Secret of San Saba: A Tale of Phantoms and Greed in the Spanish Southwest


By Jack Jackson (Kitchen Sink Press)
ISBN: 978-0-87816-080-8 (HB)                    978-0-87816-081-5 (PB)

I’m reading lots of graphic novels digitally these days, and it’s clear how much superb classic material – especially genre works with war and western themes – isn’t much of priority to content providers yet.

You try tracking down Sam Glanzman’s The Haunted Tank or Joe Kubert Sgt. Rock compilations, or even a relatively well-exposed screen property like Jonah Hex (other than the admittedly superb Justin Grey/Jimmy Palmiotti books of recent vintage) and see what joy you get…

Another such classic omission is this stunningly impressive western/horror mash-up from the inimitable Jack Jackson, still tragically only available in the original oversized (277 x 201 mm) monochrome softcover and hardback album editions, originally published by Kitchen Sink as part of their Death Rattle Series.

Known as ‘Jaxon’ since his Underground Commix heyday, Jackson’s infectious fascination with the history of Texas is a signature of much of his work even from the earliest days. Here the Commix legend expertly combines a love of historical documentary with the fabulous Lovecraftian horrors of the cosmic void, resulting in a breathtaking and wonderful period supernatural thriller, skillfully woven into the fabric and lore of the Southwest desert lands…

When a silvery entity crashes to Earth in a blazing fireball, it galvanises the fading dreams of Xotl, a young Faraone warrior who had lost faith in his gods.

As the years pass, the natives worship the fearsomely fulgent power of the star-fallen thing, and when the mighty Apaches conquer the Faraone, the twice-defeated tribe turn to the newly arrived Europeans for help. This is a tragic mistake, revealed too late, after the tribe finds that Priests and Colonists might speak of God but only truly worship wealth.

When the newcomers learn of the Cosmic Slug that fell from the stars, all they can see is the overwhelming wealth its silver mantle represents…

The decades-long battle between Apaches and Missionaries to control the slimy silver wellspring makes for a powerful if cynical tale, full of the intoxicating artistry, spellbinding storytelling, and the mesmerising aura of authenticity that is Jackson’s most telling narrative tool.

Based on the ancient Texas stories and legends of ‘Blanco’ and ‘Negro Bultos’ (supernatural treasure mounds), this most fantastic story should be, has to be true, if only because he has drawn it.

Superbly compelling, this is a must-read item for any serious fan of both comics and horror fiction, so let’s have it back and out in every format possible, pretty please…
© 1989 Jack Jackson. All rights reserved.

Pyongyang – A Journey in North Korea


By Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly Books/Jonathan Cape)
ISBN: 978-0-22407-990-7

The world is always on the brink of extinction. That’s just the way it is. However, it’s perhaps comforting to be reminded that even the most demonised of boogeymen are fundamentally human too. So let’s take a peek at some graphic reportage from a temporary insider once au fait with and allowed access to a nation currently running equal first in the highly-competitive “Earth’s craziest ruler” stakes…

The only things I knew about North Korea I picked up from too many comics (mostly American) and television, so this engaging book was a rather surprising delight. As much lyrical travelogue as pithy autobiography, it relates the bemused culture shock of inveterate traveller and Canadian animator Guy Delisle, who, whilst possessing a French work-permit, was invited behind what was once dubbed “the Bamboo Curtain” to train and supervise Korean artists as a film production supervisor.

Cheap animators, as you are probably well-aware, are one of the few resources that North Korea can use as a means of securing capital from the decadent West – well, at least at the time this anxious odyssey was recorded…

What Delisle discovered and illustrates here both reinforces and explodes much of the modern mythology surrounding the world’s only communist dynasty.

Using a simplified, utilitarian style he depicts and deconstructs an utterly alien environment that is nevertheless populated with people who are so very similar to ourselves, even though the citizens do their utmost not to let it show. Pyongyang is stuffed with nuggets of revelation, dryly observed by the innocuous author.

Gently-paced and often dream-like in quality, the humorous tone and genteel accessibility of the illustration accentuates an oddly-strictured, constantly buttoned-down sense of foreboding.

Allowed only one book (in his case, perhaps unwisely, Orwell’s 1984) which must be donated to the State on leaving the country, and a CD Walkman (as personal radios are banned) Delisle’s airport interrogation is sheer mental torture.

Only once we’ve been thoroughly immersed in the culture and experienced the personal foibles of the limited number people he is allowed to meet does the placidly compliant Delisle surprise us by revealing that he risked everything by rashly smuggling in a tiny radio so he could get more than state-controlled information – and entertainment!

Subtly playing with the ominous reputation of part of “The Axis of Evil”, Delisle has produced a readable, gentle, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect.

In this period of heightened thermonuclear tensions, this is a tale more timely than ever.
© 2003, 2005 Guy Delisle and L’Association. All Rights Reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 16


By Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Archie Goodwin, Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8801-8

Peter Parker was a smart yet alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering astonishing arachnid abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the kid did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Making a costume to hide his identity in case he made a fool of himself, Parker became a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night he didn’t lift a finger to stop him, only to find when he returned home that his guardian uncle Ben Parker had been murdered.

Crazed with a need for vengeance, Peter hunted the assailant who had made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, finding, to his horror, that it was the self-same felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility had resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and the traumatised boy swore to forevermore use his powers to help others…

Since that night he has tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them.

By the time of the tales in this 16th superbly scintillating full-colour hardcover compendium (and eBook) of web-spinning adventures the wondrous wallcrawler was a global figure and prime contender for the title of the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero. Spanning May 1976 to May 1977 and chronologically re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #156-168 and Annual #10, the dramas are preceded by an appreciative appraisal from J.M. DeMatteis in his Introduction before the action resumes.

A long-running romance-thread finally culminates here in the oft-delayed wedding of Pete’s old flame Betty Brant to reporter Ned Leeds, but the nuptials are sadly interrupted by a new costumed crook in ‘On a Clear Day, You Can See… the Mirage!’ (by scripter Len Wein and illustrators Ross Andru & Mike Esposito), even as a sinister hobo who had been haunting the last few yarns came fully into the spotlight…

In the past, a protracted struggle for control of New York between Dr Octopus and cyborg gangster Hammerhead escalated into a full-on and small-scale nuclear near-armageddon, with Spidey and elderly May Parker caught in the middle. The devilish duel concluded with a nuclear explosion and the seeming end of two major antagonists…

However, #157 exposed ‘The Ghost Who Haunted Octopus!’ as the debased, long-limbed loon turns again to Aunt May for his salvation.

