Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge volume 1: Pure Viewing Satisfaction


By Rodolfo Cimino, Alberto Savini, Jan Kruse, Bas Heymans, Frank Jonker, Paul Hoogma, Romano Scarpa, Andrea Freccero, Luca Boschi, Maximino Tortajada Aguilar, Tony Strobl & various (Disney Comics/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-388-0

Scrooge McDuck premiered in the Donald Duck tale ‘Christmas on Bear Mountain’ (Four Colour Comics #178 December 1947): a mere disposable comedy foil to move along a simple tale of Seasonal woe and joy.

The old miser was crusty, energetic, menacing, money-mad and yet oddly lovable – and thus far too potentially valuable to be misspent or thrown away. Undoubtedly, the greatest cartoon creation of the legendary and magnificent story showman Carl Barks, the Downy Dodecadillionaire returned often and eventually expanded to fill all available space in the tales from scenic metropolis Duckburg.

The comicbook stories and newspaper strips of the Disney studios quickly travelled around the world and were particularly loved and venerated in Europe where Italy, Germany, The Low Countries (that’s the Benelux region of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands), Britain and especially the Scandinavian countries all made them their own, with supplemental new adventures and frolics that often surpassed the efforts of all but Carl Barks himself.

During the latter part of the 20th century Disney US downsized their own comics output, and eventually Barks and latter-day American giants like Don Rosa graduated to producing new material for the monumental continental Disney Comics publishing machines such as the Gutenberghus Group and Disney Italia.

In recent years the best of that Continental canon has been seen stateside in comicbooks and collected albums such as this one celebrating the pecuniary parsimony and eccentric antics of the Richest Duck in the World… and about time too!

Bold, brash, lightning-paced, visually spectacular and hilariously funny, this compilation – reprinting the American IDW comicbooks Uncle Scrooge #1-3 (lettered throughout by Tom B. Long) – commences with the epic saga of ‘Gigabeagle: King of the Robot Robbers’ – translated and polished by Jonathan H. Gray from an original Italian epic written by Rodolfo Cimino, limned by Romano Scarpa & Giorgio Cavazzano with colours by Digikore Studios.

The monstrous nightmare begins with Scrooge wracked with worry. The nefarious Beagle Boys have escaped jail again and the tension of waiting for their inevitable raid on his mammoth Money Bin is moving the miserly mallard to distraction. Determined to calm the old coot down, Donald and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie take him camping.

…And that’s where sleep-deprived Donald first encounters the gigantic robotic bandit the Beagles have built to empty Scrooge’s vault…

The Brobdingnagian brute is clearly unstoppable, but the bandits have foolishly built their ponderous puppet too well and before long the ducks are triumphant once again…

Longer yarns are counter-pointed with short, smart strips such as the eponymous ‘Pure Viewing Satisfaction’ (Alberto Savini & Andrea Freccero with translation and colours from David Gerstein over the original Disney Italia hues) which offers a unique interpretation of television luxury before ‘Stinker, Tailor, Scrooge and Sly’ – by Scarpa, Luca Boschi, Sandro Del Conte, Disney Italia, Digikore, Gerstein & Joe Torcivia – finds Scrooge hunting a shabby vagabond who keeps stealing the Fantabubillionnaire’s favourite coat.

It transpires that many years ago the mystery man hid a map to ancient Aztec artefacts in the lining and once the duck is appraised of the situation, a frantic race begins…

Crafted by Jan Kruse, Bas Heymans & Sanoma, ‘Shiver Me Timbers’ then finds three generations of Duck on a fishing trip and catapulted into a treasure hunt where three accursed ghost-pirates bedevil them whilst attempting to save themselves from damnation…

Single-page laundry lampoon ‘Yo!’ (Savini, Freccero Gerstein & Disney Italia) segues neatly into another fanatical financial feud with wealthy rival Flintheart Glomgold as the old enemies vie for possession of a fallen star in ‘Meteor Rights’ (by Frank Jonker, Paul Hoogma, Maximino Tortajada Aguilar, Comicup Studio, Sonoma, Long, Gerstein & Torcivia).

Scarpa & Cimino – with Disney Italia, Digikore, Gerstein & Torcivia – then detail Scrooge’s attempts to scupper the monetary reformation of three spendthrifts in ‘The Duckburg 100’

After Scrooge’s own bank gives $100 each to Donald, would-be wheeler-dealer Jubal Pomp and Beagle Boy 231-132 as a promotional stunt to encourage investment, the ancient miser moves heaven and earth to scupper their get-rich-quick schemes and get back “his” cash. Sadly, however, the fates are against him and their unlikely, if temporary, success near bankrupts the old fool…

These comic cavortings conclude with ‘Donald’s Gabby Guest’ by the legendary Tony Strobl – aided and abetted by Digikore and translator Thad Komorowski – as Scrooge’s latest plot to bend Donald to his grasping monetary philosophies goes sadly awry after the nephews cunningly reprogram the gift-parrot he had previously indoctrinated to constantly spout sound financial advice…

Graced with a superb art-gallery by Cavazzano, Gray & Jake Myler, Marco Rota, Disney Italia & Shelley Pleger, Andrew Pepoy, James Silvani, Derek Charm featuring nine-scintillating covers, this is an exciting, exotic and eye-popping riot of raucous romps in the wholesome yet compelling blockbusting Barks manner: blending wit, history, madcap invention, plucky bravado and sheer wide-eyed wonder into a rollicking rollercoaster ride for readers of every age and vintage.

Whatever your opinions on the corporate mega-colossus that is today’s Disney, the sheer quality of the material derived from and generated by “The House that Walt Built” is undeniable, and no fan of comics and old-fashioned fun should avoid any opportunity to revel in the magic – preferably over and over again…
© 2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Candorville: Thank God for Culture Clash


By Darrin Bell (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-5442-5

Darrin Bell likes to keep busy. As well as this bright, breezy yet controversial strip, he works as an editorial cartoonist and storyboard artist even whilst crafting a second modern newspaper mainstay in the form of aspirational lifestyle comedy Rudy Park.

Bell – born January 27th 1975 – is black and Jewish and hails from Los Angeles, which probably accounts for his smooth handling of and fascination with issues of race, gender and social inequality, which form the backbone of his gently chiding, wittily observational cartoons.

After attending University of California, Berkeley and gaining a degree in Political science in 1999, Bell began freelancing for papers such as the Daily Californian, Los Angeles Times and other periodicals. In 2001 he created Rudy Park and in 2004 added a second string to his bow by re-imagining his old college paper strip Lemont Brown as a wily critique on modern times and mores.

This it does by confronting issues of bigotry, poverty, homelessness, biracialism and personal responsibility through incisive yet mellow humour all the while disguising the political sallies in the ongoing saga of a wishy-washy would-be writer, his wannabe gangsta childhood chum and traditionally go-getting (platonic) Latina best friend.

