Diana Prince, Wonder Woman volume 1


By Mike Sekowsky, Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-776-1

With Wonder Woman once again a media darling and screen superstar, I think it’s high time I revisited a favourite trade paperback collection whilst conspicuously grinding an old axe of mine. Diana Prince, Wonder Woman was originally collected in the first decade of this century, celebrating a critical period in the long life of the amazing Amazon but has dropped out of print now and isn’t even available in a digital format. That’s just wrong, wrong, wrong… especially as it portrayed her as a mere mortal overcoming astounding odds with no more than wits, grace, training and a formidable fashion-sense…

I hope you’ll forgive me that heartfelt outburst, but with the movie hype in full blast, it’s about time DC Comics re-released one of the most appealing and memorable sequences in the long history of the most famous female comic character in the world…

In 1968 superhero comics were once again in decline and publishers were looking for ways to stay profitable – or even just in business – as audience tastes changed. Back then, with the entire industry dependent on newsstand sales, if you weren’t popular, you died. Handing over the hoary, venerable and increasingly moribund Wonder Woman title to Editor Jack Miller and Mike Sekowsky, the bosses sat back and waited for their eventual failure, and prepared to cancel the only female superhero in the marketplace…

The superbly eccentric art of Sekowsky had been a DC mainstay for decades, and he had also scored big with Man from Uncle fans at Gold Key and at Tower Comics with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and war comic Fight the Enemy!

His unique take on the Justice League of America had contributed to its overwhelming success, and now he was stretching himself with a number of experimental projects, focussed on the teen and youth-markets.

Tapping into the teen zeitgeist with the Easy Rider styled drama Jason’s Quest proved ultimately unsuccessful, but with the Metal Men and the hopelessly hidebound Wonder Woman he had much greater impact. Sekowsky would ultimately work the same magic with Supergirl in Adventure Comics (another epic and intriguing run of tales long overdue for compilation).

This first volume (collecting Wonder Woman #178-184 of the comic book series, spanning October 1968 to October 1969) shows just how bold were those changes to the Amazing Amazon’s career. With neophyte scripter Denny O’Neil on board for the first four tales, we see the old star-spangled stalwart one last time as she clears long-time boyfriend Colonel Steve Trevor of a murder-plot in ‘Wonder Woman’s Rival’ before everything changes…

Issue #179 heralded huge changes as ‘Wonder Woman’s Last Battle’ saw the immortal Amazons of Paradise Island forced to abandon our dimensional plane, taking with them all their magic – including all Wonder Woman’s astounding gadgets and weapons such as the Invisible Plane and Golden Lasso – and even her mighty superpowers. Despite all that her love for Steve compels her to remain on Earth.

Effectively becoming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, she resolves to fight injustice as a mortal (#180 ‘A Death for Diana’, February 1969). A meeting with the blind Buddhist monk I Ching shows her how and she becomes his pupil; training as a martial artist, and quickly becoming embroiled in the schemes of a would-be world-conqueror after incurring ‘The Wrath of Doctor Cyber’. And then Steve Trevor is branded a traitor and disappears…

When Sekowsky took over the writing himself (with the fifth tale ‘A Time to Love, A Time to Die’) the rip-roaring adventures moved in some wildly diverse directions, including high-fashion and high fantasy…

In #183 (August 1969) older fans got a surprise treat after ‘Return to Paradise Island’ found Diana and Ching traversing myriad planes of existence to lost dimensions to join her sister Amazons and fabled heroes such as King Arthur, Lancelot, Siegfried and Roland in a cataclysmic clash against the monster-filled armies of the old adversary Mars, God of War, grimly culminating in ‘The Last Battle!’

With apparently nothing to lose, the switch to amateur espionage agent/peripatetic troubleshooter in the trendy footsteps of such popular TV characters as Emma Peel, The Girl from Uncle and Honey West – not to mention our own ultimate comic strip action-heroine Modesty Blaise – seemed like desperation, but the series was brilliantly written and fantastically drawn, with master inker Dick Giordano adding a sleek veneer of gloss and glamour to the oh-so-readable proceedings.

Steeped heavily in Hippie counter-culture and the Mod-fashion explosion, the New Wonder Woman quickly found a dedicated fan-base. Sales may not have rocketed but they stopped sliding and the character was one of the few frantic, scrabbling refits of that era (even Green Lantern/Green Arrow, X-Men and Silver Surfer not faring quite so well) to avoid cancellation…

Eventually, as times changed, the magical Amazons returned and Wonder Woman once again became a super-powerful creature, but that period of cool, hip, bravely human heroism and drama on an intimate scale stands out as a self-contained high-point of quality in a largely bland career.

That modern readers can’t readily experience this most enjoyable reading experiences is a truly sad state of affairs and one which hopefully be rectified as matter of extreme urgency…
© 1968, 1969, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

DC Comics Classics Library: The Flash of Two Worlds


By Gardner Fox, John Broome, Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Sid Greene & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2298-7

There’s a lot of truly splendid vintage comics material around these days in a lot of impressive formats and one of the most welcoming was DC’s Comics Classics Library. A series of top-end hardbacks, the portmanteau range was a remarkably accessible and collectible range of products, and one of the best is this stunning collection gathering some of the most influential and beloved stories of the Silver Age of American comicbooks.

Super-Editor Julius Schwartz ushered in that epoch with his Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the Justice League of America – and more revivals – which in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire, and changed the way comics were made and read…

Whereas 1940s tales were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausible rationalistic concepts quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids.

The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds: the very crux of this celebration gathering the first half dozen Barry Allen team-ups with his predecessor Jay Garrick; specifically the contents of The Flash #123, 129, 137, 151, 170 and 173, originally seen between September 1961 and September 1967…

The continuing adventures of the Scarlet Speedster were the bedrock of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero concept, the Crimson Comet – with key writers John Broome and Gardner Fox at the reins – set an unbelievably high standard for superhero adventure in sharp, witty tales of technology and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but the few he did were all dynamite; none more so than the full-length epic which literally changed the scope of American comics forever, and following an Introduction from Flash-Fanatic Geoff Johns you can see why…

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123, September 1961 and inked by Joe Giella) introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity which grew by careful extension into a multiversal structure comprising Infinite Earths. Once established as a cornerstone of a newly integrated DCU through a wealth of team-ups and escalating succession of cosmos-shaking crossover sagas, a glorious pattern was set which would, after joyous decades, eventually culminate in a spectacular Crisis on Infinite Earths

During a benefit gig Flash (police scientist Barry Allen) accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds the comicbook hero upon whom he based his own superhero identity actually exists.

Every ripping yarn he had avidly absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his comrades on the controversially designated “Earth-2”. Locating his idol, Barry convinces the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains make their own criminal comeback…

The floodgates were opened, and over the following months and years many Earth-1 stalwarts met their counterparts either via annual collaborations in the pages of Justice League of America or in their own series. Schwartz even had a game go at reviving a cadre of the older titans in their own titles. Public approval was decidedly vocal and he used DC’s try-out magazines to take the next step: stories set on Earth-2 exclusively featuring Golden Age characters. Of those bold sallies only The Spectre graduated to his own title…

Received with tumultuous acclaim by the readership, the Earth-2 concept was revisited months later in #129’s ‘Double Danger on Earth!’ (June 1962) which also teasingly reintroduced evergreen stalwarts Wonder Woman, Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

‘Vengeance of the Immortal Villain!’ from #137 (June 1963) was the third incredible Earth-2 crossover, and saw both Flashes in action against 50,000-year-old tyrant Vandal Savage to save the shanghaied Justice Society of America: a tale which directly led into the veteran team’s first meeting with the Justice League of America and the subsequent creation of an annual team-up tradition.

