Lex Luthor: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Bill Finger, Edmund Hamilton, Len Wein, Cary Bates, Elliot S. Maggin, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Brian Azzarello, Paul Cornell, Geoff Johns, John Sikela, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, Jackson Guice, Howard Porter, Matthew Clark, Lee Bermejo, Frank Quitely, Pete Woods, Doug Mahnke & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6207-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Sound Reason to Keep up with Science Classes as well as Reading… 9/10

Closely paralleling the evolution of the groundbreaking Man of Steel, the exploits of the mercurial Lex Luthor are a vital aspect of comics’ very fabric. In whatever era you choose, the ultimate mad scientist epitomises the eternal feud between Brains and Brawn and over those decades has become the Man of Steel’s true antithesis and nemesis as well as an ideal perfect indicator of what different generations deem evil.

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of venerable DC icons – is available in hardback Trade Paperback and digital formats and offers a sequence of snapshots detailing how Luthor has evolved in his never-ending battle with Superman.

The groundbreaking appearances selected are preceded here by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in the villain’s development, beginning with ‘Part I: 1940-1969 The Making of a Mastermind’. After history and deconstruction comes sinister adventure as the grim genius debuted in ‘Europe at War Part 2’ (by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster from Action Comics #23, April 1940).

Although not included here Action #22 had loudly declared ‘Europe at War’ – a tense and thinly-disguised call to arms for the still neutral USA – and as the Man of Tomorrow tried to stem the bloodshed the tale became a continued story (almost unheard of in those early days of funny-book publishing).

Spectacularly concluding in #23, Clark Kent’s European investigations revealed a red-headed fiend employing outlandish science to foment war for profit and intent on conquering the survivors as a modern-day Genghis Khan. Of course, the Man of Steel strenuously objected…

Next comes ‘The Challenge of Luthor’ from Superman #4 (Spring/March1940) and created at almost the same time: a landmark clash with the rogue scientist who, back then, was still a roguish red-headed menace with a bald and pudgy henchman. Somehow in the heat of burgeoning deadlines, master got confused with servant in later adventures and the public perception of the villain irrevocably crystalized as the sinister slap-headed super-threat we know today…

This story – by Siegel & Shuster – involves an earthquake machine and ends with Luthor exhausting his entire arsenal of death-dealing devices in attempts to destroy his enemy with no negligible effect…

From Superman #17 (July 1942), ‘When Titans Clash’, by Siegel & John Sikela, depicts how the burly bald bandit uses a mystic powerstone to survive his justly deserved execution and steals Superman’s abilities. However, the Action Ace stills maintains his wily intellect and outsmarts his titanically-empowered foe…

Jumping ahead ten years, ‘Superman’s Super Hold-Up’ World’s Finest Comics #59 (July 1952, by Bill Finger, Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye) is a supremely typical duel of wits in which the Einstein of Crime renders the Metropolis Marvel helpless with the application of a devilish height- and pressure-sensitive mega explosive device – but only for a little while…

World’s Finest Comics #88 (June 1957) provides ‘Superman and Batman’s Greatest Foes!’ (by Edmond Hamilton, Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye) which finds “reformed” master criminals Lex and the Joker ostensibly setting up in the commercial robot business – which nobody really believed – and as it happens quite correctly…

As the mythology grew and Luthor became a crucial component of Superman’s story, the bad boy was retroactively introduced into the hero’s childhood. ‘How Luthor Met Superboy!’ (from Adventure Comics #271, April 1960 by Siegel & Al Plastino) details how Superboy and the budding genius were pals until a lab accident burned off the human’s hair and in his prideful fury Lex blamed the Kryptonian and swore revenge…

In ‘The Conquest of Superman’ (Action Comics #277, June 1961 by Bill Finger, Curt Swan & John Forte) the authorities paroled Lex to help with an imminent crisis only to have the double-dealer escape as soon as the problem was fixed. By the time Superman returned to Earth, Luthor was ready for him…

Superman #164, October 1963, featured ‘The Showdown between Luthor and Superman’ (by Hamilton, Swan & George Klein): the ultimate Silver Age confrontation between the Caped Kryptonian and his greatest foe, pitting the lifelong foes in an unforgettable confrontation on the post-apocalyptic planet Lexor – a lost world of forgotten science and fantastic beasts – which resulted in ‘The Super-Duel!’ and displayed a whole new side to Superman’s previously two-dimensional arch-enemy.

Part II: 1970-1986 Luthor Unleashed previews how a more sophisticated readership demanded greater depth in their reading matter and creators responded by adding a human dimension to the avaricious mad scientist, as seen in ‘The Man Who Murdered the Earth’ from Superman #248 (February 1972 by Len Wein, Swan & Murphy Anderson).

Here Luthor dictates his final testament after creating a Galactic Golem to destroy his sworn enemy, and ponders how his obsession caused the destruction of Earth…

For the 45th anniversary of Action Comics Superman’s two greatest enemies – the other being Brainiac – were radically re-imagined for an increasingly harder, harsher world. ‘Luthor Unleashed’ in issue #544 (June 1983, by Cary Bates Swan & Murphy Anderson) saw the eternal duel between Lex and Superman lead to the destruction of Lexor and death of Luthor’s new family after the techno-terror once again chose vengeance over love. Crushed by guilt and hatred, the maniacal genius reinvents himself as an implacable human engine of terror and destruction…

Elliot S. Maggin, Swan & Al Williamson then offer a glimpse into the other motivating force in Luthor’s life by exposing ‘The Einstein Connection’ (Superman #416, February 1986) wherein a trawl through the outlaw’s life reveals a hidden link to the greatest physicist in history…

The Silver Age of comicbooks had utterly revolutionised a flagging medium, bringing a modicum of sophistication to the returning sub-genre of masked mystery men. However, after decades of cosy wonderment, Crisis on Infinite Earths transformed the entire DC Universe and led to the creation of a harder, tougher Superman. John Byrne’s radical re-imagining was most potently manifested in Luthor, who morphed from brilliant, obsessed bandit to ruthless billionaire capitalist… as seen in the introduction to Part III: 1986-2000 Captain of Industry

The tension begins with ‘The Secret Revealed’ (Superman #2, February 1987 by John Byrne, Terry Austin & Keith Williams) when the relentless tycoon kidnaps everyone Superman loves to learn his secret and after collating all the data obtained by torture and other means jumps to the most mistaken conclusion of his misbegotten life…

‘Metropolis – 900 Miles’ (Superman volume 2 #9, September1987 by Byrne, & Karl Kesel) then explores the sordid cruelty of the oligarch as he cruelly torments a pretty waitress with a loathsome offer and promises of a new life…

‘Talking Heads’ appeared in Action Comics #678 (June 1992, by Roger Stern, Jackson Guice & Ande Parks) set after Luthor – riddled with cancer from constantly wearing a green Kryptonite ring to keep Superman at arms’ length – has secretly returned to Metropolis as his own son in a hastily cloned new young and handsome body. Acting as a philanthropist and with Supergirl as his girlfriend/arm candy, young Luthor has everybody fooled, Sadly, everything looks like falling apart when rogue geneticist Dabney Donovan is arrested and threatens to tell an incredible secret he knows about the richest man in town…

‘Hostile Takeover’ comes from JLA #11 1997) wherein Grant Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell opened interstellar saga ‘Rock of Ages’ with the Justice League facing a newly-assembled, corporately-inspired Injustice Gang organised by Lex and run on his ruthlessly efficient commercial business model.

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman are targeted by a coalition of arch-enemies comprising Chairman-of-the-Board Lex, the Joker, Circe, Mirror Master, Ocean Master and Doctor Light with ghastly doppelgangers of the World’s Greatest Heroes raining destruction down all over the globe.

Even with new members Aztek and second generation Green Arrow Connor Hawke on board, the enemy are running the heroes ragged, but the stakes change radically when telepath J’onn J’onzz detects an extinction-level entity heading to Earth from deep space…

The action and tension intensify when the cabal press their advantage whilst New God Metron materialises, warning the JLA that the end of everything is approaching.

As ever, these snippets of a greater saga are more frustrating than fulfilling, so be prepared to hunt down the complete saga. You won’t regret it…

A true Teflon businessman, Lex ended the millennium running for President and Part IV: 2000-Present 21st Century Man follow a prose appraisal with ‘The Why’ from President Luthor Secret Files and Origins #1 (2000, by Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark & Ray Snyder). Here the blueprint to power and road to the White House is deconstructed, picturing the daily frustrations and provocations which inspired the nefarious oligarch to throw his hat into the political ring…

The next (frustratingly incomplete) snippet comes from a miniseries where the antagonist was the star. ‘Lex Luthor Man of Steel Part 3’ by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo offers a dark and brooding look into the heart and soul of Superman’s ultimate and eternal foe: adding gravitas to villainy by explaining Lex’s actions in terms of his belief that the heroic Kryptonian is a real and permanent danger to the spirit of humanity.

Luthor – still believed by the world at large to be nothing more than a sharp and philanthropic industrial mogul – allows us a peek into his psyche: viewing the business and social (not to say criminal) machinations undertaken to get a monolithic skyscraper built in Metropolis. The necessary depths sunk to whilst achieving this ambition, and Lex’s manipulating Superman into clashing with Batman, are powerful metaphors, but the semi-philosophical mutterings – so very reminiscent of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead – although flavoursome, don’t really add anything to Luthor’s character and even serve to dilute much of the pure evil force of his character.