Daydreaming Lemont and short-tempered, ambitious, upwardly-mobile Susan Garcia are both blithely unaware that they are ideal romantic soulmates and many episodes follow their slow, innocent dance towards that eventual realisation…

Now nationally syndicated, Candorville has become a crucial part of the daily lives of millions of young Americans, offering commentary on existences just like theirs, mirroring their dreams and concerns whilst exploring mixed culture relationships in a land that supposedly embraces multicultural, multi-ethnic and many-gendered freedoms whilst refusing to acknowledge that not everybody is happy with that state of affairs and wants to turn back time to the good old conservative days…

Following Lemont’s Foreword ‘Why’ the strips unfold fully formed as the introverted, undiscovered wordsmith wryly observes constant evidence of casual and institutionalised ethnic prejudice in play all around him: moments of intolerance frequently exacerbated by his boyhood pal Clyde – AKA C-Dog – who fully embraces the flashy contemporary hoodlum image of black rappers – bling, shades, bad language and “kill the cops” t-shirts – whilst indulging in (extremely) petty crime…

Both Lemont and Clyde are products of broken homes, with fathers who abandoned them early and mothers who took up the slack. Lemont’s mother, however, put her boy through college and now exerts a demonic passive-aggressive hold on him that sours much of his self-indulgent, poetically angst-ridden life as the classic misunderstood, undiscovered writer…

She wants him to get a job and a girlfriend and is relentless in expressing her desires…

Lemont’s existence is made up of ghastly blind dates, hostile dads and disastrous pick-ups punctuated by a succession of crappy jobs to support his efforts to pen the Great American novel.

He is almost addicted now to the disillusionment of rejection letters and briefly-crippling bouts of self-doubt whenever Susan reads one of his stories and wears that “I don’t get-it” look…

Garcia wants him to succeed, but not as much as her, even though Susan’s rapid advancement at the Ad Agency is continually stymied by glass ceilings, an unscrupulous, penny-pinching boss and an assistant who constantly tries to sabotage and supplant her…

Clyde just wants to be rich and famous and scary, but secretly his heart’s not in it and actual violence is just beyond his nature…

Against that comfortably familiar backdrop, this first collection of strips (of six compendia thus far) allows Bell to lampoon and lambaste Consumerism, the shame of homelessness, the Bush Administration’s War on Terror, police treatment of minorities, Religion, the myth of Success, TV-manufactured paranoia, Capitalism, Sensitivity Training as a replacement for actual understanding of different ways of life, Globalism, Political Correctness and its detractors, the failures of the banking system, Fox News, exporting jobs overseas and childish aspirations as well as finding time and space to revel in the timeless traditional comedy themes of unrequited love, hypochondria, dating, parental approval and social status…

And day by day the dance goes on…

Smart, wry, sardonic and engagingly sarcastic, this conscience-tinged cartoon sitcom is a splendidly even-handed liberal riposte to the increasing Right-driven American political scene, but also offers heart-warming characters and an engaging, funny story thread for lovers of cartoon continuity.

Not all dissent is strident and not all resistance is futile…
Candorville © 2005 Darrin Bell. All rights reserved.

Dreams in Thin Air


By Michael Magnus Nybrandt & Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen translated by Steffen Rayburn-Maarup (Conundrum Press)
ISBN: 978-1-77262-010-8

Fantastic battles against overwhelming odds and magnificent, unlikely victories are the lifeblood of graphic narratives – and most of our popular fiction these days, I suppose – but seeing such triumphs in our own mundane mortal coil is barely credible in the real world.

Happily, miracles do occur, and one such forms the basis of this stunningly engaging chronicle of a good heart and love of sport defeating the political skulduggery of an oppressive yet publicity-shy superpower.

Delivered as a sturdy and compelling full-colour landscape format hardback, Dreams in Thin Air details the struggle of a young Danish man whose life was changed by a pre-college visit to Tibet: the things he saw and the people he met…

To make the story even more accessible, the man at the centre of events tells his own story, teamed here with Danish comics superstar and educator Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen (Wizards of Vestmannaeyjar, Einherjar) who adds zest, verve and spectacular imagination to the already heady mix…

Following a Foreword by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, the story opens near the end as impassioned, frustrated Michael Magnus Nybrandt paces outside the Chinese Embassy in Copenhagen. We don’t know it yet but Michael has gambled years of hard work, devious conniving and soul-destroying dedication on a true long shot…

‘Chapter 1: Towards Tibet’ then takes us back to 1997 when Michael and his friend Thomas land at Lhasa Airport and are only saved from disaster by the quick thinking of Tibetan guide Jamphel Yeshi, who rescues the idealistic Scandinavians from a potentially lethal encounter with bribe-seeking Chinese Guards.

As they ride away from the airport the Europeans observe over and again the brutal results of China’s annexation and systematic eradication of Tibetan culture begun in the aftermath of the 1950 invasion. Of course, the gun-toting occupiers called it an act of “liberation”…

The white boys’ feelings as they contrast the broken relics of a glorious past with the urbanised concrete wastelands inflicted by two generations of self-serving Chinese occupiers are obvious and exceedingly painful, and before long they check out of their state-sponsored hotel and go on a trans-Tibetan tandem ride, looking for the real country…

In ‘The Easy Way’ that joyous if exhausting excursion brings them into constant contact with the earthy, gregarious Tibetans and solidifies a feeling in Michael that he must do something to help them. The revelation of exactly what that might be comes after they arrive at a shattered temple and meet Lama Tsarong.

During their stopover, the Europeans meet young monks in training and discover the Tibetans’ abiding passion for football – the proper “beautiful game” and not the dandified Rugby played by Americans…

Later, Michael endures a bizarre dream in which he is the coach of a Tibetan National Team. That’s clearly an impossible notion. Thanks to China’s political clout and annexation policy, there is no such nation as Tibet, only outlaw enclaves of dispossessed Tibetans living as exiles in well-wishing countries such as India and Nepal.

No politically expedient government on Earth recognises the annexed but unforgotten land and it has no official national standing in any arena… even sports…

In August 1997 Nybrandt returns to Denmark and resumes his education in Aarhus. He is part of the landmark radical education initiative dubbed Kaospilot, but despite all his studies cannot shift his focus away from that vivid dream…

At that time privately-sponsored Kaospilot trained less than 40 students per year in leadership, business design, process design and project design. The private school’s educational philosophy stresses personal development, values-based entrepreneurship, socially-responsible innovation and – above all else – creativity.

Although Michael strives to adapt to the program, eventually he gives in to his obsession and retools his lessons and educational modules to the ultimate goal of creating a Tibetan National Football team and getting them international matches…

And that’s when his problems really begin, as the full political might of the People’s Republic is brought to bear, not just on him but also on Denmark itself. In ‘Dharamsala’ that subtle, silent opposition becomes far more overt, even as Nybrandt tirelessly works with Tibetan bigwigs – in the conquered mountain country itself and throughout the rest of the world.

