Tarzan Archives: The Joe Kubert Years volume 1


By Joe Kubert with Burne Hogarth (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-404-3

Soon after first publication in 1912 Tarzan of the Apes became a multi-media sensation and global star. More novels and many movies followed; a comic strip arrived in 1929, followed by a radio show in 1932 and the Ape-Man inevitably carved out a solid slice of the comicbook market too once the industry was firmly established.

Western Publishing were a big publishing and printing outfit based on America’s West Coast, rivalling DC and Marvel at the height of their powers. They specialised in licensed properties and the jewels in their crown were all the comics starring the Walt Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters.

The publishers famously never capitulated to the wave of anti-comics hysteria that resulted in the crippling self-censorship of the 1950s. Dell Comics – and latter imprints Gold Key and Whitman – never displayed a Comics Code Authority symbol on their covers. They never needed to…

Dell also sought out other properties like movie or newspaper strip franchises, and would become inextricably associated with TV adaptations once the small screen monopolised modern homes.

In 1948 Dell produced the first all-new Tarzan comicbook. The newspaper strip had previously provided plenty of material for expurgated reprint editions until Dell Four Color Comic #134 (February 1947).

This milestone featured a lengthy, captivating tale of the Ape-Man scripted by Robert P Thompson – who wrote both the Tarzan radio show and aforementioned syndicated strip – with art by the legendary Jesse Marsh.

Marsh & Thompson’s Tarzan returned with two further tales in Dell Four Color Comic #161, cover-dated August 1947. This was a frankly remarkable feat: Four Colour was a catch-all umbrella title that featured literally hundreds of different licensed properties – often as many as ten separate issues per month – so such a rapid return meant pretty solid sales figures.

Within six months the bimonthly Tarzan #1 was released (January/February 1948), beginning an unbroken run that only ended in 1977, albeit by a convoluted route…

After decades as Whitman staples, licensing of Edgar Rice Burroughs properties was transferred to DC – not just Tarzan and his extended family, but also fantasy pioneers John Carter of Mars, Carson of Venus, Pellucidar and others – with the new company continuing the original numbering.

Tarzan #207 had an April 1972 cover-date and the series carried on until February 1977 and issue #258. From then on Marvel, Malibu and Dark Horse extended the jungle Lord’s comicbook canon…

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 had – in the variety and quality of its genre divisions.

Mystery and Supernatural, Romance, War and Kids’ titles remained strong or even thrived and the company’s eye for a strong brand was as keen as ever.

Tarzan had been a mainstay of Dell/Gold Key, and a global multi-media phenomenon, so when DC acquired rights they justifiably trumpeted it out, putting one of their top creators in sole charge of the legendary Ape-Man’s monthly exploits, as well as generating a boutique bunch of ERB titles in a variety of formats.

The DC incarnation premiered in a blaze of publicity at the height of a nostalgia boom and was generally well received by fans. For many of us, those years provided the definitive graphic Tarzan, thanks solely to the efforts of the Editor, publisher and illustrator who shepherded the Ape-man through the transition. They were all the same guy: Joe Kubert.

Kubert was born in 1926 in rural Southeast Poland (which became Ukraine and might be Outer Russia by the time you read this). At age two his parents took him to America and he grew up in Brooklyn. According to his Introduction his earliest memory of cartooning was Hal Foster’s Tarzan Sunday strips…

Joe’s folks encouraged him to draw from an early age and the precocious kid began a glittering career at the start of the Golden Age, before he was even a teenager. Working and learning at the Chesler comics packaging “Shop”, MLJ, Holyoke and assorted other outfits, he began his close association with National/DC in 1943. A canny survivor of the Great Depression he also maintained outside contacts, dividing his time and energies between Fiction House, Avon, Harvey and All-American Comics, where he particularly distinguished himself on The Flash and Hawkman.

In the early 1950s he and old school chum Norman Maurer were the creative force behind publishers St. Johns: creating evergreen caveman Tor and launching the 3D comics craze with Three Dimension Comics.

Joe never stopped freelancing, appearing in EC’s Two-Fisted Tales, Avon’s Strange Worlds, Lev Gleason Publications & Atlas Comics until in 1955 when, with the industry imploding, he took a permanent position at DC, only slightly diluted whilst he illustrated the contentious and controversial newspaper strip Tales of the Green Berets from 1965 to 1968. From then on he split his time drawing Sgt. Rock and other features, designing covers and editing DC’s line of war comicbooks.

And then DC acquired Tarzan…

This first fabulous hardcover archive (also available in digital formats) collects the lead stories from Tarzan #207-214 (April-November 1972); a tour de force of passion transubstantiated into stunning comic art, with Kubert writing, illustrating and lettering. Moreover, the vibrant colours in this epic re-presentation is based on Tatjana Wood’s original guides, offering readers a superbly authentic and immersive experience whether you’re coming fresh to the material or joyously revisiting a beloved lost time.

The only disconcerting things about this stellar compilation are the cover reproductions, which appear in all their iconic glory but manipulated to remove DC’s trademark logos. The mightiest force in the modern jungle is still Intellectual Property lawyers…

The tense suspense begins with an adaptation of first novel Tarzan of the Apes and opens with a safari deep in the jungle. A pretty rich girl is driving her white guide and native bearers at a ferocious pace as she desperately hunts for her missing father.

When a bronzed god bursts into view battling a panther, she watches aghast as human impossibly triumphs over killer cat and then beats his chest whilst emitting an astounding scream. As the terrifying figure vanishes back into the green hell the girl’s questions are grudgingly answered by the old hunter who relates a legend he has heard…

‘Origin of Tarzan of the Apes’ depicts how, following a shipboard mutiny, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke and his wife Lady Alice are marooned on the African coast with all their possessions, including the vast library of books and Primers intended for their soon to be born baby…

Against appalling odds they persevered, with Greystoke building a fortified cabin to shelter them from marauding beasts, especially the curious and savage apes which roam the region. Despite the birth of a son, eventually the jungle won and the humans perished, but their son was saved by a grieving she-ape who adopted the baby to replace her own recently killed “Balu”…

The ugly, hairless boy thrived under Kala’s doting attentions, growing strong but increasingly aware that he was intrinsically different. He only discovered the how and why after years of diligent effort: through sheer intellectual effort and the remnants of his father’s books and papers, Tarzan learned to read and deduced that he was a M-A-N…

The tale within a tale continues in ‘A Son’s Vengeance: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 2’ as the boy rises to prominence amongst his hirsute tribe and through imagination and invention masters all the beasts of his savage environment. Eventually a brutal, nomadic tribe of natives settle in the area and Tarzan has his first contact with creatures he correctly identifies as being M-E-N like him…

The new situation leads to the greatest tragedy of his life as a hunter of M’Bonga’s tribe kills beloved, devoted Kala and Tarzan learns the shock of loss and overpowering hunger for revenge…

Issue #209 revealed how civilisation finally caught up with Tarzan as ‘A Mate For the Ape-Man: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 3’ saw him meet and save American Jane Porter, her elderly father and his own cousin.

Just as had happened years earlier, these unlucky voyagers were marooned by mutineers. Discovering John Clayton’s cabin, the castaways find the lost peer’s diary, which is of especial interest to William Clayton, the current Lord Greystoke. As tensions rise and humans die, Tarzan takes his golden haired mate deep into the impenetrable verdure…

Both tales conclude neatly and tantalisingly in ‘Civilisation: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 4’ as innately noble Tarzan returns Jane to her fiancé William Clayton in time for the westerners to be rescued by French Officer Paul D’Arnot.

When the dashing Lieutenant is captured and tortured by M’Bonga’s tribesmen, Tarzan rescues him and nurses the Frenchman back to health. In return the officer teaches him to speak the human languages that up until that moment he could only read and write in…

By then however the navy vessel and saved souls have all sailed away, each carrying their own secrets with them…

With no other options, lovelorn Tarzan agrees to accompany D’Arnot back to civilisation. The eternal comrades eventually settle in Paris with Tarzan practically indistinguishable from other men…

Even today ‘Origin of the Ape-Man’ is still the most faithful adaptation of ERB’s novel in any medium: potent and evocative, fiercely expressive, a loving and utterly visceral true translation of the landmark saga.

Kubert’s intent was to adapt all 24 Burroughs novels and intersperse them with short, complete tales, but the workload, coupled with his other editorial duties was crippling. To buy some time #211 combined old with new as ‘Land of the Giants’ partially adapted and incorporated Don Garden & Burne Hogarth’s newspaper strip tale ‘Tarzan and the Fatal Mountain’: Sunday strip pages #582-595 which had originally ran from May 3rd to August 2nd 1942 (you can see that saga in al its uncut glory by tracking down Tarzan versus the Barbarians (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 2).

