Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: The Greatest Adventures


By Floyd Gottfredson, with Walt Disney, Bill Walsh, Merrill de Maris, Bill Wright, Win Smith, Jack King, Roy Nelson, Hardie Gramatky, Ted Thwaites, Daan Jippes, David Gerstein & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-122-2 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68396-225-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: It Ain’t Christmas if it Ain’t Disney… 10/10

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.

That’s why most people who care cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth completed Mickey feature – as the debut of the mascot mouse and his co-star and 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 timid beginnings grew an immense fantasy empire, but film was not the only way Disney conquered hearts and minds. With Mickey a certified solid gold sensation, the mighty mouse was considered a hot property and soon invaded America’s most powerful and pervasive entertainment medium: comic strips…

Floyd Gottfredson was a cartooning pathfinder who started out as just another warm body in the Disney Studio animation factory who slipped sideways into graphic narrative and evolved into a pictorial narrative ground-breaker as influential as George Herriman, Winsor McCay or Elzie Segar. Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse entertained millions of eagerly enthralled readers and shaped the very way comics worked.

He took a wildly anarchic animated rodent from slapstick beginnings, via some of the earliest adventure continuities in comics history: transforming a feisty everyman underdog – or rather mouse – into a crimebuster, detective, explorer, lover, aviator or cowboy, the quintessential two-fisted hero whenever necessity demanded.

In later years, as tastes – and syndicate policy – changed, Gottfredson steered that self-same wandering warrior into a more sedate, gently suburbanised lifestyle via crafty sitcom gags suited to a newly middle-class America: a fifty-year career generating some of the most engrossing continuities the comics industry has ever enjoyed.

Arthur Floyd Gottfredson was born in 1905 in Kaysville, Utah, one of eight siblings born to a Mormon family of Danish extraction. Injured in a youthful hunting accident, Floyd whiled away a long recuperation drawing and studying cartoon correspondence courses, and by the 1920s had turned professional, selling cartoons and commercial art to local trade magazines and Big City newspaper the Salt Lake City Telegram.

In 1928 he and his wife moved to California and, after a shaky start, found work in April 1929 as an in-betweener at the burgeoning Walt Disney Studios. Just as the Great Depression hit, he was personally asked by Disney to take over the newborn yet ailing Mickey Mouse newspaper strip. Gottfredson would plot, draw and frequently script the strip for the next five decades: an incredible accomplishment by of one of comics’ most gifted exponents.

Veteran animator Ub Iwerks had initiated the print feature with Disney himself contributing, before artist Win Smith was brought in. The nascent strip was plagued with problems and young Gottfredson was only supposed to pitch in until a regular creator could be found.

Floyd’s first effort saw print on May 5th 1930 (his 25th birthday) and he just kept going: an uninterrupted run over the next half century.

On January 17th 1932, Gottfredson created the first colour Sunday page, which he also handled until retirement. In the beginning he did everything, but in 1934 Gottfredson relinquished the scripting, preferring plotting and illustrating adventures to playing about with dialogue. His eventual collaborating wordsmiths included Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris, Dick Shaw, Bill Walsh, Roy Williams and Del Connell. At the start and in the manner of a filmic studio system, Floyd briefly used inkers such as Ted Thwaites, Earl Duvall and Al Taliaferro, but by 1943 had taken on full art chores.

This tremendous archival hardback compendium (185 x 282 mm but also available in digital editions) gathers and remasters in colour a superb selection of those daily delights, stuffed with thrills, spills and chills, whacky races, bizarre situations, fantastic fights and a glorious superabundance of rapid-fire sight-gags and verbal by-play: an unmissable journey of fabulous cartoon fun.

And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that this stuff can be deemed “dated content”: created from times when cartoon violence, smoking, drinking and ethnic stereotyping were everyday occurrences, so please read this with that in mind or not at all…

The manner in which Mickey became a syndicated star is covered by editor, savant, truly dedicated, clearly devoted fan David Gerstein in bookend articles at the front and back of this sturdy tome, opening with Floyd Gottfredson: Walt Disney’s Mouse Man and ending with Mickey Mouse: The Hero before the comic capers commence with legendary yarn Mickey Mouse in Death Valley’ which ran from April 1st – September 22nd 1930.

Initially the strip was treated like an animated feature, with diverse hands working under a “director” and each day seen as a full gag with set-up, delivery and a punchline, usually all in service to an umbrella story or theme. Such was the format Gottfredson inherited from Walt Disney for his first full yarn.

The saga was further complicated by an urgent “request” from controlling syndicate King Features that the strip be immediately made more adventure-oriented to compete with the latest trend in comics: action-packed continuities…

Also roped in to provide additional art and inking to the raucous, rambunctious rambling saga were Win Smith, Jack King, Roy Nelson & Hardie Gramatky. The resulting saga – coloured by Scott Rockwell & Susan Daigle-Leach – involved a picaresque and frequently deadly journey way out west to save Minnie’s inheritance – a lost mine – from conniving lawyer Sylvester Shyster and his vile and violent crony Pegleg Pete, whom Mickey and his aggrieved companion chased across America by every conveyance imaginable, aided by masked mystery man The Fox while facing every possible peril as immortalised by silent movie westerns, melodramas and comedies…

With cameos throughout from Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, goat-horned Mr. Butt and a prototype Goofy who used to answer – if he felt like it – to the moniker Dippy Dog, we pause to share specially commissioned Illustrations by Gottfredson – a promotional pic and photos of tough guy pal Butch – before moving on to ‘The Picnic’ (crafted by Gottfredson, Earl Duvall & Travis Seitler and coloured by Rick Keane; originally running from January 5th to 10th 1931): a hopefully bucolic moment plagued by natural catastrophe, after which bold deeds are required for exploring the ‘Island in the Sky’ (November 30th 1936 to April 3rd 1937 by Gottfredson, Ted Thwaites, Michel Nadorp, Erik Rosengarten, & Disney Italia).

Having secured a cash reward for capturing a band of smugglers, Mickey and Goofy buy an airplane and become aviators: a plot device that affords plenty of daily gags before one flight brings them into aerial contact with the flying automobile of a mystery scientist. After much detecting and pursuit, they find the floating fortress of reclusive super-genius Doctor Einmug

and soon learn that he’s also being approached – if not outright menaced – by villainous Pegleg Pete. The dyed-in-the-wool thug is acting as the agent of a foreign power, seeking the astonishing secret and unlimited power of “aligned atoms” that fuels Einmug’s aerial miracles, trying everything from bribery to coercion to feigned reformation and – when those fail – good old reliable theft and violence…

Naturally, none of that means anything to the indomitable Mouse…

Appended by Gottfredson’s painting Mickey Mouse on Sky Island and a mini-feature on personalised birthday and anniversary commissions, the cloud-busting crime-caper is followed by a baffling mystery as ‘The Gleam’ (January 19th – May 2nd, 1942 by Gottfredson, Merrill de Maris, Bill Wright, Daan Jippes, Seitler, Gerstein & Daigle-Leach) sees Mickey, Minnie and Goofy plagued by a diabolical hypnotist who plunders Mouseton High Society types at will, and even embroils Minnie’s unwelcome visiting parents in his crimes before our heroes finally bring him to justice. It’s followed by the cover of 1949’s Big Little Book #1464: a modified version of the tale behind a cover by an artist unknown.

Gottfredson, Bill Walsh, Wright, Gerstein & Disney Italia then detail a string of interlinked gags comprising a burst of DIY invention resulting in ‘Mickey Mouse and Goofy’s Rocket’ (September 9th – 21st 1946), before Gottfredson, Walsh, Pierre Nicolas, Gerstein & Digikore Studios resort to full on sci fi as ‘The Atombrella and the Rhyming Man’ (April 30thOctober 9th 1948) finds occasional visitor from 2447 AD Eega Beeva, popping back for fun and a spot of inventing. Most of his whacky gadgets are generally harmless, but when he tinkers up a handheld defence against physical attack which repels everything from pie to nuclear weapons, word gets around fast and some very shifty characters start inviting themselves in. When juvenile genius Dr. Koppenhooper, an unlovely femme fatale and a poetic superspy get involved, things go from bad to calamitous…

The friendly future-man appeared in many commercial commissions. After the brace of monochrome samples reprinted here – courtesy of  Gottfredson – the manic menu of Mouse Masterpieces concludes with ‘Mickey’s Dangerous Double’(March 2nd – June 20th 1953 by Gottfredson, Walsh, Jippes, Paul Baresh, Gerstein & Disney Italia) as a devious “evil twin” trashes his reputation and destroys all his friendships before scapegoating him for a string of crimes in a gleeful but paranoia-inducing tale. Of course, in the end the ingenuity of the original and genuine article wins through but only after a truly spectacular battle…

Gottfredson’s influence on not just the Disney canon but sequential graphic narrative itself is inestimable: he was among the first to produce long continuities and “straight” adventures; he pioneered team-ups and invented some of the first “super-villains” in the business.

Disney killed the continuities in 1955, dictating that henceforth strips would only contain one-off gag strips, and Gottfredson adapted seamlessly, working on until retirement in 1975. His last daily appeared on November 15th and the final Sunday strip on September 19th 1976.

