Retrograde Orbit


By Kristyna Baczynski (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-42-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sublime Speculative Social Fiction… 9/10

Great storytelling never goes out of style and the basis of all drama is examination of the human condition (albeit sometimes in extraordinary circumstances). Somehow that’s even more true when your characters aren’t human at all.

Author and illustrator Kristyna Baczynski hails from the Pennines of Yorkshire, by way of the Carpathians of the Ukraine. That’s not at all germane here but it does sound incredibly romantic; conjuring up all manner of deep-seated preconceptions about windy moors and bleak moody peaks. Preconceptions, aspirations, dreams and that old devil hope are what this book is about…

In a faraway star system, a little girl grows up as a refugee and immigrant. Flint finds it hard to adapt to life on mining colony world Tisa and, even though she has no real memories of the place, she feels the call of her homeworld Doma – long-abandoned due to a geological – or maybe industrial – toxic detonation. No one at school cares or understands and her mother and grandmother never want to talk about it…

Years pass but those feelings of something missing don’t. Days pass, Flint acts out like any teen and then inevitably graduates into a mining job, but the something-missing still plagues her. She collects memoirs and mementoes of her lost world and grows increasingly colder and duller. And then a message is received from the supposedly dead, barren planet…

Flint now has a purpose and a goal, and nothing will stand in her way…

This lyrical and uplifting colour paperback offers a beautifully understated and moving glimpse at the power of place in our lives, using science fiction themes and trappings to pick apart the most primitive and fundamental longings to which humans are subject. It also reminds us that there’s always hope…

Sadly, this glorious celebration is not available digitally yet, but that just means you can give physical copies to all your friends, suitably gift-wrapped, ready to be properly appreciated by all the tactile senses and certain to be a physical touchstone for every lovers of great stories.
© Kristyna Baczynski 2018. All rights reserved.

90th Anniversary Double Feature!! Two reviews to celebrate a cartooning milestone

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in Color

By Geoffrey Blum, Thomas Andrae, Floyd Gottfredson, Carl Barks & various: produced by Another Rainbow Publishing Inc. (Pantheon Books 1988)
ISBN: 978-0-39457-519-3 (HB)

Created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Mickey Mouse was first seen – if not heard – in the silent cartoon Plane Crazy. The animated short fared poorly in a May 1928 test screening and was promptly shelved.

That’s why most people cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth Mickey feature to be completed – as the debut of the mascot mouse and his co-star and paramour Minnie Mouse. It was the first to be nationally distributed, as well as the first animated feature with synchronised sound.

The film’s astounding success led to the subsequent rapid release of its fully completed predecessors Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and The Barn Dance, once they too had been given new-fangled soundtracks.

From those timid beginnings grew an immense fantasy empire, but film was not the only way Disney conquered hearts and minds. With Mickey a certified solid gold sensation, the mighty mouse was considered a hot property and soon moved in on America’s most powerful and pervasive entertainment medium: comic strips…

Floyd Gottfredson was a cartooning pathfinder who started out as just another warm body in the Disney Studio animation factory who slipped sideways into graphic narrative and evolved into a pictorial narrative ground-breaker as influential as George Herriman, Winsor McCay or Elzie Segar. Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse entertained millions of eagerly enthralled readers and shaped the very way comics worked.

He took a wild and anarchic animated rodent from slap-stick beginnings, via some of the earliest adventure continuities in comics history: transforming a feisty everyman underdog – or rather mouse – into a crimebusting detective, explorer, lover, aviator or cowboy: the quintessential two-fisted hero whenever necessity demanded.

In later years, as tastes – and syndicate policy – changed, Gottfredson steered that self-same wandering warrior into a more sedate, gently suburbanised lifestyle via crafty sitcom gags suited to a newly middle-class America: a fifty-year career generating some of the most engrossing continuities the comics industry has ever enjoyed.

Arthur Floyd Gottfredson was born in 1905 in Kaysville, Utah, one of eight siblings born to a Mormon family of Danish extraction. Injured in a youthful hunting accident, Floyd whiled away a long recuperation drawing and studying cartoon correspondence courses, and by the 1920s had turned professional, selling cartoons and commercial art to local trade magazines and Big City newspaper the Salt Lake City Telegram.

In 1928 he and his wife moved to California and, after a shaky start, found work in April 1929 as an in-betweener at the burgeoning Walt Disney Studios.

Just as the Great Depression hit, he was personally asked by Disney to take over newborn but ailing newspaper strip Mickey Mouse.

Gottfredson would plot, draw and frequently script the strip for the next five decades: an incredible accomplishment by of one of comics’ most gifted exponents.

Veteran animator Ub Iwerks had initiated the print feature with Disney himself contributing, before artist Win Smith was brought in. The nascent strip was plagued with problems and young Gottfredson was only supposed to pitch in until a regular creator could be found.

His first effort saw print on May 5th 1930 (Floyd’s 25th birthday) and just kept going; an uninterrupted run over the next half century.

On January 17th 1932, Gottfredson created the first colour Sunday page, which he also handled until his retirement. In the beginning he did everything, but in 1934 Gottfredson relinquished the scripting, preferring plotting and illustrating the adventures to playing about with dialogue.

His eventual collaborating wordsmiths included Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris, Dick Shaw, Bill Walsh, Roy Williams and Del Connell. At the start and in the manner of a filmic studio system Floyd briefly used inkers such as Ted Thwaites, Earl Duvall and Al Taliaferro, but by 1943 had taken on full art chores.

Mickey Mouse in Color is a lavish hardback compendium reprinting some of the most noteworthy early strips with fascinating text and feature articles – including interviews with Gottfredson – but the real gold is the glorious strips.

A mix of Sunday page yarns comprising ‘Rumplewatt the Giant (1934)’, ‘Dr. Oofgay’s Secret Serum (1934)’, the magnificent and mesmerising ‘Case of the Vanishing Coats (1935)’ and a whimsical ‘Robin Hood Adventure (1936)’ are, although superlative, mere appetisers.

The best stories and biggest laughs come with the rollickin’ comedy thrill-ride serials ‘Blaggard Castle (1932)’, ‘Pluto and the Dogcatcher (1933)’, ‘The Mail Pilot (1933)’ and the astoundingly entertaining and legendary ‘Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot (1939)’.

Consistency is as rare as longevity in today’s comic market-place, and the sheer volume of quality work produced by Gottfredson remained unseen and unsung for generations until Fantagraphics released a complete library of the Mouse’s US-crafted strip adventures. We’ll be covering those in greater detail over the months to come but until then, books like this comprehensive primer (still readily available through online retailers), should be welcomed, cherished, and most importantly, shared.
© 1988 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in The World of Tomorrow – Gladstone Comic Album #17

By Floyd Gottfredson, Bill Walsh & Dick Moores (Gladstone
ISBN: 978-0-94459-917-4

Floyd Gottfredson’s influence on graphic narrative is inestimable: he was one of the very first to move from daily gags to continuity and extend adventures, created Mickey’s nephews, pioneered team-ups and invented some of the first “super-villains” in the business.

In 1955 – by which time Mickey and his fellow pantheon stablemates were mainstays of comics in dozens of countries – Disney killed the continuities; dictating that henceforth strips would only contain one-off gag strips. Gottfredson adapted easily, working on until retirement in 1975. His last daily appeared on November 15th and the final Sunday on September 19th 1976.

In this still-easy-to-find oversized paperback album from the 1980s, Gottfredson’s middle period of cartoon brilliance comes to the fore and opens with an uplifting and supremely funny saga originally running from July 31st to November 11th 1944 and designed to counteract the woes of a war-weary world…

After D-Day and the Allied push into Occupied Europe, the home-front morale machine began pumping out conceptions of what the liberated happy future would be like. A strip as popular as Mickey Mouse couldn’t help but join the melee and new scripter Bill Walsh produced a delightfully surreal, tongue-in-cheek parable in ‘The World of Tomorrow’: full of brilliant, incisive sight-gags and startling whimsy whilst pitting the Mouse against arch-enemy Peg Leg Pete, who was in extreme danger of conquering the entire planet, using the double-edged advances in modern science!

Walsh, Gottfredson & inker Dick Moores also produced the remainder of this delightful book for kids of all ages, which comprise a dozen one-off gag dailies from 1944 and 1945, plus a cracking sea yarn ‘The Pirate Ghost Ship’ (first serialised from April 17th to July 15th 1944) which found Mickey and faithful hound Pluto searching for treasure, defying black magic and battling sinister buccaneers in a rollicking rollercoaster of fun and frights.

Walsh (September 30th 1913 – January 27th 1975) loved working on the strip and scripted it until 1964 when his increasingly successful film career forced him to give it up.

Like all Disney comics creators these stalwarts worked in utter anonymity, but thanks to the efforts of devout fans efforts were eventually revealed and due acclaim accorded. Gottfredson died in July 1986 and Walsh did achieve a modicum of fame in his lifetime as producer of Disney’s Davy Crockett movies, and as writer/producer of The (original) Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, That Darn Cat!, The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and many others.

He was Oscar™ nominated for his Mary Poppins screenplay.

Even in these modern, accepting times anthropomorphic comics are still often derided as kids’ stuff – and indeed there’s nothing here a child wouldn’t adore – but these magical works were produced for consumers of ALL AGES and the sheer quality of Gottfredson and Walsh’s work is astounding to behold.

That so much of it has remained unseen and unsung is a genuine scandal. Thankfully most of the Gladstone Mickey Mouse albums are still readily available and we now have the scholarly and comprehensive Gottfredson Mickey Mouse Archives so you have no reason not to indulge in some of the greatest comic tails of all time.
© 1989, 1945, 1944 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor volume 2: The Weeping Angels of Mons


By Robbie Morrison, Daniel Indro, Eleonora Carlini, Slamet Mujiono, Hi-Fi & Comicraft (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-175-4 (HC)                    978-1-78276-657-5 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Wonders… 8/10

Doctor Who first materialised through our black-&-white television screens on November 23rd 1963 in the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. Less than a year later his decades-long run in TV Comic began with issue #674 and the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

Throughout the later Sixties and early 1970’s strips appeared in Countdown (later retitled TV Action) before shuttling back to TV Comic.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us under various names ever since.

All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree…

In recent years the strip portion of the Whovian mega-franchise has roamed far and wide and currently rests with British publisher Titan Comics who have sagely opted to run parallel series starring the Ninth, Tenth, and later incarnations of the tricky and tumultuous Time Lord.

This volume collects Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor issues #6-10 of the monthly comicbook, set between the conclusion of the Fourth Season starring David Tennant and the start of the Fifth, spanning November 2014 through May 2015.

Scripted by the ever-excellent Robbie Morrison (White Death, assorted 2000 AD series, Batman, Spider-Man and more) this second volume leads with a moving and memorable centenary tribute to a landmark moment from the Great War.

Illustrated by Daniel Indro and coloured by Slamet Mujiono (with letters from Richards Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt), ‘The Weeping Angels of Mons’ finds the Doctor and new companion Gabby Gonzalez confronting a pack of time-devouring Weeping Angels haunting the muddy trenches and blossoming graveyards of the shattered Belgian countryside in August 1914.

In case you’re not au fait, Angels are chronovores, living off the energy of stolen lifespans. Their victims are exiled from their true place in time to live out their lives in some distant past. Angels look like statues and can only move when you’re not looking…

This is a deeply moving tale packed with solid supporting characters all drawn from decent Scots volunteers from Paisley and put through all kinds of hell in both 1916 and the many final destinations of the victims. The saga bubbles over with loss and tragedy to balance the breakneck action and stunning examples of do-or-die valour of the ordinary heroes. That’s all the exposition you get: I’m not going to spoil it for you.

Suffice to say the Doctor is at his trenchantly wily best, observing Man’s continued follies and glorious better nature, dealing with the horrendous ETs in suitably flashy manner, and coming up with snappy solutions in the blink of an eye…

An utter change of pace comes next with ‘Echo’ (art by Eleonora Carlini and colours from Hi-Fi).

Gabby arrives back home in picturesque Sunset Park, Brooklyn, just in time for the arrival of the sonic life form known as Echoes. The poor persecuted star-wandering creatures are being hunted to extinction by the thoroughly nasty Shreekers and the resultant cacophony is shattering even New Yorker ears.

The Shreekers might have Galactic Law on their side but the Doctor and Gabby know when something needs to be done for a greater good…

This wonderfully worthy package – available in hard cover, paperback and digital editions – also offers another vast gallery of Gallifreyan alternate and variant covers (photographic, digitally manipulated, painted and/or drawn) by the likes of Tommy Lee Edwards, AJ, Verity Glass, Mariano Laclaustra, Boo Cook and more, making this a splendid and timely serving of comics magic starring an incontestable bulwark of British Fantasy.

If you’re a fan of only one form, this book might make you an addict to both. It’s a fabulous treat for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for devotees of the TV show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics a proper go…
BBC, Doctor Who (word marks, logos and devices) and Tardis are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo © BBC 2009. Tardis image © BBC 1963. First edition August 2015.

Misty Volume 2: featuring The Sentinels & End of the Line


By Malcolm Shaw, Mario Capaldi, John Richardson & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-600-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sinister Thrills and Treats for Every Stocking… 9/10

Like most of my comics contemporaries I harbour a secret shame. Growing up, I was well aware of the weeklies produced for girls but would never admit to reading them. My loss: I now know that they were packed with some great strips by astounding artists and writers, many of them personal favourites when they were drawing stalwart soldiers, marauding monsters, evil aliens or strange superheroes (all British superheroes were weird and off-kilter…).

I actually think – in terms of quality and respect for the readership’s intelligence, experience and development – girls’ periodicals were far more in tune with the sensibilities of the target audience, and I wish I’d paid more attention to Misty back then…

Thus, I’m delighted to share another peek at superb comics fare from a British publication every bit as iconoclastic and groundbreaking as its contemporary stablemate 2000AD, albeit not as long-lasting…

Despite never living up to expectations – for all the traditional editorial reasons that have scuppered bold new visions since the days of Caxton – Misty was nothing like any other comic in the British marketplace.

Girls’ comics always had a history of addressing modern social ills and issues but this Girls’ Juvenile Periodical viewed events and characters through a lens of urban horror, science fiction, moody historical mysteries and tense suspenseful dramas. It was also one of the best drawn comics ever seen and featured stunningly beguiling covers by unsung legend Shirley Bellwood, a veteran illustrator who ought to be a household name because we’ve all admired her work in comics and books since the 1950s – even if we’ve never been privileged to see her by-line…

Unlike most weeklies, Misty was created with specific themes in mind – fantasy, horror and mystery – and over its too-short existence specialised in a string of usually self-contained features serialised like modern graphic novels, rather than ever-unfolding, continuing adventures of star characters.

Although adulterated from comics legend Pat Mill’s original grand design, Misty launched on February 4th 1978 and ran until January 1980 whereupon it merged with the division’s lead title Tammy, extending its lifeline until 1984. As was often the case, the brand lived on through Annuals and Specials, which ran from 1979 until 1986…

Another in the unmissable series working under the umbrella of The Treasury of British Comics, this second compact monochrome softcover compilation offers two more complete part-work novellas from the comic’s canon of nearly 70 strip sagas, starting off with the time-bending, socially aware saga The Sentinels.

Scripted by Malcolm Shaw (Misty’s Editor and writer of dozens of strips in Britain and Europe) and illustrated by the wonderful and much travelled Mario Capaldi (Care Bears, James Bond Junior, Zorro, Thundercats, The Famous Five, A Christmas Carol and dozens of strips for Misty, Tammy, Hurricane, Eagle, Jinty, TV Action, Roy of the Rovers and others), The Sentinels leads off here.

The eerie tale of privation, intolerance, family discord and alternate universes originally ran between February 4th and April 22nd 1978 and revealed how in Birdwood on a post-war estate stood two identical tower blocks.

At least, once upon a time they were. Now whilst one is still a gleaming modern tribute to high rise modernism, somehow its twin sister had devolved into squalor and misuse: a sky-high slum tenants fled from and where apparently people vanished never to be seen again. The council had been under pressure to demolish the failing tower for years…

One day as Jan Richards comes home she learns that her family have been evicted from home. After exhausting all avenues, her mum and dad refuse to let the family be broken up and the kids put into care so they break into the evil block and begin squatting in one of the flats…

Almost immediately bizarre things start happening: Jan meets her dad in places he can’t be, she sees visions out of the windows that can’t possibly be true – and aren’t when she goes outside to check – and then her beloved dog Tiger attacks her…

The uncanny experiences continue as the squatters make the most of their new lives but Jan’s anxiety only increases. When at last she discovers the incredible secret of the ramshackle Sentinel sister, the result is the loss of her father, valiant, noble Tiger and best friend Sally and finding herself trapped in a Britain where evil reigns triumphant…

Potent, suspenseful and wickedly edgy, The Sentinels seamlessly blends powerful social commentary with traditional themes of loss and female agency whilst telling a chilling tale of parallel world peril. How this was never made into a film or Kids thriller series in the vein of Timeslip, Chocky or Children of the Stones is utterly beyond me – and it’s still not too late, as the tale’s themes are more relevant today than they’ve ever been…

From the same year (but serialised between August 12th and November 18th) and illustrated by the great John Richardson, End of the Line is a more traditional yarn of paranoia and loss, again scripted by the taken far too early Malcolm Shaw and once more presenting a story with plenty of contemporary parallels.

Richardson was a highly gifted artist with a light touch blending Brian Lewis with Frank Bellamy: a veteran visual storyteller who worked practically everywhere in Britain from 2000AD (Mean Arena, The V.C.s) to DC Thomson (Pussy Muldoon) to Marvel UK, as well as national newspapers (Amanda) and for specialist magazines such as Custom Car, Super Bike and Citizen’s Band. Here, his deft touch provides a smooth transition between slick modernity and Victorian moodiness in the saga of Ann Summerton.

The teenager and her mum are still coming to terms with the loss of breadwinner Andrew Summerton, even though he’s been gone two years now. He was one of seven men who perished in the construction of super-deep new London subway The Windsor Line.

Mum has moved on enough to be considering marriage to the deeply unpleasant “Uncle” Neville Chandler, but Ann just doesn’t like him…

Today the family are guests at the grand opening of the line, and invited to ride on the first scheduled journey along the Windsor. It’s a PR disaster however as Ann collapses in hysterical panic. She claims to have seen her dad and the other lost engineers slaving in a tunnel off the main route…

Despite the ministrations of doctors and the chiding abuse of Neville, Ann can’t get the image out of her mind. Despite the very real threat of psychological incarceration she returns to the tube again and again and uncovers evidence of a much earlier attempt to build a railway tunnel on the same route. The Prince Albert line also suffered a catastrophic collapse and was abandoned in Victorian times…

Ann eventually convinces a local reporter there might be something in the story, but when he goes missing – one amongst a slowly growing tide of disappearances – she decides to take action herself and is soon propelled into a world of nightmare and the private fiefdom of an ancient madman who has created a kingdom of the damned beneath the streets of the modern metropolis…

Evocative and dripping tension, End of the Line is a classic horror-mystery to delight anyone with a love of gothic mood and historical adventure…

Augmenting the strip thrills and chills is a reconditioned text feature appendix revealing how ‘…Your Face is Your Fortune…’ with an extended exploration of the prognosticatory clues a person’s feature reveal about them…

This engaging and tremendously compelling tome is another glorious celebration of a uniquely compelling phenomenon of British comics and one that has stood the test of time. Don’t miss this fresh chance to get in on something truly special and splendidly entertaining…
The Sentinels and End of the Line are © 1978 & 2017 Rebellion Publishing, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Misty is ™ Rebellion Publishing, Ltd. and © Rebellion Publishing, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The Funniest Book Ever! (Proven with Science!)


By Jaimie Smart, James Turner, Laura Ellen Anderson, Jess Bradley, Gary Northfield, James Stayte & various (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-013-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Silly, Sensational, Unmissable… 9/10

Nearly Christmas Again! Soon the kids will be on holiday and perpetually underfoot. Moreover, parents and extended family will be looking for presents they can afford and actually comprehend.

What about a book? A really, Really Funny Book?

Very much in the manner of classic Christmas Annuals, The Funniest Book Ever! is another wonderful compendium of captivating comics from the fabulous weekly Phoenix, designed to incapacitate your unruly young ’uns with cartoon japery and adventure. Moreover, as it proudly boasts on the cover it’s all done with SCIENCE! So, it’s even scholastically advantageous.

