Merry Christmas, Boys and Girls!

In keeping with my self-imposed Holiday tradition here’s another pick of British Annuals selected not just for nostalgia’s sake but because it’s my house, my day and my rules…

If you’re lucky enough to stumble across a vintage volume or modern facsimile, I hope my words convince you to expand your comfort zone and try something old yet new…

Still topping my Xmas wish-list is further collections from fans and publishers who have begun to rescue this magical material from print limbo in (affordable) new collections…

Great writing and art is rotting in boxes and attics or the archives of publishing houses, when it needs to be back in the hands of readers once again. As the tastes of the reading public have never been broader and since a selective sampling of our popular heritage will always appeal to some part of the mass consumer base, let’s all continue rewarding publishers for their efforts and prove that there’s money to be made from these glorious examples of our communal childhood.=

Archie’s Christmas Classics (Archie Classics Series Volume 1)

By Frank Doyle, Harry Lucey, George Gladir, Dan DeCarlo, Bill Vigoda, Tom Moore, Bob White, Al Hartley, Stan Goldberg, Joe Edwards, Bob Bolling & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-78-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: For All Those Who’ve Been Extra Good This Year… 9/10

As long-term readers might recall, my good lady wife and I have a family ritual we’re not ashamed to boast of or share with you. Every Christmas we barricade the doors, draw the shutters, stockpile munchies, stoke up the radiators and lazily subside with a huge pile of seasonal comics from yesteryear.

(Well, I do: she also insists on a few monumental feats of cleaning and shopping before manufacturing the world’s most glorious and stupefying meal to accompany my reading, gorging and – eventually, inevitably – snoring…

Oh, so much snoring!!!)

The irresistible trove of funnybook treasures generally comprises older DC’s, loads of Disney’s and some British annuals, but the vast preponderance is Archie Comics.

From the earliest days this American institution has quite literally “owned Christmas” through a fabulously funny, nostalgically charming, sentimental barrage of cannily-crafted stories capturing the spirit of the season through a range of cartoon stars from Archie to Veronica, Betty to Sabrina and Jughead to Santa himself…

For most of us, when we say “comicbooks” people’s thoughts turn to steroidal blokes, anthropomorphic animals and even women in garish tights hitting each other, bending lampposts and lobbing trees or cars about.

That or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed at an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans…

Throughout the decades though, other forms and genres have waxed and waned. One that has held its ground over the years – although almost completely migrated to television these days – is the genre of teen-comedy begun by and synonymous with a carrot topped, homely (at first just plain ugly) kid named Archie Andrews.

MLJ were a small publisher who jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following-up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. Content was the standard blend of costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips, although Pep did make a little history with its first lead feature The Shield, who was the American industry’s first superhero to be clad in the flag (see America’s 1st Patriotic Hero: The Shield).

After initially revelling in the benefits of the Fights ‘N’ Tights game, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (MLJ, duh!) spotted a gap in their blossoming market. In December 1941 their stable of costumed cavorters and two-fisted adventurers were gently nudged aside – just a fraction at first – by a wholesome, improbable and far-from-imposing new hero; an unremarkable (except, perhaps, for his teeth) teenager who would have ordinary adventures just like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Almost certainly inspired by the hugely popular Andy Hardy movies, Goldwater developed the concept of a youthful everyman protagonist and tasked writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. Their precocious new notion premiered in Pep #22: a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed kid obsessed with impressing the pretty blonde girl next door.

An untitled 6-page tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely pretty Betty Cooper. The boy’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in the first story, as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. It was a huge hit and by the winter of 1942 the kid and his pals won a title of their own.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began a slow transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946 the kids were in charge, so MLJ became Archie Comics, retiring most of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age to become, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies. The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating best bud Jughead Jones and scurrilous rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with the readership but was infinitely fresh…

Archie’s success, like Superman’s, forced a change in content at every other publisher (except perhaps Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated) and led to a multi-media brand which encompasses TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and, in the swinging sixties, a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar – from the animated TV cartoon – became a global pop smash. Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since…

The Andrews boy is good-hearted, impetuous and lacking common sense, Betty his sensible, pretty girl next door who loves the ginger goof, and Veronica is rich, exotic and glamorous: only settling for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Archie, of course, is utterly unable to choose who or what he wants…

Unconventional, food-crazy Jughead is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming House of Luurve (and Annexe of Envy) has been the rock-solid foundation for seven decades of funnybook magic. Moreover, the concept is eternally self-renewing…

This eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas ranging from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends… (boy genius Dilton Doily, genial giant jock Big Moose and aspiring comicbook cartoonist Chuck amongst many others) growing into an American institution and part of the nation’s cultural landscape.

The feature has thrived by constantly re-imagining its core archetypes; seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright, flimsy pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance. Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and, over the decades, the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner always both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck and his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom have contributed to a wide and appealingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie easily cleared the American industry’s final hurdle when openly gay Kevin Keller became an admirable advocate, capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream Kids’ comics.

One of the most effective tools in the company’s arsenal has been the never-failing appeal of seasonal and holiday traditions. In Riverdale it was always sunny enough to surf at the beach in summer and it always snowed at Christmas…

The Festive Season has never failed to produce great comics stories. DC especially have -since their earliest days – perennially and effectively embraced the magic of the holiday with a decades-long succession of stunning and sentimental Batman thrillers, as well as many other heroic team-ups incorporating Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Sgt. Rock and all the rest…

Archie also started early (1942) and kept on producing memorable year-end classics. The stories became so popular and eagerly anticipated that in 1954 the company created a specific oversized title – Archie’s Christmas Stocking – to cater to demand, even as it kept the winter months of its other periodicals stuffed with assorted tales of elves and snow and fine fellow-feeling…

Seasoned (see what I did there?) with covers and pin-ups, this splendidly appealing, full-colour celebration – recently re-released as an eBook – gathers a superb selection of Cool Yule extravaganzas from those end-of-year annuals and other sources.

Without preamble the jolly japes commence with a selection from Archie Giant Series #6: Archie’s Christmas Stocking 1959.

‘Slide Guide!’ by the irrepressible team of Frank Doyle & Harry Lucey highlights Reggie and Archie’s bid to out-do each other impresses a pack of youngsters of the danger of sledding, after which ‘Snow Mistake!’ (Doyle & Bill Vigoda) sees the rivals unite when Veronica dates another boy. Their scheme to set ever-enraged schoolmate Big Moose on the new kid goes agonisingly amiss though…

‘Fire Bugged’ (Doyle & Dan DeCarlo) then reveals how helpful Archie’s attempts to prove Christmas trees are a fire hazard enflames and enrages Ronnie’s dad, whilst ‘Come Onna My House’ (Doyle & Vigoda) details the minor spat of BFFs Betty and Veronica as they decide who will host Archie on Christmas morning…

Tom Moore reveals untrammelled greed in one-pager ‘Archie’s Pal Jughead in Shocking Stocking!’ before – following a racy Veronica the X-Mas elf pin-up – ‘Not Even a Moose’ (Doyle & Vigoda) leads off topical tales from Archie’s Christmas Stocking #10, 1961.

Here Reggie plays foolish pranks on the naïve giant and discovers the danger of telling people there is such a man as Santa whilst ‘Those Christmas Blues!’ (Bob White) sees Archie’s parents lament that they’ve been side-lined in favour of the girls in their boy’s life but have a wonderful surprise awaiting them…

Two half-pagers ‘A Head Start’ and ‘Reggie: Generous to a Fault’ segues into Betty and Veronica’s Coloring Page (not so engrossing if you’re reading the eBook edition!) after which a bad cold afflicts a close friend and causes a catastrophic case of Chinese Whispers in regard to gift-giving in ‘Archie’s Pal Jughead: “Code Three”’ (Doyle & Vigoda).

Archie’s job as guardian of the year’s presents results in a catastrophic mess in ‘Gift Collection’ after which Betty and Veronica experience a just comeuppance for calling the boys slobs in ‘Do No Evil’ (Doyle & DeCarlo: Archie Giant Series #6: Archie’s Christmas Stocking 1959)

Following a suitably seasonal Mr. Weatherbee Pin-up Page and Jughead single-page gag ‘More Pull than Talent!’, Archie and Reggie clash over a present for Veronica in ‘Go for Broke’ (from Archie Giant Series #4: Archie’s Christmas Stocking 1957) after which ‘Boxed In’ sees the red-headed fool outsmart himself in his quest for the perfect present…

Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica: ‘R is for Rooked’ (DeCarlo from Archie Comics Digest #3, December1973) sees reluctant go-between Jughead botch a spy mission to find out what Ronnie’s buying Archie whilst ‘Black Book Bonanza’ (same guy, same source) discloses how Moose comes to believe he’s now one of Santa’s official helpers…

Skulduggery and intrigue inform Doyle & Bob White’s ‘A Christmas Tale’ (Life with Archie #33, January 1965) as Ronnie promises a month of dating exclusivity to whomever chops down the biggest charity Christmas Tree. When Archie and Jughead team up to ensure the Andrews boy wins, Betty and Reggie unite to scotch their plans…

Archie Giant Series #150: Archie’s Christmas Stocking January 1968 supplies single page Veronica gag ‘Prize Surprise’ (by George Gladir & Al Hartley), leads into ‘Treed’ (Doyle & Hartley) as mystic Xmas elf Jingles helps Archie survive Reggie’s latest campaign of Christmas terror after which Archie and the Gang Make their Christmas Wish’ (Hartley) and

Christmas Pin-up (DeCarlo) bring us to ‘Wanted: Santa Claus’ (Life with Archie #26, February 1969) with Mr. Weatherbee in a turmoil because he thinks the Andrew’s boy has usurped his annual role as the school Kris Kringle…

A ‘Merry Christmas Dear Reader’ ensemble pin-up leads into sentimental tearjerker ‘It’s Not the Gift’ as Archie saves a young kid from a tragic Christmas before Doyle, Lucey & Mario Acquaviva reveal how garage-band The Archies appal and offend the older generation with their ‘Ode to Santa’ (from Laugh Comics #215 February 1969) after which Archie Giant Series #150 provides DeCarlo’s ‘Christmas Fashions for Betty and Veronica’.

‘Temptation’ (Doyle, Lucey & Chic Stone; Archie #232 February 1974) then proves Jughead very wise indeed after he argues that even Reggie can’t resist the good feelings of Christmas and – following an Archie Pin-up ‘Shopper Comes a Cropper’ (Gladir, Lucey & Stone) finds Archie in the same old bind after double-booking Christmas shopping with both Betty and Ronnie…

Doyle, DeCarlo & Rudy Lapick examine the bleaker side of the season in ‘The Greatest Gift’ (Life with Archie #154, February 1975) as the gang befriend a lonely and embittered old shopkeeper, whilst – after a Lucey Archie’s Coloring Page – Betty and Ronnie declare war on each other’s trimming and decorating taste in ‘Tree Spree’ (Archie Giant Series #242: Archie’s Christmas Love-In: January 1976).