Like all Disney creators Gottfredson worked in utter anonymity, but in the 1960s his identity was revealed and the voluble appreciation of his previously unsuspected horde of devotees led to interviews, overviews and public appearances, with effect that subsequent reprinting in books, comics and albums carried a credit for the quiet, reserved master. Floyd Gottfredson died in July 1986. Thankfully we have this wealth of his works to enjoy and inspire us and hopefully a whole new generation of inveterate tale-tellers…
Mickey Mouse: The Greatest Adventures © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All contents © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. unless otherwise noted. “Floyd Gottfredson: Walt Disney’s Mouse Man” and “Mickey Mouse: The Hero” texts © 2018 David Gerstein. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer volumes 9 and 10: The Sarcophagi of the Sixth Continent parts 1 & 2


By Yves Sente & André Juillard, coloured by Madeleine DeMille & translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-067-2 (Album PB) 978-1-84918-077-1 (Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Thrills No Movie Can Match… 9/10

Pre-eminent fantasy raconteur Edgar P. Jacobs devised one of the greatest heroic double acts in pulp fiction: pitting his distinguished scientific adventurers Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake against a daunting variety of perils and menaces in a sequence of stellar action-thrillers blending science fiction scope, detective mystery suspense and supernatural thrills. The magic was made perfect through his stunning illustrations, rendered in the timeless Ligne Claire style which had made intrepid boy-reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The Doughty Duo debuted on 26th September 1946: gracing the pages of the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin: an ambitious international anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. It was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous, world-famous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features for the rapidly-changing post-war world. Bon anniversaire, Chaps!…

Blake & Mortimer are the graphic personification of Britain’s Bulldog Spirit and worthy successors to the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Professor Challenger, Richard Hannay and all the other valiant stalwarts of lost Albion: valiant champions with direct connections to and allegiance beyond shallow national boundaries…

After decades of fantastic exploits, the series apparently ended with the 11th album. The gripping contemporary adventure had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in LJdT, but after the first volume was completed Jacobs simply abandoned his story due to failing health and personal issues.

Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs died on February 20th 1987, never having returned to extended adventure Les 3 formules du professeur Satō. That concluding volume was only released in March 1990, after veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor was commissioned by the Jacobs family and estate to complete the tale from the grand originator’s pencils and notes.

The long-postponed release led to a republishing of all the earlier volumes, followed in 1996 by new adventures from two separate creative teams hired by the Jacobs Studio who would produce complete books rather than weekly serials.

The first was the L’Affaire Francis Blake by Jean Van Hamme & Thierry “Ted” Benoit which settled itself into a comfortably defined, familiar mid-1950s for a rousing tale of espionage and double-dealing. The tale controversially omitted the fantastic elements of futuristic fiction and fringe science which had characterised Jacobs’ creation, whilst focusing on the suave MI5 officer rather than bombastic, belligerent boffin and inveterate scene-stealer Mortimer…

The same was broadly true for the follow-up release, published in 1999, although references to the space race and alien infestation did much to restore the series’ fantasy credentials in Yves (XIII, Le Janitor, Thorgal) Sente & André (Arno, Bohémond de Saint-Gilles, Masquerouge, Mezek) Juillard’s La machination Voronov.

The latter team eventually won the plum job of detailing the early days and origins of Blake & Mortimer in Les Sarcophages du Sixième Continent, Tome 1: La Menace universelle and Les Sarcophages du Sixième Continent, Tome 2: Le Duel des Esprits. The albums were the 16th and 17th published exploits of the peerless pair: a boldly byzantine epic spanning decades and stretching from India under the Raj to Cold War Europe and deep beneath Antarctic ice…

Retitled The Global Threat for English speakers, our mystery opens in Simla, former summer capital of India when Britain ruled the vast, disparate nation. It is February 1958, and a decade after independence and partition, a glittering conclave of rich men and maharajas has gathered, in splendour and secrecy…

Surveilling the ominous meeting of truculent minor warlords are agents of the Indian government, led by veteran warrior Lieutenant Ahmed Nasir. The mission goes badly wrong, but before the end, the operatives observe a fantastic demonstration of power from a masked demagogue who claims to be immortal Emperor Ashoka, and claims to hold an ultimate weapon that will make him – and them – the rightful rulers of all they desire…

As the discovered spies are ruthlessly dealt with, Ashoka heads for another meeting: this one with Soviet representative Major Varich (last seen in Blake and Mortimer: The Voronov Plot). The disgraced soldier soon realises his melodramatic new ally has an even greater hatred of the British do-gooders…

In a flashback to the last days of the empire, young graduate Philip Angus Mortimer travels home to Simla to stay with his military doctor father and elites of their social circle. India is in turmoil however, with independence agitators everywhere. In Bombay, he saves the life of a fellow English traveller and has an impromptu encounter with an aged gentleman called “the Mahatma” by the gathering crowd. Francis Percy Blake is also the son of a soldier and is seeing his father for the first time in years, so they agree to travel on together. After they separate at Ambala, Mortimer’s adventures continue when he is attacked by a mysterious stalker. The assault actually saves his life as the connecting train he was supposed to catch is blown up…

Despite everything, the young man eventually reaches Simla, but his fondly-remembered childhood days have clearly ended. His first clue is how lifelong friend Sushil treats him, later bolstered by a friendly warning from his mother to stay away from the natives…

That doesn’t stop him from trying to bridge barriers, but only leads to heartbreak after he meets Princess Gita, daughter of local rajah and militant the great Emperor Ashoka. Irresistibly drawn together, their brief romance stoked deadly tensions between the races and led to her death and his being cursed by the allegedly immortal rebel leader. For his own safety, the heartbroken boy is sent from India to lose himself in the study of physics at university…

February 1958, and older, sadder Mortimer wakes from a horrific familiar nightmare of the home and love he lost. Oddly, it has not gripped him for years but he has no time to ponder, as he is imminently to depart for Belgium: part of the British Pavilion contingent attending the Universal Exposition. As the cultural, scientific and trade fair of the world’s nations, it will be a hotbed of intrigue and propaganda…

Meanwhile in Antarctica, an Indian team are setting up their own science colony, aided by neighbouring British outpost Halley Station. However, “Gondwana Base” has been compromised from the start, and transformed – with the logistical assistance of Soviet technology and Major Varich – into a sub-surface citadel housing Emperor Ashoka’s fabled secret weapon. The last component to arrive is villainous Colonel Olrik, but the nemesis of Blake and Mortimer is a far from willing participant…

Day later, Mortimer is in Brussels, meeting Blake and supervising the breakthrough radio experiment connecting them to Halley Station, unaware that the expo – and his own team – are riven with spies and saboteurs. He is troubled by another dream, one where Olrik was menaced by Ashoka and the trained apes that followed him everywhere in long-ago Simla.

After quieting his friend’s concerns, the MI5 Intelligence Chief is introduced to the rest of the British contingent given a privileged tour of the whole site and meets again old ally Labrousse (S.O.S. Meteors). The French meteorologist has a bold new venture underway and is actually in transit to South Africa and ultimately Antarctica…

It’s a “busman’s holiday” for Blake too. He’s actually at the Expo to prevent the illegal transfer of uranium from a foreign power to a nebulous new independent threat and is working with the Indian government…

His seemingly casual meet-&-greet with representatives from third world countries soon bears fruit, even as, at Gondwana Base, Olrik is reluctantly encased in a high tech coffin. His previous susceptibility to the telecephalscope of Professor Septimus (The Yellow M) makes him an ideal candidate for Ashoka’s weapon: a system capable of turning cerebral energy into planet-spanning power capable of affecting electrical devices, heavy machinery and solid objects with tremendous force.

The results are catastrophically and almost instantly experienced at the Expo as a weird energy wrecks buildings and exhibits. Only technical difficulties at the base prevent more death and destruction in Brussels, but before it ends Olrik commandeers Pavilion TV screens to send a threatening message to his despised foes…

Mortimer canvases other countries’ science teams and while seeking to quash resurgent national rivalries and unrepentant suspicions soon forms a hypothesis which is suddenly confirmed by Nasir. Their old comrade has covertly made his  way to Europe to warn them and brings also the name of the traitor in the British party. They are too late to stop the uranium transfer, but now know it is southbound to Antarctica and meant to power a doomsday weapon. Without a moment’s pause the trio take a plane to South Africa in desperate pursuit…

Concluding volume The Sarcophagi of the Sixth Continent part 2: Battle of the Spirits opens with our heroes initially frustrated. Their plan had been to join old friend Labrousse as he transported his atomic powered-ice-boring submersible to the frozen continent, but his ship has already sailed. Their dashed hopes are restored after eccentric millionaire ecological advocate and adventurer Lord Archibald McAuchentoshan offers them his ship and crew.

Their hopes are even further elevated when the vessel turns out to be a capacious flying boat, not a luxury yacht. Three hours later they are reunited with Labrousse aboard the freighter Madeline and en route to Halley Base, but they have not reckoned with storms and icebergs. The stormy conditions prove fortuitous however, as they allow them to catch up to the uranium-carry traitor’s ship and a little cunning allows them to secrete Nasir aboard as a wounded sailor…

Ahead of them climate and geology are playing tricks on all concerned. A minor earthquake wrecks the British loading dock and a polar storm looms, prompting Ashoka’s minions into attacking Halley Base and abducting the staff. The Eternal Emperor knows Mortimer is coming and seeks time for his agent to deliver the uranium, but has again underestimated the determination and ingenuity of his foes. Even though the Professor is captured on arrival, Blake escapes into the icy wastes. His epic pursuit leads him to Varich and exposes Ashoka’s Soviet support system, before he eventually links up with Labrousse’s team and is offered the use of his ice-sub for a counterattack.

Meanwhile at Gondwana Base, gloating Ashoka is attempting to use Mortimer as a second living battery in his diabolical machine, until long-forgotten Nasir – who had infiltrated the base as the traitor agent – intervenes. In the chaos that ensues, the ice-borer breaks into the control room from below. Amidst bloodshed and tectonic turmoil, Mortimer is cut off and leans from a dying acolyte the true story of Gita’s death, shaking him from decades of guilt and shame, but is forced by an unrepentant and finally exposed Ashoka to man the second electronic sarcophagus. Soon, his consciousness joins the ether inhabited by Olrik’s personality, resolved to stop the crazed villain from wreaking havoc at the Universal Exposition, in a mind-bending and literal battle of wills…

Thankfully, the Professor’s allies are as swift-thinking and indomitable as he, and one final sally against the Emperor saves him as he saves the Expo and as Gondwana erupts and vanishes in a welter of fire and ice.

…But what happened to Olrik?…

Binding many vivid facets of the heroes’ prestigious past exploits and achievements into a vibrant sci fi romp, this epic extravaganza blends Cold War tension with modern ethical and ecological concerns in a rip-roaring chase yarn to delight fans of many genres.

These Cinebook editions – available in paperback album and digital formats – also include previews for other albums, plus a biographical feature and chronological publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts.

Gripping and fantastic in the truest tradition of pulp sci-fi and Boy’s Own Adventures, Blake and Mortimer are the very epitome of dogged heroic determination; always delivering grand, old-fashioned thrills and spills in timeless fashion and with astonishing visual punch. Any kid will experience the adventure of their lives… and so will their children.
Original editions © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombardgreet s.a.) 2003, 2004 by André Juillard & by Yves Sente. All rights reserved. English translation © 2010, 2011 Cinebook Ltd.

Comics Ad Men


By Many & various, written and compiled by Steven Brower (Fantagraphics Underground Press)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-307-3 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Catalogue of Cartoon Nostalgia… 8/10

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

Any ad exec worth their salt knows instinctively how to catch and hold public attention so as comics developed its star characters and top creators became invaluable resources and many accounts rose and fell on the force of celebrity Brand spokes-doodles rendered by the best artists around – often the very cartoonists creating strips and comic books. Ultimately, many of comics’ greatest were seduced away from the harsh deadlines of strips for the better-paid environs of the marketing moguls. That’s where this delightful collation from design wizard, Creative Director, Educator, art lover and comics afficionado Steven Brower (From Shadow to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin; Golden Age Western Comics; Astounding, Mysterious, Weird and True: The Pulp Art of Comic Book Artists) comes in: a fascinating picture-packed directory of top comics creators leasing their talents to sell stuff…

It’s a guaranteed nostalgia-fest: I know of many – including star industry folk and Plain Old me – who have bought assorted Golden Age comics just because they carry CC Beck Captain Tootsie ad pages or Twinkies shills concocted and populated by Marvel and DC’s top guns…

Delivering an effusive and erudite essay and lecture on the history and development of the phenomenon – liberally accompanied by dozens of captivating illustration examples – Brower makes a compelling case for further study and successfully jingles the heartstrings of comics devotees with a delicious roster of astoundingly impressive artists clandestinely operating in the real world of commerce. Did you know that Golden Age Green Lantern originator Martin Nodell also created the Pillsbury Doughboy? You do now, and so much more can be yours to bemuse your chums…

The big draw is a carefully curated and stunning Gallery of historical examples comprising star turns and their famous creations. Here Sydney Smith co-opts The Gumps to sell “Funy Frostys”, E.C. Segar’s Popeye crew tout Mazda Lamp lightbulbs and Al Capp’s Li’l Abner recommends Cream of Wheat.

The parade of stars continues with Mel Graf (Secret Agent X-9; Captain Easy), Frank Robbins (Jonny Hazard; Batman, The Invaders), Vic Herman (Little Dot; Elsie the Cow), Clifford McBride (Napoleon and Uncle Elby), Sheldon Moldoff (Hawkman; Batman), Basil Wolverton (Spacehawk; Powerhouse Pepper; Mad), Noel Sickles (Scorchy Smith) and  Jacob Landau (Military Comics; Captain America).

Some artists’ styles were perfect for changing times and were in high demand. Otto Soglow (The Little King) and Dik Browne (Hagar the Horrible; Hi and Lois) were highly sought after with Browne being represented here by solo strips and in collaboration with Gill Fox (Torchy; Hi and Lois) and Roland Coe (The Little Scouts), VIP – AKA Virgil Partch – (Big George), Bill Williams (Henry Aldrich; Millie the Model), Hank Ketcham (Dennis the Menace – the American one), Marvin Stein (Justice Traps the Guilty; Young Love) and Paul Fung (Dumb Dora).

There were even agencies repping many illustrators, and a copious sampling of Young & Rubicam and Johnstone & Cushing alumni precede beguiling work from Stan Drake (The Heart of Juliet Jones; Blondie; Kelly Green), Lou Fine (Doll Man; The Ray; The Spirit; Black Condor), Creig Flessel (The Sandman, Detective Comics; Pep Morgan; Superboy), Jack Betts (Britannia Mews), Bob Bugg (The New Neighbors; Popular Comics), Kelly Freas (assorted covers), Alex Kotzky (Blackhawk; Apartment 3-G), George Roussos (Air Wave; Batman; Crypt of Terror; Fantastic Four) and Tom Scheuer (Flash Gordon; My Love Story).

Neal Adams (Batman; X-Men; Ben Casey) actually set up his own agency Continuity Associates, employing many contemporaries such as Dick Ayers (Human Torch, Ghost Rider; Sgt. Fury  and his Howling Commandos) and talented newcomers but there was always a demand for older veterans like Mort Meskin (Sheena; Johnny Quick; Vigilante; Mark Merlin), Joe Simon (Captain America; The Fly; Fighting American; Boy Commandos) and Wallace Wood (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents; Daredevil; Weird Science; Mad; Witzend), all seen here in a wealth of amazing art.

Wrapping up the with a final push of superb selling points are briefs filled by Ken Penders (Sonic the Hedgehog), some Twinkies moments courtesy of John Romita Snr. (Amazing Spider-Man) and Ross Andru & Mike Esposito (Wonder Woman; The War that Time Forgot; The Metal Men; Amazing Spider-Man), a drinks campaign designed to reach modern youth featuring Daniel Clowes (Lloyd Llewellyn; Eightball; Ghost World; Patience) and an abundance of superb stuff from the mightily prolific Jack Davis (Mad; Frontline Combat; Rawhide Kid).

Available in paperback or instantly gratifying digital editions and stuffed with astounding images, fascinating lost ephemera and mouth-watering bouts of nostalgia, Comics Ad Men is an absolute visual delight no fan of pop culture, comics or narrative illustration will be able to resist.
© 2019 Steven Brower and Fantagraphics Books. All art and trademarks © & ™ & their respective copyright and trademark holders. Essay © Steven Brower. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Aquaman volume 2


By Jack Miller, Bob Haney, Dave Wood, Ramona Fradon, Nick Cardy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1712-9 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Festive Fluid Fun and Thrills… 8/10

Aquaman was another rare superheroes to survive the collapse at the end of the Golden Age: a rather nondescript and generally bland looking guy who solved maritime crimes and mysteries when not rescuing fish and people from sub-sea disasters.

He was created by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris in the wake of Timely Comics’ Sub-Mariner, launching in More Fun Comics #73 (1941). Strictly a second stringer for most of his career, he nevertheless continued long beyond many stronger features, illustrated by Norris, Louis Cazaneuve and Charles Paris, until young Ramona Fradon took over the art chores in 1954, by which time Aquaman had moved to a regular back-up slot in Adventure Comics. She was to draw every single adventure until 1960.

In 1956, Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s imagination and zest for costumed crime-fighters and, as well as re-imagining many departed Golden Age stalwarts, DC also updated its isolated survivors. Records are incomplete, sadly, so often we don’t know who wrote what, but after the initial revamp better records survive and this second collection of the King of the Seven Seas poses far fewer creative credit conundrums.

Although now the star of his own title, Aquaman continued as a back-up feature in World’s Finest Comics until 1964 and this monochrome chronological compilation includes those tales (issues #130-133, 135, 137, 139), his Brave and the Bold team-up with Hawkman (#51) and the contents of Aquaman #7-23, comprehensively covering December 1962 through September-October 1965: a period that led directly into the King of the Seven Seas becoming one of DC’s earliest TV stars as part of the animated Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure.

The major writers from those years were Jack Miller and Bob Haney and – although some records are lost and a few later scripts remain unattributed – recognizing artists is far less troubling. The World’s Finest yarns were Fradon’s last: captivatingly clean, economical lines bringing to unique life charming little adventure and mystery vignettes which always were and still are a joy to behold.

Thereafter, apart from a memorable and brief return to co-create Metamorpho the Element Man, she left comics until 1972 to raise her daughter.

We begin with ‘King of the Land Beasts’ (WFC #130, by Haney & Fradon) is a typically high-quality teaser about an alien Aquaman whilst ‘The Sea Beasts from Atlantis’ (Aquaman #7 by Miller & Nick Cardy) pitted the Sea Lord and Aqualad against sub-sea monsters and a plot to overthrow the government of the lost city, abetted if not quite aided by mystical sea imp Quisp.

‘The Man Who Controlled Water’ (World’s Finest # 131, Miller & Fradon) saw them tackle a scientist who could solidify liquids into fearsome weapons, whilst in issue #8 of their own magazine, Miller & Cardy revealed ‘The Plot to Steal the Seas’ with the oceanic adventurers battling far out of their comfort zone to thwart marauding aliens.

Dave Wood scripted quirky thriller ‘The Fish in the Iron Mask’ (WFC #132) wherein faithful octopus Topo is possessed by a sinister helmet and ‘The Secret Mission of King Neptune’ (Aquaman #9, Miller & Cardy) seemingly brings the heroes into bombastic contention with the God of the Oceans – but is he all he seems?

World’s Finest Comics #133 briefly introduces ‘Aquaman’s New Partner – Aqua-Girl’, but Miller & Fradon’s creation was strictly a one shot deal, whereas ‘War of the Water Sprites’ (Aquaman #10, Miller & Cardy) introduced an evil band of Quisp’s fellow imps who eerily presaged a tale of the JSA decades later…

Miller & Fradon’s ‘The Creatures that Conquered Aquaman’ (WFC #135) is another alien invasion extravaganza whilst Aquaman #11 features the landmark introduction of the Sea King’s future wife Mera in Miller & Cardy’s extravaganza ‘The Doom from Dimension Aqua’, whilst #12 present two shorter thrillers from Haney, ‘The Menace of the Land-Sea Beasts’ – with mutated jungle animals wreaking sub-sea havoc – and ‘The Cosmic Gladiators!’, wherein the seaborne sentinels are press-ganged into an intergalactic cage-fight contest.

Miller provided the penultimate World’s Finest outing ‘The Day Aquaman Lost his Powers’ in #137 and Haney scripted a manic tale of team-up terror for superb veteran artist Howard Purcell in ‘Fury of the Exiled Creature’ (The Brave and the Bold #51, December 1963-January 1964) in which the fearsome Outcast of Atlantis turns mutational powers against not just Aquaman but also new DC superstars Hawkman and Hawkgirl.

Aquaman #13 then sees Mera return in the Miller-penned ‘Invasion of the Giant Reptiles’ as the tide-crossed lovers unite to defeat criminals from the future. Fradon & Miller wrap up his World’s Finest tenure in high style with #139’s taut thriller ‘The Doom Hunters’, leaving Cardy as sole Aquaman artist. His work gradually became more representational and realistic, although Miller’s ‘Aquaman’s Secret Powers!’ still held plenty of fantastic fantasy as a dying derelict curses the Sea King with incredible new abilities, whilst the second tale in #14 – ‘The Tyrant Ruler of Atlantis’ – finds the temporarily deranged hero seizing the throne of the sunken city. Within scant months he would be legitimately offered the crown…

Miller wrote the next four issues, beginning with sinister scientific tragedy ‘Menace of the Man-Fish’, #16’s ‘The Duel of the Sea Queens!’ – as Mera battled an alien siren who set her tentacled cap for Aquaman – and #17’s ‘The Man who Vanquished Aquaman’, wherein the god Poseidon abducted Mera.

All this romantic tension and concentration was for a purpose. The next issue featured ‘The Wife of Aquaman’ wherein the Sea King marries his extra-dimensional beloved in one of the first superhero weddings of the Silver Age. Talk about instant responsibilities…

None of the remaining tales have a credited scripter, but that doesn’t affect their wonderful readability nor Cardy’s better-every-panel artwork, beginning with #19’s ‘Atlanteans For Sale’ as new bride Mera slowly goes bonkers due to her husband’s neglectful super-hero schedule. Cue the arrival of merman man-candy Nikkor who insinuates himself into her affections… and the throne!

This surprisingly adult tale is followed by #20’s ‘The Sea King’s Double Doom’, as an old friend and shape-changing monster both hit Atlantis at the same time. Coincidence? We think not…

Super-villain the Fisherman debuts in #21’s ‘The Fearful Freak from Atlantis’ with the Sea King transformed into a sea monster, whilst ‘The Trap of the Sinister Sea Nymphs’ introduces Mera’s wicked twin sister before this splendidly engaging volume concludes on another groundbreaking high-note with issue #23’s ‘The Birth of Aquababy’. Unfortunately, the happy couple’s newborn child displays uncanny powers (and yes, you nit-picking gossips, it was nine months later… exactly nine months).

One of the greatest advantages of these big value black-&-white compendiums was the opportunity they provided whilst chronologically collecting a character’s adventures to include crossovers and guest spots from other titles. When the star is as long-lived and incredibly peripatetic as DC’s King of the Seven Seas, that’s an awful lot of extra appearances for a fan to find…

DC has a long and comforting history of gentle, innocuous yarn-spinning with quality artwork. Ramona Fradon’s Aquaman is one of the most neglected runs of such accessible material, and it’s a pleasure to discover just how readable they still are. When the opportunity arises to compare her wonderful work to the exponentially improving superhero work of such a stellar talent as Nick Cardy, this book becomes another fan’s must-have item. More so when all the stories are still suitable for kids of all ages.

Hopefully the current editorial administration will soon get around to revisiting them in new archival chronicles and digital editions, but until then why not treat yourself and your youngsters to a timeless dose of whimsy and adventure? You won’t regret it.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Fantastic Four Epic Collection volume 7: Battle of the Behemoths 1970-1972


By Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, John Romita, John Buscema, Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnott, John Verpoorten, Frank Giacoia, Jim Mooney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2913-8 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fantastic Fight Fuelled Fun… 8/10

It’s still 60 glorious years of the team who changed comics forever, so let’s revisit some more Mighty Marvel Magic…

Cautiously bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, Fantastic Four #1 (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule) was raw and crude even by the ailing company’s standards: but it seethed with rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on its dynamic storytelling and caught a wave of change starting to build in America. It and succeeding issues changed comics forever.

As seen in the groundbreaking premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancée Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s annoying teenaged brother survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

All permanently mutated: Richards’ body became elastic, Sue became (even more) invisible, Johnny Storm burst into living flame whilst tragic Ben shockingly devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. After the initial revulsion and trauma passed, they solemnly agreed to use their abilities to benefit mankind. Thus was born The Fantastic Four.

Throughout the 1960s the FF was indisputably the core title and most consistently groundbreaking series of Marvel’s ever-unfolding web of cosmic creation: a forge for new concepts and characters. Kirby was in his creative prime: continually unleashing his vast imagination on plot after spectacular plot, whilst Lee scripted some of the most passionate superhero sagas ever seen.

Both were on an unstoppable roll, at the height of their powers and full of the confidence only success brings, with The King particularly eager to see how far the genre and the medium could be pushed… which is rather ironic since it was the company’s reticence to give the artist creative freedom which led to Kirby’s jumping ship to National/DC in the first place…

And then, he was gone…

With this collection from “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” a new style develops. Without Kirby’s restless imagination the rollercoaster of mind-bending High Concepts gave way to more traditional tales of characters in conflict, with soap-opera leanings and super-villain-dominated Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas.

This blockbuster bonanza compendium – also available in digital editions – gathers issues #105-125 (spanning December 1970-August 1972) and opens with The Monster in the Streets!’

Scripted by Lee and illustrated by John Romita & inker John Verpoorten, this is a low-key yet extremely effective suspense thriller played against a resuming subplot of Johnny’s failing romance. When his Inhuman girlfriend Crystal is taken ill – preparatory to writing her out of the series completely – Reed’s diligent examination reveals a potential method of curing the misshapen Thing of his rocky curse.

Tragically, as Ben is prepped for the radical process, a mysterious energy-beast starts tearing up the city. By the time ‘The Monster’s Secret!’ is exposed in #106, the team strongman is almost dead and Crystal is gone… seemingly forever.

Veteran inker Joe Sinnott returns in #107 for ‘And Now… the Thing!’ as John Buscema assumes the illustrator’s reins over Kirby’s other masterpiece (he had already been drawing Thor for four months – starting with #182).

Here and now the unfortunate man-monster gains the power to become human at will. It seems the best of all possible outcomes but something isn’t quite right…

However, before Reed can investigate an old foe pops up again. Sort of…

Fantastic Four #108 was something of a surprise to fans. ‘The Monstrous Mystery of the Nega-Man!’ “reintroduced” a character never seen before.

This was done by recycling large portions of a recently-rejected Kirby & Sinnott tale and adding new framing sequences illustrated by Buscema and Romita. The mysterious Janus had tapped into the antimatter power of the Negative Zoneonce before and “now” resurfaces to steal more by crashing through the portal in Reed’s lab. Unfortunately, this attracts the attention of extinction-event predator Annihilus, who had long sought entry into our life-rich universe…

Forced to follow the utterly mad scientist, Reed, Ben and Johnny once again face ‘Death in the Negative Zone!’ (Lee. Buscema& Sinnott) before FF #110 sees – thanks to a little arcane assistance from sorceress/babysitter Agatha Harkness – Reed escape doom in the anti-cosmos only to realise that “cured” Ben has become lethally sociopathic: a threat to all humanity in ‘One from Four Leaves Three!’

Able to switch between human and monster forms, ‘The Thing… Amok’ rampages through New York, with Mr. Fantastic and the Human Torch desperately trying to minimise the damage their deranged friend inflicts on the city even as increasingly marginalised Sue Richards is packed off to tend baby Franklin beside eldritch governess Harkness…

With all of New York apparently against them, the embattled heroes are on the ropes when the Incredible Hulk joins the fracas for #112’s Battle of the Behemoths!’.

As Sue finally and rebelliously returns, The Thing seems to have perished in the brutal battle that ensued when the monsters met, but once again Reed saves – and cures – his best friend just as another menace materialises…

‘The Power of… the Over-Mind!’ reveals another insidious cosmic menace, presaged and prophesised by an ominous warning from omniscient alien spectator The Watcher.

The psionic super-menace further incites civilian antipathy towards the FF in But Who Shall Stop the Over-Mind?’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) before manifesting and physically trouncing the team.

With #115,  Stan Lee surrendered scripting to Archie Goodwin, who promptly revealed ‘The Secret of the Eternals’ (not the earthly proto-gods and blockbuster movie icons created by Kirby, but an entirely different ancient alien race) in a visually stunning sequence limned by Buscema & Sinnott, culminating in Reed being taken over by the Over-Mind and turning on his erstwhile comrades…

The saga concludes with double-sized Fantastic Four #116’s ‘The Alien, the Ally, and… Armageddon!’ as the defeated, embattled heroes – unable to access any superhero assistance – recruit arch foe Doctor Doom to lead them in final battle against the seemingly unbeatable Over-Mind. They are nonetheless crushed and only saved at the crucial moment by a most unexpected saviour in ‘Now Falls the Final Hour!’

Having helped save the world – and with time on his hot little hands – the heartsick Human Torch heads for the Himalayas and a long-delayed rapprochement with lost girlfriend Crystal in FF #117.

Months previously she had been forced to abandon human civilisation because modern pollutants poisoned her system, but when blazing mad Johnny battles his way into her hidden homeland in ‘The Flame and the Quest!’, he is horrified to discover that she had never arrived back in the Great Refuge of Attilan

Flying back to New York, Johnny consults part-time nanny and career-sorceress Agatha Harkness who traces Crystal to the Central American dictatorship of Terra Verde. Arriving there exhausted and expectant, Johnny finds his love is the mesmerised slave of arcane alchemist Diabolo.

The mystic has convinced the populace – and Crystal herself – that she is a reborn goddess he needs to seize control in ‘Thunder in the Ruins!’ (inked by Jim Mooney). He would have succeeded too, if not for that flaming kid…

The issue included an intriguing vignette starring the Thing: ‘What Mad World?’ (Goodwin, Buscema & Mooney) finds the Tragic Titan afforded a glimpse of an alternate Earth where an even greater mishap occurred after the fateful spaceflight which created the team…

The Black Panther – cautiously renamed Black Leopard for contemporary political reasons – guest-starred in #119’s ‘Three Stood Together!’ as inker Sinnott returned and Roy Thomas scripted a damning, if shaded, indictment of South Africa’s apartheid regime.

When the heroic ruler of jungle wonderland Wakanda is interned in white-ruled state Rudyarda, Ben and Johnny fly in to bust him out and clash with old enemy Klaw who is attempting to steal a deadly new super-weapon…

Fantastic Four #120 heralded an extended and somewhat overlong epic by Stan Lee which began with ‘The Horror that Walks on Air!’ as a seemingly omnipotent invader claiming to be an angel scours and scourges Earth before declaring humanity doomed.

The tale vividly yet laboriously continues in ‘The Mysterious Mind-Blowing Secret of Gabriel!’ with the recently reunited, utterly overmatched quartet saved by the late-arriving Silver Surfer before facing off against world-devouring ‘Galactus Unleashed’. The end comes and humanity survives another day thanks to Reed who again outsmarts the cosmic god and prevents the consumption of ‘This World Enslaved!’

Although beautifully illustrated, the hackneyed saga was a series low-point, but Lee was back on solid dramatic ground with #124’s ‘The Return of the Monster’ and concluding episode ‘The Monster’s Secret!’, wherein the mystery menace Reed once dubbed ‘the Monster from the Lost Lagoon’ resurfaces to haunt a Manhattan hospital, steal drugs and kidnap Sue… but only for the best and most noble of reasons…

His depredations are soon halted and explained, concluding this tome on a rare quiet note but more calamity was still to come…

Did I say concluding? Not quite; as there’s still room for the Romita/Verpoorten cover to all-reprint Fantastic FourAnnual #8 plus the Kirby & Vince Colletta cover to 1971’s Annual #9; a stunning house ad; original art pages by Romita and Buscema, uncorrected cover proofs; the rare misprinted pink-&-green cover for FF #110 and 6 previous collection covers by Alan Davis & Steve Buccellato to delight and enthral…

Although sacrificing spectacle and wonder for simple continuous conflict, the Fantastic Four remained at the heart of the Marvel Universe for decades, offering furious Fights ‘n’ Tights thrills to delight and beguile. Why not check out how and why?
© 2021 MARVEL.

The Jack Kirby Omnibus Volume One: Green Arrow and others


By Jack Kirby, with Joe Simon, France E. Herron, Dave Wood, Bill Finger, Robert Bernstein, Frank Giacoia, Roz Kirby & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3107-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Action and Moody Mystery for All Seasons… 9/10

Green Arrow is one of DC’s Golden All-Stars. He’s been a fixture of the company – in many instances for no discernible reason – more or less continually since his 1941 debut in More Fun Comics #73. Many Happy Returns, Emerald Archer!

In those distant heady days, origins weren’t as important as image and storytelling, so creators Mort Weisinger & George Papp never bothered. The first inkling of formative motivations came in More Fun Comics # 89 (March 1943) wherein Joe Samachson & Cliff Young detailed ‘The Birth of the Battling Bowman’ (and a tip of the feathered hat to Scott McCullar for bringing that tale to my belated attention).

With the secret revealed, it was promptly ignored for years, leaving later workmen France Herron, Jack Kirby and his wife Roz to fill in the blanks again…

Jack Kirby was – and remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are millions of words written – such as those here by former Kirby assistant Mark Evanier in the revelatory and myth-busting Introduction to this gloriously enthralling full-colour hardback compilation – about what the King has done and meant, and you should read those too, if you are at all interested in our medium.

Tragically this particular tome is not available digitally yet, but that will just make it an even more impressive gift this year…

For those of us who grew up with his work, his are the images which furnish and clutter our interior mindsets. Close your eyes and think “robot” and the first thing that pops up is a Kirby creation. Every fantastic, futuristic city in our heads is crammed with his chunky, towering spires. Because of Jack we all know what the bodies beneath those stony-head statues on Easter Island look like, and we are all viscerally aware that you can never trust great big aliens parading around in their underpants…

When comic books began, in a remarkably short time Kirby and his creative partner Joe Simon became the wonder-kid dream-team of the new-born industry. After generating a year’s worth of the influential monthly Blue Bolt, and dashing off Captain Marvel Adventures (#1) for Fawcett, Martin Goodman appointed Simon editor at Timely, where “S&K” created a host of iconic stars like Red Raven, the first Marvel Boy, Hurricane, The Vision, The Young Allies, immortal villain The Red Skull and of course million-selling mega-hit Captain America (and Bucky AKA today’s Winter Soldier).

When Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations, Simon & Kirby were snapped up by National DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a fat chequebook. Bursting with ideas the staid company were never really comfortable with, the pair were initially an uneasy fit, and were given two moribund strips to play with until they found their creative feet: Sandman and Manhunter.

They turned both around virtually overnight and, once established and left to their own devices, switched to the “Kid Gang” genre they had pioneered at Timely. Joe & Jack created wartime sales sensation The Boy Commandos and Homefront iteration the Newsboy Legion before being called up to serve in the war they had been fighting on comicbook pages since 1940.

When they returned it was to a very different funnybook business, and soon they left National to create their own little empire.

Simon & Kirby heralded and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not just by inventing the Romance genre, but with all manner of challenging modern material about real people in extraordinary situations. They saw it all disappear again in less than eight years. Their small stable of magazines – generated for an association of interlinked companies known as Prize/Crestwood/Pines/Essenkay/Mainline Comics – blossomed and as quickly wilted when the industry abruptly contracted throughout the 1950s. After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby had finally established their own publishing house, producing comics for a far more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by an anti-comicbook pogrom.

Hysterical censorship-fever spearheaded by US Senator Estes Kefauver and opportunistic pop psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham led to witch-hunting Senate hearings. Caving in, publishers adopted a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulation. Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high. Crime comics vanished and mature themes challenging society’s status quo were suppressed…

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Kirby soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if less daring, companies. As the panic subsided, Kirby returned briefly to DC where he worked on mystery tales and Green Arrow (a back-up strip in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics) whilst concentrating on his long-dreamed-of newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

During that period, he also re-packaged a super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and Joe had closed their innovative, ill-timed ventures. At the end of 1956, Showcase #6 (a try-out title that launched many DC mainstays) premiered the Challengers of the Unknown. After 3 more test issues they won their own title, with Kirby in command for the first 8. Then a legal dispute with Editor Jack Schiff kicked off and the King was gone…

During that brief 3-year period (cover-dated 1957-1959), Kirby also crafted a plethora of short comics yarns which this fabulous tome re-presents – in originally-published order. It comprises superhero, mystery and science fiction shorts from Tales of the Unexpected #12, 13, 15-18, 21- 24; House of Mystery #61, 63, 65, 66, 70, 72, 76, 84, 85; House of Secrets#3, 4, 8, 12; My Greatest Adventure #15- 18, 20, 21, 28; Adventure Comics #250-256 and World’s Finest Comics # 96-99: a lost gem from All-Star Western #99 plus 3 quirky vignettes by Simon & Kirby from 1946-1947 for Real Fact Comics #1, 2 and 6.

Records are sparse and scanty from those days when no creator was allowed a by-line, so many of these stories carry no writer’s credit (and besides, Kirby was notorious for rewriting scripts he was unhappy with drawing) but Group Editor Schiff’s regular stable of authors included Dave Wood, Bill Finger, Ed Herron, Joe Samachson, George Kashdan, Jack Miller and Otto Binder, so feel free to play the “whodunit” game…

National DC Comics was relatively slow in joining the post-war mystery comics boom, but as 1951 closed they at last launched a gore-free, comparatively straight-laced anthology which nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles: The House of Mystery (cover-dated December 1951/January 1952). Its success inevitably led to a raft of similar creature-filled fantasy anthologies such as Sensation Mystery, My Greatest Adventure, House of Secrets and Tales of the Unexpected.

With the Comics Code in full effect, plot options for mystery and suspense stories were savagely curtailed: limited to ambiguous, anodyne magical artefacts, wholesomely education mythological themes, science-based miracles and criminal chicanery. Although marvellously illustrated, stories were rationalistic, fantasy-adventure vehicles which dominated until the early 1960s when superheroes (reinvigorated after Julius Schwartz reintroduced the Flash in Showcase #4, October 1956) usurped them…

In this volume, following that aforementioned Introduction – describing Kirby’s 3 tours of duty with DC in very different decades – the vintage wonderment commences with another example of the ingenious versatility of Jack & Joe.

Originating in the wholesome and self-explanatory Real Fact Comics, ‘The Rocket-Lanes of Tomorrow’ (#1, March/April 1946) and ‘A World of Thinking Robots’ from #2 (May/June 1946) are forward-looking, retro-fabulous graphic prognostications of the “World that’s Coming”. A longer piece from #6 (July/August 1947) details the history and achievements of ‘Backseat Driver’ and road-safety campaigner Mildred McKay.

These were amongst the very last strips the duo produced for National before moving to Crestwood/Pines, so we skip ahead a decade and more for Jack’s return in House of Secrets #3 (March/April 1957) where ‘The Three Prophecies’reveals an eerie tale of a spiritualist conman being fleeced by an even more skilful grifter… until Fate takes a hand…

Mythological mysticism informs the strange tale of ‘The Thing in the Box’ (House of Mystery #61, April 1957) wherein a salvage diver is obsessed with a deadly casket his captain is all too eager to dump into the ocean.

From the same month, Tales of the Unexpected #12 focuses on ‘The All-Seeing Eye’ as a journalist responsible for many impossible scoops realises the potential dangers of the ancient artefact he employs far outweigh its benefits …

In House of Secrets #4 (May/June 1957) the ‘Master of the Unknown’ seems destined to take the big cash prize on a TV quiz show until the producer deduces his uncanny secret, after which ‘I Found the City under the City’ (My Greatest Adventure #15, from the same month) details how fishermen recover the last testament of a lost oceanographer and read of how he intended to foil an impending invasion by aquatic aliens…

From May 1957, France E. Herron & Kirby investigated ‘The Face Behind the Mask’ (Tales of the Unexpected #13): a gripping crime-caper in involving gullible men, a vibrant femme fatale and the quest for eternal youth. There was no fakery to ‘Riddle of the Red Roc’ (House of Mystery #63, June) as a venal explorer hatches and trains the invulnerable bird of legend, creating an unstoppable thief before succumbing to his own greed, after which My Greatest Adventure #16 (July/August) features a truly eerie threat as an explorer is sucked into a deadly association creating death and destruction to learn ‘I Died a Thousand Times’

That month, Unexpected #15 offered ‘Three Wishes to Doom’: a crafty thriller proving that even with a genie’s lamp, crime does not pay, after which weird science transforms a rash scientist into ‘The Human Dragon’ (HoM #65 August, with George Roussos inking his old pal Jack), although his time to repent is brief as a criminal mastermind capitalises on his misfortune…

There’s an understandable frisson of foreshadowing to ‘The Magic Hammer’ (Tales of the Unexpected #16 August) as it relates how a prospector finds a magical mallet capable of creating storms and goes into the rainmaking business… until the original owner turns up…

A smart gimmick underscores a tantalising tale of plagiarism and possible telepathy in ‘The Thief of Thoughts’ (HoM #66 September) whilst straight Sci Fi tropes inform the tale of a hotel detective and a most unusual guest in ‘Who is Mr. Ashtar?’ (Tales of the Unexpected #17, September) before My Greatest Adventure #17 September/October 1957) reveals how aliens intent on invasion brainwash a millionaire scientist to eradicate humanity in ‘I Doomed the World’.Happily one glaring error was made…

In Tales of the Unexpected #18 (October), Kirby shows how an astute astronomer saves us all by outwitting an energy being with big appetites in ‘The Man Who Collected Planets’, after which MGA #18 (November/December 1957) ushers in the comic book Atomic Age with ‘I Tracked the Nuclear Creature’ detailing how a hunter sets out to destroy a macabre mineral monster created by uncontrolled fission…

A new year dawned with Roussos inking ‘The Creatures from Nowhere!’ (HoM #70, January 1958) as escaped alien beasts rampage through a quiet town, and HoS #8 (January/February) finds greed, betrayal, murder and supernatural suspense are the watchwords when a killer tries to silence ‘The Cats who Knew Too Much!’

Tales of the Unexpected #21 (also January) sees a smart investor proving too much for apparent extraterrestrial ‘The Mysterious Mr. Vince’, whilst a month later Unexpected #22 sees an ‘Invasion of the Volcano Men’ start in fiery fury and panicked confrontations before resolving into an alliance against uncontrolled forces of nature.

Kirby never officially worked for National’s large Westerns division, but apparently his old friend and neighbour Frank Giacoia did, and occasionally needed Jack’s legendary pencilling speed to meet deadlines. ‘The Ambush at Smoke Canyon!’ features long-running cavalry hero Foley of the Fighting 5th single-handedly stalking Pawnee renegades in a somewhat standard sagebrush saga scripted by Herron and inked by Giacoia from All-Star Western #99 (February/March 1958).

Meanwhile in House of Mystery #72 (March) a shameless B-Movie Producer seemingly becomes ‘The Man who Betrayed Earth’ whilst in MGA #20 (March/April), interplanetary bonds of friendship are forged when space pirates kidnap assorted sentients and a canny Earthling saves the day in ‘I Was Big-Game on Neptune’

Inadvertent cosmic catastrophe is narrowly averted in Tales of the Unexpected #23 (March) when one man realises how to make contact with ‘The Giants from Outer Space’, after which issue #24 (April) slips into wild whimsy as ‘The Two-Dimensional Man!’ strives desperately to correct his incredible condition before being literally blown away…

When an early space-shot brings back an all-consuming horror in MGA #21 (May/June 1958), a brace of boffins realise‘We Were Doomed by the Metal-Eating Monster’ before ‘The Artificial Twin’ (HoM #76, July) combines mad doctor super-science with fraud and deception and House of Secrets #12 (September) sees one frantic man struggling to close ‘The Hole in the Sky’ before invading aliens use it to conquer mankind…

Also scattered throughout this extraordinary compendium of the bizarre is a stunning and bombastic Baker’s Dozen of Kirby’s fantastic covers from the period, but for most modern fans the real meat is the short, sharp sequence of superhero shockers that follow…

On his debut, Green Arrow proved quite successful. With boy partner Speedy, he was one of precious few masked stalwarts to survive beyond the Golden Age. His blatant blend of Batman and Robin Hood seemed to have very little going for itself, but the Emerald Archer always managed to keep himself in vogue. He carried on adventuring in the back of other heroes’ comic books, joined the Justice League of America just as their star was rising and later became – courtesy of Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams – the spokes-hero of the anti-establishment generation, during the 1960-70’s “Relevancy Comics” trend.

Later, under Mike Grell’s stewardship and thanks to epic miniseries Green Arrow: the Longbow Hunters, he at last became a headliner: re-imagined as an urban predator dealing with corporate thugs and serial killers rather than costumed goof-balls. This version, more than any other, informs and underpins the TV incarnation seen in Arrow.

After his long career and numerous venue changes, by the time of Schwartz’s resurrection of the Superhero genre the Battling Bowman was a solid second feature in Adventure and World’s Finest Comics where, as part of the wave of retcons, reworkings and spruce-ups DC administered to their remaining costumed old soldiers, a fresh start began in the summer of 1958.

Part of that revival happily coincided with Kirby’s return to National Comics.

As revealed in Evanier’s Introduction, after working on anthological stories for Schiff, the King was asked to revise the idling archer and responded by beefing up the science fictional aspects. When supervising editor – and creator – Weisinger objected, changes were toned down and Kirby saw the writing was on the wall. He lost interest and began quietly looking elsewhere for work…

What resulted was a tantalisingly short run of 11 astounding action-packed, fantasy-filled swashbucklers, the first of which was scripted by Bill Finger as ‘The Green Arrows of the World’ (Adventure Comics #251, July 1958) sees costumed archers from many nations attending a conference in Star City. They are blithely unaware that a fugitive criminal with murder in his heart is hiding within their masked midst…

August’s #251 takes a welcome turn to astounding science fiction as Kirby scripted and resolved ‘The Case of the Super-Arrows’ wherein the Amazing Archers take possession of high-tech trick shafts sent from 3000 AD. World’s Finest Comics #96 (writer unknown) then reveals, ‘Five Clues to Danger’ – a classic kidnap mystery made even more impressive by Kirby’s lean, raw illustration and wife Roz’s sharp inking.

A practically unheard-of continued case spanned Adventure #252 and 253 as Dave Wood, Jack & Roz posed ‘The Mystery of the Giant Arrows’ before GA and Speedy briefly became ‘Prisoners of Dimension Zero’ – a spectacular riot of giant aliens and incredible exotic other worlds, followed in WFC #97 (October 1958) with a grand old-school crime-caper in Herron’s ‘The Mystery of the Mechanical Octopus’.

Kirby was having fun and going from strength to strength. Adventure #254 featured ‘The Green Arrow’s Last Stand’ (by Wood): a particularly fine example with the Bold Bowmen crashing into a hidden valley where Sioux braves thrive unchanged since the time of Custer. The next issue saw the heroes battling a battalion of Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender their island bunker in ‘The War That Never Ended!’ (also by Wood).

December’s WFC #98 almost ended the heroes’ careers in Herron’s ‘The Unmasked Archers’ wherein a private practical joke causes the pair to inadvertently expose themselves to public scrutiny and deadly danger…

As previous stated, in the heady early days origins weren’t as important as just plain getting on with it. The definitive version was left to later workmen Herron, Jack & Roz (in Kirby’s penultimate tale), filling in the blanks with ‘The Green Arrow’s First Case’ as the superhero revival hit its stride. It appeared in Adventure Comics #256, cover-dated January 1959 and this time the story stuck, becoming – with numerous tweaking over successive years – the basis of the modern Amazing Archer of page and screen.

Here we learned how wealthy wastrel Oliver Queen was cast away on a deserted island and learned to use a hand-made bow and survive. When a band of scurvy mutineers fetched up on his desolate shores, Queen used his newfound skills to defeat them and returned to civilisation with a new career and purpose…

Kirby’s spectacular swan-song came in WFC #99 (January 1959) with ‘Crimes under Glass’. Written by Robert Bernstein, it sees GA and Speedy confronting crafty criminals with a canny clutch of optical armaments, before the Archer steadfastly slid back into the sedate, gimmick-heavy rut of pre-Kirby times…

The King had moved on to other enterprises – Archie Comics with Joe Simon and a little outfit which would soon be calling itself Marvel Comics – but his rapid rate of creation had left a number of completed tales in DC’s inventory pile which slowly emerged for months thereafter and neatly wrap up this comprehensive compendium of the uncanny.

From My Greatest Adventure #28 (February 1959) ‘We Battled the Microscopic Menace!’ pits brave boffins against a ravening devourer their meddling with unknown forces had unleashed, whilst a month later HoM #84 depicted a terrifying struggle against ‘The Negative Man’ as an embattled researcher fought his own unleashed energy doppelganger.

It all ends in an unforgettable spectacular as House of Mystery #85 (April 1959) awakens ‘The Stone Sentinels of Giant Island’, who rampage across a lost Pacific island and threaten the brave crew of a scientific survey vessel… until one wise man deduces their incredible secret…

Jack Kirby was and is unique and uncompromising: his words and pictures are an unparalleled, hearts-and-minds grabbing delight no comics lover could resist. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind.

That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the American comics scene and the entire comics planet: affecting billions of readers and thousands of creators in every arena of artistic endeavour for generations. He still wins new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep and simultaneously mythic and human.

This collection from his transformative middle period exults in sheer escapist wonderment, and no one should miss the graphic exploits of these perfect adventures in that ideal setting of not-so-long-ago in a simpler, better time and place than ours.
© 1946, 1947, 1957, 1958, 1959, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection volume 5 – 1968-1970: The Secret of the Petrified Tablet


By Stan Lee, John Romita, John Buscema, Larry Lieber, Marie Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2196-5 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Scintillant Superhero Sagas… 9/10

The Amazing Spider-Man was always a comic book that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead of – its fan-base. In this superbly scintillating compilation of chronologically corrected webspinning wonderment (available in ponderous paperback or ephemeral eBook formats), the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero barely survives another rocky period of transformation as the second great era of Amazing Arachnid artists moved inevitably to a close. Although the elder John Romita would remain closely connected to the Wallcrawler’s adventures for some time yet, these tales would number amongst his last sustained run as lead illustrator.

After a shaky start, The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a sensation with kids of all ages. Before long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

You know the story: Peter Parker was a smart-but-alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. On discovering he’d developed astonishing abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the boy did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

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

Crazed and vengeful, Peter hunted the assailant who’d made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, discovering, to his horror, that it was the self-same felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility had resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and the traumatised boy swore to forevermore use his powers to help others. Since that night, the Wondrous Wallcrawler tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them…

The rise and rise of the Amazing Arachnid increased pace as the Swinging Sixties drew to a close. By the time of the tales collected in this fulsome, Epic Collection – featuring Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5 and #68-85 of the monthly title (spanning October 1968 to June 1970) and the usual basket of editorial extras – Peter and his ever-expanding cast of comrades were on the way to being household names and the darlings of college campuses and media intelligentsia.

Stan Lee’s scripts were completely in tune with the times – as understood by most kids’ parents at least – and the increasing use of soap opera tactics kept older readers glued to the series even if the bombastic battle sequences didn’t.

Thematically, there’s still a large percentage of old-fashioned crime and gangsterism and, arguably, an overuse of mystery plots. Costumed super-foes as antagonists were finely balanced with the usual suspect-pool of thugs, hoods and mob-bosses, but these were not the individual gangs of the Ditko days. Now Organised Crime and Mafia analogue The Maggiawere the big criminal-cultural touchstone as comics caught up with modern movies and headlines.

This volume opens with Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5, by Lee and his brother Larry Lieber. Inked by Mike Esposito – still in his clandestine “Mickey DeMeo” guise – it clears up a huge mystery in the webspinner’s life by revealing the secret behind the deaths of ‘The Parents of Peter Parker!’.

Played as an exotic spy-thriller, the tale takes Spider-Man to the Algerian Casbah to confront the Red Skull. Nit-pickers and continuity-mavens will no doubt be relieved to hear the villain was in fact retconned later and designated as the second (Soviet) master-villain – who featured in the 1953-1954 Captain America revival, not the Nazi original that Lee and Co had clearly forgotten was in “suspended animation” throughout that decade when writing this otherwise perfect action romp and heartstring-tugging melodrama…

That annual also provided a nifty Daily Bugle cast pin-up, a speculative sports feature displaying the advantages of Spider powers, a NYC street-map of the various locations where the Spidey saga unfolded, plus a spoof section displaying how the Wallcrawler would look if published by Disney/Gold Key, DC or Archie Comics, or drawn by Al “Li’l Abner” Capp, Chester “Dick Tracy” Gould and Charles “Peanuts” Schulz.

It all wraps up with ‘Here We Go A-Plotting!’: a comedic glimpse at work in the Marvel Bullpen, uncredited but unmistakably drawn by marvellous Marie Severin…

Issue #68 (by Lee, Romita & Jim Mooney) launched a lengthy saga devoted to the pursuit of an ancient stone tablet by various nefarious forces, beginning as The Kingpin exploits a topical moment of student dissent to trigger a ‘Crisis on the Campus!’ When a seemingly inevitable riot erupts, the Big Bad tries to swipe the artefact, leaving a few teenagers we’re all familiar with looking very guilty…

Meanwhile Peter Parker, already struggling with debt, a perpetually at-Death’s-Door Aunt May, relationship grief with girlfriend Gwen Stacy and no time to study, is accused of not being involved enough by his fellow students…

During this period scripter Lee increasingly tapped into contemporary student unrest in various Marvel titles, and ‘Mission: Crush the Kingpin!’ further tightens the screws as dissent explodes into violence whilst the corpulent crime czar incriminates Spider-Man in the tablet’s theft.

Hounded and harried in ‘Spider-Man Wanted!’, the web warrior nevertheless defeats the Kingpin, only to (briefly) believe himself a killer after he attacks personal gadfly J. Jonah Jameson in a fit of rage; causing an apparent heart attack in the obsessive, hero-hating publisher.

At his lowest ebb, and stuck with the tablet, Parker is attacked by sometime-Avenger Quicksilver in ‘The Speedster and the Spider!’ (#71), before John Buscema signs on as layout-man in ‘Rocked by… the Shocker!’

No sooner does Spider-Man leave the stone tablet with Gwen’s dad – former Police Chief George Stacy – than the vibrating villain (don’t bother – all the jokes have been done) attacks, pinching the petrified artefact and precipitating a frantic underworld civil war. The Maggia dispatch brutal over-sized  enforcer Man-Mountain Marko to retrieve it at all costs in ‘The Web Closes!’ (Lee, Buscema, Romita & Mooney) as upstart mob lawyer Caesar Cicero makes his long-anticipated move to depose aged Don of Dons Silvermane

The frail, elderly crime-lord knows the true secret – if not methodology – of the tablet, and abducts biologist Curt Connorsand his family to reconstruct the formula hidden on the stone and ensure his ultimate victory.

Sadly, nobody but Spider-Man knows Connors is also the lethal Lizard and that the slightest stress might unleash the reptilian monster within to once more threaten all humanity. ‘If this be Bedlam!’ (Romita & Mooney) leads directly into ‘Death Without Warning!’ as the decrypted secret of the tablet sparks a cataclysmic battle that seemingly destroys one warring faction forever, decimating the mobs, but also freeing a far more immediate and ferocious threat…

Issue #76 sees John Buscema become full penciller with suspenseful action yarn ‘The Lizard Lives!’ before concluding chapter ‘In the Blaze of Battle!’ witnesses the webspinner trying to defeat, cure and keep the tragic secret of his friend Connors, all whilst preventing guest-starring Human Torch Johnny Storm exterminating the rampaging rogue reptile forever…

Amazing Spider-Man #78 details ‘The Night of the Prowler!’ and features John Romita Junior’s first ever creator-credit for “suggesting” dissatisfied young black man Hobie Brown. Hobie briefly turns his frustrations and innate inventive genius to costumed criminal purposes until set straight by Spider-Man in concluding chapter ‘To Prowl No More!’

With #80, a string of single-issue adventures was instituted: short, stand-alone fight-episodes delivering maximum thrills and instant satisfaction. ‘On the Trail of the Chameleon!’ sees the criminal charlatan indulging in a robbery spree until the wallcrawler steps in, after which an action-packed if ridiculous punch-up results from ‘The Coming of The Kangaroo!’ It also includes a clear contender for daftest origin of all time…

Romita senior returned to pencil ‘And Then Came Electro!’ with the voltaic villain attempting to slaughter Spidey live on national TV.

Major revelations about the Kingpin came in a 3-part saga spanning #83-85: opening with the introduction of ‘The Schemer’ (Lee, Romita Sr. & Esposito): a mysterious, extremely well-heeled criminal outsider determined to destroy the power of the sumo-like crime-lord and usurp his position in the underworld.

‘The Kingpin Strikes Back!’ (Romita sr., Buscema & Mooney) and ‘The Secret of the Schemer!’ radically reshaped the Marvel Universe, not just by disclosing the family history of one of the company’s greatest villains, but also by sending Parker’s eternal gadfly Flash Thompson back to a dubious fate in Vietnam. It wasn’t the kid’s first tour, but now the war was becoming unpopular at home and the bombastic jingoism of earlier issues was replaced by more contemplative concerns as evoked by authorial mouthpiece Stan Lee…

Also on glorious show are the Romita Snr cover from all-reprint Amazing Spider-Man Annual #6; a reproduction of an earlier collection cover by Romita Snr & Richard Isanove, and a treasure trove (31 pages!) of original art, sketches, designs, rejected pages and covers plus pencils and roughs by Lieber, Romita Snr. Buscema, Mooney, Severin & Esposito.

Spider-Man became a permanent unmissable part of many teenagers’ lives at this time and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow. Blending cultural authenticity with glorious narrative art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness most of the readership experienced daily, resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive soap-opera slices, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

This book is Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. Care to see why?
© 2020 MARVEL

The Silent Invasion: Dark Matter


By Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-283-0 (TPB) eISBN 978-1-68112-284-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sinister, Seductive, Superb… 10/10

During the vast expansion of opportunity and outpouring of innovation that graced comics during the 1980s, much of the “brain-rotting trash” or “silly kid’s stuff” stigma which had plagued the medium was finally dispelled. America started catching up to the rest of the world; acknowledging sequential narrative as an actual Capital “A” Art Form, and their doors opened wide open for foreigners to make a few waves too…

One of the era’s most critically acclaimed and inescapably intoxicating features sprang from semi-Canadian outfit Renegade Press which set up shop in the USA at the start of the black & white comics bubble in 1984. They quickly established a reputation for excellence offering a strong line of creator-based properties including some genuinely remarkable series such as Ms. Tree, Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire, Flaming Carrot, Normalman, and a compulsively backwards-looking Cold War/UFO/paranoia-driven delight: The Silent Invasion.

That last was a stunningly stylish conspiracy saga, bolting 1950s domestic terrors (invasion by Reds; invasion by aliens; invasion by new ideas…) onto Film Noir chic: and employing 20-20 hindsight to produce a phenomenally fresh and enticing delight for the strangely similar Reagan era. From here and now, it’s never seemed more distressingly likely that politics, if not all history, is cursed to repeat certain cycles and strategies…

The series was eventually collected as four superbly oversized monochrome tomes, re-presenting the lead story from the first dozen issues of The Silent Invasion wherein inspired co-creators Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock designed a delightful confection combining all the coolest genre elements of classic cult sci-fi, horror, spy, conspiracy theory, crime, romance and even comedy yarns…

Now, as the world again teeters on the edge of a multiple-choice test of imminent dooms – and with America once more enduring internecine struggle amongst the citizenry, corruption, cover-ups at every level of government and the press under attack from the people and traditions it seeks to inform and safeguard – the series is remastered, revised, re-released and continued in a handy trade paperback size (or fully adjustable eBook format)…

Gripping and utterly addictive, The Silent Invasion is incomprehensibly charming and challenging. Rendered in a compelling, spectacularly expressionistic style it is an epic of perpetual twists and turns, leaving readers dazed, dazzled and always hungry for more, and its Machiavellian contortions and observations have never been more relevant than now. After all, doesn’t the news confirm every day that infiltration is complete, assimilation is near-total and utterly non-human tyrant-morons have already co-opted earthly corridors of power…

1950s America remains a hugely iconic and paradoxical time. Incomparable scientific and cultural advancements, great wealth and desperate, intoxicating optimism inexplicably arose amidst an atmosphere of immense social, cultural, racial, sexual and political repression with an increasingly paranoid populace seeing conspiracy and subversive attacks in every shadow and corner of the rest of the world.

Such an insular melting pot couldn’t help but be fertile soil for imaginative outsiders to craft incisive, evocative tales dripping with convoluted mystery and taut tension, especially when wedded to the nation’s fantastic – and then-ongoing – obsessions with rogue science, flying saucers, gangsterism and espionage…

They were also obsessed with hot babes and bust sizes, but that’s not really a mystery, is it?

What Has Gone Before: In April 1952, infamous Union City private eye Dick Mallet saw a strange light in the night sky. Next morning, cops found his empty, crashed automobile. A month later reporter Matt Sinkage was still getting grief from Frank Costello, Editor of the Union City Sentinel. Matt was frantic to expose “The Truth behind Flying Saucers” but became an ostracised laughing stock, especially since he also suspected his foreign-sounding neighbour Ivan Kalashnikov was a Russian spy….

Sinkage alienated his family and drove his fiancée Peggy Black to distraction. All he could think about was the night six months ago in Albany when he witnessed a UFO and impetuously chased after it: a crazy night everyone remembers… except him.

When Matt broke into Ivan’s apartment, he saw the foreigner and others in front of a huge, weird machine. It confirmed his suspicions that they were Atomic spies. Days later, Matt collided with Mr K’s pretty friend Gloria Amber and cunningly asked her out to lunch. Things developed and Gloria begged him to save her from what she claimed were Red agents, even though the thugs subsequently claimed to be Federal agents…

Hiding out at his brother Walter’s place, Matt was still seeing flying saucers everywhere and couldn’t understand why everybody else thought they were just jets. In Union City, Costello was pressured by brutish FBI Agent Phil Housley: an old acquaintance who regularly forced him to suppress unwelcome or troubling news items…

This time he wanted Sinkage. What no newsman knew was that Housley also worked for a shadow agency: The Council. What Housley didn’t know was that he was only a pawn…

Back in suburbia, Walter’s wife Katie – convinced Matt and his new floozy Gloria were up to no good – reached out to the FBI. The fugitives were heading out in Walter’s car when Peggy showed up. She couldn’t understand why her man was with a flashy trollop, and wouldn’t accept that Matt only wanted the lowdown on the Reds and access to Kalashnikov’s memoirs and files. Matt knew Gloria was playing a double game, but agreed to go with to a remote town where a “contact” could protect them both. Mr K called in his own heavies to hunt them, all factions equally unaware the FBI had visited Katie and a net was closing around Sinkage and his mystery woman…

When the Council learn Sinkage was involved in the “Albany event”, near-panic ensued. Matt eventually succumbed to suspicion. Gloria kept vanishing and refused to acknowledge it and Kalashnikov’s hoods Zanini and Koldst abducted her and roughed up Matt.

Events spiralled and came to a head in sleepy distant Stubbinsville. Housley and the FBI tracked the runaways, meeting up with the Reds and what might well have been aliens in the isolated region. The net closed around them as a fantastic, terrifying light-show ignited the dark skies. By the time the G-Men reached them, Gloria had vanished and Sinkage was in a coma. Days later, he was free and all charges dropped. He was strangely content. