Daily Mail Nipper Annual, 1940 Facsimile Edition

By Brian White (B&H Publications/White Crescent Press Ltd.)
ISBN: 978-0-90080-431-1

Return with me again to the early days of World War II and experience the charm and creativity of the English in the face of Hunnish disaster. Or perhaps I should say try and find this wonderful reproduction of one of the war years’ most popular strips, now all but forgotten.

Brian White first created this roguish charmer of a toddler in 1933 and he outlasted the Nazis by a good margin, and only put down his toys in 1947. However the bonny lad’s pantomimic antics – most strips were slapstick gags without dialogue – were loved by children and adults in equal measure. The feature ran in the Daily Mail and even with wartime restrictions annuals were a foregone conclusion. The public demanded it.

Brian “H.B.” White was born in Dunstable in 1902 and divided his artistic gifts between animation and cartooning for comics and papers. His other strip success included Dare-a-Day Danny and Little Tough Guy in Knockout, Keyhole Kate in Sparky, Plum Duffy in The Topper and Double Trouble for the London Evening Standard.

His film work was as impressive and far-reaching, beginning with cartoon short Jerry the Troublesome Tyke in 1925 and ending with the Halas & Batchelor team that created the landmark animated film Animal Farm in 1954.

HB died in 1984, but his work is timelessly accessible and deserves to be re-discovered.

Bold, vivid and ingenious, The Nipper Annuals were a part of British life for almost two generations but Wartime utility played its part in this splendidly revived edition.

As well as the superb bold line artwork, there are plenty of fascinating advertisements of the period for the grown-ups; dedicated pages for the kids to draw their own strips (ready-ruled with panels and borders – always the worst job, as any cartoonist will tell you!) and a handy calendar for 1940 – remember, Annuals were released around Christmas time and dated for the following year.

And to top it off the entire package also doubles as a colouring book! What Larks!

Kidding aside, this is a wonderful insight into our comic strip past by a legendary master craftsman. That it has such entertainment and socio-historical value is a blessed bonus, but the real treasure is the work itself. All credit to those responsible for re-releasing it, and I fervently wish more companies would make similar efforts to keep our cultural history accessible. I also want to see more, More, MORE!
© 1995 B&H Publications/White Crescent Press Ltd. (I presume.)

First Names: Emmeline Pankhurst and First Names: Elon Musk

By Haydn Kaye & Michael Cotton-Russell (David Fickling Books)
By Tracey Turner & Mike Smith (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-61-6 (Emmeline) 978-1-910989-62-3 (Elon)

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun, fact and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

The potent periodical is rapidly approaching its 300th issue and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, parent company David Fickling Books is expanding its output through a range of graphic novels and a new imprint of cartoon and strip illustrated biographies highlighting historical and contemporary groundbreakers and earthshakers.

The First Names imprint gets readers on intimate terms with a number of worthy achievers rightly deemed role models and launches in August with the two books under scrutiny today. Further enticing stalwarts promised in future include Harry Houdini, Abraham Lincoln and Amelia Earhart…

Devised along the lines of the mega-successful, eternally-engaging Horrible Histories books, these prose paperbacks come with a superabundance of monochrome cartoon illustrations to keep the pace of learning fast and fact-packed.

Written by Haydn Kaye, Emmeline Pankhurst traces the life of the great Suffrage campaigner, deftly navigating a rather grim tale of oppression and imparting a great deal of necessary detail in a most delicate but effective manner through such enlightening chapters as ‘Emmeline Falls Out with her Father’, ‘Emmeline Kicks Up a Fuss’ and ‘Emmeline Forgives and Forgets’… Aiding and abetting, illustrator Michael Cotton Russell provides witty contextualising drawings on almost every page, with absorbing sidebars such as ‘Emmeline Explains Politics’ and ‘A Miserable Life for Match Girls’.

Working in tandem and conspicuous light-hearted good taste, the creators here have delivered a topical and timeless introduction to a woman who changed the world and deserves to be on First Name basis with every kid who’s claimed “It’s not Fair!”

Still very much in the news and attempting to change the world, the eccentric life and career of Elon Musk is traced by scribe Tracey Turner and cartoonist Mike Smith from his earliest explosive beginnings through a string of highly bankable innovations to his current elevated status as premier exponent of green technologies and interplanetary colonisation.

Beginning in ‘Pretoria, South Africa 1981’ the astounding progress is charted through ‘Elon’s Easter Eggs and Blasting Stars’ through ‘Elon Makes Millions’ and ‘Elon on Mars’ to ‘What Elon Did Next’.

