Prince Valiant volume 2: 1939-1940

By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-348-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for everybody who ever dreamed or wondered…  9/10

Rightly reckoned one of the greatest comic strips of all time, this saga of a king-in-exile who became one of the greatest warriors in an age of unparalleled heroes is at once fantastically realistic and beautifully, perfectly abstracted – a meta-fictional paradigm of adventure where anything is possible and justice will always prevail. It is the epic we all aspire to dwell within…

Of one thing let us be perfectly clear: Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant is not historical. It is far better than that.

Possibly the most successful and evergreen fantasy creation ever conceived, Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur launched on Sunday 13th February 1937, a glorious weekly full-colour window not onto the past but rather onto a world that should have been. It followed the life and adventures of a refugee boy driven by invaders from his ancestral homeland in of faraway Thule who rose to become one of the mightiest heroes of the age of Camelot.

Crafted by the incredibly gifted Harold “Hal” Foster, this noble scion would over the years grow to manhood in a heady sea of wonderment, roaming the globe and siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes whilst captivating and influencing generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts. There have been films, cartoon series and all manner of toys, games and collections based the strip – one of the few to have lasted from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (over 3750 episodes and counting) and even in these declining days of the newspaper strip as a viable medium it still claims over 300 American papers as its home.

Foster produced the strip, one spectacular page a week until 1971, when, after auditioning such notables as Wally Wood and Gray Morrow, Big Ben Bolt artist John Cullen Murphy was selected to draw the feature. Foster carried on as writer and designer until 1980, after which he fully retired and Murphy’s son assumed the scripter’s role.

In 2004 Cullen Murphy also retired (he died a month later on July 2nd) and the strip has soldiered on under the extremely talented auspices of artist Gary Gianni and writer Mark Schultz – who wrote the fascinating forward ‘Yes, He Was a Cartoonist’ which opens this second stupendous chronological collection.

This exquisite hardback volume, reprints in glorious colour – spectacularly restored from Foster’s original Printer’s Proofs – the perfectly restored Sunday pages from January 1st 1939 to 29th December 1940, following the extremely capable squire of Sir Gawain as he rushes to warn Camelot of an impending invasion by rapacious Saxons via the vast Anglian Fens where the Royal Family of Thule have hidden since being ousted from their Nordic Island Kingdom by the villainous usurper Sligon.

After a breathtaking battle which sees the Saxons repulsed and the battle-loving boy-warrior knighted upon the field of victory, Valiant begins a period of globe-trotting through the fabled lands of Europe just as the last remnants of the Roman Empire is dying in deceit and intrigue.

Firstly Val journeys to Thule and returns his father to the throne, narrowly escaping the alluring wiles of a conniving beauty with an eye to marrying the Heir Apparent, then bored with peace and plenty the roving royal wildcat encounters a time-twisting pair of mystical perils who show him the eventual fate of all mortals. Sobered but not daunted he then makes his way towards Rome, where he will become unwittingly embroiled in the manic machinations of the Last Emperor, Valentinian.

Before that however he is distracted by an epic adventure that would have struck stunning resonances for the readership at the time. With episode #118 (14th May 1939) Val joined the doomed knights of mountain fortress Andelkrag, who alone and unaided held back the assembled might of the terrifying hordes of Attila the Hun which had decimated the civilisations of Europe and now gathered to wipe out its last vestige.

With Hitler and Mussolini hogging the headlines and Modern European war seemingly inevitable Val joined the Battle of Decency and Right against untrammelled Barbarism. His epic struggle and sole survival comprise one of the greatest episodes of glorious, doom-fated chivalry in literature…

After the fall of the towers of Andelkrag, Valiant made his way onward to the diminshed Rome, picking up a wily sidekick in the form of cutpurse vagabond Slith. Once more he was distracted however, as the Huns delayed. The indomitable lad resolved to pay them back in kind, and gathered dispossessed victims of Hunnish depredations, forging them into a resistance army of guerrilla-fighters – the Hun-Hunters…

Thereafter he liberated the vassal city of Pandaris, driving back the invaders and their collaborator allies in one spectacular coup after another.

Valiant reunited with equally action-starved Round Table companions Sir Tristram and Sir Gawain to make fools of the Hun, who had lost heart after the death of their charismatic leader Attila (nothing to do with Val, just a historical fact). When Slith fell for a beauteous warrior princess, the English Knights left him to a life of joyous domesticity and moved ever on.

An unexpected encounter with a giant and his unconventional army of freaks led to the heroes inadvertently helping a band of marshland refugees from Hunnish atrocity found the nation-state of Venice before at long last after a after a side-trip to the fabulous city of Ravenna the trio crossed the fabled Rubicon and plunged into a hotbed of political tumult.

Unjustly implicated in a web of murder and double-dealing, the knights barely escaped with their lives and split up to avoid pursuit. Tristan returned to England and a star-crossed rendezvous with the comely Isolde, Gawain took ship for fun in Massilia and Valiant, after an excursion to the rim of fiery Vesuvius, boarded a pirate scow for Sicily and further adventure.

To Be Continued…

This series is a non-stop rollercoaster of action and romance, blending realistic fantasy with sardonic wit and broad humour with unbelievably stirring violence, all rendered in an incomprehensibly lovely panorama of glowing art. Beautiful, captivating and utterly awe-inspiring Prince Valiant is a World Classic of storytelling, and this magnificent deluxe is something no fan can afford to be without.

If you have never experienced the majesty and grandeur of the strip this astounding and enchanting premium collection is the best way possible to start and will be your gateway to a life-changing world of wonder and imagination…

Prince Valiant © 2009 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2009 their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved.

Networked: Carabella on the Run

By Gerard Jones & Mark Badger (Privacy Activism/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-586-3

Comics are an immensely effective teaching tool and not just for youngsters, either. The organisation Privacy Activism is a non-profit organisation which seeks to educate and inform the public about online safety, democratic principles in a global commercial environment and personal information protection through a variety of methods and after a couple of video game projects has worked here with comicbook creators Gerard Jones and Mark Badger and publisher NBM to produce a graphic novel starring their proprietary character Carabella; a blue-skinned teenaged girl from someplace stranger and nastier than here…

In Networked: Carabella on the Run the defensive, secretive lass is starting college and horrified at how easily her anonymity can be destroyed by even well-meaning friends through online social networking and messaging. Even her picture is soon being beamed all over the planet – all without her permission or knowledge.

