Grafity’s Wall


By Ram V, Anand Radhakrishnan, Aditya Bidikar & various (Unbound)
ISBN: 978-1-78352-684-0 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-78352-686-4

Ram V (AKA Ram Venkatesan) began professionally writing comics while still resident in Mumbai. His acclaimed 2012 series Aghori preceded a move to Britain for a Creative Writing MA at the City of London University. Since then he’s become a prolific creator with series like Black Mumba; The Many Deaths of Laila Starr; Ruin of Thieves; Paradiso; Blue in Green; Radio Apocalypse and Brigands, backed up with US superhero mainstream forays such as Marvel’s Venom and DC’s Justice League Dark; Catwoman, a new Swamp Thing and Batman: Gotham Nocturne.

In 2018 he returned to his roots for a richly compelling coming-of-age story with a dash of whimsy and a splash of heart, brimming with dangerous optimism and soaked in the dark passions of life lived on the line between subsistence and glory. It’s a timeless and familiar tale of winning and losing encompassing self-expression, rebellion, ambition and acceptance.

It probably has a Bhangra or desi hip hop soundtrack, but if you play early rock ‘n’ roll hits while reading it, you could believe you’re watching a Bollywood remake of American Graffiti

Huge, thriving, bustling cities like Mumbai have a life all their own: a miasma of need, urgency and desperation underpinning every moment and aspect of existence. Everyone is trying to get by and get on. And amidst those masses there will always be some who stand out and stand apart…

Mumbai is special: a modern metropolis with no respect for its past, cramming together rich and poor alike whilst continually mixing the best and worst of everywhere else into an ever-evolving social soup A cultural vampire, the place finds room for every foreign fad and fashion, but always merges and remakes it with what has gone before…

The story opens in ‘What Goes Up’ as, in the heart of that constant churn, street artist Grafity paints walls with spray cans. Little Suresh Naik just can’t help himself, despite countless costly and painful confrontations with policemen: blank walls just call to him and demand he makes magic on them.

He’s lucky he has Jayesh looking out for him. Even fiercely pragmatic “Jay” has dreams – he wants to be a major American style rapper – but he also understands exactly how the world works and who needs paying at every level. That’s why he’s trapped acting as fixer and drug mule for minor gangster Mario

The dreamers – and vanishingly quiet, ever-observing student Chasma – are closer than the family who cannot understand them and, when it’s not trying to crush them, the city belongs to them. For all its allure, though, they can’t imagine anything better than leaving it behind forever…

Their lives all change when the ramshackle Kundan Nagar slums are razed for a new development. In the aftermath, Grafity finds a lone pristine, wall defiantly standing proud and knows it must carry his mark…

In ‘What Goes Up’, he’s laying the groundwork for a masterpiece, with Jay and Chasma idly watching, Grafity realises Mario has found them. The hood and his new arm candy Saira are figures of terror, especially since Jay used the gangster’s money to buy the tagger’s freedom from the cops. In calculated retaliation, Mario throws his weight around and gives Jay a delivery designed to prevent him from playing at his first major gig…

The wall becomes Grafity’s testament, changing daily to record the events that inevitably engulf those around him. The worst is seeing Jay slowly sucked down into the morass of petty crime and expedient compromises, becoming colder and harder inside…

Chasma is fat, slow-seeming and looks a bit Chinese. It’s how he got his job waiting tables at the Dragon Wok restaurant, where the closet intellectual talks to interesting people while taking their orders.

Exploring the concept of ‘American Chop Suey’ – as carefully explained by the diner’s well-seasoned chef – Chasma applies it to his creative efforts:  making time to work on his writing and model own grand dreams. Many of them centre around Mario’s “girlfriend” Saira, and he assuages his frustrations by writing letters to anonymous passers-by. He’s become used to being ridiculed, bullied and beaten up by strangers, which is why it’s so hard when Jay starts doing it…

Graphity’s masterpiece grows more magnificent and revelatory by the moment in ‘Bambai Talkies’, and watching him work utterly captivates his friends. When Saira joins the vigil and strikes up a conversation with Chasma, the writer is carried away in her vivacious wake. She wants to be an actress and soon the boys join her in regular afternoon movie matinees.

When she says she’s quitting the rat race and leaving Mumbai, Chasma agrees to go with her, even after discovering she’s funding the getaway with a case full of the gangster’s money…

When Mario finds them, Chasma makes a supreme sacrifice worthy of a storybook hero, provoking Jay and Grafity to do the same in their own manner…

Illustrated with warmth, edgy versatility and a profound appreciation of street art and hip hop style by Anand Radhakrishnan and benefitting from imaginative colouring by Jason Wordie, Irma Kniivila and letters from Aditya Bidikar, this paean to the Places We Came From, the danger of aspiration and the power of hopes and dreams is an exotic and memorable delight: the kind of Eastern promise you can depend on.
© 2018 Ram Venkatesan, Anand Radhakrishnan. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 7: “Nothing” and More


By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-447-4 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-786-5

How many cartoon classics can you think of still going after a century? Here’s one…

There are a few fictional personages to enter communal world consciousness – and fewer still from comics – but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894. His father was a general handyman, and the boy’s early life was filled with the solid, dependable blue-collar jobs that typified the formative years of his generation of cartoonists. Segar worked as a decorator, house-painter and also played drums; accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre.

When the town got a movie-house, Elzie played silent films, absorbing all the staging, timing and narrative tricks from keen observation of the screen. Those lessons would become his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was while working as the film projectionist, at age 18, that he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others in those hard times, he studied art via mail, specifically W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio, before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – regarded by most in the know today as the inventor of modern newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown.

The celebrated pioneer introduced Segar around at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, the kid’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916.

In 1918, Segar married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, where Managing Editor William Curley foresaw a big future for Segar and promptly packed the newlyweds off to New York: HQ of the mighty King Features Syndicate. Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, (launching December 19th 1919) in the New York Journal: a smart pastiche of cinema and knock-off of movie-inspired features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies, with a repertory of stock players acting out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies for vast daily audiences. It didn’t stay that way for long…

The core cartoon cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl; their lanky, highly-strung daughter Olive; diminutive-but-pushy son Castor; and the homely ingenue’s plain and (very) simple occasional boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (latterly, just Ham Gravy). Thimble Theatre had successfully run for a decade when, on January 17th 1929, a brusque, vulgar “sailor man” shambled into the daily ongoing saga of hapless halfwits. Nobody dreamed the giddy heights that stubborn cantankerous walk-on would reach…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip. The 5:15 was a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle. This one endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career, and even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great humour stylist: Bud Sagendorf.

After Segar’s premature passing in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all took on the strip, as the Fleischer Studio’s animated features brought Popeye to the entire world, albeit a slightly variant vision of the old salt of the funny pages. Sadly, none had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments. And then, finally, Bud arrived…

Born in 1915, Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf was barely 17 when his sister – who worked in the Santa Monica art store where Segar bought his drawing supplies – introduced the kid to the master cartoonist who became his teacher and employer as well as a father-figure. In 1958, after years on the periphery, Sagendorf finally took over the strip and all the merchandise design, becoming Popeye’s prime originator…

With Sagendorf as main man, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. Bud wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years. When he died in 1994, his successor was controversial “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London.

Young Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and in 1948 became exclusive writer and artist of Popeye’s comic book exploits. The series launched in February of that year in a regular title published by America’s unassailable king of periodical licensing, Dell Comics.

