Justice League International volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

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

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman volume 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman: The Golden Age volume 3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at an absurdly affordable price. How can you possibly resist them?
© 1941, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Joker: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson and many & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4759-1

When the very concept of high priced graphic novels was just being shelf-tested way back in in the late 1980s, DC Comics produced a line of glorious full-colour hardback compilations spotlighting star characters and celebrating standout stories decade by decade from the company’s illustrious and varied history.

They then branched out into themed collections which shaped the output of the industry to this day; such as a fabulous congregation of yarns which offer equal billing and star status to one of the most enduring arch-foes in fiction: The Maestro of Malignant Mirth known only as The Joker.

So much a mirror of and paralleling the evolution of the epochal Batman, the exploits of the Joker are preceded here by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in the villain’s development, beginning with the years 1940-1942 and Part I: The Grim Jester.

After deconstruction comes sinister action as debut appearance ‘Batman Vs. The Joker’ (by Bill Finger & Bob Kane from Batman #1, Spring 1940) provides suspenseful entertainment whilst introducing the most diabolical member of the Dark Knight’s rogues’ gallery. A chilling moody tale of brazen extortion and wilful wanton murder begins when an eerie character publicly announces that he will kill certain business and civic figures at specific times…

An instant hit, the malignant murdering Joker kept coming back. ‘The Riddle of the Missing Card’ (Finger, Kane & Jerry Robinson, Batman #5 1941) once again saw the Crime Clown pursue loot and slaughter, but this time with a gang of card-themed crooks at his side. It did not end well for the whimsical butcher…

Fame secured, the Devil’s Jester quickly became an over-exposed victim of his own nefarious success. In story terms that meant seeking to “reform” and start over with a clean slate. Turning himself in, the maniac grasses on many criminal confederates but ‘The Joker Walks the Last Mile’ (Finger, Kane & Robinson, Detective Comics #64 June 1942) soon shows that tousled viridian head twisting inexorably back towards murderous larceny…

As years passed and tastes changed, the Laughing Killer mellowed into a bizarrely baroque bandit and Part II: The Clown Prince assesses that alteration, before providing fascinating examples beginning with ‘Knights of Knavery’ from Batman #25 (1944 by Don Cameron, Jack Burnley & Robinson).

Here he and arch-rival The Penguin fractiously join forces to steal the world’s biggest emerald and outwit all opposition, before falling foul of their own mistrust and arrogance once the Caped Crusaders put their own thinking caps on.

‘Rackety-Rax Racket’ Batman #32 (1945 by Cameron & Dick Sprang) is another malevolently marvellous exploit which sees the ideas-starved Prankster of Peril finding felonious inspiration in college-student hazing and initiation stunts, after which ‘The Man Behind the Red Hood’ (Detective Comics #168, February 1951) reveals a partial origin as part of a brilliantly engrossing mystery by Finger, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Win Mortimer, which all began when the Caped Crusader regales eager young criminology students with the story of “the one who got away”… just before the fiend suddenly came back…

In ‘The Joker’s Millions’ (Detective Comics #180, February1952) pulp sci fi writer David Vern Reed, Sprang & Charles Paris provide a gloriously engaging saga disclosing how the villain’s greatest crime rival took revenge from the grave by leaving the Harlequin of Hate too rich to commit capers.

It was all a vindictive double-barrelled scheme though, making the Joker a patsy and twice a fool as the Caped Crusaders eventually find to their great amusement…

Then from World’s Finest Comics #61 (November 1952) Reed, Kane, Schwartz & Paris perpetrate ‘The Crimes of Batman’ as Robin is taken hostage and the Gotham Gangbuster is compelled to commit a string of felonies to preserve the lad’s life. Or so the Joker vainly hopes…

‘Batman – Clown of Crime’ (Batman #85, August 1954 by Reed, Sheldon Moldoff & Paris) captures the dichotomy of reason versus chaos as the eternal arch enemies’ minds are swapped in a scientific accident. Soon a law-abiding Joker and baffled Robin are hunting down a madcap loon with the ultimate weapon at his disposal, the secret of the Gotham Guardian’s true identity

The Silver Age of comicbooks utterly revolutionised a flagging medium, bringing a modicum of sophistication to the returning sub-genre of masked mystery men. However, for quite some time the changes instigated by Julius Schwartz in Showcase #4 – which rippled out to affect all National/DC Comics’ superhero characters – generally passed Batman and Robin by.