Undaunted, he sources players, finds sponsors bold enough to buck the Chinese government; sidestepping petty-minded obfuscations like visa-sabotage and rescinded travel permits and even terrifying physical assaults from thinly-disguised political bully boys in China’s pay…

The tide starts to turn in ‘Dharma Player’ after a meeting with the Dalai Lama and the arrangement of an international fixture against Greenland’s national team. With the threat of public legitimisation of a “non-country”, China begins turning the geo-political screws: threatening economic sanctions that might bankrupt Denmark and even more dire unspecified consequences…

On the brink of defeat, Michael thinks furiously and realises that although the prestige of international sport has caused all his problems, it has also provided a once-in-a-lifetime possible solution. All he has to do is confront the Chinese ambassador and not blink first…

The result was a milestone in the modern history of oppressed, subjugated Tibet and resulted in ‘Ninety Minutes of Recognition’ as China was forced to climb down and allow the match to take place…

Being a true story, this gloriously inspirational tale can also offer a photo-reportage-packed ‘Epilogue by the Author’, geographical and socio-political synopsis on the country at ‘The Roof of the World’ and a heartfelt ‘Acknowledgments’ section dedicated to the brave souls who made the miracle happen and brought this book into print.

Compelling, hugely entertaining and astoundingly uplifting, Dreams in Thin Air is a wonderful tribute to the power of sport and the resolve of good people. Don’t wait for the inevitable feelgood movie: read this magnificent graphic testament right now and experience the all-too-rare joy of good intentions triumphing over smugly overwhelming ensconced power…
English Edition © Michael Magnus Nybrandt, Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen and Conundrum Press 2017.

Growing Up in the New World Order – a Storybook for Grown-Ups


By Tom Hoover & Michael Lee (Saga Flight Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-53753-101-4

From its earliest inception cartooning has been used to sell: initially ideas or values but eventually actual products too. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks the sheer power of narrative with its ability to create emotional affinities has been linked to the creation of unforgettable images and characters. When those stories affect the daily lives of generations of readers, the force they can apply in a commercial or social arena is almost irresistible…

It has long been a truism of the creative arts that the most effective, efficient and economical method of instruction and training has been the comic strip. Advertising mavens have, for over a century, exploited the easy impact of words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply.

Moreover, from World War II until the birth of YouTube, carefully crafted strips have been constantly used as training materials in every aspect of adult life from school careers advice to various branches of military service – utilising the talents of comics giants as varied as Milton Caniff, Will Eisner (who spent decades producing reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments), Kurt Schaffenberger and Neil Adams.

These days the educational value and merit of comics is a given. Larry Gonick in particular has been using the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into the weary brains of jaded students with such tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Genetics, Sex, Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment and more).

Japan uses a huge number of manga text books in its schools and universities and has even released government reports and business prospectuses as comic books to get around the public’s apathy towards reading large dreary screeds of public information.

So do we, and so do the Americans. I’ve even produced one or two myself, back in my freelancing years…

In this instance the medium is used with measured economy and devastating effect by writer Tom Hoover and illustrator Michael Lee to craft a fictionalised fable with a very real and dangerously recondite message carrying crucial real-world implications…

Delivered as an inviting science fiction parable, Growing Up in the New World Order details in beguilingly simple manner how artistically gifted youngster Chance discovers his ability to see the hidden and predatory embedded subliminal messages concealed in all the world’s mass-media entertainment systems.

This gift enables him to consciously perceive the constant barrage of subtle suggestions and behaviour-modifying nudges designed to mould the opinions and guide the actions of the entire population…

After all, how else could the world have gotten into such a sorry state where greed trumps survival and manufactured violence as entertainment anesthetises a population intended to keep quiet and consume?

Informed from his earliest years by the non-conformist views and opinions of his grandfather, Chance grows into the kind of gifted peon the hidden manipulators need: able to craft the images and messages neceassry to keep the consumers pacified and compliant, but all the while he is working to his own agenda and timetable, preparing for the moment when his cleverly-concealed secret counter messages and “embeds” will go live and free that mesmerised collective consciousness…

Designed as a trigger for much-needed societal debate on globalism, consumerism and covert cultural/commercial imperialism, Growing Up in the New World Order is a smart and enticing little tale with big ambitions and a book that needs to be seen by everyone – especially the older teens who are going to inherit the mess we’ve all made…
© 2016 Saga Flight Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Frankenstein: The Mad Science of Dick Briefer


By Dick Briefer & various (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-688-4                  eISBN: 978-1-63008-186-7

The Golden Age of American comicbooks is usually associated with the blockbusting birth and proliferation of the Superhero, but even at the headiest heights of costumed crusader craziness other fantastic fantasy fashions held their own. Some of the very best – like Jack Cole’s Plastic Man and the unlikely weird warrior under discussion here – also managed to merge genres and surmount their origins through astounding graphic craft, a healthy helping of comedic legerdemain and a deft dose of satire…

Richard Briefer was born in Washington Heights, Manhattan on January 9th 1915. He was a pre-Med student who also studied at the Art Student League in New York City and got into the fledgling comicbook business in 1936, working for the Will Eisner/ Jerry Iger shop after selling work to Wow, What a Magazine!, and others.

He adapted literary classics such as the Hunchback of Notre Dame and, as Dick Hamilton, created early super-team Target and the Targeteers for Novelty Press. Briefer wrote and drew Rex Dexter of Mars, Dynamo, Biff Bannon, Storm Curtis, Crash Parker and more for a range of publishers. For Timely he co-created The Human Top and, as Dick Flood, produced anti-Nazi strip Pinky Rankin for The Daily Worker; the newspaper of the American Communist Party.

Another criminally near-forgotten master craftsman, Dick Briefer is best remembered amongst comics cognoscenti these days for Frankenstein; a suspense strip which debuted in Prize Comics #7 in December 1940 before gradually evolving into a satirical comedy-horror masterpiece which offered thrills and chills whilst ferociously sending up post war America.

A truly unique vision, Briefer’s Frankenstein ran intermittently until 1954 when the toxic paranoiac atmosphere of the anti-communist, anti-comics witch hunt killed it.

The author moved into advertising and latterly portraiture and, despite numerous attempts to revive the strip, never published any more of his absurd and acerbic antics…

Dick Briefer died in December 1980.

Here, however, as part of the wonderful Dark Horse Archives series, you can enjoy the superbly surreal strip in all its manic glory from its horrible heyday; either as this sterling and sturdy full-colour hardback or as an eBook.

Re-presented for your delectation are the contents of Frankenstein #1-7 (spanning January 1945-May 1947) with Briefer at the peak of his powers, writing and drawing the deliciously demented delights that have made him a legend amongst comics creators if not the general public.