It’s one heck of a ride and is engagingly limned by Mike Smith who provides contextual illustrations, charts recipes and family trees, illuminates maps and codifies micro-lectures such as ‘Elon Explains Solar Energy and Fossil Fuels’, ‘Elon Explains Silicon Valley’ and ‘Elon Explains Space Rockets’.

You may not like him or believe him, but this guy is at the forefront of today’s Thinkers and Do-ers, so you should at least have some idea of what he’s done and what he wants…

Invoking the heady baby boomer days of factual entertainment comics such as Look and Learn and Tell Me Why, these extremely enticing books promise – and resoundingly deliver – a measured and informative window on a most complex and potentially daunting maze of past-and-present Stuff To Know and do it with great charm and efficiency.

More Please!

First Names: Emmeline Pankhurst Text © Haydn Kaye 2018 and illustrations © Michael Cotton-Russell 2018. All rights reserved.
First Names: Elon Musk Text © Tracey Turner 2018 and illustrations © Mike Smith 2018. All rights reserved.

First Names: Emmeline Pankhurst and First Names: Elon Musk will be published on August 2nd and are available for pre-order now.

Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale

By Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8152-2 (King)                 978-1- 4052-8153-9 (Whale)

I had originally prepared these reviews as part of a forthcoming week of TV-related books and graphic novels but, following the news of the death of the wonderful Peter Firmin on July 1st, I found myself feeling painfully bereft and quite woeful.

So, just because I want to and as a public acknowledgement of the gifts of a brilliant creator who shaped my entire life (as well as so many millions of others), there is a change to today’s scheduled viewing…

Peter Arthur Firmin was born in Harwich on 11 December 1928. After training at Colchester School of Art and National Service in the Royal Navy he went to the Central School of Art and Design in London from 1949 to 1952. A creative man of many talents and disciplines, he then worked as a stained-glass designer, jobbing illustrator and lecturer.

Whilst teaching at Central in 1957 he was targeted by up-and-coming children’s TV writer Oliver Postgate who believed (quite rightly) that clever individuals could produce high-quality kids viewing at reasonable cost.

After producing backgrounds for Postgate’s Alexander the Mouse and The Journey of Master Ho, Firmin became a full-partner in new venture Smallfilms, which would be based in a shed at the artist’s Canterbury home. The kindred spirits initially produced hand-drawn cartoons and eventually stop motion animation episodes for series including Ivor the Engine, The Saga of Noggin the Nog, Pogle’s Wood/The Pogles, Bagpuss and The Clangers. Postgate wrote, voiced and filmed whilst Firmin drew, painted, built sets and made puppets.

During those early days Firmin seemed tireless. In addition to the Smallfilms job he also devised, designed and populated other kids shows such as The Musical Box and Smalltime. In 1962 with Ivan Owen he created a fox puppet for The Three Scampies. The puppet soon had his own show and career as Basil Brush

Throughout his life, Firmin continued his cartooning and illustration career. This included writing and/or illustrating a number of books such as Basil Brush Goes Flying, The Winter Diary of a Country Rat, Nina’s Machines and Seeing Things – An Autobiography as well as working as a printmaker and engraver, designer and educator. In 1994 Firmin was asked to create a British postage stamp and produced a magnificent offering featuring Noggin and the Ice Dragon.

Even at their most productive and overworked, Postgate and Firmin always ensured there was plenty of ancillary product such as Christmas Annuals, comic strips and spin-off books, games and puzzles for their devoted young fans. Between 1965 and 1973 Postgate and Firmin crafted a series of books in an early-reader format featuring the further adventures of the Nicest Norseman of Them All…

Recently re-issued in superb hardcover editions perfect for tiny hands, the first two are Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale, both originally released in 1965; a brace of charming, gently humorous escapades starring the TV cast and beautifully illustrated in a variety of duo-toned line-&-colour with wit and subtle charm by the irrepressible Firmin.

On the death of his father, quiet, unassuming Noggin becomes king of the northland Viking tribe known as the Nogs. He rules with understanding and wisdom – generally thanks to his advisors: bluff Thor Nogson, talking green cormorant Graculus and his wife Nooka who hails from the far north (we’d call her an Inuit princess these days).

Despite many fantastic adventures, Noggin prefers a quiet home life with his people and his boisterous son Knut

Noggin the King opens with bucolic pastoral scenes of the Nogs and the good-hearted sovereign helping his people however he can. However, whilst happily repairing the roof of an old farmer, the ruler dislodges a bird’s nest. Bringing the nest and its occupants back to his castle, he cares for the fledglings and mother and wonders if he is also the King of birds in the Land of Nogs. If he is then they are his subjects too and thus he is responsible for their safety and welfare.

