The Creeper by Steve Ditko


By Ditko, Don Segall, Denny O’Neil/Sergius O’Shaughnessy, Michael Fleisher, Mike Peppe, Jack Sparling & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2592-6

Steve Ditko is one of our industry’s greatest talents and amongst America’s least lauded. His fervent desire has always been to just get on with his job, tell stories the best way he can and let his work speak for him.

Whilst the noblest of aspirations, that attitude has been and will always be a minor consideration – or even actual stumbling block – for the commercial interests which for so long controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of Funnybook output.

After Ditko’s legendary disagreements with Stan Lee led to his quitting Marvel – where his groundbreaking work made the reclusive genius (at least in comicbook terms) a household name – he found work at Warren Comics and resumed his long association with Charlton Comics.

That company’s laissez faire editorial attitudes had always offered him the most creative freedom, if not greatest financial reward, but in 1968 their wünderkind editor Dick Giordano was poached by the rapidly-slipping industry leader and he took some of his bullpen of key creators with him to DC Comics.

Whilst Jim Aparo, Steve Skeates, Frank McLaughlin and Denny O’Neil found a new and regular home, Ditko began only a sporadic – if phenomenally productive – association with DC.

It was during this heady if unsettled period that the first strips derived from Ditko’s interpretation of the Objectivist philosophy of novelist Ayn Rand began appearing in fanzines and independent press publications like Witzend and The Collector, whilst for the “over-ground” publishing colossus he devised a brace of cult classics with The Hawk and the Dove and the superbly captivating Beware The Creeper.

Later efforts would include Shade, the Changing Man, Stalker and The Odd Man plus truly unique interpretations of Man-Bat, the Legion of Super-Heroes and many more…

The auteur’s comings and goings also allowed him to revisit past triumphs and none more so than with The Creeper who kept periodically popping up like a mad, bad penny. This superb hardcover compilation gleefully gathers every Ditko-drafted and -delineated Creeper classic from a delirious decade for your delight, collecting tales from Showcase #73, Beware the Creeper #1-6, 1st Issue Special #7, World’s Finest Comics #249-255 and Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2/Showcase #106 (collectively spanning March/April 1968 to February/March 1979), and this spooky superhero spectacle kicks off with an effusive Introduction by Steve (30 Days of Night) Niles.

Ditko’s bizarre DC visions first exploded off the newsstands in try-out title Showcase #73 and ‘The Coming of the Creeper!!’, with veteran comics and TV scripter Don Segall putting the words to Ditko’s plot and illustrations.

The moodily macabre tale introduces suicidally-outspoken TV host Jack Ryder whose attitude to his show’s sponsors and cronies loses him his cushy job. His brazen attitude does impress the network’s security chief Bill Brane however and the gruff oldster offers him a job as an investigator and occasional bodyguard.

Jack’s first case involves tracking down recent Soviet defector Professor Yatz who has gone missing. The CIA suspect has been abducted by gangster Angel Devilin and sold to Red agent Major Smej

Displaying a natural affinity for detective work, Ryder tracks a lead to Devilin’s grand house and interrupts a costume party designed as a cover to make the trade. Promptly kicked out by thugs Ryder heads for a costume shop but can only find a box of garish odds and ends and lots of makeup.

Kitted himself out in strange psychedelic attire, he breaks back in but is caught and stabbed before being thrown into a cell with the missing Yatz. The scientist is also grievously wounded but is determined to keep his inventions out of the hands of evil men.

Those creations are an instant healing serum and a Molecular Transmuter, able to shunt whatever a person is wearing or carrying into and out of our universe. A fully equipped army could enter a country as harmless tourists and materialise a complete armoury before launching sneak attacks…

To preserve them Yatz buries the Transmuter inside Ryder’s knife wound before injecting him with the untested serum. The effect is instantaneous and doesn’t even leave a scar. He’s also faster, stronger and more agile…

When Jack presses a handheld activator, he is instantly naked and experimentation shows that he can make his motley costume appear and disappear just by pushing a button. Of course now, whenever it is activated, neither makeup nor wig, bodystocking, boots or gloves will come off. It’s like the crazy outfit has become a second skin…

When the gangsters come for their captives, Yatz is burning his notes and in the fracas that follows catches a fatal bullet. Furious, guilt-ridden and strangely euphoric, Ryder goes after the thugs and spies but by the time the cops arrive finds himself – or at least his canary yellow alter ego – blamed by Devilin for the chaos and even burglary.

The mobster has even given him a name… The Creeper…

As soon as the furore dies down the vengeful Ryder returns to exact justice for the professor and discovers his uncanny physical prowess and macabre, incessant unnerving laughter give him an unbeatable edge and win him a supernatural reputation…

After that single issue the haunting hero hurtled straight into his own bimonthly series and Beware the Creeper #1 debuted with a May/June cover-date.

Behind one of the most evocative covers of the decade – or ever – ‘Where Lurks the Menace?’ (scripted by Denny O’Neil under his occasional pen-name Sergius O’Shaughnessy) found Ryder and the Creeper hunting an acrobatic killer beating to death a number of shady types in a savage effort to take over the city’s gangs.

Jack’s relentless pursuit of the terror and careful piecing together of many disparate clues to his identity was only hindered by the introduction of publicity-hungry and obnoxious glamour-puss ‘Vera Sweet.

The TV weathergirl thought she had the right to monopolise Ryder’s time and attention even when he was ducking fists and bullets…

The remainder of the run featured a classic duel of opposites as a chameleonic criminal mastermind insinuated himself into the lives of Jack and the Brane bunch. It all began with ‘The Many Faces of Proteus!’ in issue #2 (Ditko & O’Shaughnessy) as a pompous do-gooder’s TV campaign against The Creeper is curtailed when the Golden Grotesque shows up at the studio throwing bombs.

Caught in the blast is the baffled and battered Jack Ryder and he’s even more bewildered when Bill Brane informs him that a tip has come in confirming the Creeper is working for gambler gangboss Legs Larsen

Dodging Vera, whose latest scheme involves a fake engagement, the real Creeper reaches Larsen’s gaming house in time to see a faceless man put a bullet into the prime suspect. In the ensuing panic the Laughing Terror transforms back into Ryder and strolls out carrying Larsen’s files, unaware that the faceless man is watching him leave and putting a few clues together himself…

The documents reveal that a lone player has been slowly consolidating a hold on the city’s underworld but discloses no concrete information, so the Creeper goes on a very public rampage against assorted criminals in hope of drawing “Proteus” out. The gambit works perfectly as a number of close friends try to kill Ryder, but only after he fends off a flamethrower-wielding Vera in his own apartment does the Creeper realise that Proteus is far more than a madman with a makeup kit…

A spectacular rooftop duel ends in a collapsed building and the apparent end of the protean plunderer, but there’s no body to be found in the rubble…

Beware the Creeper #3 finds our outré hero tearing the city’s thugs apart looking for Proteus but his one man spook-show is curtailed when Brane sends Jack Ryder to find Vera.

Little Miss Wonderful was determined to be the first to interview an island society that has been cut off from the world for over a century, but all contact has been lost since she arrived. Tracking her to ‘The Isle of Fear’ Jack finds her in the hands of a death cult.

More important to Ryder though is the fact that the Supreme One who leads the maniacs is actually a top criminal offering sanctuary to the Proteus flunkies he’d been scouring the city for…

Back in civilisation again, ‘Which Face Hides My Enemy?’ sees Ryder expose High Society guru and criminal mesmerist Yogi Birzerk’s unsuspected connection to Proteus. The cops drive the Creeper away before getting anything from the charlatan and when he dejectedly returns home Jack walks into an explosive booby trap in his new apartment.

The “warning” from Proteus heralds the arrival of Asian troubleshooters Bulldog Bird and Sumo who claim to be also pursuing the faceless villain. They reveal he was a high-ranking member of the government of Offalia who stole a chemical which alters the molecular composition of flesh before suggesting they all team up…

Heading back to Bizerk’s place it soon becomes clear that they are actually working for Proteus and that the faceless fiend knows Ryder is the Creeper…

With #5 inker Mike Peppe joins Ditko and O’Neil as the epic swings into high gear with ‘The Color of Rain is Death!’ Proteus makes his closing moves, attacking many of Jack’s associates and framing him again whilst preparing for the criminal masterstroke which will win him much of the city’s wealth.

Luring the Creeper into the sewers just as a major storm threatens to deluge the city, the face-shifter reveals a scheme to blow up the drainage system and cause a massive flood. After a brutal battle he also leaves The Creeper tied to a grating to drown…

The stunning saga closed with the final issue of Beware the Creeper #6 (March/April 1969), by which time Ditko had all but abandoned his creation. ‘A Time to Die’ saw everyman artist Jack Sparling pencil most of the story as the Creeper escapes his death-trap, deciphers the wily villain’s actual game-plan and delivers a crushing final defeat.

It was fun and thrilling and – unlike many series which folded at that troubled time – even provided an actual conclusion, but it somehow it wasn’t satisfactory and it wasn’t what we wanted.

This was a time when superheroes went into a steep decline with supernatural and genre material rapidly gaining prominence throughout the industry. With Fights ‘n’ Tights comics folding all over, Ditko concentrated again on Charlton’s mystery line, the occasional horror piece for Warren and his own projects…

In the years his own comic was dormant, the Creeper enjoyed many guest shots in other comics and it was established that the city he prowled was in fact Gotham. When Ditko returned to DC in the mid 1970s, tryout series 1st Issue Special was alternating new concepts with revivals of old characters.

Issue #7 (October 1975) gave the quirky crusader another shot at stardom in ‘Menace of the Human Firefly’ (written by Michael Fleisher, and inked by Mike Royer) and saw restored TV journalist Jack Ryder inspecting the fantastic felons in Gotham Penitentiary just as lifer Garfield Lynns broke jail to resume his interrupted costumed career as the master of lighting effects…

By the time the rogue’s brief but brilliant rampage was over the Creeper had discovered something extremely disturbing about his own ever-evolving abilities…

The story wasn’t enough to restart the rollercoaster but a few years later DC instituted a policy of giant-sized anthologies and the extra page counts allowed a number of lesser lights to secure back-up slots.

For World’s Finest Comics #249-255 (February/March 1978-February/March 1979) Ditko was invited to produce a series of 8-page vignettes starring his most iconic DC creation. This time he wrote as well as illustrated and the results are pure eccentric excellence.

The sequence began with ‘Moon Lady and the Monster’ as Jack Ryder – once again a security operative for Cosmic Broadcasting Network – had to ferret out a grotesque brute stalking a late night horror-movie hostess after which #250’s ‘Return of the Past’ reprised the origin as Angel Devilin got out of jail and went looking for revenge…

In WFC #251 ‘The Disruptor’ proved to be a blackmailer attempting to extort CBN by sabotaging programmes whilst ‘The Keeper of Secrets is Death!’ in the next issue followed the tragic murder of Dr. Joanne Russell who was accused on a sensationalistic TV of knowing the Creeper’s secret identity…

In #253 ‘The Wrecker’ was an actual grudge-bearing mad scientist who had built a most unconventional robot whilst ‘Beware Mr. Wrinkles!’ in #254 saw a villain with the power to age his victims. Neither, however, were a match for the tireless, spring-heeled Technicolor Tornado dubbed the Creeper and his too-short return culminated in a lethal duel with a knife throwing jewel thief in #255’s ‘Furious Fran and the Dagger Lady’

Until this volume that was it for Ditko devotees and Creeper collectors, but as the final delight in this splendid hardback colour compendium reveals, there was more. An ill-considered expansion was followed by the infamous “DC Implosion” in 1978 where a number of titles were shut down or cancelled before release. One of those was Showcase #106 which would have featured a new all-Ditko Creeper tale.

It was collected – with a number of other lost treasures – in a copyright-securing minimum print run, internal publication entitled Cancelled Comics Cavalcade. Here, from #2 (1978) and presented in stark black & white, fans can see the Garish Gallant’s last Ditko-devised hurrah as ‘Enter Dr. Storme’ pits the Creeper (and cameo crimebuster The Odd Man) against a deranged aweatherman turned climactic conqueror with the power to manipulate the elements.

Fast, Fight-filled, furiously fun and devastatingly dynamic, Beware the Creeper was a high-point in skewed superhero sagas and this is a compendium no lovers of the genre can do without.
© 1968, 1969, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: the Dark Knight Archives volume 6


By Bob Kane, Don Cameron, Bill Finger, Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene, Mort Weisinger, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2547-6

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

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

This sixth lavish hardback Archive Edition volume covers Batman #21-25 and again features exploits from the height of World War II – specifically February/March 1944 to October/November 1944.

These Golden Age greats are some of the finest tales in Batman’s decades-long canon, as lead writers Bill Finger and Don Cameron, supplemented by Joe Samachson, Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene and Mort Weisinger, pushed the boundaries of the adventure medium whilst graphic genius Dick Sprang slowly superseded and surpassed Bob Kane and Jack Burnley, making the feature uniquely his own and keeping the Peerless Pair at the forefront of a vast army of superhero successes.

The sheer creativity exhibited in these adventures proved that the ever-expanding band of creators responsible for producing the bi-monthly adventures of the Dark Knight were hitting an artistic peak which only stellar stable-mate Superman and Fawcett’s Captain Marvel were able to equal or even approach.

Moreover with WWII finally turning in the Good Guys’ favour, the escapades became upbeat and more wide-ranging…

Following a Foreword from former bat-scribe Alvin Schwartz, the Home Front began to offer a brighter – but still crime-ridden – perspective with Batman #21, an all-Sprang art extravaganza which opened with the slick Schiff-scripted tale ‘The Streamlined Rustlers’ which saw the Caped Crusaders way out West solving a devilish mystery and crushing a gang of beef-stealing black-market black hats.

Cameron then described the antics of murderous big city mobster Chopper Gant who conned a military historian into planning his capers, briefly bamboozling Batman and Robin with his warlike ‘Blitzkrieg Bandits!’ whilst Schwartz penned the delightfully convoluted romp ‘His Lordship’s Double’ which sees newly dapper, slim-line manservant Alfred asked to impersonate a purportedly crowd-shy aristocratic inventor… only to become the victim in a nasty scheme to secure the true toff’s latest invention…

It all culminates with ‘The Three Eccentrics’ (written by Joe Greene), which details the wily Penguin’s schemes to empty the coffers of a trio of Gotham’s wealthiest misfits. The fiendish foray founders because he fails to take into account the time-sensitivity of his information and the dogged grit and ingenuity of the Gotham Gangbusters…

Batman #22 leads with ‘The Duped Domestics!’ by Schwartz, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson wherein a select number of Gotham’s butlers are targeted by a sultry seductress looking for easy inroads to swanky houses. Despite being an old enemy of Batman’s, “Belinda” more than meets her match when Alfred becomes her next patsy…

When the little rich boy secretly takes a menial job, his generous guardian is rightly baffled but after ‘Dick Grayson, Telegraph Boy!’ (Finger, Burney & Robinson) exposes a criminal enterprise centred around Gotham Observatory, the method of his madness soon becomes clear.

Next a new solo series debuted as Mort Weisinger & Robinson launched ‘The Adventures of Alfred’ with ‘Conversational Clue!’ wherein Batman’s batman misapprehends an overheard word at the library and stumbles into a safecracking gang.

The issue concludes with ‘The Cavalier Rides Again!’ (Finger, Burnley & Charles Paris) as the Dashing Desperado mystifyingly begins bagging cheap imitations rather than authentic booty in his ongoing campaign to best the Batman…

The Joker led in issue #23 with Finger, Sprang & Gene McDonald’s eccentric thriller ‘The Upside Down Crimes!’ wherein the Harlequin of Hate turns the town topsy-turvy in his latest series of looting larcenies after which smitten Dick’s bold endeavours save classmate and ‘Damsel in Distress!’ (Cameron & Sprang) Marjory Davenport and her dad from gangster kidnappers.

Unfortunately for him, she soon has her head turned by flamboyant Robin and the Boy Wonder becomes his own rival…

Anonymously scripted but again rendered by Jerry Robinson, ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Borrowed Butler!’ found the domestic detective loaned out by Bruce Wayne to a snooty neighbour and accidentally uncovering an insider’s scheme to burgle the place.

Wrapping up this outing is another fact-packed “Police Division Story” with Batman and Robin joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to stop a vicious ring of fur bandits who have decided to forego robbing big city stores. Instead, the ‘Pelt Plunderers!’ (Joe Samachson & Sprang) head due north to steal directly from the trappers…

Batman #24 added a smidgen of science fiction flair and a dash of sheer whimsy to the regular mix as ‘It Happened in Rome’ (Samachson & Sprang) introduces Professor Carter Nichols who devises a method of time-travel which depends on deep hypnosis.

His first subjects are old friend Bruce Wayne and his ward who both wing back centuries for a sightseeing trip and end up saving a charioteer from race-fixers as Batmanus and Robin

Bruce also plays a pivotal role in ‘Convict Cargo!’ (Cameron & Sprang), pretending to be an embezzler in order to expose a ring of thugs offering perfect getaways to Gotham’s white-collar criminals. Happily when the villain vacations turn out to be one-way trips, Batman and Robin are on hand to mop up the pirates responsible.

Cameron & Robinson then describe how ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Police Line-Up!’ leads the bewildered butler into trailing the wrong crook but still nabbing a mob of bad eggs before portly purveyors of peril Tweedledum and Tweedledee connive their way into the position of ‘The Mayors of Yonville!’

Their flagrant abuse of civic power dumps the Dynamic Duo into jail but still isn’t enough to keep their goldmine scam from coming to light once the heroes bust out…

This superb hardback compendium concludes with Batman #25 as opening shot ‘Knights of Knavery’ (Cameron, Burnley& Robinson) sees arch rivals Penguin and Joker join forces to steal the world’s biggest emerald and outwit all opposition, before falling foul of their own mistrust and arrogance once the Dark Knight puts his own thinking cap on.

‘The Sheik of Gotham City!’ (Schwartz, Burnley & Robinson) then sees an Arabian refugee working as a cab driver in Gotham restored to rule his usurped desert kingdom after our heroes foil an assassination attempt, whilst ‘The Adventures of Alfred: The Mesmerised Manhunter!’ (Cameron & Robinson) sees the off-duty domestic the plaything of a stage magician whilst simultaneously foiling a box office heist.

The action and suspense wrap up in spectacular style as Finger, Burnley& Robinson detail a saga of sabotage and redemption when the Dynamic Duo join the rough-and-ready electrical engineers known as ‘The Kilowatt Cowboys!’

As if the job of bringing the nation’s newest hydroelectric dam on line is not dangerous enough and a plague of thefts by murderous copper thieves isn’t cutting into productivity, most of Batman’s time is spent stopping rival wire men Jack and Alec from killing each other…

Accompanied by a stunning and iconic Sprang cover gallery and full creator ‘Biographies’, this sublime selection of classic comicbook action is a magnificent ride on the Wayback Machine to a time of high drama, low cunning and breathtaking excitement
© 1944, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Archives volume 8


By Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Don Cameron, Bill Finger, Alvin Schwartz, Whitney Ellsworth, Ed Dobrotka, Sam Citron, Ira Yarbrough, George Roussos, Jack Burnley, Wayne Boring & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2885-9

Today’s American comicbook industry – if it still existed at all – would have been utterly unrecognisable to us without Superman. His unprecedented invention and adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form.

Spawning an impossible army of imitators and variations, within three years of his 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of eye-popping action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early Man of Steel 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 embroiled America, patriotic relevance for a host of gods, heroes and monsters, all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and explosive derring-do.

In comicbook terms at least Superman was master of the world, having already utterly changed the shape of the fledgling industry. There was the phenomenally popular newspaper strip, a thrice-weekly radio serial, games, toys, as much global syndication as the war would allow and the perennially re-run Fleischer studio’s astounding animated cartoons.

Despite all the years that have passed since then, I – and so many others – still believe that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when they were whole-heartedly combating the agents of Fascism (and yes by heck, even the dirty, doggone, Reds-Under-the-Beds Commies, who took their place in the 1960s too!) with mysterious masked marvel men in compulsive, improbable short, sharp exploits,

The most evocative and breathtaking moments of the genre always seem to occur as those gaudy gladiators soundly thrashed – and please forgive the offensive contemporary colloquialism – “Nips, Nazis and Reds”. However, even in those dark days long-ago, the young and enthusiastic creators were wise enough to augment their tales of espionage and invasion with a range of gentler, more whimsical four-colour fare. By the time of the sagas in this superb seventh Superman full-colour hardcover Archive edition – re-presenting #30-35 (September/October 1944 to July/August 1944) of the Man of Tomorrow’s solo title – the apprehension of the early war years had been replaced with eager anticipation as tyranny’s infernal forces were being rolled back on every Front.

Superman was the premier, vibrant, vital role model whose startling abilities and take-charge, can-do attitude had won the hearts of the public at home and the troops across the war-torn world.

Now, although the shooting was all but over, stirring, morale-boosting covers and stories were being phased out in favour of gentler and even purely comedic themes.

