The Adventures of John Blake volume 1: Mystery of the Ghost Ship


By Phillip Pullman & Fred Fordham (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-91098-929-6 (HB)                    978-1-78845-059-1 (PB)

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 cartoon fun, fact 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…

The potent periodical is rapidly approaching the 300th issue and showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, the company is expanding its output through a range of graphic novels and a new imprint of cartoon and strip illustrated biographies highlighting historical and contemporary groundbreakers and Earthshakers. Keep your eyes peeled for our reviews – and more importantly the actual books – bearing the legend First Names

Today however, it’s the turn of another kind of landmark, one from that aforementioned growing library of graphic novels for young people, and heralding the advent of a new juvenile hero in the grand tradition of Jim Hawkins and Alex Rider

Prestigious and multi award-winning author Philip Pullman (The Haunted Storm, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, His Dark Materials) is a bit of a comics fan and – joined here by artist and painter Fred Fordham (Nightfall, Aces High, The Phoenix) – in 2017 introduced a bold new hero in beguiling and gripping sea yarn of mystery, imagination and literally timeless adventure.

Now available in a mass market paperback edition, Mystery of the Ghost Ship blends maritime swashbuckling, contemporary corporate skulduggery, sci fi bravado and high-octane espionage derring-do in a mesmerising rollercoaster ride of action and intrigue…

The eternal oceans obscure and contain many secrets, but none more baffling than the enigmatic Mary Alice: a roving phantom schooner perpetually wreathed in fog and mired in doom-laden prophecy and legend.

Seagoing folk have spoken of its comings and goings for decades – possibly centuries – and dread catching the attention of the red-shirted boy who gazes out from her silent, vaporous bow. The old adage says that those who look him in the eyes will be dead in a month…

In some ultra-modern quarters, the legends are taken extremely seriously. Tech-billionaire Carlos Dahlberg has been devoting precious time and immense amounts of his cutting-edge resources to tracking the Mary Alice, compiling sightings going back as far as 1614 Anno Domini.

He has to. Although notionally the most powerful man on Earth, his entire empire could be shattered by the appalling event he instigated one night in 1973 San Francisco: one witnessed and recorded by the ship’s youngest crewman…

Also obsessed with plotting the ship’s course and history is oceanographer Danielle Quayle Reid. So effective is she that her endeavours make her another target for Dahlberg’s ruthless and omnipresent organisation…

A third interested party is hyper-efficient British intelligence operative Commander Roger Blake. He and his superiors at the Admiralty have also been piecing together the myths surrounding the Mary Alice. They have a slight advantage in that they already know when, where and why the 1929 Einstein-Carmichael Expedition concealed an early high energy particle experiment that abruptly ended in a bizarre and uncanny accident.

What nobody knows yet is how that trip resulted in the luckless schooner being lost in the mists of time or what has happened to it since…

Someone with far more hands-on experience of the vessel is Australian schoolgirl Serena Henderson. When her woefully-inexperienced dad abruptly decided to sail his family around the world in 2017, Serena was promptly lost at sea somewhere in the South Pacific.

Tossed about in a huge storm she is plucked from a watery fate by an intense boy named John Blake and becomes the latest addition to a crew of seemingly-doomed seamen rescued by the ghostly crimson mist-runner.

As the boy tries to explain the strange meanderings of the ship, Serena gets to know the resolute, unflappable Captain Quayle and Davy Johnson, last survivors of the original 1929 crew and learns that all of the mariners are temporary travellers.

The ship perpetually (and apparently aimlessly) sails from age to age, epoch to epoch. Whenever the Mary Alice stops there is the chance of being attacked, picking up another sailor, and very occasionally visiting a port and time that allows a voyager to return to approximately their home era.

Serena’s current shipmates include Chinese trader Sammy Wu (picked up in the 1890s), British deckhand Charlie Banks (1790), 17th century Devon fisherman – and escaped slave of Barbary pirates – Dick Merryfield and Marcus Tullius Pallas, a Roman engineer hailing from the end of the 2nd century AD. They are all rather in awe of John, who seems to exert some control over the ship’s wanderings and is the only one to understand the arcane workings of the engine that moves them all.

As they progress about the sea through time and space, Serena is deemed to be far luckier than all of them as her initial outing looks to be her last. The schooner is heading for Fiji and remains – or has returned to – 2017…

In a world of satellites and instantaneous communications her return is suddenly big news and Danielle Quayle Reid is soon heading there too. She only makes it because Roger Blake intercepts and forcefully deals with the merciless mercenaries Dahlberg set on her trail…

When John brings Serena back to her family, more of the billionaire’s thugs are waiting to capture him, but the valiant kids double back, eluding them after a frantic high-speed chase culminating in their return to the swiftly-fading schooner…

Revealing close family ties to members of the ghost crew, Roger and Danielle compare notes and decide to go after Dahlberg even as, aboard the ship, John and Serena discuss their plight and the tech-entrepreneur’s reasons for hunting them.

John knows he is close to fixing the ship’s randomness and swears Mary Alice is both alive and helping him. After a chilling encounter with a true enigma of the deep, the schooner “fortuitously” approaches present-day San Francisco and a truly explosive showdown with Dahlberg, unaware that the missing piece of the puzzle rests with Roger and Danielle who are also closing in on the monied murder-fiend…

Also offering a full rundown on ‘The Crew’, this debut outing blends blockbuster action and superspy chic with eerie mystery and enchanting fantasy to entice and enthral readers who would love to see Horatio Hornblower, Dan Dare and James Bond team up to battle bad guys and trounce villainy in extreme HD and cosmic SurroundSound.

A non-stop joy from start to finish with the promise of more and even better to come…
Text © Philip Pullman 2017 and illustrations © Fred Fordham 2017. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of John Blake volume 1: Mystery of the Ghost Ship paperback edition will be released on 7th June 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Sky Masters of the Space Force: The Complete Dailies


By Jack Kirby, Dick & Dave Wood, Wally Wood & Dick Ayers (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-61345-129-8

Sky Masters of the Space Force was – and remains – a beautiful and eminently readable newspaper strip but one with a chequered and troubled back-story. How much so you can discover for yourself when you buy the book.

Even ever-upbeat and inspirational comics mega-creator Jack Kirby spent decades trying to forget the grief caused by his foray into the newspaper strip market during the height of the Space Race before finally relenting in his twilight years and giving his blessing to collections and reprints such as this one from Hermes Press.

I’m glad that he did because the collected work is one of his greatest achievements, even with the incredible format restraints of one tier of tiny panels per day, and a solitary page every Sunday. More than 50 years later this hard-science space adventure is still the business!

And that’s despite the acrimonious legal manoeuvrings that poisoned the process of creating the strip from start to finish. That can of worms you can you can read for yourself in Daniel Herman’s forthright ‘Introduction: Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, and Sky Masters’ which precedes the astronautical adventures contained herein…

Just for context though: against a backdrop of international and ideological rivalry turned white-hot when the Soviets successfully launched Sputnik in 1957, the staid George Matthew Adams newspaper syndicate decided to finally enter the 20th century with a newspaper feature about space.

