Lucky Star volume 1

By Kagami Yoshimizu translated by Rika Takahashi (BANDAI Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60496-112-6

Japanese four-panel strips are very similar in terms and construction to modern Western newspaper strips, with a fixed cast of characters acting in brief complete gag tales, often building upon previous episodes to comprise a greater mosaic, but often the similarity ends there.

This rather peculiar (to a fat, finicky fifty-something British bloke at least) compilation confuses, delights, confounds, charms but mostly baffles as it describes the day to day to day trials and tribulations of a small group of small Japanese schoolgirls, their less than completely proper teacher and a few other older – if no wiser – influences who regularly intersect with the all-encompassing world of TV, manga, comics games, homework and dawning social advancement that is Lucky Star.

Kagami Yoshimizu’s Raki☆Suta debuted in the January 2004 issue of Japanese computer magazine Comptiq as a floating graphic end-piece and page-filler for the articles and features, but proved so popular that a reprint collection was released a year later. The strip soon began guesting in other magazines such as Shōnen Ace, Dragon Magazine, Mobile Newtype and Kadokawa Hotline and quickly spun off into video games, a drams CD, visual novels, light novels and an anime TV series, and even made the jump to American screens.

Set in Kasukabe City, Saitama Prefecture, the individual episodes are in the mild and timeless, unchallenging, nothing-ever-changes mould of Hagar or Garfield – but with far less of their stripped-down artistic and stylistic economy – and follow the daily doings and musings of young High School girls. Sporty “Otaku” games addict Konata Izumi, cute, bespectacled and dutiful know-it-all Miyuki Takara, tough-girl Kagami Hiiragi and her kind, adorable bimbo-in-training fraternal twin Tsukasa are all brought together under the second-rate, whimsical, but not-so efficient tutelage of beer-drinking history teacher Ms. Nanoko Kuroi.

This initial translated tome collects the first 25 instalments (averaging between 4 and 9 four-panel strips reading down, not across, the page, right to left and, since it’s manga, back to front), mostly in black and white but with a few full-colour examples too.

As you’d expect most of the material centres around the playing of electronic games; dutifully paying lip-service to the absorption and distraction of such upon girls who should be preparing for life and doing their homework, but as the series progressed wider issues (such as dealing with boys), interests (like films, magazine competitions and travelling on trains) and more mature characters are introduced, – most notably  grown-up and freshly newlywed cousin Yui Narumi; a strong-willed but amiably good-hearted police woman in the Traffic Rules Division who might perhaps be quite the wrong sort of role-model for the already slacking Konata.

The chapters are designated ‘Begin Activity’, ‘Older Sister’, ‘Unchanging Everyday Life’, ‘The Other Side of the Lens’, ‘Footsteps of Spring’, ‘A Season of New Beginnings… Maybe’, ‘Ideals’, ‘Various Appearances, but Contents are Still the Same’, ‘A Clever Way to Do It’, ‘The Rowdiness Before Battle’, ‘Do Your Best, Young Ones’, ‘Beginner’, ‘Relatives, No Doubt’, ‘Play, Play’, ‘Bright Season’, ‘Full of Memories’, ‘When Time Passes, Even Things you Don’t Like’, ‘The Other Side, Without the Lens’, ‘Preparations for the Cultural Festival!’, ‘The Days Until the Athletics Festival!’, ‘Personality’, ‘Game’, ‘Home Visitation’, ‘Conditions Don’t Change’ and ‘Season For Sleep’: covering a plethora of topics and situations inadvertently delivering intriguing insights into modern attitudes to school, work, women’s roles and  the culture and concerns of the nation. For example, Konata is a second-generation addict; working after school at a cosplay café, staying up all night and sharing all the games her equally electronically-enslaved single parent dad buys – even the adult ones. Kagami is a traditional swot: diligent, diffident and most concerned with best efforts and propriety at all times, but is sweet, forgiving and understanding… whilst her sister is an airhead but an excellent cook.

The strips themselves range from clever and charming to dry and witty to devastatingly funny to bittersweet to, quite often, utterly incomprehensible (at least to a fat old English bloke who doesn’t play video games) but the craft and quality of the storytelling, whilst not perhaps everyone’s cup of tea, is exceptional and indisputable.

With lots of sketches, illustrated character studies and a handy and informative annotated Translators Notes section, Lucky Star might be just the thing to spark interest from that stubborn holdout in the house who just won’t read any comics at all…

© 2005 Kagami Yoshimizu. English BANDAI Entertainment, Inc. edition May 2009.

Asterix and the Cauldron, Asterix in Spain & Asterix and the Roman Agent

By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBNs: 978-075286-628-4, 978-0-75286-630-7 and 978-0-75286-632-1

One of the most-read comics series in the world, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut in 1959, with animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, if you’re planning a trip…) spinning off from his hilarious exploits.

More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty potion-powered champion of Gallic Pride was created by two of the art-form’s greatest proponents, writer René Goscinny & illustrator Albert Uderzo and although their inspirational collaborations ended in 1977 with the death of the prolific scripter, the creative wonderment still continued until relatively recently from Uderzo and assistants – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

The wonderment works on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in the action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps where sneaky, bullying baddies get their just deserts whilst we more worldly readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly satire, especially as enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light touch of translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul and his gallant companions so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world. (Me, I still admire a divinely delivered “Paff!” as much as any painfully potent pun or dry cutting jibe…)

The stories were set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where a small village of warriors and their families resisted every effort of the Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul, or alternately, anywhere in the Ancient World, circa 50BC, as the Gallic Gentlemen wandered the fantastic lands of the Empire and beyond…

When the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat this last bastion of Gallic insouciance, resorted to a policy of containment. Thus the little seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend…

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold.

Asterix and the Cauldron was the thirteenth saga, originally running in Pilote #469-491, throughout 1968 and first translated into English in 1976.

The tale is one of treachery, felony and dishonour as fellow Gaulish chieftain Whosemoralsarelastix – a cunning and conniving Roman collaborator – convinces the reluctant but big-hearted Vitalstatistix to guard the occupied cliff-top community’s treasury from Imperial tax collectors.

Despite knowing how untrustworthy the scoundrel is, Gaul must help Gaul and the rogue’s huge onion-soup cauldron, stuffed with his people’s golden Sestertii, is placed under the stewardship of the village’s greatest hero and most trustworthy warrior: Asterix.

However, that night, as a great inter-village feast is consumed, somebody cuts their way into the guard hut and steals the glittering contents of that mighty tureen. Naturally Whosemoralsarelastix wants his money back and the noble Vitalstatistix is honour bound to replace the stolen horde, Disgraced, Asterix is banished until he can refill the empty cauldron with gold…

Trusty Obelix refuses to turn away from his friend and joins the quest, which first takes them to the garrison of Compendium, where the wily warrior intends to refill the empty churn with some of the gold the occupiers have been regularly collecting from Gauls.

Unfortunately, Caesar has been experiencing some cash-flow problems and not only has he been rushing the takings to Rome, he hasn’t even paid his soldiers for months.

With disharmony, mutiny and strike action imminent among the legions Asterix and Obelix realise they must look elsewhere for their loot.