‘Spirit Sprite’ (Archie Giant Series #454: Archie’s Christmas Love-In: January 1977) sees the Riverdale kids working to get Jughead and Big Ethel together under the mistletoe before Betty and Archie overcome exorbitant prices and circumvent ‘Tree Travail’ with a public display of seasonal cheer whilst Mr. Lodge counters his own financial worries by joining Santa’s ‘Aid Parade’

Wrapping up the festivities is prose yarn “Christmas Jeer” (Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica #16; January 1955) as the friendly rivals’ clash over duplicate dresses threatens to derail the big Christmas party…

These are joyously effective and entertaining tales for young and old alike, crafted by some of Santa’s most talented Helpers, epitomising the magic of the Season and celebrating the perfect wonder of timeless all-ages storytelling. What kind of Grinch could not want this book in their kids’ stocking (from where it can most easily be borrowed)?
© 2011 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Transformers UK Classics Volume One

By Steve Parkhouse, Simon Furman, James Hill, John Ridgway, John Stokes, Geoff Senior, Mike Collins, Barry Kitson, Will Simpson, Jeff Anderson & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-943-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Nostalgia-Fuelled Read to Toy With… 8/10

The metal-morphing Transformers toys took the world by storm in the 1980’s and a tie-in monthly American Marvel comicbook was a smash hit. Marvel’s UK division quickly produced their own fortnightly (ultimately weekly) periodical reprinting the US material, but the scheduling disparity soon necessitated the creation of original material.

As you’d expect from a top brand, the supremely popular shiny shapeshifters have been the jewel in the crown of numerous publishers ever since. The license currently resides with IDW and as part of their line, the new guys have kindly added archival editions of past glories to enthral new readers and give inveterate nostalgics a potent reminder of the good old days…

It should be noted that although a toy and cartoon show tie-in, the weekly British comic – when not reprinting US Marvel stories – seemed to pitch their material at a slightly older, if not necessarily more mature, readership…

As well as re-presenting originated material from The Transformers #1-44 (September 20th 1984 – January 18th 1986), this initial hardback/Trade Paperback/eBook archive also includes an erudite and extremely informative introduction – ‘A Complete History of Transformers UK’ – by James Roberts (following his Foreword) – detailing not only the origins and impact of the toys but the nuts and bolts of the creation of the British material. There’s even a list of feature pages, ads and premium give-aways!

Moreover, each episodic strip adventure is preceded by fulsome notes and commentary as well as a complete cover gallery – and that’s a lot of covers!

Following more candid background data the comics magic begins with ‘Man of Iron’ by Steve Parkhouse, John Ridgway & Mike Collins; coloured by Gina Hart & Josie Firmin and lettered by Richard Starkings.

The 4-part thriller ran in Transformers #9-12 (January 12th to February 23rd 1985) and revealed that a lost and unknown Autobot had periodically emerged for millennia from a crashed ship buried deep beneath rural England.

A castle built on the grounds provided year of sightings and legends but the era of mystery abruptly ends when both modern-day Autobots and Decepticons zero in on the legendary figure…

Weekly comics are hugely labour-intensive and time-critical, necessitating a vast turnover of staff – all duly recorded here. After the UK’s surprise hit periodical reprinted more US-originated material another Made-in-Britain epic began with the debut of star scribe-in-the-making Simon Furman who wrote ‘The Enemy Within!’ for #13-17 (March 9th – May 4th). Illustrated by Ridgway, Collins, Hart & Starkings, the saga details how rival Decepticons Megatron and Starscream vie for supremacy whilst vile spy Ravage infiltrates the Autobots’ Ark to action a malign mechanoid plan involving framing the Good Robots for an attack on a human military base…

‘Raiders of the Last Ark!’ #18-21 (May 16th – 29th by Furman, Collins, Jeff Anderson, Hart, Starkings & John Aldrich) then finds a Decepticon attempt to seize the Ark derailed when the vast ship’s AI consciousness manifests as a judgemental Auntie who proposes assessing the worthiness of both sides and eradicating those she finds lacking…

Following found text feature ‘Robot War! From Cybertron to Earth: The Story So Far!’ and another tranche of covers ‘Decepticon Dam-Busters’ (#29-30 October 5th – 12th 1985 and by Furman, John Stokes, Steve Whitaker & Starkings) attempts to marry toy, TV and comics universes in a brutal clash of ideologies and metal muscles in a tale adapted from an animated television episode.

Then it’s back to comicbook basics for #31-31 (October 19th – 26th) as Dinobots Grimlock, Sludge, Snarl and Slag face ‘The Wrath of Guardian!’ by Furman, Barry Kitson, Hart & Annie Halfacree as the tragic Autobot turned into a Decepticon slave battles his former allies before eventually succumbing to ‘The Wrath of Grimlock!’ (Furman, Kitson, Mark Farmer, Scott Whittaker & Mike Scott).

Preceded by ‘Robot War II: The Saga of the Transformers!’ and Geoff Senior’s black-&-white try-out art assignment, ‘Christmas Breaker!’ (James Hill, Will Simpson, Hart & Starkings from #41 December 28th) sees human robot hunter Circuit Breaker declare a temporary truce with her quarry to save a child, after which ‘Crisis of Command!’ (#42-44, January 4th – 18th 1986) – written by Collins & Hill, illustrated by Senior & Stokes, coloured by Steve Whitaker, John Burns, Gina Hart & Stuart Place & Starkings, and lettered by Mike Scott – sees burned out Optimus Prime under pressure from his own friends to create Super Autobots. The moral machine is severely embattled but knows becoming worse than Decepticons is no way to win the million-year-war…

Meanwhile, waiting in the shadows, Ravage lurks, ready to exploit the Autobots’ hesitation…

This initial compilation heads toward a conclusion with the all-UK material created for The Transformers Annual 1986; released in Autumn 1985 for the Christmas trade.

After plenty of candid, behind-the-scenes creative secrets shared, the narratives resume with

‘Plague of the Insecticons!’ (Furman, Collins, Anderson, Hart & Starkings) as a new breed of robots are catastrophically unleashed just as the Autobots are invited to the White House for a parley with President Reagan…

Then Tales of Cybertron takes us back eons to the robot homeworld where and when ‘And There Shall Come… A Leader!’ (by Furman, Stokes, Hart & Starkings) reveals the origins of the Autobot leader.

Annuals used prose stories to beef up the content and cut down on illustrating costs and a brace follow here.

Written by Hill with spot illos from Ridgway & Hart, ‘Missing in Action!’ details how neophyte Autobot Tracks gets accidentally involved in a bank robbery whilst ‘Hunted!’ finds Bumblebee battling for his life against Ravage in the Amazon jungle…

Rounding out this procession of childhood delights is a big bunch of ‘Adverts and Ephemera’ reprinting numerous toy infomercials and ‘Interface Fact Files’ offering byte-sized (sorry!) bursts of data on the galvanised Goodies and Baddies…

Fast-paced and furious in intensity, this cosmic drama for all ages still carries a punch today and the early work of modern graphic luminaries is a distinct pleasure for today’s fans to see.

Chock full of high-tech, explosive-but-not-gratuitous action, this book fairly barrels along: A solid read for aficionados and thrill-seeker of all ages.
The Transformers Classics UK vol. 1. Hasbro and its logo TRANSFORMERS and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro and are used with permission. © 2011 Hasbro. Circuit Breaker and all related characters are ™ and © Marvel Entertainment LLC and its subsidiaries All Rights Reserved.

Land of the Giants: The Complete Series

By Paul S. Newman, Tom Gill & various (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-93256-343-6

Land of the Giants debuted in America in September 1968, the fourth of producer Irwin Allen’s incredibly successful string of TV fantasy series which also included Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Time Tunnel.

The key premise was that in the then far-future of 1983 the passengers and crew of Sub-Orbital Space-liner flight 703 from Los Angeles to London fall through a space-warp and crashes in an incredible world twelve times larger than ours (mimicking the dimensions of the Brobdingnagians in Gulliver’s Travels).

To make things even scarier, the giant society closely parallels Earth in the primitive era of the mid-1960s, with crime, Cold War espionage, cultural paranoia and social injustice obsessing every anxious citizen of the Big New World…

The motley and disparate occupants of the ailing Spindrift thus have to survive and seek ways to return home whilst giant beasts, agents of totalitarian governments of that colossal planet, greedy opportunists and their own perverse natures all conspire against them.

The fact that doom is always looming above them is exacerbated by a perpetual dilemma: the ship is still space-worthy and the dimensional warp a permanent fixture but Spindrift is drained of the electrical energy needed to achieve high orbit.

Daily existence consists of staying alive and free whilst somehow scavenging – like high-tech Borrowers – enough motive power from the hulking natives to blast off forever…

The TV series generated 51 episodes and ran until 1970 with many re-runs throughout the intervening decades. It spawned a Viewmaster reel and book, a comicbook series, numerous games and toys plus a string of excellent novels by pulp Sci Fi legend Murray Leinster.

While the show aired it was the most expensive television series ever produced, but a special effects budget was no hindrance to publisher Gold Key whose five comicbook issues – released between November 1968 to September 1969 – honed in on the perilous plight of the starlost Spindrifters via the scripts of Paul S. Newman (Turok, Son of Stone, Lone Ranger) and sagely meticulous illustrator Tom Gill (Flower Potts, Lone Ranger).

Collected in this sturdy hardcover archival edition (also available in eBook editions), the miniscule voyagers’ odyssey is preceded by an effusive photo-filled ‘Introduction: Revisiting Gulliver’ by Chris Irving, covering every aspect from series production to the history of Gold Key before the graphic reverie opens with ‘The Mini-Criminals’ from Land of the Giants #1.

Behind the evocative photo-montage cover (each issue boasted one), Part I – ‘The Power-Stealers’ – sees the crew’s perpetual search for fuel sources to re-energise Spindrift lead to capture by opportunistic and imaginative thief Carlo Krogg.

In this action-oriented adventure the focus is on passengers Mark Wilson, fugitive conman Fitzhugh and he-men crew members Captain Steve Burton and co-pilot Dan Erickson who toil mightily to free hostage stewardess Betty Hamilton from Krogg’s clutches whilst pretending to burgle a jewellery store for him.

