Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde volume 3: The Birthday of the Infanta


Adapted by P. Craig Russell with Galen Showman (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-214-5 (Signed HC)        978-1-56163-775-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Comicbook Gift of the Graphic Magi… 9/10

Craig Russell began his illustrious career in comics during the early 1970s and came to fame young with a groundbreaking run on science fiction adventure series Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds.

Although his increasingly fanciful, meticulous classicist style was derived from the great illustrators of Victorian and Edwardian heroic fantasy and his visual flourishes of Art Nouveau were greatly at odds with the sausage-factory deadlines and sensibilities of the mainstream comicbook industry, the sheer power and beauty of his illustrative work made him a huge draw.

By the 1980s he had largely retired from the merciless daily grind, preferring to work on his own projects (generally adapting operas and plays into sequential narratives) whilst undertaking the occasional high-profile Special for the majors – such as Dr. Strange Annual 1976 (totally reworked and re-released as Dr. Strange: What Is It that Disturbs You, Stephen? in 1996) or Batman: Robin 3000.

As our industry grew up and coincided with the global fantasy boom, Russell returned to the comics industry with Marvel Graphic Novel: Elric (1982), further adapting prose tales of Michael Moorcock’s iconic sword-&-sorcery star in the magazine Epic Illustrated and elsewhere.

Russell’s stage-arts adaptations had begun appearing in 1978: first in the independent Star*Reach specials Night Music and Parsifal and then from 1984 at Eclipse Comics where the revived Night Music became an anthological series showcasing his earlier experimental adaptations; not just operatic dramas but also tales from Kipling’s Jungle Books and other favourite literary landmarks.

In 1992, he began adapting the two volumes of Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde – a mission he continues to date, deftly balancing tales of pious allegorical wonderment with a wry touch and clear, heartfelt joy in the originating material of a mercurial misunderstood, much-maligned master of devastating, so-quotable epigrams who was briefly the most popular man in London Society…

First published in May 1888, The Happy Prince and Other Tales was Oscar Fingall O’Flahertie Wills Wilde’s first book for children with the lead story merely one of a quintet of literary gems. The others within were The Nightingale and the Rose, The Devoted Friend, The Remarkable Rocket and The Selfish Giant.

It was followed in 1891 by A House of Pomegranates; Wilde’s second book of stories for children which held The Young King, The Fisherman and his Soul, The Star-Child and our subject today The Birthday of the Infanta, with adaptor Russell utilising all his skills to staggering effect to deliver a masterpiece of sardonic whimsy and casual cruelty.

In the glittering court of the King of Spain, the monarch is celebrating his beautiful daughter’s twelfth birthday. For such an occasion the normally closeted, haughty child is allowed to play with other, lesser youngsters whilst conniving courtiers look on and seek any moment of advantage which might further their own prospects.

There’s little chance of that, however. The King is not the man he was and has languished in growing misery since his beloved wife died soon after delivering the sole heir. So bereft is he at the loss of his flighty French bride’s boundless spirit and joyous joie de vivre that he cannot bear to have her interred. Instead her mummified corpse still occupies the chapel in the grand palace…

Thus the Infanta grew up isolated by her elevated position and swamped with magnificence, drowning in privilege and inundated in all things beautiful, but deprived of companionship. Today she takes full advantage of the youthful playthings around her, revelling in every boisterous dance and all attentions paid by the sons and daughters of the Court. The entertainments are even more thrilling: acrobats, jugglers, jongleurs, dancers, magicians and wild beasts all amaze, but nothing delights the lovely child more than the hideous, malformed dwarf-boy who dances for her, lost in his own simple, insensate world.

The deformed, inadvertent fool is a present from two particularly noxious nobles who had seen him capering innocently in the forests and promptly made off with him. The blithe simpleton knows nothing of this, only that his actions in this immaculate garden of boughs and flowers make the most beautiful creature in the world happy… and that her laughter is music to him…

His idiot caperings concluded, the dwarf is given a perfect white rose by the Infanta before the nobles’ children are escorted away. This casual, indifferent act drives him to even greater paroxysms and in his head a dangerous idea forms…

Later he sneaks into the Palace, finding room after room of breathtaking opulence and dazzling magnificence until he reaches at last the Infanta’s apartments. Curiously peeking in, he spies a coarse, misshapen monster mimicking his every move. Never has he seen such a thing of such utter ugliness…

What follows is one of the saddest, most relentless withering denouements in literature; a thinly-veiled yet ferocious condemnation of the brutal force of vanity and deadly power of surface glamour devastatingly depicted with debilitating detail by Russell and his assistant/letterer Galen Showman.

Bring tissues, and probably a stiff drink. You’ll need them.

A deeply moving, studiously horrific and truly tragic fairytale that shows not all endings are happy or even just, The Birthday of the Infanta displays Wilde’s razor-edged social commentary and scathingly beautiful cynicism to full effect; denying us the requisite happy ending and harbouring a cruel barb to prick and train the conscience…

This unsettling yet unmissable adaptation signalled another high point in Russell’s astounding career: another milestone in the long, slow transition of an American mass market medium into a genuine art form.

Most importantly, this and the other volumes in the series are incredibly lovely and irresistibly readable examples of superb writing (so please read Wilde’s original prose tomes too) and sublime examples of comics at their most potent.
© 1998 P. Craig Russell. All rights reserved.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 1


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Carmine Infantino, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6111-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comic Perfection and the ideal Stocking Stuffer… 10/10

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – by which we mean the launch of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s progress was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was irrefutably proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces.

Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick…

And so the Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comic books, and, when Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, the key moment would come a few years with the inevitable teaming of reconfigured mystery men…

When wedded to the relatively unchanged big guns who had weathered the first fall of the Superhero at the beginning of the 1950s the result was a new, modern, Space-Age version of the Justice Society of America and the birth of a new mythology.

When the Justice League of America was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) it cemented the growth and validity of the genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comics in America and even spread to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Spanning March 1960 to January 1962, this latest paperback collection of timeless classics re-presents The Brave and the Bold #28-30 and Justice League of America #1-8 and also includes a titanic team-up from Mystery in Space #75 (May 1962).

That moment that changed everything for us baby-boomers came with issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold, a classical adventure title that had recently become a try-out magazine like Showcase.

Just in time for Christmas 1959 ads began running…

“Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!”

Released with a March 1960 cover-date, that first tale was written by the indefatigable Gardner Fox and illustrated by the quirky and understated Mike Sekowsky, inked by Bernard Sachs, Joe Giella and Murphy Anderson.

‘Starro the Conqueror’ saw Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars defeat a marauding alien starfish whilst Superman and Batman stood by (in those naive days editors feared that their top characters could be “over-exposed” and consequently lose popularity). The team also picked up an average American kid as a mascot. “Typical teenager” Snapper Carr would prove a focus of fan controversy for decades to come…

Confident of his material and the superhero genre’s fresh appeal Schwartz had two more thrillers ready for the following issues. B&B #29 saw the team defeat a marauder from the future who apparently had history on his side in ‘The Challenge of the Weapons Master’ (inks by Sachs and Giella) whilst #30 saw the debut of the team’s first mad-scientist arch-villain in the form of Professor Ivo and his super android Amazo. ‘The Case of the Stolen Super Powers’ by Fox, Sekowsky & Sachs ended the tryout run and three months later a new bi-monthly title debuted.

Perhaps somewhat sedate by histrionic modern standards, the JLA was revolutionary in a comics marketplace where less than 10% of all sales featured costumed adventurers. Not only public imagination was struck by hero teams either.

Stan Lee was apparently given a copy of Justice League by his boss Martin Goodman and told to do something similar for the tottering comics company he ran – and look what came of that!

Justice League of America #1 featured ‘The World of No Return’, introducing trans-dimensional tyrant Despero to bedevil the World’s Greatest Heroes, but once again plucky Snapper Carr was the key to defeating the villain and saving the day.

The second issue, ‘Secret of the Sinister Sorcerers’, presented an astounding conundrum. The villains of Magic-Land sneakily transposed the location of their dimension with Earth’s, causing the Laws of Science to be replaced with the Lore of Mysticism. The true mettle of the costumed crusader heroes (and by this time Superman and Batman were allowed a more active part in the proceedings) was shown when they had to use ingenuity rather than their powers to defeat their fearsome foes and set two worlds to rights.

Issue #3 introduced the despicable Kanjar Ro who attempted to turn the team into his personal army in ‘The Slave Ship of Space’, and with the next episode the first of many new members joined the team.

Although somewhat chronologically adrift there’s solid sense in placing the next tale in this position as Mystery in Space #75 (May 1962), as the team guest-star in a full-length thriller starring Adam Strange.

Strange was an Earth archaeologist who regularly teleported to a planet circling Alpha Centauri where his wits and ingenuity saved the citizens of Rann from all sorts of interplanetary threats.

