Asterix the Gladiator, Asterix and the Banquet, Asterix and Cleopatra


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion and others)
ISBNs: 978-0-7528-6611-6, 978-0-7528-6609-3 and 978-0-7528-6607-9

Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export: a wily wee warrior who resisted the iniquities, experienced the absurdities and observed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and a magic potion which bestowed incredible strength, speed and vitality.

One of the most popular comics in the world, the chronicles have been translated into more than 100 languages; 8 animated and 3 live-action movies, assorted games and even into a theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created as the transformative 1960s began by two of the art-form’s greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo and even though their perfect partnership ended in 1977 the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

When Pilote launched in 1959 was Asterix was a massive hit from the start. For a while Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first epic escapade was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death the publication rate dropped from two books per year to one volume every three to five).

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation and when Goscinny passed away three years later Uderzo was convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes since then.

Like all great literary classics the premise works on two levels: for younger readers as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky, bullying baddies regularly getting their just deserts and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, enhanced here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue.

Launched in Pilote #1 (29th October 1959, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0, June 1st 1959), the stories was set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50BC, where a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resisted every effort of the all-conquering Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorted to a policy of containment and the little seaside hamlet is perpetually 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 by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

With these volumes a key pattern was established: the adventures would henceforth- like a football match – alternate between Home and Away, with each globe-trotting escapade balanced by an epic set in and around he happily beleaguered Gaulish village (if you’re counting, home tales were odd numbered volumes and travelling exploits even-numbered…)

Asterix the Gladiator debuted in Pilote #126-168 in 1963 and saw the canny rebel and his increasingly show-stealing pal Obelix (who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and was a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to the smart little hero) despatched to the heart of the Roman Empire on an ill-conceived mission of mercy…

When Prefect Odius Asparagus wanted to give Julius Caesar a unique gift he decided upon one of the indomitable Gauls who had been giving his occupying forces such a hard time.

Thus he had village Bard Cacofonix abducted and bundled off to Rome. Although in two minds about losing the raucous harpist, pride won out and the villagers mounted a rescue attempt, but after thrashing the Romans again they discovered that their lost comrade was already en route for the Eternal City…

Asterix and Obelix were despatched to retrieve the missing musician and hitched a ride on a Phoenician galley operated under a bold new business plan by captain/general manager Ekonomikrisis. On the way to Italy the heroes first encountered a band of pirates who would become frequent guest-stars and perennial gadflies.

The pirates were a creative in-joke between the close-knit comics creative community: Barbe-Rouge or Redbeard was a buccaneering strip created by Charlier and Victor Hubinon that also ran in Pilote at the time.

As Asterix and Obelix made friends among the cosmopolitan crowds of Rome, Caesar had already received his latest gift. Underwhelmed by his new Bard, the Emperor sent Cacofonix to the Circus Maximus to be thrown to the lions just as his chief of Gladiators Caius Fatuous was “talent-spotting” two incredibly tough strangers who would make ideal arena fighters…

Since it was the best way to get to Cacofonix our heroes joined the Imperial Gladiatorial school; promptly introducing a little Gallic intransigence to the tightly disciplined proceedings. When the great day arrived the lions had the shock of their lives and the entertainment-starved citizens of Rome got a show they would never forget…

As always the good-natured, comedic situations and sheer finesse of the yarn rattles along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s expansive, authentic and continually improving big-foot art-style.

Asterix and the Banquet originated in Pilote #172-213 (1963) and was inspired by the Tour de France cycle race.

After being continually humiliated by the intractable Gauls coming and going as they pleased, Roman Inspector General Overanxius instigated a policy of exclusion and built a huge wall around the little village, determined to shut them off from their country and the world.

Incensed, Asterix bet the smug Prefect that Gauls could go wherever they pleased and to prove it invited the Romans to a magnificent feast where they could sample the culinary delights of the various regions. Breaking out of the stockade and through the barricades, Asterix and Obelix went gathering produce from as far afield as Rotomagus (Rouen), Lutetia (Paris, where they also picked up a determined little mutt who would eventually become a star cast-member), Camaracum (Cambrai) and Durocortorum (Rheims), easily evading or overcoming the assembled patrols and legions of man-hunting soldiers. However, they didn’t reckon on the corrupting power of the huge – and growing – bounty on their heads…

Some Gauls were apparently more greedy than patriotic…

Even with Asterix held captive and all the might of the Empire ranged against them, Gaulish honour was upheld and Overanxius, after some spectacular fights, chases and close calls eventually was made to eat his words – and a few choice Gallic morsels – in this delightful, bombastic and exceedingly clever celebration of pride and whimsy.

Asterix and Cleopatra ran from 1963-1963 in issues #215-257 and although deriving its title from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, is actually a broad visual spoof of the 1963 movie blockbuster Cleopatra (the original collected album cover was patterned on the film poster).

Rome was a big empire to run but Caesar always had time to spare for the fascinating Queen of Egypt – even though she could be a little overbearing at times…

When Caesar called her people decadent, Cleopatra announced that her Egyptians would build a magnificent palace within three months to prove their continued ingenuity and vitality.

Her architect Edifis was less confidant and subcontracted the job, recruiting his old friend Getafix the Druid to help, with Asterix, Obelix and faithful pooch Dogmatix coming along to keep him out of trouble…

After another short, sharp visit with the pirates, the voyagers reached the Black Lands only to find the building site a shambles. Edifis’ arch rival Artifis had jealously stirred up unrest among the labourers and consequently sabotaged the supply-chain, entombed the visitors in a deadly tourist-trap and even framed Edifis by attempting to poison the Queen.

For all these tactics the ingenious Gauls had a ready solution and the Palace construction continued apace, but when Caesar, determined not to lose face to his tempestuous paramour, sent his Legions to destroy the almost-completed complex, it was up to the two smallest, smartest warriors to come up with a solution to save the day, the Palace and the pride of two nations…

Outrageously fast-paced and funny and magnificently illustrated by a supreme artist at the very peak of his form, Asterix and Cleopatra is one of the very best epics from a series that has nothing but brilliant hits.

These albums are available in a wealth of differing formats and earlier editions going all the way back to the 1969 Brockhampton editions are still readily available from a variety of retail and internet vendors – or even your local charity shop and jumble sale.

Be warned though, that if pure continuity matters only Orion, the current British publisher, has released the nearly 40 albums in chronological order – and are in the process of re-releasing the tales in Omnibus editions; three tales per tome.

Also, on a purely aesthetic note some of the Hodder-Dargaud editions have a rather exuberant approach to colour that might require you to don sunglasses but could save you a fortune on lighting your house… and possibly heating it too…

This is supremely enjoyable comics storytelling and if you’re still not au fait with these Village People you must be as Crazy as the Romans ever were…

© 1964-1965 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Dial H For Hero


By Dave Wood, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-4012-2648-0

The entire world was going crazy for costumed crusaders in the mid-Sixties and every comicbook publisher was keenly seeking new ways to repackage an extremely exciting yet intrinsically limited concept. Perhaps its ultimate expression came with the creation of a teen-aged everyman champion who battled crime and disaster in his little town with the aid on a fantastic wonder-tool…

This slim monochrome compendium collects the entire run from House of Mystery #156 (January 1966) to #173 (March-April 1968) when the comicbook disappeared for a few months to re-emerge as DC’s first – of many – anthological supernatural mystery titles.

