Plastic Man Archives volume 5


By Jack Cole & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0154-8

Jack Cole was one of the most uniquely gifted talents of America’s Golden Age of Comics. Before moving into mature magazine and gag markets he originated landmark tales in horror, true crime, war, adventure and especially superhero comicbooks, and his incredible humour-hero Plastic Man remains an unsurpassed benchmark of screwball costumed hi-jinks: frequently copied but never equalled. It was a glittering career of distinction which Cole was clearly embarrassed by and unhappy with.

In 1954 he quit comics for the lucrative and prestigious field of magazine cartooning, swiftly becoming a household name when his brilliant watercolour gags and stunningly saucy pictures began regularly running in Playboy from the fifth issue.

Cole eventually moved into the lofty realms of newspaper strips and, in May 1958, achieved his life-long ambition by launching a syndicated newspaper strip, the domestic comedy Betsy and Me.

On August 13th 1958, at the peak of his greatest success, he took his own life. The reasons remain unknown.

Without doubt – and despite his other triumphal comicbook innovations such as Silver Streak, Daredevil, The Claw, Death Patrol, Midnight, Quicksilver, The Barker, The Comet and a uniquely twisted and phenomenally popular take on the crime and horror genres – Cole’s greatest creation and contribution was the zany Malleable Marvel who quickly grew from a minor back-up character into one of the most memorable and popular heroes of the era. “Plas” was the wondrously perfect fantastic embodiment of the sheer energy, verve and creativity of an era when anything went and comics-makers were prepared to try out every outlandish idea…

Eel O’Brian was a brilliant career criminal wounded during a factory robbery, soaked by a vat of spilled acid and callously abandoned by his thieving buddies. Left for dead, he was saved by a monk who nursed him back to health and proved to the hardened thug that the world was not just filled with brutes and vicious chisellers after a fast buck.

His entire outlook altered and now blessed with incredible elasticity, Eel resolved to put his new powers to good use: cleaning up the scum he used to run with.

Creating a costumed alter ego he began a stormy association with the New York City cops before being recruited as a most special agent of the FBI…

He soon picked up the most unforgettable comedy sidekick in comics history. Woozy Winks was a dopey, indolent slob and utterly amoral pickpocket who accidentally saved a wizard’s life and was blessed in return with a gift of invulnerability: all the forces of nature would henceforth protect him from injury or death – if said forces felt like it.

After failing to halt the unlikely superman’s determined crime spree, Plas appealed to the scoundrel’s sentimentality and, once Woozy tearfully repented, was compelled to keep him around in case he strayed again. The oaf was slavishly loyal but perpetually back-sliding into pernicious old habits…

Equal parts Artful Dodger and Mr Micawber, with the verbal skills and intellect of Lou Costello’s screen persona or the over-filled potato sack he resembled, Winks was the perfect foil for Plastic Man: a lazy, greedy, morally bankrupt reprobate with perennially sticky fingers who got all the best lines, possessed an inexplicable charm and had a habit of finding trouble. It was the ideal marriage of inconvenience…

This fifth full-colour hardback exposes more eccentrically exaggerated exploits of the elastic eidolon from Police Comics #50-58 and Plastic Man #4 (stretching from January to September 1946), and opens here with an appreciation of Cole and his craft by Bill Schelly in the Foreword before a bizarre mystery confounds the populace as ‘Plastic Man Protects Crookdom’.

When a celebrated astrologer is murdered, his dying prediction seems to confirm that the chameleonic crimebuster is cursed to save his killers from the law… but they haven’t heard the victim’s entire utterance…

Police #51 then details how twisted, frustrated love turns a gorgeous but frog-throated operatic chanteuse into a deadly, rock-fisted killer dubbed ‘The Granite Lady’. Even after her mad scientist paramour returns her to flesh-&-blood, her heart remains stony cold…

‘Crime without Criminals’ sees the city devoid of all underworld activity thanks to the efforts of Plas and Woozy. However, nature abhors a vacuum and this time it’s filled by an unlikely new crew of bandits, just in time to take the edge off our heroes’ mounting boredom…

Cole always had a grand line on mad scientists and in ‘The Evil Genius of Dr. Erudite’, came up with a classic loon like no other. This passionate maniac had so many great crime ideas he had no time to implement them. Realising the only solution was to replicate himself, he began an anarchic spree but was surprised by two unforeseen factors: Plastic Man’s determination to stop him and his own duplicate’s rebellious nature…

Cerebral conundra continued to vex our heroes in Police #54 as a moronic sneak thief became a lethal menace to America after swiping ‘The Thinking Machine’. Thankfully Plastic Man was on hand to fight and Woozy to balance the scales of natural imbecility…

Issue #55 revealed the genesis and just deserts of ‘Sleepy Eyes’ as a cheap crook realises he has the power to plunge folk into unshakeable comas…

Cole’s constant and still-growing pressure to fill pages led to the hiring of numerous artists to draw his madcap scripts. This is clearly seen in Plastic Man #4 (Summer 1946) which opens with ‘The Purple Viking’ (illustrated by Bart Tumey), wherein a longboat full of ancient Norse reivers invades a quiet seaside hamlet, just as Plas and Woozy check in for a quiet weekend. How odd that the beach town is trashed by invaders just as a developer is checking out prospective new resort sites…

A crooked political-boss trying to set up his own country inside America is no match for the Pliable Paladin in ‘King Lughead the First’ (art by John Spranger). Not only are all his larcenous efforts to fill the Treasury foiled, but new Prime Minister Mr. Winks is so dumb he might as well be working for the other side…

The stooge once more becomes the star as Woozy stumbles into ‘The Lollypop Caper’ (Tumey again), chasing gem-filled candy sought by rival mobs and a rather dangerous toddler…

Plastic Man’s uncanny deductive abilities are then propounded in prose short ‘Plas’ to Meet You’ before the capture of arch-thug ‘The Lobster’ leads to Woozy being adopted and Plas stumbling into a cunning conspiracy…

Plastic Man #56 then dabbled with childish whimsy as ‘Overworked Genie’ (art by Andre Leblanc) sees the stretchable sleuth take a day off to spend his time granting wishes to a little kid. However, crime never sleeps and all too soon greedy thugs are trying to steal Mickey’s lamp. Big mistake…

A growing public fascination with and appetite for flying saucer stories informs ‘Mars – Keep Away’ (Spranger art) as the mysterious Mr. Misfit inserts his diminutive self into Plas and Woozy’s hunt for stolen atomic fuel and a flamboyantly crackpot rocketry loon dubbed Professor MacGhoul, after which this slice of vintage class concludes with a deadly duel against murderously marauding vegetable villain ‘The Green Terror’ (illustrated by Alex Kotsky)…

Augmented by all the astoundingly ingenious covers, this is a true gem of funnybook virtuosity: still exciting, breathtakingly original, thrilling, witty, scary, visually outrageous and pictorially intoxicating more than seventy years after Jack Cole first put pen to paper.

Plastic Man is a unique creation and this is a magical experience comics fans would be nuts to miss.
© 1946, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman Adventures volume 3


By Kelley Puckett, Paul Dini, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett with Michael Reaves, Bruce Timm, Matt Wagner, Klaus Janson, Dan DeCarlo, John Byrne & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5872-6

The brainchild of 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 inevitably fed back into the printed iterations, 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 eras 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.

It entranced young fans whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only the most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

A faithful comicbook translation was prime material for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market but only the first year was ever released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: the Lost Years.

Nowadays, however, we’re much more evolved and reprint collections have established a solid niche amongst the cognoscenti and younger readers…

This third inclusive compendium gathers issues #21-27 of The Batman Adventures comicbook (originally published from June to December 1994) plus that year’s Batman Adventures Annual: a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy from Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett and a few fellow-pros-turned-fans…

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

The wall to wall wonderment begins with the contents of Batman Adventures Annual #1: a giant-sized gathering of industry stars illustrating Paul Dini’s episodic, interlinked saga ‘Going Straight’.

Illustrators Timm & Burchett set the ball rolling as jet-propelled bandit Roxy Rocket is released from prison, prompting Batman and faithful retainer Alfred to discuss whether any villains ever reform…

Apparently one who almost made it was Arnold Wesker, who played mute Ventriloquist to his malign dummy Scarface. Tragically in ‘Puppet Show’ (art by Parobeck & Matt Wagner) we see how even a good job and the best of intentions are no defence when Arnold’s new boss wants to exploit his criminal past…

Harley Quinn is insanely devoted to killer clown The Joker and Dan DeCarlo & Timm wordlessly expose her profound weakness for that bad boy as she’s released from Arkham Asylum but is seduced back into committing crazy crimes in just ‘24 Hours’

The Scarecrow’s return to terrorising the helpless resulted from his genuine desire to help a girl assaulted by her would-be boyfriend in the chilling, poignant ‘Study Hall’ (with art by Klaus Janson), after which ‘Going Straight’ concludes with Timm detailing how Roxy Rocket is framed by Catwoman and Batman has to separate the warring female furies…

The melange of mayhem even came with its own enthralling encore with The Joker solo-starring in ‘Laughter After Midnight’ as the Mountebank of Mirth goes on a spree in Gotham, courtesy of artists John Byrne & Burchett…

The Batman Adventures #21 then saw Michael Reaves join Kelley Puckett to script tense thriller ‘House of Dorian’ for Parobeck & Burchett as deranged geneticist Emile Dorian escapes from Arkham and immediately turns Kirk Langstrom back into the marauding Man-Bat.

Moreover, although the Mad Doctor’s freedom is bad news for Gotham, Langstrom and Dorian’s previous beast-man Tygrus; for a desperate fugitive afflicted with lycanthropy, the insane physician is his last chance at a cure for his curse…

Dorian couldn’t care less. All he wants is revenge on Batman and Selina Kyle…

Like the show, most stories were crafted as a three-act plays and the conceit resumes with #22 as Puckett, Parobeck & Burchett settle in for the long haul.

‘Good Face Bad Face’ sees the return of Two-Face; also busting out of Arkham in ‘Harvey Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ to settle scores with Gotham’s top mobster Rupert Thorne. His first move is to set free his gang in ‘Nor Iron Bars a Cage’, but this time Batman is waiting…

Poison Ivy is back in #23, spreading ‘Toxic Shock’ as she teams up with the Dark Knight in ‘Strange Bedfellows’ to save a famed botanist and ecologist dying from a mystery toxin. ‘Fighting Poison with Poison’, she and Batman search for a cure, forcing the mystery assassin into more prosaic methods in ‘How Deadly Was my Valley’

‘Grave Obligations’ sees the Gotham Guardian’s past come back to haunt him when a ninja clan invades the city. They seem more concerned with fighting each other in ‘Brother’s Keeper’, but a little digging reveals how one has come ‘From Tokyo, With Death’ in mind for Batman, and it takes the force of a much higher authority to halt the chaos in ‘Cancelled Debts’

An inevitable team-up graces Batman Adventures #25 as Puckett, Parobeck & Burchett reintroduce legendary ‘Super Friends’.

With Lex Luthor in town and bidding against Waynetech for a military contract, a mystery bombing campaign begins in ‘Tik, Tik, Tik…’

Even as unwelcome guest Superman horns in, Batman realises his old foe Maxie Zeus might be taking the credit but is certainly not to blame for the ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Zeus!’