Riven with doubt, the King then sets out on a short quest with Nooka beside him to confirm his suspicions and is rewarded by the feathered kingdom with a great but grave new honour…

Noggin and the Whale offers a far more light-hearted aspect of kingship as the mild monarch celebrates his birthday in the usual manner: doling out gifts to all the children of his realm. This year they all get musical instruments, but when they hold an impromptu concert on a boat in the little walled harbour, the merriment is interrupted by a most insistent whale.

Every time the kids get going the cetacean surges up under the boat and eventually even placid Noggin loss his temper and orders the sea-beast to swim away.

Instead it glides over to the open harbour gate and sulkily blocks the way just as the fishing boats are trying to moor up for the night. Nothing the townsfolk can do will shift the surly creature.

Suddenly Prince Knut has an idea. He realises why the whale has been acting so strangely and, after consulting with his father, commissions Royal Inventor Olaf the Lofty to create a unique present for the morose marine mammal…

Charming, engaging and endlessly rewarding (both these books and their much-missed, multi-talented originators) the works of Postgate and Firmin affected generations of children and parents. If you aren’t among them, do yourself a great favour and track down those DVD box sets and books like these. You won’t regret it for an instant…
Text © The Estate of Oliver Postgate 1965. Illustrations © Peter Firmin/The Estate of Peter Firmin 1965.

Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Volume 1

By Walt Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-869-5

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and started his cartooning career whilst still in High School, as both artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, he moved to California and joined the Disney Studio, working on shorts and such features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio until the infamous animator’s strike in 1941.

Refusing to take a side, Kelly moved back East and began drawing comicbooks – primarily for Dell Comics, who had the Disney funnybook license.

Despite his glorious work on such humanistic classics as the Our Gang movie spin-off, Kelly preferred anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy (see Walt Kelly’s Santa Claus Adventures) and created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum for Animal Comics #1 (December 1942). He sagaciously retained the copyrights in the ongoing tale of two Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal pals stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly became art editor and cartoonist for the hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast began their careers in the funny pages, appearing six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its run – reprinted in full at the back of this magnificent tome – the first glimmers of the increasingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary began to be seen…

This first of twelve volumes follows the ascent of the scintillating and vastly influential strip; don’t believe me, just listen to Gary Trudeau, Berke Breathed, Bill Watterson, Jeff McNally, Bill Holbrook, Mark O’Hare, Alan Moore, Jeff Smith and even Goscinny & Uderzo and our own Maurice Dodd & Dennis Collins, whose wonderful strip The Perishers owes more than a little to the sublime antics of the Okefenokee Swamp citizenry…

After the Star closed Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate and launched on May 16th 1949. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950 and both were produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 (and beyond, courtesy of his talented wife and family…).

At its peak the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries and the book collections which began in 1951 numbered nearly 50, collectively selling 30 million copies.

This volume includes all the Star strips, the Dailies from inception to December 30th 1950, and the Sundays – in a full colour section – from January 29th – December 31st 1950, plus a wealth of supplementary features including a Foreword from columnist Jimmy Breslin, an introduction by biographer Steve Thompson, a week-by-week highly detailed contents section, a useful guide ‘About the Sundays’ by Mark Evanier, and an invaluable context and historical notes feature ‘Swanp Talk’ by the amazing R.C. Harvey.

Kelly’s genius was the ability to beautifully, vivaciously draw comedic, tragic, pompous, sympathetic characters of any shape or breed and make them inescapably human and he used that gift to blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre.

The hairy, scaly, feathered, slimy folk depicted here are inescapably us, elevated by burlesque, slapstick, absurdism and all the glorious joys of wordplay from puns to malapropisms to raucous accent humour into a multi-layered hodge-podge of all-ages accessible delight.

In later volumes Kelly would set his bestial cast loose on such timid, defenceless victims as Senator Joe McCarthy, J.Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society, Richard Nixon and the Ku Klux Clan, but he starts off small here, introducing the gently bemused Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant Albert, dolorous Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompous (not) know-it-all Howland Owl and a host of others in gags and extended epics ranging from assorted fishing trips, building an Adam Bomb, losing and finding other people’s children, electioneering, education, kidnapping, the evil influence of comicbooks, Baseball season, why folks shouldn’t eat each other, Western cow punchers, cows punching back, New Years Resolutions, public holidays and so much more…

The Sundays also began with one-off gags but soon evolved into convoluted and mesmeric continued sagas such as the search for the Fountain of Youth, building a school and keeping it filled, Albert being elected Queen of the Woodland by the elf-like forest fauns – and why that was ultimately a very bad thing indeed…

Timeless and magical, Pogo is a giant of world literature, not simply comics, and this magnificent edition should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf.

