The Dick Tracy Casebook – Favorite Adventures 1931-1990

By Chester Gould, selected by Max Allan Collins and Dick Locher (St. Martins/Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0-31204-461-9 (HB)                978-0-14014-568-7 (PB)

All things considered, comics have a pretty good track record on creating household names. We could play the game of picking the most well-known fictional characters on Earth (usually topped by Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse, Superman and Tarzan) and in that list you’ll find Batman, Popeye, Blondie, Charlie Brown, Tintin, Spider-Man, Garfield, and not so much now – but once upon a time – Dick Tracy.

At the height of the Great Depression cartoonist Chester Gould was looking for strip ideas. The story goes that as a decent guy incensed by the exploits of gangsters (like Al Capone who monopolised the front pages of contemporary newspapers) he settled upon the only way a normal man could fight thugs: Passion and Public Opinion.

Raised in Oklahoma, Gould was a Chicago resident and hated seeing his home town in the grip of such wicked men, with far too many honest citizens beguiled by the gangsters’ power and charisma.

He decided to pictorially get it off his chest with a procedural crime thriller that championed the ordinary cops who protected civilisation. He took “Plainclothes Tracy” to legendary newspaperman and strips Svengali Captain Joseph Patterson, whose golden touch had blessed such strips as Gasoline Alley, The Gumps, Little Orphan Annie, Winnie Winkle, Smilin’ Jack, Moon Mullins and Terry and the Pirates among others.

Casting his gifted eye on the work, Patterson renamed the stern protagonist Dick Tracy and revised his love interest into steady girlfriend Tess Truehart.

The series launched on October 4th 1931 through Patterson’s Chicago Tribune Syndicate and rapidly became a huge hit, with all the attendant media and merchandising hoopla that follows.

Amidst the toys, games, movies, serials, animated features, TV shows et al, the strip soldiered on, influencing generations of creators and entertaining millions of fans. If you’ve never seen the original legend in action this collection – still readily available and released to accompany the Warren Beatty movie in 1990 – is a great introduction.

Selected by Max Allen Collins and Dick Locher, who worked on the strip after Gould retired, it presents complete adventures from each decade of the strip’s existence to date, and gives a grand overview of the development from radical ultra-violent adventure to forensic Police Procedural through increasingly fantastical science fiction and finally back-to-basics cop thriller under Collins’ own script tenure.

From the 1930s comes the memorable and uncharacteristic ‘The Hotel Murders’ (9th March – 27th April, 1936) wherein the terrifyingly determined cop solves a genuine mystery with a sympathetic antagonist instead of the usual unmitigated, unrepentant outlaw.

Whodunits with clues, false trails and tests of wits were counterproductive in a slam-bang, daily strip with a large cast and soap-opera construction, but this necessarily short tale follows all the ground rules as Tracy, adopted boy side-kick Junior, special agent Jim Trailer and the boys on the Beat track down the killer of a notorious gambler.

The best case of the 1940s – and for many the best ever – was ‘The Brow’ (22nd May – 26th September, 1944) in which the team must track down a ruthless and brilliant Nazi spy. As my own personal favourite, I’m doing you all the favour of saying no more about this compelling, breathtaking yarn, and you’ll thank me for it, but I will say that this is a complete reprinting, as others have been edited for violence and one edition simply left out every Sunday instalment – which is my own definition of policed brutality.

By the 1950s Gould was at his creative peak. ‘Crewy Lou’ (22nd April – 4th November, 1951) and ‘Model’ (23rd January – 27th March, 1952) are perfect examples of the range of his abilities. The first is an epic of minor crimes and criminals escalating into major menaces whilst the latter is another short shocker with the conservative Gould showing that social ills could still move him to action in a tale of juvenile delinquency as Junior grows into a teenager and experiences his first love affair…

As with many creators in it for the long haul the revolutionary 1960s were a harsh time for established cartoonists. Along with Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon, Dick Tracy especially foundered in a social climate of radical change where the popular slogans included “Never trust anybody over 21” and “Smash the Establishment”.

The strip’s momentum faltered, perhaps as much from the shift towards science fiction themes (Tracy moved into space and the alien character Moon Maid was introduced) as any old-fashioned attitudes.

In the era when strip proportions had begun to diminish as papers put advertising space above feature clarity, his artwork had attained dizzying levels of creativity: mesmerising, nigh-abstract concoctions of black-&-white that grabbed the eye no matter what size editors printed it. ‘Spots’ (3rd August – 30th November) 1960 comes from just before the worst excesses, but still displays the artist’s stark, chiaroscurist mastery in a terse thriller that shows the fundamental secret of Tracy’s success and longevity – Hot Pursuit wedded to Grim Irony.

The 1970s are represented by ‘Big Boy’s Open Contract’ (12th June – 30th December 1978) by Max Allen Collins & Rick Fletcher. Although he retired in 1977, Gould still consulted with the new creative team, and this third outing for the new guys saw the long-awaited return of Big Boy, a thinly disguised Capone analogue Tracy had sent to prison at the very start of his career, and whose last try for revenge tragically cost the hero a loved one and forever changed the strip.

Representing the 1980s, the final tale is ‘The Man of a Million Faces’ (October 5th 1987 – April 10th 1988) by Collins & Dick Locher. Like Fletcher, this illustrator was an art assistant to Gould who took up the master’s mantle.

Despite the simply unimaginable variety of crimes and criminals Tracy has brought to book, this sneaky story of a bank robber and his perfect gimmick proves that sometimes the back to basics approach leads to the best results.

Dick Tracy is a milestone strip that has influenced all popular fiction, not simply comics. Baroque villains, outrageous crimes and fiendish death-traps pollinated the work of numerous strips and comics such as Batman, but his studied use – and startlingly accurate predictions – of crime-fighting technology and techniques gave the world a taste of cop thrillers, police procedurals and forensic mysteries decades before shows such as such as CSI and The Coroner made the disciplines everyday coinage.

This is a fantastically readable strip and this chronological primer is a wonderful way to ease yourself into his stark, no-nonsense, Tough-love, Hard Justice world.
© 1990 Tribune Media Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Kelly’s Our Gang, Vol 1

By Walt Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN 978-1560977537

The movie shorts series Our Gang (latterly the Li’l Rascals) were one of the most popular in American Film history. Beginning in 1922 they featured the fun and folksy humour of a bunch of “typical kids”. Atypically though, there was always full racial equality and mingling – but the little girls were still always smarter than the boys. Romping together, they all enjoyed idealised adventures in a time both safer and more simple.

The rotating cast of characters and slapstick shenanigans were the brainchild of film genius Hal Roach who directed and worked with Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy amongst many others. These brief cinematic paeans to a mythic childhood entered the “household name” category of popular Americana in amazingly swift order.

As times and tastes changed Roach was forced to sell up to the celluloid butcher’s shop of MGM in 1938, and the features suffered the same interference and loss of control that marred the later careers of Stan and Ollie, the Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton.

In 1942 Dell released an Our Gang comicbook written and drawn by Walt Kelly who, consummate craftsman that he was, deftly restored the wit, verve and charm of the glory days via a progression of short comic stories which elevated lower-class American childhood to the mythic peaks of Dorothy in Oz, Huckleberry Finn or Laura Ingalls of Little House… fame.

Over the course of the first eight issues so lovingly reproduced in this glorious collection, Kelly moved beyond the films – good or otherwise – to scuplt an idyllic story-scape of games and dares, excursions, adventures, get-rich-quick schemes, battles with rival gangs and especially plucky victories over adults: mean, condescending, criminal or psychotic.

Granted great leeway, Kelly eventually settled on his own cast, but aficionados and purists can still thrill here to the classic cast of Mickey, Buckwheat, Happy/Spanky, Janet and Froggy.

Thankfully, after far too long a delay, today’s comics are once again offering material of this genre to contemporary audiences. Even so, many modern readers may be unable to appreciate the skill, narrative charm and lost innocence of this style of children’s tale. If so I genuinely pity them, because this is work with heart and soul, drawn by one of the greatest exponents of graphic narrative America has ever produced. I hope their loss is not yours.

© 2006 Fantagraphics Books. All Rights Reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 2

By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0980-8 (HB)                    978-0-7851-3712-2 (TPB)

Fantastic Four #1 is the third most important American comicbook in the industry’s astounding history. Just ahead of it are The Brave and the Bold #28, which brought superhero teams back via the creation of the Justice League of America, and at the top Showcase #4, which introduced the Flash and therefore the Silver Age. Feel free to disagree…

After a troubled period at DC Comics – National Periodicals as it then was – and a creatively productive but disheartening time on the poisoned chalice of the Sky Masters newspaper strip (see Complete Sky Masters of the Space Force), Jack Kirby settled into his job at the small outfit that used to be the publishing powerhouse Timely/Atlas.

He churned out mystery, monster, romance and western material in a market he suspected to be ultimately doomed but, as always, did the best job possible. That quirky genre fare is now considered some of the best of its kind ever seen.

However, his fertile imagination couldn’t be suppressed for long and when the JLA caught the readership’s attention it gave him and writer/editor Stan Lee an opportunity to change the industry forever.

Depending upon who you believe, a golfing afternoon led publisher/owner Martin Goodman ordering his nephew Stan to try a series about a group of super-characters like the one DC was doing. The resulting team quickly took fans by storm. It wasn’t the powers: they’d all been seen since the beginning of the medium. It wasn’t the costumes: they didn’t have any until the third issue.

It was Kirby’s compelling art and the fact that these characters weren’t anodyne cardboard cut-outs. In a real and a recognizable location – New York City – imperfect, raw-nerved, touchy people banded together out of tragedy, disaster and necessity to face the incredible.

In many ways, The Challengers of the Unknown (Kirby’s prototype partners-in-peril at National/DC) laid all the groundwork for the wonders to come, but the staid, almost hide-bound editorial strictures of National would never have allowed the undiluted energy of the concept to run all-but-unregulated.

Fantastic Four #1 (bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, by Lee, Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule) is crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it.

As seen in that ground-breaking premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and poor, tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. Despite these terrifying transformations, before long the quartet had become the darlings of the modern age: celebrity stalwarts alternately saving the world and publicly squabbling shamefully…

This full-colour hardcover or paperback compendium (also available in various digital formats) collects Fantastic Four #11-20, plus the first Annual, and chronologically spans February to November 1963.

We open sans preamble with more groundbreaking innovations as FF #11 offers two short stories instead of the usual book-length yarn. ‘A Visit with the Fantastic Four’ provides a behind-the-scenes travelogue and examination of our stars’ pre-superhero lives, after which ‘The Impossible Man’, proves to be a baddie-free, compellingly comedic tale about facing an unbeatable foe.

The unorthodox shenanigans are rounded off with a suitably grandiose pin-up of Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner.

FF #12 featured an early example of guest-star promotion as the team are required to help the US army capture ‘The Incredible Hulk’: a tale packed with intrigue, action and bitter irony. It’s followed by an even more momentous and game-changing episode.

‘Versus the Red Ghost and his Incredible Super Apes!’ is a cold war thriller pitting the heroic family against a Soviet scientist in the race to reach the Moon: a tale notable both for the moody Steve Ditko inking (replacing adroit Dick Ayers for one glorious month) of Kirby’s artwork and the introduction of the oxygen-rich “Blue Area of the Moon” and the omnipotent, omnipresent cosmic voyeurs called The Watchers

As the triumphant Americans rocket home, issue #14 touts the return of ‘The Sub-Mariner and the Merciless Puppet Master!’ – with one vengeful fiend made the unwitting mind-slave of the other – and adding lustre and tantalising moral ambivalence to the mighty Sea King who was to become the company’s other all-conquering antihero in months to come…

This epic was followed in turn by ‘The Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android!’ wherein a chilling war of intellects between driven super-scientists resulted in a cerebral yet all-action clash with plenty of room for smart laughs to leaven the drama. The pin-up extra this time is a candid group-shot of the entire team.

Fantastic Four #16 explored ‘The Micro-World of Doctor Doom!’ in a spectacular romp guest-starring new hero Ant-Man whilst also offering a Fantastic Four Feature Page outlining the powers and capabilities of the elastic Mister Fantastic. Despite his resounding defeat, the steel-shod villain promptly returned with more infallible, deadly traps a month later in ‘Defeated by Doctor Doom!’ Except they actually weren’t and soon sent the sinister tyrant packing…

The shape-shifting aliens who challenged the team in their second adventure returned with a new tactic in #18 as the team tackle an implacable foe equipped with their own powers in ‘A Skrull Walks Among Us!’: a potent prelude to greater, cosmos-spanning sagas still to come…

Cover-dated October 1963, Fantastic Four #19 introduced another remarkable, top-ranking super-villain as the quarrelsome quartet travel back to ancient Egypt and become ‘Prisoners of the Pharaoh!’