After gleaning a few salient facts from appreciative devotee John Arcudi in his Foreword, and relishing some ultra-rare original art from Briefer and Alex Toth, the merry madness begins with issue #1 as we reveal ‘Frankenstein’s Creation’

When a bored mad scientist reads an old book he decides to create his own version of the infamous creature. Sadly, despite scrupulously following the recipe, the malevolent modern Prometheus’ secret formula only manifests a loving, protective nature in his super-strong homunculus and the hulking Frankenstein monster soon becomes a boon to his community and embarrassment to his malignant maker.

Left to his own devices, the artificial Adam is then drawn to the quiet little everytown of Mippyville where the populace are fighting off a supernatural invasion of atrocious arcane predators. ‘Frankenstein and the Ghouls and Vampires’ sees the creature – originally mistaken for a “Bobbysox” pop singer by the town’s screaming teenagers – hilariously clean up the infernal infestation before setting up home in a ramshackle abandoned mansion.

Only one thing is missing to complete his dreams of domestic bliss but, after a brief dalliance with the local spider saleswoman results in her becoming ‘Frankenstein’s Wife’, the man-monster soon learns why a hasty marriage often leads to repentance at leisure…

Mippyville is a place that just attracts weirdness, and the first issue concludes with another mad doctor as deranged surgeon Professor Hugo von Hoogenblotzen kidnaps Frankie and attempts to graft him to an elephant in ‘Frankenstein and the Manimals’

The second issue begins with ‘Frankenstein!’ – a quick recap of past events – before our unlikely hero tracks down a mad mass-murderer who wants others to suffer for his art in ‘Frankenstein and the Statue Maker’ after which the animal-loving oaf is accidentally mistaken for a mere beast and purchased by a moody millionairess. She puts him on a leash to one-up her pals in the Exotic Pets Club but ‘Frankenstein’s Job’ soon teaches them all the true value of animal companionship…

Eventually restored to his own home, ‘Frankenstein’s Ark’ then sees the towering titan re-enact the building of the fabled lifeboat to save his animal chums but end up clashing with a hoarding hermit and his mutant allies…

Issue #3 (July/August 1946 and with scripting assistance from Bruce Elliott) introduced ‘Frankenstein’s Family’ as the big guy won gainful employment as a junk man whilst his new boss tinkered with salvaged machines from a devil doctor’s lab. This resulted in an army of molecularly-unstable juvenile duplicates of Frankie and a great deal of gross chaos…

A legion of escaped horrors attacked Mippyville in ‘Frankenstein and the Monsters’ only to find the town’s ghastly defender too much to handle whilst in ‘Frankenstein and the Mummies’ a quick jaunt to Egypt finds the monster befriending a quartet of ancient, entombed pharaohs before ‘Frankenstein and the Time Machine’ apparently sends the credulous colossus into the furious future and perilous past. This time, however, all is not as it seems…

The regular cast expanded in the fourth issue (September/October 1946) as ‘Frankenstein and Awful Annie’ finds the mellow monster aiding the local purveyor of potions and charms to the city’s supernatural community when her long-lost son wants to come home for a visit. He then makes another odd acquaintance when ‘Frankenstein Meets the (Terrible) Werewolf’ which debuts the gentlest magical man-eater on earth…

Another whirlwind romance goes awry after ‘Frankenstein Sees the Effect of the Youth Restorer’ and makes an amorously ill-advised move on a once-elderly neighbour, before his mystic mates throw the monster a birthday party in ‘Frankenstein and the Sorcerer’ and almost start a magic war that only subsides after the gentle giant accidentally lands a job as a photographic model…

Briefer was an inveterate tinkerer, always looking for innovative new ways to present his mirthful material, and Frankenstein #5 (November/December 1946) trialled a new format of interlinked yarns beginning with ‘Act 1: How I Rehabilitated Maladjusted Ghosts’ as the monster became a troubleshooter for the restless dead and unmasked a murderer.

In ‘Act 2: How I Had (and Lost) a Pet Dinosaur’ he accidentally hatches an antediluvian egg and manages to switch it with a parade-balloon doppelganger whilst ‘Act 3: How I Became a Genii in a Magic Bottle’, saw the monster mysteriously abducted by a street-corner hustler before escaping to save the town from a malicious malady in concluding ‘Act 4: How I Conquered a Terrible Plague’. The experiment was dropped for a more traditional anthological format in the sixth (March/April 1947) issue…

Here the madcap merriment opens with ‘The Last Smile’ as Frankie is mistaken for an escaped murderer and placed on death row after which he hunts down ‘The Ghostnapper’ abducting spirits and stealing their big white sheets…

The rising cost of funerals informed the riotous case of ‘One Small Bier’ as the monster tries a new career as a mortician before heading into the country to investigate accursed, self-propagating automobiles going on an uncanny ‘Joyride’

The final issue reprinted here comes from May/June 1947 #7 and opens with ‘Silas Grunch Gets His’ – co-written with Ed Goggin – as a conniving miser tortures kids by building a funfair children can’t get into… until the Big Guy steps in…

The monster plays cupid and brings two bizarre, lonely people together in ‘The Strange Love of Shirley Shmool’ and romance also informs Frankenstein’s laying of ‘The Curse of the Flying Dutchman’ when the giant goof opens a Lonely Hearts Agency and matches the immortal wanderer with the girl of his nightmares…

This leads to a clash with atom-age seductress ‘The Lorelei’ and a hideous trade of jobs and gender roles before politics rears its ugly (multiple) heads as Frankenstein is convinced to run for President of the Magician’s Guild only to endure the voodoo ‘Pins and Needles’ of a frustrated rival…

A truly unmissable treat from a singular and utterly eccentric creative force, Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein is remarkable work by a one-of-a-kind creator. If you love to be scared, love to laugh and love comics, this is a book you must see.
Frankenstein: The Mad Science of Dick Briefer. Dark Horse Books® and logos are registered trademarks of Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jonah Hex: Welcome to Paradise


By John Albano, Michael Fleischer, Tony DeZuñiga, Doug Wildey, Noly Panaligan, George Moliterni, José Luis García-López & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2757-9

Western stories are shaped by an odd duality. The genre can almost be sub-divided into two discrete halves: the sparkly, shiny version that dominated kids’ books, comics and television for decades, as typified by Zane Grey stories and heroes such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry – and the other stuff.

That kind of cowboy tale- grimy, gritty, excessively dark – was done best for years by Europeans in such strips as Jean-Michel Charlier’s Lieutenant Blueberry or Bonelli and Galleppini’s Tex Willer which gradually made their way into US culture through the films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. Jonah Hex is the USA’s greatest example of the latter sort…

DC (or National Periodicals as it then as) had generated a stable of clean-cut gun-slingers since the collapse of the super-hero genre in 1949, with such dashing – and highly readable – luminaries as Johnny Thunder, The Trigger Twins, Nighthawk, Matt Savage and dozens of others in a marketplace that seemed insatiable in its voracious hunger for chaps in chaps. However, all things end, and by the early sixties the sagebrush stalwarts had dwindled to a few venerable properties.

As the 1960s closed, thematic changes in the cinematic Cowboy filtered through to a comics industry suffering its second super-hero sundown in twenty years. Although a critical success, the light-hearted Western series Bat Lash couldn’t garner a solid following, but DC, desperate for a genre readers would warm to, retrenched and revived an old title, gambling once again on heroes who were no longer simply boy scouts with six-guns.

All-Star Western #1 was released with an August/September 1970 cover date, filled with Pow-Wow Smith reprints and became an all-new anthology with its second bi-monthly issue. The magazine was allocated a large number of creative all-stars, including Robert Kanigher, Neal Adams, Gray Morrow, Al Williamson, Gil Kane, Angelo Torres and Dick Giordano, working on such strips as Outlaw!, Billy the Kid and the cult sleeper hit El Diablo, which combined shoot-’em-up shenanigans with supernatural chills, in deference to the real hit genre-type that saved comics in those dark days: horror comics…

It wasn’t until the tenth issue and introduction of a grotesquely disfigured, irascible bounty hunter created by writer John Albano and Tony DeZuñiga that the company found its greatest and most enduring Western warrior.

This superb collection of the garish gunman’s early appearances has been around for a few years, with no apparent sign of a sequel yet, so consider this a heartfelt attempt to generate a few sales and more interest…

Our star is the very model of the modern anti-hero. Jonah Hex first appeared in All-Star Comics #10, a coarse and callous bounty hunter clad in shabbily battered Confederate Grey tunic and hat, half his face lost to some hideous past injury; a brutal thug little better than the scum he hunted – and certainly a man to avoid…

Collecting key stories from All-Star Western #10, Weird Western Tales #14, 17, 22, 26, 29, 30 and Jonah Hex #2 and 4 (ranging from March 1972 to September 1977), the grisly gunplay begins with Albano & DeZuñiga’s ‘Welcome to Paradise’ which introduced the character and his world in a powerful action thriller, with a subtle sting of sentimentality that anyone who has seen the classic western “Shane” cannot fail to appreciate.

From the first bullets blazing, blistering set-up Albano was constantly hinting at the tortured depths hidden behind Hex’s hellishly scarred visage and deadly proficiency. With the next issue the comic had been re-titled Weird Western Tales (aligning it with the company’s highly successful horror/mystery books) and the adventures continually plumbed the depths oh human malice and depravity…

From the very start the series sought to redress some of the most unpalatable motifs of old style cowboy literature and any fan of films like Soldier Blue or Little Big Man or familiar with Dee Brown’s iconoclastic book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee will feel a grim sense of vicarious satisfaction and redress at most of the stories here.

There’s also a huge degree of world-weary cynicism that wasn’t to be found in other comics until well past the Watergate Scandal, when America as whole lost its social and political innocence…

From Weird Western #14, ‘Killers Die Alone!’ – by Albano & DeZuñiga – is a vicious tear jerker of a tale where Hex’s only friend valiantly dies to save him the vengeance of killers who blame the bounty hunter for their brother’s death. There is then a reckoning that is the stuff of nightmares…

‘The Hangin’ Woman’ (WWT #17) is a classy thriller wherein Hex runs afoul of a sadistic harridan who rules her hometown with hemp and hot lead before meeting an ending both ironic and much-deserved…

It was left to new writer Michael Fleisher (assisted at first by Russell Carley) to reveal Hex’s secrets, beginning with Weird Western Tales #22’s ‘Showdown at Hard Times’. A chance meeting in a stagecoach put a cabal of ex-Confederate soldiers on the trail of their ex-comrade for some unspecified earlier betrayal and it inevitably ended in a six-gun bloodbath, whilst creating an ominous returning nemesis for the grizzled gunslinger.

Train-robbers were the bad guys in the superb traditionally-informed caper ‘Face-Off with the Gallagher Boys!’ scripted by Fleischer and illustrated by the inimitable Doug Wildey, after which more details of Jonah’s chequered past are revealed in #29’s ‘Breakout at Fort Charlotte’ limned by Noly Panaligan. It was the first chapter of a two-part extravaganza that gorily concluded in #30 in ‘The Trial’ (illustrated by George Moliterni) as a battalion of Confederate veterans and former comrades-in-arms passed judgement on the man they believed to be the worst traitor in the history of the South…

Eventually Hex graduated from Weird Western Tales into his own solo title and the final brace of tales in this primal primer are both drawn by the magnificent José Luis García-López. In ‘The Lair of the Parrot!’, Fleischer has the doom-drenched wanderer sucked into a scheme designed by US Secret Service agent Ned Landon to infiltrate the gang of flamboyant Mexican bandit and border raider El Papagayo. Hex is none to happy when he finally realises Landon has been playing both sides for personal gain and left the bounty hunter to the brigand’s tender mercies after framing him for murder in Texas…

The tale continues in ‘The Day of the Chameleon!’ as a disguise artist steals Hex’s identity to perpetrate even more brazen crimes at the behest of a rich and powerful man determined to destroy bounty hunter at all costs…

Happily Jonah has unsuspected allies determined to save him from the villain and his own prideful stubborn nature…

With a cover gallery by DeZuñiga, Luis Dominguez and García-López, this splendid selection of uncanny exploits proves Jonah Hex is the most unique and original character in cowboy comics: darkly comedic, riotously rowdy, chilling and cathartically satisfying. His saga is a Western for those who despise the form whilst being the perfect modern interpretation of a great storytelling tradition. No matter what your reading preference, this is a collection you don’t want to miss.
© 1972-1975, 1977, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Hellboy volume 8: Darkness Calls


By Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo, Dave Stewart & Clem Robins (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-896-6

As a baby Hellboy was confiscated – on December 23rd 1944 – from Nazi cultists by American superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers moments after his unearthly nativity on Earth. The Allied forces had interrupted a satanic ritual predicted by parapsychologist Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and his associates…

They were ready and waiting at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when an abominable infant with a huge stone right hand materialised in a fireball. Raised by Bruttenholm, the child grew into a mighty warrior fighting a never-ending secret war. The Professor trained the infernal foundling whilst forming an organisation to destroy supernatural threats – the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

After years of such devoted intervention, education and warm human interaction, in 1952 the neophyte hero began destroying unnatural threats and supernatural monsters as lead agent for the BPRD. “Hellboy” rapidly became its top operator… the world’s most successful paranormal investigator…

As the decades unfold, Hellboy gleans snatches of his origins, learning he is a supposedly pre-corrupted creature of dark portent: born a demonic messiah and destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil.