POGO Through the Wild Blue Wonder and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2011 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2011 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

Super Powers by Jack Kirby

By Jack Kirby with Joey Cavalieri, Paul Kupperberg, Adrian Gonzalez, Pablo Marcos, Alan Kupperberg, Greg Theakston & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7140-4

Famed for his larger than life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, Jack Kirby (1917-1994) was an astute, imaginative, spiritual man who lived through poverty and gangsterism, the Great Depression, Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures. He was open-minded and utterly wedded to the making of comics stories on every imaginable subject. He also always believed that sequential narrative was worthy of being published as real books right beside mankind’s other literary art forms.

Looks like he was right, and – as usual – just ahead of the times, doesn’t it?

Thanks to his recent centenary there’s a magnificent abundance of Kirby commemorative collections around these days (though still not all of it, so I remain a partially disgruntled dedicated fan). This particular trade paperback and eBook compendium re-presents The King’s last complete conceptual outing for DC and one that has been neglected by fans for far too long.

During the 1980s costumed heroes stopped being an exclusively print cash cow as big toy companies licensed Fights ‘n’ Tights titans and reaped the benefits of ready-made comicbook spin-offs. DC’s most recognizable characters became a best-selling line of action figures and were inevitably hived off into a brisk and breezy, fight-frenzied miniseries.

Super Powers launched in July 1984 as a 5-issue miniseries with Kirby covers and his signature Fourth World characters prominently represented. Jack also plotted the stellar saga with scripter Joey Cavalieri providing dialogue, as Adrian Gonzales & Pablo Marcos illustrated a heady cosmic quest comprising numerous inconclusive battles between agents of Good and Evil.

Eschewing any preamble, we hurtle straight into action with ‘Power Beyond Price!’, as ultimate cosmic nemesis Darkseid despatches four Emissaries of Doom to destroy Earth’s superheroes. Sponsoring and empowering Lex Luthor, The Penguin, Brainiac and The Joker, the Dark God’s emissaries and their stooges jointly target Superman, Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman and Hawkman

The combat escalates in #2’s ‘Clash Against Chaos’ with the Man of Steel and Scarlet Speedster tackling Luthor, whilst Aquaman and Green Lantern scupper the Penguin. Meanwhile Dark Knight and Winged Wonder confront an astoundingly-enhanced Harlequin of Hate…

With Alan Kupperberg inking #3, an inconclusive outcome leads to a regrouping of evil and an attack by Brainiac on Paradise Island, as in ‘Amazons at War’ the Justice League rally until Superman is devolved into a brutal beast who attacks his former allies.

All-out battle ensues in ‘Earth’s Last Stand’ before King Kirby steps up to write and illustrate the fateful finale: a cosmos-shaking conclusion designated ‘Spaceship Earth – We’re All on It!’ (November 1984, with Greg Theakston suppling inks)…

A bombastic Super Powers Promotional Poster then leads into the second Super Powers miniseries, spanning September 1985 to February 1986.

Scripted by Paul Kupperberg, the Kirby/Theakston saga ‘Seeds of Doom!’ recounts how deadly Darkseid despatches techno-organic bombs to destroy Earth, a diabolical deed requiring practically every DC hero to unite to counter the threat.

With teams of Super Powers travelling to England, Rome, New York, Easter Island and Arizona the danger is magnified ‘When Past and Present Meet!’ as the seeds warp time and send Aquaman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz back to days of King Arthur

Super Powers #3 (November 1985) finds Red Tornado, Hawkman and Green Arrow plunged back 75 million years in ‘Time Upon Time Upon Time!’ even as Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman are trapped in 1087 AD, battling stony-faced giant aliens on Easter Island.

Superman and Firestorm discover ‘There’s No Place Like Rome!’ as they battle Darkseid’s agent Steppenwolf in the first century whilst Batman, Robin and Flash visit a far-flung future where Earth is the new Apokolips in #5’s ‘Once Upon Tomorrow’.

Eventually Earth’s scattered but indomitable champions converge on Luna to spectacularly squash the schemes-within-schemes of ‘Darkseid of the Moon!’

Jack Kirby was and remains unique and uncompromising: his words and pictures comprise an unparalleled, hearts-and-minds grabbing delight no comics lover can possibly resist. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind.

That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s life’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the entire American comics scene – and indeed the entire comics planet – affecting the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in all areas of artistic endeavour for generations. Most tellingly, he is still winning new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep and simultaneously mythic and human.