Following a funny and informative Foreword: “Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird… it’s a Plane…it’s – An Imp?’ by cartoonist Evan Dorkin discussing the advent of super-foes, social change and a certain fifth dimensional jester, the action-laced whimsy begins with ‘Superman Alias Superman!’ by Don Cameron, Ira Yarbrough & Stan Kaye wherein lovelorn Clark Kent takes romantic advice from office-boy Jimmy Olsen and impersonates his own alter ego to impress Lois.

The doomed imposture is further complicated because his scathing, scoop-obsessed colleague is fully fixated on catching high society bandit Silver Foxx and has no time for Clark’s insecurities and idiocies…

The go-getting journalist was always too busy for romance back then, as can be seen in ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Arch-Swindler’ by Cameron, Ed Dobrotka & George Roussos. In those turbulent times the interpretation of the “plucky news-hen” was far less demeaning than the post-war sneaky minx who was so popular in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Lois might have been ambitious and life-threateningly precipitate, but it was always to advance her own career, help underdogs and put bad guys away, not trap a man into marriage.

Her Superman-free exploits began in #28: a succession of 4-page vignettes offering breathless, fast-paced, screwball comedy-thrillers. In this example, spurred on by Clark’s teasing, she tracks down, is captured by and spectacularly turns the tables on murderous conman Jack Dover

Back with the star feature, Bill Finger, Yarbrough & Roussos revealed how an ancient prophecy turns the Action Ace into ‘The King’s Substitute’ as centuries ago the ruler of tiny nation Poltavia learns that a Superman will one day deliver his country from bondage, restore a true heir and offer the people a wonderful thing called democracy…

Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster & Yarbrough then herald the start of a new kind of adventure as ‘The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk’ debuts. An utterly intoxicating daffy romp introduced the 5th dimensional imp who would henceforward periodically test the Man of Steel’s ingenuity and patience in a still-hilarious perfect example of the lighter side of super-heroics.

Mxyztplk (later anglicised to Mxyzptlk, presumably to make it easier to spell?) became a cornerstone of the Superman mythos: an insufferable pixie against whom all Superman’s strength and power were useless. From then on brains were going to be as important as brawn as frustration became the Man of Steel’s first real weakness…

Superman #31 opens with crime-thriller ‘Tune Up Time for Crime’ (Finger, Sam Citron Roussos) as crooks with a deadly new sonic weapon turn out to have the scientific backing of the Metropolis’ Marvel’s oldest enemy, after which arch-whimsy reappears in ‘A Dog’s Tale’ (Finger, Citron & Roussos) when scruffy mutt Flip proudly tells his canine pals how he helped Superman crack a dognapping racket…

Cameron & Dobrotka then reveal how a gang of jewel thieves prove no match for dumb luck and journalistic moxie in ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Aces Doonan Gang’ before Finger, Citron & Roussos close out the issue with a trip to the museum as ‘The Treasure House of History!’ finds Superman saving a noble institution from mismanagement, skulduggery and even closure whilst discovering a lost Mayan city…

In #32 ‘Superman’s Search for Clark Kent!’ (Alvin Schwartz, Dobrotka & Roussos) finds the Action Ace an invincible amnesiac after volunteering for a scientific trial and forced to track down his own other identity whilst ‘Crime on Skis!!’ (Finger, Dobrotka & Roussos) sees the restored hero debunk a malign mythical bird as no more than a cover for more pedestrian killers plaguing a ski resort.

‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: Monkey Business’ (Whitney Ellsworth, Dobrotka & Roussos) is another splendidly frothy concoction describing how a ventriloquist at the zoo puts the jaunty journo on the trail of a pack of pickpockets, after which the terrible Toyman resurfaces to plague Metropolis, plundering wealthy antique collectors in search of a treasure hidden since the French Revolution in ‘Toys of Treachery!’ (Cameron, Dobrotka & Roussos).

Superman #33 opened with the hero following foolish Lois into ‘Dimensions of Danger!’ (Cameron, Yarbrough & Roussos) after she road-tested a Mxyztplk spell and ended up stuck in his home realm of Zrfff. Once there the Caped Kryptonian had the opportunity to do a little mischief-making of his own…

With art by Yarbrough & Roussos ‘The Country Doctor!’ is the kind of socially aware redemptive tale Bill Finger was a master of and saw Clark Kent stuck in homey little Middletown watching aging Dr. David Brown make a difference – but little money – ministering to the poor souls around him.

The physician’s only regret was a son who preferred big city glamour cases and big city fees, but then something quite tragic happened…

Ellsworth & Dobrotka’s ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Purloined Piggy Bank’ found her being pranked by (male) cops before turning the tables on them and crushing a crime conspiracy. The issue ends with classic mystery yarn ‘The Compass Points to Murder!’ (Finger, Yarbrough & Roussos) finding the Action Ace darting to the four corners of the globe in search of a killer who believed he’d successfully silenced a shipping fleet magnate but had left one telling clue behind…

In #25 Mort Weisinger & Fred Ray’s ‘I Sustain the Wings!’ played a crucial part in America’s attempt to address a shortfall in vital services recruitment – a genuine problem at this time in our real world – and created an instant comics classic.

Artistically Superman #34 is an all Citron/Roussos affair, whose opening shot attempted to repeat the magic formula with Cameron scripted ‘The United States Navy!’ with Clark despatched to follow three college football heroes whilst they progress – in different maritime specialisations – through the war in the Pacific.  

Then ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Foiled Frame-Up’ (Ellsworth) sees her upset political scoundrels and expose a smear campaign after which Cameron instigates a prototype “Imaginary Tale” with ‘The Canyon that Went Berserk!’ wherein a fortune teller prompts Clark into daydreaming the prospecting adventure of a lifetime…

‘When the World got Tired!’ (Finger) then ramped up the tension when a sinister epidemic of global indolence and sloth turns out to be the work of Lex Luthor and his new alien allies…

The gaggle of Golden Age goodies conclude with the contents of Superman #35 (mostly illustrated by Yarbrough & Roussos), starting with the Cameron scripted ‘Fame for Sale!’, wherein shady cove and scurvy scoundrel J. Wilbur Wolfingham rears his conniving head once more. The magnificent pastiche of W. C. Fields as a ruthless Mr. Micawber returned like a bad penny over and again to bedevil honest folk and greedy saps and here he acted as an early kind of spin doctor/publicist for a millionaire miser, social climbing parvenu and even the Mayor of Metropolis, promising their names would be on everybody’s lips.

Of course he neglected to mention how he would accomplish the feats and drew the unwelcome attention of an always alert Action Ace…

A gang wanting to profiteer from a new medicine came to a painful end in ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Drug Swindle’ (Cameron & Dobrotka) whilst Yarbrough & Roussos resumed their illustrative endeavours for Finger’s ‘Like Father, Like Son!’ wherein Superman cleared the name and reputation of a local politician whose enemies sought to tar him with the same scandalous brush as his supposedly criminal child, and the

‘The Genie of the Lamp!’ (scripted by Schwartz) then sees the Action Ace teach a wealthy young antique collector the difference between precious objects and people in need by masquerading as a wish-fulfilling sprite…

With stunning covers by Jack Burnley, Wayne Boring, Roussos & Kaye, plus a full ‘Biographies’ section this is another stunning selection of the stories which kept the groundbreaking Man of Steel at the forefront of comics for nearly 80 years.

As fresh and thrilling now as they ever were, these endlessly re-readable epics are perfectly situated in these gloriously luxurious Archive Editions; a worthy, long-lasting vehicle for the greatest and most influential comics stories the art form has ever produced.

So what are you waiting for…?
© 1944, 1945, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League: Midsummer’s Nightmare


By Mark Waid, Fabian Nicieza, Jeff Johnson, Darick Robertson, John Holdredge, Hanibal Rodriguez & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-338-4

There are many facets 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 mid-1990s, the iconic squad which truly ushered in the return of superheroes to comics suffered one of its periodic plunges in quality and popularity and ignominiously folded.

Of course the Justice League of America is too hallowed, venerated and valuable to fester in oblivion for any length of time and was quickly reconvened in a fresh new interpretation which quickly became the breakout book of 1997, courtesy of Grant Morrison & Howard Porter (see JLA: New World Order).

However, the scene was set for them by a strikingly exuberant miniseries which acted as a reassessment and reintroduction of the World’s Greatest Superheroes. Since the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, embarrassing death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival and tapped Big Ideas wünderkind Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

However he was to a large extent riffing on groundwork laid by writers Mark Waid and Fabian Nicieza – as well as the impressive illustration of Jeff Johnson, Darick Robertson, John Holdredge & Hanibal Rodriguez – in a captivating no-nonsense miniseries which went a long way towards regenerating interest…

This slim sleek compilation (collecting Justice League: Midsummer’s Nightmare #1-3 from September-November 1996) opens with an effusive ‘Intro’ from Morrison before a world of confusion is revealed in ‘True Lies’ where comicbook artist Kyle Rayner struggles to meet the deadline for his assignment. He can’t understand why anybody would want to read about fictitious masked mystery men characters like Green Lantern when the entire planet is in the midst of a cosmic revolution.

All over earth humans are spontaneously developing super-powers as an inexplicable genetic “spark” triggers the next stage in evolution. Millions of superhumans are manifesting with no rhyme or reason whilst others seem doomed to remain merely mundane. It’s like a comicbook plot come to life…

Amongst the ordinary mortals left behind are reporter Clark Kent, philanthropist Bruce Wayne, schoolteacher Diana Prince, college lecturer Wally West and corporate compliance officer Arthur Curry. Elsewhere, separated by immeasurable gulfs, scientist J’onn J’onzz leads an idyllic life under the skies of Mars with his wife and daughter…

The dreams of all these mortals are troubled. They have vague, impossible recollections of beings colourful heroes in a world filled with their like, not this savage situation where selfish “Sparkers”, intoxicated with newfound power, squabble and bicker like bullies and thugs in a primarily plebeian universe…

In a hidden place, an immortal mastermind manipulates a super-villain the entire world has forgotten, using his power to reshape dreams to achieve an eons-long plan. However there’s far more to heroism than powers and each mentally diminished champion individually struggles to find the disturbing deeper truth they know has been somehow taken from them…

The spell of targeted amnesia starts to unravel when journalist Kent somehow survives being caught in a savage exchange between rival sparker gangs. Shocked back to Kryptonian normality he starts tracking down his vanished costumed contemporaries…

Elsewhere relative neophyte legacy heroes Wally and Kyle have their own epiphany moments as the second chapter ‘To Know a Veil’ finds a restored Superman and Batman systematically unravelling the sinister plot.