On debut, Popeye was a rude, crude brawler: a gambling, cheating, uncivilised ne’er-do-well. He was soon exposed as the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate, unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not; a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who took no guff from anyone…

Naturally, as his popularity grew, Popeye mellowed somewhat. He was still ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows, but the shocking sense of dangerous unpredictability and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed… except not in Sagendorf’s yarns…

Collected in this superb full-colour hardback/digital edition are Popeye #30-34, crafted by irrepressible “Bud”: collectively spanning September/November 1954 to October/December 1955. Stunning, nigh stream-of-consciousness slapstick sagas are preceded by an effusively appreciative ‘Society of Sagendorks’ briefing by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe, offering a mirthful mission statement.

Augmenting that is another tantalising display of ephemera and merchandise in ‘A Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’ presenting Coca-Cola Company-funded comic strip themed postcards distributed to WWII servicemen; original art, tin toys; a Popeye Chalkboard; Get Well Soon and Birthday card art plus images on cups and mugs.

We rejoin the ceaseless parade of laughs, surreal imagination and thrills with quarterly comic book #30, opening with text tale ‘The Bigger They Are -’ detailing, across the inside front-&-back covers, the story of Throckmorton …biggest tomcat in the world!

Another wild ride in begins in ‘Desert Pirates (a story of Evil Haggery)’ as Popeye’s ruthless nemesis The Sea Hag uses witchcraft, seduction, brainwashing and principally hamburgers to turn Wimpy into her weapon against the old sea salt. Naturally, when the hero blunders into her arid ambush, the scurvy faithless traitor then betrays her to Popeye – it’s just his nature…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiably ravenous J. Wellington Wimpy debuted in the newspaper strip on May 3rd 1931: an unnamed, decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s pugilistic bouts.

Scurrilous, aggressively humble and scrupulously polite, the devious oaf struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Preternaturally hungry, ever-keen to solicit bribes and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases – such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and “Let’s you and him fight” – Wimpy was the perfect foil for our simple action hero and increasingly stole the entire show… and anything else unless it was very heavy or extremely well nailed down…

Follow-up yarn ‘Popeye An’ Swee’Pea in “Danger, Lunch!”’ resorts to tireless domestic themes as a quiet meal with Olive becomes an assault course after the anarchic and precocious “infink” gets bored and amuses himself with a hammer and chemistry set…

Smartly acknowledging a contemporary trend for sci fi fun, Sagendorf had introduced ‘Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco’ in #26: a robotic father and son indulging in wild romps on other worlds. Here they observe Earth television shows and the lads decides what his world needs is beanie hats, sidewalk refreshment stands and fun with dragons…

Cover-dated January/March 1955, #31 also opens and closes with a prose yarn adorning inside front and back. ‘Apple Vote!’ exposes the shocking behaviour of a retired racehorse with a sweet tooth after which ‘Thimble Theatre Presents Popeye An’ Swee’Pea in “Mud!”’ finds unconventional family unit Popeye, Swee’Pea and villainous reprobate Poopdeck Pappy deemed dysfunctional by Olive. Her eccentric efforts to save the kid and make him a gentleman are resisted by all involved with extreme vigour…

Just as the sailor man idly daydreams of being a monarch, the wacky ruler of Spinachovia returns in ‘Popeye and King Blozo in “Exile!” or “Bein’ King is Fer de Boids!!!”’ with the maritime marvel unwisely trading cap for crown  and learning a salutary lesson about people in general and being careful of what you wish for, after which ‘Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco’ sees the mechanical moppet pay a fraught and frightening visit to Earth…

The issue concludes with a back cover strip starring ‘Popeye and Swee’Pea’ inspired by baby pictures…

Popeye #32 (April/June) opens with epic thrill-fest ‘Alone! or Hey! Where is Everybody? or Peoples is All Gone!’ as humans are abducted from all over the coast, leading the sailor man into another ferocious battle with evil machines and his most persistent enemy, after which our stars swap sea-voyages for western climes in “a tale of gold and cactus” entitled ‘Lorst!’

Set some years previously, the story reveals how Popeye made his fortune prospecting – despite and ultimately because of a little trouble with his newly adopted kid…

Sagendorf was a smart guy in tune with popular trends and fashions as well as understanding how kids’ minds worked. His tales are timeless in approach and delivery. As television exponential expanded, cowboys were king, with westerns dominating both large and small screens and plenty of comics. Thus, many episodes saw Popeye as a horse-riding sagebrush wanderer who ran a desert railroad when he wasn’t prospecting or exploring. I don’t think he ever carried a gun though…

The changing times dictated a shift in back-up features and the final ‘Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco’ exploit saw their world in chaos after Cam tried to transplant the human fashion for lawns to his own planet. Text tale ‘Catfish! detailed a meeting between fish feline and mutt and a wordless desert inspired back cover strip starring ‘Popeye and Swee’Pea’ wrapped thigs up.

The next issue (#33 July/September) offered a monochrome ‘Popeye and Swee’Pea’ house-wrecking short before main feature ‘Trouble-Shooter’ sees the tireless “hoomanitarian” set up as a helping hand for folk with troubles. Sadly, the gesture attracts some real nuts like cowardly King Hinkle of Moola who needs a patsy to fight rival ruler the King of Boola…

Returning to western deserts, Popeye and Swee’Pea swap sea-voyages for arid plains in ‘Monskers!’ and encounter a gigantic dinosaur which is not what it seems…

The replacement back-up feature was actually a return of Segar-spawned old favourites. Sappo was now hapless landlord to world’s worst lodger Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle, who callously inflicts the brunt of his genius on the poor schmuck. In ‘I’m the Smartest Man in the World!’, the lunatic fringe scientist decides to end late payment harassment by uninventing money…

A prose vignette reveals the fate of cowboy pony George who has ‘A Long Tail!’, before the fun pauses with a back-cover baseball gag starring Popeye An’ Swee’Pea.

The year and this archive close with #34, starting with more ‘Popeye An’ Swee’Pea’ baseball exploits on the monochrome inside front cover before Thimble Theatre Presents sailor man, Olive, Wimpy and the kid who endure a nautical nightmare storm that leaves our cast castaway on an island of irascible, invisible folk in eponymous saga ‘Nothing!’

Next, Popeye An’ Swee’Pea revisit western deserts to dig in the dirt and face ‘Uprising! or The Red Man Strikes Back! or Birds of a Feather!’ as the kid contends with and eventually befriends Indian infant Big Chief Thunder Eagle Jr. Sadly their play war on the white man is misunderstood by Wimpy who calls in not the cavalry but the US Army…

The manic mirth multiplies exponentially when Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle proves his insane ingenuity and dangerous lack of perspective in ‘Stop Thief!! or Please Halt! or Burglarproof House!’ before the fun concludes with one last text treat in transformative tale ‘Fish Fly!’ and a back cover gag proving why adults like Popeye should listen to kids like Swee’Pea…

Outrageous and side-splitting, these all-ages yarns are evergreen examples of narrative cartooning at its most surreal and inspirational. Over the last nine decades Thimble Theatre’s most successful son has unfailingly delighted readers and viewers around the world. This book is simply one of many, but each is sure-fire, top-tier entertainment for all those who love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure. If that’s you, add this compendium of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 7 © 2015 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2015 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 8: I, Magneto (1981-1982)


By Chris Claremont, Jo Duffy, Bob Layton, Dace Cockrum, Michael Golden, Brent Anderson, Paul Smith, Jim Sherman, Bob McLeod, John Buscema, George Pérez & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2952-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

In 1963, The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington III and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: unique students of Professor Charles Xavier. Their teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After eight years of eccentrically amazing adventures, the mutant misfits almost disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just as in the 1940s, mystery men faded away whilst traditional genres – especially supernatural yarns – dominated entertainment fields. The title returned at year’s end as a reprint vehicle, and the missing mutants became perennial guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel Universe. The Beast was suitably refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories…

Everything changed again in 1975 when Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique via a brand-new team in Giant Size X-Men #1. Old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire joined one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine and original creations Kurt Wagner (a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler), African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe – AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin (who transformed into a living steel Colossus) and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The revision was an instant hit, with Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont assuming the writer’s role from the second story onwards. The Uncanny X-Men reclaimed their comic book with #94, which soon became the company’s most popular – and highest quality – title.

