Valerian and Laureline book 2: The Empire of a Thousand Planets

By J.-C. Méziéres & P. Christin, with colours by E. Tranlé and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-087-0

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

Although to a large extent those venerable strips defined the medium itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie has seen some of Jean-Claude Méziéres & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the filmic phenomenon has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the look of the Millennium Falcon to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit -as this second volume powerfully proves in a stunning comparisons feature following after the magnificent adventure contained herein…

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

The groundbreaking series followed a Franco-Belgian mini-boom in fantasy fiction triggered by Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 creation Barbarella. Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent launched in the November 9th, 1967 edition of Pilote (#420) and was an instant hit. In combination with Greg & Eddy Paape’s Luc Orient and Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane, Valérian’s hot public reception led to the creation of dedicated adult graphic sci fi magazine Métal Hurlant in 1977.

Valérian and Laureline (as the series eventually became) is light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travelling, space-warping fantasy (a bit like Dr. Who, but not really at all…), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist action and political commentary, starring, in the beginning, an affable, capable, unimaginative and by-the-book cop tasked with protecting the official universal chronology and counteracting paradoxes caused by casual time-travellers.

When Valérian travelled to 11th century France in the initial tale ‘Les Mauvais Rêves (‘Bad Dreams’) he was rescued from doom by a fiery, capable young woman named Laureline whom he brought back to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative wonderland of Galaxity, capital of the Terran Empire. The indomitable lass trained as a Spatio-Temporal operative and began accompanying him on his missions.

Every subsequent Valérian adventure until the 13th was first serialised weekly in Pilote until the conclusion of ‘The Rage of Hypsis’ after which the mind-boggling sagas were only published as all-new complete graphic novels, until the whole spectacular saga resolved and ended in 2010.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comfortingly, yet unjustly familiar, this spectacular space-opera is fun-filled, action-packed, visually breathtaking and mind-bogglingly ingenious.  Drenched in wide-eyed fantasy wonderment, science fiction adventures have never been better than this.

© Dargaud Paris, 1971 Christin, Méziéres & Tran-Lệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2011 Cinebook Ltd.

The Hidden

By Richard Sala (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-160699-385-6

Richard Sala is a deserving Darling of the Literary Comics movement (if such a thing exists) blending beloved pop culture artefacts and conventions – particularly old horror films – with a soberly effective ability to tell a graphic tale.

He grew up in Chicago and Arizona before earning a Masters in Fine Arts, and after beginning a career as an illustrator rediscovered his love of comicbooks. The potentially metafictional self-published Night Drive in 1984 led to appearances in legendary 1980s anthologies Raw and Blab! and animated adaptations of the series on Liquid Television.

His work is welcomingly atmospheric, dryly ironic, wittily quirky and mordantly funny; indulgently celebrating childhood terrors, gangsters, bizarre events and manic mysteries, with girl sleuth Judy Drood and the glorious trenchant storybook investigator Peculia the most well known characters in his gratifyingly large back catalogue.

Sala’s art is a jolting joy to behold and has graced many outside-industry projects such as work with Lemony Snickett, the Resident and even – posthumously – Jack Kerouac; illustrating the author’s outrageous Doctor Sax and The Great World Snake.

His latest appetising shocker The Hidden returns to the seamy, scary underbelly of un-life with an enigmatic quest tale following the few “lucky” survivors who wake up one morning to discover civilisation has succumbed to an inexplicable global Armageddon, with no power, practically no people and ravening monsters roaming everywhere.

Trapped on in the fog on a mountain, Colleen and Tom emerge into the world of death and destruction before promptly fleeing back to the wilderness. As they run they find an amnesiac bum, who uncomprehendingly leads them to other young survivors with their own tale of terror, a place of sanctuary in the desert and the shocking true secret of the disaster…

Clever, compelling and staggeringly engaging, this fabulous full-colour hardback is a wonderfully nostalgic escape hatch back to those days when unruly children scared themselves silly under the bedcovers at night and will therefore make an ideal gift for the big kid in your life – whether he/she’s just you, imaginary or even relatively real…

© 2011 Richard Sala. All rights reserved.

Twin Spica volume 8

By Kou Yaginuma (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-13-1

The hungry fascination, hopeful imagination and cocksure anticipation of space travel which was an integral component of post-World War II society is the driving narrative engine for this inspiring manga epic from Kou Yaginuma, who first began capturing hearts and minds with his poignant short story ‘2015 Nen no Uchiage Hanabi’ (‘2015: Fireworks’), published in Gekkan Comics Flapper magazine, June 2000).

The author happily expanded and enhanced the subject, themes and characters into a major narrative epic combining hard science and humanist fiction with lyrical mysticism and traditional tales of school-days and growing up.

To recap: diminutive teenager Asumi Kamogawa has always dreamed of going into space. From her earliest moments the lonely child gazed up at the stars with her imaginary friend Mr. Lion, especially at the twinkling glow of Virgo and the alluring binary star Spica. An isolated, serious girl, she lived with her father, a common labourer who once worked for the consortium which built the rockets for Japan’s Space Program.

In 2010, when Asumi was a year old, the first Japanese space-launch ended in utter catastrophe when rocket-ship Shishigō (“The Lion”), exploded: crashing to earth on the city of Yuigahama. Hundreds were killed and many more injured, including Asumi’s mother. Maimed and comatose, the matron took years to die. The shock crushed her grieving husband and utterly traumatised infant Asumi.

In response to the disaster, Japan set up an Astronautics and Space Sciences Acadamy. After years of struggle, in 2024 Asumi was accepted to the Tokyo National Space School and slowly began making real friends like Shinnosuke Fuchuya (who used to bully her as child in Yuigahama), jolly Kei Oumi, chilly Marika Ukita and spooky, ultra-cool style-icon and fashion victim Shu Suzuki. Every day Asumi moved closer to her unshakable dream of going to the stars.