It is a fate he despises and utterly rejects…

This eerie eighth archive re-presents the 6-issue miniseries Hellboy: Darkness Calls from 2007 and includes two epilogues created especially for the collection. It is especially noteworthy as creator Mignola here surrenders visual autonomy over his legendary character to illustrator Duncan Fegredo – with evocative support as always from colourist Dave Stewart and letterer Clem Robins – whilst moving the years-in-the-making saga towards its long-awaited conclusion…

Following an Introduction from Jane Yolen the drama opens beneath rural Italy as accursed wizard Igor Weldon Bromhead hastens the destruction of humanity by summoning and binding the malign witch-goddess Hecate. Bromhead wants revenge and doesn’t care if the world burns in his getting of it…

In faraway England the ripples of his acts alert the fey folk and other supernatural entities that the End Times are finally upon them…

Hellboy is in Britain; visiting old friends and desperately seeking to sidestep the fate the universe is pushing him towards. Restless, he wanders into the woods, seemingly oblivious to the strange signs and portents dogging his heels until he encounters a strange trio of sinister characters and is drawn into a living history lesson…

After also meeting the ghost of witchfinder Henry Hood, he is made painfully aware of a rising of the covens as the congregated creatures of the night attack him in an abandoned church. After a climactic battle – and more painful revelations of his past and ordained future – the paranormal paragon is suddenly yanked away into the infernal arctic domain of his terrifying nemesis Baba Yaga: the Russian witch-queen sworn to destroy him…

In England, witches continue to gather, urged on by minor demon Gruagach; another unclean creature with a grudge against Hellboy. He advocates waking a long-buried queen of the dark to lead their final assault on the world and will not be dissuaded…

Meanwhile in Baba Yaga’s land of eternal chill, Hellboy is holding his own against the sorceress’ legions but is about to meet his match against her greatest thrall: an indomitable, unstoppable warrior dubbed Koshchei the Deathless.

The captive is not without allies. Fallen god Perun, giant wolves and a rebellious Domovoi (house spirit) all offer what aid they can but it’s the ministrations of little dead girl Vasilisa which provides Hellboy with an opportunity to escape the endless war and return to the physical world.

While he has been gone however, events have moved on. The hags and weird folk have succeeded in freeing the one who will lead them in the final clash with humanity, and the benign spirits who have sheltered Man for so long see that their own long, long lives are finally done…

Offering astounding supernatural spectacle, amazing arcane action, mounting mystical tension and the imminent end of decades of slowly unfolding wonderment, this epic adventure is supplemented by a copious Sketchbook Section from Mignola and Fegredo, offering unused covers, roughs, designs, and informative commentary.

Proceeding with epic pace and enthralling power, the saga and mystery of Hellboy is a true landmark of comics storytelling and one every fan and aficionado should read.
™ and © 2008 Mike Mignola. Hellboy is ™ Mike Mignola. Introduction © 2008 Jane Yolen. All rights reserved.

Mouse Guard volume 1: Fall 1152


By David Petersen (Archaia Studios Press/Boom Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-932386-74-5

Mouse Guard was first seen in 2005: a superb anthropomorphic fantasy tale which quickly garnered acclaim and many favourable comparisons to literary classics such as Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia, although a fairer, more accurate – not to say obvious – comparison would be Robert C. O’Brien’s wonderful novel Mrs. Brisby and the Rats of Nimh.

It’s still magnificent and has expanded into a series of superb collected tales, games and other mass-entertainment media.

A world rich in tantalising back-history and fascinating tradition, the setting is a feudal society of mice, maintaining a precarious nation beset on all sides by predators. Within the borders of the Territories, independent city states prosper through trade, protected by the vigilant peacekeeping force known as the Mouse Guard. They keep the roads clear of danger, patrol the borders and provide intelligence on everything from weather patterns to new inventions to animal migrations.

In a world that generally views mice as vermin, victims and lunch, cooperation is vital and accurate Intelligence is fundamental to the survival of their society. The Guard was formed as a force of warriors: Border Guards, scouts, policemen, guides and messengers. They are the glue that binds together the scattered cities, enclaves and outposts of mouse civilisation.

In the year 1152 ‘The Belly of the Beast’ introduces Lieam, Saxon and Kenzie; tried and trusty members of the fabled Guard who go in search of an overdue and presumed missing merchant. After valiantly despatching the monstrous invader which killed him, they then stumble onto a devious, almost-fully-accomplished plot which threatens the existence of their home city and Guard Citadel Lockhaven… and perhaps all mice everywhere. Worse still, there is clearly a traitor hidden deep within their own sacrosanct ranks behind the appalling scheme…

The plot thickens in ‘Shadows Within’ as Mouse Guard Commander Gwendolyn sends key operative Sadie to the far-flung shoreline where her agent Conrad has gone missing. After extreme travails she locates him, but nearly too late and must battle for her life against an horrific army of monsters…

Saxon, Lieam and Kenzie have meanwhile backtracked the merchant’s trail to the city of Barkstone, resolved to tell no one of the imminent danger until they have ferreted out the traitor. Their search exposes a sinister secret army led by a masked mouse who has co-opted and pirated the reputation of a legendary Guard Hero.

The ‘Rise of the Axe’ is his scheme to draw disaffected members of the militia to his cause: overthrowing Gwendolyn and turning the Territories into a united kingdom…

As Lieam infiltrates the Axe army, Saxon and Kenzie are captured and almost killed by the insurgents. Left for dead, they are saved by the abrasive hermit Celanawe.

‘The Dark Ghost’ harbours an incredible secret, one the vile traitor and his co-conspirators could not possibly have anticipated. Ancient and venerated Mouse Guard champion The Black Axe never died… he simply faded away for a while…

Cresting a wave of bravado, the traitor escalates his plans and commits his entire army to capturing Lockstone: hoping to eradicate Gwendolyn and her faithful retinue in ‘Midnight’s Dawn’ but he has utterly underestimated the valour of the defenders, the cunning of Lieam, Kenzie and Saxon and the sheer determination of a true hero intent on bringing ‘A Return to Honor’ to his once-hallowed name…

With the natural order restored, a fulsome ‘Epilogue’ then details the rapid repairs to Lockstone as its weary inhabitants make frantic efforts to restore their depleted resources before the crippling deadly winter begins…

To Be Continued…

A classic adventure of heroes and villains, full of valiant deeds, glorious battles and spellbinding spectacle, this is a charming and brilliantly paced fantasy yarn, illustrated in achingly beautiful painted panels with clear, forthright storytelling. It will captivate children and adults alike.

Also included are beguiling extras such as a comprehensive and lovely ‘Map of the Mouse Territories’ circa 1150, an evocative prose and picture ‘Guide to Barkstone’ plus a similar plan and rundown of its rival in ‘Guide to Lockhaven’. Cultural cues are examined in a fabulous examination of ‘Mouse Trades’ – including Stone Mason, Carpenter, Potter (complete with examples of mouse pottery), Miller and Baker – with the entire affair capped by a ‘Pinup Gallery’: six superb images lovingly crafted by Guy Davis, Rick Cortes & anjindesign.com, Mark Smylie and Jeremy Bastian.

Surely destined to become a classic, Mouse Guard is a comic which – like Usagi Yojimbo and Bone – has grown far beyond its periodical origins to become a phenomenon all story lovers will adore.
Mouse Guard ™ & © 2005, 2009 David Petersen. All Rights Reserved.

Because I’m the Child Here and I Said So


By Pat Byrnes (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-5738-9

A daily chuckle prompted by a wry cartoon seductively rendered remains an unmissable joy to a vast – frequently global – readership whose requirements are quite different from those of hard-core, dedicated comic fans, or even the ever-growing base of intrigued browsers just starting to dip their toes in the sequential narrative pool.

Newspaper cartooning – even its modern online iteration – has always primarily been about family entertainment. As such, kids and their relationships with parents have taken top spot in terms of subject matter whether in one-off gag-panels or serial cartoon strips.

Soon after becoming a parent himself, Pat Byrnes (Monkeyhouse, Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Illustrated Edition), an impressively educated-&-accomplished, award-winning doodler and ad-man seen in The New Yorker and other prestigious magazines, gathered a bunch of his child-related efforts into a follow-up book to the memorable What Would Satan Do? Cartoons About Right, Wrong, and Very, Very Wrong.

He later returned to the all-consuming arena of jovial child-exploitation with Captain Dad: The Manly Art of Stay-at-Home Fatherhood

Subtitled “A Joke Book for Parents (Because You Need a Laugh!)” this brief full-colour tome addresses the bewildering and frankly rather terrifying post-millennial generation: a time of compulsively over-achieving kids and their ferociously competitive Tiger Parents in a society where conspicuous wealth and measurable status are more important than air or food.

To effect a degree of balance and argue that there’s still hope for mankind, there are also wittily acerbic barbs and warm, weird moments to placate the holdouts from simpler times just trying to get by and ensure their spawn learn how to unwind and chill out a bit before that all-important first heart attack…

Following the author’s Introduction the gags come thick and fast: glimpses of households where love is conditional on sporting success, Ritalin has replaced milk as the secret of building better children and duct tape is the solution to so many different emotional meltdowns.

This a society familiar to many oldsters like me where television is a suitable substitute for attention or babysitters; where passive-aggression starts early and becomes a family heirloom and taking pictures is more important than hugs or cuddles, but these cruel observations are marvellously manipulated to make the best kind of jokes: ones with a point and a purpose…

There is also a non-stop string of cracking verbal punch-lines which would make a potent line in slyly sardonic slogan-motif-ed apparel for surly teenagers…

Sharp, smart and shockingly timeless, these gags are a splendid example of the family cartoon at its most engaging and acerbic: a true treat for any adult who’s been there, done that and still has the headaches…
© 2006 Pat Byrnes. All Rights Reserved.

Thor Epic Collection: The God of Thunder


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein, Joe Sinnott, Al Hartley, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8835-3

Even more than the Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor was the arena in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s string of power-packed signature pantheons began in a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by the fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This gloriously economical full-colour tome – also available in eFormats – re-presents those pioneering Asgardian exploits from JiM #83-109, spanning summer 1962 to October 1964 in a blur of innovation and seat-of-the-pants myth-revising and universe-building…

Cover-dated August 1962, Journey into Mystery #83 saw a bold costumed warrior jostling aside the regular fare of monsters, aliens and sinister scientists in a brash, vivid explosion of verve and vigour.

The initial exploit followed crippled American doctor Donald Blake who takes a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Fleeing, he is trapped in a cave where he finds an old, gnarled walking stick. When in his frustration he smashes the stick into a huge boulder obstructing his escape, his puny frame is transformed into the Norse God of Thunder, the Mighty Thor!

Plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Lieber and illustrated by Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott (at this juncture a full illustrator, Sinnott would become Kirby’s primary inker for most of his Marvel career), ‘The Stone Men of Saturn’ is pure early Marvel, bombastic, fast-paced, gloriously illogical and captivatingly action-packed. The hugely under-appreciated Art Simek was the letterer and logo designer.

It was clear that they whey were making it up as they went along – not in itself a bad thing – and that infectious enthusiasm shows in the next adventure…

‘The Mighty Thor Vs. the Executioner’ is a “commie-busting” tale of its time with a thinly disguised Fidel Castro wasting his formidable armies in battle against our hero. Dr. Blake’s nurse Jane Foster is introduced; a bland cipher adored from afar by the Norse superman’s timid alter-ego. The creative team settled as Dick Ayers replaced Sinnott, and with #85’s ‘Trapped by Loki, God of Mischief!’ the final element fell into place with the “return” of a suitably awesome arch-foe; in this case the hero’s half-brother. This evil magician and compulsive trickster escaped divine incarceration and his first thought was to bedevil Thor by causing terror and chaos on the world of mortals he was so devoted to.

Here a new and greater universe was first revealed with the tantalising hints and glimpses of the celestial otherworld and more Nordic gods…

Issue #86 introduced another recurring villain. Zarrko, bristling at the sedentary ease of 23rd century life, travelled to 1962 to steal an experimental “C-Bomb”, forcing the Thunderer into a stirring hunt through time and inevitable clash with super-technology ‘On the Trail of the Tomorrow Man!’ On his return Blake became a target of Soviet abductors. Those sneaky spies even managed to make Thor a ‘Prisoner of the Reds!’ before eventually emerging unscathed and triumphant…

‘The Vengeance of Loki’ saw the god of Mischief’s return in #88 as the malevolent miscreant uncovered Thor’s secret identity and naturally menaced Jane Foster whilst ‘The Thunder God and the Thug’ was adventure on a much more human scale wherein a gang boss runs riot over the city and roughshod over a good woman’s heart, giving the Asgardian a chance to demonstrate a more sophisticated and sympathetic side by crushing him and freeing her from Thug Thatcher’s influence.

Issue #90 was an unsettling surprise as the grandeur of Kirby & Ayers was replaced by the charming yet angst-free art of Al Hartley, who illustrated Lee & Lieber’s stock alien-invasion yarn ‘Trapped by the Carbon-Copy Man!’ A month later the Storm Lord tackles ‘Sandu, Master of the Supernatural!’, with Sinnott handling all the art, in a thriller starring a carnival mentalist who – augmented by Loki’s magic – comes catastrophically close to killing our hero…

Sinnott drew JiM #92’s ‘The Day Loki Stole Thor’s Magic Hammer’ (scripted by Robert Bernstein over Lee’s plot) which moves the action fully to the mythical realm of Asgard for the first time as Thor sought to recover his stolen weapon after Loki ensorcelled the magnificent mallet. Kirby & Ayers momentarily returned for Cold War/Atom Age thriller ‘The Mysterious Radio-Active Man!’ – again plotted by Bernstein – as Mao Tse Tung unleashes an atomic assassin in retaliation for Thor thwarting China’s invasion of India. Such “Red-baiting” was common in early Marvel titles, but their inherent jingoistic silliness can’t mar the eerie beauty of the artwork. With this tale the rangy, raw-boned Thunder God completed his slow metamorphosis into the husky, burly blonde bruiser who dominated any panel he was drawn in.

Sinnott illustrated the next three somewhat pedestrian adventures. ‘Thor and Loki Attack the Human Race!’, ‘The Demon Duplicator’ and ‘The Magic of Mad Merlin!’, but these mediocre tales of magic-induced amnesia, science-fuelled evil doppelgangers and an ancient mutant menace were the last of an old style of comics. Stan Lee took over full scripting with Journey into Mystery #97 and a torrent of action wedded to soap opera melodrama resulted in a fresh style for a developing readership.

‘The Lava Man’ in #97 was again drawn by Kirby, with the subtly textured inking of Don Heck adding depth to the tale of an invader summoned from the subterranean realms to menace humanity at the behest of Loki. More significantly a long running rift between Thor and his stern father Odin was established after the Lord of Asgard refused to allow his son to love the mortal Jane.

This acrimonious triangle was a perennial sub-plot fuelling many attempts to humanise Thor, because already he was a hero too powerful for most villains to cope with. Most importantly this issue was notable for the launch of a spectacular back-up series. ‘Tales of Asgard – Home of the mighty Norse Gods’ gave Kirby a vehicle to indulge his fascination with legends. Initially adapting classic tales but eventually with all-new material particular to the Marvel pantheon, he built his own cosmos and mythology, which underpinned the company’s entire continuity. This first saga, scripted by Lee and inked by George Bell (AKA old Golden Age collaborator George Roussos), outlined the origin of the world and the creation of the World Tree Yggdrasil.

‘Challenged by the Human Cobra’ introduced the serpentine villain (bitten by a radioactive Cobra, would you believe?) in a tale by Lee & Heck, whilst Kirby – with them in attendance – offered ‘Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants!’ a short, potent fantasy romp which laid the groundwork for decades of cosmic wonderment of years to come.

The same format held for issues #99 and #100 with the main story (the first two-part adventure in the run) introducing the brutal ‘Mysterious Mister Hyde’ – and concluding a month later with ‘The Master Plan of Mr. Hyde!’ The modern yarn dealt with a contemporary chemist who could transform into a super-strong villain at will and who framed Thor for his crimes whilst in primordial prehistory Kirby detailed Odin’s war with ‘Surtur the Fire Demon’ and latterly (with Vince Colletta inking) crafted an exploit of the All-Father’s so different sons in ‘The Storm Giants – a tale of the Boyhood of Thor’. As always, Lee scripted these increasingly influential comicbook histories…

JiM #101 saw Kirby finally assume control of the pencilling on both strips. ‘The Return of Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man’ sees Odin halve Thor’s powers for wilful disobedience just as the futuristic felon abducts the Thunder God to help him conquer the 23rd century. Anther two-parter (the first half inked by Roussos), it was balanced by another exuberant tale of the boy Thor. ‘The Invasion of Asgard’ sees the valiant lad fight a heroic rearguard action that introduced a host of future villainous mainstays such as Rime Giants and Geirrodur the Troll.

‘Slave of Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man’ is a tour de force epic conclusion most notable for the introduction of Chic Stone as inker. To many of us oldsters, his clean, full brush lines make him The King’s best embellisher ever.

This triumphant futuristic thriller is counterbalanced by brooding short ‘Death Comes to Thor!’ as the teen hero faces his greatest challenge yet. Two females who would play huge roles in his life were introduced in this brief 5-pager; the young goddess Sif and Hela, Queen of the Dead.

On a creative roll, Lee, Kirby & Stone next introduced ‘The Enchantress and the Executioner’: ruthless renegade Asgardians determined to respectively seduce or destroy the warrior prince in the front of JiM #103 whilst the rear revealed ‘Thor’s Mission to Mirmir’ disclosing how the gods created humanity. That led one month later to a revolutionary saga when ‘Giants Walk the Earth’.

For the first time Kirby’s imagination was given full play after Loki tricks Odin into visiting Earth, only to release ancient elemental enemies Surtur and Skagg, the Storm Giant from Asgardian bondage.

This cosmic clash saw noble gods battling demonic evil in a new Heroic Age, and the greater role of the Norse supporting cast – especially noble warrior Balder – was reinforced by a new Tales of Asgard strand focussing on individual Gods and Heroes. ‘Heimdall: Guardian of the Mystic Rainbow Bridge’ was first, with Heck inking.

Issues #105-106 saw the teaming of two old foes in ‘The Cobra and Mr, Hyde’ and ‘The Thunder God Strikes Back’; another continued story packed with tension and spectacular action, proving Thor was swiftly growing beyond the constraints of traditional single issue adventures. The respective back-ups ‘When Heimdall Failed!’ (Lee, Kirby & Roussos) and ‘Balder the Brave’ (Lee, Kirby & Colletta) further fleshed out the back-story of an Asgardian pantheon deviating more and more from those classical Eddas and Sagas kids had to plough through in schools.

Journey into Mystery #107 premiered a petrifying villain in ‘When the Grey Gargoyle Strikes’, a rare yarn highlighting the fortitude of Dr. Blake rather than the power of the Thunder God, who was increasingly reducing his own alter-ego to an inconsequentiality. Closing the issue, the Norn Queen debuted in a quirky reinterpretation of the classic myth ‘Balder Must Die!’ illustrated by Kirby & Colletta.

After months of manipulation the God of Evil once again took direct action in ‘At the Mercy of Loki, Prince of Evil!’ With Jane a helpless victim of Asgardian magic, the willing assistance of new Marvel star Doctor Strange made this a captivating team-up to read, whilst ‘Trapped by the Trolls’ (Colletta inks) showed the power and promise of tales set solely on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge after Thor liberates Asgardians from Subterranean bondage.

Bringing down the curtain on this increasingly cosmic carnival, Journey into Mystery #109 was another superb adventure masquerading as a plug for recent addition to the Marvel roster.

‘When Magneto Strikes!’ pits Thor against the X-Men’s greatest foe in a cataclysmic clash of fundamental powers, but you couldn’t really call it a team-up since the heroic mutants are never actually seen. The tantalising hints and cropped glimpses are fascinating teasers now, but the kid I then was felt annoyed not to have seen these new heroes… oh… wait… maybe that was the point?

The Young Thor feature ‘Banished from Asgard’ is an uncharacteristically lacklustre effort to end on as Odin and Thor enact a devious plan to trap a traitor in Asgard’s ranks but the vignette hinted at much greater thrills to follow…

These early tales of the God of Thunder show the development not only of one of Marvel’s core narrative concepts but, more importantly, the creative evolution of perhaps the greatest imagination in comics. Set your common sense on pause and simply wallow in the glorious imagery and power of these classic adventures for the true secret of what makes comicbook superheroes such a unique experience.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.