The Flash by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Justice League Hereby Elects…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Justice Book 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman vs. Mongul


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supergirl: The Silver Age volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice League International volume 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiny Titans volume 1: Welcome to the Treehouse


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice League International volume 1


By Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, Al Gordon & Terry Austin (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-787-7(HB)                      978-1-4012-1739-6(TPB)

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

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

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

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7 (November) and all those splendidly enticing tales can be found here.

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

As the often-silly saga unfolded the squad was supplemented by Captain Atom, Booster Gold, Dr. Light, and Russian mecha-warrior Rocket Red.

According to Keith Giffen’s reflective Introduction the initial roster was mandated from on high, but there’s certainly no stiffness or character favouritism apparent in these early tales.

Introducing the charismatic filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who used wealth and influence to recreate the super-team – the creators took their time, crafting a convoluted mystery that took an entire year to play out (happily there’s a second volume sitting on my “to be re-read again” pile and another nostalgic review coming soon!).

The neophyte and rather shambolic team started their march to glory by fighting and defeating a bunch of rather inept terrorist bombers in initial outing ‘Born Again’ (inked by Terry Austin), before confronting displaced alien heroes determined to abolish nuclear weapons in a 2-part thriller ‘Make War No More’ and ‘Meltdown’ before seeing off old-fashioned super-creeps the Royal Flush Gang in #4’s ‘Winning Hand’, which added future-born tech hero Booster Gold to the mix.

The Creeper outrageously guest-starred in ‘Gray Life, Gray Dreams’ and concluding chapter ‘Massacre in Gray’: joining forces against an immortal man tasked by supernal gods with collecting mankind’s excess dream essence. When he went mad and rebelled, all of humanity was imperilled…

Lord’s Byzantine scheme bore fruit in #7’s ‘Justice League… International’ as the team achieved the status of a UN agency, with rights, privileges and embassies in every corner of the World…

Sadly, that merely meant that phase two of his plan came into play and deadly links to New God hellworld Apokolips began to be revealed…

To Be Continued…

Available as an impressive hardcover, accessible trade paperback and even digitally for the go-getting moderns among you, these wild and woolly tales are a perfect panacea to all the doom and gloom that infests so much of today’s comics content.

I’m also happy to say that the editors found room to include alternate covers, the great Ed Hannigan, Maguire & Austin JLI poster from 1987 plus a fact and picture-packed Who’s Who entry to back up the fun with some irrefutable facts about the World’s Greatest Superheroes…

These wonderful yarns are full of sharp lines and genuinely gleeful situations, perfect for young fans and old addicts alike and still as appealing today. That the art is still great is no surprise and the action still engrossing most welcome, but to find that the jokes are still funny is a glorious relief. Indulge yourself and join that secret comics brotherhood who greet each other with the fateful mantra “Bwah-Hah-Hah!”…
© 1987, 2008 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman volume 2


By Michael Jelenic, Adam P. Knave, Alex De Campi, Amy Chu, James Tynion IV, Heather Nuhfer, Lauren Beukes, Cecil Castelucci, Sara Ryan, Aaron Lopresti, Drew Johnson, Matthew Dow Smith, Ray Snyder, Neil Googe, Bernard Chang, Noelle Stevenson, Ryan Benjamin, Mike Maihack, Chris Sprouse & Karl Story, Christian Duce & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5862-7

The Princess of Paradise Island originally debuted as a special feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941), conceived by psychologist and polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter, in a calculated attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model and, on forward-thinking Editor M.C. Gaines’ part, to sell more funnybooks to girls.

Wonder Woman then catapulted into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics one month later.

An instant hit, the Amazing Amazon won her own eponymous supplemental title a few months later, cover-dated summer 1942…

Once upon a time on a hidden island of immortal super-women, American aviator Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence crashed to Earth. Near death, he was nursed back to health by young, impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearful of her besotted child’s growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyte revealed the hidden history of the Amazons: how they were seduced and betrayed by men but rescued by the goddess Aphrodite on condition they forever isolate themselves from the mortal world and devote their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However, with the planet in crisis, goddesses Athena and Aphrodite instructed Hippolyte to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty. Although forbidden to compete, closeted, cosseted Diana clandestinely overcame all other candidates to become their emissary: Wonder Woman.