With Peter in attendance, the many-handed menace seeks to escape a brutal ghost stalking but their combined actions actually liberate a pitiless killer from inter-dimensional limbo in ‘Hammerhead is Out!’, leading to a savage three-way showdown with Spidey ‘Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm with Doctor Octopus’ to save the horrified Widow Parker…

A new insectoid arch-foe debuted in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10, courtesy of plotter Wein, scripter Bill Mantlo and artists Gil Kane, Esposito & Frank Giacoia as ‘Step into my Parlor…’ depicts obsessed Spider-hater J. Jonah Jameson hiring outcast, exceedingly fringe-science biologist Harlan Stilwell to create yet another tailor-made nemesis to eradicate the webslinger.

Elsewhere meanwhile, that detested hero is breaking up a vicious hostage situation manufactured by psychotic Rick Deacon, but when the killer escapes and breaks into a certain lab he is rapidly transformed into a winged wonder-man hungry for payback on the web-spinner in ‘…Said the Spider to the Fly!’

Back in the monthly periodical the opening shot in an extended epic was fired as a criminal inventor – and one of the web-spinner’s oldest enemies – recovers Spidey’s long ditched and satisfactorily drowned vehicle, before tricking it out to hunt down its original owner in #160’s ‘My Killer the Car!’ (Wein, Andru & Esposito)…

Having narrowly escaped doom and debacle in equal measure the wallcrawler met a new friend and clashed with an old one, but rising star Frank Castle was reduced to a bit-player in Amazing Spider-Man #162-163 (October and November 1976, by the regular creatives), as the newly-reconstituted X-Men were sales-boosted via a guest-clash in ‘…And the Nightcrawler Came Prowling, Prowling’, wherein the Amazing Arachnid jumps to a very wrong conclusion after a sniper shoots a reveller at Coney Island.

By the time moody mutant Nightcrawler has explained himself – in the tried-&-true Marvel manner of fighting the webspinner to a standstill – old skull-shirt has turned up to take them both on before mutual foe Jigsaw is exposed as the real assassin in concluding episode ‘Let the Punisher Fit the Crime!’

The mystery villain behind many of Spider-Man’s recent woes is exposed in ‘All the Kingpin’s Men!’ as a succession of audacious tech-robberies leads the wallcrawler into another confrontation with the deadly crime lord. This time however, the Machiavellian mobster is playing for personal stakes. His son has been on the verge of death for months and his remedy is to electronically transfer the hero’s life force into the ailing patient. Discarded after the process, Peter Parker’s impending ‘Deadline!’ is extended by old friend Curt Connors until Spider-Man can explosively set things right…

That helping hand comes at a cost in ASM #165 as Dinosaur Man ‘Stegron Stalks the City!’, attempting to revivify the fossilised skeletons of Saurians in the city’s museums. To expedite his actions Steggy blackmails Connors and accidentally unleashes the biologist’s alter ego The Lizard, prompting a ‘War of the Reptile-Men!’ in #166…

Jameson then tries again to destroy his personal Bête Noir by hiring glamourous technologist Dr. Marla Manning to construct an upgraded mechanoid hunter, leaving our hero ‘…Stalked by the Spider-Slayer!’ in #167.

Spider-Man barely notices though, as a new menace is attracting his attention: an eerie ephemeral bandit called Will o’ the Wisp, clearly stealing for a monster with a hidden agenda and no mercy…

The never-ending battle temporarily pauses with the last story in this compilation as the hero, the Spider-Slayer and the deadly pawn all clash in the middle of Manhattan where tragedy is presaged by ‘Murder on the Wind!’

Added extras this go-round include original cover art by John Romita and art pages by Andru and Esposito to complete another superb selection starring an increasingly relevant teen icon and symbol. Spider-Man at this time became a crucial part of many youngsters’ existence and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow.

Blending cultural veracity with glorious art whilst making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness most of the readership experienced daily resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive prime time melodrama moments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.
© 1976, 1977, 2016 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jeff Hawke: Overlord


By Sydney Jordan & Willie Patterson (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-597-2

Have you ever heard of Jeff Hawke? If you’re a hard-science Sci Fi and comics fan, your horizons may just have expanded exponentially…

Sydney Jordan began his saga of the thinking man’s hero in the Daily Express on February 2nd 1954, devising and scripting the first few adventures himself. In 1956 his old school friend and associate Willie Patterson moved from Scotland to London and helped out with fifth adventure ‘Sanctuary’.

He wrote follow-up ‘Unquiet Island’, whilst sorting out his own career as a freelance scripter for such titles as Amalgamated Press’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, Caroline Baker – Barrister at Law and eventually Fleetway’s War Picture Library series.

Patterson continued to supplement and assist the artist intermittently as Jordan was never comfortable scripting; preferring to plot and draw the strips. Another confederate of the time was Harry Harrison, who wrote the ninth Hawke tale ‘Out of Touch’ – running from October 10th 1957 through April 5th 1958.

With the fourteenth tale, Patterson assumed writing chores on a full-time basis and began the strip’s Golden Age. He would remain until 1969.

Presented in Titan’s spiffy Deluxe hardback format, this superb collection of strips from the only serious rival to Dan Dare in either popularity or quality, not just in Britain but in the entire world, offers a tantalising glimpse at a transitional period in Britain and a fondly missed view of a Tomorrow that never was…

‘Overlord’ began on February 10th 1960. Here British Space Scientist Jeff Hawke meets for the first time a character who would become one of the greatest villains in pictorial fiction: Chalcedon, galactic criminal and would-be Overlord of Space.

When an alien ship crashes into the Egyptian desert, it reveals that two huge fleets of spaceships are engaged in a running battle within the Solar System and the Earth is directly in their path. After interminable babble and shilly-shallying at the UN, Hawke convinces the authorities to let him take a party to the warring factions in the hope of diverting them from our poor, endangered world and its potential future as a collateral casualty.

What Hawke finds is not only terrifying and fantastic but, thanks to Jordan’s magical illustration and Patterson’s thrilling, devastatingly wry writing, incredibly sophisticated and very, very funny.

Running until June 20th the saga was followed by a far more traditional and solemn yarn. ‘Survival’ (21st June to December 12th) follows the events of an interplanetary prang that severely injures Hawke’s assistant Mac Maclean.

Repaired – and “improved” by the penitent extraterrestrials who caused the accident – Mac rejoins the Earth crew, but is no longer one of them. Moreover, they are all still marooned on a desolate asteroid with no hope of rescue, and must use all their meagre resources to save themselves. This gritty tale of endurance and integrity was mostly illustrated by fellow Scot Colin Andrew as Jordan was busily preparing art for a proposed Jeff Hawke Sunday page, which tragically never materialised, although that art was recycled as 18th adventure ‘Pastmaster’.

