Firestorm, the Nuclear Man: Reborn

By Stuart Moore, Jamal Igle & Keith Champagne (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1219-3

One of the best “straight” superhero series of the last decade came and went with very little fanfare and only (thus far) this intriguing collection to mark its passage. Firestorm the Nuclear Man was created by Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom, launched in 1978 and promptly fell foul of the “DC Implosion” after five flamboyant, fun-filled issues.

High School Jock Ronnie Raymond and Nobel winning nuclear physicist Martin Stein were, due to a bizarre concatenation of circumstances, caught in an atomic blast that melded their bodies and minds into a fusion-powered being with extraordinary powers over matter and energy. Ronnie had conscious control of their consolidated body, and became an exuberant, flashy superhero, with a unique pantheon of villains all his own.

He was drafted into the Justice League of America, and eventually starred in a well received back-up series in The Flash (#289 to 304) which led to his second chance; Fury of Firestorm (100 issues and five Annuals between June 1982 and August 1990) before fading into the quiet semi-obscurity of team-books and guest-shots.

In 2004 Dan Jolley and Chrisscross reinvented the character, as black Detroit kid Jason Rusch was brought back from the brink of death thanks to a blazing energy ball (the Firestorm matrix seeking a new host after the murder of its previous body – although nobody discovered that for nearly a year…). This new version of the Nuclear Man can absorb any other body into the matrix, using them as a kind of battery – or more accurately spark plug – for Jason’s powers.

After impressively establishing himself as a hero in his own right he joined Donna Troy’s Space Strike Force in the Infinite Crisis (ISBN: 978-1-4012-0959-9), consequently suffering hideous injuries.

Inexplicably this volume (reprinting issues #23-27 of the third Firestorm comicbook series) ignores all that back-story and begins as part of the One Year Later narrative strand. Jason can now only combine with fellow atomic hero Firehawk, and their uncombined personas cannot safely be more than a mile apart. That’s rather problematic as Jason is a student in New York and Lorraine Reilley, when not Firehawk, is a United States Senator. Jason’s teleporting girlfriend Gehenna isn’t too keen on how much time her man and that “Older Woman” spend together either…

As Firestorm they are desperately searching for Martin Stein, missing for a year and somehow connected to a plot to destroy the Earth, but their quest has also made them/him the target for some extremely dangerous people…

By trying not to give too much away I might have made this tale seem a bit daunting or confusing, but it really isn’t. This is a deliciously clever and witty adventure, providing plenty of opportunities to bring first-time fans up to speed, with likable characters, dastardly villains, an intriguing mystery, plenty of action and loads of laughs – just like the rest of the series was. It reads enchantingly and is really beautiful to look at; so I just don’t understand why newcomers’ first exposure to this material should be with the twenty-third chapter and not the first…

Hopefully Firestorm’s scheduled appearances in the second season of the Brave and the Bold TV show will prompt somebody to collect the rest of this utterly appetising little gem of comic in trade paperback form. For your sake, as well as mine, I truly hope so…

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Lantern: Legacy – The Last Will & Testament of Hal Jordan

By Joe Kelly, Brent Anderson & Bill Sienkiewicz, with Ro & Bleyaert (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0365-8

Green Lantern has been a DC star in one form or another since the company’s earliest days, but often that’s led to some rather extreme revamps and odd takes on what seems to be an extremely pliable character with an invaluable shtick – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In the Silver Age revival, true-blue test pilot Hal Jordan was bequeathed a power ring by a dying officer of an intergalactic police force run by benign, if austere, immortals known as the Guardians of the Universe.

During one of the interminable crises that beset the universe Jordan saw his home town of Coast City vaporised by an alien invader. He went mad, and sought to use his power to undo the carnage, in the process destroying his beloved GL Corps, stealing all the power rings and evolving into the time-bending villain Parallax. A menace to all reality, he redeemed his life and soul by sacrificing himself to reignite Earth’s sun when it was consumed by a monstrous sun-eater.

