Hellboy Omnibus volume 1: Seed of Destruction


By Mike Mignola, with John Byrne, Mark Chiarello, Matt Hollingsworth, James Sinclair, Dave Stewart, Pat Brosseau & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-666-5                  eISBN: 978-1-50670-687-0

Hellboy was first seen 25 years ago in the 1993 San Diego Comic Con programme. Happy Birthday, Big Red.

After the establishment of the comicbook direct market system, there was a huge outburst of independent publishers in America and, as with all booms, a lot of them went bust. Some few however were more than flash-in-the-pans and grew to become major players in the new world order.

Arguably, the most successful was Dark Horse Comics who fully embraced the shocking new concept of creator ownership (amongst other radical ideas). This concept – and their professional outlook and attitude – drew a number of big name creators to the new company and in 1994 Frank Miller & John Byrne formally instituted the sub-imprint Legend for those projects major creators wanted to produce their own way and at their own pace.

Over the next four years the brand counted Mike Mignola, Art Adams, Mike Allred, Paul Chadwick, Dave Gibbons and Geof Darrow amongst its ranks; generating a wealth of superbly entertaining and groundbreaking series and concepts. Unquestionably the most impressive, popular and long-lived was Mignola’s supernatural thriller Hellboy.

As previously cited, the monstrous monster-hunter debuted in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (August 1993) before formally launching in 4-issue miniseries Seed of Destruction (with Byrne scripting over Mignola’s plot and art). Colourist Mark Chiarello added layers of mood with his understated hues.

That story and the string of sequels that followed are re- presented here in a new trade paperback offering earliest longform triumphs of the Scourge of Sheol – The Wolves of Saint August; The Chained Coffin; Wake the Devil and Almost Colossus – in the first of an omnibus sequence to be accompanied by a companion series of tomes featuring all the short stories.

Crafted by Mignola, scripter John Byrne and colourist Mark Chiarello, the incredible story begins with a review of secret files. On December 23rd 1944 American Patriotic Superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers interrupted a satanic ritual predicted by Allied parapsychologist Professors Trevor Bruttenholm and Malcolm Frost.

They were working in conjunction with influential medium Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones. They were all waiting at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when a demon baby with a huge stone right hand appeared in a fireball. The startled soldiers took the infernal yet seemingly innocent waif into custody.

Far, far further north, off the Scottish Coast on Tarmagant Island, a cabal of Nazi Sorcerers roundly berated ancient wizard Grigori Rasputin whose Project Ragna Rok ritual seemed to have failed. The Russian was unfazed. Events were unfolding as he wished…

Five decades later, the baby has grown into a mighty warrior engaging in a never-ending secret war: the world’s most successful paranormal investigator. Bruttenholm has spent the years lovingly raising the weird foundling whilst forming an organisation to destroy unnatural threats and supernatural monsters – The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. “Hellboy” is now its lead agent…

Today, the recently-returned, painfully aged professor summons his surrogate son and warns him of impending peril wrapped in obscured reminiscences of his own last mission. The Cavendish Expedition uncovered an ancient temple submerged in arctic ice, but what occurred next has been somehow stricken from Bruttenholm’s memory. Before he can say more the mentor is killed by a rampaging plague of frogs and enraged Hellboy is battling for his life against a demonic giant amphibian…

Following fact-files about Project Ragna Rok and ‘An African Myth about a Frog’ Chapter Two opens at eerie Cavendish Hall, set on a foetid lake in America’s Heartland. Matriarch Emma Cavendish welcomes Hellboy and fellow BPRD investigators Elizabeth Sherman and Dr. Abraham Sapien but is not particularly forthcoming about her family’s obsession.

Nine generations of Cavendish have sought for and sponsored the search for the Temple at the Top of the World. Three of her own sons were lost on the latest foray, from which only Bruttenholm returned, but her story of how founding patriarch Elihu Cavendish’s obsession infected every male heir for hundreds of years imparts no fresh insights.

She also says she knows nothing about frogs, but she’s lying and the agents know it…

As they retire for the night, Hellboy’s companions prepare for battle. Liz is a psychic firestarter but is still taken unawares when the frogs attack and the Dauntless Demon fares little better against another titanic toad-monster.

Of Abe there is no sign: the BPRD’s own amphibian has taken to the dank waters of the lake in search of long-buried answers…

And then a bald Russian guy claiming to know the truth of Hellboy’s origins appears and monstrous tentacles drag the hero through the floor…

Chapter Three opens in a vast hidden cellar where Rasputin explains he is the agent for undying and infinite antediluvian evil: seven-sided serpent Ogdru-Jahad who sleeps and waits to be reawakened. Hellboy was summoned from the pit to be the control interface between the great beast and the wizard as he oversaw the fall of mankind, but when the BPRD agent refuses his destiny – in his own obtuse, obnoxious manner – Rasputin goes crazy…

Overwhelmed by the Russian’s frog servants, Hellboy is forced to listen to the story of Rasputin’s alliance with Himmler and Hitler and how they sponsored a mystic Nazi think-tank to conquer the Earth. Of how the mage manipulated the fanatics, found the Temple at the Top of the World and communed with The Serpent and of how the last Cavendish Expedition awoke him. Of how he used them to trace the crucial tool he had summoned from Hell half a century ago…

And then the raving Russian reveals how his infernal sponsor Sadu-Hem – intermediary of The Serpent – has grown strong on human victims but will become unstoppable after feasting on Liz’s pyrokinetic energies…

With all hell literally breaking loose, the final chapter finds Rasputin exultantly calling upon each of the seven aspects as Hellboy attempts a desperate, doomed diversion and the long-missing Abe Sapien finally makes his move, aided by a hidden faction Rasputin had not anticipated…

The breathtaking conclusion sees the supernal forces spectacularly laid to rest, but the defeat of Sadu-Hem and his Russian puppet only opens the door for other arcane adversaries to emerge…

Bombastic, moody, laconically paced, suspenseful and explosively action-packed, Seed of Destruction manages the masterful magic trick of introducing a whole new world and making it seem like we’ve always lived there.

‘The Wolves of Saint August’ originally ran in Dark Horse Presents #88-91 during 1994, before being reworked a year later for the Hellboy one-shot of the same name. Mignola handles art and script with James Sinclair on colours and Pat Brosseau making it all legible and intelligible.

Set contemporarily, the moody piece sees the red redeemer working with BPRD colleague Kate Corrigan to investigate the death of Hellboy’s old friend Father Kelly in the Balkan village of Griart. It’s not long before they realise the sleepy hamlet is a covert den of great antiquity where a pack of mankind’s most infamous and iniquitous predators still thrive…

Mignola has a sublime gift for setting tone and building tension with great economy. It always means that the inevitable confrontation between Good and Evil has plenty of room to unfold with capacious visceral intensity. This clash between unfrocked demon and alpha lycanthrope is one of the most unforgettable battle blockbusters ever seen…

In 1995 Dark Horse Presents 100 #2 debuted ‘The Chained Coffin’. Here Hellboy returns to the English church where he first arrived on Earth in 1943. Fifty years of mystery and adventure have passed, but as the demon-hunter observes ghostly events replay before his eyes he learns the truth of his origins. All too soon, Hellboy devoutly wishes he had never come back…

Wake the Devil offered a decidedly different take on the undying attraction of vampires when a past case suddenly became active again. Hellboy and fellow outré BPRD agents Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien were still reeling from losing their aged mentor whilst uncovering mad monk Rasputin’s hellish scheme to rouse sleeping Elder Gods he served.

Moreover, the apparently undying wizard – agent for antediluvian infinitely evil seven-sided serpent Ogdru-Jahad who-sleeps-and-waits-to-be-reawakened – was responsible for initially summoning Hellboy to Earth as part of the Nazi’s Ragna Rok Project …

Now the Russian’s clandestine alliance with Himmler, Hitler and their mystic Nazi think-tank is further explored, as somewhere deep inside Norway’s Arctic Circle region, a driven millionaire visits a hidden castle.

He is seeking the arcane Aryans long-closeted within, eager to deliver a message from “The Master”. In return the oligarch wants sanctuary from the imminent end of civilisation…

In New York City a bloody robbery occurs in a tawdry mystic museum and the BPRD are soon being briefed on legendary Napoleonic soldier Vladimir Giurescu. It now appears that the enigmatic warrior wasn’t particularly wedded to any side in that conflict and was probably much older than reports indicated…

More important is the re-examined folklore which suggests Giurescu was mortally wounded many times but, after retreating to a certain castle in his homeland, would always reappear: renewed, refreshed and deadlier than ever.

In 1882 he was in England and clashed with Queen Victoria’s personal ghost-breaker Sir Edward Grey, who was the first to officially identify him as a “Vampire”. In 1944 Hitler met with Vladimir to convince the creature to join him, but something went wrong and Himmler’s envoy Ilsa Haupstein was ordered to arrest Giurescu and his “family”.

The creatures were despatched in the traditional manner and sealed in boxes… one of which has now been stolen from that museum. Moreover, the murdered owner was once part of the Nazi group responsible for Ragna Rok…

The BPRD always consider worst-case scenarios, and if that box actually contained vampire remains…

The location of the bloodsucker’s fabled castle is unknown, but with three prospects in Romania and only six agents available, three compact strike-teams are deployed with Hellboy in solo mode headed for the most likely prospect…

Although not an active agent, Dr. Kate Corrigan wants Hellboy to take especial care. All the indications are that this vampire might be the Big One, even though nobody wants to use the “D” word…

In Romania, somehow still youthful Ilsa Haupstein is talking to a wooden box, whilst in Norway her slyly observing colleagues Kurtz and Kroenen are concerned. Once the most ardent of believers, Ilsa may have been turned from the path of Nazi resurgence and bloody vengeance…

Her former companions are no longer so enamoured of the Fuehrer’s old dream of a vampire army either. Leopold especially places more faith in the creatures he has been building and growing…

Over Romania, Hellboy leaps out of the plane and engages his experimental jet-pack, wishing he was going with one of the other teams… and even more so after it flames out and dies…

At least he has the limited satisfaction of crashing into the very fortress Ilsa is occupying…

The battle with the witch-woman’s grotesque servants is short and savage and as the ancient edifice crumbles, Chapter Two reveals how on the night Hellboy was born, Rasputin suborned Ilsa and her companions…

He made them his devout disciples for the forthcoming awakening of Ogdru-Jahad, saving them from Germany’s ignominious collapse. Now the Russian’s ghost appears to her and offers another prophecy and a great transformation…

Deep in the vaults, Hellboy comes to and meets a most garrulous dead man, unaware that in the village below the Keep the natives are recognising old signs and making all the traditional preparations again…

Hellboy’s conversation provides lots of useful background information but lulls him into a false sense of security, allowing the revenant to brutally attack and set him up for a confrontation with the ferocious forces actually responsible for the vampire’s power…

Battling for his life, Hellboy is a stunned witness to Giurescu’s resurrection and ultimate cause of his latest demise, whilst far above, Rasputin shares his own origins with acolyte Ilsa, revealing the night he met the infamous witch Baba Yaga

Nearly three hundred miles away, Liz and her team are scouring the ruins of Castle Czege. There’s no sign of vampires but they do uncover a hidden alchemy lab with an incredible artefact in it…a stony homunculus.

Idly touching the artificial man Liz is horrified when her pyrokinetic energies surge uncontrollably into the creature and it goes on a destructive rampage…

With the situation escalating at Castle Giurescu, Hellboy decides to detonate a vast cache of explosives with the faint hope that he will be airlifted out before they go off but is distracted by a most fetching monster who calls him by a name he doesn’t recognise before trying to kill him.

If she doesn’t, the catastrophic detonation might…

As the dust settles and civil war breaks out amongst the Norway Nazis, in Romania Ilsa makes a horrific transition and Hellboy awakes to face Rasputin, even as the BPRD rush to the rescue.

Tragically Abe Sapien and his squad won’t make it before the revived and resplendent Giurescu takes his shot and the world’s most successful paranormal investigator is confronted and seduced by uncanny aspects of his long-hidden infernal ancestry…

With all hell breaking loose, the displaced devil must make a decision which will not only affect his life but dictate the course of humanity’s existence…

The breathtakingly explosive ending also resets the game for Rasputin’s next scheme, but the weird wonderment rolls on in a potent epilogue wherein the mad monk visits his macabre patron Baba Yaga for advice…

 

The story-portion of this magnificent terror-tome concludes with 1997’s 2-part miniseries ‘Almost Colossus’ wherein traumatised pyrokinetic Liz awaits test results.

During her mission to Castle Czege the artificial man she discovered inadvertently drained Liz’s infernal energies, bringing it to life and causing hers to gradually slip away. Now, Hellboy and Corrigan are back in that legend-drenched region, watching a graveyard from which 68 bodies have been stolen…

Elsewhere, the fiery homunculus is undergoing a strange experience: he has been abducted by his older “brother” who seeks, through purloined flesh, blackest magic and forbidden crafts to perfect their centuries-dead creator’s animation techniques.

Before the curtain falls, Hellboy, aided by the ghosts of repentant monks and the younger homunculus, is forced to battle a metal giant determined to crown itself the God of Science, saving the world if he can and Liz because he must…

Wrapping up the show are a wealth of arty extras, beginning with the 1991 convention illustration he created because he wanted to draw a monster. From tiny acorns…

Following on – with author’s commentary – is a horror hero group shot that is Hellboy’s second ever appearance and a brace of early promo posters, and the full colour Convention book premiere appearance as ‘Hellboy – World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator’ battles a giant demon dog, courtesy of Mignola & Byrne.

Hellboy Sketchbook then shares a treasure trove of drawings, designs and roughs from the early stories again, fully annotated to round out the eerie celebratory experience.

Available in paperback and digital formats, this bombastic, moody, suspenseful and explosively action-packed tome is a superb scary romp to delight one and all, celebrating the verve, imagination and, now, longevity of the greatest Outsider Hero of All: a supernatural thriller no comics fan should be without.
Hellboy™ Seed of Destruction © 1993, 2018 Mike Mignola. Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and all other prominently featured characters are trademarks of Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.

The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea – a Graphic Memoir of Modern Slavery


By Vannak Anan Prum, as told to Ben & Jocelyn Pederick and translated by Lim Sophorn (Seven Stories Press)
ISBN: 978-1-6098-0602-6

This book made me furiously angry, but that’s good because it was supposed to.

Despite years of shocking scoops and in-depth news reports, far too many first world citizens seem blissfully unaware that human slavery still thrives.

In fact, the practise of enforced, unpaid labour props up a vast number of businesses and industries; from migrants and homeless people used as beasts of burden by British gangs masquerading as builders (like the Rooney family recently sentenced to decades in prison) to young hopefuls trafficked into a global sex market or entire populations captured or conned and compelled to till fields or man fishing boats for companies and “entrepreneurs” little better than racketeers and petty tyrants.

At the root of all this appalling exploitation and upheaval is one unchanging factor: a desperate need to escape overwhelming poverty.

This breathtakingly low key and matter-of-fact tale is the testimony in cartoon form of Cambodian Vannak Anan Prum who went looking for work to pay for his pregnant wife’s medical care and was gone for years…

Bracketed by a fact-filled and frankly nightmare-inducing Foreword from activist and cartoon journalist Anne Elizabeth Moore (Unmarketable, Truthout), an equally sobering Introduction by Minky Worden – Director of Global Initiatives for Human Rights Watch – and a laudatory appreciation and call to arms by Kevin Bales (Professor of Contemporary Slavery and Research Director at the Rights Lab: University of Nottingham) in his Afterword, a compelling human-scaled odyssey unfolds here.

Rendered with the gently seductive warmth and deceptively comfortable lushness of a Ladybird early reader book, the saga of endurance and survival against the cruellest of fates begins with a ‘Prologue’ as a stranger enters a Cambodian village…

Vannak Anan Prum started life ‘Drawing in the Dirt’. He was born the year the Khmer Rouge were beaten by the Vietnamese, but his early life was still one of hardship, privation and family abuse. Barely more than a boy, he fled his home seeking ‘Adventure’, becoming first a soldier, then a monk and finally an artisan sculptor toiling in a workshop making tourist trinkets and statues.

His constant hunt for work led him to farming and he met the girl who became ‘My Wife’. When she fell pregnant, he had to make more money to pay for her hospital care. With village friend Rus Vannak followed a lead to Thailand and contacted ‘Moto & the Middleman’. After helping them in ‘Crossing the Border’ they soon changed from chummy helpers to sinister guards…

Apparently, the great secret to successful slave-taking is convincing the victims that the police, army and authorities are ruthless and will punish undocumented illegals and economic migrants: constantly dangling hope of good pay and promises of eventual freedom to keep their captives quiescent.

For Vannak and Rus ‘The Writing on the Wall’ is a clear but anticlimactic moment and after relatively painless incarceration they are shipped onto facilities ship ‘The Took Tho’. This vessel services a vast fleet of illegal fishing boats, pirating catches in other nations’ waters and manned by hundreds of men who only wanted to better themselves. Most never see land again once they are taken…

One such is ‘The Old Man’, whose fate led to Vannak being transferred to primitive fishing factory ship ‘The Took Oh’. Eventually, crushing routine takes hold, only barely broken by what happens to ‘Rus’

‘Life on the Boat’ ruled Vannak’s world and any number of candidates for ‘The Deadliest Job’ were gratefully handled before the new man’s status was slightly elevated. After he started tattooing himself with makeshift tools, his ‘Writing on the Skin’ led to others wanting such decoration… and paying for it.

His artistic gifts were useless when the ship was chased by the Indonesian navy resulting in ‘Fire at Sea’ and Vannak’s trading to ‘The New Boat’

Fresh horrors awaited here: murder, beatings and the shocking fate of the ‘Two Guys’ from Thailand, but there were also more serene moments with ‘My Friend K’Nack’.

Adding to the alternating dire tedium and frantic hardship, ‘Storms at Sea’ and consequent becalmed periods made ‘Days Stretch Out’

At last, after the craft surprisingly neared land, a chance came for ‘Escape’. With Thai compatriot Chaya, Vannak chanced everything on ‘The Swim’ to an unknown jungle beach and kept going…

Once again hope quickly gave way to despair. In ‘The Monkeys and the Man Waiting for Us’ an idyllic pause and the aid of some helpful citizens took the escapees to ‘Police and the Chinese Man’, who promptly sold them both to a plantation owner known as ‘Crazy Boss’

More months of slavery in what eventually turned out to be Malaysia followed, but again Vannak’s artistic skills proved invaluable and he made enough to obtain ‘The Phone’.

Contact established with the outside world, he prepared to be rescued, but when a drunken party dissolved into ‘The Fight’ Vannak and “co-worker” Theara were wounded by machetes and dumped into the custody of the local police who grudgingly took them to ‘Hospital’

And here’s where the real injustices start piling up as the victims suffer ‘Yo-Yo Justice’. Although Theara is soon claimed by his family, illegal worker Vannak is arrested. However, in ‘Prison’ he is interviewed by German NGO worker Manfred Hornung who begins the convoluted process of freeing the abducted and enslaved Cambodian.

Sadly, that process takes months, and is perpetually hampered by police interference and the revelation of just who – and how influential – Crazy Boss is…

It’s still a long and torturous ordeal before the LICADHO (Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights) can ferry the relieved and apprehensive Vannak ‘Home’

This crushingly sedate, oppressively action-deprived story is an astounding testament to the will to survive, but that doesn’t mean it lacks power, merit or moment. Life simply isn’t a three-act summer blockbuster with exploding helicopters, sexy vamps and Mikado-esque just deserts doled out to the endless chain of truly evil, corrupt bastards entrenched at every stage of the modern slavery system, with hands out and blind eyes turned to the plight of those they’re supposed to protect and serve.

In actual fact, the only thing they really fear is exposure and that began when Vannak – still desperately seeking to earn a living – started drawing his five awful years of experiences as strips. These were seen by film makers Ben & Jocelyn Pederick and one of the results and repercussions is this book…

As seen in ‘Epilogue’, there will be more to come…

A truly remarkable story of a quietly indomitable man who turned survival into a waiting game and patience into his weapon, The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a book everyone should read and every exploiter should dread.
Text and images © 2018 Vannak Anan Prum. Foreword © 2018 Anne Elizabeth Moore. Introduction © 2018 Minky Worden. Afterword © 2018 Kevin Bales. All rights reserved.

Young, Talented… Exploited!


By Yatuu, translated by FNIC (Sloth Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-908830-02-9

Much as we’d like to think otherwise, the world of work is no longer possessed of purely national characteristics. These days we all slave under a universal system that sidesteps borders in the name of global corporate philosophy. Thus, this stunning glimpse of one French woman’s frustrated struggle against modern employment practise is one that’s being repeated all over the planet every day.

In this case however, Capitalism picked on the wrong person because Yatuu has enough spark, gumption and talent to fight back…

When Cyndi Barbero graduated from college and began looking for a job, all she was offered were unpaid internships. Eventually, she took one, still believing the mantra everyone with a job repeated: “if you work hard enough they may offer a permanent position”.

The work-placement role ran its legally-mandated course and she was promptly replaced by another sucker. After the third time it happened she began to blog (www.yatuu.fr/en) about and sharing her experiences, venting her opinions on such a manifestly unfair system and derive a soupçon of justifiable payback…

Just in case you’re unaware: An Intern takes a position in a company to learn the ropes, develop good working habits and establish contacts in order to make them more employable. The system used to work even though most kids ended up doing scut-work and never really learned anything useful.

Such positions are unpaid and eventually most employers realised that they could get free low-grade temporary labourers and thereby cut their own running costs. Using, abusing and discarding the seemingly endless supply of optimistic hopefuls has become an accepted expense-control measure at most large businesses. Even those employers who originally played fair had to change at some stage, because the exploitative tactics gave business rivals an unfair financial advantage…

I used to know of only one large company where interns were paid – and that’s only because the CEO put his foot down and insisted. When he retired and the company was sold the intern program quickly shifted to the new normal…

This subtly understated, over-the-top manga-styled, savagely comedic exposé tracks one exhilarated graduate’s progress from college to the world of no work through ‘At the End of the First Internship’ via ‘At the End of the Second Internship’ to ‘At the End of the Third Internship’ when even she began to smell a rat.

That didn’t daunt her (much) and, after much soul-searching, she took her dream job at a major Ad Agency. At least it would have been, were she not the latest addition to a small army of interns expending their creative energies for insane hours, zero thanks or acknowledgement and at their own financial expense…

From ‘Some Words Get Instant Reactions at Interviews’ through her ‘First Day’ – via vivid and memorable digressions on expected behaviour and hilariously familiar vignettes of types (I spent 30 years as an advertising freelancer and I think I’ve actually gone drinking with many of these guys’ British cousins…) – to the accepted seven-days-a-week grind of ‘This Place is Great Because You Learn to Laugh on Cue’ and ‘Nothing Out of the Ordinary’, Yatuu grew accustomed to her voluntary slavery… although her barely-suppressed sense of rebellion was unquenchable.

Amongst so many short pithy lessons compiled here we see and sympathise with ‘Intensive Training’, observe ‘The Pleasure of Feeling Useful’ and realise there’s ‘Nothing to Lose’, before an intriguing game of office ‘Dilemma’ explores whether to have lunch with the Employees or Interns and what to do if asked to do ‘Overtime’

As much diary as educational warning, this beguiling collection reveals how the hapless ever-hopeful victim developed survival strategies – such as finding a long-suffering workmate prepared to lend a floor, couch or bed for those frequent nights when the last train leaves before you do…

Mostly however, this addictive collection deals with the author’s personal responses to an untenable but inescapable situation for far too many young people: revealing insane episodes of exhaustion, despondency and work (but, tellingly not Job)-related stress, such as too many scary midnight cab rides home, constant nightmares and grinding daily insecurity.

What’s amazing is that it’s done with style, bravery and an astonishing degree of good-natured humour – especially when dealing with ‘The Idea Thief’, planning ‘Retaliation’ or perfecting ‘The Ultimate Revenge Technique!!!’

Originally collected as Moi, 20 Ans, Diplômée, Motivée… Exploitée, Yatuu’s trenchant cartoon retaliations were published in English a few years ago (so are long overdue for a new edition) and make for fascinating reading.

Although it really should be, you probably won’t find Young, Talented… Exploited! discussed in any school Careers lessons or part of any college Job seminar and it’s almost certainly banned from every employers’ Orientation and Training package, but that’s just a sign of how good it is.

Best get your own copy and be ready for the worst scams, indignities and excesses that the Exploiters and Bosses will try to spring on you…

At least once you’ve paid for it you can be assured that it will deliver on its promise…
© 2013 Yatuu & 12bis. English translation and layout © 2013 Sloth Publishing, Ltd.

Albion: Origins


By Tom Tully, Scott Goodall, Ken Mennell, Solano Lopez, Eric Bradbury & various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-172-1

Here’s a truly superb collection of British comic strips from the glory days of the 1960s courtesy of Titan Books and originally released to support and cash in on the profile-raising American Albion miniseries and collection.

In this stunning, non-nonsense monochrome hardback are four complete early exploits of some of Britain’s weirdest comic strip heroes.

Kelly’s Eye featured ordinary, thoroughly decent chap Tim Kelly who came into possession of the mystical “Eye of Zoltec”: a fist-sized gem that kept him free from all harm… as long as held on to it.

You won’t be surprised to discover that, due to the demands of weekly boys’ adventures, Tim lost, dropped, misplaced and was nefariously deprived of that infernal talisman pretty darned often – and always at the most inopportune moment…

The moody and compelling artwork of Argentinean Francisco Solano Lopez was the prime asset of this series, with the story reprinted here being about a Seminole Indian uprising threatening modern Florida. Complete with eerie evil witch doctor, supernatural overtones from a demonic drum and consumer America imperilled, this story is a classic. Tom Tully & Scott Goodall were the usual scripters for this little gem of a series.

And yes, due to the pressure of these weekly deadlines, occasionally fill-in artists had to pinch-hit in most British strip-series every now and then. Such was the breakneck pacing though, that us kids hardly even noticed and I doubt you will either. Still. If you are eagle-eyed, you might spot such luminaries as Reg Bunn, Felix Carrion, Carlos Cruz, Franc Fuentesman, and Geoff Campion in this volume. But you probably won’t…

House of Dolman was a curious and inexplicably absorbing blend of super-spy and crime-buster strip from Tully and utterly wonderful master illustrator Eric Bradbury. Dolman’s cover was as a shabby ventriloquist (I digress, but an awful lot of “our” heroes were tatty and unkempt – we had “Grunge” down pat decades before the Americans made a profit out of it!) who designed and constructed an army of specialised robots which he disguised as his puppets.

Using these as his shock-troops, the enigmatic Dolman waged a dark and crazy war against the forces of evil…

Featured here are a number of his complete 4-page thrillers wherein he defeats high-tech kidnappers, rascally protection racketeers, weapons thieves, blackmailers and the sinister forces of arch super-criminal ‘The Hawk’.

Janus Stark was a fantastically innovative and successful strip. Created by Tully for the relaunch of Smash in 1969, the majority of the art was from Solano Lopez’s studio, providing an aura of eerie, grimy veracity well suited to this tale of a foundling who grew up in a grim orphanage only to become the greatest escapologist of the Victorian age.

The Man with Rubber Bones also had his own ideas about retribution and justice and would joyously sort out those scoundrels the Law couldn’t or wouldn’t touch. A number of creators worked on this feature, which survived until the downsizing of the publisher’s comics division in 1975 – and even beyond – since Stark escaped oblivion by emigration.

When the series ended in Britain it was continued in French publications – even unto Stark’s eventual death and succession by his son. Here though, we get to see his earliest feats and I for one was left hungry for more. Encore!

The last spot in this sturdy hardback treasury falls to the Spooky Master of the Unknown Cursitor Doom. This series is the unquestioned masterpiece of Eric Bradbury – an artist who probably deserves that title as much as his visual creation.

Writer Ken Mennell, who usually invented characters for other writers to script, kept Doom for himself and the result is a darkly brooding Gothic thriller quite unlike anything else in comics then or since. If pushed, I’ll liken it most to William Hope Hodgson’s Karnacki the Ghost Breaker novelettes – although that’s more for flavour than anything else and even that doesn’t really cover it.

Doom is a fat, bald, cape-wearing foul-tempered know-it-all who just happens to be humanity’s last-ditch defence against the forces of darkness. With his strapping and rugged young assistant Angus McCraggan and Scarab, a trained raven (or is it, perhaps, something more?), Cursitor crushed without mercy any threat to humanity’s wellbeing.

Re-presented here is the ‘Dark Legion of Mardarax’ wherein a cohort of Roman soldiers extracted from the mists of antiquity rampages across the British countryside, intent on awaking an ancient and diabolical monstrosity from the outer Dark!

Perhaps these tales are a thrill for me because I first read them when I was just an uncomprehending nipper, but I don’t think so. It’s a tremendous thrill now to realise that despite all the age, wisdom, and sophistication I can now muster, that these strips really were – and are – as great if not better, than most of the comics I’ve seen in fifty-plus years of reading. Don’t take my word for it: track down this book and see if you’re not as hungrily avid for more of the same…
© 2005 IPC Media Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Epic of Gilgamesh


Translated by Kent H. Dixon & illustrated by Kevin H. Dixon (Seven Stories Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-793-1 (PB)                     : 978-1-60980-794-8 (eBook)

Comics is the most expansive medium we have for extolling heroic deeds, combining a facility for depicting all aspects of character with an unlimited budget for special effects and communicating instantaneous visceral understanding and appreciation to and on the part of the audience.

That was not always the case: once upon a time all we had was words, originally spoken or chanted but eventually translated into permanent marks on long-lasting surfaces.

As of this writing, The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest known work of human literature. A truly timeless heroic saga, the work’s earliest incarnation is actually five Sumerian poems lauding the accomplishments of Bilgamesh, King of Uruk, that date from the Third Dynasty of Ur – or about 2100 BC as you or I and modern Mesopotamians would reckon it.

As is so often the case, some smart wordsmith long ago appropriated and reconditioned the snippets into something grander with the saga surviving into our era via a series (still incomplete) of Babylonian tablets. The material is open to frequent interpretation and has been translated into many languages since first discovered.

What source material we have comes from tablets of cuneiform logographs discovered back in 1853 by Hormuzd Rassam amidst the remains of the Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh (near modern Mosul in Iraq). In the early 1870s western historian George Smith published his first translation and, after more hands-on study and research, a full and final version in his 1880 book The Chaldean Account of Genesis. The first direct Arabic translation – by Iraqi Taha Baqir – only appeared in 1960.

Many later scholars have had a bash, with 2003’s 2-volume critical work by Andrew George being generally accounted as the most definitive thus far.

I, however, am no scholar (or gentleman, by all accounts) and the graphic novel on point today has my vote for perhaps the most honest and genuine treatment yet…

Gilgamesh is the prototype and template of all modern hero myths, with a demi-god king, alternatively beloved and despised, stricken and emboldened by his own greatness triumphing over all odds and odd monsters, but ultimately brought low by his own humanity.

It’s also a story with creation myth motifs (Man brought forth from clay; god-touched, animal-saving survivors of great floods; resurrection from the dead) that reoccur over and over again in later religions.

This version, though, is replete with earthy humour, casual smut and everyday venality. It feels like despite the mystical trappings, the characters at its heart are all-too human: which is quite cool, as artefacts dating back to 2600 BC have been recently uncovered that indicate the actual existence of some of the actors in this particular passion play…

What also lends this superb monochrome marvel much of its compelling veracity and beguiling attraction is a somewhat unique collaboration. Kent H. Dixon is an award-winning poet, screenwriter, novelist and educator who spends his days teaching and translating literary works from Japanese hibakusha to classics by Rilke and Mallarmé.

Kent H. Dixon is a social activist, underground radio show host and the award-winning cartoonist who created …And Then There Was Rock and subversive milestone Mickey Death in the Winds of Impotence. He might be the only aging rebel in the world happy to work with his dad…

Their slowly-unfolding, decade-long collaboration on The Epic of Gilgamesh caught the attention of top bloke Russ Kick (You Are Being Lied To and Everything You Know is Wrong; and data archive thememoryhole2.org) who quickly made it and them a key part of his superb Graphic Canon series.

So, what do you get here that other translations don’t offer? Following Kick’s scene-setting, context-establishing Introduction, Kent Senior’s Translator’s Note relates how the literary wizard retranslated the original tablets – including recently unearthed Tablet 5 – and offers a few hints regarding narrative direction whilst Kevin Dixon’s Artist’s Note spills a few secrets on producing a classic everybody “knows” as an out of sequence part-work…

As for the story: an arrogant hero-king wanders the Earth and realms of gods and monsters. He’s pretty vile to women and beats up whom he pleases until the gods create a perfect enemy who ends up becoming his truest, only friend. And then he dies and Hero defies the universe and challenges Hell to get him back. You’ve heard it all before but you’ve never seen it like this…

Bold and brash, raw and raucous, this inviting interpretation also manages to maintain a graceful poetic rhythm and deftly incorporate the philosophy and instructions-for-living that permeate and underscore the original without missing a beat. A magnificent tale with a big heart and supremely engaging, this funny, scary, action-packed pictorial fable is a brilliant achievement and I for one am hungry for more.

Spenser’s Faerie Queene or Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West anyone?
© 2018 by Kent H. Dixon and Kevin H. Dixon. All rights reserved.

Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe: A Trilogy of Crime


Adapted by Tom DeHaven & Rian HughesJerome Charyn & David Lloyd; James Rose, Lee Moyer & Alfredo Alcala and various (iBooks)
ISBN: 978-0-7434-7489-4          978-1-59687-839-6 (2016 edition)

If you’re going to adapt classic, evocative crime stories into graphic narrative there really isn’t any better source material than Raymond Chandler. This follow-up (reissued in 2016 as Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe: The Graphic Novel) to the adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe: The Little Sister was also packaged by comics visionary Byron Preiss and adapts three short tales from the master of hard-boiled fiction, rendered in a variety of unique and impressive styles.

Opening the show is ‘Goldfish’, first published in 1949, the writer’s ninth short story sale and preceding his first Marlowe novel by three years. Adapted by Tom DeHaven and lettered by Willie Schubert, it’s stylishly illustrated by British designer and artist Rian Hughes in muted colour tones that have only the merest hint of hue to them; the effect is powerfully evocative and atmospheric.

When ex-cop Kathy Horne sidles into the tough guy’s seedy office she brings a tale of lost pearls, an absconded convict and a huge reward just waiting to be claimed. Dragged far out of his comfort zone and sent up and down the Pacific Seaboard, the world-weary gumshoe is just steps ahead of the sadistic and casually murderous Carol Donovan and her gang of thugs in a superb thriller of double-cross and double-jeopardy.

Next up is ‘The Pencil’M scripted by award-winning mystery novelist Jerome Charyn, brilliantly rendered by British comics legend David Lloyd in moody, dry-brush black and white, and lettered by long-term collaborator Elitta Fell. This was Chandler’s twenty-first – and final – Marlowe adventure, published in 1959, shortly after the author’s death. You might know it as Marlowe Takes on the Syndicate, Wrong Pigeon or even Philip Marlowe’s Last Case.

Hollywood 1955: Ikky Rossen was a bad man, a career gangster and mob leg-breaker. When he crossed his bosses he hoped Marlowe could get him safely out of the City of Angels before The Organization’s East Coast Button men could send him to Hell. Marlowe knew that these were people who should be avoided at all costs and only one thing is always true: everybody lies…

Closing the book and somewhat ill-considered and misplaced is ‘Trouble is My Business’ by James Rose, Lee Moyer & Alfredo Alcala, with Schubert again filling the word balloons.

This weak tale of vengeful Harriet Huntress who intends to destroy two generations of wealthy socialites mixed up in the gambling rackets is from 1939: a rather tame and straightforward yarn in comparison to the other stories here, not to mention the landmark first full novel The Big Sleep, also published in that year. Moyer and Alcala do a solid job of illustrating the plot (although it’s a little pretty for my tastes) but the cynical edge that is the hallmark of this brilliant crime creation is muted if not actually extinguished here.

Despite ending on a sour note, this is still a great book of crime comics that any fan will delight in, and the incredible Steranko cover alone is well worth the effort of tracking it down.
Adaptations and illustrations © 2003 Byron Preiss Visual Publications Inc. Original stories “Goldfish” and “Trouble is my Business” © 2003 Philip Marlowe BV (Estate of Raymond Chandler) All Rights Reserved. “The Pencil” © 1971 Helga Greene, Executrix, Estate of Raymond Chandler. All Rights Reserved.

The Beast is Dead: World War II Among the Animals


By Edmond-François Calvo, Victor Dancette & Jacques Zimmerman (Abi Melzer Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-40766-637-2

As the European phase of World War II staggered to its bloody and inevitable conclusion, the enslaved nations began to reclaim their homelands and rebuild various national prides in a glorious wave of liberation.

All over the Old World, long suppressed stories and accounts – true or otherwise – began to be shared. During France’s occupation publishing was strictly controlled – even comics – but the Nazis couldn’t suppress creative spirit and many conquered citizens resisted in the only ways they safely could.

For sculptor, artist, caricaturist and social satirist Edmond-François Calvo (26th August 1892 – 11th October1958) that was by drawing. Watched by his adoring apprentice-artist Albert (Asterix) Uderzo and inspired by the Gallic graphic giant Daumier, the venerable creator of such joyous anthropomorphic classics as ‘Patamousse’, ‘Anatomies Atomiques’, ‘Les Aventures de Rosalie’, ‘Monsieur Royal Présente’, ‘Grandeur et Décadente du Royaume des Bêtes’ and ‘Cricri, Souris d’Appartement’ worked quietly and determinedly on his own devastating secret weapon for the war-effort.

In later years he specialised in sparkling, socially aware and beautiful family-friendly strips such as ‘Moustache et Trottinette’, ‘Femmes d’Aujourd’hui’, ‘Coquin le Petit Cocker’ and a host of fairy tale adaptations for Le Journal de Tintin, Baby Journal, Cricri Journal, Coq Hardi, Bravo!, Pierrot Âmes Vaillantes and Coeurs Vaillants.

Beginning as a caricaturist for Le Canard Enchaîné in 1938, Calvo eventually moved into strip stories, but also had to moonlight with “real” jobs such as woodcarver and innkeeper. By the time France fell to the Germans in June 1940 he was working for Offenstadt/S.P.E. press group, contributing ‘Le Chevalier Chantecler’, ‘D’Artagnan’, ‘Les Grandes Aventures’, ‘Robin des Bois’, ‘Les Voyages de Gulliver’ and the initial three chapters of ‘Patamouche’ to Fillette, L’Épatant, L’As and Junior plus‘La Croisière Fantastique’, ‘Croquemulot’ and ‘Un Chasseur Sachant Chasser’ to Éditions Sépia.

Most of this anodyne material was produced under the stern scrutiny of the all-conquering censors – much like his comics contemporary Hergé in Belgium – but Calvo somehow found time to produce material far less placatory or safe.

With both Editor Victor Dancette and writer Jacques Zimmermann providing scripts, and beginning as early as 1941, Calvo began translating the history of the conflict as seen from the sharp end into a staggeringly beautiful and passionately vehement dark fable, outlining the betrayal of the European nations by literal Wolves in the Fold.

After years of patient creation – and presumably limited dissemination amongst trusted confreres – the first part of La Bete est Mort!‘When the Beast is raging’ was published in 1944, followed a year later with the concluding ‘When the Animal is Struck Down’. Both were colossal hits even before the war ended and the volumes were continually reprinted until 1948 when the public apparently decided to move on with their lives and look forward rather than back…

The saga is related in epic full-page painted spreads and captivating, luscious strip instalments with the smooth, slick glamour of Walt Disney’s production style co-opted to present the list of outrages to be addressed and a warning to the future, with each nation being categorised by a national totem.

The French were rabbits, the Italians hyenas and the Japanese monkeys. Britain was populated by bulldogs, Belgium by lions, Russia by polar bears and America by vast herds of buffalo…

Hitler’s inner circle of monsters got special attention: such as Goering the Pig and Himmler the Skunk, but so did the good guys: General de Gaulle was depicted as a magnificent Stork…

A fiercely unrepentant but compellingly lovely polemic by a bloody but unbowed winning side, The Beast is Dead was forgotten until republished in 1977 by Futuropolis. This particular English-language, oversized (225 x 300mm or 9 inches x 12) hardback edition was released in 1985 and includes the introduction from a contemporaneous Dutch edition plus a dedication from Uderzo and a monochrome selection of Calvo’s wartime and post-war cartoons.

With the current political scene as fractious and volatile as it is, how this epic remains unreprinted totally bewilders me. Magnificent, compelling radiant, hugely influential (without this there would never have been Maus), astoundingly affecting and just plain gorgeous, this modern horror tale of organised inhumanity is out of print but still available if you look hard or speak languages other than English.
© 1944-1945 Éditions G.P. © 1977 Éditions Futuropolis. © 1984 Abi Melzer Productions.

Kevin Keller: Welcome to Riverdale


By Dan Parent & Rich Koslowski & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-23-5 (TPB)

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski, Kevin Keller debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010), a charming, good-looking and exceedingly together lad who utterly bowled over the rich go-getter. She was totally smitten with him whilst he was far more interested in food, sports and hanging out with Jughead…

When Kevin finally explained to Veronica why she was wasting her time, she became his best buddy: after all they had a lot in common – stylish clothes, shopping and boys…

Immensely popular from the outset (Veronica #202 was the first comicbook in the company’s long history to go into a second printing), Kevin struck a chord with the readership and soon guest shots evolved into a miniseries before the new kid on the block inevitably won his own ongoing title.

Trade paperback & eBook compilation Kevin Keller: Welcome to Riverdale collects the first four issues of his groundbreaking solo monthly title and opens here with handy text feature ‘Kevin Keller: Catch up with the Characters’: reintroducing the bonny lad, his (retired army colonel) dad Thomas, mum Kathy and feisty sisters Denise and Patty.

The feature also brings newcomers up to speed on recent history as seen in the previous volume) before the mirth and merriment kick off with ‘There’s a First Time for Everything’ from issue #1 wherein the much-travelled, journalism-obsessed “Army Brat” finally begins settling in at Riverdale High.

In short order he is elected Class President, has his first commercial writing published and reveals a shocking secret…

For all his accomplishments Kevin has never gone on a real date, and when a certain someone asks him out, the Keller kid turns to Betty for some confidence-boosting advice. He isn’t a complete neophyte; there was something like a date before, but due to his catastrophic nervousness it turned into a major disaster…

Unfortunately, Reggie overhears their huddled conversation and the self-proclaimed romance expert elects to give Kevin the benefit of his vast masculine experience…

The exuberant preparations turn into a catalogue of horror and, as more well-meaning friends get involved, it looks certain that Kevin will repeat that horrific experience…

Thankfully a few stabilising words from love-hating Jughead and an eventful morning with the remarkably understanding Colonel Keller quickly restore some necessary calm and equilibrium…

The next tale moves from straight slapstick to heart-warming empathy as Class President Kevin is asked to organise a prom in ‘May I Have this Dance?’ Only then does he discover that he has a secret admirer. Of course, once Veronica finds out it’s not a secret for long…

As the seventies-themed fashion disaster begins to take shape, further furtive communications reveal that the clandestine would-be wooer is someone still not fully at ease with his sexual orientation; forcing Kevin to be at his most understanding and forgiving…

Contentious themes and prejudices are tackled in ‘Stranded in Paradise’ when the summer vacation begins and Kevin gets a job as a lifeguard.

The beach is the time-honoured hangout of all Riverdale kids, but when spoiled princess Cheryl Blossom and her rich Pembroke School cronies invade the space, sparks soon fly. The grubby “Townies” are challenged to a surfing contest for possession of the sands with Kevin a star competitor and secret weapon for the home team. The fair-minded stalwart has, however, completely underestimated the vicious tactics of loathsome homophobe Sloan

The comics portion of this tome concludes with an international epic set at the 2012 London Olympics. ‘Games People Play’ sees Colonel Keller – who has dual British and American citizenship – invited to be a torchbearer.

Having spent four years in England, Kevin is delighted to be going back for a visit and reconnecting with old pal Brian. He doesn’t even mind when shopping-crazy Veronica inveigles an invite to join the family.

Moreover, when his nominated-runner Dad falls foul of London’s Underground at a crucial moment, Kevin is ready and more-or-less willing to step in for what appears to be the unluckiest and most dangerous section of the entire torch route…

Following a moving and appreciative ‘Afterword’ by Dan Parent there’s also a splendid section of ‘Official Kevin Keller Bonus Features’ including ‘Retro Fashion’ pages, ‘Kevin’s Prom Style’, ‘Kevin’s Summer Style with B & V’, ‘Kevin Keller & Friends Style’ and a triptych of ‘Unreleased Promotional Sketches’.

With a cover gallery that includes modern cartoon masterpieces and remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century all-star, this is a superb, hilarious and magically inclusive collection for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…
© 2012 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Archie’s Pal Kevin Keller


By Dan Parent, Rich Koslowski, Jack Morelli & Digikore Studios (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-87979-493-1 (HC)

Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were one of many publishers to jump on the “mystery-man” bandwagon, concocting their own small but inspired pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, and swiftly followed up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the era’s standard mix of masked champions, clean-cut two-fisted adventurers, genre prose pieces and gags.

Not long after, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in the blossoming yet crowded market. In December 1941 the Fights ‘n’ Tights, heaving He-Man crowd were gently nudged aside by a far less imposing hero; an ordinary teenager having mundane adventures just like the readership, but with the companionable laughs, good times and romance emphasised.

Goldwater developed the youthful everyman protagonist concept and tasked writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with making it work. Inspired by and referencing the successful Andy Hardy movies (starring Mickey Rooney), their new notion premiered in Pep Comics #22. The unlikely star was a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed kid obsessed with impressing the pretty blonde next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely fetching Betty Cooper. The boy’s wry and unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that vignette, as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. It was a huge hit and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own series and then a solo-starring title.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began an inexorable 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, and MLJ officially reinvented itself as Archie Comics, retiring most of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, 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 Jughead to assist or deter and scurrilous love-rat rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with fans but was somehow infinitely fresh and engaging…

Like Superman’s, Archie’s success forced a change in content at every other US publisher (except Gilberton’s dry and po-faced Classics Illustrated), creating a culture-shifting multi-media brand which encompassed 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 summer smash hit.

Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since…

The perennial 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 occasional guest Sabrina the Teenage Witch amongst so many others), growing into an American institution and part of the American cultural landscape.

The feature has thrived by constantly refreshing its core archetypes; boldly and seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright and cheerful pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture, fashion trends and even topical events into its infallible mix of comedy 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 both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck Clayton and his girlfriend Nancy Woods, fashion-diva Ginger Lopez, Hispanic couple Frankie Valdez and Maria Rodriguez, student film-maker Raj Patel and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a wide and refreshingly broad-minded scenario.

In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle – for decades a seemingly insurmountable one for kids comicbooks – when openly gay student Kevin Keller became an admirable advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski (lettered by Jack Morelli and coloured by Digikore Studios), Kevin debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010). It was the first comicbook in the company’s long history to go into a second printing…

This landmark hardback (and eBook) compendium gathers that delightful debut from Veronica #205 plus the 4-issue Kevin Keller miniseries which cemented the new star’s popularity.

It all begins with context-establishing essay ‘Get to Know Kevin Keller’ before comic introductions are made in ‘Isn’t it Bro-Mantic’ as Veronica encounters a charming, good-looking and exceedingly-together lad who utterly bowls her over.

She is totally smitten with him even though he can out-eat human dustbin Jughead and loves sports. Although suave Kevin inexplicably loves hanging out with the ghastly Jones boy she is determined to make him exclusively hers.

Jughead (who clearly possesses fully-functioning gaydar) is truly cool with his new pal, and soon sees an opportunity to pay Ronnie back for many of the mean things she has said and done over the years…

When Kevin finally explains to Veronica why she is wasting her time, she takes it fabulously well and soon they are hanging out as best buds. After all, they have so much in common: chatting, stylish clothes, shopping, boys…

Immensely popular from the outset, Kevin struck a chord with the readership and returned a few months later in ‘The Buddy System’, with Veronica’s bombastic dad giving the obviously perfect new student the all-clear to monopolise his daughter’s time. The following fun-filled days do have one major downside however, as poor Betty is increasingly neglected…

You’d think Archie would be jealous too, but he’s just glad that someone “safe” is keeping other guys away from “his” Ronnie. It seems the ideal scenario for everyone but Betty, but then man-hunting, filthy rich over-privileged and entitled princess Cheryl Blossom hits town and puts everything back into perspective…

The repeat guest shots rapidly evolved into a miniseries, expanding Kevin’s role whilst answering many questions about his past. It started with ‘Meet Kevin Keller’ wherein we learned he was an army brat, born in Britain but raised all over the world, and now lives in Riverdale with his dad (retired and invalided army colonel) Thomas, mum Kathy and feisty sisters Denise and Patty.

It also reveals Kevin is a typical guy: he loves practical jokes as much as food and sports…

Whilst sharing these facts with Betty and Ronnie, he also lets slip some less impressive details: how he was a nerdy, braces-wearing late-developer who was frequently the target of bullies…

‘The Write Stuff’ is set during the build-up to his father’s surprise birthday party and discloses how Kevin plans to serve in the army before becoming a journalist, whilst also showing the gentle hero’s darker side after he is compelled to intervene – and end – the persecution of a young Riverdale student by bullies…

In ‘Let’s Get it Started’ the newcomer is ambushed and pressganged by his new friends into participating in a scholastic TV quiz show where his nerves almost get the better of him. Happily, Ronnie inadvertently breaks his paralysing stage-fright with a humiliating gaffe, but that’s just a palate cleanser for a potent object lesson in the concluding chapter…

As Kevin steps in to shelter and help one of the kids who used to torment him long ago, ‘Taking the Lead!’ also finds him reluctantly running for Class President at the insistent urging of Ronnie and the gang.

It’s not that he wants the position particularly, but when bigoted jock and star school quarterback David Perkins starts a campaign based on intolerance, innuendo and intimidation, Kevin feels someone has to confront the smugly-macho, “real man” who boasts he is the most popular boy in school…

And despite a smear campaign and dirty tactics any Presidential candidate would be proud of, truth, justice and decency win out…

This breezy and engaging collection concludes with ‘An Interview with Kevin Keller’ offering further background direct from the horse’s mouth and also includes a host of covers, variants and remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century star. Archie’s Pal Kevin Keller is a joyous and magically inclusive collection for you and everyone you know and like to enjoy over and over again.
© 2012 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Doom Patrol volume 1: Crawling from the Wreckage


By Grant Morrison, Richard Case, Doug Braithwaite, Scott Hanna & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-034-5

In 1986, mega-monster continuity reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths led to DC overwriting fifty years of continuity and revamping or reinventing their major properties. The massive spring cleaning exercise led to a swathe of bold, innovative titles and a fresh look at how comicbooks could be done.

A revival that began quite conventionally almost overnight became the one of company’s most radical enterprises. Despite having solid roots back in the Silver Age, Doom Patrol was a series that really dared to be different…

In 1963 DC/National Comics – without no prior warning – converted venerable anthology-mystery title My Greatest Adventure into a (remarkably fringe) superhero team-book with the 80th issue.

The debut tale introduced a startling squad of arguably disabled champions with their thematic roots still firmly planted in the B-movie monster films of the era which had for so long informed the tone and timbre of the parent title.

That aesthetic subtly shaped the progression of the strip – which took total control of the comic within months, prompting a title change to The Doom Patrol with issue #86 – and throughout its 6-year run, made the series one of the most eerily innovative and happily hip reads of that generation.

No traditional team of masked adventurers, the cast comprised a robot, a mummy and a pliable 50-foot woman in a mini-skirt, who joined forces with and were guided by a brusque, domineering, paraplegic mad scientist; each and all equally determined to validate themselves by fighting injustice their way…

Those damaged champions comprised competitive car racer Cliff Steele, but only after he had “died” in a horrific pile up, with his undamaged brain transplanted into a fantastic mechanical body… without his knowledge or permission…

Test pilot Larry Trainor had been trapped in an experimental stratospheric plane and become permanently and lethally radioactive, with the dubious benefit of gaining a semi-sentient energy avatar which could escape his body to perform incredible stunts for up to a minute at a time. To pass safely amongst men Trainor had to constantly wrap himself in specially-devised radiation-proof bandages.

Former movie star Rita Farr had been exposed to mysterious swamp gases which gave her the unpredictable and, at first, uncontrolled ability to shrink or grow to incredible sizes.

These outcasts were brought together by brilliant but enigmatic Renaissance Man Niles Caulder who, as The Chief, sought to mould marginalised misfits into a force for good. The wheelchair-bound savant directed the trio of solitary strangers in many terrifying missions as they slowly grew into a uniquely bonded family…

Even the way the series ended was radical for its time. Final issue Doom Patrol #121 (September/October 1968) saw three quarters of the team sacrifice their lives to save a village of inconsequential nobodies.

Over succeeding years clever backwriting revived them all, but to us readers at the time, that issue was shocking and incomprehensible.

In 1987, supplemented by new team-mates, the Doom Patrol – now based in Kansas City – returned to muddle along for 18 issues (and a few one-shots and specials), before again being devastated by death and living up to their perhaps ill-considered name. Following an invasion by an alliance of alien races, a “gene bomb” was detonated in Earth’s atmosphere which warped, erased or triggered the powers of many metahumans.

In the resulting fallout, the team suffered appalling losses…

Thus here, as neophyte Scottish import and unknown quantity Grant Morrison began his American writing career, Negative Man has been separated from his human host, Cliff Steele has suffered a psychological collapse, energy-caster Tempest has ceased using his abilities and teenaged trainee Lodestone lies in a coma…

This collection gathers Doom Patrol volume 2 #19-25 (the monthly issues from February-August 1989, as first collected in one of DC’s earliest trade paperbacks in 1992), wherein traditional team super-heroics were abruptly and ignominiously jettisoned in favour of Big Concept science, “sophisticated suspense” and macabre creeping terror.

A less celebrated but equally crucial component of the revolutionary change was penciller Richard Case, whose stylish, low-key interpretation of some of the (at that time) strangest scripts, situations and characters ever seen in mainstream comics imbued the wildest conceptions with plausible veracity. The illustrator was usually aided and abetted by the steady assured assistance of unflappable inker Scott Hanna.

Here, however, the opening chapter is inked by Carlos Garzón as an eerie, eponymous adventure begins with ‘Crawling from the Wreckage’ with a nightmare-wracked Cliff Steele receiving a visitor in the sanatorium where he voluntarily languishes.

Robotics wunderkind Dr Will Magnus – who created the Metal Men and had rebuilt and reconstructed Cliff from the scraps which survived the explosion which ended the first Doom Patrol – has come calling, eager to fix his former patient and repair this latest glitch…

As intense, obsessive Niles Caulder browbeats burned out Josh Clay (AKA Tempest) into staying with the team in a “non-combat” capacity, over at the Alamance Memorial Hospital Larry Trainor is recovering from major injuries and revelling in the fact that he is no longer a radioactive freak hosting a bizarre energy parasite.

The only down side is the cost: the death of his partners and protégés and the persistent comatose state of youthful new team-mate Rhea Jones, the magnetically-empowered Lodestone.

Larry’s complacency is shattered when he starts seeing the Negative force again, howling to be let back in…

As Magnus struggles to counsel Cliff, the energy apparition moves again on Larry, possessing both him and his attending doctor Eleanor Poole coldly remoulding them all into an eerie three-part, multiple-gendered amalgamated being calling itself Rebis

Magnus meanwhile plays his last card: with Robotman locked in self-pity and self-loathing, the master engineer switches tactics by appealing to Cliff’s heroic humanity and abiding compassion. He introduces the man of metal to fellow-patient Kay Challis: a young woman known to all as Crazy Jane.

Afflicted with multiple personality disorder, she manifests as (at least) 64 very different people, and since the gene bomb detonation, each one has manifested a different super power…

And elsewhere, a hideously burned crash victim who takes far too long to die drops a very strange black book and stops muttering the phrase “the Scissormen”. Federal agents on the scene resignedly realise this case needs the unique attention of Niles Caulder and his band of freaks…

Strange phenomena begin to proliferate globally in ‘Cautionary Tales’ (inked by Hanna) culminating in reports of many disappearances. Each vanished victim is marked by the silhouetted hole he or she leaves in reality…

As Caulder is cautiously recruiting hyper-intelligent, emotionally distant Rebis, across town Magnus cannot believe the change in Cliff. With Jane now his inseparable companion, Steele has regained much of his previous poise and lucidity: so much so, that Magnus offers to rebuild him a new body with sensors and feedback systems which will restore or approximate all the physical senses lost since becoming a brain trapped inside an ambulatory metal jail cell…

Apparently also back is Robotman’s gift for attracting trouble, as his evening walk with Jane is interrupted by a plummeting body screaming about “Scissormen”. With arcane abductions and cross-dimensional incursions mounting, the sanatorium becomes ground zero for packs of terrifying, gibberish-spouting, blade-handed invaders who attack staff and inmates, with only Jane’s arsenal of new abilities keeping her and Cliff out of the scything clutches and apparent extra-dimensional excisions…

All over the world bizarre phenomena and uncanny events mount…

More information – if not understanding – accrues with ‘Worlds in Collision’ as Kansas City begins to merge with a ghastly otherplace metropolis. Cliff and Alice battle macabre and unnatural foes all the way to the Doom Patrol’s new HQ in the Rhode Island mountain that was the original sanctuary of the Justice League of America.

Here, Caulder deduces their enemy is actualised metafiction stemming from a philosophical thought experiment that escaped its own boundaries to invade consensual reality but before he can formulate a response an army of Scissormen converge on their location and cut Josh out of existence. With no other choice and fed up with running, Cliff leads Rebis and Alice on a counterstrike into the heart of ‘The Ossuary’ to demolish the predatory city of Orqwith from within using brute force and pedantic logic…

With a semblance of normality restored just in time, the Doom Patrol settle in and welcome hirsute simian pre-teen Dorothy Spinner into the fold. Her uncontrolled ability to manifest monsters from her memory and imagination is only the most minor of annoyances, however, compared to the incursion of an ancient extradimensional hunter who abducts Lodestone’s comatose body from the hospital.

Thankfully, Crazy Jane has just the personality and powerset to follow ‘The Butterfly Collector’

Divining his many names and history of slaughtering women throughout history, she leads the team’s break in to ‘The House that Jack Built’ where the red-handed butcher’s many outrageous claims and sadistic acts prove ultimately no proof against the Patrol and a suddenly awake if not aware Lodestone…

This initial trade paperback (and digital) compilation concludes with a smaller-scaled but still potentially lethal tale of ‘Imaginary Friends’. Illustrated by Doug Braithwaite & Hanna it focuses on shy, meek little Dorothy Spinner and her growing relationship with Josh Clay. A key point in her life is almost derailed and turned to bloodbath when her burgeoning biology catastrophically interacts with her thought-materialisation power and a leftover (but-still-active) trophy from the JLA’s past…

Including a context-building Introduction from Tom Peyer and ‘A Word from the Author’ first seen in DP #20, this collection of strange brews were – and remain- a magnificent mission statement for the revitalised DC Universe, offering gritty, witty fancifully cohesive and contemporary stories that appealed not just to Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatics but also lovers of wild concepts, beguiling metafiction and thrilling supercrime capers. As such they are still perfect fodder for today’s so-sophisticated, informed and ultimately sensation-hungry readers.
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