Tarzan Archives: The Joe Kubert Years volume 3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

Lone Wolf and Cub volume 2: The Gateless Barrier


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that was before the avalanche…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mandrake the Magician: The Hidden Kingdom of Murderers – Sundays 1935-1937


By Lee Falk & Phil Davis (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-572-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because We Believe in Magic… 9/10

Considered by many as the first superhero, Mandrake the Magician debuted as a daily newspaper strip on 11th June 1934. An instant hit, it was soon supplemented by a full-colour Sunday companion page which launched on February 3rd 1935.

Creator Lee Falk actually sold the strip to King Features Syndicate years earlier as a 19-year old college student, but asked the monolithic company to let him finish his studies before dedicating himself to the strip full time. With his schooling done, the 23 year old master raconteur settled in to begin his life’s work: entertaining millions with his astounding tales.

Falk – who also created the first costumed superhero in the moodily magnificent Phantom – spawned an actual comicbook subgenre with his first creation. Most publishers of the Golden Age boasted at least one (and usually many more) nattily attired wonder wizards amongst their gaudily-garbed pantheons; all roaming the world making miracles and defeating injustice with varying degrees of stage legerdemain or actually sorcery.

Characters such Mr. Mystic, Ibis the Invincible, Sargon the Sorcerer, and an assortment of “…the Magician” such as Zanzibar, Zatara, Kardak and so many, many more all borrowed heavily and shamelessly from the uncanny exploits of the elegant, enigmatic man of mystery who graced the pages of the world’s newspapers and magazines.

In the Antipodes Mandrake was a stalwart regular of the Australian Women’s Weekly, and also became a cherished star in the UK, Italy and Scandinavia.

Over the years he has been a star of radio, movie chapter-serials, a theatrical play, television and animation as part of the cartoon series Defenders of the Earth. With that has come the usual merchandising bonanza of games, toys (including magic trick kits), books, comics and more…

Falk worked on Mandrake and “The Ghost who Walks” until his death in 1999 (even on his deathbed he was laying out one last story) but he also found time to become a playwright, theatre producer and impresario, as well as an inveterate world-traveller.

A man of many talents, Falk drew the first few weeks himself before uniting with the sublimely imaginative cartoonist Phil Davis whose sleekly understated renditions took the daily strip – and especially these expansive full-page Sunday offerings – to unparalleled heights of sophistication; his steady assured realism the perfect tool to render the Magician’s mounting catalogue of wondrous miracles…

Those in the know are well aware that Mandrake was educated at the fabled College of Magic in Tibet, thereafter becoming a suave globe-trotting troubleshooter, always accompanied by his faithful African friend Lothar and beautiful companion (eventually, in 1997, his bride) Princess Narda of Cockaigne, solving crimes and fighting evil. Those days, however, are still to come as the comics section opens in this splendidly oversized (315 x 236 mm) full-colour luxury hardback with ‘The Hidden Kingdom of Murderers’ (which ran from February 3rd to June 2nd 1935) as the urbane Prince of Prestidigitation and his herculean man-servant are approached by members of the international police to help expose a secret society of criminals and killers acting against the civilised world from their own hidden country.

After officer Duval is assassinated, Mandrake and Lothar – accompanied by panther woman Rheeta and surviving cop Pierce – embark upon a multi-continental search which after many adventures eventually takes them a desolate desert region where they are confronted by bloody-handed Bull Ganton, King of Killers.

With the master murderer distracted by Rheeta, Mandrake easily infiltrates the odious organisation and quickly begins dismantling the secret society of two million murderers. By the time Ganton wises up and begins a succession of schemes to end Mandrake, it’s too late…

That deadly drama concluded, Mandrake and Lothar head to India to revisit old haunts and end up playing both peacemaker and cupid in the ‘Land of the Fakirs’ (running from June 9th to October 6th).

When Princess Jana, daughter of Mandrake’s old acquaintance Jehol Khan is abducted by rival ruler Rajah Indus of Lapore, the Magician ends his mischievous baiting of the street fakirs to intervene. In the meantime Captain Jorga – who loves Jana despite being of a lower caste – sets off from the Khan’s palace to save her or die in the trying…

After many terrific and protracted struggles, Mandrake, Lothar and Jorga finally unite to defeat the devious and duplicitous Rajah before the westerners set about their most difficult and important feat; overturning centuries of tradition so that Jorga and Jana might marry…

Heading north, the peripatetic performers stumble into amazing fantasy after entering the ‘Land of the Little People’ (13th October 1935 to March 1st 1936), encountering a lost race of tiny people embroiled in a centuries-long war with brutal cannibalistic adversaries. After saving the proud warriors from obliteration, Mandrake again plays matchmaker, allowing valiant Prince Dano to wed brave and formidable commoner Derina who fought so bravely beside them…

With this sequence illustrator Davis seemed to shake off all prior influences and truly blossomed into an artist with a unique and mesmerising style all his own. That was perfectly showcased in the loosely knit sequence (spanning 8th March to 23rd August 1936) which followed, as Mandrake and Lothar returned to civilisation only to narrowly escape death in an horrific train wreck.

Crawling from the wreckage, our heroes help ‘The Circus People’ recapture and calm the animals freed by the crash and subsequently stick around as the close-knit family of nomadic outcasts rebuild. Mighty Lothar has many clashes with jealous bully Zaro the Strongman, culminating in thwarting attempted murder, whilst Mandrake uses his hypnotic hoodoo to teach sadistic animal trainer Almado lessons in how to behave, but primarily the newcomers act as a catalyst, making three slow-burning romances finally burst into roaring passionate life…

Absolutely the best tale in this tome and an imaginative tour de force which inspired many soon-to-be legendary comicbook stars, ‘The Chamber into the X Dimension’ (30th August 1936 to March 7th 1937) is a breathtaking, mind-bending saga which begins when Mandrake and Lothar go searching for the missing daughter of a scientist whose experiments have sent her literally out of this world.

Professor Theobold has discovered a way to pierce the walls between worlds but his beloved Fran never returned from the first live test. Eager to help – and addicted to adventure – Mandrake and Lothar volunteer to go in search of her and soon find themselves in a bizarre timeless world where the rules of science are warped and races of sentient vegetation, living metal, crystal and even flame war with fleshly humanoids for dominance and survival.

After months of captivity, slavery, exploration and struggle our human heroes finally lead a rebellion of the downtrodden fleshlings and bring the professor the happiest news of his long-missing child…

Concluding this initial conjuror’s compilation is a whimsical tale of judgement and redemption as Mandrake uses his gifts to challenge the mad antics of ‘Prince Paulo the Tyrant’ 14th (March 14th – 29th August 1937).

The unhappy usurper stole the throne of Ruritanian Dementor and promptly turned the idyllic kingdom into a scientifically created madhouse. Sadly, Paulo had no conception of what true chaos and terror were until the magician exercised his mesmeric talents…

This epic celebration also offers a fulsome, picture-packed and informative introduction to the character – thanks to Magnus Magnuson’s compelling essay ‘Mandrake the Magician Wonder of a Generation’ – plus details on the lives of the creators (Lee Falk’ and ‘Phil Davis Biography’ features) and a marvellous Davis pin-up of the cast to complete an immaculate confection of nostalgic strip wonderment for young and old alike.
Mandrake the Magician © 2016 King Features Syndicate. All Rights Reserved. “Mandrake the Magician Wonder of a Generation” © 2016 by Magnus Magnuson.

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.