When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple versions of costumed crusaders, public pressure had begun almost instantly to agitate for the return of the Greats of the “Golden Age” but Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet, put readers off. If they could see us now…

A less well-known but superbly gripping team-up tale is ‘Invader from the Dark Dimension!’ (Flash #151, March 1965,): another full-length shocker wherein demonic super-bandit The Shade ambitiously invades Earth-1 as the first step in an avaricious attempt to plunder both worlds…

Flash #170 (May 1967) was scripted by John Broome and inked by the sublime Sid Greene, reuniting the Speedsters after a gap of two years to face the ‘The See-Nothing Spells of Abra Kadabra!’ with the Earth-1 Vizier of Velocity hexed by the cunning conjuror and rendered unable to detect the villain’s actions or presence.

Sadly for the sinister spellbinder, Jay Garrick is visiting and calls on the services of JSA pals Doctors Fate and Mid-Nite to counteract the wicked wizard’s wiles…

Promptly following and concluding this cornucopia of cosmic chills, Flash #173 (September 1967, by Broome, Infantino & Greene again) featured a titanic triple team-up as Barry, Wally “Kid Flash” West and Jay were sequentially shanghaied to another galaxy as putative prey for alien hunter Golden Man in ‘Doomward Flight of the Flashes!’

However, the sneaky script slowly reveals devilish layers of intrigue since the sinister stalker’s Andromedan super-safari conceals a far more scurrilous purpose for the three speedy pawns before the wayward wanderers finally fight free and find their way home again…

Still irresistible and compellingly beautiful after all these years, the stories collected here shaped American comics for decades and are still influencing not only today’s funnybooks but also the wave of animated shows, movies and TV series which grew from them. These are tales and this is a book you simply must have.
© 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1967, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 3


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6862-6

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 JLA debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (cover-dated March 1960) and 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.

Spanning June 1963 to September 1964, this latest full-colour paperback compendium of classics (also available digitally) re-presents issues #23-30 of the epochal first series with scripter Gardner Fox and illustrators Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs seemingly able to do no wrong…

The adventures here focus on the collective exploits of Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars, Green Arrow, hip and plucky mascot Snapper Carr and latest inductee The Atom and see the team further transform the entire nature of the American comicbook experience…

The wonderment begins with Justice League of America #20 and ‘The Mystery of Spaceman X’: an interplanetary adventure and cunning brainteaser featuring a marauding giant roaming Earth, serving up oodles of action and mystery but only really serving to whet the appetite for the pivotal classic which follows.

‘Crisis on Earth-One’ (Justice League of America #21) and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (#22) combine to become one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most important tales in American comics.

When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961) introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple, diverse iterations of heroes to the public, pressure began almost instantly to bring back the lost heroes of the “Golden Age”. Bizarrely by modern standards, the editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing that too many heroes – especially with the same name – would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet put readers off. If only they knew what we know now…

Here the plot sees a team-up of assorted villains from two separate Earths plundering at will and trapping our heroes in their own HQ. Temporarily helpless, the JLA contrive a desperate plan to combine forces with the champions of a bygone era and alternate existence: the Justice Society of America!

It’s impossible for me to be totally objective about this saga. I was a drooling nipper in short trousers when I first read this story and the thrills haven’t diminished with this umpty-second re-reading. This is what superhero comics are all about! You really should read it and see for yourself…

Faced with the impossible task of topping themselves, creative team Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs rose to the challenge with an eccentric outer-space thriller: as ‘Drones of the Queen Bee’ the team was compelled to make the alien Zazzala immortal empress of the universe… Morevoer, even as the team combine to escape enslavement to an alien seductress, the continuity bug was growing, and the mention of the individual cases of members outside the confines of strictly JLA pages would become a mainstay of most future issues.

Alien despot Kanjar Ro returns in ‘Decoy Missions of the Justice League’: a sinister world conquest plot featuring a return engagement guest-shot for off-world adventurer Adam Strange, followed by a perplexing mystery with planet-shaking consequences that temporarily baffles the team in rousing cosmic romp ‘Outcasts of Infinity!’

In issue #26,‘Four Worlds to Conquer’ reveals the insidious revenge plot of three-eyed alien despot Despero after which a far more metaphysical menace troubled the team in ‘The “I” Who Defeated the Justice League’, despite deadly android Amazo appearing to add some solid threat to the proceedings…

The charmingly naff Headmaster Mind and a bunch of second-string super-villains tried to outfox the League in #28’s ‘Case of the Forbidden Super-Powers’ by orchestrating a UN ban on using superpowers but the real treat is saved for last in this epic collection…

‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ reprised the team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society, after the metahuman marvels of yet another alternate Earth discover the secret of multiversal travel. Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are ruthless villains from a world without heroes who see the costumed crusaders of the JLA and JSA as living practice-dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon…

With this cracking two-part thriller a tradition of annual summer team-ups was solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

A little note: although the comic cover-date in America was the month by which unsold copies had to be returned – the off-sale date – export copies to Britain travelled as ballast in freighters. Thus they usually went on to those cool, spinning comic-racks the actual month printed on the front. You can now unglaze your eyes and return to the review proper now, and thank you for your patient indulgence…

With iconic covers by Sekowsky and Murphy Anderson, these tales are a perfect example of all that was best about the Silver Age of comics, combining optimism and ingenuity with bonhomie and adventure. This slice of better times also has the benefit of cherishing wonderment whilst actually being historically valid for any fan of our medium. And best of all the stories here are still captivating and enthralling transports of delight.

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…
© 1963, 1964, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: Amazonia – A Tale of the Wonder Woman


By William Messner-Loebs & Phil Winslade, with Patricia Mulvihill & John Workman (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-301-8

In its original print release, this slim oversized all-original tale was originally released under DC’s Elseworlds imprint wherein characters were liberated from their regular continuity’s shackles for adventures that test the limits of credibility and imagination.

…And now that it’s available in digital format, hopefully a lot more people will get to enjoy it…

Amazonia posits a world where a tragic fire (suspiciously) destroys the entire British Royal Family in the 1890s and a very distant cousin becomes ruler of Victoria’s Empire. Under this aggressively male sovereign the Empire goes from strength to strength and the rights of women are squeezed, wither and die.

Once more and forever they are playthings and possessions, to the point of having to wear chains in public…

Enter the thoroughly unpleasant Steven Trevor, late of His Majesty’s Air-Marines, and now trying to make a living as a music-hall impresario. His actress-wife is a foreign beauty, dark, tall, statuesque, able to jump huge distances and strong enough to wrestle lions. When she saves the royal heir from an assassin, it begins an inexorable and bloody series of events that will liberate half the Empire and end decades of cruelty, abuse and atrocity.

Effectively evoking the favourite paraphernalia and themes of Steampunk – airships, flashy militaria, Jack the Ripper – this is a powerful and challenging fable of sexual equality, blending the Wonder Woman mythology with modern imperialist fantasy and with cracking and memorable effect. William Messner-Loebs writes with convincing authenticity and Phil Winslade’s Victoriana-styled, etchings-inspired artwork – beautifully reminiscent of both Penny-Dreadful engravings and the lovely sweeping line of Charles Dana Gibson – is utterly captivating.

Often the Elseworlds variations came off as ill-conceived or poorly executed, but when it all comes together as it does in Wonder Woman: Amazonia the result is pure gold…
© 1997, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes


By Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1819-5 (HC)                    978-1-4012-1904-8 (TPB)

Almost 79 years ago Superman started the whole modern era of fantasy heroes: outlandish, flamboyant indomitable, infallible, unconquerable.

He also saved a foundering industry and created an entirely new genre of storytelling – the Super Hero. Since June 1938 he has grown into a mighty presence in all aspects of art, culture and commerce even as his natal comicbook universe organically grew and expanded.

