Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives volume 1


By Bill Everett and others, edited and complied by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-488-7

Thanks to modern technology and diligent research by dedicated fans, there is a sublime superabundance of collections featuring the works of too-long ignored founding fathers and lost masters of American comic books. A magnificent case in point is this initial chronicle (available in both print and digital formats) revisiting the incredible gifts and achievements of one of the greatest draughtsmen and yarn-spinners the industry has ever seen.

You could save some time and trouble by simply buying the book now rather than waste your valuable off-hours reading my blather, but since I’m keen to carp on anyway feel free to accompany me as I delineate just why this tome needs to join the books on your “favourites” shelf.

The star of this collection was a direct descendent and namesake of iconoclastic poet and artist William Blake. His tragic life and awe-inspiring body of work – Bill was quite possibly the most technically accomplished artist in US comicbook industry – reveals how a man of privilege and astonishing pedigree was wracked by illness, an addictive personality (especially alcoholism) and sheer bad luck, but nevertheless shaped an art-form and left twin legacies: an incredible body of superlative stories and art, and, more importantly, saved many broken lives by becoming a dedicated mentor for Alcoholics Anonymous in his later years.

William Blake Everett was born in 1917 into a wealthy and prestigious New England family. Bright and precocious, he contracted tuberculosis when he was twelve and was dispatched to arid Arizona to recuperate.

This chain of events began a life-long affair with the cowboy lifestyle: a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, tall-tale-telling breed locked in a hard-to-win war against slow self-destruction. All this and more is far better imparted in the fact-filled, picture-packed Introduction by Blake Bell. It covers the development of the medium in ‘The Golden Age of Comics’, the history of ‘Bill Everett the Man’ and how they came together in ‘Centaur + Funnies Inc. = Marvel Comics #1’.

Th essay also includes an astounding treasure trove of found images and original art including samples from 1940s Sub-Mariner, 1960s Daredevil and 1970s Black Widow amongst many others.

Accompanied by the covers – that’s the case for most of the titles that follow: Everett was fast and slick and knew how to catch a punter’s eye – for Amazing Mystery Funnies volume 1 #1, 2, 3a, 3b and volume 2 #2 (August 1938 – February 1939, Centaur) are a quartet of rousing but muddled interstellar exploits starring sci fi troubleshooter Skyrocket Steele.

These are followed by a brace of anarchic outer space shenanigans starring futuristic wild boy Dirk the Demon from Amazing Mystery Funnies vol. 1 #3a and vol. 2 #3 (November 1938 and March 1939 respectively).

The undisputed star and big draw at Centaur was always Amazing-Man: a Tibetan mystic-trained orphan, adventurer and do-gooder named John Aman. After years of dangerous, painful study the young man was despatched back to civilisation to do good (for a relative given value of “good”)…

Aman stole the show in the monthly Amazing Mystery Comics #5-8 (spanning September to December 1939) as seen in the four breakneck thrillers reprinted here: ‘Origin of Amazing-Man’; an untitled sequel episode with the champion saving a lady rancher from sadistic criminals; ‘Amazing-Man Loose’ (after being framed for various crimes) and a concluding instalment wherein the nomadic hero abandons his quest to capture his evil arch rival ‘The Great Question’ and instead heads for recently invaded France to battle the scourge of Nazism…

As previously stated, Everett was passionately wedded to western themes and for Novelty Press’ Target Comics devised an Arizona-set rootin’ tootin’ cowboy crusader dubbed Bull’s-Eye Bill. Taken from issues #1 and 2 (February and March 1940), ‘On the trail of Travis Trent’ and ‘The Escape of Travis Trent’ find our wholesome but hard-bitten cowpoke battling the meanest and most determined owlhoot in the territory.

Accompanying the strips is an Everett-illustrated prose piece attributed to “Gray Brown” entitled ‘Bullseye Bill Gets his Moniker’.

Thanks to his breakthrough Sub-Mariner sagas, Everett was inextricably linked to water-based action and immensely popular, edgy heroes. That’s why Eastern Comics commissioned him to create human waterspout Bob Blake, Hydroman for their new bimonthly anthology Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics.

Here then (spanning issues #1-5; August 1940 to March 1941), are five spectacular, eerily offbeat exploits, encompassing ‘The Origin of Hydroman’ and covering his patriotic mission to make America safe from subversion from “oriental invaders”, German saboteurs and assorted ne’er-do-wells. after which a Polar Paladin rears his frozen head.

Sub-Zero Man debuted in Blue Bullet Comics vol. 1 #2 (July 1940): a Venusian scientist stranded on Earth who, through myriad bizarre circumstances, becomes a chilly champion of justice. Everett is only credited with the episode ‘The Power of Professor X’ (from vol. 1 #5, October 1940) but also included here are the cover of vol. 1 #4 and spot illos for the prose stories ‘Sub-Zero’s Adventures on Earth’ and ‘Frozen Ice’ (from Blue Bullet Comics vol. 1 #2 and vol. 2 #3).

The Conqueror was another quickly forsaken Everett creation: a Red, White & Blue patriotic costumed champion debuting in Victory Comics #1 August 1941. Daniel Lyons almost died in a plane crash but was saved by cosmic ray bombardment which granted him astounding mental and physical powers in ‘The Coming of the Conqueror’.

He promptly moved to Europe to “rid the world of Adolf Hitler!” and Everett’s only other contribution was the cover of issue #2 (September 1941).

Accompanied by a page of the original artwork from Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #12 (May 1941), The Music Master details how dying violinist John Wallace is saved by mystic musical means and becomes a sonic-powered superman righting injustices and crushing evil…

Rounding out this cavalcade of forgotten wonders are a selection of covers, spot illustrations and yarns which can only be described as Miscellaneous (1938-1942). These consist of the cover to the 1938 Uncle Joe’s Funnies #1; procedural crime thriller ‘The C-20 Mystery’ from Amazing Mystery Funnies vol. 2 #7 (June 1939) and ‘The Story of the Red Cross’ from True Comics #2 (June 1938).

The cover for Dickie Dare #1 (1941) is followed by a range of potent illustrative images from text tales beginning with three pages for ‘Sheep’s Clothing’ (Funny Pages vol. 2 #11; November 1940), a potent pic for ‘Birth of a Robot Part 2’ from Target Comics vol. 1 #6 (July 1940), two pages from ‘Death in a Box’ courtesy of Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #5 (March 1941) and two from ‘Pirate’s Oil’ in Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #13 (July 1942), before the unpublished, unfinished 1940 covers for Challenge Comics #1 and Whirlwind Comics #1 bring the nostalgia to a close.

Although telling, even revelatory and hinting at a happy ending of sorts, what this book really celebrates is not the life but the astounding versatility of Bill Everett. A gifted, driven man, he was a born storyteller with the unparalleled ability to make all his imaginary worlds hyper-real; and for nearly five decades his incredible art and wondrous stories enthralled and enchanted everybody lucky enough to read them. You should really invite yourself onto that list…
© 2011 Fantagraphics Books. Introduction © 2011 Blake Bell. All art © its respective owners and holders. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Strange Adventures volume 1


By John Broome, Otto Binder, Edmond Hamilton, Joe Samachson, Gardner Fox, Dave Wood, Bill Finger, Harry Sharp, Sid Gerson, Jerry Coleman, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Sid Greene, Murphy Anderson, Sy Barry, Joe Giella, Jerry Grandenetti, John Giunta, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1544-6

As the 1940s closed, masked mystery-men dwindled in popularity and the American comicbook industry found new heroes.

Classic genre titles flourished; resulting in anthologies dedicated to crime, war, westerns and horror amongst most comics publishers. These were augmented by newer fads like funny animal, romance and especially science fiction which, in 1950, finally escaped its glorious thud and blunder/ray guns/bikini babes in giant fishbowl helmets pulp roots (as perfectly epitomised in the uniquely wonderful Golden Age icon Planet Comics) with the introduction of Strange Adventures.

Packed with short adventures from jobbing SF prose writers and offering a plethora of new heroes such as Chris KL99, Captain Comet, the Atomic Knights and others, the magnificent monthly compendium – supplemented a year later with sister-title Mystery in Space – introduced wide-eyed youngsters to a fantastic but intrinsically rationalist universe and all the potential wonders and terrors it might conceal…

This spectacular and economical black-&-white collection (astonishingly, there are still no archival collections of this stuff available to modern readers these days; not even via that future-fangled interweb) re-presents stories from the inception of the self-regulatory Comics Code.