After approaching a reluctant DC Comics (then known as National Periodicals Publications) a deal was brokered. The project was steered by editor Jack Schiff and he convinced Jack Kirby, inker Wally Wood (later to be replaced by Dick Ayers) and scripters/brothers Dick and Dave Wood (no relation to Wally), to begin bringing the conquest of the cosmos into our lives via an all-American astronaut, his trusty team of stalwart comrades and the philanthropic largesse of the newly-minted US Space Force…

The daily strip launched on September 8th 1958 and ran until February 25th 1961; a scant few months before Alan Shepherd became in reality the first American in Space on May 5th.

The Sunday colour page told its five extended tales (The Atom Horse, Project Darkside, Mister Lunivac, Jumbo Jones and The Yogi Spaceman) in a separate continuity running from February 8th 1959 until 14th February 1960. They are sadly not included in this superb monochrome hardback archival collection, but at least that gives us fans something to look forward to…

This tense, terse and startlingly suspenseful foray into a historical future begins with ‘The First Man in Space’ (September 8th – November 21st 1958) as Major Schuyler “Sky” Masters becomes the second man in space. Romantically involved with Holly Martin, he is hurled into orbit to rescue her astronaut father after the bold pioneer encounters something too horrible to contemplate in the pitiless reaches above Earth…

The human tragedy and ever-impinging fear of the unknown of that moody tale informs all the following stories and as Holly Martin’s feisty brother Danny and burly Sgt. Riot join the cast (who do they remind me of?) for ‘Sabotage’ (22nd November – 7th March 1959), the quintessential components of all great comics teams are in place.

In this second encounter the stage expands enormously and a member of the vast Space Force contingent sinks into derangement: convinced that the colonization of the void and abandonment of Mother Earth is an unholy abomination.

That’s bad enough, but after he is despatched as one of the six pathfinders constructing America’s first permanent orbiting space station, disaster is assured unless Sky can expose him and stop his deadly machinations…

Even as grim yet heady realism slowly grew into exuberant action and fantastic spectacle the strip moves into high dramatic gear as woman pilot (or “aviatrix”) ‘Mayday Shannon’ (9th March – 9th May) joins the squad. The Brass have high hopes that she will prove females can thrive in space too but didn’t reckon on her publicity-hungry greed and selfishness.

Luckily, the magnetic allure of the stars overcomes her bad side and Sky is on hand to deal with her ruthlessly unscrupulous manager…

A medical emergency tests the ingenuity of the dedicated spacers when project instigator and patriarch Doctor Royer is taken ill and Sky must ferry a surgeon to him in ‘To Save a Life’ (11th May – 10th June) after which the tireless Major and an unsuspected rival for Holly’s affections are stranded together on a New Guinea island of cannibals after losing control of ‘The Lost Capsule’, (11th June – 23rd September)…

During that heady meeting of ancient and modern cultures, inker and finisher Wally Wood was replaced by Dick Ayers (although the signatures remained “Kirby & Wood” for years more. Maybe the credit was for the writers?).

The incalculable terrors of space manifested with the next saga as ‘Alfie’ (24th September 1959 – 13th January 1960) carried the heroes of the New Frontier into the next decade. When young astronaut crewman Marek joins the orbiting space wheel he is soon periodically experiencing bizarre fits. Every four hours, for seven and a half minutes the young American seems to channel the personality of an aging East End cockney thief called Alfie Higgins. With the fear that it might be some kind of infectious space madness, Sky and Riot head for London to link up with Scotland Yard in a gripping mystery drama blending jewel robbery and murder with the eerie overtones of Dumas’ Corsican Cousins

The ever-present tensions of the Cold War and Space Race come to the fore in ‘Refugee’ (14th January – 19th February) as Sky and the US Space Force aid the most unlikely and improbable Soviet defector escape to the West…

Now a fully-trusted and dedicated member of the squad, Mayday Shannon returns to solve an astronaut’s romantic dilemma by arranging a ‘Wedding in Space’, (20th February – 20th April) before the true threat of the outer depths is tackled as Sky meets astronautical guru and maverick Martin Strickland. A tempestuous but invaluable asset of the Space program, the intellectual renegade has proof of alien life but won’t share the ‘Message from Space’ (21st April – 22nd June) unless the military and civil authorities give him carte blanche to act on humanity’s behalf…

Counterbalancing such speculative sci fi aspects, the penultimate adventure is very much Earthbound and grounded in contemporary science and economics. In ‘Weather Watchers’ (23rd June – 27th December) greedy capitalist entrepreneur Octavius Alexia realises he can make huge profits by scamming insurers if he has access to the advance weather predictions afforded by the growing web of satellites orbiting the world.

To secure that valuable information he targets Mayday with the latest in espionage technologies and a male honey trap named J. Mansfield Sparks III. It might have all gone his way too if the woman hadn’t been so smart and his hired gigolo had remained unencumbered by conscience…

The strip ended in a rather rushed and rapid manner with ‘The Young Astronaut’ (28th December 1960 – 25th February 1961) wherein a new recruit proved to be too good to be true. Excelling at every aspect of the harsh training, Frederick T. “Fission” Tate had ulterior motives for getting into space. Luckily, suspicious Major Masters was right beside him on that first flight into the Wide Black Yonder…

As well as these stellar tales of stellar wonder, this volume also contains an abundance of visual extras such as a numerous covers and samples of Kirby’s contemporary comicbook work and original art panels in a ‘Focus’ section, which almost compensates for the absence of the Sunday colour pages. Almost…

This compilation comprises a meteoric canon of wonderment that no red-blooded armchair adventurer could possibly resist, but quite honestly, I simply cannot be completely objective about Sky Masters.

I grew up during this time period and the “Conquest of Space” is as much a part of my sturdy yet creaky old bones as the lead in the paint, pipes and exhaust fumes my generation absorbed. That it is also thrilling, challenging and spectacularly drawn is almost irrelevant to me, but if any inducement is needed for you to seek this work out let it be that this is indisputably one of Kirby’s greatest accomplishments: engaging, challenging and truly lovely to look upon.

Now go enjoy it…
© 2017 Herman and Geer Communications, Inc. d/b/a Hermes Press. Introduction and Focus © 2017 Daniel Herman.

Blackmark – 30th Anniversary Edition


By Gil Kane, with Archie Goodwin, Harvey Kurtzman & Neal Adams (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 1-56097-456-7

Gil Kane was one of the pivotal players in the development of the American comics industry, and indeed of the art form itself. Working as an artist, and an increasingly more effective and influential one, he drew for many companies since the 1940s, on superheroes, action, war, mystery, romance, movie adaptations and most importantly perhaps, Westerns and Science Fiction tales. In the late 1950s he became one of editor Julius Schwartz’s key artists in regenerating the super-hero. Yet by 1968, at the top of his profession, this relentlessly revolutionary and creative man felt so confined by the juvenile strictures of the industry, that he struck out on bold new ventures that jettisoned the editorial and format bondage of comic books for new visions and media.