In a hidden sanctum Machiavellian Know Man further exploits the reality-warping gifts of his slave Doctor Destiny to create a team of sparkers specifically designed to eradicate the re-emergent heroes. Meanwhile Aquaman and Wonder Woman have united with the World’s Finest team in time to be ambushed by an army of sparkers. The battle is in no way certain until the restored Flash and Green Lantern pile in…

After the inconclusive clash the heroes realise they need their old telepathic team-mate back and hunt for J’onzz, eventually dragging the Martian Manhunter from his perfect dream of paradise regained in a bunker at Roswell. Having lost his world and family a second time, he is not in any mind to be merciful with his anonymous abductors…

The saga kicks into terminal high gear with ‘Daze & Knights’ as Know Man’s tailor-made sparker squad attacks only to fall as one before the brutal psychic assault of the furious and heartbroken Manhunter.

His mental capabilities then glean the whereabouts of their true foes from data buried by rebellious Dr. Destiny in Kyle’s subconscious and the fighting mad team race off to a final confrontation with their hidden enemy…

Fast-paced, action-packed and breathtakingly bold, this galvanic tale, pitting the greatest champion’s in DC’s pantheon against an immortal enemy whose roots stem back to the earliest days of the universe is a gloriously baggage-free romp and a splendid jumping on point for readers new and old alike, and this fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights foray also includes a handy information section recapitulating and assessing the characters of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter.
© 1996 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Silver Age Dailies and Sundays 1966-1967


By Whitney Ellsworth, Joe Giella, Sheldon Moldoff, Carmine Infantino & various ()
ISBN: 987-1-61377-845-6

For nearly seventy years in America the newspaper comic strip was the Holy Grail cartoonists and graphic narrative storytellers hungered for. Syndicated across the country and the planet, winning millions of readers and accepted (in most places) as a more mature and sophisticated form of literature than comic-books, it also paid better. And the Holiest of Holies was the full-colour Sunday page.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing his usual team of top-notch creators with him, the Editor stripped down the core-concept, downplaying all the ETs, outlandish villains and daft transformation tales, bringing a cool modern take to the capture of criminals whilst overseeing a streamlining rationalisation of the art style itself. The most apparent change to us kids was a yellow circle around the Bat-symbol but, far more importantly, the stories also changed. A subtle aura of genuine menace had crept back in.

At the same time Hollywood was in production of a television series based on Batman and, through the sheer karmic insanity that permeates the universe, the studio executives were basing their interpretation upon the addictively daft material DC was emphatically turning its editorial back on rather than the “New Look Batman” currently enthralling readers.

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

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

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

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

From the time when the Gotham Guardians could do no wrong comes this superb collection re-presenting the bright and breezy, intentionally zany cartoon classics augmented by a wealth of background material, topped up with oodles of unseen scenes and detail to delight the most ardent Baby-boomer nostalgia-freaks.

It opens with an astonishingly informative and astoundingly picture-packed, candidly cool introduction from comics historian Joe Desris entitled ‘A History of the Batman and Robin Newspaper Strip’, stuffed with a wealth of newspaper promotional materials, premiums and giveaways, sketches, comicbook covers and the intimate lowdown on how the strip was coordinated to work in conjunction with regular comicbooks.

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

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

In those days, black-&-white Dailies and full-colour Sundays were mostly offered as separate packages and continuity strips often ran different stories for each. With Batman the strip started out that way, but switched to unified seven-day storylines in December 1966.

For convenience, this collection begins with the Sunday-only yarns. ‘Penguin Perpetrated a Prank’ (May 29th – July 10th 1966) saw the Fowl Felon and his masked moll Beulah go on a rather uninspired crime spree, after which ‘The Nasty Napoleon’ (July 17th – October 16th) introduced a pint-sized plunderer with delusions of military grandeur and larcenous intent. Moldoff was replaced by Giella and Infantino at the end of August, if you were wondering…

“Swinging England” was almost as big a craze as Batman at this time so it was no surprise that the Dynamic Duo would hop across The Pond to meet well-meaning but bumbling imitators ‘Batchap and Bobbin’, fighting crime in the sleepy hamlet of Lemon Regis (October 23rd – December 18th) after which the Sundays were incorporated into the working week storylines…

The monochrome Dailies launched on May 30th, Ellsworth & Moldoff kicking off the festivities with a healthy dose of sex & violence as ‘Catwoman is a Wily Wench’ (running until July 9th 1966) had the sultry bandit quickly captured only to break out of jail and go on a vengeance-fuelled spree intended to end Batman’s career and life…

‘Two Jokers and a Laughing Girl’ (July 11th – September 24th) found the Clown Prince of Crime paroled into the custody of Bruce Wayne whilst secretly robbing Gotham blind by employing a body-double.

As Giella took over the art chores, it took a guest shot from Superman to iron out that macabre miscreant’s merry muddle…

Claiming he had been robbed of his rightfully stolen loot the Wily Bird brigand became ‘Penguin the Complainant’ (September 26th – October 8th), demanding his greatest enemies and the Gotham police catch a modern-day pirate plaguing him.

That led in turn to a flotilla of fists and foolishness as Batman and Robin began ‘Flying the Jolly Roger’ (October 10th – December 9th) after which Daily and Sunday segments unified as our courteous but severely outmatched Chivalrous Crusaders faced their greatest challenge from a trio of college girls – The Ivy League Dropouts.

The co-ed crooks and their floral field commander in ‘The Sizzling Saga of Poison Ivy’ (December 10th 1966-March 17th 1967) were unrelated to the psychotic poisoner created by Robert Kanigher (in Batman #181, June 1966) in everything but name…

Like its TV counterpart, the strip began increasingly featuring real-world guest stars and the bad girl’s scheme to plunder hospitality magnate Conrad Hilton’s latest enterprise – The Batman Hilton – led to comedic cross-dressing hijinks, a doomed affair for Bruce and plenty of publicity for all concerned…

The guest policy was expanded in ‘Jack Benny’s Stolen Stradivarius’ (March 18th – April 30th) as the infamously penny-pinching comedian promised the Gotham Gangbusters a thousand dollar-an-hour stipend (for charity, of course) to recover his fiddle but insisted on accompanying them everywhere to ensure they worked at top speed…

A major character debuted in ‘Batgirl Ain’t your Sister’ (May 1st – July 9th) as a masked mystery woman began prowling the night streets. She was beating up plenty of baddies but their loot never seemed to be recovered…

With no clues and nothing to go on, all Batman and Robin could do was masquerade as crooks and start robbing places in hopes of being caught by the “Dominoed Daredoll”, but by the time they found each other The Riddler had involved himself, planning to kill everybody and keep all that accumulated loot for himself…

Riding a wave and feeling ambitious, Ellsworth & Giella began their longest saga yet as ‘Shivering Blue Max, “Pretty Boy” Floy and Flo’ (running from July 10th 1967 to March 18th 1968) saw a perpetually hypothermic criminal pilot accidentally down the Batcopter and erroneously claim the underworld’s million dollar bounty on Batman and Robin.

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

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

When underworld paymaster BG (Big) Trubble heard that the heroes had returned he quite understandably started procedures to get his money back, forcing Max to return to Gotham where he stupidly fell foul of Pretty Boy before that hip young gunsel and his sister Flo kicked off a murderous scheme to fleece a horoscope addicted millionaire…

To Be Continued, Bat-Fans…

Supplementing the parade of guilty pleasures is a copious, comprehensive and fabulously educational section on ‘Notes on Stories in this Volume’ – also generously illustrated with covers, photos and show-&-strip arcana – as well as a fascinating behind-the-scenes display highlighting editorial corrections and alterations to the strips required by those ever-so-fussy TV studio people. Everything then ends for now with a schematic key to ‘The Batman Cast’ as depicted on the back cover.

The stories in this compendium reflect gentler times and an editorial policy focusing as much on broad humour as Batman’s reputation as a manhunter, so the colourful, psychotic costumed super-villains are in a minority here, but if you’re of a certain age or open to fun-over-thrills this a collection well worth your attention.

Batman: Silver Age Dailies and Sundays 1966-1967 is the first in a series of huge (305 x 236mm) lavish, high-end hardback collections starring the Gotham Gangbusters, and a welcome addition to the superb commemorative series of Library of American Comics which has preserved and re-presented in luxurious splendour such landmark strips as Li’l Abner, Tarzan, Little Orphan Annie, Terry and the Pirates, Bringing Up Father, Rip Kirby, Polly and her Pals and many other cartoon icons.

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

Green Arrow volume 1: Hunter’s Moon


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

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

Probably his most telling of many makeovers came in 1987, when, hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Returns, auteur Mike Grell was given the green (Shameless, me!) light to make him the star of DC’s second “Prestige Format Mini-Series”.

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

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

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

She went undercover to stamp out a drug ring, and he became engrossed in the hunt for a psycho-killer dubbed “The Seattle Slasher”. Ollie was also made aware of a second – cross-country – slayer who had been murdering people with arrows…

Eschewing his gaudy costume and gimmicks he reinvented himself as an urban hunter to stop such unglamorous everyday monsters, stumbling into a mystery that led back to World War II involving the Yakuza, CIA, corporate America and even the Viet Nam war…

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

The sophisticated and intricate plot – weaving themes of age, diminishing potency, vengeance and family – were another turning point in American comics and led to an ongoing series specifically targeting “Mature Readers”. The treatment and tone heavily influenced and flavoured today’s TV adaptation Arrow and has led to the release of Grell’s nigh-forgotten urban predator tales in a new range of economical trade paperbacks.

This first full-colour paperback collection, scripted by Grell with superbly efficient and powerfully understated art from Ed Hannigan, Dick Giordano & Frank McLaughlin, re-presents Green Arrow volume 2, #1-6 (February to July 1988), offering grimly realistic yarns ripped from headlines that have as much impact and relevance today as they did nearly thirty years ago…

Sparse, Spartan and devastatingly compelling, the initial tales were all constructed as two-part dramas beginning here – sans any preamble – with ‘Hunter’s Moon’ as the hunter (the series was notable in that other than on the cover, the soubriquet “Green Arrow” was never, ever used) prowls his new home dealing harshly with thugs, gangbangers and muggers before heading home to his still-traumatised girlfriend.

Black Canary was tortured for days before Ollie found her and, although the physical wounds have faded, Dinah Lance is still suffering…

She’s not the only one. Police Lieutenant Jim Cameron has just heard that child-torturing sociopath Al Muncie has used his vast beer-dynasty inheritance to buy a retrial after 18 years in prison.

The cops couldn’t get him for murdering all those “missing” kids but one lucky ten year old, after days of appalling torment, escaped and testified so Muncie’s been locked up for aggravated assault ever since. Now the heartbroken cop has to tell that brave survivor she must do it all over again…

The victim grew up to become Dr. Annie Green and she’s working wonders treating Dinah, but the therapist’s own long-suppressed terrors come flooding back when Muncie – despite being in total lockdown in his palatial house on the family brewery estate – somehow hand-delivers a little souvenir of their time together…

On hand when Annie freaks out and flees in panic, Ollie gives chase and finds her once more calm and resigned. On hearing the full story he makes a house-call on the maniac but cannot “dissuade” him from paying Annie another visit that night…

The experienced manhunter is waiting as a masked assailant tries to break in to the doctor’s apartment, but when the intruder shrugs off a steel arrow to the chest Ollie realises something’s not right…

Part Two expands the mystery of how Muncie can get past police guards at will, but by the time the Arrow has convinced the cops to raid Muncie’s den with the solution to the obsessed sociopath’s disappearing act and apparent invulnerability, the killer has already made his move.

Once again however Muncie has underestimated Annie, and her defiance buys Ollie time to intercept the hellbent human beast. After a furious chase back to the brewery the killer meets his fate in a most ironic manner…

A broad change of pace follows as ‘The Champions’ sees Ollie abducted by government spooks and pressganged into competing for a deadly prize. A joint space venture with the Chinese has resulted in a deadly “DNA-programmable” virus being created and, following the sudden destruction of the satellite lab where it was propagated, the only surviving sample has crashed onto remote San Juan Island.

With political allies turned rivals for sole possession of a bio-agent which can be set to kill anything from wheat harvests to black or yellow or white people, overt warfare would only lead to catastrophic publicity, so the political superpowers have agreed to use a gladiatorial bout as the method of deciding ownership.

Ollie has his own reasons for accepting the job. For starters he doesn’t trust any government with the DNA-hunting bug, the agents who drafted him are Russian not American and, most urgently, he has no doubt that he’ll be killed if he refuses to compete…

Equipped with a tracking device, Ollie is dumped on the island as a colossal storm starts, meeting his arrogant opposite getting off the ferry. Former CIA operative Eddie Fyers is an old foe and one of the sneakiest killers on Earth. He convinces Ollie they should work together… before double-crossing and leaving him to bleed out in a blizzard.

The archer is rescued by an archaeologist who has inadvertently picked up the fallen bio-agent pod, but as Ollie argues with his saviour over the wisdom and morality of his mission, her cabin is peppered with gunfire…

Fyers has the upper hand but suffers a sudden change of attitude when a third team ambushes him and his prisoners. It seems neither the Russians or Chinese trusted their champions…

Again forced to team up, spy and vigilante despatch the hit squad but Ollie has the very last word after finding a way to deprive everybody of the bio-sample…

Determined to challenge all manners of social inequity, Grell’s final story in this collection confronted the rise in homosexual prejudice that manifested in the wake of the AIDs crisis.

It begins after two customers leaving Dinah’s flower shop are brutally attacked by kids ordered to “gay-bash” as part of their gang initiation. The horrific crime is further compounded when Ollie discovers that Dinah’s new assistant Colin is not only a bloody-handed perpetrator but also a victim…

The Warhogs are the most powerful gang in the city, but their new induction policy is one the Arrow cannot allow to exist any longer. Any kid refusing to join is mercilessly beaten by a ‘Gauntlet’ of thugs. Those who eagerly volunteer suffer the same treatment as their initiation. And once you’re accepted as a Warhog you still have to prove your loyalty by beating – and preferably killing – a “queer”…

In the shocking conclusion Ollie, having failed to make a dent through any of his usual tactics, goes straight to the top. Big boss Reggie Mandel has big plans for the Warhogs. He’s already made them a national force to be reckoned with, but when he arrives in Seattle to check on his regional deputy Kebo, the Machiavellian schemer is confronted by a nut with a bow challenging him in his own crib…

The Arrow is keen to point out that the strictly local Warhog policy of gay hate-crimes is not only bad for business but is serving someone else’s private agenda. Reggie actually agrees with the vigilante, but before he’s prepared to take appropriate action he expects his verdant petitioner to undergo the same gauntlet any Warhog must survive before being heard…

Terse, sparse scripts, economical and immensely effective illustration and an unfailing eye for engaging controversy make these epic yarns some of the most powerful comic tales American comics ever produced. Compiled here with a cover gallery by Grell (both fully painted and line art), Hannigan & Giordano, this compulsive retooling is an epic masked mystery saga no lover of the genre will want to miss.

© 1988, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: President Lex


By J.M. DeMatteis, Joe Kelly, Jeph Loeb, Greg Rucka, Mark Schultz, Karl Kesel, Ed McGuinness, Carlo Barberi, Doug Mahnke, Mike Wieringo, Paco Medina, Tony Harris, Duncan Rouleau & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-974-4

Superman has been altered and adjusted continually over his many decades of fictive life since Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic inspiration first appeared in Action Comics #1. Moreover, every refit and reboot has resulted in appalled fans and new devotees in pretty much equal proportion, so perhaps the Metropolis Marvel’s greatest ability is the power to survive change…

Although largely out of favour these days as the myriad strands of accrued mythology are carefully reintegrating into an overarching, all-inclusive, multi-media dominant, film-favoured continuity, the grittily stripped-down, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Man of Steel (as re-imagined by John Byrne and superbly built upon by a succession of immensely talented comics craftsmen) resulted in some stunning high points.

Actually, no sooner had the Byrne restart demolished much of the accrued iconography which had grown up around the “Strange Visitor from Another World” over fifty glorious years than successive creators began expending 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.

Even so, by the mid-1990’s Byrne’s baby was beginning to look a little tired and the sales kick generated by the Death of and Return of Superman was fading, so the decision was made to give the big guy a bit of a tweak for the fast-approaching new millennium: bringing in new writers and artists and gradually moving the stories into more blockbusting, hyper-heroic territory.

The fresh tone and new look were celebrated by a new sequence and style of trade paperback editions. This fifth themed collection gathers material culled in full or in part from President Luthor Secret Files and Origins #1, Action Comics #773, Adventures of Superman #581 & 586, Superman #162-166, Superman: Man of Steel #108-110 and Superman: Lex 2000 #1, spanning June 2000 to March 2001 and detailing the improbable success of the villainous magnate as he accedes to the highest political office in the land…

“City of Tomorrow” Metropolis is now fully adapted to its status as the most technologically advanced population cluster on Earth, rebuilt and overwritten into a technological wonderland by Brainiac-13. Judiciously selling scraps of the future-tech has made Luthor immeasurably rich and oppressively influential. It has even allowed him to massage his own history: accentuating the positive and deleting the negative… or “the truth” as those who know him call it…

The blueprint to power begins with ‘The Why’ (by Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark & Ray Snyder from President Luthor Secret Files and Origins #1) picturing the provocations which inspired the nefarious businessman to throw his hat into the political ring.

Following an extract from Adventures of Superman #581 (J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Miller &Walden Wong) in which he announces his candidacy, ‘The Most Suitable Person’ (President Luthor Secret Files and Origins #1 by Rucka, Dale Eaglesham & Ray Kryssing) follows his conniving and murderous ploys as he selects Daughter-of-the-Demon Talia Al G’hul to run his various commercial enterprises while he’s running the world – and why he won’t take no for an answer…

Next comes ‘The American Dream’ (Superman #162 by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Cam Smith) which sees Lex hits the campaign trail, naming Clark Kent’s boyhood pal Pete Ross as running mate. Frustration is continually building in the Man of Steel at the impossible situation and he’s in no mood for extreme or arbitrary actions from JLA team-mate Aquaman who chooses this moment to attack Metropolis for alleged pollution crimes generated by LexCorp and the super-city…

After tackling a colossal sea monster and winning no leeway from the King of Atlantis, Superman is equally unhappy to deal with an invading aquatic army led by former Aqualad Tempest or the monstrous tidal wave generated to inundate his home town…

Even with teen terrors Young Justice lending a hand in concluding episode ‘Where Monsters Lurk!’ (Loeb, McGuinness, Paul Pelletier & Smith from Superman #163), the flood still distracts him so much he is unable to prevent Atlanteans from abducting Luthor. He is utterly aghast when the Presidential candidate negotiates his own release and even closes a deal with the repentant and conciliatory sea-dwellers…

Then the most popular man in town all but guarantees his clear road to the White House after a failed assassination attempt leaves him (barely) bloodied but proudly unbowed…

Another extract, ‘Soul of the City!’ (Adventures of Superman #586 by DeMatteis, Miller, Armando Durruthy & Wong) depicts the ultimate indignity as the defender of Truth, Justice and the American Way has to publicly congratulate his greatest enemy on becoming the new boss before ‘Metropolis is Burning’ (Superman: Man of Steel #108 by Mark Schultz, Paco Medina, Doug Mahnke, Juan Vlasco & Tom Nguyen) discloses a council of war with inventive genius John Henry Irons AKA Steel to handle the Luthor situation.

The talks are soon shanghaied by a more immediate crisis when B-13 tech terrorist Cyber-Queen Luna returns from the Phantom Zone, accidentally unleashing a Brobdingnagian energy-leeching parasite to ravage Metropolis. As the heroes deploy to defeat the beast, they are unaware of a felicitous side-effect which also frees long lost friend, genius and Luthor-loather Professor Emil Hamilton

Elsewhere, as scarily obsessed Batman warns Superman and Lois Lane to do something about President-Elect Lex, ‘Tales from the Bizarro World’ (Loeb, McGuinness, Carlo Barberi, Smith & Vlasco from Superman #164) finds safety-averse newsboy Jimmy Olsen adopted by the immensely powerful simpleton doppelganger and dragged around town until Supergirl comes bombastically to his aid…

Eventually however it takes the experience of the Man of Tomorrow to glean what the skewed duplicate needs…

From Superman: Lex 2000 #1, an assortment of vignettes follow, the first of which offers chilling insights into the mettle of the new President in warts-&-all origin yarn ‘Lex Luthor: Triumph over Tragedy’ by Loeb, Tony Harris & Snyder, after which the Dark Knight takes matters into his own gauntleted hands in ‘One or the Other’ (Rucka, Dwayne Turner & Danny Miki) and suffers a rare defeat…

Jimmy gets stuck with a tedious assignment that provides a glimpse into the nature of his work colleagues in ‘Where Were You?’ (Loeb, Mahnke & Wong), whilst Superman finally expresses his own furious frustrated emotions – thankfully off-planet – in ‘He’s Heard the News’ (Loeb, McGuinness, Barberi & Smith), before ‘Lana’s Story’ (Loeb, Todd Nauck & Klaus Janson) focuses on the feelings and fears of Superman’s first girlfriend, current wife of the new Vice President…

A seasonal jam session, Superman #165 offers a string of short guest shots as Mr. and Mrs. Superman distribute presents to the Justice League in ‘Help!’ (scripted by Loeb, with art by McGuinness & Smith, Humberto Ramos & Wayne Faucher, Rob Liefeld & norm Rapmund, Mike Wieringo & Smith, Art Adams, Ian Churchill & Rapmund and Joe Madureira & Tim Townsend).

Meanwhile time-guarding Linear Man Liri Lee heads Earthward to warn that planet Pluto has been transformed into a lethally voracious war-world…

Despite the Christmas cheer and temporary goodwill the Action Ace is slipping into despondency, losing faith with the American people who elected Lex. Happily time-bending Liri is able to show him how horrific the ‘World Without Superman’ (Superman: Man of Steel #109 by Schulz, Duncan Rouleau, Jaime Mendoza & Marlo Alquiza) would be and, re-galvanised, the hero is ready if not particularly willing to join dynamic duo Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. and Steel when grotesque invader Earthquake attempts to kill the President at his inauguration in ‘Saints’ (Superman: Man of Steel #110, Schulz, Mahnke & Nguyen)…

The campaign catalogue concludes with a brace of sidebar stories from President Luthor Secret Files and Origins #1 as ‘Rockets’ Red Glare’ (Karl Kesel, Pelletier & Smith) introduces Lex’s surprising selections for his Inner Cabinet whilst showing how he deals with aggravating old business after which ‘He’s Coming Mr. Lew-Thor’ (Loeb, Wieringo & Alquiza) wraps things up with a foreboding look at his unlikely Special Advisor Nathaniel Mackelvany

With a cover gallery by Harris, Snyder, McGuinness & Smith, Mahnke & Nguyen, Rouleau & Mendoza and Glen Orbik, this book can seem a tad confused and a little perplexing due to playing fast-and-loose epic with chronological order but all-in-all provides plenty of action, thrills and even some humour as it embarks on one of the boldest and most inventive periods in the Man of Steel’s decades-long history.

Drama, doom, shock, spectacle and feverish excitement which no lover of the Fights ‘n’ Tights genre can help but adore…
© 2000, 2001 and 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Question: Pipeline


By Greg Rucka, Cully Hamner, Laura Martin, Dave McCaig & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3041-8

The Question, as created by Steve Ditko, was Vic Sage, a driven, obsessed journalist who sought out crime and corruption irrespective of the consequences. The Charlton Comics “Action-Hero” was purchased by DC – along with a host of other cool and quirky outsiders – when the B-List company folded in 1983, and became the template for the compulsive loner Rorschach when Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons first drafted the miniseries which would become the groundbreaking Watchmen.

An ordinary man pushed to the edge by his upbringing and obsessions, Sage used his fists and a mask that made him look faceless to get answers (and, consequently, justice) whenever normal journalistic methods failed.

After a few minor successes around the DC universe Sage got a job in the town where he grew up. Hub City (purportedly based on East St. Louis) was a hell-hole, the most corrupt and morally bankrupt municipality in America. When Sage started cleaning house as The Question he was promptly killed, rescued and resurrected by the inscrutable Shiva – “World’s Deadliest Assassin”.

Crippled, he journeyed into the wilderness to be healed and trained by O’Neil’s other legendary martial arts creation, Richard Dragon.

Eventually a new type of hero returned to Hub City, philosophically inquisitive rather than merely angry and frustrated, but still cursed with a drive to understand how and why things universally go bad. Aligning himself with his old intellectual mentor and sounding board Professor Aristotle Rodor, Sage set about cleaning up “The Hub” and finally getting a few answers…

Spinning out of DC’s 52 (2006-2007) and Countdown to Final Crisis (2007-2008) mega-series, disgraced Gotham City cop Renee Montoya was groomed to take up the faceless mask and obsessions of the shadowy hero as Sage slowly succumbed to cancer.

First as his disciple and then as his heir (and after being masterfully schooled in martial arts by Richard Dragon) she took up Sage’s quest and was soon drawn into a secret war with the passionate adherents of a malign gospel of All Things Evil alternatively known as the Books of Blood or the Crime Bible.

This legendary tome was said to counter all that is good in the world and justify and codify all that is wrong. Driven by a need to understand the evils she fights and stop the spread of this monstrous belief, the new Question hunted down the remaining copies of the book and the distinct factions which protected them and promoted the terrible teachings.

Her path eventually pitted her against the secret master of the “Dark Faith”: the immortal Vandal Savage, believed by many to be the human species’ first murderer…

Collecting the stunning back-up series from Detective Comics #854-865 (August 2009 to July 2010) this globe-girdling saga of corruption and depravity by writer Greg Rucka, illustrator Cully Hamner and colourists Laura Martin and Dave McCaig begins in the aftermath of that apocalyptic confrontation, with Montoya and “Tot” Rodor ensconced in their desolate lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

They are looking for a new case; sorting through emails from a “help-offered” website they’d set up when a particular message catches Renee’s eye.

Hector Soliz is an illegal immigrant who has been searching for his sister ever since she went missing. He foolishly trusted the “coyote” who originally smuggled him into America to do the same for Louisa, but never took into account that, for men like Varga, pretty young girls have a value far beyond simple cargo to be smuggled across a closed border…

Taking the case, Renee is soon breaking into the flesh peddler’s home and dealing harshly with Varga’s brutal thugs where she finds a bed with chains and a camera set-up…

After undergoing some especially intense enquiries the coyote gives up the name of the man he eventually sold Louisa to: millionaire shipping exporter Gordon Chandless.

Breaking into the businessman’s palatial HQ isn’t much harder, but overconfidence soon costs The Question dearly as she is surprised and overpowered by hulking bodyguard Mr. Bolt and his handy tasers…

Unable to get any answers from his faceless captive, Chandless opts for her quiet removal, but by the time The Question escapes a watery death-trap and returns in a very bad mood, the wily human trafficker is already gone…

Painfully aware that she’s tracking an evil enterprise of vast proportions, Renee uses Tot’s data-mining skills to track the mogul of misery to his luxury Hollywood lair and goes in blazing, disdainful of his army of heavies. They might be utterly unable to stop the implacable Question, but two of them are capable enough to kill their own boss at the clandestine command of his master…

Despite being back at square one in regard to the criminal hierarchy, Renee does now have a location on a certain container vessel ready to ship out with a new cargo of slaves. Righteous indignation, cold fury and a lucky intervention by the FBI soon finds all of the victims safe and free – including little Louisa Soliz…

‘Pipeline: Chapter Two’ moves the story on as The Question continues her crusade to destroy the trafficking empire, slowly and violently working her way up the chain of scumbags and crushing individual enterprises whilst inexorably zeroing in on the major player behind the network of sin and misery…

Of course such costly interventions prompt the mystery leader to fight back, and during her raid on a top-of-the-range hot car franchise the bad guys retaliate with a devious and deadly ambush of their own. That’s when Montoya’s secret weapon makes her presence known and the crooks all end up maimed or worse at the hand of the relentless unforgiving Huntress

Helena Bertinelli was mob royalty but, following a massacre considered an occupational hazard in “The Family” line of work, she disappeared. The only survivor of a major hit, she trained to become a masked avenger ruthlessly punishing all gangsters whilst sticking up for innocent ordinary folk. She especially despises those who prey on children…

Huntress and the Question continue busting rackets all across the world, methodically dismantling the network as they climb the ladder to the big boss, and finally provoke an overwhelming response in the form of super-assassin Zeiss.

It was all part of a far deeper plan conceived by the vengeful vigilantes who promptly co-opt the mercenary killer to give up his unassailable paymaster. Their tactics however revolt Tot and the elderly scholar resigns.

Undeterred but now deprived of crucial technical support, the determined duo head for Gotham City where Helena introduces The Question to the top-secret leader of the all-female super-team known as the Birds of Prey. Former GCPD detective Montoya cannot believe that Commissioner Gordon’s mousey dweeb daughter Barbara was once Batgirl and is now covert anti-crime mastermind “Oracle”

Her irresistible cyber-probing soon has the dynamic duo invading an underworld server-farm in Odessa which – after the studied application of maximum force – provides a money trail to the Pipeline overlord. However when they sneak onto Oolong Island they walk straight into a trap…

The rogue state is the ultimate expression of Capitalism: peopled by criminals and the mad scientists of many nations, it maintains its precarious independence by selling proscribed technologies to anyone with money, proudly free from the annoying oversight of law or hindrance of morality…

President-for-Life Veronica Cale starts by torturing her captive heroes but after debating with The Question soon sees that the most profit doesn’t necessarily stem from staying bought…

Before long, Montoya and Bertinelli are on the final stretch: sneaking into Syria and invading the stronghold of the man who has turned humans into commodities and exported sin and horror on a global scale.

Unfortunately the wickedest man alive is ready and waiting for them…

The cataclysmic final confrontation is as much theosophical debate as brutal beat-down and in the final reckoning the allies must become enemies for the best possible reasons before finding anything approaching an acceptable answer to their dilemmas…

Moody, fast-paced, challenging and astoundingly action-packed, this stylish trade paperback edition also offers a hugely engaging ‘Sketchbook’ section from Cully Hamner offering developmental peeks into his evolution of the characters, a fascinating eight pages of layouts and roughs and some of his amazing set designs for story-locations which will delight and amaze all lovers of comic art.

Compelling and breathtaking, Pipeline exposes the dark underbelly of mainstream Fights ‘n’ Tights comics and proves that you don’t need graphic excess to tell hard-hitting tales or captivate lovers of adventure blockbusters.
© 2009, 2010, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Legion of Super-Heroes volume 5


By Cary Bates, Jim Shooter, Paul Levitz, Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4297-8

Once upon a time, a thousand years from now, a band of super-powered kids from a multitude of worlds took inspiration from the greatest legend of all time and formed a club of heroes. One day those Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited their inspiration to join them…

Thus began the vast and epic saga of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as first envisioned by writer Otto Binder & artist Al Plastino when the many-handed mob of juvenile universe-savers debuted in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), just as the revived superhero genre was gathering an inexorable head of steam in America.

Since that time the fortunes and popularity of the Legion have perpetually waxed and waned, with their future history tweaked and overwritten, retconned and rebooted over and over again to comply with editorial diktat and popular fashion.

This sturdy, cosmically-captivating fifth massive monochrome compendium gathers a chronological parade of futuristic delights from Superboy #193, 195, and Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #197-220, covering February 1973 to October 1976, as well as the debut issue of opportunistic spin-off Karate Kid #1 (March 1976) at a time when the superhero genre had again waned but which was slowly recovering to gain its current, seemingly unassailable ascendancy.

That plunge in costumed character popularity had seen the team lose their long-held lead spot in Adventure Comics, be relegated to a back-up in Action Comics and even vanish completely for a time. Legion fans however are the most passionate of an already fanatical breed…

No sooner had the LSH faded than agitation to revive them began. After a few tentative forays as an alternating back-up feature in Superboy, the game-changing artwork of Dave Cockrum inspired a fresh influx of fans and the back-up soon took over the book – exactly as they had done in the 1960s when the Tomorrow Teens took Adventure from Superboy and made it uniquely their  own…

The resurgent dramas begin here with the back-up by Cary Bates & Cockrum from Superboy #193 wherein a select team consisting of Chameleon Boy, Duo Damsel, Chemical King and Karate Kid went undercover on a distant world to prevent atomic Armageddon in ‘War Between the Nights and the Days!’

That’s followed by #195’s ‘The One-Shot Hero!’ which told the story of ERG-1 – a human converted to sentient energy in an antimatter accident. The character had been mentioned in a 1960’s tale of the Adult Legion but here Bates & Cockrum at last fleshed out his only mission and heroic sacrifice with passion and overwhelming style…

The really big change came with the July issue as the long-lived title (it had premiered in 1949 just as the Golden Age was coming to an end) became Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes with #197.

The relaunch offered a full-length extravaganza, ‘Timber Wolf: Dead Hero, Live Executioner!’ which saw the Boy of Steel summoned to the future to be greeted by a hero he believed long dead in the line of duty.

Somehow Timber Wolf has escaped the grave and triumphantly greets his old comrade, but astute Legion leader Mon-El fears some kind of trick and is proved right when the miraculous survivor goes berserk at an awards ceremony, attempting to assassinate the President of Earth.

Wolf is restrained before any harm can be done and a thorough deprogramming soon gives him a clean bill of mental health. Unfortunately that’s exactly what the team’s hidden enemy had planned and when a deeper layer of brainwashing kicks in the helpless mind-slave turns off the security systems allowing militaristic alien warlord Tyr to invade Legion HQ.

Thankfully telepathic Saturn Girl is on hand to free the mental vassal and scupper the assault, but in the scuffle Tyr’s computerised gun hand escapes, swearing vengeance…

The organisation’s greatest foes resurface with a seemingly infallible plan in #198’s ‘The Fatal Five Who Twisted Time!’ – travelling back to 1950s Smallville to plant a device which will edit the next thousand years to prevent the LSH from forming.

As second chapter ‘Prisoners of the Time Lock’ reveals, however, a squad comprising Brainiac 5, Element Lad, Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Chameleon Boy and Mon-El has already escaped to the relative safety of the time stream, determined to restore history or die with the resultant clash concluding in a ‘Countdown to Catastrophe’

With an entire issue to play with and short stories clearly popular, the format settled on alternating epics with a double-dose of vignettes. Thus issue #199 opened with ‘The Gun That Mastered Men!’ as Tyr’s computerised wonder weapon returned to liberate its creator, only to rebel at the last moment and try to take over Superboy’s body instead. With that threat comprehensively crushed, Bouncing Boy then took centre stage to relate his solo battle against Orion the Hunter in ‘The Impossible Target’

It was mere prelude to the anniversary issue #200 wherein he lost his power to hyper-inflate and had to resign. However it did allow the Bounding Bravo to propose to girlfriend Duo Damsel, unaware that she had been targeted to become ‘The Legionnaire Bride of Starfinger’

The marriage was an event tinged with grandeur and tragedy as the super-villain kidnapped her in ‘This Wife is Condemned’, attempting to emulate her powers and make an army of doppelgangers but ‘The Secret of the Starfinger Split!’ was never revealed after Superboy enacted a cunning counter-ploy…

Issue #201 featured the resurrection of ERG-1 as the energy-being reconstituted himself to save the Legion from treachery in ‘The Betrayer From Beyond’ whilst ‘The Silent Death’ saw precognitive Dream Girl infallibly predict a comrade’s imminent demise even though no hero anywhere appeared to be endangered…

Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #202 was a 100-Page Giant but only two tales were new. They were also Cockrum’s final forays in the 30th century and saw the debut of his equally impressive successor Mike Grell as inker on ‘Lost a Million Miles from Home!’

Here Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet face a perplexing mystery in deep space: an inexplicable loss of ship’s power which compels them to abandon ship in the worst possible place imaginable…

‘Wrath of the Devil-Fish’ by Bates & Cockrum was the artist’s swan song, featuring the debut of the re-designated ERG-1 as Wildfire and an eerie amphibian creature who attacked a pollution-cleansing automated Sea-Station. Of course the monster was not what he seemed and the Legion thought they might have found a unique new recruit…

Having utterly transformed the look, feel and fortunes of the Legion, Cockrum moved to Marvel where he would perform the same service for another defunct and almost forgotten series entitled X-Men

With Grell now handling the full art, our youthful Club of Champions were still on the meteoric rise, depicted as a dedicated, driven, grittily realistic combat force in constant, galaxy-threatening peril. However the super-science stalwarts still struggled against a global resurgence in spiritual soul-searching and supernatural dramas, with most of the comics industry churning out a myriad of monster and magic tales.

Thus the genre even invaded the bastions of graphic futurism in #203’s ‘Massacre by Remote Control’ (Bates & Grell) when increasing indifference and neglect caused veteran legionnaire Invisible Kid to lose his life saving his comrades.

The sadness was tinged with joy, however, as this was a twist on gothic ghost stories and the fallen hero was united with a lover from the other side of the Veil of Tears…

It was back to sensibly rational ground for SsLSH #204 and ‘The Legionnaire Nobody Remembered’, wherein the heroes explored the secrets of time traveller Anti-Lad whose accidental meddling altered history, demanding a most hands-on response to fix everything. Bates & Grell then exposed ‘Brainiac 5’s Secret Weakness!’ by reigniting his millennium-spanning romance with Supergirl

Issue #205 was another mostly-reprint 100-Page Giant but included one novel-length saga which saw 20th century Lana Lang save the assembled heroes from becoming ‘The Legion of Super-Executioners’ after the entire team was overwhelmed by a psionic immortal who patiently planned to abduct them all and breed a super-army of conquest…

‘The Legionnaires who Haunted Superboy’ led in #206 and saw Superboy visited by dead friends Invisible Kid and Ferro Lad. This time however the underlying theme was nascent cloning science not eldritch unrest and the outcome was mostly upbeat, after which ‘Welcome Home Daughter… Now Die!’ highlighted Princess Projectra’s dilemma as both modern hero with a commoner boyfriend and untouchable heir to a primitive feudal kingdom after a dutiful family visit resulted in an attack by a marauding monster…

SsLSH #207 opened with ‘The Rookie who Betrayed the Legion!’ as Science Police liaison Dvron seemingly colluded with mesmeric villain Universo whilst ‘Lightning Lad’s Day of Dread!’ saw the hero unite with his wicked brother Mekt to share a moment of personal grief.

It was but a prelude to the next issue (another 100-Page Giant) with a two pronged plan marooning Mon-El and Superboy in the 1950s whilst their comrades suffered the ‘Vengeance of the Super-Villains’ in the 30th Century. However the cunning murder-plot of Lightning Lord’s Legion of Super-Villains was not clever enough to fool Brainiac 5 of wily LSH espionage chief Chameleon Boy…

During the 1960’s the main architect of the Legion’s transformation from semi-comedic adventure feature to gritty super-battalion was teenaged sensation Jim Shooter, whose scripts and layouts (generally finished and pencilled by the astoundingly talented Curt Swan) made the series irresistible to a generation of fans growing up with their heads in the Future and tension-drenched drama on their minds.

Now, after time away getting a college education and working in advertising, Shooter returned in Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #209 with ‘Who Can Save the Princess?’ tersely detailing how Projectra succumbing to the lethal Pain Plague led her lover Karate Kid to make an ultimate sacrifice.

Bates & Grell then wrapped up the issue with a heart-warming mystery as young fan Flynt Brojj became a ‘Hero for a Day’; saving the Legion from an insidious assassination attempt…

Issue #210 was an all Shooter/Grell affair, opening with far darker fare as ‘Soljer’s Private War’ revealed how a tragic victim of World War VI was transformed by horrific circumstances and resurrected to rampage unstoppably through 30th century Metropolis after which ‘The Lair of the Black Dragon’ revealed the incredible origin of Karate Kid.

When a pack of martial artists attack the hero, their defeat leads to a further attack on the aged Sensei who trained Val Armorr from birth, and painful revelations that the Legionnaire’s birth-father was Japan’s greatest villain…

In issue #211 ‘The Ultimate Revenge’ (Shooter) saw Element Lad risk his career and honour to exact vengeance from space pirate Roxxas who exterminated the hero’s entire race whilst Bates detailed how the Legion of Substitute Heroes took possession of ‘The Legion’s Lost Home’ incidentally solving one of the most infamous cold cases in the history of theft…

Shooter was now main writer on the series and SsLSH #212 began with ‘Last Fight for a Legionnaire’ wherein a sextet of ambitious and disgruntled teens challenged Matter-Eater Lad, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Phantom Girl, Shrinking Violet and Chameleon Boy for their positions on the team – resulting in the replacement of one of veteran heroes – whilst ‘A Death Stroke at Dawn’ found ineffectual-seeming Substitute Legionnaire Night Girl rediscovering her confidence by triumphantly saving boyfriend Cosmic Boy and herself from murderous ambushers…

In #213 Ultra Boy only realised he was afflicted with a crippling psychological handicap when the hunt for infallible super-thief Benn Pares took the team into ‘The Jaws of Fear’ after which Timber Wolf overcame a far more physical threat with his rarely exercised wits when attacked by mega-thug Black Mace in ‘Trapped to Live – Free to Die!’ by Shooter, Grell and inker Bill Draut.

In #214 the heroes found ‘No Price Too High’ to save a trillionaire’s obnoxious son from himself and the deranged, disaffected employee who had taken over one of his dad’s automated manufacturing worlds before Bates, Grell & Draut revealed the deep-seated trauma which took away Shrinking Violet’s powers in ‘Stay Small – Or Die!’

Luckily for Brainiac 5, his drastic plan to shock her back to normal worked in time for her to save him from the fallout of his own callous actions…

Bates & Grell also observed ‘The Final Eclipse of Sun Boy’ in SsLSH #215, as an intangible assassin stalked Phantom Girl to Earth and was in turn followed by an unlikely and unsuspected ally, before Shooter, Grell & Draut revealed Cosmic Boy as ‘The Hero Who Wouldn’t Fight’: honouring a sacred day of penance and super-power abstinence even at the cost of his life…

Despite the comics world being in the grip of martial arts madness since 1973, DC were a little slow in making an obvious move and giving one of the oldest comicbook Kung Fu fighters his own solo title.

Karate Kid #1 launched with a March-April 1976 cover-date and plunged valiant Val Armorr back a thousand years to contemporary New York City in ‘My World Begins in Yesterday’ by Paul Levitz, Ric Estrada & Joe Staton.

The self-made warrior had crashed the time barrier to recapture arch enemy Nemesis Kid, and, after rejecting friendly advice and stern orders to return to Tomorrow, tracked and trashed his enemy with the astounded assistance of schoolteacher Iris Jacobs.

Finding the primitive milieu far more amenable than his origin era, Karate Kid unexpectedly then elected to stick around in the 20th century…

That same month SsLSH #216 saw Bates & Grell tackle a thorny issue in ‘The Hero who Hated the Legion’ as the team tried to recruit its first black member. The isolationist Tyroc and his entire long-sequestered race carried a big grudge and it took determined diplomacy and a crisis which threatened the entire island of Marzal to challenge the prejudice of centuries…

The same creative team then took a peek into ‘The Private Lives of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel’ revealing how even retired Legionnaires still had to fight for their lives on occasion.

Shooter & Grell monopolised issue #217 beginning with ‘The Charge of the Doomed Legionnaires’ wherein rapacious Khund warlord Field Marshal Lorca pitted his strategic genius against Brainiac 5 but underestimated the sheer guts of his despised foes, whilst ‘Future Shock for Superboy’ found the Teen of Steel beguiled by 30th century girl Laurel Kent, blithely unaware that he was interested in his own descendant…

Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #218 revealed how Tyroc’s induction into the team was shanghaied by Zoraz, ‘The Secret Villain the World Never Knew’ (Bates & Grell) although the neophyte soon turned the tables on the interloper, after which Shooter (with story inspiration from Ken Klaczac) disclosed ‘The Plunder Ploy of the Fatal Five’ in #219.

Here the terrifying Fatal Five went on an implausible spree of cosmic crimes, gathering items which could only be used for the creation of an all-conquering army, but when the Legion capably counterattacked they realised they’d jumped to woefully wrong conclusions…

This cavalcade of chronal capers concludes with #220 as inker Bob Wiacek joined Shooter & Grell for one final brace of bombastic blockbusters, beginning with ‘The Super Soldiers of the Slave-Maker’ wherein the Legion attempted to liberate conquered planet Murgador.

With most resistance coming from the terrified inhabitants, the astounded heroes learned that a huge bomb at the world’s core made them all helpless hostages to their alien overlord, forcing an application of subterfuge and misdirection to rectify the impossible situation…

Everything wraps up here with ‘Dream Girl’s Living Nightmare’ as Chameleon Boy tried to cheat fate and save a cosmic benefactor from death despite the infallible prediction of his precognitive comrade…

The Legion is unquestionably one of the most beloved and bewildering creations in funnybook history and largely responsible for the growth of the groundswell movement that became American Comics Fandom. Moreover, these scintillating and seductively addictive stories – as much as Julie Schwartz’s Justice League or Marvel’s Fantastic Four– fuelled the interest and imaginations of generations of readers and created the industry we all know today.

If you love comics and haven’t read this stuff, you are the poorer for it and need to feed your future dreams as soon as possible.

© 1973-1976, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Critical Condition


By J.M. DeMatteis, Joe Kelly, Jeph Loeb, Mark Schultz, Carlo Barberi, Pascual Ferry, Kano, Doug Mahnke, Mike McKone, Cary Nord, Pablo Raimondi, Duncan Rouleau & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-949-3

Superman has been altered and adjusted continually over his many decades of fictive life since Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic inspiration first appeared in Action Comics #1. Moreover, every refit and reboot has resulted in appalled fans and new devotees in pretty much equal proportion, so perhaps the Metropolis Marvel’s greatest ability is the power to survive change…

Although largely out of favour these days as the myriad strands of accrued mythology are being carefully reintegrated into an overarching, all-inclusive multi-media dominant, film-favoured continuity, the grittily stripped-down, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Man of Steel (as re-imagined by John Byrne and superbly built upon by a succession of immensely talented comics craftsmen) resulted in some stunning high points.

Actually, no sooner had the Byrne restart demolished much of the accrued iconography which had grown up around the “Strange Visitor from Another World” over fifty glorious years than successive creators began expending 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.

Even so, by the mid-1990’s Byrne’s baby was beginning to look a little tired and the sales kick generated by the Death of and Return of Superman was fading, so the decision was made to give the big guy a bit of a tweak for the fast-approaching new millennium: bringing in new writers and artists and gradually moving the stories into more bombastic, hyper-powered territory.

The fresh tone was augmented by a new sequence and style of trade paperback editions and this third collection gathers material from The Adventures of Superman #579-580, Superman: Man of Steel #101-102, Action Comics #766-767, Superman: Metropolis Secret Files and Origins #1 and Superman #158, covering June and July 2000.

The “City of Tomorrow” is slowly coming to terms with the fact that it has been transformed into an often-terrifying technological wonderland after a cyber-attack by future fiend Brainiac-13, but the Man of Steel is trying to cope with far weightier issues. Despite exposing The Parasite who had been impersonating Lois Lane-Kent, the Man of Tomorrow was unable to force the location of his missing wife from the leech before he/it died. With his one true love lost and maybe dead, Superman also had to admit that something was killing him from the inside…

‘Pranked!’ (Adventures of Superman #579 by J.M. DeMatteis, Mike McKone & Marlo Alquiza) opens proceedings here as Superman scours the city, convinced Lex Luthor knows something about Lois’ disappearance. He soon distracted however when the maniacal Prankster strikes again.

Having no time for the killer idiot’s japes, he reacts impulsively and is ambushed by a new foe dubbed The Adversary. The mystery strongman and Prankster (even with a B-13 upgrade of his own) are no match for the enraged Man of Steel, but that angry concern and overconfidence only lead Superman into a Kryptonite trap…

The saga continues in ‘All Fall Down’ (Superman: Man of Steel # 101 by Mark Shultz, Pablo Raimondi & José Marzan Jr.) as the rapidly expiring Metropolis Marvel crashes into the technological wonderland built by John Henry Irons AKA Steel.

With the inventor Superman devises a means of boosting his depleted solar energy reserves to fight off the K-radiation exposure, but rather than rest and recuperate, the weary hero then disguises himself in another attempt to broach Luthor’s Lair. The bid fails ignominiously and the ailing hero is caught, beaten and kicked out like a dog…

As he is picked up off the street by another worried ally, back at the “Steelworks”, Irons makes a chilling discovery regarding Superman’s condition…

‘Metropolica’ (Superman: Metropolis Secret Files #1, by Joe Kelly, Pascual Ferry & Alvaro Lopez) then takes us on a strange diversion as Luthor sets his formidable bodyguards Hope and Mercy the task of finding the missing Lois Lane. For once innocent of mischief, the Machiavellian multi-billionaire needs to know who is acting against his interests in his own domain.

Although the mission exposes a lot of secrets about the City of Tomorrow, Lois’ whereabouts is not one of them…

Action Comics #766 then concludes the hunt as Batman steps in – over the increasingly feeble protestations of the clearly-dying Man of Steel – in ‘D.O.A.’ (by Kelly, Cary Nord & Jason Baumgartner). The Dark Knight’s methodology and attitudes might be unwelcome, but as Superman follows him through the most sordid and squalid regions of the city he cannot fault their efficacy; especially when, against all hope, they find Lois alive.

With his wife at last returned Superman’s energy finally fades and he collapses…

The eponymous ‘Critical Condition’ then begins with ‘Little Big Man’ (from Superman #158 by Jeph Loeb, Duncan Rouleau & Jaime Mendoza) as a desperate band of scientists assemble at S.T.A.R. Labs to try and save Superman from a poison or infection which is destroying him by making his powers go wild.

With Irons are Doctors Sarah Charles, Kitty (Rampage) Faulkner and Professors Bridgette Crosby and Ray Palmer, but their combined efforts seem doomed to failure until Jimmy Olsen tells Lois of a call to the Daily Planet tip-line.

Soon she is frantically chasing sorceress and petty criminal La Encantadora who has horrifying details about what is wrong with the Man of Steel…

Palmer meanwhile has opted to undertake a “Fantastic Voyage” inside Superman, accompanied by Steel, Supergirl and Superboy but as the Atom shrinks his emergency team into the patient’s boiling hot bloodstream he has no idea that more than one of his party is concealing a deadly secret…

In ‘Green Universe’ (Adventures of Superman #580, by J.M. DeMatteis, Carlo Barberi & Juan Vlasco) the Girl of Steel – currently the earthly abode of a fallen angel – is attacked by antibodies shaped like memories even as Superboy and Steel locate a Kryptonite tumour that suddenly attacks them…

In the outer universe Lois’ search for Encantadora has brought her into conflict with infallible assassin Deathstroke the Terminator, who has instructions to stop the witch sharing her knowledge at all costs. As the women flee the masked killer, back at the lab a late arrival proves to Palmer that one of the heroes he has micro-injected into Superman is both an impostor and an assassin…

With the patient alternately flatlining and nearly exploding, the latecomer is rapidly “atomised” and sent ‘Inside Superman’ (Shultz, Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen, Superman: Man of Steel #102) to warn the unwary Super-Squad.

Simultaneously Lois and Encantadora explosively arrive in time to inform the scientists what has been gradually poisoning Superman for months, but before Atom and his colleagues can act Deathstroke also bursts in, ready to kill everyone if it means the Action Ace’s end…

Everything comes to a compulsive and catastrophic climax in ‘Death’s Door’ (Action Comics #767, by Kelly, Kano & Alquiza) as the mystery poisoner is revealed, Terminator thwarted and the Super-Squad triumphantly restores Superman to full health, ready for the next confrontation in the Never-Ending Battle…

With a cover gallery by McKone, Alquiza, Manke, Nguyen, Schultz, Cam Smith, Danny Miki, Ian Churchill & Norm Rapmund, this epic life-and-death struggle offers drama, doom, shock, spectacle and surprises which no lover of the Fights ‘n’ Tights genre can help but adore: a compelling soap opera super-melodrama which remains a high point of the canon and a sheer delight for all fans of pure untrammelled Action fiction.
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