After Thunderbird became the team’s first fatality, the survivors slowly bonded, becoming an unparalleled fighting unit under the brusquely draconian supervision of Cyclops. Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster changed, the series scaled even greater heights, culminating in the landmark Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved, imaginative and powerful character.

In the aftermath, team leader Cyclops left but the epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the groundbreaking working relationship of Claremont & Byrne. Within months they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with mutants whilst Byrne went on to establish his own reputation as a writer with series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionary reimagining of The Fantastic Four

This comprehensive compilation is an ideal jumping-on point, perfect for newbies, neophytes and old lags nervous over re-reading these splendid yarns on fragile, extremely valuable newsprint paper. It celebrates a changing of the guard as the mutants consolidated their unstoppable march to market dominance through high-quality storytelling Seen here are issues #144-153 of the (latterly re-renamed “Uncanny”) X-Men; X-Men Annual #5, Avengers Annual #10 and material from Bizarre Adventures #27 and Marvel Fanfare #1-4, spanning April 1981-September 1982.

Scripted by Claremont and illustrated by Brent Anderson & Joseph Rubenstein the drama resumes with X-Men #144 as ‘Even in Death…’ finds heartbroken wanderer Scott Summers (who quit after the death of Jean Grey) fetching up in coastal village Shark Bay before joining the crew of a fishing boat.

Trouble is never far from Cyclops, however, and when captain Aletys Forester introduces him to her dad, Scott must draw upon all his inner reserves – and instinctive assistance of macabre swamp guardian Man-Thing – to repel crushing, soul-consuming psychic assaults from pernicious demon D’spayre, who has made the region his personal torture garden…

Cockrum returned to the team he co-created in #145, joining Claremont & Rubinstein in an extended clash of cultures as ‘Kidnapped!’ sees the X-Men targeted by Doctor Doom, thanks to the machinations of deranged assassin Arcade.

With Storm, Colossus, Angel, Wolverine and Nightcrawler invading the Diabolical Dictator’s castle, a substitute-squad consisting of Iceman, Polaris, Banshee and Havoc are despatched to the killer-for-hire’s mechanised ‘Murderworld!’ to rescue family and friends of the heroes, all previously kidnapped by Arcade. In the interim, Doom has defeated the invading X-Men of his castle, but his cruel act of entrapping claustrophobe Ororo has backfired, triggering a ‘Rogue Storm!’ that could erase the USA from the globe…

Issue #148 opens with Scott and Aletys shipwrecked on a recently reemergent island holding the remnants of a lost civilisation, but the main event is a trip to Manhattan for 13-year-old X-Man Kitty Pryde, accompanied by Storm, Spider-Woman Jessica Drew and Dazzler Alison Blair. That’s lucky, since nomadic mutant empath Caliban calamitously attempts to abduct the child in ‘Cry, Mutant!’ by Claremont, Cockrum & Rubinstein…

A major menace resurfaces in #149 to threaten the shipwrecked couple, but the active X-Men are too busy to notice, dealing with resurrected demi-god Garokk and an erupting volcano in ‘And the Dead Shall Bury the Living!’ before all the varied plots converge in #150 (October 1981). Before that, though, there’s a crucial diversion that will affect and reshape the X-Men for years to come.

Crafted by Claremont, Michael Golden & Armando Gil, ‘By Friends… Betrayed!’  comes from Avengers Annual #10: seemingly closing the superhero career of Carol Danvers AKA Ms. Marvel. Powerless and stripped of her memories, Danvers is rescued from drowning by Spider-Woman, even as mutant shapeshifter Mystique launches an attack on the World’s Mightiest Superheroes to free her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from jail.

It’s revealed that Danvers’ mind and abilities have been permanently stolen by a power-leaching teenager dubbed Rogue and in the aftermath of the assembled heroes defeating Mystique, the Avengers learn a horrific truth: how they had inadvertently surrendered their comrade Carol into the grip of a manipulative villain acting as the perfect husband…

Returning to the X-Men, the anniversary issue delivers extended epic ‘I, Magneto’ seeing the merciless, malevolent master of magnetism threaten all humanity. with Xavier’s team helpless to stop him… until a critical moment triggers an emotional crisis and awakening of the tortured villain’s long-suppressed humanity…

Claremont, Anderson & Bob McLeod then craft riotous intergalactic wonderment in X-Men Annual #5’s ‘Ou, La La…Badoon!’ When the Fantastic Four help an alien fugitive stranded in Manhattan they are in turn targeted by unsavoury, invisible lizard-men. Only Susan Richards escapes, fighting her way to Westchester to enlist the aid of the X-Men: combat veterans well acquainted with battling aliens.

The rescue mission starts with a stopover in the extradimensional realm of Arkon the Magnificent where the Badoon have already triumphed and where, amid much mayhem, the liberators overthrow the invaders and provide salvation for three worlds…

Chronologically adrift but sacrificed to a cohesive reading order, the contents of Marvel Fanfare #1-4 follow. Published between March and September 1982, the astounding saga was an elite yarn designed to launch a prestige format showcase of Marvel characters and talent. The new title featured slick paper stock, superior printing (all standard today) and a rolling brief to promote innovation and bold new directions.

Under Al Milgrom’s editorial guidance, numerous notable tales from exceptional creators were published, but cynical me – and not just me – soon noticed that many of those creators were ones who had problems with periodical publishing and couldn’t make fixed deadlines…

These day’s that’s nothing to shout over: comics come out when they do and editors have no real power to decree otherwise, but in the 1980s it was big deal, because printers booked a project for a pre-specified date, and charged punitive fees if publishers didn’t get product in on time. That’s why inventory tales were created: fill-ins that sat in a drawer until a writer blew it or an artist had his work eaten by the dog. Sometimes the US Mail simply lost completed stuff in transit…

Scripted by Claremont, and also including Milgrom’s humorous ‘Editor-Al’ intro pages, Savage Land was collected in 1987 and again in 2002: uniting Spider-Man, Ka-Zar and a grab bag of X-Men in a spectacular return to that primordial paradise: an antediluvian repository beneath the South Pole where fantastic civilisations and dinosaurs fretfully co-exist.

Illustrated and coloured by Golden, it begins with a ‘Fast Descent into Hell!’ when distraught Tanya Anderssen tries to find her missing lover, last seen in that lost world. Disturbingly, the missing man is Karl Lykos, a troubled soul addicted to feeding on mutants and likely to become ghastly humanoid pteranosaur Sauron. Tanya’s only hope of saving him was via Warren Worthington III – publicly infamous as former/occasional X-Man The Angel.

The billionaire’s reluctant expedition to the Savage Land ultimately includes an embedded news team from the Daily Bugle, including photographer/trouble magnet Peter Parker, who quickly stumbles across a band of native evil mutants planning to conquer the outer world by creating mutant hybrids from human victims – like Spider-Man

Second chapter ‘To Sacrifice my Soul…’ has Spidey and local hero Ka-Zar, the Jungle Lord, join forces to crush the mutation plot, inadvertently unleashing Sauron on the sub-polar world.

