T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 3


By Wally Wood, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky, George Tuska, Steve Ditko, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta & various (IDW) ISBN: 978-1-61377-941-5                  eISBN: 978-1-62302-543-4

The meteoric lifespan and output of Tower Comics is one of the key creative moments in American comicbook history. The brief, bombastic saga of The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves was a benchmark of quality and sheer bravura fun for fans of both the then-still-reawakening superhero genre and the era’s spy-chic obsession.

In the early 1960s the Bond movie franchise was going from strength to strength, with blazing action and heady glamour utterly transforming the formerly low key espionage genre. The buzz was infectious: soon Men like Flint and Matt Helm were carving out their own piece of the action as television shanghaied the entire bandwagon with the irresistible Man from U.N.C.L.E. (premiering in September 1964); bringing the whole shtick inescapably into living rooms across the planet.

Archie Comics editor Harry Shorten was commissioned to create a line of characters for a new distribution-chain funded publishing outfit – Tower Comics. He brought in creative maverick Wally Wood, who called on some of the biggest names in the industry to produce material in the broad range of genres the company demanded (as well as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and its spin-offs Undersea Agent, Dynamo and NoMan, there was a magnificent anthology war-comic Fight the Enemy and wholesome youth-comedy Tippy Teen).

Samm Schwartz & Dan DeCarlo handled the funny funnybook – which outlasted everything else – whilst Wood, Larry Ivie, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Russ Jones, Gil Kane and Ralph Reese contributed scripts for themselves and the industry’s other top talents to illustrate on the adventure series.

With a ravenous appetite for super-spies and costumed heroes growing in comic-book popularity and amongst the general public, the idea of blending the two concepts seemed inescapable…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 appeared with no fanfare or pre-publicity on newsstands in August 1965 (with a cover off-sale date of November). Better yet, all Tower titles were in the beloved-but-rarely-seen 80-page Giant format, offering a huge amount of material in every issue.

All that being said these tales would not be so revered if they hadn’t been so superbly crafted. As well as Wood, the art accompanying the compelling, subtly more mature stories was by some of the greatest talents in comics: Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta, Steve Ditko and others.

This third lush and lustrous compilation collects T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #8-10 and includes the second sterling spin-off issue of Dynamo – all originally released between September and November 1966 – with the incomparably cool concept and characters going from strength to strength and a spirit of eccentric experimentation slipping in to sweeten the pot…

For those who came in late: When brilliant Professor Emil Jennings was attacked by the forces of the mysterious Warlord, the savant perished. Happily, UN troops salvaged some of his greatest inventions, including a belt that increased the density of the wearer’s body until it became as hard as steel, a cloak of invisibility and a brain-amplifier helmet…

The prototypes were divided between several agents to create a unit of super-operatives to counter increasingly bold attacks of multiple global terror threats such as the aforementioned Warlord.

First chosen was affable, honest but far from brilliant file clerk Len Brown who was, to everyone’s surprise, assigned the belt and codename Dynamo. Contributing scripter Len Brown had no idea illustrator/editor Wood had puckishly changed the hero’s civilian name as a last-minute gag until the comic rolled off the presses…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent NoMan was once aged Dr. Anthony Dunn who chose to have his mind transferred into an android body and was then gifted with the invisibility cape. If his artificial body was destroyed Dunn’s consciousness could transfer to another android body. As long as he had a spare ready, he could never die…

Guy Gilbert of the crack Mission: Impossible style T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad was asked to beta-test an experimental super-speed suit. Gung-ho Lightning was proud to do so, even if every use of the hyper-acceleration gimmick shortened his life-span…

John Janus seemed the perfect UN employee: a mental and physical marvel who easily passed all the tests necessary to wear the Jennings helmet. Sadly, he was also the Warlord’s mole, poised to betray T.H.U.N.D.E.R. at the earliest opportunity. All plans went awry however, once he donned the helmet and became Menthor.

The device awakened his mind’s full potential, granting him telepathy, telekinesis and mind-reading powers, but it also drove all evil from his mind. Such was the redemptive effect that Janus actually gave his life to save his comrades: an event which astounded readers at the time…

This third intense Intelligence compendium opens with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #8 as Dynamo is caught up in a huge multi-state power cut that turns out to be sabotage perpetrated by maverick Warlord Oro. Although the under-Earth evildoer leaves ‘Thunder in the Dark’ (by an unknown author and art by Wood, Adkins & Reese) he is unable to stave off the dogged, determined destruction dealt out by Dynamo…

Invisible agent NoMan then infiltrates ‘The Pyramid of the Warlords’ (Pearson, John Giunta & Joe Giella) and wipes out a hidden horde of the malevolent miscreants whilst super-speedster Lightning investigates tech-stealing ET ‘The Blue Alien’ (Steve Skeates, Sekowsky & Frank Giacoia) only to discover and old enemy using a new gimmick…

With the Warlords using anti-gravity gimmicks, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. bigwigs are forced to innovate and create a flying agent in ‘Enter the Raven’ (Skeates, & Tuska), but have second thoughts after unscrupulous former mercenary Craig Lawson proves to be the only contender capable of piloting the heavily-armed flight-kit…

Following a stunning ‘Warlord Pin-up’ by Wood & Reese, the issue ends with an ensemble team-up as the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents unite in a ‘Final Encounter’ (Wood & Adkins over another anonymous script) that ranges from the bowels of the Earth to the edge of space and seemingly sees the death of the supreme Warlord…

A new era opened with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #9 as affable agent Len Brown is asked to go undercover on an army base in ‘Corporal Dynamo, USA’ (with art from Giunta & Wood). The hunt for traitors selling stolen weapons to subversive sect S.P.I.D.E.R. ends explosively and leads into Lightning’s solo pursuit of modern Prometheus ‘Andor’ (illustrated by Sekowsky, Giacoia & Giella).

Long ago the Warlords stole a human baby and spent decades turning the waif into a biological superman devoid of sentiment or compassion. Sadly, they lost all control of the living weapon once he met fellow mortals. Now, the pitiful misfit’s attempts to rejoin mankind are derailed when a surviving Subterranean re-establishes mental dominance and again tries to crush the surface world…

Giunta limns NoMan’s investigation of ‘The Secret of Scorpion Island’ wherein a UN vaccination program is hijacked to create a pool of chemically-enslaved cultists for a deranged mastermind after which the assembled T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents contest with numerous rival agencies to secure a lethal outer space threat concealed within ‘The Black Box of Doom’ (Adkins & Chic Stone)…

The issue then concludes with a peculiarly quirky tale very much of its time as winged wonder ‘Raven Battles Mayven the Poet’, written and illustrated by legendary craftsman Manny Stallman.

A star from the get-go, Dynamo quickly won his own blockbuster-sized solo title. With an October cover-date, #2 kicked off with the husky hero firmly trapped in ‘The Web of S.P.I.D.E.R.’ (Stone, Wood & Adkins) after he storms into the country the evil empire has illegally annexed. He’s not completely alone, however: sinister sultry siren Iron Maiden is on hand to offer temptation and salvation in equal amounts…

Evil never rests though and in ‘S.P.I.D.E.R. Strikes at Sea!’ (Wood & Adkins) the covert creeps swipe an atomic submarine aircraft carrier and only Len can save the day and return the super-weapon…

Dynamo proudly boasts he’s more brawn than brains which doesn’t help when he has to solve the mystery of ‘The Priceless Counterfeit!’ (Dick Ayers, Wood & Adkins) statue S.P.I.D.E.R. wants to smuggle out of America…

Following a brace of pin-ups – ‘Red Star’ by Sekowsky & Giacoia and ‘Andor’ by Adkins – Dynamo is targeted for assassination by the rival Red Star and S.P.I.D.E.R. gangs in ‘Between Two Enemies’ (Sekowsky & Stone) before T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Weed comedically wraps things up as his dreams of becoming a super-operative bring him into contention with howling maniac ‘The Hyena’ – a Tuska-illustrated gem sadly lacking an author credit as do so many of the tales in this collection…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #10 is the last issue compiled here and opens with Dynamo actually outclassed after S.P.I.D.E.R. springs a number of old foes from jail. Rendered by Wood, ‘Operation Armageddon’ finds T.H.U.N.D.E.R. on the ropes and the muscle-headed muscleman running for his life when personal nemesis Demo steals a machine that fires miniature atom bombs. Sadly the sick killer never realised affable Len Brown could be pushed too far…

Sekowsky, Giacoia & Giella then illustrate Lightning racing after the madman who invented ‘The Air Laser’ whilst Ogden Whitney signs in to draw a team-up of NoMan and Andor as the Warlord’s superhuman pawn hunts down his former masters but is captured once more and compelled to commit ‘Three Deeds of Evil’

When communist brainwashing turns a trusted T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent into a liability the heroes gather to save their comrade in ‘Kitten or Killer’ (Tuska art) and turn the tables before High Spy Raven brings the dramas to a close when ‘The Return of Mayven’ (Stallman) finds the poet and robotics expert again using exploding artificial children to sow chaos across America…

With stories all shaded in favour of fast pace, sparse dialogue, explosive action and big breathtaking visuals, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was decades ahead of its time and certainly informed everything in Fights ‘n’ Tights comics which came after it. These are truly timeless comic classics which improve with every reading, so do yourself a favour and add these landmark super-sagas to your collection.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 3 © 2014 Radiant Assets, LLC. All rights reserved.