It was a return to Earth and satirical commentary with the next tale. ‘Wondrous Lamp’ (13th September 1960 to 11th March 1961) opens in second century Arabia when an alien survey scout crashed at the feet of wandering merchant Ala Eddin, briefly granting him great powers before his timely comeuppance.

Nearly two thousand years later the ship – which looks a bit like a lamp – precipitates a crisis when its teleportation circuits lead to an invasion by a couple of million of the universe’s toughest warriors…

This brilliantly quirky tale, like all the best science-fiction, is a commentary on its time of creation, and the satirical view of Whitehall bureaucracy and venality, earthbound and pan-galactic, is a wry, dryly cynical delight, as as telling now as it was in the days before the Profumo Affair.

Chalcedon returns for the final tale in this volume. ‘Counsel for The Defence’ (13th March -August 2nd 1961) sees Hawke and Maclean press-ganged into the depths of Intergalactic Jurisprudence as the Overlord, brought to Justice at last, chooses interfering Earthman Hawke as his advocate in the upcoming trial. Naturally the villain has a sinister motive and naturally nothing turns out as anybody planned or expected it to, but the art is breathtaking, the adventure captivating and the humour timeless…

Jeff Hawke is a rightly revered and respected milestone of graphic achievement almost everywhere except its country of origin. Hopefully there will be more attempts to reprint these graphic gems – at least digitally – that will find a more receptive audience, and maybe we’ll even get to see those elusive earlier stories as well.
© 2007 Express Newspapers Ltd.

Adventures in the Rifle Brigade


By Garth Ennis, Carlos Ezquerra & various (Image Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-63215-802-4

Garth Ennis is a huge fan of the English and Scottish war comics he grew up reading. Films avidly consumed during a typical British childhood of my generation have also clearly left their mark. He grew up to become a writer with a distinct voice and two discrete senses of humour.

The black sardonic ironies of Preacher and True Faith are not present in this compilation of the two Rifle Brigade miniseries he produced with veteran combat illustrator Carlos Ezquerra for Vertigo way back in 2001 and 2002.

What you get here in this new-&-improved compilation collecting Adventures in the Rifle Brigade #1-3 and Adventures in the Rifle Brigade: Operation Bollock #1-3 (also available as eBook editions) is the cruel, ultra-violent gross-out stuff that made Hitman, The Boys and A Train Called Love such guilty pleasures.

If you were wondering, (Regimental) colours come courtesy of Patricia Mulvihill & Kevin Somers, Clem Robbins stencils in all them words and the book is aptly augmented by a spiffing cover gallery from Brian Bolland and Glenn Fabry…

It’s the height of World War II. The Rifle Brigade are Blighty’s top special ops combat unit, dealing death and destruction to the Hun wherever they can find them – and that’s pretty much everywhere. They’re also the worst congregation of deviants and psychopaths ever gathered under one roof, giving the creators the opportunity to lampoon every cliché you’ve ever seen in a war movie.

The balloon goes up in ‘Once More Unto the Breach’ as the bombastic chaps parachute into Berlin during a shattering air raid, bluffing their way through the battered hordes of Boche only to be captured by the infamous SS…

Left to the tender mercies (Hah! It iss to Larff, Tommy!) of chief torturer Gerta Gasch and SS overlord Hauptman Venkshaft, the lads soon realise things are ‘Definitely Not Cricket’. As yet unaware that there is division in the enemy ranks thanks to publicity-hungry Golden-boy of the Wehrmacht Oberst Otto Flasschmann who claims the notorious Rifle Brigade are his prisoners, the embattled boys make plans…

Their captors’ dissent soon leads to an unmissable opportunity, outrageous chaos, confusion and carnage and the triumphant victory cry ‘Up Yours Fritz’

The excessive violence and vulgarity resumes in sordid sequel ‘Operation Bollock’ with the team sent ‘Back to Blighty’ before being promptly despatched to locate a missing artefact the Germans believe will regain lost initiative and finally win them the war.

Said arcane item is Hitler’s long-missing testicle and the fanatical foe are closing in on it in the desolate desert kingdom of Semmen

The hunt intensifies once British Empire boots are back on the ground in opulent Sidi Boomboom where the local Sultan proves rather duplicitous and the hidden Hun devilishly keen on machine-gunning everyone. Also complicating the affair is a new rival for the baleful ball: treasure seeker Maryland Smith is apparently after the thaumaturgical thingummy for the specific benefit of good ol’ Uncle Sam…

The excursions all converge and hit a bad spot when an old enemy resurfaces with the testicle in hand. Amidst the confrontations and consequent slaughter that follows, the only choices are ‘Spit or Swallow’

A potent pastiche and superb send-up of the sub-genre (American war cinema has its own deliciously lampoonable idiosyncrasies!), the scripts, one-liners, and action sequences here are not simply hangers to drape an avalanche of bad taste jokes on. The spoof comes from a place of guilty love and is well up to Ennis & Ezquerra’s usual high standards, resulting in a marvellous marriage of our beloved saucy Carry On films and post-empire Battle of Britain movies, but whether it’s an enjoyable experience depends on what kind of humour you prefer.

Definitely Not one for the easily offendable, politically po-faced or retired Colonels currently residing in the Home Counties…
© 2016 Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra. All rights reserved.

Sgt. Rock: Between Hell & a Hard Place


By Joe Kubert & Brian Azzarello (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0053-4 (HC)                   978-1-4012-0054-1 (PB)

Sgt Rock and Easy Company rank amongst the greatest and most influential – if not enduring – creations of the American comic-book industry. The gritty meta-realism of Robert Kanigher’s ordinary guys in life-or-death situations captured the imaginations of generations of readers, young and old.

Most closely associated with those characters is legendary creator Joe Kubert, who worked as artist, writer, editor and educator since the earliest days of the medium. So, after a hiatus of many years, when a new Rock edition was announced in the early days of the 21st century, the artist was never in doubt.

Brian Azzarello was one of a vanishingly small pool of potential scripters for the proposed venture and the results of their collaboration was a powerful, if simplistic, morality play about the nature of killing. And, most importantly, it’s a damn’ fine read.

War is hell, but the killings are somehow justifiable if your country tells you so. How then does a moral man, a soldier, react when the life-taking moves beyond the acceptable parameters laid down by his superiors?

