Garth: The Cloud of Balthus


By Jim Edgar & Frank Bellamy, with John Allard (Titan Books)
ISBN 10: 0-90761-034-X                   ISBN: 978-0-90761-034-2

British Superman Garth first appeared in the Daily Mirror on Saturday, July 24th 1943, the creation of professional cartoonist Steve Dowling and BBC radio producer Gordon Boshell, at the behest of the editor who wanted an adventure strip to complement their other comic strip features, Buck Ryan, Belinda Blue Eyes, Just Jake and immortal, morale-boosting Jane.

A blond giant and physical marvel, Garth washed up on an island shore and into the arms of a pretty girl, Gala, with no memory of who he was. Nonetheless he saved the entire populace from a brutal tyrant and a legend began. Boshell never had time to write the series, so Dowling, already producing the successful family strip The Ruggles, scripted Garth until a new writer could be found.

Don Freeman dumped the amnesia plot in ‘The Seven Ages of Garth’ (which ran from September 18th 1944 until January 20th 1946) by introducing imposing jack-of-all-sciences Professor Lumiere whose psychological experiments regressed the burly hero back through some past lives.

In the next tale ‘The Saga of Garth’ (January 22nd 1946 to July 20th 1946) his origin was revealed. As a child, he’d been found floating in a coracle off the Shetlands and adopted by a kindly old couple. When grown he became a Navy Captain until he was torpedoed off Tibet in 1943…

Freeman continued as writer until 1952 (‘Flight into the Future’ was his last tale), and was briefly replaced by script editor Hugh McClelland (who only wrote ‘Invasion From Space’) until Peter O’Donnell took over in February 1953 with ‘Warriors of Krull’.

He wrote 28 adventures until resigning in 1966 to devote more time to his own strip; something he called Modesty Blaise.

His place was taken by Jim Edgar; a short-story writer who also scripted such prestigious newspaper strips as Matt Marriott, Wes Slade and Gun Law.

Dowling retired in 1968 and his long-time assistant John Allard took over the strip until a suitable permanent artist could be found. Allard completed ten complete tales until Frank Bellamy began a legendary run with the 13th daily instalment of ‘Sundance’ (which ran from 28th June to 1 October 11th 1971).

Allard remained as background artist and assistant until Bellamy took full control during ‘The Orb of Trimandias’.

One thing Professor Lumiere had discovered and which gave this strip its distinctive appeal – even before the fantastic artwork of Bellamy elevated it to dizzying heights of graphic brilliance – was Garth’s involuntary ability to travel through time and re-experience past and future lives. This simple concept lent the strip an unfailing potential for exotic storylines and fantastic exploits, pushing it beyond its humble beginning as a British response to Siegel and Shuster’s American phenomenon Superman.

The tales in this criminally out of print monochrome tome begin with the aforementioned ‘Sundance’ as mighty Garth is sucked back to 1876 to relive his life as an officer of George Custer’s 7th Cavalry on the Eve of the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The time-tossed titan has a brief but passionate love affair with Indian maiden Falling Leaf before dying valiantly for his beliefs and their love. It is an evocative, powerful tale that totally captures the bigotry, arrogance and futility of the White Man and the tragic demise of the Indian way of life…

Then eponymous epic ‘The Cloud of Balthus’ shows the open, simple elegance of the narrative concept in Garth. Whilst vacationing in the Caribbean our hero becomes embroiled in an espionage plot involving freelance super-spies and a US space station, but even that is mere prelude to fantastic adventure and deadly terrors when he and his delectable, double-dealing companion Lee Wan are abruptly abducted by nebulous energy beings in a taut, tension-fraught thriller.

‘The Orb of Trimandias’ plunges Garth back in time to the Venice of the Borgias, when he becomes again English Soldier-of-Fortune Lord Carthewan: a decent man battling an insane and all-powerful madman for the secret of a supernaturally potent holy relic. This gripping, exotic yarn is replete with flamboyant action, historical celebrities, sexy women and magnificently stirring locales. It’s a timeless treasure of adventure that has the added fillip of briefly reuniting Garth with his star-crossed true love, the ethereal Space Goddess Astra.

This lovely volume (long overdue for re-issue – at least in digital form if no other way is possible) concludes with a high-octane gothic horror story. ‘The Wolfman of Ausensee’ sees Garth as a rather reluctant companion of movie starlet Gloria Delmar on a shoot at the forbidding Austrian schloss (that’s a big ugly castle to you) of a playboy whose family was once cursed by witches.

Despite the title giving some of the game away, this is still a sharp and savvy spook-fest that ranks easily amongst the best Hammer Horror films, and just gets better with each rereading.

Garth is the quintessential British Action Hero – strong, smart, good-looking with a big heart and nose for trouble. His back-story gives him all of eternity and every genre to play in and the magnificent art of Frank Bellamy also made his too-brief tenure a stellar one.

Comic-strips seldom get this good, and even though this book and its sequel are still relatively easy to come by, it is still a crime and a mystery that all these wonderful tales have been out of print for so long.
© 1984 Mirror Group Newspapers. All rights reserved.

Hellboy volume 11: The Dead Bride and others


By Mike Mignola, Richard Corben, Kevin Nowlan, Scott Hampton, Dave Stewart & Clem Robins (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-740-1

Towards the end of World War II an uncanny otherworldly baby was confiscated from Nazi cultists by American superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers moments after his eldritch nativity on Earth. The good guys had interrupted a satanic ritual predicted by parapsychologist Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and his associates who were waiting for Hell to literally come to Earth…

The heroic assemblage was stationed at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when the abominable infant with a huge stone right hand materialised in an infernal fireball. This “Hellboy” was subsequently raised by Bruttenholm, and grew into a mighty warrior engaged in fighting a never-ending secret war against the uncanny and supernatural. The Professor assiduously schooled and trained his happy-go-lucky foundling whilst forming and consolidating an organisation to destroy arcane and occult threats – the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

After years of such devoted intervention, education and warm human interaction, in 1952 the neophyte hero began hunting down agents of the malign unknown, from phantoms to monsters as lead agent for the BPRD. Hellboy rapidly became its top operative; the world’s most successful paranormal investigator…

As decades passed, Hellboy gleaned snatches of his origins and antecedents, learning he was a supposedly corrupted beast of dark portent: a demonic messiah destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil.

It is a fate he despised and utterly rejected…

This eerily esoteric collection of tales concocted by Mike Mignola re-presents a selection of short stories as originally published on/in USAToday.com, Hellboy In Mexico, Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil, Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #1-2, Hellboy: The Bride of Hell and Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish, all between 2009 and 2011. These tales draw together many subtly scattered clues disseminated throughout his innumerable tempestuous exploits and contribute to more than fifteen years of slowly boiling magical suspense… as well as hinting at the incredible enigma of the horrific hero’s doom-drenched double destiny…

Following some informative commentary from Mignola the arcane action begins with ‘Hellboy in Mexico or, A Drunken Blur’, (May 2010) illustrated by Richard Corben with colourist Dave Stewart & letterer Clem Robins applying their own seamless contributions to the mix…

In 1982 Hellboy and amphibious ally Abe Sapien are winding down after a strenuous mission in Mexico. Looking for a quiet drink they amble into a ramshackle cantina and discover a sort of shrine comprising a Holy Virgin statue and hundreds of faded photos, posters and tickets for luchadors (masked wrestlers). One of them features Hellboy and three grinning, hooded grapplers…

Shocked and stunned, Hellboy’s mind drifts back to a drunken binge in 1956…

And thus unfolds an untold tale of sterling comradeship and collaborative chaos-crushing as the Demon Detective joins a trio of fun-loving masked brothers who combined their travels on the wrestling circuit with a spot of monster-hunting and devil-destroying, and how it all fell apart after young Esteban fell to the deadly embrace of vampiric bat-god Camazotz

With the golden times over Hellboy went on an epic memory-eradicating booze-bender until months later BPRD agents found, dried out and brought home their errant top gun…

From Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil (November 2010) – and again illustrated by Corben – comes a brace of theatrically themed terrors. ‘Sullivan’s Reward’ sees Hellboy lured to a phantom-infested manse with a wicked reputation and corrupt mortal owner after which ‘The House of Sebek’ details the mystically inept lengths a horny Egyptology buff descends to in order to slake his lusts. Sadly for him, old crocodile gods never die but do get really ticked off when summoned for the wrong reasons…

A love of classic vampire yarns permeates the epic clash from ‘The Sleeping and the Dead’ #1-2 (December 2010-February 2011) as Scott Hampton, Stewart & Robbins render Mignola’s spooky saga of a nosferatu clan abiding for centuries in a sleepy Suffolk village until Hellboy visited England in 1966 and explosively cleaned house, hearth and home…

Corben returns to illustrate ‘The Bride of Hell’ (December 2009), wherein an American student vanishes in France in 1985. Sent to save her, Hellboy encounters deranged Satan-worshippers, fiends from the Pit and the ghosts of Knight Templar, and learns a small piece of lost history from the annals of the eternal war between Man and the Devil. Tragically, that lesson doesn’t include an appendix on the irresponsibility and unpredictability of human nature and the tale takes a sharp twist which leaves the hero bereft and defeated…

Created as a promotional piece for USA Today’s website ‘Hellboy: The Whittier Legacy’ (by Mignola with Stewart & Robbins from October 2010) sees the Paranormal Paragon track down the last disgruntled by-blow (it means “illegitimate child”: can’t say my stuff isn’t educational or informative) of an infamous family of Rhode Island Occultists (no; not eye-doctors) determined to enjoy the power and knowledge of his true ancestors. Of course, the old pretender might have shared the heritage, but not the wisdom or foresight to leave well enough alone…

Wrapping up the perilous proceedings, ‘Buster Oakley Gets His Wish’ (April 2011) affords man of many gifts Kevin Nowlan an opportunity to display his mastery of art, colours and letters in a blackly hilarious romp set in Rooks County, Kansas in 1985. Buster was just a bored young farmboy until he performed that ritual from the witchcraft book he’d gotten hold of. Now as Hellboy investigates cow mutilations, he is confronted by weird aliens and teams up with a tragic bovine ally who wishes he’d never heard of the Unknown…

‘Hellboy Sketchbook’ then shares all the covers, story-layouts, doodles, roughs, models and designs; all fully annotated by contributors Nowlan, Corben, Hampton, editor Scott Allie and Mignola, to flesh out the fearsome thrills and chills experience.

Delivered as a succession of short, sharp shockers of beguiling power and ingenuity, this succulent slice of Hellboy’s irresistible history is a perfect example of comics storytelling at its very best: offering astounding supernatural spectacle, amazing arcane action and momentous mystical suspense – something every fear fan and adventure aficionado will enjoy.
™ and © 2009, 2010, 2011 Mike Mignola. Hellboy is ™ Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.

American Vampire volume 1


By Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, Stephen King & various (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2830-9                  978-1-4012-2974-0 (SC)

In myth, literature and entertainment, there are many sorts of vampires. Here’s one species that’s a superbly grounded counterpoint to the scarlet deluge of lovey-dovey, kissey-poo tales of forbidden love between innocent modern maids and moody, tragic carriers of the Curse of the Night’s Children: one that uses for its themes Darwinian Survival of the Fittest, old-fashioned Revenge and the ultimate grisly example of Manifest Destiny; all played out against the chillingly familiar backdrop of the bloody birth of a modern nation…

In Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque’s first narrative arc, augmented and supplemented here by a stunning sidebar storyline from the functionally mythical Stephen King (who also provides a trenchant Introduction with ‘Suck on This’) – the kind of vampires that you should rightly beware of are introduced and explained, but although there are love stories in this series they’re probably not the sort you want your impressionable kids to read…

The sinister suspense begins with ‘Big Break’ as, in the Hollywood of 1925, struggling but popular and ambitious would-be starlets Pearl Jones and Hattie Hargrove follow their dream of celluloid stardom, working days as bit-players in movie mogul D. B. Bloch’s latest silent epic.

The girls have only been best friends for a short while but shared hardship makes them closer than sisters even if, too often, Pearl is distracted by itinerant musician Henry Preston and the aggravatingly persistent and obnoxious drifter who hangs out near their Ladies-Only boarding house.

The actresses’ careers seem destined to blossom when leading man Chase Hamilton invites the fame-hungry gamins to one of Bloch’s legendary Producer’s Parties. Despite shaded warnings from their laconic stalker, Pearl and Hattie attend but when the unctuous Chase takes the Jones girl aside to meet D. B. it isn’t the kind of assignation she expects…

Reeling with horror, the feisty actress finds herself a morsel and kickback-offering for a pack of wealthy European money-men who are literally blood-sucking monsters…

King & Albuquerque then take us back to the hoary days of 1880 and Sidewinder, Colorado, as veteran wordsmith Will Bunting relates the true story behind his novel ‘Bad Blood’ to a group of eager fans and historians…

The ancient scribbler recounts the fantastic yet apparently non-fictional tale of outlaw Skinner Sweet, a remorseless thief frustrating progress, killing good folks and stealing funds from sun-shy, Euro-trash millionaire railroad speculator Mr. Percy. When the psychotic bandit is finally captured by Pinkerton agent Jim Book and deputy Felix Camillo, the triumphant banker lays on a special train for a gaggle of journalists to record the victory of civilisation over lawlessness…

As the killer’s gang subsequently derails the train and massacres everyone who survived the crash, Skinner cruelly and casually takes time out to reveal how he killed Book’s wife…

Sweet then guns down Book and overwhelms Camillo, but is utterly unprepared for the attack of effete-seeming Percy who shrugs off fusillades of bullets before slaughtering them all. Skinner won’t die easily though, and in close combat with the fanged, gore-guzzling horror blows the European monstrosity’s eye out, consequently taking its blood into his own body before at last expiring…

Unknown to all, Bunting has seen everything and, as fully-healed Percy tends to Book and Camillo, wisely decides to say nothing of the horror he’s witnessed…

The Hollywood story then resumes with ‘Morning Star’ as Hattie and Henry discover Pearl is missing. Driving to the isolated mansion they discover her; ravaged, chewed to ribbons as if by some animal, yet inexplicably clinging to life.

Pearl wakes in the Morgue, having been visited by her mysterious stalker. Skinner Sweet has shared his unique blood with her and now, as the once-deceased actress listens in astonishment, the smirking ghoul explains some facts of life – and death – to her.

Like himself she has been attacked by ancient, old-world vampires, and by sharing their blood – accidentally in his case but quite deliberately when Sweet bestowed his own kiss upon her – Pearl has become a new kind of hybrid-bloodsucker, perfectly evolved to inhabit the New World, with completely different weaknesses to the old guard and, hopefully, sharing Sweet’s lust for revenge, taste for chaos and hunger for life…

After giving her a quick lesson on the differences between the European nosferatu who have carved themselves an almost unassailable position of closeted wealth and power in the young nation and the new American Vampires (now numbering two), the morally bankrupt wanderer takes off, leaving his hungry offspring to sink, swim or stand on her own shape-shifting, taloned feet…

He does leave a present, however: locked in her closet, Chase Hamilton quickly realises he is about to pay for all his many sins…

‘Deep Water’ finds author Will Bunting also in 1925, talking about the re-issue of his fantastic novel to a store full of avid fans. The tale, describing the iconic life of heroic Jim Book and his battle against vampire outlaw Skinner Sweet, resumes at the point when the infected owlhoot wakes up in his own grave. Far above him the cabal of expatriate vampires secretly dominating America’s nascent financial system continue accruing wealth and power and insouciantly turn the entire town of Sidewinder into Colorado’s latest reservoir and boating lake…

For nearly thirty years Book continues with his peacekeeping profession and eventually Camillo is elected Mayor of new town Lakeview. More worryingly Bunting had turned the tale of Sweet and the vampires into a popular dime-novel so sensation-seekers and treasure-hunters regularly dredge the man-made mere for souvenirs of the infamous outlaw…

One day in 1909 a couple of them unearth the now legendary badman’s buried, sunken coffin and unleash a rabid horror unlike anything ever seen in the world before: a leech unaffected by running water, stakes or sunlight. Hungry for revenge and sustenance Skinner Sweet emerges into a new America and starts hunting old “friends” he owes a debt to…

In Tinsel Town meanwhile, Pearl returns to her lodgings and tells shell-shocked Hattie to flee before continuing her own quest for vengeance in ‘Rough Cut’. The immortal Euro-cabal are, as usual, discussing what to do about their personal nemesis Sweet and his protracted annoyance, unaware they have a far more pressing problem. That all changes after the unstoppable and infinitely superior Pearl butchers three of them. Without knowing what could kill this New World species of vampire, the clique resorts to age-old stratagems even as Miss Jones – resuming mortal form – turns to Henry for a little comfort and support…

Just then the phone rings and Bloch demands that she surrender herself or Hattie will die horribly…

Back in 1909 Sweet’s ‘Blood Vengeance’ eliminates every human in Lakeview and proclaims his intentions to a horrified coterie of haughty, privileged, old-world bloodsuckers who previously believed themselves the planet’s apex predators. Even so, the resurgent outlaw has more pressing business. Before the last man in town died, Sweet made him send a telegram to Jim Book…

‘Double Exposure’ sees Pearl desperately negotiating for Hattie’s life, knowing surrender only leads her to becoming the cabal’s eternal, experimental lab rat. She is utterly unaware she has already been betrayed by someone close to her: someone pitifully greedy and unable to resist the subtle pressures and obvious blandishments of the European ancients.

However, even bushwhacked, mysteriously weakened and brutally assaulted, Pearl, with the aid of her last true friend, turns the tables and even destroys Bloch’s fortress before escaping to prepare for one last showdown…

The writer’s tale is also approaching a climax as ‘One Drop of Blood’ finds Book, Felix, the young Bunting and Camillo’s daughter Abilena hunting Sweet through the hellish ruins of Lakeview just as the bloodthirsty travesty discovers that his powers and energies are unaccountably waning. Watching unsuspected from a distant position of seclusion, “Euro-Vamps” bide their time and witness the shocking finale as the valiant comrades use dynamite to bury the debilitated devil in a deep mine-shaft under tons of unyielding rock – but not before the sadistic Skinner deliberately infects Book with his own tainted, mutagenic blood…

Pearl’s story in this first stunning volume concludes in a sustained spray of scarlet gore as she climactically confronts Bloch and his surviving comrades only to face one final tragic betrayal in ‘Curtain Call’ whilst ‘If Thy Right Hand Offend Thee…’ discloses Book’s climactic battle with the cursed thirst Sweet had inflicted upon him, even as unstoppable Skinner enjoys one last chat with the Euro-leech who created him…

The time-distanced yet parallel tales then coincide and conclude with a hint of foreboding; presaging more horrors in the days and decades to come…

This initial creepy, compelling chronicle also includes a pithy Afterword from Snyder, a welter of variant covers by Albuquerque, Jim Lee, Bernie Wrightson, Andy Kubert, JH Williams III and Paul Pope, a feature on the script-to-art process and 6 pages of designs and sketches by the supremely skilled and multi-faceted Albuquerque to delight and impress all fans of truly mature supernatural thrills and chills.

Far more True Blood than Twilight and substantially closer to Sam Peckinpah than John Ford or Tod Browning, this lightning-paced, sardonically gory excursion into blood and sand and love and death is a spectacular, absorbing thrill-riot by two of the industry’s best talents, backed up and covered by an absolute master of tone and terror, combining to craft a splendid, sordid, sexy and utterly spellbinding saga, riddled with far deeper metaphors than “unrequited love sucks”.

American Vampire offers solid screams and enchantingly fresh ideas all fear-fiends will find irresistible, making this modern classic an absolute “must-have” and a certain reminder that there are such things as monsters and some beasts just should not be tamed…
© 2010, Scott Snyder and Stephen King. All Rights Reserved.

Hey Wait…


By Jason, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-641-7

It’s usually a cheap cop-out by tired or hackneyed critics but some creators’ work comes close to defying description. That’s never more true than when reviewing another brilliant graphic exposition by Jason.

Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels.

A global star among the cartoon cognoscenti, Jason has earned many major awards from all over the planet. His work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, utilising the beastly and unnatural to gently pose eternal questions about basic human needs in a soft but relentless quest for answers. That you don’t ever notice the deep stuff because of the clever gags and safe, familiar “funny-animal” characters should indicate just how good a cartoonist and storyteller he is…

The stylised static-seeming artwork is delivered in formalised page layouts rendered in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, solid blacks, thick outlines and settings of seductive simplicity – often augmented by a deft and subtle use of flat colour which enhances his hard, moody, suspenseful and utterly engrossing Cinema-inspired world.

The superbly understated art acts in concert with his dead-on, deadpan pastiche repertoire of scenarios which dredge deep from our shared experience of old film noir classics, horror and sci fi B-movies and other visual motifs which transcend time and culture, and the result is narrative dynamite. His preferred oeuvre mixes such fantasy elements with a deep and overwhelming inquiry into why bad stuff happens to ordinary “people”…

A compact (176 x 254mm) monochrome paperback, Hey Wait… is just such a confection: an eerie and glorious paean to boyhood friendships with young Bjorn and Jon enjoying a life of perfect childhood of collecting comics, watching movies and gadding about until a tragic accident – perhaps the result of boon companions egging each other on a little too much? – ends the idyll forever.

Life, however, goes on (and on and on and on) for one of the inseparable childhood comrades but it has become a life sentence…

The survivor’s existence becomes populated from then on with mundane encounters, tedious assignations, failed aspirations and the usual parade of ghosts and visions, but then again so is everybody else’s tedious day to day progress to the end …

Hey Wait… resonates with Jason’s favourite themes and shines with his visual dexterity and skewed sensibilities. disclosing a decidedly different slant on secrets and obsessions. Primal art supplemented by sparse and spartan dialogue, enhanced to a macabre degree by immaculate cartooning and skilled use of silence and moment utilised with devastating economy, affords the same quality of cold, bleak yet perfectly harnessed stillness which makes Scandinavian crime dramas such compelling, addictive fare.

This comic tale allows us all to look at the world through wide-open young eyes but never sugar-coats what’s there to see…
© 1998, 1999, 2001, 2005 Jason. Translation © 2001 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Red Range: A Wild West Adventure


By Joe R. Lansdale, Sam Glanzman & various (It’s Alive!/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1631409943

Once upon a time, not that very long ago, nearly all of fiction was engorged with tales of Cowboys and Indians. As always happens with such periodic popular phenomena – for example the Swinging Sixties’ Superspy and Batmania booms or the recent trend for Vampire and/or Werewolf Boyfriends – there was a tremendous amount of momentary merit, lots of utter dross and a few irrefutable gems that would affect public tastes from then on.

Most importantly, once such surges have petered out there’s also generally a small cadre of frustrated devotees who mourn its passing and, on growing up, resolve to do something to venerate or even revive their lost and faded favourite fad…

Following World War II the American family entertainment market – for which read comics, radio and the burgeoning television industry – became comprehensively enamoured of the clear-cut, simplistic sensibilities and easy, escapist solutions offered by the antiseptic anodyne branch of Tales of the Old West; already a firmly established favourite of paperback fiction, movie serials and feature films.

I’ve often pondered on how almost simultaneously a dark, bleak, nigh-nihilistic and oddly left-leaning Film Noir genre quietly blossomed alongside that wholesome revolution, seemingly for the cynical minority of entertainment intellectuals who somehow knew that returned veterans still hadn’t found a Land Fit for Heroes… but that’s a thought for another time and a different review.

Even though comicbooks had encompassed Western heroes from the very start – there were cowboy crusaders in the premier issues of both Action Comics and Marvel Comics – the post-war years saw a vast outpouring of anthology titles with new gun-slinging idols to replace the rapidly-dwindling supply of costumed Mystery Men, and true to formula, most of these pioneers ranged from transiently mediocre to outright appalling.

With every comic-book publisher turning hopeful eyes westward, it was natural that most of the historical figures would quickly find a home and of course facts counted little, as indeed they never had with cowboy literature…

Despite minor re-flowerings in the early 1970s and mid-1990s, for the longest of times Cowboy comics largely vanished from our funnybook pages: seemingly unable to command enough mainstream commercial support to survive the crushing competition of garish wonder-men and the furiously seductive futurescapes.

Europe and Britain also embraced the Sagebrush zeitgeist and produced some pretty impressive work, with France and Italy eventually making the genre their own by the end of the 1960s. They still make the best straight Western strips in the world…

Happily, however, an American revolution in comics retailing and print technologies at the end of the 20th century allowed fans to create and disseminate relatively inexpensive comicbooks of their own and, happier still, many of those fans are incredibly talented creators in other genres. A particularly impressive case in point is this captivating lost treasure originally published by independent creator-led outfit Mojo Press.

The brainchild of Richard Klaw (publisher, reviewer, essayist, writer, historian and self-confessed geek maven), the little outfit published some amazing and groundbreaking horror, fantasy, science fiction and Western graphic novels and prose books between 1994 and their much-lamented demise in 1999.

As revealed in Klaw’s informative Introduction ‘When Old is New and New Old’, Red Range was probably their most controversial release: an uncompromising adventure tale and deftly-disguised (a tad too much so, apparently) attack on contemporary racism and institutionalised bigotry astoundingly approached as an ultra-violent cowboy revenge yarn.

Originally published in stark black and white in 1999, Joe E. Lansdale and Sam Glanzman’s amazing unfinished odyssey has been remastered and adapted to full-colour (courtesy of Jorge Blanco & Jok and letterer Douglas Potter) and given a new lease of life in this sublime hardcover edition, just as America’s latest President seems set to return the nation to those days of implicit supremacism, casual segregation and wealth-based Jim Crow laws…

A Word of Warning: if your sensibilities and senses are liable to freak out at profoundly yet historically accurate scenes of violence or repeated use of the “N” word as used by drawn representations of murdering racist bastards in white sheets, don’t buy this book. Actually, do buy it; just don’t whine that you weren’t warned…

In Texas in the late 19th century a band of Klansmen are brutally torturing a black family who have had the temerity to buy land and plant crops. The ignorant butchers’ repugnant fun is mercilessly interrupted when a masked negro vigilante known as The Red Mask attacks, killing many of them and driving off their leader Batiste.

The unlikely avenger is too late to save the parents but does take their son Turon under his wing. As they ride to his hideout, the lone rider confides in his youthful new companion.

Caleb Range’s story is appallingly similar to the boy’s own recent tragedy. It’s probably one repeated hundreds of times every day in America since the Black Man was emancipated…

Back in town, Batiste recruits a specialist tracker and plenty more white men eager to teach coloureds their rightful place. Hunting down Red Mask the bigot again underestimates his quarry’s determination and facility with weapons…

Angry, frustrated and humiliated, Batiste gathers yet more men and sets out to end his nemesis forever. The relentless pursuit leads into the desert wastes and straight out of any semblance of rationality as Caleb and Turon survive one more cataclysmic battle before falling into a lost world of ancient tribes and ravenous dinosaurs with Batiste and his few surviving killers hard on their heels…

In this place however, the so-superior white men are seen as less than human by the indigenous humans: nothing more than prey and provender. Regrettably, they hold pretty much the same opinion regarding Caleb and Turon, who quickly discover they might not just be lost in space but also time…

To Be Continued…

Vivid, shocking, staggeringly exciting, ferociously uncompromising and yet often outrageously, laugh-out-loud funny, Red Range has both message and moral but never for a moment lets that stand in the way of telling a great story. Hopefully, this long-overlooked gem will get fair shake this time around…

Adding value and enlightenment, this opening chapter in a hopefully longer saga is augmented by ‘Beneath the Valley of the Klan Busters: (A Sort of) Afterword by Stephen R. Bissette’ which offers some historical and social context to the proceedings and inside gen on creators Lansdale and Glanzman, as well as a potted history of the role of black people in western movies from 1920s star-turn Bill Pickett to Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained.

The bonus goodies continue with a silent monochrome masterpiece of action and bleak, black humour in ‘I Could Eat a Horse!’ (first seen in Wild West Show, 1996), with the artist displaying a firm grip of both killer slapstick and grim irony as Cowboy, Indian and other beasts go in search of meal, before Bissette rides us into the sunset with an erudite and fascinating trip down memory lane for “Pop Culture Cowpokes and Carnosaurs” with ‘A Brief History of Cowboys & Dinosaurs’

These fresh looks at an overexposed idiom prove there’s still meat to found on those old bones, and cow-punching aficionados, fans of nostalgia-tainted comics and seekers of the wild and new alike can all be assured that there’s a selection of range-riding rollercoaster thrills and moody mysteries still lurking in those hills and on that horizon…

What more could you possibly ask for?
Red Range: A Wild West Adventure © 1999-2017 Joe R. Lansdale. “I Could Eat a Horse” © 2017 Sam Glanzman. “When Old is New and New Old” © 2017 Richard Klaw. “Beneath the Valley of the Klan Busters” and “A Brief History of Cowboys & Dinosaurs” © 2017 Stephen R. Bissette. All rights reserved.

Red Range: A Wild West Adventure is scheduled for publication June 28th 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Hellboy volume 10: The Crooked Man and Others


By Mike Mignola, Richard Corben, Duncan Fegredo, Joshua Dysart, Jason Shawn Alexander, Dave Stewart & Clem Robins (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-740-1

As a baby Hellboy was taken – on December 23rd 1944 – from Nazi cultists by American superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers. They had interrupted a satanic ritual predicted by Allied parapsychologist Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and his associates.

They were waiting at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when an abominable infant with a huge stone right hand materialised in a fireball. Raised by Bruttenholm, the child grew into a mighty warrior fighting a never-ending secret war. The Professor trained the infernal foundling whilst forming an organisation to destroy supernatural threats – the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

After years of such devoted intervention, education and warm human interaction, in 1952 the neophyte hero began destroying unnatural threats and supernatural monsters as lead agent for the BPRD. “Hellboy” rapidly became its top operator… the world’s most successful paranormal investigator…

As the decades unfolded, Hellboy gleaned snatches of his origins, learning he was a supposedly corrupted creature of dark portent: born a demonic messiah, destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil. It was a fate he despised and utterly rejected…

This creepy tenth collection re-presents the 3-issue miniseries Hellboy: the Crooked Man, one-shot Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch, the extremely rare Hellboy: They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships computer game premium and a short story from Free Comic Book Day 2008: Hellboy: once again relating tales set at various stages of his globe-trotting, world-saving fifty year career batting the arcane, occult and unknown…

Following an expansively effusive Introduction from cartoonist Gahan Wilson, this collation of chillers commences with Eisner Award-winning saga ‘The Crooked Man’, limned by Richard Corben, with colours and letters by regular support crew Dave Stewart and Clem Robins.

It’s preceded by an introductory commentary from author Mignola where he acknowledges the influence of and debt to pulp, comics, magazine and novel-writer Manly Wade Wellman and how he helped shaped the supernatural shocker which follows…

Roaming the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia in 1958, Hellboy encounters a plague of witches and meets a fellow victim of fate in wandering Tom Ferrell.

As they jointly seek a cure for a hexed woman they encounter an old friend of Tom’s who has been lured into the craft by the Devil. Having met the infernal fiend in his local guise as the Crooked Man, Tom reveals a dark secret of his own…

Years ago when he was a stupid kid, Ferrell was seduced by teen temptress Effie Kolb who lured him into making a pact with the Crooked One. His reward was great power – in the form of a lucky wishing bone – but the boy was so shocked by the experience that he fled the Appalachians in terror: joining the army, becoming a globe-trotter and never, ever calling upon the demonic power at his command…

And now he’s been drawn home to settle accounts…

Witches and devils are waiting for him with many cruel punishments in store but, with Hellboy beside him, Tom pushes on up the mountains to the seat of the monsters’ power. Here, a dedicated, unswerving preacher holds out on the last piece of consecrated ground in the entire district, and with his divine support the damned heroes confront all the powers of Hell and temptations of Perdition to banish the dark forces.

As always, however, there is a price to pay…

Written by Mignola and Joshua Dysart with art by Jason Shawn Alexander ‘They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships’ was created as a comic premium given away with a computer game. The scene is Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1986, where a hustling fortune teller steals – or is perhaps glamoured by – the skull Blackbeard the Pirate.

A month later Hellboy and amphibian agent Abe Sapien are called to Ocracoke Island, North Carolina where the brain-slaved conman is attempting to unite the piratical pate with its former body to resurrect the bloodiest murderer in history to his old red-handed antics…

Even Hellboy’s great strength seems unable to still the unquiet ghost, but other vengeful forces have also been awakened by the rowdy Blackbeard…

‘In the Chapel of Moloch’ is an all-Mignola affair set in 1992 wherein the weird wanderer visits an old friend in southern Portugal and is drawn into an eerie case of possession. They investigate the disappearance of a painter who has been beguiled by the works of Francisco Goya and apparently summoned to Earth the personification of a biblical devil, and discover something old and fierce and deadly on the loose…

The comics cavalcade of chills and thrills ends with a whimsical vignette by Mignola & Duncan Fegredo from Free Comic Book Day 2008: Hellboy. As the B.P.R.D. top gun spends a little downtime in England with some old – and largely deceased – pals, he has a bit of an extended fright after one of them points out ‘The Mole’ growing on the arcane agent’s hand…

This capital collection of Chthonic capers is accompanied by a gallery of covers by Mignola and Corben and supplemented by a copious ‘Hellboy Sketchbook’ assemblage with art from all stages of production and commentary from the author and artists Alexander, Fegredo & Corben before closing with an erudite and tantalising biographic appreciation of ‘Manly Wade Wellman: American Mythmaker’ by author, archivist and historian John Pelan.

Spooky, suspenseful and explosively action-packed, this is another uniquely unsettling rollercoaster ride to delight horrorists of very stripe and character.
© 2008, 2009, and 2010 Mike Mignola. Hellboy is ™ Mike Mignola. Introduction © 2010 Gahan Wilson. All rights reserved.

Solomon Kane volume 2: Death’s Black Riders


By Scott Allie, Mario Guevara, Juan Ferreyra & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-590-2

Following on from their revitalisation – if not actual creation – of the comicbook Sword and Sorcery genre in the early 1970s with their magnificent adaptation of pulp superstar Conan the Barbarian, Marvel Comics quite naturally looked for more of the same, and found ample material in Robert Ervin Howard’s other warrior heroes such as King Kull, Bran Mac Morn and dour Puritan Avenger Solomon Kane.

The fantasy genre had undergone a global prose revival in the paperback marketplace since the release of soft-cover editions of Lord of the Rings (first published in 1954), and the 1960s resurgence of two-fisted action extravaganzas by such pioneer writers as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline and Fritz Lieber. This led to a generation of modern writers such as Michael Moorcock and Lin Carter kick-starting their literary careers with contemporary interpretations of man, monster and mage. Without doubt, though, nobody did it better than the tragic Texan whose other red-handed stalwarts and tough guys such as El Borak, Steve Costigan, Dark Agnes and Red Sonya of Rogatino excelled in a host of associated genres and like milieux.

As a prose paragon, Solomon Kane debuted in the August 1928 issue of Weird Tales in a gripping tale of vengeance entitled “Red Shadows”; thereafter making seven more appearances before abruptly vanishing in 1932 as his creator concentrated on the far more successful Conan.

Three more tales, some epic poems and a few unfinished ideas and passages remained unpublished until 1968 when renewed interest in the author’s work prompted publishers to disinter and complete the yarns.

Apart from two noteworthy 4-colour exceptions, during the 1970s and 1980s, Marvel was content to leave Solomon Kane to monochrome adaptations of canonical Howard stories in Dracula Lives, Savage Sword of Conan, Monsters Unleashed and other older-reader magazines, but with his 21st century transfer to the Dark Horse stable, the Holy Terror has flourished in broader, lavishly-hued and much-expanded interpretations of the short stories and assorted unfinished snippets left when the prolific Howard took his life in 1936.

Beginning in 2008 and released as a succession of miniseries, these almost-new adventures offer modern fans a far darker and more moody iteration of the driven, doom-laden wanderer. This second volume features as graphic narrative short story Rattle of the Bones combined with a mere fragment of recovered prose latterly dubbed Death’s Black Riders, with scripter Scott Allie fleshing out the meagre fare for modern audiences. The strips were originally published in 4-issue miniseries Solomon Kane: Death’s Black Riders and are supplemented here by an all-new short continued saga which originally ran online in MySpace Dark Horse Presents #27 and 28.

For the uninitiated: Kane is a 17th century disenfranchised English soldier-of-fortune on a self-appointed mission to scour the Earth doing God’s Work. He interprets that to mean punishing the wicked and destroying devils and monsters. With no seeming plan, the devout Puritan lets fate guide his footsteps ever onwards towards trouble…

The drama opens here where the previous collection left off. Having survived epic clashes with demon wolves, devilish pagans and satanic thralls, the surly pilgrim is still lost in Germany’s vast and foreboding Black Forest and eager to find his way out.

Sadly, his wanderings merely lead to more conflict as he encounters the remains of a band of slaughtered gypsies where an extremely capable Frenchman named Gaston battles against a vile pack of voracious double-mouthed, distressingly equine talking horrors.

Joining the fray, the chilling churchman kills three of ‘Death’s Black Riders’, but not in time to save any but Gaston from the beast’s butchery…

Although something about the Frenchman disturbs and unsettles him, Kane accompanies the sole survivor as they make their way on foot through the benighted forest, eventually coming upon a lonely inn, blithely unaware that the hostelry is afflicted by ‘The Rattle of Bones’

The deeply suspicious landlord is far from welcoming but the wanderers’ misgivings are offset by inclement weather and the fact that the four-legged devils are still at large and probably close at hand. Despite gaining entry behind the stout walls and sturdy doors the travellers are cautiously on guard as they assess their temporary dwelling, especially after discovering their room cannot be secured from the inside…

Searching for bars and barricades, they come upon a room with a skeleton chained to a wall and Gaston – in an act of courage-bolstering bravado – smashes the aged links with his sword. Not long after, the Frenchman makes his long-delayed move, ambushing Kane and attempting to steal his purse. Too late the puritan recognises infamous bandit Gaston the Butcher, but before he can save himself the demented innkeeper strikes…

This madman had been preying on visitors for years, despatching those unfortunate enough to share his hospitality. The lunatic even managed to kill a travelling sorcerer and was wise enough to chain up his corpse so that the enchanter could not strike back at from beyond the grave…

Thus, although recently added to the murderer’s tally, Gaston’s revenge comes as the skeleton prowling the inn finds the target it has waited decades to meet again, and in the gory aftermath the aghast Kane prepares to take his chance with the forest when a pounding comes upon the door. It is a terrified Catholic priest and at his heels is a pack of ravening horse-like monsters…

The terrifying tension rises to fever pitch as ‘The Black Riders Return’ to lay siege to the inn with puritan and priest trading doctrinal sallies whilst battling the bludgeoning beasts outside and evading the unquiet sorcerer’s unburied corpse within the house…

As a shattering storm rages, the war of Good and Evil reaches an appalling crescendo, and when day breaks only one man walks away…

A non-stop parade of peril and explosive action, the art here is both beguiling and emphatically evocative with Mario (The Lone Ranger and Tonto) Guevara’s pencils ably augmented by the potent palette of colourist Juan Ferreyra (Rex Mundi), but the tone changes utterly as Guy Davis assumes the illustration chores for Allie’s eerie follow-up ‘All the Damned Souls at Sea’

Here the exhausted, world-weary horror hunter takes ship for his long-missed England, intent on seeing once more his beloved childhood haunts of Devon.

Typically, however, Kane clashes with a witch before boarding and, as he reminisces during the crossing of his previous voyages battling the Spanish navy, an uncanny transformation grips the ship, remaking it into a predatory beast hungry for sailors’ souls…

As always, this turbulent battle-scarred tome is packed with fascinating artistic extras and behind-the-scenes bonuses such as a gallery of covers and art pieces from Mike Mignola, Jason Shawn Alexander and Darick Robertson plus creative insights via ‘The Art of Solomon Kane’ with sketches, designs, process art and commentary by Guevara, Davis, Chad Vaughn and Allie.

Powerful, engaging and sumptuously spooky, this fight-filled fantasy fear-fest will delight both fans of the original canon and all lovers of darkly dreaming, ghost-busting thrillers.
© 2009 Solomon Kane Inc. (“SKI”). Solomon Kane and all related characters, names and logos are ™ and ® SKI.

The Dead Rider: Crown of Souls


By Kevin Ferrara (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978- 1-61655-750-8

Westerns are very much in the eye of the beholder. Some of my very favourites are The Seven Samurai, The Thirteenth Warrior and Outland …and not a Six-gun or Stetson in the bunch.

I think that it’s all about tone and themes and timbre; motivation and resolution, rather than just slavish attention to genre forms. Trappings and locations are not as important as the Why and the How…

A fascinating case in point is Dead Rider. Conceived and crafted by writer, artist and historian Kevin Ferrara (Aliens/Predator, Green Lantern, Creepy) it offers a miasmic merging of classical EC-styled tongue-in-cheek horror with grittily familiar cowboy themes and locales, resulting in a beautifully rendered if somewhat meandering yarn about true love, magical misery and vengeance forestalled, but never escaped…

Originally released as two issues the saga came to an abrupt ending before concluding, but in this graphic album the entire tale is finally told…

Near the frontier town of Magruder, Nevada in the 1890s a vile owlhoot calling himself the Cobra is hunting a man. Having successfully diverted a similarly employed cavalry troop into a wild goose chase, the villain relishes the prospect of tackling the legendary gunman known as the Dead Rider. He has no idea what he is about to confront, or that his prospective prey is being watched over by an Indian shaman with much more than skin in the game…

After brutalising and terrorising the entire township, Cobra secures the lead he needs and rides off to his date with destiny whilst the shaman rushes to warn the much sought after rider who currently resides in an old iron mine. The décor doesn’t trouble the wanted man much. After all, he’s been an ambulatory rotting corpse for years now and physical feeling is long-forgotten luxury…

Once, Jacob Bierce was a gentle, loving man whose only desire was to wed his adored paramour Sarah. However, due a string of cruel accidents and malign misfortunes, Jacob fell under the power of a scheming and manipulative Bog Witch who made him immortal by turning him into a walking corpse. The downside was that he retained his mind and conscience, even during those appalling and frequently recurring moments when the sorceress possessed his body to go on killing sprees…

Thus the revenant’s formidable reputation, the authorities pragmatic despatching of deranged General Cavanaugh and a troop of soldiers to capture the notorious Dead Rider and Cobra’s obsession with immortalising his own reputation by killing the zombie fugitive…

Now all the disparate players are converging for a final showdown, but the Witch has one last eldritch card to play: she has been collecting the last vestiges of the dead to build a potent artefact known as the Crown of Souls but has not fully appreciated the power of true friendship, love from beyond the grave and the obsessive nature of glory-crazed military men…

Although the plot contains some gaping inconsistencies and the dialogue is often uninspired, The Dead Rider is rendered in a spectacularly lush manner reminiscent of the best of Graham Ingels, Bernie Wrightson, Scott Hampton or Thomas Yeates and fairly rockets along, offering plenty of action and wry humour as well as a classic tragedy-laced horror hero that would certainly score well with today’s movie-going genre aficionados.

Fast, fun and fabulous, this turbulent tome comes with a Gallery of sketches, roughs, covers and unused art pages complete with accompanying commentary and is a sure-fire guilty pleasure for fans looking for quality art and a tale outside the tried-&-true comicbook mainstream.
© 2007, 2008, 2015 Kevin Schnaper. All rights reserved.

Hellboy volume 9: The Wild Hunt


By Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo, Dave Stewart & Clem Robins (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-431-8

On December 23rd 1944 an uncanny baby was confiscated from Nazi cultists by American superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers moments after his unearthly nativity on Earth. The Allied forces had interrupted a satanic ritual predicted by parapsychologist Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and his associates who were waiting for Hell to literally come to Earth…

The heroic assemblage was stationed at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when the abominable infant with a huge stone right hand materialised in an infernal fireball. This “Hellboy” was subsequently raised by Bruttenholm, and grew into a mighty warrior engaged in fighting a never-ending secret war against the uncanny and supernatural. The Professor trained the happy-go-lucky foundling whilst forming and consolidating an organisation to destroy arcane and occult threats – the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

After years of such devoted intervention, education and warm human interaction, in 1952 the neophyte hero began hunting all agents of the malign unknown from phantoms to monsters as lead agent for the BPRD. Hellboy rapidly became its top operative; the world’s most successful paranormal investigator…

As decades unfolded, Hellboy gleaned snatches of his origins and antecedents, learning he was a supposedly corrupted beast of dark portent: a demonic messiah destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil.

It is a fate he despised and utterly rejected…

This ninth necromantic collection re-presents the climactic 8-issue miniseries Hellboy: The Wild Hunt from 2008-2009, drawing together many subtly scattered clues disseminated throughout his innumerable tempestuous exploits and at last providing the conclusion to more than fifteen years of slowly boiling magical suspense… as well as the incredible answers to the enigma of the horrific hero’s doom-drenched double destiny…

Creator Mignola reunites with illustrator Duncan Fegredo – supplemented as always by colourist Dave Stewart and letterer Clem Robins – as the fey folk and other creatures of ancient mythology and legend are fading into non-existence in the face of a rising of witches.

The malevolent hags have a new queen who promises blood and slaughter and domination of the world by her kind whilst the only being who might stop her inexorable ascendance is missing…

Following an Introduction from Mark Chadbourn the drama opens in rural Italy as Hellboy receives a letter from a most ancient and august society. The paranormal paragon has been hiding; avoiding having to deal with a hard-wired cosmic fate which will not let him go…

Nevertheless, on receipt of the missive Hellboy returns to England and meets the oldest members of the aristocratic secret society known as the Wild Hunt.

They have been clandestinely defending the Sceptr’d Isles from mystic assault for centuries and – more aware of Hellboy’s destiny-drenched antecedents than the hero himself – want him to join them in exterminating a band of giants set to ravage the Realm…

Sadly the entire affair is a trap, but the mortal warriors are no match for Hellboy who defeats his duplicitous opponents before also despatching the giants in an uncontrollable burst of warrior-madness…

In a faraway place the ensorcelled goblin known as the Gruagach of Lough Leane reflects on the long-ago slight inflicted upon by Hellboy which has been the cause and trigger of all the carnage and world-shattering destruction about to unfold when the new Queen of Witches is ready. Perhaps he repents it all, just a shade…

The subject of his hate is currently in Ireland, renewing the acquaintance of Alice whom he saved from being abducted as a baby by the Little People. The decades have been uncannily kind, as if some elfin magic rubbed off on her…

As the Red Queen cruelly consolidates her power in England, Hellboy and Alice are visited by former pixie potentate Queen Mab who reveals another missing part of a decades-long puzzle and hints that there might be way to thwart this oppressive, inescapable destiny.

However when another supposed ally betrays them and Alice is wounded unto death, Hellboy is approached by ancient legend Morgan Le Fay who offers to trade for the mortal girl’s life.

She reveals that although the hell-born hero is certainly the son of the devil his human mother could trace her own line back to Arthur Pendragon. Hellboy is the doom of mankind but also the True King of England and she is his many-times removed grandmother…

If he wants to save humanity from an army of darkness he has his own to call upon – one comprising millennia of the noble dead of Britain. All Morgan’s heir has to do is take up the Sword in the Stone. It should be easy. His new occult opponent – now calling herself the Mor-Rioghain – also wants to awaken the dragons from the beginning of time and wipe out humanity: the fore-ordained role Hellboy has sworn never to enact…

With horror Hellboy realises he has not been running from one unwanted Destiny, but two…

With his fate closing in all around him Hellboy is uncharacteristically nonplussed, but an ethereal visitation prompts him to ferocious action and as he confronts his own inherently evil nature he finally throws off all the sly influences attempting to sway him and once again chooses his own path…

Offering astounding supernatural spectacle, amazing arcane action, mounting mystical tension and the imminent end of decades of slowly unfolding wonderment, this epic adventure is supplemented by a copious Sketchbook Section from Mignola and Fegredo, offering unused covers, roughs, designs, and informative commentary.

Unfolding with the pace of a mythic epic of enthralling power, the saga and mystery of Hellboy is a true landmark of comics storytelling and one every fan and aficionado should read.
™ and © 2008, 2009, 2010 Mike Mignola. Hellboy is ™ Mike Mignola. Introduction © 2010 Mark Chadbourn. All rights reserved.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters


By Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-959-2

Once upon a time, comics were ubiquitous and universal and scorned by most people.

Gradually people came to realise that there were gems amongst the dross, and a critical arena grew where graphic novels could be judged on their own intrinsic merits and afforded serious consideration as Art.

Every so often an example of purely perfect sequential narrative emerges which reshapes the Artform and forces the entire world to sit up and take notice: Maus, Persepolis, American Splendor, Watchmen

I’m pretty certain as I read my review copy (for the third time in two weeks) that My Favorite Thing is Monsters is soon going to be automatically added to that list of ground-breaking, world-shaking graphic masterpieces whenever people talk about the absolute best that sequential graphic narrative has to offer…

Crafted over decades, this massive onion-skin of tales-within-tales ostensibly details a murder mystery, but conceals within its astoundingly illustrated layers a “you-are-here” historical perspective of the social chaos resulting amongst the impoverished and disenfranchised after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a crushing examination of child abuse, an impassioned discourse on the nature and role of Art, a chilling coming-of-age experience, a telling testament of the repercussions of survival for Holocaust victims and a mesmerising trek through the psyche of a very troubled little girl on the cusp of leaving the security of childhood forever…

The viper’s nest of stories is delivered through the beguiling conceit that we are reading the diary of an extremely intelligent, artistically gifted little girl who has inscribed and illustrated in her spiral-bound notebook the far-from-mundane recent events of her life: an unedited, unexpurgated stream-of-consciousness account, just as the events happened…

Karen Reyes sees monsters. She sees them everywhere but that’s okay because most of them are her friends or at least not overly hostile and besides, she’s a monster too…

In 1968 Chicago, our 10-year-old protagonist/narrator is obsessed with movie and comicbook creature features, to the point of seeing herself as a cute werewolf (much in the mould of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things).

She is also worldly-wise beyond her years perhaps blessed with synaesthesia: able to smell colours, taste the tone or character of places and enter the many paintings her artist brother takes her to see at the gallery…

The single-parent family lives in Chicago in 1968 in a tenement owned by local gangboss Mr. Gronan. The mobster’s wife is one of the many women Karen’s brother Deeze regularly shares his bed with, not the wisest of things to admit to…

Despite his social shortcomings Deeze is a brilliant artist who has always shared his passion with his gifted sister, but as the story opens he is keeping a secret from Karen. Their adoring mother is dying…

Karen’s cool reserve is frequently tested. Many kids at school bully and abuse her whilst their parents scorn and despise her. At least she has a few trusted outcast associates in her corner. It’s no wonder though that she prefers the clannish world of screen and comicbooks to what reality offers up daily…

Blithely unaware of how painful the world can be, the dutiful daughter’s world shifts from filmic fantasy to real life tragedy when troubled tenant Anka Silverberg dies. Karen, who has shared a special relationship with the concentration camp survivor for years, realises it must be murder, not the inevitable suicide most of the adults say it was.

The Werewolf-girl thus resolves to use her gifts to find the killer and embarks on an horrific voyage of discovery. With the unwittingly aid of befuddled sot Sam Silverberg and her own uncanny, wise-beyond-her-years instincts, Karen stalks her elusive prey, slowly gaining an understanding of the real-world atrocities Anna endured before reaching America and her inescapable date with doom…

Moreover, as Karen continues to investigate the life and death of Anka, the increasingly violent real world gets a stronger hold on her inner landscape, distracting the monster girl from her self-appointed mission…

Astoundingly complex and multi-layered, and accessing a phenomenally intricate interior landscape blending the shocking squalor, deprivation and social unrest of mid 1960’s Chicago with the thoughts and impression of a brilliant child and natural outsider, My Favorite Thing is Monsters offers a stunning examination of loss and what it means to be human. Moreover, the barrage of intertwined stories never obfuscates, but always offers some snippet of revelation and does so with warmth, humour, great heart and inspirational passion.

Best of all, this tome is only the beginning and the story will continue in a sequel…
© 2016 Emil Ferris. All rights reserved.