In ‘The Planet that came to a Standstill!’, Kanjar Ro attempts to conquer Strange’s adopted home, and our gallant hero has to enlist the aid of the JLA before once again saving the day himself. This classic team-up was written by Fox, and illustrated by the irreplaceable Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson.

Green Arrow saved the day in the science-fiction thriller ‘Doom of the Star Diamond’, but was almost kicked out in #5 as the insidious Doctor Destiny inadvertently framed him ‘When Gravity Went Wild!’

‘The Wheel of Misfortune’ saw the debut of pernicious and persistent master of wild science Professor Amos Fortune, who used weaponised luck to challenge the masked marvels whilst #7 was another alien invasion plot centred on an amusement park, or more specifically ‘The Cosmic Fun-House!’.

The never-ending parade of perils then concludes for the moment with January 1962’s JLA #8. ‘For Sale… the Justice League!’ is a smart crime caper wherein a cheap hood finds a mind-control weapon that enslaves the team before simple Snapper once again saves the day.

These tales are a perfect example of all that was best about the Silver Age of comics, combining optimism and ingenuity with bonhomie and adventure. This slice of better times also has the benefit of cherishing wonderment whilst actually being historically valid for any fan of our medium. And best of all the stories here are still captivating and enthralling transports of delight.

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern fans who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic – especially with forthcoming iterations of the team due in both TV animation and live action movie formats.
© 1960, 1961, 1962, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Chronicles volume 10


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, John Sikela, Leo Nowak, Ed Dobrotka, George Roussos, Jack Burnley, Fred Ray & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3488-1

Without doubt the creation of Superman and his unprecedented adoption by a desperate and joy-starved generation quite literally gave birth to a genre if not an actual art form.

Within three years of his Summer 1938 debut, the intoxicating mix of eye-popping action and social wish-fulfilment which hallmarked the early exploits of the Man of Tomorrow had grown to encompass cops-and-robbers crime-busting, reforming dramas, science fiction, fantasy and even whimsical comedy, but once the war in Europe and the East snared America’s consciousness, combat themes and patriotic imagery dominated most comicbook covers if not interiors.

In comic book terms at least Superman was master of the world, and had already utterly changed the shape of the fledgling industry. There was the popular newspaper strip, a thrice-weekly radio serial, games, toys, foreign and overseas syndication and the Fleischer studio’s astounding animated cartoons.

Thankfully the quality of the source material was increasing with every four-colour release and the energy and enthusiasm of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster had informed and infected the burgeoning studio that grew around them to cope with the relentless demand.

Superman was definitely every kid’s hero, as confirmed in this classic compendium, and the raw, untutored yet captivating episodes reprinted here had also been completely embraced by the wider public, as comicbooks became a vital tonic for the troops and all the ones they had left behind…

I sometimes think – like many others I know – that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when they were whole-heartedly combating global fascism with explosive, improbable excitement courtesy of a myriad of mysterious, masked marvel men.

All the most evocatively visceral moments of the genre seem to come when gaudy gladiators soundly thrashed – and I hope you’ll please forgive the offensive contemporary colloquialism – “Nips and Nazis”.

However, even in those long-ago dark days, comics creators were wise enough to offset their tales of espionage and imminent invasion with a barrage of home-grown threats and gentler or even more whimsical four-colour fare…

This tenth astounding Superman chronological chronicle – collecting #18-19 of his solo title, episodes from flagship anthology Action Comics #53-55 and the Man of Steel segment of World’s Finest Comics #7 (covering September to December 1942) – sees the World’s Premier Superhero pre-eminent at the height of those war years: a vibrant, vital role-model and indomitable champion whose sensational exploits spawned a host of imitators, a genre and an industry.

Behind the stunning covers by Jack Burnley and Fred Ray – depicting our hero smashing scurrilous Axis War-mongers and reminding readers what we were all fighting for – scripter Siegel – who authored everything in this volume – was crafting some of the best stories of his career, showing the Action Ace in all his morale-boosting glory; thrashing thugs, spies and masters of Weird science whilst America kicked the fascist aggressors in the pants…

Co-creator Joe Shuster, although plagued by punishing deadlines for the Superman newspaper strip and rapidly failing eyesight, was still fully involved in the process, overseeing the stories and drawing character faces whenever possible, but as the months passed the talent pool of the “Superman Studio” increasingly took the lead in the comicbooks as the demands of the media superstar grew and grew.

Thus most of the stories in this volume were illustrated by studio stalwarts John Sikela, Leo Nowak and Ed Dobrotka with occasional support from others…

The debut of Superman had propelled National Comics to the forefront of the fledgling industry. In 1939 the company collaborated with the organisers of the New York World’s Fair: producing a commemorative comicbook celebrating the opening. The Man of Tomorrow prominently featured on the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics beside such four-colour stars as Zatara, Gingersnap and The Sandman.

He starred again a year later in the sequel issue with newly-launched Batman and Robin in another epochal mass-market premium – World’s Fair 1940.

The monolithic 96-page card-cover anthologies were a huge hit and convinced National’s Powers-That-Be to release a regularly scheduled over-sized package of their pantheon of characters, with Superman and Batman prominently featured.

The bountiful format was retained for a wholly company-owned quarterly which retailed for the then-hefty price of 15¢. Launching as World’s Best Comics #1 (Spring 1941), the book transformed into World’s Finest Comics from #2, beginning a stellar 45 year run which only ended as part of the massive decluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Here – illustrated by Nowak & Sikela – the thrills begin with ‘The Eight Doomed Men’ (World’s Finest Comics #7); a tale involving a coterie of ruthless millionaires targeted for murder because of the wicked past deeds of their privileged college fraternity. This enthralling crime mystery is suitably spiced up with flamboyant high-tech weaponry that pushes the Action Ace to his limits…

Superman #18 (September/October 1942) then offers a quartet of stunning sagas, leading with the all-Sikela’s ‘The Conquest of a City’ wherein Nazi infiltrators used a civil defence drill to infiltrate the National Guard and conquer Metropolis in the Fuehrer’s name until Superman spearheads the counter-attack, whilst in Nowak’s ‘The Heat Horror’ an artificial asteroid threatens to burn the city to ashes until the Metropolis Marvel defeats Lex Luthor, the manic mastermind who aimed it at Earth.

‘The Man with the Cane’ offers a grand, old-fashioned and highly entertaining espionage murder mystery for Ed Dobrotka & Sikela to illustrate after which Superman takes on his first fully costumed super-villain after ‘The Snake’ perpetrates a string of murders during construction of a river tunnel in a moody masterpiece drawn by Nowak.

Sikela is inked by George Roussos on fantastic thriller ‘The Man Who put Out the Sun!’ from Action Comics #53, wherein bird-themed menace Night-Owl uses “black light” technology and ruthless gangsters to plunder at will until the Man of Steel takes charge, whilst in #54 ‘The Pirate of Pleasure Island!’ (Sikela) follows the foredoomed career of upstanding citizen Stanley Finchcomb, a seemingly civilised descendent of ruthless buccaneers, who succumbs to madness and becomes a modern day merciless marine marauder. Or perhaps he truly was possessed by the merciless spirit of his ancestor Captain Ironfist in this enchanting supernatural thriller…?

A classic (and much reprinted) fantasy shocker opened Superman #19. ‘The Case of the Funny Paper Crimes’ (by Sikela & Dobrotka) saw bizarre desperado Funnyface bring the larger-than-life villains of the Daily Planet’s comics page to terrifying life in a grab for loot and power, after which ‘Superman’s Amazing Adventure’ (Nowak) finds the Man of Tomorrow battling incredible creatures in an incredible extra-dimensional realm – but all is not as it seems…

Some of the city’s most vicious criminals are commanded to kill a stray dog by the infamous Mr. Z in ‘The Canine and the Crooks’ (Nowak) and it takes all of Clark and Lois Lane’s deductive skills to ascertain why before ‘Superman, Matinee Idol’ breaks the fourth wall for readers as the reporters visit a movie house to see a Superman cartoon in a shameless but exceedingly inventive and thrilling “infomercial” plug for the Fleischer Brothers cartoons then currently astounding movie-goers; all lovingly rendered by Shuster and inked by Sikela.

This latest leaf through times gone by concludes with a witty and whimsical Li’l Abner spoof illustrated by Sikela & Dobrotka. ‘A Goof named Tiny Rufe’ focuses on desperate cartoonist Slapstick Sam who plagiarises – and ruins – the simple lives of a couple of naïve hillbillies to fill his idea-empty panels and pages until Superman intercedes to give the hicks their lives back and the devious dauber the drubbing he so richly deserves……

Although the gaudy burlesque of evil aliens, marauding monsters and slick super-villains still lay years ahead of Superman, these captivating tales of villainy, criminality, corruption and disaster are just as engrossing and speak powerfully of the tenor of the times.

