Incredible Hulk Epic Collection volume 6: Crisis on Counter-Earth 1972-1974


By Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Tony Isabella, Herb Trimpe & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1302929169 (TPB/Digital)

The Incredible Hulk #1 hit newsstands and magazine spinners on March 1st 1962. The comic book was cover-dated May, so happy sort-of birthday Big Guy!

Bruce Banner was a military scientist caught in a gamma bomb detonation of his own devising. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors caused him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the irradiated idol finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain of the moment, until a new home was found for him in “split-book” Tales to Astonish: sharing space with fellow misunderstood misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner, who proved an ideal thematic companion from his induction in #70.

As the 1970s tumultuously unfolded, the Jade Juggernaut settled into a comfortable – if excessively, spectacularly destructive – niche. A globe-trotting, monster-mashing plot formula saw Banner hiding and seeking cures for his gamma-curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and his daughter – the afflicted scientist’s unobtainable inamorata – Betty, with a non-stop procession of guest-star heroes and villains providing the battles du jour.

Herb Trimpe made the Hulk his own, displaying a gift for explosive action and unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great military ordnance and vehicles. Beginning with Roy Thomas, a string of skilful scripters effectively played the Jekyll & Hyde card for maximum angst  and ironic impact as the monster became a pillar of Marvel’s pantheon.

This compelling compendium re-presents The Incredible Hulk #157-178, encompassing cover-dates April 1971 to November 1972-August 1974 and opens without delaying preamble as the Hulk – having just returned to Earth and normal size after a heartbreaking sojourn in a sub-atomic realm – promptly and potently battles a brace of old enemies in ‘Name My Vengeance: Rhino!’ (written by Archie Goodwin, with Trimpe inked by Sal Trapani). That clash is only resolved after gamma genius The Leader despatches Hulk and Rhino to the far side of the Sun. Here orbits a bizarre parallel world…

During the early 1970s, throwaway Fantastic Four character Him was transubstantiated into a modern interpretation of the Christ myth and placed on a world far more like our own than the Earth of Marvel’s universe. That troubled globe was codified as Counter-Earth and upon it messianic Adam Warlock battled a Satan-analogue known as Man-Beast.

Here and now, Hulk battles both the golden saviour and his evil antithesis in ‘Frenzy on a Far-Away World’, courtesy of Thomas, Steve Gerber, Trimpe & Trapani. Meanwhile on “true Earth”, heartbroken Betty – believing her lover forever gone – marries over-attentive, ever-present military martinet Major Glenn Talbot

Steve Englehart assumed scripting duties with #159 as ‘Two Years Before the Abomination!’ sees Banner and the Rhino explosively returned to our embattled globe, only to be again attacked by General Ross’ Hulkbuster forces. The grizzled soldier is more determined than ever to kill Banner – to safeguard America and preserve his unsuspecting daughter’s new marriage. However, the resulting conflagration accidentally awakens a comatose gamma monster even deadlier than the Hulk…

‘Nightmare in Niagara!’ finds the misunderstood man-brute instinctively drawn to the honeymooning couple, only to encounter amphibian outcast Tiger Shark and another blockbusting battle issue, after which his northerly rampage takes the Green Goliath into Canada. ‘Beyond the Border Lurks Death!’ has the Hulk a reluctant ally of recently hyper-mutated Hank McCoy – best known as the bludgeoning Beast – in battle against the Mimic. This veteran X-foe possesses the ability to absorb the attributes of others, but the gift has become a curse, going tragically, catastrophically haywire and threatening to consume the entire planet…

Still under Northern Lights, Hulk encounters carnivorous, cannibalistic horror the Wendigo in ‘Spawn of the Flesh-Eater!’, but the maniacal man-eater harbours a shattering secret which makes it as much victim as villain…

Pushing ever Pole-ward, Hulk reaches the top of the world but cannot elude Ross’ relentless pursuit. After a cataclysmic arctic clash, ‘Trackdown’ sees man-monster and his stalker fall into the super-scientific clutches of Soviet prodigy the Gremlin (mutant offspring of the Hulk’s very first foe the Gargoyle). Although the Gamma Giant breaks free with ease, the General is left behind to become a highly embarrassing political prisoner…

Shambling into Polar seas, Hulk is captured by a fantastic sub-sea colony of aquatic human nomads in #164’s ‘The Phantom from 5,000 Fathoms!’ Decades previously, egomaniacal Captain Omen had created his own mobile submarine nation, roaming the ocean beds at will, and foolishly thought the Jade Goliath could be his latest freakish beast of burden. Sadly, the draconian dictator has no idea how his dissatisfied clan hungers for freedom, fresh air and sunlight. They disastrously rebel, following ‘The Green-Skinned God!’ to their doom…

Incredible Hulk #166 finally finds “Ol’ Greenskin” back in the USA, hitting New York just in time to clash with Battling Bowman Hawkeye and brain-eating electrical monster Zzzax in ‘The Destroyer from the Dynamo!’ Meanwhile in the sub-plot section, a bold bid to rescue General Ross from the godless Commies succeeds, but seemingly costs the life of his new son-in-law…

Jack Abel took over inking duties in #167 with ‘To Destroy the Monster!’ as grieving widow Betty Ross-Talbot suffers a nervous breakdown and is targeted by intellectual murder-mutate M.O.D.O.K. and his minions of Advanced Idea Mechanics who need an infallible weapon to break the Hulk.

As ghetto kid Jim Wilson fortuitously reconnects with the Emerald Behemoth, Banner’s bestial alter ego effortlessly destroys M.O.D.O.K.’s giant robot body but fails to prevent Betty’s abduction, and next issue’s ‘The Hate of the Harpy!’ reveals her as gamma-mutated avian horror programmed to destroy her former lover…

Issue #169 finds the temporarily triumphant Harpy and her verdant victim trapped aboard an ancient floating fortress in the sky, enduring ‘Calamity in the Clouds!’ before battling together against monstrous android Bi-Beast. When M.O.D.O.K. attacks, intent on possessing its alien tech, the response eradicates the last vestige of the sky-citadel, propelling a now-human Banner and Betty onto a lost tropical island inhabited by incredible alien creatures…

Englehart, Chris Claremont, Trimpe & Abel’s monster-romp ‘Death from on High!’ features an army of alien castaways in all-out terrain trashing aggressive action who fall to someone even tougher, after which subplots and human drama recommence with excessive bombast but no appreciable fanfare as ‘Revenge!’ (by Gerry Conway – from an Englehart plot) finds the Green Goliath a stowaway on a plane back to military Mecca Hulkbuster Base.

The jet carries Project: Greenskin’s new commanding officer. Spit-&-polish Colonel John D. Armbruster has taken over from the recently rescued but now politically sidelined Thunderbolt Ross….

The camp is eerily deserted and the reason becomes clear as bludgeoning brutes The Abomination and The Rhino attack the new arrivals. Subduing the entire garrison, they try to detonate the base’s gamma-bomb self-destruct device but are utterly unprepared for the Hulk’s irascible intervention…

Roy Thomas plotted Tony Isabella’s script for #172 wherein the Hulk – captured by the ungrateful soldiers he saved – is hurled into another dimension, allowing a mystic menace to inadvertently escape. ‘And Canst Thou Slay… The Juggernaut?’ (with a telling cameo by The X-Men) proves even a magically augmented menace can’t resist our favourite monster’s might.  Thomas then scripts all-Trimpe delight ‘Anybody Out There Remember… The Cobalt Man?’, as another old X-adversary – Ralph Roberts – picks up the Jade Giant at sea before sailing his research vessel right into a nuclear test explosion…

Dying of radiation exposure, the deranged technologist is determined to demonstrate atomic bombs are bad to a callous, uncaring world… by detonating one over Sydney in ‘Doomsday… Down Under’ (Conway, Thomas, Trimpe & Abel). A second clash with the azure-armoured Cobalt Man results in a blistering battle in the stratosphere, a cataclysmic explosion and Hulk crashing to earth far, far away as a ‘Man-Brute in the Hidden Land!’ (#175, by Thomas, Trimpe & Abel)…

Here – after the usual collateral carnage – a typically short-tempered encounter with the Uncanny Inhumans and devastating duel with silent super-monarch Black Bolt ends with the gamma gladiator stuck in a rocket-ship hurtling to the far side of the sun for a date with allegory, if not destiny…

Hulk had briefly visited once before and now crashes there again to complete a long lain fallow allegorical epic. It begins with ‘Crisis on Counter-Earth!’ by Conway, Trimpe & Abel. Since Hulk’s departure, Man-Beast and his animalistic minions (all spawned by godlike genetic meddler The High Evolutionary) had become America’s President and Cabinet. Moving decisively, they finally captured Warlock and led humanity to the brink of extinction, leaving the would-be messiah’s disciples in utter confusion.

With the nation in foment, the Hulk’s shattering return gives the messiah’s faithful flock opportunity to save their saviour in ‘Peril of the Plural Planet!’ but the foray badly misfires and Warlock is captured. Publicly crucified at the behest of the people, humanity’s last hope perishes…

Meanwhile on true Earth, Ross and Armbruster discover trusted comrade Glenn Talbot has escaped from a top security Soviet prison and is making his triumphant way back to the USA…

Scripted by Conway & Isabella, the quasi-religious experience concludes with ‘Triumph on Terra-Two’ as the dead prophet resurrects whilst Hulk wages his last battle against Man-Beast, just in time to deliver a cosmic coup de grace before ascending from Counter-Earth to the beckoning stars…

To Be Continued…

This superbly cathartic tome also offers some seminal extras, beginning with a Hulk-themed crossword puzzle from in-house fan vehicle F.O.O.M. (Friends of Ol’ Marvel; February 1973). The second issue – September – was an all-Hulk affair and from it comes a stunning cover and editorial illustrated by Jim Steranko, a ‘Hunt the Hulk’ game and ‘Many Faces of the Hulk’: a collage of previous artists (Kirby, Ditko, Dick Ayers, Trimpe, Marie & John Severin, Kane, Steranko, Bob Powell, Mike Esposito/Demeo, John Romita Sr., Bill Everett, John & Sal Buscema), plus a history by Martin Greim, a checklist of appearances to date and strip spoof ‘Hunk’ by Thomas, Len Brown, Gil Kane & Wally Wood.

Also on view are 8 original art pages by Trimpe and assorted inkers from the stories contained herein.

The Incredible Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, cartoons, TV shows, games, toys and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious and cathartic experience of Might literally making Right, you can’t do better than these yarns.
© MARVEL 2021

Mickey All-Stars (The Disney Masters Collection)


By Giorgio Cavazzano & Joris Chamberlain and many & various: translated by David Gerstein & Jonathan H. Gray (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-369-1 (HB) eISBN 978-1-68396-422-3

Created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Mickey Mouse was first seen – if not heard – in the silent cartoon Plane Crazy. The animated short fared poorly in a May 1928 test screening and was promptly shelved.

It’s why most people who care cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth completed Mickey feature – as the official debut of the mascot mouse and his co-star and occasional paramour Minnie Mouse since it was the first to be nationally distributed, as well as the first animated feature with synchronised sound. The film’s astounding success led to the subsequent rapid release of its fully completed predecessors Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and The Barn Dance, once they too had been given new-fangled soundtracks.

From those rather timid and tenuous beginnings grew an immense fantasy empire, but film was not the only way Disney conquered hearts and minds. With Mickey a certified, solid gold screen sensation, the mighty mouse was considered a hot property ripe for full media exploitation and he quickly invaded America’s most powerful and pervasive entertainment medium: comic strips…

In close to a century of existence, Walt Disney’s anthropomorphic everyman Mickey Mouse has tackled his fair share of weirdos and super freaks in tales crafted by gifted creators from every corner of the world. A true global phenomenon, the little wonder staunchly overcame all odds and pushed every boundary, and he’s always done so as the prototypical nice guy beloved by all.

He might have been born in the USA, but the Mouse belongs to all humanity now. Mickey has always been and is still a really big deal in Europe and thus, when his 90th anniversary loomed, a comics movement grew to celebrate the event in a uniquely comic strip way.

Invitations went out to creators with a connection to Disney endeavours from countries like Denmark, Germany, Holland, Italy, Belgium, France and more. The rules were simple: each auteur or team would have a single page to do as they liked to, for and with Mickey and all his Disney pals, with the only proviso that each exploit must begin and end with the Mouse passing through a door. The whole affair would be framed by an opening and closing page from illustrator Giorgio Cavazzano and scenarist Joris Chamberlain…

The result is a stunning joyous and often wholesomely spooky rollercoaster ride through the minds of top flight artists all channelling their own memories, feelings and childhood responses to the potent narrative legacy of Mickey & Friends: a tumbling, capacious, infinitely varied journey of rediscovery and graphic virtuosity that is thrilling, beautiful and supremely satisfying.

This translation comes with an explanatory Foreword laying out the rules far better than I just did and ends with ‘The All-Star Lineup’ offering full and informative mini biographies of all concerned responsible for each page.

They are – in order of appearance – Flix, Dav, Keramidas, Fabrice Parme, Alfred, Brüno, Batem & Nicholas Pothier, Federico Bertolucci & Frédéric Brrémaud, Silvio Camboni & Denis-Pierre Filippi, Thierry Martin, Guillaume Bouzard, José Luis Munuera, Alexis Nesme, Fabrizio Petrossi, Jean-Philippe Peyraud, Pirus, Massimo Fecchi, Boris Mirroir, Godi, Florence Cestac, Éric Hérenguel, Marc Lechuga, Cèsar Ferioli, Tebo, Clarke, Dab’s, Pieter De Pootere, Antonio Lapone, Ulf K, Pascal Regmauld, Johan Pilet & Pothier, Mathilde Domecq, Nicolas Juncker, Jean-Christophe & Pothier, Mike Peraza, Arnaud Poitevin & Chamberlain, Olivier Supiot, Éric Cartier, Zanzim, Marco Rota, Paco Rodriguez, Sascha Wüsterfeld, and the aforementioned Giorgio Cavazzano & Joris Chamberlain.

Frantic, frenzied fun for one and all. Everything you could dream of and so much more…

© 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ken Reid’s Football Funnies – The First Half


By Ken Reid (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-883-8 (HB/Digital edition)

If you know British Comics, you’ll know Ken Reid.

He was one of a select and singular pantheon of rebellious, artistic prodigies who – largely unsung and regularly uncredited – went about transforming British Comics, entertaining millions and inspiring hundreds of those readers to become cartoonists too.

Reid was born in Manchester in 1919 and apparently drew from the moment he could hold an implement. Aged nine, he was confined to bed for six months with a tubercular hip, and occupied himself by constantly scribbling and sketching. He left school before his fourteenth birthday and won a scholarship to Salford Art School, but never graduated.

He was, by all accounts, expelled for cutting classes and hanging about in cafes. Undaunted, he set up as a commercial artist, but floundered until his dad began acting as his agent.

Ken’s big break was a blagger’s triumph. Accompanied by his unbelievably supportive and astute father, Ken talked his way into an interview with the Art Editor of the Manchester Evening News and came away with a commission for a strip for its new Children’s Section.

The Adventures of Fudge the Elf debuted in 1938 and ran until 1963, with only a single, albeit lengthy, hiatus from 1941 to 1946 when Reid served in the armed forces.

From the late 1940s onwards, Reid dallied with comics periodicals. Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy were published in Comic Cuts and he sent submissions to prestigious market leader The Eagle, before a fortuitous family connection – Dandy illustrator Bill Holroyd was Reid’s brother-in-law – brought DC Thomson managing editor R.D. Low to his door with a cast-iron offer of work.

On April 18th 1953 Roger the Dodger debuted in The Beano with Reid drawing the feature until 1959. He created numerous others, including the fabulously mordant doomed mariner Jonah, Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves, Grandpa and Jinx amongst many more.

In 1964, Reid and fellow under-appreciated superstar Leo Baxendale jumped ship to work for DCT’s arch rival Odhams Press. This gave Ken greater license to explore his ghoulish side: concentrating on comic horror yarns and grotesque situations in strips like Frankie Stein, and The Nervs in Wham! and Smash!, as well as more visually wholesome but still strikingly surreal fare as Queen of the Seas and Dare-a-Day Davy.

In 1971 Reid devised Face Ache – arguably his career masterpiece – for new title Jet. The hilariously horrific strip was popular enough to survive the comic’s demise – after a paltry 22 weeks – and was carried over in a merger with stalwart periodical Buster where it thrived until 1987. Ken Reid died that year from the complications of a stroke he’d suffered on February 2nd . He was at his drawing board, putting the finishing touches to a Face Ache strip. On his passing, the strip was taken over by Frank Diarmid who drew it until cancelation in October 1988.

All his working life, Reid innovated; constantly devising new strips like Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World, Creepy Creations and World-Wide Weirdies. He was also always open to fresh opportunities. This collection gathers a quartet of series he created for specialist comics weeklies Scorcher and Scorcher and Score: both specialist boys’ periodicals blending strips, photo-features and general sports journalism dedicated to the beautiful game.

Preceding them is text feature Kicking it Off…’ by Reid’s son Antony J., describing the circumstances that saw a man in his 50s with no appreciable interest in or knowledge of football accept an offer from a desperate editor and pull off a hat trick (plus one!) of unique series by displaying the seldom seen side of the great scribbler: his inspirational and ironclad professionalism and admirable “have-ago” attitude…

Scorcher kicked off on January 10th 1970, became Scorcher and Score after 77 issues (by merging with Score ‘n’ Roar in early July 1971) and called “time” with the October 5th 1974 issue – a further 171 outings. Its best bits were ultimately absorbed into Tiger, but Annuals and Summer Specials continued to appear until 1984.

As suits the nature of the magazines, each Reid picture riot (originally running from January 1970 to mid-1972) is individually hilarious but in total a bit formulaic. That was never a problem at the time as editors held the belief that readers had a definite shelf-life and would quickly move on to better things… like Chaucer, Len Deighton, or the back pages of The Sun or Daily Mirror

Moreover, Reid was meant to be a half-time palate cleanser. Straight football comics content was already covered by traditional – if often unconventional – strips like Kangaroo Kid, Royal’s Rangers, Bobby of the Blues, Paxton’s Powerhouse, Lags Eleven, Jack of United, Jimmy of City, and later classics Hotshot Hamish, Nipper, and Billy’s Boots.

The line-up for Scorcher #1 included Reid’s Sub (He’s always on the sidelines!), with unfit, unloved and decidedly fiendish Duggie Dribble on the touchline. He was always there: as well as being hated by Biggleswick Wanderers’ manager and other players, Dribble was useless on the field. His disappointment turned to malice and he spent his days trying to take out his own teammates just so he could get a game…

Before being replaced in the August 15th edition, Duggie conspired to maim, poison, hypnotise, overfeed, electrocute his colleagues, and regularly employed other tactics, like sabotaging kit, relocating matches, wrecking pitches and even occasionally offering to play for the opposition in his fervour for a kickabout in front of roaring crowds – who didn’t much like him either.

Each episode is a single page masterclass in black comedy, macabre timing and grotesque excess that would do the Addams Family proud…

Substituting for Dribble’s doomed tactics, Football Forum (August 15th 1970-January 16th 1971) took a satirical and often absurdly surreal swipe at TV pundits as a panel of experts answered questions posed by readers – for the usual £1 postal order despatched to the lucky cove who fired Reid’s imagination that week. The panel included referee Percival Peeps, Centre-Forward Charlie Cannon and a guest speaker carefully tailored to deliver maximum laughs. Subjects covered included ‘The best way to take a penalty’; ‘is soccer too dirty?’; ‘players’ hair length’; ‘are players overpaid?’, ‘are referees too soft?’ and ‘how to deal with teams who play the offside trap’ but the answers were never helpful and frequently led to mayhem, carnage and use of the damp sponge…

Arguably, Reid’s most well-regarded contribution was Manager Matt, who began his career in the January 23rd edition. Pompous and self-important Matt was fed up with the standard of positions he was offered at the Labour Exchange and was fortunate enough to be passing by Mudchester United’s ground just as the corrupt and doddering Board of Directors agreed that what they needed was a complete fool to take the blame for their mismanagement and malfeasance. Soon the perfect scapegoat was in situ: a man who knew nothing about anything…

To be fair, it was the perfect set-up, because the stadium was a shambolic neglected ruin and the players were little better than beasts and bullies. Over the next 29 weeks, team and neophyte tyrant slowly gelled into a bunch of useless strangers who hated each other but somehow managed to win a few matches and even go on a world tour that enabled them to bring home a sack full of European silverware…

Manic and compulsive, these tales are less about football than the fundamentals of slapstick comedy, but they are astoundingly entertaining.

Concluding this first foray into football fun comes a strip you can’t help but feel is Reid being utterly honest with himself and the readers.

Hugh Fowler – The man who HATES football! launched in the August 14th issue (and ran until May 6th 1972), with a man very much the prototype of Basil Fawlty fulminating and thundering over his loathing for the Beautiful Game.

Each week he attempted to spoil matches, maim players and even excise the sport from the ken of mankind. Obviously he ultimately failed in his endeavours as people still gather to sing songs, eat pies and cheer on fit people as they chase a ball, but that’s probably due more to the interference of pesky kids spoiling his schemes than his facility with explosives, superglue, kidnapping, pitch sabotage, match fixing, ball tampering and so forth.

He even tried to remove the sport from libraries and stop the printing of Scorcher and Score, but somehow his divine crusade never achieved its aims…

There’s a bit of extra time left in this initial foray, and an Annuals sections calls up a couple of Sub shorts from the Scorcher Annual 1970 whilst the 1971 seasonal package finds Manager Matt languishing in laundry woes and the 1973 edition sees Hugh Fowler extend his campaign to include arcade games with equally unpleasant outcomes…

This astoundingly absorbing comedy classic is another perfect example of resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, anarchic and gleefully grotesque – and these lesser known cartoon capers are a welcome reintroduction to the canon of British comics history: painfully funny, beautifully rendered and ridiculously unforgettable. This is one more treasure-trove of laughs to span generations which demands to be in every family bookcase. Part of Rebellion’s ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics, this is a superb tribute to the man and a brilliant reminder of what we all love…
© 1970, 1971, 1972, & 2021 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Morbius: Preludes and Nightmares


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Mike Friedrich, Joe Keatinge, Dan Slott, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Paul Gulacy, Valentine DiLandro, Marco Checchetto & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2592-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

The transition of Marvel’s print canon to whatever passes for celluloid this century seems unstoppable and with their pioneering hero/villain Michael Morbius now a big screen presence, the company fast-tracked a few archival collections to anticipate/support the release. The most useful for casual readers is undoubtedly this slim, sleek tome: an introductory primer perfect for film fans hunting up a little comic book context. It re-presents Amazing Spider-Man #101-102 and 699.1; Marvel Team-Up #3-4; (Adventure into) Fear #20, and fact-packed excerpts from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #7, spanning October 1971 to February 2013, mixing the origin and earliest 1970s appearances with a relatively latter-day reappraisal.

A fuller archival treatment of his scattered career can be found in a brace of Epic Collections, and I’ll get around to them in the fullness of time.

It begins with The Amazing Spider-Man #101, the second chapter in an anniversary trilogy tale begun by Stan Lee, Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia which saw the wallcrawler accidentally mutate himself, gaining four extra arms…

Now Roy Thomas takes over with ‘A Monster Called… Morbius!’ as the 8-limbed hero desperately seeks a way to reverse his condition. Whilst hiding in Dr. Curt Connors’ Long Island home/lab, he stumbles across a murderous costumed horror who drinks human blood. The newcomer has just reached shore, from a ship that he left a charnel house…

Making matters even worse is Connors’ sudden arrival in the scaly savage form of The Lizard. Suddenly surprised and always enraged, the saurian attacks, set on killing all intruders…

Amongst the many things banned by the Comics Code Authority in 1954 were horror staples zombies, werewolves and vampires, but changing tastes and rising costs of the early 1970s were seeing superhero titles dropping like flies in a blizzard.

With interest in suspense and the supernatural growing globally, all comics publishers were pushing to re-establish scary comics again, and the covert introduction of a “Living Vampire” in superhero staple Spider-Man led to another challenge to the CCA, the eventually revision of the Code’s horror section and a resurgent rise of supernatural heroes and titles.

For one month Marvel also experimented with double-sized comicbooks (DC’s switch back to 52-page issues lasted almost a year – August 1971-June 1972 cover-dates). Thus, Amazing Spider-Man #102 featured an immense 3-chapter blockbuster brawl beginning with ‘Vampire at Large!’ wherein the octo-webspinner and anthropoid reptile joined forces to hunt a science-spawned bloodsucker after discovering a factor in the bitey brute’s saliva could cure both part-time monsters’ respective conditions.

‘The Way it Began’ abruptly diverges from the main narrative to present the tragic secret origin of Nobel Prize winning biologist Michael Morbius and how be turned himself into a haunted night-horror in hopes of curing a fatal blood disease, before ‘The Curse and the Cure!’ brought the tale to a blistering conclusion and restored the status quo and requisite appendage-count.

Gerry Conway assumed the writer’s role for the third appearance of the living (not dead; never ever dead but living), breathing humanoid predator who drank blood to live, as Marvel Team-Up # 3 (July 1972, illustrated by Rossa Andru & Giacoia) found Spidey and Human Torch Johnny Storm hunting the resurgent Morbius after he attacks student Jefferson Bolt and passes on his plague of thirst. The conflicted scientist still seeks a cure and tracks old colleague Hans Jorgenson to Peter Parker’s college, but his now-vampiric servant Bolt wants just what all true bloodsuckers want in ‘The Power to Purge!’

The new horror-star was still acting the villain in MTU #4 as the Torch was replaced by most of Marvel’s sole mutant team (The Beast having gone all hairy – and solo – in another science-based workaround to publish comic book monsters who were anything but supernatural) in ‘And Then… the X-Men!’

This enthralling thriller was illustrated by magnificent Gil Kane at the top of his form and inked by Steve Mitchell with the webslinger and X-Men at odds while both hunting the missing Jorgenson. After the unavoidable butting of heads, the heroes united to overcome Morbius and left him for Professor Charles Xavier to contain or cure…

As superheroes continued to decline and horror bloomed, Morbius established himself in Marvel’s black-&-white magazine title Vampire Tales, but returned to four-colour publishing with (Adventure into) Fear #20 (cover-dated February 1973). The title had previously hosted the macabre Man-Thing, and his/its promotion to a solo title gave Morbius opportunity to spread his own wings.

Spawned by scripter Mike Friedrich and artist Paul Gulacy, Jack Abel & George Roussos, ‘Morbius the Living Vampire!’ revealed how he escaped the X-Men and fled to Los Angeles and lived (whenever possible) off victims who deserved his voracious bite. The initial tale also set up a bizarre relationship with Rabbi Krause and Reverend Daemon who sought to cure him, before one was exposed as a human devil, catapulting Morbius into intergalactic conflict that had shaped humanity over millennia. That saga also is fully detailed in the Epic Collections, but frustratingly not here…

Brushing past decades of history and character development, there’s a huge jump to the twenteens and a more nuanced revision of the origin to close this book’s story section, as The Amazing Spider-Man # 699.1 (February 2013, by Joe Keatinge, Dan Slott, Valentine DiLandro & Marco Checchetto) finds Morbius in supermax penitentiary The Raft, ruminating on his childhood in Greece, living with an imminently fatal but unpredictable blood condition, but still finding love, friendship and adventure.

Sadly, as we already know, his Nobel Prize winning research only led to the death of his greatest friend and colleague, the abandonment of his true love and an unlife sentence as a rampaging killer…

Rounding out the red reading, fact-filled picture-packed pages from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #7, offering dry history and statistics from those intervening years.

A compelling and beguiling bunch of beginnings well told and superbly illustrated, this treat is superficially entertaining but won’t satisfy those with a deep thirst for true knowledge…
© 2021 MARVEL

The All-New Batman – the Brave and the Bold volume 3: Small Miracles


By Sholly Fisch, Rick Burchett, Dan Davis, Robert Pope, Scott McRae, Stewart McKenny & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3852-0 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format reflecting the era’s filmic fascination with flamboyantly fanciful historical dramas. Devised and written by Bob Kanigher, #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, feudal mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was alternated with Robin Hood, but the adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like Showcase.

Used to premiere concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Hawkman and Strange Sports Stories as well as the epochal Justice League of America, the comic soldiered on until issue #50 when it found another innovative new direction which once again caught the public’s imagination.

That issue paired two super heroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up and was followed by more of the same: Aquaman with Hawkman in #51, WWII “Battle Stars” Sgt. Rock, Mme. Marie, Captain Cloud & The Haunted Tank in #52 and The Atom & Flash in #53.

The next instant union – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – evolved into The Teen Titans and after Metal Men/The Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter appeared, a new hero debuted in #57-58: Metamorpho, the Element Man.

From then it was back to the proven popular power pairings with #59. Although no one realised it at the time, that particular conjunction – Batman with Green Lantern – would be particularly significant….

A return engagement for the Teen Titans, issues spotlighting Earth-Two stalwarts Starman and Black Canary and Earth-One’s Wonder Woman and Supergirl soon gave way to an indication of things to come when Batman returned to duel hero/villain Eclipso in #64: an early acknowledgement of the brewing TV-induced mania mere months away.

Within two issues (following Flash/Doom Patrol and Metamorpho/Metal Men), B&B #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and a lion’s share of team-ups. With the late exception of #72-73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom), it was thereafter where the Gotham Gangbuster invited the rest of DC’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

Even after the title finally folded, its mighty heritage inspired returns as assorted miniseries and as a second dramatic on-going run in the 2000s.

Meanwhile elsewhere over a few decades, Batman: The Animated Series – masterminded by Bruce Timm & Paul Dini in the 1990s – revolutionised the Dark Knight and subsequently led to some of the absolute best comic book adventures in his 80-year publishing history. It also led to a spin-off print title…

With constant comics tie-ins to a succession of TV animation series, Batman has remained immensely popular and a sublime introducer of kids to the magic of sequential narrative and the printed page. One fun-filled incarnation was Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which gloriously celebrated the team-up in both its all-ages small-screen and comicbook spin-off.

Shamelessly and superbly plundering decades of continuity arcana and the comic book inspirations and legacy of power-pairings in a profusion of alliances between the Dark Knight and DC’s lesser creations, the show was supplemented by a cool kids’ periodical full of fun, verve and swashbuckling dash, cunningly crafted to appeal as much to the parents and grandparents as those fresh-faced little TV-fed tykes…

This stellar collection re-presents issues #15 and 17 of original spinoff series Batman: The Brave and the Bold and #13-16 The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold in an immensely entertaining all-ages ensemble suitable for newcomers, fans and aficionados of various vintages. Although absolutely unnecessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience, but not as much as will knowledge of the bizarre minutiae and lore of DC down the years…

Scripted throughout by Sholly Fisch, and following the TV show format, each tale opens with a brief prequel adventure before telling a longer tale.

We start with a run from the second series. TA-NB:TB&TB #13 was cover-dated January 2012 with Rick Burchett & Dan Davis illustrating ‘…Batman Dies at Dawn!’, as Nightwing leaves his Teen Titan ally Speedy to answer a call from the eerie Phantom Stranger. The enigmatic envoy of the unknown has assembled an army of Robins from the past, present and alternate histories (such as Frank Miller’s Carrie Kelley from The Dark Night Returns) to save a fatally wounded Batman, and their fractious trail leads ultimately to the grandfather of Damien (Robin) Wayne: Ra’s Al Ghul

Issue #14 (February 2012) sees the Gotham Gangbuster and Blue Beetle wipe out colour coordinated crooks Crazy Quilt, Doctor Spectro and Rainbow Raider before Batman shares a moving and appropriately wonder-packed seasonal fable with Ragman in ‘Small Miracles’. Jewish Rory Regan is very much a minor-league hero working in the poorest part of Gotham, and sees nothing to celebrate until he eventually finds his own miracle after exposing a land-grabbing corporation trying to shut down the local synagogue…

Mister Miracle steals the spotlight in #15’s ‘No Exit’ (illustrated by Stewart McKenny & Davis) as he and Batman are caught in the most inescapable trap of all, but still find their way back to freedom, after which things get really silly and soppy as #16 (April 2012, Burchett & Davis) sees Batman’s battle against the Mad Mod interrupted by 5th dimensional imp and premier stalker/fan Bat-Mite.

Sadly, Batgirl also shows up and for the pesky pixie it’s ‘Love at First Mite’. Cue a whacky wander down the daftest miles of DC’s memory lane and a truly hilarious brief and so-very-doomed romantic encounter…

Wrapping up the comic craziness is a brace of tales from the first series. Batman: The Brave and the Bold #15 (May 2010) saw Fisch, Robert Pope & Scott McRae piling on the weird as Batman joined seminal swinging sixties stalwarts Super-Hip and Brother Power, The Geek in their own eccentric era to stop Mad Mod taking over the Mother of Parliaments (that’s Britain, OK? London, Eng-er-land?) before teaching third Flash Wally West a thing or two about patience and diligence in main feature ‘Minute Mystery’. It all began when someone stole something from the Flash Museum and the superheroes made a contest of finding out what, who, how, and why…

We draw to a close with #17 (July 2010) of that series, with Fisch, Pope & McRae proving ‘A Batman’s Work is Never Done’: tracing one week of standard crimebusting capers with cameo appearances from Metamorpho, Mr. Element, Mongul, the Green Lantern CorpsToyman, Merry, Girl of Thousand Gimmicks, Jonah Hex, Bat Lash, Hawkman, the Gentleman Ghost, Etrigan the Demon, the Inferior Five, The Creeper, The Scarecrow and Doomsday.

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV-addicted kids, these mini-sagas are also wonderful, traditional comics romps no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a fabulously full-on thrill-fest confirming the seamless link between animated features and comic books. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end; really unmissable entertainment…
© 2010, 2012, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Hitchcock: Master of Suspense


By Noël Simsolo & Dominique Hé, translated by Matt Maden (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-296-0 (HB) eISBN: 978-168112-289-2

Graphic biography is now a mainstay of graphic novel publishing: so much so that distinct styles and approaches have evolved, ranging from primarily factual reiterations to predominantly fictionalised accounts, with events and actions extrapolated and dramatized in search of some higher truth.

In this superbly gripping exploration of filmmaker and self-created celebrity Alfred Hitchcock, authors Noël Simsolo & Dominique Hé have chosen – most fittingly – to stage manage facts, achievements and accomplishments to craft a beguiling mystery.

In addition to scripting comics series such as Saladin, Napoleon and Lodewijk de Heilige, French writer Simsolo is a film director, novelist, comedian and cinema historian who wrote a biography of Sergio Leone.

Dominique Hé is an illustrator and comics veteran who got his start in 1973 after chucking his intended career as an astronomer. Apprenticing by limning Jean Giraud stories for Pilote, he moved on to Metal Hurlant, compiling material for two albums of short tales dubbed Voyages, before creating ghost-busting, weird science specialist Marc Mathieu. In 1988 he drew Alex Lechat for Le Journal de Mickey and went on to craft many more adventure serials like Tanatha, Moonfleet, Sophaletta and Sécretes Bancaires. Here his delightfully moody gifts stage a spooky, foggy monochrome greytone movie experience as we follow the life and career of a master not just of suspense but also personal brand management…

The epic unfolds through intercut flashbacks, focusing simultaneously on different time periods, pinpointed and highlighted via his 55 official film releases and other works. Throughout, “Hitch” is used as his own narrator, in frighteningly candid and revelatory conversations with glittering associates (because you will come away realising that – other than his wife Alma and mother Emma – he had no close friends) and such actors as he could bear to talk to, such as Grace Kelly, Carole Lombard and Cary Grant.

We open in 1960. Paris in November is rapt with the debut of Psycho – just like every other city on Earth. As Hitch and Alma continue their prickly but utterly honest and committed life of success, thoughts wing back to Cannes in 1964 as ‘Honni soit Qui Mal Y Pense’ finds the director regaling Grant and Kelly with tales of a unique childhood…

That’s pretty much all you’re getting here. This is too good a book and too well constructed to give away anything. However, in keeping with the Master’s whimsical humour and the assurance of a superbly entertaining time, here’s a tantalising list of chapter titles to spark your imagination. The eventual delivery will not disappoint you…

His ‘Apprenticeship’ is pretty self-explanatory, but progress is not assured in ‘The Young Man With the Mind of a Master’. ‘Silence and Cries’ lead to ‘Highs and Lows’ before attaining the ‘Summit’, whereafter ‘The Temptation of Departure’ heralds ‘The French Connection’ and ‘A New World’.

The success and security of later life afforded little protection from Hitch’s driving hunger for validation. He spent much of his life failing to make the one film he always wanted to, always distracted by the immediate and instead just making better and better movies. He did find time to conquer the new medium of television though. ‘The Killers Are Among Us’ sparked ‘Descent into Hell’, but always he pursued ‘Experimentation’; never finding his ‘State of Grace’. Settling in the USA, ‘Citizen Hitchcock’ found ‘Apotheosis’, and encountered further ‘Turbulence’ as advancing age signalled one ‘Final Role’

Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock KBE was a brilliant creator who changed the way cinema worked and how tales are told. A tireless traveller and resident of many nations, he was a manic homebody with a vast appetite for domestic comfort. He was a devout catholic trapped by his upbringing, guilty and anxious his entire life. Simultaneously sexually obsessed and painfully chaste, he was a voyeur who utilised his peccadillo to build a new means of seeing and telling stories, adroitly using his methodical planning skills and graphic design talents to storyboard films – and manipulate people in the exact same manner. Like the creators of this book, he knew how to nest stories within stories and how to satisfy an audience whilst leaving them hungry for more.

This wonderful tome includes scholarly appendices too: an ‘Alfred Hitchcock Filmography’ spanning 1922-1976, detailing his entire oeuvre broken down into Director, Assistant Director and Screenwriter, a Select List of abandoned film projects and his signature Cameos. There’s also an extensive Bibliography of books about the man, his works and his legacy.

Sublimely layering fact, mythology and critical appraisal, Hitchcock: Master of Suspense offers a fulsome exploration of an iconic legend who made his own life as much an artwork as any of his films. Furthermore, it does so in a manner supremely befitting the attributes and inclinations of the man for whom storytelling was a way of life, fear was food and drink, and mystery a blessing.

© 2018 Dargaud-Benelux. © 2020 NBM for the English Translation. All rights reserved.
© DUPUIS 2020 by Rubio, Efa. All rights reserved.

Hitchcock: Master of Suspense is scheduled for UK release June 2nd 2022 and is available for pre-order. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Most NBM books are also available in digital formats.

Rawhide Kid Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jack Davis, Dick Ayers, with Don Heck, Paul Reinman, Al Hartley, Sol Brodsky, Gene Colan & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2684-3 (HB/digital edition)

For most of the 1960s nobody did superheroes better than Marvel Comics. However, even fully acknowledging the stringencies of the Comics Code Authority, the company’s style for producing their staple genre titles for War, Romance and especially Western fans left a lot to be desired. Hints at sex, the venality of authority figures, or using proper guns the way they were meant to be used, capitulated to overwhelming caution and a tone that wouldn’t be amiss in kids’ cartoons or pre-Watershed family TV shows.

Eventually, though, the company’s innate boldness and hunger for innovation overwhelmed common sense. Moreover, and mercifully for revivals of pre-superhero veterans like Rawhide Kid, their meagre art-pool consisted of such master craftsmen as Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers and others…

Technically the Kid is one of the company’s older icons, having debuted in his own title with a March 1955 cover-date. A stock and standard sagebrush centurion clad in a buckskin jacket, his first adventures were illustrated by jobbing cartoonists such as Bob Brown and Ayers but the comicbook became one of the first casualties when Atlas’ distribution woes forced the company to cut back to 16 titles a month in the autumn of 1957.

With Westerns huge on the small screen and youthful rebellion a hot societal concept in 1960, owner/publisher Martin Goodman – via Stan Lee & Jack Kirby – unleashed a brand new six-gun stalwart – little more than a teenager – and launched him in summer of that year, economically continuing the numbering of the failed original…

Crucial to remember is that these yarns are not even trying to be gritty or authentic: they’re accessing the vast miasmic morass of wholesome, homogenised Hollywood mythmaking that generations preferred to learning of the grim everyday toil and terror of the real Old West, so sit back, reset your moral compass to “Fair Enough” and relax and revel in simple Black Hats vs. White Hats delivered with all the bombast and bravura Jack Kirby and his stellar successors could so readily muster…

It all (re) began when Lee, Kirby & Ayers introduced adopted teenaged Johnny Bart who showed all and sundry what he was made of after his retired Texas Ranger Uncle Ben was gunned down by a fame-hungry cheat. After very publicly exercising his right to vengeance, the naive kid fled Rawhide before explanations could be offered, resigned to life as an outlaw…

Reprinting Rawhide Kid #26-35, spanning February1962 to August 1963, this second selection offers another eclectic mix of hoary clichés, astounding genre mash-ups and the occasional nugget of pure wild west story-gold with some of the King’s most captivating and impressive art augmented by significant contributions from a number of other laudable pencil-pushers comprising the first inkling of the fabled Marvel Bullpen.

Following an outrageous introduction by dis-honorary owlhoot Mark Evanier, describing the publishing theories of Publisher Martin Goodman, the bangs for your buck begin with #26 and lead yarn ‘Trapped by the Bounty Hunter’ with Lee, Kirby & Dick Ayers showing how The Kid falls for a smarter man’s snare before impressing him with his honesty and earning another chance. Uncredited prose piece ‘Stagecoach Race’ describes a battle of wits and a risky wager after which comic action turns to melodrama as the ‘Shoot-Out in Scragg’s Saloon’ sees the Rawhide Ripsnorter mistaken by a tragic old man for his missing son. At this time comic books needed to offer a variety of material to qualify for cheaper postage rates and as well as prose shorts would include one generic cowboy tale per issue.

Here, it’s the uncredited ‘Strong Man’ – probably a Lee script limned by veteran by Bob Forgione – which could easily have fitted into one of the company’s mystery titles. Town bully Slade always gets his way but when he steals a mine map he also gets what he deserves…

The issue concludes with The Kid exposing the seeming miracle of ruthless gunslinger ‘The Bullet-Proof Man’

Rawhide Kid #27 opens ‘When Six-Guns Roar!’, as the restless wanderer finds honest work on a ranch. If only the other hands had welcomed rather than bullied the diminutive newcomer, a lot of violence might have been avoided and history quite different A text story about a ‘Mustang Maverick’ then leads to action-packed hokum as ‘The Girl, the Gunman, and the Apaches!’ finds our hero saving a captive from the repercussions of her idiot father taking pot-shots at innocent Indians after which ‘The Fury of Bull Barker!’ (illustrated by Don Heck) turns the cliché of rough cowboy and slick city dude on its head before Lee Kirby & Ayers reveal how ‘The Man who Caught the Kid!’ had a change of heart and gave the outlaw his freedom…

The team are on top form for ‘Doom in the Desert!’, which opens #28, as the Kid survives a ruthless predator’s trap thanks only to his tragic sister, whilst text treat ‘The Travelling Show’ details a cunning robbery scheme foiled in advance of ‘The Guns of Jasker Jelko!’ Here a circus shootist gone bad is taught a salutary life-lesson by someone used to facing as well as firing hot lead, after which Paul Reinman draws the stand-alone saga of ‘The Silent Gunman’ who taught a town what is more powerful than a fast draw before Rawhide indulges in some relatively gentle remonstration ‘When a Gunslinger Gets Mad!’ Of course, it’s arguably provocation on his part to order milk in a saloon…

Our hero’s perennial search for a little peace and quiet is again scuttled in #29’s opening story as he accepts a dying sheriff’s deal to capture an outlaw in return for a pardon. Sadly ‘The Trail of Apache Joe!’ is long and the battle to subdue him hard and by the time he gets back both the lawman and the deal are dead…

Deceptively anodyne prose vignette ‘Warpath’ segues  in to action interval ‘The Little Man Laughs Last!’ as The Kid’s small scrawny physique attracts bullies who soon regret their actions just as Lee & Ayers’ done-in-one diversion ‘Yak Yancy, the Man who Treed a Town’ reinforces the point that brawn does not trump brains, before Rawhide saves a starry-eyed boy from a life of delinquency in ‘The Fallen Hero!’

Rawhide Kid #30 was cover-dated October 1962 and big things were happening. That month also saw the release of Fantastic Four #7; Strange Tales #101 (debut of the Human Torch in a solo series); Tales to Astonish #36 (second costumed Ant-Man); Journey into Mystery #85 (third Thor), and the Incredible Hulk #4 was due four weeks later. Although the company’s standard genre fare was still popular, it was gradually disappearing as Lee reallocated his top creative resources to what was rapidly becoming the “Marvel Age of Comics”. Thus it was approaching High Noon for Rawhide artisans Lee, Kirby & Ayers when hypnotist Spade Desmond rolled into a western town, and his uncanny influence showed everyone what happened ‘When the Kid Went Wild!’, after which an intolerant biddy from “Back East” learns her lesson in prose tale ‘The Silent Man’. The Kid’s ‘Showdown with the Crow Mangum Gang!’ saves an embattled family of homesteaders and Lee & Heck trace the story one particular sidearm in ‘This is… a Gun!’ before his slight stature again gets The Kid in trouble with bullies, and his response triggers a ‘Riot in Railtown!’

Issue #31 replays the theme as a prelude to Rawhide battling a greedy land baron seizing spreads and leading to a ‘Shoot-Out with Rock Rurick!’, after which a mild replay of the war between ranchers and homesteaders is re-examined in cheery text titbit ‘Sheep Run’. The Kid is easily outfoxed and ‘Trapped by Dead-Eye Dawson!’, but earns his freedom thanks to his noble nature, unlike the prodigal brother who features in Lee & Heck’s solo yarn ‘Return of Outlaw!’ Rawhide rides into the wrong town and is jumped by many old enemies in ‘No Law in Lost Mesa!’ before showing just why he’s a legend…

Rawhide Kid #32 (cover-dated February 1963) signalled the end of an era. It opened with Beware of the Barker Brothers!’ as the Kid exposed gunrunners masquerading as local dignitaries and philanthropists and was followed by Home Trail’ – a prose homily on welcoming strangers and a comic advocating guns over gavels in ‘The Judge!’ by Lee & Al Hartley. Kirby’s last hurrah was ‘No Guns for a Gunman!’ as our hero fails to fall for a rigged scam that would leave other gunfighters helpless…

Although he remained as cover artist, this was Kirby’s swan song issue. Ultimately, and via a brief Ayers solo art run, the series would end up as a vehicle for writer/artist Larry Lieber – but before that Lee latched onto another artistic legend who was at that moment in the process of becoming synonymous with America’s favourite humour magazine: Jack Davis.

John Burton Davis Jr. (1924-2016) is probably one of the few strip art masters better known outside the world of comics than within it. His paintings, magazine covers, advertising work and sports cartoons reached more people than his years of comedy cartooning for such magazines as Mad, Panic, Cracked, Trump, Sick, Help!, Humbug, Playboy, etc., but few modern collectors seem aware of his horror and war and western masterpieces for EC, his pivotal if seminal time at Jim Warren’s Eerie and Creepy magazines, and his westerns for Marvel Comics. And that’s a true shame, because they’re quirky but terrific: rough, rowdy, loose and rangy, just like The Kid himself…

Scripted throughout by Lee, three issues of Jack Davis’ bombastic action, comedy and drama begin in #33 (April 1963) with ‘The Guns of Jesse James’, as the perpetually hunted Kid swallows pride and caution and joins the infamous outlaw’s gang. Initially swayed by James’s story of being misunderstood and unfairly accused, Rawhide soon realises he’s been gulled by a master conman and quits in his own unmistakable fashion…

Following the prose fable of a kid finding his place in ‘The Tenderfoot’, Lee & Sol Brodsky play with archetypes in ‘There’s a Shoot-Out Comin’!’ before Davis wraps up his debut with a tale of a young heart broken for the best of reasons in ‘The Gunfighter and the Girl!’

Issue #34 added to The Kid’s growing posse of returning villains as our hero proves utterly unable to beat ‘The Deadly Draw of Mister Lightning!’ however the carnival showman turned gunslinger learns a valuable lesson in their rematch…

Text vignette ‘Bushwacked!’ sees a young man trick his father’s killer into jail before Davis resumes with ‘Prisoner of the Apaches!’ as Rawhide again sacrifices himself to save idiot settlers with no respect for the First Nations. The issue is rounded off with an epic elegiac independent story perfectly capturing that era’s mythology and world view. Crafted by Lee, Kirby, Ayers, ‘Man of the West!’ details one man’s pioneering spirit and achievements. Beautiful and haunting, it’s possibly the most dated and contentious thing in this collection: venerating – like John Ford/John Wayne’s The Searchers – an attitude of exceptionalism and manifest destiny that will appal most modern readers…

Our sagebrush storytelling concludes with Rawhide Kid #35 and another nod to changing times as our hero is inexplicably targeted by a costumed crazy in ‘The Raven Strikes!’ Following a text tale of an old salt proving his worth in ‘Man to Remember’ and a wry rewriting of history by Lee & Gene Colan in ‘The Sheriff’s Star’ everything ends up in a charming tall tale as The Kid overhears boasting bar hounds relating ‘The Birth of a Legend!’ and scarcely recognises himself amidst the blather…

Also included is a bonus cover gallery by John Severin, Gil Kane, Joe Sinnott, Ayers, Frank Giacoia, Alan Weiss, Rick Buckler, Mike Esposito & Larry Lieber of reprint series The Mighty Marvel Western (#17-32; June 1972- June 1974), where many of these tales also appeared.

To be frank, although the art is astounding, the stories here are mostly mediocre. Unless you’re an old school western buff, what’s on offer is derivative, formulaic, occasionally insensitive, and once or twice borderline offensive. If the social climate and your own conscience trouble you, stay away. If, however, you can see this stuff in historical context – created by genuine reformers who pioneered diversity in comics and created breakthrough characters like Wyatt Wingfoot or Black Panther together – take a look. Here is work that stoked the boilers of the Marvel revolution, blessed with some of the very best narrative artwork ever seen.
© 2021 MARVEL.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight


By Brian Augustyn, Michael Mignola, P. Craig Russell & Eduardo Barreto (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1153-0 (TPB/Digital Edition)

We lost another great in February, albeit an unfairly unsung one. Although a brilliant writer in his own right, Brian Augustyn (November 2, 1954-February 1, 2022) was mostly remarked upon for his scripting collaborations, or perhaps by the more astute for his work as an editor. He began in that role at NOWComics in 1986, on Trollords, Syphons and Speed Racer, before moving to DC in 1988 to edit the weekly Action Comics, the Impact Comics line, Justice League and most notably The Flash. He formed a writing partnership with Mark Waid, encompassing The Flash, Impulse, JLA: Year One, The Comet, The Crusaders, Event Comics’ Painkiller Jane and Ash: Cinder and Smoke, Valiant’s X-O Manowar and most recently the magnificent Archie 1941.

On his own, he scripted Black Condor, Black Mask, Marvel’s Imperial Guard, Out There, Crimson, Mega Man, Amped (in Giant Comics) and the landmark concept/character which forms the basis of this this memorial.

Brian Augustyn died from a stroke on February 1st.

Originally released in 1989 as a 52-page prestige-format (glossy paper, cardstock covers better printing) one shot, Gotham By Gaslight was a sensation. Offering an alternate history for Batman in a chillingly familiar scenario and locale it opened the doors for similar experimentation with all DC’s other properties and directly led to the formation of an eclectic publishing imprint for all such out-continuity “Imaginary Stories”: Elseworlds. As well as opening the doors of creativity, it also fostered crossovers with other companies’ properties, by giving fans a handle to hang such non-canonical stunts on…

From 2013, this edition combines the classic Gotham By Gaslight with its cruelly neglected sequel Master of the Future.

The conceit of the landmark first story is the transposition of the most recognisable icons of the Batman mythos to the end of the 19th century, enabling troubled millionaire and would be avenger Bruce Wayne to begin his shrouded career in gory battle with the world’s most famous serial killer: Jack the Ripper.

Augustyn’s moody, edgy and so-broodingly steam-punk script was elevated to spectacular heights by the astounding artwork of comic giants Mike Mignola & P Craig Russell, and the results have long been considered one of the comic’s high points ever since.

Which in some ways is a shame, as Master of the Future is in many respects a better story. Augustyn finds space and time to flesh out Wayne’s character and show him as an individual, not a transplanted clone of the man we all know, and the drama is gilded by the superb and criminally unappreciated art of Eduardo Barreto splendidly recreating the turn of the (20th) century technological wonderment of Jules Verne (specifically Robur the Conqueror/The Clipper of the Clouds and Master of the World).

Here, as prototypical Mad Scientist Andre LeRoi threatens to destroy the burgeoning metropolis of Gotham City from his airborne dreadnought, only the by-now-disenchanted Batman could possibly stand against him… if he can be bothered.

Augustyn’s intriguing examination of vigilante motivation once the transformational forces of grievance and anger are expiated, especially in an era and milieu of extreme wealth and privilege, provides an interesting counterpoint to the mind-numbing obsession of the “real” caped crusader.

Batman was voted the most popular comic character of the 20th century. How strange, then, that two of his best escapades deal with the age before then and are directed by someone you probably never heard of? How about judging for yourselves with this superb collection?
© 1989, 1991, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Cyberman – An On-Screen Documentary


By Veronika Muchitsch AKA L.B. Jeffries (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-8383860-2-3 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-8383860-3-0

In modern society somebody is always watching. Are we unconscious – often unwilling – objects of voyeurism or participants in an increasingly intrusive overwatch?

Although daubing marks on a surface is possibly our oldest art form, the potential to ask questions, make stories and simply communicate via that primal process remains infinitely adaptable to modern technologies and as powerful as it ever was in exploring the unchanging basics of the human condition.

Narrative plus image – and the interactions such conjunctions can adapt to and embrace – underpin all of our communal existence and form the primary source for how we view our distant forbears. When employed by an incisive, sensitive, uncompromising agent and interlocutor such as Veronika Muchitsch, the road from “seen” to “created” can also shed light on the furthest fringes of human behaviour.

Veronika Muchitsch is an Austrian artist who distinguished herself at Falmouth University before settling here. In recent years she began participating in a uniquely modern phenomenon. Entire countries away, fifty-something Finnish man Ari Kivikangas was live-streaming his entire existence, 24 hours a day without pause or let up. Drawn in, Veronika began regularly watching him inhabit his simple flat, sleeping, eating, playing his music and occasionally interacting with the observers tuned in to Cyberman.tv.

Entranced, Muchitsch – while becoming increasingly concerned about her own unchecked voyeurism – began painting the images on her screen, fascinated by the bland yet ominous existence unfolding with staggering constancy and endured with brutally frank, ferocious honesty every moment of every day. Ari was poor, ill, isolated and solitary and hungered for fame and validation: a shut-in managing life by his own rules. He accepted potential intrusion, condemnation and actual abuse from the inevitable inescapable trolls infesting social media with staunch bluntness and just carried on streaming.

The compulsive viewing led to Muchitsch reassessing her own views and first impressions. Over the course of a year, she surrendered anonymity and neutrality: becoming one of the people interacting with Ari – even getting his exultant approval to make him famous in one more modern medium…

She initially adopted the username L.B. Jeffries to interact with Ari, as compulsive observation evolved into a project based on parallels she recognised between her own actions and responses and the role played by Jimmy Stewart in classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller Rear Window.

The result is a stunning pictorial re-evaluation of modern life, interactions and relationships at the overlap of physical life and virtual existence – which can apparently be far more mundane than our “real” thing…

The story unfolds as a parade of singular images lovingly painted: captured moments that fall almost unbidden into a narrative. How much of that is calculated, curated direction and how much of the story comes from the reader looking at the pictures of the live stream of a stranger’s life? Only you can decide…
© Veronika Muchitsch 2021.

Cyberman – An On-Screen Documentary is scheduled for UK release May 26th 2022 and is available for pre-order now.

Buz Sawyer volume 4: Zazarof’s Revenge


By Roy Crane, with Henry G. “Hank” Schlensker & Edwin Granberry (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-975-2 (HB)

Modern comics evolved from newspaper strips: pictorial features that were, until relatively recently, utterly ubiquitous. Hugely popular with the public and highly valued by publishers who used them as a weapon to secure sales and increase circulation, strips seemed to find their only opposition in blinkered local editors who often resented the low brow art form, which cut into potential ad space and regularly drew complaint letters from cranks…

It’s virtually impossible for us today to understand the overwhelming allure and power of the comic strip – especially from the Great Depression to the end of the 1950s. With limited television, broadcast radio far from universal and movie shows at best a weekly treat for most folk, household entertainment was mostly derived from the comics sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. “The Funnies” were universally enjoyed recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality of graphic sagas and humorous episodes.

From the start comedy was king; hence our terms “Funnies” and “Comics”. From these jest and stunt beginnings – blending silent movie slapstick, outrageous fantasy and vaudeville antics – came an entertaining mutant hybrid: Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs.

Debuting in April 1924, Washington Tubbs II was a comedic, gag-a-day strip which evolved into a globe-girdling adventure serial. For years, Crane spun addictive high-quality pictorial yarns – until his introduction of moody swashbuckler Captain Easy ushered in the age of adventure strips with the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929.

This led to a Sunday colour page which was possibly the most compelling and visually imaginative of the entire Golden Age of Newspaper strips (see Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volumes 1-4). Improving almost minute by minute, it benefited from Crane’s relentless quest for perfection. His fabulously imaginative compositional masterpieces attained a timeless immediacy that made each page a unified piece of sequential art. The influence of his pages can be seen in the works of near-contemporaries like Hergé, giants-in-waiting such as Charles Schulz or comic book masters Alex Toth, John Severin and many more.

The material was obviously as much fun to make as to read. In fact, Crane’s cited reason for surrendering the Sunday strip to his assistant Les Turner in 1937 was NEA/United Features Syndicate’s abrupt and arbitrary diktat that all strips would henceforward be produced in a rigid panel-structure to facilitate their being cut up and re-pasted as local editors dictated.

They just didn’t lift the artist any more so he stopped making them. At the height of his powers, Crane walked away from the astounding Captain Easy Sunday page; concentrating on the daily feature until his contract expired in 1943 whereupon he left United Features: lured away by that grandee of strip poachers William Randolph Hearst.

The result was an aviator strip set in then-ongoing World War II: Buz Sawyer.

Where Wash Tubbs was a brave but largely comedic Lothario and his pal Easy a surly, tight-lipped he-man, John Singer “Buz” Sawyer was a joyous amalgam of both: a handsome, big-hearted, affable country-boy who went to war because his country needed him…

Buz was a fun-loving, skirt-chasing, musically-inclined pilot daily risking his life with his devoted gunner Rosco Sweeney: a bluff, brave ordinary Joe – and one of the most effective comedy foils ever created.

The wartime strip was – and remains – a marvel of authenticity: portraying not just action and drama of the locale and situation but crucially also capturing the quiet, dull hours of training, routine and desperate larks between the serious business of killing and staying alive. When the war ended the action-loving duo – plus fellow pilot/girl-chasing competitor Chili Harrison – all went looking for work that satisfied their thirst for action and adventure…

Crane had mastered popular entertainment tastes, blending adventure with drama and sophisticated soap opera, all leavened with raucous comedy in a seamless procession of unmissable daily episodes. He and his team of assistants – which over decades comprised co-writers Ed “Doc” Granberry, Clark Haas and Al Wenzel, and artists Hank Schlensker, Joel King, Ralph Lane, Dan Heilman, Hi Mankin & Bill Wright – soldiered on under relentless deadline pressure, producing an authentic and exotic funny romantic thriller rendered in his stark signature style as well as a prerequisite full-colour Sunday page.

This fourth stout and sturdy hardcover edition is a mostly monochrome tome re-presenting more magnificent strip shenanigans starring a dynamic All-American good guy, but now Buz is just another fading war hero: albeit admittedly a globetrotting, troubleshooting one and a newlywed husband to boot.

Having – after much kerfuffle, procrastination, intrigue, bloodshed, sexy skulduggery and delay – finally married extremely understanding childhood sweetheart Christy Jameson, our clean-cut boy-next-door then dragged her into his regularly perilous and frequently lethal working world as prime problem-solver for Frontier Oil: a company with fingers in many international pies and one most modern readers will find hard to consider “the Good Guys”…

These strips – made in collaboration with Granberry & Hank Schlensker – cover the societally turbulent period spanning July 1949 to June 1952, as America leaned hard into its dreams of Exceptionalism and enjoyed domestic boom times while embracing it’s self-appointed role as the World’s Policeman. Crane and his creative laboured long, hard, often acrimonious hours to produce each daily strip; all beguilingly rendered in black-&-white through Crane’s masterly techniques employing line art and craftint (a tricky mechanical monochrome patterning effect which added greys and halftones to produce miraculous depths and moods to the superb base drawing) but the toll was heavy on personnel and feelings.

Before the ten self-contained tales here kick off, heavily-illustrated preliminary prose piece ‘The Three of Us are a Team’ (‘remarks at the New York Banshee Society’ from transcripts donated to Syracuse University) revisits Crane’s acceptance speech on winning the 1961 Silver Lady Award as determined by a collation of contemporary communications executives. Effusive and reminiscent, it sees him give his partners all the credit for the hard work in crafting the feature…

Buz Sawyer began on November 1st 1943 and ran until 1989. Crane officially retired with the April 21st 1977 episode (dying on July 7th) while it continued under Granberry, Schlensker, Haas, Wenzel and John Celardo until cancelation on October 7th 1989.

The story resumes with an example of contemporary trends…

Chimpanzees were becoming a popular story addition for most media as the 1940s ended (just look at movies or comic books) and ‘Monkey Business’ finds our happy couple back in the USA after an African honeymoon (of sorts) which left the them owners of a young chimp named Junior

Anticipating decades of future sitcoms, the tale details how Junior plays up during a critical dinner party/holiday weekend held by Sawyer’s boss Colonel Harrison but the resulting debacle at a swish soiree on Harrison’s palatial estate fails to impress potential business partner Mr Tidley Bragg. A cheeky excuse for manic screwball comedy and social gaffes, the chaos generates explosive hilarity, humiliation and Buz’s sacking before fate intervenes to show everyone that Junior was a boisterous blessing in disguise…

Swiftly rehired, Buz heads south, encountering ‘Revolution’ (September 19th 1949 – January 18th 1950) in a Central American republic. Frontier Oil was seeking an oil concession, but apparently their agent – Barstain – had played a double game. Before long, Buz is using his war experiences to lead a counter revolution to save democracy…

January 20th- June 17th offers a grimly chilling change of pace as ‘Buz Alone’ sees Christy and her husband on a well-earned vacation at a Florida honeymoon cottage. Tragically, danger is never far from them, and the brief idyll is shattered after a nature-watching boat trip leaves them stranded on a sandbar with no food, water, shelter or prospect of rescue.

A true champion, Buz survives a gruelling swim to the mainland and returns in a seaplane only to find three men on the sandbar and no trace of Christy. When he gets agitated, he’s accused of making it all up and – if she ever existed – doing away with the woman…

Beaten up when he tries to search their boat, Buz is left to pick up the pieces and track down Christy. In his hunger for clues, he is manipulated by a woman seeking a new husband – and someone to remove her current one – before eventually clashing with vengeful old enemy Harry Sparrow. At no time does he ever get near his missing better half…

While he flounders, a comely, capable lady with no memory is picked up on the mainland before losing herself amidst the sleazy local underworld. With the police now assisting, Buz sets out on the fresh trail, aided by trusty pal Sweeney. After more trauma and tribulation, Christy is found, but it’s not the girl Buz married yet – not by a long shot…

A return to lighter intrigue and enterprise comes when spoiled debutante ‘Diana’ (June 19th – November 24th) makes Daddy find her a job. Unluckily for Buz, Remington Chase is a bigwig at Frontier and his bored hellion of a daughter likes the idea of being Sawyer’s secretary – or at least the idea of Sawyer…

Even debonair Chili Harrison can’t sway her aim and when Buz “escapes” into work – despatched to Iron Curtain nation Sovmania just when he and Christy began looking at homes to buy – Miss Chase infuriatingly follows. Negotiating with the Soviets is tricky enough, but when it’s a US corporation demanding the communists hand back wells and refineries they illegally annexed and expropriated, Sawyer knows he can’t win and may end up mysteriously deceased. It’s no surprise to find Diana draws attention and danger like a magnet, but her response when the oppressors decide to arrest them is a life-changing revelation.

Spectacular spy games give way to a lighter interlude when Buz reunites with Christy and they babysit a parrot named ‘William Shakespeare’ (November 24th 1950-January 6th 1951). The beloved baby of a poetry professor, with an astounding talent for repeating what he hears, the bird proves to be even more trouble that their chimp was…

Clearly qualified in policing difficult customers, Buz is then assigned to locate a wandering landowner with 6,000 prime acres to lease. ‘Wish Jones’ (January 8th to April 19th) is old, homely, rich, romantic, suggestible and (suddenly) married to exotic dancer Taffy Fawn. However, he hasn’t signed the contracts Frontier needs, leaving Buz playing catch across all the love nests of the South Pacific. The fixer’s greatest asset is Taffy herself, who never thought wedded bliss and matchless wealth included so much sand, birds or bugs. His biggest problem is that even desert island paradises have crooks, radios and newspapers…

Another episode of animal husbandry catastrophes – this time a dachshund and a voracious baby heron – leads implausibly to a sojourn in ‘Alaska’ (26th April – August 22nd) with Sawyer undercover as John Singer.

While seeking a geologist’s killers, he’s also acting as courier for the Government in a serious and solid spy escapade worthy of Alfred Hitchcock with abductions, misreported deaths, murderous sailors, devious twins, fake relatives and hidden uranium reserves all in play, with Buz’s survival skills pushed to the limit before his mission is accomplished.

In dire need of relaxation, the reunited Mr & Mrs Sawyer trust to fate and pluck a name out of an atlas for a vacation. They land in a lakeside resort boasting peace and quiet but dreary ‘Doldrums’ (August 23rd – September 29th) is soon a pandemonium of envy and excitement as bored couples seek to spice up their passionless lives by emulating the infamous, glamorous newcomers…

Eponymous epic ‘Zazarof’s Revenge’ spans October 1st 1951-January 10th 1952, opening with a global sabotage campaign against Frontier, leading Buz to Switzerland where there’s no doubt of mystery man Igor Zazarof’s guilt, but apparently no way to find or face him.

Ultimately, persistence and charm break down the villain’s obvious pawn Neri, whilst all attempts to bribe, frame, frighten or kill the American fail, leading to an extended and brutal duel to the death on a mountain peak as the only way to deal with Sawyer…

We conclude for now with home-grown bad men ‘The Hawks Boys’ (January 10th – June 19th) terrorising and sabotaging a Frontier installation in Utah. As assault escalates to murder, Buz discovers why the Hawks’ – already well-paid for the oil rights to their land – are doing everything they can to force the company to pull out. What could be worth more than oil and what won’t they do to keep their secret?

Completing this vivid vintage venture is a wry glimpse of Crane’s early days. With text written by Jeet Heer, ‘A Cartoonist’s Travels’ offers a brief gallery of cartoons about bums, hoboes, tramps and voyagers, with the artist drawing upon his own youthful experiences as an itinerant bindlestiff and drifter…

This a sublime slice of compelling comics wonder is an ideal way to discover or reconnect with Crane’s second magnum opus. Bold, daring, funny and astonishingly enthralling, these episodic exploits influenced generations of modern cartoonists, illustrators, comics creators and storytellers. The series ranks amongst the very greatest strip cartoon features ever created: always delivering comics tale-telling unforgettable, unmissable and utterly irresistible. Try it and see for yourself.
Buz Sawyer: Zazarof’s Revenge © 2016 Fantagraphics Books. All Buz Sawyer strips © 2016 King Features Syndicate, Inc. All other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.