A little deduction and a grudging alliance with the Caped Kryptonian results in the true scheme being unravelled in ‘The Gods Must be Crazy’ and Batman rejoices in having made a powerful friend and a remorseless and resourceful new enemy…

‘Tree of Knowledge’ focuses on college students Dick Grayson and Babs Gordon as they score top marks in a criminology course. ‘Pop Gun Quiz’ sees them singled out for special study by their impressed Professor Morton and on hand in ‘Careful What You Wish For’ to experience an impossible crime in the University Library. Despite all their investigations, it’s only as Robin and Batgirl that a devilish plot is unravelled and crucial ‘Lessons Learned’

The last tale in this terrific tome revisits the tragedy of Batman’s origins as ‘Survivor Syndrome’ sees an impostor risking his life on Gotham’s streets in search of justice or possibly his own death.

‘Brother, Brother’ reveals how athlete Tom Dalton’s wife was murdered and how he surrendered to a ‘Call to Vengeance’. Everything changes once the real Dark Knight takes charge of Tom and trains him to regain ‘The Upper Hand’

With a full compliment of covers by Timm and Parobeck & Burchett – plus a ‘Pin-Up Gallery’ with stunning images by Alex Toth, Dave Gibbons, Kelley Jones, Kevin Nowlan, Mark Chiarello, Mike Mignola, Matt Wagner and Chuck Dixon & Rick Burchett – all coloured by the astounding Rick Taylor – this is another stunning treat for superhero lovers of every age and vintage.
© 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman in the Forties


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Jack Schiff, Dick Sprang, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Jack Burnley, Winslow Mortimer, Charles Paris, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0206-3

Part of a series of trade paperbacks intended to define DC’s top heroes through the decades (the other being Superman, of course) these compilations always deliver a superb wallop of comicbook magic and a tantalising whiff of other, arguably better and certainly less unstable times.

Divided into discrete sections (and breaking its own rules by including some material from 1939), partitioned by spectacular cover galleries, this timeless treasure trove of cape-&-cowl action commences with an informative Introduction from comics historian Bill Schelly who adds context and commentary before the exotic nostalgia begins with a selection dedicated to ‘Cover Gallery: Milestones’, re-presenting the compelling Batman #1, Spring 1941, World’s Fair Comics #1, Spring 1941, Detective Comics #27, May 1939 and Detective Comics #38, February 1940.

Detective #27 spotlighted the Dark Knight’s debut in the ‘Case of the Chemical Syndicate!’ from by Bob Kane and his close collaborator Bill Finger.

The spartan, understated yarn introduced dilettante playboy criminologist Bruce Wayne, drawn into a straightforward crime wherein a cabal of industrialists were successively murdered. The killings stopped when an eerie figure dubbed “The Bat-Man” intruded on Police Commissioner Gordon’s stalled investigation and ruthlessly dealt with the hidden killer.

‘Origin’ originated two years later (Detective Comics #33, November 1939). Here Gardner Fox, Kane & Sheldon Moldoff produced the first ever explanation of the hero’s tragic history in the first two pages of a longer tale (‘The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom’ – and not included here), after which Detective #33 (April 1940) spawned ‘Robin the Boy Wonder’ by Finger, Kane & Jerry Robinson.

This story changed the landscape of comicbooks forever; introducing child trapeze artist Dick Grayson whose parents were murdered before his eyes and who consequently joined Batman in a lifelong quest for justice. They began by taking down mobster Boss Zucco, the Graysons’ murderer…

‘The People vs. Batman’ is from Batman #7, October/November 1941, by Finger, Kane & Robinson. Something of a landmark, it’s also a potent and emotional crime melodrama. When Bruce Wayne is framed for murder and jailed, Robin takes over to clear up the case, ultimately resulting in the Dynamic Duo finally becoming official operatives of the Gotham police force. They would not be vigilantes again until the grim and gritty 1980’s…

Concluding this first section is ‘The Origin of Batman’ (Batman #47 June/July 1948, by Finger, Kane & Charles Paris) which added tone and depth to the traumatic event, as the Gotham Gangbuster at last tracks down and confronts the triggerman who murdered his parents…

‘Cover Gallery: Props’ features iconic paraphernalia as seen on Detective Comics #61 March 1942, Detective Comics #127 September 1947, Batman #48 August/September 1948, Batman #10 April/May 1942 before Batman #37 (October/November 1946) offers a magnificent clash of eternal adversaries when ‘The Joker Follows Suit!’

Fed up with failing in all his felonious forays, the Clown Prince of Crime decides that imitation is the sincerest form of theft and begins swiping the Dark Knights gimmicks, methods and gadgets; using them to profitably come to the aid of bandits in distress in a masterpiece of mirthful mayhem by an unnamed author, Robinson & George Roussos.

Most later Batman tales feature a giant coin in the Batcave and World’s Finest #30 is where that spectacular prop first appeared; spoils of a successful battle between the Caped Crusaders and Joe Coyne’s vicious bandit gang ‘The Penny Plunderers!’ (by Finger, Kane & Ray Burnley).

Crafted by Finger and Jim Mooney, the next tale comes from Batman #48 (August/September 1948) and reveals how an escaped convict finds the secret sanctum, leaving us privy to ‘The 1,000 Secrets of the Batcave’. Batman and Robin hunt out the gloating crook, expecting to be publicly exposed when they turn him in, but Fate has a cruel trick left to play…

World’s Finest Comics #3 Autumn 1941, Batman #22 April/May 1940, Detective Comics #42 August 1940, Batman #26 December 1944-December 1945 unite to form ‘Cover Gallery: The Batman Family’ and leads into key tales featuring the supporting cast such as the anonymously scripted ‘Alfred, Armchair Detective’ (Batman #31, October/November 1945).

Part of an occasional series, these were light-hearted supplemental vignettes (possibly written by Don Cameron or Joe Samachson and illustrated by Robinson. This one hilariously depicts how an idle night spent eavesdropping on crooks results in a big arrest of burglars by the dutiful butler…

A suspenseful, shocking high comes with ‘Bruce Wayne Loses Guardianship of Dick Grayson!’ wherein a couple of fraudsters claiming to be the lad’s last remaining relatives petition to adopt him. A melodramatic triumph by Finger, Kane & Robinson, there’s still plenty of action, especially after the grifters try to sell Dick back to Bruce in a real lost gem from Batman #20 (December 1943-December 1944).

From 1947 to 1952, (issues #65-130) Robin, the Boy Wonder had his own solo series and regular cover spot in Star Spangled Comics at a time when the first superhero boom was fading, to be replaced by more traditional genres such as crime, westerns and boys’ adventure stories. The stories blended in-continuity action capers with more youth-oriented fare and adults Batman and Alfred reduced to minor roles – or entirely absent – allowing the kid crusader to display not just his physical skills but also his brains, ingenuity and guts.

SSC #70 (July 1947) introduced an arch-villain he could call his own as ‘Clocks of Doom’ saw the debut of an anonymous criminal time-&-motion expert forced into the limelight once his face was caught on film. The Clock’s desperate attempts to sabotage the movie Robin was consulting on inevitably led to hard time in this delightful romp by Finger, Win Mortimer & Paris.

‘Cover Gallery: The Villains’ culls classics images from Detective Comics #89 July 1944, Detective Comics #73 March 1943, Detective Comics #140 October 1948 and Detective Comics #29 July 1940, before moving on to declare ‘Your Face is your Fortune’ (Batman #15, February/March 1943, by Jack Schiff, Kane, Robinson & Roussos). Here Catwoman returned, taking on a job at a swanky Beauty Parlour to gain info for her crimes and inadvertently falling for Society Bachelor Bruce Wayne…

‘The Scoop of the Century’ by Finger, Kane & Lew Sayre Schwartz, from Batman #49, October/November 1948, finds Batman battling the Mad Hatter for the first time but painfully distracted by a reporter.

Vicki Vale is convinced the Masked Manhunter is actually Bruce Wayne and, although he dissuades her here, she would spend the next fifteen years trying to prove it…

‘Clayface Walks Again’ (Detective Comics #49 March 1941, Finger, Kane Robinson & Roussos) wherein a deranged horror actor recommenced his passion for murder by trying to kill Bruce’s old girlfriend Julie Madison; literally “the one who got away” during the maniac’s previous campaign of terror…

‘The End of Two-Face’ (Detective Comics #80, October 1943 by Finger, Kane, Robinson & Roussos) saw former District Attorney-turned-maniac Harvey Kent seemingly cured of his split personality after a typically terrific tussle.

A different iteration then follows in ‘Half-Man Half Monster’ taken from the Batman Sunday newspaper strips for June 23-August 18, 1946. Here Finger, Jack Burnley & Mortimer re-imagine the turbulent tragedy as actor Harvey Apollo is disfigured on the witness stand while testifying and becomes a deranged, double-edged menace to society until the Caped Crusaders catch him…

After a copious ‘Contributors’ section detailing the lives of the men who made Batman there’s one  last treat in store. ‘The True Story of Batman and Robin’ is an entertaining but highly dubious company puff-piece from Real Fact Comics #5 January 1947 by author unknown and Mortimer “detailing” how Bob Kane invented the strip and how it’s produced. Believe it or don’t…

The history of the American comicbook industry in almost every major aspect stems from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of twin icons published by DC/National Comics: Superman and Batman. It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in a variety of formats from relatively economical newsprint paperbacks like this to stunning, deluxe hardcover commemorative Archive editions.

These are the stories that forged the character and success of Batman. The works of Bill Finger, Bob Kane and their multi-talented assistants are evergreen examples of pure and perfect superhero fiction. Put them in a thrifty, nifty package like this, include the pop art masterpieces that were the covers of those classics, and you have pretty much the perfect comic book. And you really, really should have it.
© 1939-1949, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Jack Kirby Omnibus volume 1: Green Arrow and others


By Jack Kirby & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3107-1

Jack Kirby was – and still is – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are millions of words written (such as former Kirby assistant Mark Evanier’s revelatory and myth-busting Introduction in this gloriously enthralling full-colour hardback compilation) about what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium.

Off course I’m going to add my own tuppence-worth, pointing out what you probably already know: Kirby was a man of vast imagination who translated big concepts into astoundingly potent and accessible symbols for two generations of fantasy fans. If you were exposed to Kirby as an impressionable kid you were his for life. To be honest, the same probably applies whatever age you jump aboard the “Kirby Express”…

For those of us who grew up with his work, his are the images which furnish and clutter our interior mindsets. Close your eyes and think “robot” and the first thing that pops up is a Kirby creation and every fantastic, futuristic city in our heads is crammed with his chunky, towering spires. Because of Jack we all know what the bodies beneath those stony-head statues on Easter Island look like, and we are all viscerally aware that you can never trust great big aliens parading around in their underpants…

In a remarkably short time Kirby and his creative partner Joe Simon became the wonder-kid dream-team of the new-born comicbook industry. Together they produced a year’s worth of the influential monthly Blue Bolt, rushed out Captain Marvel Adventures (#1) for Fawcett and, after Martin Goodman appointed Simon editor at Timely, created a host of iconic characters such as Red Raven, the first Marvel Boy, Hurricane, The Vision, The Young Allies and of course million-selling mega-hit Captain America.

When Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations, Simon & Kirby were snapped up by National/DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a fat chequebook. Bursting with ideas the staid company were never really comfortable with, the pair were initially an uneasy fit, and were given two moribund strips to play with until they found their creative feet: Sandman and Manhunter.

They turned both around virtually overnight and, once established and left to their own devices, switched to the “Kid Gang” genre they had pioneered at Timely. Joe and Jack created wartime sales sensation The Boy Commandos and a Homefront iteration dubbed the Newsboy Legion before being called up to serve in the war they had been fighting on comicbook pages since 1940.

They demobbed and returned to a very different funnybook business and soon left National to create their own little empire.