Created by Dave Wood and Jim Mooney, Dial H For Hero recounted the incredible adventures of boy genius Robby Reed who lived with his grandfather in idyllic Littleville where nothing ever happened…

Criminally, very little is known about writer Dave Wood, whose prolific output began in the early days of the American comics industry and whose work includes such seminal classics (often with artistic legends Jack Kirby and Wally no-relation Wood) as Challengers of the Unknown and the seminal “Space Race” newspaper strip Sky Masters.

A skilled “jobbing” writer, Wood often collaborated with his brother Dick, bouncing around the industry, scripting mystery, war, science fiction and adventure tales. Among his/their vast credits are stints on most Superman family titles, Batman, Detective Comics, World’s Finest, Green Arrow, Rex the Wonder Dog, Tomahawk, Blackhawk, Martian Manhunter and many others. As well as Dial H For Hero Wood created the sleeper hit Animal Man and the esoteric but fondly regarded Ultra, the Multi-Alien.

James Noel Mooney started his comics career in 1940, aged 21 and working for the Eisner & Eiger production shop and Fiction House on The Moth, Camilla, Suicide Smith and other B-features. By the end of the year he was a mainstay of Timely Comic’s vast funny animal/animated cartoon tie-in department.

In 1946 Jim moved to DC to ghost Batman for Bob Kane and Dick Sprang. He stayed until 1968, working on a host of features including Superman, Superboy, Legion of Super-Heroes, World’s Finest and Tommy Tomorrow, plus various genre short stories for the company’s assorted anthology titles like Tales of the Unexpected and House of Mystery.

He also drew Supergirl from her series debut in Action Comics #253 to #373, after which he headed for Marvel and stellar runs on Spider-Man, Marvel Team-up, Omega the Unknown, Man-Thing, Ghost Rider and a host of other features as both penciller and inker. Just before that move he was working on Dial H For Hero; the only original DC feature he co-created.

Big things were clearly expected of the new feature, which was parachuted in as lead and cover feature, demoting the venerable Martian Manhunter to a back-up role at the end of each issue.

The first untitled story opens with an attack on the local chemical works by super-scientific criminal organisation Thunderbolt just as Robby and his pals were playing in the hills above the site. As they fled the plucky lad was caught in a landslide and fell into an ancient cave where lay an obviously alien artefact that looked like an outlandish telephone dial.

After finding his way out of the cavern Robby became obsessed with the device and spent all his time attempting to translate the arcane hieroglyphs on it. Eventually he determined the writings were instructions to dial the symbols which translate to “H”, “E”, “R” and “O”…

Ever curious Robby complied and was transformed into a colossal super-powered “Giantboy”, just in time to save a crashing airliner and stop another Thunderbolt raid. Returning home he reversed the dialling process and went to bed…

These were and still are perfect wish-fulfilment stories: uncluttered and uncomplicated yarns hiding no great messages or themes: just straight entertainment expertly undertaken by experienced and gifted craftsmen who knew just how to reach their young-at-heart audiences, so no-one should be surprised at the ease with which Robby adapted to his new situation…

When Thunderbolt struck again next morning Robby grabbed his dial but was startled to become a different hero – high-energy being “The Cometeer”. Streaking to the rescue he was overcome by the raider’s super weapon and forced to use the dial to become Robby again. Undeterred, the lad tries again and as “The Mole” finally tracked the villains to their base and defeated them – although the leader escaped to become the series’ only returning villain…

Mr. Thunder was back in the very next issue as Robby became “The Human, Bullet”, bestial energy-being “Super-Charge” and eerie alien “Radar-Sonar Man” to crush ‘The Marauders from Thunderbolt Island’ whilst criminal scientist Daffy Dagan stole the H-Dial after defeating the boy’s temporary alter ego “Quake-Master”. Dagan became a horrifying multi-powered monster when he learned to ‘Dial “V” For Villain’ but after the defeated hero took back the artefact Robby redialed into techno-warrior “The Squid” and belatedly saved the day.

Clearly the Mystery in House of… was related to where the Dial came from, what its unknown parameters were and who Robby would transform into next. Issue #159 pitted “The Human Starfish”, “Hypno-Man” and a super-powered toddler named “Mighty Moppet” (who wielded weaponised baby bottles) in single combats with a shape-changing gang of bandits dubbed ‘The Clay-Creep Clan’ whilst ‘The Wizard of Light’ played with the format a little by introducing a potential love-interest for Robby in his best friend’s cousin Suzy…

It also saw the return of Giant-Boy, the introduction of sugar-based sentinel of Justice “King Candy” and the lad’s only transformation into an already established hero – the Golden Age legend Plastic Man.

Cynical me now suspects the move was a tester to see if the Pliable Paladin – who had been an inert resource since the company had bought out original publisher Quality Comics in 1956 – was ripe for a relaunch in the new, superhero-hungry environment.

DC’s Plastic Man #1 was released five months later…

House of Mystery #161 featured an awesome ancient Egyptian menace ‘The Mummy with Six Heads’ who proved too much for Robby as “Magneto” (same powers but so very not a certain Marvel villain) and “Hornet-Man” but not the intangible avenger “Shadow-Man”, after which ‘The Monster-Maker of Littleville’ was proved by “Mr. Echo” and “Future-Man” to be less mad scientist than greedy entrepreneur…

‘Baron Bug and his Insect Army’ almost ended Robby’s clandestine career when the boy turned into two heroes at once; but even though the celestial twins “Castor and Pollux” were overmatched, animated slinky-toy “King Coil” proved sufficient to stamp out the Baron’s giant mini-beasts, whilst human wave “Zip Tide”, living star “Super Nova” and “Robby the Super-Robot” were hard-pressed to stop the rampages of ‘Dr. Cyclops – the Villain with the Doomsday Stare’.

Things got decidedly peculiar in #165 when a clearly malfunctioning H-Dial called up ‘The Freak Super-Heroes’ “Whoozis”, “Whatsis” and “Howzis” to battle Dr. Rigoro Mortis and his artificial thug Super-Hood in a bizarrely captivating romp with what looks like some unacknowledged inking assistance from veteran brush-meister George Roussos (who popped in a couple more times until Mooney’s departure).

Suzie became a fixture and moved into the house next door with ‘The King of the Curses’ who found his schemes to plunder the city thwarted by “TheYankee-Doodle Kid” and “Chief Mighty Arrow”, a war-bonneted Indian brave on a winged horse…

In HoM #167 ‘The Fantastic Rainbow Raider’ easily defeated “Balloon Boy” and “Muscle Man” but had no defence against the returning Radar-Sonar Man, whilst ‘The Marauding Moon Man’ easily overmatched Robby as “The Hoopster” but had no defence when another glitch turned old incarnations Mole and Cometeer into a single heroic composite imaginatively christened “Mole-Cometeer”, but the biggest shock of all came when ‘The Terrible Toymaster’ defeated Robby as “Velocity Kid” and Suzy cajoled the fallen hero into dialling her into the scintillating “Gem Girl” to finish the job.

As it was the 1960s, Suzy didn’t quite manage on her own, but when Robby transformed into the psionically-potent “Astro, Man of Space” they soon closed the case – and toybox – for good. This one was all Mooney and so was the next.