Long ago and far away a scientifically advanced civilisation perished, but not before its greatest genius sent his baby son to safety is a star-spanning ship. It landed in Kansas and the interplanetary orphan was reared by decent folk as one of us…

Once upon a time, in the far future, a band of super-powered kids from dozens of alien civilisations took inspiration from the greatest legend of all time and formed a club of heroes. One day these Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited that legend to join them…

And thus began the vast and epic saga of Superman and tangentially the Legion of Super-Heroes: as first envisioned by writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino in the landmark Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958). Since that time, the fortunes and popularity of the Legion have perpetually waxed and waned, with their future history tweaked and rebooted, retconned and unwritten over and again to comply with editorial diktat and popular whim.

One popular trend is to re-embrace the innocent, silly, joyous, stirring and utterly compelling pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths tales but to shade them with contemporary sensibilities and with this in mind Geoff Johns gradually reinstituted the Lore of the Legion in a number of his assignments during the early part of this century.

Beginning most notably with Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga and culminating in the epic New Krypton and War against Brainiac sagas the Legion were back and once more carving out a splendid niche in the DC Universe.

Along the way came this superb, nostalgia-laced cracker of a tale which re-established direct contact between the futuristic paladins and the Man of Tomorrow…

Compiling Action Comics #858-863 (spanning December 2007 through May 2008), this collected chronicle – also sporting an Introduction from veteran LSH creator Keith Giffen – finds the Legion back in the 21st century, summoning Superman to save Tomorrow’s World once more. Long ago the Legion had regularly visited: spiriting the young Kryptonian to a place and time where he didn’t have to hide his true nature. However, once he began his public career, the visits ceased and his memories were suppressed to safeguard the integrity of history and the inviolability of the time-line.

Now a desperate squad of Legionnaires must reawaken those memories since the Man of Steel is the last hope for a world on the edge of destruction. In the millennium since his debut Superman has become a beacon of justice and tolerance throughout the Utopian Universe, but a radical, xenophobic anti-alien movement has swept Earth, marginalising, interning and even executing all non-Terrans.

Moreover, a super-powered team of Legion rejects has formed a Justice League of Earth to lead a crusade against all extraterrestrial immigrants, claiming Superman was actually a true-born Earthling, and declaring him their spiritual leader…

Of course, Kal-El of Krypton must travel to the future and not only save the day but scour the racist stain from his name – a task made infinitely more difficult because Earth-Man, psychotic xenophobic leader of the Earth-First faction, has turned our yellow sun a power-sapping red…

Bold, thrilling and absolutely enthralling, the last-ditch struggle of a few brave aliens against a racist, fascistic and completely ruthless totalitarian tomorrow is the stuff of pure comic-book dreams. Superman strives to unravel a poisonous future where all his hopes and aspirations have been twisted, with only his truest childhood friends to aid him with the incredibly intense and hyper-realistic art of Gary Frank & Jon Sibal making it all seem not only plausible but inevitable…

Sweetening the deal is a stunning covers and variants gallery by Gary Frank, Adam Kubert, Steve Lightle, Mike Grell and Al Milgrom plus pages of notes, roughs and designs from Frank’s preparatory work before embarking on the epic adventure.

Total Fights ‘n’ Tights future shock in the best way possible
© 2007, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 1


By Neal Adams with Bob Haney, Leo Dorfman, Cary Bates & various (DDC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0041-1 (HC):                   978-1-4012-3537-6 (PB)

As the 1960s began Neal Adams was a young illustrator who had worked in advertising and ghosted some newspaper strips whilst trying to break into comics. Whilst pursuing a career in advertising and “real art” he did a few comics pages for Archie Comics and subsequently became one of the youngest artists to co-create and illustrate a major licensed newspaper strip – Ben Casey (based on a popular TV medical drama series).

That comics fascination never faded however, and Adams drifted back to National/DC doing a few covers as inker of penciller and eventually found himself at the vanguard of a revolution in pictorial storytelling…

He made such a mark that DC chose to reprint every piece of work Adams ever did for them into a series of commemorative collections. Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams is the first of three superb tomes (available in  variety of formats) featuring the “Darknight Detective” – as he was dubbed back then – and featuring every cover, story and issue in original publication order.

‘From Me to You: An Introduction’ gives you the history of his early achievements in his own words, after which the covers of Detective Comics #370 (December 1967, inking Carmine Infantino) and the all-Adams Brave and the Bold #75 (January 1968), Detective #372 (February), B&B #76 (February/March), Batman #200 and World’s Finest Comics #174 (both March) all serve as a timely taster for the artist’s first full-length narrative…

The iconoclastic penciller first started truly turning heads and making waves with a couple of enthralling Cape & Cowl capers beginning with World’s Finest Comics #175 (April 1968) and ‘The Superman-Batman Revenge Squads!’

Scripted by Leo Dorfman and inked by Dick Giordano, the story detailed how an annual – and friendly – battle of wits between the crime-busters is infiltrated by alien and Earthly criminal groups intent on killing their foes whilst they are off-guard…

WFC #176 (June) then featured a beguiling enigma in ‘The Superman-Batman Split!’ – written by fellow newcomer Cary Bates. Ostensibly just another alien mystery yarn, this twisty little gem has a surprise ending for all and guest stars Robin, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl and Batgirl, with Adams’ hyper-dynamic realism lending an aura of solid credibility to even the most fanciful situations.

It also ushered in an era of gritty veracity to replace previously anodyne and frequently frivolous Costumed Dramas…

More Dynamite Covers follow: Batman #203 (July/August) leads to Brave & Bold #79 (August/September) and heralded Adams’ assumption of the interior art chores for a groundbreaking run that rewrote the rulebook for strip illustration…

‘The Track of the Hook’ – written by Bob Haney and inked Giordano – paired the Gotham Guardian with justice-obsessed ghost Deadman: formerly trapeze artist Boston Brand who was hunting his own killer, and whose earthy, human tragedy elevated the series’ costume theatrics into deeper, more mature realms of drama and action.

The stories aged ten years overnight and instantly became every discerning fan’s favourite read.

Covers for World’s Finest Comics #178-180 (spanning September through November) segue sweetly into Brave and the Bold #80 (October/November 1968) with ‘And Hellgrammite is his Name’ finding Batman and the Creeper clashing with an infallible, insect-themed super-hitman again courtesy of Haney, Adams & Giordano.

B&B #81 saw the Flash aid the Caped Crusader against an unbeatable thug in ‘But Bork Can Hurt You!’ (inked by Giordano & Vince Colletta) after which Aquaman became ‘The Sleepwalker from the Sea’ in an eerie tale of mind-control and sibling rivalry.

Interwoven through those thrillers are the covers for World’s Finest #182 (February 1969, inking Curt Swan’s pencils), #183 (March, inking over Infantino), Batman #210 and Detective #385 (both March and all Adams).

B&B # 83 took a radical turn (and is the only story herein without a cover since that one was limned by Irv Novick) as the Teen Titans try to save Bruce Wayne’s latest foster-son from his own inner demons in ‘Punish Not my Evil Son!’ (Haney & Giordano as ever on board) but the next team-up was one that got many fans in a real tizzy in 1969.

Before that though you can enjoy the fabulous frontage for World’s Finest #185 (June 1969) after which ‘The Angel, the Rock and the Cowl’ recounts a World War II exploit where Batman and Sgt. Rock of Easy Company hunt Nazi gold together, only closing the case 25 years later.

Try to ignore the kvetching about relative ages and which Earth we’re on: you should really focus on the fact that this is a startlingly gripping tale of great intensity, beautifully realised, and one which has been criminally discounted for decades as “non-canonical”.

