Rocket Raccoon: Tales from Half-World


By Bill Mantlo, Mike Mignola, Al Gordon, Milgrom & various (Marvel)
No ISBN:

You can’t have failed to notice that the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie has thundered into theatres this season, so in a spirit of mirror-image opportunism I’ll be shuffling in short reviews of some of the many tie-in books the House of Ideas has kindly dashed out to celebrate the filmic franchise in the hope of making a few more readers out of viewers…

Tales from Half-World came out in 2013 (and is still readily available in both printed and digital formats) and provides a cheap and cheerful way to see the militant mystery mammal’s first scene-stealing starring role.

Rocket Raccoon was a throwaway character who first appeared in backup serial ‘The Sword in the Star’ in Marvel Preview#7 in 1976. In 1982, his originator Bill Mantlo brought him into the mainstream Marvel Universe with a guest-star role in Incredible Hulk #271 (May). Like the Punisher and Wolverine in previous years, the hairy iconoclast then simply refused to go away quietly…

A few years the furry force of nature popped up again in a new-fangled format for comicbooks: a miniseries…

The 4-issue Rocket Raccoon Limited Series was cover-dated May to August 1985 and crafted by Mantlo, then neophyte penciller Mike Mignola, and inkers Al Gordon & Al Milgrom and presented a bizarre and baroque sci-fi fantasy blending the charm of Pogo with the biting social satire of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (and vice versa): all whilst ostensibly describing a battle between Good and Evil in a sector of space crazy even by funnybook standards.

Rocket was one of many sentient and dedicated talking animals in the impenetrable, inescapable Keystone Quadrant: a Ranger in charge of keeping the peace in a troubled atmosphere where robots and anamorphic beasties went about their ordained task. That was caring for the distinctly odd and carefree humans known as The Loonies on their idyllic, sybaritic planet Halfworld.

Sadly, the critters were too much like their human charges.

When a brutal shooting war between voracious apex toymakers Judson Jakes and Lord Dyvyne leads to Rocket’s girlfriend Lylla Otter being kidnapped, the entire planet goes crazy wild, or perhaps more appropriately… ‘Animal Crackers’

In rescuing her, Rocket and faithful deputy Wal Rus have to contend with a murderous army of mechanised Killer Clowns, face an horrific, all-consuming bio-weapon at ‘The Masque of the Red Breath’, and even team up with arch-foe and disreputable mercenary bunny Blackjack O’Hare in ‘The Book of Revelations!’ before finally uncovering the horrendous truth behind the mad society they so unquestioningly defend…

The final chapter shakes everything up as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ sees the shocking end of The Loonies, allowing the Raccoon and his surviving companions to escape the confines of the eternally segregated Keystone Quadrant into the greater universe beyond…

This razor-sharp, spectacular slice of riotous star-roving action is a non-stop feast of tense suspense, surreal fun and blockbuster action: well-tailored, on-target and certain to turn curious movie-goers into fans of the comics incarnation.
© 2013 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

The Shadow 1941: Hitler’s Astrologer


By Dennis O’Neil, Michael William Kaluta, Russ Heath & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-429-9

In the early 1930s, The Shadow gave thrill-starved Americans their measured doses of extraordinary excitement via cheaply produced pulp periodical novels, and over the mood-drenched airwaves through his own radio show.

“Pulps” were published in every style and genre in their hundreds every month, ranging from the truly excellent to the pitifully dire, but for exotic or esoteric adventure-lovers there were two stars who outshone all others. The Superman of his day was Doc Savage, whilst the premier dark, relentless creature of the night dispensing terrifying grim justice was the putative hero featured here.

Radio series Detective Story Hour – based on stand-alone yarns from the Street & Smith publication Detective Story Magazine – used a spooky-toned narrator (variously Orson Welles, James LaCurto or Frank Readick Jr.) to introduce each tale. He was dubbed “the Shadow” and from the very start on July 31st 1930, he was more popular than the stories he related.

The Shadow evolved into a proactive hero solving instead of narrating mysteries and, on April 1st 1931, began starring in his own printed adventures, written by the astonishingly prolific Walter Gibson under house pseudonym Maxwell Grant. On September 26th 1937 the radio show officially became The Shadow with the eerie motto “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Men? The Shadow knows!” ringing out unforgettably over the nation’s airwaves.

Over the next eighteen years 325 novels were published, usually at the rate of two a month. The uncanny crusader spawned comicbooks, seven movies, a newspaper strip and all the merchandising paraphernalia you’d expect of a smash-hit superstar brand.

The pulp series officially ended in 1949 although Gibson and others added to the canon during the 1960s when a pulp/fantasy revival gripped the world, generating reprinted classic yarns and a run of new stories as paperback novels.

In graphic terms The Shadow was a major player. His national newspaper strip – by Vernon Greene – launched on June 17th 1940 and when comicbooks really took off the Man of Mystery had his own four-colour title; running from March 1940 to September 1949.

Archie Comics published a controversial contemporary reworking in 1964-1965 under their Radio/Mighty Comics imprint, by Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, John Rosenberger and Paul Reinman. In 1973 DC acquired the rights to produce a captivating, brief and definitive series of classic comic sagas unlike any other superhero title then on the stands.

DC periodically revived the venerable vigilante. After the runaway success of Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchman, Howard Chaykin was allowed to utterly overhaul the vintage feature for an audience at last acknowledged as grown-up enough to handle more sophisticated fare.

This led to further, adult-oriented iterations and one cracking outing from Marvel before Dark Horse assumed the license of the quintessential grim avenger for the latter half of the 1990s and beyond.

Dynamite Entertainment secured the option in 2011 and, whilst reissuing much of those other publishers’ earlier efforts, began a series of new monthly Shadow comics.

A year after Howard Chaykin and DC catapulted The Shadow into the grim ‘n’ grungy contemporary arena the dream-team that had first returned him to comic-book prominence reunited for a larger-than-life grand romp, ably abetted by the inking skills of master artist Russ Heath.

Denny O’Neil and Michael Kaluta had produced a stand-out series of adventures in the early 1970s (collected as The Private Files of the Shadow), set in the mad scientist/spy/gangster-ridden ‘thirties, and when they reunited to produce a Marvel Graphic novel expectations were high. As it turned out, in many ways that complex and devious yarn was the final chapter in that astounding graphic procession. In 2013 Dynamite re-released Hitler’s Astrologer with the entire affair re-mastered by Mike Kelleher, finally doing justice to the colouring of Mark Chiarello, Nick Jainschigg and John Wellington – as well as letterer Phil Felix – which had nor fared well under the production processes of the time…

On Easter Sunday 1941 a beautiful woman is pursued through the teeming crowds of Times Square theatre-goers by sinister thugs until rescued in the nick of time by agents of The Shadow.

