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.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: Back to the Klondike – Gladstone Comic Album #4

By Carl Barks (Gladstone)
ISBN: 978-0-94459-902-0

From the late 1940’s until the mid-1960s Carl Barks worked in productive seclusion writing and drawing a vast array of comedic adventure yarns for kids, creating a Duck Universe of memorable – and highly bankable – characters like Gladstone Gander (1948), The Beagle Boys (1951), Gyro Gearloose (1952) and Magica De Spell (1961) to augment the stable of cartoon actors from the Disney Studio.

His greatest creation was undoubtedly the crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the star of this show.

So potent were his creations that they fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his brilliant comic work was done for licensing publisher Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio.

Throughout this period, Barks was blissfully unaware that his work (uncredited by official policy, as was all Disney’s cartoon and comicbook output), had been singled out by a rabid and discerning public as being by “the Good Duck Artist.” When some of his most dedicated fans finally tracked him down, his belated celebrity began.

Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material – and a selection of other Disney comics strips – in the 1980s and kept on going until 2008. Since then cultural saviours Fantagraphics have begun reprinting all the Barks material in a series of snazzy hardcover compilations. Once they’ve done that I’ll start reviewing those but until then this still readily available paperback album is one of the very best you can still find…

Whilst producing all that landmark innovative material Barks was just a working guy, generating covers, illustrating other people’s scripts when necessary and contributing story and/or art to the burgeoning canon of Duck Lore.

This album is printed in the large European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) and features one of the best tales Barks ever told.

It’s taken from Four Color Comics #456 (September 1952 and technically the second full story to star the multimillionaire mallard). To further confuse matters, the Byzantine numbering system used by Dell also lists this issue as Uncle Scrooge #2.

‘Back to the Klondike’ is a rip-roaring yet deeply moving yarn, a brilliant comedy and even a bittersweet romance, which added huge depth to the character of the World’s Richest Duck, even whilst reiterating the superficial peccadilloes that make him such a memorable and engaging star.

Scrooge McDuck is old and getting forgetful: he can’t recall how much money he has seconds after he’s finished counting it, nor even where his traps to locate it are hidden. After one too many close shaves he finally shells out for a doctor who diagnoses “Blinkus of the Thinkus” and prescribes some pills to restore his scrupulous memory.

They work! Recalling a gold-strike he made 50 years previously, the old miser drags Donald Duck and his nephews to the Far North to recover the precious hoard cached and forgotten five decades ago, but as the journey progresses he also recalls the rough, tough life of a prospector and the saloon-girl who tried to cheat him of his find: Glittering Goldie O’Gilt

This superb yarn tells you everything you could ever need about the irascible oligarch. It’s the perfect character tale and rattles along like an express train, sad, happy, thrilling and funny by turns, and it’s supplemented in this book with a classic Gyro Gearloose tale from 1960.

‘Cave of the Winds’ is taken from Four Color Comics #1095, and finds Scrooge consulting the fabulously off-kilter feathered inventor on a perfect hiding place for the ever-increasing McDuck cash cache. The answer, sadly, is far from satisfactory…

The cartoon convolutions conclude with a short and punchy untitled tale from Uncle Scrooge #8 (1954) which has Scrooge run for City Treasurer – but without spending any money on expenses (or anything else)…

No matter what your age or temperament, if you’ve never experienced the captivating Carl Barks magic, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your own purchasing power to any search engine. The rewards are there for the finding and far more valuable than mere money…
© 1987, 1960, 1954, 1953 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes

By Bill Watterson (Time Warner/Sphere/Andrew McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-75151-274-8 (PB)                     : 978-0-8362-1809-4 (HB)

Almost any event big or small is best experienced through the eyes of a child – and better yet if he’s a fictional child controlled by the whimsical sensibilities of a comic strip genius like Bill Watterson.

Calvin is the child in us all; Hobbes is the Tiger of our Aspirations; no, wait… Calvin is this little boy, an only child with a big imagination and a stuffed Tiger that is his common sense and moral sounding board…

No; Calvin is just a little Boy and Hobbes talks only to him. That’s all you need or want.

A best-selling strip and critical hit for ten years (running from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995), Calvin and Hobbes came and went like a comet and we’re all the poorer for its passing. It redefined depictions of the “Eyes of Wonder” which children all possess, and made us adults laugh, and so often cry too.

We all wanted a childhood like that kid’s, bullies, weird teachers, obnoxious little girls and all. At least we could visit…

The strip appeared in more than 2,400 newspapers all over the planet and from 2010 reruns have featured in over 50 countries. There have been 18 unmissable collections including a fabulous complete boxed set edition in both soft and hard cover formats. I gloat over my hardback set almost every day.

Reprints of the strip are also available online through the Andrews McMeel Uclick platform.


Unlike most of his fellows, Watterson shunned the spotlight and the merchandising Babylon that follows a comic strip mega-hit and dedicated all his spirit and energies into producing one of the greatest treatments on childhood and the twin and inevitably converging worlds of fantasy and reality anywhere in fiction.

Calvin is a hyper-active little boy growing up in suburban middle-American Everytown. There’s a city nearby, with Museums and such, and a little bit of wooded wilderness at the bottom of the garden. The kid’s smart, academically uninspired and happy in his own world. He’s you and me. His best friend and companion is a stuffed tiger named Hobbes, who – as I might have already mentioned – may or may not be alive. He’s certainly far smarter and more ethically evolved than his owner…

And that’s all the help you’re getting. If you know the strip you already love it, and if you don’t you won’t appreciate my destroying the joys of discovery for you. This is beautiful, charming, clever, intoxicating and addictive tale-telling, blending wonder and laughter, socially responsible and wildly funny.

After a miraculous decade, at the top of his game Watterson retired the strip and himself, and though I bitterly resent it, and miss it still, I suppose it’s best to go out on a peak rather than fade away by degrees. I certainly respect and admire his dedication and principles.

This sumptuous volume is a compendium of the first two collections, Calvin and Hobbes and Something Under the Bed Is Drooling, displaying the beguiling magic of the strip in tales that will make you laugh and isn’t afraid to make you cry. Truly this is a masterpiece and landmark of American cartooning.
© 1988 Universal Press Syndicate. All Rights Reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 9

By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia, Herb Trimpe, Sam Grainger & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3501-2

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket paid off big-time; even when all Marvel’s all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man were absent, it merely allowed the lesser lights of the team to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars regularly featured due to a rotating, open door policy which meant that most issues included somebody’s fave-rave. The increasingly bold and impressively ambitious stories and artwork were no hindrance either.

This sturdy hardcover and eBook compilation gathers the astounding contents of Avengers issues #80-88 and a cosmic crossover from Incredible Hulk #140 spanning September 1970-June 1971): evocative, socially-informed tales which confirmed Roy Thomas as a major creative force in comics whilst simultaneously consolidating John Buscema’s status as the foremost artist of Marvel’s second generation.

Following another candid reminiscence from Thomas – unravelling the behind-the-scenes secrets of the Dawning Marvel Age in his Introduction – this epochal tome opens with the debut of the company’s first Native American costumed hero in ‘The Coming of Red Wolf!’ (Thomas, John B & Tom Palmer) as the Avengers are drawn into a highly personal and decidedly brutal clash between ruthless entrepreneur Cornelius Van Lunt and a tribe of Indians he is defrauding and persecuting.

The dramatic dilemma (heralding the team’s entry into the era of “Relevant”, socially conscious tales) divides the team and concludes with Vision, Scarlet Witch and Goliath aiding Red Wolf in concluding episode ‘When Dies A Legend!’, whilst the remaining team pursues super crime combine Zodiac and the Black Panther pursues what he believes is a personal quest beside Daredevil. (This last tale occurred in DD #69 but is not included here. You’ll need to see the equivalent Daredevil Masterworks volume [#9, I think] for that).

Sadly, the malevolent mega-mob move first and take the entire island of Manhattan ‘Hostage!’, leaving only the solitary sightless vigilante Daredevil free to save the day, after which Militant Feminism raises its disconcertingly strident head as the Wasp, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Madame Medusa are seduced into joining a new team called the Lady Liberators (yes, I know how that sounds now but the all-male creative team meant well…).

However, the Valkyrie who declares ‘Come on in… the Revolution’s Fine!’ had her own dark secret and sinister agenda that has nothing to do with justice or equality…

Avengers #84 featured part-time paladin Black Knight who had become addicted to the bloodthirsty hunger of his Ebony Blade, resulting in an otherworldly confrontation with alternate-Earth barbarian king Arkon and his latest paramour the Enchantress in ‘The Sword and the Sorceress!’ The resulting acrimonious clash subsequently left half the team lost in a parallel existence…

In ‘The World is Not for Burning!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia), Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s efforts to return home leave them stranded on an Earth where the Squadron Supreme are the World’s Greatest heroes and a solar Armageddon is only hours away…

Illustrated by Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney, ‘Brain-Child to the Dark Tower Came…!’ sees the extremely reluctant trans-Earth allies unite to save a very different world after which, back home, the Black Panther reprises his bombastic origin before taking leave of his comrades to assume the throne of his hidden African nation in ‘Look Homeward, Avenger’ (Giacoia & Sal B).

Novelist Harlan Ellison was a very vocal comics fan in the 1970s and occasionally collaborated on Marvel tales. Avengers #88 began a radical adaptation of one his best short stories, heralding ‘The Summons of Psyklop’ (Ellison, Thomas, Sal Buscema & Mooney) wherein an experiment to cure the Hulk of his destructive nature leads to the Jade Juggernaut’s abduction by a preternatural entity.

The saga concluded in Incredible Hulk #140 (Ellison, Thomas, Herb Trimpe & Sam Grainger) as ‘The Brute… That Shouted Love… at the Heart of the Atom!’ finds the man-monster experiencing truelove and idyllic peace in a sub-molecular paradise, only to lose it all when the demonic Psyklop tracks him down…

Following a reproduction of the cover of the all-reprint Avengers Annual #4, the romantic tragedy is somewhat leavened by a bonus yarn from Marvel’s spoof publication Not Brand Echh #5 (December 1967). Here Thomas, Gene Colan & John Tartaglione recount the sterling saga of ‘The Revengers vs Charlie America’, reinterpreting how – if not why – the heroes saved the Star-Spangled Simpleton of Liberty from icy entombment. Wrapping up the memorable magic is a brace of contemporary house ads and full biographies of all creative folk involved…

Thomas and John Buscema (and Sal too, actually) gloriously led Marvel’s second generation of creators in building on and consolidating Lee, Kirby and Ditko’s initial burst of comics creativity: spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder- machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to.

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superheroes done exactly right and a pivotal step of the little company into the corporate colossus. They are also utterly fabulous stories you’ll never tire of reading
© 1970, 1971, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.