Detective Comics #389 (July), World’s Finest #186 (August and pencilled by Infantino) precede Brave and the Bold #85. Behind a stunning cover is arguably the best of an incredible run of action adventures…

‘The Senator’s Been Shot!’ reunites Batman and Green Arrow in a superb multi-layered thriller of politics, corruption and cast-iron integrity, with Bruce Wayne being appointed as a stand-in for a law-maker whilst the Emerald Archer receives a radical make-over that turned him into the fiery liberal gadfly champion of the relevancy generation and still informs his character today, both in funnybooks and on TV screens…

Wrapping up this initial artistic extravaganza are the covers for Detective Comics #391 and 392, (September and October 1969) completing a delirious run of comics masterpieces no ardent art lover or fanatical Fights ‘n’ Tights aficionado can do without.
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Knightfall


By Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, Jim Balent, Bret Blevins, Klaus Janson, Mike Manley & various (DC Comics) ISBN: 978-1-4012-3379-2

The early 1990s were troubled times for the American comicbook industry, with speculative collectors rather than fans driving the business. Many new companies had established themselves using attention-catching gimmicks augmented by cutting-edge print technology and shameless pandering to simplistic sex and violence and the tactics had worked, sparking a glossy, four-colour Gold-Rush amongst fans and, more importantly, previously disinterested outsiders.

With vapid ploys and fleeting trends fuelling frantic mass-multiple purchases by buyers who were too scared to even open up the hundreds of polybagged, technologically-enhanced variant-covered issues they intended to pay for college and a condo with, the major publishers were driven to design boldly bonkers stunts just to keep the attention of their once-devoted readership. At least here, however, story-content still held some worth and value…

In 1992 DC began their epic Death of Superman story-arc and apparently immediately afterward began preparing a similar tradition-shaking, continuity-shattering epic for their other iconic household-name property. Groundwork had already been laid with the introduction of Jean-Paul Valley, a mild-mannered student utterly unaware that he had been programmed since birth by his father and an ancient warrior-cult to become an hereditary instrument of assassination (see Batman: Sword of Azrael) so all that was needed was to sort creative personnel and decide just how best to shake up the life of the Gotham Guardian…

KnightFall, and the subsequent KnightQuest and KnightsEnd, follow the brutal fall, replacement and inevitable return of Bruce Wayne as the indomitable, infallible Batman and was another spectacular success from the old guard which showed all the comicbook upstarts and Young Turks the true value of proper storytelling. It also proved the unshakable power of established characters, as the world was gripped by the Dark Knight’s horrific defeat at the hands of a blatantly superior nemesis.

The crossover publishing event impacted many comics outside the usual Batbook suspects, spawned a bunch of toys, three novelisations, many (necessarily incomplete) trade paperback collections and even jumped the pond to Britain’s staid BBC who turned it into a serialised audio-play on Radio One…

In 2012 DC finally began collecting the entire saga into three huge chronological compilations which, whilst still not truly complete, render the tale a far smoother and more readable experience for older fans and curious newcomers…

Batman: KnightFall volume 1, which could be best codified as and divided into ‘The Breaking of the Bat’ and ‘Who Rules the Night’, gathers the pertinent contents of Batman: Vengeance of Bane Special #1, Batman #491-500, Detective Comics #659-666, Showcase ’93 #7-8 and Batman: Shadow Of The Bat #16-18 – spanning January to October 1993 – and scrupulously covers the most traumatic six months of Bruce Wayne’s adult life in instalments of a shared and progressing narrative alternating between Bat-titles and discrete creative teams.

What you won’t find out here: in the months preceding the start of KnightFall (roughly correlating to Batman issues #484-489 and Detective #654-658), a mysterious new criminal had entered Gotham, covertly observing the Caped Crimebuster at work as the hard-pressed hero tackled sinister crime-lord Black Mask, psycho-killer Metalhead and juvenile military genius The General, all whilst foiling an assassination plot against Police Commissioner Jim Gordon.

On the edge of exhaustion, Wayne began seeing doctor and holistic therapist Shondra Kinsolving, whilst assigning Tim Drake – the third Robin – to training and monitoring Jean-Paul Valley, with the intention of turning the former Azrael’s dark gifts to a beneficial purpose.

Kinsolving was also treating Drake’s father, crippled after an attack by another of the City’s endless stream of criminal lunatics…

Coldly clinical observer Bane revealed himself and designed further tests for the depleted Dark Knight, challenging Batman for the right to rule Gotham, by manufacturing confrontations with Killer Croc and The Riddler; the latter augmented and driven crazy by a dose of deadly super-steroid Venom

Thus, the action begins here with the origin of the calamitous challenger in ‘Vengeance of Bane’ by Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan & Eduardo Barretto, wherein the hulking brute is fully revealed and exposed.

Years ago, on the Caribbean island of Santa Prisca, the ruling junta imprisoned the pregnant wife of a freedom fighter. When the baby was born, he was sentenced in his father’s stead to life on the hellish prison rock of Pena Duro where he somehow thrived, touched by the horror and madness to inexorably become a terrifying, brilliant master of men.

Not merely surviving but educating himself and ultimately thriving on the hard medicine of life, the boy knew he had a destiny beyond those walls. Eventually he named himself Bane.

His only non-hostile contacts became his faithful lieutenants, Trogg, Zombie and the Americano Bird, whose tales of the Bat in Gotham City fired the eternal prisoner’s jealousy and imagination…

Santa Prisca’s entire economy is based on drug smuggling and Bane’s moment came when one of his periodic rages crippled thirty inmates. After finally being subdued by an army of guards he was turned over to scientists testing a new iteration of the muscle and aggression-enhancing formulation Venom. The effects of the steroid had caused the death of all previous candidates, but Bane survived and the delighted technologists devised biological implants that would deliver doses of the drug directly into his brain, enabling him to swiftly multiply his strength and speed at the press of a button…

A plan formed and the patient faked his own death. Disposed of as trash, he returned, seizing the Venom supply, rescuing his comrades and indulging in a fearsome vengeance-talking against his oppressors. Then he turned greedy eyes towards Gotham and the only rival he could imagine…

KnightFall proper begins after Bane’s challenge to the already on-the-ropes Gotham Gangbuster with Batman #491 as ‘The Freedom of Madness’ (Doug Moench & Jim Aparo) sees the ambitious strategist steal National Guard armaments and use them to free every insane super-criminal locked away in Arkham Asylum.

Pushed almost beyond rationality, Batman orders Robin to stick with his mission to train and de-program Jean-Paul and sets out to recapture all his most dangerous enemies, whilst Bane sits back, watching and waiting…

Issue #492 sees the round-up start with the Mad Hatter in ‘Crossed Eyes and Dotty Teas’ (Moench & Norm Breyfogle) proving that even Bane can make mistakes, for whilst Batman acts according to plan and scotches the Hatter’s main party, the Mad Cap Maniac has already despatched a mind-controlled Film Freak to track down their mysterious liberator…

Detective Comics #659 opens with Hellenic god-obsessed Maxie Zeus, innocuous Arnold Wesker and hyperthyroid brute Amygdala fleeing shattered Arkham in ‘Puppets’ (Dixon & Breyfogle) as Batman is called to the alley where the broken, lifeless body of Film Freak is found.

As The Ventriloquist, Wesker used the gangster doll Scarface to express his murderous schemes and – with Amygdala now in tow – has begun a lethal search to get back his old boss. The Dark Knight is obsessively locked on recapturing all his old enemies and ignores Robin’s pleas for rest and reason before tackling the hulking brute, but the confrontation does allow the cool-headed Boy Wonder to turn the tables on Bird, secretly following the Dynamic Duo for Bane.

However, the Pena Duro inmate is too much for the apprentice adventurer and only Bane’s order stops Bird from killing the boy too soon. The chaos is building in Gotham and the master planner wants nothing to spoil his intricate schemes…

Moench & Breyfogle then contribute ‘Redslash’ (Batman #493) as knife-wielding nut-job Victor Zsasz invades a girl’s school. The blood-soaked psycho marks each kill with a new scar on his own body and it’s been too long since his last…

By-the-book cop Lieutenant Stan Kitch’s wait-and-see policy only results in two more deaths that Batman cannot scrub from his own over-worked conscience. In the final confrontation patrolwoman Rene Montoya needs all her determination and utmost efforts to prevent the Dark Knight from beating Zsasz to death…

The chaos grows…

When they last met, Bane nearly crippled Killer Croc and the diseased carnival freak goes looking for payback in Detective #660, but his ‘Crocodile Tears’ (Dixon, Jim Balent & Scott Hanna) lead Robin – still craftily tracking Bird and Bane – into a deadly trap in the City’s sewers before Batman#494’s ‘Night Terrors’ (Moench, Aparo & Tom Mandrake) finally sees the re-emergence of the Joker, having fun his own way whilst looking for a partner to play with.