On arriving in the Land of the Free she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, which elegantly allowed the unregistered immigrant to stay close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick care-worker to join her own fiancé in South America.

The new Diana soon gained a position with Army Intelligence as secretary to General Darnell, further ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved. She little suspected that, although the painfully shallow Steve only had eyes for the dazzling Amazon superwoman, the General had fallen for the mousy but supremely competent Lieutenant Prince…

That set up enabled the Star-Spangled Siren to weather the vicissitudes of the notoriously transient comicbook marketplace and survive the end of the Golden Age of costumed heroes beside Superman, Batman and a few lucky hangers-on who inhabited the backs of their titles.

She soldiered on well into the Silver Age revival under the canny auspices of Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, but by 1968 superhero comics were in decline again and publishers sought new ways to keep audiences interested as tastes – and American society – changed.

Back then, the entire industry depended on newsstand sales and if you weren’t popular, you died.

Jack Miller, Denny O’Neill & Mike Sekowsky stepped up with a radical depowering and made comicbook history with the only female superhero to still have her own title in that marketplace. Eventually however, merely mortal trouble-shooter gave way to a reinvigorated Amazing Amazon who battled declining sales (thanks to a TV-inspired boost) until DC’s groundbreaking Crisis on Infinite Earths after which she was once again fundamentally reimagined.

Minor tweaks in her continuity accommodated different creators’ tenures until 2011 when DC rebooted their entire comics line again and Wonder Woman once more underwent a drastic, fan-infuriating root-and-branch refit.

Possibly to mitigate the fallout the publishers okayed a number of fall-back options such as this intriguing package…

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman began as “digital first” series appearing online before (months later) collecting a number of chapters into every issue of a new standard comicbook. Crafted by a fluctuating roster of artists and writers, the contents highlighted every previous era and incarnation of the character – and even a few wildly innovative alternative visions – offering a wide variety of thrilling, engaging and sincerely fun-filled moments to remember.

The comicbook iteration was enough of a success to warrant its own series of trade paperback compilations which – in the fullness of time and nature of circularity – gained their own digital avatars as eBooks too.

This second full-colour paperback collection collects Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #6-10 (March-July 2015) and offers another legion of talent and multitude of different visions, beginning with ‘Generations’ by Michael Jelenic & Drew Johnson wherein an annual odyssey to find the perfect gift for Amazon Queen – and forbidding mother – Hippolyta leads Diana into battle with mythical monsters, an old arch enemy and her own drive to over-achieve…

‘Not Included’ by Adam P. Knave & Matthew Dow Smith then pairs the Princess of Paradise Island with Apokolyptian New God Big Barda against the evil super-science and robotic hordes of The Brain and M’sieu Mallah, after which a decidedly different take by Alex De Campi & Neil Googe finds Wonder Woman coming to the rescue of a commercial space station above the Second Rock from the Sun in ‘Venus Rising’

Amy Chu & Bernard Chang go out-world to celebrate the concept of Wonder Woman in ‘Rescue Angel’ as soldiers pinned down in Afghanistan are saved by Lt. Angel Santiago. The wounded woman warrior then claims her outstanding actions under fire are the result of a vision from her beloved comicbooks…

Spectacular action and sinister skulduggery informs Heather Nuhfer & Ryan Benjamin’s clash between the Amazing Amazon and Lex Luthor, who proves that ‘Sabotage is in the Stars’ when the Indian government’s space program starts impacting Lexcorp’s projected profits…

James Tynion IV & Noelle Stevenson introduce feisty teen Riley as guide to a culture-shocked young Diana in ‘Wonder World’. As they bond over stupid boys and cheesy beachside entertainments, the girls are blithely unaware that the Princess’ Amazon bodyguards are frantically searching for their AWOL charge…

‘The Problem with Cats’ by Lauren Beukes & Mike Maihack takes a light-hearted look at sisterhood and the rivalry between Wonder Woman and the Cheetah… or is it all in the over-active imagination of frustrated. grounded little African girl Zozo…?

When Daily Planet journalist Lois Lane is ordered to interview Wonder Woman, the ice is only broken after an monster invasion leads to a splendid ‘Girl’s Day Out’ courtesy of Cecil Castelucci, Chris Sprouse & Karl Story whilst Sara Ryan & Christian Duce reveal a timely intervention that saves the life and emotional stability of ‘VIP’ pop star Esperanza…

Aaron Lopresti then wraps up this parade of pulse-pounding peril and cavalcade of insightful episodes with a brutal dragon-slaying clash. ‘Casualties of War’ shows Diana’s abiding reluctance to engage in battle but how sometimes there is no other choice…

Augmented by a spectacular covers-&-variants gallery from Paul Davey, Shane Davis, Michelle & Alex Sinclair, Ben Caldwell & Francesco Francavilla, this is another scintillating snapshot of the astounding variety of visions Wonder Woman has inspired in her decades of existence, and one to delight fans old and new alike.
© 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Golden Age volume 3


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Wayne Boring, Jack Burnley, Paul Cassidy, Ed Dobrotka, Don Komisarow, Leo Nowak, Fred Ray, John Sikela & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7089-6

As his latest record-breaking anniversary rapidly approaches, the popularity of Superman is on the climb again. The American comicbook industry – if it existed at all by now – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without The Man of Steel. His unprecedented invention and adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation gave birth to an entire genre if not an actual art form.

Moreover, with moviegoers anticipating fresh cinematic revelations in the upcoming Justice League blockbuster, expect a wealth of book releases celebrating the serried past of the heroic universe’s ultimate immigrant.

Imitation is the most honest compliment and can be profitable too. Superman triggered an inconceivable army of imitators and variations and, within three years of his Summer 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Action Ace had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, socially reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy and, once the war in Europe and the East finally involved America, patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters, all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

In comicbook terms at least, Superman was master of the world. He had already utterly changed the shape of the fledgling industry by the time of these tales. There was a successful newspaper strip, foreign and overseas syndication and the Fleischer studio was producing some of the most expensive – and best – animated cartoons ever conceived.

Thankfully the quality of the source material was increasing with every four-colour release, and the energy and enthusiasm of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had infected the burgeoning studio that grew around them to cope with the relentless demand.

This latest addition to the splendid Golden Age/Silver Age strand of DC reprint compendia presents more of an epochal run of raw, unpolished but viscerally vibrant stories by Siegel, Shuster and the sterling crew of their ever-expanding “Superman Studio” who were setting the funnybook world on fire: crude, rough, uncontrollable wish-fulfilling, cathartically exuberant exploits of a righteous and superior man dealing out summary justice equally to social malcontents, exploitative capitalists, thugs and ne’er-do-wells that initially captured the imagination of a generation.

This third remastered paperback collection (also available digitally) of the Man of Tomorrow’s earliest exploits – reprinted in the order they first appeared – covers the still largely innocent, carefree period between January and September 1941: encompassing Action Comics #32-40, Superman #8-11 and solo-adventures from World’s Best Comics #1 and World’s Finest Comics #2 (an oversized anthology title where he shared cover-stardom with Batman and Robin). As always, every comic appearance is preceded by the original cover illustration, another fine bunch of graphic masterpieces from Paul Cassidy, Wayne Boring and Fred Ray.

Although Siegel & Shuster had very much settled into the character by now, the latter was increasingly involved with the Superman newspaper strip. Even so, the buzz of success still fired them both and innovation still sparkled amidst the exuberance.

Written entirely by Seigel this incredible panorama of torrid tales opens with ‘The Gambling Rackets of Metropolis’ from Action Comics #32.

Like many stories of the time there was no original title and it’s been designated as such simply to make my job a little easier, as Superman crushes an illicit High Society gambling operation that has wormed its nefarious ay into the loftiest echelons of Government, a typical Jerry Siegel social drama magnificently illustrated by the great Jack Burnley.