This time twisting tale tale has been revisited by so many writers that it’s considered one of the key stories in Marvel Universe history: introducing a future-Earth tyrant who would evolve into overarching menace Kang the Conqueror.

Another universe-rending foe debuted and was defeated by brains not brawn in FF #20 as ‘The Mysterious Molecule Man!’ briefly menaced New York before being soundly outsmarted.

The vintage wonderment concludes here with the contents of the first summer Fantastic Four Annual: a spectacular 37-page epic by Lee, Kirby & Ayers as, finally reunited with their wandering prince, the armies of Atlantis invade New York City and the rest of the world in ‘The Sub-Mariner versus the Human Race!’

A monumental tale by the standards of the time (and still today), the saga saw the FF repel the initially overwhelming undersea invasion through valiant struggle, brilliant strategy and technological innovation, as well as providing a secret history of the secretive race Homo Mermanus.

Nothing was really settled except a return to the original status quo, but the thrills are intense and unforgettable…

Also included herein are rousing pin-ups and fact file features. Interspersed by ‘A Gallery of the Fantastic Four’s Most Famous Foes!’ (powerful pin-ups of The Mole Man, Skrulls, Miracle Man, Prince Namor, Doctor Doom, Kurrgo, Master of Planet X, Puppet Master, Impossible Man, The Hulk, Red Ghost and his Indescribable Super-Apes and The Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android), you can enjoy ‘Questions and Answers about the Fantastic Four’; a diagrammatic trip ‘Inside the Baxter Building’ and a bemusing short tale ‘The Fabulous Fantastic Four meet Spider-Man!’.

This is an extended re-interpretation of the first meeting between the two most popular Marvel brands from the premiere issue of the wallcrawler’s own comic. Pencilled this time by Kirby, the dramatic duel was graced by Steve Ditko’s inking which created a truly novel and compelling look.

Some might argue that these yarns might be a little dated in tone, but they these are still classics of comic story-telling illustrated by one of the world’s greatest talents approaching his mature peak. Fast, frantic fun and a joy to read or re-read, this comprehensive, joyous introduction (or even reintroduction) to these characters is a wonderful reminder of just how good comic books can and should be.
© 1963, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Provocative Colette

By Annie Goetzinger, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-170-3

Publisher NBM have struck a seam of pure gold with their growing line of European-created contemporary arts histories and dramatized graphic biographies. This latest luxury hardcover release (also available in digital formats) is one of the most enticing yet; diligently tracing the astoundingly unconventional early life of one of the most remarkable women of modern times.

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (28th January 1873 – 3rd August 1954) escaped from rural isolation via an ill-considered marriage and, by sheer force of will and an astonishing gift for self-expression, rose to the first rank of French-language (and global) literature through her many novels and stories. The one you probably know best is Gigi, but you should really read a few more such as La Vagabonde or perhaps The Ripening Seed

For her efforts she was elected to the Belgian Royal Academy in 1935 and the French Académie Goncourt ten years later. She became its President in 1949, the year after she was nominated for a Nobel Prize. Her grateful country also celebrated her as Chevalier (1920) and Grand Officer (1953) of the Légion d’honneur.

Her unceasing search for truths in the arena of human relationships – particularly in regard to women’s independence in a hostile and patronising patriarchal society – also led her to pursue freedom of expression through dance, acting and mime, film and drama and as a journalist.

The fact that for most of her early life men controlled her money also prompted her far-reaching career path until she finally managed to win control of her own destiny and coffers…

Our drama unfolds in 1893 as 20-year old Sidonie-Gabrielle readies herself for her wedding to the prestigious and much older music journalist Henry Gauthier-Villars. The great man is celebrated nationally under his nom de plume “Willy”.

That’s also the name under which he will publish his wife’s first four hugely successful Claudine novels whilst pocketing all the profits and attendant copyrights…

Eventually breaking free to live a life both sexually adventurous and on her own terms, Colette never abandons her trust in love or reliance on a fiercely independent spirit. And she shares what she believes about the cause of female liberty with the world through her books and her actions…

This bold and life-affirming chronicle was meticulously crafted by the superb and much-missed Annie Goetzinger (18th August1951 – 20th December 2017) and was tragically her last.

The award-winning cartoonist, designer and graphic novelist (see for example The Girl in Dior) supplies sumptuous illustration that perfectly captures the complexities and paradoxes of the Belle Epoque and the wars and social turmoil that followed, whilst her breezy, seductively alluring script brings to vivid life a wide variety of characters who could so easily be reduced to mere villains and martinets but instead resonate as simply people with their own lives, desires and agendas…

The scandalous escapades are preceded by an adroit and incisive Preface from journalist and author Nathalie Crom and are bookended with informative extras such as ‘Literary References’, a full ‘Chronology’ of the author’s life and potted biographies of ‘Colette’s Entourage’ offering context and background on friends, family and the many notables she gathered around her.

Additional material includes a suggested Further Reading and a Select Bibliography.

Another minor masterpiece honouring a major force in the history and culture of our complex world, and guaranteed to be on the reading list for any girl who’s thought “that’s not fair” and “why do I have to…”, The Provocative Colette is a forthright and beguiling exploration of humanity and one you should secure at your earliest convenience.
© DARGAUD 2017 by Goetzinger. All rights reserved. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great reads see NBM Publishing.

Pride of Baghdad

By Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0314-6 (HB)                    978-1-4012-0315-3 (PB)

It would be far beyond crass to suggest that anything good at all ever came out of the monstrous debacle of the Iraq invasion, but trenchant-critique-masquerading-as-parable Pride of Baghdad at least offers a unique perspective on a small, cruel and utterly avoidable moment of that bloody mistake.

Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Runaways, Paper Girls) and Niko Henrichon (Barnum!, Fables, Sandman, Spider-Man), combining the narrative tools of Walt Disney and George Orwell, reconstruct an anthropomorphised tale of a family of lions who are unwillingly liberated from the city zoo during the taking of Baghdad, and then left to run loose in the deadly streets until their tragic end. Throughout the entire debacle the beasts are scared, hungry, under attack and convinced that everything will be great now that they are free…

This is not a spoiler. It is a warning. This is a beautiful, uncompromising, powerful, tale with characters who you will swiftly come to love. And they die because of political fecklessness, commercial venality and human frailty. The seductively magical artwork makes the inevitable tragedy a confusing and wondrous experience and Vaughan’s script could make a stone, and perhaps even a Republican, cry.