Issue #2 featured ‘Countdown to Escape’ and opens with flighty socialite Valerie Scott revealing an unsuspected talent for falconry after catching and training a giant raptor to carry the ship on ‘The Wings of an Eagle’

Sadly, the plan goes agonisingly wrong for ‘The Little Buccaneers’ after animal keepers recapture their missing exhibit, inadvertently marooning the Little People in a zoo. Although this presents them with an astounding opportunity to secure their energy-needs, the end result is another frustrating return to square one…

In ‘Giant Damsel in Distress’, Val and Betty befriend a young woman unjustly accused of a terrible crime and on the run. Colossal fugitive Linda offers to restore the stranded ship’s energy reserves with ‘Mirror Power’ but before they can benefit from the deal, the real criminals track her down, leading to a catastrophic and one-sided battle in ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’

LotG #4 reveals a daring ‘Safari in Giantland’ as the mini-marooned break into a department store to steal super-strong power cells in ‘Assault and Battery’. Typically, however, even after purloining model trucks from the kids’ wing to transport their electrical booty, the ‘Babes in Toyland’ lose the precious batteries when a giant rat attacks…

The last issue is uncharacteristically dark and grim for comics of the period. By never signing up to the draconian overreaction of the bowdlerizing Comics Code Authority, Dell/Gold Key became the company for life and death thrills, especially in the arena of traditional adventure stories.

If you were a kid in search of a proper body count instead of flesh wounds you went for Tarzan, Zorro, Roy Rogers, Tom Corbett and their ilk. That’s not to claim that the West Coast outfit were gory, exploitative sensationalists – far from it – but simply that the writers and editors knew that fiction – especially kids’ fiction – needs a frisson of danger and honest high stakes drama to make it work.

‘Operation Mini-Surgeon’ begins with ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma…’ as juvenile Spindrift passenger Barry Lockridge – who had been travelling unaccompanied to meet his parents in London – succumbs to a deadly infection. The adult castaways determine to take the boy to a giant physician, whatever the risk, and are on hand when a diplomat from a hostile foreign power is caught in an assassin’s bomb blast…

Although under government scrutiny and initially unable to save the dying Premier Klosson, surgeon Dr. Rains is still willing to aid the Little People in curing Barry. In return Mark and Steve enter the dying Klosson’s wounds to repair the tyrant from the inside in ‘A Life in Their Hands’

Tragically, before the eternally-grateful Rains can deliver the batteries that would send the aliens home, political intrigue and expedience make him a martyr to someone else’s cause…

Stuffed throughout with cast stills and candid photos, the rocket ride down memory lane concludes with ‘Photos, Artwork, and Collectibles’, offering a bonanza of stills, production photographs, promo material, posters, cast shots, original artwork from the comics, bubble gum cards, pages from Mort Drucker’s Mad Magazine parody “Land of the Giant Bores”, box art from a jigsaw puzzle and the Aurora model kit of the Spindrift, plus a picture gallery of the show’s celebrity guest stars.

Even more tantalising treats include Leinster’s novel covers, the View Master packaging, colouring Book covers and the cover of the British TV21 1971 annual…

TV themed compendia of screen-to-page magic were an intrinsic part of growing up in Britain for generations and still occur every year with only the stars/celebrity/shows changing, not the package. The show itself has joined the vast hinterland of fantasy fan-favourites and is immortalised in DVD and streamed all over the world but if you want to see more, this sparkling tome is a treat you won’t want to overlook.
Land of the Giants® is © 1968, 1969 and 2010 Irwin Allen Properties, LLC and 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved throughout the world.

The Jack Kirby Omnibus volume 2 – starring The Super Powers

By Jack Kirby with Joe Simon, Mike Royer Paul Kupperberg, Adrian Gonzalez & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3833-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Entertainment… 9/10

Famed for his larger than life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, Jack Kirby was an astute, imaginative, spiritual man who had lived through poverty and gangsterism, the Depression, Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures. He was open-minded and utterly wedded to the making of comics stories on every imaginable subject. He also always believed that sequential narrative was worthy of being published as real books beside mankind’s other literary art forms.

Looks like he was right, and – as usual – just ahead of the times, doesn’t it?

There’s a magnificent abundance of Kirby commemorative collections around these days (though still not all of it, so I remain a partially disgruntled dedicated fan). This particular magnificent hardback compendium re-presents most of miscellaneous oddments of the “King’s Canon” crafted for DC – at least those to which the company still retains rights.

The licenses on stuff like his run on pulp adaptation Justice Inc. (or indeed Marvel’s 2001: A Space Odyssey comic) will not be forthcoming any time soon…

This massive tome begins with pages of hyper-kinetic Kirby pencil pages and a moving ‘Introduction by John Morrow’ before hurtling straight into moody mystery with a range of twice told tales.

On returning from WWII, Kirby reconnected with his long-term creative partner Joe Simon. National Comics was no longer a welcoming place for the reunited dream team supreme and by 1947 they had formed their own studio. They enjoyed a long and productive relationship with Harvey Comics (Stuntman, Boy’s Ranch, Captain 3-D, Lancelot Strong, The Shield, The Fly, Three Rocketeers and more) and created a stunning variety of genre features for Crestwood/Pines supplied by their Essankay/Mainline studio shop.

These included Justice Traps the Guilty, Fighting American, Bullseye, Police Trap, Foxhole, Headline Comics and Young Romance amongst many more (see the superb Best of Simon and Kirby for a salient selection of these classic creations): a veritable mountain of maturely challenging strip material in a variety of popular genres.

One of those was mystery and horror and amongst that dynamic duo’s “Prize” concoctions was noir-ish, psychologically-underpinned supernatural anthology Black Magic and latterly a short-lived but fascinating companion title Strange World of Your Dreams. These comics anthologies eschewed the traditional gory, heavy-handed morality plays and simplistic cautionary tales for deeper, stranger fare, and – until the EC comics line hit their peak – were far and away the best mystery titles on the market.

When the King quit Marvel for DC in 1970, his new bosses accepted suggestions for a supernatural-themed mature-reading magazine. Spirit World was a superb but poorly received and largely undistributed monochrome magazine. Issue #1 – and only – launched in the summer of 1971, but editorial cowardice and back-sliding scuppered the project before it could get going.

Material from a second, unpublished issue eventually appeared in colour comicbooks Weird Mystery Tales and Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion but with his ideas misunderstood, ignored or side-lined by the company, Kirby opted again for more traditional fare. Never truly defeated though, he cannily blended his belief in the marketability of the supernatural with flamboyant super-heroics to create another unique and lasting mainstay for the DC universe. The Demon only ran a couple of years but was a concept later, lesser talents would make a pivotal figure of the company’s continuity.

His collaborations with fellow industry pioneer Joe Simon always produced dynamite concepts, unforgettable characters, astounding stories and huge sales, no matter what genre avenues they pursued, blazing trails for so many others to follow and always reshaping the very nature of American comics with their innovations and sheer quality.

As with all their endeavours, Simon & Kirby offered stories shaped by their own sensibilities. Identifying a “mature market” gap in the line of magazines they autonomously packaged for publishers Crestwood and Prize they saw the sales potential for high-quality spooky material. resulting in the superb and eerily seminal Black Magic (launched with an October/November 1950 cover-date), supplemented in 1952 by boldly obscure psychological drama anthology The Strange World of Your Dreams: a title inspired by studio-mate Mort Meskin’s vivid and punishing night terrors.

Dealing with fantastic situations and – too frequently for comfort – unable or unwilling to provide pat conclusions or happy endings, cosmic justice or calming explanations were seldom available to avid readers. Sometimes the Unknown just blew up in your face and you survived or didn’t… and never whole or unchanged.

Thus, this colossal compendium of cult cartoon cavortings commences with DC’s revival of Black Magic as a cheap, modified reprint title.

The second issue #1 launched with an October/November 1973 cover-date, offering rather crudely re-mastered versions of some astounding classics. Far better reproduced on the good quality paper here is ‘Maniac!’ (originating in Black Magic #32 September/October 1973); an artistic tour de force and a tale much “homaged” in later years, detailing how – and why – a loving brother stops villagers taking his simple-minded sibling away. This is followed by ‘The Head of the Family!’ (BM #30 May/June 1954, by Kirby & Bruno Premiani), revealing the appalling secret shame of a most inbred clan…

DC’s premier outing ended with a disturbing tale first seen in Black Magic #29 (March-April 1954). Specifically cited during the1954 anti-comicbook Senate Hearings, ‘The Greatest Horror of them All!’ told a tragic tale of a freak hiding amongst lesser freaks…

DC’s second issue – cover-dated December 1973/January 1974 – opened with ‘Fool’s Paradise!’ (BM #26, September/October 1953) wherein a petty thug stumbles into a Mephistophelean deal and revealed how ‘The Cat People’ (#27 November/December 1953) mesmerised and forever marked an unwary tourist in rural Spain before ‘Birth After Death’ (#20 January 1953) retold the true story of how Sir Walter Scott’s mother survived premature burial, and ‘Those Who Are About to Die!’ (#23 April 1953) sketched out the tale of a painter who could predict imminent doom…

‘Nasty Little Man!’ (#18 November 1952) fronted DC’s third foray and gets my vote for creepiest horror art job of all time. It saw three hobos discover to their everlasting regret why you shouldn’t pick on short old men with Irish accents. ‘The Angel of Death!’ (#15 August 1952) then detailed an horrific medical mystery far darker than mere mystic menace…

As the 1950s editions grew in popularity, Simon & Kirby were stretched thin. Utilising a staff of assistants and crafting fewer stories themselves meant they could keep all their deadlines…

The ‘Cover art for Black Magic #4, June/July 1974’ sensibly segues into ‘Last Second of Life!’, from Black Magic volume 1 #1, October-November 1950) wherein a rich man, obsessed over what the dying see at final breath, learns to regret the unsavoury lengths he went to in finding out: their only contribution to that particular DC issue.

There were two in the next release. ‘Strange Old Bird!’ (Black Magic #25 June/July 1953) is a gently eerie thriller of a little old lady who gets the gift of renewed life from her tatty and extremely flammable feathered old friend and ‘Up There!’ from the landmark 13th issue from June 1952 – the saga of a beguiling siren of the upper stratosphere scaring the bejabbers out of a cool test pilot…

DC issue #6 reprises ‘The Girl Who Walked on Water!’ (BM #11 April 1952) exposing the immense but fragile power of self-belief whilst the ‘Cover art for Black Magic #7, December 1974/January 1975’ (originally #17 October 1952) provides a chilling report on a satanic vestment ‘The Cloak!’ (from BM #2 December 1950/January 1951) and ‘Freak!’ (from the aforementioned #17) shares a country doctor’s deepest shame…

DC’s #8 revisited The Strange World of Your Dreams, beginning with “a typical insecurity nightmare” ‘The Girl in the Grave!’ (from #2, September/October 1952). The Meskin-inspired anthology of oneiric visions eschewed cheap shocks, mindless gore and goofy pun-inspired twist-ending yarns in favour of dark, oppressive suspense soaked in psychological unease and inexplicable unease: tension over teasing…

Following up with ‘Send Us Your Dreams’ from the same source (requesting readers’ ideas for parapsychologist Richard Temple to analyse), DC’s vintage fear-fest concludes with # 9 (April/May 1975) and ‘The Woman in the Tower!’ as originally seen in The Strange World of Your Dreams #3, (November/December 1952) detailing the symbolism of oppressive illness…

Kirby continued creating new material with Kamandi – his only long-running DC success – and explored WWII in The Losers whilst creating the radical, scarily prophetic, utterly magnificent Omac: One Man Army Corps, but still could not achieve the all-important sales the company demanded. Eventually he was lured back to Marvel and new challenges such as Black Panther, Captain America, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man and especially The Eternals.

