Krazy and Ignatz 1927-1928: Love Letters in Ancient Brick


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-507-6

The cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is quite possibly the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; a hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz (as it is dubbed in these fabulous commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics) is a creation which can only be appreciated on its own terms. Over its many years of abstracted amazement the series gradually developed a unique language – at once both visual and verbal – whilst abstrusely exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding and without ever offending anybody… except a few local newspaper editors…

Sadly, however, it certainly baffled far more than a few…

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

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

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

Eventually the feature found a home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s heavy-handed patronage, the Kat flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The basic premise is evergreen and deceptively simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender hopelessly in love with rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous Ignatz Mouse. It’s the old story of opposites attracting but here the oodles of affection are unreciprocated and the love is certainly only going one way…

Ignatz is a true unreconstructed male; drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick (obtained singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly) which the smitten kitten invariably and inexplicably misidentifies as tokens of equally recondite affection.

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

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to Pupp’s dilemma…

Collaboratively co-populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as dreaded deliverer of unplanned, and generally unwanted, babies Joe Stork; wandering hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable – often unintelligible – Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters, all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

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

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“Soff, soff brizz”, “l’il dahlink” or “Ignatz, ware four is thou at Ignatz??”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Oft times Herriman even eschewed his mystical meandering mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops…

There have been numerous Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was rediscovered and reclaimed by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting audience.

This tantalising tome – covering 1927-1928 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) monochrome softcover edition as always offers added value as context, background and other cartoon treats are delivered by the much-missed Bill Blackbeard in his puckish Introduction essay of short informational snippets ‘Pilfering Mrs. Kwak-Wak’s Good Old Goods and Goodies Bag’

Here press clippings of a near-death experience for Herriman and fellow strip man Jimmy Swinnerton are re-presented beside early gag pages such as Embarrassing Moments and excepts from Hearst Joke Book editions of The Dingbats. Also included are a wealth of strips by Herriman’s contemporaries, rivals and plagiarists…

On to the strips then: within this compelling chronicle of undying amours utterly unhorsed by smirking Fate, the perpetual play unfolds as always but with some of those intriguing supplementary characters increasing coming to the fore.

We open with the change of years bringing weeks’ worth of seasonal disorders and sartorial shenanigans as Krazy further pursues that dream of a singing career. Ignatz, meanwhile, hunts for the perfect projectile which over and again draws him into the clutches of mountebanks, charlatan and magicians…

That search for ammunition leads to many more brick-based broadsides but these days Bull Pupp is far wiser to the Mouse’s modus operandi…

An occasional strictly visual pun session plays well against the numerous slapstick antics, even as Ignatz devises ever-more convoluted ways to bounce his bricks off the Kat’s bean whilst the weird landscapes and eccentric elemental conditions increasingly add to the humorous inspiration with apocryphal wind witches and snow squaws making their invisible presences felt…

Recurring cousins Krazy Katfish and Krazy Katbird pop up to muddy the romantic waters, whilst Kat and Mouse frequently indulge in the growing freedom of the skies and waterways via balloon and other aeronautical apparatus or maritime machine.

Joe Stork continues to divide his time between the delivery of (generally unwanted) babies and other, less legal packages and there’s a many a jest regarding the total illegality of easily obtained hooches and fire-waters…

As the years progress Ignatz spends ever-longer periods in jail yet seldom fails to find a way to deliver the punishing skull blows Krazy yearns for…

Many cast members become obsessed with being struck by lightning and other electrical intercessions, but the biggest surprise is undoubtedly a time-warping origin sequence which carries us back to the obscure infancies of Krazy, Ignatz and Bull…

There are more wandering wonderments as certain elephantine geological features again take up unescorted perambulation and the county even catches a touch of meteor fever as the landscape is beset by falling stars and fiery flotsam from space.

The year again concludes with uncharacteristic chills and spills as Kokonino is subjected to squalls of snow but worst of all is a plague of politicians, prophets and preachers all proselytising on the path to peace, forcing the residents make their feelings acrimoniously clear…

…And always plain mischief rules, whenever Herriman pictorially plays hob with the laws of physics, just to see what will happen…

Wrapping up the cartoon gold is a peek at one of the earliest and rarest of merchandising items – a 1920s wooden Ignatz doll – as well as another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’ (providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed). One final fillip is a selection of out-of-sequence replacement pages plus a sequence of pertinent daily strips which tie into the regular run of Sundays collected here…

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

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this companiable compendium is a most accessible way to do so. Heck, it’s even available as an eBook now so don’t waste the opportunity…
© 2002, 2008 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Blood & Valour – Legends of the Knight Sir Bevis


By Matt Beames, Marcus Pullen, Guy Stauber & various
ISBN: 978-0-99575-110-1

As well as being a monumentally terrific way of entertaining yourself, comics are a supremely efficient means of bringing history and literature to life. That in no way means they are a substitute for the original source matter, although in this instance I can forgive anybody not immersing themselves in the texts that inspired this trusty monochrome paperback celebrating the adventurous life of an all-but forgotten mythic warrior every bit the equal of King Arthur, Robin Hood or Beowulf…

Boeve de Haumtone or Bevis of Hampton is an Anglo-Norman and later Middle English Metrical romance saga about a classic warrior hero which spread across Europe during the middle ages and is still held in high regard in most of the world but here.

As a mediaeval prose epic, it was translated into French, Dutch, German, Italian, Irish, Venetian and Welsh. From there the tale migrated ever eastward, becoming part of many national mythologies through translations into Old Norse, Yiddish, Polish, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, Belarusian and Russian. This is a champion with a truly international pedigree.

To celebrate the 600th anniversary of Agincourt, The Digital Art Program of Eastleigh Borough Council and the Eastleigh Tech Hub in conjunction with the Agincourt 600 Programme conceived a series of projects to mark the occasion and advertise the key role the town which would eventually become the Port of Southampton played in those epochal days.

One such is the comics series this tome is the first compilation of: an adaptation of the life and adventures of a legendary chivalric local hero inextricably linked to the area.

Written and adapted by Matt Beames with illustration by Marcus Pullen and colour-insert photo splash-pages by Guy Stauber, this initial volume only opens the epic account, detailing Bevis’ childhood and novice warrior training before closing with the dark betrayal that sets him upon his savage life’s path…

Sir Guy, Earl of Hampton was a mighty warrior who came late to marriage. His bride was the daughter of the King of Scotland and by no means a willing partner in the arranged match. Rumours abounded that the Countess already had a lover, German prince Conrad. She was also a witch, but Guy seemed oblivious to his wilful young wife’s faults. He truly loved her, even though she took no pains to hide her aloof hostility to him or his southern demesne.

