Batman: The Golden Age volume 1


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Whitney Ellsworth, Sheldon Moldoff, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6333-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Vintage Comicbook Perfection… 10/10

For anyone who’s read more than a few of these posts, my tastes should be fairly apparent, but in case you’re in any doubt, here’s a flat-out confession: I’m that shabby, possibly crazy old geezer muttering at the checkout about how things were better before, and all new things are crap and not the same and…

You get the picture. Now, ignore all that. It’s true but it’s not relevant here.

Batman: The Golden Age is the latest paperback-format (there’s also a weightier, pricier but more capacious hardback Omnibus available) re-presentation of the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Set in original chronological order, it forgoes glossy, high-definition paper and reproduction techniques in favour of a newsprint-adjacent feel and the same flat, bright-yet-muted colour palette which graced the originals.

There’s no fuss, fiddle or Foreword, and the book steams straight into the meat of the matter with the accumulated first year and a half of material masked mystery-man plus all those stunning covers spanning Detective Comics #27-45; Batman #1-3 and the Dynamic Duo’s story from New York World’s Fair Comics 1940; cumulatively covering all the groundbreaking escapades from May 1939-November 1940.

As Eny Fule Kno, Detective #27 spotlighted the Gotham Guardian’s debut in the ‘Case of the Chemical Syndicate!’ by Bob Kane and close collaborator/co-originator Bill Finger.

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

The next issue saw the fugitive vigilante return to crush ‘Frenchy Blake’s Jewel Gang’ before encountering his very first psychopathic killer and returning villain in Detective #29. Gardner Fox scripted the next few adventures beginning with ‘The Batman Meets Doctor Death’, featuring a deadly duel of wits with deranged, greedy general practitioner Karl Hellfern and his assorted instruments of murder: the most destructive and diabolical of which was sinister Asiatic manservant Jabah

Confident of their new villain’s potential, Kane, Fox and inker Sheldon Mayer encored the mad medic for the next instalment in ‘The Return of Doctor Death’, before Fox and Finger co-scripted a 2-part shocker which introduced the first bat-plane, Bruce’s girlfriend Julie Madison and undead horror The Monk in an expansive, globe-girdling spooky saga. ‘Batman Versus the Vampire’ concluded in an epic chase across Eastern Europe and a spectacular climax in a monster-filled castle in issue #32.

Detective Comics #33 featured Fox & Kane’s ‘The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom’: a blockbusting disaster thriller which just casually slipped in the secret origin of the Gotham Guardian, as mere prelude to intoxicating air-pirate action, after which Euro-trash dastard Duc D’Orterre found his uncanny science and unsavoury appetites no match for the mighty Batman in ‘Peril in Paris’.

Bill Finger returned as lead scripter in issue #35, pitting the Cowled Crusader against crazed cultists murdering everyone who had seen their sacred jewel in ‘The Case of the Ruby Idol’ – although the many deaths were actually caused by a far more prosaic villain, after which grotesque criminal genius ‘Professor Hugo Strange’ (inked by new kid Jerry Robinson) debuted with his murderous man-made fog and lightning machine in #36, and all-pervasive enemy agents ‘The Spies’ ultimately proved no match for the vengeful masked Manhunter in #37.

Detective Comics #38 (April 1940) changed the landscape of comicbooks forever with the introduction of ‘Robin, The Boy Wonder’: child trapeze artist Dick Grayson whose parents were murdered before his eyes and who thereafter joined Batman in a lifelong quest for justice, by bringing to justice mobster mad dog Boss Zucco

After the Flying Grayson’s killers were captured, Batman #1 (Spring 1940) opened proceedings with a recycled origin culled from portions of Detective Comics #33 and 34. ‘The Legend of the Batman – Who He Is and How He Came to Be!’ by Fox, Kane & Moldoff offered in two perfect pages what is still the best ever origin of the character, after which ‘The Joker’ (Finger, Kane & Robinson – who produced all the remaining tales in this astonishing premiere issue) introduced the greatest villain in DC’s criminal pantheon via a stunning tale of extortion and wilful wanton murder.

‘Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters’ follows as the old adversary returns with laboratory-grown hyperthyroid horrors to rampage through the terrified city and ‘The Cat’ – who later added the suffix ‘Woman’ to her name to avoid any possible doubt or confusion – plied her felonious trade of jewel theft aboard the wrong cruise-liner and fell foul for the first time of the dashing Dynamic Duo.

The initial issue ends with the ‘The Joker Returns’ as the sinister clown breaks jail to resume his terrifying campaign of murder for fun and profit before “dying” in mortal combat with the Gotham Guardian.

Following a superb pin-up (originally the back cover of the premier issue) of the Dynamic Duo by Kane, the tense suspense and all-out action continues with Detective #39 and ‘The Horde of the Green Dragon’ – oriental Tong killers in Chinatown – by Finger, Kane & Robinson, after which ‘Beware of Clayface!’ finds the Dynamic Duo solving a string of murders on a film set which almost sees Julie Madison the latest victim of a monstrous movie maniac…

Batman and Robin solved the baffling mystery of a kidnapped boy in Detective #41’s ‘A Master Murderer’ before enjoying their second solo outing in four comics classics from Batman #2 (Summer 1940).

It begins with ‘Joker Meets Cat-Woman’ (Finger, Kane, Robinson & new find George Roussos) wherein svelte thief, homicidal jester and a crime syndicate all tussle for the same treasure with the Caped Crusaders caught in the middle.

‘Wolf, the Crime Master’ offers a fascinating take on the classic Jekyll & Hyde tragedy after which an insidious and ingenious murder-mystery ensues in ‘The Case of the Clubfoot Murderers’ before Batman and Robin confront uncanny savages and ruthless showbiz promoters in poignant monster story ‘The Case of the Missing Link’.

‘Batman and Robin Visit the New York World’s Fair’ comes from the second New York World’s Fair Comics. Finger, Kane & Roussos followed the vacationing Dynamic Duo as they track down a maniac mastermind with a metal-dissolving ray, after which Detective Comics #42 again finds our heroes ending another murder maniac’s rampage in ‘The Case of the Prophetic Pictures!’ before clashing with a corrupt mayor in #43’s ‘The Case of the City of Terror!’

An unparallelled hit, Batman stories never rested on their laurels. The creators always sought to expand their parameters as with Detective #44 and a nightmarish fantasy of giants and goblins in ‘The Land Behind the Light!’, after which Batman #3 (Fall 1940) has Finger, Kane, Robinson & Roussos rise to even greater heights, beginning with ‘The Strange Case of the Diabolical Puppet Master’: an eerie episode of uncanny mesmerism and infamous espionage…

Then a grisly scheme ensues as innocent citizens are mysteriously transformed into specimens of horror and artworks destroyed by the spiteful commands of ‘The Ugliest Man in the World’ before ‘The Crime School for Boys!!’ sees Robin infiltrate a gang who have a cruel and cunning recruitment plan for dead-end kids…

‘The Batman vs. the Cat-Woman’ then reveals the larcenous lady in well over her head when she steals for – and from – the wrong people…

The issue also offered a worthy Special Feature as ‘The Batman Says’ presented an illustrated prose Law & Order pep-talk crafted by Whitney Ellsworth and illustrated by Robinson…

The all-out action concludes here with a magnificent and horrific Joker jape from Detective Comics #45 as ‘The Case of the Laughing Death’ displays the Harlequin of Hate undertaking a campaign of macabre murder against everyone who has ever defied or offended him…

Including full Creator biographies and with Batman covers by Kane, Robinson & Roussos and all the other general action ones by Fred Guardineer & Creig Flessel, this is a stunning monument to exuberance and raw talent. Kane, Robinson and their compatriots created an iconography which carried the Batman feature well beyond its allotted life-span until later creators could re-invigorate it. They added a new dimension to children’s reading… and their work is still captivatingly accessible.

Moreover, these early stories set the standard for comic superheroes. Whatever you like now, you owe it to these stories. Superman gave us the idea, but writers like Finger and Fox refined and defined the meta-structure of the costumed crime-fighter.

Where the Man of Steel was as much Social Force and wish fulfilment as hero, Batman and Robin did what we ordinary mortals wanted to do. They taught bad people the lessons they deserved…

These are tales of elemental power and joyful exuberance, brimming with deep mood and addictive action. Comicbook heroics simply don’t come any better.

One final thing: I’m still that guy in paragraph one, right? I’ve read these stories many, many times, in every format imaginable, and I’d like to thank whoever decided that they should also be available in as close a facsimile to the originals as we can get these days.