Before then, though, he unleashed a number of new concepts and even filled in on established titles. As previously moaned about, however, his 3-issue run on Justice Inc. adapting licensed pulp hero The Avenger is not included here, but at least his frankly astounding all-action dalliance with martial arts heroics is…

Debuting in all-new try-out title 1st Issue Special #1 (April 1975, and inked by D. Bruce Berry), ‘Atlas the Great! harked back to the dawn of human civilisation and followed the blockbusting trail of mankind’s first super-powered champion in a blazing Sword & Sorcery yarn.

1st Issue Special #5 (August 1975, Berry) highlighted the passing of a torch as a devout evil-crusher working for an ancient justice-cult retired and tipped his nephew – Public Defender Mark Shaw – to become the latest super-powered ‘Manhunter’

A rare but welcome digression into comedy manifested as ‘The Dingbats of Danger Street’ (1st Issue Special #6, September 1975) with Mike Royer inking a bizarre and hilarious revival of Kirby’s Kid Gang genre starring four multi-racial street urchins united for survival and to battle surreal super threats…

Always looking for work Kirby – and Berry – stepped in for #3 of troubled martial arts series Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter (August/September 1975). Scripted by Denny O’Neil, the savage shocker pits the lone fighter against an army of assassins in ‘Claws of the Dragon!’

‘Fangs of the Kobra!’ comes from Kobra #1, released with a February/March 1976 cover-date. The tale is strange in both execution and delivery, with Kirby’s original updating of Dumas’ tale of The Corsican Brothers reworked by Martin Pasko, Steve Sherman and artists Pablo Marcos & Berry.

It introduces brothers separated at birth. Jason Burr grew up a normal American kid whilst his twin – stolen by an Indian death cult – was reared as Kobra, the most dangerous man alive. Sadly for the super-criminal, young adult Jason has been recruited by the authorities because of his psychic connection to the snake lord: a link which allows them to track each other and also feel and experience any harm or hurt the other incurs…

When Simon & Kirby came to National/DC in 1942 one of their earliest projects was revitalising the moribund Sandman strip in Adventure Comics. Their unique blend of atmosphere and dynamism made it one of the most memorable, moody and action-packed series of the period (as you can see by reading complete Sandman edition which is a companion to this volume).

The band was brought back together for The Sandman #1 (cover-dated Winter 1974); a one-shot project which took the name and created a whole new mythology…

Scripted by Simon and inked by Royer ‘General Electric’ revealed how the realm of dreams was policed by a scarlet-&-gold super-crusader dedicated to preventing nightmares escaping into the physical world. With unwilling assistants Glob and Brute, the Sandman also battled real world villains determined to exploit the unconscious Great Unknown. The heady mix was completed by frail orphan Jed, whose active sleeping imagination seemed to draw trouble to him.

The proposed one-off was a minor hit at a tenuous time in comics publishing, and DC opted to keep it going, even though the originators were not interested. Kirby & Royer did produce the ‘Cover art Sandman #2, April/May 1975’ and ‘Cover art Sandman #3, June/July 1975’ before returning to the series with #4.

‘Panic in the Dream Stream’ – August/September 1975 – was scripted by Michael Fleisher, and revealed how a sleepless alien race attempted to conquer Earth through Jed’s fervent dreams: a traumatic channel that even allowed them to invade the Sandman’s Dream Realm. The next issue (October/November 1975) heralded an ‘Invasion of the Frog Men!’ into an idyllic parallel dimension before the next issue reunited a classic art team. Wally Wood inked Jack for Fleisher’s ‘The Plot to Destroy Washington D.C.!’, with mind-bending cyborg Doctor Spider, subverting and enslaving Glob and Brute in his eccentric ambition to take over America…

Although Sandman #6 (December 1975/January 1976) was the last issue, another tale was already completed and it finally appeared in reprint digest Best of DC #22 in March 1982. ‘The Seal Men’s War on Santa Claus’ with Fleisher scripting and Royer handling the brushwork was a sinister seasonal romp with Jed’s wicked foster-family abusing the lad in classic Scrooge style before the Weaver of Dreams seconds him to help save Christmas from bellicose well-armed aquatic mammals…

During the 1980s costumed heroes stopped being an exclusively print cash cow. Many toy companies licensed Fights ‘n’ Tights titans and reaped the benefits of ready-made comicbook spin-offs. DC’s most recognizable characters became a best-selling line of action figures and were inevitably hived off into a brisk and breezy, fight-frenzied miniseries.

Super Powers launched in July 1984 as a 5-issue miniseries with Kirby covers and his signature characters prominently represented. Jack also plotted the stellar saga with scripter Joey Cavalieri providing dialogue, and Adrian Gonzales & Pablo Marcos illustrating a heady cosmic quest comprising numerous inconclusive battles between agents of Good and Evil.

In ‘Power Beyond Price!’, ultimate nemesis Darkseid despatches four Emissaries of Doom to destroy Earth’s superheroes. Sponsoring Lex Luthor, The Penguin, Brainiac and The Joker the monsters jointly target Superman, Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman and Hawkman

The combat escalates in #2’s ‘Clash Against Chaos’ with the Man of Steel and Scarlet Speedster tackling Luthor, whilst Aquaman and Green Lantern scupper the Penguin as Dark Knight and Winged Wonder confront a cosmically-enhanced Harlequin of Hate…

With Alan Kupperberg inking, an inconclusive outcome leads to a regrouping of evil and an attack by Brainiac on Paradise Island. With the ‘Amazons at War’ the Justice League rally until Superman is devolved into a brutal beast who attacks his former allies. All-out battle ensues in ‘Earth’s Last Stand’, before the King steps up to write and illustrate the fateful finale: cosmos-shaking conclusion ‘Spaceship Earth – We’re All on It!’ (November 1984, with Greg Theakston suppling inks)…

A bombastic Super Powers Promotional Poster leads into a nostalgic reunion as DC Comics Presents #84 (August 1985) reunited Jack with his first Fantastic Four.

‘Give Me Power… Give Me Your World!’ – written by Bob Rozakis, Kirby & Theakston (with additional art by the legendary Alex Toth) – pits Superman and the Challengers of The Unknown against mind-bending Kryptonian villain Zo-Mar, after which the ‘Cover art for Super DC Giant S-25, July/ August 1971’ (inked by Vince Colletta) segues into the Super Powers miniseries, spanning September 1985 to February 1986.

Scripted by Paul Kupperberg the Kirby/Theakston saga ‘Seeds of Doom!’ recounts how deadly Darkseid despatches techno-organic bombs to destroy Earth, requiring practically every DC hero to unite to end the threat.

With teams of Super Powers travelling to England, Rome, New York, Easter Island and Arizona the danger is magnified ‘When Past and Present Meet!’ as the seeds warp time and send Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter back to days of King Arthur

Super Powers #3 (November 1985) finds Red Tornado, Hawkman and Green Arrow plunged back 75 million years in ‘Time Upon Time Upon Time!’ even as Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman are trapped in 1087 AD battling stony-faced giant aliens on Easter Island.

Superman and Firestorm discover ‘There’s No Place Like Rome!’ as they battle Darkseid’s agent Steppenwolf in the first century whilst Batman, Robin and Flash visit a future where Earth is the new Apokolips in #5’s ‘Once Upon Tomorrow’ before Earth’s scattered champions converge on Luna to spectacularly squash the schemes-within-schemes of ‘Darkseid of the Moon!’

Rounding out the astounding cavalcade of wonders, are a selection of Kirby-crafted ‘Who’s Who Profiles’ pages from Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe 1985-1987: specifically, Ben Boxer, the Boy Commandos, Challengers of the Unknown, Crazy Quilt, Etrigan the Demon, Kamandi, the Newsboy Legion, Sandman (the Dream Stream version from 1974), Sandy, the Golden Boy and Witchboy Klarion.

Jack Kirby was and is unique and uncompromising: his words and pictures comprise an unparalleled, hearts-and-minds grabbing delight no comics lover can possibly resist. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind.

That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s life’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the entire American comics scene – and indeed the entire comics planet – affecting the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in all areas of artistic endeavour for generations and is still winning new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep and simultaneously mythic and human.

He is the King and will never be supplanted.
© 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Oor Wullie & The Broons: Cooking Up Laughs!

By Robert Duncan Low, Dudley D. Watkins, Ken H. Harrison & various (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-0-84535-614-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Fun and an Ideal Last-Minute Gift… 10/10

We always get a wee bit Caledonian come Christmas in Win Wonderworld, so here’s another loving look at a matched pair of Scotland’s greatest exports whilst simultaneously revelling in the Good Old Days of comics…

If you’re too busy to read yet more of my lecturing, hectoring blather, please feel free to skip the review… just as long as you buy these books for yourself or someone in severe need of a good cheering up and infectious laugh…

Published eternally in perfect tandem, The Broons and Oor Wullie are two of the longest-running newspaper strips in British history, having appeared continuously in the Scottish Sunday Post since their dual debuts in the March 8th 1936 edition.

Both the boisterous boy and the gregariously engaging inner city clan were co-created by writer and Editor Robert Duncan Low (1895-1980) in conjunction with Dudley D. Watkins (1907-1969); DC Thomson’s greatest – and signature – artist.

Three years later the strips were collected in reprint editions as Seasonal Annuals; alternating stars and years right up to the present day and remaining best-sellers every single time.

The shape and structure of British kids cartoon reading owes a huge debt to Robert Duncan Low who was probably DC Thomson’s greatest creative find.

He started at the Scottish publishing monolith as a journalist, rising to the post of Managing Editor of Children’s Publications where – between 1921 and 1933 – he conceived and launched the company’s “Big Five” story-papers for boys. Those rip-roaring illustrated prose periodicals comprised Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

In 1936 his next brilliant idea resulted in The Fun Section: an 8-page pull-out supplement for Scottish national newspaper The Sunday Post consisting primarily of comic strips. The illustrated accessory premiered on 8th March and from the very outset The Broons and Oor Wullie – both rendered by the incomparable Watkins – were its indisputable stars…

Low’s shrewdest move was to devise both strips as domestic comedies played out in the charismatic Scottish idiom and broad unforgettable vernacular. Ably supported by features such as Auchentogle by Chic Gordon, Allan Morley’s Nero and Zero, Nosey Parker and other strips, they laid the groundwork for the company’s next great leap.

That came in December 1937 when Low launched DC Thomson’s first weekly pictorial comic. The Dandy was followed by The Beano in 1938 (Happy Anniversary, guys!) and early-reading title The Magic Comic the year after that.

War-time paper shortages and rationing sadly curtailed this strip periodical revolution, and it was 1953 before the next wave of cartoon caper picture-papers. To supplement Beano and Dandy, the ball started rolling again with The Topper, closely followed by a host of new titles such as Beezer and Sparky.

Low’s greatest advantage was always his prolific illustrator Dudley Dexter Watkins, whose style, more than any other, shaped the look of DC Thompson’s comics output until the bombastic advent of Leo Baxendale shook things up in the mid-1950s.

Hailing from Manchester and Nottingham, Watkins was an artistic prodigy. He entered Glasgow College of Art in 1924 and before long was advised to get a job at Dundee-based DCT, where a 6-month trial illustrating boys’ stories led to comic strip specials and some original cartoon creations.

Percy Vere and His Trying Tricks and Wandering Willie, The Wily Explorer made him a dead cert for both lead strips in the proposed Fun Section and, without missing a beat, Watkins added The Dandy’s Desperate Dan to his weekly workload in 1937, and The Beano’s placidly and seditiously outrageous Lord Snooty seven months later.

Watkins soldiered on in unassailable magnificence for decades, drawing some of the most lavishly lifelike and winningly hilarious strips in illustration history. He died at his drawing board on August 20th 1969. For all those astonishingly productive years he had unflaggingly drawn a full captivating page each of Oor Wullie and The Broons every week.

His loss was a colossal blow to the company and DC Thomson’s top brass preferred to reprint old Watkins episodes in both the newspaper and the Annuals for seven long years before replacement artists were agreed upon. The Dandy reran his old Desperate Dan stories for twice that length of time.

An undeniable, rock-solid facet of Scots popular culture from the very start, the first Broons Annual (technically Bi-Annual) appeared in 1939, alternating with the first Oor Wullie book a year later (thanks to wartime paper restrictions, no annuals at all were published between 1943 and 1946) and for millions of readers no year can truly end without them.

Every kid who grew up reading comics has their own personal nostalgia-filled nirvana, and DC Thomson have always sagely left that choice to us whilst striving to keep all eras alive with carefully-tooled collectors’ albums like this substantial (225 x 300 mm) hardback Gift Book.

Bright and breezy, the compilation focuses on the characters’ relationship with food – particularly Scotland’s unique and evocative cuisine – through festive occasions, seasonal celebrations and in everyday contexts: especially in comedic situations as comfort or consolation or even hard-won prizes. It’s also jam-packed with some of the best-written and most impressively drawn strips ever conceived: superbly timeless examples of cartoon storytelling at its best…

Moreover, rather than a chronological arc tracing from particularly bleak and fraught beginnings in British history through years of growth, exploration and cultural change, we’re treated to a splendid pick-&-mix protocol: a surprise on every turn of a page with Low and Watkins ably succeeded by Tom Lavery, Peter Davidson, Robert Nixon, Ken H. Harrison, Iain Reid, Tom Morton, Dave Donaldson, Morris Heggie and more.

So What’s the Set Up?: the Brown family dwell together in a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street in timelessly metafictional Scottish industrial everytown Auchentogle (sometimes known as Auchenshoogle and based on the working class Auchenshuggle district of Glasgow).

As such it’s an ideal setting in which to tell gags, relate events and fossilise the deepest and most reassuring cultural archetypes for sentimental Scots wherever in the world they might actually be residing. And naturally, such a region was the perfect sounding board to portray all the social, cultural and economic changes that came after the war…

The adamant, unswerving cornerstone of the family feature is long-suffering, ever-understanding culinary commander-in-chief Maw, who puts up with cantankerous, cheap, know-it-all Paw and their battalion of stay-at-home kids. These comprise hunky Joe, freakishly tall Hen (Henry), sturdy Daphne, gorgeous Maggie, brainy Horace, mischievous twins Eck and the unnamed “ither ane” plus a wee toddling lassie referred to only as “The Bairn”.

Not officially in residence yet always hanging around is sly, patriarchal buffoon Granpaw – a comedic gadfly who spends more time at Glebe Street than his own cottage and constantly tries to impart his decades of out-of-date, hard-earned experience to the kids… but do they listen?

Offering regular breaks from inner-city turmoil and a chance to simultaneously sentimentalise, spoof and memorialise more traditional times, the family frequently repair to their But ‘n’ Ben (a dilapidated rustic cottage in the Highlands) to fall foul of the weather, the countryside and all its denizens: fish, fowl, farm-grown, temporary and touristic…

As previously stated, Oor Wullie also launched on March 8th 1936 with his own collected Annual compilations subsequently and unfailingly appearing in the even years.

The premise is sublimely simply and eternally fresh: an overly-imaginative, impetuous scruff with a weakness for mischief, talent for finding trouble and no hope of ever avoiding parental or adult retribution when appropriate…

Wullie – AKA William MacCallum – is an archetypal good-hearted rascal with too much time on his hands who can usually be found sitting on an upturned bucket at the start and finish of his page-a-week exploits.

His regular supporting cast includes Ma and Pa, local beat-Bobby P.C. Murdoch, assorted teachers and other interfering adults who either lavish gifts or inflict opprobrium upon the little pest and his pals Fat Boab, Soapy Joe Soutar, Wee Eck and others. As a grudging sign of changing times, in later years he’s been caught in the company of sensible schoolgirls like Rosie and Elizabeth

A compilation in monochrome – with some full-colour pages – Cooking Up Laughs! was released in 2016 as part of the admirable drive to keep early material available to fans: a lavishly sturdy hardback (still readily available through internet vendors) offering a tasty and tantalising selection curated with an emphasis on the eating habits of the stars.

Eating has always been a perennial and fundamental aspect of both strips (don’t get me started on the sociological value and importance of food in a communal or tribal setting: I’ve been to college twice and did all the reading they told me to!), and the topic has even generated a spin-off line of Maw Broon Cook Books

Divided by colour cover or title-pages from previous Annuals, the endless escapades of the strip stars comprise the happily standard fare: kids outsmarting older folk to score sweets and prohibited provender; pompous male adults making galling goofs and gaffes when cooking; family frolics and festival events: rules of rationing and home-grown garden gifts; etiquette outrages: the penalties of gorging; stolen candies, Christmas revels, how to drink Tea and even some full-colour puzzle pages to digest…

Also on show are Scots-specific treats and techniques such as Clootie Dumpling disasters; the mysteries of Fruit; the makings of “a Piece”; Fish Suppers and the miracle of Cheps; how to present Crofter’s Porridge; the marvel of Mince ‘n’ Tatties; better things to do with Neeps; dieting dos and don’ts and every manner of sweet and savoury sampling of succulence and sinfulness…

With snobs to deflate, bullies to crush, duels to fight, chips to scoff, games to win and rowdy animals (from cats to cows) to escape, the eternally affable humour and gently self-deprecating, inclusive frolics make these superbly crafted strips an endlessly entertaining, superbly nostalgic treat.

Packed with all-ages fun, rambunctious homespun hilarity and deliriously domestic warmth, these examples of comedic certainty and convivial celebration are a sure cure for post-modern glums… and you can’t really have a happy holiday without that, can you?

© D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. 2016.

Batman: The Golden Age Volume 3

By Bill Finger, Joseph Greene, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Schiff, Bob Kane, Jack Burnley, Fred Ray, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7130-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Thrilling and Totally Traditional… 10/10

The history of the American comicbook industry in most ways stems from the raw, vital and still compelling tales of two iconic creations published by DC/National Comics: Superman and Batman. It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in chronological order in relatively cheap, and gloriously cheerful, compilations.

Debuting a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) cemented DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the parameters of the metahuman in their Man of Tomorrow, the physical mortal perfection and dashing derring-do of the strictly-human Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crime-busters were judged.

Batman: The Golden Age is a series of paperback feasts (there’s also weightier, pricier, more capacious hardback Omnibus editions available, and digital iterations too) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Set out in original publishing release order, the tomes trace the character’s growth into the major player who would inspire so many and develop the resilience to survive the stifling cultural vicissitudes the coming decades would inflict upon him and his partner, Robin.

Re-presenting astounding cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #57-65, Batman #8-11 and pertinent stories from World’s Finest Comics #4-6, this book covers groundbreaking escapades from November 1941 to July 1942: as the Dynamic Duo continually develop and storm ahead of all competition.

As the heroes’ influence expanded, new talent joined the stable of creators. Jerry Robinson had already worked with writer Bill Finger and penciller Bob Kane, and during this period two further scripters joined the team. Detective Comics #57 featured ‘Twenty-Four Hours to Live’, a tale of poisonings and Crimes of Passion whilst the perfidious Penguin returned in the next issue to make our heroes the victims of ‘One of the Most Perfect Frame-Ups’

A few weeks later Batman #8 (now Bi-Monthly!) came out, cover-dated December 1941-January 1942. Such a meteoric rise and expansion during a time of extreme paper shortages gives evidence to the burgeoning popularity of the characters. Behind a superbly evocative “Infinity” cover by Fred Ray & Robinson lurked four striking tales of bravura adventure.

‘Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make’ is a brooding prison drama, followed by a rare foray into science fiction as a scientist abused by money-grubbing financial backers turns himself into a deadly radioactive marauder in ‘The Strange Case of Professor Radium.’ This tale was later radically revised and recycled by Finger & Kane as a sequence of the Batman daily newspaper strip from September 23rd – November 2nd

‘The Superstition Murders’ is an enthralling example of the “ABC Murders” – style plot and the issue wraps up on a high as ‘The Cross Country Crimes’ sees the Joker rampage across America in a classic blend of larceny and lunacy.

The Batman tale from Detective Comics #59 was written by Joseph Greene and details how the Penguin turns his formidable talents to bounty-hunting his fellow criminals in ‘The King of the Jungle’, and is followed here by rip-roaring modern cowboy yarn ‘The Ghost Gang Goes West’ which first appeared in the winter issue of World’s Finest Comics (#4).

Jack Schiff, who had a long and auspicious career as an editor at DC, scripted ‘The Case of the Costume-Clad Killers’ (Detective #60): another excursion into mania starring the Joker, leaving Bill Finger free to concentrate on the four fabulous tales comprising Batman #9 (February-March 1942) – one of the greatest single issues of the Golden Age and still a cracking parcel of joy today.

