Tarzan Archives: The Joe Kubert Years volume 2


By Joe Kubert with Hal Foster, Frank Thorne & various (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-416-6

The early 1970s were the last real glory days of National (now 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: an April 1972 cover-date, and the series stormed on 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 second superb hardcover archive collection (also available in digital formats) re-presents material from Tarzan #215-224 (December 1972 to October 1973) and opens with fond reminiscences and grateful thanks to fellow artist Frank Thorne in Kubert’s Introduction.

The pictorial wonderment kicks off with a classic visual treat as ‘The Mine!’ incorporates material originally seen in classic 1930s Sunday newspaper strips (by Hal Foster & George Carlin) embedded in an original tale by Kubert.

Joe’s intent was to adapt all 24 Tarzan novels – writing, illustrating and even lettering the stories, with the brilliant Tatjana Wood handling the colours – interspersing them with new and original tales. However the workload, coupled with his other editorial duties, was crippling.

As with Tarzan #211, here he was again compelled to combine original with vintage to detail how the Ape-Man is captured by slavers and pressed into toil deep in the bowels of the earth for a sadistic mine owner.

Naturally, Tarzan soon chafes at enforced servitude and quickly leads a savage workers’ revolt to overturn and end the corporate bondage…

Issue #216 took another route to beating deadlines with old pal Frank Thorne pencilling Kubert’s script for ‘The Renegades’, leaving hard-pressed Joe to ink and complete the story of a murderous raid which wipes out a Red Cross mission.

Investigating the atrocity, Tarzan discovers the “maddened savages” responsible are actually white men masquerading as natives; stealing supplies for a proposed expedition to plunder a lost treasure vault. When he catches the culprits, Tarzan’s vengeance is terrible indeed…

‘The Black Queen!’ is an all-Kubert affair wherein the Jungle Lord almost saves a man from crocodiles. Acceding to the ravaged victim’s last wish, Tarzan then travels to his distant homeland and overturns the brutal regime of tyrannical Queen Kyra who rules her multicultural kingdom with whimsy, ingrained prejudice and casual cruelty…

The equally selfish choices of American millionaire tycoon Darryl T. Hanson blights his family as his search for ‘The Trophy’ decimates the fauna of Tarzan’s home and leads to a clash of wills and ideologies which can only end in tragedy…

With Tarzan #219, Kubert began an epic 5-issue adaptation of ERB’s sequel novel The Return of Tarzan. It opens in Paris as the unacknowledged son of vanished Lord Greystoke tries to adapt to his new life as a civilised man of leisure.

One night his natural gallantry draws him to the side of a woman screaming for help and he is attacked by a gang of thugs. After easily thrashing the brigands he is astounded to find her accusing him of assault and simply bounds effortlessly away from the gendarmes called to the disturbance.

This entire trap has been engineered by a new enemy; Russian spy and émigré Nikolas Rokoff and his duplicitous toady Paulvitch

The rightful heir to the Greystoke lands and titles silently stood aside and let his apparently unaware cousin William Cecil Clayton claim both them and the American Jane Porter, after Tarzan rescued her from attacking apes in the jungle. Missing her terribly, Tarzan then chose to make his own way in the human world beside new friend and French Naval Officer Paul D’Arnot.

(You could catch up by reading our review of Tarzan Archives: The Joe Kubert Years Volume One, but I’m sure you’d far rather see the book itself or even the original novel…).

In the course of his urbane progression, Tarzan had exposed the Russian cheating at cards to blackmail French diplomat Count De Coude and had earned himself a relentless, implacable foe forever. When Rokoff subsequently tried to murder Tarzan, the vile miscreant agonisingly learned how powerful his jungle-bred enemy was…

With physical force clearly of no use, Rokoff’s latest plan is to put the Ape-Man through a ‘Trial by Treachery’; manufacturing “evidence” that Tarzan is having an affair with the Comte’s wife. Once more, however, the civilised monster underestimates his target’s forthright manner of dealing with problems and is savagely beaten until he admits to the plot and clears the innocent woman’s name…

With news of Jane’s impending marriage to William Clayton, Tarzan seeks to ease his tortured mind with action and the next chapter sees him travel to Algeria where, sponsored by the grateful, ashamed Count, he begins working for the Secret Service in Sidi Bel Abbes, ferreting out a traitor in the turbulently volatile French colony…

His hunt soon leads him to a likely traitor and brutal battle with Arab agent provocateurs, but things start to turn his way after he liberates a dancing slave who is the daughter of a local sheik.

When word of Jane comes from D’Arnot, Tarzan throws himself even more deeply into his tasks and falls into another ambush organised by Rokoff. This time his ‘Fury in the Desert’ seems insufficient to his needs until his newfound friend the Sheik rides to his rescue…

The intrigue continues to unfold in ‘Return of the Primitive’ as Tarzan finally uncovers a link between Rokoff and the espionage at Sidi Bel Abbes. Job done he is then posted to Capetown and aboard ship meets voyager Hazel Strong, a close friend of Jane’s who reveals the heiress had never forgotten her tryst with the Ape-Man.

Unable to watch Jane enter into a loveless marriage, Hazel took off on an ocean cruise…

The story rocks Tarzan’s mind, but not so completely that he fails to notice Rokoff is also aboard and murderously dogging his footsteps. This time however the Russian is properly prepared and that night the Ape-Man vanishes from the ship…

Rokoff’s act of assassination is a purely pyrrhic victory. Soon after reaching Capetown the villain insinuated himself into the Clayton wedding party but when their yacht’s boilers explode next morning, he, Hazel, William Clayton, Jane and her father are left adrift in a lifeboat…

Tarzan meanwhile, has survived being tumbled overboard and spent days swimming hundreds of miles. He now washes up on the same beach his parents were left upon decades ago. Staggering inland, he finds himself in the cabin his father built before being stolen and adopted by Kala the She-Ape.

John Clayton is forgotten, for fate has brought Tarzan home…

A man changed by his time amongst other men, the Jungle Lord instinctively saves a native warrior from certain death and is astonished to find himself declared chieftain of the noble Waziri tribe.