More than anything else, this serves to perfectly recapture the mood and impact of that revolutionary masked avenger and, of course, delights my heavily concealed inner child no end.
© 1939, 1940, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Lantern: The Silver Age volume 1


By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky & various (DE Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6348-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Wholesome Entertainment… 9/10

After their hugely successful revival and reworking of The Flash, DC (or National Comics as they were) were keen to build on the resurgent superhero trend. Showcase #22 hit the stands at the same time as the fourth issue of the new Flash comicbook – #108 – and once again the guiding lights were Editor Julie Schwartz and writer John Broome. Assigned as illustrator was action ace Gil Kane, generally inked by Joe Giella

This fabulous paperback compilation gathers Showcase #22-24 (September/October 1959 to January/February 1960) and Green Lantern #1-9 (July/August 1960-November 1961) and reveals how a Space Age reconfiguration of the Golden-Age superhero with a magic ring replaced mysticism with super-science.

Hal Jordan was a young test pilot in California when an alien policeman crashed his spaceship on Earth. Mortally wounded, Abin Sur commanded his ring – a device which could materialise thoughts – to seek out a replacement officer, honest and without fear. Scanning the planet it selected Jordan and brought him to the crash-site. The dying alien bequeathed his ring, the lantern-shaped Battery of Power and his profession to the astonished Earthman.

In six pages ‘S.O.S Green Lantern’ established characters, scenario and narrative thrust of a series that would increasingly become the spine of DC continuity, leaving room for another two adventures in that premiere issue. ‘Secret of the Flaming Spear!’ and ‘Menace of the Runaway Missile!’ were both contemporary thrillers set against the backdrop of the aviation industry at a time when the Cold War was at its height.

Unlike the debut of The Flash, the editors were now confident of their ground. The next two issues of Showcase carried the new hero into even greater exploits. ‘Summons from Space’ sent Green Lantern to another world: saving an emerging race from a deadly threat at the behest of the as-yet-unnamed leaders of the Green Lantern Corps, whilst ‘The Invisible Destroyer’ pitted the neophyte Emerald Gladiator against the earthbound but eerie menace of a psychic marauder that lived on atomic radiation.

Showcase #24 (January/February 1960) featured another spy-ring in ‘The Secret of the Black Museum!’ but Jordan’s complex social life took centre-stage in ‘The Creature That Couldn’t Die!’ when the threat of an unstoppable monster paled before the insufferable stress of being his own rival. Hal’s boss Carol Ferris, controversially left in charge of her father’s aviation company (a radical concept in 1960 when most women were still considered faint-fodder fluff) won’t date an employee, but is deliriously happy for him to set her up with the glamorous, mysterious Green Lantern.

Six months later Green Lantern #1 was released. All previous tales had been dynamically drawn by Kane & Giella, in a visually arresting and exciting manner, but the lead tale here, ‘Planet of Doomed Men’ was inked by the uniquely gifted Murphy Anderson, and his fine line-work elevated the tale (more emergent humans in need of rescue from another monster) to the status of a minor classic. Giella returned for the second tale, ‘Menace of the Giant Puppet!’, in which GL fought his first – albeit rather lame – super-villain, the Puppet Master.

The next issue originated a concept that would be pivotal to the future of DC continuity. ‘The Secret of the Golden Thunderbolts!’ featured an Antimatter Universe and the diabolical Weaponers of Qward, a twisted race who worshipped Evil, and whose “criminals” (i.e. people who wouldn’t lie, cheat, steal or kill) wanted asylum on Earth. Also inked by Anderson, this is an early highpoint of tragic melodrama from an era where emotionalism was actively downplayed in comics.

The second story ‘Riddle of the Frozen Ghost Town!’ is a crime thriller highlighting the developing relationship between the hero and his Inuit (then “Eskimo”) mechanic Tom ‘Pieface’ Kalmaku.

The Qwardians returned in the all-Giella-inked  #3, leading with ‘The Amazing Theft of the Power Lamp!’ and Jordan’s love-life again spun out of control in ‘The Leap Year Menace!’, whilst GL #4 saw the hero trapped in the antimatter universe in ‘The Diabolical Missile from Qward!’ (Anderson inks) nicely balanced by the light-and-frothy mistaken-identity caper ‘Secret of Green Lantern’s Mask!’ This last apparently crafted by a veritable raft of pencillers including Kane, Giella, Carmine Infantino, Mike Sekowsky and Ross Andru…

Issue #5 was a full-length thriller which introduced Hector Hammond, GL’s second official super-villain in ‘The Power Ring that Vanished!’: a saga of romantic intrigue, mistaken identity and evolution gone wild.

This was followed by another, pure science fiction puzzler ‘The World of Living Phantoms!’ (Kane & Giella) which introduced avian Green Lantern Tomar Re and opened up the entire universe to avid readers…

Having shown us other GLs, Broome immediately trumped himself with the next episode. ‘The Day 100,000 People Vanished!’ brought the Guardians of the Universe into the open to warn of their greatest error: a renegade Green Lantern named Sinestro who, in league with the Qwardians, had become a threat to the entire universe. This tense shocker introduced one of the most charismatic and intriguing villains in the DCU and the issue still had room for a dryly amusing, whimsical drama that introduced Tom Kalmaku’s fiancée Terga in ‘Wings of Destiny’.

In the early 1960s DC production wizard Jack Adler created a process to add enhancing tone to cover illustrations. The finished result was eye-catching and mind-blowing, but examples, such as the cover of #8, really don’t work with the glossy pages and digitised colour-tints of modern reproduction.

Never mind, though, since the contents of that issue, ‘The Challenge from 5700AD!’ comprise a fantasy tour de force: the Emerald Gladiator is shanghaied through time to save the future from a invasion of mutant lizards…

Sinestro returned in the next issue – the last in this astounding cosmic collection – with his own super-weapon in ‘The Battle of the Power Rings!’ (with Anderson once more substituting for Giella) but the real gold is ‘Green Lantern’s Brother Act’ which introduces Hal’s two brothers and a snoopy girl reporter convinced young Jim Jordan is the ring-slinging superhero. This wry poke at DC’s house plot-device shows just how sophisticated Schwartz and Broome believed their audiences to be.

In those long ago days costumed villains were always third choice in a writer’s armoury: clever bad-guys and aliens always seemed more believable to creators back then. If you were doing something naughty would you want to call attention to yourself? Nowadays the visual impact of buff men in tights dictates the type of foe more than the crimes committed, which is why these glorious adventures of simpler yet somehow better days are such an unalloyed delight.

These Fights ‘n’ Tights romps are in themselves a great read for most ages, but when also considered as the building blocks of all DC continuity they become vital fare for any fan keen to make sense of the modern superhero experience. Judged solely on their own merit, these are snappy, awe-inspiring, beautifully illustrated captivatingly clever thrillers that amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old devotees. This lovely collection is a must-read item for anybody in love with our art-form and especially for anyone just now encountering the hero for the first time through his movie incarnations.
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Flash: The Silver Age volume 1


By John Broome, Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino & various (DE Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6110-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Wholesome Entertainment… 9/10

No matter which way you look at it, the Silver Age of the American comic book began with The Flash. It’s an unjust but true fact that being first is not enough; it also helps to be best and people have to notice. MLJ’s The Shield beat Captain America to the news-stands by over a year yet the former is all but forgotten today.

America’s comicbook industry had never really stopped trying to revive the superhero genre when Showcase #4 was released in late summer of 1956. The newsstands had already been blessed – but were left generally unruffled – by such tentative precursors as The Avenger (February-September 1955), Captain Flash (November 1954-July 1955), a revival of Marvel’s Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and the aforementioned Captain America (December 1953-October 1955). Both DC’s own Captain Comet (December 1953-October 1955) and Manhunter from Mars (November 1955 until the end of the 1960’s and almost the end of superheroes again!) had come and made little mark. What made the new Fastest Man Alive stand out and stick was … well, everything!

Once DC’s powers-that-be decided to serious try superheroes once more, they moved pretty fast themselves. Editor Julie Schwartz asked office partner, fellow editor and Golden-Age Flash scripter Robert Kanigher to recreate a speedster for the Space Age: aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert, who had also worked on the previous incarnation.

The new Flash was Barry Allen, a forensic scientist simultaneously struck by lightning and bathed in exploding chemicals from his lab. Supercharged by the accident, Barry took his superhero identity from a comicbook featuring his predecessor (a scientist named Jay Garrick who was exposed to the mutagenic fumes of “Hard Water”). Designing a sleek, streamlined bodysuit (courtesy of Infantino – a major talent rapidly approaching his artistic and creative peak), Barry Allen became point man for the spectacular revival of a genre and an entire industry.

This splendidly economical full colour paperback compilation superbly compliments Infantino’s talents and the tone of the times. These stories have been gathered many times but here the package – matt-white, dense paper stock – offers punch, clarity and the ineffably comforting texture of the original newsprint pulp pamphlets.

This is what a big book of comics ought to feel like in your eager, sweaty hands…

Collecting all four Showcase tryout issues – #4, 8, 13 and 14 – and the first full dozen issues of his own title (The Flash volume 1 #105-116, October 1956 to November 1960) the high-speed thrills begin with the epochal debut tales from Showcase #4.

‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ (scripted by Kanigher) sees Barry endure his electrical metamorphosis and promptly goes on to subdue bizarre criminal mastermind Turtle Man after which ‘The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier!’ – written by the brilliant John Broome – finds the newly-minted Scarlet Speedster batting a criminal from the future before returning criminal exile Mazdan to his own century, proving the new Flash was a protagonist of keen insight and sharp wits as well as overwhelming power. These are slickly polished, coolly sophisticated short stories introducing the comfortingly suburbanite new superhero and firmly establishing the broad parameters of his universe.

Showcase #8 (June 1957) led with another Kanigher tale. ‘The Secret of the Empty Box’, a perplexing if pedestrian mystery, saw veteran Frank Giacoia return as inker, but the real landmark was the Broome thriller ‘The Coldest Man on Earth’.

With this yarn the author confirmed and consolidated the new costumed character phenomenon by introducing the first of a Rogues Gallery of outlandish super-villains. Unlike the Golden Age, these new super-heroes would face predominantly costumed foes rather than thugs and spies. Bad guys would henceforth be as memorable as the champions of justice. Captain Cold would return time and again. Broome would go on to create every single member of Flash’s pantheon of classic super-foes.

Joe Giella inked the two adventures in Showcase #13 (April 1958). ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes’ was written by Kanigher and displayed Flash’s versatility as he tackled atomic terrorists, battled Arabian bandits, counteracted an avalanche on Mount Everest and scuttled submarine pirates in the specified time slot.

Broome’s ‘Master of the Elements’ then premiered the outlandish Mr. Element, who utilised the periodic table as his arsenal.

Showcase #14 (June 1958) opened with Kanigher’s eerie ‘Giants of the Time-World!’: a masterful fantasy thriller and a worthy effort to bow out on as Flash and girlfriend Iris West encounter extra-dimensional invaders with the strangest life-cycle imaginable.

The issue closed with a return engagement for Mr. Element sporting a new M.O. and identity – Doctor Alchemy. ‘The Man Who Changed the Earth!’ is a classic crime-caper with serious psychological underpinnings, as Flash struggles to overcome the villain’s latest weapon: mystic transmutational talisman the Philosopher’s Stone…

When the Scarlet Speedster graduated to his own title John Broome was the lead writer, supplemented eventually by Gardner Fox. Kanigher would return briefly in the mid-1960s and would later write a number of tales during DC’s ‘Relevancy’ period.

Taking its own sweet time, The Flash #105 launched with a February-March 1959 cover-date (so it was out for Christmas 1958) and opened with Broome, Infantino and Giella’s sci-fi chiller ‘Conqueror From 8 Million B.C.!’ before introducing yet another money-mad super-villain in ‘The Master of Mirrors!’

Issue #106 introduced one of the most charismatic and memorable baddies in comics history. Gorilla Grodd and his hidden race of telepathic super-simians instantly captured the fan’s attentions in ‘Menace of the Super-Gorilla!’ and even after Flash thrashed the hairy hooligan Grodd promptly returned in the next two issues.

Presumably this early confidence was fuelled by DC’s inexplicable but commercially sound pro-Gorilla editorial stance (for some reason any comic with a substantial simian in it spectacularly outsold those that didn’t in those far-ago days) but these tales are also packed with tension, action and engagingly challenging fantasy concepts.

Offering an encore here is ‘The Pied Piper of Peril!’: a mesmerising musical criminal mastermind, stealing for fun and attention rather than profit…

Issue #107 led with the ‘Return of the Super-Gorilla!’ by regular team Broome, Infantino and Giella, a multi-layered fantasy thriller that took our hero from the African (invisible) city of the Super-Gorillas to the subterranean citadel of antediluvian Ornitho-Men, and closed with ‘The Amazing Race Against Time’ which featured an amnesiac who could outrun the Fastest Man Alive in a desperate dash to save all of creation from obliteration. With every issue the stakes got higher whilst the dramatic quality and narrative ingenuity got better!

Frank Giacoia inked #108’s high-tech death-trap thriller ‘The Speed of Doom!’ featuring trans-dimensional raiders stealing fulgurites (look it up, if you want) but Giella was back for ‘The Super-Gorilla’s Secret Identity!’ wherein Grodd devises a scheme to outwit evolution itself by turning himself into a human…

The next issue saw ‘The Return of the Mirror-Master’ with the first in a series of bizarre physical transformations that would increasingly become a signature device for Flash stories, whilst the contemporary Space Race provided an evocative maguffin for a fantastic undersea adventure in the ‘Secret of the Sunken Satellite’. Here Flash encountered an unsuspected sub-sea race on the edge of extinction whilst enquiring after the impossible survival of an astronaut trapped at the bottom of the sea.

The Flash #110 was a major landmark, not so much for the debut of another worthy addition to the burgeoning Rogues Gallery in ‘The Challenge of the Weather Wizard’ (inked by Schwartz’s artistic top-gun Murphy Anderson) but rather for the introduction of Wally West, who in a bizarre and suspicious replay of the lightning strike that created the Vizier of Velocity became a junior version of the Fastest Man Alive.

Inked by Giella, ‘Meet Kid Flash!’ introduced the first teenaged sidekick of the Silver Age (cover dated December 1959-January 1960 and just pipping Aqualad who premiered in Adventure Comics #269 which had a February off-sale date).

Not only would Kid Flash begin his own series of back-up tales from the very next issue (a sure sign of the confidence the creators had in the character) but he would eventually inherit the mantle of the Flash himself – one of the few occasions in comics where the torch-passing actually stuck.

Anderson also inked ‘The Invasion of the Cloud Creatures’ in # 111, which successfully overcomes its frankly daft premise to deliver a taut, tense sci-fi thriller which nicely counterpoints the first solo outing for Kid Flash in ‘The Challenge of the Crimson Crows!’

This folksy parable has small-town kid Wally use his new powers to rescue a bunch of kids on the slippery slope to juvenile delinquency. Perhaps a tad paternalistic and heavy-handed by today’s standards, in the opening months of 1960 this was a strip about a boy heroically dealing with a kid’s real dilemmas, and the occasional series would remain concerned with human-scaled problems, leaving super-menaces and world saving for team-ups with his mentor.

In Flash #112 ‘The Mystery of the Elongated Man’ introduced an intriguing super stretchable newcomer to the DC universe – who might have been hero or villain – in a beguiling tantaliser whilst Kid Flash tackled juvenile Go-Carters and corrupt school-contractors in the surprisingly gripping ‘Danger on Wheels!’

Mercurial mania The Trickster launched his crime career in #113’s lead tale ‘Danger in the Air!’ and the second-generation speedster took a break so that his senior partner could defeat ‘The Man Who Claimed the Earth!’: a full-on cosmic epic wherein the ancient alien Po-Siden attempts to bring the lost colony of Earth back into the galaxy-spanning Empire of Zus.

Captain Cold and Murphy Anderson returned for ‘The Big Freeze’, where the smitten villain turns Central City into a glacier just to impress Barry’s girlfriend Iris. Meanwhile her nephew Wally saves a boy unjustly accused of cheating from a life of crime when he falls under the influence of the ‘King of the Beatniks!’

Then Flash #115 offered another bizarre transformation, courtesy of Gorilla Grodd in ‘The Day Flash Weighed 1000 Pounds!’, and when aliens attempt to conquer Earth the slimmed down champion needs ‘The Elongated Man’s Secret Weapon’ as well as the guest-star himself to save the day. Once again Murphy Anderson’s inking gave the over-taxed Joe Giella a breather whilst taking art-lovers’ breath away in this beautiful, fast-paced thriller.

This gloriously rewarding volume concludes with Flash #116 as ‘The Man Who Stole Central City’ sees a seemingly fool-proof way of killing the valiant hero, which took both time-tinkering and serious outwitting to avoid whilst Kid Flash returned in ‘The Race to Thunder Hill’; a father-son tale of rally driving, but with car-stealing bandits and a young love interest for Wally to complicate the proceedings.

These earliest tales were historically vital to the development of our industry but, quite frankly, so what? The first exploits of The Flash should be judged solely on their merit, and on those terms they are punchy, awe-inspiring, beautifully illustrated and captivating thrillers that amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old devotees. This lovely collection is a must-read item for anybody in love with our art-form and especially for anyone just now encountering the hero for the first time through his TV incarnation.
© 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman the Silver Age Dailies volume 3: 1963-1966


By Jerry Siegel & Wayne Boring (IDW Publishing Library of American Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-6134-0179-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most of them still do…

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

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

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

As seen in this volume, the McClure Syndicate daily feature ran continuously until April 1966, appearing at its peak in more than 300 daily and 90 Sunday newspapers, boasting a combined readership of more than 20 million. Over the course of the 1950s and 1960s artists Win Mortimer and Curt Swan had occasionally substituted for the unflagging Boring & Stan Kaye, whilst Siegel provided the lion’s share of stories, telling serial tales largely separate and divorced from comicbook continuity throughout years when superheroes were scarcely seen.