Golden’s stylish easy grace gave way to the slick, accomplished method of Dave Cockrum, & Bob McLeod for ‘Into the Land of Death…’ as X-Men Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Storm join Angel to thwart the diabolical dinosaur man and his malign mutant allies, before legend-in-training Paul Smith – assisted by inker Terry Austin – stepped in to finish the epic in grand style and climactic action in ‘Lost Souls!’

We then pop back to November 1981 for X-Men #151 wherein Jim Sherman, McLeod & Rubinstein welcome back Cyclops and wave Kitty goodbye in ‘X-Men Minus One!’

Due to the manipulations of White Queen Emma Frost, the teenager’s parents withdraw their daughter from Xavier’s school to enrol her in the Massachusetts Academy which covertly operates as the Hellfire Club’s training camp for young recruits. However, the sinister scheme is even deeper than the X-Men fear, as telepath Frost switches bodies with Storm to further her plan to eradicate the mutant heroes.

What nobody seems to realise is that although Frost has gained Ororo’s weather powers, her victim now has her appearance, loyal henchmen and psionic powers. Despite the deployment of terrifying robotic Sentinels, the plot spectacularly fails in closing instalment ‘The Hellfire Gambit’, illustrated by McLeod & Rubinstein…

Cockrum was back for #153, adding layers of whimsy to the usual angst and melodrama as ‘Kitty’s Fairy Tale’ sees the X-Mansion under reconstruction and the teen back where she belongs. As repairs continue, she tells bedtime stories to Colossus’ baby sister Illyana: using her teammates as inspiration, she spins a beguiling yarn of fantastic space pirates…

The action closes with the contents of monochrome “mature-reader” magazine Bizarre Adventures #27 (July 1981) sharing untold tales under the umbrella heading of ‘Secret Lives of the X-Men’

Preceded by editorial ‘Listen, I Knew the X-Men When…’ and ‘X-Men Data Log’ pages by illustrated by Cockrum, these are offbeat solo tales of our idiosyncratic stars, opening with Phoenix in ‘The Brides of Attuma’ by Claremont, John Buscema & Klaus Janson. Here the dear departed mutant’s sister Sara Grey recalls a past moment when they were abducted by an undersea barbarian and even then Jean proved to be more than any mortal could handle…

That’s followed by Iceman vignette ‘Winter Carnival’ by Mary Jo Duffy, Pérez & Alfredo Alcala, wherein Bobby Drake is embroiled in a college heist with potentially catastrophic consequences, before ‘Show me the way to go home…’ (Bob Layton, Duffy, Cockrum & Ricardo Villamonte) pits Nightcrawler against villainous teleporter the Vanisher in a light-hearted trans-dimensional romp involving warrior women, threats to the very nature of reality and gratuitous (male) nudity…

Extras include original art pages by Cockrum, Rubinstein, Anderson & McLeod; Cockrum’s cover to fanzine The X-Men Chronicles; Byrne & Austin’s cover for the X-men parody issue of Crazy (#82, January 1982) and John Buscema’s 1987 Savage Land collection.

For many fans these tales comprise a definitive high point for the X-Men. Rightly ranking amongst the greatest stories Marvel ever published, they remain supremely satisfying, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating: an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 2021 MARVEL.

These Savage Shores


By Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone, Aditya Bidikar & various (Vault Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-93942-440-2 (TPB/Digital edition)

Rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with in western comics, award-winning writer Ram V has been making waves since 2016. I will surprise absolutely no one by revealing that Ram Venkatesan’s career actually began in his birthland of India as early as 2012, and we in the west barely noticed…

While resident in Mumbai, he created acclaimed series Aghori before moving to Britain to take a Creative Writing MA at the City of London University. Since then he’s co-created series such as The Many Deaths of Laila Starr; Ruin of Thieves; Paradiso; Blue in Green; Black Mumba and Brigands. He’s also made serious inroads into the US superhero mainstream with stints on Marvel’s Venom and DC’s Justice League Dark; Catwoman, the reinvented Swamp Thing and Batman: Gotham Nocturne.

His stellar trajectory was enhanced by two projects for America’s Vault Comics: Radio Apocalypse and – spanning October 2018 to October 2019 – 5-issue miniseries These Savage Shores. Illustrated by Sumit Kumar, coloured by Vittorio Astone and lettered by Aditya Bidikar, this brooding, violent tale of timeless love and undying monsters is an historical drama tainted with horror overtones, combining gothic pastiche with the enticing mystique of colonial India, even if the events actually occur in the years before England officially conquered the “Sub-Continent” and became the British Empire…

Most enticingly and powerfully appealing, it takes the form of a bande dessinée-styled tale with broad cross genre appeal and is tailor-made for conversion to the large or small screen…

It begins in a paradisical garden where dancer Kori teasingly tests her lover Bishan, coquettishly enquiring what he is and how he was made…

The year is 1766 and, miles distant, a sailing ship of the East India Company carries a most unwelcome cargo. Disgraced scion of English Society’s most dangerous secret, Lord Alain Pierrefont has been exiled for breaking the cardinal rule of his class: being found out…

Eternal, patient and few in numbers, vampires have infested the aristocracy for centuries, leading discreet lives of bloody privilege while literally feeding off the poor. Those humans who reluctantly share the secret also know their place and keep quiet about the occasional atrocity. However, there are some mortals who ruthlessly hunt the clandestine overlords.

When one team almost ends the slumming predator, his peers and kin have no choice but to banish him for the shameful indiscretion of continuing to feed under the shocked gaze of crowds of no longer complacently ignorant human cattle…

With the discretion that sustains them as much as blood imperilled, vampire lords convene and Count Jurre Grano is compelled to despatch his favourite offspring to the ends of the Earth. In this case it’s also a promising new outpost of expansion: the squalid, unprepossessing port of Calicut on the Malabar Coast. The prodigal is left to the dubious care of his representative Colonel James Wilson Smith: a man of vision with dreams of controlling the immensely profitable wares previously carried by the fabled Spice Road of the East…

The merchant soldier’s plan is to divide and conquer for mercantile gain by grooming child-prince Vikram of the Zamorin, but impatient, spoiled Pierrefont will not be reasoned with. Calicut is just another playground to him and Kori his next meal. However, when the vampire traps her, his last thought is that he should have paid more attention to the Prince’s hulking masked bodyguard Bishan – a being also pretending to be merely mortal…

By October 2nd 1766, vampire hunter Zachariah Sturn has reached Calicut, determined to finish his business with Pierrefont. He believes the monster has found powerful and wealthy new allies to shield him and is unaware of the vampire’s actual fate. Reporting meagre progress in a letter to his clergyman brother, Sturn lays plans to topple these obstacles, assuming the boy Vikram has already been turned into a royal vampire…

Meanwhile in Mysore, young prince Tipu (Sultan Fatah Ali Sahab Tipu, known historically as Tipu Sultan, The Tiger of Mysore) meets his father Sultan Hyder Ali, Sahab to discuss the East India Company and their blatant plans for the always-warring rival kingdoms of India. The English are already destabilising the regions and are clearly going to use Vikram of the Zamorin as their wedge for further progress. The prophetic debate is derailed when recently-rejected Smith receives word that Pierrefont is dead – permanently dead – and realizes that there will be Hell to pay once the exile’s unholy family in England learn of it…