Still, it’s not as if she has anything to hide, is it?

She soon strikes up a tentative relationship with Nick, an engineering student who has invented shoes which can film and monitor the wearer’s movement’s, record and broadcast physical responses and generally turn each owner into a walking market research report. Of course that wasn’t his intention – he just though it would be cool for friends to share their lives with others…

Unfortunately where Carabella comes from such information has long been used to oversee, segregate, program and control the population, so when hunters seeking her return align themselves with aggressive venture capitalists and sections of the Government she realises that the privacy, liberty and choices available to her and her friends might become just as obsolete as on her own world…

Combining a sensible, well-reasoned argument for common sense and practical personal protection with solid adventure-thriller plotting and the requisite amount of romance, action and fun, this is a great read with an important message that doesn’t overload the necessity to keep things interesting and enjoyable.

Most of Networked is available online in a slightly altered form if you want a peek, and the printed form is a perfect and potentially reassuring gift for parents to buy their kids alongside the mobile-phones and think-pods they’ll be clamouring for this year.

© 2010 Privacy Activism.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones Omnibus volume 1

By various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-808-9

Dark Horse Comics have held the comics producing section of the Indiana Jones franchise since 1993, generating thousands of pages of material, much of it excellent and some not quite. But, and it might be construed as heretical to say it, dedicated fans aren’t all that quality conscious when it comes to their particular fascination, whether it’s games about finding Atlantis or the latest watered-down kids interpretation or whatever.

So the company’s Omnibus line is a wonderfully economical way to keep the older material in print for such fans by bundling old publications into classy, full-colour digests (they’re slightly smaller than US comic-books but larger than the standard manga volume, running about 400 pages per book). This initial volume (of three) chronologically re-presents the first dozen Marvel interpretations which followed the film Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as including the three-issue miniseries adaptation that preceded the landmark film. I’m being this specific because the comic version was also released as a single glossy, enhanced-colour magazine in their Marvel Super Special series (#18: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark if you’re curious).

And just in case you haven’t seen the film: set in the days before World War II, Hitler’s paranormal investigation division was gathering occult artifacts from around the planet and soon crossed swords with a rough and ready archaeology professor from a New York university, when the unconventional Doctor Indiana Jones was maneuvered by the American government into tracking down his old tutor who might have a knowledge of the biblical Ark of the Covenant.

Although Abner Ravenwood had since died his daughter Marion possessed the clues the rough and ready Jones needed – unfortunately she’s also an old flame Indy had abandoned and would rather burn in hell than help him…

However when the Nazis turn up and try to torch her in the Nepalese bar she was dumped in, Marion joins Jones in a breakneck chase across the globe from Cairo to the lost city of Tanis to a secret Nazi submarine base on a tropical island, fighting natives and Nazis every step of the way until the ancient artifact separates the just from the wicked in a spectacular and terrifying display of Old Testament style Wrath…

The movie’s format – baffling search for a legendary object, utterly irredeemable antagonists, exotic locales, non-stop chase action, outrageous fights and just a hint of eldritch overtones – became the staple for the comic book series that followed, opening in impressive manner with ‘The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones’ a two-part yarn from Jack-of-all-genres John Byrne, assisted by Terry Austin and with veteran scripter Denny O’Neil pitching in for the concluding ‘22-Karat Doom!’

When an old student is murdered before his eyes Indy swears to complete the lad’s research, subsequently trekking through Africa in search of a tribe who could turn men to gold, never more than one step ahead of a maniac millionaire with no love of mysteries or antiquities but a possessed of a deep and abiding love of profit…

That adventure ended with our hero plunging out of a doomed plane and into issue #3’s American set adventure ‘The Devil’s Cradle’ (O’Neil, Gene Day, Richard Howell, Mel Candido & Danny Bulanadi) wherein he fell into a hillbilly wilderness where a rogue US Army Colonel and a band of witch-burning yokels are separately hunting a 400 year-old alchemist with all the secrets of the ages at his fingertips…

‘Gateway to Infinity!’ by David Michelinie, Ron Frenz & Bulanadi saw the archeological adventurer en route to Stonehenge, courtesy of the US government, when a ring of Nazi spies once again failed to kill him. Hitler’s spies and parapsychologists were still hunting preternatural artifacts and the crystal cylinder uncovered at the ancient monument definitely qualified. English professor Karen Mays dated it to the Triassic period, millions of years before Man evolved and the murderous Aryans would stop at nothing to make it theirs…

Luckily for Jones and Mays – but not the Third Reich – the spies were eventually successful. However to their eternal regret their vile machinations unleashed ‘The Harbingers’ and only Indy’s swift reactions prevented a horror beyond time from escaping into our world.

Jazz Age mastermind Howard Chaykin joined Austin to illustrate the wonderfully classy ‘Club Nightmare’ (plotted by Archie Goodwin and scripted by Michelinie) as Marion opened a swanky Manhattan night-spot only to run afoul of mobsters and worse even before it opened. With Indy on hand to save the day the situation swiftly went from calamitous to disastrous…

Michelinie, Gammill & Sam de La Rosa soon had the hero globe-trotting again in ‘Africa Screams’ as a tussle in Tuscany with tomb-robber Ian McIver led to a solid clue to an even deeper mystery. Following an old map Indy and Marion are soon on their way to the Dark Continent in search of the legendary Shintay – a tribe of pale giants outcast from and last survivors of fabled Atlantis…

Unfortunately McIver and those ever-eager Nazi hunters were also on the trail and in ‘Crystal Death’ the vast power of the Shintay nearly wiped out half of Africa…

Issues #9 and 10 found the artifact hunter the target of a sinister plot by German spies and Aztec wannabees in ‘The Gold Goddess: Xomec’s Raiders’ (Goodwin, Michelinie, Dan Reed & Bulanadi), leading to a series of death-defying battles in the lofty heights of the Big Apple and the depths of the Brazilian jungle

This first volume concludes in fine style with a breathtaking global duel and a brand new villain as Indy is seduced by nefarious antiquities collector Ben Ali Ayoob into hunting down a persistent Biblical myth: ‘The Fourth Nail’. In ‘Blood and Sand’ Dr. Jones travels from the Australian Outback to Barcelona trying to find the unused final spike that should have ended Christ’s suffering on the Cross, but his quest is dogged by bad luck, Arabic ninjas, guardian gypsies, immense insane bandits and irascible bulls looking for a handy matador to mangle… The perilous pilgrimage reaches an inevitable conclusion in ‘Swords and Spikes’ (with additional art from Luke McDonnell and Mel Candido), a cavalcade of carnage, helter-skelter action and supernatural retribution.