Flawed characters truly make more believable reading, especially in today’s cynical and sophisticated world, but such renovations shouldn’t be undertaken at the expense of the character’s heart. At the end Luthor is again defeated: diminished without travail and nothing has been risked, won or lost. The order restored is of an unsatisfactory and unstable kind, and our look into the villain’s soul has made him smaller, not more understandable.

Lee Bermejo’s art, however, is astoundingly lovely and fans of drawing should consider buying this simply to stare in wonder at the pages of beauty and power that he’s produced here. Or read the entire story in its own collected edition…

Rather more comprehensive and satisfying is ‘The Gospel According to Lex Luthor’ as first seen in All-Star Superman #5. Crafted by Morrison, Frank Quitely & Jamie Grant from September 2006, here an unrepentant Luthor on Death Row grants Clark Kent the interview of his career and scoop of a lifetime, after which ‘The Black Ring Part 5’ (Action Comics #894, December 2010 by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods) confirms the genius’ personal world view as Death of the Endless stops the universe just so she can have a little chat with Lex and see what he’s really like…

This epic trawl through the villain’s published life concludes with a startling tale from Justice League volume 2, #31 (August 2014) as the post-Flashpoint, re-rebooted New 52 DCU again remade Lex into a villain for the latest generation: brilliant, super-rich, conflicted and hungry for public acclaim and approval. In ‘Injustice League Part 2: Power Players’ by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Keith Champagne & Christian Alamy, bad-guy Luthor has helped save the world from extradimensional invaders and now wants to be a hero. His solution is to make the real superheroes invite him to join the Justice League, and that can be accomplished by ferreting out Batman’s secret identity and blackmailing the Dark Knight into championing his admission…

Lex Luthor is arguably the most recognizable villain in comics and can justifiably claim that title in whatever era you choose to concentrate on; goggle-eyed Golden Age, sanitised Silver Age or malignant modern and Post-Modern milieus. This book captures just a fraction of all those superb stories and offers a delicious peek into the dark, unhealthy side of rivalry and competition…

This monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a good bad-guy is a true delight for fans of all ages and vintage.
© 1940, 1942, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1972, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2014, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: A Death in the Family


By Jim Starlin, Marv Wolfman, Jim Aparo, George Pérez & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401225162 (HC)                        978-1-4012-3274-0 (TPB)

Modern comicbooks live or die on the strength of their “Special Event” publishing stunts but every so often such storylines can get away from editors and publishers and take on a life of its own. This usually does not end well for our favourite art form, as the way the greater world views the comics microcosm is seldom how we insiders and cognoscenti see it. Just check out the media frenzies that grew around the Death of Superman or Death of Captain America crossovers…

One of the most controversial comics tales of the last century saw an intriguing marketing attention-grabber go spectacularly off the rails – for all the wrong reasons – to become instantly notorious whilst simultaneously and sadly masking the real merits of the piece.

Created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger & Jerry Robinson, Robin, the Boy Wonder debuted in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940): a juvenile circus acrobat whose parents were murdered by a greedy mob boss. The story of how Batman took the orphaned Dick Grayson under his scalloped wing and trained him to fight crime has been told, retold and revised many times over the decades and still undergoes the odd tweaking to this day

The child Grayson fought beside Batman until 1970 when, as a sign of the turbulent times, he flew the nest, to become a Teen Wonder and college student. His invention as a junior hero for younger readers to identify with had inspired an incomprehensible number of costumed sidekicks and kid crusaders throughout the industry, and Grayson continued in similar vein for the older, more worldly-wise readership of America’s increasingly rebellious youth culture.

Robin even had his own solo series in Star Spangled Comics from 1947-1952, a solo spot in the back of Detective Comics from the end of the 1960s which he alternated and shared with Batgirl, and a starring feature in anthology utility comic Batman Family. During the 1980s the young warrior led the New Teen Titans, re-established a turbulent working relationship with Batman and reinvented himself as Nightwing. This of course left the post of Robin open…

After Grayson’s departure Batman worked alone until he caught a streetwise young urchin trying to steal the Batmobile’s tires. Debuting in Batman #357 (March 1983) this lost boy was Jason Todd, and eventually the little thug became the second Boy Wonder (#368, February 1984), with a short but stellar career, marred only by his impetuosity and tragic links to one of the Caped Crusader’s most unpredictable foes…

Todd had serious emotional problems that became increasingly apparent in the issues leading up to A Death in the Family wherein the street kid became more callous and brutal in response to the daily horrors he was being exposed to. When he caused the death of a vicious, abusive drug-dealer with diplomatic immunity, Todd entered a spiral that culminated in the first unforgettable story-arc collected in this volume (available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions), collectively comprising Batman #426-429, and #440-442 as well as New Teen Titans #60-61 and material from Batman Annual #25.

As Batman #426 (December 1988) opens, Jason is acting ever more violently. Seemingly incapable of rudimentary caution, he is suspended by Batman who believes the boy has not adjusted to the death of his parents. Meanwhile, the Joker is again on the loose. But rather than his usual killing frenzy, the Clown Prince is after mere cash, as the financial disaster of “Reaganomics” has depleted his coffers – meaning he can’t afford his outrageous signature murder gimmicks…

Without purpose, Jason wanders the streets where he grew up. When he sees an old friend of his parents, she reveals a shocking secret. The woman who raised him was not his birth-mother…

She knows of a box of personal papers indicating three women, each of whom might be his true mother. Lost and emotionally volatile, Jason sets out to track them down…

His potential mother is either Lady Shiva, world’s deadliest assassin, Mossad agent Sharmin Rosen or Dr. Sheila Haywood, a famine relief worker in Ethiopia. As the lad bolts for the Middle East and a confrontation with destiny, he is unaware Batman is also in that troubled region, hot on the Joker’s trail as the Maniac of Mirth attempts to sell a stolen nuclear missile to any terrorist who can pay…

The estranged heroes accidentally reunite to foil the plot, and Jason crosses Rosen off his potential mom-list. As Batman offers to help Jason check the remaining candidates the fugitive Joker escapes to Ethiopia. After eliminating Shiva, who has been training terrorists in the deep desert, the heroes finally get to Jason’s true mother Sheila Haywood, unaware that she has been blackmailed into a deadly scam involving stolen relief supplies with the Clown Prince of Crime…

I’m not going to bother with the details of the voting fiasco that plagues all references to this tale: it’s all copiously detailed elsewhere (just Google and see) but suffice to say that to test then-new marketing tools a 1-900 number was established and – thanks to an advanced press campaign – readers were offered the chance to vote on whether Robin would live or die in the story. You can even see the original ad reproduced here…

Jason dies.

The kid had increasingly become a poor fit in the series and this storyline galvanised a new direction with a darker, more driven Batman. The changes came almost immediately as Joker, after killing Jason in a chilling, unforgettably violent manner, becomes UN ambassador for Iran (later revised as the fully fictional Qurac – just in case) and – at the personal request of the Ayatollah himself – attempted to kill the entire UN General Assembly during his inaugural speech.

With echoes of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Superman then becomes a government watchdog tasked with stopping Batman from breaching diplomatic immunity as the vengeance-hungry Caped Crusader attempts to stop the Joker at any cost, leading to a spectacular yet chillingly inconclusive conclusion with the portents of dark days to come…

And here is the true injustice surrounding this tale: the death of Robin (who didn’t even stay dead) and the voting debacle took away from the real importance of this story – and perhaps deflected some real scrutiny and controversy. Starlin had crafted a clever and bold tale of real world politics and genuine issues which most readers didn’t even notice…

Terrorism Training Camps, Rogue States, African famines, black marketeering, charity relief fraud, Economic, Race and Class warfare, diplomatic skulduggery and nuclear smuggling all featured heavily, as did such notable hot-button topics as Ayatollah Khomeini, Reagan’s Cruise Missile program, the Iran-Contra and Arms for Hostages scandals and the horrors of Ethiopian refugee camps.

Most importantly, it signalled a new and fearfully casual approach to violence and death in comicbooks.

This is a superbly readable tale, morally challenging and breathtakingly audacious – but it’s controversial in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons. But don’t take my word for it: read it and see for yourself.

The saga is appended here by an afterword from Marv Wolfman, before the sequel he penned introduces the third kid to don the cape and pixie boots…

After Grayson’s departure and Jason’s death the shock and loss traumatised Batman. Forced to re-examine his own origins and methods, he becomes a far darker knight…

After a period of increasingly undisciplined encounters Batman is on the very edge of losing not just his focus but also his ethics and life: seemingly suicidal on his frequent forays into the Gotham nights. Interventions from his few remaining friends and associates prove ineffectual. Something drastic had to happen if the Dark Knight is to be salvaged.

Luckily there was an opening for a sidekick…

The second story arc here is a crossover tale originally running in Batman #440-442 and New Teen Titans #60-61 from October to December 1989. Plotted by Wolfman and George Pérez, scripted by Wolfman with the Batman chapters illustrated by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo, and the Titans sections handled by Pérez, Tom Grummett & Bob McLeod, a new character enters the lives of the extended Batman Family; a remarkable child who will change the shape of the DC Universe.

