Jonah Hex: Welcome to Paradise


By John Albano, Michael Fleischer, Tony DeZuñiga, Doug Wildey, Noly Panaligan, George Moliterni, José Luis García-López & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2757-9

Western stories are shaped by an odd duality. The genre can almost be sub-divided into two discrete halves: the sparkly, shiny version that dominated kids’ books, comics and television for decades, as typified by Zane Grey stories and heroes such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry – and the other stuff.

That kind of cowboy tale- grimy, gritty, excessively dark – was done best for years by Europeans in such strips as Jean-Michel Charlier’s Lieutenant Blueberry or Bonelli and Galleppini’s Tex Willer which gradually made their way into US culture through the films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. Jonah Hex is the USA’s greatest example of the latter sort…

DC (or National Periodicals as it then as) had generated a stable of clean-cut gun-slingers since the collapse of the super-hero genre in 1949, with such dashing – and highly readable – luminaries as Johnny Thunder, The Trigger Twins, Nighthawk, Matt Savage and dozens of others in a marketplace that seemed insatiable in its voracious hunger for chaps in chaps. However, all things end, and by the early sixties the sagebrush stalwarts had dwindled to a few venerable properties.

As the 1960s closed, thematic changes in the cinematic Cowboy filtered through to a comics industry suffering its second super-hero sundown in twenty years. Although a critical success, the light-hearted Western series Bat Lash couldn’t garner a solid following, but DC, desperate for a genre readers would warm to, retrenched and revived an old title, gambling once again on heroes who were no longer simply boy scouts with six-guns.

All-Star Western #1 was released with an August/September 1970 cover date, filled with Pow-Wow Smith reprints and became an all-new anthology with its second bi-monthly issue. The magazine was allocated a large number of creative all-stars, including Robert Kanigher, Neal Adams, Gray Morrow, Al Williamson, Gil Kane, Angelo Torres and Dick Giordano, working on such strips as Outlaw!, Billy the Kid and the cult sleeper hit El Diablo, which combined shoot-’em-up shenanigans with supernatural chills, in deference to the real hit genre-type that saved comics in those dark days: horror comics…

It wasn’t until the tenth issue and introduction of a grotesquely disfigured, irascible bounty hunter created by writer John Albano and Tony DeZuñiga that the company found its greatest and most enduring Western warrior.

This superb collection of the garish gunman’s early appearances has been around for a few years, with no apparent sign of a sequel yet, so consider this a heartfelt attempt to generate a few sales and more interest…

Our star is the very model of the modern anti-hero. Jonah Hex first appeared in All-Star Comics #10, a coarse and callous bounty hunter clad in shabbily battered Confederate Grey tunic and hat, half his face lost to some hideous past injury; a brutal thug little better than the scum he hunted – and certainly a man to avoid…

Collecting key stories from All-Star Western #10, Weird Western Tales #14, 17, 22, 26, 29, 30 and Jonah Hex #2 and 4 (ranging from March 1972 to September 1977), the grisly gunplay begins with Albano & DeZuñiga’s ‘Welcome to Paradise’ which introduced the character and his world in a powerful action thriller, with a subtle sting of sentimentality that anyone who has seen the classic western “Shane” cannot fail to appreciate.

From the first bullets blazing, blistering set-up Albano was constantly hinting at the tortured depths hidden behind Hex’s hellishly scarred visage and deadly proficiency. With the next issue the comic had been re-titled Weird Western Tales (aligning it with the company’s highly successful horror/mystery books) and the adventures continually plumbed the depths oh human malice and depravity…

From the very start the series sought to redress some of the most unpalatable motifs of old style cowboy literature and any fan of films like Soldier Blue or Little Big Man or familiar with Dee Brown’s iconoclastic book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee will feel a grim sense of vicarious satisfaction and redress at most of the stories here.

There’s also a huge degree of world-weary cynicism that wasn’t to be found in other comics until well past the Watergate Scandal, when America as whole lost its social and political innocence…

From Weird Western #14, ‘Killers Die Alone!’ – by Albano & DeZuñiga – is a vicious tear jerker of a tale where Hex’s only friend valiantly dies to save him the vengeance of killers who blame the bounty hunter for their brother’s death. There is then a reckoning that is the stuff of nightmares…

‘The Hangin’ Woman’ (WWT #17) is a classy thriller wherein Hex runs afoul of a sadistic harridan who rules her hometown with hemp and hot lead before meeting an ending both ironic and much-deserved…

It was left to new writer Michael Fleisher (assisted at first by Russell Carley) to reveal Hex’s secrets, beginning with Weird Western Tales #22’s ‘Showdown at Hard Times’. A chance meeting in a stagecoach put a cabal of ex-Confederate soldiers on the trail of their ex-comrade for some unspecified earlier betrayal and it inevitably ended in a six-gun bloodbath, whilst creating an ominous returning nemesis for the grizzled gunslinger.

Train-robbers were the bad guys in the superb traditionally-informed caper ‘Face-Off with the Gallagher Boys!’ scripted by Fleischer and illustrated by the inimitable Doug Wildey, after which more details of Jonah’s chequered past are revealed in #29’s ‘Breakout at Fort Charlotte’ limned by Noly Panaligan. It was the first chapter of a two-part extravaganza that gorily concluded in #30 in ‘The Trial’ (illustrated by George Moliterni) as a battalion of Confederate veterans and former comrades-in-arms passed judgement on the man they believed to be the worst traitor in the history of the South…

Eventually Hex graduated from Weird Western Tales into his own solo title and the final brace of tales in this primal primer are both drawn by the magnificent José Luis García-López. In ‘The Lair of the Parrot!’, Fleischer has the doom-drenched wanderer sucked into a scheme designed by US Secret Service agent Ned Landon to infiltrate the gang of flamboyant Mexican bandit and border raider El Papagayo. Hex is none to happy when he finally realises Landon has been playing both sides for personal gain and left the bounty hunter to the brigand’s tender mercies after framing him for murder in Texas…

The tale continues in ‘The Day of the Chameleon!’ as a disguise artist steals Hex’s identity to perpetrate even more brazen crimes at the behest of a rich and powerful man determined to destroy bounty hunter at all costs…

Happily Jonah has unsuspected allies determined to save him from the villain and his own prideful stubborn nature…

With a cover gallery by DeZuñiga, Luis Dominguez and García-López, this splendid selection of uncanny exploits proves Jonah Hex is the most unique and original character in cowboy comics: darkly comedic, riotously rowdy, chilling and cathartically satisfying. His saga is a Western for those who despise the form whilst being the perfect modern interpretation of a great storytelling tradition. No matter what your reading preference, this is a collection you don’t want to miss.
© 1972-1975, 1977, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Blue


By Pat Grant (Pat Grant/Top Shelf)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-153-4

As far as the global mass-market is concerned, Australia doesn’t do comics. There’s no home-grown Oz equivalent to Beano or Spirou or 2000 AD, no Akira or Batman to enthral the entire nation.

You don’t hear about their industry bashes such as OzComic-Con and nobody applauds if you say you’ve been nominated for a Stanley Award…

Yet Australia harbours an incredibly potent and dedicated cartooning community, quietly turning out a broad and utterly beguiling range of strips and features from kiddie-comics to strictly adult fare that we seldom get to enjoy in the Northern climes (just check out UK ex-pat Eddie Campbell’s work or Neomad: Space Junk or the precious few titles from Gestalt Publishing that have made it to Britain to see what I mean…).

One of the most enticing and rewarding releases in decades recently came courtesy of cartoonist and passionate surfer Pat Grant. In 2012 his debut graphic novel Blue set tongues wagging not just down under but all over: a superbly realised amalgam of graphic autobiography, socially-relevant historical treatise and fantasy-tinged cautionary tale…

Like so much Australian graphic narrative, Blue owes more to the underground and alternative comics movements than to mainstream. The art is rendered in a muted, limited-colours palette in a style vaguely reminiscent of Peter Bagge, but the storytelling is all original; mixing memories of growing up in small remote company-town with themes of alienation as filtered through a lens of constant, unwelcome change, incipient onrushing maturity and impending humdrum crushing responsibility.

Blue is seductive, familiar, scary and also punishingly funny where it’s most inappropriate…

Bolton is a town by the sea, built a generation ago by the company to house its work force. Years passed and the town stopped being shiny and new. The workers had kids and the kids grew bored. They had school and surfing and no prospects. And then the aliens started turning up. Unwelcome, unwanted, probably illegal and so clearly unwilling to mix. Soon they were everywhere, spoiling everything…

Christian never made it out. He’s a burn-out these days, sucking down bevies when not coasting a dead-end painting gig – and boozing on the job too if no one’s watching – so he’s got time to tell you about those days when he was a kid and lived for surfing…

The day he remembers most vividly is when him and Verne and Muck skipped school to chase a truly massive wave and decided to go see the body of a bloke who died on the railway tracks the night before…

Graphically imaginative, boldly experimental and gratefully expressing his debt of inspiration to the film Stand By Me, Grant has woven here an intoxicating web of intrigue and memory which resonates with the mythic image we all have of life in Oz and the knowledge of what kids ought to be like.

However, the most powerful sense is one of constant motion, bolstered by stunning, nigh-abstract seascapes and wave fronts, as his actors move raucously, rowdily and rapidly through their scenes propelled by bad instincts and inexpressible desire for something different…

Although you may not share Grant’s personal background, readers cannot help but be swept away by the author’s utterly convincing immersion in the minutiae of nostalgia and poignant bewilderment in how we all got to here and now…

With an introduction by Dylan Horrocks and text feature ‘Genealogy of the Boofhead: Images Memory and Australia’s Surf Comics’ – an erudite and fascinating extended essay by Grant detailing the history of the nation’s board bound phenomenon – this enchanting hardback tome is a total treat for comics connoisseurs indoors or outside.
© 2012 Pat Grant. All rights reserved.

Galveston


By Johanna Stokes, Ross Richie, Todd Herman & various (Boom! Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-93450-668-4

At the beginning of the 19th century, Jean Baptiste Lafitte was a French privateer based in New Orleans – and later Barataria Bay – who famously turned down a huge bribe from the British and instead stood beside the Americans during the War of 1812. His alliance with General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans is the stuff of American mythology.

When the victorious Americans then started cracking down on piracy, Jean and his older brother Pierre became spies for the Spaniards during the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821), relocating to Galveston Island, Texas and continuing their trade as freebooting privateers targeting Central American ports.

They established a pirate colony called Campeche to facilitate their maritime activities. Jean died – or at least dropped from sight – sometime around 1823.

Jim Bowie is more myth than man. Born in Kentucky around 1796, he was pioneer, frontiersman, law officer, land speculator and quintessential warrior. After accruing wealth and a certain reputation in New Orleans, he eventually relocated to Texas (whilst it was still part of Mexico), married and settled down.

Of all the legends surrounding him the two truest are his proficiency with the lethal “Bowie knife” (created from the fearless fighter’s design by bladesmith James Black) and that he died in Texas at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.

With such a historic pedigree and so little verifiable fact, it’s perfectly natural that somebody should place these two bellicose American icons together, and that’s exactly what scripter Johanna Stokes (with input from Ross Richie, Tom Peyer & Mark Rahner) and illustrator Todd Herman – ably assisted by colourists Digikore Studios and Andres Lozano and letterer Marshall Dillon – have done in this light-hearted action-romp which is as much buddy/road movie as pirate yarn or western…

Originally released as a 4-issue miniseries in 2009, Galveston begins in the Gulf of Mexico in 1817, where the infamous Jean Lafitte’s crew are trying to kill him. It’s not personal: they simply heard that he’s hidden a huge stash of gold donated by the Emperor Napoleon for helping him escape from France.

Lafitte’s only ally is a wiry American he’d recently befriended: a man named Bowie…

The greed-inciting gold story was circulated by Cyrus Wesley, an old acquaintance from New Orleans and no friend of the pirate captain…

After escaping certain doom through quick-wittedness and a certain amount of chicanery, Lafitte brings Bowie to the prate colony he built in Galveston, introducing him to the glories of the Maison Rouge and the light of his life: a fiery tongued and ferociously independent woman named Madeline Ragaud

She seems welcoming but also brings news of a ship full of spies masquerading as traders. All too soon Bowie is experiencing first hand how his pirate pal deals with real threats to his people…

A bigger worry is Wesley. Acting on behalf of vengeful Louisiana Governor Claiborne, the old enemy has brought a small army of bought-&-paid-for “lawmen” into the shady new town, ready to deal with Lafitte on the slightest pretext. A man of absolutely no principles, Cyrus is, however, quite prepared to let the mission slide… if Lafitte gives him Napoleon’s gold…

It would be a sound bargain if there actually was any bullion, but Lafitte swears all he got for his services was a couple of ornamental cannon. They don’t even work…

Temporarily escaping his problems, the wily pirate accompanies Bowie on his own mission to set up trading ties with the Commanches, but Cyrus’ threat to harm Madeline lingers, prompting Jean to bicker with his buddy and storm off in a fury. By the time Jean gets back to Galveston the settlement is in flames and Wesley is ensconced aboard a warship in the bay…

It’s time for old war-hero Lafitte to rally his piratical troops for a showdown, but he might be less fired up if he knew that his aggravating paramour has despatched a message to even the odds. Hopefully Madeline’s young courier can find Bowie and his Indian friends before it’s too late…

Culminating in a classic and epic underdog vs. bad guys showdown and delivering a marvellously traditional twist in the tale, this rowdy, raucous riot of fun is a sheer delight all lovers of straightforward, no-nonsense matinee thrills.
© 2009 Boom Entertainment Inc. and Johanna Stokes. All rights reserved.

Little Tulip


By Jerome Charyn & François Boucq (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80872-7

Some creative teams spend all their time collaborating: crafting works that constantly remind us why we are wise to await their every effort. Other artisans only link up at agonisingly rare intervals, and when their newest works are finally finished we hungry lovers of their art can only breathe a huge sigh of relief and release.

A sublime case-in-point are the all-too-rarely seen concoctions of American crime author and graphic novelist Jerome Charyn (Johnny One-Eye, I Am Abraham, Citizen Sidel, Bitter Bronx: Thirteen Stories) and French illustrator François Boucq (Bouncer, Sente, Jérôme Moucherot, Bouche de diable) who together created Femme du magicien/The Magician’s Wife and Billy Budd, KGB: uniquely compelling graphic novels which have won popular acclaim and numerous awards all over the world.

Now their latest dark masterpiece – published in French in 2014 – is at last available in a remastered English translation by Charyn himself.

A ferocious and captivating blend of bleak reverie, coming-of-age drama, noir thriller and supernatural vengeance tale, the action opens in New York City in 1970 where tattooist Pavel plies his trade under the admiring gaze of fascinated teen Azami.

She too is enslaved to the act of drawing, and wants to know everything: how to mark the skin, the secrets of adapting a past design, where and how the master got his own skinful of stories…

The city is in a growing panic. A serial-killing rapist dubbed Bad Santa is terrorising the night; targeting late working women such as Azami’s mother, so Pavel is keeping a quiet eye on them both. He’s actually far more informed than most citizens, as his uncanny ability to draw likenesses from the barest of witness accounts makes the old man a crucial component of the cops’ war on crime.

This almost magical ability has been consistently failing in regard to the Bad Santa killings, however, and the tension makes Pavel dream of his own appalling childhood…

Just after WWII ended, his artist father emigrated from Washington Heights, USA to the Soviet Union to work with legendary film-maker Sergei Eisenstein.

In those constrained environs Pavel absorbed a love of drawing and hunger for creative expression that was not crushed even when a political shift in climate saw him and his family arrested as spies and shipped off to the horrific Siberian gulag of Kolyma.

The daily casual atrocities of the corrupt guards were worse than what the boy experienced at the hands of the rival criminal gangs who actually ran the prisons. Soon he was alone, but his instinct for survival and gifts as an artist set him upon a new path, creating the sacrosanct, almost-holy tattoos the inmates used to define, embolden and characterise themselves.

It was not the only art Pavel learned. As he grew older he became the top gladiator of his gang: a fast deadly warrior with a blade in pitch darkness or broad daylight…

As the wave of killings continue in the blighted Big Apple, Pavel’s thoughts keep returning to the unceasing stream of hardships and atrocities he experienced in the camp. Slowly a grim conclusion comes to him about the nature of the Bad Santa… but too late for him to save the people nearest and dearest to him…

Bleak, uncompromising, seductive and painfully authentic whilst tinged with a smear of supernatural mystery, the story of Little Tulip is an unforgettable peek into the forbidden and the profane that will take your breath away.

Also included in this album-sized (280 x 210 mm) full-colour paperback is a glorious selection of sketches and working drawing in an entrancing display of ‘Artwork by François Boucq’ to inspire you to making your own meaningful marks on paper – or any preferred medium…
© 2014 Jerome Charyn and François Boucq. © 2014 Le Lombard. Lettering © 2016 Thomas Mauer. All rights reserved.

Little Tulip is officially released January 27th 2017 and is available for pre-order now. Check out www.doverpublications.com, your internet retailer or local comics-store or bookshop.

The Lighthouse


By Paco Roca, translated by Jeff Whitman (NBM Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-056-0

Francisco Martínez Roca was born in Valencia in 1969: a time when Franco’s fascist government still controlled every aspect of Spanish life. Roca was part of an artistic explosion that benefited from the dictator’s death and a return to liberalising democracy, with his earliest efforts appearing in La Cupula in 1994. As Paco Roca, he contributed (with Rafa Fonteriz) erotic strips starring Peter Pan and Aladdin to Kiss Comics and with Juan Miguel Aguilera devised experimental 3D series ‘Road Cartoons’ for El Vibora.

His earliest serious works dealt with aspects of Spanish culture and history (El Juego Lúgubre in 2001 – his fictional yarn about Salvador Dali – and 2004’s Spanish Civil War tale El Faro).

These were followed by internationally acclaimed works Hijos de la Alhambra and 2007’s multi-award winning Wrinkles, which was adapted into an equally celebrated and critically-rewarded animated movie.

More astounding stuff you’ll definitely want to see includes Las Callas de Arena (Streets of Sand) and semi-autobiographical Sunday strip Memorias de un hombre en pyjama from newspaper Las Provincias or El invierno del dibujante, about comic creators working for the Bruguera magazine Tio Vivo in the 1950s.

When not astonishing folk with his mastery of graphic narrative and understanding of human nature, Roca can be found making animated films and hosting his own radio show in Valencia.

After the success of Wrinkles it was only a matter of time before his other works started being translated into English, so bravo to NBM for picking up this sublime and elegiacally esoteric little gem…

The Lighthouse is a digest-sized (234 x 157 mm) duotone hardback – or eBook if you’re digitally inclined – which magically celebrates the solace of imagination and recaptures the hope of liberation in a beguiling black, blue and white wave of perfectly sculpted images.

As the Civil War staggers to its end, wounded Francisco flees for his life. The victorious fascistas are gathering up the defeated foe and the wounded youngster has no intention of being interned or worse.

After a bloody and eventful flight, he makes it to the coast and after passing out finds himself bandaged and rested in someone’s bed. He is in a lighthouse, crammed with fascinating remnants and artefacts…

After some cautious poking about, he finally finds a garrulous old lighthouse keeper on the beach, joyously hauling ashore flotsam, jetsam and assorted treasures torn from unfortunate vessels during the last storm.

Telmo is a jolly giant, constantly quoting from his favourite books about the sea, although Francisco – a soldier since he was sixteen – barely understands what the old man is talking about…

The old man’s good humour is infectious and gradually even infects battle-scarred Francisco. Soon the boy-soldier is helping the incessantly cheerful senior maintain the great lamp and sharing his only anxiety, about when – if ever – the light will shine again. The government have been promising a new bulb for years and Telmo is convinced now peace reigns again, that moment will be any day now…

To pass the days the old man combs the beaches for useful finds and tends to his special project: building a fabulous boat to carry him across the waters to the impossibly wonderful island of Laputa

Gradually sullen Francisco – perpetually bombarded by the lighthouse keeper’s wondrous stories – loosens up and begins to share Telmo’s self-appointed tasks and dreams, but that all ends when the boy finds a letter and accidentally uncovers a web of lies…

However, just when the idyllic relationship seems destined to founder on the rocks of tawdry truth, the tirelessly-searching soldiers arrive and a tragic sacrifice in service of those endangered once-shared dreams is required…

A potently powerful tale delivered with deceptive gentleness and beguiling grace, The Lighthouse is both poignantly moving and rapturously uplifting: supplemented here by a lengthy prose postscript.

Roca’s ‘The Eternal Rewrite’ – packed with illustrations, model sheets, sketches and production art – reveals how the author is afflicted with Post-Release Meddling Syndrome, constantly editing, amending and reworking bits of his many publications, each time a new or fresh foreign edition is announced.

This short, sweet story about stories and imagination is a true delight and would be the perfect introduction for anyone still resistant to the idea of comics narrative as meaningful art form… or just read it yourself for the sheer wonder of it.
© 2004, 2009 Paco Roca. © 2014 Astiberri for the present edition. © 2017 NBM for the English translation.

The Lighthouse will be published on February 17th 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Zorro: Matanzas


By Don McGregor, Mike Mayhew, Sam Parsons & John Costanza (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-147-2

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world, “El Zorro, The Fox” was originally devised by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 for a 5-part prose serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’. He debuted in All-Story Weekly for August 6th, running until 6th September. The part-work was subsequently published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co. and Tor respectively.

Famously, Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford read the serial in All-Story on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the adventure as the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro was a global movie sensation in 1920 and for years after, and New York-based McCulley subsequently re-tailored his creation to match the so-different filmic incarnation. This Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and The Spider.

Rouben Mamoulian’s 1940 filmic remake of The Mark of Zorro further ingrained the Fox into the world’s psyche and, as the prose exploits continued in a variety of publications, Dell began a comicbook version in 1949.

When Walt Disney Studios began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957 (78 half-hour episodes and four 60 minute specials before cancellation in 1961), the ongoing comicbook series was swiftly redesigned to capitalise on it. The media corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various quarters of the world.

This series and later iterations also resulted in comics and strips all over Europe from Disney and Marvel in the USA. During the 1990s, Topps Comics spearheaded Zorro’s return courtesy of Don McGregor & Mike Mayhew which led to a short-lived newspaper strip (illustrated by Thomas Yeates) and also incidentally and memorably introducing a salacious “bad-girl” sidekick in the unwisely-clad form of Lady Rawhide

And there were more movies, this time with an actual Spaniard playing the lead role (Antonio Banderas, in case you were wondering…)

In 2008 Dynamite Entertainment reintroduced the Fox in new yarns by Matt Wagner and as part of the package excavated this lost tale from the Topps iteration: an unpublished adventure by McGregor & Mayhew, with colours by Sam Parsons and letters by industry veteran John Costanza.

Zorro: Mantanzas has a chequered history. Part of a longer storyline begun during McGregor & Mayhew’s run on the Topps Comic in the 1990s, the tale was only completed in 2010 for the Dynamite run and released as 4-issue miniseries before being collected as a trade paperback and later an eBook. For all that, however, the lost episode offers a passionate and sophisticated portrayal of the quintessential champion risking his own security and happiness to thwart a macabre and complex villain: a struggle rendered even more appealing by the magnificent illustration of Mayhew and Parsons.

For the uninitiated: Don Diego de la Vega is the foppish son of a grand house in old California when it was a Spanish Possession, who used the masked persona of Señor Zorro (the Fox) to right wrongs, defend the weak and oppressed – particularly the pitifully maltreated natives and Indians – and thwart the schemes of a succession of military leaders and the colonial Governor determined to milk the populace of the growing township of Los Angeles for all they had.

Whenever Zorro struck he left his mark – a letter “Z” carved into walls, doors, faces…

Diego has a whole support structure in place. Although in this iteration his stiff-necked Hildalgo father is unaware of his double life the secret hero has a number of assistants who do. The most important is Bernardo (a deaf-mute manservant) and Jose of the Cocopahs – a native chief who often acts as stableman, decoy and body-double for the Masked Avenger. Diego also occasionally employs a retired, reformed one-eyed pirate named Bardoso to act as his spy amongst townsfolk and outlaws…

The settlement is basking in unaccustomed liberty after Zorro’s overthrow of the military governor, unaware that their new Regency Administrator Lucien Machete is a sadistic fiend with a nasty line in prosthetic weapons nursing a rabid grudge against Zorro – the man who made his replacement limb necessary…

The villain has struck up a friendship with Diego’s father Don Alejandro; an increasingly frustrated grandee who finds his son’s unseemly and unmanly behaviour more and more inexplicable and intolerable.

Infuriatingly, Machete is not talking advantage of the familial rift as ploy; he just likes the old man whilst despising his foppish son, blithely oblivious that the soft poltroon is the black-clad avenger who has thwarted his previous malevolent depredations…

Zorro knows – but cannot prove – that Machete’s credentials are forged and his claims to act as the Spanish King’s official representative are false. The Fox urgently seeks to expose the impostor before whatever vile plot he fosters can be completed. Thus he cannot let anything distract him…

The drama unfolds after Don Alejandro and Lucien attend the Matanza: an annual festival where the young men show off their strength and manhood by ceremonially butchering cattle and other livestock in a gory display of horsemanship and bloodletting. Diego has naturally declined to attend or participate, preferring to surreptitiously watch Machete.

He is wise to do so, for the maniac has malicious plans to sabotage the event with a new addition to his arm’s arsenal…

Taking up position above the killing grounds, Zorro and Bernardo have a perfect position to observe proceedings but their keen surveillance is disrupted by a huge bear attracted to the site by the smell of blood.

Its attack is devastating and leaves the secret champions battling for their lives. By the time they can again turn their attention to the Matanza, Lucien has done his dirty work: good men are dead or maimed and an horrific stampede is underway. Moreover, in the chaos personal tragedy has struck at the De La Vega household and Machete seems to be getting away with murder again, whilst El Zorro is painted as the blackest of monsters…

A simple tell well-told and lavishly illustrated, Zorro: Matanzas is packed with spectacular action and diabolical intrigue in the grand manner and incidentally offers a potted origin and discreet peek at the fabulous subterranean citadel covertly crafted by Diego and Bernardo to facilitate the Fox’s war on injustice.

Although more incident than main feature, this is a blistering romp every lover of human-scaled adventure will adore…
Zorro®: Matanzas, Volume One © 2014 Zorro Productions, Inc. All rights Reserved.

Cravan – Mystery Man of the Twentieth Century


By Mike Richardson & Rick Geary (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-291-9                  eISBN: 978-1-62115-198-2

The old cliché about truth being stranger than fiction seemingly has a lot more force these days than it used to have. Moreover, everybody is captivated by an unsolved mystery, aren’t they?

That was clearly the case when occasional writer and full-time publisher (of Dark Horse Comics) Mike Richardson discovered he shared a small obsession with cartoonist and true crime raconteur Rick Geary…

That story is intriguing enough in itself but only constitutes a minor footnote at the back of this fascinating appraisal of one of the most infamous self-aggrandizers of the early 20th century and a man all but forgotten today.

Rick Geary is a unique talent in the comic industry, not simply because of his style of drawing but especially because of his method of telling tales.

For decades he toiled as an Underground cartoonist and freelance illustrator of strange stories, published in locales as varied as Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated, National Lampoon, RAW and High Times, honing a unique ability to create sublimely understated stories by stringing together seemingly unconnected streams of narrative to compose tales moving, often melancholy and always beguiling.

Discovering his natural oeuvre with works including biographies of J. Edgar Hoover and Trotsky plus the multi-volumed Treasury of Victorian Murder/Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, Geary has grown into a grand master and unique presence in both comics and True Crime literature.

Here, in this captivating monochrome tome, he and Richardson weave the scanty facts, some solid supposition and a bit of bold extrapolation into a mesmerising treatise about a precursor to Jimmy Hoffa and Lord Lucan – with a hefty dose of Shergar, D.B. Cooper, Ronnie Biggs and Forrest Gump thrown in for good measure…

Arthur Cravan was but one of the names used by serial fraudster and inveterate troublemaker Fabian Lloyd, a nephew of Oscar Wilde who, after being expelled from the last of many good schools in 1903, began – at the tender age of 16 – a short and sparkling career seeking the limelight.

In a scant few years he became a star of the art world: a noted poet, Bohemian, journalist, art critic, painter, publisher, author, performer and pugilist (through a string of uncanny flukes he became Lightweight Champion of France without throwing a punch…) whilst simultaneously admitting to being a thief, forger, deserter, confidence-trickster, political subversive and agitator…

A man of many identities – for most of whom he created impeccably-crafted forged papers – Cravan numbered Jack Johnson, Leon Trotsky, Marcel Duchamp and other stellar luminaries of the Edwardian and pre-Great War era as friends. Even after admitting to manufacturing undiscovered works by Manet, Dante and his uncle Oscar whilst assiduously avoiding any involvement in the global conflagration, he was feted by America’s intellectual elite whilst being hounded by the US Secret Service…

In 1918, with the American authorities making his life miserable, he set sail from Mexico to join poet Mina Loy – wife and mother of his unborn daughter – in Buenos Aires, but was lost at sea and never seen again.

At least that’s the official version. Searches found nothing and eventually he was declared dead and mostly forgotten, but stories and sightings persisted, as they always do…

And here’s where Richardson and Geary boldly imagine and draw some admittedly convincing conclusions about Cravan’s possible fate, linking it to the short but fabled career of reclusive author B. Traven: most well known today as the enigma who penned Death Ship and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Beguilingly speculative and ringing with authenticity if not indisputable veracity, this fictive biography is a superb exercise in historical exploration and one packed with wholehearted fun and mercurial love of life.
©2005 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All rights reserved.

Outlaw Territory volume 1


By Many & Various (Image Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-60706-004-8

The Western is a rather odd entertainment genre which can be sub-divided into two discrete halves: the sparkly, shiny version that dominated kids’ books, comics and television for decades, best typified by heroes such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry – and the other stuff: the material typified by the efforts of Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef…

In comics, that kind of cowboy yarn – grimy, gritty, excessively dark and nihilistic – was done best for years by Europeans in such strips as Charlier & Giraud’s Lieutenant Blueberry or Bonelli and Galleppini’s Tex Willer: iconic sagas which have only recently made their mark on US culture…

Outlaw Territory is of the latter variety; an anthological series offering fervid snapshots of  the sort of bleak, brutal incidents and accidents that were latterly sanitised for kiddie consumption but which in the end are probably just as far from the historical truth as any six-gun shootout on Main Street…

The iconic trappings of the Western make the milieu well-nigh irresistible to creative folk. We all want a crack at a cowboy yarn and this invitational series drew in a vast number of writers, artists and colourists who all took their shot – and occasionally more than one – resulting in this evocative initial paperback compilation of dark vignettes covering all aspects of the genre.

This first collection gathers stories by veteran and neophyte comics-creators who all have a spirited go at making something fresh out of a well-worn subject and, whilst the quality might occasionally falter, the rampant enthusiasm never does…

The moody moments begin with a painterly and poetic dialogue-free treatise on the traditional vengeance quest in ‘Daniel 5:27’ by Moritat, after which ‘Ballad of a Bad Man’ from Joe Kelly, Max Fiumara & letterer Thomas Mauer (who inscribes almost all of the tales in this collection) details the family traumas and depths plumbed to make a stone-cold killer…

Joshua Ortega & Trevor Goring deliver an iconic view of cruel and unusual punishment delivered at ‘Sundown’ before Shay, Dean Kotz & Ramiro Diaz Legaspe reveal a Civil War skirmish between aged experience and youthful enthusiasm for possession of ‘The Dispatch’ and Jose L. Torres & Jorge Molina Manzanero stylishly recount the story of a Mexican bounty hunter gripped by the ‘American Dream’

Ivan Brandon, Andy Macdonald, Daniel Heard & Kristyn Ferretti offer a different spin on a legendary moment in history with ‘The First Car in Mexico – or, the End of Pancho Villa’ whilst ‘The Most Civilized Establishment from Ocean to Ocean’ sees two would-be bandits dealt the most terrifying experience of their sorry lives in a spooky chiller by James Patrick, Khoi Pham & Jeremy Colwell.

‘Ahiga’ concentrates on rip-roaring gunplay and a bold jailbreak in a violent vignette from Christian Beranek & Koray Kuranel whilst Joshua Hale Fialkov & Christie Tseng plump for macabre moodiness as ‘Incident over Thirty-Six Days in the Colorado Rockies’ examines the instinct for survival in sub-zero conditions which seizes both a bounty hunter and his captive…

As depicted by Greg Pak & Ian Kim, institutional racism and casual genocide in ‘Rio Chino’ results in payback from most a most unusual avenger, after which ‘One Man’s Land’ by Stephen Reedy & Giorgos Gousis finds a fanatical territorial dispute devolving into murderous farce before Steven Grant, Shannon Eric Denton & John Choins deliver a wicked spin on the tried-and-true tragedy of ‘The Bounty Killer’

Greed for gold leads bad men to an extremely baroque and ugly end in Chris Moreno’s ‘He Will Set Your Fields on Fire’ whereas Fred Van Lente, Johnny Timmons & Danika Massey contrive deviously beautiful closure for a merciless beast after he meets ‘The Weaponsmith’ and M. Sean McManus & Michelle Silva craft a “Western Style Romance” when a sadistic brute meets his just end in a whorehouse after mistreating ‘Nora’

A very nasty father/son bonding experience informs ‘The Apprentice’ by Steve Orlando, Tyler Niccum & Matt Razzano whilst ‘Griswold’s Song’ – by Chad Kinkle & Ming Doyle – elegiacally examines a life short, unwise and bloody before Leonard N. Wallace & Christopher Mitten detail the grisly fate of Indian Hunters who hate each other more than the painted devils hungry to inflict their ‘Savage Practices’ upon them…

‘For Old Times’ Sake’ by Pat Loika, Jose Holder & Garry Henderson has old adversaries reunite in scarlet-spattered showdown after the intervening years have pulled each to the opposing side of the law, before cattle dispute leads to bloody murder in ‘Gutshot’ (Michael Woods, David Miller & Philip Fuller) and ‘Them What Comes’ from mpMann details a protracted siege and most unusual meeting of East and West…

Frank Beaton & Melika Acar scrutinise the ‘Craftsmanship’ of a hangman-turned-outlaw, Nemo Woodbine & Yeray Gil Hernandez detail the work practises of an exceedingly accomplished lady in ‘We Never Sleep’ and Josh Wagner & Joiton lavishly perform the sorry saga of an unrepentant rogue in ‘The Ballad of Sid Grenadine’.

‘The More Things Change’ by Skipper Martin, Christopher Provencher & Ellen Everett references big sky country and a truly twisted romance before Orlando, Niccum & Razzano reunite to trace the career-path of a long-in-the-tooth manhunter ‘Working on Christmas’

A band of unlovely brutes are served their just deserts in Noble Larimer, Jason Cheeseman Meyer & John Forucci’s ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ after which the mythic movie showdown scenario is given a smart makeover in ‘We Meet at Twelve’ by P. J. Kryfko, William Simpson &Mark Murphy before Simon Fraser craftily opts for a monochrome delivery and outrageous bad-taste black comedy to outline a bloody shaggy dog tale in ‘Ass Meat’

Wrapping up this first foray into contemporary Western wonderment, project instigator Michael Woods & illustrator Chad Sell share a gory story of frontier surgery and doing what’s right in ‘Memories’; calling to a close a superb compendium of mini-epics encapsulating the Good, The Bad, the Ugly and most especially the Fascinating for us literary mavericks and any newcomers keen on trying out new entertainment territory…
© 2009 Michael Woods. Outlaw Territory™ and its logos are trademarks of Michael Woods. All stories and characters likenesses are trademarks of their respective creators unless otherwise noted.

The Bluecoats volume 5: Rumberley


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-108-2

The myths and legends of the filmic American West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of owlhoots and gunfighters. Hergé and Moebius were passionate devotees and the wealth of stand-out Continental comics series ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and tangential children’s classics such as Yakari. Even colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer fit the broad-brimmed bill.

As devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Cauvin – who has scripted every best-selling volume – Les Tuniques Bleues (or as we know them The Bluecoats) debuted at the end of the 1960s, specifically created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to rival publication Pilote.

The substitute swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series in Europe.

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour school, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte slowly introduced a more realistic – but still overtly comedic – illustrative tone and manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936 and, after studying Fine Art in college, joined publishing giant Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

Born in 1938, scripter Cauvin is also Belgian and before entering Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou. In addition to Bluecoats he has written dozens of long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies of its 60 (and counting) album series.

As translated for English audiences, our sorry, long-suffering protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch; a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel & Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of fabled America during the War Between the States.

The original format featured single-page gags set around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but from the second volume Du Nord au Sud (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (a tale was rewritten as 18th album Blue rétro to describe how the chumps were drafted during the war).

Every subsequent adventure, although often ranging far beyond America and taking in a lot of thoroughly researched history, is set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your run-of-the-mill, whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other (easier) option is available.

Chesterfield is a big burly professional fighting man; a career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little troll of a pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers and simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

Rumberley was the fifth translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 15th Franco-Belgian volume) and a far darker affair than usual. After a horrific battle Union and Confederate forces are spent and exhausted, although the Blues have advanced far into the South as a result of the sustained slaughter. However, with dwindling food and little ammunition the Generals decide to fall back and re-supply with fresh troops and munitions.

The only problem is what to do with the wounded. After all, bringing them back to safety would only slow down the rearward advance…

Then one bright privileged spark has the notion of just billeting the unfit Union soldiers on the nearest – albeit enemy – town…

Amongst the dead and dying are grievously injured Chesterfield and war-crazy Captain Stark. Even Blutch is there, although his leg wound might be minor, self inflicted or possibly even utterly bogus…

Their reception by the women, children, aged and infirm of Rumberley is hostile to say the least, but the Union dregs have no place else to go and no strength left to leave anyway. Forcibly appropriating the livery stable as a field hospital, Blutch and Chesterfield aid the exhausted doctors and surgeons as best they can but the simmering tension and occasional assaults by the townsfolk indicates that there is real trouble brewing and this kettle is about to boil over very soon…

And then the townsfolk start drifting away and rumours spread that a Confederate force is approaching Rumberley. The doctors opt to move their charges out, and Blutch finds himself in the uncanny position of staying behind as rearguard when Chesterfield decides to buy them time to get away…

When it comes, the battle is a bizarre affair. The Rebs are fit but have little ammunition so the Bluecoats give a good accounting of themselves, but are almost done for when Stark unexpectedly leads a life-saving cavalry charge of the Union wounded to save them. During the insane clash the town buildings are set afire and the citizens of Rumberley rush back to save their home and possessions…

And then something strange happens: the killing stops and Blues, Greys and civilians work together to save rather than destroy…

Here is another hugely amusing anti-war saga targeting younger, less world-weary audiences. Historically authentic, and always in good taste despite an uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war-memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Funny, thrilling, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story and Western which appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1979 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2011 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Baggywrinkles – A Lubber’s Guide to Life at Sea


By Lucy Bellwood with Joey Weiser & Michele Chidester (Toonhound Studios)
ISBN: 978-0-9882202-9-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: For those Quiet Moments after all the Mainbraces have been properly Spliced… 10/10

Everybody needs an abiding passion in their lives, and born storyteller Lucy Bellwood seems blessed with two as this superb paperback compilation – also available as an ebook – of her comics about tall ships and the history of sailing delightfully proves.

In her Introduction she describes how at seventeen she fell under the spell of rigging, sheets and wind after spending a few life-changing weeks crewing aboard the Lady Washington – a fully functioning replica of a 1790s Brig.

How that inspired her to produce a succession of strips detailing her time afloat and many of the things she learned then and since make up the first seafaring snippet ‘The Call of the Running Tide’: a funny, fact-packed evocation of the immortal allure of sea and stars.

Following that is an utterly absorbing data page deftly describing and exactly explaining ‘What is a Baggywrinkle?

I now know; so does my wife and one of our cats, but I’m not telling you because it’s truly cool and I’m not going to spoil the surprise…

‘Sea of Ink’ describes with captivating charm and sheer poetic gusto ‘The Baggywrinkles Official Guide to Nautical Tattoos’, covering the history, development and specific significance of the most popular symbols worn by mariners across the centuries. It’s followed by a definitive ‘Fathom Fact’ and an account of Bellwood’s first days at sea traversing ‘Parts Unknown’ whilst nailing down the very basics of the ancient profession. It is backed up by the nitty-gritty of sea-man’s staple ‘Hard Tack’

‘The Plank’ hilariously and wittily debunks the accumulated misleading mythology surrounding the pirates’ most infamous human resources solution and is counterbalanced by an evocative look at the first Lady Washington and her forgotten place in history. ‘Pacific Passages’ details how, in 1791, the Boston trader and accompanying sloop Grace deviated slightly from their journey to Shanghai and discovered Japan by anchoring in the Oshima Bay.

A tale of remarkable restraint and mutual respect which ended happily for all concerned, but the real trouble started 63 years later when Commodore Matthew Perry showed up and forced isolationist Japan to open her doors to foreign trade…

The heart-warming tale is supplemented by a ‘Glossary’ of Japanese and English terms and is followed by a superb and succinct history of the greatest scourge ever to afflict nautical travellers.

‘Scurvy Dogs’ relates the effects, causes and raft (sorry!) of solutions postulated and attempted by every stripe of learned man in the quest to end the debilitating condition’s toll of attrition. It’s followed by ‘Scurvy Afterword’: an engrossing essay by Eriq Nelson relating how we’re not out of the woods yet and why Scurvy still blights the modern world from individual picky eaters to millions suffering in refugee camps…

Wrapping up this magnificently beguiling treat is ‘The Scurvy Rogues’: an outrageously enticing and informative ‘Guest Art Gallery’ with strips and pin-ups from fellow cartoon voyagers Lissa Treiman, Betsy Peterschmidt, Adam T. Murphy, Kevin Cannon, Ben Towle, Steve LeCouilliard, Isabella Rotman, Dylan Meconis and Beccy David. And while we’re at it let’s not forget to applaud the colouring contributions of Joey Weiser & Michele Chidester…

Meticulously researched, potently processed into gloriously accessible and unforgettable cartoon capsule communications, the stories shared in Baggywrinkles are brimming with verve and passion: a true treat for all lovers of seas, wild experiences, comfy chairs, good company and perfect yarn-spinning.
© 2010-2016 Lucy Bellwood. All Rights Reserved.