…And off the coast, a lifeboat filled with dying travellers spots land and wearily sculls towards a welcoming beach in the heart of primeval forests…

Revelling in his newfound status, popularity and freedom, Tarzan enquires about the fabulous jewelled ornaments of his new friends and learns of an incredible lost metropolis. Soon he is curiously journeying to ‘The City of Gold’ where he encounters debased, degenerate beast-men led by a gloriously beautiful Queen.

La is high priestess of forgotten Atlantean outpost Opar, but can barely control her subjects enough to allow the perfect specimen of manhood to escape to safety. Both she and Tarzan know they are destined to meet again…

Refusing to be cheated of their sacrifice, the bloodthirsty Oparian males search far into the jungle and soon encounter the Clayton yacht survivors. When the primitives attack the human strangers and carry off Jane, Rokoff shows his true colours, leaving William to die. This callous act also inadvertently clears the path for Tarzan to finally claim his inheritance and reunite with Jane…

All the Jungle Lord has to do is break back into Opar, save his one true love from ‘The Pit of Doom!’ and escape the wrath of jealous Queen La…

That mission accomplished, he and Jane return to the beach in time to witness William’s dying confession and accept the succession to the estates and title of Lord Greystoke…

This captivating compilation concludes with an original adventure seeing Tarzan rescue a beautiful maiden from attacking apes and discovering she is a messenger from La, who is in peril of her life…

In Opar another insurrection by the Beast Men has left the Queen imperilled by her subjects and threatened by a gigantic mutant whom she tearfully reveals is her sibling in ‘Death is My Brother!’ With no choice Tarzan regretfully battles the dim brute and proves to the insurgents that his wrath is greater than their malice…

Supplemented by Creator Biographies of Burroughs and Kubert, this tome is another masterpiece of comics creation and total adventure triumph which no lover of the medium or fantasy fan can afford to be without.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan ® The Joe Kubert Years Volume Two © 1972, 1973, 2006 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All rights reserved. Tarzan ® is owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., and used by permission.

Astro Boy volume 4


By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Frederik L. Schodt (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-679-3

From the late 1940s onward until his death in 1989, Osamu Tezuka generated an incomprehensible volume of quality work which transformed the world of manga and how it was perceived. Devoted to Walt Disney’s creations, he performed similar sterling service with Japan’s fledgling animation industry.

The earliest stories were intended for children but right from the start Tezuka’s expansive fairytale stylisations harboured more mature themes and held hidden pleasures for older readers and the legion of fans growing up with his manga masterpieces…

“The God of Comics” was born in Osaka Prefecture on November 3rd 1928, and as a child suffered from a severe illness. The doctor who cured him inspired the lad to study medicine, and although Osamu began drawing professionally whilst at university in 1946, he persevered with college 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 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 young and old equally. His creations ranged from the childishly charming to the distinctly disturbing such as The Book of Human Insects.

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

This fourth monochrome 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 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 series began in 1952 in 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 boom and starred in comicbook specials, games, toys, collectibles, movies and the undying devotion of generations of ardent fans.

Tezuka frequently 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 fans are. They constantly revised both stories and artwork in later collections, so if you’re a 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 stories aren’t treated as gospel and 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 won (limited) human rights, brilliant Dr. Tenma lost his son Tobio in a traffic 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 astonishing exploits resume after ‘A Note to Readers’ – explaining why one thing that hasn’t been altered is the depictions of various racial types in the stories.

‘Robot Land’ originally ran May to September, 1962 in Shōnen Magazine and sees Dr. Haido fulfil his life’s dream by turning the island of Aragashima into an actualisation of the beloved fairytales and legends he read as a child.

The immense theme park is manned by purpose-built robots and receives an early visit from Ochanomizu and Astro, who are amazed at everything they see. They’re less impressed when the truly terrifying simulacra of Satan and The Dragon go online, but Haido scorns their advice to deactivate the ultimate villains…

Mere months later, an exhausted Swan Princess crashes into Astro’s room. She begins to relate the horrors she has escaped from but is cut short by Satan smashing into the house and demanding her return. After a mighty but inconclusive struggle, the monster plays his trump card and claims the fugitive is Haido’s property and must be surrendered. The doctor, it seems, is as debased as his worst creations…

Undeterred, Astro Boy resolves to help and goes undercover, discovering the sweet land of childish fantasy has been turned into a ghastly gulag run like a dictatorship with helpless robots enslaved by Haido and Satan, who pay for their empire of evil by building advanced weaponry for criminals.

Once he knows the score, all Astro Boy can do is battle on until the armed camp of evil is destroyed, or he is…

‘Ivan the Fool’ (February-March 1959 in Shōnen Magazine) details how Earth’s first luxury-liner spaceship The Titan is hit by a meteor on its maiden voyage.

As the panicked passengers head for the life-pods, Astro Boy ends up in the same capsule as a disparate and relatively unsavoury cross-section of humanity including a petty bully, a spoiled family, a minor celebrity and a jewel thief…

The crisis is far from over. Lacking sufficient fuel, the pod can’t reach Earth and with tension mounting Astro has to crash the tiny vessel on the Moon. Mystery replaces terror as the survivors discover air, a (relatively) benign environment and evidence of prior civilisation. The desperate situation quickly degenerates into an outrageous holiday experience, but with Astro trying assorted ways to alert Earth to their plight, the mood radically shifts again after a lurking monster is spotted…

When the Mighty Atom finds an old ship he uncovers an incredible story of the first days of Russian space exploration and sorts out a rescue mission, but somebody has noticed a vast field of diamonds and is not ready to leave quite yet. It’s a recipe for death and disaster…

Cultural tradition was acknowledged and updated in ‘A Day to Remember’ (Shōnen Magazine special expanded summer edition 1960) as the O-Bon Lantern (Day of the Dead) Festival was re-imagined to encompass robot copies of departed loved ones annually returning for a 3-day visit. Sadly, this particular year a recent bereavement leaves no time to construct a facsimile and Astro is asked to play the role of the robot revenant for a family whose little boy has died…

His discomfort at playing substitute ends when Astro discovers Jiro was a genius who built a time machine in his bedroom; something his parents only learn after a gangster bursts in demanding a return on the illicit cash he advanced the kid to build it…

After dispensing with the thug Astro Boy hops into the chronal carriage and follows Jiro’s path, ending up in the turbulent 20th century on a rescue mission that promises plenty of peril before the inevitable happy ending…

The exotically eccentric escapades then conclude with ‘Ghost Manufacturing Machine’ from the 1957 Supplement Edition of Shōnen Magazine, which begins with scientists testing their latest horrific discoveries made in the service of the most evil man on Earth.

