Guide to Groot – a Sound Book

By Matthew K. Manning & Nicholas Rix (Becker & Mayer! books/Quarto)
ISBN: 978-0-7603-6217-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sheer Delight for Youngsters of Any Age… 9/10

Technically speaking, Groot is one of Marvel’s oldest characters, having debuted as a woody alien invader in Tales to Astonish #13 (cover-dated November 1960), a good year before Fantastic Four #1.

Crafted by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, ‘I Challenged Groot! The Monster from Planet X’ revealed how a studious biologist saved humanity from a rapacious rampaging tree intent on stealing Earth cities and shipping them back to his distant world. That tale’s not in this tome, because in the intervening decades the deciduous despot cleaned up his act, pruned off the bad wood and now resides firmly on the side of the good guys…

As a beloved star of print and screen, the leafy legend has profoundly planted himself in the hearts of kids everywhere and this nifty marriage of sound and vision allows readers to enjoy a succession of cool narrative image scenarios by Nicholas Rix whilst Rocket Raccoon (in his identity of author Matthew K. Manning) clarifies the intricacies of Groot’s seemingly limited vocabulary in text. And all while Groot emotes right in your ears!

This is all achieved via a selection of 10 pushbutton activated sound files, each revealing the utterance nuances of the titanic timber-man’s 3-word vocalisations.

Following Rocket’s Introduction, the lessons commence with “I Am Groot” which of course means ‘Hello’ whereas the second spoken “I Am Groot” reveals just how the super sapling says ‘Did You Mean This?’

You get the picture – and they’re all beautifully rendered illustrations of key moments featuring Star-Lord, Gamora, Mantis, Drax, Rocket and other old favourites – as they are followed in close order by ‘I Gotcha’, ‘Nope. Not Gonna Happen’, ‘Geez. Leave Me Alone, Already’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Trust Me. I Got This’, ‘I Want That!’, ‘Face My Wrath, Chumps!’ and ‘I Love You’

This is a marvellously accessible addition to any fan’s library or toybox so it’s a shame that Guide to Groot is not available in the UK yet. Still, as I’m sure you know the internet is your friend in situations like these…

I am Groot I am Groot I am Groot, I am Groot I am Groot I Am Groot I am Groot-I am Groot I am Groot I am…
© 2018 Marvel. MARVEL and all characters, names and distinct likenesses thereof ™ & © 2018 Marvel characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Walt Kelly’s Our Gang, Vol 1

By Walt Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN 978-1560977537

The movie shorts series Our Gang (latterly the Li’l Rascals) were one of the most popular in American Film history. Beginning in 1922 they featured the fun and folksy humour of a bunch of “typical kids”. Atypically though, there was always full racial equality and mingling – but the little girls were still always smarter than the boys. Romping together, they all enjoyed idealised adventures in a time both safer and more simple.

The rotating cast of characters and slapstick shenanigans were the brainchild of film genius Hal Roach who directed and worked with Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy amongst many others. These brief cinematic paeans to a mythic childhood entered the “household name” category of popular Americana in amazingly swift order.

As times and tastes changed Roach was forced to sell up to the celluloid butcher’s shop of MGM in 1938, and the features suffered the same interference and loss of control that marred the later careers of Stan and Ollie, the Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton.

In 1942 Dell released an Our Gang comicbook written and drawn by Walt Kelly who, consummate craftsman that he was, deftly restored the wit, verve and charm of the glory days via a progression of short comic stories which elevated lower-class American childhood to the mythic peaks of Dorothy in Oz, Huckleberry Finn or Laura Ingalls of Little House… fame.

Over the course of the first eight issues so lovingly reproduced in this glorious collection, Kelly moved beyond the films – good or otherwise – to scuplt an idyllic story-scape of games and dares, excursions, adventures, get-rich-quick schemes, battles with rival gangs and especially plucky victories over adults: mean, condescending, criminal or psychotic.

Granted great leeway, Kelly eventually settled on his own cast, but aficionados and purists can still thrill here to the classic cast of Mickey, Buckwheat, Happy/Spanky, Janet and Froggy.

Thankfully, after far too long a delay, today’s comics are once again offering material of this genre to contemporary audiences. Even so, many modern readers may be unable to appreciate the skill, narrative charm and lost innocence of this style of children’s tale. If so I genuinely pity them, because this is work with heart and soul, drawn by one of the greatest exponents of graphic narrative America has ever produced. I hope their loss is not yours.

© 2006 Fantagraphics Books. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek Classics volume 1 – The Gorn Crisis

By Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta & Igor Kordey (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-129-7

The Star Trek franchise has had many comic book homes. This action-heavy paperback tome (also available digitally) was originally released in the early years of the 21st century by DC/WildStorm and is narratively positioned during the period when Deep Space 9 was first being broadcast on television.