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

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

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

This third and final expansive hardback collection (spanning November 25th 1963 to its end on April 9th 1966) opens with a detailed Introduction from Sidney Friedfertig, disclosing the provenance of the strips; how and why Jerry Siegel was tasked with repurposing recently used and soon to be published scripts from the comicbooks; making them into daily 3-and-4 panel black-&-white continuities for the apparently more sophisticated and discerning newspaper audiences.

It also offers a much-needed appreciation of the author’s unique gifts and contributions…

If you’re a veteran comicbook fan, don’t be fooled: the tales “retold” here at first might seem familiar but they are not rehashes: they’re variations and deviations on an idea for audiences seen as completely separate from the kids who bought comicbooks. Even if you are familiar with the traditional source material, the adventures collected here will read as brand new, especially as they are gloriously illustrated by Wayne Boring at the peak of his illustrative powers.

After a few years away from the feature, Boring had returned to replace his replacement Curt Swan at the end of 1961, regaining the position of premiere Superman illustrator to see the series to its demise. Moreover, as the strip drew to a close many strip adaptations began appearing prior to the “debut” appearances in the comics…

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

Siegel & Boring’s astounding everyday entertainments commence with Episode #145 ‘The Great Baroni’ (from November 25th to September 14th 1963), revealing how the Caped Kryptonian helped an aging stage conjuror regain his confidence and prowess: based on a yarn by Siegel & Al Plastino from Superboy #107 (which had a September 1963 cover-date).

‘The Man Who Stole Superman’s Secret Life’ (December 16th 1963 to 1st February 1964 and first seen in Superman #169, May 1964, by Siegel & Plastino) was a popularly demanded sequel to a tale where the Man of Tomorrow lost his memory and powers but fell in love.

When his Kryptonian abilities returned he returned to his regular life, unaware that he had left heartbroken Sally Selwyn behind. She thought her adored Jim White had died…

Now as Clark investigated a crook who was a perfect double for Superman he stumbled into Sally and a potentially devastating problem…

Episode #147 – running from February 3rd to March 9th – saw the impossible come true as ‘Lex Luthor, Daily Planet Editor’ (by Leo Dorfman, Swan & George Klein from Superman #168 April 1964) reveals how the criminal genius fled to 1906 and landed the job of running a prestigious San Francisco newspaper… until a certain Man of Tomorrow tracks him down…

March 9th saw Clark, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane begin ‘The Death March’ (originally an Edmond Hamilton & Plastino tale from Jimmy Olsen #76, April 1964): a historical recreation which turned agonisingly real after boss Perry White seemingly had a breakdown. Of course, all was not as it seemed…

‘The Superman of 800 Years Ago’ has a lengthy pedigree. It ran in newspapers from April 6th to May 18th but was adapted from the unattributed, George Papp illustrated story ‘The Superboy of 800 Years Ago’ as seen in Superboy #113 (June 1964) which was in turn based upon an earlier story limned by Swan & Creig Flessel from Superboy #17 at the end of 1951.

Here a robotic Superman double is unearthed at a castle in Ruritanian kingdom Vulcania, and our inquisitive hero time-travelled back to the source to find oppressed people and a very familiar inventor. Suitably scotching the plans of a usurping scoundrel, he left a clockwork champion to defend democracy in the postage stamp feudal fiefdom…

‘Superman’s Sacrifice’ was the 150th daily strip, running from May 18th to June 20th (adapted from a Dorfman & Plastino thriller first seen in Superman #171, August 1964). Here the Man of Steel is blackmailed by advanced alien gambling addicts Rokk and Sorban. They want to wager on whether Superman will kill an innocent. If he doesn’t they will obliterate Earth. The callous extraterrestrials seem to have all the bases covered and, even when the Metropolis Marvel thinks he’s outsmarted them, Rokk and Sorban have an ace in the hole…

It was followed by another tale from the same issue wherein Hamilton & Plastino first described ‘The Nightmare Ordeal of Superman’ (June 22nd to July 25th) wherein the Man of Tomorrow voyages to another solar system just as its power-bestowing yellow sun novas into red. Deprived of his mighty powers our hero must survive a primitive world, light-years from home, battling cavemen and monsters until rescue comes in a most unlikely fashion…

The author of ‘Lois Lane’s Love Trap’ was unattributed but the tale was drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger when seen in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane # 52 (October 1964). As reinterpreted here by Siegel& Boring from July 27th to August 22nd however, it tells how Lois and Clark travel to the rural backwoods to play doctor and cupid for diffident lovers, after which August 24th to October 10th offered ‘Clark Kent’s Incredible Delusions’ (seen in comicbooks in Superman #174, January 1965 by Hamilton, Swan, Plastino & Klein).

Incredible incidents begin after a visitor to the Daily Planet casually reveals he is secretly Superman. Not only does he have the powers and costume, but Clark cannot summon his own abilities to challenge the newcomer. Can Kent have been hallucinating for years? The real answer is far more complex and confusing…

A tip of the hat to a popular TV show follows as a deranged actor trapped in a gangster role kidnaps Lois and her journalistic rival, determined to prove her companion is a mobster and ‘The “Untouchable” Clark Kent’ (October 12th November 7th): a smart caper transformed by Siegel from a yarn by Dorfman, Swan & Klein from Superman #173 November 1964.

‘The Coward of Steel’ (Siegel & Plastino, Action Comics #322, March 1965) ran from November 9th – December 19th, revealing how Superman’s pipsqueak act became all-consuming actuality after aliens ambushed the hero with a fear ray.

The year changed as Lois went undercover to catch a killer in ‘The Fingergirl of Death’ (Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane # 55 by Otto Binder & Schaffenberger; February 1965), reinterpreted here by Siegel& Boring from December 21st 1964 to January 23rd.

‘Clark Kent in the Big House’ – January 25th – March 6th – was seen in Action #323 April 1965 by Binder & Plastino and found Clark in a similar situation: covertly infiltrating a prison to get the goods on an inmate. Sadly once he’s there the warden has an accident and nobody seems to recognise that Kent is anything other than a crook getting his just deserts…

There was more of the same in ‘The Goofy Superman’ which ran March 8th to April 12th, taken from Robert Bernstein & Plastino’s tale from Superman #163; August 1963. This time though, Red Kryptonite briefly made Clark certifiably insane. After he was committed and got better, he stuck around to clear up a few malpractices and injustices at the asylum before heading home…

A different K meteor caused extremely selective amnesia and ‘When Superman Lost His Memory’ from April 14th to May 22nd (originally by Dorfman, Swan & Klein from Superman #178 July 1965) the mystified Man of Steel had to track down his own forgotten alter ego…

‘Superman’s Hands of Doom’ was the 160th strip saga, running from May 24th through June 26th, adapted from a Dorfman & Plastino thriller in Action #328 (September 1965). It detailed the cruelly convoluted plans of big-shot crook Mr. Gimmick who tried to turn Superman into an atomic booby trap primed to obliterate Metropolis, after which a scheming new reporter started using dirty tricks to make her mark at the Planet, landing ‘The Super Scoops of Morna Vine’ (June 28th – August 21st) through duplicity, spying, cheating and worse in a sobering tear-jerker first conceived and executed by Dorfman, Swan & Klein from Superman #181, November 1965.

The comicbook version of ‘The New Lives of Superman’ – by Siegel, Swan & Klein – didn’t appear until Superman #182 in January 1966, but the Boring version (such an unfair name for this brilliant artist!) ran in papers from August 23rd – October 16th 1965: detailing how Clark Kent had an accident which would leave any other man permanently blind.

Not being ordinary, Superman had to find another secret identity and hilariously tried out being a butler and disc jockey before finding a way for Clark to return to reporting…

Something like the truly bizarre ‘Lois Lane’s Anti-Superman Campaign’ was seen in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane # 55 (Dorfman & Schaffenberger, January 1966). However, as reinterpreted by Siegel & Boring for an adult readership from October 18th to December 18th, the stunts produced for the Senatorial race between her and Superman are wild and whacky (and could never happen in real American politics No Sirree Bob!), even if 5th Dimensional pest Mr. Mxyzptlk is behind it all…

Running from December 20th 1965 through January 8th 1966, as adapted from a Dorfman & Pete Costanza thriller in Superman #185 (which eventually saw full-colour print in April 1966), ‘Superman’s Achilles Heel’ offered a slick conundrum as the Man of Might began wearing a steel box on his hand after losing his invulnerability in one small area of his Kryptonian frame.

The entire underworld tried to get past that shield but nobody really thought the problem through…

The end of the hallowed strip series was fast approaching but it was business as usual for Siegel & Boring who exposed over January 10th to February 26th ‘The Two Ghosts of Superman’ (Binder & Plastino from Superman #186, May 1966) as the hero went after crafty criminal charlatan Mr. Seer. Fanatical fans might be keen to see the cameo here from up and coming TV superstar Batman before the curtain closes…

The era ended with another mystery. ‘From Riches to Rags’ (Dorfman & Plastino from Action Comics #337, May 1966) has Superman compulsively acting out a number of embarrassing roles – from rich man to poor man to beggar-man and so forth.

Spanning February 28th to April 9th, it depicted a hero at a complete loss until his super-memory kicked in and recalled a moment long ago when a toddler looked up into the night sky…

Superman: – The Silver Age Dailies 1963-1966 is the last of three huge (305 x 236 mm), lavish, high-end hardback collections starring the Man of Steel and a welcome addition to the superb commemorative series of Library of American Comics which has preserved and re-presented in luxurious splendour such landmark strips as Li’l Abner, Tarzan, Rip Kirby, Polly and her Pals and many of the abovementioned cartoon icons.

If you love the era or just crave simpler stories from less angst-wracked times these yarns are great comics reading, and this a book you simply must have…
Superman™ and © 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 1


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Carmine Infantino, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6111-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comic Perfection and the ideal Stocking Stuffer… 10/10

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – by which we mean the launch of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s progress was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was irrefutably proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces.

Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick…

And so the Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comic books, and, when Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, the key moment would come a few years with the inevitable teaming of reconfigured mystery men…

When wedded to the relatively unchanged big guns who had weathered the first fall of the Superhero at the beginning of the 1950s the result was a new, modern, Space-Age version of the Justice Society of America and the birth of a new mythology.

When the Justice League of America was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) it cemented the growth and validity of the genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comics in America and even spread to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Spanning March 1960 to January 1962, this latest paperback collection of timeless classics re-presents The Brave and the Bold #28-30 and Justice League of America #1-8 and also includes a titanic team-up from Mystery in Space #75 (May 1962).

That moment that changed everything for us baby-boomers came with issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold, a classical adventure title that had recently become a try-out magazine like Showcase.

Just in time for Christmas 1959 ads began running…

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

Released with a March 1960 cover-date, that first tale was written by the indefatigable Gardner Fox and illustrated by the quirky and understated Mike Sekowsky, inked by Bernard Sachs, Joe Giella and Murphy Anderson.

‘Starro the Conqueror’ saw Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars defeat a marauding alien starfish whilst Superman and Batman stood by (in those naive days editors feared that their top characters could be “over-exposed” and consequently lose popularity). The team also picked up an average American kid as a mascot. “Typical teenager” Snapper Carr would prove a focus of fan controversy for decades to come…

Confident of his material and the superhero genre’s fresh appeal Schwartz had two more thrillers ready for the following issues. B&B #29 saw the team defeat a marauder from the future who apparently had history on his side in ‘The Challenge of the Weapons Master’ (inks by Sachs and Giella) whilst #30 saw the debut of the team’s first mad-scientist arch-villain in the form of Professor Ivo and his super android Amazo. ‘The Case of the Stolen Super Powers’ by Fox, Sekowsky & Sachs ended the tryout run and three months later a new bi-monthly title debuted.

Perhaps somewhat sedate by histrionic modern standards, the JLA was revolutionary in a comics marketplace where less than 10% of all sales featured costumed adventurers. Not only public imagination was struck by hero teams either.

Stan Lee was apparently given a copy of Justice League by his boss Martin Goodman and told to do something similar for the tottering comics company he ran – and look what came of that!

Justice League of America #1 featured ‘The World of No Return’, introducing trans-dimensional tyrant Despero to bedevil the World’s Greatest Heroes, but once again plucky Snapper Carr was the key to defeating the villain and saving the day.

The second issue, ‘Secret of the Sinister Sorcerers’, presented an astounding conundrum. The villains of Magic-Land sneakily transposed the location of their dimension with Earth’s, causing the Laws of Science to be replaced with the Lore of Mysticism. The true mettle of the costumed crusader heroes (and by this time Superman and Batman were allowed a more active part in the proceedings) was shown when they had to use ingenuity rather than their powers to defeat their fearsome foes and set two worlds to rights.

Issue #3 introduced the despicable Kanjar Ro who attempted to turn the team into his personal army in ‘The Slave Ship of Space’, and with the next episode the first of many new members joined the team.

Although somewhat chronologically adrift there’s solid sense in placing the next tale in this position as Mystery in Space #75 (May 1962), as the team guest-star in a full-length thriller starring Adam Strange.

Strange was an Earth archaeologist who regularly teleported to a planet circling Alpha Centauri where his wits and ingenuity saved the citizens of Rann from all sorts of interplanetary threats.

In ‘The Planet that came to a Standstill!’, Kanjar Ro attempts to conquer Strange’s adopted home, and our gallant hero has to enlist the aid of the JLA before once again saving the day himself. This classic team-up was written by Fox, and illustrated by the irreplaceable Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson.

Green Arrow saved the day in the science-fiction thriller ‘Doom of the Star Diamond’, but was almost kicked out in #5 as the insidious Doctor Destiny inadvertently framed him ‘When Gravity Went Wild!’

‘The Wheel of Misfortune’ saw the debut of pernicious and persistent master of wild science Professor Amos Fortune, who used weaponised luck to challenge the masked marvels whilst #7 was another alien invasion plot centred on an amusement park, or more specifically ‘The Cosmic Fun-House!’.

The never-ending parade of perils then concludes for the moment with January 1962’s JLA #8. ‘For Sale… the Justice League!’ is a smart crime caper wherein a cheap hood finds a mind-control weapon that enslaves the team before simple Snapper once again saves the day.

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 fans 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 – especially with forthcoming iterations of the team due in both TV animation and live action movie formats.
© 1960, 1961, 1962, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Birth of the Demon


By Dennis O’Neil, Norm Breyfogle & Tom various (DC Comics)
ISBNs: 1-56389-080-1 (original hardcover);                         1-56389-081-X (trade paperback)

Debuting twelve months after Superman, in May 1939 “The Bat-Man” (joined within a year by Robin, the Boy Wonder) cemented DC/National Comics as the market and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

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

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

One the most impressive and well-mined periods is the moody 1970-1980s when the Caped Crusader evolved into a driven but still coldly rational Manhunter, rather than the dark, out-of-control paranoid of later days or the costumed boy-scout of the “Camp”-crazed Sixties.

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

Not only did the story add new depth to the character, but the package itself – oversized (294 x 226 mm), on high-quality paper, available in both hardback and softcover editions – helped kickstart the fledgling graphic novel marketplace. In 1991 the tale spawned an equally impressive sequel – Batman: Bride of the Demon – and a year later Scripter Supreme Denny O’Neil joined with illustrator Norm Breyfogle who painted this staggering saga (lettered by Ken Bruzenak) to complete a trilogy of outstanding graphic landmarks by providing Batman’s quintessential antithesis with an origin…

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

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

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

Here the war between these astounding rivals has reached the end-stage. Al Ghul has extended his lifespan for centuries through arcane means, but as this saga begins the immortal warlord is dying; his network of life-restoring Lazarus Pits dismantled and destroyed by the implacable Batman. Moreover, every attempt to create a new version of the geographically-sensitive chemical bath is anticipated by the Dark Knight and foiled with brutal efficiency. With few options remaining the demon’s daughter Talia takes charge of the last possible potential pit but finds Batman – her one true beloved – waiting for her. She has no idea that he too is near his life’s end…

The lovers discuss how the Batman had anticipated all the possible moves of the Demon’s Head. He reveals how archaeologists had got a certain ancient manuscript to him at the cost of their lives, and how he had deduced its true meaning…

The scene then resets to 500 years previously in an Arabian kingdom. Here a good and brilliant doctor of peasant origins creates a unique immersion treatment to save the son of the ruling potentate from a mystery disease. The remedy came after a retreat to the desert where the doctor experienced visions and where he believes he battles a bat-demon…

However, when the prince emerges from the boiling chemical pit, he is an uncontrollable savage who assaults and kills the healer’s wife. Despite all he has done, the doctor is denied use of the Pit to revive her and soon learns first hand of the callous disregard rulers have for their subjects…

Subjected to unimaginable cruelty, the healer is left to die in the desert before being saved by a poor poet he has recently helped. Together they unite with a bandit chief to topple the wicked sultan and carve out a bloody empire. Using the Pit, they also extend their lives and plan to reconstruct the world into a fairer place.

Sadly, somewhere along the way the allies fall out as their organisation grows in strength and as centuries pass one of the triumvirate leaves a document that might spell the Demon’s undoing…

Returning to modern times the tale ends in a climactic duel between the dying giants on the lip of the last Lazarus Pit…

Epic, revelatory and powerfully mythic, Birth of the Demon is an emotionally evocative fable crammed with action, spectacle and suspense: one of the most moving mature-reader tales in Batman’s canon and one to delight fans and casual readers alike.

If you’re new to these older tales, or just want the entire saga in one (slightly smaller) package, all three Al Ghul stories are available in one collected volume – Batman: Birth of the Demon (Collected) first released in 2012.

© 1990 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 5


By Gerry Conway, Dick Dillin, George Perez, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2623-7

In my most relaxed moments I am at heart a child of the Silver Age. The material I read as a kid shaped me and I cannot honestly declare myself a completely impartial critic on comics of the time. The same probably applies to the brave and bold continuances that stretched all the way to the 1980s recreation of Marvel, DC and the rest of America’s costumed champions.

That counts doubly so for the Julie Schwartz edited Justice League of America and its annual summer tradition of teaming up with its progenitor organisation, the Justice Society of America. If that sounds a tad confusing there are many places to look for clarifying details. If you’re interested in superheroes and their histories you’ll even enjoy the search. But this is not the place for that.

Ultra-Editor Schwartz ushered in the Silver Age of American Comics with his landmark Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the JLA which in turn inspired the Fantastic Four and Marvel’s entire empire; changing forever the way comics were made and read…

Whereas the 1940s were about magic and macho, the Silver Age polished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausibly rationalistic concepts which 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…

Once DC’s Silver Age heroes began meeting their Golden Age predecessors from “Earth-2”, that aforementioned annual tradition commenced: every summer the JLA would team-up with the JSA to combat a trans-dimensional Crisis

This volume reprints magnificent mass-gatherings encompassing Justice League of America #159 & 160 (October – November 1978), #171-172 (October – November 1979) and #183-185 (October to December 1980); a transitional period which saw comic book tastes changing as sales dwindled. It also marks the passing of a true great…

The amazing fantasy opens with a time-bending threat as five legendary warriors are plucked from history by a most malevolent malefactor for the most noble of reasons. They are then pitted against the greatest superheroes of two worlds in ‘Crisis from Yesterday’ by scripter Gerry Conway and artistic dynamic duo Dill Dillin & Frank McLaughlin.

In his zeal to conquer and plunder, the nefarious Lord of Time has accidentally created an omnipotent super-computer that is counting down to stopping the passage of time forever. Unable to halt or avoid the cosmic disaster, the temporal terrorist extracts Jon, the Viking Prince, English freebooter Black Pirate, Revolutionary War heroine Miss Liberty, western gunman Jonah Hex and WWI German fighter ace Hans von Hammer; supercharges them with eerie energies and programs them to attack the united Justice League and Society.

The Time Lord’s logic is simple: after suffering a shattering defeat, the teams – fired with determination and righteous fury – will promptly track him down, invade his Palace of Eternity and destroy for him his unstoppable computer. Or at least the survivors will…

Surprisingly that convoluted plan seems to work out in the concluding ‘Crisis from Tomorrow!’ but only after the chronally kidnapped quintet overcome their perfidious programming and revert to their true valiant selves. Even as the beleaguered superhero teams sacrifice everything to thwart the Lord of Time, the time-lost warriors prove their mettle against the errant computer.

One year later, the annual scenario hosted a savage locked-room mystery as ‘The Murderer Among Us: Crisis Above Earth One!’ sees the JLA feting the JSA in their satellite HQ and horrified to find one of their veteran guests throttled by unseen hands.

With no possible egress or exit, the greatest detectives of two Earths realise one of their heroic compliment must be the cold-blooded killer. Soon a methodical elimination of suspects leads to tense explorations and explosive repercussions in the revelatory finale ‘I Accuse…’

With the next summer’s team-up an artistic era ended as criminally underappreciated illustrator Dick Dillin passed away whilst drawing the saga. He and McLaughlin only completed Conway’s first chapter – ‘Crisis on New Genesis or, Where Have All the New Gods Gone?’ – of an epic confrontation between JLA, JSA and futuristic deities of Jack Kirby’s astounding Fourth World, leaving up-and-coming star George Pérez to fill some very big boots (and gloves and capes and…).

In the first chapter, the assembled heroes are unilaterally shanghaied out of the regular universe and transported to trans-dimensional paradise planet New Genesis. The world is utterly deserted but for a furiously deranged Orion who seems set on crushing them all. Happily he is stopped by late-arriving Mister Miracle, Big Barda, Oberon and Metron who reveal their fellow gods have been captured and sent to hell-world Apokolips by three Earth-2 villains…

The place has been in turmoil since evil overlord Darkseid was killed by Orion and in the interim the vanquished devil’s spirit has travelled to Earth 2 and recruited The Shade, Icicle and Fiddler to resurrect him…

The details of the scheme are reviewed in ‘Crisis Between Two Earths or, Apokolips Now!’ as the freshly restored Darkseid strives to make his still-tenuous existence permanent and the heroes split up to stop him by hitting key components of his technology and support teams.

Along the way they encounter a resistance movement of battle-scarred super-powered toddlers, the horrific reason the New Genesisians were initially taken and how Darkseid plans to invade the natural universe by cataclysmically transporting Apokolips the space currently occupied by Earth-2…

The diabolical denouement reveals a ‘Crisis on Apokolips or, Darkseid Rising!’ as the scattered champions reunite to stop the imminent catastrophe and set the worlds to rights in an explosive clash with no true resolution. Such is the nature of undying evil…

With full biographies of the creators and a stirring cover gallery by Rich Buckler, Dick Giordano, Dillin, McLaughlin, Jim Starlin & Bob Smith, this a sheer uncomplicated dose of nostalgic delight for those who love costumed heroes, crave carefully constructed modern mythologies and care to indulge in a grand parade of straightforward action, great causes and momentous victories.

These are instantly accessible yarns: captivating Costumed Dramas no lover of Fights ‘n’ Tights fun and frolics could possibly resist. And besides, surely everyone fancies finding their Inner Kid again?
© 1978, 1979, 1980, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Chronicles volume 10


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, John Sikela, Leo Nowak, Ed Dobrotka, George Roussos, Jack Burnley, Fred Ray & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3488-1

Without doubt the creation of Superman and his unprecedented adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form.

Within three years of his Summer 1938 debut, the intoxicating mix of eye-popping action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early exploits of the Man of Tomorrow had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy and even whimsical comedy, but once the war in Europe and the East snared America’s consciousness, combat themes and patriotic imagery dominated most comicbook covers if not interiors.

In comic book terms at least Superman was master of the world, and had already utterly changed the shape of the fledgling industry. There was the popular newspaper strip, a thrice-weekly radio serial, games, toys, foreign and overseas syndication and the Fleischer studio’s astounding animated cartoons.

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

Superman was definitely every kid’s hero, as confirmed in this classic compendium, and the raw, untutored yet captivating episodes reprinted here had also been completely embraced by the wider public, as comicbooks became a vital tonic for the troops and all the ones they had left behind…

I sometimes think – like many others I know – that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when they were whole-heartedly combating global fascism with explosive, improbable excitement courtesy of a myriad of mysterious, masked marvel men.

All the most evocatively visceral moments of the genre seem to come when gaudy gladiators soundly thrashed – and I hope you’ll please forgive the offensive contemporary colloquialism – “Nips and Nazis”.

However, even in those long-ago dark days, comics creators were wise enough to offset their tales of espionage and imminent invasion with a barrage of home-grown threats and gentler or even more whimsical four-colour fare…

This tenth astounding Superman chronological chronicle – collecting #18-19 of his solo title, episodes from flagship anthology Action Comics #53-55 and the Man of Steel segment of World’s Finest Comics #7 (covering September to December 1942) – sees the World’s Premier Superhero pre-eminent at the height of those war years: a vibrant, vital role-model and indomitable champion whose sensational exploits spawned a host of imitators, a genre and an industry.

Behind the stunning covers by Jack Burnley and Fred Ray – depicting our hero smashing scurrilous Axis War-mongers and reminding readers what we were all fighting for – scripter Siegel – who authored everything in this volume – was crafting some of the best stories of his career, showing the Action Ace in all his morale-boosting glory; thrashing thugs, spies and masters of Weird science whilst America kicked the fascist aggressors in the pants…

Co-creator Joe Shuster, although plagued by punishing deadlines for the Superman newspaper strip and rapidly failing eyesight, was still fully involved in the process, overseeing the stories and drawing character faces whenever possible, but as the months passed the talent pool of the “Superman Studio” increasingly took the lead in the comicbooks as the demands of the media superstar grew and grew.

Thus most of the stories in this volume were illustrated by studio stalwarts John Sikela, Leo Nowak and Ed Dobrotka with occasional support from others…

The debut of Superman had propelled National Comics to the forefront of the fledgling industry. In 1939 the company collaborated with the organisers of the New York World’s Fair: producing a commemorative comicbook celebrating the opening. The Man of Tomorrow prominently featured on the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics beside such four-colour stars as Zatara, Gingersnap and The Sandman.

He starred again a year later in the sequel issue with newly-launched Batman and Robin in another epochal mass-market premium – World’s Fair 1940.

The monolithic 96-page card-cover anthologies were a huge hit and convinced National’s Powers-That-Be to release a regularly scheduled over-sized package of their pantheon of characters, with Superman and Batman prominently featured.

The bountiful format was retained for a wholly company-owned quarterly which retailed for the then-hefty price of 15¢. Launching as World’s Best Comics #1 (Spring 1941), the book transformed into World’s Finest Comics from #2, beginning a stellar 45 year run which only ended as part of the massive decluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Here – illustrated by Nowak & Sikela – the thrills begin with ‘The Eight Doomed Men’ (World’s Finest Comics #7); a tale involving a coterie of ruthless millionaires targeted for murder because of the wicked past deeds of their privileged college fraternity. This enthralling crime mystery is suitably spiced up with flamboyant high-tech weaponry that pushes the Action Ace to his limits…

Superman #18 (September/October 1942) then offers a quartet of stunning sagas, leading with the all-Sikela’s ‘The Conquest of a City’ wherein Nazi infiltrators used a civil defence drill to infiltrate the National Guard and conquer Metropolis in the Fuehrer’s name until Superman spearheads the counter-attack, whilst in Nowak’s ‘The Heat Horror’ an artificial asteroid threatens to burn the city to ashes until the Metropolis Marvel defeats Lex Luthor, the manic mastermind who aimed it at Earth.

‘The Man with the Cane’ offers a grand, old-fashioned and highly entertaining espionage murder mystery for Ed Dobrotka & Sikela to illustrate after which Superman takes on his first fully costumed super-villain after ‘The Snake’ perpetrates a string of murders during construction of a river tunnel in a moody masterpiece drawn by Nowak.

Sikela is inked by George Roussos on fantastic thriller ‘The Man Who put Out the Sun!’ from Action Comics #53, wherein bird-themed menace Night-Owl uses “black light” technology and ruthless gangsters to plunder at will until the Man of Steel takes charge, whilst in #54 ‘The Pirate of Pleasure Island!’ (Sikela) follows the foredoomed career of upstanding citizen Stanley Finchcomb, a seemingly civilised descendent of ruthless buccaneers, who succumbs to madness and becomes a modern day merciless marine marauder. Or perhaps he truly was possessed by the merciless spirit of his ancestor Captain Ironfist in this enchanting supernatural thriller…?

A classic (and much reprinted) fantasy shocker opened Superman #19. ‘The Case of the Funny Paper Crimes’ (by Sikela & Dobrotka) saw bizarre desperado Funnyface bring the larger-than-life villains of the Daily Planet’s comics page to terrifying life in a grab for loot and power, after which ‘Superman’s Amazing Adventure’ (Nowak) finds the Man of Tomorrow battling incredible creatures in an incredible extra-dimensional realm – but all is not as it seems…

Some of the city’s most vicious criminals are commanded to kill a stray dog by the infamous Mr. Z in ‘The Canine and the Crooks’ (Nowak) and it takes all of Clark and Lois Lane’s deductive skills to ascertain why before ‘Superman, Matinee Idol’ breaks the fourth wall for readers as the reporters visit a movie house to see a Superman cartoon in a shameless but exceedingly inventive and thrilling “infomercial” plug for the Fleischer Brothers cartoons then currently astounding movie-goers; all lovingly rendered by Shuster and inked by Sikela.

This latest leaf through times gone by concludes with a witty and whimsical Li’l Abner spoof illustrated by Sikela & Dobrotka. ‘A Goof named Tiny Rufe’ focuses on desperate cartoonist Slapstick Sam who plagiarises – and ruins – the simple lives of a couple of naïve hillbillies to fill his idea-empty panels and pages until Superman intercedes to give the hicks their lives back and the devious dauber the drubbing he so richly deserves……

Although the gaudy burlesque of evil aliens, marauding monsters and slick super-villains still lay years ahead of Superman, these captivating tales of villainy, criminality, corruption and disaster are just as engrossing and speak powerfully of the tenor of the times.

Most importantly all problems are dealt with in a direct and captivating manner by our relentlessly entertaining champion in summarily swift and decisive fashion. No “To Be Continueds…” here!

As fresh, thrilling and compelling now as they ever were, the endlessly re-readable epics re-presented here are perfectly presented in these glorious paperback collections where the graphic magic defined what being a Super Hero means and with every tale defined the basic iconography of the genre for all others to follow.

These Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at absurdly affordable prices and in a durable, comfortingly approachable format. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?
© 1942, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade


By Landry Q. Walker, Eric Jones & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2506-3

As a rule, superhero comics don’t generally do whimsically thrilling anymore. They especially don’t do short or self-contained. The modern narrative drive concentrates on extended spectacle, major devastation and relentless terror and trauma. It also helps if you’ve come back from the dead once or twice and wear combat thongs and thigh boots…

Although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that – other than the inappropriateness of striving to fix wedgies during life-or-death struggles – sometimes the palate just craves a different flavour.

Once such continued cosmic cataclysm was the exception, not the rule, and this enchanting collection first seen in 2009 harks back to simpler days of complex plots, solid characterisation and suspenseful fun by way of an alternative take on Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El, late of Argo City and Earth’s newest alien invader…

After a few intriguing test-runs Supergirl began as a future star of the expanding Superman pocket universe in Action Comics #252 (May 1959). Superman’s cousin Kara had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris, and her dying parents, observing Earth through their scopes, sent their daughter to safety even as they perished.

Landing on Earth, she met Superman, who created the cover-identity of Linda Lee and hid her in an orphanage in bucolic small town Midvale whilst she learned of her new world and powers in secrecy and safety.

In 2009 much of that treasured back-history was euphorically reinstated for a superb miniseries for younger readers with Saturday morning animation sensibilities. Kara Zor-El was recast as a plucky 12-year-old whose world was suddenly turned upside down, forcing a decidedly ordinary kid to adapt to and cope with impossible changes at the craziest time of her life…

It all begins as Superman and Lex Luthor again indulge in another life-and-death duel. The battle ends suddenly as the evil genius’ war machine is wrecked by a gleaming rocket, from which emerges a dazed girl in a knock-off Man of Steel outfit. Panicked by the press pack that converges on her, the waif jumps back and suddenly catapults into the air…

Soon however Superman has caught and calmed the careering child and explanations ensue. She’s his cousin Kara from Argo City, which escaped the destruction of Krypton by a fantastic fluke: being hurled by the blast unharmed and entire into another dimension…

The Argoans thrived in their pocket reality and watched baby Kal-El become a mighty hero. In fact, it was a message-probe aimed at him that Kara sneaked onto before being accidentally sent to Earth. It is a horrific shock to learn Superman has no idea how to get her back to them…

Marooned on a weird, primitive planet with powers she doesn’t understand and cannot control is bad enough, but discovering her cousin has no time or space to look after her is the worst. Soon, wearing a pair of awful glasses, orphan “Linda Lee” begins a new life at Stanhope Boarding School

The lessons are dull or baffling; nobody likes her; Principal Pycklemyer is a snide, snarky ass and worst of all, Kara’s superpowers keep turning off and on without any rhyme or reason. The first week is sheer hell, but ends on an up note as, after another fruitless attempt to get home, Linda heads back to the girls’ dormitory and finds a present waiting: a super-phone which can reach her mum and dad…

The Pre-Teen Powerhouse is still screwing up in class and her troubles multiply in detention when an odd green mineral interacts with a light projector in the science lab and creates an evil doppelganger.

Smug, arrogant Superiorgirl calls herself Belinda Zee and is instantly more popular. She also sets out to make Linda’s life an unending succession of petty aggravations and annoyances…

However, Belinda’s greatest scheme to humiliate Linda is foiled by a new transfer student. High-maintenance misfit Lena Thorul is a scary genius who takes an instant liking to fellow outcast Linda and saves the day with a mind-control helmet she whipped up…

Soon the weird pair are dorm-mates, even though Lena is a bit clingy and rather aggressive. She might even be preventing other students befriending Linda…

Life is never quiet and when Supergirl intercepts a glowing red meteor in space the fallout scatters scarlet debris all over Stanhope. The effect is amazing, as almost everybody develops superpowers…

Naturally Linda can’t reveal her own hidden abilities so she and a few pitiful others are quickly relegated to a remedial class for the “super-heroically challenged”. When the powers all suddenly fade, Supergirl is kept busy saving the students from their own youthful follies and is astonished to later discover the power drain was caused by Lena…

And that’s when things get truly complicated, as her solution to the on-going problem gives Supergirl the ability to time-travel and the notion that she can warn her earlier self to respond differently to the crisis…

Another day, and another disaster dawns as Linda’s experiments with Green Kryptonite – in hopes of finding a cure – instead give an alley cat incredible super-powers. As Streaky stalks the halls of Stanhope, Lena reveals her true nature and Superiorgirl is forced to choose sides…

The adventure concludes on ‘Graduation Day’ as chaos reigns and the real reason for all the incredible events Linda has endured are finally exposed. Luthor escapes jail, Streaky returns, Belinda becomes queen of Bizarro Zombies, Fifth Dimensional Sprites attack and Supergirl meets Supragirl before ending with a new trusty companion – Comet the Superhorse. Sadly he won’t be enough to aid the Maid of Might as she strives to prevent the destruction all there is…

With Reality unravelling Supergirl needs a little help and it comes from the last person she expected…

Joyous, thrilling, warm-hearted and supremely entertaining, this festival of Fights ‘n’ Tights fun is a delightful romp for youngsters and a fabulous tribute to DC’s Silver Age, and fans can also enjoy bonus features including sketch sections on ‘Redesigning Supergirl’, lovely pencil roughs and a full cover gallery.