Even their old acquaintances the pirates are cash-strapped – and soon traditionally thrashed – so the doughty duo must seek their fortune at the grand market in Condatum, briefly and disastrously becoming Boar merchants, paid street boxers, actors and charioteers, before turning to crime and planning a bank robbery…

Even here our two just men fare badly. In desperation, they decide to rob Caesar’s tax collector, but Asterix discovers a strange thing. Not only has the destitute Whosemoralsarelastix somehow paid his taxes, but the coins smell of onion soup…

With realisation dawning Asterix visits the cliff-dwelling villagers for a little chat and a mighty reckoning…

Rich with slapstick action and cutting commercial satire (for example the tax collector was a caricature of France’s then Finance Minister Valéry Giscard d’Estaing), this hilarious crime caper is a glorious example of dry yet riotous adventure comedy.

Asterix in Spain promptly followed during 1969 (Pilote #498-519) in France and Astérix en Hispanie was translated into English two years later, recounting how a valiant group of Iberian warriors were similarly holding-out against Caesar’s total conquest of that proud nation.

Chief Huevos Y Bacon was the noble warrior leading the resistance but when his haughty son Pepe was captured all seemed lost. Fearing reprisal or rescue the Romans hastily despatched the hostage lad to the garrison at Totorum, under the command of brutish Spurius Brontosaurus, who has no idea what the “pacified” Gauls of the area are like and has his hands more than full contending with the appallingly behaved and inspirationally vicious young prince.

When his guards encounter Gauls in the great forest they are easily overwhelmed by playful Obelix. Asterix takes Pepe back to the village where, after an ill-advised and painful attempt by Brontosaurus and the legion to reclaim him, the heroes decide to return him to his father. Most pertinent in this decision is the spoiled brat’s obnoxious behaviour…

Brontosaurus has pragmatically decided the kid is perfectly safe with the Gauls and unaware of their planned jaunt to Hispania, smugly returns to his post. Meanwhile, after their mandatory encounter with pirates, Asterix, Obelix and faithful mutt Dogmatix make their leisurely way through the scenic countryside (offering many trenchant asides regarding the modern French passion for Spanish touring holidays) until a chance encounter in an inn reveals to the General how close they are to undoing all his plans.

Venal but no coward the Roman joins their excursion party, captures Asterix and steals the Gaul’s magic potion and plans to destroy Huevos Y Bacon’s resistance forever. However Obelix, Pepe – and Dogmatix – have a plan to spectacularly save the day…

Full of good-natured nationalistic pokes and trans-national teasing, liberally served up with raucous hi-jinks and fast-paced action, this is another magical titbit of all-ages entertainment.

Asterix and the Roman Agent was first seen 1970 in Pilote #531-552, making the jump to English in 1972, and once more featured homeland insecurity as Caesar, under attack by the Roman Senate over the indomitable, unconquerable Gauls, deploys his greatest weapon: a double-edged sword named Tortuous Convolvulus, whose every word and gesture seems to stir ill-feeling and conflict in all who meet him.

Where Force of Arms has failed perhaps this living agent of dissent might forever fracture the Gauls’ unshakable comradeship and solidarity with dose of Roman entente dis-cordiale

On the crossing, just two minutes with the conniving Convolvulus has the brotherhood of pirates at each other’s throats, and even while discussing the plan with Aquarium’s commander Felix Platypus, the agent’s unique gift sows discord and violence, so when he finally enters the village it’s not long before the high-spirited and fractious Gauls are at war with each other…

The women are cattily sniping at each other, the traders are trading blows and even Asterix and Obelix are on the outs. But that’s not the worst of it: somehow the idea has gotten around that their sharp little champion has sold out to the Romans…

With discord rife the Romans soon have the secret of the magic potion too – or do they? -but the ingenious Convolvulus hasn’t reckoned on two things: the sheer dimness of Imperial troops and the invaluable power of true friendship, leaving Asterix and Obelix a way to overcome their differences, turn the tables and once more save the day.

At last, the agent provocateur is forced to realise that sometimes one can be too smart for one’s own good…

Brittle, barbed and devilishly sharp, this yarn was reputedly based on lingering ill-feeling following an internal power-struggle at Pilote which almost cost editor Goscinny his job. The original title for the tale was La Zizanie – “The Ill-feeling” or “The Dissension”. Seen through the lens of forty years of distance, however, all that can be seen now is stinging, clever, witty observational comedy and magnificently engaging adventure, and surely that’s what matters most?

Asterix sagas are always stuffed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive action, illustrated in a magically enticing manner. These are perfect comics that everyone should read over and over again.

© 1968-1970 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Wonder Woman volume 2

By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1373-2

The Amazing Amazon Adventuress was created by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston – apparently at the behest of his remarkable wife Elizabeth – and illustrated by Harry G. Peter just as the spectre of another world-girdling global Armageddon loomed.

She debuted as an extra feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941) before catapulting into her own cover-starring series in Sensation Comics a month later. An instant smash-hit she also quickly won her own title in the Spring of that year (cover-dated Summer 1942).

Using the nom de plume Charles Moulton, Marston scripted all her many and fabulous adventures until his death in 1947, whereupon Robert Kanigher took over the writer’s role. The venerable co-creator H. G. Peter continued on as illustrator until his death in 1958. Wonder Woman #97, in April of that year, was his last hurrah and the discrete end of an era.

This second economical monochrome Showcase collection covers issues #118-137 from November 1960-April 1963, a period of increased fantasy frolics and wildly imaginative excess which still divides fans into violently opposing camps…

With the notable exception of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and a few anodyne back-up features, costumed heroes died out at the beginning of the 1950s, replaced by a plethora of merely mortal champions and a welter of anthologised genre titles.

Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s interest in costumed crime-busters with a new iteration of The Flash in 1956 (see Showcase Presents the Flash volume 1 or the first Flash: Archive Edition) the fanciful floodgates opened wide once more…

Whilst re-inventing a section of Golden Age Greats like Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman, National/DC also updated all those hoary survivors who had weathered the backlash especially the Man of Steel, Caped Crusader and the ever-resilient Amazing Amazon…

Artists Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, who illustrated all Kanigher’s scripts in this all-ages compendium, had actually debuted as cover artists from #95, but with Wonder Woman #98 (May 1958) they took over the interiors as the writer/editor reinvented much of the old mythology and tinkered with her origins before letting her loose on an unsuspecting world.

The fanciful blend of girlish whimsy, rampant sexism, untrue romance, alien invasion, monster-mashing and all-out surreal (some would say-stream-of-consciousness) storytelling continues unabated here with ‘Wonder Woman’s Impossible Decision!’ (#118) and found the comely crusader constantly distracted from her mission to wipe out injustice by the antics of her savagely-sparring suitors Colonel Steve Trevor and Manno the mer-man.

Amazon science (and the unfettered imagination of Kanigher, for whom slavish continuity, consistency or rationality were never as important as a strong plot or breathtaking visual) had long enabled readers to share the adventures of Wonder Girl and latterly Wonder Tot – the Princess of Power as teen and toddler – both in their appropriate time-zones and, on occasion, teamed together on “Impossible Days”.

WW #119 opened with an adventure of the Titanic Teenager in ‘Mer-Boy’s Secret Prize!’ wherein the besotted undersea booby repeatedly risked his life to win his inamorata a flashy treasure, whilst in ‘Three Wishes of Doom!’ a capable but arrogant young girl won a competition and claimed Wonder Woman’s Bracelets, Lasso and Tiara, with the disastrous idea of using them to out-do the Amazing Amazon…

‘The Secret of Volcano Mountain!’ in #120 pitted teen and adult Amazon – a decade apart – against the same terrifying threat when an alien elemental twice attempted to conquer the world, after which an Impossible Day event had Wonder Girl, her older self and their mother Queen Hippolyta unite to defeat the monster-packed peril of ‘The Island Eater!’

‘The Skyscraper Wonder Woman’ introduced her pre-schooler incarnation when the Sinister Seer of Saturn sought to invade Earth with a colossal robot facsimile whilst de-aging the Amazon to her younger – but thankfully, no less competent – adolescent and pre-adolescent incarnations…

Wonder Woman #123 opened with a glimpse at the ‘Amazon Magic-Eye Album!’ as Hippolyta reviewed some of the crazy exploits of her daughter as Tot, Teen and adult adventuress, whilst the issue after managed to team them all together against the unfortunately named shape-shifting nuclear threat of the Multiple Man on ‘The Impossible Day!’

Steve and Manno resumed their war for the heroine’s hand in marriage in #125’s ‘Wonder Woman… Battle Prize!’ with the improbable trio ending up marooned on a beast and alien amoeba-men infested Blue Lagoon…

‘Wonder Tot and Mister Genie!’ was the first of two tales in WW #126, depicting what might happen when an imaginative super-kid is left on her own, whilst exasperated US Air Force lieutenant Diana Prince got steamed at being her own romantic rival for Steve Trevor in ‘The Unmasking of Wonder Woman!’ The next issue opened with the defeat of another extraterrestrial assault in ‘Invaders of the Topsy-Turvy Planet’ before ‘Wonder Woman’s Surprise Honeymoon!’ gave the usually incorrigible Colonel Trevor a terrifying foretaste of what married life with his Amazon Angel would be like…

WW#128 revealed the astounding and rather charming ‘Origin of the Amazing Robot Plane!’ before things turned a bit more serious when our heroine endured the deadly ‘Vengeance of the Angle Man!’

In #129 another spectacular Impossible Day adventure featured the entire Wonder Woman Family (that would be just her at three different ages with her mum alongside to save the day) in ‘The Vengeance of Multiple Man!’ whilst #130 opened with Wonder Tot discovering the ‘Secret of Mister Genie’s Magic Turban!’ and ended with an outrageous and embarrassing attack by Angle Man on her mature self in ‘The Mirage Mirrors!’

‘The Proving of Wonder Woman!’ in #131 detailed the history of her unique epithets such as “Thunderbolts of Jove”, “Neptune’s Trident” and “Great Hera” whilst the back-up tale ‘Wonder Woman’s Surprise Birthday Gift!’ saw the indefatigable Manno risk all manner of maritime monsters to find her a dazzling bauble whilst the Amazon herself was trying to find her mother a present.

‘Wonder Tot and the Flying Saucer!’ depicted how the adult Amazon turned herself into a toddler to converse with a baby and discover the secret of a devastating alien atomic attack and the second story revealed some ancient romantic encounters which occurred when ‘Wonder Queen Fights Hercules!’

Wonder Woman #133 cover-featured the Impossible Tale of ‘The Amazing Amazon Race!’ wherein Tot, Teen, Woman and Queen competed in a fraught athletic contest with deadly consequences, whilst in Man’s World Diana Prince took centre-stage to become ‘Wonder Woman’s Invincible Rival… Herself!’ when a movie-project went dangerously awry.

‘Menace of the Mirror Wonder Women!’ pitted her and Steve against the Image-Maker; a deadly other-dimensional mastermind who could animate and enslave reflections, and #134 closed with another disastrous sub-sea date for Wonder Girl when she had to prevent ‘The Capture of Mer-boy!’

It was one more time for Multiple Man as he/it returned again to battle the Wonder Woman Family in #135’s Impossible Day drama ‘Attack of the Human Iceberg!’ whilst the next issue had the Female Fury transformed into a ravenous and colossal threat to humanity after alien machine men infected with a growth-agent and she became ‘Wonder Woman… World’s Greatest Menace!’

This fabulous follow-up compendium concludes with #137’s classic duel on an ersatz Earth with mechanical replicas of the world’s populace and metal facsimiles of all the Amazons. Our foremost female defender had to overcome ‘The Robot Wonder Woman!’ if she had any hope of returning with Steve to their own sweet home…

By modern narrative standards these exuberant, effulgent fantasies are usually illogical and occasionally just plain bonkers, but in those days less attention was paid to continuity and shared universes: adventure in the moment was paramount and these utterly infectious romps simply sparkled then and now with fun, thrills and sheer spectacle.

Wonder Woman is rightly revered as a focus of female strength, independence and empowerment, but the welcoming nostalgia and easy familiarity of such innocuous costumed fairytales must be a delight for open-minded readers, whilst the true, incomparable value of these stories is the incredible quality of entertainment they still offer.

© 1960-1963, 2008 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Three Musketeers – a Golden Picture Classic

By Alexandre Dumas, edited and abridged by Marjorie Mattern and illustrated by Hamilton Greene (Purnell & Sons)

Never one to avoid cashing in, I’m using all the foofaraw about the new movie as an excuse to dig out this beloved old interpretation of the evergreen adventure classic and give it a fresh once-over.

As always, the prime directive here is “Read The Original Prose Novel Too” – if not first – but since Les Trois Mousquetaires first appeared in 1844, serialised from March to July in the French newspaper Le Siècle, I suppose a decent English translation will suffice. For kids I suggest the William Barrow version, one of the three translations available by 1846 but cleaned up for modest British tastes – still in print and available in the Oxford World’s Classics 1999 edition – or if you’re not shy, the rather more racy and fully restored 2006 edition by Richard Pevear.

The story has been adapted so very many times, with varying degrees of fidelity, and since the tome under review here is both a bit old and abridged for American children, I’ll keep the précis brief.

Impoverished Gascon youth d’Artagnan leaves the farm to join the personal guard of the French King, just as his father once had. A bit of a country bumpkin, the lad is nonetheless a devastatingly deft swordsman. Soon after reaching Paris he manages to annoy and impress the veteran musketeers Athos, Porthos and Aramis before becoming embroiled in a Machiavellian intrigue between State and Church, as despicably represented by the nefarious and ambitious Cardinal Richelieu

And thus begins an unshakable comradeship between four great and noble fighters in a rollercoaster ride of swashbuckling adventure stretching from the backstreets of Paris to the deadly wilds of England and Queen’s bedchambers to the bloody battlefields of Rochelle… If you get the novel and want more, the team returned in two sequels in Twenty Years After and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later. Collectively they known as known as the d’Artagnan Romances.