‘Suspects’ sees Batman rapidly burning out, but not only his close confederates but also an enigmatic investigator and a mystery villain have noticed the deadly deterioration. However, as the criminal mastermind embroils the wildly unpredictable Two-Face in his scheme, the apparently benevolent voyeur is hunting for Dick Grayson: a mission successfully accomplished in second chapter, ‘Roots’.

The first Robin had become disenchanted with the adventurer’s life, quitting the New Teen Titans and returning to the circus where the happiest and most tragic days of his life occurred. Here he is confronted by a young boy who has deduced the secret identities of both Batman and Robin…

‘Parallel Lines’ then unravels the enigma of Tim Drake, who as a toddler was in the audience the night the Flying Graysons were murdered. Tim was an infant prodigy, and when, months later he saw new hero Robin perform the same acrobatic stunts as Dick Grayson, he instantly realises who the Boy Wonder must be – and thus, by extrapolation, the real identity of Batman.

A passionate fan, Drake followed the Dynamic Duo’s exploits for a decade: noting every case and detail. He knew when Jason Todd became Robin and was moved to act when his murder led to the Caped Crusader going catastrophically off the rails.

Taking it upon himself to fix his broken heroes, Drake determines to convince the “retired” Grayson to became Robin once more – before Batman makes an inevitable, fatal mistake. It might all be too little too late, however, as in ‘Going Home!’, Two-Face makes his murderous move against a severely sub-par Gotham Guardian…

Concluding with a raft of explosive and highly entertaining surprises in ‘Rebirth’, this long-overlooked Bat-saga introduces the third Robin (who would get into costume only after years of training – and fan-teasing) whilst acknowledging both modern sentiments about child-endangerment and the classical roles of young heroes in heroic fiction. Perhaps a little slow and definitely a bit too sentimental in places, this is nevertheless an excellent, key Batman story, and one no fan should be unaware of.

This combined compilation offers also a full cover gallery by Mike Mignola & Pérez plus a lost treasure for fans and aficionados. Printed comics are produced with a long lead-in time so when the phone poll to determine Jason’s fate was launched, the editors had to prepare for both outcomes. Wrapping up proceedings here is the alternate final page by Aparo & DeCarlo depicting Robin’s survival to gratify the dreams of those who originally voted against what these days would have been agonisingly and inappropriately dubbed “R-exit”…

Potent, punchy and eminently readable, this is a bold Bat-treat well worth tracking down and devouring.
© 1988,1989, 2006, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman and the Outsiders volume 1


By Mike W. Barr, Marv Wolfman, Jim Aparo, George Pérez & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1401268121 (HC)

During the early 1980s the general trend of comics sales was yet another downturn – although team-books were holding their own – and the major publishers were less concerned with experimentation than with consolidation. Many popular titles were augmented by spin-offs, a recurring tactic in publishing troughs.

At the time the Dark Knight was the star of two and two half titles, sharing World’s Finest Comics with Superman (until its cancellation in 1986) and appearing with rotating guest-stars in The Brave and the Bold, as well as his regular lead spots in both Batman and Detective Comics. He was also a member of the Justice League of America.

In July 1983 B&B was cancelled with issue #200, but inside was a preview of a new Bat-title. One month later Batman and the Outsiders debuted…

All the details can be found in ‘Out with the Bold, in with The Outsiders’: scripter Mike W. Barr’s introductory reminiscence to this commemorative hardback collection (also available as an eBook) gathering a daring departure for the Gotham Gangbuster and re-presenting The Brave and the Bold #200, BATO #1-13 and a crossover episode which spread into New Teen Titans #37, collectively spanning July 1983-August 1984.

The core premise of the new series was that Batman became increasingly convinced that the JLA was not fit for purpose; that too many problems were beyond their reach because they were hamstrung by international red tape and, by inference, too many laws.

It all kicks off in ‘Wars Ended… Wars Begun!’ with a revolution in the European nation of Markovia (nebulously wedged into that vague bit between France, Belgium and Russia) and details a telling personal crisis when Bruce Wayne’s friend Lucius Fox goes missing in that war-torn country. As neither the US State Department nor his fellow superheroes will act, Batman takes matters into his own hands. He begins sniffing around only to discover that a number of other metahumans, some known to him and others new, are also sneaking about below the natives’ radar.

Markovia’s monarchy is threatened by an attempted coup, and is being countered by the King’s unorthodox hiring of Dr. Jace, a scientist specialising in creating superpowers. When King Victor dies, Prince Gregor is named successor whilst his brother Brion is charged with finding their sister Tara who has been missing since she underwent the Jace Process.

To save his sister and his country, Brion submits to the same procedure. Meanwhile two more Americans are clandestinely entering the country…

Rex (Metamorpho) Mason is a chemical freak able to turn into any element, and he wants Jace to cure him, whereas Jefferson (Black Lightning) Pierce is infiltrating Markovia as Batman’s ace-in-the-hole. Things go badly wrong when a ninja assassin kills the General Pierce is negotiating with, and he is blamed. As Batman attempts to extricate him the Caped Crusader finds a young American girl in a bombed-out building: a teenager with fantastic light-based superpowers… and amnesia.

As Prince Brion emerges from Jace’s experimental chamber, revolutionaries attack and not even his new gravity and volcanic powers, or the late-arriving Metamorpho, can stop them. Brion is shot dead and dumped in an unmarked grave whilst the Element Man joins Batman, who – encumbered by the girl – is also captured by the rebels. The heroes and Dr. Jace are the prisoners of the mysterious Baron Bedlam

The second issue provides the mandatory origin and plans of the Baron, but while he’s talking the new heroes are mobilising. Like the legendary Antaeus, Brion (soon to be known as Geo-Force) is re-invigorated by contact with Earth and rises from his grave, whilst the girl (code-named Halo) is found by the ninja ‘Katana’.

Together they invade the Baron’s HQ during ‘Markovia’s Last Stand!’ Not to be outdone, the captive heroes break free and join forces with the newcomers to defeat the Baron, who now has powers of his own courtesy of the captive Jace.

As introductory stories goes, this is well above average, with plenty of threads laid for future development, and the tried-&-tested super-team formula (a few old and a few new heroes thrown together for a greater purpose) that worked so well with the New X-Men and New Teen Titans still proved an effective one.

As always Barr’s adroit writing meshed perfectly with the understated talents of Jim Aparo; an artist who gave his all to a script…

Issue #3 began a long run of high-quality super-hero sagas with ‘Bitter Orange’, as the new team get acquainted whilst stopping a chemical terrorist with a hidden agenda, and is followed by that preview from B&B #200: a hospital hostage crisis tale designed to tease and introduce new characters, followed here by ‘One-Man Meltdown’ (BATO #4) in which a radioactive villain from Batman’s past returns with malice in mind but acting on a hidden mastermind’s agenda…

New Teen Titans #37 (December 1983) features next. ‘Light’s Out, Everyone!’ by Marv Wolfman, George Pérez & Romeo Tanghal is the first part of a cross-over tale wherein Dr. Light and the Fearsome Five kidnap Dr. Jace and Titans and Outsiders must unite to rescue her. Concluding with ‘Psimon Says’ in BATO #5, its most notable feature is the portentous reuniting of Brion with his sister Tara, the Titan known as Terra.

‘Death Warmed Over’ and ‘Cold Hands, Cold Heart’ tell the tale of The Cryonic Man, a villain who steals frozen body-parts, before ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ offers a sinister supernatural Christmas treat guest-starring possibly Aparo’s most fondly remembered character (most certainly for me) The Phantom Stranger.

Issue #9 introduces a new super-villain gang in ‘Enter: The Masters of Disaster!’ (the first half of a two-part tale) plus a brief back-up tale of Halo in ‘Battle For the Band’, written by Barr and illustrated by Bill Willingham & Mike DeCarlo.

Illustrated by Steve Lightle & Sal Trapani, ‘The Execution of Black Lightning’ epically concludes the Masters of Disaster saga, before issue #11 begins exposing ‘The Truth About Katana’: exploring her past and the implications of her magic soul-drinking blade. ‘A Sword of Ancient Death!’ is by Barr & Aparo and continues with ‘To Love, Honour and Destroy’, leading directly into #13’s impressive final inclusion.

‘In the Chill of the Night’ (illustrated by Dan Day & Pablo Marcos) sees the desperate team attempting to capture a drugged, dying and delusional Dark Knight as his fevered mind and memories pit him against the gunman who murdered his parents…

With a full cover gallery – including the diptych assemblage of NTT #37 and BATO #50 – original Aparo art, house ad and preliminary character designs, this is a splendid package to appeal to dedicated Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatics. Although probably not flashy enough to cross the Fan-Barrier into mainstream popularity, Batman and the Outsiders was always a highly readable series and is re-presented here in most accessible manner. An open-minded new reader could do lots worse than try out this forgotten corner of the DCU.
© 1983, 1984, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Flash by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar


By Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Ron Marz, Chuck Dixon, Paul Ryan, Ron Wagner, John Nyberg, Paul Pelletier, John Lowe, Will Rosado, Sal Buscema, Pop Mhan, Joshua Hood, Chris Ivy, Ariel Olivetti & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6102-3

There are many super-speedsters in the DCU and most of them congregate in the conjoined metropolis of Keystone and Central City. Wally West, third incarnation of The Flash, lives there with his true love Linda Park, his Aunt Iris and fellow fast-fighters such as Jay Garrick. Impulse (a juvenile speedster from the future) and his mentor/keeper Max Mercury – the Zen Master of hyper-velocity – live in Alabama but often visit as they only live picoseconds away…

Created by Gardner Fox & Harry Lampert, Garrick debuted as the very first Scarlet Speedster in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940). “The Fastest Man Alive” wowed readers for over a decade before changing tastes benched him in 1951. The concept of speedsters, and indeed, superheroes in general were revived in 1956 by Julie Schwartz in Showcase #4 where and when police scientist Barry Allen became the second hero to run with the concept.