His Name Is Savage was an adult-oriented black & white magazine about a cold and ruthless super-spy in the James Bond/Matt Helm/Man Called Flint mould, co-written by friend and collaborator Archie Goodwin. It was very much a precursor in tone, treatment and subject matter of many of today’s adventure titles.

The other venture, Blackmark (also with Goodwin), not only ushered in the comic book age of Sword and Sorcery, but also became one of the first Graphic Novels. Technically, as the series was commissioned by fantasy publisher Ballantine as eight volumes, it was also envisioned as America’s first comic Limited Series.

Volume 1 was released in 1971, and volume 2 just completed when the publisher cancelled the project. Long term collaborator Roy Thomas reprinted the tales in Marvel’s black & white magazines Savage Sword of Conan and Marvel Preview, with the artwork rejigged to accommodate the different page format.

Enough background. Blackmark tells the tale of a boy born into a war-ravaged and primitive future where atomic holocaust has resulted in a superstitious society that has shunned technology and science. Feudal lords rule by might and terror, whilst rebel technophiles are hunted like dogs. Whilst fleeing persecution a married couple encounter a dying scientist king who pays the woman to impregnate her with a son pre-programmed to be a messiah of science.

Blackmark is born into a life of poverty and toil. When his parents are killed by a wandering warlord he devotes his life to vengeance, and learns the physical skills necessary when he is taken for a gladiator slave. It is sadly very familiar to us today, simply because it was so influential at the time – albeit with those few original purchasers who seem to have been the next generation of comic and literary creators.

Although the tale may seem old hat, the beauty and power of the illustration has never been matched. Kane designed the pages with blocks of text as part of the whole, rather than with willy-nilly blurb and balloons to distract the eye, and his evocative figure drawing has never been as taut, tense and passionate.  Always suffering from deadline pressures, the artist called in colleagues Harvey Kurtzman and Neal Adams to help lay out and finish the project on time. The script, over Kane’s story, is provided by the incomparable Goodwin, as much a master as Kane himself: Nevertheless, Blackmark is very much quintessential Gil Kane.

This compilation (incomprehensibly out of print and hard to find) collects the original volumes 1 and 2 and presents them in a size much larger than the original standard paperback. As well as a fantasy masterpiece, and a spectacular comic romp, it preserves and presents a literal breakthrough in comic story-telling that should be on every fan’s must-read list.
© 2002 Fantagraphics Books & the estate of Gil Kane. All Rights Reserved.

Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon: Volume 1 Sunday Strips from 1948-1953


By Don Moore & Mac Raboy (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-882-7

By most lights Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but quirkily clunky Buck Rogers by Philip Nolan and Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th, but in 1929) two new elements were added to the wonderment; Classical Lyricism and poetic dynamism. It became a weekly invitation to stunning exotic glamour and astonishing beauty.

Where Rogers blended traditional adventure and high science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted fairy tales, heroic epics and mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for galleons, chariots and magic carpets. It was a narrative trick that kept the far-fetched satisfactorily familiar – and was continued by Raboy and Moore in their run. Look closely and you’ll see cowboys, gangsters and of course, flying saucer fetishes adding contemporary flourish to the fanciful fables in this volume…

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for unmuddled detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When all-original comic books began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean-lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Almost all the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias).

Flash Gordon began on present-day Earth (which was 1934, remember?) with a rogue planet about to smash the World. As global panic ensued, polo player Flash and fellow passenger Dale Arden narrowly escaped disaster when a meteor fragment downed their airliner. They landed on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, who imprisoned them in the rocket-ship he had built.

His plan? To fly the ship directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it…!

Thus began a decade of sheer escapist magic in a Ruritanian Neverland: a blend of Camelot, Oz and every fabled paradise that promised paradise yet concealed hidden vipers, ogres and demons, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and shattering conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to drab and dangerous reality for millions of avid readers around the world.

Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’ with Don Moore doing the bulk of the scripting, ran every Sunday until 1944, when the artist joined the Marines. On his return he eschewed wild imaginings for sober reality and created the gentleman detective serial Rip Kirby. The continuous, unmissable weekly appointment with sheer wonderment, continued under the artistic auspices of Austin Briggs – who had drawn the daily black and white instalments since 1940.

In 1948, eight years after beginning his career drawing for the Harry A. Chesler production “shop” comicbook artist Emanual “Mac” Raboy took over the illustration of the Sunday page. Moore remained as scripter and began co-writing with the artist.

Raboy’s sleek, fine-line brush style, heavily influenced by his idol Raymond, had made his work on Captain Marvel Jr., Kid Eternity and the especially Green Lama a benchmark of artistic quality in the proliferating superhero genre. His seemingly inevitable assumption of the extraordinary exploits led to a renaissance of the strip and in the rapidly evolving post-war world Flash Gordon became once more a benchmark of timeless, escapist quality that only Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant could touch.

This first 260 page volume, produced in landscape format and printed in bold stark monochrome (although one or two strips appear to have been scanned from printed colour copies) covers the period January 8th 1948 to May 10th 1953 and opens with Flash as President of Mongo when Slyk, a refugee from the believed-uninhabited moon of Lunita, arrives. Beseeching assistance to liberate his world from the tyrannical depredations of the wicked siblings Rudo and Lura, the Lunite accompanies Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov to his hidden moon where the heroes are soon captured before Slyk saves the day.

This short transitional tale set up an unfailingly popular formula of nightmarish beasts, distressed damsels and outrageous adventure that would last until Raboy’s death in 1967.

Returning to Mongo Flash and Co. discovered a red comet hurtling towards that fabulous world. Whilst trying to deflect it they become trapped by the civilisation who inhabit its interior, creatures to whom gravity is but a toy… Once more romance, intrigue and beautifully depicted action were the order of many days until the trio toppled the masters and placed far more agreeable rulers in charge, saving their adopted world and the greater universe.

The saga lasted until June of 1949 and was promptly followed by a stunning undersea odyssey as a brief trip to Mongo’s beaches led Flash and Dale into murky waters when they rescued captivating Merma from monstrous sub-sea marauder Sharki and became enmeshed in a watery range-war and tricky romantic quadrangle involving hidden kingdoms, scaly savages and outrageous leviathans and sea-beasts.

