Adventures of Tintin: Tintin and the Broken Ear


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-617-4 (HB)                    : 978-0-416-57030-5 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

After six years of continuous week-by-week improvement, Hergé was approaching his mastery when he began The Broken Ear. His characterisations were firm in his mind, and the storyteller was creating a memorable not to say iconic supporting cast, whilst balancing between crafting satisfactory single instalments and building a cohesive longer narrative.

The version reprinted here (in either hardback or softcover as you prefer) was repackaged in colour by the artist and his studio in 1945, although the original ran as monochrome 2-page weekly instalments from 1935-1937, but there are still evident signs of his stylistic transition in this hearty, exotic mystery tale that makes Indiana Jones look like a boorish, po-faced amateur.

Back from China, Tintin hears of an odd robbery at the Museum of Ethnography and, rushing over, finds the detectives Thompson and Thomson already on the case in their own unique manner.

A relatively valueless carved wooden Fetish Figure made by the Arumbaya Indians has been taken from the South American exhibit. Bafflingly, it was returned the next morning, but the intrepid boy reporter is the first to realise that it’s a fake, since the original statue had a broken right ear.

Perhaps coincidentally, a minor sculptor has been found dead in his flat…

Thus begins a frenetic and enthralling chase to find not just who has the real statue but also why a succession of rogues attempt to secure the dead sculptor’s irreverent and troublesome parrot, with the atmospheric action encompassing the modern urban metropolis, an ocean-going liner and the steamy, turbulent Republic of San Theodoros.

Hhere the valiant lad becomes embroiled in an on-again, off-again Revolution. Eventually, though, our focus moves to the deep jungle where Tintin finally meets the Arumbayas and a long-lost explorer, finally getting one step closer to solving the pan-national mystery.

Whilst unrelenting in my admiration for Hergé I must interject a necessary note of praise for translators Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner here. Their light touch has been integral to the English-language success of Tintin, and their skill and whimsy is never better seen than in their dialoguing of the Arumbayas.

Just read aloud and think Eastenders

The slapstick and mayhem incrementally build to a wonderfully farcical conclusion with justice soundly served all around, all whilst solid establishing a perfect template for many future yarns: especially those that would perforce be crafted without a political or satirical component during Belgium’s grim occupation by the Nazis.

Here, however, Hergé’s developing social conscience and satirical proclivities are fully exercised in a telling sub-plot about rival armaments manufacturers using an early form of shuttle diplomacy to gull the leaders of both San Theodoros and its neighbour Nuevo-Rico into a war simply to increase company profits, and once again oil speculators would have felt the sting of his pen – if indeed they were capable of any feeling…

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, there’s no better time to rectify that sorry situation.

The Broken Ear: artwork © 1945, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1975 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Iron Fist Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Doug Moench, Tony Isabella, Chris Claremont, Gil Kane, Larry Hama, Arvell Jones, John Byrne & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5032-9 (HB)

Comicbooks have always operated within the larger bounds of popular trends and fashions – just look at what got published whenever westerns or science fiction dominated on TV – so when the ancient philosophy and health-&-fitness discipline of Kung Fu made its unstoppable mark on domestic entertainment it wasn’t long before the Chop Sockey kicks and punches found their way onto the four-colour pages of America’s periodicals.

As part of the first Martial Arts bonanza, Marvel converted a forthcoming license to use venerable fictional villain Fu Manchu into a series about his son. The series launched in Special Marvel Edition#15, December 1973 as The Hands of Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu and by April 1974 (#17) the title became his exclusively.

A month later the House of Ideas launched a second oriental-tinged hero in Iron Fist; a character combining Eastern combat philosophy with high fantasy, magic powers and a proper superhero mask and costume…

The character also owed a hefty debt to Bill Everett’s pioneering golden Age super-hero Amazing Man who graced various Centaur Comics publications between 1939 and 1942. The tribute was paid by Roy Thomas & Gil Kane who adopted and translated the fictive John Aman’s Tibetan origins into something that meshed better with the 1970’s twin zeitgeists of Supernatural Fantasy and Martial Arts Mayhem…

This power-packed collection (available as both sturdy hardback and bantamweight EBook) gathers the far-ranging appearances of the youthful Living Weapon from Marvel Premier #15-25 and Iron Fist#1-2 (spanning May 1974 to December 1975), tracking the high-kicking wonder as he uncovers his past and rediscovers a long-deferred heritage of humanity before inevitably settling into the inescapable role of costumed crusader…

Following a fond and informative reminiscence from Thomas in his Introduction, the non-stop action begins with the spectacular Marvel Premier #15 and the first flurry of ‘The Fury of Iron Fist!’

Thomas, Kane & inker Dick Giordano reveal how a young masked warrior defeats the cream of a legendary combat elite in a fabled other-dimensional city before returning to Earth.

Ten years previously little Daniel Rand had watched helplessly as his father and mother died at the hands of family friend Harold Meachum whilst the party risked Himalayan snows to find the legendary lost city of K’un Lun.

Little Danny had travelled with his wealthy parents and business partner Meachum in search of the fabled city – which only appears on Earth for one day every ten years. Wendell Rand hides some unsuspected connection to the fabled Shangri La, but is killed before they find it, and Danny’s mother sacrifices herself to save her child from wolves… and her murderous pursuer.

As he wanders alone in the wilderness, the city comes to Danny. He spends the next decade training: mastering all forms of martial arts in the militaristic, oriental, feudal paradise. He endures arcane ordeals, living only for the day he will return to Earth and avenge his parents…

After conquering all comers and refusing peace, a home and immortality, Iron Fist touches Earth once more: a Living Weapon able to turn his force of will into a devastating super-punch…

From the outset the feature was plagued by an inability to keep a stable creative team, although, to be fair, story quality never suffered, only plot and direction. Reaching New York City in #16, ‘Heart of the Dragon!’ (by Len Wein, Larry Hama & Giordano) finds Iron Fist reliving the years of crushing tuition and toil which had culminated in a trial by combat with mystic dragon Shou-Lao the Undying. Victory granted him the power to concentrate his fist “like unto a thing of Iron” and other, as yet unspecified, abilities. The epic clash had branded his chest with the seared silhouette of the fearsome wyrm…

His recollections are shattered when martial arts bounty hunter Scythe attacks, revealing that Meachum knows the boy is back and has put a price on his callow head…

Danny has not only sacrificed immortality for vengeance but also prestige and privilege. As he left K’un Lun, supreme ruler of the city Yü Ti, the August Personage in Jade, had revealed that murdered Wendell Rand had been his own brother…

Marvel Premier #17 saw Doug Moench take over scripting as Iron Fist storms Meachum’s skyscraper headquarters: a ‘Citadel on the Edge of Vengeance’ and converted into a colossal 30-storey death trap. Danny’s undaunted progress to the top leads to a duel with cybernetically-augmented giant Triple-Iron and a climactic confrontation with his parents’ killer in #18’s ‘Lair of Shattered Vengeance!’

The years had not been kind to Meachum. He lost his legs to frostbite returning from the high peaks, and, upon hearing from Sherpas that a boy had been taken into K’un Lun, the broken American had spent the intervening decade awaiting in dread for his victims’ avenger…

Filled with loathing, frustration and pity, Iron Fist turns away from his intended retribution, but Meachum dies anyway, slain by a mysterious Ninja as the deranged multi-millionaire attempts to shoot Danny in the back…

In #19, Joy Meachum and her ruthless uncle Ward – convinced that Iron Fist has assassinated the wheelchair-bound Harold – steps up the hunt for Danny through legal and illegal means, even as the shell-shocked Living Weapon aimlessly wanders the strange streets of Manhattan. Adopted by the enigmatic Colleen Wing, Danny meets her father, an aging professor of Oriental Studies who has fallen foul of a ‘Death Cult!’

In his own youthful travels, the aged savant had acquired ancient text The Book of Many Things which, amongst other wonders, held the secret of K’un Lun’s destruction. The deadly disciples of Kara-Kai are determined to possess it…

After thwarting another murder attempt Iron Fist tries to make peace with Joy, but instead walks into an ambush with the bloodthirsty ninja again intervening and slaughtering the ambushers…

A period of often painful inconsistency began as Tony Isabella, Arvell Jones & Dan Green took over with #20. The Kara-Kai cultists renew their attacks on the Wings whilst Ward Meachum hires a veritable army of killers to destroy the Living Weapon in ‘Batroc and Other Assassins’ – with the identity of the ninja apparently revealed here as the elderly scholar…

Marvel Premier #21 (inked by Vince Colletta) introduced the ‘Daughters of the Death Goddess’ as the Wings are abducted by the cultists and bionic former cop Misty Knight debuts, first as foe but soon after as an ally.

When Danny tracks down the cult he discovers some shocking truths – as does the ninja, who had been imprisoned within the ancient book by the August Personage in Jade in ages past and possessed Professor Wing in search of escape and vengeance…

All is revealed and the hero exonerated in #22’s ‘Death is a Ninja’ (inked by “A. Bradford”) with the ninja disclosing how, as disciple to sublime wizard Master Khan, he had attempted to conquer K’un Lun only to be imprisoned within the crumbling tome for his pains.

Over the years the prisoner had discovered a temporary escape and subsequently manipulated the Wings and Iron Fist to secure a permanent release and the doom of his jailers. Now exposed, the ninja faces the Living Weapon in a final cataclysmic clash…

A measure of stability resumed with #23 as Chris Claremont, Pat Broderick & Bob McLeod took the series in a new direction. With his life’s work over and nearly nine years until he can go “home”, Danny is now a man without purpose… until, whilst strolling with Colleen, he stumbles into a spree shooting in ‘The Name is… Warhawk.’

When the cyborg-assassin has a Vietnam flashback and begins heedlessly sniping in Central Park, the Pride of K’un Lun instantly responds to the threat… and thus begins his new role as a hero…

In ‘Summerkill’ (inked by Colletta) the itinerant exile battles alien robot The Monstroid and commences a long and complicated association with Princess Azir of Halwan. The incident also coincides with the mysterious Master Khan resurfacing, apparently intent on killing her and seizing her country…

Inked by Al McWilliams, Marvel Premier #25 was the last of the hero’s run and the start of his short-but-sweet Golden Age as John Byrne signed on as regular penciller for ‘Morning of the Mindstorm!’

Whilst Colleen is driven to unconsciousness and abducted and her father pushed to the edge of insanity by mind-bending terrorist Angar the Screamer, Danny – who is made of far sterner, more disciplined stuff – overcomes the psycho-sonic assaults and tracks the attackers to Stark Industries and into his own series…

Iron Fist #1 (November 1975) featured ‘A Duel of Iron!’ as he is tricked into battling Iron Man, even as Colleen escapes and runs into Danny’s future nemesis Steel Serpent before being recaptured and renditioned to Halwan…

After a spectacular, inconclusive and ultimately pointless battle, Danny and Misty Knight also head for Halwan in ‘Valley of the Damned!’ (#2, inked by Frank Chiaramonte), with our hero recalling a painful episode from his youth wherein his best friends Conal and Miranda chose certain death beyond the walls of regimented K’un Lun rather than remain in the lost city where they could not love each other…

To Be Continued…

Iron Fist’s peripatetic saga ranks amongst the most exciting and enjoyable Costumed Dramas of Marvel’s second generation. If you want a good, clean fight comic (and one supported by a TV iteration) this is certainly one of your best bets. Bow reverently, and Begin…
© 1974, 1975, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Godzilla


By Doug Moench, Herb Trimpe, Tom Sutton & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2153-4

What’s big and green and leaves your front room a complete mess? No, not a Christmas tree, but (arguably) the world’s most famous monster.

Back in 1976 manga and anime were only starting to creep into global consciousness and the most well-known popular culture Japanese export was a colossal radioactive dinosaur who regularly rampaged through the East, destroying cities and fighting monsters even more bizarre and scary than he was.

At this time Marvel was well on the way to becoming the multi-media corporate colossus of today and was looking to increase its international profile. Comic companies have always sought licensed properties to bolster their market-share and in 1977 Marvel truly landed the big one with a 2-year run of one of the world’s most recognisable characters. They boldly broke with tradition by dropping him solidly into real-time contemporary company continuity. The series ran for 24 guest-star-stuffed issues between August 1977 and July 1979.

Gojira first appeared in the eponymous 1954 anti-war, anti-nuke parable directed by Ishiro Honda for Toho Films; a symbol of ancient forces roused to violent reaction by mankind’s incessant meddling. The film was re-cut and dubbed into English with a young Raymond Burr inserted for US audience appeal, and the Brobdingnagian beast renamed Godzilla. He has smashed his way through 27 further Japanese movies, records, books, games, many, many comics and is the originator of the manga sub-genre Daikaijû (giant strange beasts).

Although a certified sell-out, this mammoth monochrome collection is not generally available and – due, I presume to copyright issues – is not likely to resurface anytime soon in either physical or digital form, but if you’re a regular prowler in back issue bins you might get lucky. Stranger things have happened…

In this no-frills, no-preamble Marvel interpretation compilation, the drama begins with ‘The Coming!’, courtesy of Doug Moench, Herb Trimpe & Jim Mooney, as the monstrous aquatic lizard with radioactive fire-breath erupts out of the Pacific Ocean and rampages through Alaska.

Superspy organisation S.H.I.E.L.D. is quickly dispatched to stop the onslaught, and Nick Fury calls in Japanese experts Dr. Yuriko Takiguchi, his grandson Robert and their eye-candy assistant Tamara Hashioka. After an inconclusive battle of ancient strength against modern tech, Godzilla returns to the sea, but the seeds have been sown and everybody knows he will return…

In Japan many believe that Godzilla is a benevolent force destined to oppose true evil. Young Robert is one of them and he gets the chance to expound his views in #2’s ‘Thunder in the Darkness!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia & George Tuska) when the skyscraper saurian resurfaces in Seattle and nearly razes the place before being lured away by S.H.I.E.L.D. ingenuity.

Veteran agents Dum-Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones and Jimmy Woo are seconded to a permanent anti-lizard task force until the beast is finally vanquished, but there are also dozens of freelance do-gooders in the Marvel universe…

Sadly, when the Green Goliath takes offence at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, he attracts the attention of a local superhero team. The Champions – a short-lived, California-based team consisting of Black Widow, The Angel, Iceman, Ghost Rider and Hercules – rapidly respond in ‘A Tale of Two Saviours’ (with the solids inks of Tony DeZuñiga adding a welcome depth to the art). Typically, the humans spend more time fighting each other than the monster…

There’re only so many cities even the angriest dinosaur can trash before tedium sets in so writer Moench begins his first continued story in #4 with ‘Godzilla Versus Batragon!’ (guest-pencilled by the superb Tom Sutton and again inked by DeZuñiga), wherein deranged scientist Dr. Demonicus enslaves Aleutian Islanders to help him grow his own world-wrecking giant horrors… until the real thing shows up…

The epic encounter concludes in ‘The Isle of Lost Monsters’ (inked by a fresh-faced Klaus Janson) before ‘A Monster Enslaved!’ in #6 opens another extended epic as Herb Trimpe returns and Godzilla as well as the general American public are introduced to another now commonplace Japanese innovation.

Giant, piloted battle-suits or Mecha first appeared in Go Nagai’s 1972 manga classic Mazinger Z, and Marvel would do much to popularise the sub-genre in their follow-up licensed title Shogun Warriors, (based on an import toy rather than movie or comic characters but by the same creative team as Godzilla). Here young Rob Takiguchi steals S.H.I.E.L.D.’s latest weapon – a giant robot codenamed Red Ronin – to aid the Big Green Guy when he is finally captured.

Fred Kida stirringly inked the first of a long line of saurian sagas with #7’s ‘Birth of a Warrior!’ whilst the uneasy giant’s alliance ends in another huge fight in concluding chapter ‘Titan Time Two!’

‘The Fate of Las Vegas’ (Trimpe and Kida) in Godzilla #9 is a lighter-toned morality play with the monster destroying Boulder Dam and flooding the modern Sodom and Gomorrah, but it’s soon back to big beastie bashing in ‘Godzilla vs Yetrigar’: another multi-part mash-up that ends in ‘Arena for Three!’ as Red Ronin returns to tackle both large looming lizard and stupendous, smashing Sasquatch.

The first year ends with #12’s ‘The Beta-Beast!’: first chapter in an invasion epic. Shanghaied to the Moon, Godzilla is co-opted as a soldier in a war between alien races who breed giant monsters as weapons, and when the battle transfers to Earth in ‘The Mega-Monsters from Beyond!’, Red Ronin joins the fray for blockbusting conclusion ‘The Super-Beasts’ (this last inked by Dan Green).

Afterwards, loose in cowboy country, Godzilla stomps into a rustling mystery and modern showdown in ‘Roam on the Range’ and ‘The Great Godzilla Roundup!’ before the final story arc begins.

‘Of Lizards, Great and Small’ in #17 starts with a logical solution to the beast’s rampages after superhero Ant-Man’s shrinking gas is used to reduce Godzilla to a more manageable size. However, when the diminished devastator escapes from his cage and becomes a ‘Fugitive in Manhattan!’, it’s all hands on deck as the city waits for the shrinking vapour’s effects to wear off.

‘With Dugan on the Docks!’ then sees the secret agent battle the saurian on more or less equal terms before the Fantastic Four step in for ‘A Night at the Museum.’

The FF have another humane solution and dispatch Godzilla to a primeval age of dinosaurs in #21’s ‘The Doom Trip!’, allowing every big beast fan’s dream to come true as the King of the Monsters teams up with Jack “King” Kirby’s uniquely splendid Devil Dinosaur – and Moon Boy – in ‘The Devil and the Dinosaur!’ (inked by Jack Abel), before returning to the 20th century and full size for a spectacular battle against the Mighty Avengers in ‘The King Once More’.

The story and series concluded in #24 (July 1979) with the remarkably satisfying ‘And Lo, a Child Shall Lead Them’ as all New York’s superheroes prove less effective than an impassioned plea, and Godzilla wearily departs for new conquests and other licensed outlets.

By no means award-winners or critical masterpieces, these stories are nonetheless a perfect example of what comics should be: enticing, exciting, accessible and brimming with “bang for your buck.”

Moench’s oft-times florid prose and dialogue meld perfectly here with Trimpe’s stylised interpretation, which often surpasses the artist’s excellent work on that other big, green galoot.

These are great tales to bring the young and disaffected back to the comics fold and are well worth their space on any fan’s bookshelf. If only somebody could get all the lawyers in a room and have them battle out a solution to enable us to see them in a new edition…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2006 Toho Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved. Godzilla, King of the Monsters ® Toho Co., Inc.

Tiny Titans volume 2: Adventures in Awesomeness


By Art Baltazar & Franco (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2328-1

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

DC’s Cartoon Network imprint was arguably the last bastion of children’s comics in America and consolidated that link between TV and 2D fun and thrills with stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Scooby Doo, Powerpuff Girls, Ben 10 and others.

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

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

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

It’s a scenario spring-loaded with in-jokes, sight-gags and beloved yet gently mocked paraphernalia of generations of strip readers and screen-watchers….

Collecting issues #7-12 (spanning October 2008 – March 2009) of the magically madcap and infinitely addictive all-ages mini-masterpiece, this fourth volume begins on a romantic note with Deep in Like.

Art Baltazar and co-creator Franco (Aureliani) mastered a witty, bemusingly gentle manner of storytelling that just happily rolls along, with assorted (sort-of familiar) characters getting by, trying to make sense of the great big world.

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

After handy and as-standard identifying roll-call page ‘Meet the… Tiny Titans’ the pint-sized tomfoolery opens with ‘Ya Think?’ with transparent-headed Psimon deliberating over his checkers game with similarly glass-fronted The Brain… until Kid Flash and Wonder Girl start heckling…

Meanwhile, at school Starfire gets a text from her dad telling her to come home. Of course, she invites all her friends and two-and-a-half days later the entire class is wandering around alien planet Tameran…

Once they get back Robin convenes a meeting of his new avian themed ‘Bird Scouts’ only to find his alternate identities causing a little contention and confusion…

The issue ends with a Franco Tiny Titans pinup preceded by a return confrontation between Psimon and his hecklers in ‘To Get to the Other Side’. Sadly, once again his tormentors get the last word…

‘Report Card Pickup!’ finds the adult Justice Leaguers confronting Principal Slade (AKA Deathstroke) and substitute teacher Trigon over the grades of the little folk whilst introducing a new intake from Sidekick City Preschool ominously dubbed the Tiny Terror Titans

Starfire gives Blue Beetle an unwanted makeover in ‘Happy Feeling Blue’ whilst Robin, Batgirl and Ace the Bat-hound get invitations to BB’s birthday party in ‘Joke’s on You’.

Elsewhere, the other Wonder Girl (the series plays extremely fast-&-loose with continuity so suck it up if you’re expecting serious logic, ok?) and tiny winged Bumblebee indulge their ‘Book Smarts’ until Beast Boy shows up even as, under the sea, Aqualad opens a meeting of ‘Pet Club, Atlantis’ until Raven and The Ant spoil things by breaking the first rule…

Concluding with a Puzzler page and a bonus Pinup, #8 gives way to a ninth issue and an inescapable predicament as the kids go ape because of ‘Monkey Magic’

When Beppo the Super-Chimp gets hold of a magic wand at Robin’s Comic Book Party the attendees are soon reduced to hirsute ancestral forms. Thankfully Batgirl and Bumblebee are meeting with the size-shifting Atom family (The Atom, Mrs. Atom, Crumb, Dot, baby Smidgen and dog Spot) and initially missing the ensuing chaos.

The bad boys of the Brotherhood of Evil aren’t so lucky when Beppo flies over and suddenly Brain and Psimon are as simian and banana-dependent as their talking-gorilla comrade M’sieu Mallah and before long Starfire and Batgirl also get monkey-zapped…

Resolute, bureaucratic Robin then institutes the first meeting of ‘the Titan Apes’ but that only provokes the pesky Super-Chimp to really see what his wand can do and even after Raven’s magic sorts everything out, Beppo rises to the challenge…

Closing with another Tiny Titans Puzzler Page and pinup of the diminutive ‘Atom’s Family’ the animal antics carry over into the next month as ‘World’s Funnest!’ finds Supergirl entertaining Batgirl at ‘Tea Time’.

Tragically the Girl of Steel has forgotten to feed her pet cat Streaky and her guest has been equally derelict in her duties to Ace, forcing the powers pets to seek redress as the little ladies set out on a global jaunt, meeting annoying monsters Kroc and Bizarro

A Tiny Titans Word Link Puzzler and Bonus Pinup of the eventually-reconciled stars wraps up the issue before the penultimate outing sees romantically declined Beast Boy in the throes of ‘Terra Trouble’.

The green Romeo’s intended inamorata is a feisty lass with refined tastes and in ‘Counting on Love Rocks’ she shows him the depth and density of her disaffection after which Robin greets visiting Russian student Star Fire and gets wrapped up in a tempestuous ‘Name Exchange’ dilemma. Terra meanwhile is not fooled by a viridian ‘Rock Dog’ and Beast Boy ends up with more bruises. Wiser, younger heads (mask, helmets, etc) just go to a carnival and leave them to it, whilst the lovesick loser escalates his campaign with a little ‘Rock Show’ whereas Aqualad and scary blob Plasmus just attend a monster movie ‘Double Feature’

Agonisingly undaunted, Beast Boy decides on a costume makeover and new origin. Dressed like Superman he builds a ‘Rocket Box’ but yet again fails to kindle a spark…

Silent mirth then illuminates ‘Tiny Titans Presents… The Kroc Files: Changing a Lightbulb’ before another TT Puzzler and a ‘Super Bonus Pin-Up! of Alfred and the Penguins’ escort us smartly to the final outing in this smart and sassy trade paperback or eBook extravaganza…

‘Faces of Mischief’ concentrates on the school staff as ‘Morning with the Trigons’ sees the substitute teacher and demonic overlord called in on short notice. It’s ‘Monday Morning’ and as the Principal and Trigon goof off to a baseball game, Slade leaves cafeteria server Darkseid in charge. This is the chance the Apokolyptian Lord of Destruction has been waiting for…

With the adult slackers listening to ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’, the kids are forced to endure exams and their ‘Finals Crisis’ seems eternal. After apparent ages, Robin needs a ‘Hall Pass’ but is soon accosted by not just the official Monitor but also the diabolical Anti-Monitor (trust me, if you’re wedded to DC Lore and minutiae, this is comedy gold: for the rest of you, it’s still hilariously drawn…)

Finally, the dread day ends for the kids, but as Raven heads home with Slade’s kids Rose and Jericho, she hears something that could ruin her life and takes drastic steps to ensure ‘Our Little Secret’, just as their dads concoct a sinister do-over for the following week…

Bringing the graphic glee to a halt is a new silent ‘Kroc Files: Sending an E-Mail’, a TT Baseball Unscramble Puzzler and a pin-up of the entire nefarious ‘Sidekick City Elementary Faculty’.

Despite being ostensibly aimed at super-juniors and TV kids, these wonderful, wacky yarns – which marvellously marry the heart and spirit of such classic strips as Peanuts and The Perishers with something uniquely mired and marinated in unadulterated nerdish comic-bookery – are unforgettable gags and japes no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, and wickedly intoxicating to readers of any age and temperament. What more do you need to know?
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-804-8 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-616-7 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme; unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

The clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

The Blue Lotus was serialised weekly from August 1934 to October 1935 before being published in a collected volume by Casterman in 1936: a tale of immense power as well as exuberance, and a marked advance on what has gone before.

This adventure took place in a China that was currently under sustained assault by Imperial Japan: imbued with deep emotion and informed by the honest sentiment of a creator unable to divorce his personal feeling from his work.

Set amidst ongoing incursions into China by the Japanese during the period of colonial adventurism that led to the Pacific component of World War II, readers would see Tintin embroiled in a deep, dark plot that was directly informed by the headlines of the self-same newspapers that carried the adventures of the intrepid boy reporter…

Following the drug-busting exploits seen in Cigars of the Pharaoh, and whilst staying with the Maharajah of Gaipajama, Tintin intercepts a mysterious radio message just before a visit by a secretive oriental from Shanghai. This gentleman is attacked with madness-inducing narcotic Rajaijah, before he can introduce himself or explain his mission, so the lad sets off for China to solve the mystery.

At the conclusion of Cigars, Remi advertised that Tintin would go to China next, and the author was promptly approached by Father Gosset of the University of Leuven, who begged him to avoid the obvious stereotyping when dealing with the East.

The scholar introduced him to a Chinese art-student named Chang Chong-chen (or Chong-jen or possibly Chongren). They became great friends and Chang taught Hergé much of the history and culture of one of the greatest civilisations in history.

This friendship also changed the shape and direction of all Hergé’s later work. The unthinking innate superiority of the Colonial white man was no longer a casual given, and the artist would devote much of his life to correcting those unthinking stereotypes that populated his earlier work.

Chang advised Hergé on Chinese art and infamously lettered the signs and slogans on the walls, shops and backgrounds in the artwork of this story. He also impressed the artist so much that he was written into the tale as the plucky, heroic street urchin Chang, and would eventually return in Tintin in Tibet

As Tintin delves into the enigma he uncovers a web of deception and criminality that includes gangsters, military bullies, Japanese agent provocateurs, and corrupt British policemen. Hergé also took an artistic swing at the posturing, smugly superior Westerners that contributed to the war simply by turning a blind eye, even when they weren’t actively profiting from the conflict…

As Tintin foils plot after plot to destroy him and crush any Chinese resistance to the invaders, he finds himself getting closer to the criminal mastermind in league with the Japanese. The reader regularly views a valiant, indomitable nation fighting oppression in a way that would typify the Resistance Movements of Nazi-occupied Europe a decade later, with individual acts of heroism and sacrifice tellingly mixed with the high-speed action and deft comedy strokes.

The Blue Lotus is an altogether darker and oppressive tale of high stakes: the villains in this epic of drug-running and insidious oppression are truly fearsome and despicable, and the tradition of Chinese wisdom is honestly honoured. After all, it is the kidnapped Professor Fang Hsi-ying who finally finds a cure for Rajaijah – once rescued by Tintin, Snowy and Chang. But despite the overwhelmingly powerful subtext that elevates this story, it must be remembered that this is also a brilliant, frantic rollercoaster of fun.

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, this lush series – in both hardcover or paperback – is a hugely satisfying way of rectifying that sorry situation. So why haven’t you..?
The Blue Lotus: artwork © 1946, 1974 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1983 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 4


By Bill Finger, Don Cameron, Joseph Greene, Joe Samachson, Jack Schiff, Bob Kane, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7130-5

The history of the American comicbook industry in most ways stems from the raw, vital and still compelling tales of two iconic creations published by DC/National Comics: Superman and Batman. It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in chronological order in relatively cheap, and gloriously cheerful, compilations.

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

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

Batman: The Golden Age is a series of paperback feasts (there’s also weightier, pricier, more capacious hardback Omnibus editions available, and digital iterations too) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Presented in original publishing release order, the tomes trace the character’s growth into the icon who would inspire so many and develop the resilience needed to survive the stifling cultural vicissitudes that coming decades would inflict upon him and his partner, Robin.

Re-presenting astounding cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #66-74, Batman #12-15 and pertinent stories from World’s Finest Comics #7-9, this book covers groundbreaking escapades from August 1942 to April 1943: as the Dynamic Duo continually develop and storm ahead of all competition.

As the heroes’ influence expanded, new talent joined the stable of creators. Jerry Robinson had already worked with writer Bill Finger and penciller Bob Kane, and during this period more scripters joined the ever-expanding team to detail adventures during the darkest days of World War II.

I’m certain it’s no coincidence that many of these Golden Age treasures are also some of the best and most reprinted tales in the Batman canon. With chief writer Bill Finger at a peak of creativity and production, everybody on the Home Front was keen to do their bit – even if that was simply making kids of all ages forget their troubles for a brief while…

This volume starts in grand style with the debut of a true classic villain as Finger, Kane & Robinson expose ‘The Crimes of Two-Face’ (Detective Comics #66): a classical tragedy in crime-caper form as Gotham DA Harvey Kent (whose name was later changed by editorial diktat to Dent) is disfigured in court and goes mad – becoming the conflicted thief and killer who remains one of the Caped Crusader’s greatest foes.

Batman #12 (August/September 1942) follows with another four classics. ‘Brothers in Crime’ – by Don Cameron & Robinson – reveals the tragic fates of a criminal family after which the Joker returns in ‘The Wizard of Words’ by Finger, Kane, Robinson and George Roussos.

Jack Burnley illustrated the spectacular daredevil drama ‘They Thrill to Conquer’ before ‘Around the Clock with Batman’ recounts a typical “day in the life” of the Dynamic Duo, complete with blazing guns, giant statues and skyscraper near-death experiences…

Then, from World’s Finest Comics #7 (Fall 1942), comes an imaginative thriller of chilly thrills and spills in ‘The North Pole Crimes!’ whilst Detective #67 features the Penguin as ‘Crime’s Early Bird!’, before Two-Face’s personal horror-story continues in ‘The Man Who Led a Double Life’ from #68.

Batman #13 (October/November 1942) tugged heartstrings when ‘The Batman Plays a Lone Hand’ but returned to more traditional ground after the Joker organized a ‘Comedy of Tears’ (by Jack Schiff, Kane, Robinson & Roussos). Although ‘The Story of the Seventeen Stones!’ (drawn by Burnley) then offered a deliciously experimental murder-mystery, the heroes slipped into comfortable Agatha Christie – or perhaps Hitchcock territory – as they tackled a portmanteau of crimes on a train in Cameron, Kane, Robinson and Roussos’ ‘Destination: Unknown!’ to close the issue.

Joseph Greene scripted the Joker’s next escapade in the astounding case of ‘The Harlequin’s Hoax!’ (Detective #68 before our heroes endure the decidedly different threat of ‘The Man Who Could Read Minds!’: another off-beat thriller from Cameron that premiered in Detective #70.

Cameron also wrote all four stories in Batman #14 (December 1942/January 1943). ‘The Case Batman Failed to Solve’ (illustrated by Jerry Robinson) is a superb example of the sheer decency of the Caped Crusader as he fudges a mystery for the best possible reason; ‘Prescription for Happiness’ (art by Bob Kane & Robinson) is a masterful example of the human-interest drama that used to typify Batman tales as a poor doctor discovers his own true worth, and ‘Swastika Over the White House!’ (Jack & Ray Burnley art) is typical of the spy-busting action yarns readers were gratuitously lapping up at the time.

The final story ‘Bargains in Banditry!’ – also from the Burnley boys – is another canny crime caper featuring fowl felon the Penguin.

Detective Comics #71 (January 1943, Finger, Kane & Robinson) featured ‘A Crime a Day!’ – one of the most memorable and thrilling Joker escapades of the period – whilst ‘Brothers in Law’ (by Schiff and the Burnleys from the Winter 1942 World’s Finest Comics #8) pits Batman and Robin against a Napoleon of Crime and feuding siblings who had radically differing definitions of justice…

Samachson, Kane & Robinson crafted Detective #72 which saw found our heroes crushing murderous con-men in ‘License for Larceny’ before Batman #15 (February/March 1943) lead with Schiff, Kane & Robinson’s Catwoman romp ‘Your Face is your Fortune!’ whilst Cameron and those Burnleys introduced plucky homeless boy Bobby Deen as ‘The Boy Who Wanted to be Robin!’

The same team concocted powerful propaganda tale ‘The Two Futures’, which examined an America under Nazi subjugation after which ‘The Loneliest Men in the World’ (Cameron, Kane & Robinson) was – and remains – one of the very best Christmas Batman tales ever created; full of pathos, drama, fellow-feeling and action…

Cameron, Kane & Robinson went back to spooky basics in Detective Comics#73 (March 1943) when ‘The Scarecrow Returns’, a moody chiller followed by the introduction of comical corpulent criminal psychopaths ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee!’ in #74, before this gripping volume concludes with the Batman portion of World’s Finest #9 (Spring 1943) as Finger, Robinson & Roussos recount the saga of a criminal mastermind who invented a sure-fire ‘Crime of the Month!’ scheme…

These are the stories that cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin and brought welcome surcease to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to Buy This Book…
© 1942, 1943, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Metamorpho, the Element Man


By Bob Haney, Gardner Fox, Ramona Fradon, Joe Orlando, Sal Trapani, Charles Paris & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0762-5

By the time Metamorpho, the Element Man was introduced to the costumed hero-obsessed world the first vestiges of a certifiable boom were just becoming apparent. As such the light-hearted, almost absurdist take struck a Right-time, Right-place chord, blending far out adventure with tongue-in-cheek comedy.

The bold, brash Man of a Thousand Elements debuted in The Brave and the Bold #57 (December 1964/January 1965) and, after a follow-up try-out in the next issue, catapulted right into his own title for an eclectic and oddly engaging 17-issue run. Sadly, this canny monochrome compendium – collecting all those eccentric adventures plus team-up tales from B&B #66 and 68 and Justice League of America #42) – is currently the only archival collection available. Until someone rectifies that situation, at least you can revel in some truly enchanting black-&-white illustration…

Unlike most of these splendid Showcase editions, the team-up stories here are not re-presented in original publication order but closeted together at the back, so if stringent continuity is important to you, the always informative old-school credit-pages will enable you to navigate the wonderment in the correct sequence…

Sans dreary preamble the action commences with ‘The Origin of Metamorpho’ written by Bob Haney (who created the character and wrote everything here except the JLA story). The captivating art is by Ramona Fradon & Charles Paris and introduces glamorous he-man Soldier of Fortune Rex Mason, currently working as a globe-trotting artefact procurer and agent for ruthlessly acquisitive scientific genius/business tycoon Simon Stagg.

Mason is obnoxious and insolent but his biggest fault as far as his boss is concerned is that the mercenary dares to love and be loved by the millionaire’s only daughter Sapphire

Determined to rid himself of the impudent Mason, Stagg dispatches his potential son-in-law to retrieve a fantastic artefact dubbed the Orb of Ra from the lost pyramid of Ahk-Ton in Egypt. The tomb raider is accompanied only by Java, a previously fossilised Neanderthal corpse Rex had discovered in a swamp and which (whom?) Stagg had subsequently restored to full life. Mason plans to take his final fabulous fee and whisk Sapphire away from her controlling father forever, but fate and his companion have other ideas…

Utterly faithful to the scientific wizard who was his saviour, Java sabotages the mission and leaves Mason to die in the tomb, victim of an ancient, glowing meteor. The man-brute rushes back to his master, carrying the Orb and fully expecting Stagg to honour his promise and give him Sapphire in marriage…

Trapped, knowing his time has come; Mason swallows a suicide pill as the scorching rays of the star-stone burn through him…

Instead of death relieving his torment Rex is mutated into a ghastly chemical freak capable of shape-shifting and transforming into any of the elements or compounds that comprised the human body: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, calcium, iron, cobalt and so many others…

Hungry for vengeance, Mason follows and confronts his betrayers only to be overcome by the alien energies of the Orb of Ra. An uneasy détente is declared as Mason accepts Stagg’s desperate offer to cure him …“if possible”.

The plutocrat is further horrified when Rex reveals his condition to Sapphire and finds she still loves him. Totally unaware of Stagg’s true depths of duplicity, Mason starts working for the tycoon as metahuman problem-solver Metamorpho, the Element Man.

Brave and the Bold #58 (February-March 1965) reveals more of Stagg’s closeted skeletons when old partner Maxwell Tremayne kidnaps the Element Man and later abducts Sapphire to his ‘The Junkyard of Doom!’ Apparently, the deranged armaments manufacturer was once intimately acquainted with the girl’s mother and never quite got over it…

The try-out comics were an unqualified success and Metamorpho promptly debuted in his own title, cover-dated July-August 1965, just as the wildly tongue-in-cheek “High Camp” craze was catching on in all areas of popular culture; blending ironic vaudevillian kitsch with classic movie premises as theatrical mad scientists and scurrilous spies began to appear everywhere.

‘Attack of the Atomic Avenger’ sees nuclear nut-job Kurt Vornak trying to crush Stagg Industries, only to be turned into a deadly, planet-busting radioactive super-atom, after which ‘Terror from the Telstar’ pits the charismatic cast against Nicholas Balkan, a ruthless criminal boss set on sabotaging America’s Space Program.

Mad multi-millionaire T.T. Trumbull then uses his own daughter Zelda to get to Simon Stagg through his heart, accidentally proving to everyone who knew him that the old goat actually has one. This was part of the maniac’s attempt to seize control of America in ‘Who Stole the U.S.A.?’, but the ambitious would-be despot backed up the scheme with an incredible robot specifically designed to destroy Metamorpho.

Happily, Rex Mason’s guts and ingenuity proved more effective than the Element Man’s astonishing powers…

America saved, the dysfunctional family head South of the Border, becoming embroiled in ‘The Awesome Escapades of the Abominable Playboy’ as Stagg tries to marry Sapphire off to Latino Lothario Cha Cha Chavez. The wilful girl is simply trying to make Mason jealous and had no idea of her dad’s true plans; Stagg senior has no conception of Chavez’s real intentions or connections to the local tin-pot dictator…

With this issue the gloriously stylish Ramona Fradon left the series, to be replaced by two artists who strove to emulate her unique, gently madcap manner of drawing with varying degrees of success. Luckily veteran inker Charles Paris stayed on to smooth out the rough edges…

First up was E.C. veteran Joe Orlando whose 2-issue tenure began with outrageous doppelganger drama ‘Will the Real Metamorpho Please Stand Up?’ wherein eccentric architect Edifice K. Bulwark tries to convince Mason to lend his abilities to his chemical skyscraper project. When Metamorpho declines Bulwark and Stagg attempt to create their own Element Man… with predictably disastrous consequences.

‘Never Bet Against an Element Man!’ (#6 May-June 1966) took the team to the French Riviera as gambling grandee Achille Le Heele snookers Stagg and wins “ownership” of Metamorpho. The Creepy Conchon’s ultimate goal necessitated stealing the world’s seven greatest wonders (such as the Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower) and, somehow, only the Element Man can make that happen…

Sal Trapani took over pencilling with #7’s ‘Terror from Fahrenheit 5,000!’ as the acronymic super-spy fad hits hard. Metamorpho is enlisted by the C.I.A. to stop suicidal maniac Otto Von Stuttgart destroying the entire planet by dropping a nuke into the Earth’s core, before costumed villain Doc Dread is countered by an undercover Metamorpho becoming ‘Element Man, Public Enemy!’ in a diabolical caper of doom and double-cross…

Metamorpho #9 shifted into the realm of classic fantasy when suave and sinister despot El Mantanzas maroons the cast in ‘The Valley That Time Forgot!’: battling cavemen and antediluvian alien automatons, after which a new catalysing element is added in ‘The Sinister Snares of Stingaree!’

This yarn introduces Urania Blackwell – a secret agent somehow transformed into an Element Girl and sharing all Metamorpho’s incredible abilities. Not only is she dedicated to eradicating evil such as criminal cabal Cyclops, but Urania is also the perfect paramour for Rex Mason…

He even cancels his wedding to Sapphire to go gang-busting with her…

With a new frisson of sexual chemistry sizzling beneath the surface, ‘They Came from Beyond?’ finds the conflicted Element Man confronting an apparent alien invasion whilst ‘The Trap of the Test-Tube Terrors!’ provides another attempt to cure Rex of his unwanted powers. This allows mad scientist Franz Zorb access to Stagg Industry labs long enough to build an army of chemical horrors…

The plot thickens with Zorb’s theft of a Nucleonic Moleculizer, prompting a continuation in #14 wherein Urania is abducted only to triumphantly experience ‘The Return from Limbo’

Events and stories grew increasingly outlandish and outrageous as the TV superhero craze intensified and ‘Enter the Thunderer!’ (#14, September/October 1967) depicted Rex pulled between Sapphire and Urania as marauding extraterrestrial Neutrog terrorises the planet in preparation for the awesome arrival of his mighty mutant master.

The next instalment heralded an ‘Hour of Armageddon!’ as the uniquely menacing Thunderer takes control of Earth until boy genius Billy Barton assists the Elemental defenders in defeating the mutant horror.

Trapani inked himself for Metamorpho #16; an homage to H. Rider Haggard’s She novels wherein ‘Jezeba, Queen of Fury!’ changes the Element Man’s life forever.

When Sapphire marries playboy Wally Bannister, the heartbroken Element Man undertakes a mission to find the lost city of Ma-Phoor. Here he encounters an undying beauty who wants to conquer the world and just happens to be Sapphire’s exact double.

Moreover, the immortal empress of a lost civilisation had once loved an Element Man of her own: a Roman soldier named Algon transformed into a chemical warrior two millennia previously.

Believing herself reunited with her lost love, Jezeba finally launches her long-delayed attack on the outside world with disastrous, tragic consequences…

The strangely appetising series came to a shuddering and unsatisfactory halt with the next issue as the superhero bubble burst and costumed comic characters suffered their second recession in fifteen years. Metamorpho was one of the first casualties, cancelled just as (or perhaps because) the series was emerging from its quirky comedic shell with the March-April 1968 issue.

Illustrated by Jack Sparling, ‘Last Mile for an Element Man!’ sees Mason tried and executed for the murder of Wally Bannister, resurrected by Urania Blackwell and set on the trail of true killer Algon. Along the way, Mason and Element Girl uncover a vast, incredible conspiracy and rededicate themselves to defending humanity at all costs.

The tale ends on a never-resolved cliffhanger: when Metamorpho was revived a few years later no mention was ever made of these last game-changing issues…

The elemental entertainment doesn’t end here though as this tome somewhat expiates the frustrating denouement with three terrific team-up tales beginning with The Brave and the Bold #66 (June/July 1966) and ‘Wreck the Renegade Robots’ where a mad scientist usurps control of the Metal Men just as their creator Will Magnus is preoccupied turning Metamorpho back into an ordinary mortal…

Two issues later (B& B #68 October/November 1966) the still Chemically Active Crime-buster battles Bat-Baddies Penguin, Joker and Riddler as well as a fearsomely mutated Caped Crusader in the thoroughly bizarre ‘Alias the Bat-Hulk!’ – both tales coming courtesy of Haney, Mike Sekowsky & Mike Esposito.

Sekowsky also drew the last story in this volume. Justice League of America #42 (February 1966) sees the hero joyfully join the World’s Greatest Superheroes to defeat a cosmic menace deemed The Unimaginable. The grateful champions instantly offer him membership but are astounded when – and why – ‘Metamorpho Says… No!’: a classic adventure written by Gardner Fox and inked by Bernard Sachs.

The wonderment finally concludes with a sterling pin-up of the Element Man and his core cast by Fradon & Paris.

Individually enticing, always exciting but oddly frustrating in total, this book will delight readers who aren’t too wedded to cloying continuity but simply seek a few moments of casual, fantastic escapism.
© 1965-1967, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 2 1966-1968: Lonely are the Hunted


By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Werner Roth, Don Heck, George Tuska, Ross Andru, Jack Sparling, Dan Adkins, Tom Sutton, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9583-2

In the autumn of 1963 The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier.

The teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo Superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After nearly eight years of eccentrically spectacular adventures the mutant misfits virtually disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just like in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes once more dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although their title returned at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the ongoing Marvel universe, whilst the bludgeoning Beast was opportunistically transformed into a scary monster to cash in on the horror boom.

Even in their heyday the mutants were never a top seller and this volume reveals an increasing tendency for radical rethinks and attention-grabbing stunts that would soon be common currency throughout comics…

X-Men always enjoyed a small, devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek cosy attractiveness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

By the time of this turbulent compilation (collecting in trade paperback and digital formats X-Men #24-45 and Avengers #53, plus spoof skits from Not Brand Echh #4 and 8 from September 1966 to June 1968), attitudes and events from the wider world were starting to inflict an era of uncertainty on the Merry Mutants and beginning to infuse every issue with an aura of nervous tension.

During the heady 1960s, Marvel Comics had a vast following among older teens and college kids, and youthful scribe Roy Thomas spoke and wrote as they did. Coupled with his easy delight in expansive character casts this initially made X-Men a very welcoming read for we adolescent baby-boomers. However, with societal unrest everywhere, those greater issues were beginning to be reflected in the comics…

A somewhat watered-down version of the counter-culture had been slowly creeping into these tales of teenaged triumph and tragedy, mostly for comedic balance, but they were – along with Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man – some of the earliest indications of the changing face of America…

Illustrated by Roth with Dick Ayers inking, the action opens with the recently departed Marvel Girl (yanked out of the Xavier School – and consequently off the team – and packed off to college by her parents) visiting her old chums to regale them with tales of life at New York’s Metro University…

Her departure segues neatly into a beloved plot standard – Evil Scientist Grows Giant Bugs – when she enrols and meets an embittered recently-fired professor, leading her erstwhile comrades to confront ‘The Plague of… the Locust!’

Perhaps X-Men #24 isn’t the most memorable tale in the canon but it still reads well and has the added drama of Marvel Girl’s departure for college crystallizing the romantic rivalry for her affections between Cyclops and Angel: providing another deft sop to the audience as it enabled many future epics to include Campus life in the action-packed, fun-filled mix…

Somehow Jean still managed to turn up in every issue even as ‘The Power and the Pendant’ (#25; October 1966) found the boys tracking new menace El Tigre. This South American hunter was visiting New York to steal the second half of a Mayan amulet which would grant him god-like powers…

Having soundly thrashed the mutant heroes, newly-ascended and reborn as Kukulcán, the malign meta returns to Amazonian San Rico to recreate a fallen pre-Columbian empire with the heroes in hot pursuit. The result is a cataclysmic showdown in ‘Holocaust!’ which leaves Angel fighting for his life and deputy leader Cyclops crushed by guilt…

Issue #27 saw the return of some old foes in ‘Re-enter: The Mimic!’ even as the mesmerising Puppet Master pits power-duplicating Calvin Rankin against a team riven by dissention and ill-feeling, whilst in ‘The Wail of the Banshee!’ Rankin joins the X-Men in a tale introducing the sonic-powered mutant (eventually to become a valued team-mate and team-leader) as a deadly threat. This was the opening salvo of an ambitious extended epic featuring the global menace of sinister, mutant-abducting organisation Factor Three.

John Tartaglione replaced Ayers as regular inker with the bright and breezy thriller ‘When Titans Clash!’, as the power-duplicating Super-Adaptoid almost turns the entire team into robotic slaves before ending the Mimic’s crime-busting career, after which Jack Sparling & Tartaglione illustrated ‘The Warlock Wakes’.

Here old Thor foe Merlin enjoys a stylish upgrade to malevolent mutant menace whilst attempting to turn the planet into his mind-controlled playground, after which Marvel Girl and the boys reunite to tackle a deranged Iron Man wannabe who is also an accidental atomic time bomb in ‘We Must Destroy… the Cobalt Man!’ (by Roth & Tartaglione).

‘Beware the Juggernaut, My Son!’ then augments an aura of oppression and dire days ahead as Professor X is abducted by Factor Three and the X-Men are forced to stand alone against an unstoppable mystic monster…

The blistering battle against Juggernaut is interrupted by a helpful guest-shot from Doctor Strange (and his mentor the Ancient One) leading to a life-saving trip ‘Into the Crimson Cosmos!’

Armed with crucial knowledge regarding the nature of their enemy, the mutants are able to vanquish the unstoppable Cain Marko, but when the dust settles the kids are left with almost no resources to rescue their abducted leader…

Dan Adkins – in full Wally Wood appreciation mode – memorably illustrated #34’s ‘War… In a World of Darkness!’ as the desperate team’s search for Xavier takes them into the middle of a subterranean civil war between immortal Tyrannus and the Mole Man, before he inked Roth on follow-up ‘Along Came A Spider…’

When absent ally Banshee is captured mid-sentence during a crucial communication with the X-Men, everybody’s favourite wall-crawler is mistaken for a Factor Three flunky. After the desperate and distraught mutants find the hero the webslinger is forced to battle for his life against the increasingly unstable teens…

‘Mekano Lives’ (with art from Ross Andru & George Roussos, nee Bell) sees the cash-strapped teens delayed in their attempts to follow a lead to Europe by a troubled rich kid with a stolen exo-skeletal super-suit, but his defeat happily provides them with the wherewithal needed to resume their search…

Don Heck stepped in as inker over Andru’s pencils with #37 as ‘We, the Jury…’ finds the mutants finally facing Factor Three – now in alliance with a host of their oldest and most venal mutant foes – and primed to trigger an atomic war between the Americans and Soviet Union.

Heck assumed the penciller’s role for ‘The Sinister Shadow of… Doomsday!’ (inked by Roussos), before the tense Armageddon saga concludes with good and evil mutants temporarily united against a common foe in ‘The Fateful Finale!’ (embellished by Vince Colletta).

Werner Roth had not departed the mutant melee: with issue #38 a classy and compelling back-up feature had commenced, and his slick illustration was perfect for the fascinating Origins of the X-Men series. Inked by John Verpoorten ‘A Man Called… X’ began unveiling the hidden history of Cyclops, also revealing how Xavier began his cosy relationship with human FBI agent Fred Duncan

The second instalment, ‘Lonely are the Hunted!’ displayed humanity in full-on mob-mode as terrified citizens riot and stalk newly “outed” mutant Scott Summers: scenes reminiscent of contemporary race-riots that would fuel the racial outcast metaphor of the later Chris Claremont team.

Back at the front of the comicbook, Thomas, Heck & George Tuska ushered in a new era for the team with #40’s ‘The Mask of the Monster!’ as – now clad in new, individualistic costumes rather than superhero school uniforms – the young warriors tackle what seems to be Victor Frankenstein’s unholy creation, whilst in the second feature Scott Summers meets ‘The First Evil Mutant!’

‘Now Strikes… the Sub-Human!’ and sequel ‘If I Should Die…’ introduce tragic survivor Grotesk, whose only dream is to destroy the entire planet, and who institutes the greatest and most stunning change yet to the constantly evolving series.

I’m spoiling nothing now, but when this story first ran, the shock couldn’t be described as the last page showed the heroic, world-saving death of Charles Xavier. I’m convinced that at the time this was an honest plot development – removing an “old” figurehead and living deus ex machina from a “young” series – and I’m just as certain that his subsequent “return” a few years later was an inadvisable reaction to dwindling sales…

From the rear of those climactic issues ‘The Living Diamond!’ and ‘The End… or the Beginning?’ (this last inked by neophyte Herb Trimpe) signalled the creation of The Xavier School for Gifted Children as solitary recluse Professor X takes fugitive Scott under his wing and begins his Project: X-Men…

Issue #43 instituted the true reinvention of the mutant team with ‘The Torch is Passed!’ (Thomas, Tuska & Tartaglione) as arch-nemesis Magneto returns with reluctant confederates Toad, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch to entrap the bereaved heroes in his hidden island fortress.

This epic action event was supported by educational back-up tale entitled ‘Call Him… Cyclops’ (Thomas, Roth & John Verpoorten), revealing the secrets of the mutant’s awesome eye-blasts, after which the next issue saw the modern-day Angel inexplicably escape and encounter a revived Golden Age Timely Comics hero whilst flying back to America for reinforcements against Magneto.

Rousing read ‘Red Raven, Red Raven…’ (Thomas and Gary Friedrich, with Don Heck layouts, Roth pencils & inks from Tartaglione) was accompanied by the opening of the next X-Men Origins chapter-play as ‘The Iceman Cometh!’, courtesy of Friedrich, Tuska & Verpoorten.

X-Men #45 led with ‘When Mutants Clash!’ as Cyclops also escapes, only to encounter the highly-conflicted Quicksilver; a battle latterly concluded in Avengers #53 as ‘In Battle Joined’ (Thomas, John Buscema and Tuska). This depicts Magneto’s defeat and apparent death. Meanwhile, back in the back of #45, Iceman’s story of small town intolerance continues – but does not here conclude – in ‘And the Mob Cried… Vengeance!’

Although the drama hits pause the comics do not as 1960’s superhero satire vehicle Not Brand Echh numbers #4 and 8 provide a brace of spoof sagas beginning with ‘If Magneat-o Should Clobber Us…’ (Thomas & Tom Sutton) whilst Friedrich & Sutton describe all-out mutant war in ‘Beware the Forbush-Man, My Son!’

This volume concludes with a glorious and revelatory selection of extras a batch of unused covers: Roth’s submissions for X-Men #25 and 33, Gil Kane’s banned (by the Comics Code Authority) take on #33’s and Tuska’s for issue #38.

After a brace of original art pages by Heck, a succession of pre-“tweaked” (modified by the Marvel Bullpen design team) covers follow – #40 & 42 – as well as three extra pages for X-Men #45, created for the story’s reprint run in Marvel Triple Action.

Closing down the mutant mayhem are a Kirby T-Shirt design plus previous Masterworks covers courtesy of The King, Roth, Tuska and painter Dean White.

These tales perfectly display Marvel’s evolution from quirky action tales to the more fraught, breast-beating, convoluted melodramas that inexorably led to the monolithic X-brand of today. Well drawn, highly readable stories are never unwelcome or out of favour though, and it should be remembered that everything here informs so very much of today’s mutant mythology. These are unmissable stories for the dedicated fan and newest convert. Every comics fan should own this book, so do…
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

StormWatch volume One


By Warren Ellis, Tom Raney & Randy Elliott, with Michael Ryan, Jim Lee & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3420-1 (HC)                    978-1-4012-3421-8 (TPB)

StormWatch evolved out of the creative revolution which saw big name creators abandon the major “work-for-hire” publishers and set up their own companies and titles – with all the benefits and drawbacks that entailed.

As with most of those glossy, formulaic, style-over-content, almost actionably derivative titles the series started with a certain verve and flair but soon bogged down for a lack of ideas and outside help was called in to save the sinking ships.

Dedicated Iconoclast Warren Ellis took over the cumbersome series with issue #37 and immediately began brutalizing the title into something not only worth reading but within an unfeasibly brief time produced a dark, edgy and genuinely thought-provoking examination of heroism, free will, the use and abuse of power and ultimate personal responsibility. Making the book uniquely his, StormWatch became unmissable reading as the series slowly evolved itself out of existence, to be reborn as the eye-popping, mind-boggling anti-hero phenomenon The Authority.

And now of course, the entire rebellious pack have been subsumed by the big corporate colossi they were reacting against. Some things never change…

StormWatch was a vast United Nations-sponsored Special Crisis Intervention unit tasked with managing superhuman menaces with national or international ramifications and global threats, operating under the oversight of a UN committee. They were housed in “Skywatch”: a futuristic space station in geosynchronous orbit above the planet and could only act upon specific request of a member nation.

The multinational taskforce comprised surveillance and intelligence specialists, technical support units, historians and researchers, detention technicians, combat analysts, divisions of uniquely trained troops, a squadron of state-of-the-art out-atmosphere fighter planes all supporting a band of deputised superheroes for front-line situations beyond the scope of mere mortals.

The whole affair was controlled by incorruptible overseer Henry Bendix“The Weatherman”.

Referencing a host of fantasy classics ranging from T.HU.N.D.E.R. Agents and Justice League of America to Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlet and even Star Trek: The Next Generation, this initial archival collection (available in hardback, softcover and digital editions) collects issues #37-47 of the comicbook series and describes how the aftermath of a team-member dying forces Bendix to re-evaluate his mission: seeking more effective ways to police the growing paranormal population and the national governments apparently determined to exterminate or exploit them…

The restructuring begins in ‘New World Order’ (by Ellis, Tom Raney & Randy Elliott) as, following the funeral of the fallen comrade, Bendix fires a large number of the superhuman contingent and recruits a trio of new “posthuman” heroes: electric warrior Jenny Sparks, extra-terrestrially augmented detective Jack Hawksmoor and psycho-killer Rose Tattoo.

Weatherman’s own chain-of-command has altered too: his new superiors in the UN Special Security Council are all anonymous now and, with the world in constant peril, they have given Bendix carte blanche. He will succeed or fail all on his own…

The super-agents are further restructured: StormWatch Prime is the name of the regular, public-facing metahuman team, whilst Black is the code for a new covert insertion unit.

StormWatch Red comprises the most powerful and deadly agents: they will handle “deterrent display and retaliation” – preventing crises by scaring the bejeezus out of potential hostiles…

Meanwhile in Germany, as all the admin gets signed off, a madman has unleashed a weaponized superhuman maniac to spreading death, destruction and disease. Whilst new Prime Unit deals with it Bendix shows the monster’s creator just how far he is prepared to go to preserve order on the planet below…

‘Reprisal’ is a murder investigation. No sooner has one of the redundant ex-StormWatch operatives arrived home than he is assassinated and Jack Hawksmoor, Irish ex-cop Hellstrike and pyrokine Fahrenheit’s subsequent investigation reveals the kill was officially instigated by a friendly government and StormWatch member-state…

Hawksmoor, Jenny Sparks and aerial avenger Swift are dispatched to an ordinary American town with a big secret in ‘Black’ as Amnesty International reports reveal that some US police forces are engaging in systematic human rights abuse.

In Lincoln City they’re also building their own metahuman soldiers and testing them on ethnic minorities…

‘Mutagen’ sees the Prime team in action in Britain after terrorists release an airborne pathogen to waft its monstrous way across the Home Counties, turning humans into ghastly freaks for whom death is a quick and welcome mercy.

As Skywatch’s Hammerstrike Squadron performs a sterilising bombing run over outraged Albion, StormWatch Red arrives in the villains’ homeland to teach them the error of their ways…

In this continuum most superhumans are the result of exposure to a comet which narrowly missed the Earth, irradiating a significant proportion of humanity with power-potential. These “Seedlings’” abilities usually lie dormant until an event triggers them.

StormWatch believed they had a monopoly on posthumans who could trigger others in the form of special agent Christine Trelane, but when she investigates a new potential meta, she discovers proof of another ‘Activator’ (illustrated by Michael Ryan & Elliott).

Coming closer to solving a long-running mystery regarding where the American Government is getting its new human weapons, Trelane first has to deal with the worst kind of seedling… a bad one…

Raney returns and the Ellis Experiment continues with spectacular action set-piece ‘Kodǒ’ from #42. Japan shudders and reels under telekinetic assault courtesy of cruelly conjoined artificial mutants bred by a backward-looking doomsday-cult messiah. The Prime team is dispatched to save lives and hunt down the instigators in a good old-fashioned, get-the-bad-guys romp which gives the team’s multi-faceted Japanese hero Fuji a chance to shine…

By this time the comics world was paying close attention as “just another high-priced team-book” became an edgy, unmissable treatise on practical heroism and the uses and abuses of power.

Making the title unquestionably his plaything, Ellis slowly evolved StormWatch out of existence, to be reborn as the no-rules-unbroken landmark The Authority. The transition hit high gear with the following tales: short, hard looks at individual cast members

The incisive explorations begin with ‘Jack Hawksmoor’: a human subjected to decades of surgical manipulation by aliens to become the avatar of cities. Drawn to the scene of a serial killer’s grotesque excesses, Jack uncovers a festering government cover-up which reaches deep into the soul of American idolatry: implicating one the culture’s most revered idols and threatening to rip the country apart if exposed.

Nevertheless, the apparently untouchable murderer will never cease his slaughter-campaign unless someone stops him…

‘Jenny Sparks’ follows the cynical Englishwoman whose electrical powers were an expression of her metaphysical status as incarnate “Spirit of the Twentieth Century”: proffering a captivating pastiche of fantasy through the last hundred years as the jaded hero recounts her life story (see also Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority).

This dazzling series of pastiches references Siegel & Shuster, Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare, Kirby, Crumb and the horrors of Thatcherite Britain in a gripping tale of betrayal…

Terse thriller ‘Battalion’ then sees StormWatch’s normally non-operational, behind-the-scenes trainer fall into a supremacist terror-plot whilst on leave in Alabama. To survive, he’s forced to call on skills and abilities he never thought he’d need again…

‘Rose Tattoo’ was a mute and mysterious sexy super psycho-killer recruited by Bendix as a walking ultimate sanction. When her super-powered team-mates go on a hilarious alcoholic bonding exercise, she finally shows her true nature in a tale which foreshadows an upcoming crisis for the entire team… and planet.

Following Raney & Elliot’s sterling run Jim Lee & Richard Bennett illustrate the concluding ‘Assembly’ as Bendix sends his core team into the very pits of Hell in a bombastic action-packed shocker that acts as a “jumping-on point” for new readers and a reminder of what StormWatch is and does… preparatory to Ellis kicking the props out from under the readership in the next volume…

Also on show are a concluding gallery of covers and variants by Raney & Elliott, Gil Kane & Tom Palmer and Mark Erwin.

Artfully blending the comfortably traditional with the radically daring, these transitional tales offered a new view of the Fights ‘n’ Tights scene that tantalised jaded readers and led the way to the groundbreaking phenomenon of the Authority, Planetary and later iconoclastic advances.

Raney & Elliott’s art is competent and mercifully underplayed – a real treat considering some of the excessive visual flourishes of the Image Era – but the real focus of attention is always the brusque “sod you” True Brit writing which trashes all the treasured ideoliths of superhero comics to such devastating effect.

This is superb action-based comics drama: cynical, darkly satirical, anarchic, alternately rip-roaringly funny and chilling in its examination of Real Politik but never forgetting that deep down we all really want to see the baddies get a good solid smack in the mouth…

These now relatively vintage tales celebrate the best of what has gone before whilst kicking in the doors to a bleaker more compelling tomorrow.
© 1996, 1997 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Hellboy Omnibus volume 1: Seed of Destruction


By Mike Mignola, with John Byrne, Mark Chiarello, Matt Hollingsworth, James Sinclair, Dave Stewart, Pat Brosseau & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-666-5                  eISBN: 978-1-50670-687-0

Hellboy was first seen 25 years ago in the 1993 San Diego Comic Con programme. Happy Birthday, Big Red.

After the establishment of the comicbook direct market system, there was a huge outburst of independent publishers in America and, as with all booms, a lot of them went bust. Some few however were more than flash-in-the-pans and grew to become major players in the new world order.

Arguably, the most successful was Dark Horse Comics who fully embraced the shocking new concept of creator ownership (amongst other radical ideas). This concept – and their professional outlook and attitude – drew a number of big name creators to the new company and in 1994 Frank Miller & John Byrne formally instituted the sub-imprint Legend for those projects major creators wanted to produce their own way and at their own pace.

Over the next four years the brand counted Mike Mignola, Art Adams, Mike Allred, Paul Chadwick, Dave Gibbons and Geof Darrow amongst its ranks; generating a wealth of superbly entertaining and groundbreaking series and concepts. Unquestionably the most impressive, popular and long-lived was Mignola’s supernatural thriller Hellboy.

As previously cited, the monstrous monster-hunter debuted in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (August 1993) before formally launching in 4-issue miniseries Seed of Destruction (with Byrne scripting over Mignola’s plot and art). Colourist Mark Chiarello added layers of mood with his understated hues.

That story and the string of sequels that followed are re- presented here in a new trade paperback offering earliest longform triumphs of the Scourge of Sheol – The Wolves of Saint August; The Chained Coffin; Wake the Devil and Almost Colossus – in the first of an omnibus sequence to be accompanied by a companion series of tomes featuring all the short stories.

Crafted by Mignola, scripter John Byrne and colourist Mark Chiarello, the incredible story begins with a review of secret files. On December 23rd 1944 American Patriotic Superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers interrupted a satanic ritual predicted by Allied parapsychologist Professors Trevor Bruttenholm and Malcolm Frost.

They were working in conjunction with influential medium Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones. They were all waiting at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when a demon baby with a huge stone right hand appeared in a fireball. The startled soldiers took the infernal yet seemingly innocent waif into custody.

Far, far further north, off the Scottish Coast on Tarmagant Island, a cabal of Nazi Sorcerers roundly berated ancient wizard Grigori Rasputin whose Project Ragna Rok ritual seemed to have failed. The Russian was unfazed. Events were unfolding as he wished…

Five decades later, the baby has grown into a mighty warrior engaging in a never-ending secret war: the world’s most successful paranormal investigator. Bruttenholm has spent the years lovingly raising the weird foundling whilst forming an organisation to destroy unnatural threats and supernatural monsters – The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. “Hellboy” is now its lead agent…

Today, the recently-returned, painfully aged professor summons his surrogate son and warns him of impending peril wrapped in obscured reminiscences of his own last mission. The Cavendish Expedition uncovered an ancient temple submerged in arctic ice, but what occurred next has been somehow stricken from Bruttenholm’s memory. Before he can say more the mentor is killed by a rampaging plague of frogs and enraged Hellboy is battling for his life against a demonic giant amphibian…

Following fact-files about Project Ragna Rok and ‘An African Myth about a Frog’ Chapter Two opens at eerie Cavendish Hall, set on a foetid lake in America’s Heartland. Matriarch Emma Cavendish welcomes Hellboy and fellow BPRD investigators Elizabeth Sherman and Dr. Abraham Sapien but is not particularly forthcoming about her family’s obsession.

Nine generations of Cavendish have sought for and sponsored the search for the Temple at the Top of the World. Three of her own sons were lost on the latest foray, from which only Bruttenholm returned, but her story of how founding patriarch Elihu Cavendish’s obsession infected every male heir for hundreds of years imparts no fresh insights.

She also says she knows nothing about frogs, but she’s lying and the agents know it…

As they retire for the night, Hellboy’s companions prepare for battle. Liz is a psychic firestarter but is still taken unawares when the frogs attack and the Dauntless Demon fares little better against another titanic toad-monster.

Of Abe there is no sign: the BPRD’s own amphibian has taken to the dank waters of the lake in search of long-buried answers…

And then a bald Russian guy claiming to know the truth of Hellboy’s origins appears and monstrous tentacles drag the hero through the floor…

Chapter Three opens in a vast hidden cellar where Rasputin explains he is the agent for undying and infinite antediluvian evil: seven-sided serpent Ogdru-Jahad who sleeps and waits to be reawakened. Hellboy was summoned from the pit to be the control interface between the great beast and the wizard as he oversaw the fall of mankind, but when the BPRD agent refuses his destiny – in his own obtuse, obnoxious manner – Rasputin goes crazy…

Overwhelmed by the Russian’s frog servants, Hellboy is forced to listen to the story of Rasputin’s alliance with Himmler and Hitler and how they sponsored a mystic Nazi think-tank to conquer the Earth. Of how the mage manipulated the fanatics, found the Temple at the Top of the World and communed with The Serpent and of how the last Cavendish Expedition awoke him. Of how he used them to trace the crucial tool he had summoned from Hell half a century ago…

And then the raving Russian reveals how his infernal sponsor Sadu-Hem – intermediary of The Serpent – has grown strong on human victims but will become unstoppable after feasting on Liz’s pyrokinetic energies…

With all hell literally breaking loose, the final chapter finds Rasputin exultantly calling upon each of the seven aspects as Hellboy attempts a desperate, doomed diversion and the long-missing Abe Sapien finally makes his move, aided by a hidden faction Rasputin had not anticipated…

The breathtaking conclusion sees the supernal forces spectacularly laid to rest, but the defeat of Sadu-Hem and his Russian puppet only opens the door for other arcane adversaries to emerge…

Bombastic, moody, laconically paced, suspenseful and explosively action-packed, Seed of Destruction manages the masterful magic trick of introducing a whole new world and making it seem like we’ve always lived there.

‘The Wolves of Saint August’ originally ran in Dark Horse Presents #88-91 during 1994, before being reworked a year later for the Hellboy one-shot of the same name. Mignola handles art and script with James Sinclair on colours and Pat Brosseau making it all legible and intelligible.

Set contemporarily, the moody piece sees the red redeemer working with BPRD colleague Kate Corrigan to investigate the death of Hellboy’s old friend Father Kelly in the Balkan village of Griart. It’s not long before they realise the sleepy hamlet is a covert den of great antiquity where a pack of mankind’s most infamous and iniquitous predators still thrive…

Mignola has a sublime gift for setting tone and building tension with great economy. It always means that the inevitable confrontation between Good and Evil has plenty of room to unfold with capacious visceral intensity. This clash between unfrocked demon and alpha lycanthrope is one of the most unforgettable battle blockbusters ever seen…

In 1995 Dark Horse Presents 100 #2 debuted ‘The Chained Coffin’. Here Hellboy returns to the English church where he first arrived on Earth in 1943. Fifty years of mystery and adventure have passed, but as the demon-hunter observes ghostly events replay before his eyes he learns the truth of his origins. All too soon, Hellboy devoutly wishes he had never come back…

Wake the Devil offered a decidedly different take on the undying attraction of vampires when a past case suddenly became active again. Hellboy and fellow outré BPRD agents Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien were still reeling from losing their aged mentor whilst uncovering mad monk Rasputin’s hellish scheme to rouse sleeping Elder Gods he served.

Moreover, the apparently undying wizard – agent for antediluvian infinitely evil seven-sided serpent Ogdru-Jahad who-sleeps-and-waits-to-be-reawakened – was responsible for initially summoning Hellboy to Earth as part of the Nazi’s Ragna Rok Project …

Now the Russian’s clandestine alliance with Himmler, Hitler and their mystic Nazi think-tank is further explored, as somewhere deep inside Norway’s Arctic Circle region, a driven millionaire visits a hidden castle.

He is seeking the arcane Aryans long-closeted within, eager to deliver a message from “The Master”. In return the oligarch wants sanctuary from the imminent end of civilisation…

In New York City a bloody robbery occurs in a tawdry mystic museum and the BPRD are soon being briefed on legendary Napoleonic soldier Vladimir Giurescu. It now appears that the enigmatic warrior wasn’t particularly wedded to any side in that conflict and was probably much older than reports indicated…

More important is the re-examined folklore which suggests Giurescu was mortally wounded many times but, after retreating to a certain castle in his homeland, would always reappear: renewed, refreshed and deadlier than ever.

In 1882 he was in England and clashed with Queen Victoria’s personal ghost-breaker Sir Edward Grey, who was the first to officially identify him as a “Vampire”. In 1944 Hitler met with Vladimir to convince the creature to join him, but something went wrong and Himmler’s envoy Ilsa Haupstein was ordered to arrest Giurescu and his “family”.

The creatures were despatched in the traditional manner and sealed in boxes… one of which has now been stolen from that museum. Moreover, the murdered owner was once part of the Nazi group responsible for Ragna Rok…

The BPRD always consider worst-case scenarios, and if that box actually contained vampire remains…

The location of the bloodsucker’s fabled castle is unknown, but with three prospects in Romania and only six agents available, three compact strike-teams are deployed with Hellboy in solo mode headed for the most likely prospect…

Although not an active agent, Dr. Kate Corrigan wants Hellboy to take especial care. All the indications are that this vampire might be the Big One, even though nobody wants to use the “D” word…

In Romania, somehow still youthful Ilsa Haupstein is talking to a wooden box, whilst in Norway her slyly observing colleagues Kurtz and Kroenen are concerned. Once the most ardent of believers, Ilsa may have been turned from the path of Nazi resurgence and bloody vengeance…

Her former companions are no longer so enamoured of the Fuehrer’s old dream of a vampire army either. Leopold especially places more faith in the creatures he has been building and growing…

Over Romania, Hellboy leaps out of the plane and engages his experimental jet-pack, wishing he was going with one of the other teams… and even more so after it flames out and dies…

At least he has the limited satisfaction of crashing into the very fortress Ilsa is occupying…

The battle with the witch-woman’s grotesque servants is short and savage and as the ancient edifice crumbles, Chapter Two reveals how on the night Hellboy was born, Rasputin suborned Ilsa and her companions…

He made them his devout disciples for the forthcoming awakening of Ogdru-Jahad, saving them from Germany’s ignominious collapse. Now the Russian’s ghost appears to her and offers another prophecy and a great transformation…

Deep in the vaults, Hellboy comes to and meets a most garrulous dead man, unaware that in the village below the Keep the natives are recognising old signs and making all the traditional preparations again…

Hellboy’s conversation provides lots of useful background information but lulls him into a false sense of security, allowing the revenant to brutally attack and set him up for a confrontation with the ferocious forces actually responsible for the vampire’s power…

Battling for his life, Hellboy is a stunned witness to Giurescu’s resurrection and ultimate cause of his latest demise, whilst far above, Rasputin shares his own origins with acolyte Ilsa, revealing the night he met the infamous witch Baba Yaga

Nearly three hundred miles away, Liz and her team are scouring the ruins of Castle Czege. There’s no sign of vampires but they do uncover a hidden alchemy lab with an incredible artefact in it…a stony homunculus.

Idly touching the artificial man Liz is horrified when her pyrokinetic energies surge uncontrollably into the creature and it goes on a destructive rampage…

With the situation escalating at Castle Giurescu, Hellboy decides to detonate a vast cache of explosives with the faint hope that he will be airlifted out before they go off but is distracted by a most fetching monster who calls him by a name he doesn’t recognise before trying to kill him.

If she doesn’t, the catastrophic detonation might…

As the dust settles and civil war breaks out amongst the Norway Nazis, in Romania Ilsa makes a horrific transition and Hellboy awakes to face Rasputin, even as the BPRD rush to the rescue.

Tragically Abe Sapien and his squad won’t make it before the revived and resplendent Giurescu takes his shot and the world’s most successful paranormal investigator is confronted and seduced by uncanny aspects of his long-hidden infernal ancestry…

With all hell breaking loose, the displaced devil must make a decision which will not only affect his life but dictate the course of humanity’s existence…

The breathtakingly explosive ending also resets the game for Rasputin’s next scheme, but the weird wonderment rolls on in a potent epilogue wherein the mad monk visits his macabre patron Baba Yaga for advice…

 

The story-portion of this magnificent terror-tome concludes with 1997’s 2-part miniseries ‘Almost Colossus’ wherein traumatised pyrokinetic Liz awaits test results.

During her mission to Castle Czege the artificial man she discovered inadvertently drained Liz’s infernal energies, bringing it to life and causing hers to gradually slip away. Now, Hellboy and Corrigan are back in that legend-drenched region, watching a graveyard from which 68 bodies have been stolen…

Elsewhere, the fiery homunculus is undergoing a strange experience: he has been abducted by his older “brother” who seeks, through purloined flesh, blackest magic and forbidden crafts to perfect their centuries-dead creator’s animation techniques.

Before the curtain falls, Hellboy, aided by the ghosts of repentant monks and the younger homunculus, is forced to battle a metal giant determined to crown itself the God of Science, saving the world if he can and Liz because he must…

Wrapping up the show are a wealth of arty extras, beginning with the 1991 convention illustration he created because he wanted to draw a monster. From tiny acorns…

Following on – with author’s commentary – is a horror hero group shot that is Hellboy’s second ever appearance and a brace of early promo posters, and the full colour Convention book premiere appearance as ‘Hellboy – World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator’ battles a giant demon dog, courtesy of Mignola & Byrne.

Hellboy Sketchbook then shares a treasure trove of drawings, designs and roughs from the early stories again, fully annotated to round out the eerie celebratory experience.

Available in paperback and digital formats, this bombastic, moody, suspenseful and explosively action-packed tome is a superb scary romp to delight one and all, celebrating the verve, imagination and, now, longevity of the greatest Outsider Hero of All: a supernatural thriller no comics fan should be without.
Hellboy™ Seed of Destruction © 1993, 2018 Mike Mignola. Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and all other prominently featured characters are trademarks of Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.