The Silver Age Flash, whose creation ushered in a new and seemingly unstoppable era of costumed crusaders, died heroically during Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-1986) and was promptly succeeded by his sidekick Kid Flash. Of course, Allen later returned from the dead – but doesn’t everyone?

Initially Wally West struggled to fill the boots of his predecessor, both in sheer ability and, more tellingly, in confidence. Feeling a fraud, he nonetheless persevered and eventually overcame, becoming the greatest to carry the name.

At the end of the 1990s the grand, old-fashioned Fights and Tights mythology and methodology was given a bit of post-modern gloss when Caledonian wizards Grant Morrison and Mark Millar turned their considerable talents to the third incarnation of the Fastest Man Alive. Reprinting Flash (volume 2) #130-141, crossover episodes Green Arrow #130, Green Lantern #96, plus portions of The Flash 80-Page Giant #1 and JLA Secret Files #1, this rousing paperback collection (also available digitally) begins with Wally living with his one true love Linda Park, and enjoying a celebrity life as the current Scarlet Speedster.

Triptych ‘Emergency Stop’ (illustrated by Paul Ryan & John Nyberg) kicks off as a disembodied costume targets old villains. Absorbing their powers – and eventually their lives – it undertakes a sinister master-plan.

Continuing its grisly campaign in ‘Threads’ The Suit – ghost, pre-programmed super-technology or something else – proves more than a match for Keystone’s peace officers and even her superhuman guardians. Max Mercury, Jay Garrick and Impulse are not enough to save West from crippling injuries, and it takes a quantum leap in his abilities before Wally can save everybody from certain death in astounding conclusion ‘Fashion Victims’

Following that superb saga, the Celtic lads get a chance to show American writers how it’s pronounced as Scottish villain Mirror Master attacks the recuperating hero and kidnaps his lady in ‘Flash Through the Looking Glass’.

As ever the understated excellence of Ryan & Nyberg act as the perfect vehicle for all those high-speed thrills, never better than when Garrick takes centre-stage for the moving ‘Still-Life in the Fast Lane’, a poignant parable that shows how even the swiftest men can’t outrun old age and death…

During this period DC was keen on recreating and reviving old heroes, with “legacy” versions of many old stars popping up. After Hal Jordan and John Stewart stopped being Green Lantern new kid Kyle Rayner picked up the ring just as Connor Hawke inherited his father’s role as Green Arrow and Wally followed Barry Allen.

‘Death at the Top of the World’ was a 3-chapter company crossover from March 1998 that began in Green Lantern #96 with ‘Three of a Kind’ (by Ron Marz, Paul Pelletier & John Lowe). The three heirs – who don’t particularly like each – other opt for a communal Arctic cruise to break the ice (sorry!) only to stumble into a plot by super-villains Sonar, Heat Wave and Hatchet that culminates in a devastating and murderous attack on the other passengers by world-class menace Dr. Polaris in Green Arrow #130, (Chuck Dixon, Will Rosado & Sal Buscema).

The concluding chapter by Morrison, Millar, Ryan & Nyberg – played as a classic courtroom drama – tops off this thoroughly readable tale in fine style and offers a chilling prologue and cliffhanger for the next astounding epic…

‘The Human Race’ commences with ‘Radio Days’ as 10-year-old Wally plays with his Ham Radio kit, chatting to an imaginary friend before we sprint into the present-day to find the Flash seconds after his last exploit, cradling an alien super-speedster who has crashed at his feet, gasping out a warning with his dying breath…

When two god-like alien gamblers materialise and demand Earth’s fastest inhabitant replaces the dead runner in a race across all time and space the entire planet learns that if a contestant isn’t provided Earth is forfeit and will be destroyed…

With the Justice League unable to defeat the cosmic gamesters, Wally has no choice but to compete, but almost falls apart when he discovers his opponent is Krakkl, a radio-wave lifeform who used to talk to him across the cosmic ether when he was a kid.

Now Wally has to beat a cherished childhood memory he thought a mere childhood fancy to save his homeworld… and if he does, Krakkl’s entire species will die…

Ron Wagner steps in as penciller for ‘Runner’ and ‘Home Run’, as, pushed to the limits of endurance and imagination, Flash criss-crosses all reality before despondently realising he’s in a match he cannot win… until valiant, self-sacrificing radio-racer Krakkl shares a deadly and world-saving secret…

Cosmic, clever and deeply sentimental in the fashion comics fans are suckers for, this stunning saga ends with Earth enduring after a spectacular ‘Home Run’ with its victorious but ultimately oblivious hero on course for the ultimate finish…

The drama escalates in tense thriller trilogy ‘The Black Flash’ (Miller, Pop Mhan & Chris Ivy, with additional pencils from Joshua Hood) as a demonic entity that abides beyond the velocity-fuelling energy field dubbed the Speed Force comes for the exhausted, jubilant hero in ‘The Late Wally West’.

Over the decades, elder speedsters have noticed that their ultra-swift comrades have all been hunted and taken by a supernal beast before their lives ended and when the creature is captured in photos apparently stalking Wally they do all they can to thwart it. Tragically, they succeed…

Unable to kill the Flash, the thing destroys his beloved Linda instead…

Jesse Quick, second-generation hero and a legacy who lost her dad to the Black Flash, takes over Wally’s role as crushed, depressed and broken he loses his connection to the Speed Force, following Linda’s funeral. However, after weeks of shell-shocked mourning he moves on, planning a new life in a foreign country, but the Black Flash is spiteful and never gives up…

Thus, when the beast attacks powerless Wally at the airport in ‘The End’ Max Mercury, Garrick, Impulse and Jesse all confront the creature until the true Scarlet Speedster rediscovers the inner fire necessary to not only face and defeat the thing, but also bring back Linda from the Great Unknown.

That would be a perfect ending to this tumultuous tome, but there’s still hidden gem ‘Your Life is My Business’ – by Millar & Ariel Olivetti – as Wally has a few drinks in a pub with the author while laying out the next fictionalised episode of his comic book and even a Who’s Who fact page detailing the secrets of ‘The Fastest Man Alive’ to bring the high-octane fun to a close.

Fast, furious and utterly fabulous, the Flash has always epitomised the very best in costumed comic thrills and these tales are among the very best. If you haven’t seen them yet, run – do not walk – to your nearest emporium or vendor-site and catch all the breathless action you can handle, A.S.A.P!
© 1997, 1998, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Justice League Hereby Elects…


By Gardner Fox, Denny O’Neil, Len Wein, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1267-4

“Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!”

The moment the Justice League of America was published marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned many times since 1960 and other genres have re-won their places on published pages, in the minds of America – and the world – Comics means Superheroes.

The JLA signalled that men – and even a few women – in capes and masks were back for good…

When Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, his Rubicon move came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The band of heroes debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (cover-dated March 1960) and almost instantly cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, consequently triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks and spreading to the rest of the world as the decade progressed.

Originally – although Superman and Batman were included in the membership – participation had been strictly limited as editorial policy at the start was to avoid possible reader ennui and saturation from over-exposure. That ended with the first story in this collection as they joined regulars Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz: Manhunter from Mars to invite expansions to the roster.

Spanning June 1961 to September 1980 this full-colour paperback compendium of classics (also available digitally) compiles and re-presents Justice League of America volume 1, #4, 75, 105-106, 146, 161 and 173-174: issues that signalled the admission of many – but not all – new members…

First addition to the team since it’s premier, Green Arrow stormed into pride of place in #4’s ‘Doom of the Star Diamond’ (by Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs, and cover-dated May 1961), saving the day in a science-fiction thriller wherein a well-meaning alien exile threatens earth with destruction as part of a cunning plan to return to his own planet.

Happily. when the whole scheme goes lethally awry the Emerald Archer is on hand to sort it all out…

Black Canary enlists after a tragedy on her own world of Earth-Two resulted in the death of her husband during the annual JLA/JSA team-up. As a consequence, Dinah Drake-Lance emigrates to Earth-One, handily becoming the JLA’s resident Girl Superhero, and picking up a new – if somewhat unreliable – power in the process.

The repercussions of her move and Green Arrow losing all his wealth made Justice League of America #75 (November 1969) one of Denny O’Neil’s best, and artists Dick Dillin & Joe Giella were on top form illustrating ‘In Each Man there is a Demon!’ Here the fallout of the trans-dimensional bout found the hero-team literally fighting their own worst aspects in a battle they couldn’t win…

Crafted by Len Wein, Dillin & Dick Giordano, the “More-the-Merrier” recruitment drive continued in #105 (April 1973) wherein the Elongated Man signed up to save the day against marauding, malignant putty-men in ‘Specter in the Shadows!’

He was anonymously aided by a miraculously resurrected robotic Red Tornado who joined up in #106 (July 1973), utterly unaware that he had been reprogrammed into becoming a ‘Wolf in the Fold!’ by his malevolent creator and future-tech plunderer Thomas Oscar Morrow. Nevertheless, the Amazing Android circumvents his malignant code to save the day and join the team…

Between that triumph and the next tale, the Tornado sacrificed himself to save his comrades, so they are rather surprised when he resurrects at the beginning of Justice League of America #146 (September 1977), as Hawkgirl is finally invited to fight beside her husband Hawkman as a member in full standing.

‘Inner Mission’ – by Steve Englehart, Dillin & Frank McLaughlin – details how electronic AI entity the Construct attempts to destroy the League from within and cements the growing tradition of making the team a multi-hued army of heroes…

Long-term associate Zatanna was finally given the nod in #161 (December 1978) via ‘The Reverse-Spells of Zatanna’s Magic-Cigam’ by Gerry Conway, Dillin & McLaughlin. She seemingly turns them at first but it’s just a ploy to expose a sinister magical infiltrator…

Wrapping up the narrative delights here is a smart two-parter with a twist ending as the League try to induct mysterious vigilante Black Lightning (JLA #173-174; December 1979 and January 1980).

After much fervent debate, they decide to set the unsuspecting candidate a little task but as a vermin-controlling maniac unleashes terror upon Metropolis the ‘Testing of a Hero’ and ‘A Plague of Monsters’ (Conway, Dillin & McLaughlin) takes the old recruitment drive into a very fresh direction…

Bulking out this catalogue of Crisis challengers are an assortment of extra features including ‘JLA: Incarnations’ listing of every League iteration and every member thereof; a poster by Ed Benes depicting the team in its entirety and a blank certificate affirming your personal membership in the ranks (don’t use ballpoint pen if you’re reading the eBook edition!)

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern readers who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic…
© 1961, 1969, 1973, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Young Justice Book 1


By Peter David, Todd DeZago, D. Curtis Johnson, Mark Waid, Karl Kesel, Jay Faerber, Tom Peyer, Todd Nauck, Mike McKone, Humberto Ramos, Angel Unzueta, Craig Rosseau, Roberto Flores, Alé Garza, Joe Phillips, Cully Hamner, Amanda Conner, Ethan Van Sciver, Marty Egeland & various
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7116-9

There are many different aspects that contribute to the “perfect mix” in the creation of any continuing character in comics. How much more so then, when the idea is to build a superhero team that will stand out from the seething masses that already exist?

In the late 1990s a fresh batch of sidekicks and super-kids started cropping up at DC after some years of thematic disfavour, and as the name and modus operandi of the Teen Titans was already established, something new needed to be done with them.

But why were kid crusaders back at all? Ignoring the intrinsic imbecility – and illegality if you count numerous child-endangerment laws – of on-the-job training for superheroes who can’t shave yet, why should juvenile champions appeal at all to comics readers?

I don’t buy the old saw about it giving young readers someone to identify with: most kids I grew up with wanted to be the cool adult who got to drive the whatever-mobile, not the squawking brat in short pants. Every mission would feel like going out clubbing with your dad…

I rather suspect it’s quite the reverse: older readers with responsibilities and chores could fantasize about being powerful, effective, cool and able to beat people up without having to surrender a hormone-fuelled, purely juvenile frat-boy sense of goofy fun…

Spanning August 1998 – April 1999 and collecting Young Justice #1-7, JLA: World Without Grown-Ups #1-2, Secret Origins 80-Page Giant #1, Young Justice: The Secret and material from Young Justice 1.000,000 and Young Justice: Secret Files #1; this outrageously entertaining trade paperback (and eBook edition) offers a fetching blend of explosive action, sinister suspense and captivating comedy to delight every jaded Fights ‘n’ Tights fans.

‘World Without Grown-Ups’ sees a young boy use an Ancient Atlantean talisman to exile all adults, leaving the planet a responsibility-free playground. Planetary guardians the Justice League can only stew helplessly in some other isolated realm of existence as all the underage heroes left on Earth tackle a wave of idiocy and irresponsibility whilst trying to cope with the spiralling disasters caused by a sudden dearth of doctors, drivers, pilots and so forth.

Boy Wonder Robin, clone Superboy Kon-El and ADHD posterchild/super-speedster Impulse meanwhile seek out the root cause, desperate to set things right but painfully unaware that the malign entity imprisoned in the talisman has its own sinister agenda…

This canny blend of tension with high jinks, amusement and pathos, action plus mystery rattles along with thrills and one-liners aplenty courtesy of writer Todd DeZago aided and abetted by Humbert Ramos & Wayne Faucher (Kids World) and Mike McKone, Paul Neary & Mark McKenna (JLA sequences) who combine a compelling countdown to calamity with outright raucous buffoonery.

Closely following on is a related one-shot appearing as part of 1998 skip-week publishing event “GirlFrenzy”.

‘Young Justice: The Secret’ (by the Todds DeZago & Nauck, with inks by Lary Stucker) finds Robin, Superboy and Impulse being interviewed over the suspicious circumstances leading them to rescue a young girl composed entirely of smoke and vapour from supposedly benign federal agency the Department of ExtraNormal Operations – an exploit which will have major repercussions in later tales…

Close on those compelling scene-setters, the latest crop of “ands…” promptly stampeded into their own highly habit-forming monthly series. The monthly Young Justice comicbook saw fan-favourite writer Peter David script inspired, tongue-in-cheek, gloriously self-referential adolescent lunacy, beginning with ‘Young, Just Us’ (illustrated by Nauck & Stucker) wherein the unlikely lads arrange a sleepover in the old Justice League Secret Sanctuary and fall into a whole new career…

Whilst a nearby archaeological dig uncovers an ancient New Genesis Supercycle, the masked boys are busy vandalising the decommissioned mountain lair until similarly decommissioned superhero android Red Tornado objects. Before things become too tense the boys are called away to the dig-site where DEO operatives Fite and Maad are attempting to confiscate the alien tech.

After a brief skirmish with fabulously mutated minor villain Mighty Endowed (transformed by a “booby trap!”) the bike adopts the kids and makes a break for it…

The action then switches to the Middle East for ‘Sheik, Rattle and Roll’ as the semi-sentient trans-dimensional cycle deposits Robin, Superboy and Impulse in a sandy paradise. Apparently uncounted years ago an Apokoliptian warrior named Riproar was entombed beneath a mountain there after stealing the bike from New Genesis. Now the machine, enslaved to the thief’s ancient programming, is compelled to free the monster, but it has brought some superheroes to fight Riproar once he’s loose. Of course, they’re rather small heroes and a bit inexperienced…

A short diversion courtesy of Young Justice 1.000,000 introduces future versions of the lads and some foes from the 853rd century – that’s a million months into the future, science fans!

Devised by David, Nauck, Stucker, Angel Unzueta, Norm Rapmund, Craig Rosseau, Sean Parsons, Roberto Flores & Faucher, ‘Just Ice. Cubed’ sees a future YJ squad reviewing the exploits of their antecedents with reference to Doomsday, the JLA, Two-Face, the Sun-Eater and the Millennium Chicken before a measure of normality resumes with the 20th century kids back in America just in time for Halloween…

A riotous Trick-or-Treat time-travel romp ensues as those meddling kids dabble in magic and accidentally snatch a nerdy Fifth Dimensional scholar out of his appointed place – naturally endangering the entire continuum.

Sadly, although YJ’s best efforts in ‘The Issue Before the One Where the Girls Show Up!’ restore reality, they might have had a delayed bad influence on the quietly studious juvenile sprite Master Mxyzptlk

Secret Origins 80-Page Giant #1 provides background insights on our stars, beginning with ‘Decisions’ by D. Curtis Johnson, Unzueta & Jaime Mendoza with Red Tornado regaling intangible recruit Secret with ‘The Secret Origin of Impulse (Actual Reality)’ by Mark Waid, Ramos & Faucher, ‘Superboy! Secrets! Origins (This One’s Got ‘Em All!)’ by Karl Kesel, Joe Phillips & Jasen Rodriguez and ‘Little Wing’ by Chuck Dixon & Cully Hamner.

The revelations continue with the history of Spoiler in ‘Daddy’s Little Vigilante’ from Dixon, Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti, ‘Truth is Stranger – the Secret Origin of Wonder Girl’ by Jay Faerber & Ethan van Sciver, and conclude with ‘Shafted the Secret Origin of Arrowette!’ by Tom Peyer, Marty Egeland & Rapmund…

With the scene properly set, a whole bunch of meddling females then join the exclusive boys’ club in ‘Harm’s Way’ as writer David unerringly injects some potently dark undercurrents into the frenetic fun.

Impulse’s sometime associate Arrowette (a second-generation trick archer forced into the biz by her fearsome Stage Mother, the original Arrowette) is being hunted by a psychotic youth who intends to become the world’s greatest villain.

Aforementioned mist-girl Secret and the latest incarnation of Wonder Girl are dragged into the clinically sociopathic Harm’s lethal practice-run before the assembled boys and girls finally manage to drive him off…

Johnson, Alé Garza & Cabin Boy then step in for ‘Take Back the Night’ (from Young Justice: Secret Files #1) as Secret leads the now fully-co-ed team in a raid against the clandestine and quasi-legal DEO orphanage-academy where metahuman kids are “trained” to use their abilities. It seems an awful lot of these youngsters aren’t there voluntarily or even with their parents’ approval…

Back in Young Justice #5 ‘First, Do No Harm’ (David, Nauck & Stucker) spotlights the malevolent young nemesis as he invades YJ HQ and turns Red Tornado into a weapon of Mass destruction (that’s a pun that only makes sense if I mention that the Pope guest-stars in this tale). As the Justice League step in, the tale wraps up with a majestic and moving twist ending…

The senior superstars are concerned about the kids’ behaviour and set out a virtual test, but since this is comics, that naturally goes spectacularly wrong in ‘Judgement Day’ when the ghost of alien horror Despero turns the simulation into a very practical demonstration of utter mayhem.

This terrific tome – hopefully the first of many – concludes with the edgy and hilarious ‘Conferences’ as assorted guardians and mentors convene for a highly contentious parents/teachers evening, blissfully unaware that their boy and girls have since snuck off for an unsanctioned – and unchaperoned – overnight camping trip together.

As ever, it’s not what you’d expect but it is incredibly entertaining…

In Young Justice, perennial teen issues and traditional caped crusading are perfectly combined with captivating adventure and deft, daft home-room laughs to produce a magical blend of tension, comedy, pathos and even genuine horror.

The secret joy of sidekicks has always been the sheer bravura fun they inject into a tale and this book totally epitomises that most magical of essences. Unleash your inner rapscallion with this addictive gem and remember behind every world-saving champion is a big kid trying to get noticed.
© 1998, 1999, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman vs. Mongul


By Len Wein, Paul Levitz, Alan Moore, Jim Starlin, Curt Swan, Dave Gibbons & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4256-5

Almost 80 years ago Superman jump-started the entire modern era of fantasy heroes: indomitable, infallible, unconquerable, outlandish and flamboyant. He also saved a foundering proto-industry by personifying an entirely new narrative construct – the Super Hero.

Since June 1938 The Man of Tomorrow has grown into a mighty presence in all aspects of the arts, culture and commerce, even as his natal comicbook universe organically grew and expanded to today’s heady heights.

Superman is comics’ outstanding icon: the hero who effectively started a whole genre and, in the decades since his nativity, one who has survived every kind of menace imaginable. With this in mind, it’s tempting – and usually very rewarding – to gather up whole swathes of his prodigious back-catalogue and re-present them in specifically-themed collections, such as this fun frolic chronicling the genesis of an awesome antagonist designed to be the hero’s modern antithesis: a monstrous militaristic madman with greater power, better resources and far more sinister values and motivations…

As initially envisioned, Mongul the Merciless was an alien tyrant and extinction-level threat in the manner of Jack Kirby’s Darkseid and Jim Starlin’s own Thanos: an unrepentantly evil intelligent monster beyond the scope of everyday costumed crusaders. He debuted in DC Comics Presents #27 (November 1980). The title was one wherein the Man of Steel would star beside a different company character (mostly heroes but not always…) and the other champion involved here was J’onn J’onzz, Manhunter from Mars.

Unlike companion team-up vehicle The Brave and the Bold – which boasted a regular artist for most of its Batman co-starring run – a veritable merry-go-round of creative talent contributed to DCCP. Issue #27 proved the value of such tactics when Len Wein, Jim Starlin, Dick Giordano & Frank McLaughlin (as inking collective “Quickdraw”) collaboratively changed the shape of Superman mythology by introducing seemingly unstoppable marauder Mongul in ‘The Key that Unlocked Chaos!’

The overwhelmingly powerful deposed despot of a far-away planet kidnapped Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Daily Planet gadfly Steve Lombard to force Superman to attack his former JLA comrade. This was because the Martian had already successfully driven off the rapacious fiend when Mongul attacked New Mars in search of an artefact granting its possessor control of the universe’s most terrible weapon…

The Yellow Devil wanted the Metropolis Marvel to get it for him and, although the resulting planet-shaking clash between old allies did result in the salvation of his friends, Superman subsequently failed to keep the coveted crystal key out of the villain’s gigantic hands…

The story continued in #28 (December 1980) as Supergirl united with her Kryptonian cousin to scour the cosmos for the Sallow Supremacist and the ancient doom-weapon ‘Warworld!’ (Wein, Starlin & Romeo Tanghal) that he now controlled.

Unfortunately, once they found him and it, Mongul unleashed all its devastating resources to destroy his annoying adversaries and in the resultant cataclysm the mobile gun-planet was demolished. The resultant detonation also blasted Kara Zor-El out of existence…

(Although not included in this tome, that triptych concluded a month later as Ghostly Guardian The Spectre helped retrieve his cousin from Where No Superman Has Gone Before! At least now you won’t wonder or worry…)

Back here and now the cosmic clashes continue with ‘A Universe Torn Asunder!’ (also known as ‘Whatever Happened to Starman?’) by Paul Levitz & Starlin: another system-shaking saga first seen in DC Comics Presents #36 (August 1981).

Here the Great Dictator resurfaces, having turned his nefarious attention to Prince Gavyn, ruler of a distant sidereal empire as well as a covert stellar powered crusader, rather confusingly employing the title Starman for his secret superhero shenanigans.

After snatching the monarch’s beloved fiancé Merria, Mongul tries to take over the masked hero’s interplanetary empire but is thwarted once more by the timely arrival of the Man of Steel and the vengeful fury of the cosmic crusader he has challenged…

You can’t keep a good citrine psychopath down, however, and the brutal beast resurfaced in DCCP #43 (March 1982) to challenge both Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes ‘In Final Battle’ (Levitz, Curt Swan & Dave Hunt). Hungry for revenge, Mongul again steals a universal ultimate weapon – this time a Sun-Eater (the clue is in the name) – and points it in the direction of Sol. He never expected the cavalry to arrive from the 30th century though… The all-out, all-action exploits then conclude with a modern masterpiece by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons who produced one of the last truly memorable Superman stories before the cosmic upheaval and reboot triggered by the Crisis on Infinite Earths publishing event.

‘For the Man Who Has Everything’ (Superman Annual #11) sees despicable deceptive Mongul cunningly invade the Fortress of Solitude to ambush the Action Ace with the most insidious of weapons on his birthday.

A valiant last-minute intervention by Batman, second Robin Jason Todd and Wonder Woman are barely enough to turn the tide…

Moreover, when the Man of Steel recognises the culprit for the emotional hell he has barely survived his furious response is terrifying to behold…

Essentially a blockbusting battle royale, this tale carries plenty of intellectual weight too, showing a dystopian Krypton for the first time: a view that the fabulous lost world might not have been a utopian super-scientific paradise after all and one that has become a given for most later interpretations…

Also including an illustrated fact-file of Mongul (from Who’s Who #16, June 1986) and a cover gallery by Starlin, Brian Bolland & Gibbons, this is an incomprehensibly enthralling collection of Fights ‘n’ Tights feasts: a pure package of superhero magnificence: fun-filled, action-packed, absolutely addictive and utterly irresistible.
© 1980, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1986, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Supergirl: The Silver Age volume 1


By Otto Binder, Al Plastino, Jerry Seigel, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7292-0

Superhero comics seldom do sweet or charming anymore. Modern narrative focus concentrates on turmoil, angst and spectacle and although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, sometimes the palate just craves a different flavour.

Such was not always the case as this superb trade paperback compendium – spanning Action Comics #252-284 (May 1959 to January 1962) and also available in eBook editions – of the early career of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El of Argo City joyously proves.

Also included and kicking off proceedings is the delightful DC House Ad advertising the imminent arrival of a new Girl of Steel. Sadly missing, however, is the try-out story The Three Magic Wishes’ – written by Otto Binder and illustrated by Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye from Superman #123, August 1958 – which told how a mystic totem briefly conjured up a young girl with super powers as one of three wishes made by Jimmy Olsen. Such was the reaction to the plucky heroine that within a year a new version was introduced to the Superman Family…

Here, then, the drama commences with ‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’, the third story from Action Comics #252 introducing Superman’s cousin Kara, who had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, which was somehow hurled intact into space when the planet exploded.

Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the giant world’s debris, and Kara’s dying parents, having observed Earth through their scanners and scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they perished.

Landing on Earth, she meets Superman who creates the cover-identity of Linda Lee whilst hiding her in an orphanage in small town Midvale allowing her to learn about her new world and powers in secrecy and safety. This groundbreaking tale was also written by Binder and drawn by the hugely talented Al Plastino.

Once the formula was established Supergirl became a regular feature in Action Comics (starting with #253), a residency that lasted until 1969 when she graduated to the lead spot in Adventure Comics. In ‘The Secret of the Super-Orphan!’, at her new orphanage home she makes the acquaintance of fellow orphan Dick Wilson (eventually Malverne) who would become her personal gadfly (much as the early Lois Lane was to Superman), a recurring romantic entanglement who suspects she has a secret. As a young girl in far less egalitarian times, romance featured heavily in our neophyte star’s thoughts and she frequently met other potential boyfriends: including alien heroes and even a Merboy from Atlantis.

Many of the early tales also involved keeping her presence concealed, even when performing super-feats. Jim Mooney was selected as regular artist and Binder remained as chief scripter for most of the early run.