As the Sultan attempts to parlay with the Zamorim faction, their rebellious Prince Vikram has decreed a royal hunt to catch the “man-eater” that killed Pierrefont and Bishran bids farewell to Kori. The blatant cover-up does not deter Sturn, who stalks Vikram only to discover there are other, greater monsters serving those in the power in this land…

Pierrefont’s death gives the English justification to attack Mysore, but the international crisis has dangerously personal implications too. In England, Grano has learned of his kin’s death and reacts with typically ruthless disregard for human life. As the western invaders cut inland, Hyder Ali’s pleas for aid from Vikram fall on deaf ears, but his immortal guardian Bishram agrees to help fight the English. In March 1767 as a climactic battle looms, the eternal man-beast ponders how his endless ages of existence have been briefly brightened by love for the mortal Kori, before returning to the current war. Two months later, as Wilson’s soldiers remorselessly advance, Calicut greets another ship from Britain, carrying Grano and a contingent of vampires resolved to lay down their law and avenge a slain kinsman…

The fate of a nation is decided without them, as betrayal leads to British triumph. After waiting too long, Bishan unleashes the legendary beast inside him, but now only spiteful vengeance-taking is possible…

It is too little, too late. In November, the battle-ravaged land endures more horror as freshly-turned vampires roam by night: an undead army commanded by Grano who still obsessively hunts Pierrefont’s killer. The arrogant peer underestimates Vikram and his allies, however, almost losing everything in a brutal clash at the palace gates. His forces devasted, the vampire lord nevertheless succeeds, finally learning how his progeny died, and when Bishran returns a month later, he finds the malign bloodletter has returned to England, but left behind him a keepsake: one who will also abide forever…

The spectacular conclusion comes as Bishan voyages to London for definitive confrontation with Grano: one that will change many lives and determine the future of two kingdoms…

Superbly blending a sparkling and terrible time in history with classic horror themes, dark romance with canny political machinations and stunning action, These Savage Shores is a potent examination of power in all forms and its misuses, gloriously realised by illustrator Kumar (Batman; Justice League; Man-Bat) who also provides a large and lovely gallery of covers and variants here.

Beguiling, exotic wonderment for fear-loving older readers, this is a tale of the east no one should miss.
© 2019 Ram V & Sumit Kumar. All rights reserved.

The All-New Atom volume 2: Future/Past


By Gail Simone, Mike Norton, Eddy Barrows & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1568-2 (TPB)

Gail Simone (Wonder Woman; Batgirl; Secret Six; Red Sonja) is one of the best scripters of superhero stories in the business. She handles High Concept attention grabbers, gripping fight scenes and compelling pathos with elegant ease, but where she is truly unsurpassed is in the rounded depth of her characterisations. Combined with solid plotting, bravura whimsy and the sharpest, funniest dialogue money can buy, everything she touches becomes a thoroughly delightful “must-read” item.

That was never more ably demonstrated than in her run on the All-New Atom (most volumes of which remain stubbornly out of print and inexplicably unavailable in digital collections). In second volume Future/Past she continued deftly  detailing the trials and tribulations of a new incarnation of one of the Silver Age’s most enduring heroic brands, in the further adventures of neophyte college professor and scientific adventurer Ryan Choi.

After the tragic, horrific events of crossover epic Identity Crisis size-shifting physics professor Ray Palmer disappeared, leaving this world behind him. However, life – and academia – goes on, and his teaching chair at Ivy University was offered to a young prodigy who just happened to be Palmer’s pen-friend and close confidante: privy to his predecessor’s secrets ever since he was a child in Hong Kong.

Ivy Town has seen better days, however, and continues to go downhill. This collection – reprinting from March-July 2007 issues #7-11 of the much-missed comic book – returns to Ivy Town: a place that has seen better days. Everything continues to go downhill, and the college paradise is no longer the sedate place Palmer always made it sound. Neophyte hero Choi continues to expose a city plagued by temporal anomalies, warring tribes and supernatural freaks and to make matters even worse, the new Dean is an unctuous toad (and possibly a criminal), whilst Choi’s fellow science professors are a bizarre and unconventional band of truly brilliant loons…

The teeny-weenie thrills and chills resume here with a 2-parter illustrated by Mike Norton and Andy Owens. ‘The Man who Swallowed Eternity – The Energy of the Universe is Constant’ and concluding chapter ‘The Entropy of the Universe Tends to a Maximum’ reveal how the recurring time-hiccups that pepper Ivy Town go into overdrive, necessitating an unwelcome intervention from the Temporal police known as Linear Men. Choi’s reluctant attempts to solve the problem soon uncover a tragic secret that draws him uncomfortably closer to his missing mentor.

What’s follows is a gratifying change of pace and tone as the young professor returns to Hong Kong to rescue his sometime true love in ‘Jia.’ Limned by Eddy Barrows & Trevor Scott, the saga kicks off with ‘Her Name Meant Beauty’ as we learn some unpleasant truths about Ryan’s childhood…

‘Unwanted Advances’ show Choi that being a superhero can’t compensate for the girl he loves marrying the bully who made his life hell, and it’s even worse when said brute becomes a vengeful ghost trying to kill them both. Mercifully in ‘The Border Between’, ancient wisdom and unwelcome truths assist the hero in overcoming the supernatural odds…

The utterly enchanting (pre-The New 52) career of Ryan Choi was simultaneously funny, charming, stirring and incredibly addictive: moreover, his gently beguiling, so-skilfully orchestrated hero’s journey to the West was riddled with cunningly planted clues and hints which only made sense once the final volume ended – and Simone had the nerve and confidence to treat the entire venture as a fair-play mystery. The fun just never let up…

Even at this late stage, it is worth whatever effort it takes to follow the All-New Atom, matching wits with the writer and having huge amounts of fun along the way. What are you waiting for?
© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Death Threat


By Vivek Shraya & Ness Lee (Arsenal Pulp Press Vancouver)
ISBN: 978-1-55152-750-5 (HB/Digital edition)

Vivek Shraya is a poet, musician, educator, writer and performer of immense creativity, as can be appreciated in books such as God Loves Hair; even this page is white; The Boy & the Bindi; I’m Afraid of Men and She of the Mountains or her many albums and films.

On her 35th birthday Shraya publicly announced her status as Trans and requested that she be henceforward addressed with female pronouns. That seems inoffensive enough to me and you, and nobody’s business but hers, but sadly and all too typically these days, the announcement inspired the by-now pro forma response from certain quarters: a tirade of vitriol and harassment from nasty busybodies hiding behind and tainting social media…

Unevolved old jerks like me just get angry and hunger to respond in kind – with vituperative counterattacks – but happily, more civilised people find better ways. This book is perhaps the best of them as, in collaboration with Toronto-based artist and designer Ness Lee, Shraya transformed fear and disappointment into art with a heavy helping of surreal, satirical soul searching.

The liberating act of turning those unsolicited, unreasoning email assaults – all couched in offensive terms by people who hide behind religions whose fundamental tenets they will gleefully cherry pick – into a gloriously incisive and witty exploration of the inexplicable mindless aggression that continues to debase so much of modern society is eyepopping and mind-blowing…

Unlike those who cower behind the cowardly anonymity of keyboards and phones, Shraya & Lee proudly appended their names to this vibrant voyage, detailing how the bile of ignorant bullies (you simply won’t believe just how dumb some bigots can be until you see the hate mail here!) inspired beautiful images and empowering inclusivity.

