in the industry, each taking their shot at the immortal legend, and all winningly depicted by a succession of extremely gifted illustrators.

This second volume – collecting #7-12 of the monthly comicbook from 2013 – comes courtesy of Victor Gischler (Gun Monkeys, Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth, Kiss Me Satan), again throwing a spotlight on the increasing deadly geopolitics of a civilisation sliding inexorably into another World War….

His scripts were variously realised by Jack Herbert, Aaron Campbell, Giovanni Timpano, Ivan Nunes & Carlos Lopez, and the action opens with a self-contained prelude that begins with the Master of the Macabre suffering from uncharacteristic bad dreams…

Very few people know that the black-cloaked fist of final retribution known as The Shadow masquerades by day as abrasive, indolent playboy Lamont Cranston. Most are agents in his employ and they are all aware of his semi-mystical abilities to detect thoughts and cloud the minds of men, but not that in the past few days those abilities have seemingly waned and led to the death of an innocent…

Engaging veteran Great War pilot Miles Crofton, Cranston embarks on a journey to the Himalayan region where he long ago studied under august adepts of the arcane. However, his voyage is interrupted in Nepal when he encounters a brutal bandit leader dubbed Red Raja. This thuggish crimelord seems to have powers and abilities similar and equal to his own…

Eschewing immediate confrontation, Cranston delves deep into the past and eventually learns the Raja also studied with the esoteric “Masters”. Tragically, when his innate evil nature forced them to expel him, the student returned with men and guns; wiping out the entire enclave of puissant accumulated knowledge…

Armed with information and fuelled by righteous fury, The Shadow then assaults Red Raja’s fortress, single-handedly eradicating his army of rogues before enacting final judgement…

Weeks later, vacationing in Paris whilst Miles has their plane repaired, the restless Shadow passes his time hunting down human predators and becomes emotionally embroiled in a missing persons case.

The trail leads to a grand soiree at the Spanish Embassy where Cranston makes a particular splash with the assorted dignitaries and persons of wealth and high station, particularly after loudly declaring that he is an arms dealer with product to sell.

It is 1937 and the civil war in Spain has all but stalled, with both sides afflicted by attrition and exhaustion…

Horrified Ambassador Ramirez is only too happy to fob off the tiresome Cranston on his military attaché. As soon as he sees the devastating Major Esmeralda Aguilar, the Shadow knows she is no ordinary woman…

The swaggering millionaire is only too eager to ditch the stuffy party with the exotic spy, but their intimate drive through the City of Lights is almost ended by a machine gun attack. Then Cranston discovers just how dangerous his companion truly is…

The next day Miles resurfaces with news on a freighter full of munitions headed for Spain and the final clue to the disappearances the Shadow has been investigating. Even with mental faculties and powers diminished and compromised, the Dark Avenger is clear on where his next destination lies…

Intercepting the gunrunners as they seek to offload their illicit cargo at a Spanish port, the Shadow dispenses his brand of justice before vanishing, and twelve hours later Lamont Cranston arrives in Barcelona, unsure of what trick of fate or his own subconscious has brought him there.

His mystically-attuned senses go into overdrive once he meets an inoffensive British volunteer in the Socialist Brigade calling himself “George Orwell”…

After befriending the oddly magnetic militiaman, Cranston excuses himself and resumes his trail of guns whilst Orwell returns to his unit in Aragon. Diligent hunting takes the Shadow to a warehouse where a gang led by a masked woman named Black Sparrow are attempting to sell the munitions to representatives of the underworld.

When the crooks try a double-cross they are savagely wiped out by the Sparrow as her men stand idly by, and from his hidden vantage point the Shadow realises just how extraordinary Major Aguilar truly is…

Soon the Avenger is risking spectacular airborne death; chasing her back to an ancient castle in the Aragon Region where he uncovers a bold scheme by an international cabal to place a third ruler on the throne of Spain. Of course, when he blazes in to end the conspiracy, Cranston finds more than he bargained for.

“El Rey” is far from the dominating despot he appears, and the true mastermind behind the plot is far more of a match for the Shadow than the grim guardian could possibly have anticipated.

And that’s when fate reveals the potential value of a certain nondescript British soldier of ideology and fortune…

This historically-flavoured jaunt then concludes with one last hurrah as Miles and Cranston belatedly return to New York just in time for the Shadow to fixate on a gang of ruthless bank robbers terrorising the city with their bold and lethal raids.

Broaching his contacts on the police force and rampaging through the ranks of the underworld, the Shadow turns the city upside down until at last a grudging tip takes him to a certain Chinatown whorehouse where a most exotic creature provides all the details he need to exact his vengeance on the guilty.

Now all that remains is to trigger the bloody end…

Dynamite publish periodicals with a vast array of cover variants and here a vast gallery features dozens of iconic alternate visions from Alex Ross, John Cassaday, Darwyn Cooke, Francesco Francavilla, Tim Bradstreet, Mike Mayhew, Michael Golden, Jack Herbert and Sean Chen to delight any art lover’s eyes and heart.

Sardonic, uncompromising and packed with subtle nuance, Revolution is a superb addition to the annals of the quintessential Dark Knight, and one no one addicted to action and mystery should be without.
The Shadow ® & © 2013 Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. d/b/a Conde Nast. All Rights Reserved.

Mystery Girl volume 1


By Paul Tobin, Alberto J. Albuquerque, Marissa Louise & Marshall Dillon (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-959-5

There’s a fabulous wave of smart, entertaining stand-alone comics on the market these days, offering readers a single uncomplicated hit of graphic entertainment without the grief of buying into massive back-history or infinite cross-continuity.

One of the best I’ve seen recently is the compilation of a fierce, frenetic and funny debut 4-issue miniseries from 2015, starring the most infallible detective of all time.

As crafted by Paul Tobin (Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, Plants vs. Zombies, Bandette, Colder) and Alberto J. Albuquerque (Letter 44) – with colours by Marissa Louise and letters from Marshall Dillon – this slim, sleek, slick yarn seems certain to lead to more enigmas excitingly unravelled in our immediate future…

Like any ancient city, London has its fair share of unique characters and unsolved mysteries, but that’s never the case whenever Trine Dorothy Hampstead sets up her “office” on the pavements and begins chatting…

The effusive, ebullient young woman has an incredible gift. She knows the answer to any question she’s asked. Instantly and infallibly. “Where are my keys?” “Did Dad leave a will?” “Where is my son’s body?”

All inquiries get an instant response and every answer is correct…

Trine is a local celebrity in her community, not only for the fact that she’s never judgemental or exploits her gift, but also because everyone knows there’s only one mystery the poor lass can’t solve: how she got her uncanny power…

Trine has an immense taste for life at full throttle and abiding desire to help those in need: regularly consulting with local private eye Alfie and aiding her perpetually sceptical boyfriend – and Metropolitan police constable – Ken Bloke in his work, even though he refuses to believe in her gift…

Her already extraordinary life takes a big step into the unknown when ancient DNA specialist Jovie Ghislain comes to Trine with a fascinating query. The biologist has been researching a 1930’s expedition to the wild Sakha region of Siberia. In the notes of the fabled Weimar-Steinberg trek, the explorers detail how they uncovered a frozen mammoth carcass so perfectly preserved that the meat was still fresh and edible.

The records are tragically incomplete and Ghislain – desperate to secure viable DNA from the deceased giant – wants to know where the rest of the body is now…

The answer is not immediately forthcoming. In fact Trine refuses to say anything unless she can join Jovie’s excursion and personally show the scientists where it is.

Trine thrives on new experiences and this time her gift has paid a huge dividend. As preparations are made, she shrugs off all questions from friends and acquaintances but does confide in her pet budgie Candide. The reason that mammoth meat was so fresh is obvious. It hadn’t been dead long. Now she’s off to see its kin in the only place on earth where the mighty beasts still live…

Sadly, the original expedition and its journals are also the subject of a search by wealthy and far less friendly folk. However, when a mystery billionaire commissions a psychopathic hitman to find all the original journals and stop the new expedition, even the deadly Linford is taken with Trine. Foregoing his usual callous efficiency, the murdering mercenary takes his time, insinuating himself into the life of all her friends. It’s all working out fine until the Mystery Girl is asked about her pal’s latest boyfriend and suddenly she knows all about the new beau, including his real profession…

Hampstead’s plan to deal with him is shockingly effective, but doesn’t go nearly far enough…

Believing the coast clear, Trine and Jovie head for the Arctic Circle, blissfully unaware that their trail is being dogged by Linford’s sinister paymaster and that the killer himself is down but not out. Instead he has devised a cunning method to turn his opponent’s gift against her…

Yet again, however, the obsessive hitman has underestimated Trine’s power, ingenuity and ruthless resolve but when finesse fails at least he can always fall back on overwhelming firepower and direct action…

With the explorers nearing their frozen El Dorado, the bad guys make their move, revealing what’s actually behind all the death and destruction. Now it no longer matters if Trine is asked the right question or not…

As the ghastly true story of the Weimar-Steinberg expedition is exposed, their heirs and inheritors will prove willing to commit mass murder to keep the bloody secret covered up, but Trine asks herself a different question and a life-saving solution pops into her head…

Fast-paced, spectacularly action-packed, witty and superbly balanced as hero and villain play cat-&-mouse around the world, Mystery Girl is a funny, imaginative, brutally uncompromising introduction to a potent and engaging new female character who seems destined for greatness.

Also included are fascinating bonus features including a copious and heavily annotated Sketchbook section with commentary from Tobin and Albuquerque, concept to finished art examples, cover roughs and designs and unused cover art, revealing the masses of effort that went into making this one of the best character debuts of the year.

Don’t ask why you weren’t in at the beginning of her climb to stardom: get Mystery Girl and become someone with (some of) the answers…
Mystery Girl™ & © 2015, 2016 Paul Tobin and Alberto J. Albuquerque. Mystery Girl™ and all prominently featured characters are trademarks of Paul Tobin and Alberto J. Albuquerque.

Worry Doll


By Matt Coyle (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80616-7

In the comics biz it’s not too often that something truly different, graphically outstanding and able to subvert or redirect the medium’s established forms comes along.

Sadly, when it does we usually ignore it whilst whining that there’s nothing fresh or new in view.

That’s pretty much what happened with Matt Coyle’s astounding Worry Doll when, after six years of work on the dark epic, it was published by Mam Tor in 2007 and sank from the collective audience’s sight after causing but the barest of ripples.

To be fair, British-born, Australia-based Coyle (see also, if you can, his mordant, socio-political satire Registry of Death) did win the 2007 Rue Morgue award for Best Comic Book Artist for his incredible photo-realistic line-art on Worry Doll, but the innovative delivery of one of the creepiest tales in comics history never garnered the acclaim it deserved in our superhero-saturated toy, TV and film license-loaded entertainment arena.

Now, thanks once again to Dover Books’ Comics & Graphic Novels division, another lost classic of the art form has a second chance to shine, so let’s show some proper respect and make this edition the popular success it should be…

A soft-cover monochrome landscape affair; enigmatic observations and conversations are delivered in the oldest format of pictorial narrative, with blocks of text on one page balanced by an illustrated panel or sequence of images on the facing folio, as a most distressing story unfolds…

A happy home becomes a charnel scene of slaughter and in the aftermath, amidst the bloody remains of a recently-despatched family, a trio of beloved mannequins intended to assuage anxiety take on ghastly animation and leave in search of answers – or is it actually just different questions?

Making their way across familiarly picturesque and simultaneously terrifying country, the dolls increasingly depend on the kindness of strangers, until their nightmare road-trip is eventually subsumed in someone’s story. As our perspective shifts, we get clues that other hands are working these puppets and the story is not as it seems nor quite done yet…  

Spooky and subversive, blending classic noir mood and tone with storybook quests and psychologically daunting introspection, Worry Doll operates on multiple layers of revelation, both in the staggeringly detailed illustration and the prose accompaniment; constantly offering hints and forebodings if not answers…

With a new Foreword from comics author and filmmaker Shaun Tan (The Lost Thing, The Red Tree, The Arrival) who sagely deconstructs the journey and Coyle’s virtuosity with line and form, this is a complex, engaging and ominously beautiful masterwork no true lover of comics or addict of sinister suspense can afford to miss.
© 2007 by Matthew Coyle. Foreword © 2016 by Shaun Tan. All rights reserved.