Superman #8 (January/February 1941) was another spectacular and varied compendium containing four big adventures ranging from fantastic fantasy in ‘The Giants of Professor Zee’ (illustrated by Paul Cassidy); topical suspense in spotlighting ‘The Fifth Column’ (Wayne Boring & Don Komisarow); common criminality in ‘The Carnival Crooks’ (Cassidy) and concluding with an increasingly rare comic-book outing for Joe Shuster – inked by Boring – in the cover-featured ‘Perrone and the Drug Gang’, wherein the Metropolis Marvel battled doped-up thugs and the corrupt lawyers who controlled them.

Action Comics#33 and 34 are both Burnley extravaganzas wherein Superman goes north to discover ‘Something Amiss at the Lumber Camp’, before heading to coal country to save ‘The Beautiful Young Heiress’; both superbly enticing character-plays with plenty of scope for super-stunts to thrill the gasping fans.

Superman #9 (March/April 1941) was another four-star thriller with all the art credited to Cassidy. ‘The Phony Pacifists’ is an espionage thriller capitalising on increasing US tensions over “the European War”, ‘Joe Gatson, Racketeer’ recounts the sorry end of a hot-shot blackmailer and kidnapper, ‘Mystery in Swasey Swamp’ combines eerie rural events with ruthless spies whilst the self-explanatory ‘Jackson’s Murder Ring’ pits the Caped Kryptonian against an ingenious gang of commercial assassins.

The success of the annual World’s Fair premium comic-books had convinced National/DC editors that an over-sized anthology of their characters, with Superman and Batman prominently featured, would be a worthwhile proposition even at the exorbitant price of 15¢ (most 64-page titles retailed for 10¢ and would do so until the 1960s).

At 96 pages, World’s Best Comics #1 debuted with a Spring 1941 cover-date, before transforming into the venerable World’s Finest Comics from issue #2 onwards. From that landmark one-and-only edition comes gripping disaster thriller ‘Superman vs. the Rainmaker’, illustrated by Cassidy, after which Action Comics#35 headlines a human-interest tale with startling repercussions in ‘The Guybart Gold Mine’, and Superman is mightily stretched to cope with the awesome threat of ‘The Enemy Invasion’: a canny and foreboding taste of things to come if – or rather, when – America entered World War II.

Superman #10 (May/June 1941) opens with ‘The Invisible Luthor’ (illustrated by Leo Nowak), ‘The Talent Agency Fraud’ (ditto), ‘The Spy Ring of Righab Bey’ and ‘The Dukalia Spy Ring’ (both by Boring & Shuster), topical and exotic themes of suspense as America was still at this time still officially neutral in the “European War.”

Action Comics #37 (June 1941) returned to tales of graft, crime and social injustice in ‘Commissioner Kent’ (Cassidy art) as the Man of Steel’s timid alter-ego is forced to run for the job of top cop in Metropolis, before World’s Finest Comics #2 (Summer 1941) unleashes Nowak & Cassidy’s ‘The Unknown X’; a fast-paced mystery of sinister murder-masterminds, whilst Action #38 provides a spectacular battle against a sinister hypnotist committing crimes through ‘Radio Control’ (Nowak & Ed Dobrotka)…

Superman #11 (July/August 1941) was an all Nowak affair, beginning with ‘Zimba’s Gold Badge Terrorists’, wherein thinly disguised Nazis “Blitzkrieg” America, after which “giant animals” go on a rampage in ‘The Corinthville Caper’. Seeking a cure for ‘The Yellow Plague’ takes Superman to the ends of the Earth whilst ‘The Plot of Count Bergac’ takes him back home to crush a band of High Society gangsters.

Horrific mad science creates ‘The Radioactive Man’ (Action #39, by Nowak & Shuster) whilst the concluding episode here from issue #40 featured ‘The Billionaire’s Daughter’ (John Sikela) wherein the mighty Man of Tomorrow needs all his wits to set straight a spoiled debutante…

Stories of corruption and social injustice gradually gave way to more spectacular fare, and with war in the news and clearly on the horizon, the tone and content of Superman’s adventures changed too: the scale and scope of the stunts became more important than the motive. The raw passion and sly wit still shone through in Siegel’s stories but as the world grew more dangerous the Man of Tomorrow simply had to become stronger and more flamboyant to deal with it all, with Shuster and his team consequently stretching and expanding the iconography for all imitators and successors to follow.

These Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at an absurdly affordable price. How can you possibly resist them?
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