With a covers gallery from such able and diverse hands as James T. Sherman, Walt Simonson, Terry Austin, John Byrne, Rich Howell & Armando Gil, Ron Frenz, Mike Gustovich, Howard Chaykin, Kerry Gammill, Bob Wiacek and Bob McLeod this is a splendid chunk of simple escapist fun: the type of buried treasure any fan of any age would be delighted to unearth.

™ &© 1981, 1983, 2009 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents House of Mystery volume 1

By various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0786-1

American comicbooks started slowly until the creation of superheroes unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and invented a new genre. Implacably vested in the Second World War, the Overman swept all before him (and the very occasional her) until the troops came home and older genres supplanted the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Although new kids kept up the buying, much of the previous generation also retained their four-colour habit but increasingly sought older themes in the reading matter. The war years altered the psychology of the world, and as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything their chosen forms of entertainment (film and prose as well as comics) reflected this. As well as Western, War and Crime comics, madcap escapist comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent, but gradually another periodic revival of spiritualism and interest in the supernatural led to a wave of increasingly impressive, evocative and even shocking horror comics.

There had been grisly, gory and supernatural stars before, including a pantheon of ghosts, monsters and wizards draped in mystery-man garb and trappings (the Spectre, Mr. Justice, Sgt. Spook, Frankenstein, The Heap, Sargon the Sorcerer, Zatara, Dr. Fate and dozens of others), but these had been victims of circumstance: the unknown as a power source for super-heroics. Now the focus shifted to ordinary mortals thrown into a world beyond their ken with the intention of unsettling, not vicariously empowering, the reader.

Almost every publisher jumped on the increasingly popular bandwagon, with B & I (which became the magical one-man-band Richard E. Hughes’ American Comics Group) launching the first regularly published horror comic in the Autumn of 1948, although Adventures Into the Unknown was technically pipped by Avon who had released an impressive single issue entitled Eerie in January 1947 before launching a regular series in 1951, by which time Classics Illustrated had already long milked the literary end of the medium with adaptations of the Headless Horseman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both 1943), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1944) and Frankenstein (1945) among others.

If we’re keeping score this was also the period in which Joe Simon and Jack Kirby identified another “mature market” gap and invented the Romance comic (Young Romance #1, September 1947) but they too saw the sales potential for spooky material, resulting in the seminal Black Magic (launched in 1950) and boldly obscure psychological drama anthology Strange World of Your Dreams (1952).

The company that would become DC Comics bowed to the inevitable and launched a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the December 1951/January 1952 launch of The House of Mystery. When the hysterical censorship scandal which led to witch-hunting hearings (feel free to type Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, April- June 1954 into your search engine at any time… You can do that because it’s ostensibly a free country now) was curtailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of self regulatory rules HoM and its sister title House of Secrets were dialled back into rationalistic, fantasy adventure vehicles, and even became super-hero tinged split-books (With Martian Manhunter and Dial H for Hero in HoM, and Eclipso sharing space with Mark Merlin and later Prince Ra-Man in HoS).

However nothing combats censorship better than falling profits and at the end of the 1960s the Silver Age superhero boom stalled and crashed, leading to the surviving publishers of the field agreeing to loosen their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics. Nobody much cared about gangster titles but as the liberalisation coincided with another bump in global interest in all aspects of the Worlds Beyond, the resurrection of scary stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.” Even the ultra wholesome Archie comics re-entered the field with their rather tasty line of Red Circle thrillers

Thus with absolutely no fanfare at all issue #174, cover dated May-June 1968 presented a bold banner demanding “Do You Dare Enter The House of Mystery?” and reprinted a bunch of admittedly excellent short fantastic thrillers originally seen in House of Secrets from the heady days when it was okay to scare kids. Staring off was ‘The Wondrous Witch’s Cauldron’ (HoS #58) by an unknown writer and compellingly illustrated by the great Lee Elias, another uncredited script ‘The Man Who Hated Good Luck!’ limned by Doug Wildey and the only new feature of the issue – one which would set the tone for decades to come.

Page 13 was a trenchantly comedic feature page scripted by Editor and EC veteran Joe Orlando and cartooned by manic Hispanic genius Sergio Aragonés. It stated quite clearly that whilst the intent was to thrill, enthral and even appal it was all in the spirit of sinister fun, and gallows humour was the order of the day. The comic then concluded with a Bernard Baily tale of the unexpected ‘The Museum of Worthless Inventions’ (from #13) and concluded with the Jack Miller, Carmine Infantino & Mort Meskin fantasy fable ‘The Court of Creatures’ (a Mark Merlin masterpiece from HoS #43).

The next issue can probably be counted as the true start of this latter day revenant renaissance, as Orlando revived the EC tradition of slyly sardonic narrators by creating the Machiavellian Cain, “caretaker of the House of Mystery” and raconteur par excellence. Behind the first of a spectacular series of creepy covers from Neal Adams lurked another reprint ‘The Gift of Doom’ (from HoM #137, illustrated by George Roussos) followed by ‘All Alone’, an original, uncredited prose chiller.

After another Page 13 side-splitter, Aragonés launched his long-running gag page ‘Cain’s Game Room’ and the issue closed with an all-new new comic thriller ‘The House of Gargoyles!’ by veteran scaremongers Bob Haney and Jack Sparling.

With format firmly established and commercially successful the fear-fest was off and running. Stunning Adams covers, painfully punny introductory segments and interspersed gag pages (originally just Aragonés but eventually supplemented by other cartoonists such as John Albano, Lore Shoberg and John Costanza. This feature eventually grew popular enough to be spun off into bizarrely outrageous comicbook called Plop! – but that’s a subject for another day…) supplied an element of continuity to an increasingly superior range of self-contained supernatural thrillers. Moreover, if ever deadline distress loomed there was always a wealth of superb old material to fill in with.

HoM #176 led with spectral thriller ‘The House of No Return!’ by an unknown writer and the great Sid Greene and young Marv Wolfman (one of an absolute Who’s Who of budding writers who went on to bigger things) teamed with Sparling on the paranoiac mad science shocker ‘The Root of Evil!’

Another reprinted masterpiece of form from Mort Meskin (see From Shadow to Light for more about this unsung genius of the art-form) led off #177, ‘The Son of the Monstross Monster’ having previously appeared in House of Mystery #130. and 1950’s fearsome fact page was recycled into ‘Odds and Ends from Cain’s Cellar’ before Charles King and Orlando’s illustrated prose piece ‘Last Meal’ and dream team Howie (Anthro) Post and Bill Draut produced a ghoulish period parable in ‘The Curse of the Cat.’

Neal Adams debuted as an interior illustrator – and writer – with a mind-boggling virtuoso performance as a little boy survived ‘The Game’, after which Jim Mooney’s spooky credentials were recalled with ‘The Man Who Haunted a Ghost’ (first seen in HoM #35) and E. Nelson Bridwell, Win Mortimer & George Roussos delineated an eternal dream with ‘What’s the Youth?’ and ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Ghostly Miners’ closed the issue.

Bridwell contributed the claustrophobic ‘Sour Note’ in issue #179 rendered by the uniquely visionary Jerry Grandenetti and Roussos and the next generation of comics genius begun with the first Bernie Wrightson creepy contribution. ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Man Who Murdered Himself’ was scripted by Marv Wolfman and is still a stunning example of gothic perfection in the artist’s Graham Ingels inspired lush, fine-line style.

This exceptional artists issue also contains the moody supernatural romance ‘The Widow’s Walk’ by Post. Adams & Orlando – a subtle shift from schlocky black humour to moody supernatural tragedy that would undoubtedly appeal to the increasingly expanding female readership. The issue ends with another fact feature ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Dead Tell Tales’.

Going from strength to strength House of Mystery was increasingly drawing on DC’s major artistic resources. ‘Comes a Warrior’ which opened #180, was a chilling faux Sword & Sorcery masterpiece written and drawn by the da Vinci of Dynamism Gil Kane, inked by the incomparable Wally Wood, and the same art team also illustrated Mike Friedrich’s fourth-wall demolishing ‘His Name is Cain Kane!’ Cliff Rhodes and Orlando contributed the text-terror ‘Oscar Horns In!’ and Wolfman & Wrightson returned with the prophetic vignette ‘Scared to Life’ An uncredited forensic history lesson from ‘Cain’s True Case Files’ closed the proceedings for that month.

‘Sir Greeley’s Revenge!’ by Otto Binder and drawn by the quirkily capable Sparling was a heart-warmingly genteel spook story, but Wrightson’s first long story – a fantastic reincarnation saga entitled ‘The Circle of Satan’, scripted by Bob Kanigher, ended #181 on a eerily unsettling note and #182 opened with one of the most impressive tales of the entire run. Jack Oleck’s take on the old cursed mirror plot was elevated to high art as his script ‘The Devil’s Doorway’ was illustrated by the incredible Alex Toth. Wolfman and Wayne Howard then followed with ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Grave Results!’ an Orlando limned house promotion and the nightmarish revenge tale ‘The Hound of Night!’

Oleck and Grandenetti opened #183 with ‘The Haunting!’, ‘Odds and Ends from Cain’s Cellar’ returned with ‘Curse of the Blankenship’s and ‘Superstitions About Spiders’ and Wolfman & Wrightson contributed ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Dead Can Kill!’ before the canny teaming of Kanigher with Grandenetti and Wally Wood resulted in the truly bizarre ‘Secret of the Whale’s Vengeance.’ The next issue saw the triumphant return of Oleck & Toth for the captivating Egyptian tomb raider epic ‘Turner’s Treasure’ and Bridwell, Kane & Wood for a barbarian blockbuster ‘The Eyes of the Basilisk!’

House of Mystery #185 saw caretaker Cain take a more active role in the all-Grandenetti yarn ‘Boom!’, Wayne Howard illustrated the sinister ‘Voice From the Dead!’ and veteran Charlton scribe Joe Gill debuted with ‘The Beautiful Beast’: a lost world romance perfectly pictured by EC alumnus Al Williamson. Next issue topped even that as Wrightson illustrated Kanigher’s spectacular bestiary tale ‘The Secret of the Egyptian Cat’ and Neal Adams produced some his best art ever for Oleck’s poignant tale of imagination and childhood lost ‘Nightmare’. Nobody who ever adored Mr. Tumnus could read this little gem without choking up… and as for the rest of you, I just despair…

Kanigher & Toth produced another brilliantly disquieting drama in ‘Mask of the Red Fox’ to open #187, and Wayne Howard was at his workmanlike best on ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Appointment Beyond the Grave!’ before John Celardo & Mike Peppe apparently illustrated the anonymous script for the period peril ‘An Aura of Death!’ (although to my jaded old eyes the penciller looks more like Win Mortimer…)

Another revolutionary moment began with the first story in #188, cover dated September-October 1970. Gerry Conway got an early boost scripting ‘Dark City of Doom’, a chilling reincarnation mystery set in both contemporary times and Mayan South America as the trailblazer for a magnificent tidal wave of Filipino artists debuted. The stunning art of Tony DeZuniga opened the door for many of his talented countrymen to enter and reshape both Marvel and DC’s graphic landscape and this black and white compendium is the perfect vehicle to see their mastery of line and texture…

Wrightson was responsible for the time-lost thriller ‘House of Madness!’ which closed that issue whilst Aragonés opened the proceedings for #189, closely followed by Kanigher, Grandenetti & Wood’s ‘Eyes of the Cat’ and a 1953 reprint drawn by Leonard Starr, ‘The Deadly Game of G-H-O-S-T’ (from HoM #11) before another Charlton mystery superstar premiered as Tom Sutton illustrated Oleck’s ‘The Thing in the Chair’.