Behind possibly the most reproduced cover ever crafted by the brilliant Jack Burnley are ‘The Four Fates’: a dark and moving human interest drama featuring a quartet of fore-doomed mobsters; a maritime saga based on Moby Dick entitled ‘The White Whale’; another unforgettable Joker yarn ‘The Case of the Lucky Law-Breakers’, and the birth of a venerable tradition in an untitled story called here for expediency’s sake ‘Christmas’.

Over the decades, many of the Caped Crusaders’ best and finest adventures have had a Seasonal theme (and why there’s never been a Greatest Christmas Batman Stories is a mystery I’ve pondered for years!) and this touching – even heart-warming – story of petty skulduggery and little miracles is where it all really began.

There’s not a comic fan alive who won’t dab away a tear…

Next is another much-reprinted classic (aren’t they all?) from Detective Comics #61. ‘The Three Racketeers’ is the perfect example of a vintage Batman novella as a trio of criminal big-shots swap stories of the Gotham Guardians over a quiet game of cards, and the ripping yarn even conceals a sting-in-the-tail that still hits home 75 years later.

America had entered World War II by this period and the stories – especially the patriotic covers – went all-out to capture the imagination, comfort the down-hearted and bolster the nation’s morale.

One of the very best (and don’t just take my word for it – type “World’s Finest covers” into your preferred search engine and see for yourselves – go on, I’ll wait) designed and executed by the astounding Jerry Robinson precedes ‘Crime takes a Holiday’, (WFC #5, Spring 1942, by Finger, Kane & Robinson), a canny mystery yarn revealing how and why the criminal element of Gotham City suddenly “downs tools”. Naturally it’s all part of a devious master-plan and just as naturally our heroes soon get to the bottom of it…

The same creative team also produced ‘Laugh, Town Laugh!’ (Detective #62, April 1942) wherein the diabolical Joker goes on a murder-spree to prove to the nation’s comedians and entertainers who actually is the “King of Jesters”.

Cover-dated April-May 1942, Batman #10 follows with another four mini-masterpieces. Scripted by Greene ‘The Isle That Time Forgot’ sees the Dynamic Duo trapped in a land of dinosaurs and cavemen, whilst ‘Report Card Blues’ (also Greene) scripting, has the heroes inspire a wayward kid to return to his studies by crushing the mobsters he’s ditched school for.

Robinson soloed as illustrator and Jack Schiff typed the words for the classy jewel caper (oh, for those heady days when Bats wasn’t too grim and important to stop the odd robbery or two!) ‘The Princess of Plunder’ starring everyone’s favourite Feline Femme Fatale Catwoman, before the boys headed way out west to meet ‘The Sheriff of Ghost Town!’

This extremely impressive slice of contemporary Americana came courtesy of Finger, Kane & Robinson, who then went on to produce ‘A Gentleman in Gotham’ for Detective Comics #63.

Here the Caped Crusader has to confront tuxedoed International Man of Mystery Mr Baffle, before the Crime Clown again causes malignant mirthful mayhem in ‘The Joker Walks the Last Mile’ (Detective #64. June 1942).

Obviously, he didn’t since he was cover-featured and lead story in Batman #11 (June-July 1942). Finger is writer for ‘The Joker’s Advertising Campaign’ and ‘Payment in Full’ – a touching melodrama about the District Attorney and the vicious criminal to whom he owes his life, before ‘Bandits in Toyland’ features the scripting debut of pulp Sci Fi author Edmond Hamilton who details why a gang of thugs are stealing dolls and train-sets.

Finger then returns for ‘Four Birds of a Feather!’ which finds Batman in Miami to scotch the Penguin’s dreams of a crooked gambling empire…

There’s another cracking War cover and brilliant Bat-yarn from World’s Finest Comics #6 (Summer 1942) in ‘The Secret of Bruce Wayne!’ as Greene and Robinson provide a clandestine identity exposé tale that would become a standard plot of later years, before the volume closes with one more superb patriotic cover (this one by Jack Kirby & Joe Simon for Detective Comics #65) and a gripping crime-romp as Jack Burnley & George Roussos render Greene’s poignant and powerful North Woods thriller ‘The Cop who Hated Batman!’

These are the stories that cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin and brought temporary relief to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to Buy This Book…
© 1941, 1942, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Flash: The Silver Age volume 2

By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7088-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Fun, Quick as You Like… 10/10

The second Flash triggered the Silver Age of American comicbooks and, for the first ten years or so, in terms of creative quality and sheer originality – it was always the book to watch.

Following his debut in Showcase #4 (October 1956), police scientist Barry Allen – transformed by a lightning strike and accidental chemical bath into a human thunderbolt of unparalleled velocity and ingenuity – was uncharacteristically slow in winning his own title, but finally (after three more trial issues) finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash#105 (February-March 1959).

He never looked back, and by the time of this second commemorative compilation was very much the innovation mainstay of DC/National Comics burgeoning superhero universe. This second Trade Paperback (and digital) collection re-presents Flash #117-132 – spanning December 1960 through November 1962 – and tracks the Vizier of Velocity as he becomes the key figure in a stunning renaissance of comicbook super-heroics.

Shepherding the Scarlet Speedster’s meteoric rise to prominence, the majority of stories are written by the brilliant John Broome and all are pencilled by the infinitely impressive Carmine Infantino: slickly polished, coolly sophisticated rapid-fire short stories set in a comfortingly suburbanite milieu constantly threatened by super-thieves, sinister spies and marauding aliens with our affable new superhero always triumphant whilst ever expanding and establishing the broad parameters of an increasingly cohesive narrative universe.

The magic begins here with ‘Here Comes Captain Boomerang’ (inked by Murphy Anderson), introducing a mercenary Australian marauder who turns a legitimate job opportunity into a criminal career in what is still one of the most original origin tales ever concocted.

The ‘The Madcap Inventors of Central City’ then sees Gardner Fox (creator of the Golden Age Flash) join the creative bullpen with a perhaps ill-considered attempt to reintroduce 1940s comedy sidekicks Winky, Blinky and Noddy to the modern fans. The fact that you’ve never heard of them should indicate how well that went although the yarn, illustrated by Infantino & Joe Giella, is a fast, witty and enjoyably silly change of pace.

The Flash #118 highlighted the period’s (and DC’s) fascination with Hollywood in ‘The Doomed Scarecrow!’ (Anderson inks); a sharp, smart thriller featuring a minor villain with a unique reason to get rid of our hero. after which Wally West and a friend have to spend the night in a “haunted house” in Kid Flash chiller ‘The Midnight Peril!’

The pre-teenaged nephew of Barry’s fiancée Iris West, Wally had been caught in a bizarre and suspicious replay of the lightning strike that created the Monarch of Motion. He naturally became a junior version of the Fastest Man Alive and – when not being mentored by the human thunderbolt – enjoyed his own, smaller-scaled junior adventures in and around the rural township of Blue Valley, Nebraska….

In #119, Broome, Infantino & Anderson relate the adventure of ‘The Mirror-Master’s Magic Bullet’, which our hero narrowly evades, before ‘The Elongated Man’s Undersea Trap’ debuts vivacious newlywed Sue Dibny – calling our hero’s attention to a missing spouse and alien sub-sea slavers in a mysterious and stirring tale.

These earliest tales were historically vital to the development of our industry but, quite frankly, so what? The first exploits of The Flash should be judged solely on their merit, and on those terms, they are punchy, awe-inspiring, beautifully illustrated and captivating thrillers that amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old devotees. The title had gelled into a comfortable pattern of two tales per issue alternating with semi-regular book-length thrillers such as the glorious example from Flash #120 (May 1961).

‘Land of Golden Giants!’ is a minor masterpiece: a fanciful science fiction drama wherein a small expedition of explorers – including Iris, Barry and his protégé Wally – are catapulted back millennia to the very moment when the primal super-continent (or at least the parts that would become Africa and South America) begin splitting apart.

Flash stories always found a way to make cutting-edge science integral and interesting. A regular filler-feature was the speed-themed “Flash-Facts” which became a component of the stories themselves via quirky little footnotes.

How many fan-boys turned a “C” to a “B” by dint of their recreational reading? I know I certainly impressed the heck out of a few nuns at the convent school I attended! (But let’s not visualise; simply move on…)

Issue #121 saw the return of a novel old foe on another robbery rampage when ‘The Trickster Strikes Back!’ after which costumed criminality is counterbalanced by Cold War skulduggery in the gripping thriller ‘Secret of the Stolen Blueprint!’ (inked by Anderson).

Another contemporary zeitgeist undoubtedly led to ‘Beware the Atomic Grenade!’, a witty yarn which premiered a new member of Flash’s burgeoning Rogues Gallery when career criminal Roscoe Dillon graduates from second-rate thief to global extortionist The Top by means of a rather baroque thermonuclear device…

In counterpoint, Kid Flash deals with smaller scale catastrophe in ‘The Face Behind the Mask!’ A pop-star with a secret identity (based on a young David Soul who began his showbiz career as a folk singer known as “the Covered Man” because he performed wearing a mask) is blackmailed by a villainous gang of old school friends until whizz kid Wally steps in…

Gardner Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but those few he did were all dynamite. None more so than the full-length epic that literally changed the scope of American comics forever.

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the theory of alternate Earths to the continuity and by extension resulted in the pivotal multiversal structure of the DCU; Crisis on Infinite Earths and all the succeeding cosmos-shaking crossover sagas that grew from it. And, of course, where DC led, others followed…

During a charity benefit gig Flash accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds that the comicbook hero he’s based his own superhero identity upon actually exists. Every adventure Barry had absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his mystery-men comrades on (the controversially designated) Earth-2. Locating his idol, Barry convinces the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains – The Shade, Thinker and The Fiddler – make their own wicked comeback. And above all else, Flash #123 is a great read that still stands up today.

Still utterly unaware of the stir that was brewing in fandom’s ranks, it was business as usual with #124’s alien invasion romp ‘Space Boomerang Trap!’ featuring an uneasy alliance between the Scarlet Speedster, Elongated Man and opportunistic Captain Boomerang, before back-up ‘Vengeance Via Television!’ tests Flash’s wits after a mad scientist uses TV waves to expose his secret identity.

‘The Conquerors of Time!’ (Flash #125 December, 1961) is another mind-boggling classic exposing time-travelling aliens’ attempt to subjugate Earth in 2287AD by preventing fissionable elements from forming in 100,842,246 BC. Antediluvian lost races, another key role for Kid Flash (easily the most trusted and responsible sidekick of the Silver Age), the introduction of the insanely cool Cosmic Treadmill plus spectacular action make this a benchmark and landmark of quality graphic narrative.

The drama continues unabated in the next issue as Mirror Master resurfaces in ‘The Doom of the Mirror Flash!’ resulting in another shocking metamorphosis for the Monarch of Motion whilst the second story looks into Barry Allen’s past in ‘Snare of the Headline Huntress!’ Here childhood sweetheart Daphne Dean tries to rekindle Barry’s love to boost her flagging Hollywood profile….

In #127 ‘Reign of the Super-Gorilla!’ Grodd returns to Central City, using his telepathy to run for Governor (not as daft as it sounds, honest!) whilst Kid Flash resolved parental problems in ‘The Mystery of the Troubled Boy!’ after which Flash #128 sees the spectacular debut of time-travelling magician and psychotic egotist Abra Kadabra in ‘The Case of the Real-Gone Flash!’ yet still finds room for intriguing revelatory vignette ‘The Origin of Flash’s Masked Identity!’

Fox and Earth-2 returned in #129’s ‘Double Danger on Earth!’ as Jay Garrick ventures to Earth-1 to save his own world from a doom comet, only to fall foul of Captain Cold and the Trickster. As well as double Flash action, this tale pictorially reintroduces veteran Justice Society stalwarts Wonder Woman, Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

For the meantime though it was back to basics in #130 with ‘Who Doomed the Flash?’; an intriguing mystery seemingly pooling the talents and threats of Trickster, Captain Cold, the Top, Captain Boomerang and the Mirror Master in a superb comic-conundrum, brilliantly solved by the Vizier of Velocity even as his junior partner endures his own problems with the Weather Wizard in ‘Kid Flash Meets the Elongated Man!’

RSVPing to a trendsetting guest-shot in Green Lantern #13 (‘Duel of the Super-Heroes!’ and not included here), the Emerald Crusader again joins with The Flash to defeat alien invaders in the engrossing feature-length epic ‘Captives of the Cosmic Ray!’ before this compelling compilation concludes with #132’s ‘The Heaviest Man Alive!’ – with the speedster revisiting the dimension of Gobdor (see ‘The Man Who Stole Central City’ from #116 and the previous volume).

As well as action adventure and mystery, this tense, super-scientific teaser enjoys a sly poke at the new Television generation and leads into second tale ‘The Farewell Appearance of Daphne Dean’ as the repentant starlet returns to make amends in a quirky little tearjerker…

As always in tales of this vintage, the emphasis is on brains and learning, not gimmicks or abilities, which is why these tales still work nearly half-a-century later. Coupled with the astounding Infantino art, these tales are a captivating snap-shot of when science was our friend and the universe(s) was a place of infinite possibility.

These tales were crucial to the development of our art-form, but, more importantly they are brilliant, awe-inspiring, beautifully realised thrillers to amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old lags. This splendid selection is another must-read item for anybody in love with the world of words-in-pictures.
© 1960, 1961, 1962, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Tales of the Batman: Carmine Infantino

By Carmine Infantino, Gardner Fox, John Broome, Cary Bates, Gerry Conway, Don Kraar, Mike Barr, Geoff Johns & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4755-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Fun foe One and All … 9/10

Born on May 24th 1925, Carmine Michael Infantino was one of the greatest comic artists America ever produced; a multi-award-winning innovator who was there when comicbooks were born, reshaped the industry in the Silver Age and was still making fans when he died in 2013

As an artist he co-created and initially visualised The Black Canary, Detective Chimp, Pow-Wow Smith, the Silver Age Flash, Elongated Man, Deadman, Batgirl, Dial H for Hero and Human Target and revitalised characters such as Adam Strange and Batman. He worked for many companies, and at Marvel ushered in a new age by illustrating the licensed Star Wars comicbook and working on titles such as Avengers, Daredevil, Ms. Marvel, Nova, Star-Lord and Spider-Woman

His work on two iterations of the Batman newspaper strip are fondly remembered and whilst acting as Art Director and Publisher of National DC oversaw the most critically acclaimed period in the company’s history, ushering in the “relevancy” era and poaching Jack Kirby from Marvel to create the Fourth World, Kamandi, The Demon and others…

Very much – and repeatedly – the right man in the right time and place, Infantino shaped American comicbook history like few others, and this hardcover compendium (and eBook) dedicated to his contributions to the lore of Batman collects the stunning covers from Detective Comics #327-347, 349, 351-371, 500 and Batman #166-175, 181, 183-185, 188-192, 194-199 plus the Bat-Saga stories he drew for Detective #327, 329, 331, 333, 335, 337, 339, 341, 343, 345, 347, 349, 351, 353, 357, 359, 361, 363, 366-367, 369, and 500.

Also included are the contents of The Brave and the Bold #172, 183, 190, 194 and DC Comics Presents: Batman #1: an artistic association cumulatively spanning May 1964 to September 2004.

I’m assuming everybody here loves comics and that we’ve all had the same unpleasant experience of trying to justify that passion to somebody. Excluding your partner (who is actually right – the living room floor is not the place to leave your $£#!D*&$£! funnybooks) even today, many people still have an entrenched and erroneous view of strip art, resulting in a frustrating and futile time as you tried to dissuade them from that opinion.

If so, this collection might be the book you want next time that confrontation occurs, offering breathtaking examples of the prolific association of one the industry’s greatest illustrators with possibly the artform’s greatest creation.

Many of these “Light Knight” sagas stem from a period which saw the Dynamic Duo, remoulded, reshaped and set up for global Stardom – and subsequent fearful castigation from fans – as the template for the Batman TV show of the 1960s. It should be noted, however, that the television producers and researchers took their creative impetus from stories of the era preceding the “New Look Batman” – as well as the original movie serial of the 1940s…

So, what happened?

By the end of 1963, Julius Schwartz had revived much of National/DC’s line – and the entire industry – with his modernization of the superhero, and was then asked to work his magic with the creatively stalled and nigh-moribund Caped Crusader.

Bringing his usual team of top-notch creators with him, Schwartz stripped down the core-concept, downplaying aliens, outlandish villains and daft transformation tales to bring a cool modern take to the capture of criminals: even overseeing a streamlining rationalisation of the art style itself.

The most apparent innovation was a yellow circle around the Bat-symbol, but far more importantly, the stories also changed. A subtle aura of genuine menace had re-entered the comfortable and absurdly abstract world of Gotham City.

Infantino was key to the changeover, which reshaped a legend – but this was while still pencilling Silver Age superstar The Flash – so, despite generating the majority of covers, Infantino’s interior art was limited to alternate issues of Detective Comics with the lion’s share of narrative handled by Bob Kane’s uncredited deputies Sheldon Moldoff, Joe Giella, Chic Stone & others, or occasional guest artists such as Gil Kane…

Punctuated throughout this collection by his chronologically sequenced covers, Infantino’s part in the storytelling revolution began then and kicks off here with Detective #327 – written by John Broome and inked by Joe Giella at the very peak of their own creative powers.

‘The Mystery of the Menacing Mask! is a cunning “Howdunnit?”, long on action and moody peril, as discovery of a criminal “underground railroad” leads Caped Crusaders Batman and Robin to a common thug seemingly able to control the heroes with his thoughts…

‘Castle with Wall-To-Wall Danger!’ (Detective #329 with Broome and Giella in their respective roles) follows: a captivating international thriller which sees the heroes braving a deadly death-trap in Swinging England in pursuit of a dastardly thief.

A rare full-length story in #331 guest-starred Elongated Man (Detective Comics’ back-up feature: a costumed sleuth blending the charm of Nick “Thin Man” Charles with the outré heroic antics of Plastic Man).

The ‘Museum of Mixed-Up Men’ (Broome & Infantino) teamed the eclectic enigma-solvers against a super-scientific felon, whilst in #333 Bat Man & Robin fought against a faux goddess and genuine telepaths in the ‘Hunters of the Elephants’ Graveyard!’, written by Gardner Fox and inked by Giella.

The same team revealed the ‘Trail of the Talking Mask!’ in #335, giving the Dynamic Duo an opportunity to reinforce their sci-fi credentials in a classy high-tech thriller guest-starring private detective Hugh Rankin (of Mystery Analysts of Gotham City fame) before ‘The Deep-Freeze Menace!’ (Detective #337 introduced a fearsome fantasy chiller pitting Batman against a super-powered caveman encased in ice for 50,000 years…

DC’s inexplicable (but deeply cool) long-running love-affair with gorillas resulted in a cracking doom-fable as ‘Batman Battles the Living Beast-Bomb!’ in #339, highlighting the hero’s physical prowess in a duel of wits and muscles against a sinister, super-intelligent simian.

Up until this time the New Look Batman was forging his more realistic path, as the TV series was still in pre-production. The Batman television show (premiering on January 12th, 1966 and running for three seasons of 120 episodes in total) show aired twice weekly for its first two seasons, resulting in vast amount of Bat-awareness, no end of spin-offs and merchandise – including a movie – and the overkill phenomenon of “Batmania”.

No matter how much we might squeal and foam about it, a huge portion of this planet’s population Batman is always going to regard that “Zap! Biff! Pow!” buffoonish costumed boy scout as The Real Deal…

Regrettably this means that the comic stories published during that period have been similarly excoriated and maligned by most Bat-fans ever since. It is true that some tales were crafted with overtones of the “camp” fad, presumably to accommodate newer readers seduced by the arch silliness and coy irony of the show, but no editor of Julius Schwartz’s calibre would ever deviate far from the characterisation that had sustained Batman for nearly thirty years, or the then-recent re-launch which had revitalised the character sufficiently for television to take an interest at all.

Nor would such brilliant writers as John Broome, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox and Robert Kanigher ever produce work which didn’t resonate on all the Batman’s intricate levels just for a quick laugh and a cheap thrill. The artists tasked with sustaining the visual intensity included Infantino, Moldoff, Stone, Giella, Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene, with covers from Gil Kane and Joe Kubert supplementing Infantino’s stunning, trend-setting, fine-line masterpieces.

Most of the tales here reflect those gentler times and editorial policy of focusing on Batman’s reputation as “The World’s Greatest Detective”, so colourful, psychotic costumed super-villains are still in a minority, but there are first appearances for a number of exotic foes who would become regular menaces for the Dynamic Duo in years to come.

Broome & Infantino then detailed the screen-inspired, comedically-catastrophic campaign of ‘The Joker’s Comedy Capers!’ in #341 and the mayhem and mystery continued in Detective Comics #343 (September 1965) with ‘The Secret War of the Phantom General!’: a tense thriller pitting our hard-pressed heroes against a hidden army of gangsters and Nazi war criminals.

Detective #345 debuted a terrifying and tragic new villain in ‘The Blockbuster Invasion of Gotham City!’ (scripted by Fox). Here a monstrous giant with the mind of a child and the raw, physical power of a tank is constantly driven to madness at sight of Batman and only placated by the sight of Bruce Wayne

‘The Strange Death of Batman!’ (Fox, Detective# 347) saw the opening shot of habitual B-list villain the Bouncer in a bizarre experimental yarn which has to be seen to be believed, whereas it’s business as usual when monstrous, microcephalic man-brute returns in ‘The Blockbuster Breaks Loose!’: a blistering, action-fuelled thriller by Fox, Infantino & Giella from Detective #349. This tale sports a cover by Infantino’s colleague Joe Kubert whilst also hinting at the return of a long-forgotten foe…

Detective #351 premiered game-show host turned felonious impresario Arthur Brown in a twisty, puzzle-packed battle of wits detailing ‘The Cluemaster’s Topsy-Turvy Crimes!’ (Fox, Infantino & Sid Greene) after which the action continues with ‘The Weather Wizard’s Triple-Treasure Thefts!’ (Fox/Giella in #353).

The Dynamic Duo battle in spectacular opposition to the Flash’s meteorological arch-enemy: one of the first times a DC villain moved out of his usually stamping grounds whilst Detective #357 delivers a clever secret identity saving puzzler when – apparently – ‘Bruce Wayne Unmasks Batman!’ (Broome, Infantino & Giella) as prelude to big changes in the Batman mythos…

After three seasons (perhaps two and a half would be more accurate) the Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes since the US premiere. The era ended but the series had had an undeniable effect on the world, the comics industry and most importantly on the characters and history of its four-colour inspiration. Most notable was a whole new caped crusader who became an integral part of the DC universe.

The comic-book premiere of that aforementioned new character came in ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl’ (Detective Comics#359, cover-dated January 1967). Gardner Fox provided art team supreme Infantino & Greene a ripping yarn to introduce Barbara Gordon: mousy librarian and daughter of the venerable Police Commissioner into the superhero limelight. Thus, by the time the third season began on September 14th, 1967, she was well-established among comics fans at least….

A different Batgirl – Betty Kane, teenaged niece of the 1950s Batwoman – was already a nearly-forgotten comics fixture but for reasons far too complex and irrelevant to mention was conveniently ignored to make room for a new, empowered woman in the fresh tradition of Emma Peel, Honey West and the Girl From U.N.C.L.E. She was considered pretty hot too, which is always a plus for television…

Whereas she fought the Penguin on the small screen, her print origin features the no less ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever yarn that still stands up today.

Editor Schwartz always preferred to play-up mysteries and crime conundrums in Detective Comics and #361’s ‘The Dynamic Duo’s Double-Deathtrap!’ was one of Fox’s best, especially as drawn by the now increasingly over-stretched Infantino and Greene. The plot involves Cold War spies and a maker of theatrical paraphernalia; I shall reveal no more to keep you guessing when you read it…

Detective #363 was a full co-starring vehicle as the Dynamic Duo challenged the new Batgirl to deduce Batman’s secret identity whilst tracking down the enigmatic Mr. Brains in ‘The True-False Face of Batman!’ and led to a taut suspense thriller stretching across Detective #366 and 367 – an almost unheard-of event in those cautiously reader-friendly days…

As devised by Fox, Infantino & Greene ‘The Round Robin Death Threats’ involves a diabolical murder-plot threatening to destroy Gotham’s worthiest citizens, with the tension peaking and the drama concluding in high style with ‘Where There’s a Will… There’s a Slay!’: a dark and deadly denouement barely marred by that dreadful title…

It was just a symptom of the times – as is Detective #369 (November 1967) – which somewhat reinforces boyhood prejudices about icky girls in the otherwise classy thriller ‘Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo!’

Here Robin seemingly abandons Batman for a curvy new partner, but the best of clandestine reasons, ignominiously signalling – other than for the occasional cover – the end of Infantino’s tenure as a bat-illustrator.

His next contribution on view here came in anniversary landmark Detective Comics #500 (March 1981): part of a huge creative jam-session: specifically examining the legend of the immortal hero in ‘What Happens When a Batman Dies?’

Scripted by Cary Bates and inked by Bob Smith, this chapter co-stars restless revenant Deadman as the Gotham Guardian hovers in a coma between this world and the next, yet still manages to find a way to save himself…

The cover is another collaborative effort with Dick Giordano, José Luis García-López, Joe Kubert and Tom Yeates all joining forces.

Next up; a quartet of tales from The Brave and the Bold, with Jim Aparo providing covers whilst Infantino handled interior art. Issue #172 (March 1981, and inked by Steve Mitchell) paired the Caped Crimebuster with Firestorm in the Gerry Conway scripted ‘Darkness and Dark Fire’, with the World’s Greatest Detective striving to solve the mystery of the Nuclear Man’s periodic mental blackouts, after which #183 (February 1982, written by Don Krarr and inked by Mike DeCarlo) sees our hero join forces with The Riddler to prevent ‘The Death of Batman!’

Scripter Mike Barr and inker Sal Trapani worked with Infantino on B&B #190 (September 1982) and #194 January 1993), respectively challenging the Dark Knight to visit planet Rann and find out ‘Who Killed Adam Strange?’ before subsequently working with the Flash against Doctor Double-X and the Rainbow Raider when they ‘Trade Heroes – And Win!’

One final Infantino fling comes from DC Comics Presents: Batman #1 (September 2004), courtesy of writer Geoff Johns, with inks by Giella and a retro cover from Ryan Hughes, as ‘Batman of Two Worlds’ gets real metaphysical with narrative boundaries as the modern Batman and Robin investigate murder on the set of the 1960s Batman TV show in a bizarrely engaging romp with a mystery villain to expose…

The visual cavalcade then ends on a nostalgic high with ‘Batman and Robin Retail poster’ – AKA the front cover of this titanic tome – possibly the most iconic bat-image of the era.

Whether you tend towards the anodyne light-heartedness of then, the socially acceptable psychopathy of the assorted movie franchises or actually just like the comicbook character, if you can make a potential convert sit down, shut up and actually read these wonderful adventures for all (reasonable) ages, you might find that the old adage “Quality will out” still holds true. And if you’re actually a fan who hasn’t read this classic stuff and revelled in the astounding timeless art, you have an absolute treat in store…
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1981, 1982, 1983, 2004, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Misty featuring Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve

By Pat Mills, Malcolm Shaw, John Armstrong, Brian Delaney, Shirley Bellwood & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-452-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Spooky Treats for Every Stocking… 9/10

Like most of my comics contemporaries I harbour a secret shame. Growing up, I was well aware of the weeklies produced for girls but would never admit to reading them. My loss: I now know that they were packed with some great strips by astounding artists and writers, many of them personal favourites when they were drawing stalwart soldiers, marauding monsters, evil aliens or strange superheroes (all British superheroes were weird and off-kilter…).

I actually think – in terms of quality and respect for the readership’s intelligence, experience and development – girls’ periodicals were far more in tune with the sensibilities of the target audience, and I wish I’d paid more attention to Misty back then…

Thus, I’m overjoyed to see this superb first collection from what originating editor Pat Mills reveals in his Foreword was intended to be as iconoclastic and groundbreaking a publication as his previous creation.

You know the one… 2000AD

Despite never living up to his expectations – for all the traditional editorial reasons that have scuppered bold new visions since the days of Caxton – Misty was nothing like any other comic in the British marketplace: a Girls’ Juvenile periodical addressing modern issues through a lens of urban horror, science fictional and historical mysteries and tense suspenseful dramas. It was also one of the best drawn comics ever seen and featured stunningly beguiling covers by unsung legend Shirley Bellwood, a veteran illustrator who ought to be a household name because we’ve all admired her work in comics and books since the 1950s even if we’ve never been privileged to see her by-line…

Unlike most weeklies, Misty was created with specific themes in mind – fantasy, horror and mystery – and over its too-short existence introduced numerous self-contained features serialised like modern graphic novels, rather than the continuing adventures of star characters.

Although adulterated from Mill’s original design, the comic launched on February 4th 1978 and ran until January 1980 whereupon it merged with the division’s lead title Tammy, extending its lifeline until 1984. As was often the case, the brand also continued through Annuals and Specials, running from 1979 until 1986…

The first of a series working under the umbrella of The Treasury of British Comics, this compact monochrome softcover compilation offers two complete part-work novellas from the comic’s canon of nearly 70 strip sagas, starting with the gripping history of Moonchild. Scripted by Mills and illustrated by John Armstrong (Bella in Tammy; The Secret Gymnast in Bunty; Grange Hill), the eerie adventure was based on Stephen King’s Carrie, and ran as lead feature in issues #1-13.

The turbulent coming-of-age of abused and confused schoolgirl Rosemary Black: born into a family afflicted with an apparent curse. All the women who bore a hereditary crescent birthmark on their foreheads were eventually consumed by burgeoning psychokinetic powers…

Rosemary’s mother brutally and zealously tries to suppress her daughter’s growing abilities but with sociopathic mean girls Norma, Dawn and Freda making her a constant target for bullying and humiliation, the force inside Rosemary keeps expressing itself in ever more violent manner…

Moreover, when school physician Doctor Armstrong realises the truth about the girl so often sent to see him, he sees nothing but an opportunity to be exploited…

When Norma’s bullies embark on their most ambitious scheme to torture Rosemary, sheer disaster is barely averted when the Moonchild’s long missing grandmother suddenly appears with a shocking secret to reveal…

Following a handy hints feature – how to make a Witch’s Hat – The Four Faces of Eve carries on the chilling bewilderment.

Created by Malcolm Shaw (Misty’s Editor and writer of dozens of strips in Britain and Europe) & Brian Delaney (Hart to Hart; Grange Hill; The Professionals) this marvel of malign medical malpractice ran in issues 20-31, tracing the seemingly paranoid path of Eve Marshall, recently discharged from hospital still suffering partial amnesia.

Despite returning to her home and her high-powered scientist parents, Eve remains troubled, especially by horrifically vivid dreams of other girls who died painful, violent deaths…

Inconsolable and increasingly suspicious, Eve snoops around the house she doesn’t remember and discovers mounting evidence that the Marshalls are not her real parents. When the house is later burgled the police forensics team uncover another impossible anomaly: Eve’s fingerprints match a thief who died months ago…

Scared and haunted by traumatic dreams, Eve runs away and hides in a circus, only to be tracked down and dragged back home by her faux parents. However, the pieces are inexorably falling into place and she soon has to face the appalling truth she has deduced about herself and the monsters she lives with…

Also including a fulsome tribute to ‘Shirley Bellwood – An Unsung Heroine of British Comics’, creator biographies and one final activity page (‘Misty Says… Be a Devil – and Here’s How’) this slight but supremely engaging tome is a glorious and long-overdue celebration of a uniquely compelling phenomenon of British comics and one that has stood the test of time. Don’t miss this second chance to get in on something truly special and splendidly entertaining
Misty © Egmont UK Limited 1978. All rights reserved.