When Rock and his men capture four enemy officers after a frantic battle, the Nazis are taken prisoner and treated according to the Articles of War. The next morning three are dead and the fourth is missing. The Germans have all been executed at close range whilst confined…

Immediately a cloud of suspicion descends on the previously close-knit unit of G.I.s. Was it the missing prisoner, or is one of their own capable of the kind of atrocity they’re all fighting to end?

…And even so, don’t these monsters possibly deserve it? Rock must find all the answers. Not simply to restore his faith and trust, but because it’s the right thing to do.

As much detective mystery as war story, this is a searching and haunting re-examination of the most telling quandary of conflict. Why is dealing death right sometimes and not others? I can’t promise you answers, but the questions have seldom been asked in as striking or beautiful a manner.

Miraculously still available in both hardcover and paperback editions – but you’re plain out of luck if you like to revel in the delights of an electronic reader – challenging combat tales such as this one seem set to make a comeback considering the parlous state of world affairs, so why not get ahead of the curve now?
© 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Quitter


By Harvey Pekar & Dean Haspiel (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1401203993 (HC)                        978-1401204006(PB)

Before finding relative fame in the 21st century, Harvey Pekar occupied that ghastly niche so good at trapping truly creative individuals: lots and lots of critical acclaim and occasional heart-crushingly close brushes with super-stardom (which everyone except him felt he truly deserved) but never actually getting enough ahead to feel secure or appreciated.

In the 1970s, whilst palling around with Robert Crumb, Pekar began crafting compelling documentary narratives of ordinary, blue-collar life – primarily his own – and over successive decades invented “literary comics”. Despite negligible commercial success, the activity fulfilled some deep inner need and he persevered in his self-publishing and soul-searching.

One of those brushes with the Big Time came in the 1980s with the release of two compilations by mainstream publisher Doubleday of selected strips from his American Splendor comicbooks. To this day those tomes remain some of the most powerful, honest and rewarding comics ever seen.

By mercilessly haranguing, begging and even paying – out of his meagre civil service wages, and the occasional wheeler-deal or barter bonanza – any artists who met his exacting intellectual standards, Pekar soldiered on, inadvertently creating the comics genre of autobiographical, existentially questing, slice-of-life graphic narratives. And that was when he wasn’t eking out a mostly solitary, hand-to-mouth existence in Cleveland, Ohio.

How the irascible, opinionated, objectionable, knowledge-hungry, self-educated, music-mad working stiff came to use the admittedly (then) impoverished comicbook medium to make a fiercely vital social commentary on American life for the “ordinary Joe” is a magical journey into the plebeian far better read than read about, so go do that if you haven’t already.

Life picked up late for Harvey Pekar – mostly through an award-winning movie of his career and the publication of Our Cancer Year (a stunning documentation of his and third wife Joyce Brabner’s response to his disease).

This all led to an elevated and celebrated glitterati status, allowing him the opportunity to produce even more personal and compelling tales such as The Beats, Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me and The Quitter.

For all of that time he lived in Cleveland, Ohio and the city is as much a character in all his autobiographical works as the man himself. An irrepressible autodidact in the truest sense of the term, Pekar made it his business to learn everything about anything he was interested in… and he could be initially interested in everything.

Harvey Pekar died in 2010, aged 70.

First released in 2005, The Quitter is a bleak, coldly funny and often painful self-examination of a troubled and driven young outsider in a society gradually becoming a bit of a disappointment. All the trademark Pekar concerns are present: success with women, financial security, success in relationships, history, literature, success in a culture that won’t tolerate failure – or even mediocrity – and respect, all viewed through the fresh eyes of a troubled adolescent.

Harvey Pekar was never ordinary, and here he turns the autobiographical spotlight on his shameful early propensities to avoid potential failure by pre-emptive surrender and seek trouble or disputes he could settle disputes with his fists. The result is intellectual and emotional dynamite…

Pekar’s subtle mastery, gloriously illustrated by the simply magical monochrome artwork of Dean Haspiel, is to convey these dark themes in a compelling and frankly joyous manner.

Always gripping, never depressing, and utterly absorbing, The Quitter is, as its hype describes, some of his best work yet, and I’m aggrieved beyond explaining that his unique narrative voice has finally been stilled.

Still available in hardback or paperback editions, but not regrettably in digital form yet…
© 2005 Harvey Pekar & Dean Haspiel. All Rights Reserved.

El Diablo


By Brian Azzarello, Danijel Zezelj & various (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1625-2                  :978-1-84576-777-8 (UK Titan Books edition)

This extra-adult all-Vertigo interpretation of the classic DC Western avenger dates from a 2001 4-issue miniseries, and is an early precursor to the superb Loveless (for which see our recent Loveless: A Kin Of Homecoming review or best yet get the book). It is not as far as I’m aware available digitally yet.

Moses Stone is a gunman turned sheriff in the frontier town of Bollas Raton. His fearsome reputation, as much as his actions, serves to keep the town peaceful, and he’s perfectly content not shooting anybody.

Then one night the awesome and terrifying El Diablo comes to town and exacts a gruesome vengeance on a band of outlaws, yet inexplicably refuses to kill Stone when the lawman tries to halt the carnage.

Unable to understand or let it lie, sheriff and posse trail the vigilante to the town of Halo, New Mexico where the bloodshed continues and a ghastly secret is revealed.

Although a deep, brooding mystery with supernatural overtones, fans of the original western avenger (created by Robert Kanigher & Gray Morrow and debuting in All-Star Western #2, (October1970) will be disappointed to find that tragic Lazarus Lane – brutalised by thieves, struck by lightning and only able to wake from his permanent coma at the behest of Indian shaman White Owl – is all but absent from this darkly philosophical drama.

The demonically-infested agent of vengeance is long, long overdue for a comprehensive collection. The original occasional series of short tales from All-Star and Weird Western was illustrated by Morrow, Joe Kubert, Alan Weiss, Dick Giordano, Neal Adams, Alfredo Alcala and Bernie Wrightson whilst scripters included Sergio Aragonés, Cary Bates & Len Wein.

And that’s not even counting the Sagebrush Satan’s many team-ups with the likes of Jonah Hex in various iterations of the bounty killers own title…

In this moody epic however, the phantom of the plains is more presence than personality.

There’s an awful lot of talking and suspense-building but thanks to the moody graphics of Danijel Zezelj the tension and horror remain intense and when the action comes it is powerful and unforgettable.

The title star is a force but not a presence in El Diablo, but the tale of Moses Stone is nonetheless a gripping mystery-thriller that will chill and intrigue all but the most devoutly traditional cowboy fans.