My generation’s parents told us to ignore or strike back, but today’s ostracised, oppressed and unfairly targeted have found a far better way to respond to bullies: turn their hate into beauty and take ownership of it.
Death Threat: Text © 2019 Vivek Shraya. Illustrations © 2019 Ness Lee. All rights reserved.

Mega Robo Bros: Meltdown


By Neill Cameron with Abby Bulmer & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-281-6 (TPB)

Just in time to keep the kids occupied for the summer break, here’s another sterling all-ages outing for Neill (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea) Cameron’s marvellous purpose-built paladins. This time the rambunctious Mega Robo Bros share more of their awesome adventures and growing pains – and even some Secret Origins – in a far darker and more violent tale than their previous fun fare…

It’s the Future!

In a London far cooler than ours, Alex and his younger brother Freddie are (sort of) typical kids: boisterous, fractious, eternally argumentative yet devoted to each other, and not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s really no big deal for them that they were constructed by the mysterious Dr. Roboticus before he vanished, and are considered by those in the know as the most powerful – and only SENTIENT – robots on Earth.

Dad may be just your average old guy who makes lunch and does a bit of writing, but it’s recently become apparent that when not being a housewife Mum is a also a bit extraordinary. As surprisingly famous and renowned robotics boffin, Dr. Nita Sharma harbours some surprising secrets of her own…

All the same, life in the Sharma household is pretty normal. Freddie is insufferably exuberant and over-confident whilst Alex is at the age when self-doubt and anxiety begin to manifest. Of course, their parents’ other robot rescues can also be a bit of a trial. Programmed as a dog, baby triceratops Trikey is ok, but French-speaking deranged ape Monsieur Gorilla can be mighty confusing, whilst gloomily annoying, existentialist aquatic fowl Stupid Philosophy Penguin constantly quotes dead philosophers and makes most people rapidly consider self-harm or manic mayhem.

The boys have part-time jobs as super-secret agents, but aren’t very good at the clandestine part and now almost the entire world knows of them. Generally, however, it’s enough for the digital duo that their parents love them, even though they are a bit more of a handful than most kids. They live as normal a life as possible: going to human school, playing with human friends and hating homework. It’s all part of their “Mega Robo Routine”, combining dull lessons, actual fun, games-playing, watching TV and training in the covert combat caverns under R.A.I.D. HQ.

Usually, when a situation demands, the lads carry out missions for bossy Baroness Farooq: head of government agency Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence. They still believe it’s because they are infinitely smarter and more powerful than the Destroyer Mechs and other man-made minions she usually utilises. Of course, they’re on suspension from R.A.I.D. at the moment, due to the fallout and collateral damage of their last case…

Originally published in UK weekly comic The Phoenix, this revised, retooled and remastered saga opens as the bored, curfewed boys sneak into Mum’s workshop. Whilst defeating a reject robot rebellion sparked by artificial life activist the Caretaker, the Bros met monstrous, cruelly damaged droid Wolfram and learned that he might be their older brother…

Now they’re trying to break into Mum’s locked datafiles to learn the truth, and her part in their creation, as this saga opens with ‘Part 1: Fifteen Years Ago’. When Dr. Sharma catches the little perishers in the act, instead of punishment, she gives them full access.

What unfolds is a shocking story of when their mother was a young, pretty and brilliant roboticist who landed her dream job working beside incomparable (but weird) pioneering genius Dr. Leon Robertus. His astounding advances had earned him the unwelcome nickname Dr. Roboticus. Maybe that was what started pushing him away from humanity…

Over months, Nita grew into her job and eventually convinced Robertus to let her repurpose his individually superpowered prototypes into a rapid-response team for global emergencies. Mum used to be a superhero, leading manmade Rapid Response team the Super Robo Six! While saving lives with them she first met future husband Michael Mokeme who proudly took her name when they eventually wed…

So Dad was also present at the moment everything changed!

Robertus was astoundingly devoid of human empathy but – intrigued by the team’s acclaim and global acceptance – was inspired to create a new kind of autonomous robot. Wolfram was more powerful than any other construct, and also possessed certain foundational directives that allowed him to make choices and develop his own systems. He could think, like Alex and Freddy! Only, as it transpired, not quite…

When Robertus demoted Nita and made his new “child” leader of new Super Robo Seven, the result was an even more effective unit, until the day Wolfram’s three Directives clashed during a time-critical mission. Millions of humans paid the price for his confusion and hesitation…

In the aftermath, RAID was formed and sought to shut down Robertus and decommission Wolfram. When the superbot rejected their judgement, the agency deployed jets and missiles. Following a terrific struggle, they believed him destroyed. They were wrong…

…And while RAID was occupied, Roboticus vanished…

Story told, the amazed Robo Bros realise why Mum called the recently-returned Wolfram their brother. They are all unaware that the damaged, deranged droid is observing and has made a decision that will affect all humanity…

‘Part 2: Meltdown’ opens with an increase in casual human-on-robot abuse. Perhaps this triggers Wolfram’s final solution as Dad heads to the North Pole to interview chief scientist Professor Mahfouz spearheading an attempt to restore the polar ice cap with a colossal freezing machine.

Jötunn Base covers many miles and is carefully rebalancing the world’s climate, but has no defence when Wolfram arrives to reverse the chilling process to burn the Earth and drown humanity…

Alex and Freddy are making the best of their house arrest, playing a game with classmates Mira and Taia when news comes of the attack. Ordered again by Baroness Farooq to stay put and not help, they enlist the girls in an escape plan that takes them through the secret basement lab and far below London, using the abandoned transport tunnels beneath the city.

By the time the Bros reach Jötunn Base, Wolfram has already ruthlessly crushed the RAID force led by their friend Agent Susie Nichols and all that’s possible is to stop their determined and utterly unreasonable brother by any means necessary…

That grim task falls to “older” bro Alex, whilst Freddy works with Dad and Professor Mahfouz to repair and reprogram the giant freezer machine and stop the planet becoming a water world…

With humanity safe again the boys are well rewarded by Farooq, but completely unaware that an old enemy has ensured that the threat of Wolfram is not ended…

Crafted by Cameron and colouring assistant Alice Leclert, this rather more grim adventure still offers exceedingly engaging excitement and hearty hilarity, roaring along like an anti-gravity rollercoaster, offering thrills, chills, warmth, wit and incredible verve. Alex and Freddy are utterly authentic kids, irrespective of their artificial origins, and their antics strike exactly the right balance of future shock, family fun and bombastic superhero action to capture readers’ hearts and minds. What movies these tales would make!
Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2022. All rights reserved.

Mega Robo Bros Meltdown will be released on August 4th 2022 and is available for pre-order now.

Ms. Marvel volume 1: No Normal


By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, VC’s Joe Caramagna & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9021-9 (TPB/Digital edition)

In a comic book title, the soubriquet “Marvel” carries a lot of baggage and clout, and has been attached to a wide number of vastly differing characters over many decades. In 2014, it was inherited by comics’ first mainstream first rank Muslim superhero, albeit employing the third iteration of pre-existing designation Ms. Marvel.

Career soldier, former spy and occasional journalist Carol Danvers – who rivals Henry Pym in number of secret identities, having been Binary, Warbird, Ms. Marvel again and ultimately Captain Marvel – originated the role when her Kree-based abilities first manifested. She experienced a turbulent superhero career and was lost in space when Sharon Ventura became the second, unrelated Ms. Marvel. She gained her powers from the villainous Power Broker, and after briefly joining the Fantastic Four, was mutated by cosmic ray exposure into a She-Thing

Debuting in a sly cameo in Captain Marvel (volume 7 #14, September 2013) and bolstered by a subsequent teaser in #17, Kamala Khan was the third to use the codename. She properly launched in full fight mode in a tantalising short episode (All-New MarvelNow! Point One #1) chronologically set just after her origin and opening exploit.