This fabulous primer edition was released in the USA as part of a sublime series of hardback, illustrated literary classics edited for children (and not to be confused with the legendary comicbook series Classics Illustrated), with a skilful rewrite by Marjorie Mattern, although the real lure for young and old alike must be the beautiful and copious colour illustrations by celebrated artist and war correspondent Hamilton Greene (who also applied his prodigious talents to companion volume The Count of Monte Cristo).

This particular nostalgic nugget was published in a UK edition by Purnell and Sons although the US Simon and Shuster edition is more readily available should I have sufficiently piqued your interest…

An absolute template for today’s comicbook teams (just check out that aforementioned new movie…) this spectacular romp – or any sufficiently diligent adaptation – is an absolute must for all action aficionados and drama divas…
© 1957 Golden Press, Inc, and Artists and Writers Guild Inc. Published by arrangement with Western Printing and Lithographing Company, Racine, Wisconsin.

Robotech: the Macross Saga volume 1

By Jack Herman, Carl Macek, Mike Baron, Reggie Byers, Neil D. Vokes, Ken Steacy & various (WildStorm)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-713-9

Robotech was a minor comics/TV crossover phenomenon of the 1980s based on some rather deft remarketing of assorted Japanese fantasy exports. Whilst American TV company Harmony Gold was cobbling together and re-editing three separate weekly science fiction anime series (Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA), US model-kit company Revell had begun selling Japanese mecha kits based on the aforementioned Fortress Macross, plus Super Dimension Century Orgus and Fang of the Sun Dougram as Robotech Defenders, complete with an all-new English language tie-in comic produced by DC Comics.

A copyright clash resulted in the DC title being killed two issues in, after which TV produced Carl Macek and Revell went into limited partnership on a Macross co-licensing deal which saw the three shows translated into an 85-episode generational saga wherein planet Earth was rocked by successive alien invasions decades apart and only saved from annihilation by a fortuitous spaceship crash which had allowed humans to master extraterrestrial Robotechnology.

The American TV hybrid and toy range naturally led to Role Playing Games, novels, an animated movie, art books and comicbooks which have been semi-continuously in print since 1984.

The premise evolved into The Macross SagaFirst Robotech War: a desperate conflict with giant Zentraedi warriors seeking to retrieve a crashed space craft; Robotech MastersSecond Robotech War wherein Earthlings battled a fresh wave of Zentraedi, come here to discover what happened to their lost fleet and Robotech MastersThird Robotech War, with enemies becoming allies to confront an even greater, mutual foe: the horrendous Invid, from whom the Robotech Masters had originally stolen the near-magical, cataclysmic, semi-spiritual power source Protoculture, reverentially worshipped as the Flower of Life and the motivating force behind all Robotechnology….

Comico produced separate titles set twenty years apart (Robotech Macross Saga, Robotech Masters and Robotech the New Generation) from 1984-1989, after which Eternity Comics, Academy Comics, Antarctic Press and WildStorm took up the perennial favourites in their turn.

At the height of the furore in 1986 and two years after the comic book triptych launched, Comico produced Robotech: the Graphic Novel, an original oversized 48 page European style graphic album plotted by Carl Macek which filled in the heretofore unknown backstory; telling the story of that fateful First Contact when a starship crashed onto the island of Macross.

It was scripted by Mike Baron, illustrated by Neil D. Vokes & Ken Steacy (with painted colour by Tom Vincent and lettering by Bob Pinaha) and the initial chapter of that revelatory tale provides the opening segment of this digest-sized, full-colour compilation which then re-presents the first six Macross Saga comicbooks in a handy catch-all edition for the next generation of Amerimanga or OEL (Original English Language) fans.

In ‘Genesis: Robotech’ far away on the other side of the universe a two kilometre long spacecraft is seeding desolate worlds with a unique plant. Unconventional and rebellious Philosopher-Scientist Zor is attempting to grow the energy-rich Flower of Life in soil not sanctioned by his Robotech Masters, over the protests of dutiful warrior-commander Dolza.

This allows the insidious and monstrous Invid to track them, fanatically attempting to wipe out the Zentraedis who had purloined their sacred bloom and daily desecrated its holy purpose…

Although temporarily driven off, the Invid fatally wound Zor and he dispatches the ship on a pre-programmed jaunt across the universe to a world only he knows of…

In two text reminiscences Bob Shreck and artist Neil Vokes describe the frantic efforts which resulted in the deal with the fledgling Comico and dictated rushing out the first issue ASAP (further demanding a new issue every fortnight until a stable print schedule could be established)…

All of which goes some way to pardoning the rather crude visuals on ‘Booby Trap’ as, a decade after that vessel crashed on Macross Island (instantly ending a percolating Third World War), the united Terran forces are preparing to activate their greatest weapon: the retooled, reconstructed ship as interplanetary dreadnought SDF-1 – Super Dimension Fortress.

Preparing for a shakedown flight and full test run ex-Admiral Gloval is not prepared for the shocking alien attack he has been dreading ever since the super-ship smashed to Earth…

In fact his first inkling of trouble is when the city-sized construct automatically fires its colossal main-gun, obliterating a squadron of unseen Zentraedi scout ships, just as teen exhibition-aviator Rick Hunter arrives on the Pacific Island to meet old mentor Roy Fokker. The invaders brutally respond and Gloval is compelled to take SDF-1 to battle stations and direct a desperate counterattack.

Caught up in the action Rick finds himself stuck in a Veritech fighter-plane he has no idea how to fly, dogfighting with giant invaders in incredible, mecha murder-machines…

With the Island and planet under brutal assault the illustration takes a huge step up in quality for the second issue as ‘Countdown’ finds the embattled Captain Gloval forced, under repeated sorties from the invaders, to move the sitting duck SDF-1 space whilst the civilians of Macross City suffer dreadfully under the Zentraedi bombardment.

Rick has made his first kill and panicked when his jet morphed into a giant robot, but has no time to panic as he saves civilians Minmei and her little brother Jason from death in the ruins…

Unfortunately the Fortress anti-gravity engines fail and humanity seems doomed until Gloval and his snarky Executive Officer Lisa Hayes gamble everything and switch to good, old-fashioned jet power…

Temporarily safe in low-Earth orbit, the SDF-1 is still an easy target for repeated alien assaults and the civilian population can only cower in deep shelters beneath Macross Island. With the SDF-1’s Veritechs easy prey for the Zentraedi, Gloval gambles again and activates the untested ‘Space Fold’ system. Instantly, a space warp deposits them safely in the orbit of Pluto, but brings with it a huge chunk of Macross, Pacific Ocean and Earth atmosphere…

Caught in mid-air over the city in the lad’s exhibition plane, Rick and Minmei are instantly stranded in hard vacuum but manage to crash into a previously unexplored section of the SDF-1 as the baffled engineers report to Gloval that the Fold Generators which saved and marooned them all months from home have inexplicably vanished…

Stranded in deep space, but temporarily beyond the reach of Zentraedi attack, the first order of business is rescuing the civilians trapped in the remnants of Macross Island. After long weeks the populace has been resettled within the vast ship and Macross City is being steadily incorporated into the vessel’s superstructure. ‘The Long Wait’ reveals how Rick and Minmei coped; isolated, alone and presumed dead until the constant rebuilding accidentally uncovers their unsuspected survival hutch…