Kanigher and Toth teamed for another impeccable graphic masterwork in ‘Fright!’, Albano filled Cain’s Game Room and Aragonés debuted another long-running gag page with ‘Cain’s Gargoyles’ and this issue ended with a Salem-based shocker ‘A Witch Must Die!’ (by Jack Miller, Ric Estrada & Frank Giacoia). Issue #191 saw the official debut of Len Wein who wrote the terrifying puppet-show tragedy ‘No Strings Attached!’ for Bill Draut and DeZuniga returned to draw Oleck’s cautionary tale ‘The Hanging Tree!’ before Wein closed the show paired with Wrightson on ‘Night-Prowler!’ a seasonal instant-classic that has been reprinted many times since.

John Albano wrote ‘The Garden of Eden!’, a sinister surgical stunner, made utterly believably by Jim Aparo’s polished art, and Gray Morrow illustrated Kanigher’s modern psycho-drama ‘Image of Darkness’ and superhero veteran Don Heck returned to his suspenseful roots drawing Virgil North’s monstrously whimsical ‘Nobody Loves a Lizard!’

Wrightson contributed the first of many magnificent covers for #193, depicting the graveyard terrors of Alan Riefe & DeZuniga’s ‘Voodoo Vengeance!’, whilst Bill Draut skilfully delineated the screaming tension of Francis X. Bushmaster’s ‘Dark Knight, Dark Dreams!’

For #194, which saw House of Mystery expand from 32 to 52 pages – as did all DC’s titles for the next couple of years, opening the doors for a superb period of new material and the best of the company’s prodigious archives to an appreciative, impressionable audience – the magic began with another bravura Toth contribution in Oleck’s ‘Born Loser’ swiftly followed by the Russ Heath illustrated monster thriller ‘The Human Wave’ (from House of Secrets #31), a Jack Kirby monster-work ‘The Negative Man’ (House of Mystery #84) before Oleck and the simply stunning Nestor Redondo (see also The Bible: DC Limited Collectors Edition C-36) closed the issue and this first volume with the metamorphic horror ‘The King is Dead’.

These terror-tales captivated the reading public and comics critics alike when they first appeared and it’s no exaggeration to posit that they may well have saved the company during the dire downward sales spiral of the 1970. Now their blend of sinister mirth and classical suspense situations can most usually be seen in such series as Goosebumps, Horrible Histories and their many imitators. If you crave beautifully realised, tastefully, splatter-free sagas of tension and imagination, not to mention a huge supply of bad-taste, kid-friendly creepy cartooning The House of Mystery is the place for you…

© 1968-1971, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Nightschool: The Weirn Books volume 1

By Svetlana Chmakova (Yen Books)
ISBN: 978-0-7595-2859-8

The sub-genre of supernatural students and spooky schooldays has come a long way since the days of the Worst Witch or even Buffy of Sunnydale High, but this tantalising and impressive entry from Svetlana Chmakova (whose delightful series Dramacon introduced her as a major talent in the international manga world) which stands head and shoulders above the crowd and simply cries out for greater exposure.

PS 13W is just an ordinary High School during the day, but when darkness falls the place is sublet to an entirely different faculty teaching a far more bizarre and dangerous student body (well, different anyway – I’ve seen the everyday shamble of oiks, nerds, preppies and deviants that tumble out of our local educational establishment come chucking out time only to stampede past my front door on their way to celebrate their temporary freedom in mischief, malice and mishap…)

Because this Nightschool caters to such a diverse and often predatory catchment, the usual staff of wizardly teachers and assistants is generally supplemented by a Night Keeper – a supernatural security agent who keeps the peace and minimises collateral damage when students and staff – witches, warlocks (collectively known as Weirn), werewolves, vampires and every shade of juvenile haunt and horror – join in the business of Education.

Sadly the latest Keeper, thoroughly modern Miss Sarah Treveney has something of a punctuality problem… Although the school caters for a broad spectrum of monsters, Sarah’s sister Alexius has to be home-schooled due to an unspecified secret problem, and splitting her time between teaching Alex the magic of the Weirn all day and working all night is taking its toll…

The peace that keeps mortals safe from the assorted eldritch tribes is due to an ancient pact: A Treaty administered by an enigmatic cult of young warriors called Hunters who prowl the city dealing with supernatural threats. They are led by a charismatic teacher called Daemon. Later volumes will eventually reveal a history of ancient strife and impending chaos, but for this first collection (comprising the first six months of the strip) they simply patrol and police the places where rogue night creatures prowl…

When Daemon’s team rescue a young Seer, Marina, from unscrupulous mortals seeking to exploit her prophetic abilities she warns him that a long-dormant menace is breaking the seals which have kept it safely imprisoned for centuries…

Unknown to Sarah, little sister is not the housebound claustrophobe she imagines. Driven by urgings beyond her comprehension Alex often roams the night with only her astral familiar to protect her from mortals and monsters – or is it the other way round?

When she invades a cemetery Alex stumbles across a romantic vampiric tryst and Daemon’s Hunter team in the process of ending it. Suddenly all parties are attacked by Rippers – mindless devolved Nosferatu, all claws and teeth and burning lethal hunger…

When the spectacular battle ends Alex is gone and although more than a match for any known magical threat, three of the Hunters lie mysteriously comatose. The younger Treveny wakes safely at home with no recollection of how she returned, but at the Nightschool things aren’t going so well for Sarah.

Making inroads with the staff and students the Night Keeper thinks she might just make a real go of her job, but when a kid she doesn’t recognize lures her into a horrifying trap she disappears from sight and memory of everybody who once knew her. Moreover, all physical evidence of her existence is fading too. At home Alex sees a photograph gradually disappear and realises she must to something. Girding herself she enrolls in the midnight high school, as all over the cities something very nasty is stalking the Hunters…

This is the merely the opening stage of a much larger and more complex epic, (which has been and is still steadily progressing in monthly installments in the Japanese magazine Yen Plus since August 2008), so it might be preferable to pick up the first three volumes – all that has been collected into books so far – and tackle them at once.

However, the sheer exuberance and quality of storytelling and art here is enough to carry this first book; blending mystery, comedy and spellbinding action with a huge cast of engaging characters. Fun, thrilling and wonderfully addictive.

© 2009 Svetlana Chmakova. All Rights Reserved.

Goosebumps Graphix 2: Terror Trips

Adapted by Jill Thompson, Jamie Tolagson & Amy Kim Ganter (Graphix/Scholastic)

ISBN: 978-0-439-85780-2

How to get children reading has been a desperate quest of educators and parents for decades and the role of comics in that drive has long been a controversial one. Excluding all the arguments over whether sequential narrative hinders, harms or perhaps helps, the only other option was to produce material youngsters might actually want to read.

Enter R.L. Stine in 1992, who wrote sixty-two light-hearted, child-friendly supernatural horror thrillers over the next five years that took the world by storm, spawning movies, TV shows, games and a host of imitators, reconfiguring the iconography of the classic tales of mystery and imagination into modern romps to engage youngsters in the greatest thrill of all – total absorption in the magic of stories. In its various incarnations and reboots Goosebumps has sold more than 300 million copies.

In 2006 Scholastic began a series of themed graphic novel adaptations, using top comicbook and manga talent to convert three books per volume into hip and striking cartoon yarns. I’ve picked the second “Goosebumps Graphix” edition for no other reason than my complete devotion to the work of one of the artists involved (eventually I’m sure I’ll get around to the others…)

Terror Trips leads off with ‘One Day at Horrorland’ (the sixteenth novel in the prose series) adapted and illustrated by the utterly superb Jill Thompson, who despite her incredible body of work, ranging from Sandman to Wonder Woman and her fabulous Scary Godmother books and films is some how still not a household name.

When a day-trip to Zoo Gardens with their parents goes awry, Lizzy, brother Luke and their friend Clay find themselves lost and alone in the best – or perhaps worst – scary theme park ever. If she wasn’t such a big girl now and didn’t know better, Lizzy might almost believe all those monsters and death-traps were real…

Multi-media artist Jamie Tolagson (The Crow, The Dreaming, Books of Magic) translated the truly creepy ‘A Shocker on Shock Street’ (novel #35) with stunning effect. Under-aged horror movie mavens Erin and Josh think they’ve seen everything, but when Erin’s movie director and FX designer dad invites the pair to the studio to see the new “Shock Street” theme park they’re in for the most startling surprise of their young lives – and so is the reader…

The third and final jaunt into jeopardy is ‘Deep Trouble’ (novel #19) adapted by Amy Kim Ganter, manga and webcomic artist (see Sorcerers & Secretaries for a delightful example of her firm grip on fantasy). Here she relates the time William Deep Jr. accompanied his marine biologist father on an expedition to discover if mermaids actually existed. Unfortunately, the worst beasts in the oceans are usually greedy humans, but the sea still had a few undiscovered horrors of its own lying hidden beneath the surface…

This splendid selection is delivered in a variety of black and white styles, and each tale is augmented by a feature explaining the working process of the artists as they translated the story into comics form. Both the novels and comic books are readily available so why not save yourself the cost of outrageous dental bills this Halloween by stocking up on comic chillers such as this and handing out stuff to chew over rather than simply swallow – and remember, if used correctly books are not fattening…?

© 2007 Scholastic Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Girls Bravo volumes 1-3

By Mario Kaneda, translated & adapted by Asuka Yoshizu & Steve Bunche (TokyoPop)
ISBNs: 978-1-59816-040-6, 978-1-59816-041-3 & 978-1-59816-042-0

Here’s another large slice of manga magic that took the world by storm when it inevitably transferred to the anime screen, and another of those uncomfortably inappropriate teen-sex comedies that so delight the Japanese and generally bewilder we less socially ossified westerners. Aimed at older teens this type of tale fully acknowledges and draws seemingly endless amusement from the fact that boys and girls of a certain age are hormone-crazed muskrats desperate to catch furtive snatches of each other’s proscribed bits and only conscience and social pressure keeps them from being even more intolerable than they are.

If only it got any easier with advanced age…

These tales first appeared in the Japanese magazine Shōnen Ace from 2000 to 2005 and were eventually collected in ten volumes of frantic, frenetic slapstick, excruciating comedy-of-manners gaffes, gusset glimpses, shower-scenes, fantasy fun and burgeoning young love.

‘Gārusu Burabō’ is the story of a hapless high school student named Yukinari Sasaki, a short, dim nebbish who is so put upon, teased and bullied by girls – and even his female teachers – that he has developed a condition which brings him out in hives every time anything with no Y chromosomes touches him. His condition is further compounded by the fact that the neighbours’ daughter Kirie, a girl he has known since childhood, and a girl he can at least talk to, has recently changed.

Her shy and awkward nature has developed into a crush he is oblivious to, but unfortunately said crush has devolved into a series of violent assaults every time she gets flustered, and with Sasaki, she gets flustered a lot… At some time when nobody was paying attention she blossomed into an astonishingly well-endowed young woman – something else that embarrasses her greatly and often leads to red-faced punches and kicks…

After a particularly trying day Yukinari returns home and stumbles into Kirie using his shower. He’s flustered, she’s naked and while he’s being pummelled by the blushing, panicked girl he falls into the bath… and emerges into another world and another naked girl’s bath…

But this is a completely different kind of girl. She is genuinely concerned, solicitous, even shorter than him and most importantly not screaming or hitting. Moreover Miharu can touch him without setting off his allergic reaction. All she cares about is his welfare and what earth food is like.

The world of Siren is a revelation; a magical place where women outnumber men 9-1. When her older sister Maharu spots the unattached male she makes a violent play for Yukinari, chasing him into the streets where every female in range tries to capture the fleeing boy-toy.

Miharu rescues him and they double back to her bathroom, but the pursuers are too close and the fugitives fall into the bath – and arrive back in Yukinari’s shower, still occupied by the perplexed, naked and fuming Kirie.

Miharu is apparently stuck on Earth: the perfect companion for the gynophobic lad. She never attacks him, doesn’t cause hives, has magic powers and only cares about food. Unfortunately she’s as naive as a newborn hamster and bewitchingly beautiful, so the hoi-polloi at school trail after her like dogs after biscuits, especially wealthy school stud Fukuyama, a glorious young god of manliness who hides a secret of his own: he is so male-phobic that he has an attack of hives every time a male touches him. He is driven crazy by Miharu’s indifference to him…

Meanwhile hopeless Yukinari is still being teased and bullied by all girls and regularly happening into situations where Kirie is undressed and volatile…

This first volume covers the set-up of the formulae, with lots of stories about simplistic Miharu’s desire to eat anything not nailed down, platonically care for Yukinari and tendency to be duped into wearing revealing or fetishistic clothing by the lecherous Fukuyama. Despite being always hungry and able to consume practically anything Miharu is a brilliant cook, unlike Kirie whose recipes are only really appreciated by terrorists looking for new bio-weapons. Yukinari increasingly has to spend his time protecting the gullible alien’s non-existent modesty…

Gradually the series takes a more supernatural turn as the unhappy ménage-a-trouble encounter an undressed ghost girl and Fukuyama’s sister Risa: a young sorceress convinced that beleaguered Yukinari is her predestined husband and willing to use all her wiles and witchcraft to make him hers – if it means destroying or even befriending Miharu and Kirie…

The first volume ends with a light-hearted and hottie-filled adaptation of traditional Japanese folk-tale Momotaro (the Peach Boy).

Volume 2 continues Risa’s campaign. She casts spells on Yukinari, tries to convince Miharu that her attentions are preventing the diminutive lad from forming normal relationships or shaking his allergic phobia and things get completely crazy when the Siren girl drinks alcohol and begins to replicate herself uncontrollably…

Yukinari still keeps getting accidental, unwelcome and concomitantly painful glimpses of girls whilst growing increasingly fond of Miharu, even battling the hulking alpha male Fukuyama to protect her, but when amnesiac Koyomi appears thing get very strange indeed. For one thing she is the only other girl able to resist the school stud’s dubious charms, she doesn’t give Yukinari hives and when flustered or scared giant pits open in the floor under her…She is in fact an agent from Siren sent to recover the missing Miharu, and when her memory returns she transports her quarry home before Yukinari’s tear-filled eyes…

Of course she does return, and this second volume concludes with another side story; a day in the life of sexy super-stud Fukuyama – or at least in his fevered, fetid mind…

Volume 3 opens with the cast being coerced by the ghastly Lothario into a game of strip Mah-Jong where the returned Konomi (on a secret mission for Miharu’s sister) is Fukuyama’s latest lewd target. Sadly for him she suffers from the same condition as he does – she too is androphobic and repelled by the touch of men…

Konomi’s mission is revealed and she begins searching for a perfect husband for Miharu’s strident, overbearing sister; inevitably leading to some very uncomfortable situations, as do the girls’ communal attempts to earn some extra money, before everything goes really crazy when Kirie falls through Risa’s mirror into a world where all her friends have reversed personalities…

Sweet-natured Miharu’s attempts to buy all her friends New Year’s Gifts goes painfully awry before all ends well, and her celebration of the Setsubun festival (where bad luck is symbolically removed by throwing Soya beans out of the house) also falls flat – but only because Risa summoned real evil spirits to the party… The volume ends on a heartbreakingly beguiling tale of a little girl abandoned in the snow – a story so moving it’s worth buying all three volumes just to read this sparkling gem in perfect context…

Irrepressibly juvenile but great fun and beautifully drawn, this is a series as likely to titillate as offend, but it’s all good clean smut really, harmless and charming and bound to delight girl watchers and anyone enduring puberty or recalling it with any degree of honesty…

© 2001, 2002 Mario Kaneda. English text © 2005, 2006 Tokyopop Inc. All rights reserved.

Commando Annual 1989

By various (DC Thomson & Co)
ISBN: 0-85116-422-6

Dundee-based DC Thomson is probably the most influential comics publisher in British history. The Beano and The Dandy revolutionised children’s reading, the newspaper strips Oor Wullie and The Broons (both created by the legendary Dudley D. Watkins) have become a genetic marker for Scottishness and the uniquely British “working class hero” grew from the prose-packed pages of Adventure, Rover, Wizard, Skipper and such action-packed  picture papers as Victor, Hotspur and Warlord.

Their comics for girls also shaped generations and still evoke passionate memories – don’t take my word for it either – just ask your mum or grandmother about Judy, Bunty, Diana, Mandy and the rest.

In 1961 the company launched a digest-sized title called Commando. Broadly similar in dimensions to a slim paperback book, it offered 68 black and white pages per issue and an average of two panels a page. Each issue told a complete war story (generally based in World War I or II – although all theatres of conflict have featured since) and told tasteful yet gripping stories of valour and heroism in stark dramas which came charged with grit and authenticity. The fully painted covers made them look more like novels than comics and they were a huge, instant success. They’re still being published.

A number of these stirring sagas have recently been collected in sturdy, capacious hardback volumes, re-presenting  a dozen classics at a time – and I highly recommend them (see for example Commando: True Brit in our own archive section) but in its decades of unflinching service Commando has occasionally produced other collections such as this redoubtable annual from 1989 (the first of two) which contains shorter stories in a more traditional panel format, rendered in varying degrees of colour and offering all new stories.

Because of previous company policy these tales are all uncredited, (happily not the case nowadays) but as I’d rather not prove my ignorance by guessing who did what, I’m saying nothing and you’ll have to be content with the work itself, although the many fan-sites should be able to provide information for the dedicated researcher. Typically when looking at British comics Gold, this book is readily available through a number of online retailers and wonderfully reasonable in price.

Behind the stunning wraparound cover by Ian Kennedy lie seven cracking yarns. In full colour ‘The Young ‘Un!’ follows coal ship crewman Joe Simes as he struggles to come to terms with his father’s death; a victim of the Royal Navy’s foolish, doctrinaire policies – or at least that what he thought until he joined up… whilst ‘No Surrender’ sees intransigent troublemaker Angus McKay fight his own comrades and Germans with equal passion during a mission to Norway and ‘Duel in the Sun’ pits rebellious Australian pilot Mark Hudson against his own commanders when all he really wants is to kill the Japanese genius shooting down allied pilots as if they were sitting ducks…

‘Killed in Action’ is the part-colour tale (black, white, grey and yellow) and sees cruel, cowardly lieutenant Vivian Fawcett-Bligh challenged by a common soldier who knows all his secrets. Set in the African desert in 1941, it doesn’t end the way you might expect… ‘Big Bird, Little Friend’ is another spectacular full-colour air adventure featuring two rival pilots – one British and the other an American – whose bitter quarrel is finally resolved in the flak-blistered skies over Europe and ‘The Good Soldier’ looks at the war through German eyes as Panzer commander Martin Winter becomes increasingly disaffected and appalled by SS atrocities on the Russian Front…

The strips conclude with another half-colour adventure ‘The Three Musketeers’: wherein three boyhood chums are reunited with explosive results on the beaches of Dunkirk, and this classy package also contains a wealth of feature pages and many brilliant painted pin-up pages.

So ubiquitous and effective were Thomson’s war publications that they moulded the character of three generations of boys – and continue to do so eight times every month. This magical slice of the Blitz Spirit is a wonderful example of purely British comic-making: rousing, passionate and winningly understated, so if you’re looking for a more home-grown comics experience, well-written and wonderfully illustrated, get some in and check this out…
© 1988 D.C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Boneyard volume 7

By Richard Moore (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-583-2

Michael Paris shares his life with a hot vampire chick, a werewolf, an over-sexed fish-woman, assorted demons and monsters. But somehow, these are the good guys and they are often beset by truly wicked monsters with properly evil intentions. For example, there’s the US government, or the creature that keeps beheading counsellors at the kid’s summer camp across the way, or what about that creepy Pumpkin head guy who magics you unconscious then desecrates your dreams?

The peculiar sub-genre of horror/comedy was in safe hands with Richard Moore, whose light, deft touch combines traditional cartooning with spot-on slapstick, surreal humour, and a touch of contemporary cynicism. He can also imbue his abhuman cast with stunning humanity when necessary. So it’s a huge pity that, for the moment at least, the delightfully outrageous cast of Boneyard are going on indefinite hiatus.

Young Paris – don’t call him Michael, he hates it – after years of crappy living and poor fortune finally had a lucky break. Not only did he inherit property from his reclusive grandfather, but the residents of picturesque little hamlet Raven Hollow were desperate to buy it from him, sight unseen. When he took possession he found once more that if anything looks too good to be true There’s generally a sound reason for it.

The property was a cemetery named The Boneyard and not everything within its walls was content to stay dead. Firstly there’s Abby, a beautiful, lovely, pretty and so very capable vampire chick, as well as a sex-starved, foul-mouthed skeleton, a demon with delusions of grandeur, a werewolf who thinks he’s a James Dean, a witch, a hulking Frankensteinian monster and even smart-ass talking gargoyles over the gate. Most worrying of all: There’s even the voluptuous, married amphibian who adds worlds of meaning to the phrase “man-eater.”

The place is a refuge for the restless dead and every sort of Halloween horror, but somehow they all seem more human and friendly than the off-kilter townsfolk and the succession of unpleasant characters, supernatural and otherwise, determined to close down the corpse-filled playground.

Overcoming all odds – including the devil himself – and surviving the cosmic embarrassment of ruining the formal ball of the supreme Over-God of the universe

Paris and Abby are seconds away from taking their painfully coy and cautious relationship to another level – maybe even “the next one” – when the imaginary playmate from his lonely childhood appears.

It appears that not only is Lita real, real cute and a princess of Faerie, but since her dad has ordered her to wed the evil Dark Prince of the Unseelie Court, she wants sanctuary and to marry the one being that really loved her.

Of course Paris was only eight then…

When the Faerie warriors turn up thing get rather nasty and Paris and Lita are captured and imprisoned in the Elvin Kingdoms, and Abby and her Boneyard helpmates have to rescue him – Lita too, if he asks nicely – but first they’re going to need a few allies of their own…

This seventh and momentarily final volume reprints the final issues of the independent comic book in stunning black and white as this charming, sly and irresistibly addictive series comes to a natural pause (one day to return in all its warm-hearted, comedy-of-terrors glory: I wish, I hope, I pray…) but until then Boneyard remains a must-have for Horrorists, Humorists and especially Romantics with an open mind.

One the best humour series to come out of the States since Charles Addams first started reporting from that spooky old house in the 1940s, this touching and wickedly funny epic should grace every fan’s bookshelf.

© 2010 Richard Moore. All Rights Reserved.


By Abby Denson (Green Candy Press)
ISBN: 978-1-931160-70-4

Not everybody is comfortable with whom they are and most of us don’t like to be assumed one thing when we’re another. Lulu Award winner Abby Denson is a brilliant, magically subversive cartoonist and journalist with such disparate notches in her belt as the graphic novel Tough Love: High School Confidential (relating the Coming Out story of two suburban teens) and The City Sweet Tooth: a culinary cartoon column about the New York desserts scene currently running in L Magazine. She teaches and her script credits run from Scooby Doo and Power Puff Girls to Spider-Man and the Simpsons.

This entrancing shocking pink parable is an edgy, deceptively naivist fairy tale about gender, place and identity; making telling points in a clandestinely gentle manner. Kitty Ballerina is a doll who escapes from The Factory, refusing to be what her makers tell her to be. During her escape she meets Army Jim, another maverick toy who refuses to conform.

Together they make their way to the Promised Land of Dolltopia, where you can wear, and look like and be whatever you want. With the comradeship and assistance of the cat Mr. M, fashion Divas Candy X and Candy O and the slightly off-kilter, self-taught “plastic surgeon” the Doctor, the renegades make themselves at home and truly free…

However freedom demands effort, vigilance and sacrifice. Some freed individuals seem to crave their previous cultural indenture, and raids to liberate more dolls suffer when the apathetic conformists refuse to cast off their social shackles, but the real threat comes when humans threaten to take away and destroy the hard-won oasis of security the disappointed rebels strived so long and hard to win…

Charming and cleverly controversial, if a little heavy-handed at times, this eclectic black, pink and white tome – complete with cut-out-and-dress paper dolls – is a winning and culturally important addition to the world of adult cartooning. You’d be an idiot not to take a good long look – but of course you don’t have to be what I say you are…

© Abby Denson. All right reserved.