He is the King and there will never be another.
© 1984, 1985, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh

By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-803-1 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-615-0 (PB)

By the time Georges Remi began Tintin’s fourth serialised adventure – in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme from December 1932 to February 1934 and gathered in a collected volume by Casterman in 1934 – he was well on the way to mastery of his art but was still growing as a writer.

Although the periodical format meant that a certain degree of slapstick and seemingly directionless action was necessary to keep the attention of the reader, Remi (known the world over as Hergé) was evolving by leaps and bounds, mastering the ability to integrate these set-piece elements into the building of a complete narrative.

Cigars of the Pharaoh is stylistically much more of a fully-realised and craftily-designed thriller, with a solid plot underpinning all the episodic hi-jinks.

Following directly on from Tintin in America, here the valiant boy reporter is returning from Chicago on an oceangoing liner headed to Egypt. Here he and Snowy meet Sophocles Sarcophagus – the first in a string of absent-minded professors which would ultimately culminate in the outlandishly irascible yet lovable Cuthbert Calculus.

Dithering archaeologist Sarcophagus has divined an ancient mystery that is somehow connected to a ring of ruthless drug smugglers. Tintin memorably encounters bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson at this juncture, when narcotics are planted in his cabin, and a complex drama riotously unfolds as the lad and Sarcophagus discover a lost pyramid is not only the smuggler’s base but the foundation for a much darker game – the overthrow of nations!

Hergé introduced many other recurring and supporting characters in this tale. As well as the shambling policemen, there is the villainous seaman Captain Allan, globe-girdling small-trader Oliveira da Figueira and oily movie mogul Roberto Rastapopoulos, who would all figure strongly in later stories.

The author was gearing up for the long creative haul, and thus began inserting plot-seeds that would only flower in future projects…

When Tintin’s relentless investigations take him to India, where the villains are attempting to topple a Maharajah trying to destroy the Opium poppy industry, the plucky lad befriends the potentate and thwarts the plan of a crazed Fakir. This villain frequently employs a drug called Rajaijah, which permanently drives men mad, and is also somehow connected to the Egyptian gang.

The contemporary version of this tale was revised by Hergé in 1955, and sharp-eyed fans will spot a few apparent anachronisms, but the more open-minded will be able to unashamedly wallow in a timeless comedy-thriller of exotic intrigue and breakneck action.

Although the mystery of the Cigars of the Pharaoh ends satisfactorily with a climactic duel in the rugged and picturesque hill-country, the threat and relevance of Rajaijah would not be resolved until Hergé’s next tale, and his first masterpiece…

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, this lush series of hardback collections is a very satisfying way of rectifying that sorry situation. So why haven’t you..?
The Cigars of the Pharaoh: artwork © 1955, 1983 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1971 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Adventures volume 1

By Paul Dini, Scott McCloud, Rick Burchett, Bret Blevins, Mike Manley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5867-2

A decade after John Byrne galvanised, reinvigorated and reinvented the look and feel of the Man of Steel animator Bruce Timm returned to comicbook country to meld modern sensibility and classic mythology with Superman: The Animated Series.

With Paul Dini he had designed and overseen Batman: The Animated Series: a 1993 TV show that captivated young and old alike and breathed vibrant new life into an old concept. In 1996 lightning struck a second time. The show was another masterpiece and led to a tranche of sequels and spin-off including The New Batman/Superman Adventures, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.

Although the Superman cartoon show (which originally aired in the USA from September 6th 1996 to February 12th 2000) never got the airplay it deserved in Britain, it remains a highpoint in the character’s long, long animation history, second only to the astounding and groundbreaking seventeen shorts produced by the Max Fleischer Studio in the 1940s.

These stylish modern visualisations became the norm, extending to the Teen Titans, Legion of Super Heroes, Young Justice and Brave and the Bold animation series that so successfully followed.

The broad stylisation – described as “Ocean Liner Art Deco” – also worked magnificently in static two dimensions for the spin-off comicbook produced by DC as seen in this first of four (so far) trade paperback and eBook compilations, gathering Superman Adventures #1-10 from November 1996 through August 1997.

With no further ado the all-ages action opens with ‘Men of Steel’ by show writer Paul Dini and illustrated with dash and verve by Rick Burchett & Terry Austin. Because they know their audience, the editors wisely treated the animated episodes and comicbook releases as equally canonical and here shady mega-billionaire Lex Luthor is a public hero even whilst clandestinely organising clandestine criminal deals, international coups and a secret war against the Man of Tomorrow.