A collapsed tunnel saves Robin, but Bruce Wayne seems hell-bent on self-destruction; unable to relax until the maniacs are back behind padded bars. Ignoring all pleas from Alfred and Tim, he heads out into the night and narrowly prevents Jim Gordon’s murder at the hands of illusion-casting cannibal Cornelius Stirk, but is woefully unaware that the Clown Prince has allied with the Scarecrow and kidnapped Gotham Mayor Armand Krol

In Detective #661 the Arkham Alumni terrorise Krol, forcing him to further sabotage the benighted metropolis through emergency edicts even as pyromaniac Garfield Lynns sets the ‘City on Fire’ (Dixon, Nolan & Hanna). Having allowed Robin to tag along, Batman permits the Boy Wonder to tackle Firefly whilst the exhausted manhunter searches for less predictable prey. Meanwhile, Wesker is closing in on his Scarface and a recently de-toxified Riddler can’t pull off a robbery because there’s nobody around to answer his obsessively-constructed crime conundrums…

Barely breaking stride to take out the Cavalier, the Caped Crusader stumbles across the Firefly and almost dies at the hands of the relative lightweight in ‘Strange Bedfellows’ (Batman #495, Moench, Aparo & Bob Wiacek) as, impatient to help, Jean-Paul takes to the streets on his own, eager to contribute in his makeshift masked identity…

Finally convinced to take a night off, Bruce attends a civic gala and is recognised by Bane just as Poison Ivy turns up to kidnap all of Gotham’s glitterati. As Batman fights floral-based zombies, Gordon and his top aide Harvey Bullock lead the GCPD into a perfect ambush set by Scarecrow and the Joker…

Detective #662 sees Robin spectacularly if injudiciously tackle Riddler’s ‘Burning Questions’ (Dixon, Nolan & Hanna) just as Batman finally writes finis to Firefly’s horrific depredations, and unsanctioned vigilante Huntress secretly joins the battle to stem the rising tide of chaos, after which Batman #496 commences the climactic clash between the completely exhausted Masked Manhunter and his maddest monsters in ‘Die Laughing’ (Moench, Aparo & Josef Rubinstein), with Scarecrow and Joker explosively sealing off the Gotham River Tunnel… with the broken Mayor at the bottom of it.

Only the detonation of the tunnel roof and a million gallons of ingressing river prevent Batman from beating the Harlequin of Hate to death, but Detective #663 proves there’s ‘No Rest for the Wicked’ (Dixon, Nolan & Hanna) as our hero frantically hauls Krol to safety, merely to fall victim to a concerted assault by Bane’s hit squad.

Narrowly escaping, the harried hero heads home only to find Alfred unconscious and his home invaded by the orchestrator of all his woes…

Batman #497 presents the end of the road in ‘Broken Bat’ – by Moench, Aparo & Dick Giordano – as Bane finally attacks in person, mercilessly beating the exhausted but valiantly battling hero, ultimately breaking Batman’s spine in a savage demonstration of his physical and mental superiority.

Detective #664 sees the beginning of Bane’s Reign in ‘Who Rules the Night’ (Dixon, Nolan & Hanna) as the Scourge of Pena Duro drops the broken Batman’s body in the middle of Gotham; publicly declaring himself the new boss.

Even after Alfred and Robin intercept the ambulance carrying their shattered friend and mentor, saving his life proves a touch-and-go proposition, and in the interval Joker and Scarecrow come to a parting of the ways whilst the Ventriloquist is reunited with his malevolent master Scarface.

Gotham is a city at war and soon Boy Wonder and ex-Azrael are prowling the rooftops trying to stem the tide…

The tale diverges here to reveal the contents of Showcase ’93 #7 and 8, wherein Alfred, Robin and Jean-Paul restlessly wait by the comatose Wayne’s bedside, and traumatised Tim Drake recalls how mere days previously they thwarted the latest murder-spree of erstwhile Gotham DA Harvey Dent.

‘2-Face: Double Cross’ and the concluding ‘2-Face: Bad Judgment’ (Moench & Klaus Janson) depict the Double Desperado again challenging his one-time ally by setting up a hangman’s court in a confused and tragic attempt to convict Batman of causing all the former prosecutor’s problems…

Batman #498’s ‘Knights in Darkness’ (Moench, Aparo & Rick Burchett) see the brutalised Wayne regain consciousness as a paralysed, paraplegic wreck, only to reveal an even greater loss: his fighting spirit. Faking a road crash to explain his massive injuries, Tim and Alfred consult blithely oblivious Dr. Kinsolving in an attempt to restore the billionaire’s shattered spirit and broken body, whilst Bane goes wild in the city, mercilessly consolidating his hold on the various gangs and rackets.

To further his schemes and swiftly counter any stubborn opposition, the King of Gotham recruits Catwoman as his personal thief and retrieval service…

And in Wayne Mansion, as Shondra begins her course of therapy – now knowing full well her patient’s injuries were not caused by pranging a Porsche – Tim Drake carries out Bruce’s wishes and offers Jean-Paul the role and Mantle of Batman…

Gotham City is a criminal’s paradise with thugs big and small running riot now that the Dark Knight has been so publicly destroyed, but Detective #665 reveals ‘Lightning Changes’ (Dixon, Nolan & Giordano) as the new but inexperienced Batman and Robin team start wiping up the street scum and making them fear the night again, under strict instructions from Wayne to avoid major threats until they’re ready.

Valley, however, seems to be slowly coming unglued, happily using excessive force and chafing to test himself against Bane.

Meanwhile, demoralised, wheelchair-bound Bruce is becoming increasing dependent on Shondra. When he can’t find her, he wheels himself through the gardens to the adjoining house of Tim’s father Jack Drake in time to interrupt an abduction by masked gunmen. Despite his best efforts, Wayne is unable to stop them taking Shondra and the elder Drake, whilst in Gotham the new Bat has overstepped his orders and determined to go after Bane – even if it means allying with gangsters and risking the lives of innocent children…

One final diversion comes next in a sidebar tale from Shadow of the Bat#16-18 wherein Alan Grant, Bret Blevins, Mike Manley & Steve George describe how the sinister Scarecrow returns to his old college life long enough to turn innocent students into his phobic slaves as part of a grandiose and clearly crazy plan to turn himself into ‘The God of Fear’

Juvenile ideologue and criminal genius Anarky escapes prison just in time to see “Batman” facing off against his first fully deranged super-villain and realises that the Dark Knight is as much a threat to the people as the Tatterdemalion of Terror. The young rebel decides that for the good of the common man he should take them both out…

It doesn’t quite work out that way, but after Scarecrow exposes Batman to his fear gas and it doesn’t work, they combine to vanquish the failed deity. Valley, in an increasingly rare moment of rationality, lets Anarky off with a pretty scary warning. The former Azrael muses on how his programming had made him immune to the fear chemicals, but he couldn’t be more wrong…

The Beginning of the End starts in Batman #499 with ‘The Venom Connection’ (Moench, Aparo & Hanna), as Jean-Paul’s ruthless savagery and burgeoning paranoia drives a wedge between him and Robin, whilst oblivious to it all, the rededicated and driven Bruce Wayne uses the sleuthing skills of a lifetime to trace the kidnappers to Santa Prisca…

In the Batcave, Jean-Paul realises he is still subject to the deep programming that created Azrael when he falls into a trance and awakens to find he has designed deadly new high-tech gauntlets to augment his war on crime. Bane, meanwhile, ignores all entreaties to act, refusing to bother with a mere impostor.