It was off to the frozen principality of Polaria next where ambitious Prince Polon was covering up a plague of giant monsters preying on the people. Of course the scurvy villain was behind the plot, using size-shifting rays and his ultimate aim was to become dictator of all Mongo…

The scheme obviously gave other regional rulers ideas. No sooner did President Flash return than he was off again to the Tropix Islands where “Queen” Rubia had fomented rebellion and seceded from the democratic federation of Mongo States. Hands-on Flash went undercover with Dale in an Arabian adventure to rival Sinbad’s greatest: before the people were liberated and the despots destroyed there was a panoply of spectacular action and fantastic creatures to survive…

Rubia, defeated, was dispatched to the prison moon Exilia, but all was not right on that grim penal colony. Once more surreptitiously investigating our hero discovered that villains had taken over the penal-planet and were preparing to attack civilized Mongo. Luckily Rubia and criminal mastermind Zin believed Flash to be his own double, dispatched to Exilia for impersonating the President – but they’re were not fooled for long…

This awesome extended epic ran from 6th March to November 5th 1950 and was followed by a proposed change-of-pace as Flash and Dale took off for a much-needed vacation on Earth. Unfortunately ever-malicious Rubia sabotaged their ship and they crash-landed on the unexplored Planet Zeta. It surely came as no surprise to fans when they discovered another beautifully barbarous lost civilisation there…

Zeta was a world of colossal plants and feudal warriors, but hid a dangerous secret. Something in the environment consumed metal. Within minutes Flash and Dale saw their ship and weapons melt away… Befriended instead of attacked the castaways found the inhabitants lived on a world seemingly immune to technological advancement, controlled by “wizards” who soon decided that Flash was a threat…

Flash discovers the metal-eating plague was artificial and helped the Zetans rebel and they helped him construct a new ship. Once more en route for Earth Flash and Dale encountered a stranger meteor, but without further mishap arrived safely. On March 25th 1951 (17 years and some months after they departed) two of earth’s first star-travellers finally returned to their birthworld and were feted like royalty. Sadly they should have paid closer attention to that vagrant space-rock as soon, Earth was under attack by strategically aimed meteors.

With Einsteinish Professor Brite in tow, Flash and Dale tracked the attacks to the Moon where they met beetle-men and human dictator Rak who planned to conquer Earth with his lunar meteor gun. He had never encountered a man like Flash Gordon before…

With Rak’s threat ended Flash helped Earth build a sentinel Space Platform, but when he, Dale, engineer Dr. Ruff and his annoying niece Ginger began work 1000 miles up they clashed with a strange race of flying saucer-riding space gnomes from Mars…

At this time Mars clearly preferred, if not actually needed, Earth women and with Dale and Ginger abducted, another sterling romp ensued. Flash outfoxed the malign gnome-king Toxo before subsequently leading a full expedition to the Red planet where he discovered another advanced feudal civilisation and that Martian women – or at least their Queen, Menta – had no worries, looks-wise…

Menta was however, a spoiled and murderous psychopath determined to conquer Earth…

This epic ran until February 24th 1952, whereupon Flash returned to Earth to discover his homeworld gripped in a new Ice Age. Jetting to the Arctic the good guys found Frost Giants from Saturn (the fifth moon Rhea to be exact) and that the big Freeze was artificially induced. Although he destroyed their forward base the Giants dragged Flash back to Rhea and inadvertently introduced human smallpox into their population…

Earth commander “Icy” Stark abandoned Dale after a space battle but Flash, with new Rhean allies rescued her and once more led a hostage society to overthrow its unfit rulers. On the return to Earth the fleet encountered a guided comet and met a new foe in Pyron the Comet Master.

Reunited with Dr. Zarkov the heroes battled the demented scientist’s horrendous creatures, saving Earth from flaming doom but were catapulted helplessly to the surface of enigmatic Venus for the last complete adventure in this stellar collection.

Not only is our solar system teeming with unsuspected life, but it appeared most of it was ruled by complete sods, as Flash, Dale and Zarkov battled winged tree-men, swamp horrors and the nefarious overlord Stang, enduring staggering hardship and hazard before crushing the tyrant and freeing two separate races from terror.

With a new ship, the far-flung travellers set off for Earth but were forced to land on the Moon where a secret human base had been established. For unknown reasons Dr. Stella and her thuggish aide Marc detained and delayed them, but when an increasing number of close shaves and mysterious accidents occurred, a little digging revealed that they were the unwitting guests of ruthless space pirates…

As is probably fitting for one of the world’s greatest continuity strips this first volume ends on a gripping cliffhanger, but with so much incredible action, drawn with such magnificent style there’s no way any fan of classic adventure can possibly feel short-changed

Mac Raboy was the last of the Golden Age of romanticist illustrators, but his lush and lavish flowing adoration of the perfected human form was already fading from popular taste. The Daily feature at this time had already switched to the solid, chunky, He-manly, burly realism of Dan Barry and even Frank Frazetta. Here, however, at least the last outpost of beautiful elegant heroism and gracefully pretty perils prevail, thanks to these Dark Horse volumes which you can visit just as often as Flash and Dale popped between planets…
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars: A New Hope – The 40th Anniversary


By Jess Harrold, Jordan D. White, Heather Antos & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1128-7

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the mythology of Star Wars. What you might not know – or maybe remember – is that the first glimpse future fanatics got of its enthrallingly expansive, potential-packed continuity and mythology-in-the-making way back in 1977 was the premier issue of the Marvel comicbook tie-in.

It hit US shelves and spinner racks two weeks before the film launched in cinemas (that screen release being May 25th, fact-fans), setting the scene for a legion of fans and kick-starting a phenomenon which encompassed the initial movie trilogy and expanded those already-vast conceptual horizons.

Marvel had an illustrious run with the franchise: nine years’ worth of comics, specials and paperback collections before the series ended in 1986.

After an abortive miniseries try-out in 1987-1988 from Blackthorne Publishing, regular comicbook exploits were properly reinstated in 1993 by Dark Horse Comics who built on the film legacy with numerous titles – supplemented by three more movies – until Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars in 2012.

The home of Donald & Mickey had already acquired Marvel Comics (in 2009) and before long the original magic was being rekindled…

When Marvel relaunched the enterprise, they included not just a core title but also solo books for the lead stars. Star Wars #1 debuted on January 14th 2015, with Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Poe Damaron coming soon after. They haven’t looked back since.

2017 was the 40th anniversary of the movie premiere and in a slyly subtle salute to the event many comics were earmarked for a rather novel event: variant covers depicting unforgettable moments from the cinematic Star Wars: A New Hope. These were commissioned as 48 key images that would combine to relate and encapsulate the entire tale in an entirely new way.

Just So’s You Know: variant covers are alternative frontages for some comicbooks, usually by big-name artists; often “homaging” earlier covers or as part of an event, commemoration or even trends such as Skottie Young’s occasional series of star characters depicted as comedic babies. Star Wars #1 (2015) was released with a staggering 70 variant covers. Successive issues also had a plethora of the same.

This gleefully exuberant hardcover art-collection (also available in eBook formats), takes that sales-boosting process to a new level; gathering those covers designed to celebrate A New Hope and presenting them as a new way of enjoying the original story…

Following ‘Star Wars and Marvel’, which explains the process and progression of the project, those crucial moment-as-iconic-images – accompanied by narrative guides, appropriate quotes and often alternate sketch ideas and works-in-progress – unfold to tell a well-known tale of a galaxy long ago and far, far away…

Juan Giménez sets things off with ‘It is a period of Civil War…’, after which Stuart Immonen, Ryan Stegman & Jordan Boyd and Meghan Hetrick carry us from confrontations in space to the surface of Tatooine.

In quick succession Terry & Rachel Dodson, Pepe Larraz & David Curiel, Kevin Wada, Marc Laming & Matthew Wilson, Leinil Francis Yu & Sunny Gho, Paul Renaud and Javier Rodríguez advance the tale to the moment old hermit Ben Kenobi tells a young warrior-to-be ‘You must learn the ways of The Force.’