Whilst he was alive Hal’s best friend and confidante was Thomas Kalmaku, an Inuit flight engineer nicknamed “Pieface.” Although Tom survived the destruction of Coast City, the trauma led to his marriage failing and he climbed into a bottle of booze. Just as he’s fallen as far as its possible to go a lawyer turns up with a legacy left by the dead hero. Bitter and filled with self-loathing, and despite himself, Tom is saddled with a little boy named Martin Jordan who arrived with nothing more than the clothes on his back and a note that says “Fix it.”

Thomas desperately tries to unload Martin but when the Justice League and Green Lantern survivors try to confiscate the child, he realizes that once more he’s being manipulated. There’s something unnatural about the boy, a deadly monster is hunting them both and even the time-traveling Parallax is on their trail.

Just what is the true legacy of Hal Jordan, and who or what has to die to achieve it..?

This convoluted but highly readable sidebar to the epic Green Lantern mythology might deter the casual reader, but the genned-up fan will get a lot of enjoyment out of this bittersweet, action-packed yarn, especially with the ever-impressive Brent Anderson and Bill Sienkiewicz (ably assisted by some innovative colouring and effects from Ro & Bleyaert) in the illustrators’ seats.

© 2002 DC Comics.  All Rights Reserved.

DC’s Greatest Imaginary Stories

By various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-4012-0534-8

Alan Moore’s famous epigram notwithstanding not all comics tales are “Imaginary Stories.” When DC Editor Mort Weisinger was expanding the Superman continuity and building the legend he knew that the each new tale was an event that added to a nigh-sacred canon: that what was written and drawn mattered to the readers. But as an ideas man he wasn’t going to let that aggregated “history” stifle a good idea, nor would he allow his eager yet sophisticated audience to endure clichéd deus ex machina cop-outs to mar the sheer enjoyment of a captivating concept.

The mantra known to every baby-boomer fan was “Not a Dream! Not a Hoax! Not a Robot!” boldly emblazoned on covers depicting scenes that couldn’t possibly be true… even if it was only a comic book.

Imaginary Stories were conceived as a way of exploring non-continuity plots and scenarios devised at a time when editors believed that entertainment trumped consistency and knew that every comic read was somebody’s first …or potentially last.

This jolly tome celebrates that period when whimsy and imagination were king and stretches the point by leading with a fanciful tale of the World’s Mightiest Mortal as ‘Captain Marvel and the Atomic War’ (Captain Marvel Adventures #66, October 1946) actually hoaxes the public with a demonstration of how the world could end in the new era of Nuclear Proliferation, courtesy of Otto Binder and CC Beck.

‘The Second Life of Batman’ (Batman #127 October 1959) by Bill Finger, Dick Sprang and Charles Paris doesn’t really fit the definition either, but the tale of a device that predicts how Bruce Wayne’s life would have run if his parents had not been killed is superb and engaging all the same.

‘Mr. and Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent!’ by Binder and the brilliant Kurt Schaffenberger, was the first tale of an occasional series that began in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #9 (August 1960), depicting the laughter and tears that might result if the plucky news-hen secretly married the Man of Steel. From an era uncomfortably parochial and patronizing to women, there’s actually a lot of genuine heart and understanding in this tale and a minimum of snide sniping about “silly, empty-headed girls”.

Eventually the concepts became so bold that Imaginary Stories could command book length status. ‘Lex Luthor, Hero!’ (Superman #149, November 1961) by Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan and Sheldon Moldoff, recounts the mad scientist’s greatest master-plan and ultimate victory in a tale as powerful now as it ever was. In many ways this is what the whole concept was made for…

No prizes for guessing what ‘Jimmy Olsen Marries Supergirl!’ (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, #57, December 1961) is about, but the story is truly a charming delight, beautifully realized by Siegel, Swan and Stan Kaye.

‘The Origin of Flash’s Masked Identity!’ (The Flash# 128, May 1962) by John Broome, Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella, although highly entertaining, is more an enthusiastic day-dream than alternate reality, and, I suspect, added to bring variety to the mix – as is the intriguing ‘Batman’s New Secret Identity’ (Batman #151, November 1961, by Finger, Bob Kane and Paris).

‘The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue!’ (Superman #162, July 1963) is possibly the most influential tale of this entire sub-genre. Written by Leo Dorfman, with art from Swan and George Klein, this startling utopian classic was so well-received that decades later it influenced and flavoured the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman continuity for months.

The writer of ‘The Three Wives of Superman!’ is currently unknown to us but the ever-excellent Schaffenberger can at least be congratulated for this enchanting tragedy of missed chances that originally saw print in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #51, from August 1964.

‘The Fantastic Story of Superman’s Sons’ (Superman #166, November 1964) by Edmond Hamilton, Swan and Klein is a solid thriller built on a tragic premise (what if only one of Superman’s children inherited his powers?), and the book closes with the stirring and hard-hitting ‘Superman and Batman… Brothers!’, wherein orphaned Bruce Wayne is adopted by the Kents, but cannot escape a destiny of tragedy and darkness.

Written by Jim Shooter, with art from Swan and Klein, for World’s Finest Comics # 172 (December 1967) this moody thriller in many ways signalled the end of the care-free days and the beginning of a grittier, more cohesive DC universe for a less whimsical, fan-based audience.

This book is a glorious slice of fancy, augmented by an informative introduction by columnist Craig Shutt, and bolstered with mini-cover reproductions of many tales that didn’t make it into the collection, but I do have one minor quibble: No other type of tale was more dependent on an eye-catching cover, so why couldn’t those belonging to these collected classics have been included here, too?

© 1946, 1959-1964, 1967, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Flash: Emergency Stop

By Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Paul Ryan & John Nyberg, (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84856-148-9

Here’s a good old fashioned Fights and Tights romp given a bit of post-modern gloss as Caledonian wizards Morrison and Millar turn their considerable talents to the third incarnation of the Fastest Man Alive. Reprinting issues #130-135 of the monthly comic, we find Wally West living with his one true love Linda Park, whilst enjoying a celebrity life as the Scarlet Speedster.

The eponymous lead tale begins when a disembodied uniform attacks old villains, absorbing their powers – and eventually their lives – as it undertakes a sinister master-plan. Whether ghost, pre-programmed super-technology or something else, The Suit proves more than a match for Keystone’s peace officers and even her superhuman guardians. Max Mercury, Jay Garrick (the original Flash) and Impulse are not enough to save West from crippling injuries, and it takes a quantum leap in his abilities before Wally can save everybody from certain death…

Following this superb thriller the lads get a chance to show American writers how it’s pronounced as Scottish villain Mirror Master attacks the recuperating hero and his lady in ‘Flash Through the Looking Glass’. As ever the understated excellence of Ryan and Nyberg act as the perfect vehicle for all those high speed thrills, never better than when Jay Garrick takes centre-stage for the moving ‘Still-Life in the Fast Lane’, a poignant parable that shows how even the swiftest men can’t outrun old age and death…

The volume ends on what could have been a desperately annoying note, but is rescued by the sheer writing skill of the scripters. ‘Death at the Top of the World’ is the third and final part of a company crossover that began in Green Lantern #96 and continued in Green Arrow #130, dealing with the assault on an Arctic cruise ship by super-villains Sonar, Heat Wave and Hatchet, and culminating in an attack by the world-class menace Dr. Polaris.

At any other time I would trenchantly bemoan the inconsiderate planning that deemed truncating such an extended tale, but here the concluding part, played as a classic courtroom drama, really does work as a stand-alone story (though who knows how the equivalent GL or GA trade paperbacks would work?) and tops off this thoroughly readable tome in fine style.

Be warned though: the last two pages are a prologue/cliffhanger for the next collection: At least I can be Mister Grumpy about that…

© 1997, 1998, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Question: the Five Books of Blood

By Greg Rucka & various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-4012-1799-0

Spinning out of DC’s 52 and Countdown to Final Crisis year-long mega-series, ex-Gotham City cop Renee Montoya took up the faceless mask and obsessions of the shadowy hero known as The Question and sought to track down the physical copies and adherents of the gospel of All Things Evil alternatively known as the Books of Blood or the Crime Bible.

This legendary tome is said to counter all that is good in the world and justify and codify all that is wrong. Driven by a need to understand the evils she fights and stop the spread of this monstrous belief, the driven martial artist hunts for the remaining copies of the book and the distinct factions that protect them promote their teachings. She begins by following – or perhaps being stalked by – a diabolical missionary of sin: a monk of darkness. But as she closes on the secret master of the “Dark Faith” she inexorably nears her own ultimate corruption…

Originally released as five inter-related one-shots entitled Crime Bible: the Five Books of Blood, each chapter of her quest is preceded by a salutary lesson excerpted from the dreadful chronicle, with each Book of Blood illustrated by a different artist or team. ‘The Lesson of Deceit’ leads off with art by Tom Mandrake, followed by ‘The Lesson of Lust’ by Jesus Saiz, ‘The Lesson of Greed’ by Matthew Clark and ‘The Lesson of Murder’ by Diego Olmos, culminating in ‘The Parable of the Faceless’ by Manuel Garcia and Jimmy Palmiotti. But the shock ending is not what it appears as Greg Rucka’s grim tale and Montoya’s dark voyage was designed to lead directly into the final part of the mega-series triptych Final Crisis.

Moody and stylish, this hardcover edition also contains rare promotional materials distributed to retailers in the form of Montoya’s notes collected as a hunting journal.

Although highly readable with many excellent set pieces, this book is inextricably wedded to a much larger story and is pretty much impenetrable to casual readers, and the lack of a conclusive ending (pending the events of the aforementioned Final Crisis) pretty much relegates it to the limited attention of the already converted… which is in many ways the biggest crime.

© 2007, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Blue Beetle: Road Trip

By John Rogers, Keith Giffen, Cully Hamner, Rafael Albuquerque & various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-4012-1361-9

As the most recent incarnation of the venerable Blue Beetle brand settles into comic-book limbo, at least with trade paperback editions around there’s still a chance that this wonderfully exuberant version can find the audience it deserves: hopefully to rise like the immortal scarab it references…

At the height of the Infinite Crisis (ISBN: 978-1-4012-0959-9) El Paso teenager Jaime Reyes found a strange blue bug-shaped jewel. That night it attached itself to his spine transforming him into a bizarre beetle-like warrior. He was promptly swept up in the chaos, aiding Batman and other heroes in a space battle. He was lost for a year…

Returned home, he revealed his secret to his family and tried to do some good in El Paso but had to rapidly adjust to some big changes. His best bud Paco had joined a gang of super-powered freaks, the local crime mastermind was the foster-mom of his other best bud Brenda and a really scary military dude named Peacemaker started hanging around claiming the thing in Jaime’s back was malfunctioning alien tech not life-affirming Egyptian magic…

The second volume (collecting issues #7-12 of the fun-filled monthly comic) begins with ‘Brother’s Keeper’, a guest-star filled recap of his career to date before ‘Road Trip’ itself in which Jaime, Brenda and Peacemaker go looking for answers by consulting young Dan Garrett, cyber-geek and self-proclaimed expert on the previous Blue Beetles. As the first hero’s granddaughter she also has a fair claim to being the rightful owner of the gem, but a potential squabble and their research is interrupted by the return of a monstrous hunchbacked maniac determined to destroy the “demonic” new hero.

Following is ‘Inside Man’, the true story behind Peacemaker’s unwilling involvement in Jaime’s life and then Brenda finds herself in a world of trouble… She lives with her aunt who is secretly La Dama, crime boss of El Paso, and a felonious clearing house for stolen super-technology and magical artifacts, so it was only a matter of time before Brenda stumbled upon something really dangerous. Whisked to an far-distant world in ‘Should’ve Taken that Left Turn at Albuquerque…’ and ‘The Guns of Forever’ Beetle and La Dama come to an uneasy truce so that the Jaime can rescue Brenda, consequently encountering a selection of New Gods and hungry aliens.