That aforementioned origin saga unfolded in #1-5 of Ms. Marvel (volume 3), and forms the majority of this first collection of light-hearted all-ages adventure originally published between cover-dates April-August 2014.

Collaboratively conceived by editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, the character was realised by writer and journalist G. Willow Wilson, (Mystic: The Tenth Apprentice, Cairo, Air, The Butterfly Mosque, Alif the Unseen) and illustrator Alphonse Alphona (Uncanny X-Force, Captain Britain and MI13, Runaways) with additional design input from Jamie McKelvie (Suburban Glamour, Long Hot Summer, Young Avengers, The Wicked + the Divine, Phonogram, Rue Britannia), who jointly recast the classic origin and setting of Spider-Man for a new age. The entire epic was coloured by Ian Herring and lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna.

Kamala Khan is a teenager living in Jersey City. Just across the Hudson river lies Manhattan, and the superhero geek frequently enjoys a distant ringside seat to the constant wonders that occur there.

As a Pakistani American growing up Muslim she has her share of daily dramas at Coles Academic High School and elsewhere, but life is generally pretty good. She has good friends like Bruno and Kiki (Nakia), petty annoyances like golden girl Zoe Zimmer and jock Josh or even her loving family. They don’t really understand her obsession with computers, social media and especially with making superhero fan fiction – especially as Kamala is getting older now and needs to start thinking seriously about her future…

Miss Khan’s stolid suppressed status quo abruptly changes in ‘Meta Morphosis’ on the night she breaks a parental embargo and sneaks out to attend a party. Any potential enjoyment is marred by guilt, apprehension and Zoe and Josh, but the real shock comes on the way home when the city is enveloped in a strange fog that causes Kamala to collapse.

During earlier mega-crossover blockbuster Infinity, mad Titan Thanos invaded Earth and clashed with the Inhumans and battled their King Black Bolt to a standstill. As a last resort the embattled sovereign crashed sky-floating city Attilan onto New York and into the Hudson, releasing the Hidden People’s mutagenic Terrigen Mist into the atmosphere.

As it traversed the globe, the gas cloud triggered mutation in millions, proving that Human and Inhuman were not different species and that dormant Inhuman genes reposed everywhere, unsuspected by humankind. All those susceptible to the contaminant either died or metamorphosed into new beings via body-altering cocoons…

Attilan’s crash happened mere hours before and now Kamala is unconscious on a Jersey City street, wracked by bizarre hallucinations of the Avengers and particularly her absolute favourite hero Carol Danvers…

On awakening, she has to smash her way out of a strange shell. When the mists and dust clear Khan is astounded to see she is no longer a “little brown girl” but big, blonde, busty and white. In fact, she looks exactly like the original Ms. Marvel…

In ‘All Mankind’ while experimenting – and puking – Kamala realises she is constantly shapeshifting and body-morphing, but her shock and terror recede after seeing Zoe in danger. Without thinking, Kamala responds to save the Mean Girl, albeit in a manner everybody thinks pretty gross…

Fed up with adventure, Kamala heads home, and is relieved to somehow revert to normal while climbing in her bedroom window. Sadly, ultra-conservative older brother Aamir and her parents are waiting…

‘Side Entrance’ sees Zoe milking her celebrity moment as the media descend on Jersey and Kamala frantically researches her powers – with disastrous results. Desperate to find some way to control them she is spiralling until Bruno comes to her rescue by being held up at his afterschool job. Once again leaping into action as “Carol Danvers”, Kamala learns it’s not that easy a career, after being shot and reverting to her natural form in ‘Past Curfew’

With a certified genius like Bruno on board, Kamala finally understands what she can do and devises her own costume and alter ego, just as the city is targeted by a genuine – but so weird – supervillain, leading the new Ms. Marvel into the wilds to hunt down an exploitative mastermind running troubled teens as his soldiers.

Brimming with confidence, the neophyte hero is unprepared for the deadly mechanical monsters of The Inventor, a brutal showdown with that invisible crook’s gang or the even worse trial of keeping secrets from her increasingly concerned and bewildered family in closing chapter ‘Urban Legend’

The initial story arc won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story – the first of many glittering critical acknowledgements – and is followed here by that aforementioned teaser tale from All-New MarvelNow! Point One #1.

Crafted by Wilson, Aphona, Herring & Caramagna, ‘Garden State of Mind’ finds the hero diverted by a marauding trash monster-bot and late for a major family social gathering…

And thus began a meteoric rise for the new hero. Kamala Khan would steal hearts and minds, become a shining example and become a major player in monumental publishing events such as Last Days, Secret Wars, Secret Empire, Civil War II, Generations and Outlawed, whilst joining or leading teams like the All-New All-Different  Avengers, Champions, and Secret Warriors and inheriting the lead role in a revived Marvel Team-Up title.

Her role as positive role model cannot be overstated – how many female or Muslim superheroes can you think of, or have ever had their own American TV series?

That success is completely due to the comics stories which perfectly marry action and drama to powerfully engaging view of home life, stuffed to the brim with humour and happy moments, rather than the relentless bleakness of so many superhero sagas.

Colour plays a powerful part in telling these tales, subtly supplementing the ostensibly cartoonish art of Adrian Alphona into suitably tense dramatic fare without ever losing the vivacity and charm of the comedic undertones, so especial kudos to Ian Herring for his impressive and sensitive efforts here…

Similar congratulations to letterer Joe Caramagna for handling a rather dialogue-heavy script (absolutely necessary to capture the brilliant interplay and byplay of the teens and parental generation packing G. Willow Wilson’s extremely engaging and beguiling script).

Wrapping up this volume is a covers & variant gallery by Sara Pichelli & Justin Ponsor, McKelvie & Matthew Wilson, Salvador Larocca & Laura Martin, Arthur Adams & Peter Steigerwald, Jorge Molina, Annie Wu and a fascinating look at Alphona’s ‘Sketchbook’ of character designs and ‘inks to color process’.

Still fresh, funny, thrill-drenched and utterly absorbing, the saga of this Ms. Marvel is something you need to see over and over again.
© 2017 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Savage Hulk: The Man Within


By Alan Davis, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Mark Farmer, Sam Grainger & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9043-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Incredible Hulk is the perfect guest star: both staunch ally and ultimate enemy to any hero or team and always a figure of tragedy and barely suppressed terror. Here’s a very entertaining proof of the dictum…

In 1969, after six years of quirky, deliciously off-kilter adventures, The X-Men comic book folded: a relatively early casualty of the latest periodic, cyclic changing-of-reading-tastes, which saw the buying public again shun superhero stories in favour of traditional genres like war, westerns and, most especially, supernatural horror yarns…

Of course, once the fantasy fad receded again, the team emerged resurgent and unstoppable in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1 to become an unshakable fixture of contemporary comics, TV animation and cinema culture. Nevertheless, when they first folded, a goodly number of us diehard funnybook fans couldn’t believe the loss of such outré and irreplaceable characters.

Despite their reappearance in recycled reprints, a certain magic had gone from the world back then and this mostly modern confection from Alan Davis seeks to redress that loss, albeit more than four decades later…

That final 1960s X-Men exploit was one of those weird quasi-team-ups and, as it pivotally informs the all-original 4-part tale by Davis, inker Mark Farmer & colourist Matt Hollingsworth which comprises the majority of this scintillating chronicle, the editors at Marvel have thoughtfully included it – in all its raw glory – at the back of the book.

I’m reviewing it first because that’s just the way I am…

Crafted by Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema & Sam Grainger ‘The Mutants and the Monster!’ (X-Men volume 1, #66, cover-dated March 1970), was actually the epilogue to an epic clash between the mutants and voracious alien invaders. The campaign had shockingly brought back long-believed dead Professor Charles Xavier, who then nearly killed himself for real by uniting every mind on Earth in a psychic thrust of unparalleled force to repel the already repellent Z’Nox.

The tragic aftermath was seen here: a debilitating coma caused by psychic exertion left the telepath near death, able only to convey a feeble psionic message which sent the team hunting for Bruce Banner in Nevada. Apparently, the two cerebral heavyweights had previously and secretly collaborated on a gamma-powered device which might now save and restore the fallen Xavier…

However, the harried young heroes, in their hasty attempt to save their mentor, forgot one crucial fact: when you hunt Banner what you usually end up with is an immensely irate Incredible Hulk

The resulting destructive debacle wrecked a lot of landscape but throughout the extended brouhaha, the Hulk seemed to be subconsciously leading the titanic teens to his hidden desert lab where the prototype Gamma Stimulator was stashed.

Despite colossal carnage and inevitable US Army interference, the gadget was recovered and the Professor saved…

Flipping now to the front of the book, the main event reveals a previously undisclosed follow-up encounter published as Savage Hulk #1-4 (August-November 2014). ‘The Man Within’ opens with TV coverage of the Nevada battle being carefully scrutinised by Gamma-spawned evil super-genius The Leader. The sinister savant soon gleans a connection between the mutant warriors and their previously unsuspected boss Charles Xavier…

The Hulk meanwhile, is fending off another furious attack by the military even as – back in Westchester County – the recuperating Xavier examines the life-saving device and realises Banner had completed it to cure himself of his emerald alter ego. The benevolent mentor quickly discovers why it didn’t work on the tragic titanic transformer. It needed a telepathic trigger…

Convinced he can return the favour and finally cure Banner, guilty, grateful Professor X accompanies Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Havok and magnetic warrior Lorna Dane to Nevada and Banner’s clandestine lab. They are all blithely unaware that The Leader has already staked the place out…

Elsewhere, the frenzied fugitive at the heart of the matter has been found by a well-meaning elderly couple whose offer of assistance leads to unbridled terror as the timid down-and-out suddenly shapeshifts into a mountain of angry green muscle…

Nearby the X-Men are ambushed by the murderous, monstrous Abomination – also hunting for the Hulk – and their titanic tussle soon intrudes on the Jade Giant’s agonised antics. The 3-way war immediately escalates as the army close in, all guns blazing, but the merely human military are swiftly driven back by the mutants, leaving Hulk to trash his gamma-powered nemesis single handed.

In the quiet aftermath, Marvel Girl uses her own still-developing telepathy to quell the victorious Hulk’s rage and manifest deeply-traumatised Bruce. Soon, the physicist confers with Xavier and prepares to be rid of his ominous other for all time, but as their salvation device is set in motion none are aware another deadly threat is nearby, awaiting the perfect moment to strike…

Shock follows shock as the procedure goes awry with the Hulk’s gamma-energy migrating to Marvel Girl, creating a bellicose female green giantess reeling with incomprehensible psionic power.

…And that’s when The Leader makes his move at the head of an army of mechanoids and a legion of the Hulk’s old foes…

Only Xavier is aware things are not entirely what they seem, and is capable of combating the true source of the threat, aided by the Hulk’s most incredible gamma transformation yet…

Also included in this splendid and explosively entertaining epistle are the original covers by Davis, Farmer, Val Staples, Matt Hollingsworth & Brad Andersen, plus Marie Severin & Grainger’s 1969 classic image.

Cleverly crafted, beautifully illustrated, riotously action-packed and stunningly suspenseful, this tale of triumph and tragedy is pure vintage Marvel Mastery, ably augmented by the original inspirational yarn ending a unique era. It offers readers young and old a magnificent chance to re-experience the glory days of the House of Ideas and must not be missed.
© 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Lulu Anew


By Étienne Davodeau, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/Comics Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-972-4 (HB/Digital)

In 2010 Bande Dessinée artist, writer and designer Étienne Davodeau completed a 2-volume tale he’d started in 2008. He was already popular, award-winning and extremely well-regarded for his reality-based and reportage style comics work, but Lulu femme nue was something that was special even for him. Within a year the story had been made into a much lauded and celebrated film by Solveig Anspach.

Davodeau was born in 1965 and, whilst studying art at the University of Rennes, founded Psurde Studios with fellow comics creators Jean-Luc Simon and Marc “Joub” Le Grand. His first album – L’Homme qui aimait pas les arbres (The Man Who Did Not Like Trees) – was released in 1992.

He followed up with a string of thoughtful, passionate and beautifully rendered books like The Initiates, Les Amis de Saltiel, Un monde si tranquille, Anticyclone, Les Mauvaises Gens: une histoire de militants, Le Chien Qui Louches and Le Droit du sol : Journal d’un vertige. Consequently he is now regarded as an integral part of the modern graphic auteur movement in French and Belgian comics.

NBM translated and collected both volumes of the dreamily moody mystery into a stunning hardback edition and Lulu Anew is now regarded as one of the very best graphic novels of its genre…

It begins with a kind of Wake where a number of friends gather to learn the answers to a small, personal but immensely upsetting event which has blighted their lives of late. Xavier is the first to speak and relates what they all already know. Lulu, a frumpy 40-something with three kids and a very difficult husband, has been missing for weeks. She went off for yet another distressing job interview and never came back…

It wasn’t some ghastly crime or horrible abduction. Something simply happened when she was in the city and she called to say she wasn’t coming home for a while…

The sun sets and the attendees calmly imbibe wine and eat snacks. A number of friends and family share their independently gleaned snippets of the story of Lulu’s aberration: a moment of madness where she put everything aside – just for a little while – and what happened next…

Bizarre unsettling phone calls to the raucous family home precede a quiet revolution as Lulu, without any means of support, inexplicably goes walkabout along the magnificent French Coast: living hand-to-mouth and meeting the sorts of people she never had time to notice before. Through interactions with strangers she learns about herself and at last becomes a creature of decisions and choices, rather than shapeless flotsam moved by the tides of events around her…

Related with seductive grace in captivating line-&-watercolours, here is a gently bewitching examination of Lulu’s life, her possible futures and the tragic consequences of the mad moment when she rejects them all. Unfolding with uncanny, compulsive, visually magnetic force, and told through and seen by the people who think they know her. This isn’t some cosmic epic of grand events, it’s a small story writ large with every bump in the road an unavoidable yet fascinating hazard. None of the so-very-human characters are one-sided or non-sympathetic – even alcoholic, often abusive husband Tanguy has his story and is given room to show it.

Ultimately, Lulu’s gradual, hard-earned resolution is as natural and emotionally rewarding as the seemingly incomprehensible mid-life deviation which prompted it…

Slow, rapturous and addictively compelling, Lulu Anew is a paragon of subtlety and a glowing example of the forcefully deceptive potent power of comics storytelling. Every so often a book jumps comics’ self-imposed traditional ghetto walls of adolescent fantasies and rampaging melodrama to make a mark on the wider world. This elegiac petit-epic makes that sort of splash. Don’t hesitate: dive right in.
© Futuropolis 2008, 2010. © NBM 2015 for the English translation.