Fans buying Batman, Detective Comics, World’s Finest Comics and even Justice League of America would read adventures that in look and tone were largely unchanged from the safely anodyne fantasies that had turned the grim Dark Knight into a mystery-solving, alien-fighting costumed Boy Scout as the 1940s turned into the1950s.

By the end of 1963, Schwartz – having either personally or by example revived and revitalised much of DC’s line and by extension the entire industry with his modernizations – was asked to work his magic with the creatively stalled and nigh-moribund Caped Crusaders just as they were being readied for mainstream global stardom.

‘The Joker’s Jury’ (Batman #163 May 1963) by Finger, Moldoff & Paris was the last sight of the Clown before his numerous appearances on the blockbuster Batman TV show warped the villain and left him unusable for years…

Here, however, Robin and his mentor are trapped in the criminal enclave of Jokerville, where every citizen is a fugitive bad-guy dressed up as the Clown Prince and where all lawmen are outlaws…

The story of the how the Joker was redeemed as a metaphor for terror and evil is covered in Part III: The Harlequin of Hate and thereafter confirmed by the single story which undid all that typecasting damage.

‘The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge’ (Batman #251 September 1973 by Dennis O’Neil & Neal Adams) reversed the zany, “camp” image by re-branding the characters and returning to the original 1930s concept of a grim and driven Dark Avenger chasing an insane avatar of pure evil.

Such a hero needs far deadlier villains and, by reinstating the psychotic, diabolically unpredictable Killer Clown who scared the short pants off the readers of the Golden Age, set the bar high. A true milestone that utterly redefined the Joker for the modern age: the frantic saga sees the Mirthful Maniac stalking his old gang, determined to eradicate them all with the hard-pressed Gotham Guardian desperately playing catch-up. As the crooks die in all manner of Byzantine and bizarre ways, Batman realises his arch-foe has gone irrevocably off the deep end.

Terrifying and beautiful, for many fans this is the definitive Batman/Joker story.

The main contender for that prize follows. ‘The Laughing Fish/The Sign of the Joker’ appeared in Detective Comics #475-476 (February and April 1978) concluding a breathtaking signature run of retro tales by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers & Terry Austin

The absolute zenith in a short but stellar sequence resurrecting old foes naturally starred the Dark Knight’s nemesis at his most chaotic; beginning with ‘The Laughing Fish’ before culminating in ‘The Sign of the Joker!’, comprising one of the most reprinted Bat-tales ever concocted and even adapted as an episode of the award-winning Batman: The Animated Adventures TV show in the 1990s.

In fact, you’ve probably already read it. But if you haven’t… what a treat you have awaiting you!

As fish with the Joker’s horrific smile began turning up in sea-catches all over the Eastern Seaboard, the Clown Prince attempts to trademark them. When patent officials foolishly tell him it can’t be done, they start dying… publicly, impossibly and incredibly painfully…

The story then culminated in a spectacular apocalyptic clash which shaped, informed and redefined the Batman mythos for decades to come…

Although Crisis on Infinite Earths transformed the entire DC Universe it left the Joker largely unchanged, however it did narratively set the clock back far enough to present fresher versions of most characters.

‘To Laugh and Die in Metropolis’ comes from Superman volume 2 #9 (September1987) wherein John Byrne & Karl Kesel reveal how the Malicious Mountebank challenges the Man of Steel for the first time. The result is a captivating but bloody battle of wits, with the hero’s friends and acquaintances all in the killer clown’s crosshairs…

The next (frustratingly incomplete) snippet comes from one of the most effective publicity stunts in DC’s history.