Here a battle with crocodiles dumps Tarzan in a lost valley where giant natives are being persecuted by deformed, diminutive outworlder Martius Kalban who hungers for the secrets of their prodigious size and strength. Even after gaining his dark desire, Kalban finds himself no match for the outraged Ape-Man…

‘The Captive!’ is a latter-day exploit, beginning a run of yarns based on the short stories comprising ERB’s book Jungle Tales of Tarzan. Here the relationship between Ape-Man and the elephants is explored with each saving the other from the ever-present threat of the hunters of M’Bonga…

The Jungle Tales reworkings continue with ‘Balu of the Great Apes’ as childhood friends of Tarzan becomes incomprehensibly aggressive after the birth of their first baby and this first astounding compilation ends with ‘The Nightmare’ as starving Tarzan steals and gorges on meat and drink from the native village. The resultant food-poisoning takes him on a hallucinogenic journey he will never forget and almost costs his life when he can no longer tell phantasm from genuine threat…

Supplemented by full Creator Biographies of Burroughs and Kubert, this tome is a masterpiece of comics creation no lover of the medium or fantasy fan can afford to be without.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan ® The Joe Kubert Years Volume One © 1972, 2005 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All rights reserved. Tarzan ® is owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., and used by permission.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: Burne Hogarth’s Lord of the Jungle


By Burne Hogarth with Robert M. Hodes & Skip Kholoff (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-537-5

Modern comics and graphic novels evolved from newspaper comic strips. These daily pictorial features were – until relatively recently – overwhelmingly popular with the public and highly valued by publishers who used them as a powerful tool to guarantee and increase circulation and profits. From the earliest days humour was paramount; hence our terms of usage “Funnies” and, of course, “Comics”.

Despite the odd ancestor or precedent like Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs (comedic when it began in 1924, but gradually moving through mock-heroics to light-action to become a full-blown adventure serial with the introduction of Captain Easy in 1929), the vast bulk of strips produced were generally feel-good laughter-makers or occasional child-oriented fantasy.

The full blown dramatic adventure serial began on January 7th 1929 with Buck Rogers and Tarzan which both debuted the same day. Both adapted pre-existing prose properties and their influence changed the shape of the medium forever. The 1930s then enjoyed an explosion of such fare, launched with astounding rapidity and success. Not just strips but actual genres were created in that decade which still impact on today’s comicbooks and, in truth, all our popular fiction forms. In fact, your comicbooks started as reprint compilations of such newspaper circulation-fodder…

In terms of sheer quality of art, the graphic narrative iteration of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels by Canadian commercial artist Harold “Hal” Foster were unsurpassed, and the strip soon became a firm favourite of the masses. Supplemented by movies, books, a radio show and ubiquitous advertising appearances, White God of the Jungle John Clayton, Lord Greystoke soon became a meta-character. Just like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan became “real” to the world.

Foster initially quit the strip at the end of the 10-week adaptation of the novel Tarzan of the Apes. He was replaced by Rex Maxon, but returned (at the insistent urging of Burroughs himself) when the black-&-white daily was expanded to include a lush, full colour Sunday page featuring original adventures.

Leaving Maxon to capably handle the Monday through Saturday progression of novel adaptations, Foster produced the epic Sunday page until 1936 (233 consecutive weeks) after which he momentously moved to King Features Syndicate to create his own strip landmark and weekend masterpiece. Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur launched on February 13th 1937 and is still with us today.

Once the four month backlog of material he had built up was gone, Foster was succeeded by a precociously brilliant 25-year old artist named Burne Hogarth (1911-1996): a young graphic visionary whose superb anatomical skill, cinematic design flair and compelling page composition revolutionised the entire field of action/adventure narrative illustration.

The galvanic modern dynamism of the idealised human figure in today’s comicbooks can be directly attributed to Hogarth’s pioneering drawing and, in later years, his dedicated efforts as an educator.

When Hogarth in turn left the strip he found his way into teaching (he co-founded – with Silas H. Rhodes – the Cartoonist and Illustrators School for returning veterans which evolved into the New York School of Visual Arts) and also authored an invaluable and inspirational series of art textbooks such as Dynamic Anatomy and Dynamic Figure Drawing which influenced generations of aspiring artists.

In the early 1970s Hogarth was lured back to the leafy domain of legendary Lord Greystoke, producing – with co-writer Robert M. Hodes and lettering assistant Skip Kholoff – two magnificent volumes of graphic narrative in the dazzling style that had captivated audiences more than thirty years previously. Recently both were bundled into a magnificent hardback edition by Dark Horse (also available digitally through Kindle and ComiXology) as a magnificent tribute to Hogarth’s mastery.

Tarzan of the Apes is a strong candidate for the title of first Graphic Novel. Originally released in 1972, it stunningly adapts the first half of ERB’s groundbreaking popular classic in large bold panels, vibrantly coloured, accompanied by blocks of Burroughs’ original text. The electric visuals leap out at the reader in a riot of hue and motion as they recount the triumphant, tragic tale of the orphaned scion of British nobility raised to puissant manhood by the Great Apes of Africa.

The saga follows his life as cub of loving she-ape Kala, his rise to prominence amongst his hirsute tribe and how he masters all the beasts of his savage environment. The mighty, brilliant foundling – through intellect alone and the remnants of his father’s papers – learns to read and deduces that he is a Man, but still inflicts brutal vengeance on the human tribesmen responsible for killing beloved, devoted Kala before submerging himself in the ways of the tribe.

The adaptation ends just prior to the arrival of the white woman who will reshape Tarzan’s destiny forever…

Four years later Hogarth returned to his subject, but instead of completing his bravura interpretation of Tarzan of the Apes he instead produced an adaptation of the short tales which formed the composite novel Jungle Tales of Tarzan.

That book was a series of episodes reminiscent of Kipling’s “Just So” stories, set before the first fateful meeting with Jane Porter and the Ape-Man’s introduction to civilisation. Instead it related how and when the Lord of the Jungle confronted various cognitive stages in his own intellectual and physical development.

If that sounds dry, it’s not. Burroughs was a master storyteller and his prose crackles with energy and imagination. With this book he was showing how the Ape-man’s intellectual progress was a metaphor for Man’s social, cerebral and even spiritual growth from beast to human. He also never forgot that people love action and broad belly-laughs.

Hogarth was also an acclaimed intellectual and the four tales he adapted here afforded him vast scope to explore his cherished perfect temple that was the Ideal Man. The flowing organic compositions he created for his Jungle Tales of Tarzan are strengthened by the absence of colour, allowing the classicism of his line-work to create stark divisions of form and space that contribute to the metaphysical component of his subject.

The monochrome magic begins with ‘Tarzan’s First Love’ with the adolescent finding himself increasingly drawn to fetching young She-Ape Teeka. However, no matter what he did, the young maiden just wasn’t interested in her ardent, hairless admirer…

Next to enthral is a savage tale of comradeship as the human befriends mighty elephant Tantor who proves valiant and true following ‘The Capture of Tarzan’ by the local tribesmen responsible for Kala’s death, after which ‘The God of Tarzan’ sees him overdose on his dead father’s books and suffer a brain-expanding religious experience…

The drama ends here in a riot of phantasmagoria as young Tarzan steals spoiled, cooked meat from the native villagers and endures ‘The Nightmare’.

Don’t let my effusive verbiage deter you, folks: you don’t need a dictionary to enjoy this work; all you need are eyes to see and a heart to beat faster. This is all vital, violent motion, stretching, leaping, running, fighting, surging power and glory: guaranteed to give indolent comic lovers all the thorough cardio-vascular work-out they’ll ever need…

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a genius at engaging the public’s collective imagination, whilst Hogarth was an inspired and inspirational artisan who, as well as gradually instilling his pages with ferocious, unceasing action, layered his works with subtle symbolism. Heroes looked noble, villains suitably vile and animals powerful, beautiful and deadly. Even vegetation, rocks and clouds looked spiky, edgy and liable to attack at a moment’s notice…

This compilation is a vivid visual masterwork: a coiled-spring tension of vigorous vitality and explosive action and dream come true for every generation of dedicated fantasists to enjoy.

Magnificent, majestic, awe-inspiring, crucial comics entertainment.
© 1972, 1976, 2014 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All rights reserved. Tarzan ® is owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., and used by permission.

Astro Boy volume 3


By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Frederik L. Schodt (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-678-6

Osamu Tezuka rescued and revolutionised the Japanese comics industry. From the late 1940s onward until his death in 1989, he generated an incomprehensible volume of quality work that transformed the world of manga and how it was perceived. A passionate fan of Walt Disney’s cartoon films, he performed similar sterling service with the country’s fledgling animation industry.

His earliest stories were intended for children but right from the start his ambitious, expansive fairytale-flavoured stylisations harboured more mature themes and held hidden treasures for older readers and the legion of fans growing up with his many manga masterpieces…

“The God of Comics” was born in Osaka Prefecture on November 3rd 1928. As a child he suffered from a severe illness which made his arms swell. The doctor who cured him also inspired the boy to study medicine, and although Osamu began his professional drawing career while at university in 1946, he wisely persevered with his studies and qualified as a medical practitioner too. Then, as he faced a career crossroads, his mother advised him to do the thing which made him happiest.

He never practiced as a healer but the world was gifted with such unforgettable comics masterpieces as Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Black Jack and so many other graphic narratives.

Working ceaselessly over decades Tezuka and his creations inevitably matured, but he was always able to speak to the hearts and minds of children and adults equally. His creations ranged from the childishly charming to the disturbing – such as Adolf or The Book of Human Insects.

He died on February 9th 1989, having produced more than 150,000 pages of timeless comics, recreated the Japanese anime industry and popularised a peculiarly Japanese iteration of graphic narrative which became a fixture of world culture.

This superb digest volume (168 x 109 x 33 mm) continues to present – in non-linear order – early exploits of his signature character, with the emphasis firmly on fantastic fun and family entertainment…

Tetsuwan Atomu (literally “Mighty Atom” but known universally as Astro Boy due to its successful, if bowdlerised, dissemination around the world as an animated TV cartoon) is a spectacular, riotous, rollicking sci fi action-adventure starring a young boy who also happens to be one of the mightiest robots on Earth.

The landmark, groundbreaking series began in the April 3rd 1952 issue of Shōnen Kobunsha and ran until March 12th 1968 – although Tezuka often returned to add to the canon in later years. Over that time Astro spawned the aforementioned global TV cartoon sensation, comicbook specials, games, toys, collectibles, movies and the undying devotion of generations of ardent fans.

Tezuka often drew himself into his tales as a commentator and in his revisions and introductions often mentioned how he found the restrictions of Shōnen comics stifling; specifically, having to periodically pause a plot to placate the demands of his audience by providing a blockbusting fight every episode. That’s his prerogative: most of us avid aficionados have no complaints…

Tezuka and his production team were never as wedded to close continuity as the fans. They constantly tinkered and revised both stories and artwork in later collections, so if you’re a certified purist you are just plain out of luck. Such tweaking and modifying is the reason this series seems to skip up and down the publishing chronology. The intent is to entertain at all times so the stories aren’t treated as gospel and their order is not immutable or inviolate.

It’s just comics, guys…

And in case you came in late, here’s a little background to set you up…

In a world where robots are ubiquitous and have (limited) human rights, brilliant Dr. Tenma lost his son Tobio in a road accident. Grief-stricken, the tormented genius used his position as head of Japan’s Ministry of Science to build a replacement. The android his team created was one of the most ground-breaking constructs in history, and for a while Tenma was content.

However, as his mind re-stabilised, Tenma realised the unchanging humanoid was not Tobio and, with cruel clarity, summarily rejected the replacement. Ultimately, the savant removed the insult to his real boy by selling the robot to a shady dealer…

Some time later, independent researcher Professor Ochanomizu was in the audience at a robot circus and realised diminutive performer “Astro” was unlike the other acts – or any artificial being he had ever encountered. Convincing the circus owners to part with the little robot he closely studied the unique creation and realised just what a miracle had come into his hands…

Part of Ochanomizu’s socialization process for Astro included placing him in a family environment and having him attend school just like a real boy. As well as friends and admirers the familiar environment provided another foil and occasional assistant in the bellicose form of Elementary School teacher Higeoyaji (AKA Mr. Mustachio) …

The astounding action and spectacle resumes in this third mighty monochrome digest volume following ‘A Note to Readers’ – which explains why one thing that hasn’t been altered is the depictions of various racial types in the stories.

‘The Greatest Robot on Earth’ was first seen from June 1964 through January 1965 in Shōnen Magazine, and introduces formidable fighting fabrication Pluto. This monstrous mechanoid marvel was commissioned by Sultan; a small disgruntled Eastern potentate who dreams of being King of the World, and convinces himself that if his colossal construction (built by enigmatic masked genius Dr. Abullah) defeats and destroys the seven most powerful robots in existence, Pluto could declare himself ultimate overlord of the planet and rule as Sultan’s proxy…

Nothing is ever that simple of course. Despite initially eradicating mighty – and benevolent – Mont Blanc of Switzerland, Pluto’s ferocious attack on Astro Boy ends in a draw. Cleverly outmanoeuvred, the beast withdraws to reconsider.

As the cataclysmic conflicts continue and a pantheon of super-robots inexorably grows smaller, Astro futilely seeks ways to help his fellow targets but meets with repeated failure. However, what nobody expects was pulverising Pluto challenging his core programming and developing a conscience…

Packed with devious plot twists and sudden surprises, this extended epic also includes a starring role for Astro’s feisty little sister Uran before our artificial hero achieves his dream of upgrading his power to one million horsepower (thanks to a reconciliation with Dr. Tenma) and takes on the conflicted Pluto one last time…

Action-packed and brutally astute – Tezuka gives each endangered robot beguiling character and a winning personality before it is led to the slaughter – this is a stunning example of the author’s narrative mastery and still manages to pull off a stunning surprise ending.

Concluding this Little Book of Wonders is ‘Mad Machine’ (Shōnen Kobunsha August to September 1958) which introduces robot Parliamentarian Colt and his crusade to establish an official “Machine Day” for and celebrating Earth’s non-organic citizens.

His real troubles only begin after his triumph, as the mean-spirited and corrupt movers and shakers of business enterprise Colossal attempt to turn back progress and thwart the will of the people – organic and otherwise.

The plan involves hiring certified mad scientist Dr. Nutso to build a device capable of generating waves to disrupt the brains of all thinking machines…

With mechanisms from cars to military machines going bonkers, it’s a good thing the greedy double-dealing quack warned the public first. His treacherous tactic – designed to extort two fees for his machine – allows Professor Ochanomizu time to dismantle Astro Boy until the first fusillade of Nutso Waves passes.

Now, however, the Prof has only minutes to reassemble the mechanical marvel and have Astro destroy the hidden generator inside the heavily booby-trapped Colossal skyscraper before the next program-scrambling barrage begins…

Astro Boy is one of the most beguiling kids’ comics ever crafted: a work all fans and parents should know, but be warned: although tastefully executed, these tales don’t sugar-coat drama or combat and not all endings can be judged as happy by today’s anodyne, risk-averse definitions.

Breathtaking pace, outrageous invention, bold, broad comedy and frenetic action are the watchwords for this riotous assemblage, bringing to a close another perfect exhibition of Tezuka’s uncanny storytelling gifts which can still deliver a potent punch and instil wide-eyed wonder on a variety of intellectual levels.
Tetsuwan Atom by Osama Tezuka © 2002 by Tezuka Productions. All rights reserved. Astro Boy is a registered trademark of Tezuka Productions Co., Ltd., Tokyo Japan. Unedited translation © 2002 Frederik L. Schodt.

Osamu Tezuka’s Original Astro Boy volumes 1 & 2


By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Frederik L. Schodt (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-153-9

There aren’t many Names in comics.

Lots of creators; multi-disciplined or single-focussed, who have contributed to the body of the art form, but precious few Global Presences whose contributions have affected generations of readers and aspirants all over the World, like a Mozart, Michelangelo or Shakespeare.

We only have Hergé, Jack Kirby, Moebius, Will Eisner and Osamu Tezuka.

Tezuka rescued and revolutionised the Japanese comics industry. Beginning in the late 1940s, he generated an incomprehensible volume of quality work that transformed the world of manga and how it was perceived. A passionate fan of Walt Disney’s cartoon films, he performed similar sterling service with the country’s fledgling animation industry.

His earliest stories were intended for children but right from the start his ambitious, expansive fairytale-flavoured stylisations harboured more mature themes and held hidden treasures for older readers and the legion of fans who would grow up with his many manga masterpieces…

“The God of Comics” was born in Osaka Prefecture on November 3rd 1928. As a child he suffered from a severe illness which made his arms swell. The doctor who cured him also inspired the boy to study medicine, and although Osamu began his professional drawing career while at university in 1946, he wisely persevered with his studies and qualified as a medical practitioner too. Then, as he faced a career crossroads, his mother advised him to do the thing which made him happiest.

He never practiced as a healer but the world was gifted with such unforgettable comics masterpieces as Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Adolf, Black Jack and so many other graphic narratives.

Working ceaselessly over decades Tezuka and his creations inevitably matured, but he was always able to speak to the hearts and minds of children and adults equally. His creations ranged from the childishly charming to the disturbing – and even terrifying such as Ningen Konchuuki which we’ve seen in the West as The Book of Human Insects.

He died on February 9th 1989: having written and drawn more than 150,000 pages of comics, recreated the Japanese anime industry and popularised a peculiarly Japanese iteration of graphic narrative and made it a part of world culture.

This superb digest (168 x 109 x 33 mm) paperback gathers two earlier volumes in one massive monochrome compilation; presenting in non-linear order some early exploits of his signature character, with the emphasis firmly on fantastic fun and family entertainment…

Tetsuwan Atomu (literally “Mighty Atom” but known universally as Astro Boy due to its successful, if bowdlerised, dissemination around the world as an animated TV cartoon) is a spectacular, riotous, rollicking sci fi action-adventure starring a young boy who also happens to be one of the mightiest robots on Earth.

The iconic series began in the April 3rd 1952 issue of Shōnen Kobunsha and ran intermittently until March 12th 1968 – although he often returned to add to the canon in later years. Over that time Astro spawned the aforementioned groundbreaking TV cartoon, comics specials, games, toys, collectibles, movies and the undying devotion of generations of ardent fans.

Tezuka often drew himself into his tales as a commentator and here in his revisions and introductions mentions how often he found the restrictions of Shōnen comics stifling; specifically, perpetually pausing the plot to placate the demands of his audience by providing a blockbusting fight every episode.

As further explained in the context-expanding and defining Introduction by scholar and series translator Frederik L. Schodt, Tezuka and his production team were never as wedded to close continuity as fans: constantly tinkering and revising both stories and artwork in later collections. It’s the reason this series seems to skip up and down the publishing chronology. The intent is to entertain at all times so the stories aren’t treated as gospel and their order immutable or inviolate…

There’s a final prevarication in ‘A Note to Readers’ explaining why one thing that hasn’t been altered is the depictions of various racial types in the stories before the cartoon wonders commence with ‘The Birth of Astro Boy’. This was first seen in June 20th 1975 as part of a new story for volume 1 of Asahi Sonorama’s Tetsuwan Atomu reprint series.

In the early days origins were never as important as getting on with having adventures, but here the secret is exposed as the development of a world where robots are ubiquitous and have (sometimes limited) human rights is described in detail, as are the laws of robotics which govern them.

When brilliant Dr. Tenma lost his son Tobio in a road accident, the grief-stricken genius used his position as head of Japan’s Ministry of Science to build a replacement. The android his team created was one of the most ground-breaking constructions in history, and for a while Tenma was content. However, as his mind stabilised, Tenma realised the unchanging humanoid was not Tobio and with cruel clarity rejected the replacement. He ultimately removed the insult to his real boy by selling the robot to a shady dealer…

Some time later, independent researcher Professor Ochanomizu was in the audience at a robot circus and realised the little performer “Astro” was unlike the other acts – or any construction he had ever encountered…

He convinced the circus owners to part with the little bot and, after studying the unique boy, realised just what a miracle had come into his hands…

Introductions over, the vintage tales properly begin with a rather disturbing adventure as ‘The Hot Dog Corps’ (Shōnen Kobunsha March to October 1961) pits the solenoid superhero against a maniac stealing pets. After much investigation our champions discover with horror that mystery villains were implanting canine nervous systems in humanoid warrior bodies to circumvent the Laws preventing robots from fighting humans…

Part of Ochanomizu’s socialization process for Astro included placing him in a family environment and having him attend school just like a real boy, and the metal and plastic marvel became embroiled in the bizarre interplanetary plot when his Elementary School teacher Higeoyaji (AKA Mr. Mustachio) had his beloved dog stolen by Cossacks in a flying car…

After many false leads and deadly battles all over the world, the trail finally leads the valiant robot to a hidden polar base and an ancient city on the Moon, where a deranged Russian émigré plans a deadly revenge on the world that abandoned her…

Thankfully with Earth under overwhelming assault, mighty Astro Boy finds that a dog’s love for his master transcends shape and he has a secret ally deep within the enemy’s ranks…

Although a series built on spectacular action sequences and bombastic battles, Astro Boy had a skilful way of tugging heartstrings and hitting hard with the slapstick.

‘Plant People’ was a short tale from 1961’s Special Expanded New Years Day Edition of Shōnen which opens with Astro and his school chums playing in the snow. At the height of their sport they accidentally uncover a strange alien flower. Engaging his friends’ rapt attention, the Plastic Pinocchio then describes how he foiled an alien invasion in this location and how a valiant extraterrestrial ally perished on that very spot, only to be transformed into…

Following a leisurely and scathing discussion of violence in his comics and the squeamishness of America’s TX executives over content in the TV episodes, cartoon Tezuka yields focus to Astro Boy for ‘His Highness Deadcross’ (September through December 1960 in Shōnen magazine).

Here the super-synthezoid answers a surreal plea from an embattled leader desperate to save his nation. President Rag rules in the first nation to elect a robot to high office, but although voted in by both an organic and mechanical electorate, the robot ruler is being undermined and targeted for destruction by a sinister cabal he is unable to act against because of his core programming to never harm humans.

Astro is similarly restricted, but he also has a super brain and might be able to find a solution to this dreadful crisis…

Panicked yet emboldened, Deadcross craftily imprisons Mustachio for a little leverage whilst launching an all-out assault with deadly mindless mechanical monsters. Astro valiantly overcomes the invaders, but the mastermind then plays his trump card and replaces President Rag with a subservient substitute…

To make matters worse, Astro – depleted of energy after saving Mustachio – is reduced to fragments by Deadcross’ marauders, and with the nation about to fall to the usurpers, the liberated teacher and recently-arrived Professor Ochanomizu strive mightily to rebuild their robotic redeemer in time to expose the plot and save the day…

‘The Third Magician’ originally appeared in Shōnen between October 1961 and January 1962 and sees Kino, the world’s greatest stage illusionist, captured by another proponent of the art of prestidigitation. That villain calls himself Noh Uno and wants the secret of passing through walls, even if he has to dismantle the presumptuous, uppity robot conjuror to get it…

Like most kids, Astro is a huge fan of Kino and when his super-hearing picks up the magician’s distress he charges to the rescue. Tragically, by the time he battles through Noh Uno’s house of horrors he is too late…

A few days later Japan is shocked by an announcement that the amazing Kino is going to steal one hundred priceless works of art in one go. The police are unwilling to listen to Astro or Mustachio’s protestations that Noh Uno is the real culprit and their diligent preparations only make the heist easier for the villain…

A confrontation between Inspector Tawashi and Kino only convinces the authorities they are correct. It also leads the powers that be to start the legislative process to pre-emptively lobotomise all high functioning robots…

With so much at stake Astro Boy ignores official orders. Undertaking more intensive investigation and amidst increasing political unrest, he tracks down Kino, only to discover that the seemingly-corrupt conjuror has a double possessing all his gifts and tricks.

On the run from the cops, Astro and Kino persevere and lead their pursuers a merry chase which leads to the subterranean lair of Noh Ino and the Third Magician. Now all they have to do is defeat them, clear their names and stop the anti-robot bill…

This initial exploration of a classic cartoon future concludes with a delightful homage to another trans-Pacific antique anime export. ‘White Planet’ came from the New Years 1963 edition of Shōnen and featured a tribute to the early manga works of Tatsuo Yoshida whose Mach GoGoGo and its seminal progenitor Pilot Ace would become another American Anime hit in the 1960s: Speed Racer

In this smart pastiche, Astro aids a boy racer whose intelligent super-car is sabotaged just prior to a round-the-world grand prix. Astro and Ochanomizu have a robotic solution to his dilemma, but it will take a tragic sacrifice to make it work…

Wrapping things up is a potted biography of ‘Osama Tezuka’: making this a perfect introduction to the mastery of a man who reinvented popular culture in Japan and who can still deliver a powerful punch and wide-eyed wonder on a variety of intellectual levels.

Astro Boy is one of the most beguiling kids’ comics ever crafted: a work that all fans and parents should know, but be warned, although tastefully executed, these tales don’t sugar-coat drama or action and not all endings can be truly judged as happy.

The material in this tome plus volume 3 were combined and re-released in 2015 as the first wrist-wrenching, eye-straining Astro Boy Omnibus, but you can avoid injury and ongoing controversy about whether that tome is too small and heavy to read (I admit I found it so) by picking up this splendid, physically accessible and still readily available edition from your preferred internet vendor or online comics service… and you really, really should…
Tetsuwan Atom by Osama Tezuka © 2002, 2008 by Tezuka Productions. All rights reserved. Unedited translation and Introduction © 2002 Frederik L. Schodt.

Krazy & Ignatz volume 2 1919-1921: A Kind, Benevolent and Amiable Brick


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-364-4

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 its own unique language – at once both visual and verbal – and dealt with the immeasurable variety of human experience, foible and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding without every 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 the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Some brief background then: Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse that 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 mainly by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct influence 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 Jack Kerouac) 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 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 muy macho; drinking, stealing, 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 brickmaker Kolin Kelly). A third element completing an animalistic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, utterly besotted with Krazy, well aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet bound by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from removing his 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 deliverer of babies Joe Stork, hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, pompous Walter Cephus Austridge, 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 of the artist’s vacation retreat Coconino County Arizona) where the surreal playfulness and 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, strongly referencing Navajo art forms and utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully expressive language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“He’s simpfilly wondafil”, “A fowl konspirissy – is it pussible?” or “I nevva seen such a great power to kookoo”).

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 slapstick.

There have been an absolute wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the fondly remembered strip was generally rediscovered by a far more accepting audience and this particular compendium continues a complete year-by-year series begun by Eclipse and picked up by Fantagraphics when the former ceased trading in 1992. This specific and fabulous monochrome volume – A Kind, Benevolent and Amiable Brick – re-presents the years 1919-1921 in a reassuringly big and hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) softcover edition.

Within this magical atlas of another land and time the unending drama plays out as usual, but with some intriguing diversions, such as recurring tribute’s to Kipling’s “Just So Stories” as we discover how the Kookoo Klock works, why bananas hang around in bunches and why Lightning Bugs light up.

Joe’s natal missions go increasingly awry, disease, despair and dearth of alcoholic imbibements take their toll in the years of Prohibition, the weather thinks it’s a comedian and the value of the common brick rollercoasters from low to high and back again.

We also meet a few trans-species alternates of our triangular stars and even peer into the misty past to see Kwin Kleopatra Kat and Marcatonni Maus whilst exploring the ever-changing seasons in a constant display of visual virtuosity and verbal verve…

Frontloading Added Value to the romantic tribulations are fascinating articles and background features such as ‘A Mouse by any Other Name: Krazy and Ignatz’s Early Life Under the Stairs’ by Bill Blackbeard, intimate photo portraits and the mesmerisingly informative ‘Geo. Herriman’s Los Angeles’ by Bob Callahan.

At the far end of the tome you can enjoy some full-colour archival illustration and 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…

Herriman’s epochal classic is a remarkable one-off: 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…
© 2011 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Lone Wolf and Cub volume 1: The Assassins Road


By Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima, translated by Dana Lewis (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-502-4

Whichever English transliteration you prefer – Wolf and Baby Carriage is what I was first introduced to – the grandiose, thought-provoking hell-bent Samurai tragedy created by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima is without doubt one of those all too rare breakthrough global classics of comics literature.

The epic Kozure Okami began as a serial in Weekly Manga Action, running from September 1970 to April 1976, and was immediately followed by a direct sequel (Shin Lone Wolf & Cub) as well as science fiction offshoot Lone Wolf 2100. The story has broken out into 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 7000 thousand pages of staggeringly beautiful black and white narrative art produced by these gifted creators eventually filled 28 tankobon volumes, gripping and captivating generations of readers around the world. More importantly, the sensitively nihilistic saga, with its timeless themes and iconic visuals, has influenced hordes of other creators.

The many manga, comics and movies the stories have inspired are impossible to count. Frank Miller, who illustrated the cover of this particular edition, has referenced the series in his science fiction saga Ronin, The Dark Knight Returns, and Sin City. Max Allan Collin’s Road to Perdition is an unashamed tribute to this Japanese masterpiece. Even children’s cartoons such as Samurai Jack can be seen as direct descendants of this astounding achievement in graphic literature.

We in the West first saw the series as 45 Prestige Format editions from First Comics beginning in 1987. The company foundered before getting even a third of the way through the canon. Then, from September 2000 to December 2002, 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, about 300-ish pages per), before recently putting the entire sequence online through its Dark Horse Digital project.

This initial lean, mean, martial edition offers a Glossary providing detailed context on the term used in the stories, plus profiles of author Koike Kazuo and illustrator Kojima Goseki and the first instalment of ‘The Ronin Report’: an occasional series of articles offering potted history essays on the period of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Of course the true meat is the captivating, grimly compelling combination of revenge fable and action-adventure which opens here with intriguing episodes of stripped-down mystery, gripping intensity and galvanic bloodletting as the first tale introduces a scruffy indigent pushing a homemade bamboo pram with a 3-year-old boy in it.

A banner on the contraption proclaims ‘Son for Hire, Sword for Hire’ and as the man stoically ignores mockery and derision from louts on the road, his advert soon attracts the attention of four deadly men who have been warned of an assassin carrying his baby boy with him…

A certain formula informs all 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 possibly the most dangerous swordsman in the world…

You won’t learn it until the end of this tome, but the fore-doomed killer-wanderer was once 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 it all and now roams feudal Japan as a doomed soul hellbent for the dire, demon-haunted underworld of Meifumado.

When the nomad’s wife was murdered and his clan dishonoured due to the machinations of the treacherous and politically ambitious Yagyu Clan, the Emperor ordered Ōgami to commit suicide. Instead, he rebelled, choosing to become a despised Ronin (masterless samurai) and assassin, pledging to revenge himself on the Yagyus until they were all dead or Hell claimed him. His son, the toddler Daigoro, also chose the way of the sword and together they roamed the grim and evocative landscapes of feudal Japan, one step ahead of doom and with death behind and before them.

Frequently the infallible assassin’s best ploy is to allow himself to be captured, endure unimaginable torture and then fight his way out having slaughtered his target…

The tactic is again employed in ‘A Father Knows His Child’s Heart, as Only a Child Can Know His Father’s’ as the wolf sends willing Daigoro to penetrate the unyielding defences of Takai Han so that Papa can kill a dishonourable usurper…

Another aspect of Ōgami’s methodology emerges in ‘From North to South, From West to East’. The assassin insists on a personal interview with all his clients 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…

The legend of the Lone Wolf and Cub quickly spreads and when faithful guards briefly hire Daigoro to help their beloved mistress, it is with full knowledge of what the boy’s father is. In ‘Baby Cart on the River Styx’ that knowledge is crucial to Ōgami’s plan for quashing a gang turf-war before it begins even whilst bringing down a corrupt yet untouchable lord…

Shocking to us is the accepted conceit that the father is fully prepared to sacrifice his son to achieve his mission and fulfil his promises. In ‘Suio School Zanbato’ little Daigoro willingly becomes a hostage to fortune so that his dad can lure a swords-master – and all his honourless students – into an officially sanctioned duel, and kill with no legal ramifications or repercussions…

A lyrical twist on the theme of star-crossed lovers, ‘Waiting for the Rains’ then sees the little boy befriending a dying woman even as his father waits to carry out his next commission – expunging the man she so patiently awaits…

These stories are deeply metaphorical and work on a number of levels most of us westerners just won’t grasp on first reading – even with the contextual help provided by the bonus features. 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. His 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 Ōgami. He kills them just as if they were men…

In ‘Eight Gates of Deceit’ the indomitable killer is ambushed by an octet of female assassins hired by the wolf’s latest client who foolishly chooses to discount the professional honour of his hireling in favour of clearing up loose ends. That’s his last mistake…

‘Wings to the Birds, Fangs to the Beast’ finds the tireless wanderer stumbling into a hot-spa village recently taken over by bandits. To their eternal cost, and despite the newcomer’s every forbearing effort, the human animals refuse to believe the man with the baby-carriage wants no trouble…

This first stunning collection ends with some of the answers the reader has been looking for as the scene shifts to the recent past and Shogun’s palace in Edo for an origin. There, thanks to the political manoeuvrings of ambitious Lord Yagyu, the Shogun’s Executioner Ōgami Ittō has been ousted and his clan disgraced. With wife Asami dead, the austere warrior outfoxes his opponent – who thought an honourable suicide the only option he’d left his enemy – by opting to travel ‘The Assassin’s Road’ with his baby son momentously choosing to follow him to Meifumado or victory…

A breathtaking tour de force, these are comics classics you must not miss.
© 1995, 2000 Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima. All other material © 2000 Dark Horse Comics, Inc. Cover art © 2000 Frank Miller. All rights reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz volume 1 1916-1918: Love in a Kestle or Love in a Hut


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBNs: 978-1-60699-316-3

I must admit to feeling like a fool and a fraud reviewing George Herriman’s winningly surreal masterpiece of eternal unrequited love. Although 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 a paragon of world literature, some readers – from the strip’s earliest antecedents in 1913 right up to five minutes ago – just cannot “get it”.

All those with the right sequence of genes (“K”, “T”, “Z” and “A”, but not, I suspect “Why”) are lifelong fans within seconds of exposure whilst those sorry few oblivious to the strip’s inimitable charms are beyond anybody’s meagre capacity to help.

Still, since every day there’s newcomers to the wonderful world of comics I’ll assume my inelegant missionary position once more and hope to catch and convert some fresh souls – or, as today’s indisputable pictorial immortal might put it, save some more “lil Ainjils”…

Krazy Kat is not and never has been 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 the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Think of it as a visual approximation of Dylan Thomas and Edward Lear playing “I Spy” with James Joyce amongst beautifully harsh and barren cactus fields whilst Gabriel García Márquez types up the shorthand notes and keeps score…

George Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been cropping up in the corners and backgrounds of his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs finally graduated to their own feature.

Krazy Kat the strip debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on October 28th 1913 and, mainly by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct influence, spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (which included Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and Jack Kerouac) utterly adored the strip, many local editors -ever-cautious of the opinions of the hoi-polloi who actually bought newspapers – did not, and took every career-threatening opportunity to eject it from the comics section.

Eventually the feature found a home in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s vast empire of periodicals. Protected by the publisher’s patronage, the strip flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion, running until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The basic premise of the eccentric enterprise is simple: in an arid, anthropomorphic region of America bordering the mighty Rio Grande dwells Krazy; an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender, in uncompromising total love with rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous, married-with-children (so very many children) bad boy Ignatz Mouse.

Ignatz is a real Man’s Muridae; drinking, stealing, cheating, carousing, neglectful of his spouse and progeny. He revels in spurning Krazy’s genteel advances by regularly, repeatedly and obsessively belting the cat with a well-aimed and mightily thrown brick (obtained singly or in bulk, generally by legitimate purchase from noted local brickmaker Kolin Kelly).

The third member of the classic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, hopelessly in love with Krazy, well-aware of the Mouse’s true nature, but bound by his own timidity and sense of honour from removing his rival for the cat’s affections. Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious of Pupp’s true feelings and dilemma…

Also populating the dusty environs are a stunning supporting cast of inspired anthropomorphic bit players such as Joe Stork, (deliverer of babies), the hobo Bum Bill Bee, larcenous Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, Walter Cephus Austridge, Chinese mallard Mock Duck, Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters – all capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

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

These strips are a masterful mélange of wickedly barbed contemporary social satire, folksy yarn-telling, unique experimental art, strongly referencing Navajo art forms and sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully expressive language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous and compellingly musical (“He’s simpfilly wondafil”, “A fowl konspirissy – is it pussible?” or “I nevva seen such a great power to kookoo”), yet for all that these adventures are timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic and utterly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous silent-movie slapstick.

The Krazy & Ignatz series of collected Sunday pages was originally contrived by Eclipse Comics and the Turtle Island Foundation and taken over by Fantagraphics when the first publisher succumbed to predatory market conditions in the 1990s. Through diligence and sheer bloody determination matching Hearst’s own, the series was finally completed in 2015.

After years of scarily hand-to-mouth publishing, the entire Katty canon of magnificent Sunday pages has been collected in fabulous compilations and this first colour and monochrome volume opens with ‘And the First Shall Be the Last: A History of Kat Reprints’ and A Word from the Publisher by Kim Thompson delineating at length the eccentric orbit which finally resulted in Herriman’s masterpiece being collected in a complete, uniform, visually stunning 13 volume edition.

That’s followed by ‘The Kat’s Kreation’ from series Editor Bill Blackbeard; a fulsome, fascinating and heavily illustrated history tracing the development of the frankly freakish feline as briefly outlined above, and ‘Before He Went “Krazy”: George Herriman’s Aughts’, offering a liberal sampling of examples of the cartoonists many pre-Coconino strips and features such as ‘Lariat Pete’, ‘Bud Smith, the Boy Who Does Stunts’, ‘Rosy’s Mama’, ‘Zoo Zoo… (Goes Shopping, Entertains, And the Christmas Pie)’, ‘Alexander’ and ‘Daniel and Pansy’, spanning 1903 to 1909, with many sporting a certain prototype mad moggy in the corners…

From there it’s a short hop to the first cautious yet full-bodied escapades from 1916, delivered every seven days from April 23rd to December 31st.

Within that first year, as war raged in Europe and with America edging inexorably closer to the Global Armageddon, the residents of Coconino sported and wiled away their days in careless abandon but totally embroiled within their own – and their neighbours’ – personal dramas.

Big hearted Krazy adopts orphan kitties, accidentally goes boating and ballooning, saves baby birds from predatory mice and rats, survives pirate attacks, constantly endures assault and affectionate attempted murder and does lots of nothing in an utterly addictive, idyllic and eccentric way.

…And gets hit with bricks. Many, heavy and always evoking joyous, grateful raptures and transports of delight from the heart-sore hard-headed recipient…

In 1917 (specifically January 7th to December 30th), the eternal game played out as usual and with an infinite variety of twists, quirks and reversals. However there were also increasingly intriguing diversions to flesh out the picayune proceedings, such as recurring explorations of terrifying trees, grim ghosts and obnoxious Ouija Boards, tributes to Kipling as we discover why the snake rattles, meet Ignatz’s aquatic cousin, observe an invasion of Mexican Jumping Beans and a plague of measles, discover the maritime value of “glowerms”, learn who was behind a brilliant brick-stealing campaign of crime and at last see Krazy become the Bricker and not Brickee…

Fully in control of his medium, Herriman switched into poetic high gear as America finally entered the Great War in 1918.

With strips running from January 6th to December 29th, uncanny brick apparitions scotched somebody’s New Year’s resolutions, cantankerous automobiles began to disrupt the desert days, fun of a sort was had with boomerangs and moving picture mavens began haunting the region. There were deeply strange interactions with weather events, whilst music was made and occasional extended storylines began with the saga of an aberrant Kookoo Klock…

Surreal voyages were undertaken but over and again it was seen that there is literally no place like Krazy and Ignatz’s home. There was only one acknowledgement of Kaiser Bill and it was left to the missile-chucking mouse to deliver it…

And then it was Christmas and a new year and volume lay ahead…

To complete the illustrious experience and explore the ever-shifting sense of reality amidst the constant display of visual virtuosity and verbal verve this big, big book (305 x 230 mm and superbly designed by Chris Ware) ends with rare and informative bonus material such as ‘A Genius of the Comic Page’: a contemporaneous appreciation and loving deconstruction of the strip – with new illustrations from Herriman – by the astoundingly perspicacious and erudite critic Summerfield Baldwin taken from Cartoons Magazine and an oddly enigmatic biography of the reclusive creator in ‘George Herriman 1880-1944’ by Bill Blackbeard.

‘The Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’ then closes the show, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed…

Herriman’s epochal classic is a genuine Treasure of World Art and Literature. These strips shaped our industry, galvanised comics creators, inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, sculpture, dance, animation and jazz and musical theatre whilst always delivering delight and delectation to generations of devoted, 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 Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this glorious parade of cartoon masterpieces are your last chance to become a human before you die…

That was harsh, I know: not everybody gets it and some of them aren’t even stupid or soulless – they’re just unfortunate…

Still, There Is A Heppy Lend Furfur A-Waay if only you try to see…
© 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Little Adventures in Oz volume 1


By Eric Shanower (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-589-0

We all know the story of The Wizard of Oz – or at least the bare bones of it as harvested to make the admittedly stunning 1939 movie classic – but the truth is that there is a vast surplus of fantastic wonders from that legendary 1900 novel by jobbing journalist and prolific author Lyman Frank Baum that remained unfilmed.

Happily this collection of superb and faithful extrapolations by rabid fan Eric Shanower draws heavily from the prose canon, restoring almost all of those glaring tinseltown omissions and alterations whilst keeping in play all those beloved stars the wider world knows. He does so with stunning skill, wondrous wit and mesmerising charm.

As superb an illustrator as author, Shanower (whose far too occasional “straight” comics work includes Prez: Smells Like Teen President, The Elsewhere Prince and the astoundingly ambitious Age of Bronze) produced five original albums set in Baum’s magic kingdom for independent publisher First Comics’ groundbreaking line of graphic novels, all codified as Adventures in Oz.

Between 1986 and 1992 he crafted The Enchanted Apples of Oz, The Secret Island of Oz, The Ice King of Oz, The Forgotten Forest of Oz, and The Blue Witch of Oz; since then going on to release a new prose work, numerous short stories and scholarly contributions to various academic and critical volumes on Baum and his creations.

In 2007 Shanower paired with Skottie Young at Marvel Comics to adapt the original Baum books in a stellar sequence which utterly reinvigorated the immortal franchise. That inspired the repackaging of his earlier one-man show and the comic tales were eventually compiled into a set of scintillating chronicles as Little Adventures in Oz. This initial volume reproduces the first and third so-very beautiful Shanower albums, repackaged and remastered in a splendid new edition, bundled up with a glittering hoard of visual treasures and behind-the-scenes gems to delight every devotee of the canon and lover of modern fairy tales.

The extraordinary excursion to miraculous lands and climes opens with a beautiful map of the incredible kingdom and its environs, before launching into 1986’s The Enchanted Apples of Oz.

Kansas expatriate Dorothy Gale is strolling along the Yellow Brick Road with Scarecrow and wise hen Billina when a magical castle materialises. Entering the sparkling keep, they meet stately Valynn who has in the courtyard ‘The Apple Tree’ which has sustained Oz since time began. Its enchanted fruits are what underpin the realm’s magic; allowing chickens to talk, imbuing inanimate objects with life and dangerously capable of breaking any enchantment…

Such a resource has made the place a target for evil-doers so for many lonely centuries solitary sentinel Valynn has defended the castle, most notably from sinister sorcerer Bortag

Touched by the guardian’s lonely plight, Dorothy takes her to see Queen Ozma, in hope of relieving her of the onerous duty. Bortag, however, has not ended his depredations and swoops down on his flying swordfish Drox, making short work of Scarecrow and Billina who have volunteered to guard the tree in Valynn’s absence.

His sack full of stolen fruit, the sinister scrumper then rushes to the edge of Oz – just where it meets the Deadly Desert – and feeds his plunder to a hideous sleeping hag. She is the legendarily evil Wicked Witch of the South and, horrifically, at first touch of the plundered pippins ‘The Witch Awakes’

Secrets are revealed in ‘Bortag’s Unfortunate Past’ as the homely Quadling mage is spurned by the monster he has loved for countless ages. She immediately returns to the tree and begins voraciously consuming Enchanted Apples. With each bite magic diminishes and the fabulous denizens of Oz become increasingly mundane. Billina barely has time to convince the jilted wizard to fix the crisis his unrequited love has caused before she reverts to a mere clucking fowl…

With all Oz’s mystical champions helpless before the Witch, it’s up to Dorothy and grieving, repentant lovelorn Bortag to stop the Witch’s brutal depredations. Luckily, they still have one advantage: ‘The Magic Belt’

Witty, wise, thrilling and potent with the narrative power of comradeship and redemption, this stunning yarn is followed by another lavishly-limned suspenseful thriller as The Ice King of Oz opens with ‘The Proposal’

The Emerald City is abuzz with excitement as a heretofore-unknown realm sends a diplomatic delegation to Oz. After the usual exchange of fantastic gifts the ambassador Popsicle drops his bombshell. The Ice King intends to cleave to other traditional forms of alliance by marrying Princess Dorothy…

The revelation is greeted with great surprise and a gentle but firm refusal which only results in ‘Treachery’ as the icy embassage vanishes overnight, taking Ozma with them as a flash-frozen prisoner.

A hurried council-of-war results in hastily-assembled rescue party, supplemented by new companion Flicker. Originally a human Candle-Maker, he was turned into a one of his own tapers by the Wicked Witch of the West. Only recently restored to life, he remains a man made of wax with a head fiercely aflame…

Transported in a magical vehicle by Glinda the Good’s sorcery, Dorothy, Scarecrow, tin man Nick Chopper and Flicker voyage ever southward to ‘The Land of Ice’ enduring many sub-zero perils until they broach the snowy wastelands and find themselves ‘In the Ice Palace’

However, after a calamitous confrontation against the cold commander’s amassed legions, our heroes seem doomed to remain ‘In the Ice King’s Power’ until Dorothy’s common sense and Flicker’s valiant determination find a way to pierce his frozen façade…

Compellingly, hypnotically illustrated and written with beguiling grace, this is a fabulous romp for devotees and newcomers alike, and this captivating collection also includes a vast treasure-trove of extras beginning with a sublime Art Gallery of original covers, painted cover studies, character designs, early concept-art, plus the first four pages of an as-yet unfinished tale entitled ‘General Jinjur of Oz’.

Word of Warning: do not read this. It’s utterly brilliant and causes a real wrench when you realise there’s no more and no conclusion…

Also included are a lovely painting of Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion, 5 pages of pencil art layouts for The Enchanted Apples of Oz, a gallery of Shanower Christmas Cards and a watercolour vignette disclosing ‘A Concise History of the Marvelous Land of OZ’.

If you still constantly crave to visit the lost lands of childhood wonder, this superb picture parade is probably your only passport to adventure…

© 2010 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved. © 2010 Idea and Design Works, LLC.

Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde volume 5: The Happy Prince


Adapted by P. Craig Russell (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-981-6

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

Although his fanciful, meticulous, classicist style was joyously derived from the great illustrators of Victorian and Edwardian heroic fantasy and his craftsmanlike 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 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 – completely reworked and re-released as Dr. Strange: What Is It that Disturbs You, Stephen? in 1996 – or Batman: Robin 3000.

As the industry at last matured – in the midst of a fantasy boom – Russell returned to comics with Marvel Graphic Novel: Elric (1982), further co-adapting prose tales of Michael Moorcock’s iconic sword-&-sorcery star in Epic Illustrated magazine 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 showcase for his earlier experimental adaptations; not simply operatic dramas but also rousing timeless adventure tales from Kipling’s Jungle Books and other literary classics.

In 1992 he began adapting the Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde – a mission he continues to date, with this fifth volume (in its second printing) deftly transforming the author’s heartbreaking and salutary allegorical fable of pure virtue and human hypocrisy into a work of capital “A” graphic Art.

First published in May 1888, The Happy Prince and Other Tales was Wilde’s first book for children with the lead story merely one of a quintet of literary gems – the others being The Nightingale and the Rose, The Selfish Giant, The Devoted Friend and The Remarkable Rocket – and here adaptor Russell utilises all his skills to staggering effect and creates an evocative, beguiling sensation.

Sacrificing the usual Wildean bon mots for wickedly earnest and ferociously barbed social criticism, this riveting fable is set in a prosperous town where all the important people revel in the beauty of the golden, gem-bedecked statue of a former prince who died young and spoiled in the lap of overwhelming luxury.

Now his spirit resides in a gleaming, glittering statue and from his lofty perch the gilded potentate can view the entire town. However, within his metal frame his lead heart is crushed by the suffering and poverty of the poor he sees in every dark, ignored corner of the metropolis.

As the seasons turn the suffering statue convinces the last swallow in the land to forego migration to Egypt and has the plucky, cocky bird methodically strip him of the jewels and gold which make him such a resplendent sight before secretly redistributing these riches to those who need them most…

As winter comes and the statue’s resources dwindle, the swallow too is failing. The rich folk are soon embarrassed by the state of their former premier monument and react typically, all blithely unaware of the subtle change which has embraced the lower classes, who are now warm, fed and happy for the first time… but only at a terrible unsuspected cost to the boy and the bird…

I wasn’t kidding about heartbreaking. Our Victorian ancestors knew the value and power of pathos and sentiment and weren’t shy in using it to give kids all the emotional tools they needed for growing up.