Even the birth of their son Bevis did not soften her. She rejected the child at the moment of his birth, leaving him to be reared by wetnurses, nannies and latterly the Earl himself with his trusted battle-comrade and brother Sir Saber. By the time he was ten years old, Bevis was a master of sword and lance: a truly formidable fighter awaiting only the full strength of his maturity…

As the boy grew, his mother increasingly chafed at her fate and resolved to be happy again, whatever the cost. Thus she plotted with old lover Conrad to murder her husband, using corrupt knight Sir Murdour as her go-between and emissary to Germany.

Through vile treachery Sir Guy was ambushed and butchered by Murdour and an army of Teutons before Conrad installed himself as the new Lord of Hampton beside the willing and murderous Countess who was the architect of all their woes.

When Bevis challenges his mother, she banishes him to the sheep flocks and the custody of his Uncle Saber but later decides it would be best if the lad died after Bevis attempts to re-enter the family castle to exact revenge…

When Conrad baulks at the thought, she blackmails Saber to accomplish the vile task but he too cannot descend to so low a deed and instead fakes the boy’s murder before sending Bevis away from England to grow into the mighty man he must be to avenge his sire. However, before leaving the boy begins to balance the scales of justice by despatching Sir Murdour…

To Be Continued…

With a Foreword by Dr Cheryl Butler and contextualising Afterword by Dr Lynn Forest-Hill, plus a behind-the-scenes section detailing the entire creative process from script and visual design to finished art by way of a photo-reference shoot, this bold revival of a mythic British hero is heavy on action and suspense and affords a most engaging introduction to one of our most slighted icons.
Story & scripts © 2016/2017 Matt Beames. Panels © 2016/2017 Marcus Pullen. Covers & splash pages © 2016/2017. Guy Stauber. All rights reserved.

Immortal Iron Fist volume 3: Book of the Iron Fist


By Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Travel Foreman, David Aja, Gil Kane, Larry Hama & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2536-5

To save you looking up old graphic novel reviews (but please don’t let me stop you if you feel so inclined) Iron Fist was an early entry from Marvel during the 1970s Kung Fu boom, although the character also owed a hefty debt to Bill Everett’s Golden Age super-hero Amazing Man who graced various Centaur Comics publications between 1939 and 1945.

The tribute was paid by Roy Thomas & Gil Kane although a veritable host of successors (writers and artists included Len Wein, Doug Moench, Tony Isabella, Larry Hama, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Pat Broderick and Al McWilliams) followed them in what was a relatively short run on the adventures of the “Living Weapon”.

Little Danny Rand travelled with his parents and uncle to the Himalayas, searching for the “lost city of K’un Lun” which only appears once every ten years. The boy’s father Wendell was murdered by the uncle and Danny’s mother sacrificed herself to save her child. Alone in the wilderness, the city found him and he spent the next decade mastering all forms of martial arts.

As soon he was able, he returned to the outer world intent on vengeance and armed with a mystic punch gained by killing the city’s guardian dragon Shou-Lao the Undying. When Iron Fist eventually achieved his goal the lad was at a loose end and – by default – a billionaire, as his murderous uncle had turned the family business into a multi-national megalith.

The series ran in Marvel Premier (#15-25; May 1974 to October 1975), before Chris Claremont & John Byrne steadied the ship and produced a superb run of issues in his own title (Iron Fist #1-15, November 1975 – September 1977). After cancellation, the character drifted until inspirationally paired with street tough hero Luke Cage.

Power Man & Iron Fist ran from #51 until the book ended in 1986 (#125). The K’un Lun Kid has died, come back and cropped up all over the Marvel universe as guest star, co-star, team-player and even in a few of his own series.

Revived and somewhat re-imagined as The Immortal Iron Fist in 2007, a new series revealed that there has been a steady progression of warriors (66) bearing the title for centuries – if not millennia – and in The Last Iron Fist Story Danny discovered that his predecessor Orson Randall went rogue, refusing to die for the Holy City, roaming the Earth ever since. He was also a partner and mentor to Danny’s dad…

This third compilation concentrates on some other Iron Fists by gathering issues #7 and 15-16 of the monthly comicbook, sidebar one-shot Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death (2008) as well as that introductory tale from Marvel Premier #15-16, released in 2008 as Immortal Iron Fist: The Origin of Danny Rand.

The reinvigorated series’ title stems from the hitherto unknown fact that there are in fact seven mystical martial arts-venerating cities in this universe and every 88 years their celestial orbits coincide to permit a grand combat tournament. Each city has a champion as puissant and dedicated as Iron Fist and they must fight with the climax deciding which hidden metropolis will intersect the Earth plane for the next nearly-nine decades …

The peeks at times past begin with ‘The Story of the Iron Fist Wu Ao-Shi: The Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay’, written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction with art from Travel Foreman, Leandro Fernandez, Khari Evans, Derek Fridolfs and Francisco Paronzini, wherein a feisty little girl starving on the streets of K’un Lun is singled out by mighty Lei Kung the Thunderer to be trained as the first female Iron Fist.

After achieving this impossible goal, audacious Wu Ao-Shi finds that duty and even true love are insufficient to satisfy her. Exiling herself to Earth, she lives a short but triumphant existence as mercenary, warrior hero and leader of pirates. She dies before her thirty-third birthday…

That lyrical oriental fable neatly segues into the saga of another Iron Fist tied to Earth. ‘The Story of the Iron Fist Bei Bang-Wen (1827-1860)’ – by Fraction, Evans & Victor Olazaba – finds K’un Lun’s greatest battle strategist exiled to Earth and losing the Chi-reinforced power of Shou-Lau whilst battling the British Army during the Boxer Rebellion.

Imprisoned, Bei befriends fellow mystic hero and freedom fighter Vivatma Visvajit whose personal connection to the Prana power of Brahma also vanished whilst fighting England’s Imperialism. Together they escape and recover their mystic gifts whilst battling demonic forces. Bei dies in his early thirties, free and proud…

Issue #16 then returns to the current Iron Fist as Danny Rand gives back to the community in New York City. ‘Happy Birthday Danny’ (Fraction, David Aja & Matt Hollingsworth) finds the young billionaire teaching and feeding poor kids at his Thunder Dojo whilst patiently attempting to divest himself of the immeasurable tainted wealth his family has ruthlessly accrued over the years.