In Action #254’s ‘Supergirl’s Foster-Parents!’, sees an unscrupulous couple of con-artists easily foiled, after which Linda meets a mystery DC hero when ‘Supergirl Visits the 21st Century!’ in #255. Her secret is almost exposed in ‘The Great Supergirl Mirage!’ before she grants ‘The Three Magic Wishes!’ to despondent youngsters and teaches a mean bully a much-needed lesson.

The Man of Steel often came off rather poorly when dealing with women in those less enlightened days, always under the guise of “teaching a much-needed lesson” or “testing” someone. When she plays with Krypto, ignoring his secrecy decree, cousin Kal-El banishes the lonely young heroine to an asteroid in ‘Supergirl’s Farewell to Earth!’ but of course there’s paternalistic method in the madness…

‘The Cave-Girl of Steel!’ then sees her voyage to the ancient past and become a legend of the Stone Age before Action #260 finds her transformed by the mystical Fountain of Youth into ‘The Girl Superbaby!’

The next tale introduced feline fan-favourite Streaky the Super-Cat in ‘Supergirl’s Super Pet!’ after which ‘Supergirl’s Greatest Victory!’ delivers a salutary lesson in humility to the Girl of Steel. Binder moved on after scripting ‘Supergirl’s Darkest Day!’ in which the Maid of Might rescues an alien prince, after which Jerry Siegel took over the storytelling as ‘Supergirl Gets Adopted!’: a traumatic and sentimental tale which only ends with the lonely lass back at Midvale orphanage.

I’ve restrained myself so please do the same when I say that the next adventure isn’t what you think. ‘When Supergirl Revealed Herself! (Siegel & Mooney from Action#265) is another story about nearly finding a family, after which Streaky playfully returns in ‘The World’s Mightiest Cat!’

Supergirl encounters fantastic fellow super-kids in Action #267’s ‘The Three Super-Heroes!’ but narrowly fails to qualify for the Legion of Super Heroes through the cruellest quirk of fate. Picking herself up she then exposes ‘The Mystery Supergirl!’ before Siegel & Mooney introduce Mer-boy Jerro who becomes ‘Supergirl’s First Romance!’

‘Supergirl’s Busiest Day!’ is packed with cameos from Batman and Robin, Krypto and Lori Lemaris all celebrating a very special occasion, after which Streaky makes another bombastic appearance as the wonder girl builds ‘Supergirl’s Fortress of Solitude!’.

Otto Binder wrote ‘The Second Supergirl!’, an alternate world tale that was too big for one issue. A sequel, ‘The Supergirl of Two Worlds!’ appeared in Action #273 – as did a novel piece of market research. ‘Pick a New Hairstyle for Linda (Supergirl) Lee!’ involved eager readers in the actual physical appearance of their heroine and gave editors some valuable input into who was actually reading the series…

Siegel & Mooney then soundly demonstrate the DC dictum that history cannot be changed in ‘Supergirl’s Three Time Trips!’ before ‘Ma and Pa Kent Adopt Supergirl!’ offers a truly nightmarish scenario, rapidly followed by a return visit to the Legion of Super Heroes in ‘Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends!’, whilst Action #277 featured an animal epic in ‘The Battle of the Super-Pets!’

The next five tales in this volume form an extended saga taking the Girl of Steel in totally new directions. On the eve of Superman announcing her existence to the world, Supergirl loses her powers and – resigned to a normal life – is adopted by the childless Fred and Edna Danvers. Tragically it’s all a deadly plot by wicked Lesla-Lar, Kara’s identical double from the Bottle City of Kandor. This evil genius plans to replace Supergirl and conquer the Earth. This mini-epic – ‘The Unknown Supergirl!’, ‘Supergirl’s Secret Enemy!’, ‘Trapped in Kandor!’, ‘The Secret of the Time-Barrier!’ and (following the results of the Hair Style competition) ‘The Supergirl of Tomorrow!’ ran in Action #278-282 and solidly repositioned the character for a more positive, effective and fully public role in the DC universe. The epic also hinted of a more dramatic and less paternalistic, parochial and even sexist future for the most powerful girl in the world, over the months to come…

The young heroine still in very much a student-in-training, her very existence kept secret from the general public and living with adoptive parents who are completely unaware that the orphan they have recently adopted is a Kryptonian super-being.

The accent on these stories generally revolves around problem-solving, identity-saving and loneliness, with both good taste and the Comics Code ensuring readers weren’t traumatised by unsavoury or excessively violent tales. Plots akin to situation comedies often pertained, as in ‘The Six Red “K” Perils of Supergirl!’

Peculiar transformations were a mainstay of 1960s comics, and although a post-modern interpretation might discern some metaphor for puberty or girls “becoming” women, I rather suspect the true answer can be found in author Seigel’s love of comedy and an editorial belief that fighting was simply unladylike.

Red Kryptonite, a cosmically-altered isotope of the radioactive element left when Krypton exploded, caused temporary physical and sometimes mental mutations in the survivors of that doomed world and was a godsend to writers in need of a challenging visual element when writing characters with the power to drop-kick planets…

Here the wonder-stuff generates a circus of horrors, transforming Supergirl into a werewolf, shrinking her to microscopic size and making her fat (I’m not going to say a single bloody word…).

The drama continues and concludes – like this initial Silver Age compilation – with the next instalment ‘The Strange Bodies of Supergirl!’ wherein Linda Lee Danvers’ travails escalate after she grows a second head, gains death-ray vision (ostensibly!) and morphs into a mermaid. This daffy holdover to simpler times presaged a big change in the Maid of Might’s status but that’s a volume for another day…

Throughout her formative years Kara of Krypton underwent more changes than most of her confreres had in twenty years, as editors sought to find a niche the buying public could resonate with, but for all that, these stories remain exciting, ingenious and utterly bemusing.

Possibly the very last time a female super-character’s sexual allure wasn’t equated to sales potential and freely and gratuitously exploited, these tales are a link and window to a far less crass time and display one of the few truly strong and resilient female characters parents can still happily share with even their youngest children.
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League International volume 2


By Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, John Ostrander, Kevin Maguire, Bill Willingham, Luke McDonnell & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2020-4 (TPB)

Way back in 1986 DC’s editorial leaders felt their then-vast, 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The draconian solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline and redefine whilst adding even more fresh characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths resulted in such spectacular commercial success, those movers-&-shakers felt justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash and Wonder Woman, the moribund and crucially un-commercial Justice League of America was earmarked for radical revision.

Editor Andy Helfer assembled plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis and untried penciller Kevin Maguire to produce an utterly new approach to the superhero monolith: they played them for laughs…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7. The new super-team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up DC crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of newcomers and relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel, Guy Gardner/Green Lantern, Dr. Fate and Mr. Miracle with heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men.

As the often-silly saga unfolded the squad was supplemented by Captain Atom, Booster Gold, Dr. Light and Russian mecha-warrior Rocket Red. In many ways the most contemporary new pick was charismatic, filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who used wealth and influence to recreate the super-team…

The creators took their time, crafting a convoluted mystery over the first year and this second volume of the (as-was) All-New, All-Hilarious Justice League completes that saga as insidious entrepreneur and1980’s archetype Lord reshapes the World’s Greatest Super-team for his own mysterious purposes and is transformed himself in the process…

The stories gathered here (Justice League International #8-13, Justice League Annual #1, and corresponding crossover issue Suicide Squad #13) are taken from a period when comics publishers were first developing the marketing strategies of the “Braided Mega-Crossover Event.”

That hard-on-the-pockets innovation basically crafted really big stories involving every publication in a company’s stable, for a limited time period – so a compilation like this perforce includes adventures that seem confusing because there are in truth “middles” with no beginnings or endings.

In this case the problem is deftly solved by inserting (mercifully) brief text pages explaining what’s happened before and elsewhere. It also doesn’t hurt that being a comedy-adventure, plot isn’t as vital as character and dialogue in this instance…

The merriment begins with ‘Moving Day’ (deftly inked by regular embellisher Al Gordon), wherein the heroes endure a catalogue of disasters whilst taking possession of sundry new UN embassy premises: a slyly cynical tale of institutionalized ineptitude and arguably one of the funniest single stories in American comicbook history.

Here, the main episodes are supplemented by brief back-up vignettes drawn by Giffen and ‘Old News’ deals with the abrupt and precipitous closure of previous UN superhero resource The Dome – summarily axed when the League achieved international charter status. The dismissals leave a very sour taste in the mouths of previously valiant and devoted defenders of mankind…

‘Seeing Red’ is the first of two episodes forming part of the Millennium crossover hinted at above. Broadly, the Guardians of the Universe are attempting to create the next stage of human evolution, and their robotic enemies the Manhunters want to stop them. The heroes of Earth are asked to protect the Chosen Ones, but the robots have sleeper agents hidden among the friends and acquaintances of every hero on the planet.

Millennium was DC’s first weekly mini-series, and the monthly schedule of the other titles meant that a huge amount happened in the four weeks between their own tied-in issues: for example…

The Rocket Red attached to the JLI is in fact a Manhunter, who first tries to co-opt then destroy the team by sabotaging an oil refinery, but by the second part, ‘Soul of the Machine’, the JLI are jarringly transplanted to deep space and attacking the Manhunter homeworld as part of a Green Lantern strike force.