Most importantly all problems are dealt with in a direct and captivating manner by our relentlessly entertaining champion in summarily swift and decisive fashion. No “To Be Continueds…” here!

As fresh, thrilling and compelling now as they ever were, the endlessly re-readable epics re-presented here are perfectly presented in these glorious paperback collections where the graphic magic defined what being a Super Hero means and with every tale defined the basic iconography of the genre for all others to follow.

These Golden Age tales are priceless enjoyment at absurdly affordable prices and in a durable, comfortingly approachable format. What dedicated comics fan could possibly resist them?
© 1942, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Complete Peanuts volume 1: 1950-1952


By Charles Schulz (Canongate Books/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84767-031-1 (Canongate):        978-1-56097-589-2 (Fantagraphics)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: All that’s great about cartoon strips… 10/10

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal.

Cartoonist Charles M Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for half a century. He published 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000 and died from the complications of cancer the day before his last strip was published…

At its height the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since his departure. Attendant book collections, a merchandising bonanza and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

None of that is really the point. Peanuts – a title Schulz despised, but one which the syndicate forced upon him – changed the way comics strips were received and perceived, and showed that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punch lines.

Following a typically garrulous, charming and informative Introduction from fellow Minnesotan – and possibly kindred spirit – Garrison Keillor, this mammoth (218 x 33x 172 mm) landscape hardback compendium offers the first two and a bit years. Here a prototypical, rather outgoing and jolly Charlie Brown and high-maintenance mutt Snoopy joined with bombastic Shermy and mercurial Patty in hanging out doing kid things.

These include playing, playing pranks, playing sports such as tennis, golf and baseball, playing musical instruments, teasing each other, making baffled observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown ups. Fans of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes will feel eerie familiarity with much of the hijinks and larks of these episodes.

As new characters Violet, infant prodigy Schroeder, and Lucy and her strange baby brother Linus were added to the mix, the boisterous rush of the series began to imperceptibly settle into a more contemplative pace. Charlie Brown began to adopt his eternal loser, singled-out-by-fate persona and the sheer diabolical wilfulness of Lucy began to sharpen itself on everyone around her…

The first Sunday page debuted on January 6th 1952; a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than the daily. Both thwarted ambition and explosive frustration became part of the strip’s signature denouements…

By the end of 1952 the rapid-fire gags had evolved from raucous slapstick to surreal, edgy, psychologically barbed introspection, crushing judgements and deep rumination in a world where kids – and certain animals – were the only actors. The relationships however, were increasingly deep, complex and absorbing even though “Sparky” Schulz never deviated from his core message: entertain…

David Michaelis then celebrates and deconstructs ‘The Life and Times of Charles M. Schulz’ after which Gary Groth and Rick Marschall conduct ‘An Interview with Charles M. Schulz’ rounding out our glimpse of the dolorous graphic genius with intimate revelations and reminiscences whilst a copious ‘Index’ offers instant access to favourite scenes you’d like to see again….

Readily available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions this initial volume offers a rare example of a masterpiece in motion: comedy gold and social glue gradually metamorphosing in an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery which became part of the fabric of billions of lives, and which continues to do so long after its maker’s passing.
The Complete Peanuts: 1950-1952 (volume 1) © 2004 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. Introduction © 2004 Garrison Keillor. “The Life and Times of Charles M. Schulz” © 2000 David Michaelis. “An Interview with Charles M. Schulz” © 2004 Gary Groth and Richard Marschall. All other material copyright its respective owners. All rights reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz volume 3 1922-1924: “At Last my Drim of Life Has Come True”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-477-1

The cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is unquestionably a pinnacle of graphic innovation, a hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these glorious commemorative collected tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which can only be appreciated on its own terms. It developed a unique language – at once both visual and verbal – and dealt with the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding without ever offending anybody.

Sadly however it baffled far more than a few…

It was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multilayered verbal and pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been cropping up in his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Krazy Kat debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and, largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct influence and interference, gradually spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (notably – but not exclusively – e.e. Cummings, Frank Capra, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and later Jack Kerouac) all adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the comics section.

Eventually the feature found a home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s heavy-handed patronage, the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse: rude crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; drinking, stealing, constantly neglecting his wife and children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by smiting the Kat with a well-aimed brick (obtained singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly) which the smitten kitten invariably deems tokens of equally recondite affection.

The third crucial element completing an animalistic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, who is completely besotted with Krazy, well aware of the Mouse’s true nature, but hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is blithely oblivious of Pupp’s dilemma…

Also populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as dreaded deliverer of unplanned, and generally unwanted, babies Joe Stork; hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury trickster Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable – often unintelligible – Chinese mallard Mock Duck, Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters – all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (based on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“He’s simpfilly wondafil”, “l’il dahlink” “is it pussible?” or “It aint kendy afta all – it’s a brick”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick.

There have been numerous Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting audience. This third volume – covering 1922-1924 in a reassuringly big and hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) softcover edition – completes the controversial, tempest-tossed feature’s run of full-page comic strips and also includes a legendary run of full-colour extra pages Herriman produced in a last-ditch attempt to escape a largely intellectual ghetto and break into the lives of John Q. Public.

The colour works – intense, expansive but never dumbed down – are some of Herriman’s very best and most inspired, but they still failed to hit with the bustling hoi polloi way back then…

Context, background and possible explanations are delivered by Bill Blackbeard in his effusive essay ‘A Kat of Many Kolors: Jazz Pantomime and the Funny Papers in 1922’ describing the creation of the rainbow-hued Saturday specials – which ran for 10 Saturdays from January 7th to March 11th 1922 – and the text feature also covers the tragically lost modern dance ballet created by composer John Alden Carpenter.

After this comes samples of an earlier Herriman strip ‘Little Tommy Tattles’ from 1903 and Michael Tisserand’s scholarly expose ‘Better Late Than Never: Herriman’s First Daily Strip Finally Unearthed!’ describing – with a vast hoard of compelling examples of ‘Mrs. Waitaminnit – the Woman Who is Always Late’ – how funny business got done in the days before newspaper photography, powered flight, laugh tracks or emojis…

The prose section then ends with a moving tribute In Memoriam to Bill Blackbeard ‘The Man Who Saved Comics’ and who, like Moses, toiled long and hard but never got to see his great work completed…

On to the strips then: within this magical atlas of another land and time the unending drama plays out as usual, but with some intriguing diversions. We open with 1922 where, following traditional jests about New Years and voluntary behaviour modifications, the acutely surreal colour pages rub shoulders with the regular monochrome masterpieces, tackling such issues as the growing of breadfruit, jailing “elefints” and door mice and the doors they carry about with them at all times.

The perils of smoking are visually exposed, as are the surprising perils and problems of coconuts, telephone reception in Coconino County and jail overcrowding. Things even get weirdly self-referential when Krazy discovers he’s the star of a newspaper comic strip…

Herriman continues to divide his efforts between beguiling word plays and stunningly smart silent slapstick sequences. Whilst dreaded stork Joe’s natal missions go into overdrive and increasingly awry, disease, despair and sporadic brick provision also provides plenty of drama for Ignatz, Offissa Pupp and the motley irregulars

As the Jazz Era further unfolds through 1923 and 1924, technological advancements such as aeroplanes, radio, motion pictures, flashlights, electrical gimmicks and radium shampoo increasingly offer plenty of fodder for foolish thoughts and deeds.

Seasonal landmarks – New Years, St. Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas – take on a greater relevance but the old standbys remain paramount: Prohibition sidestepped; pomposity punctured and penny-pinching money-making schemes from the town’s great and good always coming to nothing…

Also unchanging but infinitely fresh are instances of weather which thinks it’s a comedian, the endless pursuit of hyperactive jumping beans, the street value of the common house brick and a certain foul mouse’s attempts to murder, marmelise and maltreat the Kat, which grow ever more intricate, but are always met with the same unshakeable gratitude and unswerving devotion…

New hobbies are tried: astronomy, inventing, driving automobiles; and Krazy tries to barter a unique singing voice into a career in the entertainment arts.

…And sometimes plain mischief rules such as when Herriman puckishly reverses plot, pictures and dialogue just to see what will happen…

At the nether end of this tome the scholarly amongst you can enjoy some full-colour archival illustration as Jeet Heer discusses ‘The Domestic Herriman: “Us Husbands”’: a strip the tireless artist created as a populist family comedy which ran in Sunday papers for most of 1926. It’s represented here by 48 pages complete with alternating “topper” strips ‘A Big Moment in a Man’s Life’ and ‘Mistakes Will Happen’.

Wrapping up the cartoon gold is another batch of erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Pages’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed and one last surprise – a lost Krazy Kat page never published before…

Herriman’s epochal classic is a remarkable achievement: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these comic strips which have shaped our industry and creators, inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music whilst delivering delight and delectation to generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this glorious compendium is the most accessible way to do so. Don’t waste the opportunity…
© 2012 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

The Living Mummy and other Stories


Illustrated by Jack Davis, written by Al Feldstein with Ray Bradbury (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-929-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: What’s Christmas without Ghost Stories… or vampires or werewolves or mad murderers or… 8/10

Jack Davis is probably one of the few artists better known outside the world of comics than within it. His paintings, magazine covers, advertising work and sports cartoons have reached more people than his years of comedy cartooning for such magazines as Mad, Panic, Cracked, Trump, Sick, Help!, Humbug, Playboy, etc., and very few modern comic collectors seem aware of his horror, war and other genre masterpieces for EC, his Westerns for Marvel comics or his pivotal if seminal time at Jim Warren’s Eerie and Creepy magazines.

Entertaining Comics began in 1944 when comicbook pioneer Max Gaines – presumably seeing the writing on the wall – sold the superhero properties of his All-American Comics company to half-sister National/DC, retaining only Picture Stories from the Bible. His plan was to produce a line of Educational Comics with schools and church groups as the major target market.

He augmented his flagship title with Picture Stories from American History, Picture Stories from Science and Picture Stories from World History but these worthy projects were all struggling when he died in a boating accident in 1947.

As detailed in the comprehensive closing essay of this superb graphic compilation (‘Crime, Horror, Terror, Gore, Depravity, Disrespect for Established Authority – and Science Fiction Too: the Ups and Downs of EC Comics’ by author, editor, critic and comics fan Ted White), Max’s son William was dragged into the company by unsung hero and Business Manager Sol Cohen who held the company together until initially unwilling Bill Gaines abandoned dreams of being a chemistry teacher and transformed the ailing educational enterprise into the EC we all know and love…

After some tentative false starts and abortive experiments mimicking industry fashions, Gaines took advantage of multi-talented associate Al Feldstein, who promptly graduated from creating teen comedies and westerns to become Gaines’ editorial supervisor and co-conspirator.

As they began co-plotting the bulk of EC’s stories together, they changed tack, moving in a boldly impressive new direction. Their publishing strategy, utilising the most gifted illustrators in the field, was to tell a “New Trend” of stories aimed at older and more discerning readers, not the mythical semi-literate 8-year-old all comicbooks ostensibly targeted.

From 1950 to 1954 EC was the most innovative and influential publisher in America, dominating the genres of crime, horror, war and science fiction and originating an entirely new beast: the satirical comicbook…

Feldstein had started as a comedy cartoonist and, after creator/editor Harvey Kurtzman departed in 1956, Al became Mad’s Editor for the next three decades…

This 16th volume of the Fantagraphics EC Library gathers a mind-boggling selection of Feldstein’s stories – mostly co-plotted by companion-in-crime Gaines – and all illuminated by the company’s most versatile illustrator: a young hopeful who literally walked in off the street with his portfolio and walked away with the first commissions of a stellar career.

Davis was to grow into a master of macabre mood, earthy true grit and flamboyantly excessive gallows humour and his work has never looked better than in this stark and lavish monochrome hardcover edition packed with supplementary interviews, features and dissertations.

It begins with historian and lecturer Bill Mason’s Introduction ‘Jack Be Quick’ relating how John Burton “Jack” Davis left Atlanta, Georgia – via the Navy – for a life in art after which the groundbreaking pictorial yarn-spinning commences with ‘The Living Mummy’ (from Haunt of Fear #4, November/December 1950) wherein three unwise scientists soon regret revivifying an ancient mummified cadaver.

Then a dutiful man is forced to confront family tragedy and exterminate a lycanthropic loved one in ‘The Beast of the Full Moon!’ in a potent shocker from Vault of Horror #17 (February/March 1951).

A weary, storm-tossed traveller stumbles into the wrong house in Haunt of Fear #5, (January/February 1951) and become a ‘A Tasty Morsel!’ after completely misdiagnosing the kind of monster he’s trapped with, whilst murder strikes close to home in the tale of a comicbook artist embroiled in a lethal romantic triangle in ‘Conniver!’ from Crime SuspenStories #4 (April/May 1951).

A transplant surgeon survives a crippling car crash and is forced to cry ‘Lend Me a Hand!’ (Vault of Horror #18 April/May 1951) before he can continue his life’s work after which ‘Cheese, That’s Horrible!’ (Haunt of Fear #6, March/April 1951) sees a greedy dairy-factory owner come to regret murdering his finicky, idealistic partner even as ‘Mr. Biddy… Killer!’ (Crime SuspenStories #5, June/July 1951) explores the psychological underpinnings of a murdering maniac…

‘The Jellyfish!’ – from Vault of Horror #19 (June/July 1951) – was based on and inspired by Ray Bradbury’s short story “Skeleton” and reveals the grisly revenge of a chemist framed by his own brother for adulterating insulin, before regular writers Feldstein and Gaines resume their grisly games with ‘The Basket!’ (Haunt of Fear #7, May/June 1951): a shocking tale of monstrous deformity and murderous misdirection.

Davis’ art had been gradually developing its characteristic loose energy over the months, and with ‘The Reluctant Vampire!’ (Vault of Horror #20 August/September 1951) entered a new stage: perfectly capturing the grisly humour of a bloodsucker who worked nights in a blood bank and took extraordinary measures to keep the place open in the face of economic hardship and a paucity of donations…

‘The Irony of Death!’ (Haunt of Fear #8, July/August 1951) traces the rise and demise – through supernatural agency – of a metal worker who takes over an iron foundry through judicious marriage and murder; ‘Phonies’ (Crime SuspenStories #7, October/November 1951) is a delicious caper of crooks swindling crooks and ‘Trapped!’ (Vault of Horror #21 from the same month) details the final fate of a fugitive killer whose mad dash for safety came to very sticky end.

‘The Gorilla’s Paw’ (Haunt of Fear #9, September/October 1951) is an extremely gory take on the classic tale of wishes granted in the most grudging manner imaginable whilst ‘Gone… Fishing!’ (Vault of Horror #22 December 1951/January 1952) demonstrates arcane tit-for-tat to an angler who revelled in the inherent cruelty of his sport.

Then, a disgraced bullfighter murders his young rival and pays an horrific price for his sin in Bum Steer!’ from Haunt of Fear #10 (November/December 1951) whilst in Crime SuspenStories #9 (February/March 1952), an ambitious stand-in kills the star he doubles for but is tripped up by his own ineptitude in ‘Cut!’

Davis was probably the fastest artist in EC’s stable and versatile enough to cover any genre. For Vault of Horror #23 (February/March 1952) he provided a brace of chillers, beginning with ‘99 44/100% Pure Horror!’ as a soap factory owner is reduced to packets of his own premium product yet still manages to wipe the slate clean by killing his killer, whilst ‘Dead Wait!’ focuses on the distant tropics as an obsessive thief schemes to steal a priceless gem, unaware that he is actually a pearl of equal price to his most trusted and ruthless confederate…

The rest of Davis’ 1952 was equally impressive and wide-ranging. ‘Ear Today… Gone Tomorrow!’ (Haunt of Fear #11, January/February) told of two bonemeal fertiliser salesmen who mistakenly saw a graveyard as a way to cut costs whilst ‘Missed by Two Heirs!’ (Crime SuspenStories #10, April/May) details the sheer dumb luck which plagued two wastrels eager to off their old man and start spending big.

Shady used car salesmen who gleefully sold un-roadworthy vehicles met justice through supernatural intervention and joined ‘The Death Wagon!’ in Vault of Horror #24 (April/May) before ‘The Patriots!’ (Shock SuspenStories #2, April/May) moved from horror and humour to stark social commentary which still resonates today as a crowd of spectators cheering a parade of recently returned soldiers turns on one man not showing the proper respect to the marching military heroes…

A return to baroque grisly giggles is seen in ‘What’s Cookin’?’ (Haunt of Fear #12, March/April) as two greedy partners in a fast food franchise decide to cut the genius who created the phenomenon out of the profit-equation before Davis demonstrates his speed in a new occasional features – “EC Quickies”.

These were linked 4-page tales on a shared theme and begins with a pair from Crime SuspenStories #11 (June/July): an examination of how con men dupe suckers beginning with ‘Two for One!’ as a cash-strapped business opts for a deal which is literally too good to be true whilst ‘Four for One!’ reveals an even more cunning way to embezzle huge sums from banks…

‘Kickin’ the Gong a Round!’ (Vault of Horror #25 June/July) reveals the lethal lengths to which a boxing champion goes to keep his title after which ‘Stumped!’ (Shock SuspenStories #3, June/July) follows fur trappers in the far north who use ferocious bear traps to make a profit – and remove rivals – after which Davis delineates one of Feldstein’s most visceral and innovate tales in ‘Wolf Bait!’ (Haunt of Fear #13, May/June).

Here a sleigh full of desperate men, women and children frantically outrace a pack of starving predators. However, once all the ammunition is expended and they’ve thrown all the food they have at them, what else can be jettisoned to slow the ravenous pursuit?

The cartoon chills build to a crescendo with another double-feature EC Quickie segment – from Crime SuspenStories #12 (August/September) – wherein two friends go hunting in the deep woods: both of them prepared to kill more than moose to secure a woman they both want.

‘Murder the Lover!’ then explores the consequences of one set of circumstances whilst ‘Murder the Husband!’ proffers a grim alternative, but in each example the victorious killer pays a price in pure poetic justice for his crime. The weird wonderment then concludes with sardonic cynical satire in ‘Graft in Concrete’ (Vault of Horror #26 August/September) as the building of a simple road bogs down in layer upon layer of corrupt backhanders and is only expedited by desecration and sacrilege. Of course, certain dead parties take grave offence at the intrusion and make their umbrage known in a most effective manner…

Adding final weight to the tome is an outrageous contemporary caricature of the artist by EC staffer Marie Severin accompanying S.C. Ringgenberg’s biography of the cartoonist who became America’s most popular illustrator in ‘Jack Davis’, plus the aforementioned history of EC and a comprehensive ‘Behind the Panels: Creator Biographies’ feature by Mason, Tom Spurgeon and Janice Lee.

The short, sweet but severely limited output of EC has been reprinted ad infinitum in the decades since the company died. These astounding stories and art not only changed comics but also infected the larger world through film and television and via the millions of dedicated devotees still addicted to New Trend tales.

The Living Mummy is a superb celebration of the astounding ability of a comics legend and offers a fabulously engaging introduction for every lucky fear fan encountering the material for the very first time.

Whether you are an aging fear aficionado or callow contemporary convert, this is a book you cannot miss…
The Living Mummy and other Stories © 2016 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All comics stories © 2016 William M. Gaines Agent, Inc., reprinted with permission. All other material © 2014 the respective creators and owners.

Tarzan Archives: The Joe Kubert Years volume 3


By Joe Kubert with Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath & various (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-417-3

The early 1970s were the last real glory days of National/DC) Comics. As they slowly lost market-share to Marvel they responded by producing controversial and landmark superhero material, but their greatest strength lay, as it always has, in the variety and quality of its genre divisions. Mystery and Supernatural thrillers, Science Fiction, Romance, War and Kids’ titles remained powerful attractions and the company’s eye for a strong licensed brand was as keen as ever.

A global multi-media phenomenon, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan had long been a comicbook mainstay of Dell/Gold Key/Whitman, and when DC acquired the title they rightly trumpeted it out, putting one of their top Artist/Editors, Joe Kubert, in charge of the immortal Ape-man’s monthly exploits.

After decades as Whitman staples, total licensing of ERB properties was transferred to DC – not just Tarzan and his extended family, but also the author’s pioneering science fantasy characters – with DC wisely continuing the original numbering.

Tarzan #207 was the first (with an April 1972 cover-date) and the series stormed, garnering great acclaim until #258 in February 1977. Thereafter Marvel, Malibu, Dark Horse and Dynamite extended the Jungle Lord’s comicbook canon in sporadic sorties to recapture the sales and popularity of the 1950s…

The latter days of the Gold Key run had suffered ever since Russ Manning left the title to draw the syndicated newspaper strip, and even the likes of Doug Wildey were unable to revive the comic’s success in the face of constantly rising costs and a general downturn in sales across the market. DC’s continuation of the franchise premiered in a blaze of publicity at the height of a nostalgia boom and was generally well-received by fans.

DC pushed the title in many places and formats (such as bookstore digest collections and the gloriously oversized Tabloid Editions) and adapted other properties such as John Carter of Mars, Pellucidar and Carson of Venus in their own features and titles.

This third and final fabulous hardcover archive collection (also available in digital formats) re-presents material from Tarzan #225-235, covering November 1973 through February/March 1975 and concluding the master’s interior artistic contributions – writing, illustrating and lettering.

After more fond reminiscences in Kubert’s Introduction, the pictorial wonderment resumes with original tale ‘Moon Beast’ which sees a mother and child brutally slaughtered and Tarzan framed for the hideous crime by cunning medicine man Zohar. When the vile trickster overreaches himself, the captive Ape-Man breaks free but still has to deal with the mutant brute Zohar employed to perpetrate the atrocity…

Kubert only produced the cover for #226 as the crushing deadline pressures finally caught up with him. The contents – not included here – featured a retelling of the Ape-Man’s origins by Russ Manning, taken from the Sunday newspaper strips of 15th November 1970-7th February 1971.

Back in control for #227, Joe took Tarzan out of his comfort zone as ‘Ice Jungle’ saw young native warrior Tulum endure a manhood rite at the top of a mountain. Also converging on the site for much the same reason is American trust-fund brat J. Pellington Stone III, determined to impress his father by bagging a legendary snow ape. Sensing impending doom, Tarzan follows them both and is not wrong in his assessment…

After single-handedly killing an immense Sabretooth tiger in an unexplored region of the continent, Tarzan is captured by pygmies intent on offering him as to a mighty monster who has terrorised them for years. However, his ‘Trial By Blood!’ sees Tarzan cleverly outwit the giant lizard and teach the tribal elders a valuable lesson in leadership, after which albino queen Zorina seeks to extend her power by making him her consort.

The Ape-Man wants nothing to do with ‘The Game!’, and, after the kingdom descends into savage civil war, sees ironic Fate deal the white queen a telling death blow…

With Tarzan #230 (April/May 1974), the title transformed into a sequence of 100-page giants, mixing new material with reprints of ERB characters and thematically-aligned stars from DC’s vast back-catalogue.

Leading off that issue was a brief all-Kubert vignette as ‘Tarzan’ saved a deer from a lioness which neatly segued into ‘Leap into Death’ starring Korak, Son of Tarzan, written by Robert Kanigher, drawn by Kubert and inked by Russ Heath.

Here the titanic teen nomad hunted for his stolen true love Meriem and the barbarian Iagho who had taken her, before stumbling into a nest of aggressively paranoid bird-people who learned to respect his courage but still flew away with his lover…

The next issue featured the start of another-Kubert-adapted Burroughs novel: possibly the most intriguing conception of the entire canon.

‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part One’ saw a movie company on location in the deep jungle to make a picture about a white man raised by animals to become undisputed master of all he surveyed. The chain of coincidences grew more improbable as actor Stanley Obroski was a dead ringer for Tarzan… which probably explained why he was taken by savages set on torturing him to death…

Rescued by Tarzan, Stanley explained how the expedition was attacked, unaware exactly how much trouble his fellow actors were in. During Obroski’s absence, stand-in Rhonda Terry and starlet Naomi Madison were kidnapped by El Ghrennem’s Arab bandits who believed the production’s prop map actually led to a valley of diamonds…

When Tarzan found the rest of the film crew he was mistaken for Stanley and drawn into their search for the missing women. The plucky Americans had already made a mad dash for freedom, however, and Rhonda had been captured by creatures she simply could not believe…

After a fascinating bonus section revealing Kubert’s ‘Layouts and Thumbnails’ for the opening chapter, ‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part Two’ sees Rhonda taken by apes who speak Elizabethan English, and made the subject of a fierce debate. Half of the articulate anthropoids want to take her to “God” whilst the other faction believes her a proper prize of their liege lord “King Henry VIII”…

After being briefly recaptured by El Ghrennem, Naomi too is taken by the talkative Great Apes. When Tarzan discovers the kidnapper’s corpses he follows the trail up an apparently unscalable escarpment. Rescuing and returning Miss Madison to her surviving friends, Tarzan/Stanley then returns to ascend the stony palisade and discover an incredible pastoral scene complete with feudal village and English castle…

Tracking Rhonda, he enters the citadel and meets a bizarre human/ape hybrid calling himself God. The garrulous savant explains that once he was simply a brilliant Victorian scientist pursuing the secrets of life. When his unsavoury methods of procuring test subjects forced him to flee England and relocate to this isolated region of Africa, he eventually resumed his experiments and transformed himself into a superior being and apes into fitting servants.

Now they have a society of their own – based on the history books he brought with him – and his experiments are nearing completion. Having already extended his life and vitality far beyond its normal span by experimenting upon himself, God is now ready to attain immortality and physical perfection. All he has to do is consume Tarzan…

Of course the madman has no conception of his captive’s capabilities, and when the Ape-Man and Rhonda promptly vanish from their dungeon it sends the palace into turmoil and God into a paroxysm of insanity…

The chaos also prompts already ambitious apostate King Henry to begin a revolution to overthrow his creator. As ‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part Three’ opens, the war between Church and State is in full swing and Tarzan battles to rescue Rhonda whilst God’s castle becomes a flaming hell.

Losing her in the chaos Tarzan is forced into a hasty alliance with God, unaware that maniacal monarch Henry has taken her back to the jungles below the escarpment and into a region where God casts his scientific failures…

All too soon Henry is dead and Rhonda is facing beings even stranger than talking apes. Thankfully ‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part Four’ sees “Stanley” arrive in time to save her from incredible peril and return her to the film party in the dazzling, tragic conclusion…

Kubert then ended his close association with Tarzan in #235’s ‘The Magic Herb’. After the jungle hero saves a couple from a crashed aeroplane, siblings Tommy and Gail urge him to help them find a legendary flower that might cure the man’s fatal ailment. However, something about them makes Tarzan suspicious…

Nevertheless he takes them to the primeval lost valley where it grows, only to be betrayed as the intruders frame him: throwing the jungle lord to the resident lizard men whilst they make off with specimens that will make them millionaires in the outside world.

Sadly, the treacherous pair have completely misunderstood the powers of the plant and pay the ultimate price all betrayers must…

Wrapping up the astounding thrills and captivating artistry (splendidly remastered by Sno Cone Studious and Jason Hvam) is a revelatory selection of drawings from ‘Joe Kubert’s Sketchbook’ tracing the art process from page-roughs to competed page

Supplemented by Creator Biographies of Burroughs and Kubert, this tome is another unmissable masterpiece of comics creation and wild adventure no lover of the medium or fantasy fan can afford to be without.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan ® The Joe Kubert Years Volume Two © 1973, 1974, 1975, 2006 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All rights reserved. Tarzan ® is owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., and used by permission.

Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde volume 1: The Selfish Giant and The Star Child


Adapted by P. Craig Russell (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-056-1 (HC)        :978-1-56163-375-3 (PB)

Craig Russell began his illustrious career in comics during the early 1970s and came to fame young with a groundbreaking run on science fiction adventure series Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds.

Although his increasingly fanciful, meticulous, classicist style was derived from the great illustrators of Victorian and Edwardian heroic fantasy, and the craftsmanlike visual flourishes of Art Nouveau was greatly at odds with the sausage-factory deadlines and sensibilities of the mainstream comicbook industry, the sheer power and beauty of his work made him a huge draw.

By the 1980s he had largely retired from the merciless daily grind, preferring to work on his own projects (generally adapting operas and plays into sequential narratives) whilst undertaking the occasional high-profile Special for the majors – such as Dr. Strange Annual 1976 (totally reworked and re-released as Dr. Strange: What Is It that Disturbs You, Stephen? in 1996) or Batman: Robin 3000.

As the industry grew up and a fantasy boom began, he returned to the comics industry with Marvel Graphic Novel: Elric (1982), further adapting prose tales of Michael Moorcock’s iconic sword-&-sorcery star in the magazine Epic Illustrated and elsewhere.

Russell’s stage-arts adaptations had begun appearing in 1978: first in the independent Star*Reach specials Night Music and Parsifal and then from 1984 at Eclipse Comics where the revived Night Music became an anthological series showcasing his earlier experimental adaptations; not just operatic dramas but also tales from Kipling’s Jungle Books and other literary landmarks.

In 1992, with this tome (now in its fourth reprinting) he began adapting the assorted Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde – a mission he continues to date, deftly balancing tales of pious allegorical wonderment with a wry touch and clear, heartfelt joy in the originating material of the masterful yet misunderstood, much-maligned master of devastating, so-quotable epigrams who was briefly the most popular man in London Society…

First published in May 1888, The Happy Prince and Other Tales was Oscar Fingall O’Flahertie Wills Wilde’s first book for children with the lead story merely one of a quintet of literary gems.

The others within were The Nightingale and the Rose, The Devoted Friend, The Remarkable Rocket and poignant parable The Selfish Giant, upon which adaptor Russell here lavishes all his skills to staggering effect and creates an evocative, beguiling, heart-breaking evocation of spirituality for this graphic collection.

The children of a village once played in the most beautiful garden in the land, until its owner returned from a seven-year absence and took great umbrage at their trespass. Chasing them away, the ferocious giant built a colossal wall around his garden so nobody but he could enjoy it. Then a strange thing happened. When the seasons turned, the garden remained draped in chilling winter and spring never came, nor summer or autumn.

After an intolerable period of frozen bafflement, one morning the giant was awoken to a linnet’s song and found that spring had finally arrived. The children had found a gap in his stony barricade and come through to play on the trees, bringing warmth and green growth with them.

In one corner, however, winter still clung on as a tiny boy struggled to climb into the boughs of a snow-draped tree.

Wracked by revelation, the giant’s heart thawed too and he rushed out to help the lad into the tree, thereafter tearing down the walls and sharing his garden with everybody, although he never again saw the little boy he had so happily helped…

Years passed and the seasons resumed their normal course and eventually one winter he again saw the boy as something incredibly joyous yet grievously sad occurred…

Balancing that metaphor of Christian virtue and moral instruction is The Star-Child which was originally published in 1891, one of the quartet of stories in Wilde’s second book of stories for children: A House of Pomegranates.

Notionally a far more traditional-seeming fairy tale but again loaded with ethical life-lessons, it begins with a poor woodcutter finding a baby wrapped in cloth-of-gold after a falling star crashes to earth.

Although living on the edge of starvation, the peasant and his wife add the boy to their large, hungry family and care for him as if their own. The child grows up physically beautiful but exceedingly cruel and arrogant, viciously picking on the less fortunate souls around him and casually torturing the animals and lesser creatures.

As he approaches manhood a wandering beggar recognises him as her long-lost son but he savagely rebukes and rejects her for her shabby ugliness. The act has staggering repercussions, as he soon after transforms into a hideous frog-faced, snake-like wretch and flees from the only home he has ever known, reviled and chased away by people and all the forest beasts he once tormented…

His ceaseless wanderings eventually take him to a grand city where he is sold as a slave to a magician who treats him with great cruelty. The suffering slave is tasked with the hopeless mission of recovering great lost riches for the mage but, at his very lowest ebb, a rabbit shows pity on the homely slave and the reformation of the Star-Child begins…

A deeply moral tale of redemption through effort and grace through revelation, The Star-Child still retains much of Wilde’s barbed cynicism and astute social observation; providing the requisite happy ending whilst concealing a wry and wicked sting…

The brace of brilliant adaptations signalled another high point in Russell’s astounding career: another milestone in the long, slow transition of an American mass market medium into a genuine art form.

Most importantly, this and the other volumes in the series are incredibly lovely and irresistibly readable examples of superb writing (so please read Wilde’s original prose tomes too) and sublime examples of comics art their very best.

Most assuredly, you simply must avail yourself of this masterful confection…
© 1992 P. Craig Russell. All rights reserved.

Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant volume 12: 1959-1960


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-876-2

Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur premiered on Sunday February 13th 1937: a fabulous full-colour weekly peek into a world where history met myth to produce something greater than both. Creator Hal Foster had developed the feature after leaving a groundbreaking and astoundingly popular run on the Tarzan of the Apes strip he had pioneered.

Prince Valiant offered action, adventure, exoticism, romance and a surprisingly high quota of laughs in its engrossing depiction of noble knights and wicked barbarians played out against a glamorised, dramatised Dark Ages backdrop. The weekly-unfolding epic followed the life of a refugee lad driven from his ancestral Scandinavian homeland of Thule who grew up to roam the world, attaining a paramount position amongst the heroes of fabled Camelot.

Foster wove his complex epic romance over many decades, tracing the progress of a feral wild boy who became a paragon of chivalric virtue: knight, warrior, saviour, avenger and ultimately family patriarch through a constant storm of wild, robust and joyously witty wonderment. The restless champion visited many far-flung lands, siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes, thereby enchanting generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.

The strip spawned films, an animated series and all manner of toys, games, books and collections. Prince Valiant was – and is – one of the few adventure strips to have run continuously from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (more than 4000 episodes and still going strong) – and, even here at the end-times of newspaper strips as an art form, it continues in more than 300 American papers and via the internet.

Foster soloed on the feature until 1971 when John Cullen Murphy (Big Ben Bolt) succeeded him as illustrator whilst the originator remained as writer and designer. That ended in 1980, when he finally retired and Cullen Murphy’s daughter Mairead took over colouring and lettering whilst her brother John assumed the writer’s role.

In 2004 the senior Cullen Murphy also retired, since when the strip has soldiered on under the auspices of other extremely talented artists such as Gary Gianni, Scott Roberts and latterly Thomas Yeates & Mark Schultz.

This latest luxuriously oversized (362 x 264 mm) full-colour hardback re-presents pages spanning January 4th 1959 to 25th December 1960 (individual pages #1143-1246) but before proceeding, clears the palate for adventure with Neal Adams’ erudite, illustration-strewn Introduction ‘Learning to Love Hal Foster’.

At the other end of this titanic tome Brian M. Kane continues to explore the master’s commercial endeavours with a lavish exhibition of stunning colour and monochrome illustrations revealing the rugged outdoors life through ‘Hal Foster’s Advertising Art: Johnson Outboard Motors’, but captivating as they are, the real wonderment is, as ever, the unfolding epic that precedes them…

What Has Gone Before: Having brought Christianity to Thule and repelled an invasion of England by Saxons and Danes, Val was despatched by Arthur Pendragon to Cornwall to root out treacherous local kings. Helping true love find its natural course, Valiant acquired a canny new squire in the form of homely yet brilliant Alfred of Lydney. The Prince cleared up the Cornish conspiracy – almost at the cost of his sacrosanct honour – and returned to Camelot after making the acquaintance of the most beautiful horse in the world…

Possessing the red stallion almost caused another war with the Northmen, after which Val returned to his Scandinavian homeland of Thule to reconnect with his family once more.

The reunion was brief, joyous and bittersweet, as the absent father saw how much his children had grown and realised the painful cost of a life of duty. He bid son Arn farewell as the lad was shipped off to enter the household of regal ally King Hap-Atla even as that ruler’s heir became foster-son and page to Valiant’s sire King Aguar.

Peaceful days were few and when a regal summons came from Camelot, the family again took ship. This time the call was for dutiful wife Aleta who blithely entered a hornets’ nest when aging Queen Guinevere was gravely offended by the young beauty’s popularity with the Courtiers and plotted to win an imagined war of favourites…

Valiant was elsewhere employed, leading Arthur’s armies against Danes and Saxons occupying Kent and Sussex. With war brewing again, Val sidelined aging Alfred in favour of young, vigorous and keen martial assistants Edwin and Claudius – a kind act he would later regret, as he did his brief and costly sojourn in the thieves’ paradise called London

Back in Camelot, a war of wills and clash of personalities between Queens Guinevere and Aleta was settled by most remarkable means, but Valiant still found little time for rest. His beloved friend Gawain had vanished and the trail led straight into the wilds of unruly Wales…

Employing Welsh knight Sir Ian Waldoc as guide and following an unearthly vision provided by largely-vanished mage Merlin, Valiant went westwards disguised as a troubadour, eventually fetching up at the forbidding castle of terrible King Oswick and his five beautiful daughters…

This twelfth knight’s collation resumes as jongleur Cid ingratiates himself at Oswick’s court, offsetting suspicions by feigning a paralysing love for strong liquor whilst scouting out the location of the captive Gawain.

Valiant finds his old comrade pent in a high tower at the very top of the castle, and forms a most dangerous and ingenious scheme involving guile, subterfuge, split-second timing, daredevil acrobatics and the elder chevaliers’s uncanny knack of enchanting women…

With Gawain free once more, the old pals and friendly rivals opt to compete in the Hamlin Garde tournament, but before they can even begin, Val falls foul of a sadistic noble named Coth whose bruised pride leads him to attempt murder most foul through vile assassins.

The monster also has intentions upon heiress Lady Alice of Hamlin, but has not noticed how much Val resembles that noble maid’s preferred suitor Kerwin

As the tourney plays out many men fall – Coth’s hired killers less noticeably than most – and the villain’s plans to destroy Kerwin fail once Val replaces the young suitor in mortal combat against the murderous malefactor…

With justice triumphant and true love secured, Gawain and Valiant spend calm but provender-poor days roaming the vast Salisbury Plain, and the younger man revels in teaching his civilised elder the tricks peasants use to feed themselves: tactics learned whilst the Prince was a boy growing up in coastal marshes. Unimpressed, Gawain instead cajoles their way into the retinue of a Great Lady’s passing baggage-train and thus embroils them in another saga of thwarted romance…

Impoverished Count Rathford has been forced to betroth his daughter Joan to Hume, heir to the House of Amesbridge to save his estate and dependent vassals. His headstrong child, however, has fallen in love with a lowly squire and plans to elope with him. When the “peasant’s” true station is revealed, however, rather than joy, Joan erupts in incandescent fury at being gulled and events take an even stranger turn after the estranged lovers both fall under Gawain’s reluctant care: the boy as his new squire and she as a far-from-devoted chattel…

Joan’s ever-increasing ire is only expended when the strange party reaches Camelot and artful Queen Aleta takes Joan under her wing…

Happy to avoid further domestic contention of any sort, Valiant undertakes a commission from King Arthur to wipe out a nest of outlaws plaguing the lands of the Earl of Lithway. Accompanied by former bandit-turned-forester Hugh the Fox, the canny Prince makes his way to the beleaguered demesne only to discover the situation is not what has been reported.

The Earl claims his tithes to Arthur were stolen by the errant woodsmen, but the men in the forest tell a different story: one of tyranny, torture, dispossession and oppression…

Acutely aware of evil when he sees it, Val determines to set the situation aright and see justice and order return to Lithway…

With Aleta increasingly aggrieved at Valiant’s wanderlust and neglect, tensions boil over in the apartments of the Prince of Thule, but it is not enough to stop her husband again heading out on a Royal Quest: perhaps the most crucial in Camelot’s troubled history…

In recent years the Knights of the Round Table have become obsessed with the search for the Holy Grail. Now Arthur, seeing his best and bravest constantly lost or maimed in search of it, charges Valiant with proving once and for all whether the story of the sacred cup is fact or myth…

The search takes Val the length and breadth of the nation, consulting wise men and wizards and eventually brings him to the Mendip hills in search of an island called Avalon. En route he exposes a cave troll as a broken-limbed victim of man’s cruelty and learns the poor soul once lived in Avalon, a marshy island housing three hills, Wearyall, the Great Tor and Glastonbury

Guided there by grateful, maimed Och, Valiant finds a Papal mission from Rome building a cathedral, and learns from a lay brother the official story of the Grail, but before he can question further the encampment is attacked by cruel raider chieftain Timmera the Terrible

Barely fighting off the marauder’s forces, the clerics immediately begin repairing the damage caused to their holy project, but Valiant resolves to help them by ending the predator threat forever. In this he is aided by Och, who was once the raider’s body-slave…

With the stunted man’s inside information, Val easily infiltrates Timmera’s fortress and brings down the monster’s army from within. On returning to Avalon, Valiant finds an old acquaintance from Ireland in charge of the reconstruction. The man now known as St. Patrick is happy to tell all he knows about the Holy Grail and the questor at last realises what he must tell Arthur…

Heading back, the warrior liberates a captive castle and finds time to play a splendid prank upon Gawain, but upon conferring with Arthur immediately sets off again to battle invading Angles and Saxons rather than attempt reconciliation with Aleta…

The war is brief and brutal and almost costs the prince his life. It takes a brush with near death to finally bring him and Aleta together again, and in the weeks that follow it is decided that the family will return to Thule for his recuperation. That period of painful inactivity completed, with son Arn in tow, the entire clan then head for Aleta’s ancestral kingdom in the Misty Isles, with Viking reiver Boltar providing escort to protect against the pirates of the Mediterranean…

Sadly, even in this sunny paradise peril dogs the family as rival ruler Thrasos makes clear his intention to add Aleta’s islands to his growing empire. The new Alexander, however, has never encountered as savvy a strategist as Aleta or canny tacticians like Valiant and Boltar and his dreams of a Mediterranean empire explosively founder against the devious ploys and armed might of the northern warriors, with even the elements conspiring to send Thrasos to the dustbin of history…

To Be Continued…

A mind-blowing panorama of visual passion and precision, Prince Valiant is a tremendous procession of boisterous action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending epic fantasy with dry wit and broad humour, soap opera melodrama with shatteringly dark violence.

Lush, lavish and captivating lovely, it is an indisputable landmark of comics fiction and something no fan should miss.
© 2015 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2015 their respective creators or holders. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Lone Wolf and Cub volume 2: The Gateless Barrier


By Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima, translated by Dana Lewis (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-503-1

Best known in the West as Lone Wolf and Cub, the epic Samurai saga created by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima is without doubt a global classic of comics literature.

An example of the popular “Chanbara” or “sword-fighting genre of books and cinema, Kozure Okami was serialised in Weekly Manga Action from September 1970 until April 1976 and was an immense hit. Those tales soon prompted a thematic companion series, Kubikiri Asa (Samurai Executioner) which ran from 1972 to 1976, but the major draw at home – and increasingly abroad – was always the nomadic wanderings of doomed noble Ōgami Ittō and his solemn child.

Revered and influential, Kozure Okami was followed after years of supplication by fans and editors by sequel Shin Lone Wolf & Cub (illustrated by Hideki Mori) and even spawned – through Koike’s indirect participation – science fiction homage Lone Wolf 2100 by Mike Kennedy & Francisco Ruiz Velasco with.

The original saga has been successfully adapted to many other media, spawning six movies, four plays, two TV series, games and merchandise. The property is notoriously still in pre-production as a big Hollywood blockbuster.

The several thousand pages of enthralling, exotic, intoxicating narrative art produced by these legendary creators eventually filled 28 tankobon volumes, beguiling generations of readers in Japan and, inevitably, the world. More importantly, their philosophically nihilistic odyssey with its timeless themes and iconic visuals has influenced hordes of other creators.

The many manga, comics and movies these stories have inspired are impossible to count. Frank Miller, who illustrated the cover of this edition, referenced the series in Daredevil, his dystopian opus Ronin, The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City. Max Allan Collin’s Road to Perdition is an unashamed tribute to this masterpiece of vengeance-fiction. Stan Sakai has superbly spoofed, pastiched and celebrated the wanderer’s path in his own epic Usagi Yojimbo and even children’s cartoon shows such as Samurai Jack can be seen as direct descendants of this astounding achievement of graphic narrative.

We in the West first saw the translated tales as 45 Prestige Format editions from First Comics beginning in 1987. That innovative trailblazer foundered before getting even a third of the way through the vast canon, after which Dark Horse Comics assumed the rights, systematically reprinting and translating the entire epic into 28 tankobon-style editions (petite 153 x 109 mm monochrome trade paperbacks, of about 300 pages each) between from September 2000-December 2002. When the entire translated epic had run its course it was all placed online through the Dark Horse Digital project.

A certain formula informs the early episodes: the acceptance of a commission to kill an impossible target, a cunning plan and inevitable success, all underscored with bleak philosophical musings alternately informed by Buddhist teachings in conjunction with or in opposition to the unflinching personal honour code of Bushido. The protagonist is also – probably – the most dangerous swordsman in creation…

The foredoomed killer-nomad was once Kōgi Kaishakunin: the Shogun’s official executioner, capable of cleaving a man in half with one stroke. An eminent individual of esteemed imperial standing, elevated social position and impeccable honour, Ōgami Ittō lost everything through the machinations of enemies at court and now roams feudal Japan pushing his toddler son in a tricked-out weaponised pram; two doomed souls hell-bent for the dire, demon-haunted underworld of Meifumado.

Ōgami’s wife was murdered and his clan eternally dishonoured due to the machinations of the politically ambitious Yagyu Clan, and the Emperor ordered Ōgami to commit suicide. Instead he rebelled, choosing to become a despicable Ronin (masterless samurai) and assassin, pledging to revenge himself on the Yagyus until they were all dead or Hell claimed him.

Although little more than a baby, his son Daigoro also chose the way of the sword, and together they now tread the grim and evocative landscapes of feudal Japan, one step ahead of destruction with death behind and before them.

This second magnificent monochrome volume – set in the depths of Japan’s legendary winters – again offers a grimly compelling combination of vengeful fable and addictive action-adventure which resumes here with ‘Red Cat’ as Ōgami leaves Daigoro with his client’s maid and engineers his own capture.

He wants to be incarcerated in the brutal, Fukuyama Han Prison where he can at last reach his target. Frequently the infallible assassin’s best ploy was to allow himself to be taken prisoner, endure unimaginable torture and then fight his way out having slaughtered his target: perhaps a self-induced penance for his failings…

Akaneko Shinsuke is an arsonist who once burned down the jail; effecting the escape of many criminals and causing the death and dishonour of the client’s father who was the warden at the time. Now “Red Cat” is back inside the rebuilt prison and on Death Row, but that is not punishment enough for the client.

He must not die impersonally, and the mastermind who truly created the shameful tragedy must be exposed and ended too…

Enduring appalling treatment and leaving a stack of corpses behind him, the Lone Wolf manoeuvres himself onto Death Row beside Shinsuke and learns the truth of that terrible night and the great fire, before rekindling the conflagration and bringing hell back to earth for final retribution…

Another aspect of Ōgami’s methodology re-emerges in ‘The Coming of the Cold’. The assassin always insists on a personal interview with his client and demands not only who is to die, but why. Perhaps the cautious killer only wants to know the extent of what he’s getting into, but we know he’s judging: seeing whether the target deserves death… or if the client does…

Upon accepting his latest job, Ōgami is proud to despatch the man who hired him before plunging into arctic conditions to complete his commission. The client’s retainers also happily sacrifice their lives to allow the Lone Wolf to infiltrate the fortified town of Oyamada and its impenetrable castle. As this scheme unfolds, little Daigoro sits in a cave in the midst of a blizzard fully aware that unless his father returns within five days, he will freeze or starve.

But that was before the avalanche…

Believing his son dead, Ōgami continues his mission, drawing ever closer to the traitor Lord who has chosen to rebel against the Shogun and forced his most loyal retainer to hire an assassin to cleanse the honour of the Han and remind his corrupted comrades of the purity of the beliefs they have forsaken…

His task accomplished, the assassin is replaced by the grieving father, but there is a miracle awaiting the weary warrior on his path to hell…

‘Tragic O-Sue’ begins as Daigoro gets into a fight with older children. When he wounds the son of the local Lord he is arrested and savagely beaten until the Lord realises the silent child is the son of the infamous and terrifying Lone Wolf.

Ōgami meanwhile is semi-conscious in a deserted temple, recovering from the fever and wounds earned during his last job. As he struggles back to health and sanity, little Daigoro is locked up with only the lowliest servant of the great house caring whether he lives or dies.

When the O-Sue’s charity is discovered, the Lord – convinced Ōgami has been sent to kill him – deals brutally with her and nearly dies for his callous brutality when enraged Daigoro escapes. Following the fugitive boy though the snow, the Lord intends to find the hidden assassin but doesn’t survive the success of his plan…

Delving deeply into Buddhist lore, ‘The Gateless Barrier’ sees Ōgami travel to desolate Wolf Mountain in search of spiritual clarity. However, although the animal predators find a way to live in harmony with him, his fellow humans are not so inclined. Cleansed and prepared, Ōgami proceeds with his latest job…

Strife between church and state over taxes in a famine-afflicted Han leads civil officials to hire the assassin to kill a “living Buddha” stirring up trouble. Before he can succeed in this sacrilegious assignment, however, the Wolf must be schooled in the proper procedures… by his victim…

This potently beautiful compendium of philosophic bloodletting concludes with an absorbing and fabulously off-kilter mystery as a highborn Samurai woman turned prostitute (a licensed and regulated profession in the Tokugawa Shogunate) proudly ends her life.

Elsewhere at the same time, the high-living head of the Han secretariat and his wife are murdered in almost impossible circumstances. Beside their bodies is a local blossom known as the ‘Winter Flower’ and the local criminal investigator wonders if there can be any connection. When an informant reveals that one of the prostitute’s last clients was a wandering ronin pushing a baby carriage, wheels begin to turn in the mind of the inspector…

Solid police work leads to a ramshackle hut in temple grounds, but the battalion of deputies and soldiers are loath to storm the shack since the local priest warned them that the warrior inside is dying of a highly contagious and revolting disease…

As metsuke (Police Inspector/Regional Spy Chief) Takariki Jinbei shouts through the closed door, the dying assassin tells him the shameful, shocking reasons the Han Chief and his bride had to die before igniting the hut and ending his tortured existence…

However, the metsuke is a remarkably astute, honourable and dedicated man. Seeing Daigoro, he wonders if he can trust his eyes and returns later: a move that results in a most enlightening confrontation with the devious Ōgami…

These stories are deeply metaphorical and work on a number of levels most of us Westerners just can’t grasp on first reading – even with the contextual help provided by bonus features such as the copious Glossary, providing detailed clarification and context on the terms used in the stories.

That only makes them more exotic and fascinating. Also, a little unsettling is the even-handed treatment of women in the tales. Within the confines of the incredibly stratified culture being depicted, females – from servants to courtesans, prostitutes to highborn ladies – are all fully-rounded characters, with their own motivations and drives. Ōgami’s female allies are valiant and dependable, and his foes, whether ultimate targets or mere enemy combatants in his path, are treated with professional respect by the Lone Wolf. He kills them just as if they were men…

A breathtaking tour de force, these are comics classics you simply must read.
© 1995, 2000 Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima. Cover art © 2000 Frank Miller. All other material © 2000 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All rights reserved.