The “day in the life” tale sees sleepless Danny reconnect with financier/mentor Jeryn Hogarth and fellow crusaders Luke Cage and Misty Knight and continue his studies of the recently-acquired Book of the Iron Fist with the other Immortal Weapons before enduring a brief break enforced by friends who want him to celebrate his thirty-third birthday…

Next-up is a rip-roaring pulp-style adventure as prodigal Iron Fist Orson Randall, his allies the Confederates of the Curious and side-kick Wendell Rand reunite in the face of relentless pursuit by Immortal Weapon John Aman, Prince of Orphans.

Orson is the only Iron Fist to live beyond 33 years and spent precarious decades on Earth fighting injustice, but his time is coming to an end. Aman believes he is justly acting on behalf of the Seven Cities in hunting a traitor but as the extended pursuit evolves comes to realise that something corrupt lies at the heart of his mission: a secret the august rulers have been keeping from their subjects…

Scripted by Fraction with individual chapters illustrated by Nick Dragotta, Mike and Laura Allred, Russ Heath, Lewis LaRosa, Stefano Gaudiano, Hollingsworth and Mitch Breitweiser, Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death is a rousing decades-spanning romp tracking the aging Iron Fist and the kid who will one day father Danny Rand as they encounter bandits, evil cowgirls and another maniac claiming to be the last Frankenstein, with the Prince of Orphans dogging their steps all the way…

Closing this volume is the contents of Immortal Iron Fist: The Origin of Danny Rand, a modified reprint of ‘The Fury of Iron Fist!’ by Thomas, Kane and inker Dick Giordano and its sequel from Marvel Premier #15 and 16 wherein a young masked warrior defeats the cream of a legendary combat elite in a fabled other-dimensional city before returning to Earth.

Ten years previously, little Daniel Rand had watched as his father and mother died at the hands of Harold Meachum whilst the party risked Himalayan snows to find the legendary city of K’un Lun.

Little Danny had travelled with his wealthy parents and their business partner in search of the fabled city – which only appeared on Earth for one day every ten years. Wendell had some unsuspected connection to the fabled Shangri La but was killed before they found it, and Danny’s mother sacrificed herself to save the child from wolves and her murderous pursuer.

As he wandered alone in the wilderness, the city found Danny. The boy spent the next decade training: mastering all forms of martial arts in the militaristic, oriental, feudal paradise and enduring arcane ordeals, living only for the day he would return to Earth and avenge his parents…

After conquering all comers and refusing immortality, Iron Fist returned to Earth a Living Weapon able to turn his force of will into a devastating super-punch…

Reaching Manhattan, #16‘Heart of the Dragon!’ (Len Wein, Larry Hama & Giordano) found Iron Fist reliving the years of toil which had culminated in a trial by combat with a mystic dragon: earning the power to concentrate his fist “like unto a thing of Iron” and other unspecified abilities. The epic clash permanently branded his chest with the seared silhouette of the fearsome wyrm.

His recollections are shattered when martial arts bounty hunter Scythe attacks, revealing that Meachum knew the boy was back and had put a price on his head…

Danny had sacrificed not only immortality for vengeance but also prestige and privilege. As he left K’un Lun, supreme ruler of the city Yü Ti, the August Personage in Jade, had revealed that murdered Wendell Rand had been his brother…

Bracketed by a new framing sequence by Fraction and Kano the classic yarn serves to set the scene for further revelations to come…

Swift and compellingly exotic, this mesmerising tome offers twin highpoints of Marvel’s long history of Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy and should certainly prove a timely read as Iron Fist makes his live action small screen debut…
© 2007, 2008, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

JLA Deluxe volume 4


By Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Devin Grayson, J.M. DeMatteis, Howard Porter, Mark Pajarillo, Steve Scott & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401229092 (HC)            :978-1401243852(PB)

When the Justice League of America – driving force and cornerstone of the Silver Age of Comics – was re-imagined and relaunched in 1997, the sheer bravura quality of the stories propelled the series back to the forefront of industry attention, making as many new fans as it recaptured old ones. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality.

With JLA you could see on every page all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be. Moreover, their example – at least initially – was mirrored by all other creators brought in to craft the hero-team’s later adventures…

This fourth Deluxe Edition (available in hardback, paperback and eBook formats) gathers issues #32-46 of the resurgent series, spanning August 1999 to October 2000: re-presenting astounding epics of cosmic wonder and universal upheaval which still pack a punch nearly two decades later…

The action opens with ‘Inside Job’ (Waid and Devin Grayson script with art by Mark Pajarillo & Walden Wong): a tale deeply embedded in company continuity and set during the spectacular and prophetic Batman: No Man’s Land publishing event. The gripping tale of mutation, bio-warfare and government indifference references one of the League’s first cases (for which see JLA: Year One) as outlaw genetic supremacists Locus return to make quake-devastated Gotham City their private Petri-dish.

After releasing a mutagenic terror-virus that not even the JLA can combat, the genome-maniacs’ opportunistic attempts at conquest result in devastation and despair until the heroes formulate a new and evolving strategy…

Waid, Pajarillo & Wong’s then examine ‘Altered Egos’ as Batman leads a plainclothes mission to discover who – or what – is masquerading as Bruce Wayne: an unexpectedly violent mission which sees the return of the team’s most dangerous modern opponents…

As envisaged by re-originators Grant Morrison & Howard Porter, the World’s Greatest Superheroes had always been meant to tackle a progression of gargantuan epics and mind-boggling conceptual endeavours. This long-awaited cosmic spectacle had been patiently unfolding for years and culminated in a “Big Finish” saga that proved well worth the wait.

Beginning with the thematic prelude ‘The Ant and the Avalanche’ (Morrison, Porter & John Dell), the JLA faces increased super-villain violence, natural disasters and general global madness after New God Orion determines that a threat from the time of the Primal Gods is closing in on Earth. With the entire planet in bellicose turmoil, Lex Luthor and his malevolent allies – Queen Bee, Prometheus and defrocked General Wade Eiling inside the gigantic, indestructible body of the erstwhile Shaggy Man – prepare to destroy all Earth’s heroes once and for all…

‘The Guilty’ by J.M. DeMatteis, Pajarillo & Wong takes a timely sidestep to focus on debased angel Zauriel and the Hal Jordan-bonded Spectre who invades the heroes’ home to judge the past sins of the assembled Leaguers…

Cleansed and refreshed the team then embark on the six-part epic ‘World War Three’ (Morrison, Porter and Dell), starting by learning the origins of Mageddon, a semi-sentient doomsday weapon which creates hatred and violence in all living things. Now it is nearing Earth…

Responding to its presence, former Leaguer Aztek (see JLA Presents Aztek, the Ultimate Man) comes out of retirement as Luthor’s team ambushes the team in their lunar citadel with devastating success…

Meanwhile on Earth, the inexorably approaching God-Weapon is driving the populace – human and not – into manic blood-frenzy whilst the hard-pressed superhero community finds that even they are not immune to Mageddon’s malign influence…

When even Heaven refuses to act in Earth’s defence, all hope seems lost until the long-missing Flash returns with crucial assistance from the end of time and space and Zauriel recruits aid from a most unexpected source, but even this is not enough until one hero makes the ultimate sacrifice…

Given a fighting chance, humanity takes its fate into its own disparate and temporarily super-powered hands for a spectacular and cathartic cosmic climax to delight fans of every persuasion and preference.

After battling every combination of ancient, contemporary and futuristic foes, the World’s Greatest Superheroes next found themselves pitted against a miniscule and most poignant threat in ‘Half a Mind to Save a World’, an intriguing take on Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage from Dan Curtis Johnson, Pajarillo & Wong, wherein The Atom leads a JLA team on a mission to forcibly evacuate an advanced civilisation of bacteria that have taken up residence in a small boy’s brain and begun strip-mining his dendrites. Of course, the bacteria aren’t that keen on moving…

Often cited as one of the best Batman stories ever created, multi-part paean to paranoia Tower of Babel concludes this collection. The saga begins with immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul’s latest plan to winnow Earth’s human population to manageable levels well underway…

In ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (Waid, Porter & Drew Geraci), a series of perfectly planned pre-emptive strikes cripple Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Plastic Man and Green Lantern whilst Batman is taken out of the game by the simple expedient of stealing his parents’ remains from their graves.

With the Dark Knight distracted and his fellow superheroes utterly disabled, the full scheme begins as humanity suddenly loses the ability to read. Books, newspapers, complicated machinery instructions, labels on medicine bottles – all are now gibberish. The death toll starts to mount…

In ‘Seven Little Indians’ as the League attempt to regroup and fight back, Batman realises that the tactics and tools used to take out his allies – now including Superman – were his own secret contingency measures, designed in case he ever had to fight his super-powered best friends…

In ‘Protected by the Cold’ Batman leads a counter-attack despite the shock and fury of his betrayed comrades, and as the final phase kicks in with humans losing the power of speech too, the disunited team mounts a last-ditch assault on Al Ghul in ‘Harsh Words’ (illustrated by Steve Scott & Mark Propst). The same team handled the epilogue where the recovered heroes angrily seek to understand how their trusted friend could have countenanced such treachery…

Compelling, challenging and genuinely uplifting, this tale is a high-mark in modern superhero comics and one no fan can afford to miss. Morrison & Porter’s JLA was never afraid of looking back fondly or laughing at itself: an all-out effort to be Thrilling, Smart and Fun.

This is the kind of joyous fare nobody should ever outgrow and these are stories to be read and re-read forever…
© 1999, 2000, 2010 DC Comics.  All Rights Reserved.

Dargaud Presents Lieutenant Blueberry: Fort Navajo & Thunder in the West


By Charlier & Giraud, translated by Anthea Turner and Derek Hockridge (Egmont/Methuen)
ISBN: 978-0-41605-370-8 and 978-0-41605-370-X

Franco-Belgian comics have enjoyed a decades-long love affair with the mythos of the American West and responded with some of the most beautiful and exciting graphic narratives in the history of the medium. They have, however, had less success creating characters that have gone on to be global household names.

One that did has made that jump is Michel Charlier & Jean Giraud’s immortal bad-ass Blueberry…

Sadly, although many publishers have sporadically attempted to bring him to our thrill-starved shores, there’s no readily available complete catalogue (yet) of the quintessential antihero in the English language. Thus, this first of many forthcoming reviews with a brace of albums that are decades old, although they do still turn up in back-issue bins and in second hand or charity shops…

Jean-Michel Charlier is arguably Europe’s most important writer of realistic adventure strips.

Ever.

He was born in Liege, Belgium in 1924 and like so many groundbreaking comics creators, began as an artist, joining the staff of Spirou in September 1944, contributing aviation illustrations, and a strip about gliders co-produced with Flettner. In 1946 Charlier’s love affair with flying inspired him to co-create fighter-pilot strip Buck Danny, providing scripts for star turn artist Victor Hubinon.

Before long – and on the advice of prestigious senior illustrator Jijé – Charlier was scripting full time and expanding his portfolio with many other series and serials.

In 1951 he co-created historical series Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul which afforded dozens of major artists their big break over the years, and supplemented the series with other strips such as Kim Devil (art Gérald Forton), Jean Valhardi and Marc Dacier (both with artist Paape) and Thierry le Chevalier (with Carlos Laffond) as well as popular scouting series La Patrouille des Castors, illustrated by MiTacq.

In conjunction with Goscinny and Uderzo, Charlier founded the business and industry oriented commercial comics agency Edifrance after which Charlier and Goscinny edited the magazine Pistolin (1955-1958) before launching Pilote together in October 1959.

For the soon to be legendary periodical Charlier created

Tanguy and Laverdure (with Uderzo and later Jijé), Barbe-Rouge (with Hubinon) and Jacques le Gall (MiTacq). In 196, Charlier visited America he created arguably his most significant character – and Europe’s greatest Western comic – which would eventually be known as Blueberry.

In later years, the engaging antihero would support his own equally successful spin-off La Jeunesse de Blueberry (AKA Young Blueberry, illustrated by Colin Wilson) but Charlier never rested on his laurels, concocting further grittily realistic fare: historical biographies in collaboration with Hubinon (Surcouf, Jean Mermoz, and Tarawa) and Martial (Alain et Christine in Libre Junior, Rosine in Pistolin), Brice Bolt for Spirou with Aldoma Puig, Los Gringos with Victor de la Fuente and many more. He passed away in 1989.

Jean Henri Gaston Giraud was born in the suburbs of Paris on 8th May 1938. Raised by grandparents after his mother and father divorced in 1941, he began attending Institut des Arts Appliqués in 1955, becoming friends with Jean-Claude Mézières who, at 17, was already selling strips and illustrations to magazines such as Coeurs Valliants, Fripounet et Marisette and Spirou. Giraud apparently spent most of his college time drawing cowboy comics and left after a year.

