The Usagi Yojimbo Saga Book 1


By Stan Sakai (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-671-6(HB)     978-1-61655-609-9(PB)      eISBN: 978-1-63008-081-5

Usagi Yojimbo (“rabbit bodyguard”) first appeared as a background character in Stan Sakai’s The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, premiering amongst assorted furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk in 1984’s Albedo Anthropomorphics #1. He then graduated to a solo act in Critters, Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and the Munden’s Bar back-up series in Grimjack.

In 1955, when Sakai was two years old, the family moved from Kyoto, Japan to Hawaii. Growing up in a cross-cultural paradise he graduated from the University of Hawaii with a BA in Fine Arts, before leaving the state to pursue further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design in California.

His early forays into comics were as a letterer – most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer and the Spider-Man newspaper strip – before his nimble pens and brushes found a way to express his passion for Japanese history, legend and the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, inspirationally transforming a proposed story about a human historical hero into one of the most enticing and impressive fantasy sagas of all time.

Although the deliriously expansive period epic stars sentient animals and details the life of a peripatetic Lord-less Samurai eking out as honourable a living as possible through selling his sword as a Yojimbo (bodyguard-for-hire), the milieu and scenarios all scrupulously mirror the Feudal Edo Period of Japan (roughly 16th and 17th century AD by Western reckoning) whilst simultaneously referencing other cultural icons from sources as varied as Zatoichi to Godzilla.

Miyamoto Usagi is brave, noble, industrious, honest, sentimental, gentle, artistic, empathetic, long-suffering and conscientious: a rabbit devoted to the tenets of Bushido. He is utterly unable to turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice. As such, his destiny is to be perpetually drawn into an unending panorama of incredible situations.

Despite changing publishers a few times, the Roaming Rabbit has been in continuous publication since 1987, with more than 30 collections and books to date. He has guest-starred in many other series (most notably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its TV incarnation) and even almost made it into his own small-screen show.

There are high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi comics serial and lots of toys. Author Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public.

And it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

The title was as much a wanderer as its star, migrating from Fantagraphics to Mirage and finally Dark Horse where after publishing more than two dozen paperback collections, the canny business types have sagely opted to re-bundle their earlier efforts into hefty tomes offering three times the thrills. There are even digital editions for forward-looking fans of the vintage wonderment…

This guest-star stuffed premiere monochrome masterpiece draws together yarns released by Mirage Publishing as Usagi Yojimbo volume 2 #1-16 and Usagi Yojimbo volume 3 #1-6

Following a fulsome Foreword from former editor Jamie S. Rich, pictorial rundown of dramatis personae in ‘Cast of Characters’ and rousing strip recap ‘Origin Tale’, an evocative Introduction from legendary illustrator and Dean of dinosauria William Stout leads into the magnificent and ever-unfolding medieval mystery play…

It all begins with 3-part crossover epic ‘Shades of Green’ wherein Usagi and his crusty companion Gennosuké (an irascibly bombastic, money-mad bounty-hunter and conniving thief-taking rhino with a heart of gold) are recruited by Kakera: a ratty shaman in dire need of protection from the dwindling remnants of the once-mighty Neko Ninja clan.

The former imperial favourites have fallen upon hard times since they and the Ronin Rabbit crushed the Dragon Bellow plot of rebel Lord Takamuro. Now, the bat assassins of the Komori Ninja clan are constantly harrying, harassing and actively trying to supplant them in patron Lord Hikiji’s service…

Chunin (deputy leader) Gunji believes the rodent wizard would make a mighty useful slave, and is scheming to overthrow the new – female – clan chief Chizu whilst acquiring him…

With the Neko’s trap closing around them all, the sagacious sensei summons the spirits of four fantastic fighters to aid Usagi and Gen. The phantoms promptly possess a quartet of little Kamé (tortoises) and are reshaped into adolescent amphibian Ninja Turtles, identifying themselves as Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello.

Usagi has fought beside one of their number before…

The subsequent battles go badly and eventually Gunji’s forces make off with Kakera-sensei. As Usagi leads the remaining heroes in relentless pursuit, the conniving Chunin makes his move. Gunji’s attempt to assassinate Chizu is bloodily and efficiently ended by the late-arriving Usagi who is astounded to be told by the lady he has saved that the Neko’s lethal interest in him is now at an end…

With Kakera rescued and Gunji dead, the adventure closes with the turtle spirits returning to their own place and time, leaving Gen and Usagi to follow their own (temporarily) separate roads…

‘Jizo’ then offers a delightful and gripping interlude as a grieving mother dedicates a roadside shrine to her murdered child and mysterious Karma places the killers in the path of a certain justice-dispensing, long-eared wanderer…

Next comes a brace of stories offering elucidating glimpses of the rabbit’s boyhood. Once, Miyamoto Usagi was simply the son of a small-town magistrate sent to spend his formative years learning the Way of Bushido from a gruff and distant leonine hermit Katsuichi.

The stern sensei taught not just superior technique and tactics, but also an ironclad creed of justice and restraint which would serve the Ronin well throughout his turbulent life.

In ‘Usagi’s Garden’ the callow pupil rebels against the arduous and undignified task of growing food until the lion delivers a subtle but life changing lesson, whilst in ‘Autumn’ a painful fall propels the lad into a nightmare confrontation with a monster who has trapped the changing of the seasons in a bamboo cage…

‘Shi’ is a 2-part tale wherein Usagi comes to the assistance of a valley of poor farmers under constant attack by bullies and brigands seeking to make them leave their impoverished homes. The thugs are secretly employed by a local magistrate and his ruthless brother who have discovered gold under the peasants’ land and want to extract it without attracting the attention of the local Lord’s tax collectors.

When the Ronin’s formidable opposition stalls the brothers’ scheme they hire a quartet of assassins whose collective name means “death”, but the killers are far less trouble than the head farmer’s daughter Kimie who has never seen someone as glamorous or attractive as the soft-spoken samurai…

Although there are battles aplenty for Usagi, the remorseless greed of the brothers finishes them before the Yojimbo can…

A delightful silent comedy follows as ‘The Lizard’s Tale’ pantomimically depicts the Ronin playing unwilling Pied Piper and guardian to a wandering flock of tokagé lizards (ubiquitous, omnivorous reptiles that populate the anthropomorphic world, replacing scavenger species like rats, cats and dogs in the fictitious ecosystem). The rambunctious trouble-magnets then repay the favour when the wanderer is ambushed in the snow-drowned mountains by an army of vengeful bandits…

The 3-chapter fable ‘Battlefield’ then discloses a key moment and boyhood turning point in the trainee warrior’s life.

It begins when a mind-broken, fleeing soldier shatters the boy’s childish dreams of warrior glory. The fugitive is a survivor of the losing side in a mighty battle and his sorry state forces Usagi to rethink his preconceptions of war.

Eager to ram home the lesson, Katsuichi takes his student to the battlefield where peasants and scavengers are busy snatching up whatever they can from the scattered corpses…

Usagi is horrified. To take a samurai’s swords is to steal his soul, but even so, a little later he cannot stop himself picking up a fallen hero’s Wakizashi (short sword)…

However, after concealing the blade in safe place, the apprentice is haunted by visions of the unquiet corpse and sneaks off to return the stolen steel soul.

Caught by soldiers who think him a scavenger and looter and about to lose his thieving hands, little Miyamoto is only saved by the intervention of victorious Great Lord Mifunė. The noble looks into the boy’s face and sees something honest, honourable and perhaps, one day, useful…

Following an Introduction on ‘Classic Storytelling’ from writer James Robinson, the Ronin roaming resumes with ‘The Music of Heaven’ wherein Miyamoto and a wandering flock of tokagé lizards encounter a gentle, pious priest whose life is dedicated to peace, music and enlightenment…

When their paths cross again later, the rabbit is almost murdered by a ruthless assassin who has since killed and impersonated holy man Komuso in an attempt to catch Usagi off guard…

Evocative and movingly spiritual, this classic of casual tragedy perfectly displays the vast range of storytelling Sakai can pack into the most innocuous of tales.

More menaces from the wanderer’s past reconnect in ‘The Gambler, The Widow and the Ronin’ as a professional conman who fleeces villagers with rigged samurai duels plies his shabby trade in just another little hamlet.

Unfortunately, this one is home to his last stooge’s wife, and to make matters worse, whilst his latest hired killer Kedamono is attempting to take over the business, the long-eared nomad who so deftly dispatched his predecessor Shubo strolls into town looking for refreshments…

Again forced into a fight he doesn’t want, Miyamoto makes short work of the blustering Kedamono, leaving the smug gambler to safely flee with the entire take. Slurping back celebratory servings of Saké, the villain has no idea that the inn where he relaxes employs a vengeful widow and mother who knows just who really caused her man’s death…

A note of portentous foreboding informs ‘The Nature of the Viper’, opening a year previously when a boisterous, good-hearted fisherman pulled a body out of the river and nursed his amazingly still breathing catch slowly back to health. If he expected gratitude or mercy the peasant was sadly mistaken, as the victim explained whilst killing his benefactor as soon as he was able…

The ingrate is Jei: a veritable devil in mortal form, who believes himself a “Blade of the Gods”; singled out by the Lords of Heaven to kill the wicked. The maniac makes a convincing case: when he stalked Usagi the monster was struck by a fortuitous – or possibly divinely sent – lightning bolt but is still going strong and still keen to continue his quest for the Ronin…

‘Slavers’ then begins a particularly dark journey for our hero as Usagi stumbles across a boy in chains escaping from a bandit horde. Little Hiro explains how the ragtag rogues of wily “General” Fujii have captured an entire town and are making the inhabitants harvest all their crops for the scum to steal…

Resolved to save them the rabbit infiltrates the captive town as a mercenary seeking work, but is soon exposed and taken prisoner and ‘Slavers Part 2’ finds Miyamoto stoically enduring the General’s tortures until the boy he saved bravely returns the favour… after which the Yojimbo’s vengeance is awesome and terrible…

However even as the villagers rebel and take back their homes and property, chief bandit Fujii escapes, taking Usagi’s daishō (matched long and short swords) with him.

As previously seen, to take a samurai’s swords is to steal his soul, and the monster not only has them but continually dishonours them by slaughtering innocents as he flees the Ronin’s relentless pursuit.

‘Daisho – Part One’ opens with a hallowed sword-maker undertaking the holy methodical process of crafting blades and the harder task of selecting the right person to buy them. Three hundred years later, Usagi is on the brink of madness as he follows the bloody trail of Fujii, remorselessly picking off the General’s remaining killers whilst attempting to redeem those sacred dispensers of death…

The chase leads him to another town pillaged by Fujii where he almost refuses to aid a wounded man until one of the women accuses him of being no better than the beast he hunts…

Shocked back to his senses, Miyamoto saves the elder’s life and in gratitude the girl Hanako offers to lead him to where Fuji was heading…

‘Mongrels’ then changes tack as erstwhile ally and hard-to-love friend Gennosuké enters the picture. The irascibly bombastic, money-mad bounty-hunter and conniving thief-taker is on the prowl for suitably profitable prospects when he meets the Stray Dog: his greatest rival in the unpopular profession of cop-for-hire.

After some posturing and double-dealing wherein each tries to edge out the other in the hunt for Fujii, they inevitably come to blows and are only stopped by the fortuitous intervention of the Rabbit Ronin…

‘Daisho – Part Two’ sees the irascible rugged individualists come to a shaky truce in their overweening hunger to tackle the General. Mistrustful of each other, they nevertheless cut a swathe of destruction through Fujii’s regrouped band, but even after the furious Usagi regains his honour swords there is one last betrayal in store…

Older, wiser and generally unharmed, Gen and Usagi part company again as ‘Runaways’ once more delves into the wanderer’s past. Stopping in a town he hasn’t visited in decades, the rabbit hears a name called out and his mind goes back to a time when he was a fresh young warrior in the service of Great Lord Mifunė.

Young princess Takani Kinuko had been promised as bride to trustworthy ally Lord Hirano and the rabbit had been a last-minute replacement as leader of the “babysitting” escort column to her impending nuptials.

When an overwhelming ambush destroyed the party, Usagi was forced to flee with the stuck-up brat, both masquerading as carefree, unencumbered peasants as he strove to bring her safely to her husband-to-be through a seeming army of ninjas killers.

The poignant reverie concludes in ‘Runaways – Part 2’ as valiant hero and spotless maid fell in love whilst fleeing from the pitiless, unrelenting marauders on their heels. Successful at last, their social positions naturally forced them apart once she was safely delivered.

Shaken from his memories the Ronin moves on, tragically unaware that he was not the only one recalling those moments and pondering what might have been…

Originally collected as The Brink of Life and Death, the evocative and enticing third tranche of torrid tales opens with ‘Discoveries’ – a heartfelt and enthusiastic Introduction from comics author Kurt Busiek – before more epic sagas of intrigue intermingle with brief vignettes attending to more plebeian dramas and even the occasional supernatural thriller, all tantalisingly tinged with astounding martial arts action and drenched in wit, irony, pathos and even true tragedy…

Far away from our nomadic star a portentous interlude occurs as a simple peasant and his granddaughter are attacked by bandits. The belligerent scum are about to compound extortion and murder with even more heinous crimes when a stranger with a ‘Black Soul’ stops them…

His is called Jei… and nothing good comes from even innocent association with the Blade of the Gods. Still keen to continue his crusade, the monster deals most emphatically with the criminals before “allowing” orphaned granddaughter Keiko to join him…

‘Kaisō’ then finds Miyamoto Usagi befriending a seaweed farmer who’s experiencing a spot of bother with his neighbours…

At peace with himself amongst hard-toiling peasants, Usagi becomes embroiled in their escalating battle with a village of rival seaweed sellers – previously regarded as helpful and friendly – and soon realises scurrilous merchant Yamanaka is fomenting discord and unrest between his suppliers to make extra profit…

‘A Meeting of Strangers’ in a roadside hostelry introduces a formidable female warrior to the constantly expanding cast as the Lepine Legend graciously offers a fellow weary mendicant the price of a drink. A professional informer then sells Usagi out to the still-smarting merchant Yamanaka and lethally capable Inazuma has ample opportunity to repay her slight debt to the Rabbit Ronin when he’s ambushed by an army of hired brigands…

Despite – or perhaps because – it is usually one of the funniest comics on the market, occasionally Usagi Yojimbo can brilliantly twist readers’ expectations with tales that rip your heart apart.

Such is the case with ‘Noodles’ wherein the nomadic Ronin meets again street performer, shady entertainer and charismatic pickpocket Kitsune. She has been plying all her antisocial trades in a new town just as eternally-wandering Usagi rolls up.

The little metropolis is in uproar at a plague of daring robberies and when the inept enforcers employed by Yoriki (Assistant Commander) Masuda try – and painfully fail – to arrest the long-eared stranger as a probable accomplice, the ferociously resistant Ronin earns the instant enmity of the pompous official.

Following the confrontation, a hulking, mute soba (buckwheat noodle) vendor begins to pester the still-annoyed rabbit and eventually reveals he’s carrying elegant escapologist Kitsune in his baskets…

Astounded, the Yojimbo renews his acquaintance with her before the affable thieves go on their way, but trouble and tragedy are just around the corner…

The town magistrate is leaning heavily on his Yoriki to end the crime wave but has no conception Masuda is actually in the pay of a vicious gang carrying out most of the thefts. What they all need is a convincing scapegoat to pin the blame on and poor dumb peasant Noodles is ideal – after all, he can’t even deny his guilt…

With a little sacrificed loot planted, the gentle giant becomes the perfect patsy and before Usagi and Kitsune even know he’s been taken, the simple fool has been tried and horrifically executed…

‘Noodles Part 2’ opens as the aggrieved heroes frantically dash for the public trial and almost immediate crucifixion but neither pickpocket nor bodyguard can do anything to save the innocent stooge. All they can do is swear to secure appropriate vengeance and a kind of justice…

In sober mien the rabbit roves on, stumbling into a house of horror and case of possession as ‘The Wrath of the Tangled Skein’ finds Usagi returning to a region plagued by demon-infested forests. Offered hospitality at a merchant’s house he subsequently saves the daughter from doom at the claws of a demonic Nue (tiger/fox/pig/snake devil).

He is, however, almost too late and only alerted to a double dose of danger when a Bonze (Buddhist Priest) arrives to exorcise the poor child… just like the cleric already praying over the afflicted waif upstairs…

This duel with the forces of hell leads into ‘The Bonze’s Story’ as Usagi strikes up a friendship with the true priest and learns how misfortune and devotion to honour compelled elite samurai Sanshobo to put aside weapons and war in search of greater truths and inner peace…

Political intrigue and explosive espionage return to the fore in ‘Bats, the Cat, & the Rabbit’ as Neko ninja chief Chizu re-enters Usagi’s life, fleeing a flight of rival Komori (bat) ninjas. The winged horrors are determined to possess a scroll containing the secrets of making gunpowder and, after a tremendous, extended struggle the exhausted she-cat cannot believe her rabbit companion is willing to simply hand it over. She soon shrugs it off.

After all the Komori have fallen into her trap and quickly regret testing the purloined formula…

The peripatetic Yojimbo then walks into a plot to murder Great Lord Miyagi involving infallible unseen assassin Kuroshi at ‘The Chrysanthemum Pass’. The valiant wanderer is simply aiding karma to a just outcome despite overwhelming odds and a most subtle opponent, the act will have appalling repercussions in the days ahead…

Hunted woman and deadly adept Inazuma then proves ‘Lightning Strikes Twice’ when found – as always – at the heart of a storm of hired blades trying to kill her. However, during one peaceful moment, she makes time to share with a fellow swordsmaster the instructive tale of a dutiful daughter who married the wrong samurai and, by exacting rightful vengeance upon his killer, won the undying hatred of a powerful lord and set her own feet irredeemably upon the road of doom…

Also included to round out in this epic collection are copious ‘Story Notes by Stan Sakai’, a full-colour ‘Gallery’ of the covers from both comicbooks and their attendant paperback compilations, annotated ‘Cover Sketches’ and designs plus biographical data ‘About the Author’.

Fast-paced yet lyrical, informative and funny, the saga alternately bristles with tension and thrills and frequently crushes your heart with astounding tales of pride and tragedy, evil and duty.

Bursting with veracity and verve, Usagi Yojimbo is the perfect comics epic: a monolithic magical irresistibly appealing saga to delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened haters of “funny animal” stories.
Text and illustrations © 1993-1998, 2014 Stan Sakai. All rights reserved. Foreword © 2014 Jamie S. Rich. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles © 2014 Viacom International, Inc. All rights reserved. All other material and registered characters are © and™ their respective owners. Usagi Yojimbo and all other prominently featured characters are registered trademarks of Stan Sakai.

Yoko Tsuno volume 11: The Three Suns of Vinea


By Roger Leloup translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-302-4

Indomitable intellectual adventurer Yoko Tsuno debuted in Spirou in September 1970 and is still delighting regular readers and making new fans to this day. Her astounding, all-action, excessively accessible exploits are amongst the most intoxicating, absorbing and broad-ranging comics thrillers ever created.

The globe-girdling, space-&-time-spanning episodic epics starring the slim, slight Japanese technologist-investigator were devised by monumentally multi-talented Belgian maestro Roger Leloup who began his own solo career after working as a studio assistant on Herge’s Adventures of Tintin.

Compellingly told, superbly imaginative and – no matter how implausible the premise of any individual yarn – always solidly grounded in hyper-realistic settings underpinned by authentic, unshakably believable technology and scientific principles, Leloup’s illustrated escapades were the vanguard of a wave of strips that changed the face of European comics in the mid-1970s.

That long-overdue revolution featured the rise of competent, clever and brave female protagonists, all taking their places as heroic ideals beside the boys and uniformly elevating Continental comics in the process. Happily, most of their exploits are as timelessly engaging and potently empowering now as they ever were, and none more so than the trials and tribulations of Yoko Tsuno.

Her very first outings (the still unavailable Hold-up en hi-fi, La belle et la bête and Cap 351) were simple introductory vignettes before the superbly capable electrical engineer and her valiant if less able male comrades Pol Paris and Vic Van Steen properly hit their stride with premier full-length saga Le trio de l’étrange in 1971 with Spirou’s May 13th issue…

Yoko’s exploits generally alternate between explosive exploits in exotic corners of our world, time-travelling jaunts and sinister deep-space sagas – such as this one – with the secretive, disaster-prone alien colonists from planet Vinea.

There have been 27 European albums to date, with another eagerly anticipated for 2017…

Today’s tale was originally serialised in 1975 (Spirou #1932-1953) and collected a year later as 11th album Les Trois soleils de Vinéa. It appears here nearly 40 years later through Cinebook as The Three Suns of Vinea: a captivatingly intergalactic romp of mystery and redemption in equal measure…

It begins with Yoko, Vic and frivolous cameraman pal Pol impatiently awaiting an increasingly rare meeting with an old friend. Her name is Khany and her race, the Vineans, had been hibernating in the Earth for almost half a million years until meeting the curious trio on their first adventure together…

After freeing them from robotic tyranny the humans had helped the survivors rebuild their lost sciences and now a new milestone has been reached. The Vineans are preparing to return to their own system, to see if the dying homeworld they fled two million years ago still exists.

Moreover, there’s room on the experimental scout-ship for three enquiring humans…

All too soon – in strictly scientific, relativistic terms – the explorers are witnessing marvels and miracles as Khany and her comrades discover their binary star-system has stabilised from the stellar catastrophe which threatened to eradicate them so long ago. Miraculously, even their planet of origin survives – albeit in a fantastically altered state…

Emboldened, the astounded cosmonauts survey cosmically-beleaguered Vinea and discover indigenous life still exists. Sadly, the debased primitives are in the thrall of an electronic overlord much like the one that dominated Khany’s people under Earth, but Yoko and her comrades know how to deal with that.

All that’s needed is courage, determination, luck and an ally on the inside…

And when the mighty struggle is over and the war won, Yoko has two more fantastic surprises for her beloved alien companions…

Expansive, suspenseful and phenomenally engaging, this enthralling “Big Sky” sci fi romp roars along with the same kind of wide-eyed astronomical wonderment that made 1950s Dan Dare stories such unmissable entertainment. Packed with thrills and revelation, the story also delivers a powerfully moving denouement, again affirming Yoko Tsuno as a top flight troubleshooter, at home in all manner of scenarios and easily able to hold her own against any fantasy superstar you can name.

As ever the greatest asset in these breathtaking tales is the astonishingly authentic and staggeringly detailed draughtsmanship and storytelling, which superbly benefits from Leloup’s diligent research and meticulous attention to detail.

The Three Suns of Vinea is an epic speculative spectacle to delight and amaze any devotee of Neil R. Jones’ Professor Jameson stories, E. E. Smith’s Lensman novels or the mind-boggling technological treats of Larry Niven as well as any wonder-depleted kid for whom the sky is still no limit…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1976 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.

Jonah Hex volume 8: The Six Gun War


By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Cristiano Cucina, Rob Schwager & Rob Leigh (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2587-2

When Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti resurrected DC’s western wild-man Jonah Hex, they cunningly incorporated an even more mordant, blackly ironic streak of wit than originators John Albano and Tony DeZuñiga to amplify the already sanguine view of morality and justice that permeates the feature. The gritty – often macabre – narratives thus result in some of the most accessible and enjoyable comics fiction ever.

The writers also had the services of extremely talented people like colourist Rob Schwager and letterer Rob Leigh plus their pick of top artists such as Italian maestro Cristiano Cucina (Dragonero) who illustrates this entire uncompromising eighth trade paperback (or digital edition, should you be so inclined) compilation from 2010.

The contents comprise issues #44-49 of this much-missed iteration of the greatest gunman of all time: this go-round generally down-playing sly wit and slick satire in favour of a brutal, wide-ranging saga of death and vengeance…

The Six Gun War begins in the middle of a Texas tornado as Hex blithely stumbles into a cunning trap set by long-term nemeses Quentin Turnbull and El Papagayo.

The plutocratic southern millionaire has bedevilled Hex for more than a decade, mistakenly blaming the former Confederate soldier for the betrayal of his battalion to Union troops and consequent death of Turnbull’s son and heir Jeb.

Alternatively, the flamboyant Mexican bandit, border raider and rabid parrot-fancier is simply a psychotic madman who has had many murderous schemes frustrated by the bounty hunter and yearns to teach the goddam freak a painful final lesson…

Revelling in holding the upper hand, the human monsters do their worst and depart. Left for dead, Hex is miraculously saved by a most unlikely duo and sets off upon the trail of his unsuccessful murderers as they gleefully head back to Mexico.

Turnbull and El Papagayo have a secret joint venture in play. Far from American oversight, the Virginian aristocrat has restored his faded fortunes by enslaving an entire Mexican region and forcing the populace to mine gold for him. The bandit chief’s men act as enforcers and get their cut, as do local government officials…

As the villains head ever southward, they encounter Hex’s sometime allies Tallulah Black and Bat Lash and savagely take them captive for later fun and games…

Hex still has one creepy colleague to call on. Aging bank teller Lazarus Lane is unwilling host to injustice-stalking demon-spirit El Diablo who eagerly joins the coldly furious bounty killer upon the promise of many evil souls to reprimand…

The growing army of retribution is further bolstered by a war-party of Comanche braves trailing a band of whites and Mexicans who lately butchered an encampment of women, children and old men…

The quest quickly results in the grim pursuers liberating Lash and Tallulah – and even taking El Papagayo out of the picture – but after these setbacks, the rich man switches to wealth as his weapon of choice: hiring the world’s seven greatest assassins to stop Hex and Co by any means necessary…

An angry Jonah Hex is more elemental than human, however, and they won’t be nearly enough…

Sharp, smart, fast-paced, deliciously convoluted and staggeringly violent, The Six Gun War is a spectacular explosive epic showing the darkest side of the West’s greatest antihero and the depths to which his enemies will stoop. This is another intoxicating and unmissable yarn no fan of the genre or first tier comicbook wonder will want to miss.
© 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1931-1932: “A Kat a’Lilt with Song”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard & Derya Ataker (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-594-6

The cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is arguably the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is now dubbed for these glorious commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which must be appreciated on its own terms. The strip developed a unique language – at once both visual and verbal – and dealt with the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding without ever offending anybody.

Sadly, however, it baffled far more than a few…

It was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multi-layered verbal and pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been cropping up in his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Krazy Kat debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct influence and interference – gradually spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (notably – but not exclusively – e.e. Cummings, Frank Capra, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and – latterly – Jack Kerouac) all adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the comics section.

Eventually the feature found a home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s heavy-handed patronage, the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse: rude crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick (obtained singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly) which the smitten kitten invariably misidentifies as tokens of equally recondite affection.

The third crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, who is completely besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung – by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour – from removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to Pupp’s dilemma…

Also populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as dreaded deliverer of unplanned, and generally unwanted, babies Joe Stork; hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (based on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“Soff, soff brizz”, “l’il dahlink” or “Ignatz, ware four is thou at Ignatz??”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick.

Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a supremely entertaining silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This delirious tome, covering all the new Sunday Page material from 1931-1932 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and also available as a merely magical digital edition – is another monochrome masterpiece expansively offers a beguiling extra treat by reprinting a selection of Herriman’s Krazy Kat Daily strips too.

Informative context, background and possible explanations are, as always, delivered by the much-missed Bill Blackbeard in another effusive exploration of Herriman’s earlier cartoon characters via his picture-packed Introductory essay ‘The Baron and the Duke: Other Great Stuff Before the Bricks Zipped’ with examples of prototypical charming social parasite Baron Mooch and anthropomorphic avian aristocrat and sporting good egg Gooseberry Sprig, the Duck Duke.

On to the strips then: within this compelling compendium of incessant passions thwarted in another land and time, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, but with a few new faces popping up to contribute to the insular insanity and well-cloaked social satire…

We open in the depths of February following a spate of (not-included) re-runs, with Krazy konsulting palm reader and “mystic of Mysore” Moul Azziz Khandi who advocates the spreading of a wild oat or two before it’s too late. Sadly, with someone as simplistic and literal-minded as the Kat, that’s a recipe for disaster when Offisa Pupp and Ignatz spot the shenanigans…

As always the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based gags and his occasional fleecing by Coconino’s (occasionally “Kokonino”) copious coterie of confidence tricksters – a scurrilous sub-population which seems to grow weekly…

Of course, the mouse is a man who enjoys revenge served hot, cold or late…

Amongst the new arrivals is an extremely bellicose elephant who never forgets the slightest slight and harbours no love for the Law or its agents, and greater use of ideal comedy maguffin Joe Stork, whose delivery of (generally unwanted) babies still brings dread responsibility and smug schadenfreude in equal amounts to all denizens of the county.

As ever there is a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous inspiration and bizarre weather plays a greater part in inducing anxiety and bewilderment.

One happy circumstance is the growing use of the county lock-up as the escalating slapstick silliness more often concludes with Ignatz incarcerated. Naturally that just means the mean Mus Musculus (look it up if you must) magnifying his malevolent efforts; even regularly taking to the air in a series of aeronautical escapades…

A war of civic status breaks out between Coconino communities Shonto and Oljeto as both hamlets race to increase their populations by inviting immigrant rabbits and “Ginny Piggs” to settle there. It all gets very crowded after prankish Ignatz gets Joe Stork involved too…

Krazy has not surrendered that dream of a singing career, much to everybody’s dismay, and an (initially) welcome chaotic distraction arrives in the temporarily frozen form of Mr. Eale Ektrik Eel of Red Lake, before the Kacophonous Kitty becomes bemused by a flurry of unseasonal, geographically-challenged Coconut incursions…

The year 1932 started cold and wet but still offered more of the same before providing a new fascination for Krazy when commercial radio broadcasting began in Coconino. This talking point was quickly eclipsed by the introduction of a tumultuous cast addition: a distant relative and his lonely domicile: Uncle Tomm Katt and his ramshackle Cabin.

The venerable gent was no fool, hated cops and mice equally and dealt harshly with any fool dumb enough to heft bricks in his vicinity. He was to be only an occasional player on the Sunday pages but found his true home in the knockabout rowdiness of the Krazy Kat Dailies…

Herriman was a master of the comic strip and fully grasped the fundamental differences between the demands of short sharp bursts of fun needed for the Monday to Saturday strip and the vastly magnified scope afforded him by a whole page every sabbath. Here to close this volume is incorporated a run of Dailies which perfectly highlight the contrasts and similarities in ‘The Daily Krazy Kat Strip, 1931’ culled from the twenty or so papers which willingly ran the controversial periodical feature.

The 4 panel episodes span January 26th through April 4th; displaying less high-blown whimsy but a solid eye for a great visual gags and incorporating Herriman’s love of wild wordplay and slapstick cinema, with a smaller core cast playing fast and loose with sense and sensibilities…

Supplementing the cartoon gold is another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing ‘Komments on Mysteries of the Master’s Drawing Mesa’ through pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a phenomenal achievement: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these comic strips which have shaped our industry and creators, and inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst delivering delight and delectation to generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.
© 2004, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer volume 8: The Voronov Plot


By Yves Sente & André Juillard, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-048-1

Belgian Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs (1904-1987) is one of the founding fathers of the Continental comics industry. Although his output was relatively modest compared to many of his iconic contemporaries, Jacobs’ landmark serialised life’s work – starring scientific trouble-shooters Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake – practically formed the backbone of the modern action-adventure comic in Europe.

His splendidly adroit, roguish yet thoroughly British adventurers were conceived and realised for the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin in 1946, and quickly became a crucial staple of life for post-war European kids – much as Dan Dare was in 1950s Britain.

After decades of fantastic exploits, the series apparently ended with the eleventh album. The gripping contemporary adventure had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in Tintin, but after the first volume was completed Jacobs simply abandoned his story due to failing health and personal issues.

Jacobs died on February 20th 1987 before completing extended adventure Les 3 formules du professeur Satō.

The concluding volume was only released in March 1990 after veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor was commissioned by the Jacobs family and estate to complete the tale from the grand originator’s pencils and notes. The long-postponed release led to a republishing of all the earlier volumes, followed in 1996 by new adventures from two separate creative teams hired by the Jacobs Studio. The first was the L’Affaire Francis Blake by Jean Van Hamme & Thierry “Ted” Benoit which settled itself into a comfortably defined and familiar mid-1950s milieu whilst unfolding a rousing tale of espionage and double-dealing.

The tale controversially omitted the fantastic elements of futuristic fiction and fringe science which had characterised Jacobs’ creation, whilst focusing on the suave MI5 officer rather than bombastic, belligerent boffin and inveterate scene-stealer Mortimer…

The same was broadly true for the next release: Le machination Voronov by Yves Sente (Le Janitor, Thorgal) & André Juillard (Bohémond de Saint-Gilles, Masquerouge, Mezek) published in 1999 – although references to the space race and alien infestation did much to restore the series’ credentials regarding threats in uncanny circumstances…

It all begins in a top-secret Soviet rocket base in January 1957 where a test-launch results in disaster as the missile smashes into a comet before crashing back to Earth. It’s not just prestige at stake here, though. It soon becomes apparent that the downed wreckage has picked up a deadly contagion from space. The region is quarantined and the exposed wreckage rushed to KGB medical specialist Professor Voronov at the Cosmodrome…

Working with his assistant Comrade Nastasia Wardynska, the brusque physician quickly determines that a bacterial strain from the comet produces a fast-acting, inevitably fatal haemorrhagic fever in adult humans…

In London as March ends, Captain Francis Blake engages in high level talks with Commander William Steele, his opposite number in MI6. Disturbing news is coming out of Moscow: many high-ranking members of the Politburo have died suddenly and a warning from a highly-placed mole reveals that Voronov has stockpiled a deadly new bio-weapon.

The agent plans on getting a sample to the West, but needs help to accomplish the crucial task…

Later whilst dining with old friend Professor Mortimer, a hasty plan is hatched after Blake learns his pal has been invited to attend a scientific Symposium in Moscow…

And thus unfolds a canny, deviously Byzantine tale of Cold War intrigue as Blake and Mortimer strive to get a sample of alien pathogen Bacteria Z, themselves and all their undercover allies out of the insidious clutches of the KGB before solving a baffling mystery that threatens all of humanity.

As frantic chases lead to desperate battles and inevitable casualties in the shadows, critical questions emerge. If the Russians have an unbeatable bio-weapon, why are only Soviet officials dying? And what part does their oldest and most malevolent enemy play in the convoluted scheme?

Just when the dapper due think they have a handle on the swiftly-developing crisis, Western scientists start succumbing to Bacteria Z and it appears that further investigation into the insidious Voronov is necessary before the plot can be foiled and the true danger to Britain and the Free World finally crushed…

Strongly founded upon and in many ways a loving tribute to John Buchan’s classic thrillers, by way of a delicious tip of the hat to Space Age Cold War movie thrillers such as the Quatermass Experiment and Seven Days to Noon, this is a devious and convoluted spook-show to astound and delight espionage aficionados and a solidly entertaining addition to the captivating canon of the Gentleman Adventurers.
Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1999 by André Juillard & Yves Sente. All rights reserved. English translation © 2010 Cinebook Ltd.

Doctor Who Graphic Novel #24: Emperor of the Daleks


By Dan Abnett, Paul Cornell, Warwick Gray, Richard Alan, John Ridgway, Lee Sullivan, Colin Andrew & various (Panini Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-807-0

The British love comic strips and they love celebrity and they love “Characters.”

The history of our graphic narrative has a peculiarly disproportionate amount of radio comedians, Variety stars and film and television actors such as Charlie Chaplin, Flanagan & Allen, Shirley Eaton (“The Modern Miss”), Arthur Askey, Winifred Atwell, Max Bygraves, Jimmy Edwards, Charlie Drake and their ilk as well as actual shows and properties such as Whacko!, ITMA, Our Gang (a British version of the Hal Roach film sensation by Dudley Watkins ran in The Dandy as well as the American comicbook series by Walt Kelly), Old Mother Riley, Supercar, Pinky and Perky and literally hundreds more.

Anthology comics such as Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Tornado, TV Comic and Countdown among others all translated our viewing and listening favourites into pictorial joy every week, and it was a pretty poor star or show that couldn’t parley their day job into a licensed comic property.

Doctor Who premiered on black and white televisions across Britain with the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’ on November 23rd 1963, and in 1964 his decades-long association with TV Comic began in #674 and the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us – under various names – ever since. All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree.

Panini’s UK division is in the ongoing process of collecting every strip from its archive in a uniform series of over-sized graphic albums, each concentrating on a particular incarnation (those in the know refer to them as “regenerations”) of the deathless wanderer. This particular tome reprints tales plucked from the annals of history and the Terran recording dates November 1992 and July 1995.

These yarns all feature the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy – my second favourite after Patrick Troughton – but I’m sure I’ll be advised why that’s so very wrong by somebody in due course…)

This collection features both monochrome and full-colour episodes and kicks off with sinister espionage thriller ‘Pureblood’ (originally seen in Doctor Who Magazine #193-196: November 1992 to January 1993) by writer Dan Abnett and artist Colin Andrew. Here the devious Time Lord and his formidable companion Benny save the last survivors of the Sontarran race from extinction at the hands of their immortal enemies the Rutan – despite hostage humans and a spy in the embattled clone-warriors’ midst. Why save a deadly enemy? Ah well, The Doctor has a rather convoluted plan…

The epic yarn leads directly into the moody ‘Flashback’ (Doctor Who Winter Special 1992, by Warwick Gray and the superb John Ridgway) as we get a glimpse of the First Doctor (William Hartnell, keep up, keep up!) having a potentially universe- shattering falling out with his best friend: a proudly arrogant young Gallifreyan called Magnus (any guesses who he eventually regenerated as?)

The main meat of this massive collection is the eponymous ‘Emperor of the Daleks’ (Doctor Who Magazine #197-202) which reunites the dashing time meddler with his deadliest foe and their deadliest foe: Abslom Daak, a deranged maniac in love with a dead woman and determined to die gloriously exterminating Daleks…

Written by Paul Cornell and John Freeman with art from Lee Sullivan (and one chapter in full-colour thanks to the talents of Marina Graham), the sprawling epic reveals a civil war between the murderous pepperpots’ creator Davros and their current supreme commander, with the Doctor (two of them, in fact) and a motley crew of allies stirring the bubbling mix and nudging the feuding megalomaniacs in a certain direction…

And when the dust settles Richard Alan and Sullivan provide a salutary epilogue in ‘Up Above the Gods’ (Doctor Who Magazine #227, July 1995) as The Doctor explains his actions to Davros… or so, at least, the deluded devil believes…

Warwick Gray & Colin Andrew then introduce a universe where The Doctor perished in his Third Regeneration leading to a cross dimensional incursion by ours, as well as Benny and Ace, to foil the ‘Final Genesis’ of Silurian/Sea Devil renegade Mortakk (from Doctor Who Magazine #203-206) after which the full-colour fun returns in ‘Time & Time Again’ (Doctor Who Magazine #207, by Cornell, Ridgway and hues-smith Paul Vyse) with all seven incarnations of the Gallivanting Gallifreyan in action to retrieve the Key to Time in hope of stopping the Black Guardian recreating the universe in his own vile image…

Abnett and Ridgeway return to the black & white days of Kent in the 1840s for ‘Cuckoo’ (Doctor Who Magazine #208-210) as Ace and Benny understandably revolt when The Doctor seeks to steal the limelight from the first woman palaeontologist Mary Anne Wesley. His motives are quite pure: what the young scientist has found is not a missing link in human evolution but something alien that its descendants are prepared to kill for…

The dramas conclude in fine styles as Gray & Ridgway expose the ferocious spleen of the Doctor in full indignant mode as he becomes an ‘Uninvited Guest’ (Doctor Who Magazine #211) delivering judgement and punishment to a soiree of indolent and callous timeless beings who enjoyed making sport and playing games with “lesser” beings. They soon learned to their dismay that such valuations are all a matter of perspective…

Supplemented with commentaries by the original creators, this is a splendid book for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for dedicated fans of the show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics another go…
All Doctor Who material © BBCtv 2014. Doctor Who, the Tardis and all logos are trademarks of the British broadcasting corporation and are used under licence. All other material © 2017 its individual creators and owners. Published 2017 by Panini. All rights reserved.

Valerian: The Complete Collection volume 1


By J.-C. Méziéres & P. Christin with colours by E. Tranlé and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-352-9

Valérian is possibly the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in that expansive and undoubtedly contentious statement.

Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips formed the medium itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie has seen some of Jean-Claude Méziéres & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the filmic phenomenon has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the look of the Millennium Falcon to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Don’t take my word for it: this splendid oversized hardback compendium – designed to cash in on the epic movie from Luc Besson released this summer – has a copious and good-natured text feature entitled ‘Image Creators’ comparing panels to stills from the films…

In case you were curious, other additional features include the photo and design art-packed ‘Interview Luc Besson, Jean-Claude Méziéres and Pierre Christin (Part I)’ and bullet-point historical lectures ‘How it All Began…’, ‘Go West Young Men!’, ‘Colliding Worlds’, ‘Explore Anything’ and ‘Hello!’ This is Laureline…’

Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have experienced and marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling roller-coasting of Méziéres & Christin than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined possible.

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent launched in the November 9th 1967 edition of Pilote (#420, running until February 15th 1968). It was an instant hit. However, the graphic album compilations only began with second tale The City of Shifting Waters, as all concerned considered the first yarn as a work-in-progress and not quite up to a preferred standard. You can judge for yourself, as Bad Dreams kicks off this volume, in its first ever English-language translation…

The groundbreaking series followed a Franco-Belgian mini-boom in science fiction triggered by Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 creation Barbarella. Other notable successes of the era include Greg & Eddy Paape’s Luc Orient and Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane adventures, which all – with Valérian – stimulated mass public reception to science fiction and led to the creation of dedicated fantasy periodical Métal Hurlant in 1977.

Valérian and Laureline (as the series eventually became) is a light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travel adventure-romp (a bit like Doctor Who, but not really at all), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist and political commentary, starring (at least in the beginning) an affable, capable, unimaginative and by-the-book cop tasked with protecting the universal time-lines and counteracting paradoxes caused by casual time-travellers…

The fabulous fun commences with the aforementioned Bad Dreams – which began life as ‘Les Mauvais Rêves – a blend of comedy and adventures as by-the-book time cop Valérian voyages to 11th century France in pursuit of a demented dream-scientist seeking magical secrets to remake the universe to his liking. Sadly, our hero is a little out of his depth but is soon rescued from a tricky situation by the fiery, capable young woman named Laureline.

After handily dealing with the dissident Xombul and his stolen sorceries, Valerian brings Laureline back with him to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative wonderland of Galaxity, capital of a vast and mighty Terran Empire.

The indomitable girl trained as a Spatio-Temporal operative and was soon an apprentice Spatio-Temporal Agent accompanying Val on his missions throughout time and space…

Every subsequent Valérian adventure – until the 13th – was first serialised in weekly Pilote until the conclusion of The Rage of Hypsis (January 1st-September 1st 1985) after which the mind-bending sagas were simply launched as all-new complete graphic novels, until the magnificent opus concluded in 2010.

(One clarifying note: in the canon “Hypsis” is counted as the twelfth tale, due to the collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters. When Bad Dreams was finally released in a collected edition in 1983 it was given the number #0.)

The City of Shifting Waters was originally published in two tranches; ‘La Cité des Eaux Mouvantes’ (#455 25th July to 468, 24th October 1968) and followed by ‘Terre en Flammes’ (Earth in Flames, #492-505, 10th April to 10th July 1969).

Both are included in this compilation and the action opens here with the odd couple dispatched to 1986 – when civilisation on Earth was destroyed due to ecological negligence and political chicanery and atomic holocaust – to recapture Xombul, still determined to undermine Galaxity and establish himself as Dictator of the Universe.

To attain his goal the renegade has travelled to New York after a nuclear accident has melted the ice caps and flooded the metropolis – and most of everywhere else. He is hunting hidden scientific secrets that will allow him to conquer the devastated planet and prevent the Terran Empire from ever forming… at least that’s what his Galaxity pursuers believe…

Plunged back into an apocalyptic nightmare where Broadway and Wall Street are under water, jungle vines connect the deserted skyscrapers, Tsunamis are an hourly hazard and bold looters are snatching up the last golden treasures of a lost civilisation, the S-T agents find unique allies to preserve the proper past, but are constantly thwarted by Xombul who has built his own deadly robotic slaves to ensure his schemes.

Visually spectacular, mind-bogglingly ingenious and steeped in delightful in-jokes (the utterly-mad-yet-brilliant boffin who helps them is a hilarious dead ringer for Jerry Lewis in the 1963 film The Nutty Professor) this is still a timelessly witty delight of Science Fiction which closes on a moody cliffhanger…

Rapidly following, Earth in Flames concludes the saga as our heroes head inland and encounter hardy survivors of the holocaust. Enduring more hardships they escape even greater catastrophes such as the eruption of the super-volcano under Yellowstone Park before finally frustrating the plans of the most ambitious mass-killer in all of history… and as Spatio-Temporal Agents they should know…

Concluding this first fantastic festive celebration is The Empire of a Thousand Planets which originally ran in Pilote #520-541(October 23rd 1969 to March 19th 1970) and saw the veteran and rookie despatched to the fabled planet Syrte the Magnificent, capital of a vast system-wide civilisation and a world in inexplicable and rapid technological and social decline.

The mission is one of threat-assessment: staying in their base time-period (October 2720) the pair are tasked with examining the first galactic civilisation ever discovered that has never experienced any human contact or contamination, but as usual, events don’t go according to plan…

Despite easily blending into a culture with a thousand separate sentient species, Valerian and Laureline find themselves plunged into intrigue and dire danger when the acquisitive girl buys an old watch in the market.

Nobody on Syrte knows what it is since all the creatures of this civilisation have an innate, infallible time-sense, but the gaudy bauble soon attracts the attention of one of the Enlightened – a sinister cult of masked mystics who have the ear of the Emperor and a stranglehold on all technologies….

The Enlightened are responsible for the stagnation within this once-vital interplanetary colossus and they quickly move to eradicate the Spatio-Temporal agents. Narrowly escaping doom, the pair reluctantly experience the staggering natural wonders and perils of the wilds beyond the capital city before dutifully returning to retrieve their docked spaceship.

However, our dauntless duo are distracted and embroiled in a deadly rebellion fomented by the Commercial Traders Guild. Infiltrating the awesome palace of the puppet-Emperor and exploring the mysterious outer planets, Valerian and Laureline discover a long-fomenting plot to destroy Earth – a world supposedly unknown to anyone in this Millennial Empire…

All-out war looms and the Enlightened’s incredible connection to post-Atomic disaster Earth is astonishingly revealed just as interstellar conflict erupts between rebels and Imperial forces, with our heroes forced to fully abandon their neutrality and take up arms to save two civilisations a universe apart yet inextricably linked…

Comfortingly, yet unjustly, familiar this spectacular space-opera is fun-filled, action-packed, visually breathtaking and mind-bogglingly ingenious.

Drenched in wide-eyed fantasy wonderment, science fiction adventures have never been better than this.
© Dargaud Paris, 2016 by Christin, Méziéres & Tranlệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Jonah Hex volume 7: Lead Poisoning


By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Jordi Bernet, Rafa Garres, David Michael Beck, Rob Schwager & Rob Leigh (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2485-1

When Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti reinvigorated modern Western legend Jonah Hex they deftly blended a blackly ironic streak of wit with a sanguine view of morality and justice to produce some of the most accessible and enjoyable comics fiction available from the period. They also had the services of extremely talented people such as colourist Rob Schwager and letterer Rob Leigh and the pick of top artists such as European maestro Jordi Bernet who illustrates fully half the gritty tales in seventh trade paperback (or digital, should you be so inclined) compilation from 2009. The contents comprise issues 37-42 of the superb and much-missed iteration…

I first recognised Jordi Bernet’s work on The Legend Testers. By “recognised” I mean that very moment when I actually understood that somebody somewhere drew the stuff I was adoring, and that it was better than the stuff either side of it.

This was 1966 when British comics were mostly black and white and never had signatures or credits so it was years before I knew who had sparked my interest…

Jordi Bernet Cussó was born in Barcelona in 1944, son of a prominent and successful humour cartoonist. When his father died suddenly Jordi, aged 15, took over his father’s strip Doña Urraca (Mrs. Magpie).

A huge fan of Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and particularly expressionist genius Milton Caniff, Bernet yearned for less restrictive horizons and left Spain in the early 1960s to chance his hand at dramatic storytelling.

He worked for Belgium’s Spirou, Germany’s Pip and Primo, before finding work on English weeklies. Bernet toiled on British publishers between 1964 and 1967, and as well as the Odhams/Fleetway/IPC anthologies Smash, Tiger and War Picture Library he also produced superlative material for DC Thomson’s Victor and Hornet.

He even illustrated a Gardner Fox horror short for Marvel’s Vampire Tales #1 in 1973, but mainstream America was generally denied his mastery (other than some translated Torpedo volumes and a Batman short story) until the 21st century reincarnation of Jonah Hex.

His most famous strips include thrillers Dan Lacombe (written by his uncle Miguel Cussó), Paul Foran (scripted by José Larraz) the saucy Wat 69 and spectacular post-apocalyptic barbarian epic Andrax (both with Cussó again).

When General Franco died Bernet returned to Spain and began working for Cimoc, Creepy and Metropol, collaborating with Antonio Segura on the sexy fantasy Sarvan and dystopian SF black comedy Kraken. His other job was collaborating with Enrique Sánchez Abulí on gangster and adult themes tales that have made him one of the world’s most honoured artists, and which culminated on the incredibly successful crime saga Torpedo 1936

The rawhide dramas commence with Bernet in top form as Hex tangles and torridly tussles with a trio of female former circus performers who take up bounty hunting and prove that ‘Trouble Comes in Threes’, after which ‘Hell or High Water’ finds the gritty gunslinger enduring horrific tortures at the hands of a sheriff he once shamed.

The brutal psychopath has no idea what real vengeance feels like until Jonah gives him a fast and final lesson…

Baroque stylist Rafa Garres supplies art and colours for a grim parable examining ‘Cowardice’ wherein a rookie sheriff gets life lessons in doing his job after Hex tracks murderous escaped convicts to a quiet country backwater, after which David Michael Beck depicts a gruesome two-part tale of savage madness.

When Hex and sometime ally/constant foil Tallulah track a serial-killing civil war surgeon teaching other perverts his bloody discoveries, the red-handed butcher displays enough body-shredding acumen to almost end them both. However, even his gory assaults and inclinations to devil-worship of the ‘Sawbones’ are no match for Jonah Hex in a mood to display his all-consuming displeasure and irritation…

Bernet wraps things up in inimitable blackly comedic style as ‘Shooting the Sun’ offers a shocking glimpse at the bounty hunter’s formative years with parental sadist Woodson Hex

Apparently, the abusive behaviour made Jonah the man he is: someone able to turn an inescapable death-trap into a private shooting gallery offering the added attraction of long-deferred vengeance on the bullies who garnished little Jonah’s hellish childhood with extra misery…

With captivating covers from Bernet, Garres and Beck, Lead Poisoning is another explosively grim, yet bleakly hilarious outing for the very best Western anti-hero ever created: an intoxicating blend of action and social commentary no fan of the genre or cream-of-the-crop comics magic will want to miss.
© 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Phantom – The Complete Series: The Gold Key Years volume 1


By Bill Harris & Bill Lignante with George Wilson (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-61345-005-5

In the 17th century a British sailor survived an attack by pirates, and, washing ashore in Africa, swore on the skull of his murdered father to dedicate his life and that of all his descendants to destroying all pirates and criminals. The Phantom fights crime and injustice from a base deep in the jungles of Bengali, and throughout Africa is known as the “Ghost Who Walks”.

His unchanging appearance ad unswerving quest for justice have led to him being considered an immortal avenger by the credulous and the wicked. Down the decades one hero after another has fought and died in an unbroken line, and the latest wearer of the mask, indistinguishable from the first, continues the never-ending battle…

Lee Falk created the Jungle Avenger at the request of his syndicate employers who were already making history, public headway and loads of money with his first strip sensation Mandrake the Magician

Although technically not the first ever costumed hero in comics, The Phantom was the prototype paladin to wear a skin-tight body-stocking, and the first to have a mask with opaque eye-slits.

He debuted on February 17th 1936 in an extended sequence that pitted him against a global confederation of pirates called the Singh Brotherhood. Falk wrote and drew the daily strip for the first two weeks before handing artist Ray Moore the illustration side. The Sunday feature began in May 1939.

For such a successful, long-lived and influential series, in terms of compendia or graphic novel collections The Phantom has been very poorly served by the English language market. Various small companies have tried to collect the strips – one of the longest continually running adventure serials in publishing history – but in no systematic or chronological order and never with any sustained success.

But, even if it were only of historical value (or just printed for Australians, who have long been manic devotees of the implacable champion) surely “Kit Walker” is worthy of a definitive chronological compendium series?

Happily, his comic book adventures have fared slightly better – at least in recent times…

In the 1960’s King Features Syndicate dabbled with a comicbook line of their biggest stars – Flash Gordon, Mandrake and The Phantom – but immediately prior to that the Ghost Who Walks held a solo starring vehicle under the broad and effective aegis of veteran licensed properties publisher Gold Key Comics.

This superb full-cover hardcover (with equivalent eBook editions for the modern minded) gathers the first eight issues – encompassing November 1962 through August 1964 – and, as explained in fan and scholar Ed Rhoades’ Introduction ‘The Phantom and the Silver Age’, offers newspaper strip tales originally illustrated by Wilson McCoy that had been adapted by original scripter Bill Harris and drawn in comicbook format by Bill Lignante.

The Phantom was no stranger to funnybooks, having been featured since the Golden Age in titles such as Feature Book and Harvey Hits, but only as straight strip reprints. These Gold Key exploits were tailored to a big page and a young readership.

The fascinating history lesson is also augmented by pages of original artwork and ends much too soon for my elevated tastes, but if you’re a fan of pictorial adventure there’s plenty more to enjoy.

Each issue was fronted by a stunning painted cover by George Wilson and the excitement kicks off here with ‘The Game’ (Phantom #1, November 1962) as the international man of mystery encounters Prince Ragon Gil, whose idea of fun is to pit abducted or bribed strangers against ferocious beasts. When an interfering masked man closes down his warped games the eastern potentate swears vengeance and kidnaps the hero’s fiancé Diana Palmer. His plan is to force the interloper to play his savage game, but it’s his last mistake…

That premiere issue concludes with a single-page recap of the legend of The Phantom before #2 (February 1963) resumes the wonderment with ‘The Rattle’ as an exploit from The Phantom’s ancestral past flares up again after tiny bird-riding barbarians start stealing from the local tribes.

The current ghost must crack the casebooks of his forefathers and penetrate a most inhospitable region to get to the bottom of the mystery and bring peace back to the jungle…

A second story taps into contemporary Flying Saucer interest as our hero encounters aliens intent on conquest. Thankfully the purple-clad subject of ‘The Test’ proves sufficient to change their minds…

History’s greatest treasures are stored in The Phantom’s fabulous Skull Cave and the first tale in #3 (May 1963) relates how a rescued white man glimpses ‘The Diamond Cup’ of Alexander the Great and accidentally triggers a greed-fuelled crusade by eager criminals and ambitious chances before the Ghost Who Walks finally restores peace and order…

Rounding out the issue, ‘The Crybaby’ finds frail village boy Cecil given a crash course in confidence and exercise by the enigmatic masked man. The experience is literally life-changing…

In #4 (August) disgraced, fraud-perpetrating witchmen strike back against The Phantom through their manufactured deity ‘Oogooru’, only to be shown what real sleight of hand and prestidigitation can achieve, after which ocean voyager Kit Walker solves the enigma of vanishing villains the ‘Goggle-Eye Pirates’

Two centuries previously The Phantom established a police force dubbed The Jungle Patrol with himself as its anonymous titular head. In #5 (October) those worthy stalwarts are almost outfoxed by a devious gang of bandits known as ‘The Swamp Rats’ until the unseen “Commander” takes personal charge of the mission. The big innovation of the issue is the premiere of a new episodic feature detailing ‘The Phantom’s Boyhood’ as a baby is born in the Skull Cave. Tracing the formative experiences of the current Phantom, the initial yarn follows little Kit from toddler to the dawn of adolescence when his parents regretfully decide it’s time to pack him off to private school in America…

The Phantom #6 (February 1964) leads with ‘The Lady from Nowhere’ as heiress Lydia Land is thrown from a plane and rescued by the masked manhunter. Soon he’s dogging her steps to track down which trusted associate is trying to silence her and steal her fortune…

A life-changing meeting shapes the destiny of the hero-to-be in ‘The Phantom’s Boyhood Part II – Diana’ as Kit falls for the girl next door and makes his mark amongst the cads and bullies of the civilised world…

The peaceful villages of the jungle are thrown into turmoil by the thieving depredations of ‘The Super Apes’ (#7, May) until the Jungle Patrol and The Phantom expose their shocking secret whilst ‘The Phantom’s Boyhood Part III – School’ finds the African émigré making his mark in the classroom, on the playing fields and in the newspapers…

Phantom #8 (August) closes this initial outing with an epic extra-length tale of vengeance as the current Ghost Who Walks finally tracks down ‘The Belt’ and the villain who killed his father and stole it…

Straightforward, captivating rollicking action-adventure has always been the staple of The Phantom. If that sounds like a good time to you, this is a traditional nostalgia-fest you won’t want to miss…
The Phantom® © 1962-1964 and 2011 King Features Syndicate, Inc. ® Hearst Holdings, Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

The Drops of God volume 1


By Tadashi Agi & Shu Okimoto translated by Kate Robinson (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-27-8

Every so often a graphic novel jumps the ghetto walls and makes a splash in the wider world and this intriguing manga monolith is the latest: eschewing the usual icebreakers of horror, sci fi or blood-soaked action to target the lofty and insular world of the high-end vintner trade and the obsessive fascination of oenophilia (I’m chucking in a bunch of technical terms all enticingly explained in the book, but you can cheat and use your search engine of choice).

Created by brother and sister thriller-writing team Shin & Yuko Kibayashi (Kindaichi’s Case Files, GetBackers) under their nom de crime Tadashi Agi and sensitively illustrated by Shu Okimoto, Kami no Shizuku debuted in 2004 in Kondansha’s Morning with book compilations beginning a year later.

The siblings are also two of the most influential wine connoisseurs in the world and their expertise and passion shine through every page of this monolithic manga tome which took the wine world by storm and won the Gourmand and Cookbook Award in 2009 – presumably a first for any work of fiction, let alone graphic novel. It was described by Decanter Magazine as “arguably the most influential wine publication in the past 20 years.”

Of course, all I care about is comics, but even on my terms this is a thoroughly entertaining, immaculately realised soap/thriller drama that would make fans of Jackie Collins or Dick Francis rethink their allegiances.

The tale stars follows prodigal son Shizuku Kanzaki; raised from birth to follow his father’s obsession only to rebel and seek his own path until tragedy and circumstance pull him back to his destiny, …

The first eighteen chapters of the delectable saga are contained in this first English translation, beginning with ‘The Scent of a Hundred Flowers’: introducing apprentice Sommelier Miyabi Shinohara who almost shames her wine-bar/restaurant employers in front of a prominent – but boorish – wine snob until a dashing young man saves the day with a bit of daredevil decanting…

It transpires that the lad is a small cog in a vast beer-making concern and has never tasted wine: a shocking admission since Shizuku is the son of global superstar of wine criticism Yutaka Kanzaki

It seems old man Kanzaki had great hopes and aspirations for his son, training the boy from birth in flavours, odour detection and discrimination like a vintner version of Doc Savage, but the boy rebelled and rejected his father’s passion.

The situation changes when Shizuku is informed of his sire’s death and a unique will…

‘A Prayer to the Fruitful Earth’ reveals the elder Kanzaki had a vast and valuable private collection of stellar vintages and has left them, his house and a fortune to his wayward son under a bizarre condition.

The heir must indulge in a duel with dark prince of wine-tasters – and inheritor of Kanzaki’s mantle as greatest critic in Japan – Issei Tomine in a dozen blind tastings of the greatest vintages in the collection – the “Twelve Apostles” – as well as the mysterious thirteenth bottle known only as “the Drops of God”. To the one who most closely agrees with the master’s own description goes everything…

At first Shizuku doesn’t care, but the arrogance of Tomine and a burning desire to understand the father who pushed him to such extraordinary lengths moves the orphan to an alliance with Miss Shinohara. Her crash-course in the history, lore and philosophy of the wine industry and craft in ‘The Profound and Subtle Queen’ as well as his first ever actual taste of the magical elixir precipitates a major transformation in the lad…

For reasons even he doesn’t understand, the neophyte decides to accept the challenge of the Drops of God in ‘Over the Bed Wafts an Aroma of Awakening’. Thus begins his education, inestimably assisted by his incredible sense of smell, expanded palate and physical skills he never even knew he possessed, all courtesy of his early training.

In episodes with such evocative titles as ‘The God of Burgundy’, ‘A Maiden Fleeing through Strawberry Fields’, ‘Tasting in the Park’ and ‘Cradling God’s Blessing in Both Hands’, what follows is a dazzling display of hard fact and the theosophical fervour of the grape-grower’s art, seamlessly blended with a canny melodrama of rivalry, redemption and (perhaps) burgeoning young love as Shizuku discovers the obsessive power of his father’s life.

With surprising intensity the cast expands as the story unfolds: the nigh-mystical nature of wine is seen to mend fences, restore lost lovers and even diagnose illness in ‘Draining the Glass of Reunion’, ‘A Maiden Smiling in the Strawberry Fields’, ‘The Sweet Dessert of Parting’ and ‘The Ones Who Watch Over’.

Even Shizuku’s career alters as he transfers from sales to the Beer company’s small and struggling wine division where he finds that even all he has learned is not enough after falling foul of snobbery and bigotry in ‘At All the Battles’ Start’, ‘A Lovely Cruel Flower’, ‘Tough Love for a Saucy Lolita’, ‘The Mystery Man of the Wine Division’ and ‘Merry-Go-Round’

Meanwhile Tomine has begun to stack the odds in his favour by introducing a seductive secret agent into the lives of Shizuku and Miss Shinohara during ‘A Fantastico Night’, wherein some nasty facts about the true character of the Prince of wine-critics is exposed…

As much religion and philosophy as science and art, the cachet and inherent excitement of the wine trade transfers readily and effectively in this tale to make for a superbly readable tale for older readers.

The Japanese excel at making superb comics which simultaneously entertain and educate (check out economics textbook Japan Inc. by Shotaru Ishinomori to see what I mean) and the powerful, evocative imagery used to capture the sensorial effect of wine on the tongue and myriad fragrances in the nostrils is staggeringly effective – a brilliant use of the disciplines as only comics can muster them.

This is an astoundingly compelling comics-read and might well be the perfect gift for all those people you thought you couldn’t buy a graphic novel for…

This black and white book is printed in the traditional ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format – even if you pick it up as a digital edition.
© 2011 Tadashi Agi/Shu Okimoto. All rights reserved.