As the SDF-1 proceeds slowly and cautiously back towards Earth, Gloval, Hayes and Fokker discuss reconfiguring the ship if necessary. The trouble is that nobody can predict what the ‘Transformation’ will mean to the masses of humanity now infesting every spare inch of the super-ship…

As they pass Saturn the decision is taken from their hands as the Zentraedi ambush the ship and the SDF-1 reconfigures into its gigantic robot warrior mode to fight off the cataclysmic alien ‘Blitzkrieg’

Packed with fast-paced action and, I’m afraid, quite a bit of the twee, comedy-of-romantic-embarrassment soap opera beloved by the Japanese, this collection by Mike Baron, Jack Herman, Carl Macek, Reggie Byers, Dave Johnson, Mike Leeke Svea Stauch, Neil D. Vokes, Ken Steacy, Jeff Dee, Chris Kalnick, Phil Lasorda, Tom Poston, Rich Rankin and a host of colourists and letterers was groundbreaking for American comicbooks and opened the doors to a Manga invasion that reshaped the industry.

The stories also read winningly well, even after all these years and are easily accessible to older kids and young teens as well as all us picture-story junkies who never agreed to grow up…

Fun and adventure in the grand old space opera manner, it’s about time these 1980s epics were revisited by a more comics friendly readership.
© 2003 Harmony Gold, USA, Inc. All rights reserved. Previously published as Robotech: the Macross Saga #1-6 & Robotech: the Graphic Novel. © 1984-1986 Harmony Gold, USA, Inc and Tatsunoko Production Company, Ltd. Robotech®, Macross® and all associated names, logos and related indicia are trademarks of Harmony Gold USA, Inc.

Showcase Presents World’s Finest volume 1

By Edmond Hamilton, Bill Finger, Curt Swan, Dick Sprang & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1697-9

Some things were just meant to be: Bacon & Eggs, Rhubarb & Custard, Chalk & Cheese…

For many years Superman and Batman worked together as the “World’s Finest” team. They were friends as well as colleagues and the pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes (in effect the company’s only costumed stars) could cross-pollinate and, more importantly, cross-sell their combined readerships.

This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in the early 1940s, whilst in comics the pair had only briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure in All-Star Comics #36 (August-September 1947) – and perhaps even there they missed each other in the gaudy hubbub…

Of course they had shared the covers on World’s Finest Comics from the outset, but never crossed paths inside; sticking firmly to their specified solo adventures within. So for us pictorial continuity buffs, the climactic first time was in the pages of Superman’s own bi-monthly comic (issue #76, May/June 1952).

Science fiction author Edmond Hamilton was tasked with revealing how Man of Steel and Caped Crusader first met – and accidentally discovered each other’s identities – whilst sharing a cabin on an over-booked cruise liner. Although an average crime-stopper yarn, it was the start of a phenomenon. The art for The Mightiest Team in the World’ was by the superb Curt Swan and inkers John Fischetti & Stan Kaye with that keynote caper the opening inclusion in this first magnificent monochrome compendium (which thereafter re-presents their first 41 collaborations from World’s Finest Comics #71-111).

With dwindling page counts, rising costs but a proven readership and years of co-starring but never mingling, World’s Finest Comics #71 (July-August 1954) presented the Man of Tomorrow and the Gotham Gangbuster in the first of their official shared cases as the Caped Crusader became ‘Batman – Double For Superman!’ (by scripter Alvin Schwartz with Swan & Kaye providing the pictures) as the merely mortal hero traded identities to preserve his comrade’s alter ego and latterly, his life…

‘Fort Crime!’ (Schwartz, Swan & Kaye) saw them unite to crush a highly organised mob with a seemingly impregnable hideout, after which Hamilton returned to script ‘Superman and Batman, Swamis Inc’, a clever sting-operation that almost went tragically awry before an alien invader prompted an insane rivalry which resulted in ‘The Contest of Heroes’ by Bill Finger, Swan & Kaye, from World’s Finest #74.

The same creative team produced ‘Superman and Robin!’ wherein a disabled Batman could only fret and fume as his erstwhile assistant seemingly dumped him for a better man, whereas ‘When Gotham City Challenged Metropolis’ (Hamilton, Swan & Charles Paris) saw the champions at odds as their hometowns over-aggressively vied for a multi-million dollar electronics convention before a landmark tale by Hamilton, Swan & Kaye invented a new sub-genre when a mad scientist’s accident temporarily removed the Caped Kryptonian’s powers and created ‘The Super-Batman!’ in WF #77.

Arguably Batman’s greatest artist joined the creative crew ‘When Superman’s Identity is Exposed!’ (by Hamilton, Dick Sprang & Kaye) as a mysterious source kept revealing the Man of Steel’s greatest secret, only to be revealed as a well-intentioned disinformation stunt, whereas the accent was on high adventure when the trio became ‘The Three Musicians of Bagdad’ – a stunning time-travel romp from Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye.

When the Gotham Gazette faced closure days before a spectacular crime-expose, Clark Kent and Lois Lane joined dilettante Bruce Wayne as pinch-hitting reporters on ‘The Super-Newspaper of Gotham City’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Charles Paris) after which ‘The True History of Superman and Batman’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye, #81) saw a future historian blackmail the heroes into restaging their greatest exploits so his erroneous treatise on them would be accurate…

Hamilton also produced a magnificent and classy costumed drama when ‘The Three Super-Musketeers!’ visited 17th century France to solve the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask whilst Bill Finger wrote a brilliant and delightful caper-without-a-crime in ‘The Case of the Mother Goose Mystery! before Hamilton provided insight on a much earlier meeting of the World’s Finest Team with ‘The Super-Mystery of Metropolis!’ in #84, all for Sprang & Kaye to enticingly illustrate.

Hamilton, Swan, Sprang & Kaye demonstrated how a comely Ruritanian Princess inadvertently turned the level-headed heroes into ‘The Super-Rivals’ (or did she?), before a monolithic charity-event ‘The Super-Show of Gotham City’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye) was almost turned into a mammoth pay-day for unscrupulous con-men whilst ‘The Reversed Heroes’ (Finger, Sprang & Ray Burnley) once again saw the costumed champions swap roles when Batman and Robin gained powers thanks to Kryptonian pep-pills found by criminal Elton Craig, just as Superman’s powers faded…

World’s Finest #87 presented ‘Superman and Batman’s Greatest Foes!’ (Hamilton, Sprang, Kaye) and found “reformed” villains Lex Luthor and the Joker ostensibly setting up in the commercial robot business – which nobody really believed – after which seminal sequel ‘The Club of Heroes’ by Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye, reprised a meeting of Batmen from many nations (Detective Comics #215, January 1955 or Batman: the Black Casebook and a key plank of Grant Morrison’s epic Batman: the Black Glove serial) but added the intriguing sub-plot of an amnesiac Superman and a brand-new costumed champion…

That evergreen power-swap plot was revisited in #90’s ‘The Super-Batwoman’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye) when the headstrong heroine defied Batman by restarting her costumed career and was quickly compelled to swallow Elton Craig’s last Krypton pill to prevent criminals getting it, after which the stirring time-busting saga of ‘The Three Super-Sleepers’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye) saw our heroes fall into a trap which caused them to slumber for 1000 years and awaken in a fantastic world they could never escape…

But of course they could and once back where they belonged ‘The Boy From Outer Space!’ by Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye detailed how a super-powered amnesiac lad crashed to Earth and briefly became Superman’s sidekick Skyboy, whilst ‘The Boss of Superman and Batman’ (author unknown, Sprang & Kaye) revealed how a brain-amplifying machine turned Robin into a super-genius more than qualified to lead the trio in their battle against insidious rogue scientist Victor Danning.