Premier Hitlini is a madman and ambitious dictator without parallel. His chief boffin Professor Pablos is not coming up with the goods he needs to further his schemes and is about to be replaced by Ochanomizu… even though the benevolent technologist doesn’t know it yet…

A frantic warning arrives too late and Ochanomizu is abducted to totalitarian Golgania, but when Astro Boy attempts to rescue his mentor he is prevented by international law which proscribes robots entering another country without human invitation.

Astro fumes in frustration as the Professor is compelled to work on Hitlini’s dream: a device to make duplicates of the dictator so his tyranny will be eternal. However his family eventually convince him to go, promising to handle the legal repercussions…

The toy boy wonder invades the embattled nation and experiences all manner of subtle horror and brutal threats. Autonomous robots and androids are forbidden. The government has lobotomised most mechanicals, turning them into slaves of Hitlini’s war machine, ever-ready to extend his power.

Soon, however, Astro has joined the Robot Resistance and befriended their leader Quantum. The valiant freedom fighter has a secret: he was built by Pablos and has contacts in the very heart of the dictator’s sanctum…

Meanwhile, deep inside the palace the laboratories are buzzing. Reluctant Ochanomizu is making progress, despite interference from Pablos, but neither suspect what the tyrant has planned for them as soon as they succeed.

…And when Quantum is captured, all long-range plans evaporate and Astro decides his only option is a direct assault. However, neither the Mighty Atom nor Ochanomizu realise the situation has also forced the hand of the secret plotter in the dictator’s inner circle and events have rapidly spiralled into murderous anarchy and chaos…

Breathtaking pace, outrageous invention, slapstick comedy, heart-wrenching sentiment and frenetic action are the hallmarks of these captivating comics constructions: perfect examples 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.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Jungle Tales of Tarzan


ByMartin Powell & various (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-63008-248-2

Jungle Tales of Tarzan was the sixth prose novel release, published in 1919 after monthly serialisation in prestigious pulp Blue Book Magazine between September 1916 and August 1917.

The content is a series of twelve loosely connected episodes, wherein the young Lord of the Jungle confronts various cognitive and physical stages in his own development. They are all set after the foundling’s ape foster-mother Kala was killed and before that first fateful meeting with Jane Porter and introduction to human civilisation.

The stories have been adapted in whole or in part by most of the American comics publishers who have released Tarzan material – Gold Key, Charlton, Marvel, DC and Malibu Comics – as well as by quintessential Tarzan illustrator Burne Hogarth in one of the industry’s earliest graphic novels.

In 2015 – anticipating this year’s movie release – current license-holder Dark Horse Comics released an all-new adaptation of the complete text, scripted by Martin Powell (Scarlet in Gaslight, Alien Nation), designed by Diana Leto and individually illustrated by a broad swathe of differently-styled artists.

Following author Robin Maxwell’s Introduction ‘Back to the Jungle’, the adaptations begin with ‘Tarzan’s First Love’ (painted by Leto) detailing how the adolescent Ape-Man was increasingly drawn to fetching young She-Ape Teeka. Incomprehensibly, no matter what he did, the young maiden just wasn’t interested in her ardent, hairless admirer…

A brutal and epic clash between the local tribesmen responsible for Kala’s death and the jungle legend highlights the uncanny bond between the seldom-seen but terrifying white ghost and mighty elephant Tantor, who proves valiant and true following ‘The Capture of Tarzan’ (delineated by Pablo Marcos, Diego Rondón & Oscar Gonzalez), whilst Lowell Isaac’s interpretation of ‘The Fight for the Balu’ shows wistful sensitivity and potent fury as childhood friends of Tarzan become incomprehensibly aggressive after the birth of their first baby. They soon change their tune after a leopard attacks…

Will Meugniot deftly details the constantly-questioning outsider’s search for ‘The God of Tarzan’ after overdosing on his dead father’s books and suffering a brain-expanding religious experience, whilst ‘Tarzan and the Native Boy’ – illustrated by Nik Poliwko – sees him experience paternal yearnings. After abducting a small child and learning of both guilt and folly, the Ape-Man earns his first arch-enemy by spoiling greedy fetish-man Bukuwai’s scam to impoverish little Tibo’s distraught mother…

Steven E. Gordon explosively renders the return match when ‘The Witch Doctor Seeks Vengeance’; trying – and failing – to feed little Tibo to hungry hyenas before Jamie Chase details ‘The End of Bukuwai’ as the vile witchman finally captures the “tree devil” Tarzan and learns that jungle vengeance is far worse than anything he could conceive of…

‘The Lion’ (Terry Beatty) explores Tarzan’s eccentric sense of humour as the Lord of the Apes acquires an entire skin of Numa the lion and learns from his anthropoid subjects a painful lesson about practical joking, after which Mark Wheatley turns in a lush and spectacularly effective interpretation of much-adapted fantasy ‘The Nightmare’.

Here starving, curious Tarzan steals and gorges on elephant meat from the native village. The resultant food-poisoning takes him on a hallucinogenic journey never to be forgotten and almost costs his life when he can no longer tell phantasm from actual foe…

Crafted by Sergio Cariello, Patrick Gama & Dave Lanphear, ‘The Battle for Teeka’ features an epic clash as the new mother is stolen by a rival ape pack and Tarzan must lead his people into a full-on war to save her…

‘A Jungle Joke’ (Tomás M. Aranda) sees an unrepentant Tarzan revive his hilarious Numa masquerade to bedevil the local natives; taking the place of an actual lion the savages plan to torture, before this legendary lexicon concludes in metaphorical triumph with Carlos Argüello limning an epic struggle after an eclipse blankets the jungle and ‘Tarzan Rescues the Moon’

With a bonus section highlighting Darren Bader’s cover art and additional illustrations by Bader, Thomas Floyd, Louis Henry Mitchell, Steve Price & Thomas Yeates, Jungle Tales of Tarzan is a delicious treat for both Ape-Man aficionados and devotees of the comics arts in all their multi-various styles.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Jungle Tales of Tarzan © 2015 Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. All rights reserved. Tarzan ™ and ® Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. and used by permission.