Derived from a news item which told of the lions roaming the war-torn Baghdad streets, here we are made to see the invasion in terms other than those of commercial news-gatherers and government spin-doctors, and hopefully can use those different opinions to inform our own. This is a lovely, haunting, sad book: a modern masterpiece which shows why words and pictures have such power that they can terrify bigots and tyrants of all types.

Read this book. Maybe not to your kids, or not yet, but read it.
© 2006 Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon. All Rights Reserved.

Captain America and the Falcon: Nomad

By Steve Englehart, John Warner, Sal Buscema, Frank Robbins, Herb Trimpe & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2197-8 (TPB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss.

He faded away during the post-war reconstruction but briefly reappeared after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every brave American kid’s bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time for the turbulent, culturally divisive 1960s. Perhaps it’s just coincidence but at the time the USA were just getting heavily involved in a conflict in Southeast Asia…

This startling paperback and eBook collection reprints issues #177-186 (spanning September 1974 – June 1975) of the monthly comicbook and shows the previously steadfast Sentinel of Liberty as a troubled and disillusioned man: unhappy, uncomfortable and unable to bear the weight of being a national symbol of a divided nation that had been betrayed and subverted by its highest elected officials.

At this time America was a nation reeling from mass culture shock caused by Vietnam, the Watergate scandal and the humiliating exposure of President Nixon’s crimes. The widespread loss of idealism and painful public revelations that politicians are generally unpleasant – and even possibly ruthlessly wicked exploiters – kicked the props out of most Americans who had an incomprehensibly rosy view of their leaders, so a conspiracy that reached into the halls and backrooms of government was extremely controversial yet oddly attractive in those distant, simpler days…

Sickened, shocked and stunned at the poisoned American Dream – and despite the arguments and advice of his Avenging allies – Steve Rogers searched his soul and realised he could not be the symbol of such a country. He threw off the costume and rank to wander the country bereft of ideals or direction…

Unable to convince him otherwise his crimefighting partner Sam Wilson carried on alone, as the high-flying Falcon tackles an invasion by a body-snatching alien X-Men foe – in conjunction with earthly villain Aries – in ‘Lucifer be thy Name’ (scripted by Steve Englehart and illustrated by Sal Buscema & Vince Colletta).

The double-dealing devils are promptly wrapped up in ‘If the Falcon Should Fall…!’ when Steve, unable to keep aloof, resorts to type and heroically piles in to the final showdown…

Whilst the dejected civilian settles into an uncomfortable self-inflicted retirement, in his costumed absence a few painfully unqualified civilians begin trying to fill the crimson boots of Captain America… with dire results…

Captain America and the Falcon #179 sees Rogers hunted by a mysterious Golden Archer whose ‘Slings and Arrows!’ soon convince the ex-hero that even if he can’t be the Star-Spangled Avenger, neither can he abandon the vocation of do-gooder. This moment of revelation leads to a life-changing decision and ‘The Coming of the Nomad!’ in #180, even as the Serpent Squad turn up again with morally ambivalent Princess Python in tow and maniac nihilist Madame Hydra assuming the suddenly-vacant role of the Viper.

When “the Man Without a Country” tackles the ophidian outlaws, he comes off second best but does stumble across a sinister scheme by the Squad and Sub-Mariner’s arch-nemesis Warlord Krang. The marine malcontent plans to raise a sunken continent and restore an ancient evil-drenched civilisation in ‘The Mark of Madness!’

At the same time Falcon is ignoring his better judgement: agreeing to train a determined young man to become the next Captain America…

An era ended when Sal Buscema surrendered Captain America and newspaper-strip creator Frank Robbins came aboard for a controversial run beginning with ‘Inferno!’ (inked by Joe Giella). Whilst Nomad successfully mops up the Serpent Squad – despite well-meaning police interference – Sam and Cap’s youthful substitute had encounter the Sentinel of Liberty’s greatest enemy with fatal consequences…

Inked by Frank Giacoia, ‘Nomad: No More!’ finds a grief-stricken, guilt-crushed Rogers once more take up his stars and stripes as the murderous Red Skull simultaneously attacks the hero’s loved ones and destabilising America’s economy by defiling banks and slaughtering the financial wizards who run them…

Beginning in the chillingly evocative ‘Cap’s Back!’ (with art by Herb Trimpe, Giacoia & Mike Esposito), rampaging through the utterly shocking ‘Scream of the Scarlet Skull!’ (Buscema, Robbins & Giacoia) and climaxing in ‘Mindcage!’ (with additional scripting from John Warner and art by Robbins & Esposito) the inimitable Sentinel of Liberty takes the fight to freedom’s greatest foe.

Tragically, despite driving the Skull off, Steve is stymied and frustrated when his greatest friend and ally is apparently revealed as the Skull’s stooge and sleeper-agent slave…

And on that staggering cliffhanger note this epic collection concludes…

To Be Continued…

Despite the odd cringe-worthy moment (for example, I specifically omitted the part where Nomad battles three chicken-themed crooks, and still wince at some from this era of “blacksploitation” and burgeoning ethnic awareness), these tales of matchless courage and indomitable heroism are fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing fights ‘n’ tights that no comics fan will care to miss: fabulously fun tales of a true American Dreamer…

Moreover, and all joking aside, the cultural significance of these tales were crucial in informing the consciences of the youngest members of the post-Watergate generation and could even stand as a warning from history in regard to the current polarising party-political shenanigans besetting the hotly-contested, gerrymandered Land of the Free and over-mortgaged Home of the Brave…
© 1972, 1973, 1984, 1975, 2006, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Thief of Bagdad

By Achmed Abdullah, illustrated by P. Craig Russell (Donning/Starblaze edition)
ISBN: 978-0-89865-523-0

This is a tenuous entry for a graphic novel listing, and potentially a controversial one, but other than all publishers’ motivation to turn a profit, these editions of the late 1980s had a worthy purpose and an admirable intention.

Donning’s Starblaze Editions began as a way of introducing lost classics to a new audience, by reproducing them with illustrations provided by some of the most respected names in comics. Their other selections were the silent film icon Metropolis by Thea von Harbou and illustrated by Michael Wm. Kaluta; Charles Vess’ illuminated A Midsummer Night’s Dream and most contentiously, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle with new artwork by Mike Grell replacing the author’s own groundbreaking illustrations. These are all household names but also tales that very few could admit to have ever actually read.

The Thief of Bagdad (and that’s how the West spelt it back then) began as a film by Douglas Fairbanks in 1924, with a screenplay by Elton Thomas, accompanied by a short story written by Lotta Woods. The fantastic and exotic tale of a common vagabond who wins a Princess was an eye-popping, swashbuckling blend of magic, adventure and romance which captivated the viewing public, leading to what was probably the World’s first ever novelisation of a movie.