It’s a gift we sadly lost sometime in the 1980s when we began cocooning and obsessively shielding our young from life’s darker aspects, and whilst it might have saved a few parents having difficult talks with their children, it deprived future generations of much-needed understanding and empathy.

This is a very sad story – think “Feed the Birds” in the Mary Poppins movie and lay in sufficient supplies of hankies – but one that every child and their appointed caretakers absolutely must see, especially in today’s world of cruel, crushing, crippling One-Percentism and facile, vapid, selfish self-aggrandisement…

Like all the other volumes in this series, The Happy Prince is another high point in Russell’s splendid, stellar career: an incredibly lovely, irresistibly readable example of superb writing – so go and read Wilde’s original prose tomes too – and sublime comic art at its very best.

Now that it’s finally back in print, you simply must avail yourself of this magically meaningful masterpiece…
© 2012 P. Craig Russell. All rights reserved.

Plastic Man Archives volume 4


By Jack Cole (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-835-8

As adroitly recounted by European comics historian and film critic Andreas C. Knigge in his Foreword to this fourth beguiling Deluxe Archive collection, Jack Cole was one of the most uniquely gifted talents of America’s Golden Age of Comics.

Before moving into the magazine and gag markets he originated landmark tales in horror, true crime, war, adventure and especially superhero comicbooks, and his incredible humour-hero Plastic Man remains an unsurpassed benchmark of screwball costumed hi-jinks: frequently copied but never equalled. It was a glittering career of distinction which Cole was clearly embarrassed by and unhappy with.

In 1954 he quit comics for magazine cartooning, becoming a household name when his brilliant watercolour gags and stunningly saucy pictures began running in Playboy from the fifth edition. Cole eventually moved into the lofty realms of newspaper strips and, in May 1958, achieved his life-long ambition by launching a syndicated newspaper strip, the domestic comedy Betsy and Me.

On August 13th 1958, at the moment of his greatest success he took his own life. The reasons remain unknown.

Without doubt – and despite his other triumphal comicbook innovations such as Silver Streak, Daredevil, The Claw, Death Patrol, Midnight, Quicksilver, The Barker, The Comet and a uniquely twisted and phenomenally popular take on the crime and horror genres – Cole’s greatest creation and contribution was the zany Malleable Marvel who quickly grew from a minor back-up character into one of the most memorable and popular heroes of the era. “Plas” was the wondrously perfect fantastic embodiment of the sheer energy, verve and creativity of an era when anything went and comics-makers were prepared to try out every outlandish idea…

Eel O’Brian was a brilliant career criminal wounded during a factory robbery, soaked by a vat of spilled acid and callously abandoned by his thieving buddies. Left for dead, he was saved by a monk who nursed him back to health and proved to the hardened thug that the world was not just filled with brutes and vicious chisellers after a fast buck.

His entire outlook altered and now blessed with incredible elasticity, Eel resolved to put his new powers to good use: cleaning up the scum he used to run with.

Creating a costumed alter ego he began a stormy association with the New York City cops before being recruited as a most special agent of the FBI…

He soon picked up the most unforgettable comedy sidekick in comics history. Woozy Winks was a dopey indolent slob and utterly amoral pickpocket who accidentally saved a wizard’s life and was gifted in return with a gift of invulnerability: all the forces of nature would henceforth protect him from injury or death – if said forces felt like it.

After failing to halt the unlikely superman’s impossible crime spree, Plas appealed to his sentimentality and, once Woozy tearfully repented, was compelled to keep him around in case he strayed again. The oaf was slavishly loyal but perpetually sliding back into his old habits…

Equal parts Artful Dodger and Mr Micawber, with the verbal skills and intellect of Lou Costello’s screen persona or the over-filled potato sack he resembled, Winks was the perfect foil for Plastic Man: a lazy, greedy, morally bankrupt reprobate with perennially sticky fingers who got all the best lines, possessed an inexplicable charm and had a habit of finding trouble. It was the ideal marriage of inconvenience…

This lavish, full-colour hardback barely contains the exuberantly elongated exploits of the premier polymorph from Police Comics #40-49 and Plastic Man #3 (stretching from March 1945 to Spring 1945), and opens with an outrageous murder mystery in Woozy’s loon-filled boarding house as ‘The Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder’ inexorably lead to a fatal stabbing and the ever-imaginative Plas aping the victim until the culprit tries to kill him again…

Police #41 details how an epidemic of shoplifting threatens to close a department store, but when Plas and Woozy hunt down prime suspect ‘Louie the Lift’ they soon discover the thief is only the stooge of a far more dangerous crook, whilst ‘The Diabolical Dr. Dratt’ is clearly his own maniacal man; conning innocent strangers into distilling a deadly new weapon which could level the city…

In ‘Arctic Circle Adventure’ the misshaped manhunters head to the far north to save a little professor’s radium mine from claim-jumpers but none of the polar perils compare to the ardour of marriage-mad Hut Sut who thinks Woozy is the man of her dreams, after which the big goof helps a down-&-out drifter get into a old folks home and precipitates a ‘Murder at the home for the Aged’. Thankfully Plastic Man is on hand to ascertain the identity of the assassin-wolf in the well-wrinkled fold…

Sheer absurdity – and Woozy – trigger a city-wide disaster when a founding father determines to sell the smelly, garbage-strewn land the city is built on back to the Indians and Plas’ poltroon pal makes it happen. Soon ‘Chief Rain-in-the-Trap’ and his braves are running roughshod over everyone and the chameleonic cop is intent on discovering if there’s a pale face behind all that war-paint…

Issue #46 reveals the genesis – and demise – of ‘The Owl’s Witch Union’ as a crook realises magic has as much power as the A-bomb and organises all the city’s sham shamans and con conjurers to take control of the state by eradicating its legislature and government…

‘Slicer and Doser’s Medical School’ finds Woozy trying to save his partner’s life when a pair of deranged surgeons decide to dissect Plastic Man for the sake of science and the betterment of humanity, and it’s just such noble sentiments which prompt inventor Jasper Tipple to design ‘The City of the Future’. Sadly since honest entrepreneurs won’t provide the venture capital to build it the poor fool accepts dirty money and sees his masterpiece become a safe-haven for crooks… until Plastic Man takes an elasticated hand…

The monthly exploits end here with Police Comics #49 (cover-dated December 1945) and the sad tale of a young lady whose physical blandishments were merely average but who nevertheless had the power to make men into helpless puppets.

After years of men acting like slaves around her naturally she fell for the one man immune to her gifts. Such a shame he was a murderous conman and she was so naïve and love-struck…

It was more luck than wit which saved Plas, Woozy and ‘Thelma Twittle, Super-Charmer’

Rounding out this stylish slapstick selection is grand quintet of tales from Plastic Man #3 (Spring 1946) which opens with ‘The Killing of Snoopy Hawks’ wherein Woozy is threatened by a gossip columnist who ends up dead. Although the cops feel certain it’s the confirmed felon at fault, Plastic Man is equally suspicious of the former banker, upcoming actress and brutal prize-fighter also on the victim’s scandal-list…

The Pliable Paladin almost meets his match when a criminal sociologist hoodwinks a trio of genuine magic makers into destroying the only barrier to his nefarious plots in ‘B. T. Tokus and the Witch Doctors’ after which the stooge becomes the star as ‘Woozy Winks: The Escape of Smelly Pitts’ finds the Dolorous Dope attempting a (semi-legal) get-rich-quick bounty-hunting scheme only to be captured by his target, and fooled into getting married…

Plastic Man’s uncanny abilities are then explored in prose short ‘The Hand Behind’ before this superb slice of superhero silliness concludes with a daring tale of High Seas drama as at-long-last body-conscious Mr. Winks goes in search of deodorant and becomes embroiled in an ambergris-smuggling racket, which is only the tip of an illegal iceberg.

When the oaf turns up missing again, Plastic Man gets on the case and soon discovers and closes ‘A Whale of a Tale’

Augmented by all the stupendously hilarious covers and a ‘Biographies’ feature detailing the author’s amazing achievements and unhappy life, this is another true gem of funnybook virtuosity: exciting, breathtakingly original and still thrilling, witty, scary, visually outrageous and pictorially intoxicating more than seventy years after Jack Cole first put pen to paper.

Plastic Man is a truly unique creation who has only grown in stature and appeal and this is a magical comics experience fans would be crazy to deny themselves.
© 1945, 1946, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.