Nevertheless, the story is surprising coherent, and the all-out action is still well-leavened with superbly banter and hilarity.

The back-ups follow the suddenly unemployed Dome hero Jack O’Lantern as he travels to terrorist state Bialya in ‘Brief Encounter’ and then show an unfortunate training exercise for Blue Beetle and Mister Miracle in ‘…Back at the Ranch…’

JLI #11 started exposing all the mysteries of the first year by revealing the secret mastermind behind the League’s reformation. With ‘Constructions!’ – and the concluding ‘Who is Maxwell Lord?’ in #12 – the series came full circle, and the whacky humour proved to have been the veneer over a dark and subtle conspiracy plot worthy of the classic team.

The drama and action kicked into overdrive and the characters were seen to have evolved from shallow, albeit competent buffoons into a tightly knit team of world-beating super-stars – but still pretty darned addicted to buffoonery…

Giffen illustrated #13, wherein the team ran afoul of America’s highly covert Suicide Squad (convicted and imprisoned super-villains blackmailed by the government into becoming a tractable metahuman resource – and happily lacking the annoying morality of regular superheroes).

‘Collision Course’ found US agent Nemesis imprisoned in a Soviet jail with the UN-sponsored League forced into the uncomfortable position of having to – at least ostensibly – fight to keep him there even as the Suicide Squad seeks to bust him out.

Written by John Ostrander and illustrated by Luke McDonnell & Bob Lewis, concluding chapter ‘Battle Lines’ originated in Suicide Squad #13 and offers a grim and gritty essay in superpower Realpolitik which remains a powerful experience and chilling read decades later.

This volume wraps up with an out-of-chronology yarn from the first JLI Annual. Drawn by Bill Willingham and inked by Dennis Janke, P. Craig Russell, Bill Wray, R. Campanella, Bruce Patterson & Dick Giordano, ‘Germ Warfare’ is an uncharacteristically grim horror tale involving inhuman sacrifice and all-out war against sentient bacteria, with oodles of savage action and a tragic role for new team leader J’onn J’onzz…

This collection was – and still is – a breath of fresh air at a time where too many comicbooks are filled with over-long, convoluted epics that are stridently, oppressively angst-ridden. Here is great art, superb action and a light touch which mark this series as a true classic. So, read this book and then all the rest….
© 1987, 1992, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Tiny Titans volume 1: Welcome to the Treehouse


By Art Baltazar & Franco (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2207-5

The links between animated features and comicbooks are long established and I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just entertainment in the end…

For quite some time at the beginning of this century, DC’s Cartoon Network imprint was arguably the last bastion of children’s comics in America and worked to consolidate that link between TV and 2D fun and thrills with stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Ben 10, Scooby Doo, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory and many other video favourites.

The kids’ comics line also produced some truly exceptional material based on TV iterations of the publisher’s proprietary characters such as Legion of Super Heroes, Batman: Brave and the Bold and Krypto the Super Dog as well as material like Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! which was merely similar in tone and content.

Perhaps the line’s finest release was a series ostensibly aimed at early-readers but which quickly became a firm favourite of older fans and a multi-award winner too.

Superbly mirroring the magical wonderland inside a child’s head where everything is happily all mooshed up together, Tiny Titans became a sublime antidote to continuity cops and slavish fan-boy quibbling (all together now: “erm, uh… I think you’ll find that in…”) by reducing the vast cast of the Teen Titans Go! animated series, the far greater boutique of the mainstream comicbooks – and eventually the entire DC Universe – to little kids and their parents/guardians in a wholesome kindergarten environment.

It’s a scenario spring-loaded with multi-layered in-jokes, sight-gags and the beloved yet gently mocked trappings and paraphernalia generations of strip readers and screen-watchers can never forget….

Collecting issues #1-6 (April-September 2008) of the magically madcap and infinitely addictive all-ages mini-masterpiece, this debut volume begins after an as-standard identifying roll-call page at ‘Sidekick City Elementary’ where new Principal Mr. Slade is revealed to be not only Deathstroke the Terminator but also poor Rose’s dad! How embarrassing…

Art Baltazar and co-creator Franco (Aureliani) mastered a witty, bemusingly gentle manner of storytelling that just happily rolls along, with the assorted characters getting by and trying to make sense of the great big world while having “Adventures in Awesomeness” like Beast Boy getting a new pet and becoming Man’s Dog’s Best Friend’

The method generally involves stringing together smaller incidents and moments into an overall themed portmanteau tale and it works astoundingly well.

Back in class Robin and Kid Flash tease a fellow student in ‘Speedy Quiz’ even as ‘Meanwhile in Titans Tower’ (the treehouse of the title) finds Wonder Girl, Bumblebee, Raven and Starfire discussing whether to let Batgirl Barbara Gordon join their circle…

Later they all meet up and help scary blob Plasmus cope with an ice cream crisis but shocks still abound at school. Raven’s dad is an antlered crimson devil from another universe but his most upsetting aspect is as the class’ new substitute teacher!

Happily, however, at the treehouse the kids can forget their worries, as Wonder Girl Cassie’s new casual look – after initial resistance – wins many admirers among the boys…

The original comics were filled with activity pages, puzzles and pin-ups, so ‘Help Best Boy Find his Puppy Friend!’ and awesome group-shot ‘Awwwww Yeah Titans!!!’, offers an artistic break before the shenanigans resume with ‘Ow’ as new girl Terra persists in throwing rocks at the boys but knows just how to make friends with the girls…

Not so much for the little lads though: they’ve got into another confrontation with mean kids Fearsome Five. Is the only way to determine who wins to keep ‘Just a-Swingin’’ and ignore those bullies…?

After teeny-weeny Little Teen Titan Kid Devil finds a delicious new way to use his heat power, Beast Boy becomes besotted by Terra in ‘Shadows of Love’, even though his obvious affection makes him act like an animal. While ‘Easy Bake Cyborg’ saves the day at snack time, the lovesick green kid follows some foolish advice and transforms into a ‘Beast Boy of Steel’,

At least Kid Devil is making friends by providing ‘Charbroiled Goodness’ for a local food vendor, just as the Fearsome Five show up again…

Following a pin-up of the bad kids and a brainteaser to ‘Match the Tiny Titans to their Action Accessories!’ a new school day finds science teacher Doctor Light losing control in ‘Zoology 101’ thanks to Beast Boy’s quick changes, after which ‘Sidekick’s Superheroes’ debate status and origins whilst Rose’s ‘Li’l Bro Jericho’ causes chaos and closes school for the day.

When Robin brings some pals home Alfred the Butler is reluctant to let them check out the ‘Batcave Action Playset’. He should have listened to his suspicions: that way there wouldn’t be so much mess or so many penguins…

After Aqualad’s suggestion ‘Let’s Play: Find Fluffy!’ the Boy Wonder has a strange day, starting with ‘Robin and the Robins’ and culminating in a new costume. Before that though, you can see ‘Beast Boy at the Dentist’, Wonder Girl enduring a ‘Babysittin’ Baby Makeover’, meet ‘Beast Boy’s Prize’ and experience hair gone wild in ‘Do the ‘Do’’.

Eventually, though, ‘It’s a Nightwing Thing’ revisits the exotic yesteryears of disco mania as Robin’s new outfit debuts to mixed reviews and reactions…

Once done testing your skill with the ‘Tiny Titans Match Game!’ and admiring a ‘Little Tiny Titans Bonus Pin-up’ there are big thrills in store when ‘Playground Invaders’ introduces annoying Titans from the East side of the communal games area…

Sadly, the Fearsome Five are still around to tease the former Robin in ‘Nightwing on Rye’ even whilst continuing epic ‘Enigma and Speedy’ sees the Boy Bowman trapped in a very one-sided battle of wits with the Riddler’s daughter…

Robin’s costume crisis continues to confuse in ‘May We Take a Bat-Message?’, resulting in a kid capitulation and ‘Back to Basics’ approach to the old look, after which ‘Tiny Titans Joke Time!’ and a ‘Tiny Titans East Bonus Pin-up’ segues neatly into ‘Meet Ya, Greet Ya’ with newcomers Supergirl and Blue Beetle turning up just ahead of a host of wannabee Titans (Power Boy, Zatara, Vulcan Jr., Hawk & Dove, Li’l Barda and Lagoon Boy)…

With the riotous regulars away camping, Raven opens her eyes to a potential daybreak disaster as ‘Home with the Trigons’ finds her dressed by her dad for a change. Meanwhile, ‘Let’s Do Lunch’ finds Blue Beetle losing a very public argument with his backpack and when the kids bring their super-animal pals in, it all goes horribly wrong. At least they decide that the “First Rule of Pet Club is: We Don’t Talk About Pet Club”…

This insanely addictive initial collection then wraps up with visual and word puzzles ‘How Many Beast Boy Alpacas Can You Count?’ and ‘Blue Beetle Backpack Language Translation!’, a huge and inclusive Pin-up of ‘The Tiny Titans of Sidekick City Elementary’ and a hilarious ‘Tiny Titans “Growth Chart”’

Despite being ostensibly aimed at super-juniors and TV kids, these wonderful, wacky yarns – which marvellously marry the heart and spirit of such classic strips as Peanuts or The Perishers with something uniquely mired and marinated in pure American comic-bookery – are outrageously unforgettable yarns and gags no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, and wickedly intoxicating.
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.