In a blockbusting raid, Batman and Robin capture Bane’s lieutenants, although the Darker Knight coldly risks children’s lives to achieve victory. Alienated and deeply troubled, Tim resolves to tell Bruce but finds the Mansion deserted. Bruce and Alfred have left for the Caribbean, unaware that they have a svelte stowaway in the form of Selina Kyle

Detective #666 pushes things to fever-pitch with ‘The Devil You Know’ (Dixon, Nolan & Hanna) as the augmented, ever-angry and clearly losing it Batman breaks Trogg, Bird and Zombie out of jail and follows them back to Bane, only to fall before the sheer power and ferocity of the Venom-addicted living juggernaut…

Batman #500 is divided into a landmark two-part conclusion. ‘Dark Angel 1: the Fall’, by Moench, Aparo & Terry Austin, sees Batman frantically escape certain death at Bane’s hands and retreat to the Batcave where Azrael’s submerged programming – dubbed “the System” – takes temporary control: devising a perfectly-honed technological armoured suit that turns Batman into a human war-machine. Far more worrying is the rift that drives Robin, Nightwing and every other possible ally away as Valley prepares for his final confrontation with Bane…

The infuriated King of the City wants it too: challenging the impostor to a highly public duel in the centre of Gotham. ‘Dark Angel 2: the Descent’ (art by Mike Manley) sees a catastrophic clash which comprehensively crushes Bane and publicly proclaims the return of a new, darker Champion of the Night. As Batman narrowly chooses to leave Bane a crushed and humiliated living trophy rather than dead example, Robin – who had to save a train full of innocent bystanders from becoming collateral casualties of Batman – realises something very bad has come to Gotham…

To Be Continued…

There’s something particularly enticing about these colossal mega-compilations (available in both printed and digital editions) that utterly delights the 10-year-old in me: proven, familiar favourite stories in a huge, wrist-numbing package offering a vast hit of full-colour funnybook action, suspense and solid entertainment. And there’s even better to come…
© 1993, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Suicide Squad: The Silver Age


By Robert Kanigher, Howard Liss, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6343-0

The War that Time Forgot was a strange series which saw paratroopers and tanks of the “Question Mark Patrol” dropped on Mystery Island from whence no American soldiers ever returned. Assorted crack GIs discovered why when the operation was suddenly overrun by pterosaurs, tyrannosaurs and worse…

However, the combat-&-carnosaur creation was actually a spin-off of an earlier concept which hadn’t quite caught on with the comics-buying public. That wasn’t a problem for Writer/Editor Kanigher: a man well-versed in judicious recycling and reinvention…

Back in 1955 he had devised and written anthology adventure comic The Brave and the Bold which featured short complete tales starring a variety of period heroes: a format mirroring that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas.

Issue #1 led with Roman swords-&-sandals epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was side-lined by the company’s iteration of Robin Hood, but the high adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning superhero revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle in the manner of the astounding successful Showcase.

Used to launch enterprising concepts and characters such as Cave Carson, Strange Sports Stories, Hawkman and the epochal Justice League of America, the title began its run of beta-tests in issue #25 (August/September 1959) with the fate-tempting Suicide Squad – code-named Task Force X by the US government to investigate uncanny mysteries and tackle unnatural threats.

The scary tales were all illustrated by Kanigher’s go-to team for fantastic fantasy Ross Andru & Mike Esposito and they clearly revelled at the chance to cut loose and show what they could do outside the staid whimsy of Wonder Woman and gritty realism of the war titles they usually handled…

The Brave and the Bold #25 introduced a quartet of merely human specialists – air ace war hero Colonel Rick Flag, combat medic Karin Grace and big-brained boffins Hugh Evans and Jess Price – all officially convened into a unit whose purpose was to tackle threats beyond conventional comprehension such as the interstellar phenomenon dubbed ‘The Three Waves of Doom!’

The quartet were built on a very shaky premise. All three men loved Karin. She only loved Rick but agreed to conceal her inclinations and sublimate her passions so Hugh and Jess would stay on the team of scientific death-cheaters…

In their first published exploit a cloud from outer space impacted Earth and created a super-heated tsunami which threated to broil America. With dashing derring-do, the trouble-shooters quenched the ambulatory heat wave only to have it spawn a colossal alien dragon emanating super-cold rays that could trigger a new ice age…

The only solution was to banish the beast back into space on a handy rocket headed for the sun, but sadly the ship need to be piloted…

Having heroically ended the invader, the team were back two months later as B&B #26 opened with an immediate continuation. ‘The Sun Curse’ saw our stranded astronauts struggling (in scenes eerily prescient and reminiscent of the Apollo 13 crisis a decade later) to return their ship to Earth. Uncannily, however, the trip bathes them in radiations which causes them to shrink to insect size…

Back on terra firma but now imperilled by everything around them, the team nonetheless manages to scuttle a proposed attack by a hostile totalitarian nation before regaining their regular stature…

A second, shorter tale then finds the quartet enjoying some downtime in Paris before the Metro is wrecked by an awakened dinosaur. Of course, the tourists are ready and able to stop the ‘Serpent in the Subway!’

In an entertainment era still dominated by monsters and aliens, with superheroes still only tentatively resurfacing, Task Force X were at the forefront of beastie-battles and their third and final try-out issue found them facing an evolutionary nightmare as a scientist vanished and the region around his lab was suddenly besieged by gigantic insects as well as a colossal reptilian humanoid the team dubbed ‘The Creature of Ghost Lake!’ (December 1959/January 1960). They destroyed the monster but never found the professor…

A rare failure for those excitingly experimental days, the Suicide Squad vanished after that triple try-out run, only to resurface months later for a second bite of the cherry…

The Brave and the Bold #37 (August/September 1961) opened with Karin displaying heretofore unsuspected psychic gifts and predicting an alien ‘Raid of the Dinosaurs!’ which pitted the team against hyper-intelligent saurian whilst ‘Threat of the Giant Eye!’ focussed on the retrieval of a downed military plane and lost super-weapon. The hunt took the Squad to an island of mythological mien where a living monocular monolith hunted people…

In #38 (October/November 1961) the team tackled the ‘Master of the Dinosaurs’ – an alien using Pteranodons to hunt like an Earthling would use falcons – after which the fabulous four fell afoul of extra-dimensional would-be conquerors but still had enough presence of mind and determination to defeat the ‘Menace of the Mirage People!’

B&B #39 (December 1961/January 1962) called “time” on Task Force X after ‘Prisoners of the Dinosaur Zoo!’ saw the team uncover an ancient extraterrestrial ark caching antediluvian flora and fauna and ‘Rain of Fire!’ found them crushing a macabre criminal entombing crime-busters in liquid metal. That was it for the Squad until 1986 when a new iteration of the concept was launched in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Or was it? Superhero fans are notoriously clannish and insular so they might not have noticed how one creative powerhouse refused to take “no thanks” for an answer…

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics, horror stories, superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman and other genres too numerous to cover here. He also scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the very first story of the Silver Age – which introduced Barry Allen AKA the Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the World in 1956.

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932 and wrote for the theatre, film and radio before joining the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945, he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and Lady Cop, plus memorable villainous femme fatales Harlequin and Rose and Thorn. This last he reconstructed, during the relevancy era of the early 1970s, into a schizophrenic crime-busting female super-hero.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into espionage, adventure, westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Amy at War.