The book ends on a thematic cliffhanger with ‘Meet the New Boss’ as Beetle and peacemaker investigate cattle mutilations, battle a giant bug monster and are introduced to its owner – an extraterrestrial envoy from The Reach who claims to be the creator of the scarab…

There are precious few comic-books that combine action and adventure with fun and wit, but authors John Rogers and Keith Giffen make this look easy in an innovative and wryly engaging saga impossible to resist, especially with the artistic endeavours of Cully Hamner, Rafael Albuquerque, Duncan Rouleau and Casey Jones making each page a visual treat.

So the latest Blue Beetle is still a fresh and delightful joy to me – and as I’m eager to pass on that feeling to all the other fuddy-duddies who are alive enough to locate an internet connection… Go Read This!

© 2006, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Flash vol. 2

By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella & Murphy Anderson (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1805-8

The second Flash triggered the Silver Age of comics, and for the first ten years or so, in terms of artistic quality and story originality, it was always the book to watch. Following his debut in Showcase #4 (cover-dated October 1956) police scientist Barry Allen was characteristically slow in winning his own title but finally after three more trial issues stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash #105 ( a February-March 1959 cover-date so it was out for Christmas 1958).

He never looked back and his first experimental endeavours can – and should – be economically yours by purchasing the previous volume of this series (ISBN13: 978-1-4012-1327-5, covering Showcase #4, 8, 13 and 14 and Flash #105-119).

The comic-book had gelled into a comfortable pattern of two tales per issue alternating with semi-regular book-length thrillers and this volume begins with a glorious example of the latter from Flash #120 (May 1961). The majority of adventures were produced by peripatetic scripter John Broome and the slickly innovative art-team of Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella, and ‘Land of Golden Giants!’ saw them at their very best in a fanciful science fiction drama where a small expedition of explorers including Barry and his protégé Wally West – AKA Kid Flash – were catapulted back millennia to the very moment when the primal super-continent (or at least the parts that would become Africa and South America) was splitting apart.

Flash stories always found a way to make cutting-edge science integral and interesting. A regular filler-feature was the speed-themed “Flash-Facts” which became a component of the stories themselves via quirky little footnotes. How many fan-boys turned a “C” to a “B” by dint of their recreational reading? I know I certainly impressed the heck out of a few nuns at the convent school I attended! (But let’s not visualise; simply move on…)

Issue #121 saw the return of a novel old foe as ‘The Trickster Strikes Back!’. The costumed criminality was balanced by Cold War skulduggery in the gripping ‘Secret of the Stolen Blueprint!’ (guest inked by the brilliant Murphy Anderson). Another contemporary zeitgeist undoubtedly led to ‘Beware the Atomic Grenade!’, a witty yarn that introduced a new member to Flash’s burgeoning Rogues Gallery when The Top turned from second-rate thief to global extortionist by means of a rather baroque thermonuclear device.

In counterpoint Kid Flash dealt with smaller scale catastrophe in ‘The Face Behind the Mask’ wherein a pop-star with a secret identity (based, I believe, on a young David Soul who began his showbiz career as a folk singer known as “the Covered Man” because he performed wearing a mask) was blackmailed by a villainous gang of old school friends.

Gardner Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but those few he did were all dynamite. None more so than the full-length epic that literally changed the scope of American comics forever. ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity and by extension resulted in the pivotal multiversal structure of the DCU, Crisis on Infinite Earths and all the succeeding cosmos-shaking crossover sagas that grew from it. And of course where DC led, others followed…

During a benefit gig Flash accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds that the comic-book hero he based his own superhero identity upon actually exists. Every adventure he had absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his mystery men comrades on the controversially named Earth-2. Locating his idol Barry convinces the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains, Shade, Thinker and the Fiddler make their own wicked comeback. And above all else, Flash #123 is a great read that still stands up today.

Utterly unaware of the stir that was brewing in fandom’s ranks, it was business as usual with #124’s alien invasion thriller ‘Space Boomerang Trap!’ which featured an uneasy alliance between the Scarlet Speedster, Elongated Man and the sinister Captain Boomerang whilst the back-up ‘Vengeance Via Television!’ tested our hero’s wits when a mad scientist used TV waves to expose his secret identity.

‘The Conquerors of Time!’ (Flash #125 December 1961) was another mind-boggling classic as time-travelling aliens attempted to subjugate Earth in 2287AD by preventing fissionable elements from forming in 100,842,246BC. Antediluvian lost races, another pivotal role for Kid Flash (easily the most trusted and responsible sidekick of the Silver Age), the introduction of the insanely cool Cosmic Treadmill plus spectacular action make this a benchmark of quality graphic narrative.

The drama continued unabated in the next issue when Mirror Master resurfaced in ‘The Doom of the Mirror Flash!’ whilst the second story looked into Barry Allen’s past in ‘Snare of the Headline Huntress!’ wherein childhood sweetheart Daphne Dean tries to rekindle Barry’s love to boost her Hollywood profile. In #127 ‘Reign of the Super-Gorilla!’ saw Grodd return, using his telepathy to run for Governor (not as daft as it sounds, honest!) whilst Kid Flash resolved parental problems in ‘The Mystery of the Troubled Boy!’ Flash #128 introduced time-travelling magician and psychotic egotist Abra Kadabra in ‘The Case of the Real-Gone Flash!’ but still had room for the intriguing vignette ‘The Origin of Flash’s Masked Identity!’

Fox and Earth-2 returned in #129’s ‘Double Danger on Earth!’ as Jay Garrick ventured to Earth-1 to save his own world from a doom comet, only to fall foul of Captain Cold and the Trickster. As well as double Flash action, this tale pictorially reintroduced Justice Society stalwarts Wonder Woman, Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

For the meantime though it was back to basics with ‘Who Doomed the Flash?’; an intriguing mystery that seemingly pooled the threats of Trickster, Captain Cold, the Top, Captain Boomerang and the Mirror Master in a superb conundrum, brilliantly solved by the Vizier of Velocity whilst his junior partner had problems enough with the Weather Wizard when ‘Kid Flash Meets the Elongated Man!’

RSVP-ing to a landmark guest-shot in Green Lantern #13 (‘Duel of the Super-Heroes!’ – see Showcase Presents Green Lantern vol. 1, ISBN13: 978-1-4012-0759-5) the Emerald Crusader again joined with our hero to defeat alien invaders in the engrossing feature-length ‘Captives of the Cosmic Ray!’ whilst #132’s lead ‘The Heaviest Man Alive!’ returned the speedster to the dimension of Gobdor (‘The Man Who Stole Central City’ from #116 and the previous volume) for another tense, super-scientific puzzle that was also a sly poke at the new Television generation. The second tale featured ‘The Farewell Appearance of Daphne Dean’ as the starlet returned to make amends in a quirky little tearjerker.

Abra Kadabra stole a rather silly encore in ‘The Plight of the Puppet Flash!’ in #133, but this was more than compensated for by the witty and sensitive Kid Flash back-up ‘The Secret of the Handicapped Boys!’ as deaf, blind and mute classmates (one disability per boy, ok?) each discovered the young hero’s secret identity.

In Flash #134, Captain Cold was ‘The Man who Mastered Absolute Zero!’ in a flamboyant thriller that co-starred Elongated Man, whilst Iris West’s father (and Flash’s prospective father-in-law) paid an unwelcome call in the cleverly comedic ‘The Threat of the Absent Minded Professor!’, whilst Kid Flash got a beautiful new costume in the invasion thriller ‘Secret of the Three Super-Weapons!’ in #135.

‘The Mirror Master’s Invincible Bodyguards!’ actually weren’t but the scarlet Speedster had a lot more trouble when a seedy blackmailer claimed ‘Barry Allen – You’re the Flash – and I Can Prove It!’ This type of clever human-scaled story was slowly disappearing in favour of the more colourful costume epics – none more so than the wonderful ‘Vengeance of the Immortal Villain!’ Another incredible Earth-2 crossover, this saw the two Flashes unite to defeat 50,000 year old Vandal Savage and save the Justice Society of America: a tale which directly led into the veteran team’s first meeting with the Justice League of America and the start of all those aforementioned “Crisis” epics.

Garner Fox scripted ‘The Pied Piper’s Double Doom!’, a mesmeric team-up with Elongated Man, but once more the Kid Flash back-up stole the show, introducing the singular thespian Dexter Myles to the steadily growing cast in a charming comedy of errors ‘Mystery of the Matinee Idol!’

Flash #139 introduced the hero’s ultimate nemesis in Professor Zoom, a 25th century criminal who duplicated his super-speed to become the ‘Menace of the Reverse-Flash!’ a taut thriller that even found time to include a cunning sub-plot about nuclear Armageddon, and this volume closes with the contents of #140 (November 1963) which debuts the super arsonist Heat Wave in the stylish ‘The Heat is on for Captain Cold!’ and finally pitted the Monarch of Motion against ‘The Metal-Eater from Beyond the Stars!’ a bizarre energy being that could nullify the speedster’s powers.

As always the emphasis was on brains and learning, not gimmicks or abilities, which is why these tales still work nearly half-a-century later. Coupled with the astounding art of Infantino these tales are a captivating snap-shot of when science was our friend and the universe(s) was a place of infinite possibility.

These tales were crucial to the development of our art-form, but, more importantly they are brilliant, awe-inspiring, beautifully realised thrillers that amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old lags. This lovely collection is another must-read item for anybody in love with the world of words-in-pictures.

© 1961, 1962, 1963, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.


By Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-85286-024-0

I’m not going to review Watchmen: there’s already too much hype around because of the movie. But since that kind of media overkill can have a detrimental effect on a property I am going to tell you why – and even how – you should read the graphic novel.

Originally released as a twelve-part maxi-series from September 1986 to October 1987, the work was originally commissioned as a reworking of the Charlton Comics “Action Hero” line (Blue Beetle, The Question, Peacemaker, Nightshade, Thunderbolt and Captain Atom) and follows the events that develop after one of those characters is murdered on an Earth very like yet radically different from our own.

That’s all the plot you get from me.

Watchmen is the perfect example not only of the perfect superhero tale, liberated as it is from the commercial tyranny of periodical publishing, but also of just how the nature of graphic narrative, the seamless marriage of picture, word and symbol, fundamentally differs from all other art forms.

Comics as a business cannot allow valuable properties to wither or die. Their intrinsic value is not as vehicles for great stories but as a means of assuring sales. Superman, Robin Hood, Captain America (and Bucky), Leonidas of Sparta, Hal Jordan, Roland, Barry Allen: in the pantheon of heroic mythology who stayed dead and who got better (or worse yet, replaced)? The great themes of Life and Death, Courage and Responsibility, Duty, Sacrifice and Victory lose their worth if the hero has a guaranteed “get out of Valhalla free” card.

And I’m not saying that any film, TV show, radio play, novelisation or even musical of a graphic novel is necessarily less good than the original material – but they are never a substitute or successor to it. Beyond a basic, fundamental sharing of textual moments and characters they are different. And it works both ways: I don’t care who draws Casablanca or scripts House on the Borderland; the only way to appreciate a masterpiece is in the original form that its creators crafted. Everything else is well- intentioned homage or scurrilous cashing in no matter how much you enjoyed it, or indeed how well the adaptation worked on its own terms. Kubick’s The Shining is not Steven King’s, Romeo and Juliet is a play, not an extended pop-video, and not even a ballet; and South Pacific is a great musical but not the awesome novel written by James A. Michener.

How many of you who have read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or V For Vendetta prefer or are even honestly satisfied by their filmic incarnations?

Watchmen uses its antecedents; it cherishes and celebrates them. It tells a tale with a beginning, a middle and a conclusive end, and tells it brilliantly. It neither deconstructs nor wields a revisionist machete to the core themes of super-heroic tradition. Crusading Legacies, Justice rendered by the individual not society, Costumes, Gadgets, even death-traps and masterminds are accepted on their own terms, not cynically mocked whilst being exploited.

The art by Dave Gibbons is superb and usually understated. At no moment is the reader unsure how to proceed, never does the drawing kidnap the attention, and at no time in this alternate world do we break the flow to wonder at what the intention was: whilst reading, that world is completely real.

Whatever your position on the film, positive or not, I beg you to read the book if you haven’t already. And I’ll even provide these handy “rules for reading Watchmen”:

1) Read the text pages: they’re important and there for a reason.

2) Look at each picture properly: what’s happening at the back, middle and sides of the panel are usually more important than what’s occurring in the foreground.

3) Pay attention: this is not a work to browse. Everything, EVERYTHING has been constructed to work as part of a perfectly completed whole. Nothing is irrelevant – not even the pirate comics stuff.

I’m writing this using my 1987, Graphitti Designs limited, slip-cased collected edition which has loads of extra features in the back but there are many versions available. Heck, even my local library has a couple of copies. There is no better superhero tale ever told. You owe it to yourself to see it in the manner it was made for.

© 1986, 1987 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Daredevil: Yellow

By Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-90415-912-5

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale set their retrofitters’ sights squarely on Daredevil’s personal relationships for this light but engaging re-examination of the sightless superhero’s early career, the six-issue miniseries more or less paralleling and in-filling the gaps of the first five Man without Fear adventures as originally crafted by Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Joe Orlando, Vince Colletta and, nominally, Wally Wood. Those classics are readily available for your perusal and delectation in such sterling volumes as Essential Daredevil volume 1 (ISBN: 978-0-7851-1861-9) should you feel the need to contrast and compare…

Matt Murdock has just lost the love of his life and here uses the rather hackneyed device of writing letters to the departed as a means of coming to terms with his grief to review his career and friendships. It’s clever, pretty and effective but defuses a little too much tension and drama to be properly tragic or compelling.

Still and all, the dialogue is sharp, there are some intriguing modern insights into the glory days of Marvel, and there’s a wonderful gallery of silly villains such as The Owl, Electro, Killgrave, The Purple Man and a mercifully brisk cameo by the risibly malevolent Matador to keep the tale chugging along. (You have to wonder how any creator concocts such a potential nemesis: “DD has horns on his head so his ultimate villain should be…”).

Loeb and Sale have produced some masterful stories about the early years of comicbook icons but this falls too short of their capabilities. A good read but no classic, I fear…

© 2001, 2003 Marvel Entertainment, Inc. and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved. (A BRITISH EDITION BY PANINI UK LTD)

Green Lantern Corps: Ring Quest

By Peter J.Tomasi, Patrick Gleason & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-116-8

Following on from the bombastic Sinestro Corps War, this volume (collecting Green Lantern Corps issues #19, 20 and 23 through 26) of the space opera/cop procedural drama finds the battered but triumphant interstellar peacekeepers on a deadly clean-up duty.

Dispatched by the Guardians of the Universe to collect or confiscate the deadly yellow power rings of their dead foes, an elite team of GLs is ambushed by the monstrous son of Mongul, a ruthless alien despot who controls one of the most insidious and horrifying weapons in creation. And now he’s started collecting yellow rings and rebuilding the Sinestro Corps…

Glossy and gritty, it’s tension and confrontation all the way in this highly readable thriller, but there’s still room for a few “buddy-movie” moments as Earth Lanterns Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner spend their downtime trying to open a cop-bar on the Guardian’s precinct-planet Oa…

Although this is highly continuity-dependent, determined newcomers will still be able to extract a vast amount of histrionic enjoyment out of this explosive action-blockbuster – and you could always buy the other volumes to get caught up…

© 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.