‘Thunderbolt’s Secret Weapon’ was also the artist’s last outing with the Kid of a Thousand Capes as the incorrigible cartel tried to steal a supercomputer only to be stopped dead by “Baron Buzz-Saw”, “Don Juan” (and his magic sword) and the imposing “Sphinx-Man”.

With House of Mystery #171 a radical new look emerged, as well as slightly darker tone. The writing was clearly on the wall for the exuberant, angst-free adventurer…

‘The Micro-Monsters!’ was illustrated by Frank Springer and saw Robby dial up “King Viking – Super Norseman”, “Go-Go” a hipster who utilised the incredible powers of popular disco dances (how long have I waited to type that line!!!?) and multi-powered “Whirl-I-Gig” to defeat bio-terrorist Doc Morhar and belligerent invaders from a sub-atomic dimension.

Springer also drew ‘The Monsters from the H-Dial’ wherein the again on-the-fritz gear turned his friend Jim into various ravening horrors every time Robby dialled up. Luckily the unnamed animated pendulum, Chief Mighty Arrow and “the Human Solar Mirror” our hero successively turned into proved just enough to stop the beasts until the canny boy could apply his trusty screwdriver to the incredible artefact again.

In those distant days series ended abruptly, without fanfare and often in the middle of something… and such was the fate of Robby Reed. HoM#173, by Wood and Sal Trapani saw the lad solve a mystery in ‘The Revolt of the H-Dial’ wherein the process turned him into water-breathing “Gill-Man” and a literal “Icicle Man”: beings not only unsuitable for life on Earth but also compelled to commit crimes. Luckily by the time Robby had become “Strata Man” he’d deduced what outside force was affecting his dangerously double-edged dial…

And that was that. The series was gone, the market was again abandoning the fights ‘n’ Tights crowd and on the horizon was a host of war western, barbarian and horror comics…

Exciting, fun, engaging and silly in equal amounts (heck, even I couldn’t resist a jibe or too and I genuinely revere these daft, nostalgia-soaked gems) Dial H For Hero has been re-imagined a number of time since these innocent odysseys first ran, but never with the clear-cut, unsophisticated, welcoming charm displayed here.

This is Ben-10 for your dad’s generation and your kid’s delectation: and only if they’re at just that certain age. Certainly you’re too grown up to enjoy these glorious classics. Surely you couldn’t be that lucky; could you…?

© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2010 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Golden Sickle and Asterix and the Goths


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion/Hodder-Darguad/Brockhampton)
Orion ISBNs: 978-0-75286-605-5, 978-0-75286-613-0 and 978-0-75286-615-4

Sorry, Baudelaire, Balzac Proust, Sartre, Voltaire, Zola and all you other worthy contenders; Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export: a feisty, wily little warrior who fought the iniquities and viewed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and, whenever necessary, a magical potion which imbued the imbiber with incredible strength, speed and vitality.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created at the very end of the 1950s by two of the art-forms greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo and even though the perfect partnership ended in 1977 the creative wonderment still continues – albeit at a slightly reduced rate of rapidity.

René Goscinny is arguably the most prolific and remains one of the most read writers of comicstrips the world has ever known. Born in Paris in 1926, he grew up in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age René showed artistic promise, and studied fine arts, graduating in 1942.

In 1945 while working as junior illustrator in an ad agency his uncle invited him to stay in America, where he found work as a translator. After National Service in France he returned to the States and settled in Brooklyn, pursuing an artistic career and becoming in 1948 an assistant for a little studio which included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (Morris, with whom Goscinny produced Lucky Luke from 1955-1977) and Joseph Gillain (Jijé). He also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Spirou.

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and Jerry Spring Goscinny was promoted to head of World Press’ Paris office where he met life-long creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time Rene created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (Martial) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio.

In 1955 Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier and Jean Hébrard formed the independent Édipress/Édifrance syndicate, creating magazines for business and general industry (Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory). With Uderzo he produced Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine and illustrated his own scripts for Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Goscinny clearly patented the 40-hour day. Using the nom-de-plume Agostini he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé) and in 1956 began an association with the revolutionary magazine Tintin, writing for various illustrators including Dino Attanasio (Signor Spagetti ), Bob De Moor (Monsieur Tric ), Maréchal (Prudence Petitpas), Berck (Strapontin), Globule le Martien and Alphonse for Tibet, Modeste et Pompon for André Franquin, as well as the fabulous and funny adventures of the incredible Indian brave Oumpah-Pah with Uderzo. He also wrote for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959 Édipress/Édifrance launched Pilote, and Goscinny went into overdrive. The first issue featured re-launched versions of Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet, new serials Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou (drawn by Godard) plus a little something called Asterix the Gaul, inarguably the greatest achievement of his partnership with Uderzo.

When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became editor-in-Chief, but still found time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (Martial), La Potachologie Illustrée (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx).

He also wrote frequently for television but never stopped creating strips such Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record (first episode January 15th 1962) illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote.

Goscinny died – probably of well-deserved pride and severe exhaustion – in November 1977.

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes, on the Marne, the son of Italian immigrants. As a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien he dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic and showed artistic flair from an early age. Albert became a French citizen when he was seven and found employment at 13 as an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When WWII broke out he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being decided upon the region became the only choice.

In the post-war rebuilding of France Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work, a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables, appeared in Junior and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for the world’s – and my – closer attention).

Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck.

He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche, and created the vertical comicstrip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir. In 1950 he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

Another inveterate traveller, the young artist met Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they produced a western starring a Red Indian that became the delightful and (eventually) popular Oumpah-Pah. In 1955 with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart, for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

The following year later, he made his debut in Tintin, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and a rapturous audience. Uderzo also worked Poussin et Poussif, La Famillle Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane

When Pilote launched in 1959 Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine with the series Charlier’s Tanguy et Laverdure and a little something called Asterix

Although Asterix was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (subsequently Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first adventure was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death the publication rate dropped from two per year to one volume every three to five).

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation and when Goscinny passed away three years later Uderzo was convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes since then.

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, he is the tenth most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – after his old mate René Goscinny and the grand master Hergé.

So what’s it all about?

Like all entertainments the premise works on two levels: as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a cropper for younger readers and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, transformed here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue.

Originally published in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959- 4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0, distributed on June 1, 1959), the story was set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50BC, where a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resisted every effort of the world-beating Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire has resorted to a policy of containment and the little seaside hamlet is hemmed in by the heavily fortified permanent garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

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

In Asterix the Gaul this perfect scenario is hilariously demonstrated when Centurion Crismus Bonus, fed up with his soldiers being casually beaten up by the fiercely free Frenchmen, sends reluctant spy Caligula Minus to ferret out the secret of their incredible strength.

The affable resistors take the infiltrator in and dosed up with potion, the perfidious Roman escapes with the answer – if not the formula itself…

Soon after, the Druid Getafix is captured by the invaders and the village seems doomed, but wily Asterix is on the case and breaks into Compendium determined to teach the Romans a lesson. After driving them crazy for awhile by resisting all efforts at bribery and coercion, wizard and warrior seemingly capitulate and make the Romans a magic potion – but not the one the rapacious oppressors were hoping for…

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer finesse of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish art-style. From the second saga on the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and was a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to the smart little hero…

These albums are available in a wealth of differing formats, and earlier translated editions going all the way back to the first Brockhampton editions in 1969 are still readily available from a variety of retail and internet vendors – or even your local charity shop and jumble sale. Be warned though that if pure continuity matters only the most recent British publisher, Orion, has released the nearly 40 albums in chronological order – which is how I intend to review them – and are even in the process of re-releasing the tales in Omnibus editions; three tales per tome.

Also, on a purely artistic note some of the Hodder-Dargaud editions have a rather unconventional approach to colour that might require you to wear sunglasses and put blinkers on your pets and staff…

Asterix and the Golden Sickle originated in Pilote #42-74 (August 11th 1960-1961) and recounts the disastrous consequences of Getafix losing his ceremonial gold sickle just before the grand Annual Conference of Gaulish Druids. Since time is passing and no ordinary replacement will suffice to cut ingredients for magic potion, Asterix offers to go all the way to Lutetia (you can call it Paris if you want to) to find another.

As Obelix has a cousin there, Metallurgix the Smith, he also volunteers and the two are swiftly off, barely stopping to teach assorted bandits the errors of their pilfering ways but still finding a little time to visit the many roadside inns and tavern serving roast boar…

There is a crisis in Lutetia: a mysterious gang is stealing all the Golden Sickles and forcing the prices up. The druid community is deeply distressed and more worrying still master sickle-maker Metallurgix has gone missing…

Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner and discover a nefarious plot that seems to go all the way to the office of the local Roman Prefect…

The early creative experiment was quickly crystallizing into a supremely winning format and the next epic cemented the strip’s status as a popular icon of Gallic excellence.

Asterix and the Goths ran from 1962-1963 and followed the plot-thread of the Druid Conference. As Getafix, new golden sickle in hand, sets off for the Forest of the Carnutes to compete, on the Gaul’s Eastern border savage Goths – barbarians who remained unconquered by the might of Rome – crossed into pacified Roman territory intent on capturing the mightiest Druid and turning his magic against the rule of Julius Caesar.

Although non-Druids aren’t allowed into the forest Asterix and Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge and as the competition round of the Conference ends in victory for him and his power-potion the Goths struck, abducting him in his moment of triumph.

Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, the heroic pair tracked the kidnappers but were mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania.

Although Romans were no threat they could be a time-wasting hindrance so Asterix and Obelix disguise themselves as Romans and invade the Barbarian lands…

Well-used to being held prisoner by now Getafix is making himself a nuisance to his bellicose captors and a genuine threat to the wellbeing of his long-suffering translator, and when Asterix and Obelix are captured dressed as Goths the wily Gauls conceive a cunning plan to end the permanent and imposing threat of Gothic invasion – a scheme that succeeded for almost two thousand years…

If, like me, you’re particularly interested (my wife calls it “sad”) in absolutely all the iterations you might also want to seek out back issues of British boys comic Ranger (1965-1966 and every one a gem!) and issues of Look and Learn immediately after the two titles merged (beginning with #232; 25th June 1966). Among the many splendid strips in the glossy, oversized photogravure weekly was an quirky comedy feature entitled ‘Britons Never, Never, Never, Shall Be Slaves!’ which featured the first appearance of Goscinny & Uderzo’s masterpiece – albeit in a radically altered state.

In these translations Asterix became “Beric”, Getafix was “Doric” and Obelix was dubbed “Son of Boadicea”. More jingoistically the entire village was editorially transported to England where a valiant population of True Brits never ever surrendered to the Roman Occupation!

Similar intellectual travesties occurred during two abortive early attempts to introduce the gutsy Gauls to America as a heavily re-edited family newspaper strip…

Asterix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into more than 100 languages; 8 animated and 3 live-action movies, assorted games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase that statistic by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.

© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Max


By Giovanetti (Macmillan, New York)
No ISBN

Pericle Luigi Giovanetti was a huge star in the cartoon firmament in the years following World War II and one look at his work will instantly show you why. Born in 1916 in Switzerland, this doyen of brilliant penmen launched his most famous character in Punch in April 1953 – from whence most of these scintillating escapades sprang (the remaining pieces are courtesy of Nebelspalter and Glamour).

Max is a small, round furry creature most likened to a hamster, whose wordless pantomimes were both cute and whimsical – as well as trenchantly self-deprecating. Don’t ask me how a beautifully rendered little puff-ball could stand for pride brought low and pomposity punctured, but he did. The weekly incidents were also blissfully free of mawkish sentimentality; a funny animal for adults and children.

Max was syndicated across the world, (known as Mr. Makkusu-san in Japan) numbering such diverse luminaries as Jason Robards and Charles Schulz as fans and even lending its image and cache to the British Navy and Swiss Air Force as mascot and figurehead.

There were four collections between 1954 and 1961: this one, Max Presents, Nothing But Max and the Penguin Max. Like these, two other collections, Beware of the Dog and Birds without Words, are also criminally out of print.

In this initial 96 page hardback the hairy hero happily demonstrates the challenges inherent in assorted musical instruments, ink-pens, all kind of cooking, drink, hats, hobbies and a host of other occupations and interests…

For all his trenchant ability to convey meaning and offer salutary warnings without uttering a sound, Max’s origins – and indeed species – was a subject of much dispute in the four corners of the globe until Clive King and Giovanetti revealed all in the magical children’s book Hamid of Aleppo, (written in 1958) which delightfully revealed the little wonder’s true origins, antecedents, taxonomy and species: Max is a Syrian Golden Hamster!

The sheer artistic virtuosity of Giovanetti is astounding to see and the fact that his work should be forgotten is a travesty and a crime. If you ever find a collection of his work do yourself the biggest favour of your life and grab it with both hands.

The internet is a wonderful thing. Just as it finally provided me with a book I’d been hunting out for decades it also revealed that I’d been a short-sighted idiot for not looking further afield – or indeed across the Channel.

A French edition was released in 2003 (ISBN-13: 978-2-21107-074-4) because our Gallic cousins have a far more informed opinion of comics and cartooning than us Anglos – and since all these glorious cartoons are wordless masterpieces that shouldn’t hinder anybody wishing to make the acquaintance of this magical superstar of yesteryear – and, hopefully tomorrow…
© 1954 Pericle Luigi Giovannetti. All Rights Reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 5: Wha’s a Jeep?


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-404-7

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894.His father was a handyman and Elzie’s early life was filled with the kinds of solid blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. He worked as a decorator and house-painter and played drums, accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre. When the town got a movie house he played for the silent films, absorbing the staging, timing and narrative tricks from the close observation of the screen that would become his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was while working as the film projectionist, aged 18, he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others he studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio (from where Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster would launch Superman upon the world), before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – arguably the inventor of newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown.

The senior artist introduced him around at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, Segar’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916. In 1918 he married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, but Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and packed the newlyweds off to New York headquarters of the mighty King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, which launched December 19th 1919 in the New York Journal. It was a pastiche of Movie features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies with a repertory cast to act out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies, for vast daily audiences. The core cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl, their lanky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and Olive’s plain and simple occasional boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (later just Ham Gravy).

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15; a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle (surely, no relation?).

A born storyteller, Segar had from the start an advantage even his beloved cinema couldn’t match. His brilliant ear for dialogue and accent shone out from his admittedly average adventure plots, adding lustre to stories and gags he always felt he hadn’t drawn well enough. After a decade or so and just as cinema caught up with the invention of “talkies” he finally discovered a character whose unique sound and individual vocalisations blended with a fantastic, enthralling nature to create a literal superstar.

Popeye the sailor, brusque, incoherent, plug-ugly and stingingly sarcastic, shambled on stage midway through the adventure ‘Dice Island’, (on January 17th 1929: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”) and once his part was played out, simply refused to leave. Within a year he was a regular and as the strip’s circulation skyrocketed, he became the star. Eventually the strip was changed to Popeye and all of the old gang except Olive were consigned to oblivion…

Popeye inspired Segar. The near decade of thrilling mystery-comedies which followed revolutionised the industry, laid the groundwork for the entire superhero genre (sadly, usually without the leavening underpinnings of his self-aware humour) and utterly captivated the whole wide world.

These superb oversized (almost 14 ½ by 10½ inches) hardback collections are the ideal way of discovering or rediscovering Segar’s magical tales. This fifth huge volume also contains an insightful introductory essay from Richard Marschall ‘Character and Personality in Thimble Theatre’ a captivating article of the period (‘Segar’s Hobbies Put Punch in Popeye Comics’) reprinted from Modern Mechanix and Inventions and a fascinating end-piece covering the assorted original art teasers editors used to promote upcoming tales in the magical days before television or viral ad campaigns over and above the increasingly incredible tales from the daily and Sunday strips.

The black and white Monday to Saturday section opens this volume, (covering July 25th 1935 to December 12th 1936) and encompassing one-and-a-half major storylines, beginning with the long-awaited conclusion of ‘Popeye’s Ark’ wherein the bold sailor-man carried out an ambitious plan to set up his own country of Spinachova. The incredible scheme was funded by misogynist millionaire Mr. Sphink who insisted that the new country be absolutely without women – and Popeye went along with it, recruiting a host of disaffected guys looking for a fresh start…

Soon however the thousands of able-bodied men populating the country were starving for any kind of female companionship – even Olive Oyl – who was currently exiled on an island of her own. Things got very strange when the lonely Spinachovans discovered a tribe of mermaids frolicking off the coast, but romance was soon forgotten when Brutian despot King Zlobbo decided the new nation must be his in ‘War Clouds’.

To scout out the potential opposition Zlobbo dispatched the beautiful spy Miss Zexa Peal, but as the most beautiful woman in the country – and indeed 50% of Spinachova’s female population – she wasn’t exactly inconspicuous…

When war broke out it resulted in Popeye’s greatest victory – with just a little excessively violent help from feisty “infink” baby Swee’ Pea…

By the conclusion of that epic tale all the players had returned to America, just in time for the introduction of the star of this tome. ‘Eugene the Jeep’ was introduced on March 20th 1936, a fantastic 4th dimensional beast with incredible powers that Olive and Wimpy used to get very rich very quickly, only to lose it all betting on the wrong guy in another of Segar’s classic and hilarious set-piece boxing matches between Popeye and another barely human pugilist…

This was an astonishingly fertile period for the strip. On August 4th Eugene was instrumental in kicking off another groundbreaking and memorable sequence as the entire ensemble cast took off on as haunted ship to undertake ‘The Search for Popeye’s Papa’.

When Popeye first appeared he was a shocking anti-hero. The first Superman of comics was not a comfortable hero to idolise. A brute who thought with his fists and didn’t respect authority; uneducated, short-tempered, fickle (when hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes – or thereabouts – at him), a gambler and troublemaker, he wasn’t welcome in polite society…and he wouldn’t want to be.

Popeye was the ultimate working class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate and unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not, a joker who wants kids to be themselves but not necessarily “good” and a man who takes no guff from anyone. As his popularity grew he somewhat mellowed. He was always ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows. He was and will always be “the best of us”… but the shocking sense of unpredictability, danger and anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed by 1936 – so Segar brought it back again…

This memorable and riotous tale introduced the ancient and antisocial crusty reprobate Poopdeck Pappy and his diminutive hairy sidekick Pooky Jones during another fabulous voyage of discovery. The elder mariner was a rough, hard-bitten, grumpy brute quite prepared and even happy to cheat, steal or smack a woman around if she stepped out of line… Once that old goat was firmly established Segar set Popeye and Olive the Herculean task of ‘Civilizing Poppa’ which is where the monochrome adventures conclude…

The full-colour Sunday pages in this volume span April 4th 1935 to September 13th 1936, and see the bizarrely entertaining Sappo (and Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle) supplemental strip gradually diminish to allow the Popeye feature even more room to excel and amaze. Eventually Sappo became a cartooning tricks section which allowed Segar to play graphic games with his readership and Popeye’s Cartoon Club also disappeared, as the focus inexorably shifted to Popeye and Co. in alternating one-off gag strips and extended sagas. However the Sailor-Man had to fight for space with his mooching co-star J. Wellington Wimpy…

When not beating the stuffing out of his opponents or kissing pretty girls, Popeye pursued his flighty, vacillating and irresolute Olive Oyl with exceptional verve, if little success, but his life was always made more complicated whenever the unflappable, so-corruptible and adorably contemptible Wimpy made an appearance.

The engaging Micawber-like coward, moocher and conman was first seen on 3rd May 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s regular boxing matches. The scurrilous but polite oaf obviously struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Always hungry, eager to take a bribe and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and ‘let’s you and him fight’ Wimpy is the perfect foil for a simple action hero and often stole the entire show.

Infinitely varying riffs on Olive’s peculiar romantic notions or Wimpy’s attempts to cadge food or money for food were irresistible to the adoring readership, but Segar wisely peppered the Sundays with longer episodic tales, such as the cast’s Gold prospecting venture to  the inhospitable western desert of ‘Slither Creek’ (April 14th – August 25th 1935) and the sequel sequence wherein the temporarily wealthy but eternally starving Wimpy buys his own diner – the ultimate expression of blind optimism and sheer folly…

The uniquely sentimental monster Alice the Goon returned to the strip on February 23rd 1936, permanently switching allegiance and becoming the nanny of the rambunctious tyke Swee’ Pea and a cast regular by the end of April.

August 9th saw Eugene the Jeep make his Sunday debut and demonstrations of the fanciful beast’s incredible powers to make money and cause chaos fill out this fifth fantastic tome…

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought on hearing the name is an unintelligible, indomitable white-clad sailor always fighting a great big beardy-bloke and mainlining tinned spinach, that’s okay: the animated features have a brilliance and energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into Thimble Theatre and wouldn’t leave. But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure…

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good and some are truly excellent. However with only one more volume of Elzie Segar’s comic masterpiece to come – starring the very best Popeye of them all – don’t you think it’s about time you sampled the original and very best?

© 2011 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2011 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Betty and Veronica Storybook: Archie & Friends All-Stars Series volume 7


By Dan Parent, Rick Koslowski & Jim Amash (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-60-3

Archie Andrews has been around for nearly seventy years: a good-hearted lad lacking common sense and Betty Cooper the pretty, sensible girl next door, with all that entails, who loves the ginger goof. Veronica Lodge is a rich, exotic and glamorous debutante who only settles for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Despite their rivalry, Betty and Veronica are firm friends. Archie, of course, can’t decide who or what he wants…

Archie’s unconventional best friend Jughead Jones is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming triangle (+ one) has been the foundation of decades of cartoon magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of the growing youth culture, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of mythical Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up.

In this collection, reprinting tales from 1995-2009, the warring gal-pals and extended cast of the small-town American Follies are plunged deep into whimsy and fable as writer/artist Dan Parent reinterprets classic fairytales and popular classics like a New World Crackerjack Christmas Panto (and boy, will that reference baffle anybody not British and/or under thirty), providing wry and often outright hilarious takes on the eternal nature and magic of young love…

Dotted with funny fashion page pin-ups such as ‘Storybook Style’ and ‘Bewitching Beauties’, lovely cover reproductions and behind-the-scenes commentaries, the wild whimsy begins with ‘Betty in Wonderland’ (inked by Jim Amash) wherein the ever-helpful Miss Cooper gives up a date with Archie to babysit for a neighbour in need. Letting her imagination run wild, her bedtime reading of the Lewis Carroll classic repopulates the tale with some very familiar faces…

Especially effective are science nerd Dilton as the sagacious caterpillar and Jughead and mean Reggie as Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum. However picturing Veronica as the vicious Blood-red Queen of Hearts might have been a little too close to the truth…

‘Sleeping Betty’ is another enchanting retelling as baby Princess Betty is cursed by the evil fairy Veronica to fall into a deep sleep on her sixteenth birthday. To thwart the hex the little princess was sent away to be raised in secret, but Veronica’s reach is long… Luckily there’s a red-headed prince hanging around…

‘There’s No Place Like… Riverdale’ (inked by Rich Koslowski) transports Betty and her little cat Carmel to a fantastic land over the rainbow where she lucks into some highly desirable Ruby Sneakers. To get home she needs unconventional help in the unappealing shapes of Archie the Scarecrow, Tin Man Jughead and the Cowardly Reggie, so it’s a good thing that Veronica is less a Wicked Witch and more a sorcerous spoiled brat…

The last tale in this collection is ‘Cinderellas’ (Amash inks again) as both girls find themselves helpless drudges working for an evil new mom and dreaming of a prince to whisk them away. Despite the sabotaging antics of mean stepsister Cheryl Blossom and a pretty second-rate Fairy Godmother, Cideronica and Cinderbetty overcome all odds and go to the Ball. In the slipper-sampling aftermath, thanks to some deft plotting, both girls get a happy ending…

Charming and clever, these tales are a marvellous example of why Archie has been unsurpassed in this genre; providing decades of family friendly fun and wholesome teen entertainment. Moreover, aspiring creators will also delight in the closing Sketch Book section of this collection which provides a fascinating glimpse of Parent’s original pencilled art in 9 pages culled from the preceding stories.

© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Batman Beyond


By Hilary J. Bader, Rich Burchett, Joe Staton & Terry Beatty (DC comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-604-0

The Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in the 1990s revolutionised the Dark Knight and also led to some of the absolute best comicbook adventures in his seventy-year publishing history with the tie-in monthly printed series. With the Dark Knight’s small screen credentials firmly re-established, follow-up series began (and are still coming), even recently feeding back into the overarching DCU continuity.

Following those award-winning cartoons in 1999 came a new incarnation set a generation into the future, featuring Bruce Wayne in the twilight of his life and a new teenaged hero picking up the eerily-scalloped mantle. In Britain the series was inspirationally re-titled Batman of the Future but for most of the impressed cognoscenti and awe-struck kids everywhere it was Batman Beyond!

Once again the show was augmented by a cool kid’s comicbook and this collection re-presents the first 6-issue miniseries in a hip and trendy, immensely entertaining package suitable for fans and aficionados of all ages. Although not necessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience…

All stories are written by Hilary J. Bader and the book opens with a two part adaptation of the pilot episode, illustrated by Rick Burchett & Terry Beatty. ‘Not On My Watch!’ offers brief glimpses of the last days of Batman’s crusade against crime before age, infirmity and injury slow him down to the point of compromising his principles and endangering the citizens he’s sworn to protect.

Years later Gotham City in the mid-21st century (notionally accepted as 2039AD – 100 years after the comic book debut of Batman in Detective Comics #27) is a dystopian urban jungle where angry, rebellious school-kid Terry McGinnis strikes a blow against pernicious street-punks The Jokerz and is chased out of the metropolis to the gates of a ramshackle mansion.

Meanwhile his research-scientist father has discovered too much about the company he works for…

Wayne-Powers used to be a decent place to work before old man Wayne became a recluse. Now Derek Powers runs the show and is ruthless enough to do anything to increase his profits… Outside town Terry is saved from a potentially fatal encounter with the Jokerz by a burly old man who then collapses. Helping the aged Bruce Wayne inside the mansion Terry discovers the long neglected Batcave before being chased away by the surly Wayne but doesn’t really care until he gets home to find his father has been murdered…

A storm of mixed emotions, he returns to Wayne Manor…

The concluding chapter ‘I Am Batman’ sees McGinnis attempt to force Wayne to act before giving up in frustration and stealing the hero’s greatest weapon; a cybernetic bat-suit that enhances strength, speed, durability and perception. Alone, untrained and unaided the new Batman sets to exact justice and revenge…

In the ensuing clash with Powers the unscrupulous entrepreneur is mutated into a radioactive monster named Blight before Wayne and Terry reach a tenuous truce and understanding. For the moment Terry will continue to clean up the Dark Knight’s city as a probationary, apprentice hero…

With issue #3 Bader, Burchett & Beatty began to tell original stories in the newly established future Gotham, commencing with ‘Never Mix, Never Worry’ wherein Blight returns to steal a selection of man-made radioactive elements which can only be used to cause harm… or can they?

Joe Staton took over the pencilling with #4 as a schoolboy nerd freed a devil from limbo and old man Wayne introduced the cocksure Terry to parapsychologist Jason Blood and his eldritch alter ego Etrigan the Demon in the spooky shocker ‘Magic Is Everywhere’, a sentiment repeated when a school-trip to the museum unleashed ancient lovers who fed on the life energy in the delightfully comical tragedy of ‘Mummy, Oh! and Juliet’

This captivating compendium of action and adventure ends in another compelling and edgy thriller as Terry stumbles into a return bout with a shape-shifting super-thief in ‘Permanent Inque Stains’, only to find that there are far worse crimes and far more evil villains haunting his city…

Fun, thrilling and surprisingly moving, these tales are magnificent examples of comics that appeal to young and old alike and are well overdue for re-issue. And once that’s done, there’s still another 24 issues from the 1999-2001 run plus a Return of the Joker one-shot to collect in spiffy graphic novel compilations…

In 2000 Titan Books released a British edition re-titled Batman of the Future (to comply with the renamed UK TV series) and this version is a little easier to locate by those eager to enjoy the stories rather than own an artefact.
© 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck and the Junior Woodchucks


By Carl Barks and others (Gladstone Comic Album #18)
ISBN: 978-0-944599-18-4

Amongst the other benefits to derive from the radical shake up of the American comics industry in the 1980s (specifically the creation of a specialist retailing sector that ended the newsstand monopoly by sale or return distributors) was the opportunity for small publishers to expand their markets. A plethora of companies with new titles quickly came and went, but there was also the chance for wiser or luckier heads to get their product seen by potential fans who had for so very long been subject to a DC/Marvel duopoly.

Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Disney strips in oversized albums based on a format popular for decades in Scandinavia and Europe. Reintroduced to the country of their birth the archival material quickly led to a rapid expansion and even resulted in new comicbooks being created for the first time since Dell/Gold Key quit the comics business.

Carl Barks was born in Oregon in 1901 and reared in the wilder parts of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He had many jobs before settling into storytelling with pen and brush. He drifted into cartooning in the 1930s, joining the Disney animation studio before quitting in 1942 to work in the fresh field of comicbooks.

Destiny called when he and studio partner Jack Hannah (also an occasional strip artist) adapted a Bob Karp script for a sidelined animated short feature into the comicbook Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (Dell Four Color Comics #9). Although not Barks’ first published work, it was the story that dictated the rest of his career.

From the late 1940’s to the mid-1960s Barks beavered away in seclusion writing and drawing a vast array of comedy-adventures for kids, based on and expanding Disney’s Duck characters stable. Practically single-handed he built a cohesive feathered Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters such as Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952) and Magica De Spell (1961) and the great granddaddy of all money-spinners Scrooge McDuck who premiered in the Donald Duck Yule yarn ‘Christmas on Bear Mountain’ (Four Colour Comics #178 December 1947).

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

So potent were Barks’ creations that they inevitably fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his comic work was done for the licensing company Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly the animated series Duck Tales, heavily based on his comics output of the 1950s-1960s, particularly on the exploits of the hilariously acerbic boy-scouting skits featuring Donald and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie – capable members of the unflappable “Junior Woodchucks”…

This irrepressible catalogue of delight opens with ‘Operation Rescue Saint Bernard’ (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #125 February 1951) in which the kids, ever-hungry for Woodchuck merit badges and the concomitant glory they bestow, decide to train Donald’s useless, snow-fearing couch-potato dog in the fine art of Alpine Rescue. It would have gone so well if only Donald had not decided to take charge of the program…

Barks’ inestimable and lasting influence was felt around the globe, as the next tale, produced by the criminally anonymous Scandinavian-based Gutenberghus Group laconically reveals.

In ‘Protective Cacophony’ Woodchuck Supremo S.Q.U.A.C.K.B.O.X. (a running feature of the ersatz scout tales was outrageously faux titles and obscurely verbose acronyms for assorted ranks; thus Subliminal Quieter of Unctuously Athletic Caterwaulers and Kiboshers of Bombastic Oratorializing Xenophobes) orders the lads to ensure that a rare bird nesting in Duckberg remains undisturbed. However, when sometime twitcher (that’s birdwatcher to you and me) Donald insists on helping, his overenthusiastic participation almost gives the nervous avian a coronary.

Fun, fast and fanciful, this fable is a perfect example of the Barks method in action…

From Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #132 (September 1951) comes another memorable Barks original. ‘Ten-Star Generals’ is a wry and raucous romp wherein the rank-hungry duck boys attempt to win even more badges and attain high status among their fellow wilderness pioneers. Donald, whose own boyhood scout troop “the Little Booneheads” were far less stringent and ethical, wants to aid them in any way possible, even cheating on their behalf, but decency and Woodchuck moral fibre wins out in the end – as Donald learns to his cost…

The highly competent Gutenberghus Group also crafted ‘Course Play’ as the boys seek the admiration of their diminutive peers in a pathfinder competition only to once more suffer for Donald’s less than scrupulous meddling. As always, however fair play and quick wits win the boys their undeniable due in the end.

After a sharp single-page entrepreneurial gag starring the nephews from Donald Duck’s appearance in Four Colour Comics #408 (July-August 1952) this jolly jamboree ends in a classic confrontation in the eternal battles of the sexes.

‘The Chickadee Challenge’ (from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #181, October 1955) finds the lads and the entire Woodchuck troop compelled to defend their prowess, pride and manly craft skills after an insulting dare from the rival Little Chickadee Patrol. Bristling under the implied insult of being challenged by mere girls the Woodchucks haughtily accept but nothing goes right for them…Donald, as always, thinks it best if he lends a surreptitious underhanded hand…

As always this album is printed in the large European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) – although dedicated collectors should also seek out the publisher’s superb line of Disney Digests and the comicbooks which grew out of these pioneering tomes for more of the most madcap, wryly funny all-ages yarns ever concocted.

Dry wit, artistic verve and sly satirical punch made Carl Barks supreme among his very talented contemporaries and one of the most important anthropomorphic storytellers in fiction. No matter what your vintage or temperament if you’ve never experienced the captivating magic of Barks, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your credit cards to any search engine. So why don’t you…?

© 1989, 1955, 1952, 1951, 1950 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Archie American Series: Best of the Eighties volume 2


By Frank Doyle, George Gladir, Dan DeCarlo, Stan Goldberg & various (Archie Comics Publications)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-58-0

For most of us, when we say comicbooks people’s thoughts turn to buff men and women in garish tights hitting each other and lobbing trees or cars about, or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans – and indeed that has been the prolific norm of late.

For many years however, other forms and genres have waxed and waned, but one that has held its ground over the years – although almost now completely transferred to television – is the teen-comedy genre begun by and synonymous with a carrot topped, homely (at first just plain ugly) kid named Archie Andrews.

MLJ were a small publisher who jumped wholeheartedly onto the superhero bandwagon following the debut of Superman. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the common blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips and one-off gags. Pep made history with its lead feature The Shield, who was the industry’s first super-hero to be clad in the flag (see America’s First Patriotic Hero: The Shield).

Even while profiting from the Fights ‘N’ Tights crowd Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market and in December 1941 the action strips were supplemented by a wholesome ordinary hero; an “average teen” who had ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick heavily emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a wholesome youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. It all started with an innocuous six-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ which introduced boy-goofball Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story as did the small-town utopia of Riverdale.

It was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had graduated to its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and began the slow transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Phenomenon (Superman being the first).

By May 1946 the kids had taken over, and the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming to all intents and purposes a publisher of family comedies. Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies, pop-songs and even a chain of restaurants.

Those costumed cut-ups have returned on occasion (see High Camp Superheroes), but the company now seems content to license them to DC whilst they concentrate on what they do uniquely best.

Archie is a good-hearted lad lacking common sense, Betty the pretty, sensible girl next door, with all that entails, who loves the ginger goof. Veronica Lodge is rich, exotic and glamorous and only settles for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Archie, of course, can’t decide who or what he wants…

This family-friendly eternal triangle has been the basis of seventy years of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending comedy encompassing everything from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, as the kids and an increasing cast of friends grew into an American institution. Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of the growing youth culture, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of mythical Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up.

Archie’s unconventional best friend Jughead Jones is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming triangle (and annexe) has been the rock-solid foundation for decades of comics magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

Archie has thrived by constantly reinventing its core characters, seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright, flimsy pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix (the company has managed to confront a number of social issues affecting the young in a manner both even-handed and tasteful over the years) and the constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck – who wants to be a cartoonist – his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and a host of others such as spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a broad and refreshingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle with Kevin Keller, an openly gay young man and a clear-headed advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream kids comics.