Some characters are clearly capable of surviving seemingly infinite reinvention and the Girl of Steel is certainly one of those. Here in this charming, engaging, inspiring yarn for older kids and young adults you can enjoy a pure and primal romp: simultaneously action-packed and funny as it perfectly demonstrates how determination, smarts and courage trump superpowers and cosmic omnipotence every time
© 2009, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Time Masters: Vanishing Point


By Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, Rodney Ramos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3047-0

After the cosmos-crunching Crisis on Infinite Earths re-sculpted the DC Universe in 1986, a host of characters got floor-up rebuilds for the tougher, no-nonsense, straight-shooting New American readership of the Reagan era. The decluttering exercise also made room for a few superheroes of types previously unknown at the company “Where Legends Live”.

Disgraced sports star Michael Carter came back from the 25th century to our era, tooled up with stolen technology, determined to recreate himself as a superhero. As Booster Gold he made a name for himself as a mid-level hero and supreme self-promoter and corporate shill.

Created, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens, the saga featured a brash, cockily mysterious apparently metahuman golden-boy jock setting up his stall as a superhero in Metropolis. Here he actively sought corporate sponsorships, sold endorsements and hired a management team to maximise the profit potential of his crusading celebrity.

He was accompanied everywhere by sentient, flying, football-shaped robot Skeets.

Their time came and went and Booster’s title folded, but he lived on as part of Justice League International where he became roughly half of comics’ funniest double-act, riffing with the equally light-hearted lightweight Blue Beetle.

Booster and Ted Kord (technically the second Blue Beetle) were the class clowns of billionaire Maxwell Lord’s League: a couple of obnoxiously charming frat-boys who could save the day but never get the girl or any respect.

When Lord murdered Beetle, precipitating an Infinite Crisis, Booster was shattered. Eventually, though, he recovered and redefined himself as a true hero through a succession of multiversal conflagrations. In landmark weekly maxi-series 52 and later Infinite Crisis, his intriguing take on Heroism diverged down strange avenues when Booster – traditionally only in it for fame and fortune – became a secret saviour, repairing the cracks in Reality caused by all the universe-warping shenanigans of myriad multiversal Crises and uncontrolled time-travel.

Working at the instruction of enigmatic and irascible mentor Rip Hunter: Time Master, Booster relinquished his dreams of glory to secretly save us all over and over and over again as the protector of the time-line, battling incredible odds to keep history on track and continuity in order.

This time-bending full-colour collection gathers 6-issue miniseries Time Masters: Vanishing Point (from September 2010-February 2011), detailing how Rip, Booster and Skeets steer a small posse of superheroes through the uncanny and lethally mutable corridors of time in search of a missing comrade vital to the existence of everything…

At the climax of a harrowing campaign of terror by The Black Hand and following Earth’s invasion by the New Gods of Apokolips, Batman was apparently killed at the conclusion of Infinite Crisis

The world at large was unaware of the loss, leaving the superhero community to mourn in secret whilst a dedicated army of assistants, protégés and allies – trained over years by the contingency-obsessed Dark Knight – formed the Network to police Gotham City in the days which followed: marking time until a successor could be found or the original restored…

Most of the Bat-schooled battalion refused to believe their inspirational mentor dead. On the understanding that he was merely lost, they eventually accepted Dick Grayson (the first Robin and latterly Nightwing) as a stand-in until Bruce Wayne could find his way back to them. The more cosmically endowed super-friends weren’t prepared to wait, however…

Batman, of course, is the most brilliant escape artist of all time and even whilst being struck down by the New God of Evil had devised an impossibly complex and grandly far-reaching scheme to beat the devil and save the world…

The chronally-fluctuating epic opens with elderly time guardian Booster sharing a few moments of educational bonding time with his son before Rip Hunter shakes off the happy memories and gets back to the immediate task at hand: reminding Superman, Green Lantern Hal Jordan and a blithely oblivious prime-of-life Booster of the dangers involved in interfering in historical events, no matter how tragic or cruel they might be…

Meanwhile, at the End of Time mystery hero Supernova is finding inviolate citadel Vanishing Point has been destroyed by incalculable forces and, after consulting with his unseen boss, grimly sets off in search of Rip…

The rescue mission for Bruce Wayne is Hunter’s idea. He tracked the hero to various time periods, where the Dark Knight briefly materialised before plunging back into the time stream again. Rip now hopes to extract him with the assistance of some of the Gotham Guardian’s oldest allies, before his random trajectory causes irreparable damage. He also fears enemy interference from enemies as yet unknown…

In Rip’s 21st century Arizona lab, Booster’s sister Michelle is confronted by two likely suspects as “Time Stealers” Per Degaton and Despero break in. The battle looks lost until Supernova arrives to turn the tables, but after driving off the villains the mystery man vanishes; still intent on finding the reason for Vanishing Point’s destruction and the time-stream’s increasing instability…

In the 15th century the rescue squad’s search ends in frustration, but as Rip prepares to bring them home a chronal disruption seizes them, propelling them all on an uncontrolled trip through time and also across dimensions…

On arrival Rip is confronted by a barbarian warrior with a demonic right hand (DC’s short-lived 1970s sword-&-sorcery star Claw the Unconquered), and Hunter’s thoughts go back to another salutary lesson delivered by his father on the crucial nature of his self-appointed mission. After a short battle he finally convinces the enraged swordsman that he is neither wizard nor foe.

As they join forces against a common threat, in another time and place Booster, Superman and Green Lantern have arrived in the middle of a war between humans and aliens. Unable to obey Hunter’s admonition not to get involved, the heroes engage the invading Mygorgs, unaware that in a distant time-pocket Degaton and Despero have met with their allies Ultra-Humanite and Black Beetle.

The consensus is that some outside force is destabilising time and it must be stopped if their own plans for domination are to succeed…

The superheroes’ resistance ends when Booster encounters a sword-wielding woman warrior named Starfire (another star of DC’s short 1970’s dalliance with sword-&-sorcery) and a tenuous alliance is formed just as a dragon-riding witch captures Superman and Green Lantern…

Although separated by dimensional walls, both Rip and Claw and Booster’s team are facing similar perils: held by unearthly wizard Serhattu and his accomplice sorceress Skyle whilst the mage attempts to control of time and escape his extra-dimensional realm using the out-worlders’ science…

And in the ruins of Vanishing Point, the Time Stealers find a cell and free Hunter’s greatest foes: former comrades and fellow Linear Men Matthew Rider and Liri Lee

As Serhattu and Skyle prepare their campaign of conquest and their captives struggle against mind-bending mystic shackles, at Vanishing Point Supernova attacks but is unable to stop the Linear Men and Time Stealers getting away.

In the other-dimensional realm, Hunter takes a huge chance and the heroes escape imprisonment but are sucked into a time vortex. The gamble succeeds and the liberated champions recover in time to chase Serhattu and Skyle to the site of the first Atomic Bomb test and stop their attempt to steal the awesome unknown power for themselves.

After returning Starfire, Claw and the mages to their rightful places, the heroes press on, unaware that the Black Beetle has betrayed the Time Stealers and Linear Men to steal the time-warping powers locked in remains of chronal-energy being Waverider

Hunter’s team are again diverted however by time-travelling psychopath Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash who wants the Omega energy causing Batman’s time-ricochets for his own…

As they battle the super-fast maniac, elsewhen Supernova attacks Black Beetle, and another player co-opts the Waverider power. With time in flux the battles bleed into one another and Hunter’s heroes meet the Time Stealers, Linear Man and Supernova for one final catastrophic clash…

Fast-paced, deviously compelling and extraordinarily convoluted, this is the kind of Fights ‘n’ Tights clash die-hard comic fans live for: a complex saga full of fights, inside jokes or references and impossible situations all surmounted by bold heroes in full saviour mode. It’s just a pure shame that such excellent work excludes so many readers who would certainly enjoy it if only they had the neceassry background history to hand.

Furious fun and thrills for those in the know, or anyone willing to trade comprehension for non-stop action…
© 2010, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.