He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

Among his many epochal war series were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, the Haunted Tank and The Losers as well as the visually addictive, irresistibly astonishing “Dogfaces and Dinosaurs” dramas sampled in the back of this stunning hardback collection…

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and even used the uncanny but formulaic adventure arena of The War that Time Forgot as a personal try-out venue for his many series concepts. The Flying Boots, G.I. Robot and many other teams and characters first appeared in the lush Pacific hellhole with wall-to-wall danger. Indisputably the big beasts were the stars, but occasionally (extra)ordinary G.I .Joes made enough of an impression to secure return engagements, too…

The War that Time Forgot debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90 (April-May 1960) and ran until #137 (May 1968) skipping only three issues: #91, 93 and #126 (the last of which starred the United States Marine Corps simian Sergeant Gorilla – look it up: I’m neither kidding nor being metaphorical…).

Simply too good a concept to leave alone, this seamless, shameless blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caprona stories (known alternatively as the Caspak Trilogy or “the Land That Time Forgot”) provided everything baby-boomer boys could dream of: giant lizards, humongous insects, fantastic adventures and two-fisted heroes with lots of guns…

In the summer of 1963, a fresh Suicide Squad debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #110 to investigate a ‘Tunnel of Terror’ into the lost land of giant monsters: this time though, a giant albino gorilla decided that mammals should stick together…

The huge hairy beast was also the star of ‘Return of the Dinosaur Killer!’ in #111 as the unnamed Squad leader and a wily boffin (visually based on Kanigher’s office associate Julie Schwartz) struggled to survive on the tropically reptilian atoll…

In SSWS #116 (August/September 1964) a duo of dedicated soldiers faced ice-bound beasts in ‘The Suicide Squad!’ – the big difference being that Morgan and Mace were more determined to kill each other than accomplish their mission…

‘Medal for a Dinosaur!’ in #117 bowed to the inevitable and introduced a (relatively) friendly and extremely cute baby pterodactyl to balance out Mace and Morgan’s barely suppressed animosity, after which ‘The Plane-Eater!’ in #118 found the army odd couple adrift in the Pacific and in deep danger until the little leather-winged guy turned up once more…

The Suicide Squad were getting equal billing by the time of #119’s ‘Gun Duel on Dinosaur Hill!’ (February/March 1965) as yet another group of men-without-hope battled reptilian horrors and each other to the death, after which the un-killable Morgan and Mace returned with Dino, the flying baby dinosaur, who found a new companion in handy hominid Caveboy before the whole unlikely ensemble struggled to survive against increasingly outlandish creatures in ‘The Tank Eater!’

Issue #121 presented a diving drama when a UDT frogman won his Suicide Squad rep as a formidable fighter and ‘The Killer of Dinosaur Alley!’ Increasingly now, G.I. hardware and ordnance began to gain the upper hand over bulk, fang and claw…

Undisputed master of gritty fantasy art Joe Kubert added his pencil-and-brush magic to a tense and manic thriller featuring the return of the G.I. Robot in stunning battle bonanza ‘Titbit for a Tyrannosaurus!’ in #125 (February/March 1965), after which Andru & Esposito covered another Suicide Squad sea-saga in #127: ‘The Monster Who Sank a Navy!’

This eclectic collection then tumultuously terminates as scripter Howard Liss and visual veteran Gene Colan craft a masterfully moving human drama from issue #128 which was astoundingly improved by the inclusion of ravening reptiles in ‘The Million Dollar Medal!’ and the last tale in this volume).

Throughout this calamitous compilation of dark dilemmas, light-hearted romps and spectacular battle blockbusters the emphasis is always on foibles and fallibility; with human heroes unable to put aside long-held grudges, swallow pride or forgive trespasses even amidst the strangest and most terrifying moments of their lives, and this edgy humanity informs and elevates even the daftest of these wonderfully imaginative adventure yarns.

Classy, intense, insanely addictive and Just Plain Fun, the original Suicide Squad offers a kind of easy, no-commitment entertainment seldom seen these days and is a deliciously guilty pleasure for one and all…
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 2


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6808-4

Batman: The Golden Age volume is another paperback-format feast (there’s also a weightier, pricier but more capacious hardback Omnibus available) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Set out in original publishing release order, it forgoes glossy, high-definition paper and reproduction techniques in favour of a newsprint-adjacent feel and the same flat, bright-yet-muted colour palette which graced the originals. Those necessary details dealt with, what you really need to know is that this is a collection of Batman tales that see the character grow into the major player who would inspire so many and develop the resilience to survive the stifling cultural vicissitudes the coming decades would inflict upon him and his partner, Robin.

With the majority of material crafted by Bill Finger and illustrated by Bob Kane, there’s no fuss, fiddle or Foreword, and the book steams straight into the meat of the matter, representing the astounding cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #46-56, Batman#4-7 and the Dynamic Duo’s stories from World’s Best Comics #1 and World’s Finest Comics #2-3; cumulatively covering all the groundbreaking escapades from December 1940 to November 1941

Plunging right in to the perilous procedures, Detective Comics #46 (inked by Kane and regular embellishers Jerry Robinson & George Roussos) features the return of Batman’s most formidable scientific adversary as the heroes must counteract the awesome effects of ‘Professor Strange’s Fear Dust’ after which issue #47 delivers drama on a more human scale in ‘Money Can’t Buy Happiness’.

This action-packed homily of parental expectation and the folly of greed leads into Batman #4 (Winter 1941) which features ‘The Joker’s Crime Circus’ and the piratical plunderings of ‘Blackbeard’s Crew and the Yacht Society’. Then ‘Public Enemy No.1’ tells a gangster fable in the manner of Jimmy Cagney’s movie Angels With Dirty Faces, and ‘Victory For the Dynamic Duo’ involves the pair in the treacherous world of sports gambling.

Detective Comics #48 finds them defending America’s bullion reserves in ‘The Secret Cavern’, and they face an old foe when ‘Clayface Walks Again’ (Detective Comics #49, March 1941), as the deranged horror actor resumes his passion for murder and re-attempts to kill Bruce Wayne’s old girlfriend Julie.

Detective Comics #50 pits Batman and Robin against acrobatic burglars in ‘The Case of the Three Devils’, leading neatly into Batman #5 (Spring 1941). Once again, the Joker plays lead villain in ‘The Riddle of the Missing Card’ before the heroes prove their versatility by solving a quixotic crime in Fairy Land via ‘The Book of Enchantment’.

‘The Case of the Honest Crook’ follows: one of the key stories of Batman’s early canon. When a mugger steals only $6 from a victim, leaving much more behind, his trail leads to a vicious gang who almost beat Robin to death. The vengeance-crazed Dark Knight goes on a rampage of terrible violence that still resonates in the character to this day.

The last story from Batman #5 ‘Crime does Not Pay’ once again deals with kids going bad and the potential for redemption, after which World’s Best Comics#1 (Spring 1941 – destined to become World’s Finest Comics with its second issue) offers an eerie murder mystery concerning ‘The Witch and the Manuscript of Doom’

With most stories still coming from unsung genius Finger and the art chores shared out between Kane, Robinson & Roussos, the team got a new top contributor as Fred Ray signed on to produce the fantastic World’s Finest covers.

‘The Case of the Mystery Carnival’, ‘The Secret of the Jade Box’ and ‘Viola Vane’ (Detective#51, 52 and 53 respectively) are mood-soaked crimebusting set-pieces featuring fairly run-of-the mill thugs, which serve as perfect palate-cleansers for ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Remember!’ from WF#2: a powerful character play and a baffling mystery that still packs a punch today.

‘Hook Morgan and his Harbor Pirates’ finds the Dynamic Duo cleaning up the docks whilst the four tales from Batman #6 (‘Murder on Parole’, ‘The Clock Maker’, ‘The Secret of the Iron Jungle’ and ‘Suicide Beat’) offer a broad range of yarns encompassing a prison-set human interest fables to the hunt for a crazed maniac to racket busting and back to the human side of being a cop.

Detective #54 went back to basics with spectacular mad scientist thriller ‘The Brain Burglar’ after which a visit to a ghost town results in an eerie romp ‘The Stone Idol’ (Detective#55) before World’s Finest#3 launches a classic villain with the first appearance of one of Batman’s greatest foes in ‘The Riddle of the Human Scarecrow’.