When the Man of Tomorrow replaced the Caped Crusader with a new partner it led to a review of ‘The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team’ by Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye after which Dave Wood, Sprang & Ray Burnley pitted the now equally multi-powered and alien-entranced champions against each other in ‘The Battle of the Super-Heroes’ from WF #95.

A magical succession of magnificent and whacky classics began in #96 with Hamilton’s ‘The Super-Foes From Planet X’ as indolent and effete aliens dispatched fantastic monsters to battle the titanic trio for the best possible reasons, before Bill Finger took over scripting and turned the Man of Steel on his greatest friends in ‘The Day Superman Betrayed Batman’ after which ‘The Menace of the Moonman!’ pitted the heroes against a deranged hyper-powered astronaut, ‘Batman’s Super-Spending Spree!’ baffled all his close friends and Luthor then trapped Superman in the newly recovered Bottle City of Kandor and became ‘The Dictator of Krypton City’ – all astounding epics beautifully limned by Sprang & Kaye.

Sprang inked himself in the rocket-paced super-crime thriller ‘The Menace of the Atom-Master’ whilst it took Swan, Burnley, Sprang & Paris to properly unveil the titanic tragedy of ‘The Caveman from Krypton’ in #102.

‘The Secret of the Sorcerer’s Treasure’ (art by Sprang & Paris) found two treasure hunters driven mad by the tempting power unearthed magical artefacts and Luthor quickly regretted used a hostage Batwoman to facilitate ‘The Plot to Destroy Superman’ whereas the metamorphosis which turned Clark Kent into ‘The Alien Superman’ proved not at all what it seemed.

‘The Duplicate Man’ in WF #106 had developed an almost unbeatable crime tool – whereas ‘The Secret of the Time-Creature’ spanned centuries and produced one of Finger’s very best detective thrillers to baffle but never stump the Terrific Team.

Jerry Coleman took over scripting with ‘The Star Creatures’, (art by Sprang & Paris), the tale of an extraterrestrial moviemaker whose deadly props were stolen by Earth crooks, whilst ‘The Bewitched Batman’ drawn by Swan & Kaye, was a tense race to save the Gotham Guardian from an ancient curse and ‘The Alien who Doomed Robin’ (Sprang & Sheldon Moldoff) saw a symbiotic link between monster marauder and Boy Wonder leave the senior heroes apparently helpless… at least for a little while…

This inaugural black and white chronicle concludes with ‘Superman’s Secret Kingdom’ by Finger, Sprang & Moldoff from World’s Finest #111 (August 1960): a compelling lost world yarn wherein a cataclysmic holocaust deprives the Man of Steel of his memory and Batman and Robin have to find and cure him at all costs…

These are gloriously clever yet uncomplicated tales whose dazzling style has returned to inform if not dictate the form for much of DC’s modern television animation – especially the fabulous Batman: the Brave and the Bold series – and the contents of this tome are a veritable feast of witty, charming thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have.
© 1952, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Unlucky Wally

By Raymond Briggs (Hamish Hamilton/Sphere/Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0-24112-106-1(hb),

Sphere pb: 978-074740-065-3   Penguin pb: 978-0-74740-065-348

Cartoonist, political satirist, philosopher, social commentator and delighter of children Raymond Briggs never forgets that kids think too. Many of his books for younger people revel in their fascination with all things gross and disgusting and he never underestimates the young mind’s capacity for empathy and understanding. Moreover, unlike so many working in the children’s book industry he isn’t afraid to be morose or even sad…

The comics industry has always cheerfully neglected Briggs’s graphic narratives which have reached more hearts and minds than Spider-Man or Judge Dredd ever will, yet his books remain among the most powerful and important in the entire field.

His most famous works such as The Snowman, When the Wind Blows and Fungus the Bogeyman are but the tip of an incredibly impressive and uniquely British iceberg of dry wit, cheeky sarcasm and poignant fellow-feeling for even the most ghastly and graceless of protagonists.

After leaving Wimbledon School of Art, Central and The Slade – and completing a stint of National Service in Catterick – Briggs began work as an illustrator in 1958. He has produced 36 superb books; ranging from illuminating other creators’ poetry and stories to crafting his own dingily fabulous yarns such as this mordantly hilarious visual paean to the ultimate “Neveryman” of our modern world.

Unlucky Wally was first published in 1987 and details – in stunning, disgusting detail -the many and various physical, mental and emotional shortcomings of Mr. Wallace Burke: a man the universe just does not like…

Wally isn’t smart, isn’t determined and perpetually suffers from a list of hideous ailments, everything from out-of-control earwax to mega-pimples to suspect testicles. Moreover, whatever he doesn’t have, he thinks he does: Wally is an Olympic-level hypochondriac.

Even the natural world is out to get him: incontinent pigeons hang on for hours until Wally comes outside, maggots always cluster in his takeaway food and he’s never been in water that hasn’t got eels, frogspawn, leeches or jellyfish in it…

Yet even with all the repellent, repugnant and vile visions and situations potently pictured by the astoundingly gifted and iron-stomached Briggs in this painfully hilarious, blackly comedic treat, the author still manages to have a gentle last laugh on us all, by revealing a perfectly plausible happy ending for the unsavoury unfortunate who is surely (to some extent at least) an autobiographical extension of us all…

Foolish fun with a pertinent point to make, Unlucky Wally is lovely tale for an often unloving world and one older kids in an increasingly “looks-are-everything” culture will adore – so isn’t it about time it was back in print?
© 1987 Raymond Briggs. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen

By Otto Binder, Curt Swan, Ray Burnley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1369-5

Although unnamed, a red-headed, be-freckled plucky kid worked alongside Clark Kent and Lois Lane from Action Comics #6 (November 1938) and was called by his first name from Superman #13 (November-December 1941) onwards. That lad was Jimmy Olsen and he was a major player in The Adventures of Superman radio show from its debut on April 15th 1940; somebody for the hero to explain stuff to for the listener’s benefit and the closest thing to a sidekick the Man of Tomorrow ever needed…

When the similarly titled television show launched in the autumn of 1952 it became a monolithic hit and National Periodicals began cautiously expanding their valuable franchise with new characters and titles. First up were the gloriously charming, light-hearted escapades of the rash, capable but naïve photographer and “cub reporter” from the Daily Planet: new star of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, which launched in 1954 with a September-October cover date.