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of fun and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

Jam-packed within these glossy, full-colour pages are more exploits culled from the periodical pages, starring a pantheon of firm favourites, all curated by a team of junior boffins endeavouring to ascertain and confirm their theory that the universe is held together by fundamental forces best described as “The Seven Laughs”…

Acting as a proof of each are seven of the magazine’s most memorable features, as the highly technical treatise begins with Belly Rumble, an argument defined here by more arcadian action from twin stars locked in a spiralling orbit of mutually assured distraction as the execute an ongoing vendetta between implacable woodland warriors…

Concocted with feverishly glee by Jamie Smart, Bunny vs. Monkey has been a Phoenix fixture from the first issue: recounting a madcap war of nerves and ideologies between animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia which masquerades as a more-or-less mundane English Wood.

The tail-biting tension and rural war of wits and wonder-weapons began when an obnoxious simian intruder popped up after a disastrous space shot went awry. Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – a scant few miles from his blast-off site – Monkey believes himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite the continual efforts of sensibly reasonable Bunny to convince him otherwise.

For all his patience, propriety and poise, the laid-back long-ears simply cannot contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who is a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker. Things soon escalated once the simian interloper teamed up with an utterly mad scientist skunk who is master of many malign sciences and technologies…

In this tranche of turbulent tiny terrors Monkey manifests mayhem and endures great pain after declaring ‘Down with Spring’ before weaponizing Angling in a ‘Fish Off’ with Bunny and abusing history with a wooden Trojan trap in ‘There’s a Moose Loose!’

‘Leaf it Alone!’ finds the hyperactive simian turning simple garden chores into a mini-apocalypse whilst his on-going partnership with the skunk leads to an invisible bovine in the snows. However, their ‘Ca-Moo-Flaaj’ is as nothing compared to Bunny’s natural advantages…

After perverting a simple carrot with chemistry, Skunky anticipates ‘The Biggest, Mostest Enormousest Explosion in the World!’ but has not reckoned on sometime guinea pig Action Beaver’s unique appetites. A true contender for that honour arrives when Humanz chase astoundingly gifted birds into the woods and barely escape ‘The Kakapo Poo Kaboom!’ with their lives…

Even so, the nosy bipedal interlopers stick around causing problems until the critters unite to remove them using ‘A Bear Bum!’

A hunt for ‘Worms!’ then leads to a cacophonous din after which a dragon incursion leads to a need for knight service in ‘Arise, Lord Wuffywuff!’

The abrupt menacing return of ‘Skunky!’ only provides disappointment and confusion, but his crazed influence remains once he unleashes his devastating, colossal De-Forester 9000, resulting in the unthinkable as Bunny and Monkey declare ‘The Truce!’ that leads to the mega-munching machine’s demise.

By the time Action Beaver becomes ‘The Messenger!’ for Skunky’s poison letters, all bets are off again and it’s every critter for himself, leading to a doomed summit meeting at a hot spring in ‘Time to Get Along!’

The sinister scientist then proves you can have too much of a good thing after his Multiplyer accidentally creates a tidal wave of ‘Doughnuts!’ before a special event proclaims ‘An Exclusive Bunny Vs Monkey Detective Story: The Curious Case of the Pig in the Night Time’ with our entire outré cast going through their Sherlock Holmesian motions…

‘The Order of the Moose!’ is a secret woodland society sworn to protect nature at all costs and after we see them spectacularly underperform this section concludes with Monkey and Skunky testing their nine-megaton ‘Explosive Sweets!’

The next component of the larger debate is the Cosmic Chuckle and that means a heaping helping of Star Cat: one of the wildest rides in the wondrous weekly anthology as crafted by the astoundingly clever James Turner (Super Animal Adventure Squad, The Unfeasible Adventures of Beaver and Steve).

The strip began in issue #0 and has been synchronising orbits irregularly ever since…

The premise is timeless and instantly engaging, revealing the far-out endeavours of a bunch of spacefaring nincompoops in the classic mock-heroic manner. There’s so very far-from-dauntless Captain Spaceington, extremely dim amoeboid Science Officer Plixx, inarticulate and barely housebroken beastie The Pilot and Robot One, who quite arrogantly and erroneously believes himself one of the smartest thinkers in the cosmos.

The colossal, formidable void-busting vessel they traverse the universe in looks like a gigantic ginger tom because that is what it is: half-cat, half-spaceship. What more do you need to know?

Hypothesised here are a brace of extended exploits beginning with ‘Just Deserts’ as the intrepid band crash on to super Saharan sand world and suffer the agonies of the damned – sort of – before ‘Computational Capers’ finds them back in space and battling a tyrannical computer with ideas above his (work) station…

Evil Cackle cites Evil Emperor Penguin as proof of concept. The strip was conceived and created by children’s book illustrator/author Laura Ellen Anderson (Kittens, Snow Babies) and stars a bad – brilliant but Bad – bird who lurks in a colossal fortress beneath the Antarctic, where he strives tirelessly towards his stated goal of absolute global domination.

His only assistance – if you can call it that – comes in the form of an army of hench-minions: most notably stylish, erudite administrative lackey Number 8 and cute, diminutive, fuzzy, loyal, utterly inventive abominable snowman clone Eugene.

Evil Emperor Penguin had originally whipped up a batch of 250, but none of the others are anything like Eugene…

EEP then appointed the fluffy, bizarrely inventive tyke his Top Minion but somehow never managed to instil within him the proper degree of ruthless evilness. The hairy halfwit is, however, a dab-hand with engineering, building stuff and cooking spaghetti hoops, so it’s not a total loss…

The polar pirate starts this particular campaign of terror by attempting to crash a sporty party for the world’s top brass in ‘Human Nature’ parts I & 2. To assist his gatecrashing the Annual World Leader Olympics, the bad bird has to wear a human-shaped robot suit and that’s never a good thing, is it?

Everybody loves cute kittens, which is what Debra is counting on when she uses soppy Eugene to infiltrate the fortress and steal all the Spaghetti Hoops in ‘What’s New Pussy Cat’. She’s the cousin of Evil Cat (EEP’s insidious rival in the Word Domination stakes) and with the team – and even Evil Cat – helplessly trapped, they must all surrender all pride and dignity and call on jolly unicorn Keith to save them in ‘Rainbows to the Rescue’

The nefarious nonsense recommences with 2-part thriller-chiller ‘I Will Crèche You’ wherein EEP’s incredible De-Agefying Youth Juice causes havoc after Evil Cat breaks into the citadel and everybody gets a rejuvenating soaking…

The ice escapades conclude with ‘Eugene’s Day Off’: an unremitting stream of great experiences for the faithful servitor, but, for the Penguin Potentate – having to make do with substandard substitute Neill – a string of catastrophic, humiliating and painful disasters…

Wild Card calculation Squid Fits leads us inexorably to Jess Bradley’s diverting digressions Squid Bits! A proof of Laugh #4: that features gags, absurd Things To Do and odd innovations ranging from Monster Fashion to Red Panda’s Insult Guide and Cut ‘n’ Keep Characters to Official Words for Everyday Sounds!

These Fishy fascinations precede the arrival of next stellar party particle star turn as Critter Titter invites a closer inspection of Gary’s Garden.

This marvellous minibeast comedy-adventure is crafted by Gary Northfield (Beano’s Derek the Sheep, The Terrible Tales of the Teeytinysaurs) and explores human nature through the fauna and flora unnoticed at our feet.

Human laggard Gary, like most of us, doesn’t do as much as he should in his back yard – and the assorted birds, beasts and bugs despise him for it – but at least it means they can all live their lives in relative peace and quiet…

The occasional series began in The Phoenix #2, and this seditious sampling opens with an army of brassed-off birds raiding the lazy lump’s kitchen cupboards, after which nocturnal raiders reveal the basics of bin-raiding whilst at the treeline an ambitious bug steals a golden acorn and dissolves into ego mania as a six-limbed Sith lord…

As Larry Ladybird hunts for his beloved Elaine and dreads her elopement with Dracula, in the pond a tadpole is daydreaming with amazing consequences and an art class is being disrupted by a most intransigent slug.

When Stunt Slug’s attention-grabbing scheme goes awry, a motley band of beasts, birds and bugs occupy themselves by entering the Great Garden Bake Off – in a festive extra-long episode before the examples end with the debut of a chitinous band of merrie “men” and a new Ladybird Robin Hood…

Barbarian Celebrity Chef Gorebrah! crushes evil whilst concocting outrageous recipes and tasty treats so he’s the ideal exemplar of the Gastronomic Guffaw: offering a selection of dishes and disasters including prehistoric demonic biscuits embedded in glacial ice, princess-flavoured milkshakes, monopolised by cloud-dwelling giants, smoky sausage bats and a duel with a rival gustatory wild man.

Later mirth -&-mayhem packed menus include the gnomish origins of pasta salad and the creepiest dish in the world, saved from an alien invader deep inside an Antarctic culinary school…

Th scientific arguments crash to a halt with the Uncontrollable Giggle as Looshkin – the Adventures of the Maddest Cat in the World!! – seals the thesis with a sleek sheen of feline frenzy and surreal Shock and Awe.

Devised by Jamie Smart (yeah, the guy who invented Bunny vs. Monkey, Corporate Skull and bunches of other brilliant strips for Beano, Dandy and others) this is a brilliantly bonkers addition to the vast feline pantheon of truly horrifying hairballs infesting the graphic universe.

This anarchic kitty is just like yours: cute, innocently malign and able to twist the bounds of credibility and laws of physics whenever the whim takes him…

Quite naturally, the epic begins with an origin of sorts as Mrs Alice Johnson brings home a kitten from the pet shop. Not one of the adorable little beauties at the front of the store, though, but the odd, creepy, lonely little fuzzy hidden at the back of the store…

The Johnsons are not your average family. Firstborn son Edwin watches too many horror films and keeps a book of spells in his room whilst Dad is a brilliant inventor who needs peace and quiet to complete his fart-powered jet-pack or potato-powered tractor. It’s not long before those days are gone for good…

The sweet little daughter isn’t all she seems either: when kitten Looshkin is subjected to an innocent tea party in the garden, her toys all secretly warn the cat of the horrors in store. All too soon teddy bear Bear is subjected to a hideous cake-arson assault.

Surprisingly, Looshkin takes it all in stride and even escalates the carnage and chaos whenever and however he can. It seems he has found his natural home… or is it all in his be-whiskered little head?

The selection opens with ‘How to Make Friends and Annoy Bears’ as the cat’s nocturnal pranks result in cacophonous calamity after which ‘ThbthbtThhhhhhhhhhhHonk!’ reveals the lengths some folk will go to in executing the perfect raspberry…

‘Danger Sausage’ might not be everyone’s ideal superhero but Looshkin thinks he’s the business, after which a frog glove-puppet claims ‘I’m Not to Blame’ when a bulldozer destroys the garden…

‘Wooooooo – cough – oooooooh!!’ proves that even ghosts know when they’re outclassed in the scaring stakes after which ‘Meanwhile in Croydon’ finds the frenetic feline getting a job in marketing and ‘Nee-Naw! Nee-Naw! Nee-Naw! Neeeee-Nawww!’ sees the transition to a nursing career after almost fatally injuring Mr. Johnson.

Science then goes Boink! and reality gets temporarily inverted with the mind-bending ‘Big Silly Blue Cat Who Are You and What are you Doing in my House? before consistency, if not normality, are restored in ‘With Great Power Comes Giant Lasers’ as a certain cat becomes US president and leader of the Free World. Don’t scoff; stranger things have happened…

‘Due to an Incident involving Angry Clowns There Now Follows a Change in our Usual Programming’ see the madcap mouser drawn into the mesmerising power of old sitcoms whilst ‘Doorbell Ding Dong!!’ opens a war of postal one-upmanship between cat and Bear…

The brain-blasting advent of the cat’s mercurial Great Uncle Olaf begins with ‘Loooshkin! Oh Looshkin, Where Are You? You’ve Been Missing for Ages’ but is soon sidelined when Edwin’s magical library is used to call up something dreadful by ‘The Lump Whisperer’

When Looshkin indulges in some prognostication the outcome is never in doubt especially for ‘Pig!’, but the cat is back on terrifying form in ‘Ooooh!! I’m Bustin’!’ when an outbreak of gastric unhappiness coincides with the sudden sabotage of every toilet in town…

There’s a big surprise for all concerned when Looshkin invents a vicious new game in ‘A New Challenger Appears!’ before everything wraps up in seasonal spirit with a bizarre trip to the twilight zone of yule tide with ‘A Christmas Special!!’

Arguments thus presented, (see what I did there?) this bonanza tome – packed with fun, thrills and the type of bizarre, nonsensical wonderment kids love but can’t explain to anyone over 21 – leaves it to you to judge the veracity of the science. That’s best done by reading and rereading The Funniest Book Ever: a superb package of British-style children’s humour and adventure any parent should be proud to own. Christmas is Saved!
Text and illustrations © 2018 Jaimie Smart, James Turner, Laura Ellen Anderson, Jess Bradley, Gary Northfield, James Stayte as appropriate. All rights reserved.

Alien: The Illustrated Story


By Archie Goodwin & Walter Simonson, from a screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and a story by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett (Heavy Metal/Futura)
ISBN: 978-0-93036-842-5                  978-1-78116-595-9 (Titan Books Facsimile 2012)

Alien was released in 1979 and utterly redefined the science fiction cinema genre. It pretty much did the same for horror stories too.

Creeping in on the back of the jolly adventuring romps of the Star Wars phenomenon and its shiny, happy, Valerian rip-offs “homages”, Dan O’Bannon’s dark tale and Ridley Scott’s grimly meticulous vision reintroduced the vital element of apocalyptic terror that had been absent from the medium since the headiest, most utterly paranoiac days of 1950s B-Movies.

You know the plot: a bunch of interstellar miners are diverted by their untrustworthy bosses to a lost planet where they find an extraterrestrial shipwreck. One of the humans is infected by something uncanny and beyond the explorers’ meagre imaginings and brings aboard a ghastly killer that grows and hides and changes. Picking off the crew one by one, it cannot be stopped, escaped from or killed…

Lots of films have had comics adaptations: good bad or indifferent. Very few have ever come as close to capturing the stunning, senses-overloading feel – rather than the plot or look or detail – of the source material, although all of those too are well-catered for in this slim but superb graphic extravaganza from the award-winning creative team of Archie Goodwin & Walt Simonson (see Manhunter: The Special Edition for perhaps their ultimate moment of comics collaboration).

Spectacular, engrossing, visually innovative (in both storytelling and lettering/calligraphic effects) and absolutely absorbing, this hard-to-find gem – either in the original US edition from Heavy Metal Productions, this mass-market UK edition from Futura, or any of the later reissues in a variety of formats and sizes – is a true landmark of comics, long overdue for a definitive release with plenty of bonus features and preferably only in the original large, square European Album format please…
© 1979 by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Guide to Groot – a Sound Book


By Matthew K. Manning & Nicholas Rix (Becker & Mayer! books/Quarto)
ISBN: 978-0-7603-6217-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sheer Delight for Youngsters of Any Age… 9/10

Technically speaking, Groot is one of Marvel’s oldest characters, having debuted as a woody alien invader in Tales to Astonish #13 (cover-dated November 1960), a good year before Fantastic Four #1.

Crafted by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, ‘I Challenged Groot! The Monster from Planet X’ revealed how a studious biologist saved humanity from a rapacious rampaging tree intent on stealing Earth cities and shipping them back to his distant world. That tale’s not in this tome, because in the intervening decades the deciduous despot cleaned up his act, pruned off the bad wood and now resides firmly on the side of the good guys…

As a beloved star of print and screen, the leafy legend has profoundly planted himself in the hearts of kids everywhere and this nifty marriage of sound and vision allows readers to enjoy a succession of cool narrative image scenarios by Nicholas Rix whilst Rocket Raccoon (in his identity of author Matthew K. Manning) clarifies the intricacies of Groot’s seemingly limited vocabulary in text. And all while Groot emotes right in your ears!

This is all achieved via a selection of 10 pushbutton activated sound files, each revealing the utterance nuances of the titanic timber-man’s 3-word vocalisations.

Following Rocket’s Introduction, the lessons commence with “I Am Groot” which of course means ‘Hello’ whereas the second spoken “I Am Groot” reveals just how the super sapling says ‘Did You Mean This?’

You get the picture – and they’re all beautifully rendered illustrations of key moments featuring Star-Lord, Gamora, Mantis, Drax, Rocket and other old favourites – as they are followed in close order by ‘I Gotcha’, ‘Nope. Not Gonna Happen’, ‘Geez. Leave Me Alone, Already’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Trust Me. I Got This’, ‘I Want That!’, ‘Face My Wrath, Chumps!’ and ‘I Love You’

This is a marvellously accessible addition to any fan’s library or toybox so it’s a shame that Guide to Groot is not available in the UK yet. Still, as I’m sure you know the internet is your friend in situations like these…

I am Groot I am Groot I am Groot, I am Groot I am Groot I Am Groot I am Groot-I am Groot I am Groot I am…
© 2018 Marvel. MARVEL and all characters, names and distinct likenesses thereof ™ & © 2018 Marvel characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents The War that Time Forgot


By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Russ Heath, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1253-7

The War That Time Forgot debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90 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…).

At present this stunningly bizarre black-&-white compendium is the only comprehensive collection: gathering together all the monstrously madcap material from SSWS #90, 92, 94-125 and 127-128 spanning April-May 1960 to August 1966.

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 – and probably girls too, if truth be told – 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, Romance, superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman and other 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 scripted the Golden Age iterations of Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary, Dr. Pat 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 launched 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 try-out 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 paratroopers and tanks of “Question Mark Patrol” are dropped on Mystery Island from whence no American soldiers have ever returned. The crack warriors discover why when the operation is 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!’ take up most of SSWS #94 as a squad of second-rate Underwater Demolitions Team divers are trapped on the island, encountering the usual bevy of blockbuster brutes and a colossal crab as well.

What starts out as Paratroopers versus Pterodactyls in #95 turns into a deadly turf-war in ‘Guinea Pig Patrol!’ whilst ‘Mission X!’ introduces the Task Force X/Suicide Squad in a terse infiltration story with the increasing eager US military striving 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 as a giant gorilla joins the regular roster of horrors, after which a frustrated palaeontologist is blown off course and into his wildest nightmare in ‘The Island of Thunder’. The rest of his airborne platoon aren’t nearly as excited 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 face the greatest challenge of their lives after washing up on Mystery Island and narrowly escape death by dinosaur. They aren’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 is dispatched to the monstrous preserve to field-test the Army’s latest weapon: a fully automatic, artificial G.I. Joe, who promptly saves 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 dwarfs the dinosaurs.

The mecha-epic 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!’ when a far-ranging pterodactyl drags the brothers back to the isle of no return for another explosive engagement.

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

The action shifts to the oceans surrounding the island for sub-sea shocker ‘Battle of the Dinosaur Aquarium!’ with plesiosaurs, titanic turtles, colossal crabs and crocodilians on the menu, before hitting the beaches in #108 for ‘Dinosaur D-Day!’ as the monsters take up residence in the Navy’s landing craft.

‘The Last Soldiers’ pits determined tank-men against a string of scaly perils on land, sea and air, after which a new Suicide Squad debut in #110 to investigate a ‘Tunnel of Terror’ into the lost land of giant monsters: this time though, the giant gorilla is on their side…

That huge hairy beast is the star of ‘Return of the Dinosaur Killer!’ as the harried Squad leader and a wily boffin (visually based on Kanigher’s office associate Julie Schwartz) struggle to survive on the tropically reptilian atoll, whilst ‘Dinosaur Sub-Catcher!’ shifts the locale to freezing ice floes as a pack of lost sea dinosaurs attack a polar submarine and US weather station.

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

Issue #115’s ‘Battle Dinner for Dinosaurs!’ has 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 here Morgan and Mace are 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 scarcely-suppressed animosity, whilst ‘The Plane-Eater!’ finds the army odd couple adrift in the Pacific and in deep danger until the leather-winged little 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 battle saurian horrors and each other to the death, after which the apparently un-killable Morgan and Mace return with Dino, the flying baby dinosaur.

They make a new ally and companion in handy hominid Caveboy before the whole unlikely ensemble struggle to survive against increasingly outlandish creatures in ‘The Tank Eater!’

Issue #121 presented another diving drama as a UDT frogman gains his Suicide Squad berth and proves to be a formidable fighter and ultimately, ‘The Killer of Dinosaur Alley!’

Increasingly now, G.I. hardware and ordnance began to gain the upper hand over bulk, fang and claw…

Much-missed 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 battle incredible underwater insect monsters but are 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!’ before Andru & Esposito returned to depict ‘Terror in a Bottle!’. This was 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!’ in #127.

The last tale in this volume (#128) then sees Colan resurface to illuminate a masterfully moving human drama which is actually improved by the inclusion of ravening reptiles in ‘The Million Dollar Medal!’.

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 Tales, G. I. Combat and especially the magnificent Tim Truman Guns of the Dragon miniseries all end up in sequel compilations before too much more time has passed.

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

Showcase Presents Eclipso


By Bob Haney, Lee Elias, Alex Toth, Jack Sparling & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2315-1

Although it’s generally accepted that everybody loves a good villain they seldom permit them the opportunity of starring in their own series (except perhaps in British comics, where for decades the most bizarre and outrageous rogues such as Charlie Peace, Spring-Heeled Jack, Dick Turpin, Von Hoffman or The Dwarf were seen as far more interesting than mere lawmen).

However, when America went superhero crazy in the 1960s (even before the Batman TV show sent the entire world into a wild and garish “High Camp” frenzy) DC converted all of its anthology titles into character-driven vehicles. Long-running paranormal investigator Mark Merlin suddenly found himself sharing the cover spot with a costumed but very different kind of co-star.

Breathing new life into the hallowed Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde concept, Bob Haney & Lee Elias debuted ‘Eclipso, The Genius Who Fought Himself’ in House of Secrets #61 (cover-dated July-August 1963. It began the torturous saga of solar scientist Bruce Gordon who was cursed to become host to a timeless Evil.

Whilst observing a solar eclipse on tropical Diablo Island, Gordon is attacked and wounded by Mophir, a crazed witchdoctor wielding a black diamond. As a result, whenever an eclipse occurs Gordon’s body is possessed by a demonic, destructive alter ego with incredible powers and malign hyper-intellect.

The remainder of the first instalment showed how the intangible interloper destroyed Gordon’s greatest achievement: a futuristic solar-powered city.

The format established, Gordon, his fiancé Mona Bennett and her father, who was also Gordon’s mentor, pursued and battled the incredible Eclipso and his increasingly astounding schemes. At least he had a handy weakness: exposure to sudden bright lights would propel him back to his cage within Bruce Gordon…

‘Duel of the Divided Man’ saw the helpless scientist attempting to thwart the uncontrollable transformations by submerging to the bottom of the Ocean and exiling himself to space – to no effect, whilst in ‘Eclipso’s Amazing Ally!’ – illustrated by the justifiably-legendary Alex Toth – the malignant presence manifests when an artificial eclipse and lab accident frees him entirely from Gordon’s body.

Against the backdrop of a South American war Gordon and Professor Bennett struggle to contain the liberated horror but all is not as it seems…

Issue #64 ‘Hideout on Fear Island’ finds Gordon, Mona and Bennett hijacked to a Caribbean nation inundated by giant plants for an incredible clash with giant robots and Nazi scientists. Naturally, when Eclipso breaks out things go from bad to worse…

‘The Man Who Destroyed Eclipso’ has the Photonic Fiend kidnap Mona before a deranged physicist actually separates Eclipso and Gordon as part of his wild scheme to steal a nuclear missile, after which the threat of a terrifying alien omnivore forces heroes and villain to temporarily join forces in ‘The Two Faces of Doom!’

‘Challenge of the Split-Man!’ sees Gordon and Eclipso once more at odds as the desperate scientist returns to Mophir’s lair in search of a cure before inexplicably following the liberated villain to a robot factory in Scotland.

Veteran cartoonist Jack Sparling took over the artist’s role with #68 wherein ‘Eclipso’s Deadly Doubles!’ reveal how Gordon’s latest attempt to effect a cure only multiplies his problems, after which ‘Wanted: Eclipso Dead or Alive!’ relates how the beleaguered boffin is hired by Scotland Yard to capture himself – or at least his wicked and still-secret other self…

‘Bruce Gordon, Eclipso’s Ally!’ returns the long-suffering trio to Latin America where an accident robs Gordon of his memory – but not his curse – leading to the most ironic alliance in comics…

‘The Trial of Eclipso’ has the periodically freed felon finally captured by the police and threatening to expose Gordon’s dark secret after which ‘The Moonstone People’ strand the Bennetts, Gordon and Eclipso on a lost island populated by scientists who haven’t aged since their own arrival in 1612…

Even such a talented writer as Bob Haney occasionally strained at the restrictions of writing a fresh story for a villainous protagonist under Comics Code Restrictions, and later tales became increasingly more outlandish after ‘Eclipso Battles the Sea Titan’, in which a subsea monster threatens not just the surface world but also Eclipso’s ultimate refuge – Bruce Gordon’s fragile body…

Another attempt to expel or eradicate the horror inside accidentally creates a far more dangerous enemy in ‘The Negative Eclipso’ after which a criminal syndicate, fed up with the Photonic Fury’s disruption of their operations, decrees ‘Eclipso Must Die!’

It had to happen – and did – when Mark Merlin (in his new and unwieldy superhero persona of Prince Ra-Man) met his House of Secrets stable-mate in book-length thriller ‘Helio, the Sun Demon!’ (#76, with the concluding second chapter drawn by the inimitable Bernard Baily).

Here Eclipso creates a fearsome, fiery solar slave and the Bennetts team with the enigmatic super-sorcerer to free Bruce and save the world from flaming destruction.

All-out fantasy subsumed suspense in the strip’s dying days with aliens and weird creatures abounding, such as ‘The Moon Creatures’ which Eclipso grew from lunar dust to do his wicked bidding or the hidden treasure of Stonehenge that transformed him into a ‘Monster Eclipso’.

Issue #79 saw a return match for Prince Ra-Man in ‘The Master of Yesterday and Tomorrow!’ with Baily again pitching for an extended epic wherein Eclipso gets his scurrilous hands on a selection of time-bending trinkets, before #80 (October 1966) ended the series with no fanfare, no warning and no ultimate resolution as ‘The Giant Eclipso!’ pitted the fade-away fiend against mutants, cops and his own colossal doppelganger.

Not everything old is gold and this quirky, exceedingly eccentric collection of comics thrillers certainly won’t appeal to everyone. However, there is a gloriously outré charm and helter-skelter, fanciful delight in these silly but absorbing sagas.

If you’re of an open-minded mien and the art of Elias, Toth, Sparling and Baily appeals as it should to all right-thinking fans (the drawing never looked more vibrant or effective than in this crisp and splendid black and white collection) then this old-world casket of bizarre wonders will certainly appeal.

Not for him or her or them then, but perhaps this book is for you?
© 1963-1966, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Survivors Book 2: The Eyes That Burned


By Hermann, translated by Dwight R. Decker (Fantagraphics Books)
No ISBN: ASIN: B005KE6S2K

Hermann Huppen was born in 1938 in Bévercé, in what is now the Malmedy region of Liège Province, Belgium. He studied to become a furniture maker and worked as an interiors architect before finally settling on a career in comics.

His true vocation commenced in 1963 when he joined with writer Greg (Michel Régnier) to create cop series Bernard Prince for Tintin. The artist then added to his weekly chores with Roman adventure serial Jugurtha (scripted by Jean-Luc Vernal) and in 1969 expanded his portfolio further by adding the Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output…

Bernard Prince and Comanche made Hermann a superstar of the industry – a status he has built upon with further classics such as The Towers of Bois-Maury, oneiric fantasy Bonnes Nuits, Nic!, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16, Afrika and many more.

However, Hermann bravely dropped guaranteed money-spinner Prince (but stayed with Comanche because of his abiding love for western- themed material) when a rival publisher offered him the opportunity to write and draw his own strip. That was legendary European comics impresario (and Hermann’s agent) Ervin Rustemagic, who slotted his new dystopian thriller into German magazine Zack. Soon the strip was appearing in translation all over the world.

By my count there are 34 volumes and one Special Edition (most of which can be read as stand-alone tales) in circulation globally and has been serialised in Journal de Spirou, Metal Hurlant, Stripoteka and Politikin Zabavnik amongst others.

Jeremiah is a saga of survival and friendship in a post-apocalyptic world – with all the trappings of later hits like Mad Max – but inexplicably, despite its American settings and the sheer quality of the stories and art, has never really caught on in the US.

Fantagraphics were the first to introduce the unlikely hero and his world – retitled The Survivors! – in the opening years of the specialised Comicbook Direct Sales marketplace.

That heady air of enterprise and openness to new and different kinds of illustrated experiences somehow didn’t spread to Jeremiah, however, and the series vanished after just two translated volumes.

Catalan took up the challenge next with a single album in 1990, after which Malibu released a triptych of 2-issue comicbook miniseries between January and September 1991.

At the end of 2002, Dark Horse Comics partnered with Europe’s Strip Art Features syndicate to bring the series to the public attention again; releasing later albums with no appreciable response or reward, despite tying in to the broadcasting of J. Michael Straczynski and Sam Egan’s woefully disappointing TV series based on the strip.

In 2012 the publishers had another shot: releasing the first nine European albums in three of their always-appealing Omnibus editions. These are harder to find than hen’s teeth (even after a civilisation ending nuclear exchange) so now I’m having another go.

I’m not publishing anything, just categorically stating that Jeremiah – in whatever printed iteration you can find it – is one of the finest bodies of sequential graphic storytelling and illustrative excellence ever put to paper, so if you love science fiction, gritty westerns, rugged adventure or simply bloody good comics, somehow track down Hermann’s masterpiece and give it a go.

In case you need a bit of plot and context, here’s what happens in the first tale as delivered by Fantagraphics. La Nuit des rapaces was released as a French-language Album in April 1979 and picked up by the US Indy publisher in 1982.

It describes how America died, not due to political intrigue or military error but as the result of a grotesque and appalling race war.

When the dust settled and the blood dried, the republic was reduced to pockets of survivors scavenging in ruins or grubbing out a life from leftover machines and centuries-old farming practises. It was a new age of settlers, pioneers and bandits. There was no law but brute force and every walled community lived in terror of strangers…

In that pitiless world, Jeremiah was an unhappy, rebellious teen who craved excitement and despised his little dirt-grubbing, formidably-stockaded village of Bend’s Hatch.

He got his wish the night he was late home. Locked out and stuck in the desert wastelands, the callow boy encountered youthful nomadic scavenger Kurdy Malloy and wound up beaten and unconscious. The assault saved his life…

Finally reaching home next morning, Jeremiah found the village razed and burning, with everything of value taken – including all able-bodied men. women and children…

Assuming Kurdy at least partly responsible, Jeremiah tracked the wanderer and saved him from being tortured by other outlaws in the desert wastes. A cack-handed rescue resulted in them establishing an uneasy truce whilst Kurdy taught the kid the necessities of life on the run.

Determined to find his people, Jeremiah and Kurdy followed their trail to the thriving outlaw town of Langton. The makeshift metropolis was divided in two: ordinary folk and an army of thugs led by a debauched madman Mr. W. E. Birmingham

From a central citadel his thugs run roughshod over everybody else, but before long the newcomers stoked resentment and anger into full rebellion…

When the shooting stopped the settlers were in control and Jeremiah convinced Kurdy to invade the Red Nation in search of the missing slaves…

Due to the exigencies of Fantagraphics’ licensing deal, the second translated volume was actually fourth Euro-Album Les Yeux de fer rouge (first released in 1980), but the jump is barely noticeable.

In Du sable plein les dent and Les Héritiers sauvages the lads successfully infiltrate and escape from tyrannical insular Indian country, but without freeing any captives. Now they are wandering the vast, malformed wastelands in search of a prisoner who has escaped the Red Dictatorship…

The Eyes That Burned opens in those eerie expanses with the brutalised boys uneasily catching glimpses of something strange dogging them. As night falls they meet a pioneer family whose wagon has become bogged down, but, even after tense, untrusting introductions slowly resolve into uneasy alliance, the combined stragglers are unable to free the conveyance.

The situation changes when macabre showman Pinkus L. C. Khobb pops up out of nowhere and has his heavily-cloaked performer and companion Idiamh lift the vehicle free. The weird strangers are gone before the party can thank them, but doughty matron Faye has had some kind of seizure and now sits comatose and unresponsive…

Unable to help, Jeremiah and Kurdy press on, tracking their target to a grim hell-hole town dubbed Lerbin’s Gate. Although they ride horses, they are amazed to find Pinkus has got there ahead of them. As they unsuccessfully enquire about the Indian escapee, the showman and his act perform spectacularly. The crowds are suitably enthralled but some of the visitors are taken strangely ill immediately afterwards…

When the boys decide to return to the wastes and scout around the Indian borderland, Pinkus is watching…

The altered terrain is a terrifying hellscape of sand, dust and petrified flora and before long, the lads are pretty sure their increasingly close calls with death are no accidents…

Eventually, they cross the barrier back into Indian territory and encounter motorised war parties rounding up escaped slaves. After a brutal skirmish they also face an utterly unexpected outcome: survivors from Bend’s Hatch being helped by a traitor in the Indian military and covertly running an underground railroad for fleeing slaves…

The reunion and exultancy only last until Pinkus pops up again, revealing his cruel conniving connection to the slaver state before turning his deadly mutant monster on the fugitives…

Sadly for the vile vaudevillian, Jeremiah is fast, observant, deeply intuitive and just as ruthless…

Fast-paced, explosively engaging, with wry and positively spartan writing and fantastic twists on classic cinema tropes, The Eyes That Burned uses beautiful pictures to tell a compelling story that is one the best homages to the wild west ever crafted. Try it and see…
The Survivors! volume Two: The Eyes That Burned © 1982 Koralle, Hamburg.