Strange Adventures #54-73 covers March 1955 to October 1956, right up to the start of the Silver Age when superheroes began to successfully reappear, offering beguiled readers technological wonderment and the sure-&-certain knowledge that there were many and varied somethings “Out There”…

On a thematic note: a general but by no means concrete rule of thumb was that Strange Adventures generally occurred on Earth or were at least Earth-adjacent, whilst – as the name suggests – Mystery in Space offered readers the run of the rest of the universe.

Moreover, many of the plots, gimmicks, maguffins and even art and design would be cleverly recycled for the later technologically-based Silver Age superhero revivals…

This mind-blowing, physics-challenging monochrome colossus opens with the March 1955 issue and four classic vignettes, beginning with ‘The Electric Man!’ by John Broome & Sy Barry, wherein a geologist in search of new power sources accidentally unleashes destructive voltaic beings from the centre of the Earth.

As always – and in the grand tradition of legendary pulp sci-fi editor John Campbell – human ingenuity and decency generally solves the assorted crises efficiently and expeditiously…

‘The World’s Mightiest Weakling!’ from Otto Binder, Carmine Infantino & Bernard Sachs, offers a charming yet impossible conundrum after a puny stripling gains incomprehensible mass and density during the course of an experiment, whilst ‘Interplanetary Camera!’ (Binder, Gil Kane & Sachs) grants a photographer a glimpse of the unknown when he finds an alien image recorder and uncovers a plot to destroy Earth.

The issue concludes with another Binder blinder in the taut thriller ‘The Robot Dragnet!’, illustrated by Harry Sharp & Joe Giella, with a rip-roaring romp of rampaging robotic rage.

This tale was actually the sequel to an earlier yarn but sufficiently and cleverly recapped so that there’s no confusion or loss of comprehensibility…

Issue #55 led with ‘The Gorilla who Challenged the World’ by Edmond Hamilton & Barry, wherein an ape’s intellect is scientifically enhanced to the point where he becomes a menace to all mankind. So great was his threat that this tale also carried over to the next issue…

During this period editors were baffled by a bizarre truism: every issue of any title which featured gorillas on the cover always resulted in increased sales. Little wonder then that so many DC comics had hairy headliners…

‘Movie Men from Mars!’ (Hamilton, Sharp & Giella) sees our world the unwilling location for cinematographers from the Red Planet. Unfortunately, they’re making a disaster movie…

‘A World Destroyed!’ by Joe Kubert offered a fanciful yet gripping explanation for how the asteroid belts between Mars and Jupiter were formed and that cataclysm theme is revisited in ‘The Day the Sun Exploded!’ with Broome, Kane & Sachs depicting a desperate dash by scientists to save Earth from melting.

Sid Gerson, Murphy Anderson & Giella then wrap up by revealing the baffling puzzle of ‘The Invisible Spaceman!’

SA #56 opened whimsically with ‘The Fish-Men of Earth!’ (Broome, Infantino & Sachs) as air density goes temporarily askew thanks to invading aliens, before ‘Explorers of the Crystal Moon!’ (Broome, Sharp & Sachs) finds a little boy going for a secret solar safari with visiting extraterrestrials.

Artist Paul Paxton then inadvertently becomes ‘The Sculptor Who Saved the World!’ when future-men ask him to make some highly specific pieces for them: a fast-paced yarn by Broome, Kane & Giella. Penitent Dr. Jonas Mills then corrects his evolutionary error by finally defeating his mutated gorilla in the concluding part of simian saga ‘The Jungle Emperor!’ by Hamilton & Barry.

Broome, Sid Greene & Sachs’ ‘The Spy from Saturn!’ opened issue #57 with a Terran scientist replaced by a perfect impostor, whilst ‘The Moonman and the Meteor!’ (Bill Finger & Barry) posits millionaires and aliens trying to buy or inveigle a fallen star from a humble amateur astronomer for the best and worst of reasons, after which Binder, Kane & Giella proffer ‘The Riddle of Animal “X”’ after a small boy finds a pet like no other creature on Earth…

Broome, Infantino & Giella then reveal an incredible ancient find to a Uranium prospector and some fugitive convicts desperate enough to try any means of escape in ‘Spaceship Under the Earth!’

Issue #58 opens with a police chief’s frantic search for a superhuman felon in ‘I Hunted the Radium Man!’ (Dave Wood & Infantino) whilst ‘Prisoner of Two Worlds!’ – Finger & Barry – sees the long-awaited return of genius detective Darwin Jones of The Department of Scientific Investigation.

Although an anthology of short stories, Strange Adventures featured a number of memorable returning characters and concepts such as Star Hawkins, Space Museum and The Atomic Knights during its run.

Jones debuted in the very first issue, solving fringe science dilemmas for the Federal Government and making thirteen appearances over as many years. In this third adventure he assists alien peace-officers in preventing a visiting extraterrestrial from taking a commonplace earth object back to his homeworld where it would become a ghastly terror-weapon…

‘Dream-Journey Through Space!’ (Broome, Kane & Sachs) depicts an ordinary human plucked from Earth to rescue an ancient civilisation from destruction as well as a humble but cunning ventriloquist who save our world from invasion by invincible aliens in Finger, Greene & Giella’s ‘The Invisible Masters of Earth!’

A young married couple have to find a way to prove they aren’t dumb animals on ‘The Ark from Planet X’ (Broome, Greene & Giella) which opened #59, after which ‘The Super-Athletes from Outer Space!’ came to our world to train in a heavier gravity environment and find the galaxy’s greatest sports-coach in a charming tale by Binder, Kane & Sachs.

Ed “France” Herron & Infantino then explore the domino theory of cause and effect in ‘Legacy from the Future!’ before Broome & Barry delve into ancient history and doomsday weaponry to discover the secret of our solar system and ‘The World that Vanished!’

Strange Adventures #60 featured a light-hearted time-travel teaser by Broome, Jerry Grandenetti & Giella concerning how historians gather together famous historic personages from ‘Across the Ages!’

‘The Man Who Remembered 100,000 Years Ago!’ (Binder, Kane & Sachs) is a terse, tense thriller as lightning provokes ancestral memories of a previous civilisation just in time for a scientist to cancel his unwitting repeat of the self-same experiment which had eradicated them…

Broome, Greene & Sachs then follow the life of a foundling boy who turns out to be an ‘Orphan of the Stars!’ before the issue concludes with a future-set thriller wherein schoolboy Ted Carter wins a place on a multi-species outing to the ‘World at the Edge of the Universe!’ (Binder & Barry).

In #61, ‘The Mirages from Space!’ (Binder, Kane & Sachs) are a portal into a fantastic other world and hold the secret of Earth’s ultimate salvation; ‘The Thermometer Man’ – Binder, Greene & Giella – sees a scientist striving to save a stranded Neptunian from melting in the scorching hell of our world and a lighthouse keeper is forced to play smart to counter a Plutonian invasion with ‘The Strange Thinking-Cap of Willie Jones!’ (Herron & Barry).

In conclusion Binder, Greene & Giella’s ‘The Amazing Two-Time Inventions’ finds an amateur inventor making fortuitous contact with his counterparts in 3000AD…

SA #62 introduced ‘The Fireproof Man’ (Broome, Infantino & Sachs) whose equally astounding dog foils an alien invasion even as an ordinary handyman falls into another dimension to become a messiah and ‘The Emperor of Planet X’ (Broome, Greene & Giella). Binder, Kane & Giella then report an abortive ‘Invasion from Inner Space!’ before ‘The Watchdogs of the Universe!’ recruit their first human agent in a tantalising tale by Binder, Greene & Giella.

Joe Samachson, Grandenetti & Giella start #63 with ‘I Was the Man in the Moon!’: an intriguing puzzle for an ordinary Joe who awakes to find aliens have inexplicably re-sculpted the lunar surface with his face, after which a Native American forest ranger becomes Earth’s only hope of translating an alien warning in The Sign Language of Space!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella).

‘Strange Journey to Earth!’ by Jerry Coleman, Kane &Giella sees an ordinary school teacher deduce an alien’s odd actions and save the world before the issue ends in ‘Catastrophe County, U.S.A.!’ where Hamilton, Greene & Giella introduce scientists to the Government’s vast outdoor natural disaster lab…

Sales-boosting simians resurface in #64 as Finger, Infantino & Sachs deliver hostile ‘Gorillas in Space!’ who are anything but, whilst a first contact misunderstanding results in terror and near-death for an Earth explorer lost in ‘The Maze of Mars’ (Binder, Greene & Sachs).