In 1956 he travelled to Mexico, staying with his mother for eight months, before returning to France and a full-time career drawing comics, mostly Westerns such as Frank et Jeremie for Far West and King of the Buffalo, A Giant with the Hurons and others for Coeurs Valliants, all in a style based on French comics legend Joseph Gillain AKA “Jijé”.

Between 1959 and 1960 Giraud spent his National Service in Algeria, working on military service magazine 5/5 Forces Françaises before returning to civilian life as Jijé’s assistant in 1961, working on the master’s long-running (1954-1977) western epic Jerry Spring.

A year later, Giraud and Belgian writer Jean-Michel Charlier launched the serial Fort Navajo in Pilote #210. All too soon the ensemble feature threw forth a unique icon in the shabby shape of disreputable, rebellious Lieutenant Mike Blueberry who took over as the star and evolved into one of the most popular European strip characters of all time…

In 1963-1964, Giraud produced numerous strips for satire periodical Hara-Kiri and, keen to distinguish and separate the material from his serious day job, first coined his pen-name “Moebius”.

He didn’t use it again until 1975 when he joined Bernard Farkas, Jean-Pierre Dionnet and Philippe Druillet – all devout science fiction fans – as founders of a revolution in narrative graphic arts created by “Les Humanoides Associes”.

Their ground-breaking adult fantasy magazine Métal Hurlant utterly enraptured the comics-buying public and Giraud again wanted to utilise a discreet creative persona for the lyrical, experimental, soul-searching material he was increasingly driven to produce: series such as The Airtight Garage, The Incal and the mystical, dreamy flights of sheer fantasy contained in Arzach

To further separate his creative twins, Giraud worked his inks with a brush whilst the dedicated futurist Moebius rendered his lines with pens. After a truly stellar career which saw him become a household name, both Giraud and Moebius passed away in March 2012.

Fort Navajo and Thunder in the West were originally released in Britain in 1977 by Euro-publishing conglomerate

Egmont/Methuen; the first two of four full-colour albums which utterly failed to capture the attention of a comics-reading public besotted in equal amounts by Science Fiction in general, Star Wars in specific and new anthology 2000AD in the main…

It’s a great shame: if the translated series had launched even a year earlier, I might not be whining about lack of familiarity with a genuine classic of genre comics…

The magic begins in Fort Navajo as clean-cut West Point graduate Lieutenant Craig takes a break from his dusty journey. The stagecoach stopover is just another town on the border between Arizona and New Mexico but leads to his involvement in a brutal battle sparked by a cheating card-sharp. After the gun-smoke clears the military paragon is appalled to discover that the quick-shooting cad at the centre of the chaos is a fellow officer stationed at his new posting…

Further outraged after Lieutenant Mike Blueberry inadvertently insults Craig’s father – a decorated general – the pair acrimoniously part company but are soon reunited on the trail after the scoundrel’s horse dies even as Craig’s stagecoach encounters the remnants of settlers slaughtered by marauding Indians…

Dying survivor Stanton informs them that his son has been taken by Apaches but Craig’s vow to hunt them down is overruled by Blueberry and the stage’s crew and passengers. Incensed, the young fool sets off in pursuit of the attackers on his own. Despite his better judgement, Blueberry trails him, cursing all the while…

After using an arsenal of canny tricks to repeatedly save Craig from his suicidal notions of heroism, the pair are picked up by a relief column from Fort Navajo led by Major Bascom: a man who sincerely believes the only good Indians are dead ones…

Ignoring his orders and the advice of his officers, Bascom decides to pursue the kidnappers and compounds his insubordination by attacking a group of women, children and old men. The massacre would have been total had not Blueberry “accidentally” given the wrong bugle calls and called the cavalry back too soon. Learning quickly, Lieutenant Craig covertly assists the rogue in calling back the troops…

In the aftermath, Bascom demonstrates how unstable he is by trying to execute Blueberry without convening a court martial and goes almost ballistic when Craig prevents him by quoting chapter and verse of the military code…

Frustrated on all sides, Bascom can only turn the column back to Fort Navajo and plan revenge on the puppies that have baulked his bloodlust. Commanding officer Colonel Dickson is a reasonable man, however, and refuses all Bascom’s entreaties. He even tries to broker a pow-wow and new treaty with great chief Cochise for the return of the kidnapped boy and to forestall the war Bascom so fervently desires. It is a valiant effort doomed to failure. The Apaches were not responsible for the butchery and abduction at all. The true culprits were Mescaleros from across the Mexican border…

Tragically, when Dickson is bitten by a rattlesnake, Bascom seizes command and uses the peace talks to capture Cochise and his delegation. In a flurry of action the aged warrior breaks free and escapes to his waiting armies: determined to make the two-faced soldiers pay for their treachery by bringing blood and vengeance to all of Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico…

The brooding tension resumes in Thunder in the West as affronted tribal chiefs fiercely debate how to liberate the rest of their hostage peace-delegation before their own war-hungry followers start a bloodbath no one can win.

At Fort Navajo Blueberry and Craig ponder the coming dawn and are on hand when a tortured settler arrives to warn them every messenger sent for reinforcements has perished and the Apaches have taken dozens of new prisoners. The weary soul then delivers an ultimatum and final offer from Cochise: safe passage for the soldiers to Tucson or Albuquerque in return for the captive Indians in their custody.

Bascom, clearly beyond all reason, instead threatens to execute the prisoners…

Desperate Blueberry counters with a tactic to forestall the growing certainty of all-out war: he will attempt to cross the siege lines and reach Tucson for reinforcements but before he can start, a fellow officer – half-breed scout lieutenant Crowe – acts precipitately and frees the Indians from the stockade.

Whilst Bascom raves and blusters, Blueberry takes off anyway, undertaking an epic journey through hostile territory and past hundreds of warriors hungry for blood, not just to call for more troops but to get snakebite antidote for Dickson so that he can end the escalating madness…

Capping peril-filled days of fight and flight, the battered cavalryman successfully crosses searing desert only to stumble into a gang of Mexican bandits who almost end his voyage and life until he turns their own greed against them…

Finally, Mike rides into Tucson only to find the town all but deserted as thousands of Apaches have been approaching the outskirts of town for hours…

Frantically batting his way out of the trap Mike, wearily retraces his route back to Fort Navajo. The citadel is deserted except for Crowe, who tells him that after a catastrophic battle he negotiated a truce which allowed the white survivors a means of escape. Now the half-breed has a new plan. He and Blueberry will track down the Mescalero renegades who truly started the war by kidnapping young Stanton…

A feat of staggering bravado, the audacious plan succeeds, but as Blueberry outdistances the outraged renegades and thunders through the mountains with the rescued boy on his horse, he realises Crowe is missing and must go back for him…

To Be Continued…

Although perhaps a tad traditional for modern tastes and nowhere near as visually or narratively sophisticated as it was to become, this epic opening to the saga of the immortal Blueberry is an engaging yarn and all-action romp: a stunning reaffirmation of the creative powers of Charlier & Giraud and potent testimony to the undying appeal and inspiration of the Western genre.
© 1965, 1966 Dargaud Editeur. Text these editions © 1977 by Egmont Publishing Limited, London. All rights reserved.

Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? – A Comic by Liz Prince


By Liz Prince (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-89183-072-3

There’s an irrepressible rumour going about that Love makes the world go round. My grasp of physics isn’t strong enough to confirm or deny that hypothesis but I have read enough comics in my time to spot a magical and unmissable celebration of the all-consuming emotion when I see one.

Liz Prince originally hailed from Sante Fe, New Mexico before heading across county in an Eastward direction to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire).

She is a cartoonist – one of many – who thankfully opted to create a visual journal of her life and saw that one subject kept monopolising her attention. She is also an inspired raconteur who knows how to spin a graphic yarn in adroitly truncated form. Thus this slim collection which gathers a whole bunch of sublimely intimate, hilariously real moments spent with and apart from her equally fascinating man Kevin and the awesome force which is their cat Science.

Contained in this marvellous monochrome paperback posy are vignettes exploring the giddy silliness of fresh physicality, quirkily adorable breaking of bathroom taboos, the agony and relief of momentary solitude, incidents of intimate accommodation and lots of lovely eternal challenges that test every couple… especially the often bloody traumas of explaining to the incumbent household pet that they are not necessarily “Number One” any more…

Fronted by a suitably droll but downbeat pictorial Introduction ‘On Liz Prince’ by legendary lovelorn doodler Jeffrey Brown, Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? is thankfully still available – and instantly so if you opt for one of the downloadable versions (Kindle, Comixology etc.), or preferably direct from Top Shelf Productions – so if you want to share some romantic fellow feeling or just need to see that there’s still hope for all the lonely hearts, this a graphic gem you should promptly treat yourself to.
© & ™ Liz Prince 2005. All rights reserved.

Valerian and Laureline volume 13: On the Frontiers


By Méziéres & Christin, with colours by Evelyn Tranlé; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-312-3

Valérian is possibly the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in that undoubtedly contentious statement. Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips formed the medium itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie has seen some of Jean-Claude Méziéres & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the filmic phenomenon has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the look of the Millennium Falcon to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have experienced and marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling of Méziéres & Christin creation than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined. Now with a big budget movie of their own in the imminent offing, that surely unjust situation might finally be addressed and rectified…

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent debuted in weekly Pilote #420 (November 9th 1967) and was an instant smash-hit. The feature was soon retitled Valérian and Laureline as his feisty distaff sidekick rapidly developed into an equal partner and scene-stealing star through a string of fabulously fantastical, winningly sly and light-hearted time-travelling, space-warping romps.

Packed with cunningly satirical humanist action, challenging philosophy and astute political commentary, the mind-bending yarns struck a chord with the public and especially other creators who have been swiping, “homaging” and riffing off the series ever since.

Initially Valerian was an affably capable yet ploddingly by-the-book space cop tasked with protecting the official universal chronology (at least as it affected humankind) by counteracting and correcting paradoxes caused by incautious time-travellers.

When he travelled to 11th century France in debut tale Les Mauvais Rêves (Bad Dreams), he was rescued from doom by a tempestuously formidable young woman named Laureline whom he had no choice but to bring back with him to Galaxity: the 28th century super-citadel and administrative capital of the vast Terran Empire.

The indomitable female firebrand crash-trained as a Galaxity operative and accompanied him on subsequent missions – a beguiling succession of breezy, space-warping, social conscience-building epics. This so-sophisticated series always had room to propound a satirical, liberal ideology and agenda (best summed up as “why can’t we all just get along?”), constantly launching telling fusillades of commentary-by-example to underpin an astounding cascade of visually appealing, visionary space operas.

Sur les frontièrs (or On the Frontiers to us English-speakers) is the 13th Cinebook translation and symbolises a landmark moment in the series’ evolution.

When first conceived every Valérian adventure started life as a serial in Pilote before being collected in album editions, but with this adventure from 1988, the publishing world shifted gears. This subtly harder-edged saga was debuted as an all-new, complete graphic novel with magazine serialisation relegated to minor and secondary function.

The switch in dissemination affected all popular characters in French comics and almost spelled the end of periodical publication on the continent…

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: the second actual story but the first to be compiled in book form. When Bad Dreams was finally released as a European album in 1983, it was given the number #0.

In the previous storyline the immensity of Galaxity was eradicated from reality and our Spatio-Temporal Agents – along with a few trusted allies – were stranded in time and stuck on contemporary (late 20th century) Earth…

In the depths of space a fantastic and fabulous luxury liner affords the wealthy of many cultures and civilisations the delights of an interstellar Grand Tour. Paramount amongst the guests are two god-like creatures amusing themselves by slumming amongst the lower lifeforms as they perform the ages old, languid and slow-moving mating ritual of their kind…

Sadly the puissant and magnificent Kistna has been utterly deceived by her new acquaintance Jal. He has no interest in her or propagating their species: he simply intends stealing her probability-warping powers…

Jal is actually a disguised Terran and once he has completed his despicable charade he compels the ship’s captain to leave him on the nearest world… a place the natives call Earth…

Stranded on that world since Galaxity vanished, partners-in-peril Valerian and Laureline have used their training and the few futuristic gadgets they had with them to become freelance secret agents.

At this moment they are in Soviet Russia where Valerian has just concluded that the recent catastrophic meltdown of the Chernobyl reactor was deliberately caused by persons unknown…

As the officials on site absorb the news Val is extracted from the radioactive hotspot and ferried by most laborious means across the frozen wastes to Finland and a belated reunion with Laureline and Mr. Albert: once upon a time Galaxity’s volubly jolly, infuriatingly unflappable 20th information gatherer/sleeper agent…

The topic of discussion is tense and baffling: who could possibly profit from sparking Earth’s political tinderbox into atomic conflagration?

And far away in a plush hotel a man with extraordinary luck discusses a certain plan with his awed co-conspirators, unaware that in the Tunisian Sahara near the frontier with Libya, three time-travelling troubleshooters are following his operatives…

That trail leads to a nuclear mine counting down to detonation, but happily Valerian and Laureline are well-versed in tackling primitive weaponry and the close call allows Albert to deduce why Libya and an unknown mastermind are working to instigate nuclear conflict in Africa…

After another near-miss on the US-Mexican border the investigators finally get a break and isolate the enigma behind the multiple manufacture of near-Armageddon moments. However, when Laureline later approaches the super-gambler financing global nuclear terrorism through his bank-breaking casino sprees, she is astounded to realise her target recognises her Galaxity tech…

Moreover, as Valerian hurtles to her rescue he discovers the villain is an old comrade. For what possible reason could a fellow survivor of Galaxity orchestrate the destruction of Earth; the home and foundation of the time-travelling Terran Empire they are all sworn to protect and restore?

This stunning caper was writer Christin and artist Méziéres’ further deft rationalising of the drowned Earth of 1986 (as seen in 1968’s The City of Shifting Waters) with the contemporary period that they were working in, and had the added benefit of sending Valerian and Laureline into uncharted creative waters.

Thus the agents’ solution to the problem of their deranged, broken and super-powered comrade is both impressively humane and winningly conclusive …

Smart, subtle, complex and frequently hilarious, the antics of Valerian and Laureline added outrageous satire to blistering action, stirring the mix with wry humour to create one of the most thrilling sci fi strips in comics. If you’re not an addict yet, jump aboard now and be ready to impress all your friends with your perspicacity when the film comes out.
© Dargaud Paris, 1988 Christin, Méziéres & Tranlệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Now Who Do We Blame?


By Tom Toles (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-5558-3

For as long as we’ve had printing there have been bravely scurrilous, boldly impassioned gadfly artists commentating on rulers, society and all the iniquities they were held responsible for.

These devils with pens and brushed pictorially harangued the powerful, pompous, privileged and just plain perfidious through swingeing satire and cunning caricature. Truth be told; before printing these astute arty types probably scrawled their picture-perfect opinions upon cave walls in moose blood…

The cartoonist has held a bizarrely precarious position of power for centuries: the deftly designed bombastic broadside or savagely surgical satirical slice instantly capable of ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped-charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally understandable visual metaphor.

Unlike the “scritti politici” of radicals and revolutionaries, with this method of concept transmission, literacy or lack of education is no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds a pictorial pest’s mill. That has never been more true – or more dangerous – than in the United States of America in the last three decades…

As it’s still too soon for a collection of cartoons about the 45th President (is it? Is it really?), here’s a superb collection from possibly the greatest modern gadfly of the Land of Free Speech and drawing: a period when George W. Bush was popularly regarded as the worst President in US history…

Thomas Gregory Toles was born in October 1951 and attended the University at Buffalo; The State University of New York where he graduated magna cum laude just as the social unrest of the early 1970s began to engender dangerous responses from the powers that be.

A progressive thinker, Toles worked as a writer for The Buffalo Courier-Express, The Buffalo News and The Washington Post and also created such strips as insomnia-inspired feature Randolph Itch 2 AM, and kids comic Curious Avenue.

In 2002 Toles was invited by The Post to replace their veteran and venerable star cartoonist Herblock, and his work now appears in over 200 papers throughout America and is syndicated internationally by Universal Press Syndicate

His cartoons are stark simply-rendered, diabolically ingenious and include a commentary doodle in the bottom corner to punctuate and reinforce his often excoriating and frequently crushing message: a potent Greek Chorus of worldly-wise disapproval…

Toles has been awarded a National Cartoonist Society Editorial Cartoon Award, a Herblock Prize and a Pulitzer (he’s also been a runner up numerous times) but received a cartoonist’s ultimate accolade from the Pentagon in 2006 when the Joint Chiefs of Staff uniformly protested in writing to one of his panels. As always in these cases, they seemed to have missed the point of the cartoon comment entirely…

As previously stated, this slim guided missile of satire skewers the last Republican recumbent Incumbent, but the devastating delivery and incisive inscribed insights are still in operation today, notching up WMDs (Witticisms of Mirthful Demolition) against the current White House Boarders and it surely can’t be too long before I’m reviewing something a little more contemporary in an embarrassing shade of orange…

For your delectation and deliberation, here are stinging pinpricks and blistering broadsides handily grouped into easily assimilated sections beginning with ‘Politics and the Election’ with Potus and Co. feeling the full weight of the cartoonist’s surreal wit whilst true bile and outrage are saved for a selection of gags outing the imbecility of prejudice regarding ‘Gays and Religion’.

‘Laws and Regulations’, ‘Press and Media’, ‘Health and Education’, ‘Science and the Environment’ and ‘Social Security’ are all fully investigated and deconstructed next, forcing me to wonder if these categories and the stupidities and venalities lampooned in them will also appear in any book featuring Prez 45…

Especial bile and vindictiveness is saved for the experts infesting ‘The Economy and Budget’ chapter but the best is left for last as ludicrous excuses for the timorous and shameful atrocities perpetrated by the nation’s self-proclaimed guardians and defenders are brought under the pen-&-ink microscope focused on ‘Security’ and ‘WMD and Beyond’

Funny, angry, gleefully cynical and Really Angry but Funny, Now Who Do We Blame? is a perfect example of the cartoonist as social commentator – if not actual reformer – and Tom Toles is a truly insightful and gifted gentleman whose work you should familiarise yourself with right now, if not sooner.
© 2005 Tom Toles. All rights reserved.

The Piper


By J. Aldric Gaudet & Paul Schultz
ISBN: 978-1-329-73359-6

Dark, gritty – usually adult-oriented – re-workings and reinterpretations of traditional fairytales have been a staple of modern popular entertainment for some time now. Perhaps they are an easy way into the consciousness of the audience or maybe it’s just that the best plots are endlessly adaptable…

In this brief – perhaps introductory or pilot – tale of a possible future, humanity is slowly recovering from a global climatic collapse which has destroyed modern technologies and reduced survivors to frantic daily scrabbling for existence.

The fatal trigger was a wandering planet which passed too near Earth, causing super-magnetic storms, monolithic gravity-induced tidal waves and a 40-day flood. In the aftermath pockets of humanity eke out a hard-fought life on isolated island enclaves, serviced by maritime explorers, mail-carriers and traders sailing between them.

‘The Future Past’ – scripted by author and screenwriter J. Aldric Gaudet (5 Fables for the Young at Heart, The Littlest Hobo) and illustrated by Paul Schultz of Jaded Dragon Studios – opens as one of those sailing ships docks at a particularly embattled colony.

Life is hard, trade is crucial and the grain harvest is disappointing. There’s worry that blue spore mould will decimate the specialised quick-growing crop but rather than carry what produce the farmers have, the mariners want to leave the precious sacks behind to salvage a stranded vessel and save pre-disaster books from being lost…

Young Digger and his dad are taking a sensible long view but the landsmen have a valid point too. If the grain is left behind the plague of giant Northland rats infesting the island will get it all and the growers will earn nothing in return…

Eventually a compromise is reached and the partners in peril retire to celebrate. Later when the ship sails, it carries fliers advertising the desperate need for a professional exterminator…

Life goes tenuously on but soon everything changes as a macabre individual arrives in a converted coach pulled by horses. It’s none too soon. The giant rodents are bold enough now to attack humans as they congregate in their meeting halls…

The vermin eradicator is frankly terrifying: employing savage dogs and bizarre bagpipes making an infernal din. He also drives a hard, harsh bargain but eventually a deal is struck.

Then all that’s left is herding the pests into a secure killing-zone where the farmers can safely destroy them but the over-eager growers also shoot the Ratcatcher’s dogs and refuse to recompense him for his loss…

It’s a stupid, venal mistake that will cost hem dearly…

After creating an explosive distraction the stranger steals all the children and babies; heading out and resolved to sell them in the thriving slave markets he frequents. In response the resource-poor community can only spare ten individuals to go after them. Everybody else has to stay to repair the incredible damage the stranger has left in his wake…

Before the children are saved and some sort of order is restored the rescuers will confront death and destruction at close hand and learn some shocking secrets about the rats and the grain everybody depends upon…

Stark, bleak, and relentlessly uncompromising, this suspenseful saga of the struggle for survival also shows the irresistible power of unity and offers a message of hope that will certainly impress all lovers of dystopic fiction.
© 2016 J. Aldric Gaudet. All rights reserved.

Red Moon


By Carlos Trillo & Eduardo Risso, translated by Zeljko Medic (Dark Horse/SAF Comics)
ISBN: 978-1616554477(HC)             eISBN: 978-1-62115-916-2
Dimensions: 221 x 22 x 283 mm

If you like a whiff of tongue in cheek whimsy with your fantastic fairytales you might want to take a look at this superb treat from prolific and much-missed Argentinean journalist/comics writer Carlos Trillo (Topo Gigio, Alvar Mayor, El Loco Chávez, Peter Kampf, Cyber Six, Point de rupture) and terrifyingly versatile illustrator Eduardo Risso (100 Bullets, Jonny Double, Parque Chas, Fulù, Simon, Boy Vampire), starring an affable boy acrobat and a tempestuous little princess.

Los misterios de la Luna roja was originally released as a quartet of comics between 1997 and 1998 by Ervin Rustemagić’s Balkan publishing powerhouse Strip Art Features and appears compiled in this stunning translated hardback thanks to Dark Horse Comics.

Kicking off with scene-setting epic ‘Bran the Invisible’ the supremely wry and deftly comedic action opens as junior tumbler Antolin and his showbiz mentors Crocker and Theo fetch up their travelling show in the extremely depressed and downhearted land of Burien.

Unable to raise a single smile or any approbation the lad soon learns that the kingdom is in mourning. Burien’s Lord and defender has been stricken with grief since his wife Tyl died. Moreover, their daughter Moon is both bonkers and prone to violence. She also talks to (shouts at and fights with) an invisible friend…

However after encountering the red-haired daughter of the despondent widower, Antolin is quickly forced to conclude that she’s not crazy at all…

His first clue is that unseen Bran apparently predicted the acrobat’s arrival and that the orphan boy would help Red Moon save the land. The clincher, though, is that something undetectable keeps hitting him.

There’s no time to waste since the marauding armies of cruel yet cowardly Lord of Leona are already making their uncontested way over the now-undefended borders…

And thus begins an epic confection with crucial quests, astounding odysseys, barbaric villains, fairy queens, witches, dragons and monsters as the valiant children and Bran flee the invasion, uncover the incredible truth of Tyl’s fate and seek to amass a meagre but prophesied army of incredible individuals to rescue Burien and restore Moon’s father to his previous competence and glory…

The saga concludes as Antolin and Red Moon return to the troubled land accompanied by their implausibly unbeatable ‘Attack Circus’ and a few useful Fairy trinkets, resolved to repel the vile invasion and deliver to the sadistic Leona his just deserts. However, that inevitable prospect provides no Happy Ever After for Antolin, who learns in the throes of triumph for Burian that his beloved mentors Theo and Crocker were sent to certain doom by the invaders…

Thus he sets off again, following their trail into ‘The Never Kingdom’ and is soon delighted to see Moon and (not see) Bran have followed their former partner-in-peril. Braving icy wastes, horrific beasts and a population of magically-mutated monsters, the kids challenge the power of wicked crone Panta and consequently discover that the malevolent sorceress and cannibal might perhaps be the long-lost mother of foundling Antolin…

Family feeling doesn’t count for much in Panta’s world, so there are few regrets after Moon discovers the secret of reversing the witch’s transformation spells and starts putting the Never Kingdom to rights…

The fabulously engaging, deliciously trenchant frolics then wrap up with the introduction of insalubrious junior jester Patapaf – and his ventriloquistic stick Pitipif – who play a critical role in the search for ‘The Book of All Dreams’.

With peace and joy restored to his subjects, the widowed Lord of Burian remarries but his new bride is almost immediately abducted by invulnerable ogre Lamermor de Granf to ensure that her husband will duel him for the right to rule Burien…

Outraged Moon can do nothing until she enjoys a fairy-sent dream and learns the smug giant has a hidden weakness. Setting off with Patapaf to find wandering showman Antolin and talking cat Blas Pascual de la Galera the little heroes invade Witch Queen Yaga’s fortress and subconscious to ferret out the long-occluded means to destroy Lamermor and accidentally acquire an unlikely ally who will ensure their victory and a Happy Ending at last…

Fast, funny and filled with family-friendly action and thrills, Red Moon is a delirious double-edged delight, with knowing sophistication for adult readers working side-by-side with gloriously inventive takes on traditional tale-telling, all adeptly visualised by Risso’s magnificently surreal illustration.

Ideal bedtime reading for anybody and any time.
Red Moon™ & © 2005, 2006, 2014 SAF Comics. All rights reserved.