League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Century part 1: 1910

By Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-160-2

The Victorian era saw the birth of mass publishing, particularly in imaginative, entertaining escapist popular literature. The modern genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror and adventure all grew out of the latter half of the 19th century. Writers of varying skill and unshackled imagination recounted personal concepts of honour and heroism, wedded unflinchingly to an unshakable belief in English Superiority. In all worlds and even beyond them the British gentleman took on all comers for Right and Decency, regarding danger as a game and showing “Johnny Foreigner” just how that game should be played.

For all the problems such material might raise with modern sensibilities, most of these stories remain uncontested as classics of literature, generating all the archetypes for modern fictional heroes. Open as they are to charges of Racism, Sexism (even misogyny), Class Bias and Cultural Imperialism the best of them remain the greatest of all ripping yarns.

An august selection of some of these prototypical champions were seconded by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill at the end of the last century, resulting in two more great books about great heroes.

In Century: 1910 the first of a tryptich delineating the hundred years following the previous shared exploits of vampire-tainted Wilhelmina Murray, Great White Hunter Allan Quatermain, Invisible Man Hawley Griffin, charismatic “Hindoo” savant Captain Nemo and Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mister Hyde, the repercussions of both League of Extraordinary Gentleman volumes I and II are being felt through a shaky Empire still recovering from a Martian Invasion.

It is twelve years later and Nemo lies dying. His daughter Janni escapes his deathbed wishes and proclamations, fleeing to England on a ship which also carries the returning Jack the Ripper. Once “Mack the Knife” resumes his old occupation, psychic ghost-breaker Carnacki begins receiving troubling visions which might impact upon the upcoming coronation of the new King.

As ever spymaster Mycroft Holmes is on top of the situation and assigns Miss Harker, Quartermain, gender-optional immortal Orlando, gentleman thief Raffles and time traveller Andrew Norton to deal with the colliding events, but opposition from a circle of magicians led by “the most wicked man that ever lived” threaten to undo everybody’s plans. Meanwhile Janni’s fortunes have been ill-starred and she resignedly takes charge of the super-vessel Nautilus to exact a terrible vengeance…

Moore’s astounding imagination and vast cultural reservoir have provided the detail-fiends with another elite selection of literary and popular culture touchstones to enhance the proceedings, and this darkly sardonic tale is illustrated with the usual brilliance of the graphic-compulsive Kevin O’Neill.

This certainly bodes well for the future of a concept far too good to abandon. Just be glad there are no more films to tarnish the glister of this superb series…

This book is another fascinating blend of scholarship, imagination and artistry recast into a fabulous pastiche of an entire literary movement. It’s also a brilliant piece of comics magic of a sort no other art form can touch, and just as with the previous volumes there is a text feature at the back, which some might find a little wordy.

Read it anyway: it’s there for a reason and is more than worth the effort as it further outlines the antecedents of the League in an absorbing and stylish manner. It might also induce you to read some other very interesting books…
© & ™2009 Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill. All Rights Reserved.

Super Boxers – A Marvel Graphic Novel

By Ron Wilson, with John Byrne & Armando Gil (Marvel)
ISBN: 0- 939766-77-9

It’s been a long while since Marvel published an all-original graphic novel as opposed to a reprint collection, but not too long ago they were the market leader in the field with an entire range of “big stories” told on larger than normal pages (285 x 220mm rather than the now customary 258 x 168mm) featuring not only proprietary characters but also licensed assets like Conan and even creator-owned properties.

They also took chances on unusual and cross-genre tales such as this little oddity which falls squarely into the category of a “guilty pleasure”.

In the near future Corporations have assumed control of Earth, with the result that the rich have gotten richer – and more bored – whilst an underclass excluded from all rights and privileges scuttles to survive in the dirt beneath their lavish skyscrapers. As the poor daily trade their freedoms and dignity for another meal, in the world of the mega-rich and their wholly-owned contributing citizens, survival is just as harsh and all-pervasive.

Businesses survive and grow by consuming each other and everything is produced to facilitate that overweening drive: product, entertainment, people.  The Corporations are in a perpetual state of Cold War, ostensibly working together but always looking for an edge and a hostile takeover. Delcos is one such business: CEO Marilyn Hart has never been one of the boys, and now her one-time colleagues, sensing weakness, are closing in for the kill…

In the world below Max Turner is a star. A scrapper to his core, he works as a prize-fighter: an old fashioned palooka using his fists (augmented by cybernetic gloves, boots and body armour) to get by in a brutal arena of social Darwinism, providing dangerous entertainment for his daily bread. The Corporations also have Super Boxers: pampered, gussied up, genetic thoroughbreds with their entire lives geared to those explosive moments when they unleash their pedigreed savagery in high-tech arenas for the pleasure and profit of their owners. The greatest of these sporting warriors is the godlike Roman Alexis.

But every society has its malcontents and gadflies: when a slumming talent scout for Marilyn Hart “discovers” Max, the dumb but honest gladiator becomes a pawn in a power play that threatens to tear the corporate world to tatters – but would that really be such a bad thing…?

None of that matters to Max or Roman. For them it’s about personal honour. Tech doesn’t matter, rewards don’t matter, freedom doesn’t matter. Only being the best…

Ron Wilson is probably nobody’s favourite artist, but he is a workmanlike illustrator with a good line in brooding brutes, and Armando Gil’s fluid inks do a lot to sharpen the static, lumpen scenarios, as do the varied tones of colourists Bob Sharen, Steve Oliff, John Tartaglione, Joe D’Esposito and Mark Bright. The letters are provided by Mike Higgens.

Scripted by John Byrne from Wilson’s plot, this is a harsh, nasty, working-class tale reminiscent of such boxing movies as Michael Curtiz’s epic 1937 classic Kid Galahad by way of the Rocky movies, with socio-political undertones that would have been far more comfortable in a European comic like Metal Hurlant or 2000AD.

Ugly, uncompromising, brutal, this is the kind of book to show anybody who thinks that comics are for sissy-boys…
© 1983 Ronald Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

Sandkings – A DC Science Fiction Graphic Novel

By George R. R. Martin, adapted by Doug Moench, Pat Broderick & Neal McPheeters (DC Comics)
ISBN: 0-930289-20-X

During the 1980s DC, on a creative roll like many publishers large and small, attempted to free comics narrative from its previous constraints of size and format as well as content. To this end, legendary editor Julie Schwartz called upon contacts from his early days as a Literary Agent to convince major names from the prose fantasy genre to allow their early classics to be adapted into a line of Science Fiction Graphic Novels.

This macabre and compelling novelette by George R.R. Martin was first published in the August 1979 issue of Omni Magazine and has won a bunch of literary glittering prizes including the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Poll Awards.

In 1995 it was rather harshly re-imagined as the debut episode of the relaunched TV anthology series The Outer Limits, premiering on 26 March: a terrifying parable of cruelty and obsession. Good as it was, this version pales into insignificance when compared to the prose original’s tone and setting, which adaptors Doug Moench, artist Pat Broderick, painter/colourist Neal McPheeters and lettering mastermind Todd Klein have scrupulously adhered to here.

As always, any adaptation – no matter how well executed – is absolutely no substiture for experiencing an artist’s work the way it was originally intended. So Go Read The Story. It’s one of the most reprinted and collected short stories of the last thirty years. However, as this is a place to review graphic novels, let’s proceed on the assumption that you already have or will…

The often inconsistent Broderick was on top form for this chilling cautionary tale of pride and human vice, perfectly augmented by the subtle tones of McPheeters whilst Moench’s idiosyncratic writing style is perfectly harnessed to catalogue the descent of Simon Kress, playboy, businessman, collector of alien animals and the planet Baldur’s most affluent closet sadist.

Kress is fascinated by animals. Not the cute, cuddly, unconditional love sort, but rather the kinds that rip and claw and eat each other. Returning from a trip he finds that his Earth Piranha had done just that, and his carrion hawk was gone too. Only his Shambler was still alive. His biggest regret was that he had missed all the action.

Bored and finding nothing interesting at his usual xeno-fauna outlets, he stumbles upon the strange emporium of traders Wo and Shade, and discovers the bizarre hive-mind arthropods dubbed Sandkings. Like ant colonies these creatures build homes and make war upon each other in a perpetual dance of resource redistribution. Their glass tank housed four queens or “Maws” who will produce colour-coded warriors to fight and drones to build beautiful hive-castles. To better produce new “citizens” the Maws can and will eat anything …

The creatures also possess a rudimentary telepathy, enough to assess the power of their owner, and reshape their environment to reflect and venerate his appearance. Relentless, creative killers that will worship him… how could any arrogant sociopath resist?

Soon the creatures are the toast of the playboy’s dissolute cronies. Parties where Kress’ debauched friends pit their pets against the Sandkings become legendary, and nothing can stand up to them: not Shamblers, Silver Snakes, Sand Spiders… No organic creature can survive long once it encroaches on their territory, since when not battling each other the creatures join forces to destroy any intruder. As the colonies increase in size, so necessarily does their tank. …

When Jala Wo checks up on her sale she finds most of the Sandkings thriving but one faction lags behind in castle-building. The Black, Red and White armies are healthy and vigorous, their eerie citadels displaying Kress’s face over and over again but the Orange bugs are suffering decline. Kress has been starving the creatures and wrecking their constructions to make them fight harder…

As the playboy sinks further into cruel depravity, his sickened girlfriend protests, even setting the planetary authorities on him. Judicious bribery easily solves that problem whilst the Sandkings themselves prove the perfect way to dispose of her. Unfortunately during her murder the tank breaks and the creatures all escape into the confines of his house and estate.

Panicked now, Kress goes on a bloody rampage, clearing up all the details (and witnesses) that could implicate him in murder and illegal xeno-form trafficking, but the damage is done. The Sandkings are loose, having staked new territory. Moreover they have declared war on the god who treated them so harshly… And that’s where the story really begins.

This chilling adaptation is comfortably traditional in its delivery, fully allowing the story to shine, and is a perfect companion to DC’s other adaptations. It a huge pity they’re all currently out of print. This is an experiment the company should seriously consider resuming and I’ll repeat what I’ve said before: all these previously published DC Science Fiction Graphic Novels would make an irresistible “Absolute” compilation…
Sandkings © 1979 Omni International, Inc.  © 1981 George R. R. Martin.  Illustrations © 1986 DC Comics Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Yragael: Urm

By Philippe Druillet (Dragon’s Dream)
ISBN: 9-063-325210

The fantasy tales of Lone Sloane revolutionised graphic fiction not only in Europe but especially in Britain and America when the baroque and bizarre cosmic odysseys began appearing in the adult fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, which combined original material with the best that “Old World” comics had to offer. By the time French comics collective Les Humanoides Associes launched the groundbreaking magazine Métal Hurlant in 1975, Philippe Druillet, one of their visual and philosophical big guns, had been creating new myths for nearly a decade…

Born in Toulouse in 1944, Druillet was born and raised in Spain, a photographer and artist who started his comics career in 1966 with an apocalyptic science fiction epic Le Mystère des abîmes (The Mystery of the Abyss) which introduced the doom-tainted Earthling, intergalactic freebooter and wanderer called Lone Sloane in a far distant future: a tale heavily influenced by HP Lovecraft and A.E. Van Vogt. Later influences included Michael Moorcock’s doomed anti-hero Elric (and I’m pretty sure I can see some Jack Kirby and Barry Windsor-Smith also tinting the mix…)

He began working for Pilote in 1969, and revived his mercurial star-rover for a number of short pieces which were first gathered together as a graphic novel in 1972. Prior to the large scale (310mm x 233mm) 1991 collection from NBM (see The Six Voyages of Lone Sloane and the later compilation Lone Sloane: Delirius).

Following these early epics he further stretched himself with the astounding, nihilistic, “End of Days” cosmic tragedies of the doomed prince Yragael and his child of ill fortune Urm.

Readers of Moorcock, August Derleth and particularly Jack Vance will recognise shared themes in the woeful tale of the last times of Earth where declining humanity is beset by gods and demons keen on recovering their lost power, on a blasted planet where men still intrigue and kill each other for gain. From this guttering chaos arises Yragael, a potential messiah who founders and falls due to pride and a ghastly liaison with the dire Nereis, witch queen of the living city Spharain…

One hundred years later in the devastated wastelands of the world, the grotesque hunchbacked spawn of that illicit union falls under the spell of mendacious demons and attempts to reclaim both parts of his heritage. Urm is stupid but passionate and his cataclysmic visit to the horrendous city reveals that the Last Men are just as much playthings of the gods as the monstrous bastard himself…

This is a graphic odyssey of utterly Byzantine narrative and Brobdignagian, baroque scale and scope. The storytelling is reduced to the merest plot, as the text (more pictorial accoutrement than dialogue facilitator) and art goes into emotional overdrive. This isn’t a tale told, it’s a mesmerising, breathless act of graphic expression. If it helps think of it as ballet or a symphony rather than a novel or play: you’re supposed to go “wow!” not “a-ha!”

The visual syntax and techniques originated in these non-stories dictated the shape of science fiction – especially in movies – for decades. Character and plot are again pared to pure fundamentals so that Druillet could fully unleash the startling graphic innovations in design and layout that churned within him, and which exploded from his pen and brain.

His brand of universal Armageddon achieved levels of graphic energy that only Jack Kirby has ever equalled, and this is another work crying out for re-release in large format with all the bells and whistles modern technology can provide, but until that distant tomorrow this book will have to do – and do very well.

Luckily for you it’s still widely available and remarkably inexpensive…
© 1974 Philippe Druillet/Dargaud Editeur. © 1975 Philippe Druillet/Dargaud Editeur. All rights reserved.

The Merchants of Venus – A DC Science Fiction Graphic Novel

By Frederick Pohl, adapted by Neal McPheeters & Victoria Petersen (DC Comics)
ISBN: 0-930289-08-0

Alternatively entitled ‘The Merchants of Venus Underground’ Pohl’s captivating novella appeared in the compilation The Gold at Starbow’s End in 1972; a biting satire on free market capitalism seamlessly blended into a gripping escapade of treasure hunting in the grand style of Jack London, Joseph Conrad or Carl Barks.

Audee Walthers works as a pilot on the desolate colony of Venus. Most of the work is babysitting tourists who come to see the ancient remnants of Heechee civilisation: million year old tunnels and incomprehensible technology from a star-faring race that upped and vanished overnight, long before our ancestors climbed down from the trees.

There isn’t much to see. The odd tool or prayer-fan,  bizarre and incomprehensible gadgets immune to aging and damage often dot the sub-surface tunnels the aliens left, and which are still being found regularly, but Venus is a big planet and everybody dreams of finding lost The Heechee jackpot:  a cluttered warren, actual images of the mysterious unknown creatures or best of all, understandable tech that will be usable and pay off in big rewards from the Government or Corporations.

Audee is especially keen on that fabled big find. His liver is failing and in a ruthlessly commercial society where everything is costed and paid for, he hasn’t got the cash to stay alive much longer. So when millionaire Boyce Cochenour and his popsy Dorotha Keefer hit “town” the pilot smells someone as desperate as he for hunting Heechee, and moves Heaven and Earth to meet them. Together they will find that special something or all die trying…

This enthralling yarn led to some of the very best adventure/science fiction novels ever written, and once you’ve read this review and are seeking out the graphic novel you should add Gateway, Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, Heechee Rendezvous, Annals of the Heechee and The Boy who Would Live Forever (A Novel of Gateway) to your shopping list. They’re not comics but they’re just as good…

During the 1980s DC, on a creative roll like many publishers large and small, attempted to free comics narrative from its previous constraints of size and format as well as content. To this end, legendary editor Julie Schwartz called upon contacts from his early days as a Literary Agent to convince major names from the fantasy literature world to allow their early classics to be adapted into a line of Science Fiction Graphic Novels.

This comfortably traditional adaptation from the highly experimental graphic novel series comes courtesy of painter and straight illustrator Neal McPheeters, who adapted the tale with his wife Victoria Petersen, with lettering from Todd Klein.

This is a fine tale well-told and effectively illustrated. It’s a great shame it and the other DC Science Fiction Graphic Novels are currently out of print. Collected together they’d make a killer “DC Absolute” compilation…
© 1972 Frederick Pohl. Illustrations © 1986 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Jeff Hawke: The Ambassadors

By Sydney Jordan & Willie Patterson (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-598-9

One the world’s most captivating comics strips is inexplicably almost unknown amongst modern readers, but this appalling state of affairs could so easily be rectified simply by purchasing this spiffy deluxe hardback from Titan Books – and its predecessor and falling under the spell of some of the most witty, intriguing and outright astounding British science fiction ever written or drawn. In both style and quality these superb tales from the 1960s are the only serious rival to the legendary Dan Dare these Sceptred Isles have ever produced.

Sydney Jordan began his saga of the thinking man’s hero in the Daily Express on February 2nd 1954, writing the first adventures himself. In 1956 his old school friend and associate Willie Patterson moved from Scotland to London and helped out with the fifth adventure ‘Sanctuary’, and scripted the next one ‘Unquiet Island’, whilst sorting out his own career as a freelance scripter for such titles as Amalgamated Press’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, Caroline Baker – Barrister at Law and eventually Fleetway’s War Picture Library series.

Syd was never comfortable scripting, preferring to plot and draw the strips, but his choice of collaborators has always been immaculate – Harry Harrison wrote ‘Out of Touch’, which ran from October 10th 1957 – April 5th 1958, Nick Faure and Martin Asbury worked with him in the 1970s and in the strips’ final days he hired young artists Brian Bolland and Paul Neary. Patterson continued to supplement and assist Jordan intermittently until 1960 until with the fourteenth tale ‘Overlord’ (see Jeff Hawke volume 1: Overlord) Patterson assumed the writing chores on a full-time basis and began the strip’s Golden Age. He remained the wordsmith-in-chief until 1969.

This volume opens with another fascinating memoir from Jordan himself before the wonderment begins. In ‘Pastmaster’ (August 3rd 1961-October 18th 1961) British Space Scientist and trouble-shooter Hawke is visiting the British Moonbase just as a crazed time-traveller from the future materialises intent on changing history by transporting the entire complex back 10,000 years, and giving humanity a huge technological jump-start in the race’s development.

A terrific mix of sly comedy and startling action in the inimitable, underplayed style of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the best of John Wyndham, this romp of time-cops and robbers is a splendid appetiser for ‘The Immortal Toys’ (October 19th 1961- 5th April 1962) wherein ancient Hindu jewels in the shape of insects are revealed to be something else entirely, leading Hawke and a rambunctious archaeologist reminiscent of the bombastic Professor Challenger to a long-hidden tomb and concrete evidence of alien visitors from Earth’s earliest pre-history. No fan of Indiana Jones would want to miss this yarn – especially as here all the science, history and stunts are both plausible and possible…

‘The Ambassadors’ (6th April 1962-13th July 1962) is a winningly clever social satire as two avian aliens looking just like owls arrive in London to offer Earth free, gratis and for nothing a device that will do away with work forever. Instantly politicians and the media descend like vultures and the dry self-deprecatory comedy of films like The Mouse That Roared as well as the works of Jonathan Swift, Robert Sheckley or Eric Frank Russell can be seen in this story exposing the worst of humanity.

Patterson could use humour like a scalpel and augmented by Jordan’s fantastic artwork and rich, incisive facility with expressions produced here a gentle satire to rival the best of Private Eye, Tom Lehrer or TW3. You’ll believe an owl can cry…

Sheer exotic adventure and High Concept science dominates ‘The Gamesman’ (14th July 1962- September 23rd 1962) as a bored alien uses sub-atomic worlds for role-playing diversions, snatching Hawke and his assistant, a giant warrior, a technical wizard and a feisty “princess” from their respective worlds to play with him. Unfortunately ambition is a universal problem and the extraterrestrial dungeon-master quickly finds himself “played”…

The last tale in this volume is another human-scaled fable that touched on contemporary concerns, but although humour is still present in ‘A Test Case’ (September 24th 1962- 2nd January 1963) the over-arching theme is nuclear terror, as a second-rate scientist is given ultra-advanced atomic knowledge by well-meaning aliens who have no idea how fragile a human mind can be…

The frantic desperation and tension as Hawke and the authorities search London for a super-nuclear device primed to eradicate them all is chillingly reminiscent of the Boulting Brothers 1950 film classic Seven Days to Noon and makes of this memorable tale a timeless salutary warning.

These are stories that appeared in daily episodes and their sardonic grasp of the true nature of “the man-in-the-street” make them a delightful slice of social history as well as pure escapist entertainment. Jeff Hawke is a revered and respected milestone of graphic achievement almost everywhere except his country of origin. Hopefully this latest attempt to revive these gems will find a more receptive audience this time, and perhaps we’ll even get to see those earlier stories as well.

© 2008 Express Newspapers Ltd.

Men in Black

By Lowell Cunningham & Sandy Carruthers (Malibu Graphics)
ISBN: 0-944735-60-6

Usually when I write these graphic novel reviews I’m looking to promote something excellent or entertaining (both is best) and consequently there are vast numbers of books I wouldn’t even consider. Some because I’m assuming everybody who’s interested has already seen them (like Maus) whilst others are just not good enough for people outside the incredibly forgiving and tolerant fan-base. In a world where all publishing is increasingly a cottage industry, I see no reason to recommend sub-standard fare that even I wouldn’t give house room.

However on the understanding that computer games, DVDs/CDs, television and movies are all The Enemy, leaching funds that could be spent on comics, I’m going to start featuring the odd tome of suspected interest…

First up is Men in Black which originally appeared as a three-issue miniseries from a poorly-regarded company named alternatively Eternity and Malibu comics. No doubt you will have seen and enjoyed the spectacular and vastly amusing pair of films and the competent cartoon show based on this series but the comic itself is largely forgotten and – at first glance – justifiably so.

But I must admit that there’s far more than merely the kernel of a good idea in this softcover black and white collection. Although Carruthers’ black and white artwork is rushed and primitive there’s a solid basis to it that a few more years of practice could have redeemed and Cunningham’s script and concept is bold and engaging.

Agent Kay is a legendary government spook working for a super-secret organisation. In the first episode ‘Initiation’ he recruits an undercover Drug Enforcement Agent who’s accidentally stumbled into a plot to distribute a super narcotic called Bezerk. Stripping him of every facet of his old life Kay designates the new guy Agent Jay and together they wipe out the drug barons (all human) who have developed the drug.

‘Encounter’ is a lighter tale and the one that both films are based on. Jay learns that aliens exist when an extraterrestrial scavenger hunts leads to a close encounter in the American Heartland. The book concludes with ‘Invocation’ a supernatural thriller that pits the agents against a demon released when a bunch of kids inadvertently play Dungeons and Dragons with magic dice.

The success of the films depended entirely on amping up the silliness and slapstick and sticking strictly to science fiction rather than all aspects of The Unknown, but Cunningham’s subtler, restrained, darkly humorous paranormal version could just as easily have worked. The comic is played more or less straight, with action and horror a vital component of the mix, and if Hollywood saw the potential of a feel-good film they perhaps missed the chance for a solid fantasy thriller that might have reached even greater heights.

Men in Black is hard to whole-heartedly recommend but beneath the lack of polish a competent adventure series rests with its full potential still untapped. Perhaps a revival isn’t too big a stretch…
© 1990 Lowell Cunningham.  Artwork © 1990 Sandy Carruthers. All Rights Reserved.

Lone Sloane: Delirius

By Philippe Druillet (Dragon’s Dream/Heavy Metal)
ISBN: 2-205-00632-0

The seminal fantasy icon Lone Sloane revolutionised graphic fiction not so much in his own country but in Britain and America when his adventures began appearing in the adult fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, which combined original material with the best that European comics had to offer. In 1975 French comics collective Les Humanoides Associes began publishing the groundbreaking magazine Métal Hurlant, but one of their visual mainstays had begun nearly a decade earlier…

Philippe Druillet, born in Toulouse in 1944, and raised in Spain, is a photographer and artist who started his comics career in 1966 with an apocalyptic science fiction epic Le Mystère des abîmes (The Mystery of the Abyss) which introduced a doom-tainted intergalactic freebooter and wanderer called Lone Sloane in a far distant future: a tale heavily influenced by HP Lovecraft and A.E. Van Vogt. Later influences included Michael Moorcock’s doomed anti-hero Elric (and I’m pretty sure I can see some Barry Windsor-Smith also tinting the mix…)

He began working for Pilote in 1969, and revived his cosmic and deeply baroque star-rover in a number of short pieces which were gathered together in 1972. Prior to the large scale (310mm x 233mm) 1991 collection from NBM (see The Six Voyages of Lone Sloane) this cool and memorable album was the only place they could be found in an English translation, and yet they are merely a prelude for the fantastic fantasy that makes up the rest of Lone Sloane: Delirius.

So by way of recapitulation those Six Voyages were ‘The Throne of the Black God’ wherein Sloane is captured by a demonic chair and dumped on a desolate world to await possession by a cosmic god of chaos, whilst in ‘The Isle of the Doom Wind’ he thwarts space pirates. In ‘Rose’ he is trapped on a world of robotic junk and faces oppressive piracy in ‘Torquedara Varenkor: the Bridge over the Stars’.

In ‘O Sidarta’ Sloane regained control of his long-lost super-spaceship and began a quest to return to Earth and overthrow the despotic Imperium, a quest that culminated in startling revelations of his destiny in ‘Terra’: a portentous prelude before the main event…

‘Delirius’ was scripted by celebrated comics writer Jacques Lob (Jerry Spring, Ténébrax, Blanche Épiphanie and Superdupont among others) and in a jarring cacophony of visual Sturm und Drang pitched the intergalactic vagabond into the midst of a power struggle between the Imperator of all Galaxies and his own clergy, the deeply fundamentalist Red Redemption.

Delirius was a useless mudball until the supreme overlord found a way to make it pay. By converting the entire world into a highly-taxed cash-cow of legal debauchery “The Planet of a Hundred Thousand Pleasures” became a perfect way to placate the populace and generate revenue for further conquests. Now the priests have approached Sloane with a perfect plan to steal all the cash and thereby remove the planetary governor: but priests can’t be trusted, nothing can be planned for on a world of utter licentious chaos and Sloane always has his own agenda…

This is a graphic odyssey of truly Byzantine scale and scope: the twists and turns, the visual syntax and tone created here dictated the shape of science fiction – especially in movies – for the next two decades. Character and plot were winnowed to bare essentials so that Druillet could fully unleash the startling graphic innovations in design and layout that seemed to churn within him, and which exploded from his pen and brain.

As the scheme went inevitably, utterly awry the sheer energy of the artist’s cosmic Armageddon achieved levels of graphic energy that only Jack Kirby has ever equalled. This is a tale crying out for re-release in large format and with all the bells and whistles modern technology can provide, but until then this book will have to do – and do very well. Luckily for you it’s still widely available and remarkably inexpensive…
© 1972, 1973 Philippe Druillet/Dargaud Editeur.


By Garth Ennis & Phil Winslade (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-327-3

Some stories are just a good, vicarious read and there’s no better description for this achingly funny, over the top eco-romp from the lord of outrageous shock comedy Garth Ennis. That it’s beautifully illustrated by master of the meticulous Phil Winslade is a tremendous plus of course…

London Zoo keeper Rosie Nolan went for a walk in the Highlands. As she was revelling in the wonders of nature something odd happened: she was gripped by an eerie emerald power and accidentally split Scotland and England apart…

At that moment ineffectual Jeff (our narrator) was cocking up his latest relationship and ecological psychopath Mudhawk was slaughtering some more people who didn’t share his passion for animal rights, but someone who did notice Rosie’s little gaffe was paranoid narcisscist  Harry Hooks, a CIA spook who had been hunting for telekinetic people to turn into US weapons for decades. He immediately headed for England where a concatenation of circumstances brought Jeff, Mudhawk – and his bellicose ex Samantha Flint – to Rosie’s doorstep just as the Yank arrived…

Mad as a bag of badgers, Hooks tried to abduct Rosie, leading to the deaths of five American agents, and when the local beat copper arrived Hooks shot him. This rash act brought cheerful old Desk Constable George Dixon into the mix. Dixon was the kind of rozzer who always got his man – and then assiduously disposed of the body before anybody could register a complaint. An old fashioned sort, he didn’t much like cop-killers, so with the sadistic Bovver Bruvvers in tow Dixon went after the kill-crazy Hooks, incidentally racking up a body-count of his own that a middle-eastern dictator would be proud of…

In a voyage that traverses the entire globe Rosie’s powers expand exponentially and as the frantic chases of all the authority figures rapidly converge on her the attendant carnage escalates. With her companions in tow she uncovers the incredible secret of her gift in a gloriously trenchant and darkly sardonic satire on society, like a gore-splattered “Carry-On” film with no limits and not even a modicum of good taste.

Fast, furious, funny and wickedly whimsical, this is classic over-the-top Ennis fare, which was purportedly postponed during its conversion from eight issue miniseries to trade paperback compilation because the terrorist themes were deemed too raw after the September 11th attacks. As one of the most impressive scenes here concerns crashing an airliner, I think I can see their point. Nevertheless, as the series premiered six years before the towers fell, and it’s been a long while since, perhaps the time is right to revisit this incredible fantasy tale for consenting, contrary adults…

© 1995, 1996, 2002 Garth Ennis and Phil Winslade. All Rights Reserved.

Aquablue & Aquablue: the Blue Planet

By Cailleteau & Vatine; translated by Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier (Dark Horse)
ISBNs: 978-1-87857-400-8 and 1-87857-404-3

I’m tempted to file these little crackers under “unfinished business” as these slim translated French albums feature the first two instalments of a classy, stylish science fiction saga that sadly hit a reef before its conclusion, despite being one of the most long-lived and impressive epics from a country that seems to specialize in successfully exporting edgy, clever comic fantasies.

In Aquablue the Starliner Silver Star is lost due to a meteor strike and in the rush to the life pods a baby is left behind. Rescued by a robot the boy is reared in space until, eight years later, he finds a planet. The world only has 3% landmass, but is inhabited by a primitive, amiable race of humanoids, and incredibly huge marine species.

In ten years the boy grows to manhood and as Tumu-Nao, becomes a valued member of the tribe. He is even betrothed to the chief’s daughter, Mi-Nuee, and the natives believe him blessed by their god, a gigantic whale-like creature called Uruk-Uru. Unfortunately Nao’s idyllic life forever alters when an Earth survey ship lands and Terran Ethnologist Maurice Dupre discovers that the young man is Wilfred Morgenstern: lost heir to Earth’s greatest financial empire, the United Energy Consortium.

However, that Consortium has already enacted a shady deal to turn Aquablue into a vast hyper-station, which will result in the watery globe becoming a gigantic ice-ball, and they certainly don’t need a naive boss who has gone native to queer their big score. Nao’s own aunt puts out a hit on the rediscovered heir, but nobody realises that his connection to the “gods” of Aquablue is real and shockingly powerful…

The Blue Planet finds Nao returning to Earth not so much to claim his birthright as to safeguard his adopted homeworld from human incursion. While he is away the Consortium has resorted to the same tactics European imperialists used as they absorbed indigenous Earth cultures – destroying them with free booze and cheap baubles.

Noa’s father-in-law organizes a resistance movement, fleeing with the entire tribe to the polar regions, but on Earth Nao/Wilfred is having trouble resisting the allure of technological civilisation, until Mi-Nuee, who had stowed away on a starship, rises like a gleaming message from Uruk-Uru out of the Ocean swell. With the help of Dupre they return in time for the final battle against the Consortium forces that have hunted the natives into the frozen wastelands…

And that was that.

Thierry Cailleteau & Olivier Vatine first teamed to produce the outlandishly comedic Adventures of Fred and Bob but really hit their peak on these superb eco-thrillers, based tellingly on the colonial outrages of Western Civilisation: especially in their treatment of Polynesian cultures. The series continued for another nine volumes with artists Ciro Tota and Stéphane Brangier replacing Vatine from the fifth book, moving beyond the original storyline into fascinating areas of conservation and space opera!

Although these slender pearls are worth a look just for the superb quality of art and narrative I’m plugging them here in the greedy hope that with so much European material finally crossing the channel into English, somebody will pick up and complete the translation of this delicious adventure series. Cross your fingers…
© 1988, 1990 Guy Delcourt Productions. English translation © 1989, 1990 Dark Horse Comics. All Rights Reserved.