Simon & Kirby heralded and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not just by inventing the Romance genre, but with all manner of challenging modern material about real people in extraordinary situations – before seeing it all disappear again in less than eight years. Their small stable of magazines – generated for an association of companies known as Prize/Crestwood/Pines/Essenkay/Mainline Comics – blossomed and as quickly wilted when the industry abruptly contracted throughout the 1950s. After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby had finally established their own publishing house, producing comics for a far more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by an anti-comicbook pogrom.

Hysterical censorship-fever spearheaded by US Senator Estes Kefauver and opportunistic pop psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham led to witch-hunting Senate hearings. Caving in, publishers adopted a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulatory rules. Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high. Crime comics vanished and mature themes challenging society were suppressed…

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Kirby soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if less experimental, companies. As the panic abated, Kirby returned briefly to DC Comics where he worked on mystery tales and Green Arrow (then a mere back-up strip in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics) whilst concentrating on his long-dreamed-of newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

During that period he also re-packaged an original super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and Joe Simon had closed their innovative, ill-timed ventures. At the end of 1956 Showcase #6 (a try-out title that launched the careers of many DC mainstays) premiered the Challengers of the Unknown. After three more test issues they won their own title with Kirby in command for the first eight. Then a legal dispute with Editor Jack Schiff exploded and the King was gone…

During that brief 3-year period (cover-dated 1957-1959), Kirby also crafted a remarkably large number of short comics yarns and this fabulous tome re-presents – in originally-published order – his super-hero, mystery and science fiction shorts; culled from Tales of the Unexpected #12, 13, 15-18, 21- 24; House of Mystery #61, 63, 65, 66, 70, 72, 76, 84, 85; House of Secrets #3, 4, 8, 12; My Greatest Adventure #15- 18, 20, 21, 28; Adventure Comics #250-256; World’s Finest Comics # 96-99.

Also included is a lost gem from All-Star Western #99 plus three impressive tales produced by Simon & Kirby from 1946-1947 for Real Fact Comics #1, 2 and 6.

Records are sparse and scanty from those days when no creator was allowed a by-line, so many of these stories carry no writer’s credit (and besides, Kirby was notorious for rewriting scripts he was unhappy with drawing) but Group Editor Schiff’s regular stable of authors included Dave Wood, Bill Finger, Ed Herron, Joe Samachson, George Kashdan, Jack Miller and Otto Binder, so feel free to play the “whodunit” game…

National/DC Comics was relatively slow in joining the post-war mystery comics boom. At the end of 1951 they at last launched a gore-free, comparatively straight-laced anthology which nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles: The House of Mystery (cover-dated December 1951/January 1952). Its roaring success inevitably led to a raft of similar creature-filled fantasy anthologies such as Sensation Mystery, My Greatest Adventure, House of Secrets and Tales of the Unexpected.

With the Comics Code in full effect, plot options for mystery and suspense stories were savagely curtailed; limited to ambiguous, anodyne magical artefacts, wholesomely education mythological themes, science-based miracles and straight chicanery. Stories were marvellously illustrated, rationalistic, fantasy-adventure vehicles which would dominate until the early 1960s when super-heroes (recently reinvigorated after Julius Schwartz reintroduced the Flash in Showcase #4, 1956) finally overtook them…

In this volume, following that aforementioned Introduction – describing Kirby’s three tours of duty with DC in very different decades – the vintage wonderment commences with another example of the ingenious versatility of Jack & Joe.

Originating in the wholesome and self-explanatory Real Fact Comics, ‘The Rocket-Lanes of Tomorrow’ (#1, March/April 1946) and ‘A World of Thinking Robots’ from #2 (May/June 1946) are forward-looking, retro-fabulous graphic prognostications of the “World that’s Coming”. A longer piece from #6 (July/August 1947) then details the history and achievements of ‘Backseat Driver’ and road-safety campaigner Mildred McKay.

These were amongst the very last strips the duo produced for National before the move to Crestwood/Pines, so we skip ahead a decade and more for Jack’s return in House of Secrets #3 (March/April 1957) and ‘The Three Prophecies’: an eerie tale of a spiritualist conman being fleeced by an even more skilful grifter until Fate takes a hand…

Mythological mysticism informs the strange tale of ‘The Thing in the Box’ (House of Mystery #61, April 1957) as a salvage diver becomes obsessed with a deadly casket his captain is all too eager to dump into the ocean, after which – from the same month – Tales of the Unexpected #12 focuses on ‘The All-Seeing Eye’ wherein a journalist responsible for many impossible scoops realises that the potential dangers of the ancient artefact he employs far outweigh the benefits …

In House of Secrets #4 (May/June 1957) the ‘Master of the Unknown’ seemed destined to take the big cash prize on a TV quiz show until the producer deduced his uncanny secret, after which ‘I Found the City under the City’ (My Greatest Adventure #15, from the same month) detailed how fishermen recovered the last testament of a lost oceanographer, and read of how he intended to foil an impending invasion by aquatic aliens…

From May 1957 France E. Herron & Kirby investigated ‘The Face Behind the Mask’ (Tales of the Unexpected #13): a gripping crime-caper in involving gullible men, a vibrant vital femme fatale and the quest for eternal youth. There was no fakery to ‘Riddle of the Red Roc’ (House of Mystery #63, June) as a venal explorer hatched and trained the invulnerable bird of legend creating an unstoppable thief, before succumbing to his own greed, after which My Greatest Adventure #16 (July/August) featured a truly eerie threat as an explorer was sucked into a deadly association creating death and destruction and discovered ‘I Died a Thousand Times’

That same month Unexpected #15 offered ‘Three Wishes to Doom’: a crafty thriller proving that even with a genie’s lamp, crime does not pay, after which weird science allowed a hasty scientist to transform into ‘The Human Dragon’ (HoM #65 August, with George Roussos inking his old pal Jack), although his time to repent was brief as a criminal mastermind swooped in to capitalise on his misfortune…

There’s an understandable frisson of foreshadowing to ‘The Magic Hammer’ (Tales of the Unexpected #16 August) as it relates how a prospector finds a magical mallet capable of creating storms and goes into the rainmaking business… until the original owner turns up…

A smart gimmick underscores this tantalising tale of plagiarism and possible telepathy in ‘The Thief of Thoughts’ (HoM #66 September) whilst straight Sci Fi informs the tale of a hotel detective and a most unusual guest in ‘Who is Mr. Ashtar?’ (Tales of the Unexpected #17 September) before My Greatest Adventure #17 September/October 1957) reveals how aliens intent on invasion brainwashed a millionaire scientist to eradicate humanity in ‘I Doomed the World’. Happily one glaring error was made…

In Tales of the Unexpected #18 (October) Kirby showed how an astute astronomer saved us all by outwitting an energy being with big appetites in ‘The Man Who Collected Planets’ after which in MGA #18 (November/December 1957) the comicbook Atomic Age began with ‘I Tracked the Nuclear Creature’ as a hunter sets out to destroy a macabre mineral monster created by uncontrolled fission…

A new year dawned with Roussos inking ‘The Creatures from Nowhere!’ (House of Mystery #70, January 1958) as escaped alien beasts rampaged through a quiet town whilst in House of Secrets #8 (January/February), greed, betrayal, murder and supernatural suspense were the watchword when a killer tried to silence ‘The Cats who Knew Too Much!’

In Tales of the Unexpected #21 (also January) a smart investor proved too much for apparent extraterrestrial ‘The Mysterious Mr. Vince’ whilst a month later in Unexpected #22 the ‘Invasion of the Volcano Men’ started in fiery fury and panicked confrontation before resolving into an alliance against the uncontrolled forces of nature.

Kirby never officially worked for National’s large Westerns division, but apparently his old friend and neighbour Frank Giacoia did, and occasionally needed Jack’s legendary pencilling speed to meet deadlines. ‘The Ambush at Smoke Canyon!’ features long-running cavalry hero Foley of the Fighting 5th single-handedly stalking a band of Pawnee renegades in a rather standard sagebrush saga scripted by Herron and inked by Giacoia from All-Star Western #99 (February/March 1958).

Meanwhile in House of Mystery #72 (March) a shameless B-Movie Producer seemingly becomes ‘The Man who Betrayed Earth’ whilst in My Greatest Adventure #20 (March/April) interplanetary bonds of friendship are forged when space pirates kidnap assorted sentients and the canny Earthling saves the day in ‘I was Big-Game on Neptune’

Inadvertent cosmic catastrophe is narrowly averted in Tales of the Unexpected #23 (March) when one man realises how to make contact with ‘The Giants from Outer Space’ after which issue #24 (April) slips into wild whimsy as ‘The Two-Dimensional Man!’ strives desperately to correct his incredible condition before he is literally blown away…

When an early space-shot brings back an all-consuming horror in My Greatest Adventure #21 (May/June 1958) two harrowed boffins realise ‘We Were Doomed by the Metal-Eating Monster’ whilst ‘The Artificial Twin’ (House of Mystery #76, July) combines mad doctor super-science with fraud and deception before House of Secrets #12 (September) sees one frantic man struggling to close ‘The Hole in the Sky’ before invading aliens use it to conquer mankind…

Also scattered throughout this extraordinary compendium of the bizarre is a stunning and bombastic Baker’s Dozen of Kirby’s fantastic covers from the period, but for most modern fans the real meat is the short, sharp sequence of super-hero shockers that follow…

Green Arrow is one of DC’s golden wonders: a more or less continually running fixture of the company’s landscape – in many instances for no discernable reason – since his debut in the early days of costumed crusaders. Created by Mort Weisinger & George Papp, he premiered in More Fun Comics # 73 (November 1941) in an attempt to expand the company’s superhero portfolio.

At first he proved quite successful. With boy partner Speedy he was of the precious few masked stalwarts to survive the end of the Golden Age. His blatant blend of Batman and Robin Hood seemed to have very little going for itself, but the Emerald Archer has somehow always managed to keep himself in vogue. He carried on adventuring in the back of other heroes’ comicbooks, joined the Justice League of America at the peak of their popularity and became – courtesy of Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams – the spokes-hero of the anti-establishment generation during the 1960’s “Relevancy Comics” trend.

Later, under Mike Grell’s stewardship and thanks to the epic miniseries Green Arrow: the Longbow Hunters, he at last became a headliner: re-imagined as an urban predator dealing with corporate thugs and serial killers rather than costumed goof-balls. This version, more than any other, informs and underpins the TV incarnation seen in Arrow.

After his long career and a few venue changes, by the time Julie Schwartz’s revivification of the Superhero genre the Emerald Archer was a solid second feature in both Adventure and World’s Finest Comics where, as part of the wave of retcons, reworkings and spruce-ups the company administered to all their remaining costumed old soldiers, a fresh start began in the summer of 1958.

Part of that revival happily coincided with the return to National Comics of Jack Kirby.

As previously revealed in Evanier’s Introduction, after working on a number of anthological stories for Jack Schiff, the King was asked to revise the idling archer and responded by beefing up the science fictional aspects. When supervising editor – and creator – Weisinger objected, the changes were toned down and Kirby saw the writing was on the wall. He lost interest and began quietly looking elsewhere for work…

What resulted was a tantalisingly short run of eleven astounding action-packed, fantasy filled swashbucklers, the first of which was scripted by Bill Finger as ‘The Green Arrows of the World’ (Adventure Comics #251, July 1958) sees heroic archers from many nations attending a conference in Star City.