Achmed Abdullah (1881-1945) was actually Alexander Nicholayevitch Romanoff, a prolific English author whose father was Russian Orthodox whilst his mother was a Muslim. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he joined the British Army, serving in France, India and China before becoming a jobbing writer of Crime, Adventure and Mystery tales, many apparently based on his own early life.

He was also a screen-writer, with his most well-known success being the 1935 film Lives of a Bengal Lancer (very loosely based on the novel by Francis Yeats-Brown).

As a book this is a cracking, literally spellbinding read and the illustrations are Russell at this flamboyant best. There are five vibrant full-colour plates plus an additional ten large black and white line drawings combining the artist’s clean design line with a compositional style that owes much to the works of Aubrey Beardsley.

Whilst not technically a graphic narrative, this book features all the crucial antecedents of one with the additional virtues of being a hugely entertaining concoction garnished with some of the best art ever produced by one of the industry’s greatest stylists. Believe me, you really want this book and I really want some modern publisher to revive this tome and its companions, even if only in eBook format…
© 1987 the Donning Company/Publishers. Art © 1987 P. Craig Russell. All Rights Reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1937-1938: “Shifting Sands Dusts its Cheeks in Powdered Beauty”

By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard & Derya Ataker (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-734-6

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is arguably the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which must be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – at once both visual and verbal – whilst exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding and without ever offending anybody.

Sadly, however, it did go over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few…

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

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

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

Eventually the feature found a true home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s doctrinaire patronage and enhanced with the cachet of fulsome colour, the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

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

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly.

Smitten kitten Krazy always misidentifies these missiles as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him/her in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

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

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dilemma…

Secondarily populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, social climbing busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

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

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“why dollin is you in pritzin?”, “l’il dahlink” or “I are illone”).

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

Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a supremely entertaining silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This delirious tome covers all the strips from 1937-1938 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a madly mystical digital edition.

Preceded by candid photos, examples of contemporary merchandise, memorabilia and some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions featuring the cast and settings, the splendid madness resumes with January 3rd 1937 – with the hues provided by professional separators rather than Herriman – we can now set off on another odyssey into the heartlands of imagination.

Within this compelling compendium of incessant passions thwarted, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, with even more new faces popping up to contribute to the insular insanity and well-cloaked social satire.

Newcomers include a family of kangaroos who provide a unique form of locomotion for the traditional cops and boppers chases, a pale equatorial bear of mixed origins (Mama from the south Pole and Papa from the North), a tightrope walker of surly demeanour and unlikely antecedents, a gang of morally ambiguous pelicans and the much-travelled odd cove calling himself D.B. Platypus…

Of especial note can be observed a marked increase in the (temporary) triumphs of Offissa Pupp who now regularly locks up the brick-bunging little brigand. Oddly, that in turn leads to a spike in jail breaks…

As well as frequent incarceration, Ignatz endures numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions… a minor plague of travelling conjurors and unemployed magician also make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary…

Never long daunted, Bull Pupp indulges in a raft of home-away-from home improvements, including a formidable moat around the county jail as well as art installations and an early example of conjugal visitations

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based gags and his occasional fleecing by Coconino’s (occasionally “Kokonino”) copious coterie of confidence tricksters – a scurrilous sub-population which seems to grow by the week. Of course, the mouse is a man who enjoys revenge served hot, cold or late…

Amongst the notable innovations this time is an increase in road traffic as America’s love affair with the internal combustion engine takes hold of the cast (after a bevy of wandering car salesmen arrive in town). Alternatively the entire cast spend a lot of time in one spot stargazing and attempting various form of flight – usually before coming back to earth with a bump.

Topics of civic conversation and favoured pastimes include a serious lack of good gossip, the proposed smashing of the atom by audacious “sign tisks”, insomnia, radio talk shows and movie-making, a seasonal but wholly unexpected cold snap, astronomy and misunderstood planetary phenomena, fishing and water sports and the parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene…

One tireless constant is the growing instability and trustworthiness of supreme comedy maguffin Joe Stork, whose increasingly hooch-affected delivery of (generally unwanted) babies still brings dread responsibility and smug schadenfreude in equal amounts to denizens of the county.

And, welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous inspiration and all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity.

Following another personalised birthday card, the cartoon gold is topped off by another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

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

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.
© 2006, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Essential Godzilla

By Doug Moench, Herb Trimpe, Tom Sutton & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2153-4

What’s big and green and leaves your front room a complete mess? No, not a Christmas tree, but (arguably) the world’s most famous monster.

Back in 1976 manga and anime were only starting to creep into global consciousness and the most well-known popular culture Japanese export was a colossal radioactive dinosaur who regularly rampaged through the East, destroying cities and fighting monsters even more bizarre and scary than he was.

At this time Marvel was well on the way to becoming the multi-media corporate colossus of today and was looking to increase its international profile. Comic companies have always sought licensed properties to bolster their market-share and in 1977 Marvel truly landed the big one with a 2-year run of one of the world’s most recognisable characters. They boldly broke with tradition by dropping him solidly into real-time contemporary company continuity. The series ran for 24 guest-star-stuffed issues between August 1977 and July 1979.

Gojira first appeared in the eponymous 1954 anti-war, anti-nuke parable directed by Ishiro Honda for Toho Films; a symbol of ancient forces roused to violent reaction by mankind’s incessant meddling. The film was re-cut and dubbed into English with a young Raymond Burr inserted for US audience appeal, and the Brobdingnagian beast renamed Godzilla. He has smashed his way through 27 further Japanese movies, records, books, games, many, many comics and is the originator of the manga sub-genre Daikaijû (giant strange beasts).

Although a certified sell-out, this mammoth monochrome collection is not generally available and – due, I presume to copyright issues – is not likely to resurface anytime soon in either physical or digital form, but if you’re a regular prowler in back issue bins you might get lucky. Stranger things have happened…

In this no-frills, no-preamble Marvel interpretation compilation, the drama begins with ‘The Coming!’, courtesy of Doug Moench, Herb Trimpe & Jim Mooney, as the monstrous aquatic lizard with radioactive fire-breath erupts out of the Pacific Ocean and rampages through Alaska.

Superspy organisation S.H.I.E.L.D. is quickly dispatched to stop the onslaught, and Nick Fury calls in Japanese experts Dr. Yuriko Takiguchi, his grandson Robert and their eye-candy assistant Tamara Hashioka. After an inconclusive battle of ancient strength against modern tech, Godzilla returns to the sea, but the seeds have been sown and everybody knows he will return…

In Japan many believe that Godzilla is a benevolent force destined to oppose true evil. Young Robert is one of them and he gets the chance to expound his views in #2’s ‘Thunder in the Darkness!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia & George Tuska) when the skyscraper saurian resurfaces in Seattle and nearly razes the place before being lured away by S.H.I.E.L.D. ingenuity.

Veteran agents Dum-Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones and Jimmy Woo are seconded to a permanent anti-lizard task force until the beast is finally vanquished, but there are also dozens of freelance do-gooders in the Marvel universe…

Sadly, when the Green Goliath takes offence at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, he attracts the attention of a local superhero team. The Champions – a short-lived, California-based team consisting of Black Widow, The Angel, Iceman, Ghost Rider and Hercules – rapidly respond in ‘A Tale of Two Saviours’ (with the solids inks of Tony DeZuñiga adding a welcome depth to the art). Typically, the humans spend more time fighting each other than the monster…

There’re only so many cities even the angriest dinosaur can trash before tedium sets in so writer Moench begins his first continued story in #4 with ‘Godzilla Versus Batragon!’ (guest-pencilled by the superb Tom Sutton and again inked by DeZuñiga), wherein deranged scientist Dr. Demonicus enslaves Aleutian Islanders to help him grow his own world-wrecking giant horrors… until the real thing shows up…

The epic encounter concludes in ‘The Isle of Lost Monsters’ (inked by a fresh-faced Klaus Janson) before ‘A Monster Enslaved!’ in #6 opens another extended epic as Herb Trimpe returns and Godzilla as well as the general American public are introduced to another now commonplace Japanese innovation.

Giant, piloted battle-suits or Mecha first appeared in Go Nagai’s 1972 manga classic Mazinger Z, and Marvel would do much to popularise the sub-genre in their follow-up licensed title Shogun Warriors, (based on an import toy rather than movie or comic characters but by the same creative team as Godzilla). Here young Rob Takiguchi steals S.H.I.E.L.D.’s latest weapon – a giant robot codenamed Red Ronin – to aid the Big Green Guy when he is finally captured.

Fred Kida stirringly inked the first of a long line of saurian sagas with #7’s ‘Birth of a Warrior!’ whilst the uneasy giant’s alliance ends in another huge fight in concluding chapter ‘Titan Time Two!’

‘The Fate of Las Vegas’ (Trimpe and Kida) in Godzilla #9 is a lighter-toned morality play with the monster destroying Boulder Dam and flooding the modern Sodom and Gomorrah, but it’s soon back to big beastie bashing in ‘Godzilla vs Yetrigar’: another multi-part mash-up that ends in ‘Arena for Three!’ as Red Ronin returns to tackle both large looming lizard and stupendous, smashing Sasquatch.

The first year ends with #12’s ‘The Beta-Beast!’: first chapter in an invasion epic. Shanghaied to the Moon, Godzilla is co-opted as a soldier in a war between alien races who breed giant monsters as weapons, and when the battle transfers to Earth in ‘The Mega-Monsters from Beyond!’, Red Ronin joins the fray for blockbusting conclusion ‘The Super-Beasts’ (this last inked by Dan Green).

Afterwards, loose in cowboy country, Godzilla stomps into a rustling mystery and modern showdown in ‘Roam on the Range’ and ‘The Great Godzilla Roundup!’ before the final story arc begins.

‘Of Lizards, Great and Small’ in #17 starts with a logical solution to the beast’s rampages after superhero Ant-Man’s shrinking gas is used to reduce Godzilla to a more manageable size. However, when the diminished devastator escapes from his cage and becomes a ‘Fugitive in Manhattan!’, it’s all hands on deck as the city waits for the shrinking vapour’s effects to wear off.

‘With Dugan on the Docks!’ then sees the secret agent battle the saurian on more or less equal terms before the Fantastic Four step in for ‘A Night at the Museum.’

The FF have another humane solution and dispatch Godzilla to a primeval age of dinosaurs in #21’s ‘The Doom Trip!’, allowing every big beast fan’s dream to come true as the King of the Monsters teams up with Jack “King” Kirby’s uniquely splendid Devil Dinosaur – and Moon Boy – in ‘The Devil and the Dinosaur!’ (inked by Jack Abel), before returning to the 20th century and full size for a spectacular battle against the Mighty Avengers in ‘The King Once More’.

The story and series concluded in #24 (July 1979) with the remarkably satisfying ‘And Lo, a Child Shall Lead Them’ as all New York’s superheroes prove less effective than an impassioned plea, and Godzilla wearily departs for new conquests and other licensed outlets.

By no means award-winners or critical masterpieces, these stories are nonetheless a perfect example of what comics should be: enticing, exciting, accessible and brimming with “bang for your buck.”

Moench’s oft-times florid prose and dialogue meld perfectly here with Trimpe’s stylised interpretation, which often surpasses the artist’s excellent work on that other big, green galoot.

These are great tales to bring the young and disaffected back to the comics fold and are well worth their space on any fan’s bookshelf. If only somebody could get all the lawyers in a room and have them battle out a solution to enable us to see them in a new edition…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2006 Toho Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved. Godzilla, King of the Monsters ® Toho Co., Inc.

Silent Invasion volume 1: Red Shadows

By Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-174-1

The 1980s were an immensely fertile time for English-language comics-creators. In America a fresh wave of creativity had started with the birth of dedicated comics shops and, as innovation-geared specialist retailers sprung up all over the country, operated by fans for fans, new publishers began to experiment with format and content, whilst eager readers celebrated the happy coincidence that everybody seemed to have a bit of extra cash to play with.

Consequently, those new publishers were soon aggressively competing for the attention and cash of punters who had grown resigned to getting their on-going picture stories from DC, Marvel, Archie and/or Harvey Comics. European and Japanese material began creeping in and by 1983 a host of young companies such as WaRP Graphics, Pacific, Eclipse, Capital, Now, Comico, Dark Horse, First and many others had established themselves and were making impressive inroads.

New talent, established stars and fresh ideas all found a thriving forum to try something a little different both in terms of content and format. Even shoestring companies and foreign outfits had a fair shot at the big time and much great material came – and almost universally, just as quickly went – without getting the attention or success they warranted.

By avoiding the traditional family sales points such as newsstands, more mature material could be produced: not just increasingly violent and with nudity but also far more political and intellectually challenging too.

Moreover, much of the “brain-rotting trash” or “silly kid’s stuff” stigma had finally dissipated and America was catching up to the rest of the world in acknowledging sequential narrative as a for-real, actual Art-Form, so the door was wide open for gosh-darned foreigners to make a few waves too…

One of the most critically acclaimed and just plain enjoyable features came from semi-Canadian outfit Renegade Press. They had spun out by a torturous and litigious process from Dave Sim’s Canadian Aardvark-Vanaheim enterprise, and set up shop in the USA before beginning to publish at the very start of the black and white comics bubble in 1984.

Renegade quickly established a reputation for excellence, picking up amongst others a surprisingly strong line of creator-based properties and some genuinely remarkable and impressive series such as Ms. Tree, Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire, Normalman, Flaming Carrot, the first iteration of Al Davison’s stunning Spiral Cage autobiography and a compulsive, stylish Cold War, flying-saucer paranoia-driven thriller series entitled The Silent Invasion.

This last was a stunningly stylish retro-Red Scare saga bolting 1950s homeland terrors (invasion by Commies; invasion by aliens; invasion by new ideas…) onto Film Noir chic and employing 20-20 hindsight to produce a truly fresh and enticing concept in the Reagan-era Eighties.

The series was eventually collected as four superbly oversized monochrome tomes (a whopping 298 x 2058 mm), re-presenting the lead story from the first dozen issues of The Silent Invasion wherein co-creators Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock concocted a delightful confection combining all the coolest genre elements of classic cult sci-fi, horror, spy, conspiracy theory, crime, romance and even comedy yarns…

Now, after far too long a wait – and with America once again enduring internecine struggle amongst the citizenry, corruption, collusion and cover-ups at every level of government and the press under attack from the people and traditions it seeks to inform and safeguard – the first two volumes have been re-released in a more manageable paperback size (or fully adjustable eBook format) with the expressed intention of catching up and finally completing the tensely compelling epic.

The 1950s in American were a hugely iconic and paradoxical time. Incredible scientific and cultural advancements, great wealth and desperate, intoxicating optimism inexplicably arose amidst an atmosphere of immense social, cultural, racial, sexual and political repression with an increasingly paranoid populace seeing conspiracy and subversive attacks in every shadow and corner of the rest of the world.

Such an insular melting pot couldn’t help but be fertile soil for imaginative outsiders to craft truly incisive and evocative tales dripping with convoluted mystery and taut tension, especially when wedded to the nation’s fantastic – and then-ongoing – obsessions with rogue science, flying saucers, gangsterism and espionage…

They were also obsessed with hot babes and bust sizes, but more of that elsewhere…

This first volume gathers prior collections Secret Affairs and Red Shadows and opens with Max Allan Collins’ expansive Introduction ‘Dick Tracy, Tintin and Serious Comics’, this titanic tale kicks off in April 1952 with ‘Chapter One: Atomic Spies’ within a dark desert landscape 22 miles outside Union City, USA.

Private eye Dick Mallet sees a strange light in the skies and in the morning the cops find his crashed car. There’s no sign of the infamous and distinguished Dick…

A month later reporter Matt Sinkage is still unhappy with his piece on “The Truth Behind Flying Saucers” but his mutterings and musings are interrupted by a hot blonde banging on the door of his foreign-sounding neighbour Ivan Kalashnikov.

Arriving at his desk on The Sentinel, Sinkage can’t believe the audacity of the Air Force’s official line about “marsh gas” and starts screaming at his Editor Frank Costello. The irascible bossman just bawls him out – again – and sends him off to cover real news…

Instead Sinkage heads out to the site of the latest sighting and starts interviewing local yokels. That night fiancée Peggy cooks him a meal but his mind is elsewhere, on that night six months back in Albany when he saw a UFO and impetuously chased after it: a night everyone but him remembers…

Later, in a bar, Matt continues badgering Frank until the booze gets to him. Eventually Sinkage slinks back to his apartment. Ivan’s door is open and a quick glance reveals the foreigner and others in front of a huge, weird machine and Matt realises they must be Reds! Atomic spies!

Before the reporter can react, Kalashnikov pulls a really strange gun and shoots. Next morning Sinkage awakes with another sore head and more fuzzy memories…

Days later Matt again collides with Mr K’s pretty friend Gloria Amber, but fails to get another look inside his neighbour’s place. Undeterred, he resorts to asking her out to lunch which somehow provokes the old guy into taking a sudden trip out of town. Things get even stranger when Gloria comes running to him, being chased by what she claims are Red agents…

Spiriting her away and stashing her somewhere safe, Matt doesn’t hear the pursuers accosting his landlord, claiming to be Federal Men…

‘Chapter Two: Secrets and Insidious Machinations’ finds the fugitives deep in the suburbs with Matt’s sedate brother Walter. The weary reporter is still seeing flying saucers and can’t understand why everybody else thinks they’re just jets. Meanwhile back in Union City, Frank is getting a grilling from FBI Agent Housley.

They’re old acquaintances. The G-Man regularly pops by to suppress one news item or another…

This time though the Feds want the vanished Sinkage and are not happy that Costello has no idea of the gadfly’s current location.

Back in suburbia, things are none too comfortable either. Stuck-up sister-in-law Katie is convinced Matt and his new floozy are up to no good and wants them out. At least she doesn’t know the FBI are scouring the city for them. Enigmatic Gloria, however, is more concerned that Sinkage is sleepwalking and having strange nightmares… just like Kalashnikov feared he might…

Matt and Gloria are just heading out in Walter’s borrowed car when Peggy pops by. She can’t understand why her man is with a flashy trollop and pointedly won’t talk to her. Gloria told Matt the real Reds are after Kalashnikov’s memoirs and convinced him to drive her to a quiet town in the desert where a “contact” will protect them both.

Mr K meanwhile has called in his own heavies to chase the couple, unaware that the FBI have visited Walter and Katie. A net is closing around Sinkage and the mystery woman he implicitly trusts… but really shouldn’t.…

The tension mounts in ‘Chapter Three: The Stubbinsville Connection’ as a mysterious Council of shadowy men convenes to discuss the Sinkage problem. As Housley’s report continues, when it becomes clear the reporter was also involved in the Albany event near-panic ensues…

In a cheap motel Matt’s suspicions are back. Gloria vanished from their room for a while during the night and hasn’t mentioned it…

They’re confirmed some time later when she helps Kalashnikov’s hoods Zanini and Koldst abduct her and rough him up. Back at Walter’s house the FBI turn up to interview them about Matt. They claim they’re the only Feds working on the case and no other government officials have been there before them…

Katie has had enough and spills all she knows. The agents instantly go into overdrive and organise all their forces to head for sleepy, remote Stubbinsville. Matt, meanwhile, has recovered and called the only guy he still trusts, his researcher Dan Maloney. That worthy warns him of the confusing profusion of agents all claiming to be working for the government, before sharing the same info with Frank Costello…

As Housley’s team fly in, Matt has decided to go on, hitchhiking to the rendezvous with a quirkily affable farmer who happily joins him in “pranking” the cops who have just arrested Zanini, Koldst and Gloria…

Reunited with his oddly-compliant mystery amour, Matt hurtles on to Stubbinsville in a stolen car, but with less than 100 miles to go Gloria falls ill. She makes him promise to get her there at all costs…

As the assorted pursuers converge, she directs Matt to a lonely wilderness area, but the forces of law and order have spotted them and follow. As the net closes a fantastic and terrifying lightshow ignites the dark skies. By the time Housley reaches the specified target area, all he finds is a comatose Sinkage.

As days pass, Matt finds himself free with all charges dropped, but he’s oddly content. Despite another blatant cover-up and no clue as to who all the various parties hounding him actually were, he knows what he knows and wonders when Gloria will be back…

By the time of ‘Chapter Four: A Pink Slip for a Pinko’ a little time has passed. It’s June 1952 and Matt Sinkage is tormented by nightmares of lights in the sky, Housley hunting him and Gloria beseeching him to join her kind…

His life has gone rapidly downhill. Stories of his being a “Commie” are everywhere, FBI agents shadow his every move and the oppressive tension is becoming overwhelming. When he gets a phone call from long-missing Dick Mallet, Matt arranges to meet the PI, and consequently notices that sister-in-law Katie is always listening recently and has become very chummy with his ominously ever-present G-Man surveillance detail…

First, though, Matt has to get the last of his belongings since the “Red” smear has allowed his landlord to terminate his lease. Aided by faithful fiancée Peggy and ever-friendly custodian Mr. Schneider, Sinkage collects his things and has an uncomfortable meeting with Kalashnikov. Almost in passing, Matt notices that he now has a different team of “Feds” dogging him.

When he finally meets Mallet, the gumshoe shows him an incredible set of photos: interior and exteriors shots of the flying saucers taken by the aliens…

At the Sentinel, Dan Maloney has made progress investigating Kalashnikov and Gloria but wants to finish his research before sharing. Sinkage has bigger problems though. His fellow workers have sent him to Coventry and the paper’s owner wants the “Commie” fired.

Costello is fighting back though. He suspects Housley is behind the disinformation and smear tactics targeting Matt.

Staying with Walter and Katie isn’t helping Matt’s mental state. As visions of the Albany event haunt him, his life takes another plunge when he finds Mallet murdered. Housley is there but frankly admits he knows Sinkage is innocent and (probably) the patsy of a cunningly contrived frame-up.

That doesn’t stop him trying to pump Matt for further information – just as his Council bosses ordered him to…

When Matt is finally fired and Maloney is killed in a freak accident the harried journalist knows is a case of Murder-By-Aliens, Sinkage feels the walls closing in and makes a run for it…

‘Chapter Five: Identity Crisis’ opens one night in July 1952 with Matt holed up in Maloney’s old hunting shack. He’s been utterly alone for weeks but is still seeing flying saucers in the night skies. He’s also reliving past events, helplessly mixing memories of Gloria with other moments. He’s so confused that when Peggy suddenly turns up, he mistakes her for his missing blonde mystery-woman…

Peggy visits him every night, offering food and company. She seems so different; warm and vivacious, but is always gone when he blearily wakes up in the morning.

Back in Union City, Housley and his secretary Meredith Monroe are reviewing the verifiable facts and reach a disturbing conclusion. Somebody on Phil’s team has their own agenda. He fears it’s his own boss – and Council stooge – Buzz Brennan but can’t find reasons to ignore their orders. Both his official employers and the secret ones above them want Sinkage found at all costs…

In the wilderness, Matt is starting to crack. Anonymously buying a gun from a local store he travels back to the city for Dan’s funeral and sees Housley and Brennan clash with Costello. He then sneaks back to his old building and breaks into Kalashnikov’s apartment. Sinkage finds a cache of files and as he reads them experiences a horrifying flashback: he’s strapped into some sort of brainwashing machine in a spaceship…

Matt is roused from the memories by Ivan’s return and bolts, leaving the scattered files behind. He then visits Peggy’s house where her mother’s hostile reception confirms a suspicion that has been growing in his mind…

His intended is waiting in the truck he borrowed, and as they furtively drive out to the country Matt drops his bombshell. He now believes he’s an alien consciousness improperly overlaid on a human mind and he knows Peggy is too: the same mental invader he used to know as Gloria Amber…

‘Chapter Six: What We Really Know about Flying Saucers’ pushes the drama into overdrive as Peggy frantically tries to dissuade Matt. He is adamant and, as Peggy storms off, Matt goes to Costello. They compare notes, unaware that the Council is mobilising all its covert assets in Housley’s FBI team to get Sinkage at all costs…

It might have worked had not Matt surprised everybody by turning himself in to share what he saw in Kalashnikov’s files with Housley and Meredith. Sadly, as he’s being taken to a safe-house Zanini and Koldst kidnap Sinkage and drag him back to Ivan… and Peggy!

By the time Housley realises what’s occurred and rushed to the apartment, it’s too late. The files are gone, but no one can determine whether they were cleared out by the foreigners or simply lost in the fire set by the Council’s inside man…

Matt has a different story. He survived the conflagration by rushing to the roof where he saw a saucer pick up one of his abductors, coldly leaving the rest to perish. It is a story he sticks to, even after he is committed…

To Be Continued…

Potently evocative, impeccably tailored and fabulously cool, The Silent Invasion remains a unique, boldly imagined and cunningly crafted adventure. Rendered in a style then considered revolutionary and even today still spectacularly expressionistic, this is a classic epic long-overdue for a modern revival: an unforgettable gateway to an eerily familiar yet comfortably exotic era of innocent joy and a million “top secrets” which no fan of fantastic thriller fiction should ignore.
© 1986, 1987, 2018 Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock. Introduction © 1988, 2018 Max Allan Collins. All rights reserved.

Silent Invasion: Red Shadows will be published on September 25th 2018 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see