Plastic Man Archives volume 5


By Jack Cole & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0154-8

Jack Cole was one of the most uniquely gifted talents of America’s Golden Age of Comics. Before moving into mature 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 the lucrative and prestigious field of magazine cartooning, swiftly becoming a household name when his brilliant watercolour gags and stunningly saucy pictures began regularly running in Playboy from the fifth issue.

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 peak 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 blessed 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 determined crime spree, Plas appealed to the scoundrel’s sentimentality and, once Woozy tearfully repented, was compelled to keep him around in case he strayed again. The oaf was slavishly loyal but perpetually back-sliding into pernicious 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 fifth full-colour hardback exposes more eccentrically exaggerated exploits of the elastic eidolon from Police Comics #50-58 and Plastic Man #4 (stretching from January to September 1946), and opens here with an appreciation of Cole and his craft by Bill Schelly in the Foreword before a bizarre mystery confounds the populace as ‘Plastic Man Protects Crookdom’.

When a celebrated astrologer is murdered, his dying prediction seems to confirm that the chameleonic crimebuster is cursed to save his killers from the law… but they haven’t heard the victim’s entire utterance…

Police #51 then details how twisted, frustrated love turns a gorgeous but frog-throated operatic chanteuse into a deadly, rock-fisted killer dubbed ‘The Granite Lady’. Even after her mad scientist paramour returns her to flesh-&-blood, her heart remains stony cold…

‘Crime without Criminals’ sees the city devoid of all underworld activity thanks to the efforts of Plas and Woozy. However, nature abhors a vacuum and this time it’s filled by an unlikely new crew of bandits, just in time to take the edge off our heroes’ mounting boredom…

Cole always had a grand line on mad scientists and in ‘The Evil Genius of Dr. Erudite’, came up with a classic loon like no other. This passionate maniac had so many great crime ideas he had no time to implement them. Realising the only solution was to replicate himself, he began an anarchic spree but was surprised by two unforeseen factors: Plastic Man’s determination to stop him and his own duplicate’s rebellious nature…

Cerebral conundra continued to vex our heroes in Police #54 as a moronic sneak thief became a lethal menace to America after swiping ‘The Thinking Machine’. Thankfully Plastic Man was on hand to fight and Woozy to balance the scales of natural imbecility…

Issue #55 revealed the genesis and just deserts of ‘Sleepy Eyes’ as a cheap crook realises he has the power to plunge folk into unshakeable comas…

Cole’s constant and still-growing pressure to fill pages led to the hiring of numerous artists to draw his madcap scripts. This is clearly seen in Plastic Man #4 (Summer 1946) which opens with ‘The Purple Viking’ (illustrated by Bart Tumey), wherein a longboat full of ancient Norse reivers invades a quiet seaside hamlet, just as Plas and Woozy check in for a quiet weekend. How odd that the beach town is trashed by invaders just as a developer is checking out prospective new resort sites…

A crooked political-boss trying to set up his own country inside America is no match for the Pliable Paladin in ‘King Lughead the First’ (art by John Spranger). Not only are all his larcenous efforts to fill the Treasury foiled, but new Prime Minister Mr. Winks is so dumb he might as well be working for the other side…

The stooge once more becomes the star as Woozy stumbles into ‘The Lollypop Caper’ (Tumey again), chasing gem-filled candy sought by rival mobs and a rather dangerous toddler…

Plastic Man’s uncanny deductive abilities are then propounded in prose short ‘Plas’ to Meet You’ before the capture of arch-thug ‘The Lobster’ leads to Woozy being adopted and Plas stumbling into a cunning conspiracy…

Plastic Man #56 then dabbled with childish whimsy as ‘Overworked Genie’ (art by Andre Leblanc) sees the stretchable sleuth take a day off to spend his time granting wishes to a little kid. However, crime never sleeps and all too soon greedy thugs are trying to steal Mickey’s lamp. Big mistake…

A growing public fascination with and appetite for flying saucer stories informs ‘Mars – Keep Away’ (Spranger art) as the mysterious Mr. Misfit inserts his diminutive self into Plas and Woozy’s hunt for stolen atomic fuel and a flamboyantly crackpot rocketry loon dubbed Professor MacGhoul, after which this slice of vintage class concludes with a deadly duel against murderously marauding vegetable villain ‘The Green Terror’ (illustrated by Alex Kotsky)…

Augmented by all the astoundingly ingenious covers, this is a true gem of funnybook virtuosity: still exciting, breathtakingly original, thrilling, witty, scary, visually outrageous and pictorially intoxicating more than seventy years after Jack Cole first put pen to paper.

Plastic Man is a unique creation and this is a magical experience comics fans would be nuts to miss.
© 1946, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

U.S.S. Stevens – The Collected Stories


By Sam Glanzman (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80158-2

To the shame and detriment of the entire comics industry, for most of his career Sam Glanzman was one of the least-regarded creators in American comicbooks. Despite having one of the longest careers, most unique illustration styles and the respect of his creative peers, he just never got the public acclaim his work deserved.

Thankfully that’s all changed in recent years and more happily still, unlike many unsung cartooning geniuses, he’s still alive to enjoy the belated spotlight.

Glanzman has been drawing and writing comics since the Golden Age, most commonly in classic genres ranging from war to mystery to fantasy, where his work is – as always – raw, powerful, subtly engaging and irresistibly compelling.

On titles such as Kona, Monarch of Monster Island, Voyage to the Deep, Combat, Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Hercules, Haunted Tank, The Green Berets, cult classic The Private War of Willie Schultz, and especially his 1980s graphic novels (A Sailor’s Story and Wind, Dreams and Dragons – which you should buy in the recent single volume edition from Dover), Glanzman produced magnificent action-adventure tales which fired the imagination and stirred the blood. His stuff always sold and at least won him a legion of fans amongst fellow artists, if not from the small, insular and over-vocal fan-press.