Small, physically weak and very poor, Asumi endures and triumphs. She still talks with Mr. Lion… who might be the ghost of an astronaut who died on the Shishigō

The individual stories are broken up into “Missions” and this particularly tender and thoughtful eighth volume begins with #39 as the still somewhat aloof Asumi undertakes a devout daily personal ritual – absorbing the wonder of the Heavens at the local Planetarium. Times are changing, however and the venerable old edifice is about to close forever, a victim of economic cuts and dwindling public interest…

Later she rejoins classmates Oumi and Ukita on the school roof for more stargazing. Excitement rises when they think they might have discovered a new supernova…

Mission: 40 concentrates on the rapidly approaching end of semester and exams. Oumi is ill and might not pass, whilst enigmatic Shu reveals yet another hidden talent after being given the shocking news that he is confidentially considered for participation in an American Shuttle mission. Meanwhile, Christmas is coming and Asumi is inexplicably growing closer to a shy and extremely diffident boy from the local orphanage, just when she can least afford distractions. With her workload and part-time job she hardly has time to think as it is…

Mission: 41 continues her concentration-busting whilst we learn some tragic secrets regarding the abusive home life of Mr. Perfect Shu Suzuki and the other girls begin to notice physical evidence of her “imaginary friend”. When the orphan boy reveals he is leaving Japan, Asumi has to make a choice between her current emotions and her life’s dream and it takes a dramatic intervention by rival and “frenemy” Fuchuya to set her straight on what she really needs in the truly heartbreaking Mission: 42

The orphan boy’s history and astonishing secret is examined in #43 whilst #44 amps up the school pressure and the conflicted Fuchuya recalls an pivotal moment when his fireworks-maker grandfather sparked his own interest in the stars – and Asumi…

The offer to send a Japanese astronaut up with the US shuttle becomes public in Mission: 45 and a fierce competition for the single placement ensues counter-pointed by more agonising reminiscences from Shu and the main storyline concludes in #46 as the previously isolated Asumi realises her life is changing and she has friends she might soon lose…

The going is getting tougher and now that they are all nearing the end of their training, it becomes increasingly, painfully clear to the determined students that the bonds so painstakingly forged are on the verge of being severed. After only one more year, final selections will be made and most of the class will fail and vanish from each other’s lives. A countdown clock is ticking…

Also included here a couple of ancillary tales: ‘Giovanni’s Ticket’ returns to the early years following the Shishigō crash and explores Asumi and Fuchuya’s formative relationship whilst the poignant ‘Guide to Cherry Blossoms’ follows the path to love and examines roads not taken by Kasumi Suzuki (presumably Shu’s tragic other if the dates hidden in the art work are anything to go by) during the highly symbolic spring festival.

The book ends with a wistfully autobiographical ‘Another Spica’ vignette from author Yaginuma’s days as a part-time server on a soft-drink stand in a theme park; one more charming insight into creative minds and unrequited passions…

These deeply moving marvels originally appeared in 2005 as Futatsu no Supika 8 and 9 in the Seinen manga magazine Gekkan Comics Flapper, targeted at male readers aged 18-30, but this ongoing, unfolding beguiling saga is perfect for any older kid with stars in their eyes…

Twin Spica ran from September 2001-August 2009: sixteen volumes tracing the trajectories of Asumi and friends from callow students to competent astronauts and the series has spawned both anime and live action TV series.

This delightful serial has everything: plenty of hard science to back up the informed extrapolation, an engaging cast, mystery and frustrated passion, alienation, angst and true friendships; all welded seamlessly into a joyous coming-of-age drama with supernatural overtones and masses of sheer sentiment.

Hopefully rekindling the irresistible allure of the Final Frontier for the next generation (and the last ones too) Twin Spica is quite simply the best…

These books are printed in the Japanese right to left, back to front format.
© 2011 by Kou Yaginuma/MEDIA FACTORY Inc. Translation © 2011 Vertical, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Robin the Boy Wonder

By Gardner Fox, Mike Friedrich, Frank Robbins, Gil Kane, Irv Novick, Dick Dillin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-814-0

Robin the Boy Wonder debuted in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940), created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger & Jerry Robinson: a juvenile circus acrobat whose parents were murdered by a mob boss. The story of how Batman took the orphaned Dick Grayson under his scalloped wing and trained him to fight crime has been told, retold and revised many times over the decades and still regularly undergoes tweaking to this day.

Grayson fought beside Batman until 1970 when, as an indicator of those turbulent times, he flew the nest, becoming a Teen Wonder college student. His creation as a junior hero for younger readers to identify with has inspired an incomprehensible number of costumed sidekicks and kid crusaders, and Grayson continued in similar innovative vein for the older, more worldly-wise readership of America’s increasingly rebellious youth culture.

Robin even had his own solo series in Star Spangled Comics from 1947 to 1952, a solo spot in the back of Detective Comics from the end of the 1960s wherein he alternated and shared with Batgirl, and a starring feature in the anthology comic Batman Family. During the 1980s he led the New Teen Titans first in his original costumed identity but eventually in the reinvented guise of Nightwing, re-establishing a turbulent working relationship with his mentor Batman.

This broad ranging black and white compilation volume covers the period from Julie Schwartz’s captivating reinvigoration of the Dynamic Duo in 1964 until 1975 with Robin-related stories and material from Batman #184, 192, 202, 213, 227, 229-231, 234-236, 239-242, 244-246, 248-250, 252, 254 and portions of 217, Detective Comics #342, 386, 390-391, 394-395, 398-403, 445, 447, 450-251, Worlds Finest Comics #141, 147, 195, 200, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #91, 111, 130 and Justice League of America #91-92.

The wonderment begins with the lead story from Batman #213 (July-August 1969) – a 30th Anniversary reprint Giant – which featured an all-new retelling of ‘The Origin of Robin’ courtesy of E. Nelson Bridwell, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, which perfectly reinterpreted that epochal event for the Vietnam generation. After that the tales proceed in (more or less) chronological order, covering episodes where Robin took centre-stage.

First up is ‘The Olsen-Robin Team versus “the Superman-Batman Team!”’ (World’s Finest #141 May 1964). In this stirring blend of science fiction thriller and crime caper, the underappreciated sidekicks fake their own deaths and undertake a secret mission even their adult partners must remain unaware of… for the very best of reasons of course, whilst the sequel from WF #147 (February 1965, Hamilton, Swan & Klein) delivers an engaging drama of youth-in-revolt as ‘The New Terrific Team!’ quit their assistant roles to strike out on their disgruntled own. Naturally there’s a perfectly reasonable if incredible reason here, too…

Detective Comics #342 (August 1965) featured ‘The Midnight Raid of the Robin Gang!’ by John Broome, Sheldon Moldoff & Joe Giella, wherein the Boy Wonder infiltrated a youthful gang of costumed criminals whilst Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #91 (March 1966) provided ‘The Dragon Delinquent!’ (Leo Dorfman & Pete Costanza) which saw Robin and the cub reporter both, unknown to each other, infiltrate the same biker gang with potentially fatal consequences.

‘The Boy Wonder’s Boo-Boo Patrol!’ originally appeared as a back-up in Batman #184 (September 1966 by Fox, Chic Stone & Sid Greene), showing the daring lad’s star-potential in a clever tale of thespian skulduggery and classy conundrum solving, whilst ‘Dick Grayson’s Secret Guardian!’ from Batman #192 (June 1967: Fox, Sheldon Moldoff & Joe Giella) displayed his physical prowess in one of comicbooks’ first instances of the now over-used exo-skeletal augmentation gimmick.

‘Jimmy Olsen, Boy Wonder!’ (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #111, June 1968, by Cary Bates & Costanza) saw the reporter try to prove his covert skills by convincing the Gotham Guardian that he was actually Robin whilst that same month in Batman #203 the genuine article tackled the ‘Menace of the Motorcycle Marauders!’ (by Mike Friedrich, Stone & Giella) consequently learning a salutary lesson in the price of responsibility…

Cover-dated April 1969, Detective Comics #386 featured the Boy Wonder’s first solo back-up in what was to become his semi-regular home-spot, alternating with Batgirl. ‘The Teen-Age Gap!’ (Friedrich, Andru & Esposito) depicted a High School Barn Dance which only narrowly escaped becoming a riot thanks to his diligent intervention, but when Gil Kane & Murphy Anderson took over the art-chores for #390’s ‘Countdown to Chaos!’ (August 1969), the series came stunningly alive. Friedrich concocted a canny tale of corruption and kidnapping leading to a paralysing city ‘Strike!’ for the lad to spectacularly expose and foil in the following issue.

Batman #217 (December 1969) was a shattering landmark in the character’s long history as Dick Grayson left home to attend Hudson University. Only the pertinent portion from ‘One Bullet Too Many!’ by Frank Robbins, Irv Norvick & Dick Giordano is included here, closely followed by ‘Strike… Whilst the Campus is Hot’ (Detective #394 from the same month, by Robbins, Kane & Anderson) as the callow Freshman stumbled into a campus riot organised by criminals and radical activists which forced the now Teen Wonder to ‘Drop Out… or Drop Dead!’ before stopping the seditious scheme…

Detective Comics #398-399 (April and May 1970) featured a two-part spy-thriller where Vince Colletta replaced Anderson as inker. ‘Moon-Struck’ saw lunar rock samples borrowed from NASA apparently cause a plague among Hudson’s students until Robin exposed a Soviet scheme to sabotage the Space Program in ‘Panic by Moonglow’.

The 400th anniversary issue (June 1970) finally teamed the Teen Wonder with his alternating back-up star in ‘A Burial For Batgirl!’(Denny O’Neil, Kane & Colletta): a college-based murder mystery which once more heavily referenced the political and social unrest then plaguing US campuses, but which still found space to be smart and action-packed as well as topical before the chilling conclusion ‘Midnight is the Dying Hour!’ wrapped up the saga.

Never afraid to repeat a good idea, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #130 (July 1970) saw Bob Haney & Murphy Anderson detail the exploits of ‘Olsen the Teen Wonder!’ as the boy reporter again aped Batman’s buddy to infiltrate an underworld newspaper whilst World’s Finest #195 (August 1970) found Jimmy & Robin targeted for murder by the Mafia in ‘Dig Now, Die Later!’ by Haney, Andru & Esposito.

Simultaneously in Detective #402, ‘My Place in the Sun’ by Friedrich, Kane & Colletta, embroiled Dick Grayson and fellow Teen Titan Roy “Speedy” Harper in a crisis of social conscience, before our scarce-bearded hero wrapped up his first Detective run with the corking crime-busting caper ‘Break-Out’ in the September issue.

Robin’s further adventures transferred to the back of Batman, beginning with #227 (December 1970) and ‘Help Me – I Think I’m Dead!’ (Friedrich, Novick & Esposito) as ecological awareness and penny-pinching Big Business catastrophically collided on the campus, beginning an extended epic which saw the Teen Thunderbolt explore communes, alternative cultures and the burgeoning spiritual New Age fads of the day.

‘Temperature Boiling… and Rising!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia from #229, February 1971) continued the politically charged drama which is uncomfortably interrupted by a trenchant fantasy team-up with Superman sparked when the Man of Steel attempted to halt a violent campus clash between students and National Guard.

‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ (World’s Finest #2000 February 1971, by Friedrich, Dick Dillin & Giella) featured brothers on the opposite side of the teen scene kidnapped with Robin and Superman to a distant planet where undying vampiric aliens waged eternal war on each other, before returning to more pedestrian perils in Batman #230 (March 1971) where ‘Danger Comes A-Looking!’ for our young hero in the form of a gang of right-wing, anti-protester jocks and a deluded friend who preferred bombs to brotherhood, courtesy of Friedrich, Novick & Dick Giordano.

‘Wiped Out!’ (#231, May 1971) produced an eye-popping end to the jock gang whilst #234 offered a clever road-trip tale in ‘Vengeance for a Cop!’ when a campus guard was gunned down and Robin tracked the only suspect to a commune. ‘The Outcast Society’ had its own unique system of justice but eventually the shooter was apprehended in the cataclysmic ‘Rain Fire!’ (#235 and 236 respectively).

The Collective experience blossomed into psychedelic and psionic strangeness in Batman #239 as ‘Soul-Pit’ (illustrated by new penciller Rich Buckler) found Dick Grayson’s would be girlfriend, Jesus-freaks and runaway kids all sucked into a telepathic duel between a father and son, played out in the ‘Theatre of the Mind!’ before revealing the ‘Secret of the Psychic Siren!’ culminating in a lethal clash with a clandestine cult in ‘Death-Point!’ in Batman #242 (June 1972).

After that eerie epic we slip back a year to peruse the Teen Wonder’s participation in one of the hallowed JLA/JSA summer team-ups beginning with Justice League of America #91 (August 1971) and ‘Earth… the Monster-Maker!’ as the Supermen, Flashes, Green Lanterns, Atoms and a brace of Hawkmen from two separate Realities simultaneously and ineffectually battled an alien boy and his symbiotically-linked dog (sort of) on almost identical planets a universe apart, whilst painfully patronising the Robins of both until ‘Solomon Grundy… the One and Only!’ gave everybody a brutal but ultimately life-saving lesson on acceptance, togetherness, youthful optimism and lateral thinking.

‘The Teen-Age Trap!’ by Elliot Maggin, Novick & Giordano (Batman #244, September 1972) found Dick Grayson mentoring troubled kids – and finding plenty of troublemakers his own age – whilst ‘Who Stole the Gift From Nowhere!’ was a delightful old fashioned change-of-pace mystery yarn.

‘How Many Ways Can a Robin Die?’ by Robbins, Novick Dillin & Giordano from Batman #246 (December 1972) is actually a Dark Knight story with the Teen Wonder reduced to helpless hostage throughout, but issue #248 began another run of short solo stories with ‘The Immortals of Usen Castle’ (Maggin, Novick & Frank McLaughlin) wherein a deprived-kids day trip turned into an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where are You?, whilst the ‘Case of the Kidnapped Crusader!’ (pencilled by Bob Brown) put the Student Centurion on the trail of an abducted consumer advocate and ‘Return of the Flying Grayson!’ by Maggin, Novick & McLaughlin from #250 painfully reminded the hero of his Circus past after tracking down pop-art thieves.

Batman #252 (October 1973) featured a light-hearted pairing with a Danny Kaye pastiche in the charming romp ‘The King From Canarsie!’ by Maggin, Dillin & Giordano, whilst ‘The Phenomenal Memory of Luke Graham!’ (#254 January/February 1974 and inked by Murphy Anderson) caused nothing but trouble for Robin, college professors and a gang of robbers…

It was a year before the Teen Wonder’s solo sallies resumed with ‘The Touchdown Trap’ in Detective Comics #445 as new scripter Bob Rozakis and guest artist Mike Grell catapulted our hero into a fifty-year old college football feud that refused to die, whilst ‘The Puzzle of the Pyramids’ (#447 illustrated by A. Martinez & Mazzaroli) offered another clever crime mystery.

This magically eclectic monochrome compendium concludes with an action-packed human drama in ‘The Parking Lot Bandit!’ and ‘The Parking Lot Bandit Strikes Again!’ from Detective #450-451, (August and September 1975, drawn by art from Al Milgrom & Terry Austin).

These stories span a turbulent and chaotic period for comicbooks: perfectly encapsulating and describing the vicissitudes of the superhero genre’s premier juvenile lead: complex yet uncomplicated adventures drenched in charm and wit, moody tales of rebellion and self-discovery and rollercoaster, all-fun romps. Action is always paramount and angst-free satisfaction is pretty much guaranteed. This book of cracking yarns something no fan of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction can afford to miss.

© 1964-1975, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Beast is Dead: World War II Among the Animals

By Edmond-François Calvo, Victor Dancette & Jacques Zimmerman (Abi Melzer Productions)

In Acknowledgement of the upcoming Comics in Conflict event at the Imperial War Museum this weekend – see our Noticeboard for details – I’m going to be reviewing a few intriguing and hopefully pertinent classics beginning with this tragically neglected cartoon masterpiece

As the European phase of World War II staggered to its bloody and inevitable conclusion, the enslaved nations began to reclaim their homelands and 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 (26/8/1892-11/10/1958) 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 war-effort secret weapon.

He latterly 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 fairytale adaptations for 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 material was produced under the stern scrutiny of the all-conquering censors – much like his comics contemporary Hergé in Belgium – but Calvo also found time to produce something far less anodyne 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 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 clearly decided to move on with their lives…

The story is related in epic full-page painted spreads and captivating, luscious strip instalments and the smooth, slick glamour of Disney’s production style was co-opted to deliver 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 Dutch edition; a dedication from Uderzo and a monochrome selection of Calvo’s wartime and post-war cartoons.

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 and since an animated film adaptation was begun in 2005, hopefully there’s a new edition in the works too.
© 1944-1945 Éditions G.P. © 1977 Éditions Futuropolis. © 1984 Abi Melzer Productions.


By Mark Shultz (Flesk)
ISBN: 978-1-933865-31-7

Some things just are cool.

Perfect unto themselves and intrinsically, inexplicably, indefinably just right in any milieu and venue. Thus in 1986 when Mark Shultz wrote and drew the EC comics inspired pastiche/homage ‘Xenozoic!’ for Kitchen Sink’s fantasy anthology Death Rattle, his solid blend of pulp fiction, fifties automobile chic and honking great saurians hit an instantly addictive chord with the comics buying public.

Xenozoic Tales the series debuted early in 1987 and ran until 1989: 14 sporadic, magical issues which spawned an animated television series, assorted arcade, video and role-playing games, trading cards, action figures, candy bars and a succession of reprints (comics and graphic novel collections) from Kitchen Sink, Marvel and Dark Horse – although mostly under its alternative title Cadillacs and Dinosaurs.

Flesk Publications specialises in art books and the lavish tomes they produce are dedicated to the greats of our industry, with volumes on sequential narrative and fantasy illustration starring Steve Rude, Al Williamson, James Bama, Gary Gianni, Franklin Booth, William Stout and Joseph Clement Coll.

This oversized (279 x 216mm) 352-page softcover monochrome collection re-presents all the stories (excluding a few side-bar stories by sometimes inker and collaborator Steve Stiles) in one luxuriously exuberant and staggeringly compelling compilation and even finds a little room for some extra sketches and unused drawings.

A thousand years from now Earth is slowly recovering from a shattering disaster which devastated the planet and sent mankind scuttling into deep subterranean shelters for centuries. Now humans are reduced to isolated pockets of tribal civilisation eking out a precarious existence in enclaves cobbled together from equal parts recovered remnant technology, renewable natural resources and sheer ingenuity.

In the thousand years since the fall, beasts from many disparate eras – from dragonflies to dinosaurs, trilobites to sabretooth tigers – have all re-established themselves in the tenuous yet expansive ecology. Historian/engineer/shamans called the Old Blood have, for centuries, advocated a doctrine of natural balance; helping mankind progress and thrive in harmony with the environment, but now the species’ old habits of greed, waste and ruthless exploitation are becoming dominant again in too many ambitious tribal leaders…

Following a foreword from creator Mark Schultz and an effusive introduction from animator Craig Elliot there’s a lovely descriptive character epigram of ‘Jack and Hannah’ to contemplate, after which the much-recycled but always excellent adventures commence with ‘An Archipelago of Stone’ as, in sparkling tribute to the work of Wally Wood, Joe Orlando and Jack Davis, the once magnificent pre-Cataclysm metropolis now known as the City in the Sea gets word of an ambassador from the far off tribe of Wassoon.

The formidable Hannah Dundee has sailed north to cement friendly relations with the Sea City dwellers, exchange knowledge and ask the governors to rein in Jack “Cadillac” Tenrec: Old Blood nature shaman, brilliant engineer, miraculous mechanic, ancient auto aficionado and the tribe’s top hunter. The problem is that Tenrec hunts poachers and he’s so good at it that the criminals are steadily drifting into Wassoon territory to escape his lethal attentions…

In this packed 12-page tale all this information is cleverly imparted as some of those poachers try to murder the Ambassador before she can even present her credentials, but the formidable Cadillac Jack is, as usual one step ahead of everybody…

‘The Opportunists’ gives Hannah a chance to display her own capabilities as she promptly solves a long-standing problem of her host’s fishing fleet with the help of keen observation, a weedy scholar named Remfro and a brace of scavenging Zekes (pteranodons), after which ‘Law of the Land’ returns focus to Tenrec as the wrench-jockey and big-game hunter leads a relief column to an outlying mine project and discovers an incorrigible poacher in his team.

Slaughtering dinos for spurious yet valuable medical “cures” is phenomenally profitable, so Jack’s lethal treatments are always carried out with a long-term view of deterring other greedy potential criminals too…

On reaching the mine, ‘Rogue’ (inked by Steve Stiles) concentrates on a crazed man-eating Shivat, which Jack and the ever-present, too-inquisitive Ambassador are forced to put down. Of course there’s a reason why the T-Rex is bothering with human prey, and once more Tenrec gets to teach a poacher a salutary final lesson. Next that debut tale from Death Rattle is marginally remodelled and neatly slotted in as ‘Xenozoic!’ follows Tenrec’s troop into a deep swamp in search of a missing scientific expedition. The hideous fate of Dr. Fessenden and his team gives the first clue to the impossible ecology of the post-Cataclysm world…

Initially unwelcome Hannah Dundee was growing on Jack, which explains why – against his better judgement – the hunter complies with her insane attempt to domesticate a mastodon in ‘Mammoth Pitfall!’ – a task made even harder by a poacher seeking to murder them and steal his “overlander” (a rebuilt, customised, guano-powered Cadillac).

‘The Rules of the Game’ (Stiles inks) finds Jack and Hannah still waiting for the mammoth to get bored (like elephants, they’re easily riled and never forget), affording us a glimpse as the engineer’s adored horde of retrieved, restored automobiles, but when he shows off his driving skills they are caught in a flash-flood and treated to another example of the mysterious forces which bind the new world together…

Shultz’s art had been constantly evolving and by the time of ‘Benefactor’ – the first full-length adventure – the more subtle, humanistic influences of Al Williamson, Angelo Torres and Frank Frazetta were informing every page. This was particularly effective in this tale of political intrigue wherein the increasingly trusted Hannah is introduced to the clandestine ancient race that has helped Old Blood shamans steer humanity away from their self-destructive course, but regrettably those urges aren’t extinguished yet and one of the City Governors follows, intent on assassinating the man who is increasing stalling human “Progress”…

The true reason for Dundee’s mission is disclosed in ‘History Lesson’ when Jack takes her to The Library; a vast, partially flooded subterranean vault filled not only with lost books but also pre-Cataclysm technology. However, trouble is brewing and Scharnhorst, leader of the “moles” who excavate and guard the finds, has discovered a deadly ancient weapon and is planning to make a play for supreme power…

Thinking the crisis over Jack and Hannah go on a fishing ‘Excursion’ but after learning the history of the Wassoon tribe Jack stumbles into a far deadlier catch than he anticipated. In ‘Foundling’ Hannah solves the mystery of a baby missing for a decade and discovers more about the mysterious Grith who secretly shepherd the planet whilst ‘Green Air’ sees aviation addict Remfro attempt the first manned flight in a millennium after which ‘The Growing Pool’ gives more clues to the nature of the Xenozoic Age when an ancient, artificial gene soup is discovered, only to escape into a lake and trigger a fantastic explosion of raw evolutionary insanity…

As guardian of the eco-system Jack had tried to destroy the burgeoning life-lab but was betrayed and knocked out by those closest to him. ‘In the Dreamtime…’ finds him recovering from his wounds, when city Governor Dahlgren turns up with a warning and a mission. Heading out to a road-building project that’s gone quiet Tenrec and Hannah stumble into a macabre and deadly extinction event which almost ends their lives too, before ‘Last Link In the Chain’ sees Scharnhorst make her grab for power; attempting to assassinate Jack whilst taking control of the City Governors.

Tenrec’s precious balance of nature is keeping man down and she intends to restore humanity’s rightful place as ‘Lords of the Earth’. Wounded, discredited and on the run Jack leaves the City in the Sea as civil war is about to erupt and is forced to journey with Hannah to Wassoon, where he will swiftly discover that her people might be even worse.

Is it simply impossible for humanity to live in harmony with everything else on the planet…?

As they flee south Jack and Hannah wash up on a deadly island paradise where bugs and seagoing invertebrates have evolved to fill every ecological niche – including top-predator – in ‘Primeval’. On reaching Wassoon ‘Two Cities’ introduces Tenrec to truly Byzantine and Machiavellian politicking as various factions seek to exploit his knowledge and worth, just as Scharnhorst’s Sea Wolves arrive, demanding his arrest and return. They leave with a corpse, but it isn’t Jack’s…

He isn’t without friends however. Hannah’s old Nanny is high in the Old Blood hierarchy and in direct contact with the Grith, enabling Jack to turn the tables and make a few new allies in ‘Dangerous Grounds’ before this unfinished symphony of pulp wonderment concludes (hopefully temporarily) in ‘Another Swarm’ as an unlikely alliance is formed when the Grith reveal the true powers who run the Earth and dinosaur shaman Jack Tenrec prepared to return to the city that disavowed him…

Blockbusting in scope, magnificently fanciful and beautifully rendered, Xenozoic is the ideal everyman graphic novel: a perfect example of exciting, engaging classical comics storytelling that should be on everyone’s “must read” list.

© 2011 Mark Schultz. All Rights Reserved.

Twin Spica volume 7

By Kou Yaginuma, translated by Maya Rosewood (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-12-4

The yearning, imagination and anticipation of space travel, such a critical component of post-World War II society, is paramount to this inspiring manga series from Kou Yaginuma, who first captured the hearts and minds of the public with his poignant short story ‘2015 Nen no Uchiage Hanabi’ (‘2015: Fireworks’, published in Gekkan Comics Flapper magazine, June 2000).

Since then he has expanded and enhanced the subject, themes and characters into a major epic combining hard science and humanist fiction with lyrical mysticism and traditional tales of school-days and growing up.

2024AD: teenaged Asumi Kamogawa has always dreamed of going into space. From her earliest moments the lonely child gazed up at the stars with her imaginary friend Mr. Lion, especially at the twinkling glow of Virgo and the alluring binary star Spica. An isolated, serious child, she lived with her father, a common labourer who once worked for the consortium which built the rockets for Japan’s Space Program.

In 2010, when Asumi was a year old, the first Japanese launch ended in utter catastrophe when rocket-ship Shishigō (“The Lion”), exploded: crashing to earth in the city of Yuigahama. Hundreds were killed and many more injured, including Asumi’s mother. Maimed and comatose, the matron took years to die. The shock crushed her grieving husband and utterly traumatised infant Asumi.

In response to the disaster Japan set up an astronautics and space sciences training facilty and after years of struggle Asumi was accepted by the Tokyo National Space School. Slowly making friends like Shinnosuke Fuchuya (who used to bully her as child), jolly Kei Oumi, chilly Marika Ukita and spooky, ultra-cool style-icon and fashion victim Shu Suzuki, she daily moved closer to her unshakable dream of going to the stars.

Against all odds – she is small, physically weak and very poor – Asumi endures. She still talks with Mr. Lion, who might be the ghost of an astronaut who died on the Shishigō

I blinked and somehow missed a couple of volumes of this supremely moving saga, so by way of experiment I’m reviewing this seventh book without knowing all that’s recently occurred, and I’m delighted to announce that there’s been progress but not enough to confuse new or lax readers…

The story begins as the still quite formal classmates join Asumi on a vacation to her childhood home in Yuigahama and uncover a mystery about standoffish Marika, who has discovered an unsuspected connection to the rebuilt city. She is doubly plagued by an illness she hides from her comrades and teachers as well as phantom memories which increasingly draw her to a secluded shrine dedicated to the disaster.

When Marika succumbs to her inner torment and wanders away to find the isolated commemoration she becomes dangerously lost and Asumi, pushed by her own ghosts, tracks her down just in time…

As they wait together to be found, deeper bonds are forged, some secrets are revealed and we are afforded a glimpse into the events prior to and just following the crash of the Shishigō. It becomes clear that both girls are afflicted with the same unquenchable need to escape the Earth…

Asumi’s father Tomoro Kamogawa is a no fan of the space program, having lost his wife, his engineering job and his pride to the race for space. In the wake of the catastrophe he was assigned by his bosses at the corporation who built the ship to lead the reparations committee.

Guilt-wracked and himself bereaved, the devastated widower had to visit and apologize to each and every survivor and victim’s grieving family. He raised his daughter alone, working two and often three menial jobs at a time for over a decade.

Now, his old engineering colleague Takahito Sano is one of Asumi’s Professors at the Space School and the men’s previous history and relationship is revealed. A possible cause of the crash is mooted as the five astronaut trainees bond in an atmosphere of unravelling secrets and too many persistent ghosts and memories…

The second half of the book concentrates on the students’ return to school and their next semester of training. Asumi has struck up a more than casual relationship with a boy in a park. He volunteers at a hospice and is trying to learn the harmonica so that he can play to an old woman with dementia. He reminds Asumi of a sickly High-school friend named Shimazu…

Diffidently bonding, the boy tells her of a Sunday concert he’s playing at a week hence and she promises to be there…

Meanwhile at school the latest test of strength, ingenuity and fortitude finds the class divided into teams and transported to a decommissioned prison. Their task: to break free within seven days. Asumi convinces the teachers to drive them back to the city early if they all finish the task before Sunday…

However, even with things working her way there’s a hitch and only terse, unpredictable Fuchuya can help the girl he spends so much time studiously annoying and ignoring – if he can be bothered…

This volume also contains two more bittersweet autobiographical ‘Another Spica’ vignettes from author Yaginuma’s days as a part-time server on a soft-drink stand in a theme park; both delightfully painful accounts of amorous timidity, deep yearning, over-thinking and unrequited young love

All these gloriously heady confections initially appeared in 2004-2005as Futatsu no Supika 7 and 8 in the Seinen manga publication Gekkan Comics Flapper, targeted at male readers aged 18-30, but this ongoing, unfolding beguiling saga is perfect for any older kid with stars in their eyes…

Twin Spica ran for eight enchanting years (September 2001-August 2009): sixteen volumes tracing the orbits of Asumi and her friends from callow students to competent astronauts and the series has spawned both anime and live action TV series.

This delightful serial has everything: plenty of hard science to back up the savvy extrapolation, an ever-more engaging cast, enduring mystery, tender moments, isolation and teen angst and true friendships; all wrapped up in a joyous coming-of-age drama with supernatural overtones and masses of sheer sentiment.

Utterly defining the siren call of the Starry Reaches for a new generation (and the older ones too) Twin Spica is quite simply too good  to miss…

These books are printed in the Japanese right to left, back to front format.

© 2011 by Kou Yaginuma/Media Factory. Translation © 2011 Vertical, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Fat Ninja (GMC Collections Volume 1 #3)

By Gary Amaro, Kris Silver & various (Greater Mercury Comics)

The late 1980s were an incredibly fertile time for American comics-creators. It was as if an entire new industry had been born with the sudden expansion of the Direct Sales market and 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 and truly, actual art-form…

Consequently many starry-eyed kids and young start-up companies began competing for the attention and cash of punters who had grown accustomed – or resigned – to getting their sequential narratives 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, Vortex, Capital, Now, Slave Labor, 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. Often utterly superb and innovative material came from the same shoestring outfits generating the worst dreck imaginable and the only way to get in on the next big thing – or better yet – something actually good was to get out and try it…

It really helped if you worked in a comic shop and got first pick before the customers arrived too…

One of the least well-known yet most fun was an unassuming spoof series entitled Fat Ninja which came out of a prolific little outfit calling itself Greater Mercury Comics from August to December 1986. The serial never completed its initial storyline, but that didn’t stop the creators Kristoffer Silver and Gary Amaro collecting the saga thus far into a daft and nifty little trade paperback that still makes me laugh decades later…

Delightfully lampooning the 1980s oriental assassin craze; the ubiquitously dark and ponderous Frank Miller Daredevil (and Wolverine) comics so successfully mined by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the groundbreaking economical graphic bravura of Dave Sim’s incredible Cerebus the Aardvark, this asinine adventure begins the unfinished epic of ‘The Galactic Refrigerator’ as a chunky, katana-wielding, preternaturally hungry silent warrior discovers to his mute horror that someone has unplugged the celestial artefact which provided the raw material for food across the universe.

Appalled and a bit peckish, the sturdy stalwart undertakes an unbelievably violent quest to restore balance and provisions to the world, encountering supernatural warriors Shadow and Flair in ‘Between Light and Darkness’ and follows them back to their immediate superior the Crimson Ninja in ‘Confrontations’. Fat Ninja then traces, via teleporting phone-booth, the reality bending culprit “Sir” to his extraordinary lair in ‘Master Evil’, from where the deadly dictator took the corpulent crusader on a quick tour of the cosmos and gave him a little philosophical testing before once more resorting to gratuitous violence in ‘Shadowplay’

I fear we shall never learn ‘The Secret of the Hacksword’ since the series and this collection end there…

Raw, unrefined, even badly drawn in places Fat Ninja (with additional contributions from P.S. King, Emilio Soltero & Amy Amaro) is nevertheless carried along by its brash, and naively hilarious premise and decidedly likable portly protagonist, and the mere fact that I’m recommending it even though there’s no conclusion should give you some idea of just how amusing this lost oddment actually is.

A genuine original and well worth picking up if the fickle, ill-fed fates ever send a copy your way…
Fat Ninja © 19985-19986 Kristoffer A. Silver. This edition © 1990 Greater Mercury Comics. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents The War that Time Forgot

By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1253-7

The War that Time Forgot debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90 (April-May 1960) and ran until #137 (May 1968) skipping only three issues: #91, 93 and #126 (the last of which starred the United States Marine Corps simian Sergeant Gorilla – look it up: I’m neither kidding nor being metaphorical…) and this stunningly bizarre black and white compendium contains the monstrously madcap material from #90, 92, 94-125 and 127-128.

Simply too good a concept to leave alone, this seamless, shameless blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caprona stories (known alternatively as the Caspak Trilogy or “the Land That Time Forgot”) provided everything baby-boomer boys could dream of: giant lizards, humongous insects, fantastic adventures and two-fisted heroes with lots of guns…

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics, horror stories, superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman and others genres too numerous to cover here. He scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen AKA the Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the World in 1956.

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel. In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and Lady Cop, plus memorable villainesses Harlequin and Rose and Thorn. This last he reconstructed, during the relevancy era of the early 1970s, into a schizophrenic crime-busting super-heroine.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Amy at War. He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

Among his many epochal war series were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, the Haunted Tank and The Losers as well as the visually addictive, irresistibly astonishing “Dogfaces and Dinosaurs” dramas depicted here. Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and I suspect that he used this uncanny but formulaic adventure arena as a personal tryout venue for his many series concepts. The Flying Boots, G.I. Robot, Suicide Squad and many other teams and characters first appeared in this lush Pacific hellhole with wall-to-wall danger. Indisputably the big beasts were the stars but occasionally ordinary G.I .Joes made enough of an impression to secure return engagements, too…

The wonderment commenced in Star Spangled War Stories #90 as paratroops and tanks of “Question Mark Patrol” were dropped on Mystery Island from whence no American soldiers have ever returned. The crack warriors discovered why when the operation was plagued by Pterosaurs, Tyrannosaurs and worse on the ‘Island of Armoured Giants!’, all superbly rendered by veteran art team Ross Andru & Mike Esposito. Larry and Charlie, the sole survivors of that first foray, returned to the lost world in #92’s ‘Last Battle of the Dinosaur Age!’ when aquatic beasts attacked their rescue submarine forcing them back to the lethal landmass…

‘The Frogman and the Dinosaur!’ took up most of SSWS #94 as a squad of second-rate Underwater Demolitions Team divers were trapped on the island encountering the usual bevy of blockbuster brutes and a colossal crab as well. What started out as Paratroopers versus Pterodactyls in #95 turned into a deadly turf-war in ‘Guinea Pig Patrol!’ whilst ‘Mission X!’ introduced the Task Force X/Suicide Squad in a terse infiltration story as the increasing eager US military strove to set up a base on the strategically crucial monster island.

The Navy took the lead in #97’s ‘The Sub-Crusher!’ with equally dire results when a giant gorilla joined the regular cast of horrors, whilst a frustrated palaeontologist was blown off course and into his wildest nightmare in ‘The Island of Thunder’. The rest of his airborne platoon weren’t nearly as happy at the discovery…

The Flying Franks were a trapeze family before the war, but as “The Flying Boots” Henny, Tommy and Steve won fame as paratroopers. In #99’s ‘The Circus of Monsters!’ they faced the greatest challenge of their lives when they washed up on Mystery Island, narrowly escaping death by dinosaur, so they weren’t too happy on being sent back next issue to track down a Japanese secret weapon in ‘The Volcano of Monsters!’

‘The Robot and the Dinosaur!’ in #101 ramped up the fantasy quotient as reluctant Ranger Mac was dispatched to the monstrous preserve to field-test the Army’s latest weapon – a fully automatic, artificial G.I. Joe, who promptly saved the day and returned to fight a ‘Punchboard War!’ in the next issue; tackling immense killer fish, assorted saurians and a giant Japanese war-robot that even dwarfed the dinosaurs, which carried over and concluded in #103’s ‘Doom at Dinosaur Island!’, after which the Flying Boots returned in Star Spangled #104’s ‘The Tree of Terror!’ as a wandering pterodactyl dragged the brothers back to the isle of no return for another explosive engagement.

‘The War on Dinosaur Island!’ found the circus boys leading a small-scale invasion, but even tanks and the latest ordnance proved little use against the pernicious and eternally hungry reptiles, after which ‘The Nightmare War!’ found a dino-phobic museum janitor trapped in his worst nightmare. At least he had his best buddies and a goodly supply of bullets and bombs with him…

The action shifted to the oceans around the island for the sub-sea shocker ‘Battle of the Dinosaur Aquarium!’ with plesiosaurs, titanic turtles, colossal crabs and crocodilians on the menu, and hit the beaches in #108 for ‘Dinosaur D-Day!’ as the monsters took up residence in the Navy’s landing craft. ‘The Last Soldiers’ pitted determined tank-men against a string of scaly perils on land, sea and air, after which a new Suicide Squad debuted in #110 to investigate a ‘Tunnel of Terror’ into the lost land of giant monsters: this time though the giant gorilla was on their side…

The huge hairy beast was the star of ‘Return of the Dinosaur Killer!’ as the Squad leader and a wily boffin (visually based on Kanigher’s office associate Julie Schwartz) struggled to survive on the tropically reptilian atoll, whilst ‘Dinosaur Sub-Catcher!’ shifted the locale to freezing ice-floes as a pack of far-roving sea dinosaurs attacked a polar submarine and a US weather station.

Star Spangled War Stories #113 returned to the blue Pacific for ‘Dinosaur Bait!’ where a pilot was tasked with hunting down the cause for so many lost subs but ‘Doom Came at Noon!’ once more returned to snowy climes as dinosaurs inexplicably rampaged through alpine territory making temporary allies out of old enemies dispatched to destroy hidden Nazi submarine pens.

Issue #115’s ‘Battle Dinner for Dinosaurs!’ found a helicopter pilot marooned on Mystery Island and drawn into a spectacular aerial dogfight, after which a duo of dedicated soldiers faced ice-bound beasts in ‘The Suicide Squad!’ – the big difference being that Morgan and Mace were more determined to kill each other than accomplish their mission…

‘Medal for a Dinosaur!’ bowed to the inevitable and introduced a (relatively) friendly baby pterodactyl to balance out Mace and Morgan’s barely suppressed animosity, whilst ‘The Plane-Eater!’ found the army odd couple adrift in the Pacific and in deep danger until the little leather-winged guy turns up once more…

The Suicide Squad were getting equal billing by the time of #119’s ‘Gun Duel on Dinosaur Hill!’ as yet another group of men-without-hope battled reptilian horrors and each other to the death, after which the un-killable Morgan and Mace returned and Dino, the flying baby dinosaur, found a new companion in handy hominid Caveboy before the whole unlikely ensemble struggled to survive against increasingly outlandish creatures in ‘The Tank Eater!’

Issue #121 presented another diving drama when a UDT frogman gained his Suicide Squad rep as a formidable fighter and ‘The Killer of Dinosaur Alley!’ Increasingly now, G.I. hardware and ordnance began to gain the upper hand over bulk, fang and claw…

Representational maestro Russ Heath added an edge of hyper-realism to ‘The Divers of Death’ in Star Spangled War Stories #122 wherein two Frogman brothers battled incredible underwater insect monsters but were still unable to gain the respect of their land-lubber older siblings, whilst Gene Colan illustrated the aquatic adventure of ‘The Dinosaur who Ate Torpedoes!’ and Andru & Esposito returned to depict ‘Terror in a Bottle!’, the second short saurian saga to grace issue #123 and another outing for that giant ape who loved to pummel pterosaurs and larrup lizards.

Undisputed master of gritty fantasy art Joe Kubert added his pencil-and-brush magic to a tense and manic thriller ‘My Buddy the Dinosaur!’ in #124 and stuck around to illumine the return of the G.I. Robot in the stunning battle bonanza ‘Titbit For a Tyrannosaurus!’ in #125, after which Andru & Esposito covered another Suicide Squad sea saga ‘The Monster Who Sank a Navy!’ from #127 and Colan returned to draw a masterfully moving human drama which was actually improved by the inclusion of ravening reptiles in ‘The Million Dollar Medal!’ (#128 and the last tale in this volume).

Throughout this eclectic collection of dark dilemmas, light-hearted romps and spectacular battle blockbusters the emphasis is always on human fallibility; with soldiers unable to put aside long-held grudges, swallow pride or forgive trespasses even amidst the strangest and most terrifying moments of their lives, and this edgy humanity informs and elevates even the daftest of these wonderfully imaginative adventure yarns.

Classy, intense, insanely addictive and Just Plain Fun, The War that Time Forgot is a deliciously guilty pleasure and I for one hope the remaining stories from Star Spangled War Stories, Weird War TalesG. I. Combat and especially the magnificent Tim Truman Guns of the Dragon miniseries all end up in sequel compilation sometime soon.

Now Read This book and you will too…
© 1960-1966, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Kingdom Come

By Mark Waid & Alex Ross (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2034-1

In the mid 1960s a teenaged Jim Shooter wrote a couple of stories about the Legion of Super-Heroes set some years into the team’s own future. Those stories of the adult Legionnaires revealed hints of things to come that shackled the series’ plotting and continuity for decades as eager, obsessed fans (by which I mean all of us) waited for the predicted characters to be introduced, presaged relationships to be consummated and heroes to die.

By being so impressive and similarly affecting the astonishing miniseries Kingdom Come accidentally repeated the trick and has subsequently painted the entire DC Universe into the same creative corner…

Envisaged and designed by artist Alex Ross as DC’s answer to the epic and groundbreaking Marvels, Kingdom Come was released as a 4-issue Prestige Format miniseries in 1996 to rapturous acclaim and, although set in the future and an “imaginary story” released under DC’s Elseworlds imprint, almost immediately began to affect the company’s mainstream continuity.

Set approximately twenty years into the future the grandiose saga details a tragic failure and subsequent loss of Faith for Superman and how his attempt to redeem himself almost led to an even greater and ultimate apocalypse.

The events are seen through the eyes and actions of Dantean witness Norman McCay, an aging cleric co-opted by Divine Agent of Wrath the Spectre after the pastor officiated at the last rites of dying superhero Wesley Dodds. As the Sandman, Dodds was cursed for decades with precognitive dreams which compelled him to act as an agent of justice.

The first chapter ‘Strange Visitor’ shows a world where metahumans have proliferated to ubiquitous proportions: a sub-culture of constant, violent clashes between the latest generation of costumed villains and vigilantes, all unheeding of the collateral damage they daily inflicted on the mere mortals around them.

The shaken preacher sees a final crisis coming, but feels helpless until the darkly angelic Spectre comes to him and takes him on a voyage of unfolding events and to act as his human perspective whilst the Spirit of Vengeance prepares to pass final judgement on Humanity. First stop is the secluded hideaway where farmer Kal-El has hidden himself since the ghastly events which compelled him to retire from the Good Fight and the eyes of the World.

The Man of Steel was already feeling like a dinosaur when newer, harsher, morally ambiguous mystery-men began to appear. After the Joker murdered the entire Daily Planet staff and hard-line new hero Magog executed him in the street, the public applauded the deed and, heartbroken and appalled, Superman disappeared for a decade. His legendary colleagues also felt the march of unwelcome progress and similarly disappeared.

With Earth left to the mercies of dangerously irresponsible new vigilantes, civil unrest soon escalated. The younger heroes displayed poor judgement and no restraint with the result that within a decade the entire planet had become a chaotic arena for metahuman duels.

Civilisation was fragmenting. Flash and Batman retreated to their home cities and made them secure, crime-free solitary fortresses. Green Lantern built an emerald castle in the sky, turning his eyes away from Earth and into the deep black fastnesses of space. Hawkman retreated to the wilderness, Aquaman to his sub-sea kingdom and Wonder Woman returned to her hidden paradise. She did not leave until Armageddon came one step closer.

When Magog and his Justice Battalion battled the Parasite in St. Louis the result was a nuclear accident which destroyed all of Kansas and much of Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. Overnight the world f aced starvation as America’s breadbasket turned into a toxic wasteland. Now with McCay and the Spectre invisibly observing, Princess Diana convinces the bereft Kal-El to return and save the world on his own terms…

In ‘Truth and Justice’ a resurgent Justice League led by Superman begins a campaign of unilateral action to clean up the mess civilisation has become; renditioning “heroes” and villains alike, imprisoning all dangerous elements of super-humanity, telling governments how to behave, all utterly unaware that they are hastening a global catastrophe of Biblical proportions as the Spectre invisibly gathers the facts for his apocalyptic judgement.

In the ensuing chaos, crippled warrior Bruce Wayne rejects Superman’ paternalistic, doctrinaire crusade and allies himself with mortal humanity’s libertarian elite – Ted (Blue Beetle) Kord, Dinah (Black Canary) Lance and Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen – to resist what can only be a grab for world domination by the meta-human minority. As the helpless McCay watches in horror Wayne’s group makes its own plans; another dangerous thread in a tapestry of calamity…

At first Superman’s plans seem blessed to succeed, with many erstwhile threats flocking to his banner and his rules of discipline, but as ever there are self-serving villains with their own agendas. Lex Luthor organises a cabal of like-minded compatriots – Vandal Savage, Catwoman, Riddler, Kobra and Ibn Al Xu’ffasch, Son of the Demon Ra’s Al Ghul – into a “Mankind Liberation Front”.

With Captain Marvel as their slave, the group are determined the super-freaks shall not win and their cause is greatly advanced once Wayne’s clique joins them…

‘Up in the Sky’ sees events spiral into a deadly storm as McCay, still wracked by his visions of Armageddon, is shown the Gulag where all the recalcitrant metahumans have been dumped and sees how it will fail, learns from restless spirit Deadman that the Spectre is the Angel of Death and watches with growing helplessness as Luthor’s plan to usurp control from the army of Superman leads to a shocking confrontation, betrayal and a deadly countdown to the End of Days. The deadly drama culminates in a staggering battle of superpowers, last moment salvation and a second chance for humanity in ‘Never-Ending Battle’

Thanks to McCay’s simple humanity the world gets another chance and this edition follows up with an epilogue ‘One Year Later’ which end this ponderous epic on a note of renewed hope…

This edition comes with an introduction by author and past DC Comics scribe Elliot S. Maggin, assorted cover reproductions and art-pieces, an illustrated checklist of the vast cast list and a plethora of creative notes and sketches in the ‘Apochrypha’ section, plus ‘Evolution’: notes on a restored scene that never made it into the miniseries.

Epic, engaging and operatically impressive Kingdom Come continues to reshape the DC Universe to this day and remains a solid slice of superior superhero entertainment, worthy of your attention.
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