The volume ends with four grand tales from Batman#7. ‘Wanted: Practical Jokers’ again stars the psychotic Clown Prince of Crime, whilst ‘The Trouble Trap’ finds our heroes crushing a Spiritualist racket before heading for Lumberjack country to clear up ‘The North Woods Mystery’.

The last story is something of a landmark case, as well as being a powerful and emotional melodrama. ‘The People Vs. The Batman’ finds Bruce Wayne framed for murder and the Dynamic Duo finally sworn in as official police operatives. They would not be vigilantes again until the grim and gritty 1980’s…

Kane, Robinson and their compatriots created an iconography which carried the Batman feature well beyond its allotted life-span until later creators could re-invigorate it. They added a new dimension to children’s reading… and their work is still captivatingly accessible.

Moreover, these early stories set the standard for comic superheroes. Whatever you like now, you owe it to these stories. Superman gave us the idea, but inspired and inspirational writers like Bill Finger refined and defined the meta-structure of the costumed crime-fighter.

Where the Man of Steel was as much Social Force and juvenile wish-fulfilment as hero, Batman and Robin did what we ordinary mortals wanted to do most: teach bad people the lessons they richly deserved…

These are tales of elemental power and joyful exuberance, brimming with deep mood and addictive action. Comicbook heroics simply don’t come any better.
© 1940, 1941, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Deluxe volume 5


By Mark Waid, Chuck Dixon, Scott Beatty, Brian Hitch, Mike S. Miller, Darryl Banks, Cliff Rathburn, J.H. Williams III, Javier Saltares, Phil Jimenez, Ty Templeton, Doug Mahnke, Mark Pajarillo, Steve Scott & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-14012-4750-8

When the Justice League of America – driving force and cornerstone of the Silver Age of Comics – was re-imagined and relaunched in 1997, the sheer bravura quality of the stories propelled the series back to the forefront of industry attention, making as many new fans as it recaptured old ones. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality.

With JLA you could see on every page all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be…

The JLA were a phenomenally hot property at this time and got to star in an oversized new format. Moreover, thanks to author Waid and artists Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary and colourist Laura DePuy, the content matched the packaging. JLA: Heaven’s Ladder precedes the monthly JLA issues #47-60 which comprise the majority of this fifth Deluxe Edition (available in hardback, paperback and eBook formats) and collectively spanning October 2000 to January 2002.

Also packed into this blockbusting bonanza are snippets from JLA Secret Files #3: all combining to provide charming character yarns and astounding epics of cosmic wonder and universal upheaval which still pack a punch nearly two decades later…

Heaven’s Ladder reveals how beings of truly cosmic scale face their ultimate dissolution by almost taking the rest of the universes with them when they go.

After adding Earth to a batch of planetary baubles strung together like a necklace, stored in an incomprehensibly huge starship, the hyper gods are tackled by the comparatively infinitesimal Justice League who discover the invaders have no concept of an afterlife and are infiltrating the mythologies of the galaxy’s lower lifeforms so they can build themselves one to repose in…

As if that’s not enough, a rebel faction – determined to die graciously without polluting themselves – violently opposes accepting the assistance of lowly bacteria like humanity…

Cosmic in conception and epic in scope and delivery, Heaven’s Ladder is an astounding example of big sky comics serving as a perfect appetiser to the wild dramas which follow, beginning with a dark fable illustrated by Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary introducing a supernatural hell-queen who makes fairy tales real – but not in a good way…

‘Into the Woods’ is an extended yarn describing how an evil empress of imagination escapes from fiction and reshapes reality to suit her vicious whims. Her crusade leaves the League nonplussed and helpless, but even though Batman is no longer a member, the Dark Knight is still pulling the heroes’ strings…

‘Truth is Stranger’ (with a portentous visit to Fairyland limned by J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray) offers more horror and a glimmer of hope before Hitch, Neary, Javier Saltares and Chris Ivy bring it all to a conclusion as Fantasy and reality collide in the spectacular ‘Unhappily Ever After’

That brought up the celebratory 50th issue, and true to tradition it’s a tale resplendent with guest artists. ‘Dream Team’ reaffirmed and revitalised the heroes – who had developed a healthy distrust of Batman – through a series of pitched battles against nightmare-materialising old foe Doctor Destiny, with art from Hitch, Neary, Phil Jimenez, Ty Templeton, Doug Mahnke, Mark Pajarillo, Kevin Nowlan, Drew Geraci and Walden Wong, which segued neatly into another End-of-Days cosmic catastrophe, as a sixth-dimensional super-weapon is unleashed on our universe.

In ‘Man and Superman’ (illustrated by Mike S. Millar & Armando Durruthy) the extra-planar Cathexis come seeking the JLA’s help in recapturing their rogue wish-fulfilling “Sentergy: Id”. Sadly, it has already struck, separating Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man from their secret identities, rendering them into twelve incomplete and ineffectual half-men. As always, however, all is not as it seems…

Hitch & Neary resumed the art-chores as a wishing plague devastates Earth in ‘Element of Surprise’ with one unexpected benefit in the grotesque resurrection of dead hero Metamorpho, but the prognosis is poor until the now un-reformed thug Eel O’Brian (who turned over a new leaf to become the daftly heroic Plastic Man) sees which way the wind is blowing in ‘It Takes a Thief’ and leads the disjointed team’s resurgence in the apocalyptic climax ‘United we Fall’.

Th strictures of order firmly re-established and Batman back on the team, the JLA than endure a devilish attack dubbed ‘Terror Incognita’ as the sinister White Martians (who first reared their pallid, spiky heads in JLA: New World Order) return to transform Earth into their own recreational slaughterhouse.

Launching the campaign with a series of blistering personalised psychic assaults in ‘Came the Pale Riders’ (Waid, Hitch & Neary), their ever-intensifying efforts are met with valiant resistance in ‘The Harvest’ (Mike S. Miller & Dave Meikis), before Batman leads the counterpunch with plenty of guest-stars in tow, displaying ‘Mind Over Matter’ (Miller & Neary) and ultimately resulting in a calamitous crescendo and glorious triumph in ‘Dying Breath’

With no appreciable pause for breath the team are then drawn into a cross-company publishing event that saw “Jokerised” super-villains running amok throughout the DCU (see Batman: the Joker’s Last Laugh for further details).

Set deep in the icy Antarctic wastes, ‘Bipolar Disorder’ (scripted by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty, with art from Darryl Banks & Wayne Faucher) sees magnetic malcontent and world-class loon Dr. Polaris made even crazier when infected by the Crazy Clown’s unique brand of insanity; stretching Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man to their utmost in a bid to preserve the planet …

This leads into a classy Christmas neo-classic as Plastic Man reveals how Santa Claus joined the JLA in the outrageously engrossing, frolicsome fable ‘Merry Christmas, Justice League… Now Die!’ by Waid, Cliff Rathburn & Paul Neary. In case you’re wondering, this one’s played for laughs, kids…

Inserted next to wrap up the proceedings are mini-treats from JLA Secret Files #3, beginning with ‘Lost Pages’ (Waid, Mark Propst & Tom McCraw), revealing the superhero community’s reactions when Batman was kicked off the team, after which Scott Beatty scripts a selection of villainous pin-up/fact file pages: ‘White Martians’ (illustrated by Dale Eaglesham &Andrew Hennessy), ‘Queen of Fables’ (Yanick Paquette), ‘The General’ (Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen). ‘Mageddon’ (Norm Breyfogle), ‘Qwsp’ (John McCrea & Tom Chiu) and ‘Queen Bee’ (Greg Land & Al Gordon).

Witty, engaging, challenging, beautiful and incredibly exciting, these are some of the best superhero adventures ever created: timeless, rewarding sagas that must be part of your permanent collection…
© 2000, 2001, 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.