In later years Glanzman worked with Tim Truman’s 4Winds company on high-profile projects like The Lone Ranger, Jonah Hex and barbarian fantasy Attu. Moreover, as the sublime work gathered here attests, he was also one of the earliest pioneers of graphic autobiography; translating his WWII experiences as a sailor in the Pacific into one of the very best things to come out of DC’s 1970s war comics line…

U.S.S. Stevens, DD479 was a peripatetic filler-feature which bobbed about between Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, G.I. Combat, Star Spangled War Stories and other anthological battle books; backing-up the cover-hogging, star-attraction glory-boys. It provided wry, witty, shocking, informative and immensely human vignettes of shipboard life, starring the fictionalised crew of the destroyer Glanzman had served on. It was, in most ways, a love story and tribute to the vessel which had been their only home and refuge under fire.

In four- or sometimes five-page episodes, Glanzman recaptured and shared the life of comradeship we peace-timers can only imagine and, despite the pulse-pounding drama of the lead features, we fans all knew these little snippets were what really happened when the Boys went “over there”…

A maritime epic to rank with Melville or Forester – and with stunning pictures too – every episode of this astounding unsung masterpiece is now housed in one stunning hardback compilation and if you love the medium of comics, or history, or just a damn fine tale well-told you must have it…

That’s really all you need to know, but if you’re one of the regular crowd needful of more of my bombastic blather, a much fuller description now follows…

As I’ve already stated, Glanzman has recently been enjoying some much-deserved attention and this massive tome starts by sharing Presidential Letters from Barack Obama and George Herbert Walker Bush for his service and achievements. Then follows a Foreword from Ivan Brandon and a copious and informative Introduction by Jon B. Cooke detailing ‘A Sailor’s History: The Life and Art of Sam J. Glanzman’.

Next comes a brace of prototypical treats; the first comicbook appearance of U.S.S. Stevens from Dell Comics’ Combat #16 (April-June 1965) and the first cover featuring the valiant vessel from Combat #24, April 1967…

The first official U.S.S. Stevens, DD479 appeared after Glanzman approached Joe Kubert, who had recently become Group Editor for DC’s war titles. He commissioned ‘Frightened Boys… or Fighting Men’, which appeared in Our Army at War #218 (April 1970), depicting a moment in 1942 when boredom and tension were replaced by frantic action as a suicide plane targeted the ship…

A semi-regular cast was introduced slowly throughout 1970; fictionalised incarnations of old shipmates including skipper Commander T. A. Rakov, who ominously pondered his Task Force’s dispersal, moments before a pot-luck attack known as ‘The Browning Shot’ (Our Fighting Forces #125, May/June) proved his fears justified…

Glanzman’s pocket-sized tales always delivered a mountain of information, mood and impact and ‘The Idiot!’ (OAaW #220, June) is one of his most effective, detailing in four mesmerising pages not only the variety of suicidal flying bombs the Allies faced but also how appalled American sailors reacted to them.

Sudden death seemed to be everywhere. ‘1-2-3’ (OFF #126, July/August) detailed how quick action and intuitive thinking saved the ship from a hidden gun emplacement whilst ‘Black Smoke’ (Our Army at War #222, from the same month) revealed how a know-it-all engineer caused the sinking of the Stevens’ sister-ship by not believing an old salt’s frequent, frantic warnings…

All aboard ship were regularly shaken by the variety of Japanese aircraft and skill of the pilots. ‘Dragonfly’ (OFF #127, September/October) shows exactly why, whilst an insightful glimpse of the enemy’s psychological other-ness is graphically, tragically depicted in the tale of ‘The Kunkō Warrior’ (OAaW #223, September)…

A strange encounter with a WWI wooden vessel forced a ‘Double Rescue!’ (Star Spangled War Stories #153, October/November) after which ‘How Many Fathoms?’ (OFF #128, November/December) again counted the human cost of bravery with devastating, understated impact before ‘Buckethead’ (OAaW #225, November) related one swabbie’s unique reaction to constant bombardment.

‘Missing: 320 Men!’ (G.I. Combat #145, December 1970-January 1971) introduced Glanzman-analogue Jerry Boyle who whiled away helpless moments during a shattering battle by sketching cartoons of his astonished shipmates. ‘Death of a Ship!’ (OAaW #227, from January 1971) then dealt with classic war fodder as submarine and ship hunt each other in a deadly duel…

A military maritime mystery is solved by Commander Rakov in ‘Cause and Cure!’ (Our Army at War #230, March) whilst the next issue posed a different conundrum as the ship lost all power and landed ‘In the Frying Pan!’ (April 1971).

The vignettes were always less about warfare than its effects – immediate or cumulative – on ordinary guys. ‘Buck Taylor, You Can’t Fool Me!’ (OAaW #232) catalogued his increasingly aberrant behaviour but posited some less likely reasons, after which old school hero Bos’n Egloff saved the day during the worst typhoon of the war in ‘Cabbages and Kings’ (OFF #131, July/August) whilst ‘Kamikaze’ (OAaW #235 August) boldly and provocatively told a poignant life-story from the point of view of the pilot inside a flying bomb…

An informative peek at the crew of a torpedo launch station in ‘Hip Shot’ (G.I. Combat #150 October/November) segues seamlessly into the dangers of shore leave ‘In Tsingtao’ (OFF #134, November/December) whilst ‘XDD479’ (Our Army at War #238 November) reveals a lost landmark of military history.

The real DD479 was one of three destroyers test-trialling ship-mounted spotter planes and this little gem explains why that experiment was dropped…

Buck popped back in ‘Red Ribbon’ (G.I.C #151 December 1971-January 1972), sharing a personal coping mechanism to make shipboard chores less “exhilarating”, whilst ‘Vela Lavella’ (OAaW #240 January 1972) captures the closed-in horror of night time naval engagement and ‘Dreams’ (G.I.C #152 February/March) peeps inside various heads to see what the ship’s company would rather be doing, before ‘Batmen’ (OAaW #241 February) uses a lecture on radar to recount one of the most astounding exploits of the war…

Every U.S.S. Stevens episode was packed with fascinating fact and detail, culled from the artist’s letters home and service-time sketchbooks, but those invaluable memento belligeri also served double duty as the basis for a secondary feature.

The first ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ appeared in Our Army at War #242 (March 1972); a compendium of pictorial snapshots sharing quieter moments such as the first passage through the Panama Canal, sleeping arrangements or K.P. duties peeling spuds, and is followed here by an hilarious record of the freshmen sailors’ endurance of an ancient naval hazing tradition inflicted upon every “pollywog” crossing the equator for the first time in ‘Imperivm Neptivm Regis’ (OFF #136 (March/April 1972).

A second ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ (OAaW #244, April) reveals the mixed joys of “Liberty in the Philippines” after which a suitably foreboding ‘Prelude’ from Weird War Tales (#4 March/April 1972) captures the passive-panicked tension of daily routine whilst a potentially morale-shattering close shave is shared during an all-too-infrequent ‘Mail Call!’ (G.I. Combat #155, April/May)…

A thoughtful man of keen empathy and insight, Glanzman often offered readers a look at the real victims. ‘What Do They Know About War?’ (OAaW #244, April) sees peasant islanders trying to eke out a living, only to discover too many similarities between Occupiers and Liberators, whilst the next issue focussed on the sailors’ jangling nerves and stomachs. ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the War!’ (#245, May) revealed what happened when DD479 was mistakenly declared destroyed and, thanks to an administrative iron curtain, found it impossible to refuel or take on food stores…

Cartoonist Jerry Boyle resurfaced with a ‘Comic Strip’ in Our Fighting Forces #138 (July/August) after which Glanzman produced one of the most powerful social statements in an era of tumultuous change.

Our Army at War #247 (July 1972) featured a tale based on decorated Pearl Harbor hero Doner Miller who saved lives, killed the enemy and won medals, but was not allowed to progress beyond the rank of shipboard domestic because of his skin. ‘Color Me Brave!’ was an excoriating attack on the U.S. Navy’s segregation policies and is as breathtaking and rousing now as it was then…

‘Ride the Baka’ (OAaW #248 August) revisits those constant near-miss moments sparked by suicide pilots after which our author shares broken sleep in ‘A Nightmare from the Beginning’ (OFF #139 September/October) whilst ‘Another Kunkō Warrior’ (OFF #140 November/December) sees marines taking an island and encountering warfare beyond their comprehension.

1973 began with a death-dipped nursery rhyme detailing ‘This is the Ship that War Built!’ (G.I.C #157 December 1972-January 1973) before an impromptu lecture on maritime military history is delivered by ‘Buck Taylor’ (OFF #141 January/February) whilst Glanzman struck an impassioned note for war-brides and lonely ships passing in the night with ‘The Islands Were Meant for Love!’ (Star Spangled War Stories #167 February)…

Terror turns to wonder when sailors encounter the ‘Portuguese Man of War’ (OAaW #256 August), a shore leave mugging is thwarted thanks to ‘Tailor-Mades’ (OFF #143 June/July) and letters home are necessarily self-censored in ‘The Sea is Calm… The Sky is Bright…’ (OAaW #257 June), but shipboard relationships remain complex and bewildering, as proved in ‘Who to Believe!’ (SSWS #171, July).

The strife of constant struggle comes to the fore in ‘The Kiyi’ (OAaW #258 July) and is seen from both sides when souvenir hunters try to take ‘The Thousand-Stitch-Belt’ (SSWS #172 August), but, as always, it’s the non-combatants who truly pay the price, just like the native fishermen in ‘Accident…’ (OAaW #259, August).

Even the quietest, happiest moments can turn instantly fatal as the good-natured pilferers swiping fruit at a refuelling station discover in ‘King of the Hill’ (SSWS #174, October).

An unlikely tale of a kamikaze who survived his final flight but not his final fate, ‘Today is Tomorrow’ (OAaW #261, October) is followed by a strident, wordless plea for understanding in ‘Where…?’ (OAaW #262 November 1973) before the sombre mood is briefly lifted with a tale of selfishness and sacrifice in ‘Rocco’s Roost’ from Our Army at War #265, February 1974.

The following issue provide both a gentle ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ covering down-time in “The Islands” and a brutal tale of mentorship and torches passed in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, after which a truly disturbing tale of what we now call gender identity and post-traumatic stress disorder is recounted in the tragedy of ‘Toro’ from the April/May Our Fighting Forces #148…

‘Moonglow’ from OAaW #267 (April 1974) reveals how quickly placid contemplation can turn to blazing conflagration, whilst – after a chilling, evocative ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ (OAaW #269 June) – ‘Lucky… Save Me!’ (OAaW #275, December 1974) shows how memories of unconditional love can offset the cruellest of injuries…

‘Heads I Win, Tails You Lose!’ (OAaW #281, June 1975) explores how both friend and foe alike can be addicted to risk, after which ‘I Am Old Glory…’ (Our Army at War #282 July) sardonically transposes a thoughtful veneration with the actualities of combat before ‘A Glance into Glanzman’ by Allan Asherman (Our Army at War #284, September 1975) takes a look at the author’s creative process.

Then it’s back to those sketchbooks and another peep ‘Between the Pages’ (OAaW #293, June 1976) before ‘Not Granted!’ (OAaW #298, November 1976) discloses every seaman’s most fervent wish…

The stories were coming further and further apart at this time and it was clear that – editorially at least – the company was moving on to fresher fields. Glanzman however had saved his best till last as a stomach-churning visual essay displayed the force of tension sustained over months in ‘…And Fear Crippled Andy Payne’ (Sgt. Rock #304, May 1977) before an elegy to bravery and stupidity asked ‘Why?’ in Sgt. Rock #308 from September 1977.

And that was it for nearly a decade. Glanzman – a consummate professional – moved on to other ventures. He would, however, be asked about U.S.S. Stevens all the time and eventually, nearly a decade later, returned to his spiritual stomping grounds in expanded tales of DD479: both in his graphic novel memoirs and comic strips.

The latter appeared in anthological black-&-white Marvel magazine Savage Tales (#6-8, spanning August to December 1986) under the umbrella title ‘Of War and Peace – Tales by Mas’. First up was ‘The Trinity’ which blended present with past to detail a shocking incident of a good man’s breaking point whilst a lighter tone informed ‘In a Gentlemanly Way’ as Glanzman recalled the different means by which officers and swabbies showed their pride for their ships. ‘Rescued by Luck’ than concentrated on a saga of island survival for sailors whose ship had sunk…

Next comes the hauntingly powerful black-&-white tale of then and now entitled ‘Even Dead Birds Have Wings’ (created for the Dover Edition of A Sailor’s Story from 2015) after which a chronologically adrift yarn (from Sgt. Rock Special #1, October 1992) incites potently elegiac feelings as it describes an uncanny act of valiant gallantry under fire and the ultimate fate of old heroes in ‘Home of the Brave’

A few years ago, by popular – and editorial – demand Glanzman returned to the U.S.S. Stevens for an old friend’s swan song series; providing new tales for each issue of DC’s anthological 6-issue miniseries Joe Kubert Presents (December 2012- May 2013).

More scattershot reminiscences than structured stories, ‘I REMEMBER: Dreams’ and ‘I REMEMBER: Squish Squash’ recapitulate unforgettable moments seen through eyes at the sunset end of life; recalling giant storms and lost friends, imagining how distant families endured war and absence but, as always, balancing the funny memories with the tragic, like that time when the stiff-necked new commander…

‘Snapshots’ continues the reverie, blending old war stories with cherished times as a kid on the farm whilst ‘The Figurehead’ delves deeper into the character of Buck Taylor and his esoteric quest for seaborne nirvana…

Closing that last hurrah were ‘Back and Forth 1941-1944’ and ‘Back and Forth 1941-1945’: an encapsulating catalogue of war service as experienced by the creator, mixing facts, figures, memories and reactions to form a quiet tribute to all who served and all who never returned…

With the stories mostly told, the ‘Afterword’ by Allan Asherman details those heady days when he worked at DC Editorial and Glanzman would unfailing light up the offices by delivering his latest strips after which this monolithic milestone offers a vast and stunningly detailed appendix of ‘Story Annotations’ by Jon B. Cooke.

This book is a magnificent collection of comic stories based on real life and what is more fitting than to end it with ‘U.S.S. Stevens DD479’ (coloured by Frank M. Cuonzo & lettered by Thomas Mauer); one final, lyrical farewell from Glanzman to his comrades and the ship which still holds his heart after all these years…?

This is an extraordinary work. In unobtrusive little snippets, Glanzman challenged myths, prejudices and stereotypes – of morality, manhood, race, sexuality and gender – decades before anybody else in comics even tried.

He also brought an aura of authenticity to war stories which has never been equalled: eschewing melodrama, faux heroism, trumped-up angst and eye-catching glory-hounding but instead explaining how “brothers in arms” really felt and acted and suffered and died.

Shockingly funny, painfully realistic and visually captivating, U.S.S. Stevens is phenomenal and magnificent: a masterpiece by one of the very best of “The Greatest Generation”. I waited forty years for this and I couldn’t be happier: a sublimely insightful, affecting and rewarding graphic memoir every home, school and library should have.
Artwork and text © 2015 Sam Glanzman. All other material © 2015 its respective creators.

U.S.S. Stevens – The Collected Stories will be released on July 20th 2016 and is available for pre-order now. Check out Dover Publications and your internet retailer or comic shop of choice.

Tarzan versus the Nazis (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 3)


By Burne Hogarth with Don Garden & Rubén Moreira (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-319-1

The 1930 and 1940s was an era of astounding pictorial periodical adventure. In the years before television, newspaper strips (and later comicbooks) were the only visually-based home entertainment for millions of citizens young and old and consequently shaped the culture of many nations.

Relatively few strips attained near-universal approval and acclaim. Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates and Prince Valiant were in that rarefied pantheon but arguably the most famous was Tarzan.

The full-blown dramatic adventure serial started on January 7th 1929 with Buck Rogers and Tarzan debuting that day. Both were adaptations of pre-existing prose properties and their influence changed the shape of the medium forever.

The 1930s saw an explosion of similar fare, launched with astounding rapidity and success. Not just strips but actual genres were created in that decade, still impacting on today’s comic-books and, in truth, all our popular fiction forms.

In terms of sheer quality of art, the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immensely successful novels starring jungle-bred John Clayton, Lord Greystoke by Canadian commercial artist Harold “Hal” Foster were unsurpassed, and the strip soon became a firm favourite of the masses, supplementing movies, books, a radio show and ubiquitous advertising appearances.

As detailed in previous volumes of this superb oversized (330 x 254 mm), full-colour hardback series, Foster initially quit the strip at the end of a 10-week adaptation of first novel Tarzan of the Apes and was replaced by Rex Maxon. At the insistent urging of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Foster returned when the black-&-white daily expanded to include a lush, full colour Sunday page featuring original adventures.

Maxon was left to capably handle the weekday book adaptations, and Foster crafted the epic and lavish Sunday page until 1936 (233 consecutive weeks). He then left again, for good: moving to King Features Syndicate and his own landmark weekend masterpiece Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur – which debuted in February 1937.

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: a 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, educational efforts.

Burroughs cannily used the increasingly popular comic strip to cross-market his own prose efforts with great effect.

This third titanic tome begins with the prolifically illustrated ‘Hogarth on Burroughs’: George T. McWhorter’s interview with the master draughtsman from 1982’s Edgar Rice Burroughs Quarterly volume 1, #1, after which the timeless adventure resumes. At this time Hogarth had assumed the writing for the strip too, with veteran collaborator Don Garden leaving to pursue other, more patriotic pursuits…

‘Tarzan Against Kandullah and the Nazis’ (episodes #660-679; 30th October 1943 to March 12th 1944) is an explosive procession of coiled-spring action and crushing suspense as the Ape-Man, incessantly crisscrossing fabled, unexplored Africa returns to the lands of the Boers.