The comic was popular for more than two decades, blending action, adventure, broad, wacky comedy, fantasy and science fiction in the gentle manner scripter Otto Binder had perfected a decade previously at Fawcett Comics on the magnificent Captain Marvel. As the feature progressed one of the most popular plot-themes (and most fondly remembered and referenced today by most Baby-Boomer fans) was the unlucky lad’s appalling talent for being warped, mutated and physically manipulated by fate, aliens and even his friends…

The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen delightfully collects some of the very best and most iconic tales from the series all of which originally appeared in issues #22, 28. 31-33, 41-42, 44, 49, 53, 59, 65, 72, 77, 80, 85 and 105 of the comicbook, as well as the lead story from the giant anthology Superman Family #173, into which Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen evolved.

The spellbinding wonderment begins with a selection of beautifully reconfigured covers (from issues 22, 44, 59 and 105) which act as contents and credit pages after which the story segments open with ‘The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen’ by Binder, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley, wherein resident crackpot genius Professor Phineas Potter evolved the boy into a man from 1,000,000AD. The seemingly benevolent being seems to have a hidden agenda however and is able to bend Superman to his will…

The same creative team produced ‘The Human Skyscraper’ with another Potter production enlarging Jimmy to monumental size, whilst in ‘The E-L-A-S-T-I-C Lad’ Superman was ultimately responsible for the reporter gaining stretching powers after leaving a chest of alien artefacts with the nosy, accident-prone kid.

‘The Jimmy Olsen from Jupiter’ by Alvin Schwartz, Swan & Burnley saw aliens mutate him into one of their scaly selves, complete with mind reading powers, whilst Binder’s ‘The Human Flame-Thrower!’ saw Potter’s latest experiment cause the worst case of high-octane halitosis in history, after which Robert Bernstein, Swan & John Forte displayed the lad’s negligent idiocy when Jimmy ate alien fruit and became ‘The Human Octopus!’

Craig Flessel inked the hilarious and ingenious ‘Jimmy the Genie!’ in which boy and magical sprite exchanged roles after which ‘The Wolf-Man of Metropolis!’ , by Binder, Swan, Stan Kaye, blended horror, mystery and heart-warming charm in a mini-classic of the genre.

Professor Potter was blamed for, but entirely innocent of, turning Jimmy into ‘The Fat Boy of Metropolis!’ – a daft but clever crime caper from Swan & Forte – whilst sheer mischance resulted in the now-legendary saga of ‘The Giant Turtle Man!’ and his oddly casualty-free rampage (courtesy of scripter Jerry Siegel) before Leo Dorfman, Swan & George Klein collaborated to produce the sparkling tale of alien love gone amiss, which resulted in our boy temporarily becoming ‘Jimmy Olsen, Freak!’

When Jimmy spurned the amorous attentions of supernatural Fifth Dimensional babe Miss Gzptlsnz, she quite understandably turned him into ‘The Human Porcupine’ by Siegel, Swan & Klein, who also crafted the intriguing enigma of ‘The World of Doomed Olsens!’ wherein Jimmy was confronted by materialisations of his most memorable metamorphoses…

‘The Colossus of Metropolis!’ saw Jimmy deliberately and daringly grow into a giant to tackle the rampaging Super-Ape Titano, whilst Siegel, Forte & Klein’s ‘Jimmy Olsen, the Bizarro Boy!’ was a merry comedy of errors with Potter’s cure for the backwards-living Bizarro beings going painfully awry, resulting in the poor lad being ‘Exiled on the Bizarro World!’

The immensely popular Legion of Super-Heroes guest-star in many of these tales and play a pivotal part in ‘The Adventures of Chameleon-Head Olsen!’, a madcap mirth spree as only Siegel, Forte & Klein could make ‘em, whilst the far more menacing tale of ‘The World of 1,000 Olsens!’, by Binder, E. Nelson Bridwell & Pete Costanza was a product of changing times and darker tastes; with an actual arch-enemy trapping Jimmy on a murderous planet where everybody looks like but hates the cub reporter…

This fabulously strange brew concludes with a smart thriller set in the Bottled City of Kandor where Jimmy resumed his costumed-hero identity of Flamebird beside Superman to save the last Kryptonians from the ‘Menace of the Micro-Monster!’ …a sharp terrorist shocker by Cary Bates & Kurt Schaffenberger which satisfyingly closes this magically engaging tome.

As well as relating some of the most delightful episodes of the pre angst-drenched, cosmically catastrophic DC, these stories also perfectly depict the changing mores and tastes which reshaped comics from the safe 1950s to the seditious, rebellious 1970s, all the while keeping to the prime directive of the industry – “keep them entertained and keep them wanting more”.

I know I certainly do…

© 1957-1965, 1967, 1975, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Robotech: the Graphic Novel

By Mike Baron, Neil D. Vokes, Ken Steacy & various (Comico)
ISBN: 978-0-93896-500-8

Robotech was a minor comics phenomenon of the 1980s based on some rather deft marketing of assorted Japanese fantasy exports. Whilst American TV company Harmony Gold was cobbling together and re-editing three separate weekly science fiction anime series (Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA) US model-kit company Revell was selling Japanese mecha kits based on the aforementioned Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Century Orgus and Fang of the Sun Dougram as Robotech Defenders, complete with an all-new English language tie-in comic produced by DC Comics.

A copyright clash resulted in the DC title being killed after two issues after which TV produced Carl Macek and Revell went into limited partnership in a Macross co-licensing deal which saw three shows translated into an 85-episode generational saga wherein Earth was rocked by successive alien invasions decades apart and only saved from annihilation by a fortuitous spaceship crash which had allowed humans to master extraterrestrial Robotechnology.

The American TV hybrid and mecha toy range naturally led to Role Playing Games, novels, an animated movie, art books and comicbooks which have been semi-continuously in print since 1984.

The premise revolved into The Macross SagaFirst Robotech War a desperate conflict with giant Zentraedi warriors seeking to retrieve a crashed space craft; Robotech MastersSecond Robotech War wherein Terrans battled a fresh wave of Zentraedi, come to discover what happened to their lost fleet and Robotech Masters or Third Robotech War, with enemies becoming allies to confront an even greater foe: the horrendous Invid – from whom the Robotech Masters originally stole the near-magical, cataclysmic, semi-spiritual power source Protoculture, reverentially worshipped as the Flower of Life and the motivating force behind all Robotechnology….

Comico produced separate titles set twenty years apart (Robotech Macross Saga, Robotech Masters and Robotech the New Generation) from 1984-1989, after which Eternity Comics, Academy Comics, Antarctic Press and WildStorm took up the perennial favourites in their turn.

In 1986, at the height of the furore Comico produced an original oversized 48 page European album format graphic novel plotted by Carl Macek which filled in the heretofore unknown backstory; telling the story of that fateful First Contact when a starship crashed on the island of Macross. It was scripted by Mike Baron, illustrated by Neil D. Vokes & Ken Steacy (with painted colour by Tom Vincent and lettering by Bob Pinaha)…

In ‘Genesis: Robotech’ far away on the other side of the universe SDF-1, a two kilometre long spacecraft is seeding desolate worlds with a unique plant. Unconventional and rebellious Philosopher-Scientist Zor is attempting to grow the energy-rich Flower of Life in soil not sanctioned by his Robotech Masters, over the protests of dutiful warrior-commander Dolza.