Then a technological Indiana Jones becomes ‘The Man Who Discovered the West Pole!’ (Binder, Kane & Giella) and Samachson & Grandenetti craft a canny tale of planetary peril in ‘The Earth-Drowners!’

In #65 (February 1956) ‘The Prisoner from Pluto!’ by Binder, Greene & Giella, features an alien attempting to warn Earth of imminent Saturnian attack and forced to extreme measures to accomplish his mission.

A different kind of cultural upheaval is referenced in the quaint but clever tale of ‘The Rock-and-Roll Kid from Mars!’ (Samachson, Kane & Giella). A stage mentalist outfoxes genuine telepaths in ‘War of the Mind Readers!’ by Binder, Infantino & Sachs before a biologist turns temporary superhero to foil an alien attack in ‘The Man who Grew Wings!’ by Binder, Greene & Giella to end the issue.

Issue #66 opens with Broome & Infantino’s tale of ‘The Human Battery!’ as an undercover cop suddenly develops an incredible power, whilst a guy in a diner mistakenly picks up ‘The Flying Raincoat!’ (Samachson, Greene & Giella) and accidentally averts an insidious clandestine invasion of our world.

Binder, Kane & Sachs then see Darwin Jones solve the ‘Strange Secret of the Time Capsule!’ and the metamorphic ‘Man of a Thousand Shapes!’ (Samachson, Infantino & Sachs) proves to be a being with a few secrets of his own…

‘The Martian Masquerader!’ (Strange Adventures #67, by Broome, Kane & Giella) plays clever games as editor Julie Schwartz (aka “Mr. Black”) is approached by an alien in need of assistance in tracking down an ET terrorist after which Hamilton, Greene & Giella hone in on a subatomic scientist desperate to find his infinitesimal homeworld in ‘Search for a Lost World!’

‘The Talking Flower!’ in chemist Willie Pickens’ buttonhole is a lost alien who helps him save the world in Samachson, Infantino & Sachs’ charming romance, but the time-travelling travails experienced by archaeologist Roger Thorn after he discovers the ‘Gateway Through the Ages!’ (Hamilton, Greene & Giella) lead only to danger and hard-earned knowledge…

Issue #68 starts with ‘The Man who Couldn’t Drown!’ (Broome, Infantino & Sachs): a tale of genetic throwbacks and unfathomable mystery whilst a ‘Strange Gift from Space!’ (Samachson, Greene & Giella) results in a safer planet for all, after which a chance chemical discovery produces a happy salvation in ‘The Balloons That Lifted a City!’ (Samachson, Kane & Giella) and a common thief gets in way over his head when he robs a laboratory in Samachson, Greene Sachs’ witty ‘The Game of Science!’

SA #69 sees a time-traveller voyage into pre-history and help dawn-age humans overcome ‘The Gorilla Conquest of Earth’ (Broome, Kane & Sachs) whilst the arrival of ‘The Museum from Mars’ (Gardner Fox, Greene & Giella) offers almost irresistible temptation and deadly danger to humanity and ‘The Man with Four Minds!’ (Hamilton & Infantino) sees a man with too much knowledge and power eschew it all for normality. ‘The Human Homing Pigeon!’ (Samachson, Greene & Giella) then burns out his own unique gift in the service of his fellows…

The Triple Life of Dr. Pluto!’ by Broome, Greene & Giella in #70 deals with the dangers of a human duplicating ray after which Darwin Jones confronts a deadly dilemma when warring aliens both claim to be our friends and ‘Earth’s Secret Weapon!’ (Samachson, Kane & Giella).

An early computer falls into the hands of a petty thief with outrageous consequences in ‘The Mechanical Mastermind!’ (Samachson & Infantino) whilst the ‘Menace of the Martian Bubble!’ (Broome, Greene & Giella) is foiled by a purely human mind and the skills of a stage magician.

Issue #71 features ‘Zero Hour for Earth!’ (Broome & Barry) as a scientist at world’s end sends a time-twisting thought-message back to change future history, whilst invisible thieves of the planet’s fissionable resources are thwarted by a scientist with a unique visual impairment in ‘Raiders from the Ultra-Violet!’ by Binder, Greene & Giella. Writer Ray Hollis sees a star fall and encounters ‘The Living Meteor!’ (Fox, Kane & Sachs) whilst a guy with a weight problem discovers he has become ‘The Man Who Ate Sunshine!’ in a clever conundrum from Samachson, Grandenetti & Giella.

Strange Adventures #72 begins with a fabulous, self-evident spectacular in ‘The Skyscraper that Came to Life!’ by Broome, Greene & Giella, whilst a shooting star reveals an ancient ‘Puzzle from Planet X!’ which promises friendship or doom in a classy yarn from Hamilton, Greene & Sachs.

‘The Time-Wise Thief!’ (Gerson & John Giunta) provides a salutary moral for a bandit with too much technology and temptation before ‘The Man Who Lived Nine Lifetimes!’ (Binder, Kane & Giella) is aroused from a sleep of ages to save us all from robot invasion…

The initial flights of fantasy conclude with the contents of issue #73, beginning with ‘The Amazing Rain of Gems!’ by Broome, Greene & Giella, wherein a sentient jewel almost beguiles the entire world, whilst humans are hijacked to attend a ‘Science-Fiction Convention on Mars’ (Fox, Kane & Giella) and ‘The Man with Future-Vision!’ (Fox, Infantino & Sachs) discovers that knowing what’s coming isn’t necessarily enough…

The imaginative inspiration ends with a clever time-paradox fable in Hamilton, Greene & Giella’s ‘Reverse Rescue of Earth!’

Conceived and edited by the brilliant Julie Schwartz and starring the cream of the era’s writers and artists, Strange Adventures set the standard for mind-boggling all-ages fantasy fiction. With stunning, evocative covers from such stellar art luminaries as Murphy Anderson, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Ruben Moreira, this titanic tome is a perfect portal to other worlds and, in many ways, far better times.

If you dream in steel and plastic and are agonising and still wondering why you don’t yet own a personal jet-pack, this volume might go some way to assuaging that unquenchable fire for the stars…

Then again so might a spiffy new collection as part of DC’s Silver Age archive strand…
© 1955, 1956, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

StormWatch volume One


By Warren Ellis, Tom Raney & Randy Elliott, with Michael Ryan, Jim Lee & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3420-1 (HC)                    978-1-4012-3421-8 (TPB)

StormWatch evolved out of the creative revolution which saw big name creators abandon the major “work-for-hire” publishers and set up their own companies and titles – with all the benefits and drawbacks that entailed.

As with most of those glossy, formulaic, style-over-content, almost actionably derivative titles the series started with a certain verve and flair but soon bogged down for a lack of ideas and outside help was called in to save the sinking ships.

Dedicated Iconoclast Warren Ellis took over the cumbersome series with issue #37 and immediately began brutalizing the title into something not only worth reading but within an unfeasibly brief time produced a dark, edgy and genuinely thought-provoking examination of heroism, free will, the use and abuse of power and ultimate personal responsibility. Making the book uniquely his, StormWatch became unmissable reading as the series slowly evolved itself out of existence, to be reborn as the eye-popping, mind-boggling anti-hero phenomenon The Authority.

And now of course, the entire rebellious pack have been subsumed by the big corporate colossi they were reacting against. Some things never change…

StormWatch was a vast United Nations-sponsored Special Crisis Intervention unit tasked with managing superhuman menaces with national or international ramifications and global threats, operating under the oversight of a UN committee. They were housed in “Skywatch”: a futuristic space station in geosynchronous orbit above the planet and could only act upon specific request of a member nation.

The multinational taskforce comprised surveillance and intelligence specialists, technical support units, historians and researchers, detention technicians, combat analysts, divisions of uniquely trained troops, a squadron of state-of-the-art out-atmosphere fighter planes all supporting a band of deputised superheroes for front-line situations beyond the scope of mere mortals.

The whole affair was controlled by incorruptible overseer Henry Bendix“The Weatherman”.

Referencing a host of fantasy classics ranging from T.HU.N.D.E.R. Agents and Justice League of America to Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlet and even Star Trek: The Next Generation, this initial archival collection (available in hardback, softcover and digital editions) collects issues #37-47 of the comicbook series and describes how the aftermath of a team-member dying forces Bendix to re-evaluate his mission: seeking more effective ways to police the growing paranormal population and the national governments apparently determined to exterminate or exploit them…

The restructuring begins in ‘New World Order’ (by Ellis, Tom Raney & Randy Elliott) as, following the funeral of the fallen comrade, Bendix fires a large number of the superhuman contingent and recruits a trio of new “posthuman” heroes: electric warrior Jenny Sparks, extra-terrestrially augmented detective Jack Hawksmoor and psycho-killer Rose Tattoo.

Weatherman’s own chain-of-command has altered too: his new superiors in the UN Special Security Council are all anonymous now and, with the world in constant peril, they have given Bendix carte blanche. He will succeed or fail all on his own…

The super-agents are further restructured: StormWatch Prime is the name of the regular, public-facing metahuman team, whilst Black is the code for a new covert insertion unit.

StormWatch Red comprises the most powerful and deadly agents: they will handle “deterrent display and retaliation” – preventing crises by scaring the bejeezus out of potential hostiles…

Meanwhile in Germany, as all the admin gets signed off, a madman has unleashed a weaponized superhuman maniac to spreading death, destruction and disease. Whilst new Prime Unit deals with it Bendix shows the monster’s creator just how far he is prepared to go to preserve order on the planet below…

‘Reprisal’ is a murder investigation. No sooner has one of the redundant ex-StormWatch operatives arrived home than he is assassinated and Jack Hawksmoor, Irish ex-cop Hellstrike and pyrokine Fahrenheit’s subsequent investigation reveals the kill was officially instigated by a friendly government and StormWatch member-state…

Hawksmoor, Jenny Sparks and aerial avenger Swift are dispatched to an ordinary American town with a big secret in ‘Black’ as Amnesty International reports reveal that some US police forces are engaging in systematic human rights abuse.

In Lincoln City they’re also building their own metahuman soldiers and testing them on ethnic minorities…

‘Mutagen’ sees the Prime team in action in Britain after terrorists release an airborne pathogen to waft its monstrous way across the Home Counties, turning humans into ghastly freaks for whom death is a quick and welcome mercy.

As Skywatch’s Hammerstrike Squadron performs a sterilising bombing run over outraged Albion, StormWatch Red arrives in the villains’ homeland to teach them the error of their ways…

In this continuum most superhumans are the result of exposure to a comet which narrowly missed the Earth, irradiating a significant proportion of humanity with power-potential. These “Seedlings’” abilities usually lie dormant until an event triggers them.

StormWatch believed they had a monopoly on posthumans who could trigger others in the form of special agent Christine Trelane, but when she investigates a new potential meta, she discovers proof of another ‘Activator’ (illustrated by Michael Ryan & Elliott).

Coming closer to solving a long-running mystery regarding where the American Government is getting its new human weapons, Trelane first has to deal with the worst kind of seedling… a bad one…

Raney returns and the Ellis Experiment continues with spectacular action set-piece ‘Kodǒ’ from #42. Japan shudders and reels under telekinetic assault courtesy of cruelly conjoined artificial mutants bred by a backward-looking doomsday-cult messiah. The Prime team is dispatched to save lives and hunt down the instigators in a good old-fashioned, get-the-bad-guys romp which gives the team’s multi-faceted Japanese hero Fuji a chance to shine…

By this time the comics world was paying close attention as “just another high-priced team-book” became an edgy, unmissable treatise on practical heroism and the uses and abuses of power.

Making the title unquestionably his plaything, Ellis slowly evolved StormWatch out of existence, to be reborn as the no-rules-unbroken landmark The Authority. The transition hit high gear with the following tales: short, hard looks at individual cast members

The incisive explorations begin with ‘Jack Hawksmoor’: a human subjected to decades of surgical manipulation by aliens to become the avatar of cities. Drawn to the scene of a serial killer’s grotesque excesses, Jack uncovers a festering government cover-up which reaches deep into the soul of American idolatry: implicating one the culture’s most revered idols and threatening to rip the country apart if exposed.

Nevertheless, the apparently untouchable murderer will never cease his slaughter-campaign unless someone stops him…

‘Jenny Sparks’ follows the cynical Englishwoman whose electrical powers were an expression of her metaphysical status as incarnate “Spirit of the Twentieth Century”: proffering a captivating pastiche of fantasy through the last hundred years as the jaded hero recounts her life story (see also Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority).

This dazzling series of pastiches references Siegel & Shuster, Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare, Kirby, Crumb and the horrors of Thatcherite Britain in a gripping tale of betrayal…

Terse thriller ‘Battalion’ then sees StormWatch’s normally non-operational, behind-the-scenes trainer fall into a supremacist terror-plot whilst on leave in Alabama. To survive, he’s forced to call on skills and abilities he never thought he’d need again…

‘Rose Tattoo’ was a mute and mysterious sexy super psycho-killer recruited by Bendix as a walking ultimate sanction. When her super-powered team-mates go on a hilarious alcoholic bonding exercise, she finally shows her true nature in a tale which foreshadows an upcoming crisis for the entire team… and planet.

Following Raney & Elliot’s sterling run Jim Lee & Richard Bennett illustrate the concluding ‘Assembly’ as Bendix sends his core team into the very pits of Hell in a bombastic action-packed shocker that acts as a “jumping-on point” for new readers and a reminder of what StormWatch is and does… preparatory to Ellis kicking the props out from under the readership in the next volume…

Also on show are a concluding gallery of covers and variants by Raney & Elliott, Gil Kane & Tom Palmer and Mark Erwin.

Artfully blending the comfortably traditional with the radically daring, these transitional tales offered a new view of the Fights ‘n’ Tights scene that tantalised jaded readers and led the way to the groundbreaking phenomenon of the Authority, Planetary and later iconoclastic advances.

Raney & Elliott’s art is competent and mercifully underplayed – a real treat considering some of the excessive visual flourishes of the Image Era – but the real focus of attention is always the brusque “sod you” True Brit writing which trashes all the treasured ideoliths of superhero comics to such devastating effect.

This is superb action-based comics drama: cynical, darkly satirical, anarchic, alternately rip-roaringly funny and chilling in its examination of Real Politik but never forgetting that deep down we all really want to see the baddies get a good solid smack in the mouth…

These now relatively vintage tales celebrate the best of what has gone before whilst kicking in the doors to a bleaker more compelling tomorrow.
© 1996, 1997 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Albion: Origins


By Tom Tully, Scott Goodall, Ken Mennell, Solano Lopez, Eric Bradbury & various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-172-1

Here’s a truly superb collection of British comic strips from the glory days of the 1960s courtesy of Titan Books and originally released to support and cash in on the profile-raising American Albion miniseries and collection.

In this stunning, non-nonsense monochrome hardback are four complete early exploits of some of Britain’s weirdest comic strip heroes.

Kelly’s Eye featured ordinary, thoroughly decent chap Tim Kelly who came into possession of the mystical “Eye of Zoltec”: a fist-sized gem that kept him free from all harm… as long as held on to it.

You won’t be surprised to discover that, due to the demands of weekly boys’ adventures, Tim lost, dropped, misplaced and was nefariously deprived of that infernal talisman pretty darned often – and always at the most inopportune moment…

The moody and compelling artwork of Argentinean Francisco Solano Lopez was the prime asset of this series, with the story reprinted here being about a Seminole Indian uprising threatening modern Florida. Complete with eerie evil witch doctor, supernatural overtones from a demonic drum and consumer America imperilled, this story is a classic. Tom Tully & Scott Goodall were the usual scripters for this little gem of a series.

And yes, due to the pressure of these weekly deadlines, occasionally fill-in artists had to pinch-hit in most British strip-series every now and then. Such was the breakneck pacing though, that us kids hardly even noticed and I doubt you will either. Still. If you are eagle-eyed, you might spot such luminaries as Reg Bunn, Felix Carrion, Carlos Cruz, Franc Fuentesman, and Geoff Campion in this volume. But you probably won’t…

House of Dolman was a curious and inexplicably absorbing blend of super-spy and crime-buster strip from Tully and utterly wonderful master illustrator Eric Bradbury. Dolman’s cover was as a shabby ventriloquist (I digress, but an awful lot of “our” heroes were tatty and unkempt – we had “Grunge” down pat decades before the Americans made a profit out of it!) who designed and constructed an army of specialised robots which he disguised as his puppets.

Using these as his shock-troops, the enigmatic Dolman waged a dark and crazy war against the forces of evil…

Featured here are a number of his complete 4-page thrillers wherein he defeats high-tech kidnappers, rascally protection racketeers, weapons thieves, blackmailers and the sinister forces of arch super-criminal ‘The Hawk’.

Janus Stark was a fantastically innovative and successful strip. Created by Tully for the relaunch of Smash in 1969, the majority of the art was from Solano Lopez’s studio, providing an aura of eerie, grimy veracity well suited to this tale of a foundling who grew up in a grim orphanage only to become the greatest escapologist of the Victorian age.

The Man with Rubber Bones also had his own ideas about retribution and justice and would joyously sort out those scoundrels the Law couldn’t or wouldn’t touch. A number of creators worked on this feature, which survived until the downsizing of the publisher’s comics division in 1975 – and even beyond – since Stark escaped oblivion by emigration.

When the series ended in Britain it was continued in French publications – even unto Stark’s eventual death and succession by his son. Here though, we get to see his earliest feats and I for one was left hungry for more. Encore!

The last spot in this sturdy hardback treasury falls to the Spooky Master of the Unknown Cursitor Doom. This series is the unquestioned masterpiece of Eric Bradbury – an artist who probably deserves that title as much as his visual creation.

Writer Ken Mennell, who usually invented characters for other writers to script, kept Doom for himself and the result is a darkly brooding Gothic thriller quite unlike anything else in comics then or since. If pushed, I’ll liken it most to William Hope Hodgson’s Karnacki the Ghost Breaker novelettes – although that’s more for flavour than anything else and even that doesn’t really cover it.

Doom is a fat, bald, cape-wearing foul-tempered know-it-all who just happens to be humanity’s last-ditch defence against the forces of darkness. With his strapping and rugged young assistant Angus McCraggan and Scarab, a trained raven (or is it, perhaps, something more?), Cursitor crushed without mercy any threat to humanity’s wellbeing.

Re-presented here is the ‘Dark Legion of Mardarax’ wherein a cohort of Roman soldiers extracted from the mists of antiquity rampages across the British countryside, intent on awaking an ancient and diabolical monstrosity from the outer Dark!

Perhaps these tales are a thrill for me because I first read them when I was just an uncomprehending nipper, but I don’t think so. It’s a tremendous thrill now to realise that despite all the age, wisdom, and sophistication I can now muster, that these strips really were – and are – as great if not better, than most of the comics I’ve seen in fifty-plus years of reading. Don’t take my word for it: track down this book and see if you’re not as hungrily avid for more of the same…
© 2005 IPC Media Ltd. All rights reserved.

Doctor Who Graphic Novel #1: The Iron Legion


Illustrated by Dave Gibbons and scripted by Pat Mills, John Wagner & Steve Moore (Panini Books)
ISBN: 978-1-904159-37-7

The British love comic strips and they love celebrity and they love “Characters.” The history of our homegrown graphic narrative has a peculiarly disproportionate amount of radio comedians, Variety stars and film icons and television actors: such disparate legends as Charlie Chaplin, Flanagan & Allen, Shirley Eaton (“The Modern Miss”), Arthur Askey, Winifred Atwell, Max Bygraves, Jimmy Edwards, Charlie Drake and so many more long forgotten.

As well adored and adapted were actual shows and properties such as Whacko!, ITMA, Our Gang (a British version of the Hal Roach film sensation by Dudley Watkins ran in The Dandy as well as the American comicbook series by Walt Kelly), Old Mother Riley, Supercar, Thunderbirds, Pinky and Perky, The Clangers and literally hundreds more.

Hugely popular anthology comics such as Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Tornado, TV Comic and Countdown translated our viewing and listening favourites into pictorial joy every week, and it was a pretty poor star or show that couldn’t parley the day job into a licensed comic property…

Doctor Who premiered on black-&-white televisions across Britain on November 23rd 1963 with the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. In 1964 his decades-long association with TV Comic began: issue #674 offered the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th), Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly. It 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.

Panini’s UK division is in the ongoing process of collecting every strip from its archive in a uniform series of over-sized graphic albums, each concentrating on a particular incarnation (those in the know refer to them as “regenerations”) of the deathless wanderer. This particular tome was the very first, gathering 36 weekly monochrome strips from the first 38 weeks, all drawn, inked and lettered by International Treasure Dave Gibbons and published between 11th October 1979 and July 3rd 1980.

In fact, the Doctor Who stories were amongst the last regular comics work the artist created for the British market before being scooped up by the Americans as part of the early 1980s “British Invasion”.

All that and more is covered in the comprehensive ‘Dave Gibbons Interview’ conducted by Alan Woollcombe which precedes the frantic tales plucked from the annals of history featuring the Fourth Doctor (AKA Tom Baker). Thanks to the skills of writers Pat Mills & John Wagner (who plotted the yarns together but alternated as solo-scripters for completed stories) and latterly Steve Moore, the adventuresome episodes combine thrills, fights and scares with a suitable degree of surreal humour and whimsical Anglophilic cultural nonsense…

The cosmic comics carnage kicks off with a ‘The Iron Legion’ (originally seen in Doctor Who Weekly #1-8: 11th October to December 5th 1979) with Mills providing dialogue as the wandering Time Lord lands in a contemporary English village just as it is attacked by robot soldiers from a parallel plane where the Roman Empire never fell.

Taken as a prisoner across the dimensional divide, The Doctor faces formidable opposition from the tyrannical mechanical General Ironicus, bratty boy-Emperor Adolphus and his terrifying mother Juno.

However, as the gob-smacked Gallifreyan strives to survive the worst trials and tribulations the all-conquering empire can throw at him, he realises that there is an even greater evil controlling the toga-draped elite: immortal alien devil Magog and his arcane brethren The Malevilus.

Escape is no longer the issue: The Doctor needs to stop a ghastly scheme to enslave and consume the entire universe…

Wagner did the typing for next serial ‘City of the Damned’ (DWW #9-16: 12th December 1979 – January 30th 1980) as our hero attempts to enjoy a little downtime in placid Benidorm but instead ends up in grim metropolis Zombos, where all emotion has been outlawed and the citizens submit to mind-altering procedures to keep the all-pervasive state sound and stable.

Captured by the passionless Moderators, The Doctor is only saved from surgically-induced emotional lobotomy by daring – possibly deranged – rebels fighting to restore feeling to the People.

When one of their number unleashes a doomsday bio-weapon that thrives on the lack of emotion, the Time Lord and his ZEPO (Zom Emotional People’s Organisation) allies. The immortal wanderer has to think – and feel – fast to save the population and restore feeling to the endangered masses…

The next two tales were fill-ins and our ongoing saga resumes with the strip from #19 as, still searching for a seaside retreat, The TARDIS next dumps the increasingly harried Doctor in the English town of Blackcastle. The BBC news is full of denials that a starship has crashed into the local steelworks, but schoolgirl Sharon Davies and her friend Fudge know better. After all, they have already befriended ‘The Star Beast’ (February 20th – April 9th) that was hiding in the wreckage and promised to hide it from its enemies…

The Doctor has already met them but believes he’s successfully escaped the contingent of Wrarth Warriors. He is blissfully unaware that they have implanted a devasting bomb in his stomach for the moment he finally meets their elusive prey Beep the Meep

Even after escaping that near-death experience, the gullible Gallifreyan is unaware of quite who and what’s he’s dealing with in a devious tale where no-one and nothing are quite what they seem…

And to make things even more complicated, by the time the stardust settles, Sharon has moved into the TARDIS as his latest companion…

The Mills & Wagner stories – originally created as prospective TV adventures – conclude in deep space and an indeterminate future as The Doctor and Sharon encounter space truckers Joe Bean and Babe, servicing the colony worlds of the New Earth System. What nobody knows at this stage is that the planets are under attack by highly infectious lycanthropic horrors dubbed ‘The Dogs of Doom’ (DWW #27-34: 10th April – June 5th).

As the creatures ravage the young planets, eradication seems certain, and doubly so once the infected Doctor discerns that the werewolves are merely tools of his greatest enemies – the Daleks!

This stunning, sterling trade paperback concludes with the first story by veteran British comics stalwart Steve Moore and the threat of ‘The Time Witch’ (DWW #197-202: June 12th to 3rd July).

Before Earth formed, psychic adept Brimo was imprisoned in a timeless cell for misusing her powers. From her crystal cage she saw galaxies rise and fall and raged to be free…

That joyous moment occurred when the dashing time meddler’s TARDIS accidentally interfaced with a blank universe, freeing her and granting her the power to reshape reality. Unfortunately for her, The Doctor realised that those conditions applied to anybody trapped in that unformed region, and in a battle of wills and imagination his brain was second to none…

Sheer effusive delight from start to finish, this is a splendid book for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for dedicated fans of the show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics another shot…
All Doctor Who material © BBCtv. Doctor Who, the Tardis, Dalek word and device mark and all logos are trademarks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. Dalek device mark © BBC/Terry Nation 1963.All other material © its individual creators and owners. Published 2004 by Panini. All rights reserved.

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01


By John Wagner, Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-90426-579-5

Britain’s last great comic icon could be described as a combination of the other two, combining the futuristic milieu and thrills of Dan Dare with the terrifying anarchy and irreverent absurdity of Dennis the Menace. He’s the longest-lasting adventure character in our admittedly meagre comics stable, having been continually published every week since February 1977 when he first appeared in the second issue of science-fiction anthology 2000AD – and now that The Dandy’s gone, veterans Korky the Cat and Desperate Dan might one day be overtaken in the comedy stakes too…

However, with at least 52 2000AD strips a year, annuals, specials, a newspaper strip (in the Daily Star and later The Metro), the Judge Dredd Megazine, numerous reprinted classic comics collections, some rather appalling franchised foreign comicbook spin-off titles, that adds up to a phenomenal amount of material, most of which is still happily in print.

Judicial Review: Dredd and his dystopian ultra-metropolis of Mega-City One – originally it was to be a 21st century New York – were created by a very talented committee including Pat Mills, Kelvin Gosnell, Carlos Ezquerra, Mike McMahon and others, but with the major contribution coming from legendary writer John Wagner who has written the largest portion of the canon under his own name and several pseudonyms.

Joe Dredd is a fanatically dedicated Judge in the super-city, where hundreds of millions of citizens idle away their days in a world where robots are cheaper and more efficient than humans, and jobs are both beloved pastime and treasured commodity. Boredom has reached epidemic proportions and almost everybody is just one askance glance away from mental meltdown. Judges are peacekeepers who maintain order at all costs: investigating, taking action and trying all crimes and disturbances to the hard-won equilibrium of the constantly boiling melting pot. Justice is always immediate…

Dredd’s world is a polluted and precarious Future (In)Tense with all the key analogues for successful science fiction (as ever a social looking-glass for the times it’s created in) situated and sharply attuned to a Cold War Consumer Civilisation. The planet is divided into political camps with post-nuclear holocaust America locked in a slow death-struggle with the Sov Judges of the old Eastern Communist blocs. The Eastern lawmen are militaristic, oppressive and totalitarian – and that’s by the US Judges’ standards – so just imagine what they’re actually like…

The Judges are necessary fascists in a world permanently on the edge of catastrophe, and sadly, what far too many readers never realise is that the strip is a gigantic satirical black comedy with oodles of outrageous, vicarious cathartic action.

Such was not the case when the super-cop debuted in 2000AD Prog (that’s issue number to you) #2 on March 5th 1977. He was stuck at the back of the new weekly comic in a tale finally scripted – after much intensive re-hashing – by Peter Harris and illustrated by Mike McMahon & Carlos Ezquerra.

The blazing, humourless, no-nonsense (all that would happily come later) action extravaganza introduced the bike-riding Sentinel of Order in the cautionary tale of brutal bandit Whitey, whose savage crime spree was ended with ferocious efficiency before the thug was sentenced to Devil’s Island – a high-rise artificial plateau surrounded by the City’s constant stream of lethal, never-ending, high-speed traffic…

In Prog 3 Dredd investigated ‘The New You’ in a cunning thriller by Kelvin Gosnell & McMahon wherein a crafty crook tries to escape justice by popping into his local face-changing shop, whilst #4 saw the first appearance of the outcast mutants in ‘The Brotherhood of Darkness’ (Malcolm Shaw & McMahon) as the ghastly post-nuclear pariahs invade the megalopolis in search of slaves.

The first hints of humour began in Prog 5’s ‘Krong’ by Shaw & Ezquerra, with the introduction of Dredd’s little-old-lady Italian cleaner Maria, wherein deranged horror film fan and hologram salesman Kevin O’Neill – yes it’s an in-joke – unleashes a giant mechanical gorilla on the city. The issue was the first of many to cover-feature old Stone Face (that’s Dredd, not Kev)…

‘Frankenstein 2’ pits the Lawman against an audacious medical mastermind, hijacking citizens to keep his rich aging clients in fresh, young organs, whilst #7 sees ruthless reprobate Ringo’s gang of muggers flaunting their criminality in the very shadow of ‘The Statue of Judgement’ until Dredd lowers the boom on them…

The first indications that the super-cop’s face is somehow hideously disfigured emerge in #8, as Charles Herring & Massimo Belardinelli’s ‘Antique Car Heist’ finds the Judge tracking down a murderous thief who stole an ancient petrol-burning vehicle, after which co-creator John Wagner returned in Prog 9 to begin his staggering run of tales with ‘Robots’, illustrated by veteran British science fiction artist Ron Turner.

The gripping vignette was set at the Robot of the Year Show, and revealed the callous cruelty indulged in by citizens upon their mechanical slaves as a by-product of a violent blackmail threat by a disabled maniac in a mechanical-super chair… This set the scene for an ambitious mini-saga comprising #10-17.

Those casual injustices paved the way for ‘Robot Wars’ (alternately illustrated over the weeks by Ezquerra, Turner, McMahon & Ian Gibson) wherein carpenter-robot Call-Me-Kenneth succumbs to a mechanical mind meltdown and emerges as a human-hating steel Spartacus, leading a bloody revolution against the fleshy oppressors.

The slaughter is widespread and terrible before the Judges regain control, helped in no small part by loyal, lisping Vending droid Walter the Wobot, who graduated at the conclusion to Dredd’s second live-in comedy foil…

With order restored, a sequence of self-contained stories firmed up the vision of the crazed city. In Prog 18 Wagner & McMahon introduced the menace of mind-bending ‘Brainblooms’ cultivated by another little old lady (and career criminal), and Gerry Finley-Day & John Cooper described the galvanising effect of the ‘Muggers Moon’ on Mega-City 1’s criminal class before Dredd demonstrated the inadvisability of being an uncooperative witness…

Wagner & McMahon then debuted Dredd’s bizarre paid informant Max Normal in #20, whose latest tip ended the profitable career of ‘The Comic Pusher’; Finley-Day & Turner turned in a workmanlike thriller as the super-cop tackles a seasoned killer with a deadly new weapon in ‘The Solar Sniper’ and Wagner & Gibson showed the draconian steps Dredd was prepared to take to bring in mutant assassin ‘Mr Buzzz’.

Prog 23 comfortably catapulted the series into all-out ironic satire mode with Finley-Day & McMahon’s ‘Smoker’s Crime‘ when Dredd stalks a killer with a bad nicotine habit to a noxious City Smokatorium, after which Malcolm Shaw, McMahon & Ezquerra reveal the uncanny secret of ‘The Wreath Murders’ in #24.

The next issue began the feature’s long tradition of spoofing TV and media fashions as Wagner & Gibson concoct a lethal illegal game show in ‘You Bet Your Life’ whilst #26 exposes the sordid illusory joys and dangers of the ‘Dream Palace’ (McMahon) before #27-28 offer some crucial background on the Judges themselves when Dredd visits ‘The Academy of Law’ (Wagner & Gibson) to give Cadet Judge Giant his final practical exam. Of course, for Dredd there are no half measures or easy going and the novice barely survives his graduation…

With the concluding part in #28, Dredd moved to second spot in 2000AD (behind brutally jingoistic thriller Invasion) and the next issue saw Pat Mills & Gibson tackle robot racism as Ku Kux Klan-analogue ‘The Neon Knights’ brutalised the reformed and broken artificial citizenry until the Juggernaut Judge krushes them…

Mills then offered tantalising hints on Dredd’s origins in ‘The Return of Rico!’ (McMahon) as a bitter criminal resurfaces after twenty years on the penal colony of Titan. The outcast is looking for vengeance upon the Judge who had sentenced him., but from his earliest days as a fresh-faced rookie, Joe Dredd had no time for corrupt lawmen – even if one were his own clone-brother…

Whitey escapes from Devil’s Island (Finley-Day & Gibson) in Prog 31, thanks to a cobbled-together contraption that turns off weather control, but doesn’t get far before Dredd sends him back, whilst the fully automated skyscraper resort ‘Komputel’ (Robert Flynn & McMahon) becomes a multi-story murder factory that only the City’s greatest Judge can counter before Wagner (using his frequent pseudonym John Howard) took sole control for a series of savage, whacky escapades beginning with #33’s ‘Walter’s Secret Job’ (Gibson).

Here the besotted droid is discovered moonlighting as a cabbie to buy pwesents for his beloved master….

McMahon & Gibson illustrated the two-part tale of ‘Mutie the Pig’: a flamboyant criminal and bent Judge, and performed the same tag-team effort for ‘The Troggies’, a debased colony of ancient humans living under the city and preying on unwary citizens…

Something of a bogie man for wayward kids and exhausted parents, Dredd does himself no favours in Prog 38 when he bursts in on ‘Billy Jones’ (Gibson) and exposes a vast espionage plot utilising toys as surveillance tools.

On tackling ‘The Ape Gang’ in #39 (19th November 1977 and drawn by McMahon), the Judge seamlessly graduated to the lead spot whilst quashing a turf war between augmented, educated, criminal anthropoids in the unruly district dubbed “the Jungle”…

‘The Mega-City 5000’ was an illegal and murderously bloody street race the assembled Judges were determined to shut down, but the gripping action-illustration of the Bill Ward drawn first chapter is sadly overshadowed by hyper-realist rising star Brian Bolland, who began his legendary association with Dredd by concluding the mini-epic in blistering, captivating style in Prog 41. Bolland, by his own admission, was an uneconomically slow artist and much of his later Dredd work would appear as weekly portions of large epics with other artists handling other episodes, to give him time to complete his own assignments with a minimum of pressure…

From out of nowhere in a bold change of pace, Dredd is then seconded to the Moon for a six-month tour of duty beginning in Prog #42. His brief is to oversee the rambunctious, nigh-lawless colony set up by the unified efforts of three US Mega-Cities there. The colony was as bonkers as Mega-City One and a good deal less civilised – a true Final Frontier town…

The extended epic began with‘Luna-1’ by Wagner & Gibson, with Dredd and stowaway Walter almost shot down en route in a mysterious missile attack before being targeted by a suicide-bomb robot before they can even unpack.

‘Showdown on Luna-1’ introduces permanent Deputy-Marshal Judge Tex from Texas-City, whose jaded, laissez-faire attitudes get a sound shaking up as Dredd demonstrates he’s one lawman who isn’t going to coast by for the duration of his term in office.

Hitting the dusty mean streets, Dredd starts cleaning up the wild boys in his town by outdrawing a mechanical Robo-Slinger and uncovering yet another assassination ploy. It seems that reclusive mega-billionaire ‘Mr. Moonie; has a problem with the latest law on his lunar turf…

Whilst dispensing aggravating administrative edicts like a frustrated Solomon, Dredd chafes to hit the streets and do some real work in #44’s McMahon-limned ‘Red Christmas’. An opportunity arises when arrogant axe-murderer ‘Geek Gorgon’ abducts Walter and demands a showdown he lives to regret, whilst ‘22nd Century Futsie!’ (Gibson) finds Moonie Fabrications clerk Arthur Goodworthy cracking under the strain of over-work and going on a destructive binge, with Dredd compelled to protect the future-shocked father’s family from Moonie’s over-zealous security goons…

The plotline concludes in Prog 46 with ‘Meet Mr. Moonie’ (Gibson) as Dredd and Walter confront the manipulative manufacturer and uncover his horrific secret.

The feature moved to the prestigious middle spot with this episode, allowing the artists to really open up and exploit the comic’s full-colour centre-spreads, none more so than Bolland as seen in #47’s ‘Land Race‘ as Dredd officiates over a frantic scramble by colonists to secure newly opened plots of habitable territory. Of course, there’s always someone who doesn’t want to share…

Ian Gibson then illustrated 2-part drama ‘The Oxygen Desert’ (#48-49), wherein veteran moon-rat Wild Butch Carmody defeats Dredd using his superior knowledge of the airless wastes beyond the airtight domes. Broken, the Judge quits and slides into despondency, but all is not as it seems…

Prog 50 featured the debut of single-page comedy supplement Walter the Wobot: Fwiend of Dwedd – but more of that later – whilst the long-suffering Justice found himself knee-boot-deep in an international interplanetary crisis when ‘The First Lunar Olympics’ (Bolland) against a rival lunar colony controlled by the Machiavellian Judges of the Sov-Cities bloc escalates into assassination and a murderous, politically-fuelled land grab.

The conflict was settled in ostensibly civilised manner with strictly controlled ‘War Games’, yet there is still a grievously high body-count by the time the moon-dust settles…

This vicious swipe at contemporary sport’s politicisation was and still is bloody, brutal and bitingly funny…

Bolland also illustrated the sardonic saga of ruthless bandits who were up for a lethal laugh in #52’s ‘The Face-Change Crimes’, employing morphing tech to change their appearances and rob at will until Dredd beats them at their own game.

Wagner & Gibson then craft a 4-part mini-epic (Progs 53-56) wherein motor fanatic Dave Paton’s cybernetic, child-like pride-and-joy blows a fuse and terrorises the domed territory: slaughtering humans and even infiltrating Dredd’s own quarters before the Judge finally stops ‘Elvis, The Killer Car’.

Bolland stunningly limned a savagely mordant saga of a gang of killer bandits who hijack the moon’s air before themselves falling foul of ‘The Oxygen Board’ in #57, but only managed the first two pages of 58’s ‘Full Earth Crimes’, leaving Mike McMahon to complete the tale of regularly occurring chaos in the streets whenever the Big Blue Marble dominates the black sky above…

It was a fine and frantic note to end on as, with ‘Return to Mega-City’, Dredd rotates back Earthside and resumes business as unusual. Readers were probably baffled as to why the returned cop utterly ignored a plethora of crime and misdemeanours, but Wagner & McMahon provide the logical and perfect answer in a brilliant, action-packed set-up for the madcap dramas to come….

This first Case Files chronicle nominally concludes with Wagner & McMahon’s ‘Firebug’ from Prog 60, as the ultimate lawgiver deals with a seemingly-crazed arsonist literally setting the city ablaze. The Law soon discovers a purely venal motive to the apparent madness…

There’s still a wealth of superb bonus material to enjoy before we end this initial outing however, and kicking off proceedings is the controversial First Dredd strip (illustrated by Ezquerra) which was bounced from 2000AD #1 and vigorously reworked – a fascinating glimpse of what the series might have been.

It’s followed by the eawliest Walter the Wobot: Fwiend of Dwedd stwips (sowwy – couldn’t wesist!) from 2000AD Progs 50-58.

Scripted by Joe Collins, these madcap comedy shorts were seen as an antidote to the savage and brutal action strips in the comic and served to set the scene for Dredd’s later full-on satirical lampoonery.

‘Tap Dancer’ was illustrated by Gibson and dealt with an embarrassing plumbing emergency whilst ‘Shoot Pool!’ (Gibson) has the Wobot again taking his Judge’s instructions far too literally…

Bolland came aboard to give full rein to his own outrageous sense of the absurd with the 5-part tale of ‘Walter’s Brother’: a bizarre tale of evil twins, a cunning frame-up and malign muggings that inevitably result in us learning all we ever needed to know about the insipidly faithful and annoying rust-bucket.

Dredd then had to rescue the plastic poltroon from becoming a pirate of the airwaves in ‘Radio Walter’ before the star-struck servant finds his 15 seconds of fame as the winner of rigged quiz-show ‘Masterbrain’ before this big, big book concludes with a trio of Dredd covers from Progs 10, 44 and 59, courtesy of artists Ezquerra, Kev O’Neill and McMahon.

Always mesmerising and beautifully drawn, these short, punchy stories starring Britain’s most successful and iconic modern comics character are the constantly evolving narrative bedrock from which all the later successes of the Mirthless Moral Myrmidon derive.

More importantly, they are timeless classics no real comic fan can ignore – and just for a change something that you can easily get your hungry hands on. Even my local library has copies of this masterpiece of British literature and popular culture…
© 1977, 1978, 2006 Rebellion A/S. All rights reserved. Judge Dredd & 2000AD are ® &™

The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection volume one


By Robert Deas, Jaimie Smart, Laura Ellen Anderson, Dan Boultwood, Joe List, Jess Bradley, Chris Riddell, Mike Smith & various (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-056-0

It’s summer and the kids will soon be on holiday and perpetually underfoot. Bored, whiny and in desperate need of entertainment and relief, their parents will try anything to win a moment’s peace…

I’m sure you’ve already exhausted every modern option so why not try something old school and get ‘em a book. But not just any book…

Reminiscent of and in the tradition of those bumper comics summer specials that enthralled and defused generations of children afflicted with too much downtime, The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection volume one contains a cartoon cornucopia of fun and thrills to bemuse the most demanding over- or under-achiever – and even those we’ll necessarily codify as Achievement-Adjacent…

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…

Now that similarity to days of yore progresses a step further with a summer (presumably Annual?) edition. Jam-packed within these glossy, full-colour pages are more exploits culled from the periodical pages, starring a pantheon of firm favourites.

Acting as a spine for the entire show and divided into four lengthy serialised chapters, scattered through the book, junior star warrior Troy Trailblazer leads off.

As crafted by Robert Deas (November, Manga Shakespeare: Macbeth, Medikidz) Troy the boy is an impetuous stellar sentinel who debuted in The Phoenix #10: offering riotous sci fi adventure combining light-hearted sidereal shenanigans with just a touch of dark and dreadful doom…

With his crew – advanced tactical droid Blip, animalistic alien associate Barrus and super-cool ultra-capable former bounty hunter Jess Jetrider – he roams the spaceways in a fabulous ship dubbed The Pathfinder.

Here Troy’s intense and absorbing gaming session is agonisingly spoiled at a crucial moment by a long-dormant cosmic super-intellect called the God Brain. After ages imprisoned by the oppressive Galactic Military organisation, the reawakened cyber deity’s first move is to take over the vast Cosmic Archives with his terrifying shapeshifting BioTeks… unless the constantly-squabbling Trailblazers can stop him…

Fast-paced, fun and not afraid to be really scary when it counts, this stunning interstellar thriller – excitingly told in a broadly manga manner – pauses for a faux ad and games break brought to you by Jess Bradley and the makers of yummy Squid Bits before a section dedicated to an ongoing vendetta between woodland warriors commences.

Concocted with feverishly glee by Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve! and other stuff), 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 (so far) localised 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 reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative Bunny to convince him otherwise.

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

In this tranche of turbulent tiny terrors Monkey manifests mayhem and almost causes a ‘Wrestlepocalypse’ in Skunky’s robotic Chomp-O-Tron before turning his own stomach when attempting to weaponize some very nasty stuff he finds on the ground in ‘Gross!’

With snow on the ground Monkey then finds a way to spoil the Great Sled-Off in ‘Tobog-Gone!’ and set back mammal-robot relations by picking on newcomer ‘Metal Steve 2!’, before a seemingly new menace terrorises the woodland folk in the dark guise of ‘Destructo!’

When the weather clears up Monkey’s Double-Barrelled Supercharged Snow-Cannon-Tank is suddenly deprived of ammo until the devilish pest repurposes his toy to fire chutney. Sadly, even this resultant chaos is insufficient to his comprehending ‘The Message!’

A brief and sudden return of ‘Skunky!’ only leads to disappointment, but his crazed influence remains to monsterize the ‘Pretty Flowers!’ whilst the debut of bounty hunter ‘Alan!’ (Armoured Locating Armadillo Network) threatens to destabilise the ongoing conflict until the big bully gets on the wrong side of gentle, peace-loving Pig’s ice cream…

Too much of the good life slows down our friends so they convince Le Fox to help them ‘Get Fit!’ just in time to face Skunky’s robotic Vulturaptors in ‘Terror from the Skies’, but when night falls huge ‘Bobbles!’ from the sky spark fears of alien invasion…

The good guys then try to invade Skunky’s new HQ ‘The Temple!’ just in time for ‘The Audition!’ to join the mastermind’s new gang the League of Doom. Sadly, the only one to make the grade is meek Pig in his new guise of ‘Pigulus!’

As concocted by Chris Riddell & Mike Smith And Now for Something a Little Bit Random provides a portion of palate-cleansing carton whimsy, after which Joe List proffers a raft of daft detective adventures starring improbable sleuth Doug Slugman P.I.: an ambitious, go-getting gastropod mollusc with a million secret origins and a drippy determination to dig out the truth, no matter how surreal, nonsensical or hilarious…

After ten of these single-page icky exploits and crazy cases, the titanic Trailblazer saga resumes – and seemingly concludes – as Troy and team save the Cosmic Archive and the intergalactic cyber network in an epic battle.

However, all is not as it seems…

And Now for Something Else a Little Bit Random offers more abstract titbits before true wickedness is highlighted with the return of an old favourite…

Conceived and created by children’s book illustrator and author Laura Ellen Anderson (Kittens, Snow Babies, My Brother is a Superhero{with David Solomons}), Evil Emperor Penguin 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 latest campaign of terror by attempting to become ‘World Misleader’ with his fearsome Freeze Ray. First off though he must get himself invited to the notoriously select World Leaders Annual Disco…

‘Diet Another Day’ sees the wicked fiend creating a super-addictive Abominable Snowbar taste-treat. That world-domination scheme would have worked, too, if only he hadn’t tried just one bite…

‘The Good, The Bad & the Paulo’ parts one and two find the villain meeting his match when he is accidentally captured by animal keepers and dumped in Metropolis Zoo. Helpless before the mobbed-up gangster penguin who runs everything, EEP can only thank his lucky stars that Eugene and number 8 quite like being bossed about…

Safely home, the minions plan a ‘Happy Hatch Day Surprise’ for their great leader but keeping him from finding out about it almost ends in disaster…

Another dose of Jess Bradley’s diverting digressions courtesy of sub-par sponsor Squid Bits then logically segues into an adventure of Squid Squad! (by Dan Boultwood, Esq.). Dwelling “way down deep in the ocean” and sworn to “protecting Octopolis from evil commotion”, this trio of junior tentacled marine marvels have their undersea school trip ruined by the predations of insidious collector The Diver and are forced to physically join forces in the coolest way imaginable…

After another aggregate assemblage of ephemera in And Now for Something That’s Still Pretty Random the Trailblazer epic continues as our young hero basks in his well-deserved universal adoration. He even gets to star in his own TV show. Before long, however, Troy’s swelled head and the devious machinations of his unctuous new manager have alienated the entire team…

And that’s when the cunning God Brain strikes, replacing Troy with an evil avatar and wrecking his galactic reputation whilst advancing its own diabolical agenda…

One last heaping helping of Squid Bits precedes the arrival of the last star turn as Looshkin – the Adventures of the Maddest Cat in the World!! adds a sleek sheen of feline frenzy to the mix.

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

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 continues with a visit from Great (rich) Auntie Frank with her precious ultra-anxious prize-winning poodle Princess Trixibelle. They are extravagantly feted with a bonanza of ‘Cheeeeeeeeeeeese! (Please)’, but once again the cat’s misapprehensions lead to anger, upset and a rather nasty stain…

A door-stepping political candidate falls foul of the cat’s anarchic soul and disguise skills in ‘Old Lady Looshkin (Wears Frilly Knick-knacks!)’ after which all semblance of reality fades in ‘Blarple Blop Blop Frrpp! (Bipple!)’ when the frenzied feline gets an attack of the friskies – and a frying pan – before starting to rush about…

‘Colour in with Looshkin’ details what happens if you let a cat help with home decoration whilst ‘Jeff’s Photocopying Services’ pits cat in almost-mortal combat against street advertisers and a mystic masquerade before ‘The Sparrow (A Funny Story About Things)’ recounts the cat’s response to the advent of new superhero the Bluetit defending with daring and dedication the local streets and avenues…

The moggy madcappery then concludes when an escaped penguin incites a bout of icy thermostat-abuse in ‘Cold for this Time of Year (I Can’t Feel my Legs!)’

Utterly loony and deliciously addictive, this diabolically daft glimpse at the insanity hardwired into certain cats (probably not yours, but still…) is another unruly and astoundingly ingenious romp from a modern master of rebellious whimsy, acting as a perfect counterpoint to the bombastic, all-guns blazing finale of Trailblazers as the team reunite to save public enemy number 1 Troy and crush the menace of the God Brain forever!

Or have they…?

Packed with fun, thrills and the type of bizarre, nonsensical wonderment kids love but can’t explain to anyone over 21, The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection volume one is a superb package of British-style children’s humour and adventure any parent should be proud to own. Deploy as required…
Text and illustrations © 2018Robert Deas, Jamie Smart, Laura Ellen Anderson, Dan Boultwood, Joe List, Jess Bradley, Chris Riddell, Mike Smith as appropriate. All rights reserved.

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.