Clifton volume 7: Elementary, My Dear Clifton


By Rodrigue & de Groot, translated by Mark Bence (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-198-3

An infallible agent of Her Majesty’s assorted security forces, Clifton was created by Raymond Macherot for the weekly Tintin. The doughty exemplar of Albion debuted in December 1959, just as a filmic 007 was preparing to set the world ablaze and get everyone hooked on spycraft…

After three albums of strip material – all compiled and released in little more than a year – Macherot defected to arch-rival Spirou and his bombastic British buffoon was benched. Tintin reactivated him at the height of the Sixties’ Swinging London scene and that aforementioned spy-craze, courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Michel Régnier (code-named Greg to his millions of fans).

Those strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

Then it was back into retirement until 1971 when Greg – with artist Joseph Loeckx – took another shot. They tinkered with the True Brit until 1973 when Bob De Groot & illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois fully regenerated the be-whiskered wonder man. After ten more tales, in 1984 artist Bernard Dumont (AKA Bédu) limned de Groot’s scripts before eventually assuming the writing chores as well. The series concluded in 1995.

…But You Only Die Twice… or thrice, or lots…

In keeping with its rather haphazard Modus Operandi and indomitably undying nature, the Clifton strip returned yet again in 2003, crafted now by De Groot & Michel Rodrigue for four further adventures. Although the humorous visual vein was still heavily mined in these tales, now the emphasis was subtly shifted and the action/adventure components strongly emphasised…

Bob de Groot was born in Brussels in 1941, to French and Dutch parents. He became art assistant to Maurice Tillieux on Félix, before creating his own short works for Pilote. A rising star in the 1960s, he drew 4 × 8 = 32 L’Agent Caméléon, where he met Liegeois, consequently began a slow transition from artist to writer. Together they created Archimède, Robin Dubois and Léonard before eventually inheriting Macherot’s moribund spy.

In 1989, de Groot – with Jacques Landrain – devised Digitaline, a strong contender for the first comic created entirely on a computer, and co-created Doggyguard with Rodrigue, even whilst prolifically working with the legendary Morris on both Lucky Luke and its canine comedy spin-off Rantanplan.

He’s still going strong with strips such as Léonard in Eppo, Père Noël & Fils and Le Bar des acariens (both published by Glénat) and so much more.

Michel Rodrigue was born in Lyon in 1961 and really, really likes Rugby. He pursued higher education at the National School of Fine Arts, where he also studied medieval archaeology and from 1983-85 was part of the French Rugby team. In 1987, he designed France’s mascot for the World Cup.

His comics debut came in 1984 with sports (guess which one) strip Mézydugnac in Midi Olympique. After illustrating an adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac in 1986 he and collaborator Jean-Claude Vruble produced a volume of La Révolution Française, scripted by Patrick Cothias.

Rodrigue then joined Roger Brunel on Rugby en B.D., Du Monde dans la Coupe!, Concept, Le Rugby en Coupe and La Foot par la Bande.

For Tintin he drew Bom’s Les Conspirateurs and produced Rugbyman, the official monthly of the French Rugby Federation, amongst a welter of other strips. Along the way he began scripting too, and, after working with de Groot on Doggyguard joined him on the revived Clifton.

He also remains astonishingly creatively occupied, working on Ly-Noock with André Chéret, Brèves de Rugby, La Grande Trambouille des Fées for René Hausmann, Futurama comics, Cubitus with Pierre Aucaigne, and many more…

For Your Eyes Only: Pompous, irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton is ex-RAF, a former officer with the Metropolitan Police Constabulary and recently retired from MI5. He has great difficulty dealing with being put out to pasture in rural Puddington and takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, assisting Her Majesty’s Government or needy individuals as an amateur sleuth whenever the opportunity arises. He occupies his idle hours with as many good deeds as befits a man of his standing and service. He is particularly dedicated to sharing the benefits of organised Scouting with the younger generations…

Originally released as Elémentaire mon cher Clifton in 2006 this yarn is a little off the far-from-sedentary sleuth’s beaten paths. As the cover and title might lead you to deduce, Elementary, My Dear Clifton takes its lead from that unflinching bastion of British fiction Sherlock Holmes, but not quite in the way you might imagine…

This rollicking caper begins with the old soldier and his svelte sidekick Jade inspecting a fleet of outrageously expensive luxury cars before getting into a headbanging prang whilst driving home in Clifton’s own stylish sports-roadster.

When he regains consciousness, Jade is missing, abducted by a shadowy figure from the vintage car which forced him off the road…

After another frustrating and infuriating interview with Highway Code martinet and personal gadfly Constable Strawberry, Clifton sets in motion the wheels of protocol that will enable his intelligence community contacts to find the missing assistant, before staggering home to bed and passing out.

Next morning, he finds his multi-talented housekeeper Mrs. Partridge chatting with a distinguished gentleman. Clothed in outmoded attire, “the Doctor” claims to know what’s happened to Jade but if Clifton wants to save her he’ll have to return with him to October 7th 1912…

The physician claims that he and his partner – a certain unnamed consulting detective – were on the trail of a nefarious inventor named Professor Hamilton. That villain was nosing about the preparations for the gala celebrations of a Maharaja on the eve of a sumptuous nuptial event when the Doctor fortuitously trailed him to a warehouse and saw him vanish into a bizarre contraption. Having keenly observed, the stealthy stalker then followed and ended up here and now…

Refusing to believe the cock-and-bull story but equally unable to disprove the evidence before him Clifton eventually concedes defeat and follows the crime doctor back in time and into his strangest adventure ever…

What follows is a hilarious and gripping romp with eerie personal echoes and foreshadowings for our temporally-misplaced manhunter: a ripping yarn all devotees of crime capers and time travels will love…

Funny, fast and furiously thrill-packed, Elementary, My Dear Clifton reveals hidden depths to our Old Soldier whilst playing deliriously fast and loose with history in the grandly enticing manner of Nicholas Meyer’s Time after Time and Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits; a confection guaranteed to astound and delight thrill and laughter-addicts of every age.
Original edition © Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard SA) 2006 by Rodrigue & De Groot. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

XIII volume 4: SPADS


By William Vance & Jean Van Hamme, coloured by Petra (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-058-0

One of the most consistently entertaining and popular adventure serials on the European scene, XIII was created by author Jean Van Hamme (Wayne Shelton, Blake and Mortimer, Lady S.) and illustrator William Vance (Bruce J. Hawker, Marshal Blueberry, Ramiro).

Van Hamme was born in Brussels in 1939 and is one of the most prolific writers in comics. After pursuing Business Studies, he moved into journalism and marketing before selling his first graphic tale in 1968. Immediately clicking with the public, by 1976 he had also branched out into prose novels and screenwriting. His big break was monumentally successful mixed-genre fantasy series Thorgal for Tintin magazine but he truly cemented his reputation with mass-market bestsellers Largo Winch and XIII as well as more cerebral fare such as Chninkel and Les maîtres de l’orge. In 2010 Van Hamme was listed as the second-best selling comics author in France, ranked between the seemingly unassailable Hergé and Uderzo.

William Vance is the bande dessinée nom de plume of William van Cutsem. He was born in 1935 in Anderlecht and, after military service in 1955-1956, studied art at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts. He became an illustrator of biographic features at Tintin in 1962. His persuasive illustrative style is a classical blend of meticulous realism, scrupulous detail and spectacular yet understated action.

In 1964 he began maritime adventure serial Howard Flynn (written by Yves Duval) before graduating to more popular genre work with western Ray Ringo and espionage thriller Bruno Brazil (scripted by Greg). Further success followed when he replaced Gérald Forton on science fiction classic Bob Morane in Femmes d’Aujourd’hui and latterly Pilote and Tintin.

Although working broadly and constantly on serials and stand-alone stories, Vance’s signature achievement is his lengthy collaboration with fellow Belgian Van Hamme on this contemporary thriller loosely based on Robert Ludlum’s novel The Bourne Identity

XIII launched in 1984, originally running in Spirou to great acclaim. A triad of albums were rushed out – simultaneously printed in French and Dutch editions – before the first year of serialisation ended.

The series was a monumental hit in Europe but fared less well in its earlier attempts to make the translation jump to English, with Catalan Communications, Alias Comics and even Marvel all failing to find an audience for the epic mystery thriller.

The grand conspiracy saga of unrelenting mood, mystery and mayhem opened in The Day of the Black Sun when an old beachcomber found a body. The human flotsam had a gunshot head wound and was near death when Abe and his wife Sally found him. She discovered a key sewn into his clothes and the Roman numerals for thirteen tattooed on his neck. The remote hideaway offered little in the way of emergency services, but their alcoholic, struck-off surgeon friend managed to save the stranger…

As he recuperated, a complication became apparent. The patient – a splendid physical specimen clearly no stranger to action or violence – had suffered massive and irreversible brain trauma. Although increasingly sound in body he had completely lost his past.

Language skills, muscle memories, even social and reflexive conditioning all remained, but every detail of his life-history was gone…

They named him “Alan” after their own dead son – but hints of the intruder’s lost past explosively intruded when hitmen invaded the beach house with guns blazing. Alan lethally retaliated with terrifying skill, but too late…

In the aftermath he found a photo of himself and a young woman on the killers and traced it to nearby Eastown. Desperate for answers and certain more killers were coming, the human question mark headed off to confront unimaginable danger and hopefully find the answers he craved.

The picture led to a local newspaper and a crooked cop who recognised the amnesiac but said nothing…

The woman in the photo was Kim Rowland, a local widow recently gone missing. Alan’s key opened the door of her house. The place had been ransacked but a thorough search utilising his mysterious talents turned up another key and a note warning someone named Jake that “The Mongoose” had found her…

He was then ambushed by the cop and newspaper editor Wayne. Calling him “Shelton” they demanded the return of a large amount of missing money…

Alan/Jake/Shelton reasoned the new key fitted a safe-deposit box and bluffed the thugs into taking him to the biggest bank in town. The staff there also knew him as Shelton, but when his captors examined the briefcase in Shelton’s box a booby trap went off. Instantly acting, the mystery man expertly escaped and eluded capture, holing up in a shabby hotel room, pondering again what kind of man he used to be…

As he prepared to leave he stumbled into a mob of armed killers. In a blur of lethal action he escaped and ran into another bunch of heavies led by a Colonel Amos. This chilling executive referred to his captive as “Thirteen”, claiming to have dealt with his predecessors XI and XII in regard to the “Black Sun” case…

Amos very much wanted to know who Alan was, and offered some shocking titbits in return. The most sensational was film of the recent assassination of American President, William B Sheridan, clearly showing the lone gunman was XIII…

Despite the amnesiac’s heartfelt conviction that he was no assassin, Amos accused him of working for a criminal mastermind, and wanted that big boss. The interrogator failed to take Alan’s instinctive abilities into account and was astounded when his prisoner leapt out of a fourth floor window…

The fugitive headed back to the beach where he was found but more murderers awaited; led by a mild-seeming man Alan inexplicably knew was The Mongoose. The criminal overlord expressed surprise and admiration: he thought he’d killed Thirteen months ago…

Following an explosion of hyper-fast violence which left the henchmen dead and Mongoose vanished but vengeful, the mystery man regretfully hopped a freight train west towards the next stage in his quest for truth…

His journey of discovery took him to the army base where Kim Rowland’s husband was stationed. His enquiries provoked an unexpected and violent response resulting in his interrogation by General Ben Carrington and his sexily capable aide Lieutenant Jones.

They’re from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, know an awful lot about black ops units and have proof that their memory-challenged prisoner is in fact their agent: believed-deceased Captain Steve Rowland

After testing the amnesiac’s abilities Carrington then drops him off in Rowland’s home town of Southberg to pursue his search for his missing wife, but the prodigal’s return to his rat’s nest of a family rekindles long-simmering passions and jealousies. The entire town seems to want Rowland’s blood and before long he’s been made the target of an assassination attempt and victim of a diabolical murder-plot…

Despite Carrington and Jones’ last-minute intervention Alan/Steve is framed for murdering his father and grabbed by a furious posse.

After an indeterminate period of time “Steve” resurfaces, undergoing the worst kind of psychiatric care at Plain Rock Penitentiary for the Criminally Insane. Despite drugs and shock treatments, progress is negligible, probably because aging martinet Dr Johansson’s claims of curing for his patient’s apparent amnesia are clearly just a judgemental sadist’s justifications for inflicting agony on the helpless…

Carrington and Jones meet with Amos who has troubling information. His investigations revealed the amnesiac had undergone illicit plastic surgery and his army records were altered. Whoever was in Plain Rock, he wasn’t Steve Rowland…

Amos’ files proved the plotters who had the President killed were still active and their amnesiac assassin was now the only link to them. Acting on her own initiative, Jones decided it was time she took a hands-on approach…

Anxious and isolated, Not-Rowland received a visitor who galvanised him out of his induced torpor and knew his days were numbered…

Deep within the corridors of power, Amos informs Carrington further researches have obtained them a name. XIII and the man they are actually dealing with is former soldier and intelligence operative Ross Tanner.

Probably…

Perhaps…

Rowland/Tanner opts for escape but is swiftly recaptured and restricted to the medical section. XIII is helpless when the Mongoose’s inside man makes his move. Luckily Jones had also inserted herself in a position where she could do the most good…

Spectacularly busting out, “Rowland” and the mystery woman then race into the desert, somehow avoiding a massive manhunt before vanishing without trace.

Some time later, Amos and Carrington confer over the disappearance, but one of them knows exactly where the fugitive is. Now, with another new name, the warrior without a past and his new powerful allies lay plans to take the fight to their secret enemy…

SPADS is the fourth complex and convoluted chapter (first released in Europe in 1987) and opens with a much more concise and visual recap than I’ve just given, before kicking the plot into high gear as the race to replace murdered President Sheridan hots up. The contenders are Old Boy Network hack and former Vice President Joseph Galbrain battling Sheridan’s glamorous and idealistic younger brother Walter: latest scion of a venerable dynasty of leaders…

Amos’ diligent investigation is relentless. After exhuming a host of bodies, he can confidently claim to know who Tanner really is, is but when his search leads him into a trap that kills his assistant and incapacitates him, he starts to wonder if he’s tracking a target or being led onto a bullseye…

Elsewhere, in a green hell of sweat and testosterone, Ross Tanner is making no friends as he trains to join elite combat unit SPADS (SPecial Assault and Destruction Squads). He doesn’t fit in and is always causing trouble. It’s as if he’s there under false pretences…

When Amos and Judge Allenby confront Carrington at the Pentagon with news that Tanner is also an alias for an as yet unknown operative, the reaction is little short of explosive. Soon after, special aide Lieutenant Jones goes AWOL…

Back in the Bayou, the man everybody is hunting has made a fresh advance into uncovering his occluded past. Sergeant Betty served with the real Rowland and knows he didn’t die at the time and in the manner the official reports describe. Before she shares the details, however, she has an itch that needs scratching…

That conversation is curtailed by camp commander Colonel McCall, who tells the undercover operative that he’s being transferred out in the morning by direct order of General Carrington. Realising his chance to solve his personal mystery is evaporating, XIII settles a few outstanding scores before sneaking into Betty’s quarters…

Amos and Allenby meanwhile have not been idle, and the former is certain he has at last gleaned the actual identity of the multi-named agent XIII, but when they visit a certain grave they walk right into another ambush and a well-placed mole is forced to break cover…

As Amos is plucked from the firefight by the last person he expected to see, a continent away Tanner’s liaison gets even more dangerous when another Mongoose mole interrupts and tries to kill them both. Happily, Carrington’s back-up agent is well placed to save them and they all flee together, unaware that their escape vehicle has been boobytrapped and sabotaged…

Amos by now is securely ensconced in a palatial hideaway, being feted by a coterie of political heavyweights who finally reveal the truth about all the men Ross Tanner is and isn’t. They then explain the incredible reason for the smoke-&-mirrors operation and the earth-shattering stakes…

To Be Continued…

XIII is one most compelling and multi-layered mystery adventures ever conceived, with subsequent instalments constantly taking the questing human enigma two steps forward, one step back, stumbling through a world of pain and peril whilst cutting through an interminable web of past lives he seemingly led…

Rocket-paced and immensely inventive, XIII is a series no devotee of action sagas and conspiracy thrillers will want to miss.
Original edition © Dargaud Benelux (Dargaud-Lombard SA), 1987 by Van Hamme, Vance & Petra. All rights reserved. This edition published 2010 by Cinebook Ltd.

S.H.I.E.L.D volume 1: Perfect Bullets


By Mark Waid, Carlo Pacheco, Humberto Ramos, Alan Davis, Chris Sprouse, Mike Choi, Chris Renaud & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9362-3

Just as the 1960s espionage fad was taking off, inspired by the James Bond films and TV shows like Danger Man, war hero Nick Fury “re-debuted” in Fantastic Four #21 as a spy.

That was December 1963 – between issues #4 and 5 of his own blistering battle mag – and the perpetually grizzled warrior was re-imagined as a cunning CIA Colonel lurking at the periphery of big adventures, craftily manipulating the First Family of Marvel superheroes into taking on a racist demagogue with a world-shattering secret…

Fury was already the star of the little company’s only war comic: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, an improbable and decidedly over-the-top, wild WWII-set series similar in tone to later movies such as The Magnificent Seven, Wild Bunch and The Dirty Dozen.

When spy stories went global in the wake of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the veteran’s elder iteration was given a second series (from Strange Tales #135, August 1965), set in the then-present. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions and sinister schemes of World Conquest by hidden, subversive all-encompassing enemy organisation Hydra – all gift-wrapped with captivating Kirby-designed super-science gadgets and explosive high energy. It was set firmly in the heart of the slowly burgeoning Marvel Universe…

Once iconic imagineer Jim Steranko took charge, layering in a sleek, ultra-sophisticated edge of trend-setting drama, the series became one of the best and most visually innovative strips in America, if not the world.

When the writer/artist left and the spy-fad faded, the whole concept simply withdrew into the background architecture of the Marvel Universe, occasionally resurfacing in new series but growing increasingly uncomfortable to read as the role of spooks “on our side” became ever more debased in a world where covert agencies were continually exposed as manipulative, out-of-control tools of subversion and oppression.

In 1989 a six issue prestige format miniseries reinvigorated the concept. As a company targeting the youth-oriented markets, Marvel had experienced problems with their in-house clandestine organisation. In almost all of their other titles, US agents and “the Feds” were usually the bad guys. Author Bob Harras used this theme as well as the oddly quirky self-referential fact that nobody aged in comic continuity to play games with the readers…

Fury had discovered that everybody in his organisation had been “turned” and was now an actual threat to freedom and democracy. With his core beliefs and principles about leading “the Good Guys” betrayed and destroyed, he went on the run, hunted by the world’s most powerful covert agency with all the resources he’d devised and utilised now turned against him.

As part of the resolution SHIELD was reinvented for the 1990s: a leaner, cleaner, organisation, nominally acting under UN mandate, and proactive throughout the Marvel Universe. The taste of betrayal and seeds of doubt and mistrust never went away though…

Following numerous global crises – including a superhero Civil War – Fury was replaced as SHIELD director. His successor Tony Stark proved to be a huge mistake and after an alien invasion by Skrulls, the organisation was mothballed: replaced by the manically dynamic Norman Osborn and his fanatically loyal H.A.M.M.E.R. project. As America’s top Fed, he was specifically tasked with curbing the unchecked power and threat of the burgeoning metahuman community.

Osborn’s ascent was an even bigger error. As America’s Director of National Security the former Green Goblin and not-really-recovering psychopath instituted a draconian “Dark Reign” of oppressive, aggressive policies which turned the nation into a paranoid tinderbox.

This spectacularly poor choice was, however, also directing a cabal of the world’s greatest criminals and conquerors intent on divvying up the planet between them. The repercussions of Osborn’s rise and fall were felt throughout and featured in many series and collections throughout the entire fictive continuity. His brief rule also drastically shook up the entrenched secret powers of the planet and his ultimate defeat destabilised many previously unassailable empires…

Fury, a man driven by duty, fuelled by suspicion and powered by a serum which kept him vital far beyond his years, didn’t go away. He just went deep undercover and continued doing what he’d always done: saving the world, one battle at a time. Even after Osborn was gone, Fury stayed buried, preferring to fight battles his way and with assets and resources he’d personally acquired and built…

Since the concept became an integral part of Marvel’s cinematic and TV universe, the comics division has laboured to find a way to rationalise their two wildly dissimilar iterations of SHIELD. In 2015 scripter Mark Waid and a rotating squad of illustrators finally settled on a way to square that circle…

S.H.I.E.L.D. – now standing for the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division – is still a major player in defending humanity from the unimaginable, but movie icon Phil Coulson, his core TV team of Melinda May, Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons, plus hybrid versions of print-turned-screen stars such as Bobbi (Mockingbird) Morse have been deftly hived off into their own niche of comicbook continuity with Coulson in charge of an official sub-agency where – supplemented by SHIELD resources – his own geekishly vast and deep knowledge of metahuman trivia and contacts with the entire super-heroic community combine to tackle unnatural crises on a case-by-case basis…

The result – written by the master planner Mark Waid and illustrated by a rotating roster of star artists – is a fresh and supremely appetising blend of spies, sinister secret villains and super folk that is a joy to behold…

Collecting issues #1-6 of the breakthrough series (technically S.H.I.E.L.D. volume 3, spanning February to July 2015, if you’re keeping count) this volume commences with the eponymous ‘Perfect Bullets’ (illustrated by Carlos Pacheco, Mariano Taibo & Jason Paz, with Dono Sanchez Almara providing the colours) as SHIELD Special Ops Supreme Commander Coulson is forced to rally his barely wet-behind-the-ears unit to tackle a middle-eastern terrorist who has somehow latched onto a magic sword allowing him to summon all the monsters of mythology to batter the Earth.

As all the planet’s heroes wage a losing war against the invasion of gargantuan terrors, Coulson’s team rapidly identify the true owner of the blade and deploy the two ideal superheroes able to counter its threat…

Sadly, however, when the sword is restored to its rightful wielder, a hidden extra-dimensional presence is unleashed, forcing Coulson to improvise a final solution…

Then, adding funny to the fast and furious, a brace of comedic shorts follows. Crafted by Joe Quesada and starring boy-genius Fitz and his digital avatar H.E.N.R.Y., these strips were originally concocted to amuse the cast and crew of the TV show…

The all-comics action resumes with ‘The Animator’ (art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazabo & Edgar Delgado) as Xenobiology specialist Simmons is sent undercover to a High School in Jersey City to crack a smuggling ring. Of course, being a SHIELD Special Ops mission, the contraband being sought is not drugs of guns or something equally mundane, but rather weapons and tech stolen from super-villains.

Things instantly go bad when a Wizard power-glove stashed in a locker spontaneously activates, causing a riot. Thankfully fresh new Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan is a student at the beleaguered institution and steps up, impressing Coulson in the process…

Sadly it’s not the only crisis on campus as bio-plasm from genetic meddler Arnim Zola infects the cafeteria food, turning hungry kids into ravenous monsters…

With that catastrophe stomach-churningly averted, Fitz and H.E.N.R.Y. make another mirthful appearance before Alan Davis, Mark Farmer and colourist Matthew Wilson make the pictures for ‘Home Invasion’ as Coulson, Spider-Man and mystic parolee Mr. Rasputin break into the bewitched citadel of Doctor Strange to battle mystic mercenaries hired to raid the storehouse of magical wonders.

The thieves think they had it covered but their meddling unleashes forces that imperil the entire Earth. Moreover, in the aftermath Coulson sees something which sets him thinking that one hand might be behind the many threats his team has recently tackled…

After another delightful Fitz and H.E.N.R.Y. escapade, Chris Sprouse, Carl Story & Almara illustrate a deeply disturbing tale as Invisible Woman Susan Richards is seconded to the Special Ops unit to save a reluctant Hydra informant from a radioactive prison five miles underground. Sadly as ‘Fuel’ unfolds she discovers the truly vicious duplicity of her opponents and endures cruel whims of fate as the Mole Man attacks everybody and Coulson is forced to intervene before atomic Armageddon ensues…

The fifth instalment starts drawing disparate plot points together as the world’s mystics and supernatural champions are systematically gunned down by an assassin firing purpose-built ‘Magic Bullets’ (with art by Mike Choi and colourist Rachelle Rosenberg)…

With his resources reduced to the Scarlet Witch and professional sceptics Fitz and Simmons, Coulson uncovers a connection to Asgard and a mystery magical mastermind, only to have his team supernaturally suborned as the hidden manipulator makes his long-anticipated move…

This immensely entertaining epic concludes as Earth is afflicted with an arcane plague transforming humanity into mindless monsters compelling Coulson to assemble a squad of intellect-deficient atrocities – zombie Simon Garth, the Living Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster and Man-Thing – into an all-new unit of Howling Commandos to invade the ‘Dark Dimensions’ (illustrated by Paul Renaud & Romulo Farjado, Jr.) and stop the contagion and its creator at the source.

And because he’s the sneaky bastard he is, Coulson also takes along a secret weapon: the last villain anyone might expect to save the universe…

Fast-paced, action-packed, imaginative, thrilling, funny and superbly illuminated throughout, Perfect Bullets offers fantastic enjoyment for any Fights ‘n’ Tights fan with a smattering of Marvel history in their heads, but will particularly reward any TV aficionado willing to peek into the convoluted comicbook universe the SHIELD show sprang from.
© 2015 Marvel Characters. All rights reserved.

Thunder Agents Classics volume 2


By Wally Wood, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky, George Tuska, Steve Ditko, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-832-6                  eISBN: 978-1-62302-448-2

The meteoric lifespan and output of Tower Comics is one of the key creative moments in American comicbook history. The brief, bombastic saga of The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves was a benchmark of quality and sheer bravura fun for fans of both the then-still-reawakening superhero genre and the era’s spy-chic obsession.

In the early 1960s the James Bond movie franchise was going from strength to strength, with blazing action and heady glamour utterly transforming the formerly understated espionage genre. The buzz was infectious: soon Men like Flint and Matt Helm were carving out their own piece of the action as television shanghaied the entire bandwagon with the irresistible Man From U.N.C.L.E. (premiering in September 1964); bringing the whole shtick inescapably into living rooms across the planet.

Archie Comics editor Harry Shorten was commissioned to create a line of characters for a new distribution-chain funded publishing outfit – Tower Comics. He brought in creative maverick Wally Wood, who called on some of the biggest names in the industry to produce material in the broad range of genres the company demanded (as well as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and its spin-offs Undersea Agent, Dynamo and NoMan, there was a magnificent anthology war-comic Fight the Enemy and wholesome youth-comedy Tippy Teen).

Samm Schwartz and Dan DeCarlo handled the funnybook – which outlasted everything else – whilst Wood, Larry Ivie, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Russ Jones, Gil Kane and Ralph Reese contributed scripts for themselves and the industry’s other top talents to illustrate on the adventure series.

With a ravenous appetite for super-spies and costumed heroes steadily rising in comic-book popularity and amongst the general public, the idea of blending the two concepts seemed inescapable…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 appeared with no fanfare or pre-publicity on newsstands in August 1965 (with a cover off-sale date of November). Better yet, all Tower titles were in the beloved-but-rarely-seen 80-Page Giant format, offering a huge amount of material in every issue.

All that being said these tales would not be so revered if they hadn’t been so superbly crafted. As well as Wood, the art accompanying the compelling, subtly more mature stories was by some of the greatest talents in comics: Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta, Steve Ditko and others.

This second lush and lustrous compilation collects T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5-7 and the first blockbusting issue of spin-off title Dynamo – originally released between June and August 1966 – with the incomparably cool concept and characters going from strength to strength.

For those who came in late: When brilliant Professor Emil Jennings was attacked by the forces of the mysterious Warlord, the savant perished. However UN troops salvaged some of his greatest inventions: these included a belt that increased the density of the wearer’s body until it became as hard as steel, a cloak of invisibility and a brain-amplifier helmet.

The prototypes were divided between several agents to create a unit of super-operatives to counter increasingly bold attacks of many global terror threats such as the aforementioned Warlord.

First chosen was affable, honest but far from brilliant file clerk Len Brown who was, to everyone’s surprise, assigned the belt and codename Dynamo. Contributing scripter Len Brown had no idea illustrator/editor Wood had puckishly changed the hero’s civilian name as a last-minute gag until the comic rolled off the presses…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent NoMan was once aged Dr. Anthony Dunn who chose to have his mind transferred into an android body and was then gifted with the invisibility cape. If his artificial body was destroyed Dunn’s consciousness could transfer to another android body. As long as he had a spare ready, he could never die…

John Janus seemed the perfect UN employee: a mental and physical marvel who easily passed all the tests necessary to wear the Jennings helmet. Sadly, he was also a deep cover mole for the Warlord, poised to betray T.H.U.N.D.E.R. at the earliest opportunity. All plans went awry once he donned the helmet and became Menthor. The device awakened his mind’s full potential, granting him telepathy, telekinesis and mind-reading powers, but it also drove all evil from his mind. When the Warlord attacked with a small army and a giant monster, Menthor was compelled by his own costume to defeat the assault. What a dilemma for a traitor to be in…

A fourth super-spy was added when Guy Gilbert of the crack Mission: Impossible style T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad was required to beta-test an experimental super-speed suit. The gung-ho hyper-fast Lightning was proud to do so, even if every use of the hyper-acceleration gimmick shortened his life-span…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 again gloriously pandered to every kid’s dream as the nice guy with the power to smash anything was pinpointed as the weak link of the agency and subjected to a three-pronged attack by Warlord and his subterranean race in ‘Dynamo and the Golem’ by a sadly unrecorded writer with art from Crandall, Wood & Adkins. The stupendous underground duel with the monstrous mechanical was even augmented by guest walk-ons (a rare treat in the mid-1960s when most editors feared over-exposing their heroes) by other T.H.U.N.D.E.R. stars…

The modern master of a tribe of primordial men returned as ‘NoMan: In the Caverns of Demo’ (by Pearson, Kane, Wood & Tony Coleman) saw the invisible agent lured into a trap and temporarily lose his wonder cape. After Adkins’ gloriously panoramic ‘Lightning Pin-up’, Skeates, Sekowsky & Giacoia then reveal how a leftover Nazi scientist blackmails a trusted engineer and wrecks new aircraft for the agency with his deadly “slow-down” dust in ‘Lightning: Return of Baron Von Kampf’

The author of ‘Menthor vs. The Entrancer’ is unknown but the unmistakable John Giunta limns the dark tale of the mind master’s duel with a petty thief who steals a magic gem and almost conquers a country before the concluding ‘T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: Double For Dynamo’ (Skeates, Wood, Adkins & Coleman) sees the entire team unite to tackle another plot by duplicate maker Mastermind to place his felonious android facsimiles in positions of power…

Issue #6 opened with ‘Dynamo and the Sinister Agents of the Red Star’ (author unknown, Wood & Adkins) as the sinister Sino-spymaster introduced a devastating judo expert who could use the human powerhouse’s strength against him. Poor Len had to use his brain (for a change) to stop the brazen theft of America’s newest super-submarine…

Skeates, Sekowsky & Giacoia had fun with a teleporting criminal in ‘Lightning: The Origin of the Warp Wizard’ and shockingly let the villain win, after which ‘T.H.U.N.D.E.R. vs. Demo’ – illustrated by Giunta, Wood & Adkins – the vile plotter ambushed NoMan and used his stolen cape to gather tons of cash and the other Jennings devices.

The arrogant thug’s great mistake was trusting his sultry sidekick Satana, who unreasonably bore a grudge for that time he’d abandoned her to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and the cops…

‘Menthor: The Carnival of Death’ (art by Giunta & Carl Hubbell) pitted the mind-reading agent against a spy who was a natural telepath. Despite tremendous odds Janus foiled an insidious assassination attempt but lost his power-bestowing helmet in the process…

The best tale in this issue – and probably the entire book – is ‘NoMan: To Fight Alone’ by Skeates & Steve Ditko wherein the immortal agent is the only one capable of defying anti-democratic demagogue Mr. Image. This maniacal malcontent has the power to control any and all living beings in his vicinity, but of course, NoMan is only “living” in a strictly technical sense…

The final T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents inclusion is #7; a true landmark which opens with Dynamo in ‘Wanted: Leonard Brown, Code Name “Dynamo” Suspicion of Treason’ (illustrated by Wood, Adkins & Ralph Reese) with our hero on the run from his former friends.

Gullible Len has been framed by the delectable Rusty (revealed as the svelte and sinister Iron Maiden; a vivacious villainess clad in figure-hugging steel who was the likely puberty trigger for an entire generation of boys…) but still manages – more by charm and luck than skill or wit – to turn the tables on the real crooks and vindicate himself…

Next follows a frantic showdown which leaves Lightning possibly crippled for life after enduring ‘The Warp Wizard’s Revenge’ (Skeates, Sekowsky & Giacoia), after which the years-long secret war against invaders from Earth’s core comes closer to final resolution in the George Tuska illustrated ‘T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: Subterranean Showdown!’

A council of Warlords opt to abduct Dynamo which leads to a shattering battle they ultimately fail to win, whilst, after a pulse-pounding Wood & Adkins ‘Iron Maiden: Pin-up’, NoMan suffers a psychological breakdown in ‘To Be or Not To Be’ by Pearson, Giunta & Sal Trapani.

Although Dr. Dunn is now a thing of plastic and wire, he is still susceptible to feminine allure and that unresolved dichotomy almost costs him – and Earth – everything…

The issue ended with a tale which blew the mind of most kids reading it in the summer of 1966. ‘Menthor: A Matter of Life and Death’ written by Adkins, with art by Ditko & Wood was an utter shock to readers who had never seen a hero die before. We were so sheltered back then; cowboys and cops only ever shot guns out of bandits’ hands…

When a beloved and trusted super-agent is shanghaied to Subterraneana as bait for a trap, he does what any hero would do rather than betray his friends…

This second cathartic classic fun-fest concludes with the contents of Dynamo #1 as Tower’s top draw became the first hero promoted to his own solo title. It began with sheer sci fi spectacle as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. spots a staging post on Luna and sends Len on what might be a one-way trip (it’s three years before the Apollo moon shots, remember?) to scotch a potential invasion from space in ‘Menace From the Moon’ by Wood & Adkins.

That astounding blockbuster is followed by a deliciously wry romp as ‘A Day in the Life of Dynamo’ (Sekowsky & Giacoia) finds the invulnerable operative harried around the world from pillar to post in pursuit of the elusive Red Dragon, the wicked Warlords, rampaging giant robots… and a date with his boss’ attractive assistant Alice

Then Crandall, Wood & Adkins apparently take Dynamo ‘Back to the Stone Age’: revealing the secret of Demo’s seemingly inexhaustible stock of cavemen and dinosaurs after the devilish villain breaks out of jail with Mastermind in tow, after which Ditko, Wood & Adkins craft another action-packed mini-masterpiece as ‘Dynamo Meets the Amazing Andor’.

Decades previously the so-very-patient Warlords stole a human baby and spent long years turning the waif into a biological superman devoid of sentiment or compassion. Sadly, when they finally unleashed Andor on the surface civilisations – although they anticipated the dogged resistance of humanity and even the newly-constituted T.H.U.N.D.E.R. – the subterranean geniuses hadn’t factored in how their living weapon might react to the first woman he had ever seen…

The tongue-in-cheek dramas wrap up with a bright, breezy spoof as ‘Wonder Weed, Super Hero’ – illustrated by Giunta – reveals how merely mortal – and mildly jealous – agent William “Weed” Wylie is tricked by a magician/enemy agent into thinking he has powers too.

Of course, Weed is cocky, suggestible and avaricious but nobody’s fool…

With stories all shaded in favour of fast pace, sparse dialogue, explosive action and big visuals, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was decades ahead of its time and certainly informed everything in Fights ‘n’ Tights comics which came after it. These are truly timeless comic classics which improve with every reading, and there’s never been a better time to add these landmark superhero sagas to your collection of favourites.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 2 © 2013 Radiant Assets, LLC. All rights reserved.

James Bond™ volume 1: VARGR


By Warren Ellis, Jason Masters, Guy Major & Simon Bowland (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-901-0

James Bond is the ultimate secret agent. You all know that and have – thanks to the multi-media empire that has grown up around Ian Fleming’s masterful creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to the latest movie, game or novel.

There are also some exceedingly enjoyable comicbook and newspaper strip versions detailing the further exploits of 007 which have never really found the appreciation they rightly deserve. This collection is just one of the most recent, compiling the first six issues of a regular comicbook series from licensing specialists Dynamite Entertainment and quite possibly one of the top ten Bond adventures ever seen in any medium…

Dumping the decades of gaudy paraphernalia that’s grown around the brand, writer Warren Ellis, illustrator Jason Masters, colourist Guy Major and letterer Simon Bowland have opted for a stripped-down, pared-back, no-nonsense iteration who is all business.

It begins after Bond’s return from a personal mission to Helsinki which culminated in the elimination of the assassin who recently killed 008. On returning to MI6, however, the infallible agent is carpeted by M.

With motions in progress to close the Double-O department, Bond is given a simple assignment: “dissuading” a small European drug dealer from distributing his latest recreational designer dope in the United Kingdom.

Of course, no job is ever simple…

The first snag is a new Home Office ruling depriving Bond of his gun whilst within British borders, but at least Q has few treats for him to use once he’s touched down on foreign soil…

Following an impromptu briefing on his contact – the Intel has come via a CIA informant used by old comrade Felix Leiter, so at least that’s reliable – Bond jets off for Berlin Station, only to narrowly escape being murdered by impossibly strong impostor-agent Dharma Reach as soon as he gets out of the airport…

Taking the near-miss in stride, 007 swiftly starts his surveillance by meeting the CIA’s asset, Serbian geneticist and medical pioneer Slaven Kurjak, who has been making astounding breakthroughs in both pharmaceuticals and powered prostheses.