The book therefore tangentially informs and contributes to a seasons-long storyline featuring an intergalactic war between the Federation and its Alpha Quadrant allies on one side and the J’em Haddar warriors of The Dominion on the other. So if you’re a bugbear, completist or unfamiliar with the mileau, you might be left feeling a little bewildered. Nevertheless if you’re of a forgiving mien this adventure is a real ripsnorter…

In case you were wondering, The Gorn were an aggressive civilisation of reptiles who appeared in an episode of the original 1960s Star Trek TV show. The story was in fact an adaptation of a classic SF short story by Fred Brown entitled “Arena”, in which Captain Kirk and his Gorn opposite number were co-opted by a super-advanced race to represent their species in a brutal duel for galactic supremacy. The loser race would be curbed to avoid horrendous, bloody and nigh-eternal space-war.

A century later mankind and its intergalactic partners are losing just such a conflict with the Dominion and desperately seeking fresh allies. Thus Captain Jean-Luc Picard has been dispatched to the embargoed Gorn solar system to renew relations and broker a military alliance, but the USS Enterprise arrives just as the reptile’s own black-crested Warrior Caste – frustrated by a century of enforced peace – stages a bloody coup and subsequently launches an all-out attack on neighbouring worlds.

These planets are now, perhaps unwisely, packed with human colonists and Federation/Klingon bases…

Beaming down just in time to be captured amidst the remains of the Administrative caste, Picard, Dr. Beverly Crusher and their Away Team are promptly captured and can only subtly influence the outcome as Commanders Will Riker and amazing android Data battle with brilliance on two very different fronts to stop the marauding Gorn war-lovers…

With no back-up available from hard-pressed Starfleet, the Next Generation stalwarts must act independently and ingeniously to quell the barbarous uprising, restore order and build that elusive alliance with the Gorn. Their efforts won’t just dictate how the humans, Federation and reptiles will co-exist in the future, but might well decide if they exist at all…

Although not to everybody’s taste, and despite an occasional certain rough hesitancy in Igor Kordey’s fully-painted artwork, this tale from Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta does rattle along in the approved Star Trek manner, and even casual readers will come away with a sense of expectation fulfilled.

Moreover, augmenting the interstellar excitement is a comprehensive fact-file on the sinister sarurians entitled ‘The Gorn Dossier’, contributed by illustrator Kordey who apparently moonlights as a “Federation Anthropologist”. Here he highlights his root and branch redesign of the alien antagonists with biology, language, symbology, livery and weaponry all updated for discerning modern readers

Fast, fierce fun for lovers of high quality Space Opera so boldly go and give it a look.
Star Trek ® & © 2011 CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars: The Marvel Covers

By Jess Harrold & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9838-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect Last-Minute Stocking-Stuffer… 9/10

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the mythology of Star Wars. What you might not know is that the first sight future fanatics got of its breathtakingly expansive continuity and the mythology-in-the-making way back in 1977 was the premier issue of the Marvel comicbook tie-in. It hit shelves two weeks before the film launched in cinemas, setting the scene for a legion of kids and beginning a mini-phenomenon which encompassed the initial movie trilogy and expanded those already vast imaginative horizons.

Marvel had an illustrious run with the franchise – nine years’ worth of comics, specials and paperback collections – before the option was left to die.

Comicbook exploits were reinstated in 1993 by Dark Horse Comics who built on the film legacy with numerous titles – and a three more movies – until Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars in 2012. Around the same time, the home of Donald & Mickey also bought Marvel Comics and before long the original magic was being rekindled…

When Marvel relaunched the enterprise, they included not just a core title but also solo books for the lead stars. Star Wars #1 debuted on January 14th 2015, with Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Poe Damaron coming soon after.

That auspicious, eagerly-anticipated event was supplemented by a crucial component of modern comics publishing: variant covers. These are alternative frontages for the same comicbook, usually by big-name artists of as part of sub-tropes of the medium such as images “homaging” earlier covers or as part of an ongoing event, commemoration or even trends such as Skottie Young’s occasional series of star characters as comedic babies…

Star Wars #1 had a staggering 70 individual variant covers. Successive issues also had a plethora of the same. What is most interesting here is how many of the name artists – and writers – were inspired by the comics they had read as kids as well as the films. Thus this gleefully exuberant hardcover art-collection, gathering those myriad covers for the new launch and interviewing the creators responsible…

Following an Introduction from Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonzo, writer Jess Harold and those writers and artists discuss their childhood memories of the phenomenon and current revival in ‘The Force is Strong with This #1’. There are reviews of the media’s reaction to the relaunch in ‘Search Your Feelings’ whilst ‘Never Tell Me the Odds’ analyses the breakdown in percentages of which character made the most appearances on the variant covers.

Then John Cassaday provides monochrome art and intimate secrets in ‘You Cannot Escape Your Destiny’ before the first tranche of covers is revealed in ‘The Force is Strong with This One’. The variants deluge includes black-&-white versions or pencils-only iterations of fully-coloured covers and both are seen side by side here.

That stunning parade includes work from Cassaday, Laura Martin, Joe Quesada, Daniel Acuña, Simone Bianchi, Mark Brooks, J. Scott Campbell, Nei Ruffino, Pascal Campion, Frank Cho, Jason Keith and John Tyler Christopher plus photo-still movie variants.