The devil’s brew of dark deeds culminates here in the oligarch’s creation of a new secret weapon: a hyper-powerful robot-duplicate of Superman, which he uses to initially discredit and ultimately battle against the Caped Kryptonian. If it manages to kill him, Lex will mass-produce them and sell them to warlords around the world…

Comics grand master Scott McCloud comes aboard as regular scripter with the second issue as ‘Be Careful What You Wish For…’ sees the return of Kryptonite-powered cyborg Metallo. The mechanical maniac – like the rest of Metropolis – erroneously believes lonely, attention-seeking Kelly to be Superman’s girlfriend, but his sadistic revenge scheme hasn’t factored in how Lois Lane might react to the claim…

Computerised Kryptonian relic Brainiac resurfaces in ‘Distant Thunder’, having placed its malign consciousness into Earth artefacts (such as robot cats!) before building a new body to facilitate a new attack on the Metropolis Marvel. As ever, Brainiac’s end goal is assimilating data, but Superman quickly realises how to turn that programmed compulsion into a weapon ensuring the computer tyrant’s defeat…

Apprentice photo-journalist Jimmy Olsen’s dreams of success and stardom get a big boost in issue #4’s ‘Eye to Eye’. After Luthor orchestrates a deadly attack on Superman with an enhanced gravity-weapon, the cub reporter learns it’s as much about grit and guts as it is being in the right place at the right time…

Bret Blevins pencils fifth exploit ‘Balance of Power’ as electrical villain Livewire awakes from a coma and sets about equalizing gender inequality by taking over the world’s broadcast airwaves. With all male presences edited out thanks to her galvanic power, the sparky ideologue then returns to her original agenda and attempts to eradicate too-powerful men like Superman and Luthor

McCloud, Burchett & Austin reunite for the astoundingly gripping ‘Seonimod’ wherein Superman utterly fails to save Metropolis from complete annihilation. All is not lost however, as Fifth Dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk has trapped the Man of Steel in a backwards-spiralling time-loop, allowing the hero one last chance to track a concatenation of disasters back to the inconsequential event that triggered the string of accidents which wiped out everything the hero cherishes…

‘All Creatures Great and Small part 1’ opens a titanic two-part tale which sees Kryptonian Phantom Zone villains General Zod and Mala escape the miniaturised prison Superman had incarcerated them in. In the process they also shrink our hero to a few centimetres in height, but the endgame is far more devilish that that.

When scientific savant Professor Hamilton and top cop Dan “Terrible” Turpin join Lois in using a growth ray to restore Superman, Zod intercepts them and transforms himself into a towering colossus of chaos and carnage. Utterly overmatched and without options, the miniscule Man of Tomorrow is forced into the most disgusting and risky manoeuvre of his career to bring the gigantic General low in the concluding ‘All Creatures Great and Small part 2’

Mike Manley pencils Superman Adventures #9 as ‘Return of the Hero’ focuses on an idealistic boy whose two heroes are Superman and Lex Luthor. However, as a series of arson attacks plagues his neighbourhood, Francisco Torres learns some unpleasant truths about the billionaire that shatter his worldview and almost destroy his family. Happily, the Caped Kryptonian proves to be a far more dependable role model…

Wrapping up this first cartoon collection is a classic clash between indomitable hero and deadly maniac as twisted techno-terrorist Toyman returns, peddling Superman action figures designed to plunder and rob their owners’ parents. ‘Don’t Try This at Home!’ by McCloud, Burchett & Austin once again proves that no amount of devious deviltry can long deter the champion of Truth, Justice and the American Way…

Breathtakingly written and spectacularly illustrated, these stripped-down, hyper-charged rollercoaster-romps are pure, irresistible examples of the most primal kind of comics storytelling, capturing the idealised essence of what every superman story should be. This is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.
© 1996, 1997, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman’s First Flight

By Michael Jan Friedman & Dean Motter (Scholastic)
ISBN: 978-0-43909-550-1

Congratulations on your Anniversary, Man of Tomorrow!

We parochial and possessive comics fans too often regard our purest and most powerful icons in purely sequential narrative terms, but characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman long ago outgrew their four-colour origins and are now fully mythologized modern media creatures instantly familiar in mass markets, platforms and age ranges.

One particularly captivating case in point is this enthralling retelling of the Man of Steel’s formative journey to self-discovery, retold for youngsters as part of the Hello Reader early-learning program devised by children’s publisher Scholastic.

Categorised as US Level 3 (school years 1 and 2), with Level 2 being kindergarten and 1 as pre-schoolers, the smartly recapitulated story spans that crucial divide wherein kids still want their parents to read to and with them, but as the little tykes are also beginning that wonderful, magical journey into literacy as solo voyagers…

This clever, sensitive and age-appropriate retelling by Michael Jan Friedman encapsulates and addresses every maturing child’s growing feelings of potential alienation, sense of growth, self-discovery and independence by focussing on High School student Clark Kent on the day that the solitary teen discovered exactly why he has always felt somehow different from his classmates.