Stunning images follow from Rod Reis, Jef Dekal, Kevin Nowlan, Mike Mayhew, Greg Land & Edgar Delgado, David Marquez, Chip Zadarsky, Will Robson& Jordan Boyd and Jen Bartel before Stephanie Hans steals the show with a stunning rendition of the death of Alderaan for ‘No Star System will dare oppose the Emperor now.’

The memorable moments come thick and fast as Julian Totino Tedesco, David Lopez, Reilly Brown & Jim Charalampidis, Caspar Wijngaard, Paulina Ganucheau, Paolo Rivera, Daniel Acuña, Russell Dauterman & Matthew Wilson, Amy Reeder carry us ever onward until Tradd Moore & Wilson nail the key moment in a trash compactor where Han Solo utters the immortal phrase ‘I got a bad feeling about this.’

Taking us into the third act and final straits, Ed McGuiness, Mark Morales & Laura Martin, Nick Roche & Jordan Boyd, Chris Samnee & Wilson, Adi Granov, Greg Smallwood, Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire, Rahzzah, Ryan Level & Boyd, Kris Anka, Will Sliney & Rachelle Rosenberg, Ashley Witter, Mark Brooks, Salvador Larroca & Angel Unzueta, Daniel Warren Johnson & Mike Spicer and Mike Del Mundo visualise the thrilling final fight culminating in Phil Noto’s triumphal procession scene in ‘Remember, The Force will be with you, always’

Backing up the picture feast is text feature ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Far, Far Away’ wherein Marvel Star Wars editor Jordan D. White discusses the project with comics writers Jason Aarons (Star Wars) and Kieron Gillen (Darth Vader, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, Star Wars) whilst Heather Antos incites insights from illustrators Terry Dodson, Stephanie Hans, Mike Mayhew and Will Sliney on ‘How to Draw Star Wars the Marvel Way’ for the anniversary project.

This comes with a multitude of non-Anniversary images from Mayhew, John Cassady, Immonen, the Dodsons, Yu, Brooks, Francesco Francavilla, Lee Bermejo, Michael Allred, Tula Lotay, Skottie Young, Alex Ross, Simone Bianchi, Granov, Kaare Andrews, Giménez, Kamome Shirahama, Samnee, Joe Quesada, Francesco Mattina, Giuseppe Camuncoli and David Aja.

Wrapping up the fabulous picture-fest is a stroll down memory lane for comics fans as ‘The Greatest Space-Fantasy of All!’ harks back to that initial comics release: reprinting adapter Roy Thomas’ introductory ‘Star Warriors’ columns and the full first issue as translated from an original, uncut shooting script by illustrator Howard Chaykin (and yes, that does mean scenes that didn’t make it into any cut of the movie…).

The Star Wars franchise has spawned an awful lot of comics, but this isn’t really one of them. It is, however, a fascinating art compendium commemorating the verve, vitality and sheer impact of the source material in a way no fan could possibly…
STAR WARS and related text and illustrations ™ and/or © of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & ™ of Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

Marvel’s Avengers – Infinity War Prelude


By Will Corona Pilgrim, Tigh Walker, Jorge Fornés, Chris O’Halloran, with Jonathan Hickman, Jim Starlin, Jim Cheung, Ron Lim & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0943-7

With another eagerly anticipated Marvel Cinematic Universe film premiering around the world, here’s a timely trade paperback and eBook edition to augment the celluloid exposure and cater to movie fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience.

Comprising selected reprints and new digital material designed to supplement the movie release, these Prelude editions have become a traditional part of the dissemination and build-up and this compilation contains Marvel’s Avengers Infinity War Prelude #1-2 plus material starring the ultimate arch-villain Thanos taken from Infinity #1 and Thanos Annual #1.

This original 2-part miniseries sets the scene for the film blockbuster: written by Will Corona Pilgrim and based on the Captain America: Civil War screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. It was realised by illustrator Tigh Walker, colourist Chris O’Halloran and letterer Travis Lanham and reveals how the knowledge that Captain America’s old ally Bucky (AKA Winter Soldier) assassinated Tony Stark’s parents splits the Avengers into two warring teams…

After a ferocious battle, Cap’s allies – Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man and Hawkeye – are broken out of prison by the renegade Sentinel of Liberty and take refuge in Wakanda where the advanced technologies of the Black Panther deprogram Bucky even as in America an isolated Stark reconfigures his armour in advance of an overwhelming threat heading to Earth from the depths of space…

The second chapter – with Jorge Fornés as artist – features new movie maven Dr. Strange, coming to terms with his role in a terrifying universe of appalling unknown forces and deadly dangers.

As advisor Wong regales the wizard with tales and histories of the Infinity Stones and how they have shaped events (as seen in many previous MCU films), Thor and Loki return to Earth to consult the mage in the matter of the sudden disappearance of Asgardian All-Father Odin

In space, the Guardians of the Galaxy are also gauging a growing threat as cosmic overlord Thanos turns his avaricious eyes upon Earth…

Of course, all these plot threads get knotted together in the movie…

The supplemental classic appearances then open with the first chapter of mega publishing event Infinity #1 (August 2013), scripted by Jonathan Hickman.

In the aftermath of the blockbuster Avengers versus X-Men war, the company-wide reboot MarvelNOW! reformed the entire overarching continuity: a drastic reshuffle and rethink of characters, concepts and brands with an eye to winning new readers and feeding the company’s burgeoning movie blockbuster machine…

Moreover, numerous story strands were slowly building and combining to kick off the Next Big Thing with the cosmically revamped Avengers titles forming the spine of an encroaching mega-epic.

The intergalactic Hammer of Doom finally fell as a two-pronged, all-out attack which saw an impossibly ancient threat materialise to wipe out life in the cosmos, whilst Earth itself was targeted by an old enemy with a long memory and monstrous agenda…

What Came Before: In recent Avengers episodes an impossibly ancient trio of galactic “Gardeners” – robotic Aleph, seductive Abyss and passionate Ex Nihilo – attempted to remake Earth into something special. To that end they bombarded the world with “Origin bombs”, seeding locations with bizarre, exotic and uncompromising new life-forms.

When the Avengers went after them, the invaders claimed to have been tasked by The Builders – first species in creation – and their Mother of the Universe to test and, whenever necessary, eradicate, recreate and replace life on all worlds.

Although the World’s Mightiest Heroes defeated the intruders and set about mitigating the effects of the O-bombs on Earth, it seemed increasingly futile as global threats seemingly multiplied without surcease. Evidence also indicated that the very structure and celestial mechanics of the multiverse were catastrophically unravelling.