She is Gretchen Baur, personally despatched to America by Josef Goebbels to gather astrological data for the Reich’s Ministry of Propaganda. However, now the confused fräulein cannot understand why agents of her own government have tried to abduct her…

The Shadow reveals that she is an unwitting pawn in a deadly battle for supremacy within the Nazi Party that revolves around her father, Der Führer’s personal astrologer…

And thus begins a tense and intricate conspiracy thriller that ranges from the bloody streets of New York through the killer skies of Europe to the very steps of Hitler’s palace in Berlin as a desperate plan to subvert the course of the war comes up hard against a twisted, thwarted love and a decades-long hunt for vengeance.

Deliciously and suitably Wagnerian in style, this action-packed mystery drama exudes period charm; nobody has ever realised The Shadow and his cohorts as well as Kaluta, whilst Russ Heath’s sleek inks add weight and volume to the cataclysmic proceedings.

This sinister saga of the man in the black slouch hat with the girasol ring is another superb addition to the annals of the original Dark Knight, and one no one addicted to action and mystery should miss.
The Shadow ® & © 2013 Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. d/b/a Conde Nast. All Rights Reserved.

Valerian and Laureline volume 14: The Living Weapons


By Méziéres &Christin, with colours by Evelyn Tranlé; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-319-2

Valérian is possibly the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in that undoubtedly contentious statement. Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips formed the medium itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie has seen some of Jean-Claude Méziéres & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the filmic phenomenon has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the look of the Millennium Falcon to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have experienced and marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling of Méziéres & Christin’s creation than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined. Now with a big budget movie of their own in the imminent offing, that surely unjust situation might finally be addressed and rectified…

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent debuted in weekly Pilote #420 (November 9th 1967) and was an instant smash-hit. The feature was soon retitled Valérian and Laureline as his feisty distaff sidekick rapidly developed into an equal partner and scene-stealing star through a string of fabulously fantastical, winningly sly and light-hearted time-travelling, space-warping romps.

Packed with cunningly satirical humanist action, challenging philosophy and astute political commentary, the mind-bending yarns struck a chord with the public and especially other creators who have been swiping, “homaging” and riffing off the series ever since.

Initially Valerian was an affably capable yet ploddingly by-the-book space cop tasked with protecting the official universal chronology (at least as it affected humankind) by counteracting and correcting paradoxes caused by incautious time-travellers.

When he travelled to 11th century France in debut tale Les Mauvais Rêves (Bad Dreams), he was rescued from doom by a tempestuously formidable young woman named Laureline whom he had no choice but to bring back with him to Galaxity: the 28th century super-citadel and administrative capital of the vast Terran Empire.

The indomitable female firebrand crash-trained as a Galaxity operative and accompanied him on subsequent missions – a beguiling succession of breezy, space-warping, social conscience-building epics. This so-sophisticated series always had room to propound a satirical, liberal ideology and agenda (best summed up as “why can’t we all just get along?”), constantly launching telling fusillades of commentary-by-example to underpin an astounding cascade of visually appealing, visionary space operas.

When first conceived every Valérian adventure started life as a serial in Pilote before being collected in album editions, but with this adventure from 1988, the publishing world shifted gears. This subtly harder-edged saga was debuted as an all-new, complete graphic novel with magazine serialisation relegated to minor and secondary function.

The switch in dissemination affected all popular characters in French comics and almost spelled the end of periodical publication on the continent…

One clarifying note: in the canon, “Hypsis” is counted as the twelfth tale, due to the collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters: the second actual story but the first to be compiled in book form. When Bad Dreams was finally released as a European album in 1983, it was given the number #0.

In recent episodes, the time-bending immensity of Galaxity was eradicated from reality and our Spatio-Temporal Agents – along with a few trusted allies – were stranded on contemporary (late 20th century) Earth…

Now Les Armes Vivantes (the 14th Cinebook translation, first released Continentally in 1990) sees Valerian and Laureline forced to use their last assets – a damaged astroship, some leftover alien gadgets and their own training – to eke out a perilous existence as intergalactic, trans-temporal mercenaries.

Despite the misbehaviour of a few fractious inter-dimensional circuits in the much-travelled ship, tour celestial voyagers are en route to distant and disreputable planet Blopik where Valerian has agreed to hand-deliver some livestock-improvement supplies.

Moralist Laureline is deeply suspicious of the way her man is behaving: it’s as if he’s doing something he knows she will disapprove of…

After a pretty hairy landing, she explores the burned-out pest-hole on her own and makes the acquaintance of a trio of unique individuals: intergalactic performers stranded in their worst nightmare – a world without theatres and an absentee manager…

Before long they are all travelling together. The showbiz trio – malodorous metamorphic artiste Britibrit from Chab, indestructible rock-eater Doum A’goum and the indescribable Yfysania are looking for a venue to play and an appreciative audience to admire them, whilst taciturn Valerian is simply seeking the proposed purchaser of the wares in his case.

Laureline is, by now, frankly baffled. The centaurs who inhabit Blopik only understand and appreciate one thing – combat – and the planet’s cindered state is due to them setting fire to everything during the annual war between rival tribes. She can’t imagine what such folk would want with farming gear. For that matter, she also can’t imagine why Valerian keeps arguing with whatever he has in his travel-case…

Eventually, however, the alien Argonauts all reach a grassy plain to be met by a bombastic centaur general. By “met”, I actually mean attacked without warning, but the astounding abilities of the performers soon gives pause to the hooved hellions and warlord Rompf agrees to parlay. He’s a centaur with a Homeric dream and Shakespearean leanings as well as the proposed purchaser of the bio-weapon in Valerian’s case. The thing has come direct from Katubian arms dealers and Laureline is appalled that Val has sunk so low and been devious enough to keep her out of the loop…

Rompf has declared War on War. He wants to unify the tribes of Blopik by beating them all into submission and needs the flame-spitting, foul-mouthed Schniafer couriered here by the shamefaced former Spatio-Temporal peacekeeper. However, now that he’s seen what the offworld clowns can do, Rompf wants them too…

The various vaudevillians are not averse to the idea, but pride demands they put on a show too… and they even have ideas how Laureline can be part of the fun.

…And that gives Valerian a chance to redeem himself too…

This charming caper allowed writer Christin and artist Méziéres’ to reposition their tumultuous team in a new and rapidly evolving narrative universe and again ends with our heroes stranded on present-day Earth, with no idea what the future – any future – may hold.

Smart, subtle, complex and hilarious, the antics of Valerian and Laureline mix outrageous satire with blistering action, stirring the mix with wry humour to forge one of the most thrilling sci fi strips ever seen. If you’re not an addict yet, jump aboard now and be ready to impress all your friends with your perspicacity when the film comes out.
© Dargaud Paris, 1988 Christin, Méziéres & Tranlệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Suicide Squad: The Silver Age


By Robert Kanigher, Howard Liss, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6343-0

The War that Time Forgot was a strange series which saw paratroopers and tanks of the “Question Mark Patrol” dropped on Mystery Island from whence no American soldiers ever returned. Assorted crack GIs discovered why when the operation was suddenly overrun by pterosaurs, tyrannosaurs and worse…

However, the combat-&-carnosaur creation was actually a spin-off of an earlier concept which hadn’t quite caught on with the comics-buying public. That wasn’t a problem for Writer/Editor Kanigher: a man well-versed in judicious recycling and reinvention…

Back in 1955 he had devised and written anthology adventure comic The Brave and the Bold which featured short complete tales starring a variety of period heroes: a format mirroring that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas.

Issue #1 led with Roman swords-&-sandals epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was side-lined by the company’s iteration of Robin Hood, but the high adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning superhero revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle in the manner of the astounding successful Showcase.

Used to launch enterprising concepts and characters such as Cave Carson, Strange Sports Stories, Hawkman and the epochal Justice League of America, the title began its run of beta-tests in issue #25 (August/September 1959) with the fate-tempting Suicide Squad – code-named Task Force X by the US government to investigate uncanny mysteries and tackle unnatural threats.

The scary tales were all illustrated by Kanigher’s go-to team for fantastic fantasy Ross Andru & Mike Esposito and they clearly revelled at the chance to cut loose and show what they could do outside the staid whimsy of Wonder Woman and gritty realism of the war titles they usually handled…

The Brave and the Bold #25 introduced a quartet of merely human specialists – air ace war hero Colonel Rick Flag, combat medic Karin Grace and big-brained boffins Hugh Evans and Jess Price – all officially convened into a unit whose purpose was to tackle threats beyond conventional comprehension such as the interstellar phenomenon dubbed ‘The Three Waves of Doom!’

The quartet were built on a very shaky premise. All three men loved Karin. She only loved Rick but agreed to conceal her inclinations and sublimate her passions so Hugh and Jess would stay on the team of scientific death-cheaters…

In their first published exploit a cloud from outer space impacted Earth and created a super-heated tsunami which threated to broil America. With dashing derring-do, the trouble-shooters quenched the ambulatory heat wave only to have it spawn a colossal alien dragon emanating super-cold rays that could trigger a new ice age…

The only solution was to banish the beast back into space on a handy rocket headed for the sun, but sadly the ship need to be piloted…

Having heroically ended the invader, the team were back two months later as B&B #26 opened with an immediate continuation. ‘The Sun Curse’ saw our stranded astronauts struggling (in scenes eerily prescient and reminiscent of the Apollo 13 crisis a decade later) to return their ship to Earth. Uncannily, however, the trip bathes them in radiations which causes them to shrink to insect size…

Back on terra firma but now imperilled by everything around them, the team nonetheless manages to scuttle a proposed attack by a hostile totalitarian nation before regaining their regular stature…

A second, shorter tale then finds the quartet enjoying some downtime in Paris before the Metro is wrecked by an awakened dinosaur. Of course, the tourists are ready and able to stop the ‘Serpent in the Subway!’

In an entertainment era still dominated by monsters and aliens, with superheroes still only tentatively resurfacing, Task Force X were at the forefront of beastie-battles and their third and final try-out issue found them facing an evolutionary nightmare as a scientist vanished and the region around his lab was suddenly besieged by gigantic insects as well as a colossal reptilian humanoid the team dubbed ‘The Creature of Ghost Lake!’ (December 1959/January 1960). They destroyed the monster but never found the professor…

A rare failure for those excitingly experimental days, the Suicide Squad vanished after that triple try-out run, only to resurface months later for a second bite of the cherry…

The Brave and the Bold #37 (August/September 1961) opened with Karin displaying heretofore unsuspected psychic gifts and predicting an alien ‘Raid of the Dinosaurs!’ which pitted the team against hyper-intelligent saurian whilst ‘Threat of the Giant Eye!’ focussed on the retrieval of a downed military plane and lost super-weapon. The hunt took the Squad to an island of mythological mien where a living monocular monolith hunted people…

In #38 (October/November 1961) the team tackled the ‘Master of the Dinosaurs’ – an alien using Pteranodons to hunt like an Earthling would use falcons – after which the fabulous four fell afoul of extra-dimensional would-be conquerors but still had enough presence of mind and determination to defeat the ‘Menace of the Mirage People!’

B&B #39 (December 1961/January 1962) called “time” on Task Force X after ‘Prisoners of the Dinosaur Zoo!’ saw the team uncover an ancient extraterrestrial ark caching antediluvian flora and fauna and ‘Rain of Fire!’ found them crushing a macabre criminal entombing crime-busters in liquid metal. That was it for the Squad until 1986 when a new iteration of the concept was launched in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Or was it? Superhero fans are notoriously clannish and insular so they might not have noticed how one creative powerhouse refused to take “no thanks” for an answer…

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

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932 and wrote for the theatre, film and radio before joining the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945, he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and Lady Cop, plus memorable villainous femme fatales Harlequin and Rose and Thorn. This last he reconstructed, during the relevancy era of the early 1970s, into a schizophrenic crime-busting female super-hero.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into espionage, adventure, westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Amy at War.

He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

Among his many epochal war series were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, the Haunted Tank and The Losers as well as the visually addictive, irresistibly astonishing “Dogfaces and Dinosaurs” dramas sampled in the back of this stunning hardback collection…

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and even used the uncanny but formulaic adventure arena of The War that Time Forgot as a personal try-out venue for his many series concepts. The Flying Boots, G.I. Robot and many other teams and characters first appeared in the lush Pacific hellhole with wall-to-wall danger. Indisputably the big beasts were the stars, but occasionally (extra)ordinary G.I .Joes made enough of an impression to secure return engagements, too…

The War that Time Forgot debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90 (April-May 1960) and ran until #137 (May 1968) skipping only three issues: #91, 93 and #126 (the last of which starred the United States Marine Corps simian Sergeant Gorilla – look it up: I’m neither kidding nor being metaphorical…).

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

In the summer of 1963, a fresh Suicide Squad debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #110 to investigate a ‘Tunnel of Terror’ into the lost land of giant monsters: this time though, a giant albino gorilla decided that mammals should stick together…

The huge hairy beast was also the star of ‘Return of the Dinosaur Killer!’ in #111 as the unnamed Squad leader and a wily boffin (visually based on Kanigher’s office associate Julie Schwartz) struggled to survive on the tropically reptilian atoll…

In SSWS #116 (August/September 1964) a duo of dedicated soldiers faced ice-bound beasts in ‘The Suicide Squad!’ – the big difference being that Morgan and Mace were more determined to kill each other than accomplish their mission…

‘Medal for a Dinosaur!’ in #117 bowed to the inevitable and introduced a (relatively) friendly and extremely cute baby pterodactyl to balance out Mace and Morgan’s barely suppressed animosity, after which ‘The Plane-Eater!’ in #118 found the army odd couple adrift in the Pacific and in deep danger until the little leather-winged guy turned up once more…

The Suicide Squad were getting equal billing by the time of #119’s ‘Gun Duel on Dinosaur Hill!’ (February/March 1965) as yet another group of men-without-hope battled reptilian horrors and each other to the death, after which the un-killable Morgan and Mace returned with Dino, the flying baby dinosaur, who found a new companion in handy hominid Caveboy before the whole unlikely ensemble struggled to survive against increasingly outlandish creatures in ‘The Tank Eater!’

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

Undisputed master of gritty fantasy art Joe Kubert added his pencil-and-brush magic to a tense and manic thriller featuring the return of the G.I. Robot in stunning battle bonanza ‘Titbit for a Tyrannosaurus!’ in #125 (February/March 1965), after which Andru & Esposito covered another Suicide Squad sea-saga in #127: ‘The Monster Who Sank a Navy!’

This eclectic collection then tumultuously terminates as scripter Howard Liss and visual veteran Gene Colan craft a masterfully moving human drama from issue #128 which was astoundingly improved by the inclusion of ravening reptiles in ‘The Million Dollar Medal!’ and the last tale in this volume).

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

Classy, intense, insanely addictive and Just Plain Fun, the original Suicide Squad offers a kind of easy, no-commitment entertainment seldom seen these days and is a deliciously guilty pleasure for one and all…
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Left Bank Gang…


By Jason, coloured by Hubert and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-742-1

Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now a global star among the cognoscenti he has won seven major awards from such disparate regions as France, Slovakia and the USA.

Now his latest novella is released, rife with his signature surreality; populated with cinematic, darkly comic anthropomorphs and featuring more bewitching ruminations on his favourite themes of relationships and loneliness, viewed as ever through a charmingly macabre cast of bestial movie archetypes and lost modern chumps.

In this brief full-colour tract – originally released in France as Hemingway – Jason puts his quirkily-informed imagination into literary overdrive and postulates what might have been at a moment of intense intellectual cross-pollination.

It’s Paris in the 1920s and émigrés F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway are all struggling to make their marks on the world – and most especially on the other artistic Men and Women of Destiny congregated in the enclave of creative excellence that has grown up around the Latin Quarter.

As wannabe cartoonists their own meagre efforts seem paltry and trivial in comparison to the masterful comic books being produced by Dostoyevsky or Faulkner, whilst true artists such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Man Ray all seem to have no trouble with their medium or message…

Worst of all Scott thinks something is bothering Zelda: she might even be cheating on him…

The disaffected Young Turks are all plagued by nightmares of the past and frustrated dreams of mediocre futures and everyday life keeps coming at them demanding vile money just to stay alive and keep on fruitlessly toiling. And then Hemingway says it: why not just rob a bank…?

Blending literary pretention and modern creative mythology with the iconography and ironic bombast of Reservoir Dogs is a stroke of genius no one else could pull off.

As always, this visual/verbal bon mot unfolds in Jason’s beguiling, sparse-dialogued, pantomimic progressions with enchantingly formal page layouts rendered in the familiar, minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style; solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity augmented here by a stunning palette of stark pastels and muted primary colours.

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, always probing the nature of “human-ness” by using the beastly and unnatural to ask persistent and pertinent questions. Although the clever sight-gags are less prominent here his repertory company of “funny-animal” characters still uncannily depict the subtlest emotions with devastating effect, proving again just how good a cartoonist he is.

This wry mis-history lesson is strongly suggested for adults but makes us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes. Jason is instantly addictive and a creator every serious fan of the art form should move to the top of the “Must-Have” list.
All characters, stories and artwork © 2007 Editions de Tournon-Carabas/Jason. All rights reserved.

Valerian and Laureline volume 13: On the Frontiers


By Méziéres & Christin, with colours by Evelyn Tranlé; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-312-3

Valérian is possibly the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in that undoubtedly contentious statement. Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips formed the medium itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie has seen some of Jean-Claude Méziéres & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the filmic phenomenon has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the look of the Millennium Falcon to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have experienced and marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling of Méziéres & Christin creation than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined. Now with a big budget movie of their own in the imminent offing, that surely unjust situation might finally be addressed and rectified…

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent debuted in weekly Pilote #420 (November 9th 1967) and was an instant smash-hit. The feature was soon retitled Valérian and Laureline as his feisty distaff sidekick rapidly developed into an equal partner and scene-stealing star through a string of fabulously fantastical, winningly sly and light-hearted time-travelling, space-warping romps.

Packed with cunningly satirical humanist action, challenging philosophy and astute political commentary, the mind-bending yarns struck a chord with the public and especially other creators who have been swiping, “homaging” and riffing off the series ever since.

Initially Valerian was an affably capable yet ploddingly by-the-book space cop tasked with protecting the official universal chronology (at least as it affected humankind) by counteracting and correcting paradoxes caused by incautious time-travellers.

When he travelled to 11th century France in debut tale Les Mauvais Rêves (Bad Dreams), he was rescued from doom by a tempestuously formidable young woman named Laureline whom he had no choice but to bring back with him to Galaxity: the 28th century super-citadel and administrative capital of the vast Terran Empire.

The indomitable female firebrand crash-trained as a Galaxity operative and accompanied him on subsequent missions – a beguiling succession of breezy, space-warping, social conscience-building epics. This so-sophisticated series always had room to propound a satirical, liberal ideology and agenda (best summed up as “why can’t we all just get along?”), constantly launching telling fusillades of commentary-by-example to underpin an astounding cascade of visually appealing, visionary space operas.

Sur les frontièrs (or On the Frontiers to us English-speakers) is the 13th Cinebook translation and symbolises a landmark moment in the series’ evolution.

When first conceived every Valérian adventure started life as a serial in Pilote before being collected in album editions, but with this adventure from 1988, the publishing world shifted gears. This subtly harder-edged saga was debuted as an all-new, complete graphic novel with magazine serialisation relegated to minor and secondary function.

The switch in dissemination affected all popular characters in French comics and almost spelled the end of periodical publication on the continent…

One clarifying note: in the canon, “Hypsis” is counted as the twelfth tale, due to the collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters: the second actual story but the first to be compiled in book form. When Bad Dreams was finally released as a European album in 1983, it was given the number #0.

In the previous storyline the immensity of Galaxity was eradicated from reality and our Spatio-Temporal Agents – along with a few trusted allies – were stranded in time and stuck on contemporary (late 20th century) Earth…

In the depths of space a fantastic and fabulous luxury liner affords the wealthy of many cultures and civilisations the delights of an interstellar Grand Tour. Paramount amongst the guests are two god-like creatures amusing themselves by slumming amongst the lower lifeforms as they perform the ages old, languid and slow-moving mating ritual of their kind…

Sadly the puissant and magnificent Kistna has been utterly deceived by her new acquaintance Jal. He has no interest in her or propagating their species: he simply intends stealing her probability-warping powers…

Jal is actually a disguised Terran and once he has completed his despicable charade he compels the ship’s captain to leave him on the nearest world… a place the natives call Earth…

Stranded on that world since Galaxity vanished, partners-in-peril Valerian and Laureline have used their training and the few futuristic gadgets they had with them to become freelance secret agents.

At this moment they are in Soviet Russia where Valerian has just concluded that the recent catastrophic meltdown of the Chernobyl reactor was deliberately caused by persons unknown…

As the officials on site absorb the news Val is extracted from the radioactive hotspot and ferried by most laborious means across the frozen wastes to Finland and a belated reunion with Laureline and Mr. Albert: once upon a time Galaxity’s volubly jolly, infuriatingly unflappable 20th information gatherer/sleeper agent…

The topic of discussion is tense and baffling: who could possibly profit from sparking Earth’s political tinderbox into atomic conflagration?

And far away in a plush hotel a man with extraordinary luck discusses a certain plan with his awed co-conspirators, unaware that in the Tunisian Sahara near the frontier with Libya, three time-travelling troubleshooters are following his operatives…

That trail leads to a nuclear mine counting down to detonation, but happily Valerian and Laureline are well-versed in tackling primitive weaponry and the close call allows Albert to deduce why Libya and an unknown mastermind are working to instigate nuclear conflict in Africa…

After another near-miss on the US-Mexican border the investigators finally get a break and isolate the enigma behind the multiple manufacture of near-Armageddon moments. However, when Laureline later approaches the super-gambler financing global nuclear terrorism through his bank-breaking casino sprees, she is astounded to realise her target recognises her Galaxity tech…

Moreover, as Valerian hurtles to her rescue he discovers the villain is an old comrade. For what possible reason could a fellow survivor of Galaxity orchestrate the destruction of Earth; the home and foundation of the time-travelling Terran Empire they are all sworn to protect and restore?

This stunning caper was writer Christin and artist Méziéres’ further deft rationalising of the drowned Earth of 1986 (as seen in 1968’s The City of Shifting Waters) with the contemporary period that they were working in, and had the added benefit of sending Valerian and Laureline into uncharted creative waters.

Thus the agents’ solution to the problem of their deranged, broken and super-powered comrade is both impressively humane and winningly conclusive …

Smart, subtle, complex and frequently hilarious, the antics of Valerian and Laureline added outrageous satire to blistering action, stirring the mix with wry humour to create one of the most thrilling sci fi strips in comics. If you’re not an addict yet, jump aboard now and be ready to impress all your friends with your perspicacity when the film comes out.
© Dargaud Paris, 1988 Christin, Méziéres & Tranlệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

The Piper


By J. Aldric Gaudet & Paul Schultz
ISBN: 978-1-329-73359-6

Dark, gritty – usually adult-oriented – re-workings and reinterpretations of traditional fairytales have been a staple of modern popular entertainment for some time now. Perhaps they are an easy way into the consciousness of the audience or maybe it’s just that the best plots are endlessly adaptable…

In this brief – perhaps introductory or pilot – tale of a possible future, humanity is slowly recovering from a global climatic collapse which has destroyed modern technologies and reduced survivors to frantic daily scrabbling for existence.

The fatal trigger was a wandering planet which passed too near Earth, causing super-magnetic storms, monolithic gravity-induced tidal waves and a 40-day flood. In the aftermath pockets of humanity eke out a hard-fought life on isolated island enclaves, serviced by maritime explorers, mail-carriers and traders sailing between them.

‘The Future Past’ – scripted by author and screenwriter J. Aldric Gaudet (5 Fables for the Young at Heart, The Littlest Hobo) and illustrated by Paul Schultz of Jaded Dragon Studios – opens as one of those sailing ships docks at a particularly embattled colony.

Life is hard, trade is crucial and the grain harvest is disappointing. There’s worry that blue spore mould will decimate the specialised quick-growing crop but rather than carry what produce the farmers have, the mariners want to leave the precious sacks behind to salvage a stranded vessel and save pre-disaster books from being lost…

Young Digger and his dad are taking a sensible long view but the landsmen have a valid point too. If the grain is left behind the plague of giant Northland rats infesting the island will get it all and the growers will earn nothing in return…

Eventually a compromise is reached and the partners in peril retire to celebrate. Later when the ship sails, it carries fliers advertising the desperate need for a professional exterminator…

Life goes tenuously on but soon everything changes as a macabre individual arrives in a converted coach pulled by horses. It’s none too soon. The giant rodents are bold enough now to attack humans as they congregate in their meeting halls…

The vermin eradicator is frankly terrifying: employing savage dogs and bizarre bagpipes making an infernal din. He also drives a hard, harsh bargain but eventually a deal is struck.

Then all that’s left is herding the pests into a secure killing-zone where the farmers can safely destroy them but the over-eager growers also shoot the Ratcatcher’s dogs and refuse to recompense him for his loss…

It’s a stupid, venal mistake that will cost hem dearly…

After creating an explosive distraction the stranger steals all the children and babies; heading out and resolved to sell them in the thriving slave markets he frequents. In response the resource-poor community can only spare ten individuals to go after them. Everybody else has to stay to repair the incredible damage the stranger has left in his wake…

Before the children are saved and some sort of order is restored the rescuers will confront death and destruction at close hand and learn some shocking secrets about the rats and the grain everybody depends upon…

Stark, bleak, and relentlessly uncompromising, this suspenseful saga of the struggle for survival also shows the irresistible power of unity and offers a message of hope that will certainly impress all lovers of dystopic fiction.
© 2016 J. Aldric Gaudet. All rights reserved.

Star Trek Classics volume 1 – The Gorn Crisis


By Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta & Igor Kordey (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-129-7

The Star Trek franchise has had many comic book homes. This action-heavy paperback tome (also available digitally) was originally released in the early years of the 21st century by DC/WildStorm and is narratively positioned during the period when Deep Space 9 was first being broadcast on television.

The book therefore tangentially informs and contributes to a seasons-long storyline featuring an intergalactic war between the Federation and its Alpha Quadrant allies on one side and the J’em Haddar warriors of The Dominion on the other. So if you’re a bugbear, completist or unfamiliar with the mileau, you might be left feeling a little bewildered. Nevertheless if you’re of a forgiving mien this adventure is a real ripsnorter…

In case you were wondering, The Gorn were an aggressive civilisation of reptiles who appeared in an episode of the original 1960s Star Trek TV show. The story was in fact an adaptation of a classic SF short story by Fred Brown entitled “Arena”, in which Captain Kirk and his Gorn opposite number were co-opted by a super-advanced race to represent their species in a brutal duel for galactic supremacy. The loser race would be curbed to avoid horrendous, bloody and nigh-eternal space-war.

A century later mankind and its intergalactic partners are losing just such a conflict with the Dominion and desperately seeking fresh allies. Thus Captain Jean-Luc Picard has been dispatched to the embargoed Gorn solar system to renew relations and broker a military alliance, but the USS Enterprise arrives just as the reptile’s own black-crested Warrior Caste – frustrated by a century of enforced peace – stages a bloody coup and subsequently launches an all-out attack on neighbouring worlds.

These planets are now, perhaps unwisely, packed with human colonists and Federation/Klingon bases…

Beaming down just in time to be captured amidst the remains of the Administrative caste, Picard, Dr. Beverly Crusher and their Away Team are promptly captured and can only subtly influence the outcome as Commanders Will Riker and amazing android Data battle with brilliance on two very different fronts to stop the marauding Gorn war-lovers…

With no back-up available from hard-pressed Starfleet, the Next Generation stalwarts must act independently and ingeniously to quell the barbarous uprising, restore order and build that elusive alliance with the Gorn. Their efforts won’t just dictate how the humans, Federation and reptiles will co-exist in the future, but might well decide if they exist at all…

Although not to everybody’s taste, and despite an occasional certain rough hesitancy in Igor Kordey’s fully-painted artwork, this tale from Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta does rattle along in the approved Star Trek manner, and even casual readers will come away with a sense of expectation fulfilled.

Moreover, augmenting the interstellar excitement is a comprehensive fact-file on the sinister sarurians entitled ‘The Gorn Dossier’, contributed by illustrator Kordey who apparently moonlights as a “Federation Anthropologist”. Here he highlights his root and branch redesign of the alien antagonists with biology, language, symbology, livery and weaponry all updated for discerning modern readers

Fast, fierce fun for lovers of high quality Space Opera so boldly go and give it a look.
Star Trek ® & © 2011 CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon volume 2


By Don Moore & Mac Raboy (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-911-X

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

Where Buck Rogers mixed traditional adventure with groundbreaking science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted fairy tales, heroic epics and mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying “Rays”, “Engines” and “Motors” substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for galleons, chariots and magic carpets.

It was a narrative trick which made the far-fetched satisfactorily familiar – and one initially continued by Mac Raboy and Don Moore in their run of Sunday strips. Look closely though and you’ll see cowboys, gangsters and of course, flying saucer fetishes adding contemporary flourish to the fanciful fables in this second superb volume…

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

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

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

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

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

With Moore doing the bulk of the scripting, Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’ ran every Sunday until 1944, when the artist joined the Marines. On his return he forsook wild imaginings for sober reality: creating gentleman-detective Rip Kirby so the public’s unmissable weekly appointment with wonderment perforce continued under the artistic auspices of Austin Briggs – who had drawn the daily monochrome instalments since 1940.

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

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

This second 260-page paperback volume, produced in landscape format and printed in stark black-&-white (although one or two strips appear to have been scanned from printed colour copies) covers May 17th 1953 to February 23rd 1958 and opens with a scholarly Introduction on ‘Comic Strip Godfathers’ from Bruce Jones before the previous volume’s cliffhanger is addressed…

With a new spaceship, far-flung travellers Flash, Dale and Zarkov set off for Earth but are forced to land on the Moon where a secret human base had been established. For unknown reasons Dr. Stella and her thuggish aide Marc detain and delay them, but when an increasing number of close shaves and mysterious accidents occur, a little digging by our heroes reveals that they are the unwitting guests of ruthless space pirates…

After expediently dealing with the planetary privateers our heroes head for Earth, only to be promptly seconded to spearhead an urgent exploratory expedition to a newly discovered satellite body. Suitably dutiful, they hurtle off into the void again…

‘(Life on) Titan’ ran from 14th June to September 20th 1953 and details how the little world is populated by giants. However, after capturing one of the hulking inhabitants Zarkov is forced to conclude that the truth is far stranger than the Earthmen could have imagined…

The tireless boffin then builds a single-seater spaceship and required Flash to take a test run out to Jupiter’s moon ‘Callisto’ (27th September 1953 to 17th January 1954). A sudden illness causes the dauntless pilot to crash and Flash awakens in the care of elderly hermit Phylo, who cunningly embroils the troubleshooter in his own struggle against invisible psychic dictator The Mind

After overthrowing the hidden tyrant the indomitable Earthman heads home and actually enjoys a little rest before an ancient mystery unfolds in ‘Flash Gordon and the Thanatos’ (17th January-2nd May).

After archaeologist Dr. Sark finds incontrovertible evidence of an atomic blast in the Libyan desert in prehistoric times, our ever-inquisitive action man uncovers an alien in a bottle but is too late to save Dale from being abducted by the mind-bending survivor of an antediluvian starship crash…

Dashing in pursuit as his beguiled beloved heads off-world, Flash is drawn into the parallel dimension or Cortinus where god-like beings dwell. They welcome the intruders from fondly-remembered Earth but are sadly unaware that one of the visitors carries the malevolent spirit of their outcast brother Loki

Once freed the villain proudly boasts how he influenced and dominated many bellicose humans such as Alexander, Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan and now intends ruling two realms for his own benefit. Sadly for him, nigh-omnipotent Loki vastly underestimates the ingenuity and resolve of his mortal opponents…

With a ship donated by head deity Zustra, Flash and Dale re-cross the dimensional divide and arrive in deep space to encounter a scene of horrific barbarity at an Observatory Station. When the ‘Outlaw of the Asteroids’ (9th May-25th July) stole the outpost’s oxygen the crew almost died in hibernation. After pausing to revive the deep-frozen scientists the adventurers set off after the ruthless bandit and discover the reason for his heinous theft was both noble and desperate. The bandit perishes for his sins, but not before leaving young space orphan Pebbles with the only humans he can trust…

By the time Flash, Dale and Pebbles reach Earth the next exploit is already well underway as ‘The Star Tree’ (1st August-17th October) seed survives a meteor crash in the Amazon and immediately propagates itself in fertile soil. By the time our valiant wanderers accidentally land in the region, it has been transformed into an arctic wilderness where a gigantic plant is voraciously consuming every living thing its grasping branches can seize…

The vegetable invasion is no accident and as Flash leads the frozen rain forest’s native inhabitants in spirited resistance, cold-blooded aliens appear. They lived on Earth when it was a giant ice ball and after eons on Pluto want their original world back…

They would have succeeded too, had not one of the invaders found his heart warming to the plight of the disputed world’s current tenants…

With that threat ended normality returns but soon after packing Pebbles off to boarding school Flash, Zarkov and many other unsuspecting Earth folk are shanghaied by eerie metal globes and transported to ‘The Lonely Planet!’ (24th October 1954 to 9th January 1955)…

Here Herculean extraterrestrial barbarians and wily midgets conspire and compete to find fresh fodder for gladiatorial contests, but with the aid of a usurped king, Flash quickly upsets the unlikely alliance and overthrows the twisted regime. However, just as the liberated Earthlings enter home orbit, their always-embattled birthworld is attacked by the insectoid Antomni who require a fresh colony to exploit. The bug beings expect little resistance as they posses the power of Time Migration…

The invaders travel millions of years ‘Into the Past’ (16th January-27th March) to prevent the evolution of humanity but accidentally catch Flash and Zarkov in their temporal backwash, allowing our heroes to inspire a band of dawn men to exterminate the insectoids before returning to their proper time and place…

Always restless, Zarkov then organises an exploratory expedition to ‘Venus’ (3rd April – 19th June) where Flash and Dale find a feudal civilisation in turmoil beneath the planet’s impenetrable cloud layers. Before long they are assisting scientific prodigy Viko and his fellow exiled “Mistiks” in overturning the oppressive, superstition-ruled authorities and introducing rational enlightenment to the Second Planet from the Sun…

Soon after, Africa is beset by a strange sleeping plague and investigations reveal the source is escaped gasses from an unsuspected ‘City Within the Earth’ (26th June – 28th August). The accident also allows toxic oxygen to contaminate the subterranean metropolis of Centra and when its bravest warriors surface to investigate, a concatenation of misfortunes compel them to take Flash captive. Imprisoned and soon to become the treasured possession of flamboyant Princess Amara, Gordon is rescued by the indomitable Dale who braves the depths and deadly air to save her man and seal off the underworld forever…

‘The Dark Planet’ (4th September – 6th November) has lurked undetected at the edge of the solar system for all of humanity’s history but that occlusion ends when murderers Stragg, Rust and Tula are exiled from their advanced culture on the distant world of Ur and dumped on the frigid world.

When Flash, Dale and Zarkov’s planetary mapping mission brings them to the bleak outpost they are ambushed by the killers who then steal their ship. The aliens have never encountered human sneakiness though, and are soon back where they started and engaged in a lethal duel for control of the ship and their liberty…

Human trafficking underpins the saga of ‘Station Crossroads’ (13th November 1955 – 15th January 1956) as our heroes stumble upon a scheme to kidnap and sell human technicians to scientifically backward aliens. The vile human mastermind behind the plot operates out of Earth’s most popular orbital rest-stop but before the slavers are finally crushed Flash discovers a close friend is deeply involved in the abductions…

When Gordon discovers a hidden base at Earth’s North Pole is being used by aquatic aliens he becomes embroiled in an ‘Arctic adventure’ (22nd January-March 25th) where unscrupulous Earthmen use the freezing waters as a cost-free fish-farm to grow giant monsters for mysterious offworlders to consume…

After a far-distant world experiences an atomic accident the aftermath produces a voracious ‘Radioactive Man’ (1st April – 3rd June) who can only exist by absorbing deadly fallout. The authorities’ solution is to blast the mutant into the void where, after years of lonely travel, atomic exile Djonn Toth lands on the planet Rota just as Flash and Dale arrive for a visit.

Before long the humans’ vast troubleshooting experience is employed in defeating Toth’s efforts to enslave the population and consume all their radium…

When the fantastic planet’s eccentric orbit again intersects with Earth, Flash, Dale and Zarkov ‘Return to Mongo’ (10th June 1956 – 13th January 1957) for the first time in six years. However their proposed sightseeing trip inevitably involves them in an icily arctic cold war between Wolf Men and Walrus Men, a battle of wills with would-be supreme tyrant Gant, and clashes with leather-winged Dactyl Men.

This leads to capture by the arrogant cloud dwellers of Paxora where an outbreak of robot duplicates intent on conquest ends Mongo’s most secretive sub-culture. Upsetting the artificial men’s plan eliminates all but one of the inimical automatons, but ‘Rok’ (13th January – 10th March) is like no android the Earthlings have ever encountered before: both patronising protector and unstable enemy in one.

Although safeguarding the humans through the wildest regions of Mongo, the mechanoid’s ultimate aims are always unclear and his manner of demise most unexpected…

Brought to the edge of civilisation Flash, Dale and Zarkov enter a spaceship race, intent on winning a craft able to take them home to Earth, but the ‘Suicide Run’ (17th March-19th May) almost proves their undoing as most of the other competitors indulge in sabotage and subterfuge of every sort to secure the glittering prize…

Eventually victorious, our heroes ‘Escape from Mongo’ only to be lured into ‘The Space Tomb’ (26th May – 14th July) of nebula-dwelling desperado the Gatherer who wants to imprison them beside a legion of other valiant explorers in his vast Sargasso of Space. After outwitting the deranged collector the humans resume their homeward flight but are again diverted, this time by ‘The Space Genie’ (21st July-1st September): a fearsome yet affable, lethally literal-minded being who brings them to planetary paradise Superba.

The inhabitants are not pleased: they only just survived the Genie’s last visit and used all their ingenuity and wish-making ability to get rid of the interstellar pest…

Flash’s argosy home is then interrupted by a string of short interconnected adventures (‘Space Voyage/Strange World/The Wheel Men’: spanning 8th September to 24th November) detailing clashes with space moths, elastic primitives and woman-stealing whirling dervishes engaged in all-out war with sky-residing Gyromen. After brokering a lasting peace between the eccentric extraterrestrials, the humans finally reach Earth in a borrowed Flying Saucer only to fall prey to ‘The Mystery of the Lonely Crowds!’ (1st December 1957 through January 12th 1958). A telepathic plague of depression and rapidly-spreading isolation has an otherworldly cause but is not intended to be a menace. It still culminates in tragedy, however…

This second non-stop rollercoaster ride concludes with the merest start of ‘Missiles from Neptune’ (19th January 1958 to the cliffhanging last page of February 23rd) as the Tyrant of Neptune decides to impress the captive populace by testing his latest Weapons of Interplanetary Destruction against the Earth, prompting Flash and Co to go and discourage him…

Every week that he toiled on the strip Mac Raboy produced ever-more expansive artwork filled with distressed damsels, deadly monsters and all sorts of outrageous adventure that continued until the illustrator’s untimely death in 1967. Perhaps that was a kindness…

Raboy was the last of the great Golden Age romanticist pencillers; his lushly lavish, freely flowing adoration of the perfect human form was beginning to stale in popular taste (for example the Daily feature had already switched to the solid, chunky, He-Manly burly, realism of Dan Barry and Frank Frazetta) but here at least the last outpost of ethereally beautiful heroism and pretty perils prevailed, and thanks to Dark Horse you can visit as easily and often as Flash and Dale popped between planets, just by tracking down this book and the ones which followed…
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back!


By Laura Ellen Anderson (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-87-6

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched an “old school” weekly comics anthology (for girls and boys aged 6-12) which aimed to revive the good old days of British picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in its style and content.

In the years since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the totally enthralled kids and parents who avidly read it…

The magazine’s pantheon of superbly engaging strips inevitably led to an equally addictive line of graphic novel compilations, the latest of which is a riotous return romp starring a fabulously fearsome feathered arch-fiend and master of scientific wickedness…

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, fuzzy, loyal, diminutive, 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…

Following a crucial contents and catch-up page stuck to the bad bird’s Fridge of Evil the nefarious nonsense recommences with two-part thriller-chiller ‘I Will Crèche You’ in which EEP’s incredible De-Agefying Youth Juice causes havoc after Evil Cat (insidious rival in the Word Domination stakes) breaks into the citadel and everybody gets a rejuvenating soaking…

Undaunted, the Penguin of Peril then attempts to increase his own stature with a growth ray but doesn’t consider that his top menial might wander in and accidentally become ‘Hugene’

It’s back to suspenseful two-parters next, as the Barmy Bird decides to digitise and upload himself into the global data net via his Super Computer of Evil. Believing supreme power to be in his feathered grasp once he becomes ultimate virus ‘X-Tremevil’, EEP is instead ambushed in virtual reality by digital demon virus Trojan the Hunk. Luckily Eugene is a dab paw with computer games and comes to his master’s rescue… sort of…

Back in the physical world again EEP is next subjected to a terrifying surreal assault by feathered scavengers and finds himself ‘Pigeon Holed’ before ‘Pop Goes the Easel’ finds him planning an attack on world leaders through the medium of art. Sadly, turning his victims into paintings proves to be a double-edged sword with unexpected repercussions, especially after Eugene tries to help…

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

Without their favourite food, Christmas seems drab and dreary for the entire ice-bound army but when Eugene finds ‘The One Hoop’ it unleashes a torrent of unexpected emotion to tide the Evil Emperor over even though it ultimately leads to deprivation mania in ‘A New Hoop’ Part 1…

Deranged and desperate, EEP is only saved after Eugene and Number 8 track down Debra and steal back the vast cache of spaghetti tins in ‘A New Hoop’ Part 2. Good thing too, as she wasn’t planning on eating them but needed them to power her machine for destroying the world…

‘Eugene’s Day Off’ is an unremitting stream of great experiences for the faithful servitor, but, for the Penguin Potentate – having to make do with substandard substitute Neill – a string of catastrophic and painful disasters, so it’s no surprise and a total tragedy when EEP’s top flunky is lost on a melting ‘berg after watching a pretty sunset ‘On Thin Ice’

Part 2 then sees the unthinkable occur as the cape-clad malcontent megalomaniac teams up with scintillating Keith the Unicorn to save Eugene from dire deep sea doom…

This gag-filled grimoire of perfidious Penguin plans concludes in high style as a sinister scheme to flood the world with scented candles of distilled Ultimate Evil is thwarted after ‘Essence of Eugene’ is added to the wax mix, resulting in a global outpouring of warm, fuzzy euphoria…

Rocket-paced, hilariously inventive, wickedly arch and utterly determined to be silly when it most counts, Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! is a captivating cascade of smart, witty funny adventure, to delight readers of all ages.
Text and illustrations © Laura Ellen Anderson 2017. All rights reserved.

Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! will be released on March 2nd 2017 and is available for pre-order now.