This allows the insidious Invid to track them and attack, fanatically attempting to wipe out the Zentraedis who stole their sacred bloom and daily desecrate its holy purpose…

Although temporarily driven off, the Invid fatally wound Zor but not before he dispatches the ship on a pre-programmed jaunt across the universe to a world only he knows of…

On orders from the enraged Masters Dolza returns Zor’s body to the homeworld so any useful information can be extracted from his cells whilst Field Comander Breetai is ordered to take a fleet and follow SDF-1. If Zor has been seeding worlds in secret both the ship and its destination must be found…

It is 1999 on planet Earth and a third global conflict is about to erupt. Brush-wars, resource squabbles and border-skirmishes are occurring everywhere. In the sky above the Pacific fighter pilot Roy Fokker is engaged in another deadly dogfight with mercenary T.R. Edwards which once more ends inconclusively…

Returning to the aircraft-carrier Kenosha Roy meets Senator Russo, Admiral Hayes and his own Commander Gloval who have an intriguing plan to end the faux-war before it ends humanity…

Meanwhile in America a little boy named Rick Hunter is learning flying tricks with his grandfather that will one day save the world when the sky is set ablaze by a vast object. Destined to crash far out in the North Pacific, in its thunderous passing the “meteor” triggers storms and earthquakes, disrupts electronic communications and causes global panic…

All over Earth hostilities cease and a military task force led by Gloval and Fokker, with arch enemy Edwards representing the once-opposition, explore the downed SDF-1, which has crashed on a barren rock once used for atomic testing.

On board the humans discover wonder, horror and the potential to create a golden age on Earth, but unbeknownst to them Breetai’s pursuing force is closing in…

Although designed as an in-filling prequel this is a classy traditional sci-fi romp which happily stands on its own merits for new readers whilst providing added narrative value to any readers – or indeed viewers – familiar with the greater saga it introduces.

Fun and adventure in the grand old space opera manner and superbly easy on the eye, it’s about time these 1980s epics were revisited by a more comics friendly readership.
“Robotech” ™ Revell, Inc. © 1986 Harmony Gold, USA, Inc./Tatsunoko Production Company, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Manga Mania Shonen – Drawing Action-Style Japanese Comics

By Chris Hart (Sixth&Spring)
ISBN: 978-1-933027-69-2

Even though the global craze for Japanese comics and cartoons seems to have partially abated the popularity of Manga and Anime style storytelling is pretty much unquenchable, and with Annual Gift-Giving Season rapidly bearing down on us it might be worthwhile to take a look at one of the better “How-to” reference volumes still available to the budding exponent of Japanese comic making.

I actually found this copy whilst browsing the shelves of my local library so your creative impulses might not even have to wait ‘till December comes…

Manga Mania Shonen is the part of an extensive series of art-instruction books by prolific graphic guru Chris Hart which includes manga titles such as a Beginner’s Guides and more specialised tomes devoted to Girl Power, Bishoujo, Occult and Horror, Romance and many others as well as other art “genres” such as Wizards Witches and Warlocks or Drawing The New Adventure Cartoons

This perky volume focuses on the Shonen or action story characters: lavishly illustrated from stick-figure first concept to fully inked and coloured final work, and opens with a section on Shonen Basics: Drawing the Head, generically broken down further into Action Boy, Teen Enemy, Girl With Crush and Dark Beauty with attention paid to Drawing Eyes For Action Characters, Young Teen Boy, Young Teen Girl, Bishie Boy, Bishijo Girl, Male Villain and Female Villain before rounding off with Craaaazy Eyes!, Intense Expressions and Shading Faces.

Swiftly following is Shonen Basics: Drawing the Body divided into Brave Fighter Kid, Powerful Foe, The Hero’s Girl, Alluring Nemesis, Younger Vs. Older Teens, The Fighting Team, The Character Lineup and Action Tattoos whilst Action! provides timeless, educative and extremely useful truths on Action and Balance, Do’s and Don’ts for Drawing Action, defined as Classic Run (side vs. ¾ view), Fast and Furious Run, The Big Windup and the Big Punch, The Punch and Making Contact; examines Forced Perspective through Flying Kick, Standing Kick and Leaping Forward; depicts Extreme Fight Scenes via Running Start and Impact (both with side and ¾ views) and concludes with a variety of Panel Designs For Action Comics, featuring a four-panel page redrawn numerous ways for different effects.

Samurai Characters and how to construct them follows with model sheet “turnarounds” (the drawing rotated through five positions – Front, ¾ front, side, ¾ rear and Rear views) for a Samurai Boy, plus Girl Samurai, Bad Samurai!, Street Warrior and Evil Samurai Grandmaster as well as sidebars on Uncommon Weapons and Samurai Fantasy Fighters.

Fighter Girls is divided into Flying Ninja, Spy Girl, Sharpshooter, Evil Enchantress, Fantasy Fighter and Karate Girl, Supporting Characters into Teen Punk, Evil Kid, Yakuza, Knife Fighter, Big Buddy, The Blockhead, Motorcycle Rider, The Cursed Hand, Sci-Fi Fighter, Costume Makes the Character and The Dramatic Trench Coat after which Monsters and Creepy Creatures covers such popular standards as Rock Monster, Devil Creature, Ogre, Monsters with Special Powers, Monster Fighter! and such Animal-Based Spirits and Demons as Tiger Girl, Scorpion Boy, Wolf Demon and Bear Spirit.

The final chapter checks out Battle-Ready Robots with Drawing the Robot’s Head, Round-Type Robot, Classic Colossal Robot, Elegant but Deadly Robot and Hyper-Mechanized Robot before Robots and Their Human Pals – sectioned off as A Boy and His Robot, Female Robot, All-Firepower Robot, Villainous Robot and The Mecha Team – finishes up the drawing lessons. The book concludes with a very basic four-page introduction to Sketching a Sequential Story.

By applying a “Time-and-Motion”, mechanistically deconstructive approach Hart has isolated those cool facets ardent newcomers always fixate upon and has perfectly described how to become fully facile in their use. After that, it’s up to the neophyte storyteller to progress at their own pace and inclination…

The whole book is pretty much the equivalent of a set of manga “cheat-sheets” detailing how to produce generic action actors, but as I can certainly attest after years of teaching comics-production, scripting and art to kids from age 4 to 60+, that’s most often the initial alluring spark which can kick off the drive to practise, improve and eventually find a uniquely personal creative path…

Created specifically for the American sector of the global marketplace and targeting younger fans, there’s no time spent here on the harder, less fun and downright laborious aspects such as constructing a plot, shaping narrative, designing believable backgrounds, building scenarios, page composition and copy/balloon placement, and the slavish pigeon-holing of the manga/anime phenomenon into basic construction-line “models” may annoy more advanced students, but if the goal is simply to inspire interested parties into making their own people and stories this book does the job affably and enthusiastically…

© 2008 Star Fire, LCC. All rights reserved.