And let’s be having a proper El Diablo compilation soon, pretty please?
© 2001, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Marvel Masterworks Ms. Marvel volume


By Gerry Conway, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8811-7

Until relatively recently American comics and especially Marvel had very little in the way of positive female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Although there was a woman starring in the very first comic of the Marvel Age, the Invisible Girl took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right.

The company’s very first starring heroine was Black Fury, a leather-clad, whip-wielding crimebuster lifted from a newspaper strip created by Tarpe Mills in April 1941. She was repackaged as a resized reprint for Timely’s funnybooks and renamed Miss Fury for a four-year run between 1942 and 1946 – although the tabloid incarnation survived until 1952.

Fury was actually predated by the Silver Scorpion who debuted in Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941), but she was relegated to a minor position in the book’s line-up and endured a very short shelf-life.

Miss America first appeared in the anthology Marvel Mystery Comics#49 (November1943), created by Otto Binder and artist Al Gabriele. After a few appearances, she won her own title in early 1944. Miss America Comics lasted but the costumed cutie didn’t, as with the second issue (November1944) the format changed, becoming a combination of teen comedy, fashion feature and domestic tips magazine. Feisty take-charge super-heroics were steadily squeezed out and the publication is most famous now for introducing virginal evergreen teen ideal Patsy Walker.

A few other woman warriors appeared immediately after the War, many as spin-offs and sidekicks of established male stars such as female Sub-Mariner Namora (debuting in Marvel Mystery Comics #82, May 1947 and graduating to her own three issue series in 1948). She was followed by the Human Torch’s secretary Mary Mitchell who, as Sun Girl, starred in her own 3-issue 1948 series before becoming a wandering sidekick and guest star in Sub-Mariner and Captain America Comics.

Masked detective Blonde Phantom was created by Stan Lee and Syd Shores for All Select Comics #11 (Fall 1946) and sort-of goddess Venus debuted in her own title in August 1948, becoming the gender’s biggest Timely/Atlas/Marvel success until the advent of the Jungle Girl fad in the mid-1950s.

This was mostly by dint of the superb stories and art from the great Bill Everett and by ruthlessly changing genres from crime to romance to horror every five minutes…

Jann of the Jungle (by Don Rico & Jay Scott Pike) was just part of an anthology line-up in Jungle Tales #1 (September 1954), but she took over the title with the eighth issue (November 1955).

Jann of the Jungle continued until issue June 1957 (#17) and spawned a host of in-company imitators such as Leopard Girl, Lorna the Jungle Queen and so on…

During the costumed hero boom of the 1960s Marvel experimented with a title shot for Madame Medusa in Marvel Super-Heroes (#15, July 1968) and a solo series for the Black Widow in Amazing Adventures # 1-8 (August 1970-September 1971). Both were sexy, reformed villainesses, not wholesome girl-next-door heroines… and neither lasted alone for long.

When the costumed crazies craze began to subside in the 1970s, Stan Lee and Roy Thomas looked into creating a girl-friendly boutique of heroines written by women. Opening shots in this mini-liberation war were Claws of the Cat by Linda Fite, Marie Severin & Wally Wood and Night Nurse by Jean Thomas and Win Mortimer (both #1’s cover-dated November 1972).

A new jungle goddess Shanna the She-Devil #1 – by Carole Seuling & George Tuska – debuted in December 1972; but despite impressive creative teams none of these fascinating experiments lasted beyond a fifth issue.

Red Sonja, She-Devil with a Sword, caught every one’s attention in Conan the Barbarian #23 (February 1973) and eventually won her own series whilst The Cat mutated into Tigra, the Were-Woman in Giant-Size Creatures #1 (July 1974) but the general editorial position was that books starring chicks didn’t sell.

The company kept trying and eventually found the right mix at the right time with Ms. Marvel who launched in her own title cover-dated January 1977. She was followed by the equally copyright-protecting Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977, and securing her own title 15 months later) and Savage She-Hulk (#1, February 1980). She was supplemented by the music-biz sponsored Dazzler who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before inevitably graduating to her own book.

Ms. Marvel was actually Carol Danvers, a United States Air Force security officer first seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968): the second episode of the saga of Kree warrior Mar-Vell, who had been dispatched to Earth as a spy after the Fantastic Four repulsed the aliens Kree twice in two months…

That series was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Gene Colan with the immensely competent Carol perpetually investigating Mar-Vell’s assumed and tenuous cover-identity of Walter Lawson for months.

This was until Danvers was caught up in a devastating battle between the now-defecting alien and his nemesis Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel #18 (November 1969).

Caught in a climactic explosion of alien technology, she pretty much vanished from sight until Gerry Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott revived her for ‘This Woman, This Warrior!’ (Ms. Marvel#1, January 1977) as a new chapter began for the company and the industry…

This sturdy hardcover volume (or enthralling eBook if you prefer), collecting Ms. Marvel #1-14, opens with a handy reminiscence from primary scribe Gerry Conway in ‘Welcome to the Greenhouse’ before the game-changing dramas commence…

The irrepressible and partially amnesiac Danvers has relocated to New York to become editor of “Woman”: a new magazine for modern misses published by Daily Bugle owner J. Jonah Jameson.

Never having fully recovered from her near-death experience, Danvers had left the military and drifted into writing, slowly growing in confidence until the irascible publisher had made her an offer she couldn’t refuse…

At the same time as Carol was getting her feet under a desk, a mysterious new masked heroine begins appearing and as rapidly vanishing, such as when she pitches up to battle the sinister Scorpion as he perpetrates a brutal bank raid.

The villain narrowly escapes to rendezvous with Professor Kerwin Korwin of AIM (a high-tech secret society claiming to be Advanced Idea Mechanics). The skeevy savant has promised to increase the Scorpion’s powers and allow him to take long-delayed revenge on Jameson – whom the demented thug blames for his freakish condition…

Danvers has been having premonitions and blackouts since her involvement in the final clash between Mar-Vell and Yon-Rogg and has no idea she is transforming into Ms. Marvel. Her latest vision-flash occurs too late to save Jameson from abduction but her “Seventh Sense” does allow her to track the villain before her unwitting new boss is injured, whilst her incredible physical powers and knowledge of Kree combat techniques enable her to easily trounce the maniac.

Ms. Marvel #2 announces an ‘Enigma of Fear!’ and features a return engagement for the Scorpion as Korwin and AIM make Ms. Marvel their latest science project. Whilst the Professor turns himself into an armoured assassin codenamed Destructor, Carol’s therapist Mike Barnett achieves an analytical breakthrough with his patient and discovers she is a masked metahuman even before she does. Although again felling the Scorpion, Ms. Marvel is ambushed by the Destructor, but awakes in #3 (written by Chris Claremont) to turn the tables in ‘The Lady’s Not For Killing!’