‘I Have a Bad Feeling About This…’ concentrates on John Tyler Christopher’s faux action-figure packages and is followed by a feature on comics-only creation Jaxxon (a giant green rabbit) with photo covers and more variations on the theme from Amanda Conner, Paul Mounts, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Muntsa Vicente, Gabriele Dell’Otto,  Mike Del Mundo, Mike Deodato Jr., Frank Martin, Dave Dorman, Pasqual Ferry, Frank D’Armata, Jenny Frison, Stephanie Hans, Adi Granov, Greg Horn, Dale Keown, Jason Keith, Justin Ponsor, Salvador Larroca, Edgar Delgado, Alex Maleev, Mike Mayhew, Rainier Beredo, Mike McKone, Bob McLeod, Mike Perkins, Andy Troy, David Petersen, Sara Pichelli, Joe Quinones, Humberto Ramos, Paul Renaud, Alex Ross, Stan Sakai, Mico Suayan and Chris Sotomayor.

The aforementioned jovial junior japes of Skottie Young are then explored and exhibited in ‘Aren’t You a Little Short for a Stormtrooper?’ before ‘Chapter Two: Star Wars #2-6’ dissects successive releases in ‘The Circle is Now Complete’ with Jordan D. White talking to writers Jason Aaron (Star Wars), Kieron Gillen (Darth Vader) and Mark Waid (Princess Leia) about their formative years and the franchise. This is augmented by covers-&-variants by Cassaday & Martin, Sergio Aragonés, Howard Chaykin & Jesus Aburtov, Tyler Christopher, Ramos & Delgado, Leinil Francis Yu, Keith, Marte Gracia, Nick Bradshaw, Giuseppe Camuncoli & Israel Gonzalez and Phil Noto.

Chapter Three: Darth Vader #1-6’ concentrates on the Sith Lord’s series with ‘Give Yourself to the Dark Side…’ supplemented by covers from Granov, Bianchi, Mark Brooks, J. Scott Campbell & Ruffino and movie stills whilst ‘Never tell Me the Odds’ features images from Cassaday & Martin, Tyler Christopher, Del Mundo, Horn, Land, Larroca & Delgado and Whilce Portacio & Sotomayor.

‘There is No Try…’ concentrates on the contributions of mega-star illustrator Alex Ross with numerous covers and an in-depth examination of his working process from posed models to pencils to finished work, before a gallery of more Vader pieces by Suayan, Sotomayor, Young, Granov, Dave Dorman, Larroca & Delgado and Noto.

‘Chapter Four: Princess Leia #1-6’ concentrates on the avenger from Alderaan as ‘There is Another…’ offers background and a wealth of original art by series illustrators Terry & Rachel Dodson. Then comes their covers plus more from Brooks, Campbell & Ruffino, Cassaday & Martin, Tyler Christopher, Amanda Conner, Dell’Otto, Granov, Jackson Guice, Horn, Land & Ponsor, Ross, Suayan, Sotomayor, Young, Maleev, Francesco Francavilla, Noto and more movie photo-covers.

Wrapping up the fabulous picture-fest is a stroll down memory lane in ‘Star Wars: The Original Marvel Years’ harking back to ‘A Long Time Ago’ with a short selection of classic covers by Rick Hoberg & Dave Cockrum, Chaykin, Carmine Infantino, Walter Simonson, Ron Frenz, Cynthia Martin, Bill Sienkiewicz and Klaus Janson, plus a range of modern tributes by Granov, Chaykin, Greg Hildebrandt, Gene Day & Delgado and Tom Palmer.

It would appear that there is an inexhaustible appetite for views of “A Galaxy Far, Far Away…” and the Star Wars franchise has spawned an awful lot of comics. This fascinating art compendium celebrates the verve, vitality and sheer impact of the printed material in a way no fan could possibly resist – especially as the latest cinematic chapter is about to unfold…
STAR WARS and related text and illustrations ™ and/or © of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & ™ of Lucasfilm Ltd.  All rights reserved.

Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 volume 3 – The Shepherd’s Tale

By Joss Whedon, Zack Whedon, Chris Samnee & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-561-2

For those far too few people who actually saw it, Firefly remains one of the best science fiction TV shows ever created.

It was cancelled after one season. Buy the box set or seek it out from an on-demand/streaming media outlet as soon as you possibly can.

The select dejected fanbase were eventually delighted by the superb Serenity – one of the best science fiction movies ever released.

Rent it, buy it, watch it however you can.

Once you’ve done those things you’ll be properly primed to enjoy this superb and lavish full-colour hardback which offers long-awaited details into the troubled life of enigmatic preacher Book who joined reluctant freedom fighter Malcolm Reynolds and his oddball crew of reprobates aboard an independent trader starship of the Firefly class, under the most peculiar of circumstances…

If you aren’t au fait with “the ’Verse” yet – and did I mention the live action iterations are readily available and extremely entertaining? – here’s a little background.

After they used up Earth, humanity migrated to the stars and settled another star-system packed with hundreds of more or less hospitable planets and satellites. Now it’s the 26th century and mankind is living through the aftermath of a recent punishing internecine conflict known – by the victors – as the Unification War.

This still-sore and rankling clash saw the outer Colonies crushed after attempting to secede from the authoritarian Alliance of first-settled inner planets. Reynolds fought valiantly on the losing side and now spends his days eking out a living on the fringes of an increasingly repressive and dangerous universe: taking cargo and people from world to world – and hopefully avoiding the ever-expanding Alliance representatives – as a free agent skippering a small Firefly class cargo transport called Serenity.

It’s hard, risky work: often illegal and frequently dangerous – especially as the outer regions are where the insane cannibal berserker savages dubbed Reavers restlessly prowl.

Life changed forever after Serenity gave passage to Alliance doctor Simon Tam who was on the run after stealing his seemingly-psychic sister River from a top secret research project.

The Government spared no effort or expense to get her back and hounded the fugitives from pillar to post until Reynolds and his crew finally decided to push back.

At the cost of too many friends, the reluctant rebels uncovered the horrific secrets the Alliance were so desperate to keep hidden and broadcast them to the entire ’Verse …

During their TV voyages the Firefly crew was supplemented by a wise and gentle cleric of the Shepherd religion on a pilgrimage to who knew where. He offered moral guidance (mostly ignored), philosophical debate and emotional support as required, but every so often something Derrial Book said or did gave hints of lethal capabilities and a dangerous past the holy man always deftly avoided discussing…

Written by (series creator) Joss Whedon and Zack Whedon, illustrated by super-star in the making Chris Samnee (Daredevil, Thor: The Mighty Avenger, The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom) and sporting colours from Dave Stewart and letters by Steve Morris, this compelling book of revelations finally exposes the secrets and tells the life story of the show’s most intriguing character…

The episodic saga is told in flashes and snippets from end to beginning; starting with his eventual glorious passing and working backwards in dramatic instalments to the way and why it all began…

Along the road we see his turbulent time aboard Serenity, before moving into unexplored territory at placid Southdown Abbey where after much soul-searching he elected to rejoin the dangerous, tempting outer world…

From then it’s a jump back a full decade to when a drunken derelict near death received one more well-deserved beating and awoke to a moment of holy clarity in a bowl of soup…

From then a time-cut slashes back to the moment when Alliance high-flyer Officer Book personally oversaw the military’s greatest defeat and was cashiered out of the service with extreme prejudice…

Years prior to that another scene shows how far ambitious cadet Derrial would go to further his career before a further flashback reveals that the man we’ve been reading about was never Derrial Book at all, but instead a murderous sleeper agent planted within the Alliance.

And even further back we travel, learning what makes a boy into the kind of man who would endure mutilation and worse; contemplate constantly betraying everything he cares for in a dark yet redemptive tale exploring the most basic and abiding aspects of human nature…

With narrative tones reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Memento, this powerful testament to the force of personality, the bondage of upbringing and man’s infinite capacity for change is accompanied by an incisive and heartfelt Afterword – ‘The Journey is the Worthier Part…’ from scripter Zack Whedon, detailing the inspirations which fuelled many of the story’s most memorable scenes.

Poignant, compelling and explosively engaging, this is a tale no devotee should miss and a comic experience well able to stand apart from its live action roots.
Serenity © 2010 Universal Studios. Firefly™ and Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64™ and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man Worlds Unite Book 1: Deadly Fusion

By Ian Flynn, Joel Enos, Dan Schoening, Tracy Yardley, Terry Austin, Luis Antonio Delgado, Matt Herms, Ben Bates, Jack Morelli & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-62738-998-3

From the earliest days of comicbooks, the periodical pamphlets have been a cheap and effective way to augment brands and franchises: offering stopgap and interim “extra” adventures and experiences for stars like John Wayne, Roy Rogers or Alan Ladd, TV, movie and kids cartoon dynasties such as Star Trek, Tom & Jerry or Bugs Bunny and an almost infinite number of games, toys and even sugar-packed edibles.

It’s solid business sense and mutually advantageous: publishers get to sell comics, maintain space on shop shelves and cross-sell to new audiences whilst licensees get a relatively inexpensive method of keeping their properties active in at least part of the public consciousness in the long periods between blockbuster releases or off-season doldrums.

Since its 1991 release, Sega’s video game Sonic the Hedgehog has become a fully entrenched global phenomenon. Soon after the initial game release the speedy beast and his crime-busting animal associates became comicbook stars in Britain, America and all over the world.

In the USA, family friendly Archie Comics won the rights to publish an ever-expanding cast of characters beginning with a brace of miniseries in 1992 and 1993. Sonic the Hedgehog volume 3 debuted in July 1993 and has continued continuously ever since, becoming the longest-running game/toy based comicbook in American history at 283 issues and counting. With demand remaining high, the Hedgehog quickly generated a raft of spin-off titles such as Knuckles the Echidna and Sonic X to fill out a whole boutique universe of similarly-themed titles.

Decades later Capcom also picked Archie as publisher for their own complex, complicated and heavily cross-marketed video game franchise Rockman. You probably know it as Mega Man. An expanding line of comics started in April 2011 as the time-bending, dimension-hopping sci fi exploits of the plucky robot warrior and his worthy allies became another genuine funnybook phenomenon.

Last year the world – especially the corporate fantasy-scape shared by kids and game-playing adults – grew closer and overlapped when these two separate but intellectual properties clashed in a spectacular, monolithically successful team-up called Worlds Collide wherein the universes of Sonic and Mega Man were explosively thrown together, creating fresh worlds, a new kind of excitement and better villains to battle…

Nothing screams “sequel” like record-breaking sales and a legion of strident, thrill-starved fans, so that breakthrough meeting was swiftly revisited in an even more ambitious follow-up. The Worlds Unite event reunites the heroes and villains, encompassing all the disparate titles of both pantheons and will eventually fill three graphic novel compilations.

Deadly Fusions – gathering material from Sonic Universe #76, Sonic Boom #8, Sonic the Hedgehog #273, Mega Man #50, Sonic the Hedgehog: Worlds Unite Battles #1 and Mega Man: Worlds Unite Battles #1 – sets the ball rolling; filled with a frankly bewildering array of heroes and villains in constant (family-friendly) conflict, but that’s merely a tantalising, appetite-whetting prelude to cataclysmic and universe altering events yet to come…

Cooperatively crafted by scripters Ian Flynn & Joel Enos with art by Dan Schoening, Ben Bates, Tracy Yardley, Terry Austin, Luis Antonio Delgado, Matt Herms, Ben Bates, Jack Morelli & Rachel Deering, the drama begins when über-menace Sigma comes back from a furious future in the realm of Mega Man X to ally with contemporary master-menace Zavok and crazed terrorist Xander Payne. In his spare time Sigma also kidnaps Mega Man and Sonic’s respective arch-nemeses Dr. Wily and Dr. Eggman to create a legion of baddies dubbed the Deadly Six of Lost Hex

From his pocket dimension he then declares war on Mega Man’s world and that of Sonic and his animal allies. Sigma seems unstoppable after both heroes are defeated and “disappeared”, even though their friends the Robot Masters and Freedom Fighters valiantly take up the struggle.

However, as the tomorrow tyrant’s schemes inexorably near fruition, he is unaware that his captive scientific renegades are scurrilously working their own agendas: preparing to each become sole survivor and singular conqueror of all the varied realms of creation…

To Be Continued…

A non-stop, manic fight-fest to delight youngsters – and everybody with bulging thumbs who steadfastly hone their competitive natures on a console every chance they get – Deadly Fusion is an uncomplicated and relentless avalanche of non-stop rollercoaster action, packed with visually potent extras.

These include a handy prequel recap feature, a brace of ‘Bonus Battles’ vignettes, a series of gag-strips (by Bill Freiberger, Jonathan H. Gray, Lamar Wells, Rick Bryant & Aleah Baker), a copious sketch and design section detailing the development of the new characters and a truly vast gallery of covers and variants by Patrick “SPAZ” Spaziante, Rafa Knight, Ben Bates, Evan Stanley, Jamal Peppers, Phyllis Novin, Ben Hunzeker, Ryan Jampole, Gary Martin, Steve Downer, T. Rex, Roger & Idalia Robinson, Ed Huang, Irvin Rodriguez and Patrick Thomas Parnell.

Breathtaking and compulsive game-based fun –all that’s missing is the electronic beeping and explosion sounds, and I’m sure someone will be happy to provide those as the pages oh-so-swiftly turn…
© Sega. All rights reserved. CAPCOM, Mega Man and all related characters © CAPCOM. Published by Archie Comics Publications, Ltd under license.

Tarzan on Film

By Scott Tracy Griffin (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-568-1

Soon after the publication of Tarzan of the Apes in 1912, the character – thanks in no small part to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ acumen as a self-promoter – became a multi-media sensation and global star.

Many sequels followed; a comic strip arrived in 1929, followed by a radio show in 1932 and the Ape-Man inevitably carved out a solid slice of the comicbook market too once the industry was firmly established. However, the earliest and most effective promotional tool – one which took on a life of its own – was Tarzan’s frequent forays into the world of celluloid.

This impressive coffee-table art-book, released to coincide with the latest long-awaited movie, offers an eye-popping blend of intimate background, biographies and a critical overview, supplanted by hundreds of production stills, candid photos and – most welcome to art lovers – movie posters and promotional artwork from each theatre release.

Compiled and written by author and historian Scott Tracy Griffin (Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration), the book catalogues the history of the filmic franchise by focusing on every film and each actor to play the Ape-Man and his mate Jane, as well as finding room to spotlight the most memorable villains, glamorous femme fatales, supporting characters and even that purely filmic innovation Cheetah.

Affording equal importance to the large and small screen iterations – live-action or animated – the history lesson begins after an Foreword from past-Tarzan Casper Van Dien and traces the iconic, world-famous Jungle Lord from Elmo Lincoln in 1918’s Tarzan of the Apes (one of the first six films ever to gross more than a million dollars) through to today’s The Legend of Tarzan, with Alexander Skarsgård delivering the “victory cry of the Great Bull-Ape”…

There’s even a tantalising section on the “Original Kids” CGI series Tarzan and Jane forthcoming from Netflix…

This magnificently monolithic epic (224 pages and 262 x 23 x 333 mm) hardback volume is liberally illustrated with photographic stills and promo art, and also includes examples of Bob Kline’s production art and storyboards, model sheets and stills from the glorious Filmation Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle Saturday morning cartoon show from 1976-1984.

For the technically-minded and those of a completist bent there’s also a full list of The Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, including Tarzan Feature Films, Movie Serials, TV Movies and Series and thematically-linked Additional Films plus Acknowledgements and a copious catalogue of suggested Further Reading

It seems that whatever your vintage, there’s a nostalgia-drenched Tarzan waiting (mine is Ron Ely who starred as both TV and movie Man-Ape from 1966-1970) to spark old memories and foster fresh thrills and this is just the book to get those primal juices flowing.

Tarzan on Film is both intriguing and pretty: enticing and genuinely informative enough to keep any fan happy. If it’s not too soon for the “C” word it might well be this years first suggestion for giant-sized end-of year stocking-stuffer…
Tarzan ® & © 2016 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All images © 2016 Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., Warner Bros, or Walt Disney Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Archie vs. Predator

By Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski, Jason Millet & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-805-5

For nearly three-quarters of a century Archie Andrews has epitomised good, safe, wholesome fun, but inside the staid and stable company which shepherds his adventures there has always hidden an ingenious and deviously subversive element of mischief.

Family-friendly iterations of superheroes, spooky chills, sci-fi thrills and genre yarns have always been as much a part of the publisher’s varied portfolio as the romantic comedy capers of America’s cleanest-cut teens since they launched as MLJ publications in the Golden Age’s dawning.

As you probably know by now, Archie has been around since 1941, spending most of those seven-plus decades chasing both the gloriously attainable Betty Cooper and wildly out-of-his-league debutante Veronica Lodge whilst best friend Jughead Jones alternately mocked and abetted his romantic endeavours and rival Reggie Mantle sought to scuttle his every move…

As crafted over the decades by a legion of writers and artists who’ve skilfully logged innumerable stories of teenage antics in and around the idyllic, utopian small-town Riverdale, these timeless tales of decent, upstanding, fun-loving kids have captivated successive generations of readers and entertained millions worldwide.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the company has always looked to modern trends with which to expand upon their archetypal brief. In times past they have strengthened and cross-fertilised their stable of stars through a variety of team-ups such as Archie Meets the Punisher, Archie Meets Glee, Archie Meets Vampirella and Archie Meets Kiss, whilst every type of fashion-fad and youth-culture sensation have invariably been accommodated into and explored within the pages of the regular titles.

That willingness to dip traditional toes in unlikely waters led in 2015 to the publishers taking a bold and potentially controversial step which paid huge dividends and created another monster sales sensation…

The genesis of this most unlikely cross-fertilisation of franchises is explained in great detail and with a tremendous sense of “how did we get away with it?” in Roberto Aguirre Sacasa’s ‘Introduction’, but just in case you’re new to the other participant in all this…

Predators are an ancient alien species of trophy-taking sporting types who have visited the hotter parts of Earth for centuries, if not millennia. They are lone hunters who can turn invisible and resort to a terrifying selection of nasty weapons. They particularly like collecting skulls and spinal columns…

Predator was first seen in the eponymous movie from 1987 and started appearing in comic book extensions and continuations published by Dark Horse with the 4-issue miniseries Predator: Concrete Jungle (June 1989 to March 1990). It was followed by 22 further self-contained outings and numerous crossover clashes ranging from Batman and Superman to Judge Dredd and Tarzan, steadily keeping the franchise alive and kicking whilst the movie iteration waxed and waned…

This spectacularly eccentric yarn pulls off the peculiar and miraculous trick of creating a hilarious and scary family-friendly teen-slasher flick which begins ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ as all the young cast regulars head to Costa Rica for Spring Break and are having the time of their lives, until Betty and Veronica have a particularly vicious spat over Archie which leads to a spooky confrontation and a curse uttered over what might be an actual voodoo dagger.

Science-whiz Dilton is occupied with his telescope watching and everybody is blissfully unaware that they’ve piqued the attention of something patient, invisible and completely alien…

When they all head home they have no conception that some of their number are already trophies on a wall…

With the youngsters back in Riverdale Archie and his companions settle back into their routine but soon realise that something has followed them when a beloved adult is decapitated in plain sight. Soon the community is cut off and they are all waiting ‘To Live and Die in a Small Town’

Convinced their meddling with the occult has brought on the killing-spree, Betty and Veronica testily consult sorcerous expert Sabrina (the Teenage Witch) but that ends in another welter of scarlet and screaming and the first sighting of the thing from the stars…

Thing get grim and crazy as the rapidly depleting posse of teens meet the Government agents tasked with covertly countering the Predators but continue to fall until Dilton rolls out the weird science and Archie dons a ‘Full Metal Varsity Jacket’

Soon the beloved cast is down to the barest essentials and the last few resistors face their final curtain in ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’

After a surprisingly gripping and gory conclusion that will astonish and delight everyone an ‘Afterword’ by series Editor Brendan Wright gives more insight into the impetus and creative process behind this inspired tale, but there are still plenty of treats in store.

Scripter Alexi de Campi also got to play with others creators’ toys in a series of Bonus Crossovers, which rounded out the comics issues. Here follow quirky, perky little one and two page vignettes such as the eerily satisfying ‘Sabrina Meets Hellboy’ with art and colours by Robert Hack, lettered by Clem Robins, and the fabulously bizarre ‘Li’l Archie and his Pals meet Itty Bitty Mask’ by Art Baltazar.

Philosophical and physical depths are plumbed as ‘Jughead meets Mind MGMT’ (Matt Kindt) and the girls have fun when ‘Josie and the Pussycats meet Finder’ illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil, with colours from Jenn Manley Lee and letters from the ubiquitous de Campi.

By all accounts, when news of this project got out an army of eager professionals clamoured to get involved. The miniseries offered a wealth of covers-&-variants – some scattered about and acting as chapter-breaks by Ruiz, Koslowski, Millet, Dan, Parent, Gisèle, Maria Victoria Robado and Andrew Pepoy. The rest are gathered in a massive Variant Cover Gallery displaying varying degrees of gore, whimsy and humour from Eric Powell, Francesco Francavilla, Colleen Coover, Darick Robertson with Millet, Pepoy with Millet, Dennis Calero, Patrick Spaziante, Robert Hack with Stephen Downer, Dustin Nguyen, Kelley Jones with Michelle Madsen, Paul Pope with Shay Plummer, Faith Erin Hicks with Cris Peter, Joe Quinones, Tim Seeley, Richard P. Clark, Ruiz with Anwar Hanano, Koslowski as full illustrator and even more.

Also on view are samples of ‘Promo Art’ prepared for the comics convention circuit and a large section of Ruiz’s developmental ‘Character Studies’ plus a feature on the ‘Art Process’ from rough pencils through to finished colour pages.

But wait, there’s still more as ‘Unused Covers’ offers eight final tantalising ideas which never made it off the drawing boards of Ruiz, Pepoy, Gisèle and Faith Erin Hicks.

This book is one of those “Pitch hooks” Hollywood producer types thrive by. All you need is the three word title and a graphic acronym to know whether you’ll love this yarn.

Archie Versus Predator….


Another Victorious Pairing.


Archie vs. Predator © 2015 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Archie™ and © 2015 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. Predator™ and © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All guest material ™ and © 2015 its creators or copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Rivers of London: Body Work

By Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, Lee Sullivan & Luis Guerrero (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-187-7

Ben Aaronovitch has been delighting fantasy fans for years, mostly through his television work on others people’s creations (Dr. Who: Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield, Jupiter Moon, Casualty and numerous licensed novels and audio-books), but really came into his own in 2011 when the Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the USA) novel was released.

A supernatural police procedural saga with its sixth volume eagerly anticipated any moment now, it features the adventures of Peter Grant; the first Metropolitan Police officer in 70 years to transfer to the Special Assessment Unit, more commonly known as “Falcon” or the “weird shit” department. This well-known secret squad deals with all the magic and spooky stuff no sensible copper will admit occurs…

Grant’s boss there is the exceptionally dapper and imperturbable Inspector Nightingale who is far older than he looks and knows an awful lot about magic. As previously stated, Grant is his first Wizard’s Apprentice in decades…

The stories authentically resonate within the actual environs and legends of the big city, and amongst the pantheon of paranormal characters most prominent are the living spirits of the rivers which run through, beneath and between the boroughs of the macabre metropolis and the Thames Valley it lurks in…

This all-new yet canonical sequentially-illustrated tale sits between the fourth and fifth prose novels; written by Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel, with art by the splendid Lee Sullivan and colourist Luis Guerrero.

The eponymous ‘Body Work’ started life as a 4-part monthly miniseries in July 2015 and opens, as so many police stories do, with an attention-grabbing death. What looks like a simple drowning gets dead scary dead quick when Peter Grant ambles into the SOCO clean-up, his indefinable instincts calling him to a situation which, although still unclear, is clearly unnatural…

Soon he’s on the trail of a haunted car which should have been destroyed but has instead been broken up for parts, scattering a lethal compulsion amongst an assortment of owners all now unwitting receptacles for a pitiless centuries-old force craving death and somehow connected to water.

Before long Grant and Nightingale (with his inimitable hound familiar Toby) are tracking down leads and the eldritch elder soon uncovers links to his own greatest failure and dereliction of duty…

Fast paced, funny-&-thrilling by turn and packed with intriguing, individualistic supporting characters, Body Work is above all a solid mystery which both curious neophytes and dedicated devotees of the prose iteration will delight in solving along with our quirky cast.

Cheekily augmenting the main case are a series of blackly comedic and often surreal vignettes starring the supporting cast beginning with Tales from the Thames starring Beverley Brook in ‘Off their Trolley’ with the cheeky Naiad teaching some drunken upper-class sods a lesson about dumping trash, whilst sinister serving wench Molly stars in ‘Red Mist’ – a gory Tale from The Folly – followed by another seeing astounding canine wonder Toby triumphing over a zombie apocalypse on the ‘Night of the Living Dog’.

Aaronovitch, Cartmel, Alan Quah & Guerrero then offer a chilling and silent extended Halloween diversion in ‘Sleep No More’ and the extra duties close with a final brace of Tales from The Folly as Toby submits to his sodden fate in ‘Pursuit’ before Nightingale gets the gang together for a festive emergency in ‘Urgent Summons’.

Including a large covers and variants gallery and whimsical page of Creator Biographies, this is a splendid genre-blending yarn for lovers of cops-&-wizards fans who also love playing Dungeons and Dragnets.
Rivers of London ™ and © 2016 Ben Aaronovitch. All rights reserved.

Rivers of London: Body Work will be released on March 18th 2016

Serenity: Better Days

By Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, Will Conrad & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-162-1

Just like the TV show and movie, comics about the crew of the Firefly Class 03-K64 trading ship Serenity are remarkably good and pretty addictive. This slim tome collects second 3-issue miniseries Serenity: Better Days, continuing in rip-roaring style the unlikely exploits of a nomadic semi-piratical bunch of lovable yet lethal scofflaws in a world not unlike our own…

After they used up Earth, Humanity migrated to the stars and settled another star-system packed with hundreds of more or less hospitable planets and satellites. Now it’s the 26th century and mankind is living through the aftermath and reconstruction period of a vicious internecine conflict known – by the victors – as the Unification War.

This still-fresh, tender and, for far too many, unfinished system-wide conflagration saw the Outer Colonies crushed after attempting to secede from the authoritarian Alliance of first-settled Inner Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds fought valiantly and passionately for the Rebel/losing side and now spends his days eking out a living on the fringes of an increasingly repressive and dangerous universe: a fiercely free agent skippering a small cargo vessel filled with surprisingly capable misfits and odd sorts.

Hopefully work means just shipping cargo and people from world to world whilst trying to avoid the ever-expanding Alliance’s oppressive representatives and security forces, but occasionally survival means bending the law a mite….

It’s hard, risky work: often illegal and frequently dangerous – especially since the outer regions are where the insane cannibal berserker savages dubbed Reavers restlessly prowl.

Life changed forever after Serenity gave passage to fugitive Alliance doctor Simon Tam: on the run after stealing/rescuing his apparently psychic sister River from a top secret research project.

The Government spared no effort or expense to get her back, hounding the fugitives from pillar to post until one day Mal and his crew finally pushed back. After too many close shaves and at the cost of too many friends, Reynolds and Co at last uncovered the horrific secret the Alliance were so desperate to keep hidden in River’s head and broadcast it to the entire ’Verse…

Before that moment, however, and for this saga, the restless voyagers are back at the daily grind of making money without getting killed. Without preamble scripters Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, illustrator Will Conrad, colourist Michelle Madsen and letterer Michael Heisler launch right in, revealing how a simple heist goes explosively wrong and the merry mob are once more running for their lives with a dangerous chunk of ambulatory weapons tech.

Life being what is they get away with the loot but still get stiffed…

Their long-term paying passenger Inara the Companion is busy with a client whilst all that shooting is going on, learning from former militia man Ephraim of the rebel terrorists known as “Dust Devils” who retaliated against the Alliance long after the War ended. He has been tasked with routing out and eradicating their last remnants but for the moment has more pleasant actions in mind…

Stuck with a weapon they don’t want, the Firefly crew grudgingly accept a tip from the client who fooled them once already. He tells of a vast amount of money just waiting to be picked up by the right team. All they have to do is get the forgotten fortune out of the fully occupied temple where it was stashed by the thieves who first acquired it…

Incomprehensibly, the raid goes off without a hitch or even any weapon being fired by or at them. Before long the astounded spacers are sharing increasingly bizarre daydreams of what they’re going to do with their share of more money than they ever dreamed existed…

As they all kick back, Inara questions Mal about Dust Devils and gets the uncomfortable impression that he has first hand knowledge of their activities, but doesn’t push the matter as the ship is about to land on Pelorum, resort world of the mega-rich.

As the windfall-drunk crew start splurging, however, elsewhere a certain arms dealer has at last located down the bandits who swiped his favourite death-machine and Ephraim prepares his hand-picked taskforce for the moment they bag themselves a vile terrorist Dust Devil…

The Serenity crew’s strangest caper continues as they become acclaimed and feted heroes to the filthy rich after stopping a planet-wide heist, but the unlikely afterglow of the approbation only puts Malcolm off-guard long enough for Ephraim to spring his trap…

With his prize brutally in tow, the hunter prepares to escape but there’s a slight snag. There is indeed a dreaded former Dust Devil aboard Serenity, but it isn’t Malcolm Reynolds…

Moreover before Ephraim can get his head around that faux pas a very ticked off death-merchant and his private army turn up, looking for revenge but happy to just kill everybody and let God or Accounting sort it out…

Proving the hard – but extremely entertaining – way that money doesn’t buy happiness or even an ounce of security, this power-packed digest-sized rollercoaster romp is supplemented with stunning cover/chapter breaks of the crew from Adam Hughes and a crisply hilarious Introduction from Adam (don’t call him Jayne) Baldwin.

Crackling with fun and attitude, blackly sardonic and riotously daft between bouts of breathtaking action and delivering a thrilling, scary and supremely satisfying resolution, this is space opera of the very best kind.

Flash forward, go above and beyond and get lost in Space with this magical taste of things to come…
Serenity: Better Days © 2008 Universal Studios Licensing. The movie “Serenity” is ™ and © Universal Studios. All rights reserved.