They are blithely unaware that a fugitive criminal with murder in his heart is hiding within their masked midst…

August’s #251 takes a welcome turn to astounding science fiction as Kirby scripted and resolved ‘The Case of the Super-Arrows’ wherein the Amazing Archers took possession of high-tech trick shafts sent from 3000 AD. World’s Finest Comics #96 (writer unknown) then revealed ‘Five Clues to Danger’ – a classic kidnap mystery made even more impressive by Kirby’s lean, raw illustration.

A practically unheard-of continued case spanned Adventure #252 and 253 as Dave Wood, Jack & Roz posed ‘The Mystery of the Giant Arrows’ before GA and Speedy briefly became ‘Prisoners of Dimension Zero’ – a spectacular riot of giant aliens and incredible exotic otherworlds, followed in WFC #97 (October 1958) with a grand old-school crime-caper in Herron’s ‘The Mystery of the Mechanical Octopus’.

Kirby was having fun and going from strength to strength. Adventure #254 featured ‘The Green Arrow’s Last Stand’ (by Wood): a particularly fine example with the Amazing Archers crashing into a hidden valley where Sioux braves had thrived unchanged since the time of Custer. The next issue saw the Bold Bowmen battle a battalion of Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender their island bunker in ‘The War That Never Ended!’ (also by Wood).

December’s World’s Finest #98 almost ended the heroes’ careers in Herron’s ‘The Unmasked Archers’ wherein a private practical joke caused the pair to inadvertently expose themselves to public scrutiny and deadly danger…

During those heady early days origins weren’t as important as imaginative situations, visual storytelling and just plain getting on with it, so co-creators Weisinger & Papp never bothered to provide one for their emerald innovation. That was left to later workmen Herron, Jack & Roz (in Kirby’s penultimate tale before devoting all his energies to the fabulous newspaper strip Sky Masters), filling in the blanks with ‘The Green Arrow’s First Case’ as the Silver Age superhero revival hit its stride in Adventure Comics #256 (January 1959).

Here we learned how wealthy wastrel Oliver Queen was cast away on a deserted island and learned to use a hand-made bow to survive. When a band of scurvy mutineers fetched up on his desolate shores, Queen used his newfound skills to defeat them and returned to civilisation with a new career and purpose…

Kirby’s spectacular swan-song came in WFC #99 (January 1959) with ‘Crimes under Glass’. Written by Robert Bernstein the tale saw GA and Speedy battling crafty criminals with a canny clutch of optical armaments, as the Archer steadfastly slipped back into the sedate and gimmick-heavy rut of pre-Kirby times…

By this time the King had moved on to other enterprises – Archie Comics with old pal Joe Simon and a little outfit which would soon be calling itself Marvel Comics – but his rapid rate of creation had left a number of completed tales in National’s inventory pile which slowly emerged for months thereafter and neatly wrap up this comprehensive compendium of the uncanny.

From My Greatest Adventure #28 (February 1959) ‘We Battled the Microscopic Menace!’ pitted two brave boffins against a ravening devourer their meddling with unknown forces had unleashed, whilst a month later HoM #84 revealed the terrifying struggle against ‘The Negative Man’ which saw an embattled researcher struggling against his own unleashed energy duplicate.

It all ends with an unforgettable spectacular as House of Mystery #85 (April 1959) awakens ‘The Stone Sentinels of Giant Island’ to rampage across a lost Pacific island and threaten the brave crew of a scientific survey vessel until one wise man deduces their incredible secret…

Jack Kirby was and is unique and uncompromising: his words and pictures are an unparalleled, hearts-and-minds grabbing delight no comics lover could resist. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind.

That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the entire American comics scene and indeed the entire comics planet – affecting the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in every arena of artistic endeavour for generations and still winning new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep and simultaneously mythic and human.

This collection from his transformative middle period exults in sheer escapist wonderment, and no one should miss the graphic exploits of these perfect adventures in that ideal setting of not-so-long-ago in a simpler, better time and place than ours.
© 1946, 1947, 1957, 1958, 1959, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Newsboy Legion volume 1


By Joe Simon & Jack Kirby with Arturo Cazeneuve, Gil Kane & others (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2593-3

Just as the Golden Age of comics was beginning, two young men with big dreams met up and began a decades-long association that was always intensely creative, immensely productive and spectacularly in tune with popular tastes. As kids they had both sold newspapers on street-corners to help their families survive the Great Depression …

Joe Simon was a sharp-minded, talented young man with five years experience in “real” publishing; working from the bottom up to become art director on a succession of small paper such as the Rochester Journal American, Syracuse Herald and Syracuse Journal American.

He then moved to New York City and a life of freelancing as an art/photo retoucher and illustrator. Recommended by his boss, Simon joined Lloyd Jacquet’s pioneering Funnies Inc.; a production “shop” generating strips and characters for a number of publishing houses all eager to cash in on the success of Action Comics and its stellar attraction Superman.

Within days Simon created The Fiery Mask for Martin Goodman of Timely Comics (now Marvel) and became acquainted with young Jacob Kurtzberg, a cartoonist and animator just hitting his stride with the Blue Beetle for the Fox Feature Syndicate.

Together Simon and Kurtzberg (who went through a legion of pen-names before settling on Jack Kirby) enjoyed a stunning creative empathy and synergy which galvanized an already electric neo-industry with a vast catalogue of features and even sub-genres.

They produced the influential monthly Blue Bolt, rushed out Captain Marvel Adventures (#1) for Fawcett and, after Martin Goodman appointed Simon editor at Timely, created a host of iconic characters such as Red Raven, the first Marvel Boy, Hurricane, The Vision, The Young Allies and of course the million-selling mega-hit Captain America.

Famed for his larger than life characters and colossal cosmic imaginings, “King” Kirby was an astute, spiritual hard-working family man who lived though poverty, gangsterism and the Depression. He loved his work, hated chicanery of every sort and saw a big future for the comics industry…

When Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations, Simon & Kirby jumped ship to National/DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a fat chequebook. Bursting with ideas the staid company were not comfortable with, the pair were initially an uneasy fit, and were given two strips that were in the doldrums until they found their creative feet: Sandman and Manhunter.

They turned both around veritably overnight before, once established and left to their own devices, creating the “Kid Gang” genre (technically “recreating” as the idea was one of the duo’s last innovations for Timely in 1941’s Young Allies) with a unique juvenile Foreign Legion dubbed The Boy Commandos.

The little warriors began by sharing the spotlight with Batman in flagship publication Detective Comics, but before long they had won their own solo title which promptly became one of the company’s top three sellers.

Boy Commandos was such a success – frequently cited as the biggest-selling US comicbook in the world at that time – that the editors, knowing the Draft was lurking, green-lighted the completion of a wealth of extra material to lay away for when their star creators were called up.

S&K assembled a creative team which generated so much material in a phenomenally short time that Publisher Jack Liebowitz suggested they retool some of it into adventures of a second kid gang and thus was born The Newsboy Legion (and their super-heroic mentor The Guardian)…

Pitched halfway between a surly bunch of comedy grotesques and charming naive ragamuffins as seen in the Our Gang/Little Rascals film shorts (1922-1944), the Newsboy Legion comprised four ferociously independent orphans living together on the streets, peddling papers to survive. There was earnest, good-looking Tommy Tompkins, garrulous genius Big Words, diminutive, hyper-active chatterbox Gabby and feisty, pugnacious Scrapper, whose Brooklyn-based patois and gutsy belligerence usually stole the show. They were headed for a bad end until somebody extraordinary entered their lives…

Their exploits generally offered a bombastic blend of crime thriller and comedy caper, leavened with dynamic superhero action and usually seen from a kid’s point of view. The series debuted in Star-Spangled Comics #7, forcing the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy off the covers. The youngsters remained lead feature until the end of 1946, when without fanfare or warning issue #65 found them gone: ousted and replaced by Robin, the Boy Wonder.

His own youth-oriented solo series subsequently ran all the way to SSC #130 in 1952, by which time superhero romps had largely been supplanted throughout the industry by general genre tales.

This first superb hardback collection reprints the first 26 episodes, spanning Star-Spangled Comics #7-32 (April 1942-May 1944), includes all the stunning covers by Kirby, inker Arturo Cazeneuve, Fred Ray and teenager Gil Kane) and opens with a lyrical and revelatory reminiscence from Joe Simon himself. His invaluable Introduction ‘Birth of the Legion’ leads straight into a potent tale of skulduggery pitted against idealism to create optimism in the darkest of urban outposts as ‘The Story of the Newsboy Legion’ introduces rookie cop Jim Harper walking a beat in the inner city hellscape dubbed Suicide Slum.

When he is jumped by a gang of thugs and severely beaten, Harper takes an unlikely step: raiding a costume store and putting together an outfit to obscure his identity (complete with mask, shield and crash-helmet) before hunting down his attackers and giving them the thrashing they so richly deserve…

Happily, his illegal actions accidentally result in the capture of an infamous kidnap ring, and the mysterious figure is dubbed the Guardian of Society by the newspapers selling like hotcakes on street corners. Harper has no intention of repeating his foray into vigilantism but when he catches Tommy, Big Words, Gabby and Scrapper shoplifting, his life changes forever.

The tough little monkeys are headed for reform school until the cop makes an earnest plea for clemency on their behalf and the judge appoints him their guardian. They are far from grateful and send him packing but when their next get-rich-scheme gets them involved with armed bandits the kids realise the mettle of the man they’re saddled with…

Now hopelessly implicated in the crimes of murderous mobster Frankie the Fence – and witnesses to his crimes – the boys are about to die when a human thunderbolt in a mask and helmet comes to their rescue.

In actual fact it’s unclear who saves whom, but the in the end the Newsboy Legion are finally set on a righteous path, but with their suspicions are aroused. Frustratingly, no matter how hard they try, the boys can’t prove that their two Guardians are the same guy…

And so the scene was set: the kids constantly looking for broadly legal ways to make a living whilst Harper hovered over them as a guide and his alter ego worked tirelessly behind the scene to keep them alive and extricate from the trouble that always found them on the streets and alleys of the most-crime-infested slum in America…

The very next month Tommy stumbled onto the hideout of fugitive killer Black Leo Lucas and his abduction to ‘Last Mile Alley’ led the fighting mad Guardian to a confrontation with the latest Big Boss who thought he was untouchable, after which ‘The Rookie Takes the Rap’ saw Harper framed by devious gambler Sure Thing Kelly and only cleared by the actions of his now-devoted foster-kids…

To be frank, the relationship between Jim and the boys was never properly defined. Although he was responsible for keeping them out of trouble, they never lived with him and generally provided for themselves whilst – presumably – still sleeping on the streets…

Having now made a few headlines of their own, the boys were offered the chance to be ‘Kings for a Day’ in Star-Spangled Comics #10: running various municipal departments in a grand civic publicity stunt. Sadly, the event was hijacked by mobster The Mark, whose plans to plunder the entire city would have succeeded had he not underestimated those pesky kids temporarily in charge of the emergency services…

Many stories worked powerfully against a pervasive backdrop of crushing poverty and social injustice. Issue #11 saw the boys arrested by a heartbroken Jim for burglary and sent to the State Reformatory. What he didn’t know was that the boys had learned of corruption at the ‘Paradise Prison’ and were determined to expose unctuous, sanctimonious Warden Goodley for the sadistic grafter he truly was…

With little kids starving in their hovels and resorting to petty theft, the boys next decided to make a documentary with borrowed film equipment. Naturally their hunt for perfect locations dropped them right in the laps of a gang of bank bandits resulting in a ‘Prevue of Peril’ requiring another last-minute save by the blockbusting blue-&-gold mystery man with the pot on his head…

With the clue in their name, the Newsboy Legion still made the majority of their living vending newspapers. Whenever the tabloids weren’t selling, things got tough and in SSC #13 falling sales spurred the lads to create their own local periodical. With Harper’s assistance the premier issue of the Slum Sentinel proved a huge success but ‘The Scoop of Suicide Slums!’ made the area too hot for the crooks in their warrens. However, in trying to crush the little newsmakers, the city’s biggest racketeer only exposed himself to the Legion’s scrutiny and their Guardian’s furious fists…

Philanthropist Wilbur Whilling was a man with a plan. Using the Legion as his unwitting shills, he convinced the slum dwellers to donate everything they had to build a new modern apartment project to house them all. ‘The Meanest Man on Earth!’ never expected the kids to uncover his fraudulent alliance with the lawyers and planners to repossess the spiffy new complex, and certainly wasn’t ready for the personal retribution doled out by Scrapper and the man in the mask.