Despite decades of wanting to be “taken seriously” by the wider world, every so often a comicbook event gets away from editors and publishers and takes on a life of its own. This usually does not end well for our beloved art form, as the way the greater world views the comics microcosm is seldom how we insiders and cognoscenti see it.

One of the most controversial sagas of the last century saw an intriguing marketing stunt go spectacularly off the rails – for all the wrong reasons – and become instantly notorious whilst sadly masking the real merits of the piece.

‘A Death in the Family’ Chapter Four originated in Batman #427 (December 1988), concocted by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo and needs a bit more background than usual…

Robin, the Boy Wonder debuted in Detective Comics#38 (April 1940) created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger & Jerry Robinson. He was a juvenile circus acrobat whose parents were murdered by a mob boss. The story of how Batman took the orphaned Dick Grayson under his scalloped wing and trained him to fight crime has been told, retold and revised many times over the decades and still undergoes the odd tweaking to this day

The child Grayson fought beside Batman until 1970 when, as a sign of the turbulent times, he flew the nest, becoming a Teen Wonder and college student. His invention as a junior hero for younger readers to identify with had inspired an incomprehensible number of costumed sidekicks and kid crusaders, and Grayson continued in similar vein for the older, more worldly-wise readership of America’s increasingly rebellious youth culture.

During the 1980s the young hero led the New Teen Titans, re-established a turbulent working relationship with Batman and reinvented himself as Nightwing. This of course left the post of Robin open…

After Grayson’s departure Batman worked alone until he caught a streetwise young urchin trying to steal the Batmobile’s tires. Debuting in Batman#357 (March 1983) this lost boy was Jason Todd, and eventually the little thug became the second Boy Wonder (#368, February 1984), with a short but stellar career, marred by his impetuosity and tragic links to one of the Caped Crusader’s most unpredictable foes…

Todd had some serious emotional problems which became increasingly apparent in the issues leading up to ‘A Death in the Family’ story arc. As the street kid became more callous and brutal in response to the daily horrors he was exposed to he deliberately caused the death of a vicious drug-dealer with diplomatic immunity. Jason then began a guilty spiral culminating in the story-arc which comprised Batman#426-429.

Ever more violent and seemingly incapable of rudimentary caution, Jason is suspended by Batman. Meanwhile the Joker is returns, but rather than his usual killing frenzy, the Clown Prince is after mere cash, because the financial disaster of “Reaganomics” has depleted his coffers – meaning he can’t afford his outrageous murder gimmicks…

Without purpose, Jason has been wandering the streets where he grew up. Encountering a friend of his dead mother, he learns a shocking secret. The woman who raised him was not his birth-mother, and there exists a box of personal papers indicating three different women who might be his true mother.

Lost and emotionally volatile Jason sets out to track them down…

After monumental efforts, he locates Dr. Sheila Haywood working as a famine relief worker in Ethiopia. As Jason heads for the Middle East and a confrontation with destiny, he is unaware that Batman is also in that troubled region, hot on the Joker’s trail since the Maniac of Mirth is attempting to sell stolen nuclear weapons to any terrorist who can pay…

When Jason finds his mother, he has no idea that she has been blackmailed into a deadly scam involving stolen relief supplies by the Clown Prince of Crime…

I’m not going to bother with the details of the voting fiasco that plagues all references to this tale as it’s all copiously detailed elsewhere, but suffice to say that to test then-new marketing tools a 1-900 number was established and, thanks to an advanced press campaign, readers were offered the chance to vote on whether Robin would live or die in the story.

Against every editorial expectation vox populi voted thumbs down and Jason died in a most savage and uncompromising manner….

The kid had increasingly become a poor fit in the series and this storyline galvanised a new direction with a darker, more driven Batman, beginning almost immediately as the Joker, after killing Jason in a chilling and unforgettably violent manner, became UN ambassador for Iran (later revised as the fully fictional Qurac – just in case…) and at the request of the Ayatollah himself attempted to kill the entire UN General Assembly during his inaugural speech…

And here is the true injustice surrounding this tale: the death of Robin (who didn’t even stay dead) and the media uproar over the voting debacle took away from the real importance of this story – and perhaps deflected some real scrutiny and controversy. Starlin had crafted a clever and bold tale of real world politics and genuine issues which most readers didn’t even notice.

Terrorism Training Camps, Rogue States, African famines, black marketeering, Relief fraud, Economic, Race and Class warfare, Diplomatic skullduggery and nuclear smuggling all featured heavily, as did such notable hot-button topics as Ayatollah Khomeini, Reagan’s Cruise Missile program, the Iran-Contra and Arms for Hostages scandals and the horrors of Ethiopian refugee camps. Most importantly it signaled a new and fearfully casual approach to violence and death in comics-books.

The story selected to represent the lad here is a poor choice, however. This is not to say that ‘A Death in the Family’ is a lesser tale: far from it, and Starlin, Aparo & DeCarlo’s landmark, controversial story of the murder of brash, bright Jason Todd by the Joker shook the industry and still stands the test of time.

However, all that’s included here is the final chapter, and even I, having read it many times, was bewildered as to what was going on.

If you want to see the entire saga – and trust me, you do – seek out a copy of the complete A Death in the Family

In 1989 Batman broke box office records in the first of a series of big budget action movies. The Joker was the villain du jour and stole the show. That increased public awareness again influenced the comics and is covered in Part IV: Archnemesis before ‘Going Sane’ Part Two ‘Swimming Lessons’ provides a fresh look at the motivations behind the maniacal madness.

The story comes from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #66 (December 1994) LoDK began in the frenzied atmosphere following the movie. With planet Earth completely Bat-crazy for the second time in 25 years, DC wisely supplemented the Gotham Guardian’s regular stable of titles with a new one specifically designed to focus on and redefine his early days and cases through succession of retuned, retold classic stories.

Three years earlier the publisher had boldly begun retconning their entire ponderous continuity via the landmark maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths; rejecting the concept of a vast multiverse and re-knitting time so that there had only ever been one Earth.

For new readers, this solitary DC world provided a perfect place to jump on at a notional starting point: a planet literally festooned with iconic heroes and villains draped in a clear and cogent backstory that was now fresh and newly unfolding.

Many of their greatest properties were graced with a reboot, all enjoying the tacit conceit that the characters had been around for years and the readership were simply tuning in on just another working day.

Batman’s popularity was at an intoxicating peak and, as DC was still in the throes of re-jigging narrative continuity, his latest title presented multi-part epics reconfiguring established villains and classic stories: infilling the new history of the re-imagined, post-Crisis hero and his entourage.

An old adage says that you can judge a person by the calibre of their enemies, and that’s never been more ably demonstrated than in the case of Batman and The Joker. The epic battles between these so similar yet utterly antithetical icons have filled many pages and always will…

With that in mind, 4-part psychological study ‘Going Sane’ by J.M. DeMatteis, Joe Staton & Steve Mitchell takes us back to a time when Batman was still learning his job and had only crossed swords with the Clown Prince of Crime twice before…

After a murderously macabre circus-themed killing-spree in the idyllic neighbourhood of Park Ridge and abduction of crusading Gotham Councilwoman Elizabeth Kenner, a far-too-emotionally invested Batman furiously plays catch-up. This leads to a disastrous one-sided battle in front of GCPD’s Bat signal and a frantic pursuit into the dark woods beyond the city.

Driven to a pinnacle of outrage, the neophyte manhunter falls into the Joker’s devilishly prepared trap and is caught in an horrific explosion. His shattered body is then dumped in the by an incredulous, unbelieving killer clown reeling in shock at his utterly unexpected ultimate triumph…

Stand-alone extract ‘Swimming Lessons’ opens here with Batman missing and Police Captain James Gordon taking flak from all sides for not finding the Predatory Punchinello or the savage mystery assailant who recently murdered an infamous underworld plastic surgeon…

Under Wayne Manor faithful manservant Alfred fears the very worst whilst in a cheap part of town thoroughly decent nonentity Joseph Kerr suffers terrifying nightmares of murder and madness.

His solitary days end when he bumps into mousy spinster Rebecca Brown. Days pass and the two lonely outcasts find love in their mutual isolation and a shared affection for classic slapstick comedy. The only shadows blighting this unlikely romance are poor Joe’s continual nightmares and occasional outbursts of barely suppressed rage…

As days turn to weeks and then months, Alfred sorrowfully accepts the situation and prepares to close the Batcave forever. As he descends, however, he is astounded to see the Dark Knight has returned…

The story of Joe Kerr – fictive product of a deranged mind which simply couldn’t face life without Batman – is another yarn readers will want to experience in full, but that too will only happen in a different collection…

The World’s Greatest Detective continues to relentlessly battle the Clown Prince in ‘Fool’s Errand’ (Detective Comics #726, October 1998) as Chuck Dixon & Brian Stelfreeze depict a vicious mind-game conducted by the Hateful Harlequin from his cell, using a little girl as bait and an army of criminals as his weapon against the Dark Knight after which ‘Endgame’ Part Three ‘…Sleep in Heavenly Peace’ (Detective Comics #741 February 2000 by Greg Rucka, Devin Grayson, Damian Scott, Dale Eaglesham, Sean Parsons, Sal Buscema & Rob Hunter) sees the Joker plaguing a Gotham City struggling to recover from a cataclysmic earthquake.

It’s Christmas but the stubborn survivors are so stretched striving to stop The Joker’s plan to butcher all the babies left in town they are unable to notice that his real scheme will gouge a far more personal wound in their hearts…

‘Slayride’ by Paul Dini, Don Kramer & Wayne Faucher (Detective Comics #826 February 2007 and another Seasonal special) is one of the best Joker – and definitely the best Robin – stories in decades. This Christmas horror story sees our Crazed Clown trap third Boy Wonder Tim Drake in a stolen car, making him an unwilling participant in a spree of vehicular homicides amongst the last-minute shoppers.

If there is ever a Greatest Batman Christmas Stories Ever Told collection (and if there’s anybody out there with the power to make it so, get weaving please!), this just has to be the closing chapter….

Brining us up to date Part V: Rebirth focuses on the 2011 New 52 continuity-wide reboot and an even grimmer, Darker Knight who debuted in Detective Comics volume 2 #1 with what might be assumed to be the last Joker story. As crafted by Tony Daniel & Ryan Winn, ‘Faces of Death’ follows the mass-murdering malcontent on another pointless murder spree which culminates in his apparent death, leaving behind only his freshly skinned-off face nailed bloodily to an asylum wall…

A year later the Joker explosively returned, mercilessly targeting all of Batman’s allies in a company-wide crossover event dubbed Death of the Family. The crippling mind-games and brutal assaults culminated in ‘But Here’s the Kicker’ (Batman #15, February 2013 by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo & Jonathan Glapion) and purportedly the final battle between Bat and Clown: but we’ve all heard that before, haven’t we…?

The Joker has the rare distinction of being arguably the most iconic villain in comics and can claim that title in whatever era you choose to concentrate on; Noir-esque Golden Age, sanitised Silver Age or malignant modern and Post-Modern milieus. This book captures just a fraction of all those superb stories…

Including pertinent covers by Sayre Swartz & Roussos, Mortimer, Moldoff, Adams, Rogers & Austin, Byrne, Mike Mignola, Staton & Mitchell, Stelfreeze, Alex Maleev & Bill Sienkiewicz, Simone Bianchi, Daniel & Winn and Capullo, this monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a good bad-guy is a true delight for fans of all ages and vintage.
© 1940, 1941, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1951, 1952, 1954, 1964, 1973, 1978, 1987, 1988, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures of Superman volume 2


By J.T. Krul, David Lapham, Tim Seeley, Marc Guggenheim, Christos Gage, Derek Fridolfs, Josh Elder, Marcus To, Mike Norton, Joe Bennett, Belardino Brabo, Eduardo Francisco, Sean Galloway, Victor Ibáñez, & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5036-2

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

Since June 1938 he has grown into a mighty presence in all aspects of art, culture and commerce, even as his natal comicbook universe organically grew and expanded. Moreover, as befits such an evergreen icon, periodically the Man of Tomorrow has been radically rebooted, such as in the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earth in 1985-86.

There have been subsequent minor tweaks in that continuity to accommodate different creators’ tenures until 2011 when DC drastically and emphatically re-imagined their entire comics line once more. Superman and his universe underwent a radical, fan-infuriating all-encompassing revivification.

Probably to mitigate the fallout, DC latterly triggered a number of fall-back options such as this intriguing package…

Adventures of Superman began as a “digital first” series appearing online before later gathering chapters into issues of a new standard comicbook. As conceived and concocted by a fluctuating roster of artists and writers, the contents featured previous eras and incarnations of the Man of Steel’s stellar career – plus some wildly innovative alternative visions – offering a wide variety of thrilling, engaging and sincerely fun-filled moments for both old-timers and neophytes to treasure.

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

This second full-colour paperback collection contains Adventures of Superman 6-10 (December 2013-April 2014) and opens with ‘Like Father, Like Son’ by J.T. Krul & Marcus To, wherein an AI recording of expired Kryptonian sire Jor-El seeks to convince Earth’s greatest champion that he is demeaning himself and his heritage by acting as a defender of primitives.

The moral dilemma takes a dark turn when Phantom Zone convict General Zod adds his own sinister spin to the debate just as all-conquering alien marauder Mongul attacks Earth, but as always, sound and sensible Earthly foster-father Jonathan Kent has the last word and best advice…

Multi-talented David Lapham weaves a different ethical quandary in ‘Saved!’ as, after defeating crafty cyborg Metallo, Superman must convince a growing army of disturbed humans that he is not a personal interventionist god ever-ready to preserve their lives from every mistake or suicide attempt…

In ‘Space, Actually’ (by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton) the Man of Tomorrow defers a battle with fellow superheroes J’onn J’onzz and Wonder Woman against Darkseid to salve the woes of a little Russian orphan before ‘Tears for Krypton’ (Marc Guggenheim, Joe Bennett & Belardino Brabo) takes the mighty Action Ace to his impossibly still-thriving birthworld and reunion with his bereaved father Jor-El. Tragically, the bittersweet return is only a trap laid by Superman’s greatest enemy…

Daniel Keyes’ seminal 1958 science fiction tearjerker potently informs Christos Gage & Eduardo Francisco’s ‘Flowers for Bizarro’ as the monstrous misunderstood Superman doppelganger undergoes a scientific process that corrects his skewed, backwards-working brain processes. Soon the menace is a hero, but then the procedure starts to misfire…

After dealing with aggravating arch-enemies such as Lex Luthor and Brainiac, Superman faces a true horror after meeting a bullied boy dying of an incurable ailment in Derek Fridolfs & Sean “Cheeks” Galloway’s ‘In Care of’ before Josh Elder & Victor Ibáñez wrap things up with a fierce battles and more sentimental moral challenges as ‘Dear Superman’ brings the Man of Steel to a children’s cancer ward…

Augmented by a spectacular cover gallery from Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Bennett, Brabo & Jason Wright, Dan Panosian and Galloway, this is a spectacular celebration of Superman’s indisputably infinite variety which has resulted in decades of sheer delight for adventure addicts and promises even more to come for future generations.
© 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Diana Prince, Wonder Woman volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DC Comics Classics Library: The Flash of Two Worlds


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern readers who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic…
© 1963, 1964, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: Amazonia – A Tale of the Wonder Woman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total Fights ‘n’ Tights future shock in the best way possible
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