This second 1980s compendium collects a few further gems from the Era of Excess: Big Hair, make-up for Men, synth-pop music, Fashion Victims and Fad madness all playing heavily to the crowd and playing very funnily indeed. After an introduction from Glenn Scarpelli, (son of comic artist Henry and himself a recovering child-star of an Eighties sit-com) the merriment commences with ‘Health Nuts’ (from Betty & Veronica #302, February 1981) by Frank Doyle, Dan DeCarlo & Rudy Lapick wherein spoiled Veronica pops into the new ultra-swish Health Club to be stylish, but receives a rather destabilising shock after which ‘A Zest for the West’ (Pep #374, June 1981, George Gladir, Stan Goldberg & Bill Yoshida) finds school principal Mr. Weatherbee railing in vain against the inexorable tide of cowboy fashions following America’s rediscovery of all things Country and Western…

Video games and especially Mall Games Arcades began seducing kids at this time and ‘Test Zest’ (Betty & Veronica #312, December 1981 by Gladir & Dan DeCarlo Jr.) found Archie ignoring both his dream-dates for the bleeping boxes. However, where Ronnie spits and pouts, Betty found a way to turn the situation to her advantage, whilst Jughead proved that old-fashioned cunning beats speed, coordination and practise every time in ‘Game Acclaim’ from Archie’s Pals ‘N’ Gals #162 (January 1983 by Gladir, Goldberg & Rudy Lapick).

Another modern mainstay just beginning to proliferate was computers and Mr. Weatherbee made a grave mistake in ‘Input and Output’ (Archie & Me #140, August 1983, Doyle, Dan DeCarlo & Jimmy DeCarlo) when he let that Andrews boy program the school’s first ever bit of kit…

Stories regularly spoofed popular movies, TV shows and bands and in ‘Scheme Scamp’ (Archie #327, January 1984, by Gladir & DeCarlo Jr.) our hero and scurvy rich-kid rival Reggie battled long and hard to secure an interview for the school paper with hot girl band “the Ga-Ga’s” (don’t make me feel even older by having to explain the pun…)

After ‘Krazy Knits’ a pin-up of the Boys of Riverdale modelling chunky sweaters by Dan Decarlo Jr., ‘Cable Caboodle’ (Archie’s Pals ‘N’ Gals #171, September 1984, Gladir & Goldberg) described the joys and pitfalls of the cable TV revolution, and the subsequent ‘A Flair for Wear’ from Everything’s Archie #116, March 1985 by Gladir & Goldberg, found occasional bubblegum pop-stars The Archies (remember the global hit “Sugar, Sugar” in 1969 – well that was technically them) making their first promotional video…

Still focusing on the music scene the Archies support King of Pop Jackie Maxon (think about it: he has sparkly clothes and weird pets) and end up trying to keep his diary out of the hands of sleazy reporters in ‘The Book’ (Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #100, April 1985, Gladir, Goldberg & Lapick) whilst ‘Fashion Frolic’ (Archie’s Pals ‘N’ Gals #176, July 1985, Gladir, Hy Eisman & Jon D’Agostino) saw Mr. Weatherbee trying to quell the outrageous clothes the kids in the cliques were wearing to class.

‘Dimrider’ (Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #102, August 1985) by Ed Berdej, Dan & James DeCarlo lambasted action blockbusters with chilling accuracy whilst ‘Delightful Dilemma’ (Archie Giant Series #550, August 1985 by Gladir, Dan DeCarlo Jr. & James DeCarlo) returned to the basics of Betty and Veronica duelling over their oblivious “Archie-kins”.

‘Rock ‘n’ Rassle’ from Everything’s Archie #120 (November 1985, Gladir, Goldberg & Sal Trapani) referenced the revitalised, ultra-glamourised “sport” of televised wrestling and Punk hit Riverdale High hard in ‘Out of the Ordinary’ (Archie #354, January 1988 by Nate Butler, Dan DeCarlo Jr. & Jim DeCarlo) when our feckless star fell for leather-studded bad-girl Tina, leading to a startling new look for the freckle-faced fool…

Movie madness once more inspired mockery and mirth in ‘Robo-Teen’ (Laugh #13, April 1989, Gladir, Rex Lindsey & D’Agostino) as Archie suffered a tragic ski-boarding mishap before ‘Shlock Rock’ (Everything’s Archie #143, June 1989 by Gladir, Goldberg & Lapick) wraps up the reminiscent drollery with a barbed satire on the budding MTV generation.

These are some of the most effective and impressive stories from that brutal, bizarre decade, and by always concentrating on fashions, fads, and the eternal divide between rebellious teens and fun-thwarting adults achieves a kind of timeless permanence. Then is still now, due in large part to the overwhelming power of good writing and brilliant art, which will always captivate any audience of any age.

This is gentle fun and charming nostalgic delight for all ages so what are you waiting for? It’s not like it costs “Loadsamoney!”

© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Rip M.D.


By Mitch Schauer, Mike Vosburg, Michael Lessa, & Justin Yamaguchi (Lincoln Butterfield/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-369-9

Here’s a post-Christmas cracker that will delight monster-fans of all ages and signals a welcome return to upbeat and clever kids’ fiction.

Ripley Plimt is a bright lad with a hobby. Ever since he can remember he has adored classic monster movies. He’s an absolute expert on trivia, minutiae and lore. Now he’s eleven and all grown up he’s come to one inescapable conclusion… it’s all true!

When the kind-hearted lad mends a little bat’s broken wing one night it changes his life forever. Bitten by the fixing bug (but not the bat – that would be ungracious) he applies his unsuspected new skills to repairing the mouldering zombie corpse that shows up later – with the understanding and grudging approval of his parents and Uncle Will – and soon needy werewolves, protoplasmic blobs and ghost cats are all turning up to complicate his life.

The only real flies in the ointment are repulsive mortal kids Pretoria and Stanley DeMann, who used to live in Rip’s house and are prepared to go to extraordinary, murderous lengths to force the easy-going Plimpt family out…

Their millionaire dad is even worse and orchestrates a campaign of very human terror to get his way, almost driving Rip to abandon his unconventional dreams. However, the unscrupulous autocrat has some dark secrets of his own and Limbo the dead cat and a pretty little vampire girl know how best to exploit them…

Writer, artist, Producer, designer and Emmy® Award-winning animator Mitch Schauer (creator of Angry Beavers and Freakazoid!) is a founding member of Lincoln Butterfield, an independent animation company also comprising Robert Hughes and painter Michael Lessa. Comics veteran Mike Vosburg, who inked Schauer’s pencilled art here, has a glittering prize or two himself: as well as his funnybook career, he won his own Emmy® for directing Spawn cartoons and is chief storyboard artist for the Narnia movie franchise. Co-producing this snazzy graphic novel with electrically eclectic comics publisher Fantagraphics Books is LB’s first foray into print – but surely not their last.

With painted colour effects from Lessa and Justin Yamaguchi and including a wonderful development art section, this spectacular, spooktacular romp is a fabulously punchy, action-packed, wickedly funny treat for kids of all ages that will leave every reader voraciously hungry for more…

© 2010. All Rights Reserved. A joint production between Fantagraphics Books and Lincoln Butterfield.