When Clark suddenly, impossibly, hears and sees a car crash occurring miles away, without thinking he is running and jumping over buildings. Arriving on the scene he tears the metal doors off burning cars and outraces an explosion to save a trapped driver…

Terrified that he is some kind of monster he confides in his parents, who promptly share a secret they have been harbouring all Clark’s life.

In the barn they show the awe-struck lad a tiny one-man spaceship which had crashed to Earth years ago. Its cargo was an alien baby…

As Clark approaches the relic a hologram activates and he witnesses his birth-parents Jor-El and Lara who explain why he can perform feats no one else can…

Shocked and distraught, Clark runs away as fast as he can and before he even notices it is flying high above the world. The glorious shock at last makes him realise that different doesn’t mean bad…

Before long the world is daily improved and even saved by a visitor from afar known as Superman

This captivating adventure is a cleverly weighed introduction into the Action Ace’s canonical comicbook history, subtly addressing issues of adoption and belonging as well as more modern ideological issues such as the plight of refugees and immigrants. Remember, for a very long time distressed and needy strangers were welcomed with open arms in civilised countries…

Magnificently complemented by 31 painted illustrations by design guru and illustrator Dean Motter, this is an epic retold that will amaze kids and astound even their jaded, seen-it-all-before elders.

No Supermaniac could consider their collection complete without a copy of this wonderful little gem. Superman’s First Flight is the ideal introduction for youngsters to their – surely – life-long love affair with the Last Son of Krypton and reading in general…
© 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. All Rights Reserved.

My First Superman Book

By David Katz, designed by George Rucker with illustrations by José Luis García-López (Downtown Bookworks)
ISBN: 978-1-935703-00-6

Happy Birthday, Caped Kryptonian!

Superman is a hero for all ages. Since his debut in June 1938 (actually Action Comics #1 was on newsstands in May but let’s not quibble here), that’s a fact his creators and owners have always understood, with spin-offs and specially tailored books and other merchandise. He’s also the ideal power-embodiment that appeals to the little kid in us all: an unstoppable icon that says “you can’t dictate to me. I know what’s right and I’m going to do it!”

Good thing he’s not a bully then, no?

Such a potent image is ones you simply can’t assimilate early enough and there are number of books and merchandise items tailored to the youngest of potential fanatics. This is one of my very favourites and because of the art (yeah, sure, fanboy) is one even older and aged aficionados can legitimately hunt down.

Printed on solid durable board, My First Superman Book reiterates the key aspects of the Man of Steel’s mythology with bold primary-coloured art-spreads, courtesy of DC’s top brand and merchandising visualiser José Luis García-López. As an added inducement, the images are enhanced with 3D additions and gimmicks such as X-ray vision demonstrated by pop-up and pull-away tabs, as is the legendary phonebooth costume change.

Fabric and faux fur inserts afford a tactile dimension to the hero’s billowing cape and superdog Krypto’s glowing coat, whilst abundant glitter overprints add a sparkling sheen to the fabulous arctic Fortress of Solitude.

This book is a captivating introduction to the world of classic superhero symbology: offering a literally solid grounding in the basics of the Man of Steel’s incomparable legend and never forgetting the dual aim is inculcating fun and wonder.

A genuine delight and one you could even have some children to share it with if you want…
™ and © DC Comics 2010. All Rights Reserved.

The Adventures of John Blake volume 1: Mystery of the Ghost Ship

By Phillip Pullman & Fred Fordham (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-91098-929-6 (HB)                    978-1-78845-059-1 (PB)

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun, fact and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

The potent periodical is rapidly approaching the 300th issue and showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, the company is expanding its output through a range of graphic novels and a new imprint of cartoon and strip illustrated biographies highlighting historical and contemporary groundbreakers and Earthshakers. Keep your eyes peeled for our reviews – and more importantly the actual books – bearing the legend First Names

Today however, it’s the turn of another kind of landmark, one from that aforementioned growing library of graphic novels for young people, and heralding the advent of a new juvenile hero in the grand tradition of Jim Hawkins and Alex Rider

Prestigious and multi award-winning author Philip Pullman (The Haunted Storm, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, His Dark Materials) is a bit of a comics fan and – joined here by artist and painter Fred Fordham (Nightfall, Aces High, The Phoenix) – in 2017 introduced a bold new hero in beguiling and gripping sea yarn of mystery, imagination and literally timeless adventure.

Now available in a mass market paperback edition, Mystery of the Ghost Ship blends maritime swashbuckling, contemporary corporate skulduggery, sci fi bravado and high-octane espionage derring-do in a mesmerising rollercoaster ride of action and intrigue…

The eternal oceans obscure and contain many secrets, but none more baffling than the enigmatic Mary Alice: a roving phantom schooner perpetually wreathed in fog and mired in doom-laden prophecy and legend.

Seagoing folk have spoken of its comings and goings for decades – possibly centuries – and dread catching the attention of the red-shirted boy who gazes out from her silent, vaporous bow. The old adage says that those who look him in the eyes will be dead in a month…

In some ultra-modern quarters, the legends are taken extremely seriously. Tech-billionaire Carlos Dahlberg has been devoting precious time and immense amounts of his cutting-edge resources to tracking the Mary Alice, compiling sightings going back as far as 1614 Anno Domini.

He has to. Although notionally the most powerful man on Earth, his entire empire could be shattered by the appalling event he instigated one night in 1973 San Francisco: one witnessed and recorded by the ship’s youngest crewman…

Also obsessed with plotting the ship’s course and history is oceanographer Danielle Quayle Reid. So effective is she that her endeavours make her another target for Dahlberg’s ruthless and omnipresent organisation…

A third interested party is hyper-efficient British intelligence operative Commander Roger Blake. He and his superiors at the Admiralty have also been piecing together the myths surrounding the Mary Alice. They have a slight advantage in that they already know when, where and why the 1929 Einstein-Carmichael Expedition concealed an early high energy particle experiment that abruptly ended in a bizarre and uncanny accident.

What nobody knows yet is how that trip resulted in the luckless schooner being lost in the mists of time or what has happened to it since…

Someone with far more hands-on experience of the vessel is Australian schoolgirl Serena Henderson. When her woefully-inexperienced dad abruptly decided to sail his family around the world in 2017, Serena was promptly lost at sea somewhere in the South Pacific.

Tossed about in a huge storm she is plucked from a watery fate by an intense boy named John Blake and becomes the latest addition to a crew of seemingly-doomed seamen rescued by the ghostly crimson mist-runner.

As the boy tries to explain the strange meanderings of the ship, Serena gets to know the resolute, unflappable Captain Quayle and Davy Johnson, last survivors of the original 1929 crew and learns that all of the mariners are temporary travellers.

The ship perpetually (and apparently aimlessly) sails from age to age, epoch to epoch. Whenever the Mary Alice stops there is the chance of being attacked, picking up another sailor, and very occasionally visiting a port and time that allows a voyager to return to approximately their home era.

Serena’s current shipmates include Chinese trader Sammy Wu (picked up in the 1890s), British deckhand Charlie Banks (1790), 17th century Devon fisherman – and escaped slave of Barbary pirates – Dick Merryfield and Marcus Tullius Pallas, a Roman engineer hailing from the end of the 2nd century AD. They are all rather in awe of John, who seems to exert some control over the ship’s wanderings and is the only one to understand the arcane workings of the engine that moves them all.

As they progress about the sea through time and space, Serena is deemed to be far luckier than all of them as her initial outing looks to be her last. The schooner is heading for Fiji and remains – or has returned to – 2017…

In a world of satellites and instantaneous communications her return is suddenly big news and Danielle Quayle Reid is soon heading there too. She only makes it because Roger Blake intercepts and forcefully deals with the merciless mercenaries Dahlberg set on her trail…

When John brings Serena back to her family, more of the billionaire’s thugs are waiting to capture him, but the valiant kids double back, eluding them after a frantic high-speed chase culminating in their return to the swiftly-fading schooner…

Revealing close family ties to members of the ghost crew, Roger and Danielle compare notes and decide to go after Dahlberg even as, aboard the ship, John and Serena discuss their plight and the tech-entrepreneur’s reasons for hunting them.

John knows he is close to fixing the ship’s randomness and swears Mary Alice is both alive and helping him. After a chilling encounter with a true enigma of the deep, the schooner “fortuitously” approaches present-day San Francisco and a truly explosive showdown with Dahlberg, unaware that the missing piece of the puzzle rests with Roger and Danielle who are also closing in on the monied murder-fiend…

Also offering a full rundown on ‘The Crew’, this debut outing blends blockbuster action and superspy chic with eerie mystery and enchanting fantasy to entice and enthral readers who would love to see Horatio Hornblower, Dan Dare and James Bond team up to battle bad guys and trounce villainy in extreme HD and cosmic SurroundSound.

A non-stop joy from start to finish with the promise of more and even better to come…
Text © Philip Pullman 2017 and illustrations © Fred Fordham 2017. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of John Blake volume 1: Mystery of the Ghost Ship paperback edition will be released on 7th June 2018 and is available for pre-order now.