Here he discovers his old friends are being infiltrated by insidious Nazi deserters. The human monsters have seen that the tide of history is against them and instead of fighting on or surrendering are attempting to secure a desolate enclave from which they can rebuild a Fourth Reich to attack democracy again at some future date…

Their plan is to divide and conquer: fomenting strife between the native Mogalla tribe and the isolationist Afrikaaners. After narrowly averting that blood-stained crisis, Tarzan swears to deliver a military packet for a dying Allied airman, undertaking a staggering trek across the hostile lands before anonymously completing his mission and heading back into the veldt.

His travels next bring him into contention with a baroque and murderous slave-master in ‘Tarzan Against Don Macabre’ (pages #680-699, running from 19th March to 30th July). After rescuing beautiful captive Thaissa from his decadent clutches, the all-conquering Ape-Man decimates the Don’s menagerie of savage beasts – everything from a ravening bull to a giant octopus – and leads a slave revolt rebellion deep within his island citadel…

Once back on the mainland there was an extended return engagement for modern history’s most popular bad guys in ‘Tarzan Against the Nazis’ (#700-731) which ran from August 6th 1944 to March 11th 1945). This particular clash began innocuously enough with the Jungle Lord saving albino ape Bulak from his own dark-pelted tribe, before being distracted by sadistic Arabian hunter Korojak.

The wily stalker was trapping hundreds of animals for his master Emin-Nagra but secretly mistreating his prizes for his own sick amusement until Tarzan taught him the error of his ways. Sadly, it was not a lesson which stuck and before long both Bulak and the Ape-Man were part of the booty being transported to the golden-domed city of Bakhir

As Tarzan chafed in captivity as part of Emin-Nagra’s Circus, agents of Germany and Japan were negotiating for the oil under the cruel potentate’s pocket kingdom. They were pretty confident of a favourable deal, due to their column of storm troopers…

However, when Tarzan faced a tidal wave of starved jungle beasts in the Circus, he soon turned them into his personal army to bring down the despot. Then he turned his merciless attention to the Nazis and their nearby oil wells…

With the war winding down in the real world, escapist fantasy became a larger part of the Sunday strip environment. ‘Tarzan Against the Gorm-Bongara Monster’ (#732-748; 18th March to July 8th) saw the nomadic Ape-Man encounter a lost tribe of pygmies in a primordial valley, battling against them and latterly becoming their champion against a marauding, voracious dinosaur…

His inevitable victory led directly into ‘Tarzan and The Tartars Part One’ (#749-768, July 15th – November 25th) wherein landless prince Kurdu begged the Ape-Man’s assistance in overthrowing a usurper and saving his oppressed kingdom. The turbulent alliance offered privation, hardship, a quest for mystic relics and – for one of the heroes at least – the promise of true love…

This romantic epic is divided into separate chapters because from December 2nd 1945 onwards, Hogarth was replaced as illustrator by Rubén Moreira, who finished the tale from his predecessor’s scripts.

‘Tarzan and The Tartars Part Two’ (pages #769-778) concluded with the February 3rd 1946) instalment, after which Don Garden returned to provide fresh material for Moreira. You won’t find that here…

Hogarth was in dispute with the feature’s owners and moved to the Robert Hall Syndicate for whom he produced seminal adventure classic Drago and United Features where he created comedy strip Miracle Jones. During that time away from Tarzan, Hogarth – with Silas Rhodes – also opened the Cartoonists and Illustrators School which later evolved into the School of Visual Arts.

After his two-year hiatus, Hogarth bombastically returned to the Lord of the Jungle in 1947, midway through an ongoing story.

For the sake of convenience Garden & Moreira’s ‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part One’ (#840-856, April 13th – 3rd August 1947) is included here, setting the scene as sassy Texan heiress Dallas Doyle journeys to the home of Tarzan and his mate Jane, determined to recruit the famed Ape-Man in her search for her long-missing father.

It takes a lot of persuading, but eventually Tarzan capitulates, due in no small part to the urgings of native mystic Maker of Ghosts

Following an old map of a diamond mine, the expedition proceeds slowly on until sneak thief Dirk Mungo and a wily river-boat skipper steal it and frame Tarzan. Thrown in jail by a corrupt police official, the Ape-Man then abandons the niceties of civilisation and breaks out, following the villains with Dallas and golden lion Jad-Bal-Ja rushing to keep up…

The trail takes them through all manner of incredible horror and culminates in an aeroplane dogfight. Surviving being shot down, the pursuers doggedly press on, until captured by pygmies who trade them to decadent priests…

‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part Two’ (#857-861, August 10th – 7th September 1947) saw Hogarth’s spectacular re-emergence, illustrating Garden’s script as the lost senior Doyle is finally found and rescued, just as the entire lost world he ruled succumbs to volcanic destruction…

Hogarth then took sole control again for the concluding instalments. ‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part Three’ (#862-874, 14th September 7th – December 1947) swiftly wrapped up the saga as the hero saves his companions but almost loses his own life in the process. Wounded unto death, Tarzan is lost and dying and the rumours of his passing incite the various villains of the jungle lands to begin their raids and depredations again. However, saved by the tender ministrations of Manu the monkey and lumbering elephantine comrade Tantor, Tarzan soon storms back to restore his fair if heavy-handed peace…

To Be Concluded…

These tales are full of astounding, unremitting, unceasing action with Hogarth and the other contributors spinning page after page of blockbuster Technicolor action over months of non-stop wonder and exoticism. Plot was never as important as engendering a wild rush of rapt and rousing visceral responses, and every Sunday the strip delivered that in spades.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a master of populist writing and always his prose crackled with energy and imagination. Hogarth was an inspired intellectual and, as well as gradually instilling his pages with ferocious, unceasing action, layered the panels with subtle symbolism. Heroes looked noble, villains suitably vile and animals powerful and beautiful. Even vegetation, rocks and clouds looked spiky, edgy and liable to attack at a moment’s notice…

These vivid visual masterworks are all coiled-spring tension or vital, violent explosive motion, stretching, running, fighting: a surging rush of power and glory. It’s a dream come true that these majestic exploits are back in print for ours and future generations of dedicated fantasists to enjoy.
Tarzan ® and Edgar Rice Burroughs™& © Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All images Edgar Rice Burroughs, 2015. All text copyright Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc 2015.

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.