Arturo Cazeneuve came aboard as prime inker with ‘Playmates of Peril!’ in #15 as Patrolman Harper’s frequent absences led to his being partnered with an ever-present supervising sergeant. That didn’t stop his trouble-magnet wards wandering into another criminal caper and being taken hostage, necessitating a storm of frantic improvisation to save the kids, his job and his secret identity…

After Tommy saved a little boy from being run over he was eagerly adopted by rich banker Willis Thornton. He didn’t want to go but his pals forced him to take his shot at escaping the ghetto. All too soon ‘The Playboy of Suicide Slum!’ was framed for a robbery at the Thornton mansion and needed his true brothers to clear his name, after which ‘The Newsboy Legion versus the Rafferty Mob’ found the boys in a turf-war with a rival gang of street toughs led by the toughest girl they have ever encountered. Hostilities ceased as soon as a gang of gunsels started using the distraction as a way of trapping the Guardian…

‘The Education of Iron-Fist Gookin’ saw the slum’s most brutal thug taking elocution lessons from Big Words, and picking up a few morals – plus a pardon and new start – along the way, after which ‘The Fuehrer of Suicide Slum’ focused on Scrapper and took the odd narrative liberty to depict the boys battling Nazis after a sneak attack and invasion of New York City…

Steve Brodie inked the return to comicbook reality in Star-Spangled Comics #20 ‘The Newsboys and the Champ!’ with the kids helping hillbilly boxer Zeke Potts negotiate the lethally crooked fight biz in the big city before ‘The House Where Time Stood Still’ (Cazeneuve inks) found the kids – selling war bonds – invading a derelict house and discovering a pair of be-whiskered hermits who had shunned the world for decades.

The belligerent old Presby brothers soon changed their isolationist attitudes after Nazi spies moved into their home so it’s a good thing the Legion didn’t take that first “no” for an answer…

Gabby wrecks an automobile and incurs a dubious but huge debt in ‘Brains for Sale!’ (Cazeneuve), and his proposed payment solution only leads the entire team into deadly danger from an underworld surgeon after which ‘Art for Scrapper’s Sake’ (inked by John Daly) sees the bellicose boy discover his extremely profitable creative side. Typically, he’s far from happy to find that he’s just the patsy for a high-end art fraud…

Cazeneuve returns as regular inker with ‘Death Strikes a Bargain’ in SSC #24, as a crackdown on crime in Suicide Slum leads to the kids being parachuted into a luxurious new life in a bold social experiment. Sadly, however, the reformer in charge has a murderous ulterior motive for his seeming benevolence…

A vacation growing vegetables on a farm in ‘Victuals for Victory’ only lands the kids in more trouble as their nearest neighbours turn out to be bucolic bandits hiding out after a big city crime spree whilst ‘Louie the Lug Goes Literary’ sees the masked Guardian bust a major felon and inadvertently spark a massive hunt for the racketeer’s favourite tome and the incredible secrets it holds

Star-Spangled Comics #27 finds the lads volunteering as fire-fighters just in time to encounter an arsonist-insurance inspector eager to ‘Turn on the Heat’ whilst #28’s ‘Poor Man’s Rich Man’ sees kindly night watchman Pop O’Leary inheriting a fortune. Immediately lavishing largesse on all the others unfortunates in Suicide Slum, Pop only starts to worry as his unpaid bills mount and the lines of credit dry up, and the Newsboys discover the generous geezer is the victim of a cruel plot by saboteurs. They furiously take appropriate action, with the two-fisted Guardian coming along for the ride…

Always looking for a sold investment, the kids then hop on the publishing bandwagon in ‘Cabbages and Comics’; hoping to make a million peddling their own strip magazine. Their big mistake is incorporating local hoodlums’ likenesses and overheard snippets of gossip in the final mix, but naturally their masked protector is on hand to prevent them perishing from the rightful indignation – and guns – of the plunderers they inadvertently exposed and plagiarized…

In SSC #30 a reformed crook is framed and ‘The Lady of Linden Lane’ suddenly abandons her miserly ways and starts acting very strangely, leading the lads to uncover a devilish fraud after which neophyte Gil Kane illustrates ‘Questions, Please?’ with brilliant Big Words and even his less cerebral comrades becoming radio quiz sensations on the very night the dread Purple Mask gang raid the studio.

This stunning assemblage of astounding articles then concludes with Star-Spangled Comics #32 as the boys act as ‘The Good Samaritans!’ (Kane & Harry Tschida), unknowingly sheltering a gang of impoverished and starving thieves who have millions in hot cash they can’t spend… yet…

After years of neglect the glorious wealth of Jack Kirby material available these days is a true testament to his influence and legacy, and this magnificent and compelling collection of his collaborations with fellow pioneer Joe Simon is another gigantic box of delights that perfectly illustrates the depth, scope and sheer thundering joy of the early days of comics.
© 1942, 1943, 1944, 2010 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Booster Gold volume 3: Reality Lost


By Chuck Dixon, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2249-9                  978-1-84856-250-9 (Titan Books UK edition)

After the cosmos-crunching Crisis on Infinite Earths re-sculpted the DC Universe in 1986, a host of characters got floor-up rebuilds for the tougher, no-nonsense, straight-shooting New American readership of the Reagan era.

Corporate buy-outs such as Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and The Question were assimilated into DC’s roster beside revamped versions of their own hotly hyped solo titles. There were even all-new launches for the altered sensibilities of the Decade of Excess: tradition-challenging concepts such as Suicide Squad and a shiny, happy, headline-hungry hero named Booster Gold.

The cobalt & yellow paladin debuted amidst plenty of hoopla in his own title (February 1986 – the first post-Crisis premiere of the freshly integrated superhero line) presenting wholly different approaches to DC’s army of old-school costumed boy-scouts.

Created, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens, the saga featured a brash, cockily mysterious metahuman golden-boy jock who had set up his stall as a superhero in Metropolis, actively seeking corporate sponsorships, selling endorsements and with a management team in place to maximise the profit potential of his crusading celebrity.

Accompanied everywhere by sentient, flying, football-shaped robot Skeets, the glitzy showboat soon encountered high-tech criminal gang The 1000 and a host of super-villains, earning the ire of many sinister masterminds and the shallow approbation of models, actresses, headline-hungry journalists, politicians and the ever fickle public…

His time came and went and Booster’s title folded, but he lived on as part of Justice League International where he became roughly half of comics’ funniest double-act riffing off the aforementioned Blue Beetle.

Booster and Ted Kord (technically the second Blue Beetle) were the class clowns of billionaire Maxwell Lord’s League: a couple of obnoxiously charming frat-boys who could save the day but never get the girl or any respect. When Lord murdered Beetle, precipitating an Infinite Crisis, Booster was shattered but eventually redefined himself as a true hero in the multiversal conflagrations of 52 and Countdown.

In landmark weekly maxi-series 52 and ultimately Infinite Crisis, the intriguing take on Heroism diverged down strange avenues when Booster – a hero traditionally only in it for fame and fortune – became a secret saviour, repairing the cracks in Reality caused by all the universe-warping shenanigans of myriad multiversal Crises and uncontrolled time-travel.

Working at the instruction of enigmatic and irascible mentor Rip Hunter: Time Master, Booster relinquished his dreams of fame and acclaim to save us all over and over and over again.

This third time-bending full-colour collection gathers issues #11, 12 and 15-19 of the Booster Gold comicbook (volume 2, spanning October 2008 to June 2009), revealing further progress in the time-guardians’ never-ending battle to keep history on track and mankind in existence.

The action opens with Jurgens & Norm Rapmund illustrating a sequence scripted by Batman scribe Chuck Dixon. ‘Vicious Cycle’ finds Rip, Booster and his freshly resurrected sister Michelle at a loss after a recent Gotham visit. After Batman, Robin and Batgirl rout B-list bad guy Killer Moth at Gotham Museum, a simultaneous robbery by meekly ineffectual Wiley Dalbert causes the dynamic trio to blink out of existence…

After experiencing the urban hell of Gotham without Batman, the team start trying to rectify the situation and learn Killer Moth’s score was planned by Dalbert as cover so that the little time traveller could swipe an ancient Egyptian knife.

Popping back further to sneakily replace the Moth, Booster clandestinely carries out the fateful robbery and stops Wiley too… but that only makes the restored reality infinitely worse…

Forced to try again – this time with Booster as Batman and Michelle impersonating Batgirl – events spiral into even crazier and more contorted convolutions (humiliating too!) before an approximate restoration of history is re-established…

Sadly the time-team’s ultra-secret efforts have brought them to the attention of stretchable sleuth Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man

Following a two-part battle against Chronos and Starro the Conqueror – not collected in this edition- the temporal turbulence resumes with ‘Reality Lost’ from #15-18 plus #19’s ‘Reality Lost: Epilogue’; written and pencilled by Jurgens with Rapmund again handling the inking chores.

Having dragged Michelle from her surprise role as Da Vinci’s muse, Booster tries to return them to Rip’s secret lab only to find it no longer exists. Thanks to Skeets’ encyclopaedic history files and temporal processors, the stranded chrononauts discover the current crisis stems from unfinished business at the museum where they met Wiley Dalbert…

Booster sets his Wayback Machine for that apparently accursed night, and walks into a trap and is attacked by Dibny. A few years from then they would be best friends in Justice League International, but at that instant the blue and gold figure is nothing more than a bold bandit as far as the Ductile Detective is concerned…

Concealing the horrors which would soon destroy Dibny’s life, Booster nevertheless convinces Elongated Man of his bona fides before enlisting his aid in tracking down the time anomaly playing hob with reality. The root cause is the ancient knife, but the real problem is that it’s been taken by Booster’s villainous, time-bending dad Rex Hunter, precipitating a perilous odyssey through the ages to recover it…

Leaving Ralph and Michelle to search time for Rip Hunter, Gold starts to hunt for the accursed blade…

Poignant pit-stops in World War I, ancient Egypt and his personal time-line result in deadly encounters with Enemy Ace Hans von Hammer, pre-lightning bolt Barry Allen, time-bandit Chronos, and even his own earlier, surlier, self-absorbed self. Through it all Booster learns the true price and value of his secret career.

Preserving the way things are causes pain and humiliation, costs everything he ever cared about and promises nothing but frustration and early death. He even had a chance to save Ted Kord after meeting Max Lord’s father before the maniac was born but lacked the guts to do what he wanted to…

After the triumph and tragedy, a potent vignette by Jurgens & Rapmund wraps things up with a recap of Booster’s ‘Origins and Omens’ of his immediate future: first seen as a teaser produced during the lead-up to twinned publishing events Blackest Night and Brightest Day

Sadly, despite its dark and foreboding appeal, moments of sheer comedy gold and fast-paced action throughout, this engaging rollercoaster ride is ultimately a true fans’ story for die-hard Fights ‘n’ Tights devotees. That’s a great shame since this is also a fabulously well-crafted story that a wider audience would certainly appreciate if only they had sufficient back-grounding.

Perhaps DC’s current TV iterations will generate enough interest to get new readers picking up old stories and joining in the fun that’s still waiting to be had…
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Batman volume 6


By Dennis O’Neil, Frank Robbins, Robert Kanigher, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Neal Adams, Irv Novick, Bob Brown, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5153-6

After three seasons the overwhelmingly successful Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes plus a theatrical-release movie since its premiere on January 12, 1966; triggering a global furore of “Batmania” and causing hysteria for all things costumed, zany and mystery-mannish.

Once the series foundered and crashed, humanity’s fascination with “camp” superheroes burst as quickly as it had boomed, and the Caped Crusader was left to a hard core of dedicated fans and followers who hoped they might now have “their” hero back.

For comicbook editor Julius Schwartz – who had tried to keep the most ludicrous excesses of the show out whilst still cashing in on his global popularity – the solution was simple: ditch the tired shtick, gimmicks and gaudy paraphernalia and get Batman back to basics; solving baffling mysteries and facing life-threatening perils.

That also meant phasing out the boy sidekick…

Although the college freshman Teen Wonder would still pop back for the occasional guest-shot yarn, this sixth astoundingly economical monochrome monument to comics ingenuity and narrative brilliance features him only sporadically. Robin had finally spread his wings and flown the nest for a solo back-up slot in Detective Comics, alternating with caped newcomer Batgirl.

Chronologically collecting Batman’s cases from February 1971 to September 1972 – issues #229-244 of his own title as well as the front halves of Detective Comics #408-426 – the 33 tales gathered here (some Batman issues were giant reprint editions, so only their covers are reproduced within these pages) were written and illustrated by forward-thinking creators determined make the masked manhunter relevant and interesting on his own terms once more.

One huge factor aiding the transition was the fact that the publishers now acknowledged that a large proportion of their faithful readership were discerning teens or even adults, not just kids looking for a quick, disposable entertainment fix. Working through other contemporary tropes – most notably a renewed global fascination in all things supernatural and gothic – the creative staff deftly reshaped Batman into a hero capable of actually working within the new “big things” in comics: realism, organised crime, social issues, suspense and even horror…

During this period the long road to our modern obsessive, scarily dark Knight gradually revealed a harder-edged, grimly serious caped crusader, whilst carefully expanding the milieu and scope of Batman’s universe – especially his fearsome foes, who all ceased to be harmless buffoons and inexorably metamorphosed back into the macabre Grand Guignol murder-fiends which typified the villains of the early 1940s.

This mini-renaissance also resulted in a groundbreaking experiment now lauded as one of the first great extended Batman epics…

The moody mayhem begins with ‘Asylum of the Futurians’ by Robert Kanigher, Irv Novick & Frank Giacoia from Batman #229, which pitted the astounded hero against a sect of self-proclaimed mutants who might simply have been the craziest, most self-deluding killers he had ever faced.

Detective Comics #408 offered a short sharp shocker by neophyte scripters Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. Limned by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano, ‘The House That Haunted Batman’ showcased spectral apparitions, the apparent death of Robin and a devilish mystery perpetrated by one of the Gotham Guardian’s most sinister enemies. Frank Robbins, Novick & Giordano then addressed an ongoing social revolution as our hero stopped a juvenile delinquent gang-war. When the now-united kids’ occupied a palatial new building the ‘Take-Over of Paradise’ (Batman #230) led to a vicious murder. Luckily the Caped Crimebuster was on hand to solve the case before a renewed bloodbath began…

Detective Comics #409 pitted Batman against a disfigured lunatic slashing portraits and killing their subjects in ‘Man in the Eternal Mask’ (Robbins, Bob Brown & Giacoia) whilst the next issue proved to be another chilling and memorable murder-mystery from the most celebrated creative team of the decade. ‘A Vow from the Grave!’ by Denny O’Neil, Adams & Giordano at their visually spectacular best, featured an exhausted Batman hunting one ruthless killer and inadvertently stumbling into another murder in an enclave of retired circus freaks…

Multi-talented Dick Giordano was the inker of choice for the Darknight Detective at this time; his slick, lush line and brushwork lending a veneer of continuity to every penciller. Unless I say otherwise, please assume it’s him on every cited story from now on…

The Dark Knight was lured to Vietnam to save an airliner full of hostages in Batman #231 (Robbins, with Novick pencils), barely surviving a vicious vengeance scheme triggered by the ‘Blind Rage of the Ten-Eyed Man’.

Then the first subtle plot-strands were woven in a breathtakingly ambitious saga unlike anything seen in comics before. Detective Comics #411 found Batman still in the East, undercover and hunting Dr. Darrk; leader of the lethally clandestine League of Assassins so casually introduced in #405. The pursuit led ‘Into the Den of the Death-Dealers’ (O’Neil, Brown) where a climactic struggle resulted in the monster’s death and freedom for an exotic hostage he was holding. Her name was Talia

We learned more of her in Batman #232 where O’Neil & Adams introduced her father – immortal eco-terrorist Râ’s Al Ghūl – in a whirlwind adventure which became one of the signature high-points of the entire Batman canon.

‘Daughter of the Demon’ is a timeless globe-girdling mystery yarn that draws the increasingly dark detective from Gotham’s concrete canyons to the Himalayas in search of hostages Robin and Talia, purportedly captured by forces inimical to both Batman and the mysterious figure who claims to working in secret to save the world…

Ra’s was a contemporary, more acceptable visual embodiment of the classic inscrutable ultimate foreign devil (as typified in a less forgiving age as the “Yellow Peril” or Dr. Fu Manchu). This kind of alien archetype permeates popular fiction and is still an astonishingly powerful villain-symbol, although the character’s Arabic origins – neutral at the time – seem to uncomfortably embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s post 9/11 world.

The concept of a villain who has the best interests of the planet at heart is not a new one, but Ra’s Al Ghul, whose avowed intent is to reduce teeming humanity to viable levels and save the world from our poison, hit a chord in the 1970s – a period where ecological issues first came to the attention of the young. It was a rare kid who didn’t find a note of sense in what “the Demon’s Head” planned.

The spectacular tale ended with a shocking pronouncement of what Ra’s intended for Batman…

A return to relative normality came in ‘Legacy of Hate!’ (Detective Comics #412 by Robbins, Brown) as Bruce Wayne headed to Northern England for a convocation of kin gathered to settle the ownership and disposition of ancient Waynemoor Castle. Sadly, even Batman could not separate the spate of attempted murders which followed into purely human perpetrators and the manor’s vengeful ghost knight…

Issue #413 blended the spooky tone of the times with a healthy dose of social inclusion as ‘Freak-Out at Phantom Hollow!’ (Robbins, Brown) found Batman saving two abused hippie kids being picked on in a rural hamlet, only to become embroiled in a witch’s curse and mad bomber’s plot. Batman #233 was an all-reprint edition after which #234 featured the stellar return of one of the hero’s most tragic foes.

As comics became increasingly more anodyne in the 1950s, psychologically warped actualised schizophrenic Two-Face was dropped from Batman’s roster of rogues, but with ‘Half an Evil’ (O’Neil, Adams & Giordano) he resurfaced at the forefront of grimmer, grittier stories.

When a string of bizarre and brutal robberies afflicting Gotham, the baffled Batman has to use all his ingenuity to discern the reasoning and discover the identity of a ruthless hidden mastermind in time to thwart a diabolical scheme…

An aura of Film Noir redemption colours O’Neil & Novick’s ‘Legend of the Key Hook Lighthouse!’ from Detective Comics #414, as Batman tracks gunrunners to a haunted coastal bastion in Florida. However, only a supernatural intervention enables him to save bystanders who, whilst not exactly innocent, certainly don’t deserve the fate psychotic banana republic despot General Ruizo planned for them…

In Batman #235’s ‘Swamp Sinister!’ (O’Neil, Novick) some early insights into the true character of Talia and her ruthless sire manifest as the Dark Knight races to recover a stolen bio-weapon whilst over in Detective Comics #415 Robbins & Brown’s ‘Challenge of the Consumer Crusader’ sees the Gotham Gangbuster uncover an extortion ring inside the nation’s most respected product-testing organisation.

Detective Comics #400 had introduced a dark counterpoint to the Gotham Gangbuster wherein driven scientist Kirk Langstrom created a serum to make him superior to Batman and paid a heavy price. Over two further exploits Langstrom and his fiancée Francine had endured his monstrous transformations until Batman found a cure. Now that trilogy was expanded in #416 as Frank Robbins pencilled and inked his own script ‘Man-Bat Madness!’ wherein Kirk seemingly slipped back into his transformative madness. Luckily, Batman had the faith to look beyond appearances and discern a hidden factor in the scientist’s inexplicable recidivism…

‘Wail of the Ghost-Bride!’ (Batman #236, Robbins, Novick) blends mysticism with an solid murder-plot, cover-up and blistering action after which a journalist tries to become ‘Batman for a Night’ (Detective Comics #417, Robbins, Brown & Giordano) but only succeeds after experiencing a similar crime-created loss…

‘Night of the Reaper!’ – by O’Neil, Adams & Giordano from Batman #237 – is one of the most revered tales of the era: a harrowing Halloween epic which finds Robin working with his old mentor to solve a string of barbarous killings only to uncover a pitifully deranged perpetrator as much sinned-against as sinner…

Following the cover of reprint giant Batman #238, Detective Comics #418 writes a temporary finish to the short-lived career of The Creeper as ‘…And Be a Villain!’ (O’Neil, Novick) pits the Gotham Guardian against a former hero being simultaneously killed and driven crazy by his own powers. At the heart of the problem is the criminal scientist forcing Creeper to steal in return for a promised cure, but that’s no help as Batman battles a foe faster, stronger, more agile and far scarier than he…

A corpse weighed down with Batman figurines leads the hero into an underworld imbroglio packed with shameful family freaks, a ruthless master smuggler and the pitiful ‘Secret of the Slaying Statues!’ (Detective #419 from O’Neil & Novick) whilst Christmas classic ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night!’ (O’Neil & Novick in Batman #239) sees the masked manhunter striving to save a desperate, poverty-struck single-parent from making the worst decision of his life – with a little seasonal help from a higher power…

Robbins again solos for Detective Comics #420’s ‘Forecast for Tonight… Murder!’ as a radioactive dead man stalks one of Gotham’s greatest philanthropists; easily outwitting Batman’s every preventative measure. It only gets tougher when the hero discovers he might be safeguarding the wrong injured party…

The long-brewing war between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul went to Def Con 3 in Batman #240 when O’Neil, Novick & Giordano set the scene for the groundbreaking “series-within-a-series” soon to follow. When Batman uncovers one of his opponent’s less worthy and far more grisly projects he is forced to compromise his principles and deliver ‘Vengeance for a Dead Man!’ The end-result will be open war between Batman and the Demon’s Head…

Batman had to break a blackmailer who knew all Gotham’s dirty secrets out of prison during a full-scale riot in ‘Blind Justice… Blind Fear!’ (an all-Robbins affair from DC #421) whilst in the following issue O’Neil, Brown & Giordano had the Dark Knight expose a cunning hijacking ring using radical methodology for corporate reasons in ‘Highway to Nowhere!’

Another sociopathic killer debuted in Batman #241 as the hero hunts for freelance spy Colonel Sulphur whose extortion scheme revolved around his threat to kill a Pentagon officer’s wife. ‘At Dawn Dies Mary McGuffin!’ by O’Neil & Novick sees Batman scouring Gotham in a tense race against the clock in direct counterpoint to Detective #423’s ‘The Most Dangerous Twenty Miles in Gotham City’ (Robbins, Brown) wherein the masked manhunter’s cognitive skills are tested trying to slip a Russian agent past a gang of ultra-patriots. The killers don’t care that he’s being exchanged for a captive American, they just want to kill a commie and send a message…

Batman #242-244 (and the epilogue from #245 not included in this volume) formed a single extended saga taken out of normal DC continuity. It promised to relate the final confrontation between two opposing ideals. O’Neil, Novick & Giordano opened the campaign in Batman #242 with ‘Bruce Wayne – Rest in Peace!’ With his civilian identity taken off the board, Batman gathers a small team of specialist allies – comprising criminal alternate-identity Matches Malone, scientific advisor Dr. Harris Blaine and Ra’s’ top assassin Ling – to destroy the Demon forever.

Meanwhile it was business as usual in Detective #424 where ‘Double-Cross-Fire!’by Robbins & Brown – played out an astoundingly cunning murder plot with Batman challenging Commissioner Gordon (and us readers) to spot the telltale clue which gave the game away. O’Neil & Novick then get all Shakespearean in #425 where ‘The Stage is Set… for Murder!’ with Batman carefully seeking to glean which thespian was plotting a big, bloody finish before the curtain comes down forever…

O’Neil, Adams & Giordano returned with the second chapter of their landmark epic as Batman #243 sees the team – plus latecomer Molly Post – bombastically invade Ra’s’ Swiss citadel moments after their intended target passes away…

Nobody suspected the ageless villain’s resources included ‘The Lazarus Pit’ which could revive the dead…

In Detective Comics #426, a spate of inexplicable suicides amongst the wealthy leads Batman to suave gambler Conway Treach: a man who just can’t lose. Soon however, the huckster learns that his grim opponent has his own system for winning ‘Killer’s Roulette!’; another suspenseful Robbins masterpiece which leads chronologically and conclusively to Batman #244 and the fateful finale wherein ‘The Demon Lives Again!’ Sadly, despite all his supernal gifts and forces, Ra’s cannot escape the climactic vengeance of his implacable foe in dream-team O’Neil, Adams & Giordano’s compulsive climax.

With the game-changing classics in this volume, Batman finally returned to the commercial and critical top flight he had enjoyed in the 1940s reviving and expanding upon his original conception as a remorseless, relentless avenger of injustice. The next few years would see the hero rise to unparalleled heights of quality so stay tuned: the very best is just around the corner… that dark, dark corner…
© 1971, 1972, 2015 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?


By Alan Moore, Curt Swan, Dave Gibbons, Rick Veitch, George Pérez, Kurt Schaffenberger, Al Williamson & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2731-9

Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1, sometime in April 1938 (the cover said June but that was, by custom, the date by which unsold copies had to be returned – and hard it is to imagine that there were any!). An instant sensation, the Man of Steel promptly spawned a veritable infinitude of imitators, and gave birth to a genre, if not an industry.

The Original outlived them all; growing and adapting, creating a pantheon and a mythology, delighting millions of readers over the generations.

Alan Moore is one of the most lauded names in comic history, and much of his most memorable work has appeared – one way or another – under the banner of DC Comics’ various imprints. Here, then, finally collected into one volume are all the stories he produced starring the most important icon of the funnybook industry, gathering a trio of much reprinted yarns into one unmissable trade paperback edition.

This book reprints Superman #423, Action Comics #583 from September 1986, DC Comics Presents #85 (September 1985) and the epochal and influential Superman Annual #11 for 1985, and includes a Dave Gibbons pin-up and leads off with an incisive Introduction ‘The Time has Come!’ by Paul Kupperberg.

Two-part crossover ‘Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?’ ended the initial run of Superman and Action Comics prior to the hero’s groundbreaking post-Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot in 1986.

In the 50th anniversary year of DC Comics, the Powers-that-Be decided that modern readers had moved beyond the old style and continuity, and consequently re-imagined the DC universe and everything in it. Crisis on Infinite Earths unmade the continuity and remade the greatest heroes in it. The editors have spent the intervening years since trying to change it all back again in some manner or other.

None of which is particularly relevant, except that in the lead-up to the big change, departing Editor Julius Schwartz turned his last issues (Superman #423 and Action Comics #583) into a blessed gift of closure for the devoted fans who had followed Superman for all their lives – if not his.

With these amazing tales all concerned said goodbye to a certain kind of hero and a particular type of story. They made way for a tougher, harder universe with less time for charm or fun.

‘Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?’ is a glorious ending to an era and a sensibility, lovingly written by Alan Moore – who cunningly managed to instil a sense of doom and tragedy into the mix – with gloriously evocative pencil art from Curt Swan and loving, lavish inks from George Perez & the hugely underrated Kurt Schaffenberger, respectively.

Here, Moore parades for one last time the characters and concepts that made Superman special and shows the reader just how much will be lost once the World turns. It deftly blends modern narrative values into the most comfortably traditional scenarios, making the tale work in contemporary terms whilst keeping all the charm, whimsy and inherent decency of the characters. It is a magical feat, a genuine Gotterdammerung; full of tragedy, nobility and heroism but with a happy ending nonetheless. I’m not going to tell you the plot, other than to say it details the last days of the World’s Greatest Superhero. Be prepared to cry when you read it.

This is a story every comic fan, let alone DC reader, should know, and even works as an introduction as well as a grand farewell.

Following that is a team-up of Superman with Moore’s signature character Swamp Thing. ‘The Jungle Line’ comes from DC Comics Presents #85, illustrated by Rick Veitch and Al Williamson, and finds Superman slowly succumbing to a fatal disease contracted from a Kryptonian spore. Plagued by intermittent powerlessness, oncoming madness and inevitable death, the hero deserts his loved ones and drives slowly south to die in isolation. Mercifully in the dank, dark emerald wetlands he is found by a monster: Earth’s singularly benevolent plant elemental and envoy of The Green…

Moore & Dave Gibbons produced one of the last truly great Superman stories before the cosmic upheaval of Crisis on Infinite Earths. ‘For the Man Who Has Everything’ (Superman Annual #11) has alien despot Mongul invading the Fortress of Solitude and attacking the Action Ace with the most insidious of weapons. The valiant last-minute intervention of Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman are barely enough to turn the tide…

A spectacular battle-romp, this one also shows a dystopian Krypton for the first time: a view that the fabulous lost world might not have been a super-scientific paradise after all and one that has become a given of all later interpretations…

This is an incomprehensibly enchanting collection of Fights ‘n’ Tights wonderment: a pure package of superhero magnificence: fun-filled, action-packed, absolutely addictive and utterly unmissable.
© 1985, 1986, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Trial of Superman


By Louise Simonson, Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, David Michelinie, Roger Stern, Stuart Immonen, Jon Bogdanove, Ron Frenz, Tom & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-331-5 (DC)                    978-1-85286-856-2 (Titan)

The Man of Steel has proven to be all things to most fans since his dynamic debut in 1938. Although largely out of favour these days with all the myriad decades of accrued mythology being re-synthesised into an overarching all-inclusive multi-media film-favoured continuity, the stripped-down, gritty post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Action Ace, as re-imagined by John Byrne and built upon by a succession of immensely talented comics craftsmen, resulted in some stunning highs…

Almost as soon as the Byrne restart had stripped away much of the mythology and iconography which had grown up around the Strange Visitor from Another World over fifty glorious years, successive creative teams spent a great deal of time and ingenuity putting much of it back, albeit in terms more accessible to a cynical and well-informed audience far more sophisticated than their grandparents ever were.

Collecting Action Comics #716-717, Adventures of Superman #529-531, Superman volume 2, #106-108, Superman: Man of Steel #50-52 and Superman: Man of Tomorrow #3 (spanning November 1995 to January 1996), this hyper-charged space opera thriller reads best if taken in conjunction with a working knowledge of the characters, but outright newcomers can soon get up to speed by paying attention to the carefully administered snatches of expository dialogue, and if all you’re after is a heaping helping of far-flung Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy you’re in for a real treat…

The star-spanning saga begins with ‘Split Personality’ (by Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove & Dennis Janke from Superman: Man of Steel #50) as an alien armada approaches Earth. The Metropolis Marvel doesn’t notice. He’s busy losing a fight with murderous energy-eater the Parasite

The situation gives super-powered Alpha Centurion and his Team Luthor mercenaries an opportunity to move in. The Roman hero had spent two thousand years away from Earth winning intergalactic renown with his alien arsenal, and on his return home became a flirtatious rival for Lois Lane’s attention. Although generally a decent sort, he’s still always happy to prove his innate superiority to Superman…

He doesn’t get the chance, however, as a cadre of extraterrestrials beam in and arrest the power-drained Man of Steel. He’s so debilitated the hulking Brute brought along to subdue him is unnecessary. As they all fade away, Centurion returns to the battle with Parasite and can’t help but wonder what agents of the famed and just Tribunal want with Superman…

Aboard ship, the enervated hero is baffled to find himself accused of cosmic crimes but cannot find what exactly he’s supposed to have done. The confusion only increases when Brute tries to murder him by throwing the emaciated Kryptonian into the sun…

As Alpha Centurion finally defeats Parasite on Earth, 93,000,000 million miles away, Brute rectifies his mistake: battling with recapturing a now fully re-powered Superman, all the while thankfully babbling that now he’s proved his worth, his hostage “milk-brother won’t be executed”…

When they get back on the Tribunal ship, however, a panel of alien judges sentences Brute to death by solar incineration before getting around to charging Superman with a billion counts of murder and of causing the destruction of Krypton……

The confrontation continues in Superman #106 (Dan Jurgens, Ron Frenz & Joe Rubenstein) as the astounded Man of Tomorrow pleads ‘Not Guilty!’ The case is laid out by Tribunal Prime who relates that a distant ancestor of the Last Son of Krypton instilled a genetic flaw in his entire race by means of a miraculous device dubbed the Eradicator. It prevented them from ever leaving the planet and now Kem-L’s descendent Kal-El bears the responsibility for their extinction…

Aghast but unbowed, Superman struggles free but is easily pacified by a mysterious power of the Prime and dumped in a vast cell. That only exacerbates the crisis as one of the other inmates is brutal alien Massacre who instantly tries to slaughter his despised enemy…

When the catastrophic clash is broken up by the guards, Superman is horrified to witness the sadistic response the Tribunal considers to be justice served…

Back on Earth, Lois has been working on the Centurion. She wants the arrogant champion to use his super-spaceship Pax Romana to trace the avenging Eradicator Brute mentioned when Superman was initially abducted. After learning the eerie antihero (an uncanny merging of a dying human scientist with Kem-L’s recovered wonder-weapon) is no longer on-planet, Lois starts on the next stage of a rescue plan…

Karl Kesel, Stuart Immonen & José Marzán Jr. contribute the next chapter (Adventures of Superman #529) as, aboard the Tribunal flagship, Superman meets other inmates awaiting judgement/execution and makes unlikely new friends.

On Earth the now fully-engaged Centurion contacts some of the Action Ace’s old ones – Steel, Supergirl and Superboy – and sets off in pursuit of the Tribunal, even as, back in the cosmic adjudicators’ gigantic jail, Superman and his new chums stage a ‘Jail Break’

Having picked up Eradicator en route, Alpha Centurion’s rescue party surges on, unaware that the man they’ve come to liberate has crashed onto a distant planet where, thanks to one of his fellow escapees, they all find refuge in an inter-dimensional bolt-hole called Haven

When said fellow escapee then tries to take over the place, the runners experience surprisingly fair ‘Fugitive Justice!’ (Action Comics #716 David Michelinie, Kieron Dwyer & Denis Rodier)…

The Tribunal have not been idle. With their special Police Agents scouring the local systems, Prime engages the service of flamboyant bounty hunter Freelance who promptly locates and captures the harassed runners only to fall for one of them.

Earth’s finest are doing less well. The “S” symbol most of them wear is all over the interspacial networks and cash-hungry hunters from every star-faring species just assume they must also be ‘Wanted’ (Simonson, Bogdanove & Dick Giordano, Superman: Man of Steel #51)…

‘Bottled Up!’ (Superman #107, Jurgens, Frenz & Rubenstein) finds Superman’s Rescue Squad abandoned by the Centurion. Piling into a salvaged ship they head onwards to the Tribunal’s homeworld, unaware that the object of their concerns – and his fellow escapees – have all returned to Haven to save a wounded comrade.

The consultation with infamous wizard Tolos is deeply disturbing. The creepy mage has a thriving city in a jar and amiably offers to cure ailing Mope in return for a promise of future favours. That price comes due whilst far away the super friends are ambushed by avowed enemy Hank Henshaw, the undying Cyborg-Superman, who is apparently working for the intergalactic arbitrators…

Tolos plans to live forever. His bottles are filled with beings whose bodies he will inhabit and burn out, but with a Kryptonian in his sights, the wizard thinks he might have all he’ll ever need. He attacks but completely misjudges the resolve of the mighty Man of Steel…

In ‘Different Demons’ (Adventures of Superman #530 Kesel, Immonen & Marzán Jr.) the fugitive Superman is diverted by a mercy mission to a magical world to clear Mope’s name, whilst on the Tribunal world Alpha Centurion has been arrested and thrown in cell with Superboy… who believes the Roman is actually Henshaw in disguise…

As the far-flung Action Ace and Mope war with invisible aliens and more mages in ‘Fighting Back’ (Superman: Man of Tomorrow #3, Roger Stern, Tom Grummett & Brett Breeding), elsewhere, evidence of collusion between a high official and Henshaw starts to emerge…

Superman and Mope however have now moved on to fully-automated murder-metropolis ‘H’Tros City’ (Action Comics #717 Michelinie, Dwyer & Rodier), but as the cosmic conurbation continually attempts to eradicate them, the seemingly ubiquitous Henshaw take control of its programs to finish his enemy off in person.

The blockbuster battle instead goes Superman’s way, but the hero typically sacrifices his victory to save the cyborg and is rewarded with betrayal…

‘Crime and Punishment’ (Simonson, Bogdanove & Giordano, Superman: Man of Steel #52) once more finds the valiant champion in front of the triumphant Tribunal. Sentenced to immediate execution he battles on, but seems doomed until the impatient Henshaw – who always planned to double cross the judges – seizes control of the planet’s computers, inadvertently allowing the rescue squad to break out of jail and mount a last minute save…

In the aftermath of a shattering final battle the cyborg appears beaten at last but despite his clear guilt there’s ‘No Escape!’ (Superman #108 by Jurgens, Frenz & Rubenstein) for the Last Son of Krypton either…

The court of catastrophe explosively descends into all-out civil war and by the time the dust settles and our heroes head home there’s precious little ‘Justice!’ (Adventures of Superman #530 Kesel, Immonen & Marzán Jr.) to be seen anywhere…

Clever drama, spectacular action and rollercoaster pace, coupled with the usual high standard of character interplay, smart writing and fabulous art, all underscore this hugely enjoyable yet largely forgotten extraterrestrially epic diversion in the amazing life of Superman, but this starry saga is truly deserving of a second look and honest reappraisal.

A British Titan Books edition is also readily available from on-line sellers.
© 1995, 1996, 1997 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Booster Gold volume 4: Day of Death


By Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2643-5

After the cosmos-crunching Crisis on Infinite Earths re-sculpted the DC Universe in 1986, a host of characters got floor-up rebuilds for the tougher, no-nonsense, straight-shooting New American readership of the Reagan-era.

A number of corporate buy-outs such as Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and The Question were assimilated into DC’s roster with their own hotly hyped solo titles. There were even a couple of all-new big launches for the altered sensibilities of the Decade of Excess such as Suicide Squad and a shiny, happy, headline-hungry hero named Booster Gold.

The blue and yellow paladin debuted amidst plenty of hoopla in his own title (cover-dated February 1986 – the first post-Crisis premiere of the freshly integrated superhero line) and presented a wholly different approach to the traditional DC costumed boy-scout.

Created, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens, the saga featured a brash, cockily mysterious metahuman golden-boy jock who had set up his stall as a superhero in Metropolis, actively seeking corporate sponsorships, selling endorsements and with a management team in place to maximise the profit potential of his crusading celebrity.

Accompanied everywhere by sentient flying-football-shaped robot Skeets, the glitzy showboat soon encountered high-tech criminal gang The 1000 and a host of super-villains, earning the ire of many sinister masterminds and the shallow approbation of models, actresses, headline-hungry journalists, politicians and the ever fickle public…

His time came and went and Booster’s title folded, but he lived on as a Justice Leaguer International where he became part of comics’ funniest double-act riffing off the aforementioned Blue Beetle.

Booster and Ted Kord (technically the second Blue Beetle) were the class clowns of Maxwell Lord’s Justice League International: a couple of obnoxiously charming frat-boys who could save the day but never get the girl or any respect. When Lord murdered Beetle, precipitating an Infinite Crisis, Booster was shattered but redefined himself as a true hero in the multiversal conflagrations of 52 and Countdown.

In landmark weekly maxi-series 52 and ultimately Infinite Crisis, the intriguing take on Heroism diverged down strange avenues when Booster – a hero traditionally only in it for fame and fortune – became a secret saviour, repairing the cracks in Reality caused by all the universe-warping shenanigans of myriad universal, multiversal Crises and uncontrolled time-travel.

Working at the instruction of enigmatic and irascible mentor Rip Hunter: Time Master, Booster surrendered all his dreams of acclaim to save us all over and over and over again.

This fourth time-bending full-colour trade paperback collects Booster Gold volume 2 #20-25 and Brave and the Bold volume 3 #23 from July to December 2009, and continues reviewing catastrophic conflicts from the time-line guardian’s never-ending battle to keep history on track and mankind in existence.

The action opens with ‘Shadows of Tomorrow’ from Brave and the Bold volume 3 #23 July 2009, by Jurgens and inker Norm Rapmund as, in his citadel beyond chronology, Booster is shocked to see his mentor Rip rematerialise in a badly beaten state, muttering the name “Magog”. A little checking reveals the name belongs to a hulking horned metahuman: a hero – of sorts – and despite the recuperating Hunter’s pleas to leave well enough alone, Booster slips into the time-stream to confront the military-trained hardliner…

The trail leads to war-torn Kahndaq during the US occupation and a tenuous team-up with a colleague who is everything Booster despises: a self-righteous hero who thinks the ends justify the means, even with the lives of hostage children precariously in the balance…

Booster Gold #20 featured ‘1952 Pick Up’ (by Keith Giffen, Pat Oliffe & Rapmund) – a light-hearted homage to B-movie sci fi and the Fantastic Four as the time traveller fetches up in early 1950s Nevada on the site of a clandestine and forgotten American space shot…

Before long he’s captured by covert operatives Frank Rock and Karin Hughes from an invisible agency dubbed Task Force X and embroiled in a secret mission involving traitorous Russian rocket scientists… and if he’s not extremely careful Booster could erase the timeline of a close future-friend and colleague…

The major portion of this collection then moves on to cover some unexpected fallout of the murder of the Dark Knight.

The only non-Time Master to know Booster’s secret was Batman. His deductive skills were beyond par and after noticing recurring anomalies around the shooting of Barbara Gordon the Dark Detective intuited Booster had tried hundreds of times to prevent it. Batman held his tongue as well as many photographs which proved Booster was not just a flashy, sensation-seeking bumbler…

Now as ‘Day of Death’ begins Booster raids the Batcave to retrieve that evidence only to be jumped by the Gotham Guardian’s successor…

Before he can even attempt to explain, they are both ambushed by the mysterious chronal raider called Black Beetle continuing to carry out his campaign to unmake history. Pausing only to gloat for a second the Beetle vanishes, followed an instant later by the substitute Batman…

And in the background a second glass tube appears. They both contain the uniforms of Robins who died in battle…

As I’m sure you all recall: following an all-out invasion by the New Gods of Apokolips, the original Batman was apparently killed at the conclusion of Infinite Crisis. The world at large was unaware of the loss, leaving the superhero community to mourn in secret whilst a small, dedicated army of assistants, protégés and allies – trained over years by the contingency-obsessed Dark Knight – formed the Network to police Gotham City in the days which followed: marking time until a successor could be found or the original restored…

Most of the Bat-schooled battalion refused to believe their inspirational mentor dead. On the understanding that he was merely lost, they eventually accepted Dick Grayson (the first Robin and latterly Nightwing) as a stand-in until Bruce Wayne could find his way back to them…

Now however Grayson has clearly been excised by Black Beetle and Booster has to rectify the situation before time unravels even further…

A new chapter opens with the Beetle conferring with a cloaked superior even as Booster consults his infinitely upgraded cybernetic companion who is keyed into to the ever-changing intricacies of the time-stream. Skeets informs Booster that the landmark first battle between the Teen Titans and the Ravager now ended with the young heroes’ deaths and like an intricate line of dominoes led to the eradication of most of Earth’s adult defenders… and worse…

Inserting himself into the appropriate moment to rectify the glitch, Booster is shocked to see Ravager’s terrifying father Deathstroke the Terminator aligned with Black Beetle to ensure the Titans’ doom…

Overwhelmed and beaten, Booster awakes to discover he’s failed again. The Teen Titans are dead and Rip Hunter is screaming at him. Also on the scene is mystic mystery Raven. She originally caused the Titans to unite, hoping to use them to stop her demonic sire Trigon conquering Earth, but now…

Hunter quickly ferries Booster and the witch to 2020AD to see what becomes of humanity. His actual plan is to find Black Beetle and try to glean the reason for his insane acts…

In that particular future Trigon idly presides over the last remnants of mankind with the Beetle at his side, but as Booster finds himself battling the demon lord, Hunter and Raven have united with a few strangely familiar characters in one glorious, last-ditch attempt to banish Trigon and unmake this fractured reality.

Although they are triumphant, the real battle is lost elsewhere as the Beetle raids Trigon’s treasure vault and steals the artefact he’s been after all along. Despite his best efforts Hunter is too slow to stop the Machiavellian monster stealing a scarlet scarab which promises unlimited power to the one who knows its secret…

With the greater game lost and the Beetle off the field, Booster finally has the leeway needed to fix the most urgent section of time and correct history, but is it all too little too late?

Everything is wrapped up and the scene set for the next catastrophic crisis when ‘Day of Death Aftermath’ sees Booster return to the Batcave for those photos and get the shock of his utterly unconventional life…

Fantastically absorbing and entertaining, this riotous romp is tragically a true fans’ story for die-hard comics mavens, with in-jokes and shared historical moments adding to the unbridled enthusiasm and exuberance of a classy time-busting tale. That’s a great pity since this is also a fabulously well-crafted story that a wider audience would certainly appreciate if only they had sufficient back-grounding.

I’m in touch with the continuity and still struggled occasionally but I’d love to be proved wrong and see if a total innocent could follow this nuanced little gem and get the buzz it gave me…

Who’s game to give it a go?
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