And then rumours began of an incredible alien armada heading directly for Earth…

It all starts here with the miniseries’ first issue as ‘Infinity’ (illustrated by Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, John Livesay & David Meikis) focuses on Saturnian moon Titan where death-driven despot Thanos dispatches his diabolical Outrider to demand ‘The Tribute’ from another newly enslaved world in his growing interstellar empire. Some of the Dark Lord’s most effective agents are already on Earth, stalking the planet’s greatest champions and ‘Constructing Apocalypse’

Sixty thousand light-years away, an even bigger threat is mopping up the puissant Space Knights of Galador. Various varieties of Builders – of the same ancient order that spawned Aleph, Abyss and Ex Nihilo – have razed the planet whilst unearthly new Avenger Captain Universe (whom the Gardeners call “Mother”) can only look on with despair as her wayward children destroy another world tainted by contact with Earth…

‘Orbital’ finds Captain America and Hawkeye cleaning out a nest of Skrulls in Palermo, but these invaders are far from the arrogant, treacherous warriors they’re accustomed to. The shapeshifters are scared, cowering refugees, fleeing and hiding from something incomprehensibly bad…

‘What was Hidden, Now Uncovered’ then focuses on the Inhumans’ floating city Attilan, currently parked above Manhattan, where Outrider prepares to extract secrets from the brain of slumbering monarch Black Bolt.

Even as the supremely powerful Inhuman foils the ghastly intrusion, the Avengers have regrouped following Captain Universe’s return with warnings of an oncoming impossibly vast Builder Armada. It merely confirms what Earth’s deep space monitoring array already shows: The fleet is bearing directly on Earth and any race or empire in the way is summarily destroyed as the invaders move ever closer.

The once unbeatable Kree are only the latest to fall…

When a distress call arrives from the rulers of the Galactic Council representing Kree, Skrulls, Badoon, Spartax, Brood and Shi’ar, the Avengers are soon ‘Outbound’, resolved to stop the fleet long before it reaches Earth.

Severely wounded, Outrider returns to Titan to inform Thanos that the thing he seeks most in the universe has been hidden on Earth by Black Bolt, prompting an invasion by the Titan’s own fleet long before the Builders can arrive. Moreover, almost all the planet’s infernal metahuman champions have left for Kree space…

If that whetted your appetite, you’ll need to see the two volume Infinity collection…

Here, however, we move on to Thanos Annual #1 (July 2014) as a defeated, comatose Mad Titan recalls an early turning point in his life. Written by Jim Starlin, pencilled by Ron Lim and inked by Andy Smith, ‘Damnation and Redemption’ begins after his first defeat by Captain Marvel and the Avengers, when he used a Cosmic Cube to become God before being stripped of everything through his own arrogance.

At this low ebb he is tempted by arch demon Mephisto but saved by his own future self, using the Infinity Gauntlet’s Time Gem to correct an almost irrevocable error…

Shown his potential future, the Titanian plotter thinks he is on the rise but has not counted on the interference of true cosmic gods such as the Living Tribunal…

This selection also includes a cover and variants gallery by Adam Kubert, Dale Keown & Ive Svorcina, Skottie Young, Marko Djurdjević, Lim & Smith and Starlin & Al Milgrom.

From such disparate seeds movie gold can grow, but never forget that the originating material is pretty damned good too and will deliver a tempting tray of treats that should have most curious fans scurrying for back-issue boxes, bookshop shelves or online emporia…
© 2013, 2014, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Yoko Tsuno volume 6: The Morning of the World


By Roger Leloup translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-082-5

Indomitable intellectual adventurer Yoko Tsuno debuted in 1970 with the September 24th 1970 edition of Le Journal de Spirou and is still delighting regular readers and making new fans to this day. Her astounding all-action, uncannily accessible exploits are amongst the most intoxicating, absorbing and broad-ranging comics thrillers ever created.

The globe-girdling, space-&-time-spanning serial saga of the slim, slight Japanese technologist-investigator was devised by monumentally multi-talented Belgian maestro Roger Leloup who began his spellbinding solo career after working as a studio assistant on Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin.

Compellingly told, superbly imaginative and – no matter how implausible the premise of any individual yarn – always solidly grounded in hyper-realistic settings underpinned by authentic, unshakably believable technology and scientific principles, Leloup’s illustrated escapades were at the vanguard of a wave of strips revolutionising European comics in the mid-1970s.

That long-overdue attitude adjustment saw the rise of many competent, clever and brave female protagonists, all taking their places as heroic ideals beside the boys to uniformly elevate Continental comics. Best of all, the majority of their exploits are as engaging and empowering now as they ever were, and none more so than the trials and tribulations of Yoko Tsuno.

Her very first outings (the still unavailable and untranslated Hold-up en hi-fi, La belle et la bête and Cap 351) were simple introductory vignettes before the superbly capable engineer and her valiant if less able male comrades Pol Paris and Vic Van Steen properly hit their stride with premier full-length saga Le trio de l’étrange in 1971 in Spirou’s May 13th issue…

There have been 28 European albums to date – with a 29th being completed as we read this…

Yoko’s exploits include explosive escapades in exotic corners of our world, time-travelling jaunts and sinister deep-space sagas with the secretive, disaster-prone alien colonists from planet Vinea. However, for the majority of English translations thus far, the close encounters have been more-or-less side-lined in favour of intriguing Earthly exploits, but this tale stays strictly Earthbound while plumbing the depths of the fantastic…

Today’s particular tale was originally serialised in Spirou #2613-2630 and collected in 1988 as 17th album Le Matin du monde. Due to the exigencies of publishing it reached English eyes as Yoko’s sixth Cinebook outing; a time-bending mystery of glamour and action shedding a fraction of light on Yoko’s own shrouded origins…

It begins with Yoko and her new ward Morning Dew testing a new jet over Indonesia before reuniting with temporal refugee Monya. This time-travelling expatriate from 3872 AD (see The Time Spiral for further details) has had to settle in the present after her own timeline was overwritten, but she’s had a hard time adjusting and despite her best intentions regularly risks catastrophe by visiting other time-periods…

Monya originally came back in time to prevent a scientific experiment which would have resulted in Earth’s destruction by her own era. The voyager witnessed her father’s death and the planet turned to a cinder, relative moments before arriving in Yoko’s locale, so her predilection for exploration and meddling in earlier time periods is perhaps understandable…

Now, though, she’s gone too far: stealing a gold statue from its rightful era and endangering the life of a native…

Urgently summoned to help fix things, Yoko, Vic and Pol are quickly apprised of the situation. Monya has taken a sacred temple statue of a dancer from 1350 AD, a short time before history records the eruption of the Agung volcano and eradication of the entire community and civilisation dwelling there. Technically, Monya’s actions should cause no disruption to the timeline, but it has resulted in the long-dead priests condemning native dancer Narki to death for the crime…

A heated debate over the morality of keeping the immensely valuable statue versus using their time machine and attempting to save the life of a woman already dead for centuries consumes the adults. It only ends when Monya’s new acquaintance Mike – an obsessive religious fanatic – traps them all in the barn housing the chronal craft and sets it afire.

Compelled to use the time engine to save themselves, the entire party is plunged back to 1350 where Narki is condemned to die…

Befriending the local villagers, the travellers learn that the innocent scapegoat has been taken to the capital. Swiftly following, Yoko and Monya find her in a drugged state and determined to sacrifice herself to “winged demons” plaguing the city. Most confusingly, as they struggle to rouse her, Yoko realises that – somehow – she recognises the doomed Narki…

Desperate for solutions, Monya tries unsuccessfully to return the statue to the Brahmin priests, even as Yoko and her comrades assemble some clever 20th century kit they’d providentially stowed aboard the time-ship. Despite all their efforts, Narki is left to the mercies of the demons, and only Yoko and Vic’s spectacular intervention saves her from what turn out to be savage survivors of antediluvian vintage…

Yet, even after destroying one of the flying monsters and snapping Narki out of her trance, the future heroes are unable to save the damsel in distress. Accusing them of killing the gods’ messenger, Narki swears to throw herself into the now-erupting Agung volcano to expiate her sins and save everybody…

That pointless gesture is applauded by the priests, but again thwarted by Yoko and Vic, who snatch the dancer from the edge of fiery doom. They are, however, helpless to save the rest of the populace from the inescapable judgement of history and one of the greatest volcanic eruptions of all time…

Now the sole survivor of her civilisation, Narki makes no protest as Monya relocates her to another time and place she has extensively studied. And when the survivor is left with villagers in 1520 AD Borneo, Yoko realises with a shock how she knows the tragic temple dancer…

Complex, rocket-paced, explosively exciting and subtly suspenseful, this beguiling brush with paradox and passion blazes with thrills and chills, delivering a powerfully moving denouement which again affirms Yoko Tsuno as a top-flight trouble-shooter.

As always, the most effective asset in these breathtaking tales is the amazingly authentic and staggeringly detailed draughtsmanship and storytelling, which superbly benefits from Leloup’s diligent research and meticulous attention to detail.

The Morning of the World is an epic fantasy spectacle to delight and enthral all lovers of inventive adventure.

Original edition © Dupuis, 1988 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2011 © Cinebook Ltd.

The Massive: Ninth Wave


By Brian Wood, Garry Brown, Jordie Bellaire, Jared K. Fletcher & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-009-0

Between April 2012 and 2014, prolific scripter, artist and games designer Brian Wood (X-Men, Aliens, Conan, DMZ, Demo, Northlanders, Channel Zero) crafted a chilling and potent post-disaster tale of failed activist sea captain Callum Israel: a man driven to ply the seas of an ecologically broken Earth, searching for lost sister ship The Massive.

Full of missing comrades, the other vessel had vanished during the final collapse, perhaps taking with it the reasons why the world had suddenly tipped too far and toppled into environmental, political, financial and social Armageddon.

Israel had been leader of the Marine Conservation Direct Action Force and helmed the converted eco- trawler Kapital. Before the end of all days, his days had been spent with a band of equally dedicated and extremely capable non-violent volunteers, all working on the very edge of ecological terrorism: foiling and confounding polluters, climate change deniers, world leaders and money maniacs.

That had been backstory during the ongoing odyssey, whereas this new trade paperback volume (re-presenting the 6-issue miniseries The Massive: Ninth Wave) collects in a mass-market edition 2015’s prequel series that followed the series’ culmination. Here Israel and his band of beaten survivors still go about their unlawful pursuits in their hopeful heyday: racing around a still viable Earth to confront and frustrate the greedy bastards pushing our planet over the edge through corrupt actions, callous neglect and sheer indifference…

Following Wood’s ruminatory Introduction, a compelling string of self-contained, stand-alone tales relentlessly unfold in a perfect storyboard for TV’s next big, sensationally hard-hitting drama series (no, I’m not saying it is happening, just that it should…), rendered by returning team of illustrator Garry Brown, colourist Jordie Bellaire and letterer Jared K. Fletcher.

The suspenseful action opens with the infamous and preeminent global environmental rescue group seemingly in a stalling pattern. As Callum Israel and his deputies debate ultra-billionaire industrialist Bors Bergen at sea and beyond all international scrutiny, Ninth Wave operatives Rimona, Max, Lars and Purge covertly land in Germany and get to work beneath the most opulent and prestige-packed housing enclave of Berlin.

Bors thinks his money buys unlimited influence and insulates him from the repercussions of his shady deals, but the Ninth Wave see further targets where the money man sees resolute allies. The eco-warriors’ point and their ‘Manifesto’ is potently proved with one simple act of innovative plumbing that reduces the callous Croesus to the global media’s latest scandalous, shamed pariah du jour…

Callum’s non-violent principles are then tested to the limit when he joins maverick Park Ranger Amanda Gray of Canada’s Ministry of Forests to thwart far more bloodthirsty eco-terrorists determined to sabotage and eager to kill loggers during a forest clearcut operation in ‘Para’.

A two-pronged assault defines the next tale as Israel fights in court to prevent the destruction by commercial exploitation of a precarious island habitat and its iconic wildlife. In the meantime, his go-team resort to far more traditional tactics and ‘Occupy’ the embattled Arctic atoll. Then the ruthless money guys send in security teams, Blackhawk copters and napalm… just as the Ninth Wave veterans expected…

‘Hunted’ hones in on the total absence of enforceable law at sea beyond national borders as an outlaw vessel responsible for crimes ranging from illegal fishing to human trafficking seizes and holds hostage the Ninth Wave volunteers attempting to stop them. With all authorities refusing assistance, Callum’s people are forced to prove that “non-violent” doesn’t mean “helpless” or “toothless”…

After saving and relocating a boatload of war refugees, Callum and his people face the full might of the US government in ‘Blacksite’ when the superpower subsequently accuses the eco-warriors of harbouring and covertly transporting fugitive terrorists…

The powerful blend of activism, agitprop, realpolitik and dark drama concludes with a refreshingly personal social apotheosis as the team target a rich American who’s paid a fortune to shoot a certain lion in an African Preserve. ‘Oasis’ shows that in conservation there are no small or acceptable wrongs and weapons exist far crueller and more effective than guns…

With covers by J. P. Leon, this slim, seductive and deliciously uplifting book is a sublime beacon of hope and promise as we all watch the world get ever more unpalatable and potentially uninhabitable… And the Doom Clock continues to inexorably count down…
The Massive™ © 2015, 2016, 2017 Brian Wood. All rights reserved.

An Android Awakes: Fictional Alignment


By Mike French & Tony Allcock (Elsewhen Press)
ISBN: 978-1-911409-20-5                  eISBN: 978-1-911409-30-4

It’s been a while since we looked at anything non-traditional so here’s an intriguing illustrated book which has a lot to recommend it… most importantly, that it’s a long-awaited sequel to a captivating and fascinating tome we reviewed way back in 2015…

In the far future of An Android Awakes, human beings are practically extinct and androids have become the dominant intellects ruling the planet. Sadly, our synthetic successors are as prone to emotional foibles, personal insecurities, obsessive manias and ruthless zealotry as us meat-bags ever were.

To a great extent they also assimilated our creative urges too. One such was Android Writer PD121928 who was part of the Android Publishing Program. The state provided for his needs (drugs, whores, deep-frozen pets and the removal of his wife so that he can achieve the proper frame of artistic angst and squalor) and in return he was to conceive increasingly outré and wild adventure tales. The same deal applied for every creative automaton in the system: Filmmakers, photographers, artists, whatever…

His ultimate failure and tragic martyrdom allowed and compelled his human lover Sapphira to recycle his failed ideas into a global bestseller entitled Humans (An Arrangement of Minor Defects).

On its release – the first human work of fiction for over a century – the volume became the best-selling book of all time, but in the aftermath of publication an ideological schism triggered a violent change in Android government and philosophy leading to a pogrom against everything non-factual…

Eleven years later, with society in crisis and the mythoclasts in charge, Fiction is deemed filth and all creativity is consecrated to Fact. The mighty Pravda and his Proseologist assumed control of the Vatican and began excising everything non-verifiable – mood, tone, poesy, flights of fancy – from the world’s literature.

But even that is not enough. Thus, androids Heisenberg and Tractatus are ordered to conduct arch-imagineer Sapphira – and a select band of equally unwilling and iconic characters – on a succession of journeys through time to re-enact her book’s greatest feats and feasts of fictive excess, rendering them factual in every respect…

Sadly, whilst stage-managing great moments of love, death, spectacle, science fantasy and comedy to prove the fanciful concrete and validatable, the sheer corrupting power of imagination and the forces needed to make creativity and inspiration real have an implacably metamorphic effect of the agents of change and they begin using millennia of time travel to reshape the mission to their own twisted ever-shifting agendas…

Featuring old An Android Awakes favourites such as The Great Explorer Umberto Amunsden, The Locust Wife and The Amazing Arctic Sinking Man and introducing us to the almighty Digitised Treasury and the Real Jesus, this mind-bending Scientific Romance from Mike French offers a challenging odyssey through the theocracy of thought and depicts a trenchant guerrilla war between What Is, What Might and What Should be…

Devotees of Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, Thomas M. Disch and other heavyweights of the last century’s SF New Wave movement will love this challenging stand-out return to Big Idea, Deep Thought emotionally expressive speculative fiction, as will any reader hungry to have heart and mind expanded…
Text and artwork © Mike French 2018. Cover artwork © Tony Allcock 2018. All rights reserved.

Garth: The Women of Galba


By Jim Edgar & Frank Bellamy (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-90761-049-6

It’s a big anniversary for Britain’s greatest comic strip adventurer this summer, but other than a few old collections and the online reprints, nobody seems much moved to celebrate the event or revive a genuine original of cartoon entertainment. Here however, with our eyes firmly set on great comics of every era and at least one and a half feet firmly planted in the past, we’re not going to let him slip by without any fanfare at all…

Garth was created in response to America’s publishing phenomenon Superman and debuted in the Daily Mirror on Saturday, July 24th 1943, the creation of Steve Dowling and BBC producer Gordon Boshell. His comic strip page mates at that time were regular features Buck Ryan, Belinda Blue Eyes, Just Jake and the irrepressible, morale-boosting glamour-puss Jane.

A blond giant and physical marvel, Garth washed up on an island shore and into the arms of a pretty girl, Gala, with no memory of who he was, just in time to save the entire populace from a tyrant. Boshell never actually wrote the series, so Dowling, who was also producing the successful family strip The Ruggles, scripted Garth until a writer could be found.

Successful candidate Don Freeman dumped the amnesia plot in ‘The Seven Ages of Garth’ (which ran from September 18th 1944 to January 20th 1946); introducing studious jack-of-all-scientific trades Professor Lumiere whose psychological experiments regressed the hero back through his past lives.

In sequel tale ‘The Saga of Garth’ (January 22nd 1946-July 20th 1946) his origin was finally revealed. Found floating in a coracle off the Shetlands, baby Garth was adopted by a kindly old couple and grew to vigorous manhood. On reaching maturity he returned to the seas as a Navy Captain until he was torpedoed off Tibet in 1943.

Freeman continued as writer until 1952 and was briefly replaced by script editor Hugh McClelland until Peter O’Donnell took over in 1953. O’Donnell wrote 28 adventures before resigning in 1966 to devote more time to his own Modesty Blaise feature. His place was taken by Jim Edgar; who also scripted western strips Matt Marriott, Wes Slade and Gun Law.

In 1968 Dowling retired and his assistant John Allard took over the drawing until a permanent artist could be found. Allard had completed ten tales when Frank Bellamy came on board with the 13th daily episode of ‘Sundance’ (reprinted in Garth: The Cloud of Balthus). Allard remained as background artist and general assistant until Bellamy took full control during ‘The Orb of Trimandias’.

Professor Lumiere had discovered something about his patient which gave this strip its unique and distinctive appeal – even before the fantastic artwork of Bellamy elevated it to dizzying heights of graphic brilliance: Garth was blessed – or cursed – with an involuntary ability to travel through time and experience past and future lives.

This concept gave the strip infinite potential for exotic storylines and fantastic exploits, pushing it beyond its humble origins as a US mystery-man knock-off.

This second (1985) Titan Books collection of the Frank Bellamy era spans the period from 7th September 1972 to 25th October 1973 with the artist at the absolute peak of his powers. It opens here with eerie chiller ‘The People of the Abyss’ wherein Garth and sub-sea explorer Ed Neilson are captured by staggeringly beautiful naked women who drag their bathyscaphe to a city at the bottom of the Pacific. These undersea houris are at war with horrendous aquatic monstrosities and urgently need outside assistance, but even that incredible situation is merely the prelude to a tragic love affair with Cold War implications…

Next up is eponymous space-opera romp ‘The Women of Galba’ wherein an alien tyrant learns to rue the day he abducted a giant Earthman to fight and die as a gladiator. Exotic locations, spectacular action and oodles more astonishingly beautiful females make this an unforgettable adventure…

‘Ghost Town’ is a western tale, and a very special one. When Garth, vacationing in Colorado, rides into abandoned mining outpost “Gopherville”, he is irresistibly drawn back to a past life as Marshal Tom Barratt who lived, loved and died when the town was a hotspot of vice and easily purloined money. When Bellamy died suddenly in 1976 this tale – long acknowledged as his personal favourite – was rerun until Martin Asbury was ready to take over the strip.

The final adventure re-presented here – ‘The Mask of Atacama’ – sees Garth and Lumiere in Mexico City. Whilst sleeping the blonde colossus is visited by the spirit of beautiful Princess Atacama who escorts him through time to the vanished Aztec city of Tenochtitlan where, as the Sun God Axatl, Garth attempts to save their civilisation from the voraciously marauding Conquistadores of Hernan Cortés. Tragically, neither he nor the Princess have reckoned on the jealousy of the Sun Priests and their High Priestess Tiahuaca

Adding extra value to this volume are a draft synopsis and actual scripts for ‘The Women of Galba’, liberally illustrated, of course. There has never been a better comic adventure strip than Garth as drawn by Bellamy, combining action, suspense, glamour, mystery and the uncanny in a seamless blend of graphic wonderment. In recent years, Titan Books has published a superb line of classic British strips and comics and I’m praying that with Modesty Blaise and James Bond now completed, they’ll return to Garth (and while I’m dreaming, Jeff Hawke too) on the understanding that it’s up to us to make sure that this time the books find a grateful, appreciative and vast audience…
© 1985 Mirror Group Newspapers/Syndication International. All Rights Reserved.