Travelling to Cape Canaveral to interview old friend Salia Petrie for a women-astronauts feature, Danvers is soon battling an old Silver Surfer foe on the edge of space, where all her occluded memories return just in time for a final confrontation with the Destructor. In the midst of the devastating bout she nearly dies after painfully realising ‘Death is the Doomsday Man!’ (with Jim Mooney taking over pencils for Sinnott to embellish).

The Vision guest-stars in #5 as Ms. Marvel crosses a ‘Bridge of No Return’. After Dr. Barnett reveals he knows her secret, Carol is forced to fight the Android Avenger when AIM tricks the artificial hero into protecting a massive, mobile “dirty” bomb, after which ‘…And Grotesk Shall Slay Thee!’ pits her against a subterranean menace determined to eradicate the human race, culminating in a waking ‘Nightmare!’ when she is captured by AIM’s deadly leader Modok and all her secrets are exposed to his malign scientific scrutiny.

Grotesk strikes again in #8 as ‘The Last Sunset…?’ almost dawns for the entire planet, whilst ‘Call Me Death-Bird!’ (illustrated by Keith Pollard, Sinnott & Sam Grainger) introduces a mysterious, murderous avian alien who would figure heavily in many a future X-Men and Avengers saga, but who spends her early days allied to the unrelenting forces of AIM as they attacked once more in ‘Cry Murder… Cry Modok!’ (with art by Sal Buscema & Tom Palmer).

Frank Giacoia inks #11’s ‘Day of the Dark Angel!’ wherein supernal supernatural menaces Hecate, the Witch-Queen and the Elementals attack the Cape, tragically preventing Carol from rescuing Salia Petrie and her space shuttle crew from an incredible inter-dimensional disaster…

The astonishing action continues in ‘The Warrior… and the Witch-Queen!’ (Sinnott inks) before ‘Homecoming!’ (Mooney & Sinnott) explore Carol’s blue-collar origins in Boston as she crushes a coupler of marauding aliens before the all-out action and tense suspense concludes as ‘Fear Stalks Floor 40’ (illustrated by Carmine Infantino & Steve Leialoha) with the battered and weary warrior confronting her construction worker, anti-feminist dad even as she is saving his business from the sinister sabotage of the Steeplejack….

This comprehensive chronicle also includes ‘Ms. Prints’ – Conway’s editorial on the hero’s origins from Ms. Marvel #1, original character sketches by John Romita Senior, a house ad, unused cover sketches by John Buscema and Marie Severin plus pages of original art by Sal B, Giacoia & Sinnott and Infantino & Leialoha.

Always entertaining, often groundbreaking and painfully patronising (occasionally at the same time), the early Ms. Marvel, against all odds, grew into the modern Marvel icon of capable womanhood we see today in both comics and on screen. These adventures are a valuable grounding of the contemporary champion but also still stand on their own as intriguing examples of the inevitable fall of even the staunchest of male bastions – superhero sagas…
© 1977, 1978, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Valerian – The Complete Collection volume 3


By J.-C. Méziéres & P. Christin with colours by E. Tranlé and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-357-4

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent blasted off in 1967 in the November 9th edition of Pilote (#420) in an introductory tale which ran until February 15th 1968. Although a huge hit, graphic album compilations only began with second tale – The City of Shifting Waters – as the creators concerned considered the first yarn more a work-in-progress and not quite up to their preferred standard.

You can judge for yourself, by getting hold of the first hardcover compilation volume in this cinematic tie-in sequence…

The groundbreaking series followed a Franco-Belgian mini-boom in science fiction comics triggered by Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 creation Barbarella. Other notable hits of the era include Greg & Eddy Paape’s Luc Orient and the cosmic excursions of Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane, which all – with Valérian – boosted public reception of the genre and led in 1977 to the creation of dedicated fantasy periodical Métal Hurlant.

Valérian and Laureline (as the series became) was a light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travel adventure-romp (a bit like Doctor Who, but not really so much), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist and political social commentary, starring (at least at first) an affable, capably unimaginative by-the-book cop tasked with protecting universal time-lines and counteracting paradoxes caused by casual, incautious or criminally minded chrononauts…

In the course of that debut escapade Valerian picked up fiery, far smarter Laureline, who originated in the 11th century before becoming our hero’s assistant and deputy. The indomitable lass was hot-housed as a Spatio-Temporal operative and soon accompanying Val on missions throughout time and space… luckily for him…

Valérian adventures were initially serialised in weekly Pilote until the conclusion of 13th mission The Rage of Hypsis (January 1st-September 1st 1985) after which the mind-bending exploits simply premiered as all-new, complete graphic novels, until the saga ended in 2010.

(One clarifying note: in the canon “Hypsis” is counted as the twelfth tale, due to the collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters. When Bad Dreams was finally released in a collected edition in 1983 it was designated number #0).

This terrific third oversized hardback compendium – released to capitalise on the summer’s spectacular movie adaptation from Luc Besson, and also available as an eBook – once again boasts a wealth of text features, including the final chapter of ‘Interview Luc Besson, Jean-Claude Méziéres and Pierre Christin’.

Stan Barets highlights the creative highpoints and methodology of illustrator Méziéres in his essay Méziéres, or the Art of Bande Dessinee’ with plenty of epic examples, garnishing those delights with sidebar ‘Méziéres Seen by Christin’ before throwing a well-deserved spotlight on ‘Évelyne. Tranlé: The One by Whom the Colour Comes’…

‘And Meanwhile’ then explores the artist’s mid-1970s other strips: specifically, semi-autobiographical ‘Mon Ameriqué à moi’ (Pilote, 1974) and sci fi shorts ‘Les Baroudeurs de l’espace’ (1976) and ‘Retour à la nature’ (1979), both seen in aforementioned Métal Hurlant. This is backed up by Méziéres’ own photo-feature reminisces of his 18 months living the American dream as a cattleman in Montana, Wyoming and Utah as recounted in ‘Far West 67 – The Adventures of a Parisian Cowboy’, before ‘The Stories in this Book’ provides context and a taste of things to come in the stories that follow…

Once more re-presenting a trio of classic formative fantasy-fests, the fabulous fun resumes here with Ambassador of the Shadows originally from Pilote July to October 1975.

The craftily subversive story finds the wide-ranging Spatio-Temporal agents assigned to an arrogantly obnoxious Terran diplomat transferring to the cosmically cosmopolitan space edifice known as Point Central.

Over eons many races and species have converged there for commerce and social intercourse by the simple expedient of bolting their own prefabricated and constructed segment to the colossal, continually expanding higgledy-piggledy whole…

With no central authority, different species take turns presiding over the amassed multitudes via the immense Hall of Screens. However, no decent species would ever physically leave its own tailor-made environment…

And now it is Earth’s turn to take the lead, but, as they vector in for landing, the pompous martinet they are escorting informs Valerian and Laureline of a slight modification in their orders. They are still to act as the Ambassador’s bodyguards but must stay extra-vigilant as Earth is going to uses its term in office to bring “order and discipline” to the lackadaisical way the universe is run.

Think of Britain in the months leading up to the Brexit referendum, if you like…

The assembled races will be invited to join a federation run – and policed – by Earth …and just to make sure, there’s a Terran space fleet of 10, 000 warships manoeuvring just out of Point Central’s sensor range…

Laureline is outraged, but like Valerian can do nothing except acquiesce. For her pains, she is put in charge of the mission’s funds: a Grumpy Transmuter from Bluxte, which can mass-excrete any currency or object of trade or barter forcibly swallowed by its always-scowling other end…

All kitted-out, the human trio and living cash-machine spacewalk to Point Central, but before the mission can begin an alien ambush occurs. Mystery warriors using Xoxos cocoon guns inundate the attending officers and dignitaries and only Valerian escapes plastic entombment.

As the raiders make off with the Ambassador, the Spatio-Temporal Agent gives chase but is easily captured and dragged off too…

By the time Laureline breaks loose they are long gone and she is left to pick up the pieces with stiff-necked human bureaucrat Colonel Diol, Under-Chief of Protocol. Determined but with little to go on, Laureline is cautiously optimistic when a trio of aliens come knocking. Ignoring Diol’s protest at the shocking impropriety, she invites the scurrilous Shingouz into the Earth Segment. They are mercenary information-brokers and claim to have been invited by the Ambassador before his abduction…

From them – and thanks to the discomforted efforts of the Grumpy Transmuter – she purchases a few hints and allegations as well as a map of Point Central which might lead to Earth’s secret allies in the cosmopolis…

With the constantly bleating Diol reluctantly in tow, Laureline undertakes a quest through the underbelly of the station, seeing for the first time the mute but ubiquitous Zools: a much-ignored under-race who have been maintaining Point Central for millennia.

The Earthlings’ perambulations take them to the centaur-like Kamuniks: barbaric feudal mercenaries allied to Galaxity and appreciative of humanity’s martial prowess. Over a lavish feast – liberally augmented by another painfully exotic payment courtesy of the overworked Transmuter – the warriors steer Laureline towards potential suspects the Bagulins: low grade muscle-for-hire who frequent the tawdry red-light sector run by The Suffuss

Despite Diol’s nigh-apoplexy, the adamant and inquisitive Laureline follows the trail to the sin segment where she experiences the particular talents of the hosts: amorphous shapeshifters who can make any carnal dream literally come true.

Well into overtime now, the exhausted Grumpy buys the help of one Suffuss who smuggles the junior Spatio-Temporal operative into a Bagulin party and the next link in the chain…

And so it goes as, with occasional prodding from the Shingouz, Laureline gets ever closer to the enigmatic beings truly pulling all the strings on Point Central whilst elsewhere Valerian frees the Ambassador from bizarre, ethereal captivity only to find the doctrinaire war-maker is undergoing a peculiar change of heart.

Seemingly landing their deserted ship on a paradisiacal “world with no name” they bask in an idyllic paradise and converse with noble primitives who have an uncanny aura of great power.

These beings built the original section of Point Central – and ruled the universe – before withdrawing from mundane material affairs, but they still maintain a watch over their creation from the shadows and won’t allow any race or species to dominate or conquer their pan-galactic melting pot of space…

In a more physical portion of reality, Laureline follows her final clues to reach the strange central area where Val and the Ambassador lie dazed and confused. By the time they all return to the Earth Segment a few major changes have taken place in the governance of the immense star station but, oddly, the Ambassador doesn’t seem to mind…

Socially aware and ethically crusading, this is one of the smartest, most beguilingly cynical comics tales to catch the 1970s wave of political awareness and still ranks amongst the very best to explore the social aspects and iniquities of colonialism.

And, of course, there’s the usual glorious blend of astounding action, imaginative imagery and fantastic creatures to leaven the morality play with space-operatic fun-filled, visually breathtaking and stunningly ingenious wide-eyed wonderment…

On the False Earths first ran in the newly monthly Pilote (issues #M31 to M34, from 30th November 1976 to March 1st 1977) before being collected as seventh album Sur le terres truquées – spectacularly reinforcing the “Spatio-Temporal” aspect of our heroes through a beguiling cosmic conundrum…

The mission starts in frantic full flow as a very familiar figure fights valiantly and dies ignominiously during a pitched battle in 19th century Colonial India. He doesn’t go easy, however, using his ray gun to disintegrate an attacking tiger before beaming back crucial data stolen from a sinister maharaja equipped with technology he simply shouldn’t have…

In deep space, distraught Laureline sees her man die, but her protests are ignored by heartless, man-despising historian Jadna. The scholar cares little for the oafish warrior undertaking a top-secret mission for her. After all, there’s plenty more where he came from…

That’s literally the case as, a little later, another Valerian infiltrates Victorian London Society; breaking into a swank Gentleman’s Club and crashing a meeting of the Empire’s greatest movers and shakers. Once again, these potentates are communicating with a hidden high-tech master, and once again the star-cop expires trying to determine the mastermind’s exact whereabouts.

He resurfaces in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1895 where enquiries arouse the wrath of the local tongs. This Valerian perishes after noting an increasing number of anachronisms – such as an Easy Rider on a chopped Harley Davidson motorbike…

From their secure vantage point on a vast satellite, Jadna and Laureline see their agent expire in another artificially constructed historical microcosm. The callous historian ruminates on their mystery opponent: a being capable of reshaping matter, crafting perfect little worlds and recreating human eras with the skill of a master artist whilst remaining utterly hidden from all their probing searches.

If the enigma hadn’t been detected rifling through Terran time zones – presumably for research – no one would even know of its existence…

The enigmatic creator’s simulacrums are progressively advancing through brutal yet always significant periods of Terran history, but each visit by Valerian brings the investigation team closer to the mysterious maker’s actual location. Soon our hero is cautiously exploring a slice of Belle Époque France, but his enigmatic quarry is cognizant of the constant intrusions and has taken a few liberties with verisimilitude.

Waiting in ambush for Valerian are American gangsters with Tommyguns…

Rubbed out before he can even begin, Valerian is swiftly replaced by another short-lived duplicate whilst the original and genuine lies comatose in a clone-command tank. This last rapid substitution, however, finally allows the watching women to zero in on their target’s true location and they instantly shift their ship through the Universal Continua to reach the incredible being’s astounding base… and none too soon, as Jadna posits that the creature’s next construction will most likely be World War I…

She is proved painfully correct. As they ready themselves for a confrontation with the maker, Laureline and the scholar realise that the astral citadel is a perfect replica of a Great War battlefield. Seizing the initiative, Jadna activates and musters all the remaining clones – as well as the original real McCoy – programming them to play the marauding “boche” in an apocalyptic re-enactment simply as a diversion to allow her to get to the impossibly powerful being she so admires…

Caught up in the incomprehensible slaughter and its bizarre aftermath the Spatio-Temporal agents can only watch in astonishment as Jadna and the seemingly all-powerful artisan discover just how much they have in common…

Trenchant, barbed, socially aware and ethically crusading, Valerian and Laureline stories never allow message to overshadow fun and wonder and On the False Earths is one of the sharpest, most intriguing sagas Méziéres & Christin ever concocted, complete with a superb twist in the tale to delight and confound even the most experienced starfarer…

Wrapping up the interstellar ultra-cosmic antics is Heroes of the Equinox: a sparkling, over-the-top spoof of superheroes and political ideologies which also found time and space to take a good-natured, gentle poke at the eternal battle of the sexes. It was originally serialised in monthly Pilote #M47 – M50 (covering March 21st to June 27th 1978) before being collected later that year as eighth album Les héros de l’équinoxe.

Spectacularly designed and inspirationally conceived, the story starts as a quartet of vastly disparate planetary champions depart for the distant and distressed world of Simlane, where an ancient and cultivated civilisation is experiencing a uniquely tragic crisis…

The heroes comprise three dedicated nigh-fanatical supermen, whilst Galaxity – far more concerned with courting public opinion than actually helping – have packed off a handy and presently unoccupied Spatio-Temporal agent named Valerian, just to show willing…

With Laureline mocking him for the entire trip, Earth’s Prime Champion touches down on Simlane to be greeted by a crowd of effusive doddering oldsters from a glorious city of once-magnificent but now crumbling edifices all with an incredible story to tell.

The inhabitants of the derelict tourist trap are uniformly old, sterile and desperately in need of a new generation of children to repopulate the world, but their manner of achieving their goal is unique. For the lifetime of their civilisation, every hundred equinoxes the best and bravest males of Simlane venture to isolated Filine, Island of Children in a fierce and often deadly competition. The winner then somehow spawns a whole new generation in incredibly quick time, who sail back on little boats to re-people the world.

That didn’t go entirely according to plan last time, so the planetary leaders have invited four prime specimens from other worlds to do the necessary this time – much to the anger and dismay of a creaky host of crotchety, doddering indigenous elderly would-be sire-heroes…

At the packed but painfully weathered Great Theatre the assembled geriatrics are treated to a destructive floor show as the brazen alien warriors display their prowess.

Bombastic Irmgaal of Krahan is a godlike superman wielding a flaming sword whilst proletarian technological wonder Ortzog of worker’s paradise Boorny reveals the power of a united people through his blazing, flailing chains. Mystic nature boy Blimflim of elysian, Arcadian Malamum calmly displays the gentle irresistibility of the spirit harnessed to willpower. Each couldn’t be more different yet the result of each display is catastrophic destruction.

When eager eyes turn to Galaxity’s representative, Valerian simply shoots a chip off a distant stone cornice with his blaster… to tumultuous disinterest…

Dwarfed by Herculean alien supermen, he shambles off to prepare for the great contest and dawn finds him with his fellow contestants, ready to brave the stormy skies for the grand prize and glory…

This is one of the most visually extravagant and exuberant of all the albums, with a huge proportion of the book dedicated to the fantastic foursome overcoming their particular challenges and monstrous foes in astounding demonstrations of bravura puissance and awesome might… well, three of them anyway. The earthman’s travails are generally nasty, dirty, smelly and ingloriously dangerous…

Eventually however, all the warriors prove themselves a credit to their particular lineage and system before facing one final test. It’s in the form of a simple question: “If you sired the next generation how do you envision their future?”

Each strange visitor propounds a glorious agenda of expansion according to the customs and principles of his own culture but it’s the rather diffident and lacklustre vision of the Terran slacker that wins the approval of the incredible being who is the eternal mother of Simlane’s repopulation…

When the trio of failed supermen wash up on the shores of the city, the people realise who has fathered their soon-to-arrive new sons and daughters and patiently wait for the equinox tide to bring them over.

Laureline, horrified to discover that each successful father is never seen again, quickly sails to the Island of Children and navigates with comparative ease the trials which so tested the wonder men. She arrives at the misty citadel atop Filine in time to see an army of disturbingly familiar-looking toddlers tumble into little sailboats…

Broaching the idyllic paradise further she finally meets the Great Mother and sees what the breeding process has made of her reprehensible, sleazy, typically male partner…

Reaching an accommodation with the gargantuan progenitor, Laureline negotiates the release of her partner and soon they are winging home to Terra, with him having to listen to just what she thinks of him whilst praying Galaxity’s medical experts can make him again the man he so recently was…

Sharp, witty and deliciously over-the-top, this tale is a wry delight, spoofing with equanimity human drives, notions of heroism and political and philosophical trendiness with devastating effect.

Whether super-heroic fascism, totalitarian socialism or even the woolly mis-educated, miscomprehensions of new age eco-fundamentalists who think aromatherapy cures broken legs or that their kids are too precious to be vaccinated and too special to share herd immunity, no sacred cow is left soundly unkicked…

However, no matter how trenchant, barbed, culturally aware and ethically crusading, Valerian and Laureline stories never allow message to overshadow fun and wonder and Heroes of the Equinox is one of the most entertaining sagas Méziéres & Christin ever concocted, complete with a superb sting in the tale…

These stories are some of the most influential comics in the world, timeless, thrilling, funny and just too good to be ignored. The time is now and there’s no space large enough to contain the sheer joy of Valerian and Laureline, so go see what all the fuss is about right now…
© Dargaud Paris, 2016 Christin, Méziéres & Tran-Lệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.