Thunder Agents Classics volume 2


By Wally Wood, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky, George Tuska, Steve Ditko, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-832-6                  eISBN: 978-1-62302-448-2

The meteoric lifespan and output of Tower Comics is one of the key creative moments in American comicbook history. The brief, bombastic saga of The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves was a benchmark of quality and sheer bravura fun for fans of both the then-still-reawakening superhero genre and the era’s spy-chic obsession.

In the early 1960s the James Bond movie franchise was going from strength to strength, with blazing action and heady glamour utterly transforming the formerly understated espionage genre. The buzz was infectious: soon Men like Flint and Matt Helm were carving out their own piece of the action as television shanghaied the entire bandwagon with the irresistible Man From U.N.C.L.E. (premiering in September 1964); bringing the whole shtick inescapably into living rooms across the planet.

Archie Comics editor Harry Shorten was commissioned to create a line of characters for a new distribution-chain funded publishing outfit – Tower Comics. He brought in creative maverick Wally Wood, who called on some of the biggest names in the industry to produce material in the broad range of genres the company demanded (as well as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and its spin-offs Undersea Agent, Dynamo and NoMan, there was a magnificent anthology war-comic Fight the Enemy and wholesome youth-comedy Tippy Teen).

Samm Schwartz and Dan DeCarlo handled the funnybook – which outlasted everything else – whilst Wood, Larry Ivie, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Russ Jones, Gil Kane and Ralph Reese contributed scripts for themselves and the industry’s other top talents to illustrate on the adventure series.

With a ravenous appetite for super-spies and costumed heroes steadily rising in comic-book popularity and amongst the general public, the idea of blending the two concepts seemed inescapable…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 appeared with no fanfare or pre-publicity on newsstands in August 1965 (with a cover off-sale date of November). Better yet, all Tower titles were in the beloved-but-rarely-seen 80-Page Giant format, offering a huge amount of material in every issue.

All that being said these tales would not be so revered if they hadn’t been so superbly crafted. As well as Wood, the art accompanying the compelling, subtly more mature stories was by some of the greatest talents in comics: Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta, Steve Ditko and others.

This second lush and lustrous compilation collects T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5-7 and the first blockbusting issue of spin-off title Dynamo – originally released between June and August 1966 – with the incomparably cool concept and characters going from strength to strength.

For those who came in late: When brilliant Professor Emil Jennings was attacked by the forces of the mysterious Warlord, the savant perished. However UN troops salvaged some of his greatest inventions: these included a belt that increased the density of the wearer’s body until it became as hard as steel, a cloak of invisibility and a brain-amplifier helmet.

The prototypes were divided between several agents to create a unit of super-operatives to counter increasingly bold attacks of many global terror threats such as the aforementioned Warlord.

First chosen was affable, honest but far from brilliant file clerk Len Brown who was, to everyone’s surprise, assigned the belt and codename Dynamo. Contributing scripter Len Brown had no idea illustrator/editor Wood had puckishly changed the hero’s civilian name as a last-minute gag until the comic rolled off the presses…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent NoMan was once aged Dr. Anthony Dunn who chose to have his mind transferred into an android body and was then gifted with the invisibility cape. If his artificial body was destroyed Dunn’s consciousness could transfer to another android body. As long as he had a spare ready, he could never die…

John Janus seemed the perfect UN employee: a mental and physical marvel who easily passed all the tests necessary to wear the Jennings helmet. Sadly, he was also a deep cover mole for the Warlord, poised to betray T.H.U.N.D.E.R. at the earliest opportunity. All plans went awry once he donned the helmet and became Menthor. The device awakened his mind’s full potential, granting him telepathy, telekinesis and mind-reading powers, but it also drove all evil from his mind. When the Warlord attacked with a small army and a giant monster, Menthor was compelled by his own costume to defeat the assault. What a dilemma for a traitor to be in…

A fourth super-spy was added when Guy Gilbert of the crack Mission: Impossible style T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad was required to beta-test an experimental super-speed suit. The gung-ho hyper-fast Lightning was proud to do so, even if every use of the hyper-acceleration gimmick shortened his life-span…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 again gloriously pandered to every kid’s dream as the nice guy with the power to smash anything was pinpointed as the weak link of the agency and subjected to a three-pronged attack by Warlord and his subterranean race in ‘Dynamo and the Golem’ by a sadly unrecorded writer with art from Crandall, Wood & Adkins. The stupendous underground duel with the monstrous mechanical was even augmented by guest walk-ons (a rare treat in the mid-1960s when most editors feared over-exposing their heroes) by other T.H.U.N.D.E.R. stars…

The modern master of a tribe of primordial men returned as ‘NoMan: In the Caverns of Demo’ (by Pearson, Kane, Wood & Tony Coleman) saw the invisible agent lured into a trap and temporarily lose his wonder cape. After Adkins’ gloriously panoramic ‘Lightning Pin-up’, Skeates, Sekowsky & Giacoia then reveal how a leftover Nazi scientist blackmails a trusted engineer and wrecks new aircraft for the agency with his deadly “slow-down” dust in ‘Lightning: Return of Baron Von Kampf’

The author of ‘Menthor vs. The Entrancer’ is unknown but the unmistakable John Giunta limns the dark tale of the mind master’s duel with a petty thief who steals a magic gem and almost conquers a country before the concluding ‘T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: Double For Dynamo’ (Skeates, Wood, Adkins & Coleman) sees the entire team unite to tackle another plot by duplicate maker Mastermind to place his felonious android facsimiles in positions of power…

Issue #6 opened with ‘Dynamo and the Sinister Agents of the Red Star’ (author unknown, Wood & Adkins) as the sinister Sino-spymaster introduced a devastating judo expert who could use the human powerhouse’s strength against him. Poor Len had to use his brain (for a change) to stop the brazen theft of America’s newest super-submarine…

Skeates, Sekowsky & Giacoia had fun with a teleporting criminal in ‘Lightning: The Origin of the Warp Wizard’ and shockingly let the villain win, after which ‘T.H.U.N.D.E.R. vs. Demo’ – illustrated by Giunta, Wood & Adkins – the vile plotter ambushed NoMan and used his stolen cape to gather tons of cash and the other Jennings devices.

The arrogant thug’s great mistake was trusting his sultry sidekick Satana, who unreasonably bore a grudge for that time he’d abandoned her to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and the cops…

‘Menthor: The Carnival of Death’ (art by Giunta & Carl Hubbell) pitted the mind-reading agent against a spy who was a natural telepath. Despite tremendous odds Janus foiled an insidious assassination attempt but lost his power-bestowing helmet in the process…

The best tale in this issue – and probably the entire book – is ‘NoMan: To Fight Alone’ by Skeates & Steve Ditko wherein the immortal agent is the only one capable of defying anti-democratic demagogue Mr. Image. This maniacal malcontent has the power to control any and all living beings in his vicinity, but of course, NoMan is only “living” in a strictly technical sense…

The final T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents inclusion is #7; a true landmark which opens with Dynamo in ‘Wanted: Leonard Brown, Code Name “Dynamo” Suspicion of Treason’ (illustrated by Wood, Adkins & Ralph Reese) with our hero on the run from his former friends.

Gullible Len has been framed by the delectable Rusty (revealed as the svelte and sinister Iron Maiden; a vivacious villainess clad in figure-hugging steel who was the likely puberty trigger for an entire generation of boys…) but still manages – more by charm and luck than skill or wit – to turn the tables on the real crooks and vindicate himself…

Next follows a frantic showdown which leaves Lightning possibly crippled for life after enduring ‘The Warp Wizard’s Revenge’ (Skeates, Sekowsky & Giacoia), after which the years-long secret war against invaders from Earth’s core comes closer to final resolution in the George Tuska illustrated ‘T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: Subterranean Showdown!’

A council of Warlords opt to abduct Dynamo which leads to a shattering battle they ultimately fail to win, whilst, after a pulse-pounding Wood & Adkins ‘Iron Maiden: Pin-up’, NoMan suffers a psychological breakdown in ‘To Be or Not To Be’ by Pearson, Giunta & Sal Trapani.

Although Dr. Dunn is now a thing of plastic and wire, he is still susceptible to feminine allure and that unresolved dichotomy almost costs him – and Earth – everything…

The issue ended with a tale which blew the mind of most kids reading it in the summer of 1966. ‘Menthor: A Matter of Life and Death’ written by Adkins, with art by Ditko & Wood was an utter shock to readers who had never seen a hero die before. We were so sheltered back then; cowboys and cops only ever shot guns out of bandits’ hands…

When a beloved and trusted super-agent is shanghaied to Subterraneana as bait for a trap, he does what any hero would do rather than betray his friends…

This second cathartic classic fun-fest concludes with the contents of Dynamo #1 as Tower’s top draw became the first hero promoted to his own solo title. It began with sheer sci fi spectacle as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. spots a staging post on Luna and sends Len on what might be a one-way trip (it’s three years before the Apollo moon shots, remember?) to scotch a potential invasion from space in ‘Menace From the Moon’ by Wood & Adkins.

That astounding blockbuster is followed by a deliciously wry romp as ‘A Day in the Life of Dynamo’ (Sekowsky & Giacoia) finds the invulnerable operative harried around the world from pillar to post in pursuit of the elusive Red Dragon, the wicked Warlords, rampaging giant robots… and a date with his boss’ attractive assistant Alice

Then Crandall, Wood & Adkins apparently take Dynamo ‘Back to the Stone Age’: revealing the secret of Demo’s seemingly inexhaustible stock of cavemen and dinosaurs after the devilish villain breaks out of jail with Mastermind in tow, after which Ditko, Wood & Adkins craft another action-packed mini-masterpiece as ‘Dynamo Meets the Amazing Andor’.

Decades previously the so-very-patient Warlords stole a human baby and spent long years turning the waif into a biological superman devoid of sentiment or compassion. Sadly, when they finally unleashed Andor on the surface civilisations – although they anticipated the dogged resistance of humanity and even the newly-constituted T.H.U.N.D.E.R. – the subterranean geniuses hadn’t factored in how their living weapon might react to the first woman he had ever seen…

The tongue-in-cheek dramas wrap up with a bright, breezy spoof as ‘Wonder Weed, Super Hero’ – illustrated by Giunta – reveals how merely mortal – and mildly jealous – agent William “Weed” Wylie is tricked by a magician/enemy agent into thinking he has powers too.

Of course, Weed is cocky, suggestible and avaricious but nobody’s fool…

With stories all shaded in favour of fast pace, sparse dialogue, explosive action and big visuals, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was decades ahead of its time and certainly informed everything in Fights ‘n’ Tights comics which came after it. These are truly timeless comic classics which improve with every reading, and there’s never been a better time to add these landmark superhero sagas to your collection of favourites.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 2 © 2013 Radiant Assets, LLC. All rights reserved.

Hellboy volume 8: Darkness Calls


By Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo, Dave Stewart & Clem Robins (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-896-6

As a baby Hellboy was confiscated – on December 23rd 1944 – from Nazi cultists by American superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers moments after his unearthly nativity on Earth. The Allied forces had interrupted a satanic ritual predicted by parapsychologist Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and his associates…

They were ready and waiting at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when an abominable infant with a huge stone right hand materialised in a fireball. Raised by Bruttenholm, the child grew into a mighty warrior fighting a never-ending secret war. The Professor trained the infernal foundling whilst forming an organisation to destroy supernatural threats – the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

After years of such devoted intervention, education and warm human interaction, in 1952 the neophyte hero began destroying unnatural threats and supernatural monsters as lead agent for the BPRD. “Hellboy” rapidly became its top operator… the world’s most successful paranormal investigator…

As the decades unfold, Hellboy gleans snatches of his origins, learning he is a supposedly pre-corrupted creature of dark portent: born a demonic messiah and destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil.

It is a fate he despises and utterly rejects…

This eerie eighth archive re-presents the 6-issue miniseries Hellboy: Darkness Calls from 2007 and includes two epilogues created especially for the collection. It is especially noteworthy as creator Mignola here surrenders visual autonomy over his legendary character to illustrator Duncan Fegredo – with evocative support as always from colourist Dave Stewart and letterer Clem Robins – whilst moving the years-in-the-making saga towards its long-awaited conclusion…

Following an Introduction from Jane Yolen the drama opens beneath rural Italy as accursed wizard Igor Weldon Bromhead hastens the destruction of humanity by summoning and binding the malign witch-goddess Hecate. Bromhead wants revenge and doesn’t care if the world burns in his getting of it…

In faraway England the ripples of his acts alert the fey folk and other supernatural entities that the End Times are finally upon them…

Hellboy is in Britain; visiting old friends and desperately seeking to sidestep the fate the universe is pushing him towards. Restless, he wanders into the woods, seemingly oblivious to the strange signs and portents dogging his heels until he encounters a strange trio of sinister characters and is drawn into a living history lesson…

After also meeting the ghost of witchfinder Henry Hood, he is made painfully aware of a rising of the covens as the congregated creatures of the night attack him in an abandoned church. After a climactic battle – and more painful revelations of his past and ordained future – the paranormal paragon is suddenly yanked away into the infernal arctic domain of his terrifying nemesis Baba Yaga: the Russian witch-queen sworn to destroy him…

In England, witches continue to gather, urged on by minor demon Gruagach; another unclean creature with a grudge against Hellboy. He advocates waking a long-buried queen of the dark to lead their final assault on the world and will not be dissuaded…

Meanwhile in Baba Yaga’s land of eternal chill, Hellboy is holding his own against the sorceress’ legions but is about to meet his match against her greatest thrall: an indomitable, unstoppable warrior dubbed Koshchei the Deathless.

The captive is not without allies. Fallen god Perun, giant wolves and a rebellious Domovoi (house spirit) all offer what aid they can but it’s the ministrations of little dead girl Vasilisa which provides Hellboy with an opportunity to escape the endless war and return to the physical world.

While he has been gone however, events have moved on. The hags and weird folk have succeeded in freeing the one who will lead them in the final clash with humanity, and the benign spirits who have sheltered Man for so long see that their own long, long lives are finally done…

Offering astounding supernatural spectacle, amazing arcane action, mounting mystical tension and the imminent end of decades of slowly unfolding wonderment, this epic adventure is supplemented by a copious Sketchbook Section from Mignola and Fegredo, offering unused covers, roughs, designs, and informative commentary.

Proceeding with epic pace and enthralling power, the saga and mystery of Hellboy is a true landmark of comics storytelling and one every fan and aficionado should read.
™ and © 2008 Mike Mignola. Hellboy is ™ Mike Mignola. Introduction © 2008 Jane Yolen. All rights reserved.

Captain Midnight Archives volume 2: Captain Midnight Saves the World!


By William Woolfolk, Leonard Frank, Dan Barry & various (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-243-5                  eISBN: 978-1-62115-921-6

Created by broadcast scripters Wilfred G. Moore and Robert M. Burtt, Captain Midnight began as a star of radio serials in the days when troubleshooting All-American aviators were the acme of adventure genre heroes. The Captain Midnight Program soldiered on from 1938 to 1940 until the Wander Company acquired the sponsorship rights to promote their top product: Ovaltine. From there on, national radio syndication led to a newspaper comic strip (by Erwin L. Hess, running from June 29th 1942 until the end of the decade); a movie serial (1942) and – later – two TV serials (1953 and 1954-1956) before being overdubbed, retitled and syndicated as “Jet Jackson, Flying Commando” well into the 1960s). There was also a mountain of now-legendary merchandise such as the infamous Captain Midnight Secret Decoder Ring

And there was a comicbook franchise… one recently reinvigorated for 21st century audiences.

The hero’s basic origin related how after the Great War ended, pilot and inventor Captain Jim Albright returned home having earned the sobriquet “Captain Midnight” following a particularly harrowing mission that concluded successfully at the witching hour.

He then formed a paramilitary “Secret Squadron” of like-minded pilots to continue making the world a better place – often at the covert behest of the President – using guts and gadgets to foil spies, catch crooks and defend the helpless.

Captain Midnight truly hit his stride after Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, becoming an early Home Front media sensation throughout the war years. However, his already fluid backstory and appearance underwent a radical makeover when he switched comicbook horses in midstream.

This stunningly engaging full-colour paperback collection (also available as an eBook) gathers a slew of science fiction-themed tales taken from the latter end of the Fawcett Comics run. Captain Midnight #48, 50, 52-56, 58, 60, 62, 64 and 66 spanned February 1947 – August 1948 and with times and tastes changing the venerable title folded with the next issue…

Following a fervent Introduction from Batton Lash discussing the career of the much-travelled, constantly evolving “Monarch of the Airways” and the telling differences between the radio, screen and comicbook iterations, the contents explosively unfold with a tragic dearth of credit and attributions. Much comic material from this era is criminally unattributed but regular writers known to be active on Midnight at this juncture included Bill Woolfolk and Otto Binder whilst artists included the unflagging Leonard Frank and young legends-to-be Leonard Starr and Dan Barry.

From issue #48 ‘Captain Midnight Visits the Golden Asteroid’ sees Albright and his mechanic Ichabod Mudd piloting their newly invented rocket-ship to investigate a new stellar body only to find that the astronomer who discovered it has an ulterior and nefarious motive for getting to the stellar wanderer.

Illustrated by Frank and from #50, ‘Captain Midnight Spikes the Sun Gun’ pitted the modern Edison against devilish Dr. Pyrrho who had found a way to inflict destructive heat on the already sweltering citizens of the American Southwest after which a return prospecting trip to our nearest neighbour uncovered ‘The Moon Creatures’ (Woolfolk) who aggressively resisted all attempts to colonise Luna…

With the solar system now a regular destination for exploration, Albright began an occasional series of sorties to the planets and picked up some new recurring foes. The first was a plundering barbarian from Pluto who raided Earth for its Uranium reserves in #52’s ‘Captain Midnight versus the Space Raider!’ (Binder & Frank).

The resultant chase and recovery took our hero to Mars and first contact with an unsuspected race also under threat of merciless assault by the murderous Jagga

After driving the fiend off and recovering his ill-gotten gains, Midnight next encountered the ruthless Plutonian inflicting ‘Peril on Venus’ in #53. By sending him packing once again, the inventor consequently aided the long-lost last survivors of Atlantis in getting their failing colony onto an even keel in a world overrun by dinosaurs…

In #54 Midnight and Icky encountered yet another embattled civilisation on Ceres: a literally golden kingdom fending off Jagga’s bacterial onslaught and meteoroid bombardments. With the Air Aces’ assistance, the monster was finally driven off in ‘The Asteroid Battle’

There’s a double dose of super-scientific spectacle in #55, beginning with Albright’s perhaps unwise invention of a monumental dirigible intended as ‘The Sky Airport’. When common thugs steal the mobile monolith and use it as a base for air raids on banks, the heartbroken genius is forced into desperate action to clear his conscience…

This is followed by another interplanetary incident when ‘Captain Midnight Finds the Lunar Lair’ and finally brings Jagga to justice in the form of a trial in Earth’s courts. Unequivocally guilty, the beast is sentenced to death by electrocution in #56’s ‘The Last Rites of Jagga’ (Frank art) but said execution proves to be a major mistake and Midnight is called upon to deliver the sentence in his own infallible scientific manner…

A new alien threat emerges in #58 ‘On the Planet of Peril’ when an unknown race reanimates Earth’s greatest villains and monsters…

A month later ‘Captain Midnight Battles the Ice Age’ found our interplanetary explorers on Neptune: changing that world’ climate to give its humanoid inhabitants a big step up the ladder to civilisation, whilst issue #60 saw the return of earthly arch-enemy Dr. Osmosis who terrified and tormented humanity with his explosive ‘Flying Saucers of Death’

Captain Midnight #62 detailed the inventor’s efforts to save America’s ‘Farmers on the Moon’ from sabotage as Earth agricultural entrepreneur Jim Klaw sought to maintain his produce monopoly at all costs…

A new extraterrestrial enemy debuted in #64 as ‘Beyond the Sun’ (Frank) introduced shapeshifting tyrant Xog: a gaseous monster from Saturn who boarded America’s newest spaceships as step one in his plans for interplanetary domination. When Captain Midnight thwarted the scheme and rescued the hostage Terrans, the vile king swore vengeance…

It came in the final tale in this superbly retro rollercoaster of rocket-powered fun – from #66 with art by Frank – as Xog transforms Captain Midnight into sentient gas before invading Earth. Happily, even ‘Without a Body’ Albright was too much for the malign marauder and once more saved the day and the world…

With a stunning gallery of covers by Frank, Charles Tomsey, Dan Barry and Mac Raboy plus cool mini-features such as ‘Captain Midnight’s Air Lingo’, ‘US Army Aviation Badge Insignia’ and ‘Famous Planes’, this fabulous feast of fantasy is guaranteed to satisfy the nostalgic yearnings of every starry-eyed space cadet, whatever their age.
Captain Midnight Archives volume 2: Captain Midnight Saves the World! ® and ©Dark Horse Comics 2014. All rights reserved.

Lobster Johnson volume 1: The Iron Prometheus


By Mike Mignola, Jason Alexander, Dave Stewart & Clem Robbins (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-975-8

Lobster Johnson started out as a moody maguffin in the gloriously expansive universe inhabited by Hellboy, the B.P.R.D. and other assorted marvels from the mind of Mike Mignola.

He was initially introduced after his death: the unquiet spirit of a lost and forgotten 1930s hero who solved his last case from beyond the grave. The character was created as an amalgam and analogue of Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Spider and all those other uncompromising, two-fisted pulp crusaders who smashed crime and slew monsters…

Whenever a really talented creator or team pay proper attention to little details, the result can generally stand on its own two feet and, after continuing to pop up in further tales, the craftily-conceived Lobster eventually proved popular enough to star in his own string of miniseries, fabulously celebrating the heyday of mass-literacy fiction and hard-core horror-heroes. This first collection gathers the 5-issue saga of Iron Prometheus with script by Mignola, art by Jason Alexander, colours courtesy of Dave Stewart and letters by Clem Robbins.

Leather-clad, gun-toting and implacably invincible, the Master of Justice and his small team of agents wade through a mountain of enemies malign, mystical and/or murderously mundane; delivering a mesmerising wild ride in the manner of a cliff-hanging movie-serial Chapter Play which opens in New York City in 1937…

A worried young man is being hunted by incredible creatures. However, as a brutal yeti attacks, the Lobster intervenes to save the kid but looks like he’s finally met his match. Happily Jim Sacks activates the incredible armoured suit he’s wearing and fries the beast…

Before the embattled Yanks can catch their breath, German agents move in and a pitched battle erupts with the bewildered Jim again displaying the suit’s incredible powers to great effect.

In a brief lull Johnson astounds the kid with his knowledge: somehow the leather-helmeted mystery man knows Jim was a tailor’s dummy and guinea pig for eccentric Professor Kyriakos Gallergas – but not that the inventor and his daughter Helena were recently attacked and made him flee with the outfit to keep it from unspecified enemies…

Before long Sacks is brought to the Lobster’s underground lair, even as in the city above the hero is in Chinatown consulting prophets. They warn of deadly danger, doom and dragons and offer a name to trace… Memnan Saa

Back below Jim is telling all he knows about his mighty Vril Energy Suit – which isn’t much – when the Lobster returns with a lead to a warehouse downtown.

Inside it, a sinister mage is indulging in a spot of torture and suggesting to Gallergas that Helena might be next. After Jim, Johnson and his gang embark on their rescue mission, the VES is again the deciding factor in an uneven battle, but only until the inexperienced Sacks steps into a carefully prepared booby-trap.

This leaves Johnson at the mercy of old enemy Doctor Waxman and a terrifying cyborg thug even as Jim finds himself conversing with Helena in a spectral arctic landscape she calls the Grave of the Emperor of the World

As the Lobster mops up his opponents, in that icy other-place Jim succumbs to arcane assault, but when the sagacious mage turns his attention to the masked man the wizard learns that high explosives carry their own extremely effective magic…

Jim comes to in a Hoboken warehouse and sees with horror what has been done to Professor Gallergas. The monstrously misused scientist reveals the secret of Vril and how his abductors plan to use the ancient energy to awaken an antediluvian evil. The traumatised boy also discovers what has been done to him too, just as Lobster and his team burst in…

As Jim struggles with a brute gradually transforming into a diabolical monster, deep inside that house of horrors Lobster battles a maniac to rescue Helena, but they are too late: the dragon has risen…

The mage wants 368 more just like it but the Vril has unleashed supernatural forces on the side of Good too, and Sacks and the Professor are ready to fight to save their world, even if they are no longer truly part of it…

Johnson is determined to deliver his own harsh brand of justice, but pursuit of the mage leads him into distracting clashes with monsters and zombies which are not nearly as devious as the Nazi agents coolly waiting to ambush him…

Knocked unconscious, the Lobster somehow confronts the mage on an eerie, icy plane before seemingly succumbing to dark rites and awakening in the custody of the German agents who have also been seeking the Vril suit since the beginning. They seem oblivious to the actions of the sinister sorcerer, however, and are far more concerned with taking what fragments of armour they have scavenged and covering their escape by eradicating New York City…

Lobster Johnson has one last play if he is to save himself and the unwitting millions residing in the sleeping city…

Interspersed with compelling faux magazine articles on ‘The True History of Lobster Johnson’ – detailing the various media incarnations of the macabre man of mystery – and topped off with a vast Lobster Johnson Sketchbook section displaying working drawings, roughs, model-sheets and layouts from Mignola, Armstrong and contributing designer Guy Davis; this is a potent and powerful supernaturally-tinged action romp to quicken the hearts of every aficionado of fantastic adventure.
™ & © 2007, 2008 Mike Mignola. Lobster Johnson™ and all other prominently featured characters are trademarks of Mike Mignola.

Valiant Masters: Shadowman volume 1: Spirits Within


By Jim Shooter, Steve Englehart, Bob Hall, Faye Perozich, Seaborn Adamson, Steve Ditko, David Lapham, Don Perlin, Mark Moretti, Jose Delbo & various (Valiant)
ISBN: 978-1-939346-01-8

The 1990s were a slow period in terms of comics creativity: the industry had become infested with collector/investors and was increasingly market-led, with spin-offs, fad-chasing, shiny gimmicks and multiple-covers events replacing imagination and good story-telling in far too many places.

One notable exception was a little outfit with some big names that clearly prized the merits of well-told stories illustrated by artists immune to the latest mis-proportioned, scratchy poseur styles, but one with enough business sense to play the industry at its own game.

Eschewing most of the more crass profiteering stunts Valiant Comics revived some old characters and proved once more that the basics never go out of fashion. As Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter had made Marvel the most profitable and high-profile they had ever been, and after his departure he used that writing skill and business acumen to transform some almost forgotten Silver-Age characters into contemporary gold.

Western Publishing had been a major player since comics’ earliest days, blending a huge tranche of licensed titles with a few home-grown heroes like Brain Boy, Turok, Son of Stone and M.A.R.S. Patrol Total War (created by Wally Wood). The company’s most notable stars were Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom and Russ Manning’s magnificent science fiction cautionary tale Magnus, Robot Fighter. When the parent company closed its original comic division in 1984 these masterful sagas vanished but never faded from comic fans’ collective memory.

As the 1990s opened – and with a licensed agreement to resurrect some, any or all of these four-colour veterans – Shooter and co-conspirator Bob Layton came to a bold decision and made those earlier adventures part-and-parcel of their refit: acutely aware that old fans don’t like having their childhood favourites bastardized, and that revivals need all the support they can get.

Thus the old days were canonical: they “happened” and the new company was off and running with an intrigued and interested older fan-base already in place. Hit after hit followed and the pantheon of heroes expanded until dire market conditions and corporate chicanery ended the company’s stellar expansion just before the century closed.

Valiant fractionated and disappeared. It and its string of captivating creations have come and gone many times since then. The characters are currently divided between numerous publishers…

A new Valiant emerged in 2012 and, as well as offering all new adventures of many of its venerable stable of stars, the company have been systematically republishing the original back-catalogue in a series of Valiant Masters trade paperback/eBook collections.

During the heyday of the early ‘90s Shooter and his team of upstarts were not content to simply revive and retrofit past glories. Once the older properties were firmly established, a legion of new characters was gradually added to the pantheon. One such was a voodoo-tainted, New Orleans-based wild man/daredevil named Jack Boniface

Here – following an informative Foreword from writer/artist Bob Hall – the sagas from Shadowman #1-7 (May-November 1992) are re-presented; preceded by the crucial contents of Shadowman #0 which were initially revealed in April 1994.

In ‘Shadowmen’ Bob Hall & inker Tom Ryder recap the origins of Boniface before plunging back in time to 1875 where necromancer Anton Quigley shared too much of his arcane knowledge with his disciple Darque

When Quigley later clashed with New Orleans gambler Maxim St. James, the mere mortal was murdered but revived by voodoo priestess Anjenetta who merged him with the power of the Loa as a Shadowman. Back from the grave and permanently furious, Maxim pursued his vengeance against Quigley even as the sorcerer demanded Darque surrender his adored sister Sandria to the demand of his master’s magic…

In the violent clash that followed, Quigley was destroyed whilst Darque ascended to a position of unassailable dominance, despite every effort of Nettie and Maxim to stop him. Over the intervening decades, Maxim was lost and the war stalled until the voodoo woman decided it was time to call forth another Shadowman…

After a truly seminal cameo in X-O Manowar #4 (not included here), musician Jack Boniface was properly introduced in 1992 in his own title. Shadowman premiered with ‘Jazz’, written by Shooter and Steve Englehart, illustrated by David Lapham and Joe Rubinstein.

The credits are a lot more complex that they might appear. Shooter famously used a communal brainstorming system to create characters and stories. The full credits for this collection read Plotters: Englehart, Shooter, Steve Ditko, David Lapham, Mark Moretti & Don Perlin; Writers: Englehart, Bob Hall, Faye Perozich, Shooter; Pencillers: Ditko, Lapham, Moretti and Inkers Charles Barnett III, Gonzalo Mayo, Rubinstein & Tom Ryder – and don’t get me started on the platoon of colourists, letterers and production people…

Boniface was a struggling session saxophonist trying to strike it rich in the Big Easy when he was seduced by Lydia, a mysterious woman he picked up in a club. Her sinister, trysting assault left him unconscious, amnesiac and forever altered by a bite to his neck. Unknown to Jack, she was an agent of the Spider Aliens who formed a covert keystone of the Valiant Universe, preying on humanity for millennia and indirectly responsible for creating many of the paranormal humans who secretly inhabit the world.

Alone in the morning light, Boniface discovered Lydia’s home was filled with half-digested corpses. Clearly he was intended as her next meal – but now has no idea how he survived or where she went. He cannot conceive of how much her bite has altered him…

Jack flees but later, as darkness falls, he feels agitated, restless, aggressive…

Roaming the streets he finds himself drawn back to Lydia’s home and stumbles upon a voodoo sacrifice. Attacked by the officiating priest the once-docile musician dons a Mardi Gras mask found at his feet and fights back with brutal abandon. Lydia has somehow turned him into a violent driven maniac, hungry for conflict – but only when the sun goes down…

In ‘Spirits Within’ (Perozich, Shooter, Lapham & Ryder) Jack’s own hunger for answers takes him to experts in both medicine and Obeah magic before his Shadowman self drags him into a confrontation with a Bayou axe murderer, whilst ‘The Beast and the Children’ (Perozich, Moretti & Barnett III) finds the increasingly off the rails music-man tackling mobsters and hit-men before destroying a well-connected super-powered child abuser.

With his heroic credentials fully established, issue #4 plunged Jack into the company’s first mega-crossover event. Unity gathered all Valiant’s disparate heroes – and many villains – in a timeless dimension where dinosaurs and cavemen existed side by side, fighting an endless war against quantum powered threat Mothergod until the trapped warriors could all get back to their times and places…

‘Sunburn’ by Lapham, Shooter, Perozich, Ryder & Maria Beccari saw Shadowman drawn to the Lost Land via a mystic tree deep in the bayou and made an unwilling spectator to the cosmic struggle. He forms a relationship with one of Mothergod’s warriors and is incinerated when the queen’s nemesis Solar attacks…

Futuristic super-science rebuilds Boniface in ‘No Love Lost’ (Lapham, Shooter, Layton, Paul Autio & Beccari) but he soon realises he might be fighting on the wrong side of this insane eternal war…

Frustratingly, the resolution of Unity is not included here but there’s a big change in Shadowman when he finally gets back to New Orleans. It’s not so much that Jack fell in love and lost his adored Elya, but rather that whilst in the temporal aberration he learned exactly when Jack Boniface would die…

Written by Shooter, Ditko, Don Perlin. Moretti and Hall with art by Ditko, Moretti and Gonzalo Mayo, ‘The Family That Slays Together’ pits Shadowman against a murderous clan of degenerate swamp-dwellers stealing women and children from local communities.

Bitter, merciless and now completely reckless since he believes he cannot die until his time is officially up, Shadowman is a relentless, remorseless, punishing force of nature. What a pity Jack Boniface is a helpless witness to every atrocity his night-self commits…

Hall, Jose Delbo, Don Perlin & John Dixon close out this section with ‘Run for your Death’ as the King of Shadows battles drug dealers and encounters ordinary citizens driven to commit blasphemous crimes for a mystery mastermind. He doesn’t know it yet, but the latest Shadowman is about to meet a very old enemy for the first time…

Also included in this introductory tome is text essay Darque Passages (from the January 1994 one-shot of the same name wherein writer Seaborn Adamson and an army of illustrators trace the Byzantine history and influence of the Valiant Universe’s ultimate villain), followed by a gallery of original art samples by Lapham, Ryder, Beccari & Autio, and concept sketches by Hall.

Combining the best elements of conflicted lone vigilantes and dark avengers such as Batman and Daredevil with an exotic locale and traditional horror elements, Shadowman offers a tense, unsettling counterpoint to the super-science and shining heroism of Valiant’s other titles, and despite the committee-like nature of its creation still delivers heaping helpings of moody mystery and arcane excitement. Well worth a moment of your time in your favourite darkened reading nook…
© 2013 Valiant Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 1


By Wally Wood, Len Brown, Larry Ivie, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky, George Tuska, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-689-6                  eISBN: 978-1-62302-362-1

The history of Wally Wood’s immortal comics masterpiece is painfully convoluted, and when the meteoric lifespan of the Tower Comics line ended, not especially pretty: wrapped up in legal wrangling, financial jiggery-pokery and plenty of petty back-biting.

None of that, however, can diminish the fact that the far-too brief original career of The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves was a benchmark of quality and sheer bravura fun for fans of both the then-still-reawakening superhero genre and the era’s spy-chic obsession.

In the early 1960s the Bond movie franchise was going from strength to strength, with blazing action and heady glamour utterly transforming the formerly understated espionage genre.

The buzz was infectious: soon Men like Flint and Matt Helm were carving out their own piece of the action as television shanghaied the entire bandwagon with the irresistible Man From U.N.C.L.E. (premiering in September 1964); bringing the whole shtick inescapably into living rooms across the planet.

Wildly creative maverick Wally Wood was approached at this time by veteran MLJ/Archie Comics editor Harry Shorten to create a line of characters for a new distribution-chain funded publishing outfit – Tower Comics.

Woody called on some of the biggest names in the industry to produce material in the broad range of genres the company demanded (as well as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and its spin-offs Undersea Agent, Dynamo and NoMan there was a magnificent anthology war-comic Fight the Enemy and wholesome youth-comedy Tippy Teen).

Samm Schwartz and Dan DeCarlo handled the funnybook – which outlasted all the others – whilst Wood, Larry Ivie, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Russ Jones Gil Kane and Ralph Reese all contributed scripts for themselves and the industry’s top talents to illustrate on the adventure series.

With a ravenous appetite for super-spies and costumed heroes steadily rising in comic-book popularity and amongst the general public, the idea of blending the two concepts seems a no-brainer now, but those were far more conservative times.

When T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 appeared with no fanfare or pre-publicity on newsstands in August 1965 (with a cover off-sale date of November) thrill-hungry readers like little me were blown away. It didn’t hurt either that all Tower titles were in the beloved-but-rarely-seen 80-Page Giant format: there was a huge amount to read in every issue!

All that being said the tales would not be so beloved if they hadn’t been so superbly crafted. As well as Wood, the art accompanying the compelling, far more mature stories was by some of the greatest talents in comics: Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta, Steve Ditko and others.

This initial compilation of classics collects T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1-4: spanning November 1965 to April 1966 and covering the first golden year of the series. The action starts with no preamble in ‘First Encounter’: a simple four page tale by Ivie & Wood and lettered by Archie comics mainstay Victor Gorelick.

A team of UN commandos fails to save brilliant scientist Professor Emil Jennings from the attack of the mysterious Warlord, but at least rescues some of his greatest inventions, including a belt that can increase the density of the wearer’s body until it becomes as hard as steel, an invisibility cloak and an enigmatic brain-amplifier helmet.

These prototypes are subsequently divided between several agents to create a unit of superior fighting men and counter the increasingly bold attacks of many global terror threats such as the aforementioned Warlord.

First chosen was affable file clerk Len Brown who was, to everyone’s surprise, assigned the Thunderbelt and codename Dynamo in delightfully light-hearted adventure ‘Menace of the Iron Fog’. Scripted by veteran writer Len Brown – who until publication had no idea illustrator/editor Wood had prankishly changed the hero’s civilian name as a last-minute gag – this explosively bombastic romp gloriously pandered to every kid’s dream as the nice guy got the power to smash stuff…

This cathartic fun-fest also introduced the Iron Maiden; a sultry villainess clad in figure-hugging steel who was the probable puberty-trigger for an entire generation of boys…

‘T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent NoMan’ came next, the eerie saga of aged Dr. Anthony Dunn who had his mind transferred into a specialised android body, before being equipped with the invisibility cape. The author’s name is unknown but the incredible Reed Crandall (with supplemental Wood inks) drew the first episode, which also found time and space to include a captivating clash with sinister mastermind Demo and his sultry associate Satana who had unleashed a wave of bestial sub-men on a modern metropolis.

NoMan had one final advantage: if his artificial body was destroyed his consciousness could transfer to another android body. As long as he had a spare ready, he could never die…

Larry Ivie filled in some useful background on the war against the Warlord in the prose adventure ‘Face to Face’ before the third agent was chosen in ‘The Enemy Within’ (also with no script credit but illustrated by Gil Kane, Mike Esposito and George Tuska). Here, however, is where the creators stepped well outside comic-book conventions. John Janus was the perfect UN employee and super-agent candidate: a mental and physical marvel who easily passed all the tests necessary to wear the Jennings helmet.

Sadly he was also a deep-cover mole for the Warlord, poised to betray T.H.U.N.D.E.R. at the earliest opportunity…

All those nefarious plans went awry once he donned the helmet and became Menthor. The device awakened the potential of his mind, granting him telepathy, telekinesis and mid-reading powers – and also drove all evil from his mind whilst he wore it. When the warlord attacked with a small army and a giant monster, Menthor was compelled by his own costume to defeat the assault. What a dilemma for a traitor to be in…

‘T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad’, by Ivie, Mike Sekowsky & Frank Giacoia, is a rip-roaring yarn featuring an infallible elite team of non-powered specialist operatives (predating TV’s Mission: Impossible outfit by almost two years) who tackled cases the super-agents were too busy or unsuited for.

In this initial outing the Squad rush to defend their Weapons Development Center from a full paramilitary assault only to discover that it’s a feint and Dynamo has been captured by the Warlord…

The first issue then ends with a massive old-fashioned team-up as all the forces of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. converge to rescue their prime agent who is ‘At the Mercy of the Iron Maiden’ (Brown, Wood & Dan Adkins): a spectacular battle blockbuster that still takes the breath away…

As always, issue #2 led with the strongman star as ‘Dynamo Battles Dynavac’ (Brown, Wood & Richard Bassford): another colossal combat classic with the hapless hero getting a severe kicking from a deadly automaton. Once again a narrative thread stretched through the disparate solo tales as the hero’s girlfriend and fellow agent Alice was kidnapped…

NoMan was ‘In the Warlord’s Power’ (Bill Pearson, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando & Wood) when an army of Zombie-men attacked a missile base and the evil overlord found a way to take control of Dunn’s android frame after which Menthor again defied his master to defeat a Warlord scheme to destroy T.H.U.N.D.E.R. HQ (illustrated by Sekowsky & Giacoia) before ‘D-Day for Dynamo’ (with art from Wood, Adkins & Tony Coleman) pits the assembled heroes – reunited to rescue Alice – against Demo, the Dynavac unit and the Warlord forces in an all-out war with atomic consequences.

Here the series took a fantastic turn as the Warlord is revealed to be an agent of a subterranean race of conquerors…

Prose piece ‘Junior T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents’, neatly segues into another T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad thriller as the team respond ‘On the Double’ to a South American crisis involving mutant monsters, Communist insurgents and bloody revolution in a classy caper illustrated by the Sekowsky/Giacoia team.

Drawn by Adkins, Wood & Coleman ‘Dynamo Battles the Subterraneans’ opened the third issue as the Warlord’s macabre mole-men masters attacked Washington DC, after which ‘NoMan Faces the Threat of the Amazing Vibraman’ (Pearson, John Giunta, Wood & Coleman) sees a far more plebeian but no less deadly masked menace ended by the undying agent.

Dynamo almost becomes a propaganda victim of Communist agitator ‘The Red Dragon’ (Adkins, Wood & Coleman) whilst the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad battle a madman who manufactures his own ‘Invaders from the Deep’ (another uncredited script limned by Sekowsky & Giacoia) before main event ‘Dynamo vs. Menthor’ (Wood, Adkins & Coleman) poses a terrifying mystery as a trusted agent almost destroys the entire organisation…

With a scattering of captivating Fact File pin-ups by Wood & Adkins featuring Dynamo, NoMan, the Thunderbelt, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad and Menthor, the visual excitement in this issue is beyond price.

Dynamo tale ‘Master of Evolution’ (Brown, Wood, Adkins & Coleman) opens the fourth issue with a dinosaur bashing extravaganza, whilst the fiendish Mastermind arrayed his own android armies against the Artificial Agent in ‘The Synthetic Stand-Ins’ by Steve Skeates, Sekowsky & Giacoia, after which the same team debut the latest super-agent in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad saga ‘The Deadly Dust’ after a Nazi scientist uses a time-retarding dust for evil and the heroes respond with a reflex-enhancing super-speed suit.

This first case for hyper-fast Lightning was followed by a Dynamo milestone. ‘The Return of the Iron Maiden’ was drawn by Crandall, Wood & Adkins and saw the Armoured Inamorata betray her latest employer Dr. Death for the good-hearted hunk of man sent to arrest her.

Finally, the mystery of Menthor is partially resolved in fast-paced thriller ‘The Great Hypno’ (illustrated by Giunta, Wood & Coleman), and of course the storytelling extravaganza is supported by more fantastic art extras in the form of NoMan in Action! and The Origin of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Fact Pages.

These are truly timeless comic tales that improve with every reading, so why not add these landmark superhero spy sagas to your collection of all-time favourites?
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 1 © 2013 Radiant Assets LLC.. All rights reserved.

Captain Midnight Archives volume 1: Captain Midnight Battles the Nazis


By Dave Gormley, Leonard Frank, Carl Pfeufer, Dan Barry & various (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 78-1-61655-242-8                    eISBN: 978-1-62115-884-4

Captain Midnight began his bombastic life as a radio serial star in the days when two-fisted, troubleshooting aviators were the acme of adventure genre heroes. Created by broadcast writers Wilfred G. Moore and Robert M. Burtt, the show was conceived by Chicago ad-men to promote Skelly Oil in the American Midwest.

The Captain Midnight Program soldiered on from 1938 to 1940 until the Wander Company acquired the sponsorship rights to promote their top product; Ovaltine. From there on, the sky was the limit: national radio syndication led to a newspaper comic strip (by Erwin L. Hess, running from June 29th 1942 until the end of the decade); a movie serial (1942) and – later – two TV serials (1953 and 1954-1956 but syndicated as “Jet Jackson, Flying Commando” well into the 1960s) plus a mountain of merchandise such as the legendary Captain Midnight Secret Decoder Ring

There was also a comicbook franchise or – more accurately – two…

The basic premise was that after World War One ended, pilot and aviation inventor Captain Jim Albright returned home having earned the sobriquet “Captain Midnight” after a particularly harrowing mission that concluded successfully at the witching hour. He formed a paramilitary “Secret Squadron” of like-minded pilots and did good deeds -often at the covert behest of the President – using guts and gadgets to foil spies, catch crooks and defend the nation.

Captain Midnight really hit his stride after the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, becoming an early Home Front media sensation of the war years. However, his already fluid backstory and appearance underwent a radical makeover when he switched comicbook horses in midstream.

This stunningly engaging full-colour hardback collection (also available as an eBook) gathers tantalising snippets from the vast comicbook canon of the “Sovereign of the Skies”, rather arbitrarily collected from Dell Comics anthologies The Funnies #59 (September 1941) and Popular Comics 76 & 78 (June and August 1942) as well as Fawcett Comics’ Captain Midnight #4-6, 9, 12, 31, 44, 47, 58 and 61, released between January 1943 and March 1948. The solo title was initially released fortnightly with #1 bearing a September 30th 1942 cover-date.

Much of this material is unattributed but amongst the regular writers were Joseph J. “Joe” Millard, Wilford Hamilton Fawcett, Bill Woolfolk and Otto Binder whilst artists included Jack Binder and his art stable, as well as the engagingly workmanlike Leonard Frank, Carl Pfeufer, Ken Bald, Jack Keller, Sheldon Moldoff and – latterly – young but constantly improving legends-to-be Leonard Starr and Dan Barry.

Following a fond appreciation and passionate reminiscences from David Scroggy in his effusive Introduction, the cartoon classics begin with an action-packed but confusing chapter from The Funnies #59. Here Dave Gormley depicts the Captain – still clad in regulation leather jacket, aviator flight cap and goggles – and his Secret Squadron in pursuit of nefarious archenemy Ivan Shark before Popular Comics #76 sees them battling to prevent the insidious Ivan’s airborne conquest of America.

Popular Comics #78 (with art by Bob Jenney) renews and continues that titanic struggle as Shark’s henchman Gardo rushes to his master with information that could destroy democracy forever…

When Fawcett took over the comicbook license in 1942 they gave Albright a stripped-down operation, flashier gimmicks and a rather striking superhero costume. They also abandoned continued serials in favour of short complete adventures as the Sky Sovereign added Nazi and Japanese villains to his macabre rogue’s gallery.

The initial Fawcett offering comes from Captain Midnight #4 (January 8th 1943) as the sabotaging ‘Gremlins of Graham Field’ – possibly illustrated by Frank? – are exposed as malevolent Nazi dwarves whilst #5 sees Albright and his ward Chuck Ramsay overseas in Alexandria proving that ‘The Beasts That Flew Like Birds’ (Carl Pfeufer) were not ancient vampires but far more insidious and dangerous modern monsters…

Plucky mechanic and comedy stooge Icky was one of three regular holdovers from the radio iteration of the Secret Squadron and he eventually won his own back-up strip and codename: Sergeant Twilight.

A brace of tales from #6, begins with ‘Presenting Ichabod Mudd, Cowboy!’ as the homely oaf accidentally outs a band of Nazis masquerading as cattle rustlers in Nevada, aiming to prevent the government feeding its troops, after which ‘Broadcast of Death’ sees more Nazis jamming crucial shortwave radio communications and morale-lifting programs until the Captain and his crew step in.

A trio of tales from Captain Midnight #9 (June 1943) opens with ‘Silent Wings of Destruction’ as the Monarch of the Skies tracks down undetectable planes bombing US war production plants and discovers an astounding Nazi aviation advancement.

In ‘Black Tornadoes’ a German inventor then unleashes all the fury of nature against the Midwest until the Captain tracks him down whilst Albright’s robotic ‘Samson the Mechanical Man’ proves a major breakthrough after uncovering enemy agents in the lab…

Three more classics come from #12 (September 1943) as ‘The Puzzle of the Flying Houses’ finds spies using cloud-cover and dwelling-shaped zeppelins to photograph military secrets whilst ‘Buy War Bonds!’ offers a breathtaking ad from the period before ‘The Sinister Angels’ suborning South American peasants and fomenting rebellion are ultimately exposed by our heroes as craftily disguised enemy agents.

A big jump to Captain Midnight #31 (April 1945) opens post-war proceedings with ‘Sgt. Twilight’s Flying School’ as lovably bumbling goof Icky is gulled into teaching a gang of wily thugs how to commit seemingly impossible crimes with aircraft… before finally wising up and lowering the boom…

Issue #44 (September 1946) heralds the resurrection of a deadly foe as ‘Return of the Shark’ sees the villain copying Albright’s latest invention to facilitate robbing planes in mid-air before a literally mad scientist forces Captain Midnight to participate in a deadly ‘Invention Duel to the Death’

December 1946’s CM #47 tangentially addresses the growing interest in horror material with ‘Fangs of the Werewolf’ (Frank art) as Midnight hunts an amnesiac GI in the US Sector of newly-partitioned Germany and encounters maniacal Nazi holdout Storm von Cloud who plans a wave of terror with his sinister Werewolf Corps of commandos.

As the 1940s drew to a close technological advancement, science fiction and crime became the most popular topics for action tales, and from #58 (December 1947) ‘Test Tunnel’ uses all those elements to great effect as Shark discovers Midnight’s true identity and lays a lethal trap in Albright’s latest plane-proving system…

Wrapping up this glorious grab-bag of Golden Age goodies is a tale of dogged endurance as ‘Captain Midnight Masters Glacier Peak’ (#61, March 1948; credited to Leonard Starr, but it looks like Dan Barry to me) sees Albright embroiled in a brutal struggle between rival Arctic expeditions to claim acclaim and vast riches at the top of the world…

With an eye-popping gallery of covers by Gormley, Binder, Mac Raboy and Frank, plus mesmerising period ads and mini-features such as ‘Captain Marvel Secret Messages’, ‘Captain Midnight’s Air Quiz’, ‘Captain Midnight’s Air Insignia’ and ‘Fawcett Comix Cards’ this is a superbly engaging feast of comics history and timeless thrills.
Captain Midnight Archives volume 1: Captain Midnight Battles the Nazis ® and ©Dark Horse Comics 2013. All rights reserved.

Angel Catbird volume 1


By Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-063-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fuzzy Fantasy for Grown-ups… 8/10

Margaret Atwood is a multi-award winning novelist with a string of laudable, famous books (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin) to her name and a couple of dark secrets. As disclosed in her Introduction to this fun-packed fantasy romp, she loves cats and comics and has done so for most of her life…

Thus Angel Catbird; a series of original, digest-sized, full-colour hardbacks relating the adventures of creatures who have lived unknown amongst us from time immemorial and the crossbreed newcomer who shakes up their worlds…

Scripted and co-designed by Atwood, the lively saga is illustrated by Johnnie Christmas, coloured by Tamra Bonvillain and lettered by Nate Piekos of Blambot® and begins as genetic engineer and new private sector worker Strig Feleedus rushes to finish a crucial “super-splicer” formula for his creepy boss at Muroid Inc.

Owner Dr. Muroid has a thing for rats and is extremely eager for Strig to complete his assignment. The perpetual harassment even extends to covert surveillance through his mechanically augmented rat spies…

Upon learning Feleedus has made a midnight hour breakthrough, the deranged doctor pesters his wage-slave into bringing the results straight in, provoking a horrible accident involving Strig, his pet cat Ding, a passing owl, a speeding automobile and the spilled gene-splicing agent prototype…

When Strig comes to, he has been transformed into a bizarre human/cat/bird hybrid who can fly and voraciously gobble down rats, but that’s only the beginning…

Despite eventually regaining his original form, Strig is suddenly made aware of a whole new world he never imagined possible. His senses – especially smell – have become greatly heightened. Co-worker Cate Leone, for example, becomes far more interesting when his nose comes into play. Most intriguing is the fact that somehow Feleedus can understand what birds and alley-cats are saying…

Before long, Strig is submerged in an astonishing new existence: one where animals live exotic alternative lives as half-humans and one to which he has been admitted only through the auspices of his accidental exposure to the super-splicer compound.

Tragically, when he discovers just why Muroid wanted the serum in the first place, it sparks a deadly and explosive interspecies war with the “Angel Catbird” and his shapeshifting animal allies on one side and mad Muroid’s mutant rat hordes on the other….

To Be Continued…

This turbulent tome also includes a wealth of intriguing extras including a large art gallery by illustrative stars such as David Mack, Fábio Moon, Tyler Crook, Matt Kindt, Jen Bartel, Troy Nixey, David Rubín and Charlie Pachter; a fascinating and extensive annotated Sketchbook section from both Christmas and Atwood, plus a detailed and informative rundown on how Tamra Bonvillain turns line-art into extraordinarily complex colour pages.

This book has an ulterior motive and secret life too. The story is frequently footnoted with facts and advice on how to protect felines and avians from harm which originate from the charity catsandbirds.ca, and the tale you enjoy is designed to promote their message of simultaneously keeping cats safe and saving bird lives. Why not look them up and make a donation?

Playful and sly with slickly hidden, razor-sharp edges, this a fable of frolicsome fantasy all mixed up with Fights ‘n’ Tights fun that will delight animal lovers and old-fashioned superhero fans.
Angel Catbird™ & © 2016 Margaret Atwood. All rights reserved.

The Art of Vampirella: The Warren Years


By Frank Frazetta, Enrich, Sanjulián, Ken Kelly Vaughn Bodé & various artists, written by David Roach (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-390-2

Jim Warren originally established himself in the American comics marketplace with monochrome B-Movie fan periodical Famous Monsters of Filmland and satire magazine Help! In 1965 he took his deep admiration of the legendary 1950s EC Comics to its logical conclusion: reviving anthology horror periodicals and pitching them at older fans.

Creepy was stuffed with clever strip chillers illustrated by the top artists in the field (many of them ex-EC stars) and Warren neatly sidestepped the all-powerful Comics Code Authority – which had ended EC’s glory days and eventually their entire comics line – by publishing his new venture as a newsstand magazine.

It was a no-lose proposition. Older readers didn’t care to be associated with “kid’s stuff” comicbooks whilst magazines already held tempting extra cachet (i.e. mild nudity and a little more explicit violence) for readers of a transitional age.

Best of all, the standard monochrome format cost a quarter of what colour periodicals did to print.

Creepy was a huge and influential hit, especially among the increasingly rebellious, Rock ‘n’ Roll crazed teen market; often cited as a source of inspiration for the nascent underground commix movement and now furiously feeding on the growing renewed public interest in the supernatural.

In true Darwinian “Grow or Die” mode, Warren looked around for new projects, following up with companion shocker Eerie and the controversial war title Blazing Combat.

As the decade closed he launched a third horror anthology, but Vampirella was a little bit different. Although it featured the traditional “host” to introduce and comment on stories, this narrator was a sexy starlet who occasionally participated in the stories: eventually becoming hero and crowd-pulling star of her own regular feature.

Another radical variation was that here female characters played a central role. They were still victims and targets but increasingly, whether name stars or bit players, were as likely to be the big menace or save the day. Whatever their role, though, they were still pretty much naked throughout. Some traditions must be protected at all costs…

Another beguiling Warren innovation and staple was the eye-catching painted covers on every issue…

The hidden story behind Warren’s introduction of Vampirella is fully disclosed in David Roach’s incisive history of the magazine whose covers are reprinted in their entirety – spanning September 1969 to March 1983 – in this pictorial treasury.

Accompanied by informative context and commentary, they are presented as both finished newsstand-ready product with all typography and logos and as full-page reproductions of the original artworks, denuded of all distracting text and editorial modification.

This magnificent oversized (234 x 307 mm) hardback proudly displays every cover from the run: 112 issues, the 1972 Annual and the Pantha Special – and even includes a series of photographic entries featuring Barbara Leigh in full costume. She was pegged to play the deliciously Deadly Drakulonne in a sadly-unrealised Hammer Horror movie.

Following a revelatory Introduction from Enric Torres-Prat who as “Enrich” painted dozens of astoundingly eye-catching covers, Roach’s ‘Vampirella: an Introduction’ traces her history and development as well as the company-saving arrival of the Spanish illustrators of Josep Tutain’s European S.I. agency.

The astonishing work of these astounding painters and draughtsmen turned Warren around and made them the most visually unique publisher on the American scene. Moreover this Introduction is illustrated not just with American material but also pages of comics and covers S.I. provided for the British market during the 1960s and 1970s.

The major portion of this beguiling tome is quite rightly all about the art, and the parade of painterly peril and pulchritude includes works by Aslan (Alain Gourdon), Frank Frazetta, Bill Hughes, Vaughn Bodé, Jeff Jones, Larry Todd, Ken Kelly, Boris Vallejo, Sanjulián (Manuel Pérez Clemente), Pepe Gonzalez, Luis Dominguez, Josep Marti Ripoll, Lluís Ribas, Hank Londoner (photographer for the Leigh covers), Bob Larkin, Kim McQuaite, Jordi Penalva, Esteban Maroto, Steve Harris, Paul Gulacy, Terrance Lindall, Jordi Longaron, Noly Panaligan, Albert Pujolar and Martin Hoffman.

This captivating, vibrant tome is as much a historical assessment as celebration of stellar talent: a beautiful, breathtaking and brilliantly inspirational compendium for the next generation of artists and illustrators.

If you are gripped by the drive to make pictures but want a little encouragement, this luxurious compendium offers all the encouragement you could possibly hope for – and is powerfully intoxicating too.
Vampirella ™ and © 2013 Dynamite Entertainment. All rights reserved.

The Art of Sean Phillips


By Sean Phillips, Eddie Robson and various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-420-6

Win’s Christmas Recommendation: A Magical Trawl through Fan-favourite Moments… 9/10

Sean Phillips started selling comic strips in 1980. He was 15 years old, still at school and for all intents and purposes “living the dream”. He’s been doing it ever since, with dedication, professionalism and ever-increasing proficiency.

This magnificent oversized (234 x 310 mm) hardback reproduces hundreds of comics pages and covers, plus an assortment of out-industry artwork, as accompaniment to an astonishingly forthright extended interview and career retrospective of the phenomenally talented and terrifying dedicated illustrator, covering his earliest cartooning efforts right through to his next big thing. There’s even baby pictures and school work. Of course Sean and his friends did make their first professional strip sale – to the local newspaper – when they were twelve…

Compiled by Phillips and writer and journalist Eddie Robson, with contributions from fellow artists, writers and editors the artist worked with over the decades, the book includes an Introduction from co-conspirator Ed Brubaker and offers many complete strips fans will probably never have seen.

As well as many unpublished works the gallery of visual wonder include early strips on “Girls” comics and Annuals such as Bunty, Judy and Diana For Girls as well as college work, try-out pages and portfolio pieces created with the sole purpose of getting into the cool mainstream…

Phillips is equally adept with paints and pen-&-ink and the book tracks his career as a jobbing artist through Bunty to early “mature reader” title Crisis (Crisis, New Statesmen, Straitgate), 2000AD and The Megazine (Armitage, Devlin Waugh), and that crucial jump to America as part of the “British Invasion”; producing features and one-offs at Vertigo and becoming part of the initial intake who launched and cemented the radical imprint’s look. Of particular interest and strongly emphasised are his runs on Kid Eternity, Hellblazer and The Invisibles.

The longed-for move into super-heroics began with Batman, a sidestep into Star Wars and back to Spider-Man. Early hints of later specialisation can be spotted in Scene of the Crime, Gotham Noir and Sleeper, but he was also busy with Wildcats and X-Men. He truly became a major name through the monumental sensation that was Marvel Zombies, but more attention here is paid to poorer-selling critical hit and career crossroads Criminal.

The parade of pictorial perfection continues with finished pages and original art from many more titles including User, Intersections, Incognito and more, strips and covers for licensed titles such as Serenity, Predator, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower spin-offs and for classic film repackager Criterion. Other non-comics work includes true lost gems such as political strip ‘Right Behind You’ from The Sunday Herald depicting how a certain meeting between George W. Bush and Tony Blair probably went as a certain invasion was discussed…

The comics conversation concludes with sneaky peeks at then-upcoming projects Fatale and European album Void 01 and we know just how damn good those both turned out…

Also sporting a healthy Bibliography section, heartfelt Acknowledgements and a Biography page, this massively entertaining, vibrant tome is as much an incisive and philosophical treatise on work-ethic as celebration of a stellar career telling stories in pictures: a beautiful, breathtaking and brilliantly inspirational compendium for the next generation of artists and writers, whatever their age.

If you already have the urge to make pictures but want a little encouragement, this rousing celebration offers all the encouragement you could possibly hope for – and is just plain lovely to look at too.
© 2013 Dynamite Entertainment. All artworks, characters, images and contributions © their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved.