Outsiders: Crisis Intervention


By Judd Winick, Jen Van Meter, Matthew Clark, Dietrich Smith, Art Thibert & Steve Bird (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0973-5

Once upon a time superheroes, like firemen, sat around their assorted lairs or went about their civilian pursuits until the call of duty summoned them to deal with a breaking emergency. In the increasingly sober and serious world after Crisis on Infinite Earths, that precept was challenged with a number of costumed adventurers evolving into pre-emptive strikers…

Arsenal and Nightwing always intended to run their new team as a covert and pre-emptive pack of self-professed “hunters”: seeking out and taking down metahuman threats and extraordinary criminals before they could do harm, but they were continually thwarted as events always seemed to find them off-guard and unready…

Now, following the deaths of more beloved comrades (see Teen Titans/Outsiders: the Insiders), Arsenal decides to finally live up to the brief by going after the villainous scum with all guns blazing and the gloves off…

This fourth edgy compendium eschews individual issue titles but for your convenience and mine I’ve again supplied them from the original issues (#29-33 plus relevant portions of Firestorm #19, covering December 2005 to March 2006) of Judd Winick’s grim and witty Outsiders comicbook, with the barely-functioning team – Arsenal, Starfire, Grace, Thunder, Shift, Jade and Captain Marvel Jr. – facing their lowest moments in the aftermath of their betrayal by Indigo

‘Unoriginal Sins, Part 1: All Together Now’ by Winick, Matthew Clark & Art Thibert begins with the out-of-control divine force The Spectre declaring war on magic-users and destroying mystical fortress The Rock of Eternity, thereby unleashing the Seven Deadly Sins.

These personified spiritual anathemas find a new home inside Outsiders antagonist Ishmael Gregor who had previously transformed himself into the benighted and demonic Sabbac in his unquenchable thirst for power (see Outsiders: Sum of All Evil)…

When Deathstroke the Terminator offers the painfully ambitious Gregor a position in Lex Luthor’s criminal elite The Society the stage is set for an epic confrontation, but before the devil can mobilise, Dr. Sivana and the survivors of the Fearsome Five attack Alcatraz and provoke an immediate response from the mad-as-hell Outsiders…

When Sabbac at last arrives, in the concluding episode ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ using the powers of the Sins to derange friend and foe alike through waves of Lust, Rage, Envy and more, founding Outsider Katana is inexorably drawn to the conflict by her ensorcelled sword and saves the day, just before demi-goddess and old friend Donna Troy shows up, hoping to recruit the more cosmic team-members for a mission in deep space…

‘Out of Town Work’ (illustrated by Dietrich Smith, Thibert & Steve Bird) directly ties in to the company crossover Infinite Crisis with Troy seconding Jade, Shift, Starfire and the young Marvel as part of a task force to save the universe.

Significant portions of Firestorm #19’s ‘The Forests of the Night’ by Stuart Moore, Jamal Igle & Rob Stull are also included as the voyagers head for the heart of Creation to battle the unknown enemy but become sidetracked and embroiled in lethal sibling rivalry as Starfire’s sister Blackfire ambushes the squad in ‘Detour’

Meanwhile on Earth, Katana sticks around when Arsenal decides to attack Deathstroke and the Society, culminating in a devastating ‘Deep Impact’ wherein the Outsiders finally deliver a crushing and costly defeat on the super-criminal army just as all reality goes insane thanks to the aforementioned Infinite Crisis hitting the Cosmic Reset Button.

The next volume will begin with the first One Year Later story-arc…

Wickedly barbed, action-packed and often distressingly hard-hitting, Outsiders was one of the very best series pursuing that “hunting heroes” concept, resulting in some of the most exciting superhero sagas of the last decade. Still gripping, evocative and extremely readable, these bleakly powerful stories will astound and amaze older fans of the genre, but this volume at least is best seen in conjunction with too many other books to truly stand on its own merits.

The action is intense, and the dialogue wonderful, but the story won’t appeal or even be understandable to casual readers whilst the effect of the notional cliffhanger ending is rather negated by the deliberately ambiguous closing scene. Page by page and scene by scene this is great stuff, but the imposed conclusion renders all that sterling work irrelevant. This is another one for completists only, I’m afraid.
© 2005, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Doctor Who Graphic Novels volume 13: The Crimson Hand


By Dan McDaid, Martin Geraghty, Mike Collins & various (Panini Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-451-5

Doctor Who launched on television in the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’ on November 23rd 1963. Less than a year later his decades-long run in TV Comic began with issue #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…

Marvel/Panini 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 of the deathless wanderer. This particular one gathers stories from issues Doctor Who Magazine or DWM #394, The Doctor Who Storybook 2010 and DWM #400-420, (originally published between 2008 and 2010): all featuring the escapades of the David Tennant incarnation of the far-flung Time Lord.

This is actually the third – and final – collection of strips featuring the Tenth Doctor and whether that statement made any sense to you largely depends on whether you are an old fan, a new convert or even a complete beginner.

None of which is relevant if all you want is a darn good read. All the creators involved have managed the ultimate ‘Ask’ of any strip creator – to produce engaging, thrilling, fun strips that can be equally enjoyed by the merest beginner and the most slavishly dedicated fan.

After an effusive introduction from series re-creator Russell T. Davies, the full-colour graphic grandeur begins with a one-off romp from 2008 entitled ‘Hotel Historia’ by writer/artist Dan McDaid, wherein the Good Doctor fetches up in a spectacular resort for time-travellers and first encounters the pushy and obnoxious corporate raider Majenta Pryce and uses her shoddy and slipshod time-technology to counter a threat from the chronal brigands known as the Graxnix.

This is riotously followed by a delightful clash with ‘Space Vikings’ (by Jonathan Morris, Rob Davis & Ian Culbard, from the 2010 Christmas Doctor Who Storybook) wherein the slave-taking star-rovers prove to be far less than they at first appear…

The main body of stories here formed something of an experiment as DWM #400-420 were designed as an extended story-arc leading up to the big change on television where Matt Smith would replace Tennant as “the Eleventh Doctor”.

Therefore McDaid was tasked with scripting the entire 21 issue run and began by reintroducing scurrilous money-mad chancer Majenta Pryce in ‘Thinktwice’ (#400-402, illustrated by Martin Geraghty & David A. Roach); an intergalactic penal institution with some decidedly off-kilter ideas on reforming prisoners.

Pryce is a prisoner but has amnesia. So does her cellmate Zed and in fact, most of the convicts aboard. The supposedly cushy debtor’s prison is in fact a horror-house of psychological abuse where suicide is endemic, maintained by the creepy Warden Gripton who is messing with the inmates’ memories to satisfy the hungers of something he calls “memeovax”…

Luckily the new prison doctor “John Smith” is a dab hand with the Sonic screwdriver…

With her memory far from restored the wickedly entrepreneurial Majenta becomes the unlikeliest of Companions as she demands that the “legally liable” Doctor makes restitution for all the trouble he’s caused by ferrying her to the planet Panacea where she can be properly cured. As we all know however, the Tardis goes where She wants and at Her own pace…

‘The Stockbridge Child’ (#403-405 with art from Mike Collins & Roach) deposits the unhappy partners to that peaceful English village where three different incarnations of the Time Lord have encountered incredible alien incursions. When the Doctor is reunited with outcast skywatcher Maxwell Edison they uncover at last the ancient horror beneath the hamlet which as made the place such a magnet for madness and monsters before finally despatching the brooding anti-dimensional threat of the Lokhus

Meanwhile Majenta’s big secret hasn’t forgotten her and is rapidly closing in…

DWM #406-407 featured ‘Mortal Beloved’, illustrated by Sean Longcroft, wherein the Doctor and “Madge” arrive at a decrepit asteroid mansion on the edge of the biggest storm in creation. Amidst the flotsam and jetsam lurk poignant clues to Pryce’s past as tantalisingly revealed by the robots and holograms left to run the place after a far younger Majenta jilted brilliant playboy industrialist Wesley Sparks. Of course, after such an immense length of time even the most devoted of loves and programs could falter, doubt and even hate…

‘The Age of Ice’ (#408-411, by McDaid, Geraghty & Roach) brought the Last Time Lord and Lost Executive to Sydney Harbour and a fond reunion with Earth Defence Force UNIT, just as time-distortions began dumping dinosaurs in the sunny streets and crystalline knowledge stealers The Skith once more attempted to assimilate all the Doctor’s vast experience. Majenta too found an old friend in the shape of her long-lost junior associate Fanson who admitted he had wiped her memory. When he became part of the huge body-count before revealing why, Madge thought she would lose what was left of her mind…

‘The Deep Hereafter’ (#412, by Rob Davis with above-and-beyond calligraphy from faithful letterer Roger Langridge) is a scintillating space detective story, pastiching the classic Will Eisner Spirit Sunday sections, but still succeeds in advancing the overarching plot as Madge and the Doctor complete the last case of piscine P.I. Johnny Seaview and chase down the threat of the reality warping World Bomb whilst ‘Onomatopoeia’ in #413 (Collins & Roach) pits the reluctant pair against space-rats and out-of-control pest prevention systems in a clever and heart-warming fable told almost exclusively without dialogue.

The superb ‘Ghosts of the Northern Line’ (#414-415) follows with guest-artist Paul Grist working his compositional magic in a chilling yarn of murderous phantoms slaughtering tube passengers in present day London. Obviously they can’t be spirits so what is the true cause of the apparitions? This yarns leads directly into the big payoff as they assemble forces of galactic Law and Order suddenly show up to arrest Majenta, plunging the voyagers into a spectacular epic as the stroppy impresario at last regains her memory and acquires the power to reshape all of reality as part of the cosmic consortium known and feared as ‘The Crimson Hand’ (DWM #416-420, by McDaid, Geraghty & Roach.

This blockbuster rollercoaster epic perfectly ends the saga of Majenta Pryce and signs off the Tenth Doctor in suitable style, but dedicated fans still have a plethora of added value bonuses in the wonderful text section at the back, which includes a commentary from editor Tom Spilsbury, the origins of the saga from McDaid, Doctor Who Story Notes, the Majenta Pryce “Pitch” and an annotated story background, section: all copiously illustrated with behind-the-scenes photos, sketches and production art.

We’ve all got our little joys and hidden passions. Sometimes they overlap and magic is made. This is a superb set of comic strips, starring an undeniable bulwark of British Fantasy. If you’re a fan of only one, this book might make you an addict to both. The Crimson Hand is a fabulous book for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for devotees 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.  Doctor Who logo © BBC 2009. Tardis image © BBC 1963. Doctor Who, the Tardis and all logos are trade marks of the British broadcasting corporation and are used under licence. © Marvel. Published 2012 by Panini Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Venus Wars Volume 1


By Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, translated by Adam Gleason & Toren Smith (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-87857-462-6

It’s been a while since I reviewed anything manga so here’s a rather lost classic we Westerners first saw, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics, before it made the jump to a big book edition just as the graphic novel market was finally coming into its own in 1993.

Of course, I’m no expert, so these will be thoughts restricted to the simple perspective of an interested casual collector, and measured against all other illustrated stories and not simply other manga/anime works. There are plenty of specialist sites to cater for that and they’re there at the touch of a search engine…

Vinasu Senki or The Venus Wars first appeared in Comic Nora, published by electronics specialist company Gakken between 1987 and 1990. In 1989 creator Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, who had learned his craft under “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka and is equally celebrated for his animated movies as his comics output (Space Cruiser Yamato, Gundam, Crusher Joe, Joan, Dirty Pair, Arion, Jesus, Neo Devilman and dozens more) turned the bombs, bullets and bikes epic into a stunning amine feature and oversaw its conversion to a successful computer game to supplement the four collected comic volumes.

Reprinted in the larger American graphic book standard (258x168mm) this monochrome mini-masterpiece begins in 2003 when a vast meteoric ball of ice crashes into the planet Venus and subsequently renders the place nominally habitable.

By 2083 – or Venusian year 72 – the two competing colonial nations of Aphrodia and Ishtar are days way from war. The Ishtarians are coldly calculating aggressors whose resources have long been concentrated into building a force of super-massive “Octopus Tanks” while the complacent Aphrodians seemingly do nothing to redress the situation.

All, that is, except Major Sims who is talent-scouting at the local Battle-bike stadium. These potentially lethal motorised gladiatorial contests are where young and restless teen rebels burn off their aggressions, but Sims sees them as a proving ground for his secret weapon against Ishtar’s mechanised might.

As the blistering high-speed duels continue Sims has his eye on fullback Ken Seno, a manic daredevil who clearly doesn’t care whether he lives or dies…

When the games end the Major offers the kid a chance to ride a one-ton armed and armoured super-cycle which he thinks will counter Ishtar’s advantage with nothing but speed and rocketry…

Of course Ken’s rowdy team-mates are not keen to lose their star rider and besotted groupie Maggie is terrified that her bad-boy might leave without ever realising she loves him, but the lure of that mega-bike is irresistible to the aimless youth…

When a ship from Earth arrives carrying military observers, government arbiters and the enigmatic Helen Macluth, Sims is wary, but too soon events overtake them all when Ishtar suddenly attacks Aphrodia’s capital Io City with a division of Octopus Tanks.

Ken has joined the biker elite “Hound Unit”, but his training has run into a few snags, the worst being snotty rival Kurtz, who seems to be his better in every aspect – and an arrogant rat to boot…

Macluth is injured and subsequently detained by the Aphrodians, but as the Ishtarian attack continues, hardly slowed by Sims’ super-bike squads, the government falls and radical cult leader Ayraht Akhbar seizes control of Io’s military. In the ensuing chaos Ken’s old Battle-bike team-mate Miranda and her friends break the Earthling out and they all flee the city together as a mass civilian evacuation begins…

Meanwhile Sims’ command has been usurped by Akhbar’s Mesada zealots whose insane methods seem certain to lose the war, even though the Ishtarian military command is on the verge of implosion itself with rival generals seeking to wrest supreme control away from the War’s original architects…

When the inflammatory and outspoken Ken is tortured and incarcerated by the newly-appointed Mesada commandant it sparks a mutiny amongst the Hound riders and they break him out of solitary, just as the Ishtarians begin their major offensive.

And somewhere in the hinterlands Helen Macluth wonders if she is the only person who knows or cares that the terra-forming miracle which transformed Venus and made human colonisation possible has begun to reverse itself…

Rocket-paced, with spectacularly violent action; blending bleak, cynical philosophy with trenchant human-scaled drama and politics, all whilst finding room for the odd soupcon of humour and romance, The Venus Wars was one of the best future-war thrillers to ever come out of Japan and is one of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s most impressive epics.

This is a series every comics and science fiction fan will love to read.
Original story & art © 1991 Yoshikazu Yasuhiko and Gakken. English translation © 1991 Studio Proteus & Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All Rights reserved.

Batman: Prey


By Doug Moench, Paul Gulacy & Terry Austin (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-93028-968-3

When DC found the World had gone completely Bat-crazy for the second time in twenty-five years, they quickly supplemented the Gotham Guardian’s stable of comicbooks with a new title designed to reveal the early days and cases of the Batman.

Three years earlier in 1985-1986, the publisher had boldly retconned their entire ponderous continuity via the landmark maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths; rejecting the entire concept of a vast multiverse and re-knitting time so that there had only ever been one Earth. For readers, the sole DC world provided a perfect place to jump on at the start: a planet literally festooned with iconic heroes and villains draped in a clear and cogent backstory that was still fresh and unfolding.

Many of their greatest properties were graced with a unique restart, employing the tacit conceit that all the characters had been around for years and the readership were simply tuning in on just another working day.

Batman’s popularity was at an intoxicating peak and as DC was still in the throes of re-jigging the entire narrative continuity, the new title presented multi-part epics refining and infilling the history of the post-Crisis hero and his entourage. The added fillip was a fluid cast of premiere and up-and-coming creators.

Most of those early story-arcs were collected as trade paperbacks, helping to jump-start the graphic novel sector of the comics industry, and the careful re-imagining of the hero’s early career gave fans a wholly modern insight into the highly malleable core-concept.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #11-15 (September 1990-February 1991) featured the official re-debut of one of Batman’s oldest foes: mad scientist Professor Hugo Strange (who had initially appeared in Detective Comics #36 in February 1940, Batman #1 and elsewhere) transformed into a contemporary pop psychologist at a time when the Caped Crimebuster was still an urban vigilante hunted by Gotham’s corrupt cops…

Batman: Prey added more background detail, psychological refinements and further expanded the mythos as the Dark Knight established a working relationship with Captain James Gordon – the only honest cop on the force – and built his first Batmobile…

‘Prey’ begins with the mysterious Batman again stealing the Police Department’s thunder, forcing Mayor Klass to succumb to public pressure drummed up by TV psychiatrist Hugo Strange by setting up a task force to take the masked vigilante off the streets.

Appointed to head the team is Captain James Gordon who has been promised every resource he needs and no interference…

Bruce Wayne isn’t worried by that: he and Gordon have a clandestine understanding and the mystery man is far more interested in his side-project – building a suitable vehicle to get him around Gotham quickly and safely.

The real problems only start after the Professor is attached to the task force and Strange’s public deductions and suppositions hit painfully home. Soon the Batman starts to doubt his own motivations and sanity…

Gordon picks Sergeant Max Cort as his number two, unaware that the brutal, old-school cop is riddled with jealousy and dangerously unstable – much like Strange himself, who spends his evenings pontificating, wining and dining a lingerie mannequin, and dressing up as the Batman in an effort to get into his head…

As the real hero stalks deadly drug-baron Manny the Fish and high-profile thief Catwoman begins to prowl the rooftops of the wealthy, Cort’s squad closes in, but the dope-peddler escapes the raid because some of his men, bought and paid for by the gang-boss, warn the Fish in advance.

In the resulting melee Batman again physically humiliates Cort before escaping, pushing the Sergeant far over the edge…

‘Dark Sides’ sees Wayne’s self-doubt increase and confusion mount as the task force accuses Batman and Catwoman of being partners-in-crime and Cort begins to investigate his own boss Gordon, who he correctly suspects of aiding the Dark Knight…

After Batman spectacularly takes down The Fish, Gordon devises a method of secretly contacting Batman by placing a bat-silhouette over the Police HQ spotlight, before disclosing to his silent partner how Strange and the Mayor are working closely together. The situation goes from bad to worse when Cort becomes the psychiatrist’s latest patient and is turned into a mesmerised uber-vigilante to literally show Batman how it should be done…

When the Mayor’s daughter belittles Strange and defends Batman, the Professor unleashes Cort as the ‘Night Scourge!’ – going on a savage rampage through the underworld, maiming and killing petty thugs and bikers. The Professor then accuses Batman of insanity, threatening the social order and inspiring dangerous copycats…

When Cort almost kills Catwoman, Batman intervenes and the hypnotised cop barely escapes, after which Strange has his perfect pawn impersonate the Dark Knight; attacking Mayor Klass before kidnapping his daughter Catherine.

The real Batman is blithely unaware: when he turned his back on her, Catwoman bashed his brains in…

Tensions escalate in ‘The Nightmare’ as the increasingly crazed Strange drugs and almost murders the wounded Batman before seeking to replace him, whilst the death-hungry Cort ups his own campaign of bloodletting and terror.

When the psychiatrist finally deduces his target’s true identity he turns Wayne Manor into a colossal psychological death-trap for Batman’s soul and sanity resulting in a staggering three-way showdown and bitter triumph for the Dark Knight in ‘The Kill’

This five-part epic by Doug Moench, Paul Gulacy and Terry Austin established a new and grimly sexy aesthetic for Batman’s adventures, setting the scene for the next decade as it depicted the orphan billionaire’s growing obsession and mistrust of even his own intentions: a world of technological wonders where Batman became real and Bruce Wayne faded into a mere bit-part…

Fast-paced, action-packed and deviously compelling, this frantic caper is a breathtaking Fights ‘n’ Tights fiesta for fans and casual readers alike, further redefining the Caped Crusader’s previously shiny innocuous Gotham as a truly scary world of urban decay, corrupt authority, all-pervasive criminal violence and nightmarish insanity.

This is another superb modern Batman yarn: dark, intense, cunning and superbly understated. If you haven’t seen this supremely engaging tale – criminally out of print but well worth hunting down in the DC or British Titan Book edition – then you don’t really know the Dark Knight at all…

© 1990, 1992 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Mike Baron’s The Group LaRue: the Ultimate Gaming Adventure


By Mike Baron, David Campiti, Paul Curtis, Faye Perozich, Andy Kuhn & Chris Tsuda (Innovation)
No ISBN:

Once upon a time Dungeons & Dragons style role playing games were the most compelling and obsessive things kids could do. All over the civilised world bands of youngsters would gather in furtive secrecy to play at being wizards, thieves and heroes with dice and bits of paper. How spoiled modern children must be with their electronic paraphernalia and tolerant parents, but at least it’s not like my distant school days when we just stood in the pouring rain, rolling hoops, hitting each other in the face with 24lb leather footballs and imagined ourselves as heroes by hitting each other with sticks whilst chain-smoking, beer-swilling teachers gazed on uncaringly…

But I digress: the late 1980s were a fertile time for American comics-creators. An entire new industry had been born with the growth of the Direct Sales market and its dedicated specialist retail outlets; new companies were experimenting with format and content, and punters even had a bit of spare cash to play with.

Moreover much of the “kid’s stuff” stigma had finally abated and the country was catching up to the rest of the world in acknowledging that sequential narrative might just be a for-real actual art-form…

Consequently many young start-up companies began competing for the attention and cash of punters who had grown resigned to getting their on-going picture stories from DC, Marvel, Archie and/or Harvey Comics. European and Japanese material had been creeping in and by 1983 a host of young companies such as WaRP Graphics, Pacific, Eclipse, Capital, Now, Comico, Dark Horse, First and many others had established themselves and were making impressive inroads.

New talent, established stars and fresh ideas all found a thriving forum to try something a little different both in terms of content and format. Even smaller companies had a fair shot at the big time and a lot of great material came – and too often, quickly went – without getting the attention or success it warranted.

One of the last to emerge as a contender was Innovation Publishing, founded by David Campiti in 1988, which added canny reprints collections like Bill Ward’s Torchy, Larry Harmon’s Bozo, the World’s Most Famous Clown and Walt Kelly’s Santa Claus Adventures and a judicious accumulation of acquired ongoing titles such as The Maze Agency and Hero Alliance to its deftly imaginative run of original titles like Scarlet Kiss, Cyberpunk, Legends of the Star Grazers, Scaramouch, Straw Men and many others.

The company’s true strength lay in a vibrant specialisation in adapted fantasy properties ranging from Lost in Space, Quantum Leap, Dark Shadows, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Beauty and the Beast and other media sensations to popular literary works such as Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality, Gene Wolf’s The Shadow of the Torturer and a welter of blood-drenched vampire epics based on the horror works of Anne Rice.

At its height Innovation ranked fourth in market share behind Marvel, DC and Dark Horse Comics but intriguingly, one of their earliest failures – a troubled series devoted to the magic of RPG – was, in retrospect, amongst the best yarns in their canon…

Devised and scripted by Nexus and Badger creator Mike Baron the short and sweet saga of the Group LaRue told the tale of five role-playing kids who suddenly realised it wasn’t just a game anymore…

This slim full-colour collection gathers the three issue tale beginning with ‘Enter: the Group LaRue!’ by Baron and illustrators Andy Kuhn & Chris Tsuda, as five Minneapolis kids sneaked into an old deserted mansion to play their weekly game only to be interrupted by a real wizard.

When he was killed by a gigantic spear his magic gem exploded and the play-actors suddenly transformed into the characters they were channelling: a psychic Precog, superheroes Spark and Lead Plate, super-genius Scrambler and a flying Werewolf.

This last was Gil La Rue – whose illusionist grandfather built the abandoned mansion years ago, before suddenly vanishing.

The boy took charge when the villains in their planned game scenario manifest and deadly giant bug-men attack the bewildered kids…

Escaping with their lives the disbelieving players regrouped outside the mansion only to discover that Gil’s house had burned down and his whole family were gone…

Staying with best friend Manny Rhodes AKA Lead Plate, Gil deduced that whatever forces they unwittingly unleashed might well be hunting them all…

And that’s when estate executor Bob Whitney arrived, offering to reveal the secrets and reasons for their uncanny transformations. Apparently the elder La Rue belonged to a cult which covertly guards humanity against supernatural invasion, but now only Gil and his friends are left to carry on the interrupted mission…

Baron was gone by the second issue ‘Thrown for a Loup!’ but scripters Campiti & Paul Curtis carried on the saga with Kuhn & Tsuda faithfully continuing the art chores as the kids reluctantly explored the subterranean netherworld beneath La Rue mansion, battling more bug-things and seeking out the evil sorcerer who controlled them, but it’s soon clear that there was far more to good old Bob than met the eye…

The yarn came to an abrupt end with ‘Bug Out!’ (written by Campiti & Faye Perozich) as the team, still trapped in some otherworldly underground dimension learned the kind of man Bob was and a few basic home-truths such as not all monsters look scary, ugly doesn’t mean evil and especially “there’s no place like home”…

Clever, funny, thrilling and gloriously cathartic in a wholesome all-ages way, this old-fashioned adventure fantasy with a thoroughly modern “happy ever after” was fabulously fun and definitely deserved a longer run and a steady creative team behind it.

Even with the action long over there’s still plenty of enjoyment for modern readers and magic loving fans to discover if they can track down this buried treasure
™ and © 1989 Michael Baron. Product package © 1989 Innovative Corp. Part #1 story © 1989 Michael Baron. Part #2-3 story © 1989 Innovative Corp. Artwork © 1989 Andy Kuhn. All rights reserved.

Legends of the Stargrazers Book 1


By Cynthy J. Wood & David Campiti, Matt Thompson, Tom Yeates & various (Innovation)
No ISBN:

It’s hard to deny or justify, and sometimes a little embarrassing to explain these days, but for a goodly proportion of readers, comics have always been a source of low-level, innocent titillation.

In the far-off days when comicbooks were expressly for kids, scantily clad, perfectly sculpted exemplars of the human form – female and male – were perhaps the first introduction to innocent psyches of the turbulent world of sex and relationships and sex and hormones and sex, so it’s not surprising that there’s a whole fan sub-culture dedicated to Cheesecake (also, to be fair and to a lesser extent, Beefcake) collectively known as Good Girl Art.

From the late 1980s onward with internet porn and far more explicit (photographic) publications readily accessible to youngsters, you would have thought that the simple allure of drawn hotties and totties would have waned but you’d be wrong. Some folk just seem to prefer illustrated hormonal icons to “real” (albeit implausibly airbrushed or photoshopped) ones…

Artists skilled in delineating these impossibly perfect visions number amongst our most celebrated but the stories generally took a back-seat as the characters posed and strutted in beguiling, distracting and generally improbable fashions and stances, so it’s nice to be able to cite a rare occasion when plot and dialogue were as well developed as the stars’ physical characteristics…

The Legends of the Stargrazers was created by Cynthy J. Wood and Innovation publisher David Campiti as a light-hearted space-opera in 1989, running six issues and almost immediately collected as two of the industry’s earliest trade-paperback graphic novels.

The premise is both simple and enchantingly beguiling: in the future humanity has spread throughout the galaxy, bringing commerce and advancement to many races: and of all the independent traders plying the space winds the strictly female crews of vessels calling themselves Stargrazers are the most successful.

This initial volume opens with ‘Here be Dragons’ by Wood & Campiti, drawn by Matt Thompson and inked by Randy Elliott & Nestor Redondo, which introduced Captain Rachel Lacey, Sherree Rhys-Holm, Karry Vistaas and Carla Withers; the all-girl crew of Stargrazer merchant ship Crock of Gold, plying their trade across the galaxy and dreading the arrival of their latest recruit-replacement.

It’s a cut throat, hand-to-mouth life of boom and bust for the traders and the last thing they need is to be breaking in another star-struck newbie. Even after the appropriate winnowing process the successful candidate seems painfully typical: cute, perky, hyper-enthusiastic…

However apprentice trader Julie Green is a girl with an astonishing secret…

During her first voyage, after a fairly typical piece of business which ended up in the usual fire-fight and frantic flight, Julie witnesses an incredible sight – the first appearance in decades of the almost-mystical sun-feeding space dragons from which the Stargrazers took their name.

Enthralled she learned the voyagers’ secret history and the cosmic connection between the fantastic creatures and the fleets of star-wanderers who will do anything to protect the fabulous saurians from unscrupulous planet-dwellers…

‘The Smithfield Incident’ holds a story within a story as the crew rescue imperial super-spy Smithfield Cobb from certain death in deep space only to slowly fall under the sway of his irresistible manly charm and artificially-enhanced pheromone count. Cobb is the Empress’ secret weapon in an ongoing war against rebel forces and this tale is little more than a framing sequence for his solo story ‘Libretto’ (by Campiti, Tom Yeates & Rick Bryant, and looking suspiciously like a tale left over when early Indy pioneer Pacific Comics went bankrupt).

Rendered in the manner of classic Al Williamson’s EC sci fi thrillers, the flashback saga of Cobb’s clash with rebel agents and love affair with the soul of a planet adds a hint of stabilising tragedy to the flash-and-dazzle light-heartedness of the Stargrazers’ exploits, as he drags the neutral merchant maids into conflict with Rebellion forces. However his philandering tactics backfire and Cobb learns a salutary lesson when the girls switch his prized info tape for Julie’s diary… without her knowledge or permission…

‘Ghost Ship’ finds the girls enjoying a rare shore-leave when Lacey is framed for illegal trading, piracy and slave-taking. The furious Captain immediately takes off in pursuit of impostors using her name and discovers not only the secret of the mythic phantom star-trader Vanderdecken but also uncovers a race of men like angels who have an unsuspected connection to Julie…

This first collection concludes with ‘Gossamer’ as the origins of the winged men are revealed and the history of humanity’s expansion into space is disclosed.

To Be Continued…

Although certainly designed and intended as captivating but cheesy eye-candy, the broad scope of this fantasy saga and the light touch of authors Wood and Campiti, packing their scripts with wry humour and sci fi in-jokes, elevates Legends of the Stargrazers far above the usual “look, don’t think” level of Good Girl material and it’s a genuine pity the series died so young.
™ and © 1989 Cynthy J. Wood & Innovative Corp. Main story artwork © 1989 Matt Thompson. “Libretto” art © 1989 Tom Yeates. All rights reserved.

Krazy + Ignatz: The Komplete Kat Komics volume 1, 1916 and volume 2: 1917 The Other-Side to the Shore of Here


By George Herriman (Eclipse Books/Turtle island)
ISBNs: 0-913035-48-3 and 0-913035-75-0

I must admit to feeling like a fool and a fraud reviewing George Herriman’s winningly surreal masterpiece of eternal unrequited love. Although Krazy Kat is unquestionably a pinnacle of graphic innovation, a hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and an undisputed treasure of world literature, some readers – from the strip’s earliest antecedents in 1913 right up to five minutes ago – just cannot “get it”.

All those with the right sequence of genes (K, T, Z and A, I suspect) are instantly fans within seconds of exposure whilst those sorry few who are oblivious to the strip’s inimitable charms are beyond anybody’s meagre capacity to help.

Still, since everyday there’s newcomers to the wonderful world of comics I’ll assume my inelegant missionary position once more and hope to catch and convert some fresh soul – or, as I like to think of it, save some more “lil Ainjils”…

The Krazy & Ignatz softcover series of collected Sunday pages was contrived by Eclipse Comics and the Turtle Island Foundation and taken over by Fantagraphics when the publisher succumbed to the predatory market conditions of the 1990s. It is not and never has been a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multilayered verbal and pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Think of it as Dylan Thomas and Edward Lear playing “I Spy” with James Joyce amongst beautifully harsh and barren cactus fields whilst Gabriel García Márquez types up the shorthand notes and keeps score…

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

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (which included e.e. Cummings, Frank Capra, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and Jack Kerouac) utterly adored the strip, many local editors -ever cautious of the opinions of the hoi-polloi who actually bought the papers – did not and took every career-risking opportunity to drop it from the comics section.

Eventually the feature found a home in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s vast empire of papers. Protected by the publisher’s patronage the strip flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion and ran until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

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

Ignatz is a real Man’s Muridae; drinking, stealing, cheating, carousing, neglectful of his spouse and children. He revels in spurning Krazy’s genteel advances by regularly and repeatedly belting the cat with a well-aimed and mightily thrown brick (obtained singly or in bulk and generally legitimately from noted local brickmaker Kolin Kelly).

The third member of the classic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, hopelessly in love with Krazy, well aware of the Mouse’s true nature, but bound by his own timidity and sense of honour from removing his rival for the cat’s affections. Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious of Pupp’s true feelings and dilemma…

Also populated with a stunning supporting cast of inspired anthropomorphic bit players such as Joe Stork, (deliverer of babies), the hobo Bum Bill Bee, Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, Walter Cephus Austridge, the Chinese mallard Mock Duck, Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters – all capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features – the episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (based of the artist’s vacation retreat Coconino County, Arizona) and the surreal playfulness and fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips are a masterful mélange of wickedly barbed contemporary social satire, folksy yarn-telling, unique experimental art, strongly referencing Navajo art forms and sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully expressive language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous and compellingly musical (“He’s simpfilly wondafil”, “A fowl konspirissy – is it pussible?” or “I nevva seen such a great power to kookoo”), yet for all that the adventures are timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic and utterly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous slapstick.

The eponymous first monochrome volume opens with ‘The Kat’s Kreation’ by Bill Blackbeard; a fulsome, fascinating and heavily illustrated history of the development of the frankly freakish feline as briefly outlined above, after which this slim, tall tome shuffles into the first cautious but full-bodied escapades from 1916 delivered every seven days from April 23rd to December 31st.

Within that first year, as war raged in Europe and with America edging inexorably closer to the Global Armageddon, the residents of Coconino sported and wiled away their days in careless abandon but totally embroiled within their own – and their neighbours’ – personal dramas.

Big hearted Krazy adopts orphan kitties, accidentally goes boating and ballooning, saves baby birds from predatory mice and rats, survives pirate attacks, constantly endures assault and affectionate attempted murder and does lots of nothing in an utterly addictive, idyllic and eccentric way…

The volume ends with ‘The Kat Maker’ a copiously illustrated biography of Herriman.

 

Volume 2: 1917 The Other-Side to the Shore of Here begins with ‘Kat in Nine Bags – a Twenty Year Quest for a Phantom’ a trenchant introductory article by Bill Blackbeard which describes Publisher Hearst’s unceasing battle with his own editors to keep the strip in print and on the Comics pages – everything short of kidnap and assassination apparently – before the artistic tour de force (covering January 7th to 30th December) commences in perfect harmony with its eclectic and embattled environment.

Within this second magical atlas of another land and time the formative tone and textures of the eternal game play out as usual, but with some intriguing diversions such as recurring explorations of terrifying trees, grim ghosts and obnoxious Ouija Boards, tributes to Kipling as we discover why the snake rattles, meet Ignatz’s aquatic cousin, observe the invasion of Mexican Jumping Beans and a plague of measles, discover the maritime value of “glowerms”, discover who was behind a brilliant brick-stealing campaign of crime and at last see Krazy become the Bricker and not Brickee…

To complete the illustrious experience and explore the ever-shifting sense of reality amidst the constant display of visual virtuosity and verbal verve this big, big book (305x230mm) ends with ‘The Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Pages’ providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed…

There has been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was generally rediscovered by a far more accepting audience and these particular compendiums were picked up by Fantagraphics when Eclipse ceased trading in 1992. The current publisher’s avowed intent is to complete the collection and then keep the works in print and more power to them for that.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a genuine Treasure of World Art and Literature and these comic strips shaped our industry, galvanised comics creators, inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, sculpture, dance, animation and jazz music whilst always delivering delight and delectation to generations of devoted 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 glorious brace of cartoon masterpieces are among the most accessible…

Just remember: not everybody gets it and some of them aren’t even stupid or soulless – they’re just unfortunate… “There Is A Heppy Lend Furfur A-Waay”
© 1989/1990 Eclipse Books/Turtle Island Foundation. All rights reserved.

Hewligan’s Haircut


By Peter Milligan & Jamie Hewlett (Fleetway Publishing/Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-85386-246-5, Rebellion HC 978-1-90426-506-1, SC 978-1-90673-598-2

Since its inception in 1977 the weekly science fiction anthology comic 2000AD has been a cornucopia of thrills, chills, laughs and anarchic, mind-boggling wonderment as well as springboard for two generations of highly impressive creators.

Beside such “A-List” serial celebrities as Judge Dredd, Slaine, Rogue Trooper and their ilk, the quirky, quintessentially British phenomenon has played host to a vast selection of intriguing yarns with much less general appeal and far more discerning tastes.

Or, to put it bluntly, strips with as many foes as friends amongst the rabidly passionate audience.

Just one such was this outrageously tongue-in-cheek, fantastically surreal and absurdist love story from the era of Rave Parties and Acid Houses from Peter Milligan and Tank Girl co-creator Jamie Hewlett which originally ran in #700-711 of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, from 13th October to December 1st 1990.

The story is told in “Eight Partings”, commencing in black and white with the introduction of style-starved psychiatric patient Hewligan, about to be booted out of Five Seasons Mental Hospital.

In ‘Donald, Where’s Your Troosers?’ the hapless innocent spruces up his copious coiffure and accidentally carves a transcendental cosmic symbol into his bedraggled barnet. Suddenly everything that previously made no sense in his bemused and befuddled life instantly makes even less – but now it’s all in full, effulgent dayglo colour…

‘Under a Bridge with Dick and Harry’ finds the latest victim of “Don’t Care in the Community” undergoing even crazier visions and hallucinations than the ones which got him sectioned in the first place and also the subject of a bizarre police – and animated everyday objects – manhunt, until a wall tells him of a safe haven in ‘Don’t Put your Daughter on the Stage Mrs. Worthington’

Giving Consensual Reality the old heave-ho, the tonsorial target meets the effervescent trans-dimensional gamin and pulchritudinous know-it-all Scarlett O’Gasometer, who offers companionship and the secret of what’s really going on. Still pursued by every cliché in British popular life the pair soon fall victim to a barrage of Art Attacks (Cubism and Warholian Pop) from unsanctioned Pirate Dimensions in ‘A Man , A Plan, Canal Panama’ but as Scarlet reveals the true nature of Everything and the pair leak into cult TV shows in ‘Oh Danny Boy Oh Danny Boy!’ Hewligan begins to understand why his entire life has been plagued with odd voices and images of giant stone heads…

The dashing due take a bus to Easter Island where ‘I Know a Fat Old Pleeceman’ finds them in a position to save all creation in ‘Roget’s Thesaurus’ before the sweet sorrowful monochrome parting of ‘The Psychedelic Experience’ wraps it all up with one last surprise…

Light, frothy, multi-layered with cultural time-bombs and snarky asides; this is a fun-filled, occasionally over-clever, but always magically rendered and intoxicatingly arch, quest-fable that no jaded Fantasy Fashionista or cultural gadabout could resist. However there’s not a tremendous amount of gore, smut or gratuitous violence but I suppose you can’t have everything…

This a gloriously silly piece of pure contemporary Albion perfectly captures a unique period in time and offers a pungent and memorable dose of New Age Nostalgia and there shouldn’t be any trouble finding this is tall, slim tale since it was re-released in a collectors hardback in 2003 and a paperback edition in 2010 by current 2000AD custodians Rebellion.

Coo! What larks…
© 1991 2000AD Books, A division of Fleetway Publications. © 2003, 2011 Rebellion A/S. All rights reserved.

Storm: The Deep World

By Don Lawrence & Saul Dunn (British European Associated Publishers)
No ISBN
Storm: The Last Fighter & Storm: The Pirates of Pandarve
By Don Lawrence & Martin Lodewijk (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-90761-077-9 and 978-1-85286-083-7

Don Lawrence, one of our greatest comics artists, is rightly revered for his stunning painted artwork on the legendary British weekly strip The Trigan Empire – which was the only reason most kids read the venerable knowledge-dispensing illustrated weekly Look and Learn – but his last and greatest work is largely unknown in the country of his birth. Over the years a number of publishers have attempted to sell a mass-market English-language edition of the Dutch-published science fiction serial Storm with little success, leaving only truly dedicated fans to purchase beautiful but painfully expensive limited-edition, leather-bound, hardback deluxe collectors compendiums.

Nevertheless, to my knowledge three softcover albums were released in the 1980s and still turn up occasionally so it’s worth keeping your eyes open for a stunning fantasy treat…

The concept was first conceived by Martin Lodewijk/Vince Wernham and Laurence in 1976 as a vehicle for the character Commander Grek but declined by Dutch publisher Oberon. Reworked by science fiction author Philip Dunn (who scripted the initial episode using the pseudonym Saul Dunn) with time-lost Terran astronaut Storm as the lead, the series was far more welcome, resulting in nine albums between 1978-1982, scripted by Martin Lodewijk, Dick Matena, Kelvin Gosnell and Lawrence himself, all fondly designated as the Chronicles of Deep World.

The rejected Commander Grek tale was eventually reworked into the continuity as episode 0 and after the series was rebooted Lawrence & Lodewijk produced a further 17 tales – “The Chronicles of Pandarve” – until the artist tragically lost much of his sight and was forced to retire in 1995.

In 1987 Titan Books took up the challenge of popularising the saga – a massive hit in Germany and the Netherlands, with editions also published in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian and Indonesian – but gave up after two volumes…

Storm continued throughout Europe and is still being published today with Dick Matena, Romano Molenaar & Jorg De Vos handling the art.

The first epic, The Deep World by Lawrence and Dunn, was translated and released by British European Associated Publisher in 1982 and told in stunning, luxurious, fully-painted detail the story of astronaut explorer Storm, despatched by United Nations scientists in the 21st century to fly through the mysterious Red Spot of Jupiter. Unfortunately the valiant spaceman is trapped in those cyclonic crimson winds and propelled uncounted millennia into the future.

Dazed, lost and baffled by the seeming disappearance of the Red Spot, Storm spends a year flying back to Earth and discovers a world utterly transformed. His home world has become an icy wasteland, a Snowball Earth, but his desperate investigations uncover even more incredible secrets.

The oceans are gone and civilisation – such as it is – has relocated to the ancient sea floors. As he slowly makes his way down the miles of craggy dry depths, Storm is attacked by bandits who steal his space suit and survival kit, despite his violent resistance. Now clad only in the furs of the attacker he killed, Storm follows and encounters a fantastic planet of incredible jungles and bizarre beasts ruled by barbarian warlord Ghast.

Despite looking like a primitive thug Ghast is no fool: he knows the wearer of the strange clothes must be a commodity of great value and imprisons the wanderer in his dungeons where Storm meets a red-haired beauty called Carrots (alternatively Redhair and Ember) who is part of a secret tribe of knowledge-hoarders opposed to Ghast’s rule.

When her fellows rescue Carrots they take Storm with them and their leader Kiley reveals startling familiarity with the Astronaut’s story and equipment…

Taken to the subterranean land of Tome and a lost sub-surface sea, Storm is unaware that Ghast has tracked them deep below the surface of the Deep World. When they encounter a fantastic survivor from the age of technology and learn the secret history of Earth, Ghast refuses to accept what he sees and triggers a catastrophic explosion and flood…

The Last Fighter (Lawrence & Lodewijk) took up the tale with Storm and Carrots – now permanently dubbed Ember – washed ashore in a mountainous region which was once the Bahamas, where they are captured by slavers in a travelling circus/gladiator show.

Even held by deadly living insectoid shackles the bellicose Storm is a constant problem and when he acts up too openly in front of paying customers he finds himself made one city’s champion in a contest to capture the Throne of the Gods.

If he rebels Ember will be fed to a giant monster…

Competing against a number of other champions, Storm must invade the “Palace of Death”, sit on “The Throne” and win “The Powers” for his city…

He complies and undertakes the lethal quest and discovers a huge, unexpected advantage: he is the only man alive who recognises the Palace as a crashed starship with all its deadly automatic defences activated and the throne as a captain’s command chair. Of course, that’s no real help when battling through the colossal booby-trapped corridors of the vast vessel to the off-switch, nor proof against the weapons of his rival champions or the schemes of the corrupt organisers of the contest…

After this Titan jumped immediately to the tenth tale, The Pirates of Pandarve, which saw an abrupt transition in the series as, after ages wandering the Deep World of Old Earth, Storm and Ember were suddenly catapulted into a universe of cosmic strangeness. Pandarve is a multiversal junction point where the laws of physics vary from moment to moment; a place of many worlds and planetoids with only localised gravity fields, circling an immense super-planet, all existing in a breathable atmosphere envelope instead of a special vacuum.

The pocket universe is ruled by power-mad dictator called Marduk, Theocrat of Pandarve – a man obsessed with temporal energy- whose long-range scanners detect an incredible chronal anomaly on Earth. Determined to possess the phenomenon at all costs, Marduk rips open the gateway of the multiverse and teleports Storm and the hapless collateral casualty Ember to Pandarve…

At that moment rebels attack the Theocrat’s citadel, disrupting the process and his targets materialise in space hundreds of miles above planet Pandave, shocked, terrified yet somehow still alive. Floating helplessly, the pair are rescued by an old man in a sailing boat hunting a space whale, but tragically when the monumental beast attacks Ember is lost…

When Storm and old man Rann reach his home asteroid they find a scene of devastation and the hunter’s daughter abducted by the bloodthirsty marauders of Vertiga Bas. The traumatised elder is saved from suicide by the time-lost Earthman and, believing Ember dead, they determine to pursue the pirates and rescue the stolen child.

Meanwhile, Ember has been picked up by Marduk’s men…

The searchers reach the outlaw habitat where Storm rescues Rann’s daughter in a truly unique manner, but soon falls foul of the Buccaneer city’s unique laws.

Condemned to the water-mines Storm’s last sight is of Ember, broadcast around the pocket universe as Marduk’s next bride…

The tragic hero has no idea that’s it’s all a ploy by the Theocrat to entrap the Anomaly…

In the mines Storm chafes under the trauma and pressure, his only friend the huge warrior called Nomad. With no real hope of success they begin to plan escape and revolution…

And that’s where, after a spectacular battle the magic, mayhem and majesty ends, with a freed Storm searching for his red-headed paramour in a scintillating, cliffhanging promise of more to come…

Those English-language hardback collectors editions were released way back in 2004, and now retail for astonishing amounts of money so surely it’s time for another go at a mass-market competitively priced run?

© 1982 Oberon bv – Haarlem – Netherlands – Don Lawrence/Philip Dunn.

© 1987 Oberon BV/Don Lawrence and Martin Lodewijk. UK edition © 1987 Titan Books, Ltd.

© 1987 Oberon BV/Don Lawrence and Martin Lodewijk. UK edition © 1989 Titan Books, Ltd.

Johnny Hazard: Mammoth Marches On


By Frank Robbins (Pacific Comics Publications)
No ISBN

Johnny Hazard was a newspaper strip created in answer to and in the style and manner of Terry and the Pirates, but in many ways the steely-eyed hero most resembles – and indeed presages – Milton Caniff’s second magnum opus Steve Canyon.

Unbelievably, until last year this stunningly impressive and enthralling adventure strip has never been comprehensively collected in graphic novels – at least in English – although selected highlights had appeared in nostalgia magazines such as Pioneer Comics and Dragon Lady Press Presents.

However, sporadic compendiums of the full-colour Sunday pages have popped up over the years, such as this glorious and huge (340 x 245mm) landscape tabloid produced by re-translating a collected Italian edition back into English, courtesy of the Pacific Comic Club.

Frank Robbins was a brilliant all-around cartoonist whose unique artistic and lettering style lent themselves equally to adventure, comedy and superhero tales and his stunning cunning storytellers mind made him one of the best writers of three generations of comics.

He first came to fame in 1939 when he took over the Scorchy Smith newspaper strip from the legendary Noel Sickles and created a Sunday page for the feature in 1940. He was offered the prominent Secret Agent X-9 but instead created his own lantern jawed, steely-eyed man of action. A tireless and prolific worker, even whilst producing a daily and Sunday Hazard (usually a separate storyline for each) Robbins freelanced as an illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post, Look, Life and a host of other mainstream magazines.

In the 1960s and 1970s he moved into comicbooks, becoming a key contributor to Batman, Batgirl, Detective Comics (where he created Man-Bat with Neal Adams), The Shadow and DC’s mystery anthologies before settling in as an artist at Marvel on a variety of titles including Captain America, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Morbius, Human Fly, Man from Atlantis, Power Man and The Invaders, which he co-created with Roy Thomas.

When the strip launched on Monday June 5th 1944, Johnny Hazard was an aviator, in the United States Army Air Corps and when hostilities ceased became for a while a freelance charter pilot and secret agent before settling into the bombastic life of a globe-girdling troubleshooter, mystery-solver and modern day Knight Errant babe-magnet.

The strip ended in 1977: another victim of diminishing panel-sizes and the move towards simplified, thrill-free, family-friendly gag-a-day graphic fodder to wrap around small-ads.

With the release at long last of a dedicated collection of the black and white Daily strips, I thought I’d spotlight a few of those fabulous landscape tomes which kept Johnny Hazard alive in fans hearts during years after it ceased publication beginning with the thoroughly captivating Mammoth Marches On and subsequent sequences which first appeared in American Sunday Supplements between January 27th 1952 to April 12th 1953.

In the steaming jungle heat of French Indo-China the pilot is transporting famed Movie Director Grippman of Mammoth Studios, and his star attraction Cerise to the heart of the rain forest on a location-shoot is stricken with malaria. Forced to land at a Military field they make the fortuitous acquaintance of our hero and his friends Brandy and Blitz Martin; all currently without a plane of their own…

Also in tow are an entire film crew, assorted extras and a baby Elephant, all destined for a distant abandoned temple and village of unsuspecting natives. Short of cash and with nothing to do, Johnny lets himself be talked into taking the pilot’s place whilst wandering journalist Brandy agrees to act as the haughty Cerise’s stand-in and body double… to limit the star’s exposure to sun, insects and peasants…

Amidst all the drama and passion such events always generate, Johnny warily keeps aloof. The big scene involves an ancient idol for which Grippman has brought a fist-sized hunk of glass to replace the legendary lost diamond eye it boasted until white explorers first appeared a century ago…

When Cerise makes a play for Hazard and is rebuffed she storms into the temple and falls into a secret chamber, finding the genuine lost sparkler. In a fit of greedy pique she replaces the fake with the real thing…

The trained baby elephant Mammoth has seen it all and Cerise determines to get rid of the four-footed witness in an increasing dangerous series of arranged accidents…

Things come to head when the monsoon hits early and disaster strikes for the greedy starlet…

The strip then effortlessly segues into blistering criminal action with ‘The Hunted’ as Johnny ferries the film crew on to Tokyo where old pal Blitz buys a souvenir samurai sword from a street vendor. Of course nobody realised that the katana was a thousand year old relic most recently owned by Baron Takana: a big shot in the recent war and a fugitive war criminal ever since.

When the sword is stolen and a venerated historical expert murdered, suspicion rests equally on the elusive Takana and Hazard’s sexy femme fatale foe Baroness Flame, but as the hunt continues the drama escalates into full-blown crisis when the fugitive Baron is cornered and threatens to detonate a stolen atomic weapon…

The fabulous frantic fun and thrills conclude with ‘Scavengers’ as Johnny is asked by his old boss Lisbeth Manning to investigate a series of mysterious plane crashes and cargo thefts. With typical savvy Hazard deduces the method and tracks the gang of highly sophisticated bandits to a deadly confrontation in the jungles between Vietnam and Cambodia, before this stunning old-fashioned romp ends with the thieves in custody and the tantalising opening pages of the next mind-boggling yarn ‘Ceiling Zero-Minus’.

To be continued…

These exotic action romances perfectly capture the mood and magic of a distant but so incredibly familiar time; with cool heroes, hot dames and very wicked villains decorating captivating locales and stunning scenarios, all peppered with blistering tension, mature humour and visceral excitement.

Johnny Hazard is a brilliant two-fisted thriller strip and even if you can’t easily locate these fantastic full-colour chronicles, at least the prospect of an eventual new Sunday strip collection is a little closer at last…
© 1952-1953 King Features Syndicate. © 1979 Pacific C.C.