Batman: the Dark Knight Archives volume 7


By Bob Kane, Don Cameron, Bill Finger, Joe Samachson, Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene, Dick Sprang, Jerry Robinson, Jack Burnley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2894-1

Win’s Christmas Recommendation: Classically Traditional, Timelessly Wonderful… 9/10

Launching in 1939, a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) cemented DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the fantastic parameters of the metahuman with their Man of Tomorrow, the strictly mortal physical perfection and dashing derring-do of DC’s Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crimebusters were judged.

This seventh lavish hardback Archive Edition volume covers another bombastic bevy of Batman adventures (from #26-31 of his solo title, spanning December 1944/January 1945 to October/November 1945), abandoning wartime themes and exploits as the American Homefront anticipated a return to peacetime dangers, dooms and criminality….

These Golden Age tales are amongst the very finest in Batman’s decades-long canon as lead writers Bill Finger and Don Cameron, supplemented by Joe Samachson, Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joseph Greene and other sadly unrecorded scripters, pushed the boundaries of the medium whilst graphic genius Dick Sprang veteran gradually superseded and surpassed originator Bob Kane (busy drawing the Batman daily newspaper strip); making the feature utterly his own whilst keeping the Dauntless Double-Act at the forefront of the legion of superhero stars.

The sheer creativity exhibited in these adventures saw an ever-expanding band of creators responsible for producing the stories of the Dark Knight were hitting an artistic peak which only stellar stable-mate Superman and Fawcett’s Captain Marvel could match.

Following a fascinatingly fact-filled and incisive Foreword from comics historian – and leading light of the magnificent Grand Comics Database – Gene Reed, the mesmerising flash and dazzle commences with Batman #26 and ‘The Twenty Ton Robbery!’

Delivered by Cameron & Sprang it described the return of Dashing Desperado The Cavalier, whose criminal cries for attention drove him to compete against the Caped Crusaders with ever-more spectacular and pointless plunderings after which Schiff & Robinson proffered another delightfully silly comedy-caper in ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Recipe for Revenge!’

This solo exploit of the wannabe detective found the fumbling footman shopping for fancy cuisine and inadvertently saving the life of a gourmet chef…

Crafted at the end of 1944, Greene & Sprang’s ‘The Year 3000!’ was a timely allegory of recent terrors and warning to tomorrow as the usual scenario boldly switched to an idyllic future despoiled when the Saturnian hordes of Fura invade Earth and nearly crush humanity. Happily, one brave man and his young friend find records of ancient heroes named Batman and Robin and, patterning themselves on the long-gone champions, lead a rebellion which overturns and eradicates those future fascists…

Although a touch heavy-handed in places, this first conception of the undying legacy of Batman is a stunning example of what comics do best: inspire whilst entertaining…

Cameron & Sprang close up the issue, back on solid ground and with an eye to contemporary trends as ‘Crime Comes to Lost Mesa!’ finds the Gotham Gangbusters way out west in pursuit of escaped convicts and stumbling into a lost land where pueblo Indians still live in blissful ignorance of the modern world.

Keeping it that way takes the aid of plucky native tyke Nachee, helping Batman and Robin by surreptitiously rounding up the fugitives…

Issue #27 sported a stunning Christmas cover by Jack Burnley (equally captivating other covers in this collection are provided by Robinson or Sprang) before the Masked Manhunters were introduced to ‘The Penguin’s Apprentice’ (Cameron, Burnley & Robinson). The lad was far from keen to continue the family’s illegal traditions or indulge in nefarious business and his dreams of being an author soon ensured Batman put the Bird Bandit back in a cage…

Jerry Robinson always had a deft touch with light comedy and excelled in illustrating the sadly uncredited butler yarns remaining in this tome. ‘The Adventures of Alfred: The Pearl of Peril!’ saw the hapless manservant suckered into an ancient con-game but still coming up trumps thanks to sheer dumb luck, after which Samachson, Burnley & Robinson took Batman and Robin on a ‘Voyage into Villainy’ when a murder at The Explorers Club leads to a deadly treasure hunt through scaled-down replicas of Earth’s most inhospitable environments with a hidden killer waiting to pounce at any moment…

Another of the annual “Christmas Batman” tales wraps up the issue (why on Earth DC has never released a paperback collection of this phenomenally rich seam of Festive gold I’ll never understand) as ‘A Christmas Peril!’ by Cameron & Robinson follows the downward progress and overnight redemption of appallingly callous boy-millionaire Scranton Loring, who learns – almost too late – the joy of giving and inadvisability of trusting bankers and financial advisers, thanks to the timely intervention of a couple of self-appointed (masked) Santa’s Helpers…

Batman #28 leads with ‘Shadow City!’ (Cameron & Robinson) wherein The Joker concocts a wild scheme involving a floating urban street where gamblers and other wealthy risk-takers can indulge their dark passions safe from legal oversight – until the Dynamite Detectives deduce the truth of his vanishing village…

Another anonymous Robinson-rendered romp follows as ‘The Adventures of Alfred: The Great Handcuff King!’ reveals how the bumbling butler’s attempts to familiarise himself with manacles accidentally ensnares an unwary thuggish miscreant, after which the mild-mannered manservant almost ends the career of ‘Shirley Holmes: Policewoman!’ by inadvertently exposing the undercover cop to criminals in a tense Batman thriller by Finger & Robinson.

This issue ends on a redemptive high note as ‘Batman Goes to Washington!’ (Alvin Schwartz & Robinson) finds the Dark Knight supporting a group of former criminals heading to the nation’s capital to argue the case for jobs for ex-offenders. Typically, some gang bosses react to the threat to their potential labour pool with murderous overkill…

Finger & Sprang opened #29 with the chilling ‘Enemy No. 1’ as a man obsessed by being first at everything turned his monomaniacal frustration to the commission of crime, after which the Unknown Writer joined Robinson returned in ‘The Adventures of Alfred: The Butler’s Apprentice!’ wherein our dapper Man Friday answers an ad to train a retainer and stumbles into another half-baked burglary plot…

Although credited here to Robinson, Don Cameron’s outrageous romp ‘Heroes by Proxy!’ is actually an all-Sprang affair, delightfully describing how down-on-their-luck private detectives Hawke and Wrenn try to save their failing business by masquerading as Batman and Robin.

Luckily their first case involves strangely embarrassed Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson who are mortified – then amused – to be burgled by bandits unknown and then coached and cosseted by these helpful but blatantly shoddy impostors of their alter egos…

The delicious hilarity successfully concluded, grim normality returns courtesy of Finger, Sprang & Charles Paris as the diabolical Scuttler devises an infallible means of purloining secret plans and foiling the law’s attempts to catch him in ‘The Mails Go Through!’

The pompous Penguin pops up again in Batman #30, undertaking a bird and umbrella themed banditry-blitz to ensure his status as emperor of crime until the determined duo send him ‘Back to the Big House!’ (Cameron & Sprang).

‘While the City Sleeps!’ (Finger & Sprang) is a revered classic of informative, socially-aware entertainment which finds the senior crime-smasher taking his ward on a nocturnal tour of the city, celebrating the people who keep a modern metropolis going. Along the way they encounter a repentant thief trying to return stolen cash and have to deal with the guilty man’s murderous compatriots who want to keep the loot…

‘The Adventures of Alfred: Alias the Baron!’ (? & Robinson) then brightens the tone as the butler is mistaken by gangsters for a British crook marked for assassination, after which Finger & Sprang introduce the most annoying character in Gotham in ‘Ally Babble and the Fourteen Peeves!’

The well-meaning, impulse-challenged blabbermouth never shuts up and when he agrees to sort out a list of petty grievances for a well-to-do, bedridden old gent, the resulting chaos allows crooks to make a killing. As events alarmingly escalate however, the Caped Crimebusters are hard pushed to decide who’s the greater menace…

The final issue in this titanic tome is an all Robinson art-affair, beginning with the debut of quarrelsome couple ‘Punch and Judy!’ (scripted by Finger and inked by George Roussos). The wily elderly performers’ violent relationship makes them prime suspects when Bruce and Dick investigate a crooked carnival but can they possibly be involved in murder too?

‘The Adventures of Alfred: Alfred, Armchair Detective!’ was possibly written by Cameron or Samachson and hilariously depicts how an idle night spent eavesdropping on crooks results in a big arrest of burglars, whilst ‘The Vanishing Village!’ (Samachson) finds Batman and Robin in Florida, infiltrating a seemingly mobile resort hideaway for crooks on the run before Joe Greene authors the final act.

Here Robinson & Roussos depict the heroes investigating ‘Trade Marks of Crime!’ when a succession of crimes seem to indicate that some new culprit is utilising the tricks and M.O.’s of other bandits. The truth is a far more cunning and dangerous solution…

Accompanied by a full creator ‘Biographies’ section, this sublime selection of classic comicbook action is a magnificent rollercoaster ride to a era of high drama, low cunning and breathtaking excitement and this timeless and evergreen treat is one no lover of graphic entertainments should ignore.
© 1944, 1945, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Shazam! Family Archives volume 1


By unknown authors, Mac Raboy, Al Carreno, Mark Swayze & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0779-3

One of the most venerated and beloved characters of America’s Golden Age of comicbooks, Captain Marvel was created in 1940 as part of a wave of opportunistic creativity which followed the stunning success of Superman in 1938 and Batman one year later.

Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett champion quickly moved squarely into the area of light entertainment and even straight comedy, whilst as the years passed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action, drama and suspense.

Homeless orphan and all-around decent kid Billy Batson was selected by an ancient wizard named Shazam to periodically employ the powers of six ancient gods and heroes to battle injustice. Thereafter he could transform from scrawny, precocious kid to brawny (adult) hero Captain Marvel by speaking aloud the wizard’s acronymic name – invoking the powers of legendary patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.

Publishing house Fawcett had first gained prominence through an immensely well-received magazine for WWI veterans entitled Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang, before branching out into books and general interest magazines. Their most successful publication – at least until the Good Captain hit his stride – was the ubiquitous boy’s building bible Mechanix Illustrated and, as the comicbook decade unfolded, the scientific and engineering discipline and “can-do” demeanour underpinning MI suffused and informed both the art and plots of the Marvel Family titles.

Captain Marvel was the brainchild of writer/editor Bill Parker and brilliant illustrator Charles Clarence Beck who, with his assistant Pete Costanza, handled most of the art on the series throughout its stellar run. Before eventually evolving his own affable personality the Captain was a serious, bluff and rather characterless powerhouse whilst junior alter ego Billy was the true star: a Horatio Alger archetype of impoverished, boldly self-reliant and resourceful youth overcoming impossible odds through gumption, grit and sheer determination…

After homeless orphan newsboy Billy was granted access to the power of legendary gods and heroes, he won a job as a roaming radio reporter for Amalgamated Broadcasting and first defeated demonic Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, setting a pattern that would captivate readers for the next 14 years…

At the height of his popularity Captain Marvel – and many of his fellow Shazam!-powered pals – were published twice monthly and frequently outsold Superman, but as the Furious Forties closed, tastes changed, sales slowed and Fawcett saw the way the wind was blowing.

They settled an infamous, long-running copyright infringement suit begun by National Comics in 1940 and the “Big Red Cheese” vanished – like so many other superheroes – becoming no more than a fond memory for older fans…

Fawcett in full bloom, however, was a true publishing innovator and marketing dynamo – now regarded as the inventor of many established comicbook sales tactics we all take for granted today. This stunning and lavishly sturdy full-colour hardback compendium features magnificent examples of the most effective strategy: spin-off characters linked to the primary star…

Fawcett was the company responsible for creating crossover-events and in 1942 they devised a truly unforgettable villain and set him simultaneously loose on their stable of costumed champions whilst using his (temporary) defeat to introduce a new hero to their colourful pantheon.

The epic creation of Captain Marvel Jr. and his originating antithesis Captain Nazi was covered in Shazam! Archives volume 4 so this subsidiary collection gathers his subsequent appearances as brand new headliner in Master Comics #23-32 (February to November 4th 1942) plus the first issue of his own solo title ( 18th November 1942) and also includes the first appearance of mighty Miss Mary Marvel who debuted in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 (December 11th 1942)

Featuring a stunning array of breathtaking and evocative patriotic covers by Mac Raboy and Beck, this splendid compendium kicks off with an erudite and incisive Foreword by P.C. Hammerlinck (artist, editor, historian and former student of C.C. Beck) who reveals many secrets of the original comics’ production before the cartoon classics commence.

Sadly, although the artists involved are easily recognisable, the identities of these tales’ writers are lost to us but strong possibilities include primarily Rod Reed and Ed “France” Herron (both early editors of Fawcett’s comics line) as well as Bill Parker, Joe Millard, Manly Wade Wellman, Otto Binder and William Woolfolk.

Before the advent of the World’s Mightiest Boy, Bulletman – ably assisted by his companion Bulletgirl – was undoubtedly Fawcett’s runner-up star turn; hogging the cover spot in monthly Master Comics and carrying his own solo comicbook. However, that all changed with the twenty-first issue and the murderous arrival of Captain Nazi. Hitler’s Übermensch made manifest, the monstrous villain was despatched to America to spread terror and destruction and kill all its superheroes.

The Horrendous Hun stormed in, taking on Bulletman and Captain Marvel who united to stop the Fascist Fiend wrecking New York City. The battle ended inconclusively but restarted when the Nazi nemesis tried to wreck a hydroelectric dam. Foiled again, the monster sought to smash a new fighter plane prototype before Captain Marvel countered him, but was not quick enough to prevent the killer murdering an old man and brutally crushing a young boy.

Freddy Freeman seemed destined to follow his grandfather into eternity, but guilt-plagued Billy brought the dying lad to Shazam’s mystic citadel where the old wizard saved his life by granting him access to the power of the ancient gods and heroes. Physically cured – except for a permanently maimed leg – there was a secondary effect: whenever he uttered the phrase “Captain Marvel” Freeman transformed into a super-powered, invulnerable version of his mortal self…

The prototype crossover epic concluded in Master Comics #22 when the teen titan joined Bulletman and Bulletgirl in stopping a string of Captain Nazi-sponsored murders, victoriously concluding with a bold announcement that from the very next issue he would be starring in his own solo adventures…

The triumphant parade of epic adventures starts in this tome with ‘Captain Nazi’s Assassination Plot’ (Master Comics #22), immaculately rendered by the Alex Raymond-inspired Raboy who would produce some of the most iconic art of his illustrious career, albeit struggling all the time with punishing deadlines and his own impossibly harsh standards…

Earning a living selling newspapers on street corners, young Freddie spots Captain Nazi again and dogs his corpse-strewn trail as the fascist kills a British agent and attempts to murder President Roosevelt. Then ‘Death by Radio’ introduces sinister serial killer Mr. Macabre who brazenly broadcasts his intention to assassinate former business partners until the young Marvel confronts him…

Master Comics #22 sees Freddie investigate a little lad’s broken balloon in ‘The Case of the Face in the Dark!’ only to stumble upon a cunning plot by the Japanese to invade Alaska. Whereas his senior partner’s tales were always laced with whimsy, Junior’s beautifully depicted exploits were always drenched in angst, tension and explosive action. The climax, which involved the bombastic boy-warrior shredding wave after wave of bombers, is possibly one of the most staggering spectacles of the Golden Age…

On a smaller scale, the next issue featured ‘The Return of Mr. Macabre!’ as the killer, turned sickly green after a failed suicide attempt, kidnaps a US inventor ferrying vital plans to England. The plot goes well until Macabre’s rendezvous with Captain Nazi in mid-Atlantic is interrupted by Junior who saves the day by ripping their battleship apart with his bare hands…

In a rare display of close continuity, Freddie then carries on to London in MC #27 to counter ‘Captain Nazi and the Blackout Terror’, with the malign master of disguise setting out to neutralise the city’s anti-Blitz protocols. For his service Freddie is made a special agent for Winston Churchill…

Never captive for long, in the next issue the Hunnish Hauptman spearheads an Atlantic reign of terror and kidnaps America’s chief of War Production until Junior single-handedly invades ‘Hitler’s Headquarters of Horror’, linking up with the German Resistance movement to free the crucial captive.

After such smashing successes it was no surprise that in #29 British Intelligence tapped innocuous Freddie Freeman to infiltrate Hitler’s Fortress Europa and prepare the enslaved populations under ‘The Iron Heel of the Huns’ to rise when the inevitable Allied counterattack came…

Master #30 saw the wonder boy back in the USA to stop Captain Nazi’s plan to poison an entire military base in ‘Captain Marvel Jr. Saves the Doomed Army’ before malignant Mr. Macabre joins the Japanese to abduct a crucially-placed diplomat in ‘The Case of the Missing Ambassador’ inevitably tasting frustrating defeat and receiving the sound thrashing he so richly deserves…

With Master Comics #32, the title became a fortnightly publication but Freddie barely noticed since he was embroiled in a decidedly domestic atrocity where corrupt orphanage officials collected and abused disabled kids to turn a profit from ‘The Cripple Crimes’

A blockbuster hit, “The Most Sensational Boy in the World” won his own title as 1942 drew to a close, but with Raboy already hard-pressed to draw 14 pages a month to his own exacting standards, Captain Marvel Jr. #1 was illustrated by reliable Al Carreno – a Fawcett regular who had covered almost every character in the company’s stable.

The bumper book began by briefly reprising ‘The Origin of Captain Marvel Jr.’ before depicting ‘Wings of Dazaggar!’ wherein Junior follows Captain Nazi to an occupied West African colony and uncovers a flight of secret super-planes intended to bomb America to dust…

After scotching that scheme Freddie is drawn into an eerie murder-mystery as a succession of gangsters and investigative reporters fall victim to ‘The Shadow that Walked!’, after which thugs snatching beggars off the street to fuel a fantastically callous insurance scam make their biggest mistake by grabbing lame Freddie Freeman as their next patsy in ‘The Case of the Cripple Kidnappers’

The soaring sagas conclude on a redemptive note as Captain Marvel Jr. “encourages” ‘The Cracked Safecracker’ to renounce his criminal ways and look after his elderly, ailing and extremely gullible parents…

This superb graphic treat concludes with ‘Captain Marvel Introduces Mary Marvel’ capably rendered by Fawcett mainstay Mark Swayze from Captain Marvel Adventures #18. Preceded by a glorious painted cover from Beck of what would become known as “The Marvel Family”, the story saw boy broadcaster Billy Batson hosting a radio quiz show and finding himself drawn to sweet rich kid Mary Bromfield.

During the course of the show – which also includes Freddie Freeman amongst the contestants – Billy is made shockingly aware that Mary is in fact a long-lost twin sister he never knew he had (take that, Luke Skywalker!) but before he can share the knowledge with her, gangsters kidnap her for a hefty ransom.

Although Captain Marvel and Junior rescue her they foolishly fall under the sway of the crooks and are astounded when Mary idly mutters the word “Shazam!”, transforms into the World’s Mightiest Girl and rescues them all…

Crisis over, the trio then quiz the old wizard and learn the secret of Mary’s powers – gifts of a group of goddesses who have endowed the plucky lass with the grace of Selene, the strength of Hippolyta, the skill of Ariadne, the fleetness of Zephyrus, the beauty of Aurora and the wisdom of Minerva – before welcoming their new companion to a life of unending adventure…

Notwithstanding the acute implied sexism of Mary’s talents coming from goddesses rather the same source as the boys’, her creation was a landmark of progress which added a formidable and unbeatable female to the ranks of the almost universally male mystery-man population of comicbooks.

The original Captain Marvel is a true milestone of American comics history and a brilliantly conceived superhero for all ages. These enchanting, compelling tales show why “The Big Red Cheese” and his oddly extended family was such an icon of the industry and prove that such timeless, sublime graphic masterpieces are an ideal introduction to the world of superhero fiction: tales that cannot help but appeal to readers of every age and temperament…
© 1942, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 2


By Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin & Sid Greene (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0003-9

As I’ve frequently mentioned before, I was one of the Baby Boomers who grew up with Julie Schwartz, Gardner Fox and John Broome’s tantalisingly slow reintroduction of DC’s Golden Age superheroes during the halcyon, eternally summery days of the 1960s. To me those fascinating counterpart crusaders from Earth-Two weren’t vague and distant memories rubber-stamped by parents or older brothers – they were cool, fascinating and enigmatically new.

…And for some reason the “proper” heroes of Earth-One held them in high regard and treated them with marked deference…

It all began, naturally enough, in The Flash; pioneering trendsetter of the Silver Age Revolution. After successfully ushering in the triumphant return of the superhero concept, the Scarlet Speedster, with Fox & Broome at the writing reins, set an incomparably high standard for costumed adventurers in sharp, witty tales of science and imagination, always illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

The epochal epic that literally changed the scope of American comics forever was Fox’s ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961, as seen in Showcase Presents the Flash volume 2) which introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity and by extension resulted in the multiversal structure of the DCU – and all the succeeding cosmos-shaking yearly “Crisis” sagas that grew from it.

And of course, where DC led, others followed…

With the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple versions of costumed crusaders solidly established, public pressure began almost instantly to agitate for the return of the “Golden Age Greats” 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 torturous trickle of innovative crossover yarns generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so inevitably the trans-dimensional tests led to the ultimate team-up in the summer of 1963. ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (Justice League of America #21-22, August and September) comprised one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most crucial tales in American comics.

Its success led to a sequel the following summer and by year three it had become an eagerly-awaited tradition that would last as long as the JLA comicbook did.

This second collected volume gathers the fifth through eighth summer collaborations (JLA #55-56, 64-65, 73-74 and 82-83), encompassing a period of editorial flux and change. The background is covered in Martin Pasko’s erudite Introduction ‘Crisis Behind the Scenes’ which details how the loss of stalwart originators Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky led to a new way of telling stories, offsetting in some respects the genuine dilemma of readers’ changing tastes…

These classics span a period in DC’s history which still makes many fans shudder with dread but I’m going to ask them to reconsider their aversion to the “Camp Craze” that saw America go superhero silly in the wake of the Batman TV show (and, to a lesser extent, the Green Hornet series that introduced Bruce Lee to the world). I should also mention that comics didn’t create the craze. Many popular media outlets felt the zeitgeist of a zanier, tongue-in-cheek, mock-heroic fashion: Just check out old episodes of Lost in Space or The Man from U.N.C.L.E if you doubt me…

A wise-cracking campy tone was fully in play for the first two-parter – ‘The Super-Crisis that Struck Earth-Two’ and ‘The Negative-Crisis on Earths One-Two!’ from JLA #55-56 (August and September 1967).

Opening on Earth-2, it boasted a radical change as the JSA now included an adult Robin instead of Batman, although Hourman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Wildcat, Johnny Thunder and Mr. Terrific still needed the help of Earth-1’s Superman, Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow to cope with an invasion of superpower-creating black spheres which gave mere mortals uncanny abilities enabling them to satisfy their darkest desires.

Things went from bad to worse after the harried heroes used the ebony invaders to augment their own abilities and turn half the combined team evil too…

Peppered with wisecracks and “hip” dialogue, it’s sometimes difficult to discern what a cracking yarn this actually is, but if you’re able to forgive or swallow the dated patter, this is one of the best plotted and illustrated stories in the entire JLA/JSA canon. Furthermore, with immensely talented Sid Greene’s inking adding expressive subtlety, mesmerising texture and whimsical humour to Sekowsky’s pencils, Fox’s bright, breezy comedic scripts simply shine.

By 1968 the second superhero boom looked to be dying just as its predecessor had at the end of the 1940s. Sales were down generally in the comics industry and costs were beginning to spiral. More importantly “free” entertainment, in the form of television, was by now ensconced in even the poorest household. If you were a kid in the sixties, think on just how many brilliant cartoon shows were created in that decade, when artists like Alex Toth and Doug Wildey were working in West Coast animation studios.

Moreover, comicbook stars were appearing on the small screen. Superman, Aquaman, Batman, the Marvel heroes and even the JLA were there every Saturday in your own living room…

It was a time of great political and social upheaval. Change was everywhere and unrest even reached the corridors of DC. When a number of creators agitated for increased work-benefits the request was not looked upon kindly. Many left the company for other outfits. Some quit the business altogether.

Fox ended his magnificent run on the Justice League with a stunning annual team-up of the League and Justice Society. Creative and perfectly professional to the very end, his last story was yet another of the Golden-Age revivals which had resurrected the superhero genre.

JLA #64 and 65 (August to September 1968) featured the ‘Stormy Return of the Red Tornado’ and ‘T.O. Morrow Kills the Justice League – Today!’ with a cyclonic super-android taking on the mantle of a 1940s spoof “Mystery Man” who appeared in the very first JSA adventure (if you’re interested, the original Red Tornado was a brawny washerwoman named Ma Hunkle).

The plot involved a cagy time thief creating an artificial hero to help him defeat the JLA and JSA, but realising too late he had built better than he knew…

Fox’s departing thriller was also the series’ artistic debut for former Blackhawk artist Dick Dillin, a prolific draughtsman who would draw every JLA issue for the next twelve years, as well as many other adventures of DC’s top characters like Superman and Batman. He was inked by Greene, a pairing that seemed vibrant and darkly realistic after the eccentrically stylish, nigh-abstract Sekowsky.

Next up from August and September 1969 is Denny O’Neil’s first shot at the yearly cross-dimensional crisis as #73 and 74 offered ‘Star Light, Star Bright… Death Star I See Tonight!’ and ‘Where Death Fears to Tread!’

The tense, brooding tale introduced Aquarius, a sentient but insane star, who magically destroys Earth-Two until our Earth-1 heroes (with their surviving Golden Age counterparts) manage to restore it, but not without some personal tragedy as Black Canary loses her husband and opts to emigrate to our world, handily becoming the JLA’s resident Girl Superhero and picking up a new if somewhat unreliable power in the process.

This splendid exercise in fantastic nostalgia ends with another grand get-together as alien property speculators from space seek to raze both Earths in ‘Peril of the Paired Planets’ (#82 August 1970 by O’Neil, Dillin & Joe Giella) and only the ultimate sacrifice by a true hero can avert trans-dimensional disaster in the concluding ‘Where Valor Fails… Will Magic Triumph?’ (#83 September, O’Neil, Dillin & Giella)

This volume also includes a few beguiling extras: the front and back covers of Limited Collectors Edition #C-46 (by Neal Adams from August/September 1976), a double-page pin-up of the JSA by Murphy Anderson from Justice League of America #76 (October 1969) and a JLA Mail Room comprised of found letters from many of the passionate fans like Gerry Conway, Alan Brennert and Martin Pasko who grew up to be somebody in comics…

These tales won’t suit everybody and I’m as aware as any that in terms of the “super-powered” genre the work here can be boiled down to two bunches of heroes formulaically getting together to deal with extra-extraordinary problems.

In mature hindsight, it’s obviously also about sales and the attempted revival of more sellable characters during a period of intense rivalry between DC Comics and Marvel.

But I don’t have to be mature in my off-hours and for those who love costume heroes, who crave these cunningly constructed modern mythologies and actually care about fun, this is simply a grand parade of straightforward action, great causes and momentous victories.

…And since I wouldn’t have it any other way, why should you?
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Bride of the Demon


By Mike W. Barr & Tom & Eva Grindberg (DC Comics)
ISBNs: 0-930289-79-X (original hardcover), 978-1-56389-060-4 (1992 trade paperback)

Debuting twelve months after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (joined within a year by Robin, the Boy Wonder) cemented DC/National Comics as the market and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the scope and parameters of the metahuman with their Man of Tomorrow, the magnificently mortal physical perfection and dashing derring-do of the human-scaled adventures starring the Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all four-colour crimebusters were judged.

Batman is in many ways the ideal superhero: uniquely adaptable and able to work in any type or genre of story – as is clearly evident from the dazzling plethora of vintage tales collected in so many captivating volumes over the years vying equally with the most immediate and recent tales collected into albums scant moment after they go off-sale as comicbooks….

One the most well-mined periods is the moody 1970-1980s era when the Caped Crusader was re-tooled in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, becoming a driven – but still level-headed – coldly rational Manhunter, rather than the dark, out-of-control paranoid of later days or the costumed boy-scout of the “Camp”-crazed Sixties.

There had been many “Most Important Batman” stories over the decades since his debut in 1939 but very few had the resounding impact of pioneering all-new 1987 experiment Batman: Son of the Demon which capped a period when DC were creatively on fire and could do no wrong commercially.

Not only did the story add new depth to the character, but the package itself – oversized (294 x 226 mm), on high-quality paper, available in both hardback and softcover editions – helped kickstart the fledgling graphic novel marketplace. In 1991 the story spawned an equally impressive sequel…

In the 1970s immortal mastermind and militant eco-activist Ra’s Al Ghul was a contemporary – and presumably thus more acceptable – embodiment of the venerably inscrutable Foreign Devil designated in a less forgiving age as the “Yellow Peril” and most famously embodied in Dr. Fu Manchu.

This kind of alien archetype had permeated fiction since the beginning of the 20th century and is still an overwhelmingly potent villain symbol even today, although the character’s Arabic origins, neutral at that time, seem to painfully embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s terrorist-obsessed world.

Possessed of vast resources, an army of zealots and every inch Batman’s physical and mental match, Al Ghul featured in many of most memorable stories of the 1970s and early 1980s. He had easily deduced the Caped Crusader’s secret identity and wanted his masked adversary to become his ally…

Written by Mike W. Barr, this sequel – with illustration by Tom and colours from Eva Grindberg – once again highlights the deep connection between Batman and his undying antithesis. The convoluted drama opens with the murder of a group of climate scientists surveying Antarctica. As America swelters in a crippling heat-wave the world’s intelligentsia are increasingly becoming urgently aware of the destruction of the ozone-layer, thanks to crusading expert Dr. Carmody whom nobody yet realises has already struck a devil’s bargain with Ra’s.

The immortal warlord has been busy. Forced to move quicker than his usual patiently cautious rate by the atmosphere’s imminent decline, Ra’s has had his life-restoring Lazarus Pit revamped and even reconciled with daughter Talia, who has sworn to serve him faithfully again, now that she has moved beyond her love of Batman…

Talia doesn’t even blink when she learns The Demon’s Head has sent his top assassin Shard to pre-emptively remove the Dark Knight before he can involve himself in the latest scheme to save the world from humanity…

Bruce Wayne and new ward Tim Drake are at an awareness and fundraising event in Gotham when the subversive forces make their move. Called away by Bat-signal to consult on a ghastly execution, the Gotham Gangbuster sends Tim home (the boy is still in training and hasn’t been cleared to work the streets yet) before tracking the mystery murderer and stumbling into Shard’s ambush…

The Demon, meanwhile, has moved on to the next stage of his scheme and lured aging movie idol and sex goddess Evelyn Grace to his Antarctic fortress with promises of restored and eternal youth whilst Talia makes contact with Carmody and arranges his escape from his government bodyguards…

As he entertains his enigmatic and fascinating new bride, nobody is more surprised than Ra’s when Shard triumphantly returns but before long The Demon has exposed his lieutenant as a disguised Batman, who blasts his way out and dashes back to America in time to intercept Talia’s raid.

Tragically, as the fighting escalates, Carmody’s son Brant is caught in a crossfire and Batman is forced to bring them and captive Talia back to the Batcave where, despite every effort, the boy dies. Fully aware of Batman’s secrets, Ra’s then leads a raid against Wayne Manor and offers the conflicted scientist the most incredible gift: Brant’s resurrection…

Following a cataclysmic but futile pitched battle the siege ends with Ra’s victorious and Carmody and Batman carted away. Ensconced in the Antarctic fortress, Carmody’s knowledge is being used to hasten the destruction of the ozone layer and speedily eradicate most of humanity.

He doesn’t care and the imprisoned Batman’s pleas fall on deaf ears. All the technologist knows is that his boy is back from the dead… although not quite right yet…

Events spiral to a blistering blockbuster combat climax after Ra’s condemns Batman to death, but as loyalties are tested to the limit the Dark Knight makes his move and the explosive conclusion is one The Demon could never have anticipated…

Never quite hitting the highs of its predecessor, Bride of the Demon is still an emotionally intense, all-out action-packed spectacle and one of the most mature tales in Batman’s canon: intelligent, passionate, tragic and carrying a devious twist to delight and confound fans and casual readers alike.
© 1990 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Silver Age Dailies and Sundays 1968-1969


By Whitney Ellsworth, Joe Giella, Al Plastino & various (IDW)
ISBN: 987-1-63140-121-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sheer Nostalgic Magic… 9/10

For more than seven decades in America the newspaper comic strip was the Holy Grail cartoonists and graphic-narrative storytellers hungered for. Syndicated across the country and often the planet, winning millions of readers and accepted (in most places) as a more mature and sophisticated form of literature than comic-books, it also paid better, with the greatest rewards and accolades being reserved for the full-colour Sunday page.

So it was always something of a poisoned chalice when a comicbook character became so popular that it swam against the tide (after all weren’t the funny-books invented just to reprint strips in cheap, accessible form?) and became a syndicated serial strip. Superman, Wonder Woman and Archie Andrews made the jump soon after their debuts and many features have done so since.

Due to a number of war-time complications, the first newspaper Batman and Robin strip was slow getting its shot, but when the Dynamic Duo finally hit the Funny Pages the feature quickly proved to be one of the best-regarded, highest quality examples of the trend, both in Daily and Sunday formats.

Yet somehow the strip never achieved the circulation it deserved, even though the Sundays were eventually given a new lease of life when DC began issuing vintage stories in the 1960s for Batman 80-page Giants and Annuals. The exceedingly high-quality all-purpose adventures were ideal short stories and added an extra cachet of exoticism for young readers already captivated by simply seeing tales of their heroes that were positively ancient and redolent of History with a capital “H”.

Such was not the case in the mid-1960s when, for a relatively brief moment, mankind went bananas for superheroes in general and most especially went “Bat-Mad”…

The Silver Age of comicbooks revolutionised a creatively moribund medium cosily snoozing in unchallenging complacency, bringing a modicum of sophistication to the returning genre of masked mystery men.

For quite some time the changes instigated by Julius Schwartz (in Showcase #4, October 1956) which rippled out in the last years of that decade to affect all of National/DC Comics’ superhero characters generally passed by Batman and Robin. Fans buying Batman, Detective Comics, World’s Finest Comics and latterly Justice League of America would read adventures that – in look and tone – were largely unchanged from the safely anodyne fantasies that had turned the Dark Knight into a mystery-solving, alien-fighting costumed Boy Scout just as the 1940s turned into the 1950s.

By the end of 1963, however, Schwartz having, either personally or by example, revived and revitalised the majority of DC’s line (and, therefore by extension and imitation, the entire industry) with his reinvention of the Superhero, was asked to work his magic with the creatively stalled and near-cancellation Caped Crusaders.

Installing his usual team of top-notch creators, the Editor stripped down the accumulated luggage and rebooted the core-concept. Down – and usually out – went the outlandish villains, aliens and weird-transformation tales in favour of a coolly modern concentration on crime and detection. Visually, the art-style itself underwent a sleek streamlining and rationalisation. The most apparent change to us kids was a yellow circle around the Bat-symbol but, far more importantly, the stories had changed. A subtle aura of genuine menace had crept back in.

At the same time Hollywood was in production of a television series based on Batman and, through the sheer karmic insanity that permeates the universe, the studio executives were basing their interpretation not upon the “New Look Batman” currently enthralling readers but the rather the addictively daft material DC was emphatically turning its editorial back on.

The Batman TV show premiered on January 12th 1966 and ran for three seasons of 120 episodes, airing twice weekly for the first two. It was a monumental, world-wide hit and sparked a wave of trendy imitation. The resulting media hysteria and fan frenzy generated an insane amount of Bat-awareness, no end of spin-offs and merchandise – including a movie – and introduced us all to the phenomenon of overkill.

No matter how much we might squeal and froth about it, to a huge portion of this planet’s population Batman is always going to be that “Zap! Biff! Pow!” buffoonish costumed Boy Scout…

“Batmania” exploded across Earth and then as almost as quickly became toxic and vanished, but at its height led to the creation of a fresh newspaper strip incarnation. That strip was a huge syndication success and even reached fuddy-duddy Britain, not in our papers and journals but as the cover feature of weekly comic Smash! (from issue #20 onwards).

The TV show ended in March, 1968. As the series foundered and faded away, global fascination with “camp” superheroes – and no, the term had nothing to do with sexual orientation no matter what you and Mel Brooks might think – burst as quickly as it had boomed and the Caped Crusader was left with a hard core of dedicated fans and followers who now wanted their hero back…

However, from the time when the Gotham Guardians could do no wrong comes a second superb compilation re-presenting the bright and breezy, sometimes zany cartoon classics of Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder, augmented by a wealth of background material, topped up with oodles of unseen scenes and background detail to delight the most ardent Baby-boomer nostalgia-freak.

The fun-fest opens with more informative and picture-packed, candidly cool revelations from comics historian Joe Desris in ‘A History of the Batman and Robin Newspaper Strip: Part 2’; stuffed with behind-the-scenes set photos, communications between principal players like Bob Kane and the Producers, clippings and glorious unpublished pencils from strip illustrator Joe Giella as well as newspaper promotional materials, and is followed by compulsive pictorial essays on ‘Newspaper Strip Trivia’ and ‘Batman/Superman Crossovers’, more unpublished or censored strips and a note on the eclectic sources used to compile this collection before the comics cavorting continue…

Dailies and Sundays were scripted by former DC editor (and the company’s Hollywood liaison) Whitney Ellsworth and initially illustrated by Bob Kane’s long-term art collaborator Sheldon Moldoff, before inker Giella was tapped by the studio to produce a slick, streamlined and modern look – usually as penciller but ALWAYS as embellisher.

Since the feature was a seven-day-a-week job, Giella had often called in comicbook buddies to help lay-out and draw the strip; luminaries such as Carmine Infantino, Bob Powell, Werner Roth, Curt Swan and others…

In those days, black-&-white Dailies and full-colour Sundays were mostly offered as separate packages and continuity strips often ran different stories for each. With Batman the strip started out that way, but by the time of the stories in this volume had switched to unified seven-day storylines.

Riding a wave and feeling ambitious, Ellsworth & Giella had begun their longest saga yet in July 1967 combining the tales of ‘Shivering Blue Max with “Pretty Boy” Floy and Flo’ wherein a perpetually hypothermic criminal pilot accidentally downed the Batcopter and erroneously claimed the underworld’s million dollar bounty on Batman and Robin.

Our heroes were not dead, but the crash caused the Caped Crusader to lose his memory and, whilst Robin and faithful manservant Alfred sought to remedy his affliction, Max had collected his prize and jetted off for sunnier climes.

With Batman missing, neophyte crimebuster Batgirl then tracked down the heroes – incidentally learning their secret identities – and was instrumental in restoring him to action if not quite his fully-functioning faculties…

However when underworld paymaster BG (Big) Trubble heard the heroes had returned, he quite understandably wanted his money back, which forced already-broke Max back to Gotham where he gullibly fell foul of Pretty Boy whilst that hip young gunsel and twin sister Flo were enacting a murderous scam to fleece a horoscope-addicted millionaire…

The tale picks up here on January 1st 1968, with Batman held at gunpoint, patiently trying to convince supremely suggestible, wealthy whale Tyrone Koom that he is not there to assassinate him as the tycoon’s new astrologer Madame Zodiac (AKA Flo Floy) was insisting she had foreseen…

When her dupe proves incapable of murder, Flo/Zodiac takes matters into her own hands and knocks out the mighty manhunter, but despite all her and her brother’s arguments the millionaire cannot be convinced to pull the trigger.

Instead befuddled Koom – still thinking the masked marvel wants to him dead – has Batman bundled off to an isolated island where a fully-automated, exotic palace of wonders will act as the Caped Crusader’s impregnable prison for the rest of his life…

With the hero as good as dead Pretty Boy and Flo plan to claim BG’s million dollar bounty, but they have not reckoned on Blue Max horning in…

When the pilot collides with Robin (who has been tracking his senior partner by Bat-Radio) the erstwhile enemies reluctantly join forces but are ultimately unable to prevent Batman’s banishment. Moreover, in the frantic melee, the Boy Wonder suffers a broken leg.

Lost in an endless ocean, Batman slowly adjusts to a life of enforced luxury on palatial penitentiary island Xanadu, unaware that life at home has become vastly more complicated for Robin and Alfred. Not only do they believe the Cowled Crimebuster to be dead but Max has ferreted out their secret identities and blackmailed them into cooperating in his vengeance scheme against Pretty Boy. Max plans to prevent the young thug collecting the reward by impersonating Batman…

Events spiral to a grim climax when Max finally confronts his criminal enemies and Koom realises he’s been played for a fool. The dupe’s guilt-fuelled final vengeance ends all the villains at once, but not before Pretty Boy presses a destruct button that will cause Xanadu to obliterate itself in an atomic explosion.

Thankfully Superman and especially Sea King Aquaman have already been mobilised to help find the missing Masked Manhunter but the countdown – although slow – is unstoppable…

During this sequence the severely overworked Giella bowed out and a veteran Superman illustrator took over the pitiless illustration schedule.

Alfred John “Al” Plastino was a prodigious artist with a stellar career. He had been active in the early days of comicbooks, with credits including Captain America and Dynamic Man before serving in the US Army. His design talents were quickly spotted and he was soon seconded to Grumman Aerospace, The National Inventors Council and latterly The Pentagon, where he designed war posters and field manuals for the Adjutant General’s office.

In 1948 he joined DC and quickly became one of Superman’s key artists. He drew many landmark stories and, with writer Otto Binder, created Brainiac, Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes. From 1960-1969 Plastino ghosted the syndicated Superman newspaper strip and whilst still drawing Batman, also took over Ferd’nand in 1970, drawing it until his retirement in 1989.

He was extremely versatile and seemed tireless: in 1982-1983 he drew Nancy Sundays after creator Ernie Bushmiller passed away and was controversially hired by United Media to produce fill-in episodes of Peanuts when Charles Schulz was in dispute with the company. Al Plastino died in 2013.

With a new policy of introducing guest stars from the DC pantheon, Plastino was the ideal successor and as the assembled champions desperately sought to find and save their missing comrade, a new tone of straight dramatic adventure largely superseded the campy comedy shenanigans of the TV series…

The search for Batman had been continually hampered by the Man of Steel’s strange weakness and loss of powers, but now that the Gotham Gangbusters were reunited they concentrated their efforts on finding out why. The deductive trail soon led to bone fide mad scientist ‘Diabolical Professor Zinkk’ (which originally ran from March 19th to August 6th) and saw the Dynamic Duo tracking down a mercenary maniac who had found a way to broadcast Kryptonite waves and was oh-so-slowly killing Superman for a big payout from Metropolis’ mobsters…

This is a cunningly convoluted, beautifully realised and supremely suspenseful tale with the clock ticking down on a deranged and dying Metropolis Marvel with Batman and Robin hunting rogue radio-physicist Zoltan Zinkk to divine the method by which he has brought low Earth’s greatest defender. It culminates in a savage, spectacular and truly explosive showdown before the World’s Finest heroes finally triumph…

Another tense thriller then sees Aquaman return to share the spotlight and begins as determined dolly-bird Penelope Candy perpetually plagues news outlets and even pesters the Gotham Police Department in her tireless quest to be put in touch with Batman.

The man in question is blithely unaware: Bruce Wayne is dealing with a small personal problem. In his infinite wisdom he intends for Robin to temporarily retire while young Dick Grayson completes a proper education and to that end has engaged a new tutor for the strongly-protesting Boy Wonder…

With that all acrimoniously settled, the Caped Crusader roars out into the night and is filmed falling to his doom in a river trying to save apparently suicidal Penny Candy…

At first the heartbroken lad doesn’t know Batman is still alive but has actually been drawn into a Byzantine scheme devised by Penny to find her missing father.

Oceanographer Archimedes Candy disappeared after working with Aquaman on a serum to allow humans to live beneath the sea. She is convinced somebody has abducted the researcher and, after Batman contacts Robin and has the junior crimebuster send out a radio alert for the Sea King, the impatient pair then try the potion together. ‘Breathing Underwater’ (August 7th – December 15th), they set off on a sub-sea search for the missing sea scientist…

Of course Penny’s suspicions of foul play are all justified and before long she and Batman are reunited with Dr. Candy. Sadly that’s as captives of nefarious international smuggler Cap’n Wolf and they are nearly done to death by being abandoned on a mountain in the airy atmosphere they can no longer breathe before Aquaman arrives to settle matters…

Even as Batman makes his way home the next adventure has started. Gangster fugitive Killer Killey devised the world’s most perfect hiding place and in ‘I Want Bruce Wayne’s Identity!’ (December 15th 1968 – May 30th 1969) abducts the affable millionaire so a crooked plastic surgeon can swap their faces and fingerprints. The scheme is hugely helped by the fact that Dick has been packed off with tutor Mr. Murphy and his daughter Gazelle on a world cruise whilst Alfred has used his accumulated vacation time for an extended visit to England.

When Killer captures Bruce and discovers he also has Batman the mobster is truly exultant. However the plan soon goes awry when the victim escapes the death-trap which should have resulted with the authorities finding “Killey’s” drowned body, and the subsequent move into Wayne Manor becomes a fraught affair.

Perhaps he’d be less troubled if he knew that although alive, the real Bruce Wayne has once again lost his memory…

Moreover, unbeknownst to anybody, neophyte crimebuster Batgirl already knows Batman’s other identity and now her suspicions are aroused by the state of the mansion and behaviour of Bruce and his new girlfriend…

As events escalate and spiral out of control, Killer, still safely hidden behind Wayne’s face – starts to crack and stupidly antagonises the one person he thought he could always rely on…

This volume’s comics cavortings end with the opening shots of ‘My Campaign to Ruin Bruce Wayne’ (which ran from May 31st – December 25th 1969) but as only seven days of that tale unfold in this volume I think we’ll leave that for the next volume and simply say…

To Be Continued, Bat-Fans…

The stories in this compendium reveal how gentler, stranger times and an editorial policy focusing as much on broad humour as Batman’s reputation as a crime-fighter was swiftly turned to all-out action adventure once Batmania gave way to global overload and ennui. That was bad for the strip at the time but happily resulted in some truly wonderful adventures for die-hard fans of the comicbook Caped Crusader. If you’re of a certain age or open to timeless thrills, spills and chills this a truly stunning collection well worth your attention.

Batman: Silver Age Dailies and Sundays 1968-1969 is the second in a set of huge (305 x 236 mm) lavish, high-end hardback collections starring the Caped Crusaders, and a welcome addition to the superb commemorative series of Library of American Comics which has preserved and re-presented in luxurious splendour such landmark strips as Li’l Abner, Tarzan, Little Orphan Annie, Terry and the Pirates, Bringing Up Father, Rip Kirby, Polly and her Pals and many other cartoon icons.

If you love the era, the medium or just graphic narratives, these stories are great comics reading, and this is a book you simply must have.
© 2014 DC Comics. All rights reserved. Batman and all related characters and elements ™ DC Comics.

Green Arrow Volume 2: Here There Be Dragons


By Mike Grell, Ed Hannigan, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics) ISBN: 978-1-4012-4326-5

Premiering in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941, Green Arrow is one of very few superheroes to be continuously published (more or less) since the Golden Age of American comicbooks. At first glance this blatant amalgamation of Batman and Robin Hood seems to have very little going for him but he has always managed to keep himself in vogue.

Probably his most telling of many makeovers came in 1987, when, hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Returns, writer/artist Mike Grell was tasked with making him the star of DC’s second “Prestige Format Mini-Series”.

Grell was one of comics’ biggest guns at the time. Beginning his rise with a laudable run on Legion of Super-Heroes, he went on to draw the revived Green Lantern/Green Arrow and practically saved the company with his Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired fantasy epic Warlord. He had also notched up a big fan following illustrating many Aquaman, Batman and Phantom Stranger stories before establishing his independent creator credentials at First Comics with Starslayer and Jon Sable, Freelance

In the grim‘n’gritty late Eighties, it was certainly time for another overhaul of the Emerald Archer. Exploding arrows yes, maybe even net or rope arrows, but arrows with boxing gloves or paint brushes on them just wouldn’t wash with a newer, more sophisticated readership. Thus, in an era of corrupt government, drug cartels and serial killers, the evergreen survivor adapted and thrived under the direction of a creator famed for the uncompromising realism of his work.

The Longbow Hunters focused on the superhero’s mid-life crisis as he relocated to Seattle and struggled to come to terms with the fact that since his former sidekick Speedy was now a dad, Oliver Queen had technically become a grandfather. Beside long-time “significant other” Dinah Lance – AKA Black Canary – he began to simplify his life, but the drive to fight injustice never dimmed for either of them.

Dinah went undercover to stamp out a drug ring whilst Ollie became engrossed in the hunt for a psycho-killer dubbed “The Seattle Slasher”. The archer also learned of a second – cross-country – slayer who had been murdering people with arrows…

Eschewing gaudy costume and gimmicks, Queen reinvented himself as an urban hunter to stop such unglamorous, everyday monsters, stumbling into a mystery which led back to World War II involving the Yakuza, CIA, corporate America and even the Viet Nam war, even as it introduced a deadly female counterpart to the beleaguered bowman: an enigmatic, morally ambiguous archer called Shado

The intricate plot, subtly blending three seemingly separate stories which were in fact one, still delivers a shocking punch even now in its disturbingly explicit examination of torture: a treatment which won the series undeserved negative press when it was first published. Although possibly tame to most modern tastes, this was eye-opening stuff in the 1980’s, which is a shame, as it diverted attention from the real issue… and that was a massive surge in quality and maturity.

The intricate, maturely sophisticated plot – interweaving themes of age, diminishing potency, vengeance and family – were another turning point in American comics and led to an ongoing series specifically targeting “Mature Readers”. The treatment and tone heavily influenced and flavoured today’s TV adaptation Arrow and has led to the release of Grell’s nigh-forgotten urban predator tales in a new range of economical, no-nonsense, full-colour trade paperbacks.

This second collection, primarily scripted by Grell with superbly efficient and powerfully understated art from Ed Hannigan, Dick Giordano & Frank McLaughlin plus a few guest creators, re-presents Green Arrow volume 2, #7-12 (eccentrically cover-dated August through December plus “Winter” 1988), offering starkly authentic tales ripped from headlines that have as much impact and relevance today as they did nearly thirty years ago…

Sparse, Spartan and startlingly compelling, the drama begins – sans any preamble – with complex collaboration ‘The Powderhorn Trail’, written by Grell and Sharon Wright – who divided the Ollie and Dinah sections between them – with Randy DuBurque illustrating Black Canary portions whilst Ed Barreto pencilled the GA bits, after which Giordano & Arne Starr inked it all.

The round-robin episode sees the hunter (the series was notable in that other than on the cover, the soubriquet “Green Arrow” was never, ever used) stumbling upon a clue to drug-smuggling at his local carwash and having to explain to Dinah why he’s taking off for Alaska, even as she is approached by a casual acquaintance whose life she once saved, who inadvertently tips the Canary to a string of crimes-in-the-making…

The all-action conclusion (by Grell, Paris Cullins, Gary Martin & Giordano) then sees Ollie solo-stalking from Anchorage to deep in the North country on the trail of not just drug dealers and high-end car thieves but also opportunistic Tong smugglers trafficking illegal, poached and pointless Chinese herbal remedies under cover of the infamous Iditarod…

The remainder of this book deals with the eagerly-anticipated return of Shado in the 4-part ‘Here There Be Dragons’ (Grell, Hannigan, Giordano & Frank McLaughlin) which opens with the reunited Ollie and Dinah celebrating a birthday whilst still attempting to reconcile the changes in their life. As much as the after-effects of being brutally tortured still affect her, they trouble him far more…

Killing her tormentor haunts them both, as does the role the enigmatic Japanese archer played in the bloody drama. With the memories still poisoning the atmosphere, neither hero is particularly happy when sleazy CIA executive Greg Osborne comes back into their lives with another offer they’d better not refuse.

Far across the Pacific, Shado has fallen out of favour with the Yakuza masters who took a little girl and turned her over decades into a living weapon. When one arrogant young Oyabun overstepped his authority he turned her into an implacable foe of the entire organisation. Now to save face the criminal society must kill her at all costs…

In Seattle, Osborne blackmails Ollie, forcing him to go to the Philippines in search of the country’s gold reserves which have been hidden since the Japanese occupation in WWII. The current US administration wants to help its Eastern ally without being seen to be interfering, especially since a treasure map has surfaced and the Yakuza are using it to murderously appropriate the lost bullion.

The Japanese gangsters are simultaneously searching the islands for a mysterious dragon-tattooed woman archer who apparently has somehow won possession of the gold chart…

Dinah is unconvinced by Ollie’s reasons for going. She knows he is fascinated to the point of obsession with the exotic archer, but still stands aside as the hunter embarks for Hawaii. All too soon Queen’s specialised knowledge has put him on Shado’s trail, but that only makes him a perfect target…

A few weeks later, Ollie is slowly recovering from an arrow in the chest, nursed back to health from the edge of death by the beguiling tattooed woman; seduced as much by her arcane philosophy of archery as her beauty, compassion and air of fragility. In the quiet hours they grow closer and she shares her tragic origins with him, as well as the recent events which made her both free agent and fleeing fugitive.

Faced with the choice of defying Osborne or reluctantly handing her over to the American authorities pressurising him, Ollie is forced into a third option when Yakuza death-squads attack their isolated island retreat, prompting a prolonged chase through the region and a bloody trail impossible to cover-up…

The harassed quarry eventually double-back to Honolulu for a climactic final battle during which Ollie discovers how the Yakuza have been able to dog their steps so closely. He and Shado part for what he secretly prays is the last time, after which, armed with suspicions of exactly who Osborne is actually working for, Oliver confronts his blackmailer…

Terse scripts, intelligent, flawed human interactions, stunning action delivered through economical and immensely effective illustration and an unfailing eye for engaging controversy make these epic yarns some of the most powerful sagas American comics ever produced. Compiled here with a cover gallery by Grell (both fully painted and line art), Joe Rubinstein, Hannigan & Giordano, this compulsive retooling is yet another long-overlooked highpoint of superhero storytelling no lover of the genre will want to miss.
© 1988, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman the Silver Age Dailies volume 2: 1961-1963


By Jerry Siegel, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan &Stan Kaye with Otto Binder, Leo Dorfman, Edmond Hamilton, Bill Finger & Robert Bernstein (IDW Publishing Library of American Comics)

ISBN: 978-1-6137-7923-1

It’s indisputable that the American comicbook industry – if it existed at all – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without Superman. Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s unprecedented invention was fervidly adopted by a desperate and joy-starved generation and quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form.

Spawning an impossible army of imitators and variations within three years of his 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of breakneck, breathtaking action and wish-fulfilment which epitomised the early Man of Steel grew to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy and, once the war in Europe and the East sucked in America, patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters, all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

In comicbook terms Superman was master of the world. Moreover, whilst transforming the shape of the fledgling funnybook industry, the Man of tomorrow relentlessly expanded into all areas of the entertainment media. Although we all think of Cleveland boys’ iconic invention as the epitome and acme of comicbook creation, the truth is that very soon after his debut in Action Comics #1 the Man of Steel became a fictional multimedia monolith in the same league as Popeye, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse.

We parochial and possessive comics fans too often regard our purest and most powerful icons in purely graphic narrative terms, but the likes of Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers and their hyperkinetic kind long ago outgrew their four-colour origins and are now fully mythologized modern media creatures instantly familiar in mass markets, across all platforms and age ranges…

Far more people have seen or heard the Man of Steel than have ever read his comicbooks. His globally syndicated newspaper strips alone reached untold millions, and by the time his 20th anniversary rolled around at the very start of what we know as the Silver Age of Comics, he had been a thrice-weekly radio serial regular, starred in a series of astounding animated cartoons, two films and a novel by George Lowther.

He was a perennial sure-fire success for toy, game, puzzle and apparel manufacturers and had just ended his first smash live-action television serial. In his future were three more shows (Superboy, Lois & Clark and Smallville), a stage musical, a franchise of blockbuster movies and an almost seamless succession of games, bubblegum cards and TV cartoons beginning with The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 and continuing ever since. Even superdog Krypto got in on the small-screen act…

Although pretty much a spent force these days, for the majority of the last century the newspaper comic strip was the Holy Grail that all American cartoonists and graphic narrative storytellers hungered for. Syndicated across the country – and often the planet – it was seen by millions, if not billions, of readers and generally accepted as a more mature and sophisticated form of literature than comic-books. It also paid better.

And rightly so: some of the most enduring and entertaining characters and concepts of all time were created to lure readers from one particular paper to another and many of them grew to be part of a global culture.

Mutt and Jeff, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, Charlie Brown and so many more escaped their humble tawdry newsprint origins to become meta-real: existing in the minds of earthlings from Albuquerque to Zanzibar.

Most still do…

So it was always something of a risky double-edged sword when a comicbook character became so popular that it swam against the tide (after all weren’t the funny-books invented just to reprint the strips in cheap accessible form?) to became a genuinely mass-entertainment syndicated serial strip.

Superman was the first original comicbook character to make that leap – about six months after as he exploded out of Action Comics – but only a few have ever successfully followed. Wonder Woman, Batman (eventually) and groundbreaking teen icon Archie Andrews made the jump in the 1940s and only a handful like Spider-Man, Howard the Duck and Conan the Barbarian have done so since.

The daily Superman newspaper comic strip launched on 16th January 1939, supplemented by a full-colour Sunday page from November 5th of that year. Originally crafted by such luminaries as Siegel & Shuster and their studio (Paul Cassidy, Leo Nowak, Dennis Neville, John Sikela, Ed Dobrotka, Paul J. Lauretta & Wayne Boring) the mammoth task soon required the additional talents of Jack Burnley and writers like Whitney Ellsworth, Jack Schiff & Alvin Schwartz.

The McClure Syndicate feature ran continuously until May 1966, appearing at its peak in more than 300 daily and 90 Sunday newspapers, boasting a combined readership of more than 20 million. Eventually artists Win Mortimer and Curt Swan joined the unflagging Boring & Stan Kaye whilst Bill Finger and Siegel provided stories, telling serial tales largely separate and divorced from comicbook continuity throughout years when superheroes were scarcely seen.

Then in 1956 Julie Schwartz kicked off the Silver Age with a new Flash in Showcase #4 and before long costumed crusaders began returning en masse to thrill a new generation. As the trend grew, many publishers began to cautiously dabble with the mystery man tradition and Superman’s newspaper strip began to slowly adapt: drawing closer to the revolution on the comicbook pages.

As Jet-Age gave way to Space-Age, the Last Son of Krypton was a comfortably familiar icon of domestic modern America: particularly in the constantly evolving, ever-more dramatic and imaginative comicbook stories which had received such a terrific creative boost when superheroes began to proliferate once more. The franchise had actually been cautiously expanding since 1954 and in 1961 the Caped Kryptonian could be seen not only in Golden Age survivors Action Comics, Superman, Adventure Comics, World’s Finest Comics and Superboy but also in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane and Justice League of America.

Such increased attention naturally filtered through to the far more widely-read newspaper strip and resulted in a rather strange and commercially sound evolution…

This second expansive hardback collection (spanning August 1961 to November 1963) opens with a detailed Introduction from Sidney Friedfertig, explaining the provenance of the strips; how and why Jerry Siegel was tasked with retuning recently published yarns from the comicbooks; making them into daily 3-and-4 panel black-&-white continuities for the apparently more sophisticated and discerning newspaper audiences.

This frequently required major rewrites, subtle changes in plot, direction and tone and, on occasion, merging more than one story into a seamless new exploit to excite and generally amuse sensible, mature grown-ups.

If you’re a veteran fan, don’t be fooled: the tales retold here might seem familiar but they are not mere rehashes: they’re variations and deviations on an idea for an audience perceived as completely separate from kids’ comics. Even if you are familiar with the original comicbook source material, the adventures presented here will read as brand new, especially as they are gloriously illustrated by Wayne Boring (with a little occasional assistance from Curt Swan) at the very peak of his artistic powers.

After years away from the feature Boring had replaced his replacement Curt Swan at the end of 1961, regaining his position as premiere Superman strip illustrator to see the series to its eventual conclusion.

As an added bonus the covers of the issues those adapted stories came from have been included as a full, nostalgia-inducing colour gallery…

The astounding everyday entertainments by Siegel & Boring commence with Episode #123 from August 14th to September 16th 1961 revealing how timid Clark Kent mysteriously excelled as a policeman whilst wearing a legendary old cop’s lucky tin star in ‘The Super Luck of Badge 77!’: a yarn based on an adventure of the same name by Otto Binder & Al Plastino from Superman #133 (November 1959).

‘Superman’s Hunt for Clark Kent’ (September 18th to 5th November and first seen in Superman #126 January 1959, by Binder, Boring & Stan Kaye) then detailed how a Kryptonite mishap deprived the Man of Tomorrow of many of his memories and left him lost in Metropolis trying to ferret out the secret of his other identity after which Episode #125 – running from November 6th-December 23rd – saw the restored Clark as ‘The Reporter of Steel’ (originally a Binder, Boring & Kaye yarn from Action Comics #257, October 1959) after Lex Luthor very publicly inflicted the mild-mannered journalist with unwanted superpowers, setting suspicious Lois Lane off on another quest to prove her colleague was actually the Caped Kryptonian.

‘The 20th Century Achilles’ ran Christmas Day 1961 through January 20th 1962, adapted from an Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan & Kaye thriller in Superman #148 (October 1961) which detailed how a cunning crook held the city hostage to his apparent magical invulnerability whilst ‘The Man No Prison Could Hold’ (January 22nd – February 24th by Bill Finger, Boring & Kaye from Action Comics #248, in January 1959) saw Clark and Jimmy Olsen captured by a Nazi war criminal using slave labour to construct a mighty vengeance weapon. Unbeknownst to all the Man of Steel had good reason to foil every escape attempt and stay locked up…

An old-fashioned hard lesson informed the Kryptonian Crimebuster’s short sharp shock treatment of ‘The Three Tough Teenagers’ which ran from February 26th to March 31st, based on a Siegel & Plastino collaboration contemporaneously appearing in Superman #151 (February 1962) at the same time. Perhaps the headline-grabbing nature of youth in revolt was too immediate to resist? Usually timing discrepancies in publication dates could be explained by the fact that submitted comicbook stories often appeared months after they were completed, but here it feels like neither iteration of the franchise was willing to surrender sales-garnering topicality…

Swan illustrated portions of the Siegel/Boring strip version of ‘The Day Superman Broke the Law’ (2nd to 28th April) from the original by Finger & Plastino from Superman #153 May 1962, which saw the hero fall foul of a corrupt city councilman rewriting ordinances to hamper him after which the hero became ‘The Man with the Zero Eyes’ (running 30th April to June 2nd from an uncredited tale in Superman #117, November 1957 and first limned by Plastino) as a space virus caused uncontrollable super-freezing rays to blaze from his eyes.

Spanning 4th – 23rd June ‘Lois Lane’s Revenge on Superman’ grew out of a comedy tale by Siegel, Swan & George Klein in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #32 (April 1962). Here however there’s a dark edge to the story as the frustrated journalist revels in humiliating her ideal man after a magic potion turns him into a baby whilst ‘When Superman Defended his Arch-Enemy’ – published from 25th June to August 4th as adapted from Action Comics #292 and released in September 1962) by writer unknown & Plastino saw the Metropolis Marvel acting as defence Counsel for the ungrateful mad scientist after the fleeing maniac dismantled a sentient mechanoid on a world of machine intelligences…

Appearing daily from 6th August to September 8th ‘Lois Lane’s Other Life’ retold Siegel, Swan & Klein’s tale from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #35 (August 1962) as the daring doll changes her appearance to go undercover but subsequently loses her memory after which ‘The Feud Between Superman and Clark Kent’ from September 10th to 27th October (originally by Hamilton & Plastino in Action Comics #292, October 1962) saw the two halves of the hero separated by Red Kryptonite. Sadly the goodness and nobility are all in the merely human Clark part and he must stay out of his merciless alternative fraction’s murderous clutches until the effect wears off…

As first conceived by Siegel, Swan & Klein in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #38 (January 1963) ‘The Invisible Lois Lane’ – which filled newspaper pages between October 29th and December 1st – was more comedy than drama but here the undetectable investigator quickly sees her quarry switch from Clark to Superman and it takes super-ingenuity to convince her otherwise…

‘The Man Who Hunted Superman’ – December 3rd 1962 to January 19th 1963 – originally appeared as Boy of Steel blockbuster ‘The Man Who Hunted Superboy’ (by Leo Dorfman & George Papp in Adventure Comics #303, December 1962) and found Clark subbing for a prince in a Ruritanian kingdom, complete with adoring and compliant princess bride, until the Action Ace could topple a highly-placed usurper and save the kingdom whilst ‘Superman Goes to War’ January 21st to February 23rd (initiated by Hamilton, Swan & Klein in Superman #161, May 1963) sees Lois and Clark on an film-set sponsored by the US military and inadvertently caught up in a real but unconventional alien invasion…

From February 25th to April 20th Red K stripped our hero of his powers leaving ‘The Mortal Superman’ forced to fake it due to an unavoidable prior engagement in a terse reinterpretation of the Dorfman & Plastino yarn seen in Superman #160, April 1963.

The Man of Steel for good and sound patriotic reasons allowed himself to be locked up for the alleged murder of Clark Kent in ‘The Trial of Superman’ between 22nd April and May 25th, later seen in its original format in Hamilton & Plastino’s thriller from Action Comics #301, June 1963.

Hardworking obsessive editor Perry White loses his memory and falls into the clutches of criminals who use his investigative instincts to uncover Earth’s greatest secret in ‘The Man who Betrayed Superman’s Identity’ – 27th May to July 6th – as adapted from Dorfman, Swan & Klein’s suspenseful romp in Action Comics #297, February 1963, whilst with adult sensibilities fully addressed, genuine tragedy and pathos pushes Siegel & Boring’s reinterpretation of ‘The Sweetheart that Superman Forgot’ running from 8th July to August 17th into the heady heights of pure melodrama as Superman loses his astounding powers, memories, and use of his legs; loving and losing a girl who only wanted him for himself.

In one of the most adult of stories of his canon, the hero recovers his lost gifts and faculties and has no notion of what he’s lost and who waits for him forever alone: a depth of emotion the author could only dream of approaching in the Plastino-illustrated original version which appeared in Superman #165, November 1963).

Painfully locked into the un-PC, sexist comedy tropes of the era, from August 19th – September 14th comes ‘Superman, Please Marry Me’ wherein a novelty record of Lois purportedly begging her ideal man to give in makes the reporter’s life a living hell in a “tweaked-for married-readers” yarn based on ‘The Superman-Lois Hit Record’ by Siegel, Swan & Klein from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #45 (November 1963) after which ‘Dear Dr. Cupid’ – based on Siegel & Kurt Schaffenberger’s light-hearted turn from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #45, (November 1963), which ran from September 14th to October 12th – details how the news-hen’s surprising and unsuspected gift for doling out advice as an Agony Auntie leads to a series of disturbing gifts from an unexpected admirer…

This epic chronicle concludes with ‘The Great Superman Impersonation’ from October 14th to November 23 1963 and based on Robert Bernstein & Plastino’s Action Comics #306, (cover-dated November 1963) with Clark kidnapped by foreign agents who want to pass him off as the Man of Tomorrow in order to take over a Central American republic: big mistake, especially as Superman is in a playful mood…

Superman: – The Silver Age Dailies 1961-1963 is the second of three huge (305 x 236 mm), lavish, high-end hardback collections starring the Man of Steel and a welcome addition to the superb commemorative series of Library of American Comics which has preserved and re-presented in luxurious splendour such landmark strips as Li’l Abner, Tarzan, Rip Kirby, Polly and her Pals and many of the abovementioned cartoon icons.

If you love the era, these stories are great comics reading, and this is a book you simply must have.
Superman ™ and © 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Batman Adventures volume 2


By Kelley Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5463-6

As re-imagined by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. The TV cartoon – ostensibly for kids – revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and happily fed back into the print iteration, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, re-honed the grim avenger and his team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

The comicbook version was prime material for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market but only the first year was released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: the Lost Years. This second modern compendium, however, gathers issues #11-20 of The Batman Adventures (originally published from August 1993 to May 1994) in a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy from Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett.

Puckett is a writer who truly grasps the visual nature of the medium and his stories are always fast-paced, action packed and stripped down to the barest of essential dialogue. This gift has never been better exploited than by Parobeck who was at that time a rising star, especially when graced by Burchett’s slick, clean inking.

Although his professional comics career was tragically short (1989 to 1996 when he died, aged 31, from complications of Type 1 Diabetes) Mike Parobeck’s gracefully fluid, exuberantly kinetic, fun-fuelled animation-inspired style revolutionised superhero action drawing and sparked a renaissance in kid-friendly comics and merchandise at DC and everywhere else in the comics publishing business.

Like the show itself each story is treated as a three-act play and kicking off events here is moodily magnificent ‘The Beast Within!’ as obsessed scientist Kirk Langstrom agonises; believing he is somehow uncontrollably transforming into the monstrous Man-Bat whenerer ‘The Sleeper Awakens!’

The truth is far more sinister but incarcerated in ‘G.C.P.D.H.Q!’ neither the chemist nor his beloved Francine can discern ‘The Awful Truth!’ Happily, ever-watchful Batman plays by his own rules…

Following on with a shocking shift in focus, young Barbara Gordon makes a superhero costume for a party in ‘Batgirl: Day One!’ and stumbles into a larcenous ‘Ladies Night’ when the High Society bash is crashed by Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.

With no professional help on hand, Babs has to act as ‘If the Suit Fits!’ and tackle the bad girls herself… but then Catwoman shows up for the frantic finale ‘Out of the Frying Pan!’

The troubled relationship of Batman and Talia, Daughter of the Demon was tackled with surprising sophistication in ‘Last Tango in Paris’ with the sometime-lovers teaming up to recover a statue stolen from diabolical Ra’s Al Ghul. ‘Act 1: Old Flame’ saw them stumble into a trap set by one of The Demon’s rivals but turn the tables in ‘Act 2: Paris is Burning’ before each of the trysting couple’s true motivations was exposed in the heartbreaking ‘Act 3: Where there’s Smoke’

Despite being a series to be read one glorious tale at a time, the creators had also laid groundwork for an epic sequence to come, but whilst Bruce was occupied in Europe the spotlight shifted to Dick Grayson as the Teen Wonder worried about how to break the news of a game-changing decision to his mentor, even as ‘Public Enemy’ saw the latest incomprehensible rampage of crazy crook The Ventriloquist

‘Act 1: Greakout!’ found the wooden weirdo and his silent stooge escaping clink and orchestrating a massive heist in ‘Act 2: The Grinks Jog’, only to ultimately have the limelight stolen by Robin in ‘Act 3: The Gig Glock!’

Police Commissioner Jim Gordon then teamed with Batman in ‘Badge of Honor’, uniting to save a hostage undercover cop from Boss Rupert Thorne in ‘Act 1: Officer Down!’ ‘Act 2: Cop Killer!’ saw the seemingly unstoppable duo track down the fallen hero only to face their greatest obstacle in ‘Act 3: Code Dead!’ when Thorne himself gets his hands dirty…

In ‘The Killing Book’ the Harlequin of Hate took offence to his portrayal in comics and ‘Act 1: Seduction of the Innocent!’ saw the Joker kidnap a publisher’s latest overnight sensation in order to show in ‘Act 2: How to Draw Comics the Joker Way!’ Naturally ‘Act 3: Comics and Sequential Death!’ only proved that Batman is not a guy to tolerate funnybooks or artistic upstarts…

Seeds planted in Paris flourished and bloomed in ‘The Tangled Web’ as The Demon’s latest act of genocide finally begins with ‘Act 1: Into the Shadows!’ However ‘Act 2: New World Order’ proves yet again that Ra’s has critically underestimated his enemy when a different masked stranger saves Earth from catastrophe in ‘Act 3: What Doth it Profit a Man?’

Following the epic victory Robin meets the mysterious Batgirl for the first time on ‘Decision Day’ as conflicted Barbara Gordon again succumbs to the addictive lure of costumed crime-fighting. Thwarting a bomb plot in ‘Act 1: Eyewitness!’ the feisty if untutored fire-breather opts to find the culprit herself in ‘Act 2: Smoking Gun’, even if she does grudgingly accept a little assistance from the Teen Wonder in ‘Act 3: No Justice, No Peace!’

Gotham’s Master of Terror turns up inside Batman’s head in ‘Troubled Dreams’ as the Dark Knight becomes one of many sufferers of ‘Act 1: Nightmare over Gotham!’ Just for once, however, there’s another instigator of panic in the mix, enquiring in ‘Act 2: Who Scares the Scarecrow?’ until the Caped Crusader catches the true dream-invader in ‘Act 3: Beneath the Mask’…

The fabulous foray into classic four-colour fun concludes with another spectacular yet hilarious outing for a Terrible Trio of criminals who bear a remarkable resemblance to DC editors Dennis O’Neil, Mike Carlin and Archie Goodwin.

‘Smells Like Black Sunday’ opens with ‘Act 1: And a Perfesser Shall Lead Them!’ as the Triumvirate of Terror bust out of the big house, hotly pursued by the Gotham Gangbuster in ‘Act 2: Flying Blind with Mastermind’. Sadly their scheme to become a three-man nuclear power falters as ‘Act 3: Legend of the Dark Nice’ finds the evil geniuses underestimating the sheer cuteness of guard dogs and their cataclysmic comrade’s innately gentle disposition…

Breathtakingly written and iconically illustrated, these stripped-down rollercoaster-romps are the impeccable Bat-magic and this is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.

Pure, unadulterated delight – so keep buying until every tale is back in print!
© 1993, 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice Society of America: The Bad Seed


By Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Jesus Merino & various (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2714-2

The Justice Society of America was created for the third issue (Winter 1940/1941) of All-Star Comics, an anthology title featuring established characters from various All-American Comics publications. The magic was sparked by the simple expedient of having assorted heroes gather around a table and tell each other their latest adventure. From this low-key collaboration it wasn’t long before the guys – and they were all white men (except Red Tornado who merely pretended to be one) – joined forces on a regular basis to defeat the greatest villains and challenge the social ills of their generation. Within months the concept had spread far and wide…

And so the Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comicbooks. When Julius Schwartz re-energised the superhero genre in the late 1950s, the game-changing moment came with the inevitable teaming of the reconfigured mystery men into a Justice League of America.

From there it wasn’t long until the original and genuine article returned. Despite many attempts to revive the team’s popularity however it wasn’t until 1999, on the back of both the highly successful rebooting of the JLA by Grant Morrison & Howard Porter and the seminal but critically favoured new Starman series by Golden Age devotee James Robinson, that the multi-generational team found a new mission and fan-base big enough to support them. As the century ended the original superteam returned and have been with us in one form or another ever since.

This iteration, called to order after Infinite Crisis and Identity Crisis, found the last surviving heroes from World War II acting as mentors and teachers for the latest generation of young champions and metahuman “legacy-heroes” (family successors or inheritors of departed champions’ powers or code-names): a large, cumbersome but captivating combination of raw talent and uneasy exuberance with weary hard-earned experience.

And this slim compilation, collecting JSA volume 3 #29-33 (September 2009 to January 2010) details their greatest challenge, how they met it and what resulted from it…

Accepting the necessity of becoming elder statesmen to the next generations of heroes as well as defenders of the right, the already ponderous organisation began inviting ‘Fresh Meat’ to sign up. Unfortunately as they induct effusive All-American Kid and moody teen King Chimera, the JSA discover their mystic guardian Obsidian has been reduced to an inert egg of dormant ebony energy…

Even as they interview the newbies and probe the cause of the dark avenger’s strange transformation, news arrives of a massive super-villain army attacking the city.

Exactly how to respond reignites a doctrinal debate between old school brawler Wildcat and military martinet Magog, but soon the heroes head off en masse, leaving super-genius Mr. Terrific to mind the juniors and investigate Obsidian’s condition…

The metahuman confrontation is a trap. An unknown mastermind has gathered an army of super-creeps specially chosen to counter individual JSA-ers and put bounties on all the heroes’ heads…

As a colossal battle ensues in the heart of the city something strange becomes apparent. Although the brutes, beasts and monsters run amok and mercilessly assault the JSA-ers they actually attack each other whenever teen hero Stargirl gets into the firing line.

For some reason the mystery Machiavelli behind the coalition of evil has specified that if she is even scratched nobody gets paid…

And as the super-war escalates, back at the JSA Brownstone Mr. Terrific is brutally stabbed by the last person he expected…

Caught completely by surprise the JSA are soon reduced to baffled Stargirl and defiant Jay Garrick standing over the battered bodies of their comrades. The first Flash is forced to risk everything on the villains obeying orders as he rushes off in ‘Hot Pursuit’ of major reinforcements and returns almost instantly with Doctor Fate: a crime-fighting mage with the powers of a god… or so the villains believe…

With the bad guys fleeing in terror the thrashed heroes regroup at their HQ and discover Terrific bleeding out. As magic-wielders and medical doctors strive to keep his fading spark alive, Magog and Wildcat renew their argument about how the team should be run and already-frayed tempers snap…

‘New Blood, Old Blood, Spilled Blood’ sees the medical contingent working miracles to keep Terrific alive as Flash and Power Girl begin reconstructing the murder attempt and grilling the few villains they managed to capture. Soon the big scheme is starting to become clear – even if Stargirl’s sacrosanct status is not – and when the reconvened evil army attacks, even the worst possible news about Terrific is not enough to hinder the fighting mad champions in ‘The Worth of a Hero’

The truth about the traitor comes out in the final climactic clash and even though the greater plot remains unsolved, the resurgent team storms to another astounding against-the-odds victory. However in the rubble of their home and shattered unity it becomes clear that to survive at all the Justice Society has to ‘Split Up’

To Be Continued…

Scripted with deft skill by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges and compellingly limned by Jesus Merino – who should be paid a major bonus for keeping distinct and dynamic the hordes of heroes and villains populating this shocking saga – The Bad Seed is another blockbusting epic that will delight the already informed but might well be all but unreadable to anyone not deeply immersed in the complex continuity of DC’s last three decades.

Nevertheless, if you love Fights ‘n’ Tights mass melodrama and are prepared to do a little reading around then you might find yourself with a whole new universe to play in…
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice Society of America: Black Adam and Isis


By Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2531-5

After the actual invention of the superhero – which means Superman in 1938 – the most significant event in the genre’s (and indeed industry’s) progress was the combination of individual stars into a group. Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces and fan-bases. Plus, of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick.

The Justice Society of America was debuted in the third issue of All-Star Comics (Winter 1940-1941), a communal anthology title featuring established characters from various National and All-American Comics publications. The groundbreaking landmark was instigated by the simple expedient of having assorted heroes gather around a table and tell each other their latest adventure.

From this low key collaboration it wasn’t long before the guys – and they were all white guys (except Red Tornado: a woman who merely pretended to be one) – regularly joined forces to defeat the greatest villains and social ills of their generation. Within months the blockbusting concept had spread far and wide…

And so the Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a milestone in the development of comicbooks. When Julius Schwartz resurrected the superhero genre in the late 1950s, his game-changing moment came with the inevitable teaming of the reconfigured mystery men into a modern Justice League of America.

From there it wasn’t too long before the original and genuine article returned. Since then there were many attempts to formally revive the team’s fortunes but it wasn’t until 1999, on the back of both the highly successful rebooting of the JLA by Grant Morrison & Howard Porter and the seminal but critically favoured new Starman series by Golden Age devotee James Robinson, that the multi-generational team found a new mission and fan-base big enough to support them.

As the century turned the original super-team returned and have been with us in one form or another ever since.

This iteration, called to order after mega crossover events Infinite Crisis and Identity Crisis, found the last surviving heroes of World War II acting as mentors and teachers for the latest generation of young champions and metahuman “legacy-heroes” (family successors or inheritors of departed champions’ powers or code-names).

Such a large, cumbersome but worthy assemblage of raw talent, uneasy exuberance and weary hard-earned experience (for details see Justice Society of America: the Next Age and Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga) can certainly do with some help, and this turbulent tomes collects issues #23-28 of Justice Society of America (volume 3, spanning March – August 2009): finding the august body closing one era whilst nervously embarking upon the next.

Once upon a time Billy Batson was a little boy living on the streets of Fawcett City. His archaeologist parents left him with his uncle when they went on a dig to Egypt. They never returned, his little sister vanished and he was thrown out when his guardian stole his inheritance.

Sleeping in a storm drain, selling newspapers for cash, the indomitable lad grew street-smart and resilient, but when a shadowy stranger bade him follow into an eerie subway, the boy somehow knew it was all okay. Soon after, he met the wizard Shazam and gained the powers of six ancient Gods and Heroes.

Thus began an astounding career as wholesome powerhouse hero Captain Marvel. Billy eventually found his lost sister Mary and shared his nigh-infinite power with her, as they both subsequently did with disabled friend Freddy Freeman.

They battled but eventually reached an accommodation with militant progenitor Black Adam, the wizard’s first superhuman champion who had been reborn in the body of Theo Adam – the man who murdered the Batsons’ parents. However when a succession of crises arose, everything changed. Immortal Shazam was murdered, Billy was exiled to the transcendent Rock of Eternity as his replacement and Freddy became a new Captain Marvel; his mighty gifts supplied by a completely different pantheon of patrons.

Black Adam had found peace and redemption in the love of ascendant nature goddess Isis until she was cruelly taken from him but the worst tragedies befell poor Mary. Deprived of her intoxicating powers she found herself an addict without a fix… until soul-sick Adam shared his dark energies with her. His corrupted spirit fatally tainted the once-vibrant innocent…

The saga resumes here with wrap-up epic ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’ (by scripters Geoff Johns & Jerry Ordway with Ordway & Bob Wiacek supplying the artwork), commencing with ‘The Power of Shazam’ as Adam finds his beloved Isis has been resurrected by sorcerer Felix Faust and turned into his helpless plaything…

Whilst he is savagely saving his revenant inamorata from the mage’s vile clutches, far away in the JSA’s brownstone HQ, the rifts caused by the recent war against space god Gog result in hothead Hawkman quitting in fury over doctrinal issues and how best to train the next generation.

The remaining first rank of heroes continue doggedly debating the way forward as, outside, recent additions fear for their place on the team and beyond time and space Billy the wizard’s tedious monitoring of reality is interrupted by a surprise attack.

Despite a desperate struggle he soon falls to Black Adam and an eerily reborn Isis, who somehow has lost every ounce of the vast compassion and understanding she once embodied, but none of her shattering power…

Stripped of his magical might and adult frame, the terrified boy Billy is ignominiously dumped back on Earth whilst Isis plans her next step and faithful Adam begins to fear that he has made a horrific mistake…

‘Family Ties’ sees indomitable Billy begin the fight back by convincing an extremely dubious JSA to join him in a trip to the Rock of Eternity. The rescue mission first entails sharing his outrageous origins with the adults, backed up by confirmation from teenager Stargirl who has long known Billy’s secrets.

By the time the contingent of champions arrives, Isis has “adopted” Mary Batson – still polluted with Black Adam’s contaminated powers – as she pushes forward her operation to “fix” the world.

In a blistering blitz attack the JSA are separated: the bulk of the team barely surviving Adam’s frenzied assault, Billy and Stargirl cruelly targeted for torture by Black Mary and elder Flash Jay Garrick lured away by the ghost of Billy’s father…

The frantic furore ends in ‘Family Feud’ as Mary forces her powerless brother to share her debauched and corrupting energies, mutating into psychotic deviant Black Billy. The deadly Adam family then translates back to Earth and their former homeland Khandaq – where the global pariah and his bride are worshipped as messiahs – with the battered but determined JLA hot on their heels.

Flash and Mr. Batson (Deceased) have meanwhile traversed the most dangerous corridors of infinity (but not without consequences that will later threaten the world) to reawaken the only being capable of ending the accelerating cosmic catastrophe, but as the trio speed to Kahndaq the situation has again shifted.

The game-changing moment occurred when Isis casually eradicated her devoted human worshippers and revealed to her shocked husband that her intent is to scour Earth of all life and repopulate with beings of her own making…

By the time Jay arrives with a literal Deus ex Machina in his wake, Adam has repented and switched sides, but that makes no difference to the apocalyptic fury of the world’s enraged deliverer…

Following that tragic and spectacular clash a semblance of normality takes hold in heart-warming “day in the life” tale ‘Black Adam Ruined my Birthday’ (by Johns, Dale Eaglesham & Nathan Massengill) as Stargirl Courtney Whitmore is ambushed with a belated sixteenth birthday party and gets her most fervent wish granted… almost…

Ordway & Wiacek return for one last blast from the past in ‘Ghosts in the Darkness’ as the many-handed team are attacked by a horde of disposed and extremely angry sprits who breach the brownstone’s esoteric, ebon defences to hijack Flash, Green Lantern, Wildcat, Liberty Bell and Hourman.

The shanghaied stalwarts soon discover they have fetched up in Hiroshima moments before that fateful atomic bombing…

With the ghosts revealed to have been manipulated by a Machiavellian old foe, the saga shockingly concludes with a cunning doublecross and sneaky twist, even after nigh-omnipotent former JSAer The Spectre takes relative new kids on the block Power Girl, Damage, Atom Smasher and Judomaster on a time-busting rescue mission against the ‘Phantom Menace’

Tipped in as an added bonus is a doom-laden recap of past glories and upcoming tragedies in a trenchant Origins and Omens strip-vignette courtesy of Matthew Sturges & Fernando Pasarin, deftly laying the groundwork for the horrors to come in forthcoming adventures…

Even with covers, variants and celebratory triptychs by Alex Ross, Ordway & Wiacek, this in one more blockbusting epic that will be all but unreadable to anyone not deeply immersed in the complex continuity of DC’s last three decades, which is a real shame as the writing is superb, the artwork incredible and the sheer scope and ambition breathtaking.

Nevertheless, if you love Fights ‘n’ Tights cosmic melodrama and are prepared to do a little reading around then you might find yourself with a whole new universe to play in…
© 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.