The exceedingly eccentric doctor puts him on the trail of a minor local gang with a new method of processing cocaine, so Bond sets off on the trail of his new target, resolute but clearly suspicious…

Meanwhile in London, drug addicts begin exhibiting strange, horrific and ultimately fatal side-effects after their latest scores…

Kurjac obviously has his own agenda, but the methodical Bond opts to investigate this disquieting informant’s “information” first and is soon in the fight of his life after stumbling into a major drugs operation run by the huge Al-Zein cartel.

On returning – shaken, stirred but largely intact – to the MI6 office, he’s intercepted by Slaven’s most dangerous guinea pig Mr. Masters, moments after the chemically-corrupted killer has depopulated the entire Berlin Station. Attempts to lure Bond into a fresh trap have been anticipated, however, and 007 is more than ready when the killer makes his move. Masters’ agonised last words to Bond are “Vargr. Please. Vargr”…

A frustrating confrontation with Kurjac then reveals the shocking truth about the crazy doctor’s hideous plans for the tainted drugs on Britain’s streets, but ends with apparent defeat and Bond stuck in a seemingly inescapable death-trap…

Through his usual blend of ingenuity and inspired insanity Bond survives and returns to London for debriefing but is again ambushed by Dharma Reach. She inadvertently provides a clue to her boss’ whereabouts before explosively expiring…

With a clear target and destination – and determined to end the bloody shambles at any cost – Bond heads to Norway and a final confrontation with Kurjak. The resolution to the mystery of Vargr is cataclysmic and incomprehensibly bloody…

With a gallery of covers by Dom Reardon and 22 variants from Masters, Glenn Fabry, Francesco Francavilla, Gabriel Hardman, Jock, Stephen Mooney, Dan Panosian, Joe Jusko, Aaron Campbell, Timothy Lim, Dennis Calero, Robert Hack and Ben Oliver plus Concept Art from Masters featuring character designs and model sheets, this elegant espionage episode is fast, furious, dryly witty, superbly smart and impeccably stylish: in short, the perfect James Bond thriller.

Try it and see for yourselves…
© 2016 Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. James Bond and 007 are ™ Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Clifton volume 6: Kidnapping


By Turk & de Groot, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-87-8

An infallible agent of Her Majesty’s assorted security forces, Clifton was created by Raymond Macherot (Chaminou, Les croquillards, Chlorophylle, Sibylline) for the weekly Tintin. Our doughty exemplar of Albion debuted in December 1959, just as a filmic 007 was preparing to set the world ablaze and get everyone hooked on spycraft…

After three albums worth of strip material – all compiled and released between 1959 and 1960 – Macherot left Tintin for arch-rival Spirou and his bombastic buffoon was benched.

Tintin revived him at the height of the Swinging London scene and aforementioned spy-craze, courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Greg (Michel Régnier). Those strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

Then it was back into retirement until 1971 when Greg – with artist Joseph Loeckx – took another shot. He toiled on the True Brit until 1973 when Bob De Groot & illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois fully regenerated the be-whiskered wonder. They produced ten more tales after which, from 1984 on, artist Bernard Dumont (AKA Bédu) limned de Groot’s scripts before eventually assuming the writing chores as well. The series concluded in 1995.

…But Never Say Never Again…

In keeping with its rather haphazard Modus Operandi and indomitably undying nature, the Clifton experience resumed yet again in 2003, crafted now by De Groot & Michel Rodrigue for four further adventures. Although the humorous visual vein was still heavily mined in these tales, now the emphasis was subtly shifted and the action/adventure components strongly emphasised…

Originally released in 1983, Kidnapping was Turk & De Groot’s last collaboration and wrapped up their mock-heroic shenanigans in fine and foolish style…

Bob de Groot was born in Brussels in 1941, to French and Dutch parents. As a young man he became art assistant to Maurice Tillieux on Félix, before creating his own short works for Pilote. A rising star in the 1960s, he drew 4 × 8 = 32 L’Agent Caméléon where he met Liegeois, consequently began a slow transition from artist to writer. Together they created Archimède, Robin Dubois and Léonard before eventually inheriting Raymond Macherot’s moribund Clifton.

In 1989 de Groot – with Jacques Landrain – devised Digitaline, a strong contender for the first comic created entirely on a computer, and co-created Doggyguard with Michel Rodrigue, even whilst prolifically working with the legendary Morris on both Lucky Luke and its canine comedy spin-off Rantanplan.

He’s still going strong with strips such as Léonard in Eppo, Père Noël & Fils and Le Bar des acariens (both published by Glénat) and so much more.

Pompous, irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton is ex-RAF, a former officer with the Metropolitan Police Constabulary and recently retired from MI5. He has a great deal of difficulty dealing with being put out to pasture in rural Puddington and takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, assisting the Government or needy individuals as an amateur sleuth whenever the opportunity arises. He occupies his idle hours with as many good deeds as befit a man of his standing and service. He is particularly dedicated to sharing the benefits of organised Scouting with the young generation…

This rollicking comedy crime caper begins with the old soldier and his fiery, ferociously competent, multi-talented housekeeper Mrs. Partridge preparing for a big camping trip for a motley crew of fresh-faced boy scouts.

Even after his own haphazard preparations are finally completed, Scoutmaster Clifton’s departure is further delayed by the stylishly late arrival of the troublesome son of wealthy and obnoxiously prestigious Sir Abylas Chickenpiece

Finally, however, the troop is under way and before too long they are setting up camp in an isolated patch of woodland. After organising jobs for the lads Clifton begins his own chores, setting tests for the boys trying out to win merit badges and catching a crafty snooze when he thinks nobody is looking…

It’s a very bad move. When the spoiled and appropriately codenamed “Distinguished Peacock” sets off to gather firewood, he’s pounced on by thugs working under the careful instructions of an obsessive porcelain collector who is well aware of the worth of the Chickenpiece Fortune…

A furtive observer to the crime, poor but honest “Thrifty Duckling” sees his companion being abducted and cunningly hides himself inside the getaway car, so when Clifton is made aware of the crisis he feels painfully responsible for the loss of two boys in his care…

Angry and insulted, the irascible Colonel eschews contacting the police and determines to give his remaining charges a lesson in the value of his scouting techniques by tracking the kidnappers to their lair and personally apprehending them.

The only real complication he envisages is apprising the victims’ fathers of the perilous current status of their sons and heirs…

A classic chase, memorable confrontation and Boys Own conclusion is the happy result of Clifton and his diminutive team working together, and when the action ends the reunions and subsequent outdoor celebrations are all any stout-hearted lad could hope for…

Funny, fast and furiously thrill-packed, Kidnapping shows our Old Soldier in his most engaging and flattering light with this craftily-concocted adventure romp in the grandly enticing manner of Charles Crichton’s Hue and Cry or Launder & Gilliat’s The Belles of St Trinian’s; sufficient to astound and delight devotees of simpler times whilst supplying a solid line in goofy gags for laughter-addicts of every age to enjoy.
Original edition © Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard SA) 1984 by Turk & De Groot. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 1


By Wally Wood, Len Brown, Larry Ivie, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky, George Tuska, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-689-6                  eISBN: 978-1-62302-362-1

The history of Wally Wood’s immortal comics masterpiece is painfully convoluted, and when the meteoric lifespan of the Tower Comics line ended, not especially pretty: wrapped up in legal wrangling, financial jiggery-pokery and plenty of petty back-biting.

None of that, however, can diminish the fact that the far-too brief original career of The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves was a benchmark of quality and sheer bravura fun for fans of both the then-still-reawakening superhero genre and the era’s spy-chic obsession.

In the early 1960s the Bond movie franchise was going from strength to strength, with blazing action and heady glamour utterly transforming the formerly understated espionage genre.

The buzz was infectious: soon Men like Flint and Matt Helm were carving out their own piece of the action as television shanghaied the entire bandwagon with the irresistible Man From U.N.C.L.E. (premiering in September 1964); bringing the whole shtick inescapably into living rooms across the planet.

Wildly creative maverick Wally Wood was approached at this time by veteran MLJ/Archie Comics editor Harry Shorten to create a line of characters for a new distribution-chain funded publishing outfit – Tower Comics.

Woody called on some of the biggest names in the industry to produce material in the broad range of genres the company demanded (as well as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and its spin-offs Undersea Agent, Dynamo and NoMan there was a magnificent anthology war-comic Fight the Enemy and wholesome youth-comedy Tippy Teen).

Samm Schwartz and Dan DeCarlo handled the funnybook – which outlasted all the others – whilst Wood, Larry Ivie, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Russ Jones Gil Kane and Ralph Reese all contributed scripts for themselves and the industry’s top talents to illustrate on the adventure series.

With a ravenous appetite for super-spies and costumed heroes steadily rising in comic-book popularity and amongst the general public, the idea of blending the two concepts seems a no-brainer now, but those were far more conservative times.

When T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 appeared with no fanfare or pre-publicity on newsstands in August 1965 (with a cover off-sale date of November) thrill-hungry readers like little me were blown away. It didn’t hurt either that all Tower titles were in the beloved-but-rarely-seen 80-Page Giant format: there was a huge amount to read in every issue!

All that being said the tales would not be so beloved if they hadn’t been so superbly crafted. As well as Wood, the art accompanying the compelling, far more mature stories was by some of the greatest talents in comics: Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta, Steve Ditko and others.

This initial compilation of classics collects T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1-4: spanning November 1965 to April 1966 and covering the first golden year of the series. The action starts with no preamble in ‘First Encounter’: a simple four page tale by Ivie & Wood and lettered by Archie comics mainstay Victor Gorelick.

A team of UN commandos fails to save brilliant scientist Professor Emil Jennings from the attack of the mysterious Warlord, but at least rescues some of his greatest inventions, including a belt that can increase the density of the wearer’s body until it becomes as hard as steel, an invisibility cloak and an enigmatic brain-amplifier helmet.

These prototypes are subsequently divided between several agents to create a unit of superior fighting men and counter the increasingly bold attacks of many global terror threats such as the aforementioned Warlord.

First chosen was affable file clerk Len Brown who was, to everyone’s surprise, assigned the Thunderbelt and codename Dynamo in delightfully light-hearted adventure ‘Menace of the Iron Fog’. Scripted by veteran writer Len Brown – who until publication had no idea illustrator/editor Wood had prankishly changed the hero’s civilian name as a last-minute gag – this explosively bombastic romp gloriously pandered to every kid’s dream as the nice guy got the power to smash stuff…

This cathartic fun-fest also introduced the Iron Maiden; a sultry villainess clad in figure-hugging steel who was the probable puberty-trigger for an entire generation of boys…

‘T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent NoMan’ came next, the eerie saga of aged Dr. Anthony Dunn who had his mind transferred into a specialised android body, before being equipped with the invisibility cape. The author’s name is unknown but the incredible Reed Crandall (with supplemental Wood inks) drew the first episode, which also found time and space to include a captivating clash with sinister mastermind Demo and his sultry associate Satana who had unleashed a wave of bestial sub-men on a modern metropolis.

NoMan had one final advantage: if his artificial body was destroyed his consciousness could transfer to another android body. As long as he had a spare ready, he could never die…

Larry Ivie filled in some useful background on the war against the Warlord in the prose adventure ‘Face to Face’ before the third agent was chosen in ‘The Enemy Within’ (also with no script credit but illustrated by Gil Kane, Mike Esposito and George Tuska). Here, however, is where the creators stepped well outside comic-book conventions. John Janus was the perfect UN employee and super-agent candidate: a mental and physical marvel who easily passed all the tests necessary to wear the Jennings helmet.

Sadly he was also a deep-cover mole for the Warlord, poised to betray T.H.U.N.D.E.R. at the earliest opportunity…

All those nefarious plans went awry once he donned the helmet and became Menthor. The device awakened the potential of his mind, granting him telepathy, telekinesis and mid-reading powers – and also drove all evil from his mind whilst he wore it. When the warlord attacked with a small army and a giant monster, Menthor was compelled by his own costume to defeat the assault. What a dilemma for a traitor to be in…

‘T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad’, by Ivie, Mike Sekowsky & Frank Giacoia, is a rip-roaring yarn featuring an infallible elite team of non-powered specialist operatives (predating TV’s Mission: Impossible outfit by almost two years) who tackled cases the super-agents were too busy or unsuited for.

In this initial outing the Squad rush to defend their Weapons Development Center from a full paramilitary assault only to discover that it’s a feint and Dynamo has been captured by the Warlord…

The first issue then ends with a massive old-fashioned team-up as all the forces of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. converge to rescue their prime agent who is ‘At the Mercy of the Iron Maiden’ (Brown, Wood & Dan Adkins): a spectacular battle blockbuster that still takes the breath away…

As always, issue #2 led with the strongman star as ‘Dynamo Battles Dynavac’ (Brown, Wood & Richard Bassford): another colossal combat classic with the hapless hero getting a severe kicking from a deadly automaton. Once again a narrative thread stretched through the disparate solo tales as the hero’s girlfriend and fellow agent Alice was kidnapped…

NoMan was ‘In the Warlord’s Power’ (Bill Pearson, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando & Wood) when an army of Zombie-men attacked a missile base and the evil overlord found a way to take control of Dunn’s android frame after which Menthor again defied his master to defeat a Warlord scheme to destroy T.H.U.N.D.E.R. HQ (illustrated by Sekowsky & Giacoia) before ‘D-Day for Dynamo’ (with art from Wood, Adkins & Tony Coleman) pits the assembled heroes – reunited to rescue Alice – against Demo, the Dynavac unit and the Warlord forces in an all-out war with atomic consequences.

Here the series took a fantastic turn as the Warlord is revealed to be an agent of a subterranean race of conquerors…

Prose piece ‘Junior T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents’, neatly segues into another T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad thriller as the team respond ‘On the Double’ to a South American crisis involving mutant monsters, Communist insurgents and bloody revolution in a classy caper illustrated by the Sekowsky/Giacoia team.

Drawn by Adkins, Wood & Coleman ‘Dynamo Battles the Subterraneans’ opened the third issue as the Warlord’s macabre mole-men masters attacked Washington DC, after which ‘NoMan Faces the Threat of the Amazing Vibraman’ (Pearson, John Giunta, Wood & Coleman) sees a far more plebeian but no less deadly masked menace ended by the undying agent.

Dynamo almost becomes a propaganda victim of Communist agitator ‘The Red Dragon’ (Adkins, Wood & Coleman) whilst the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad battle a madman who manufactures his own ‘Invaders from the Deep’ (another uncredited script limned by Sekowsky & Giacoia) before main event ‘Dynamo vs. Menthor’ (Wood, Adkins & Coleman) poses a terrifying mystery as a trusted agent almost destroys the entire organisation…

With a scattering of captivating Fact File pin-ups by Wood & Adkins featuring Dynamo, NoMan, the Thunderbelt, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad and Menthor, the visual excitement in this issue is beyond price.

Dynamo tale ‘Master of Evolution’ (Brown, Wood, Adkins & Coleman) opens the fourth issue with a dinosaur bashing extravaganza, whilst the fiendish Mastermind arrayed his own android armies against the Artificial Agent in ‘The Synthetic Stand-Ins’ by Steve Skeates, Sekowsky & Giacoia, after which the same team debut the latest super-agent in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad saga ‘The Deadly Dust’ after a Nazi scientist uses a time-retarding dust for evil and the heroes respond with a reflex-enhancing super-speed suit.

This first case for hyper-fast Lightning was followed by a Dynamo milestone. ‘The Return of the Iron Maiden’ was drawn by Crandall, Wood & Adkins and saw the Armoured Inamorata betray her latest employer Dr. Death for the good-hearted hunk of man sent to arrest her.

Finally, the mystery of Menthor is partially resolved in fast-paced thriller ‘The Great Hypno’ (illustrated by Giunta, Wood & Coleman), and of course the storytelling extravaganza is supported by more fantastic art extras in the form of NoMan in Action! and The Origin of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Fact Pages.

These are truly timeless comic tales that improve with every reading, so why not add these landmark superhero spy sagas to your collection of all-time favourites?
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 1 © 2013 Radiant Assets LLC.. All rights reserved.

S.H.I.E.L.D. by Lee & Kirby: The Complete Collection


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neil, John Severin, Don Heck, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, Howard Purcell, Ogden Whitney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9901-4

Veteran war-hero Nick Fury debuted in Fantastic Four #21 (December 1963): a grizzled, world-weary and cunning CIA Colonel at the periphery of the really big adventures.

What was odd about that? Well, the gruffly capable everyman was already the star of the minor publisher’s only war comic, set twenty years earlier in (depending on whether you were American or European…) the middle or beginning of World War II.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos was an improbable, decidedly over-the-top and raucous combat comics series, similar in tone to later movies such as The Wild Bunch or The Dirty Dozen and had launched in May of that year. Although Fury’s later self became a big-name star when espionage yarns went global in the wake of popular sensations like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the elder iteration was given a second series beginning in Strange Tales #135 (August 1965).

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Conquest by a subversive, all-encompassing, hidden enemy organisation. The saga came with captivating Kirby-designed super-science gadgetry and, later, iconic imagineering from Jim Steranko whose visually groundbreaking graphic narratives took the art form to a whole new level (but that’s a subject of another Complete Collection…).

For those few brief years with Steranko in charge, the S.H.I.E.L.D. series was one of the best strips in America – if not the world – but when the writer/artist left just as the global spy-fad was fading, the whole concept faded into the background architecture of the Marvel Universe…

This astounding full-colour paperback compendium, however, deals with the outrageous, groundbreaking, but still still carefully wedded-to-mundane-reality iteration which set the scene. Here Jack Kirby’s genius for gadgetry and gift for dramatic staging mixed with Stan Lee’s manic melodrama to create a tough and tense series which the new writers and veteran artists that followed turned into a non-stop riot of action and suspense…

This stunning hardback omnibus gathers those early days of spycraft; comprising Fantastic Four #21, Tales of Suspense #78 and Strange Tales #135-150 – spanning December 1963 to November 1966 – and providing timeless thrills for lovers of adventure and intrigue.

Fantastic Four #21 introduced the latter-day Fury as a CIA agent seeking the team’s aid against a sinister demagogue called ‘The Hate-Monger’ (by Lee & Kirby with inks by comics veteran George Roussos, under the protective nom-de-plume George Bell) just as the 1960s espionage vogue was taking off, inspired by James Bond films and TV shows like Danger Man.

Fury craftily manipulated Marvel’s First Family into invading a sovereign nation in the throes of revolution in a yarn cracking with tension and action.

The main event starts next as Strange Tales #135 (August 1965) saw the Human Torch solo feature replaced by Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. – which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division

In the rocket-paced first episode, Fury is asked to volunteer for the most dangerous job in the world: leading a new counter-intelligence agency dedicated to stopping secretive subversive organisation Hydra. With assassins dogging his every move, the Take-Charge Guy with the Can-Do Attitude quickly proves he is ‘The Man for the Job!’ in a potent twelve-page thriller from Lee, Kirby & Dick Ayers.

Even an artist and plotter of Kirby’s calibre couldn’t handle another strip at that busiest of times so from the next issue “The King” cut back to laying out episodes, allowing a variety of superb draughtsmen to flesh out the adventures. Even so, there’s probably a stunning invention or cool concept on almost every page that follows…

‘Find Fury or Die!’ brought veteran draughtsman John Severin back to the company; pencilling and inking the Kirby’s blueprints as Fury becomes the target of incessant assassination attempts and we are introduced to the masked Supreme Hydra

The tension ramps up in the next instalment as a number of contenders are introduced – any of whom might be the obscured overlord of evil – even as S.H.I.E.L.D. strives mightily but fails to stop Hydra launching its deadly Betatron Bomb in ‘The Prize is… Earth!’

Despite the restrictions of the Comics Code, these early S.H.I.E.L.D. stories were stark and grim and frequently carried a heavy body count. Four valiant agents died in quick succession in #137 and the next issue underscored the point in ‘Sometimes the Good Guys Lose!’ with further revelations of Hydra’s inner workings.

Fury and fellow Howling Commando war heroes Dum-Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones meanwhile played catch-up after Hydra assassins invade S.H.I.E.L.D. and almost eradicate Fury and munitions genius Tony Stark: the only man capable of destroying the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over the world. Although Nick saves the inventor, he is captured in the process…

Tortured by Hydra in #139’s ‘The Brave Die Hard!’ (with Joe Sinnott replacing Severin as finisher) Fury finds an unlikely ally in Laura Brown: Supreme Hydra’s daughter and a young woman bitterly opposed to her father’s megalomaniacal madness.

Even with only half a comic book per month to tell a tale, creators didn’t hang around in those halcyon days and #140 promised ‘The End of Hydra!’ (Don Heck & Sinnott) as a S.H.I.E.L.D. squad invades the enemy’s inner sanctum to rescue the already-free-and-making-mayhem Fury, just as Stark travels into space to remove the Betratron Bomb with his robotic Braino-Saur system. The end result left Hydra temporarily headless…

Strange Tales #141 saw Kirby return to full pencils (inked by Frank Giacoia pseudonymously moonlighting as Frank Ray) for the mop-up and ‘Operation: Brain Blast!’ as Mentallo – a renegade from S.H.I.E.L.D. ESP division – joined with technological savant the Fixer to attack the organisation as the first step in an ambitious scheme to rule the world.

The raid began in ‘Who Strikes at… S.H.I.E.L.D.?’ (illustrated by Kirby with Mike Demeo – AKA – Esposito) with the deadly rogues hitting hard and fast: seizing and mind-controlling Fury before strapping him to a mini-H-bomb. None too soon, however, Dugan and the boys come blasting in ‘To Free a Brain Slave’ in #143 with Howard Purcell & Esposito embellishing Kirby’s layouts.

A new and deadly threat emerged in #144 as ‘The Day of the Druid!’ saw a mystic charlatan target Fury and his agents with murderous flying techno-ovoids. Happily, new S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit Jasper Sitwell was on hand to augment the triumphant fightback in ‘Lo! The Eggs Shall Hatch!’ by Heck & Esposito over Kirby.

As Marvel continuity grew evermore interlinked, ‘Them!’ saw Captain America team with Fury in the first of the Star-Spangled Avenger’s many adventures as a (more-or-less) Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Taken from Tales of Suspense #78 (June 1966: scripted by Lee with Kirby full pencils and Giacoia inks), the story saw the WWII wonders battling an artificial assassin with incredible chemical capabilities after which Nick sought the creature’s mysterious makers in Strange Tales #146 ‘When the Unliving Strike!’ (Kirby, Heck & Esposito).

As technological Special Interests group Advanced Idea Mechanics courted Fury’s governmental and military masters, promising incredible weapons if only they sacked that barbaric slob Fury, the S.H.I.E.L.D. supremo was getting close to exposing A.I.M.’s connection to “Them” and an old enemy thought long gone…

A concerted whispering campaign and “briefing-against” seemingly sees Fury ousted in ‘The Enemy Within!’ and put on trial in ‘Death Before Dishonor!’ (scripted by Kirby with Heck & Esposito finishing his layouts) but it’s all part of a cunning counter-plan which results in a shattering conclusion and ‘The End of A.I.M.!’ in #149 (with script from Denny O’Neil, and art by Kirby & Ogden Whitney).

As depicted by Lee, Kirby, John Buscema & Giacoia, a malign and devilishly subtle plan is finally uncovered in Strange Tales #150 as Fury’s team put together clues from all the previous year’s clashes and come to one terrifying conclusion: ‘Hydra Lives!’

This sets the scene for the bombastic debut by Jim Steranko, but that’s to be seen in another collection at another time…

Here the epic espionage extravaganza wraps up with appetising Afterword ‘Against the Hordes of Hydra’ by Lee and a treasure trove of original art pages comprising covers, pencils and inked pages – and even try-out pages – by Kirby, Severin, Whitney and Buscema, plus a rousing 1965 House Ad plugging not just the Espionage elite but the simultaneously debuting Sub-Mariner strip in Tales to Astonish #70.

Fast, furious and fantastically entertaining, these high-octane vintage yarns are a superb snapshot of early Marvel Comics at their creative peak and should be part of every fanboy’s shelf of beloved favourites.
© 2015 Marvel Characters. Inc. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer: The Francis Blake Affair


By Jean Van Hamme & Ted Benoit (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-63-2

Belgian Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs (1904-1987) is one of the founding fathers of the Continental comics industry. Although his output was relatively modest compared to many of his iconic contemporaries, Jacobs’ landmark serialised life’s work – starring scientific troubleshooters Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake – practically formed the backbone of the modern action-adventure comic in Europe.

His splendidly adroit, roguish yet thoroughly British adventurers were conceived and realised for the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin in 1946, and quickly became a crucial staple of life for post-war European kids – much as Dan Dare was in 1950s Britain.

After decades of fantastic exploits the series apparently ended with the eleventh album. The story had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in Tintin but after the first volume was completed the author simply abandoned his story due to failing health and personal issues.

Jacobs died on February 20th 1987 before completing extended adventure Les 3 formules du professeur Satō.

The concluding volume – Mortimer contre Mortimer – was only released in March 1990 after veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor (Bart de Scheepsjongen, Monsieur Tric, Balthazar, Barelli and many others) was commissioned by the Jacobs family and estate to complete the tale from the grand originator’s pencils and notes.

The long-postponed release led to a republishing of all the earlier volumes, followed in 1996 by new adventures from two separate creative teams hired by the Jacobs Studio…

The first was the L’Affaire Francis Blake by Jean Van Hamme (Thorgal, XIII, Largo Winch) & Thierry “Ted” Benoit (Bingo Bongo et son Combo Congolais, Ray Banana) which settled itself into a comfortably defined and familiar mid-1950s milieu whilst unfolding a rousing tale of espionage and double-dealing.

The tale also controversially omitted the fantastic elements of futuristic fiction and fringe science which had characterised Jacobs’ creation. The story also focused on the cool, suave MI5 officer rather than bombastic, belligerent boffin and inveterate scene-stealer Professor Mortimer…

It all begins in the highest echelons of the government’s security services as news of a mole reaches the press and creates a scandal. MI5 chief Francis Blake carefully explains how difficult tracking the infiltrator has become, but none of the great men in the room have any patience for excuses…

Blake explains the dilemma to Mortimer at their Club that evening, but events are unfolding which will soon curtail their cosy get-togethers. British surveillance operatives may be slow but they are inexorably steady and when a photograph of a drop-off reveals that Blake himself is the traitor, MI5 moves quickly to arrest their disgraced leader. Unmasked, the spy master only escapes detention through a spectacular fast getaway across London, leaving shocked friends and associates in his wake.

Despite a mountain of damning evidence, Mortimer cannot believe his greatest ally against evil is a money-hungry villain and begins his own investigations, despite also being the subject of an MI5 watch team. The scientist is also keenly aware that in regard of man with all the secrets like Blake, death is preferable to capture as far as his pursuers are concerned.

Ditching his government shadows Mortimer also goes on the run…

Naturally Captain Blake is completely innocent, and has been playing his own deep game. Now, having has shaken loose the real traitor, our cunning hero has gone straight to the mastermind behind the infiltration of the security services. Sadly that human devil has not been fooled for a moment and acts accordingly…

Mortimer meanwhile has trailed his friends through some skilfully laid clues and breadcrumbs; uncovering Blake’s secret army of off-the-books, utterly loyal sleeper agents who render him every assistance as he closes in on Blake and the true masterminds behind an unbelievably bold plot…

With the country in an uproar, Mortimer heads ever-northward, having deduced Blake’s intended final destination and the incredible real motive behind all the cloak-&-dagger skulduggery. He arrives just in time for a grand reunion with his old comrade and a blistering battle against the forces of evil and subversion threatening our way of life…

Strongly founded upon and in many ways a loving tribute to John Buchan’s classic thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps, this is a devious and convoluted spook show to delight espionage aficionados and a solidly entertaining addition to the canon of the Gentleman Adventurers.
Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1996 by Ted Benoit & Jean Van Hamme. All rights reserved. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.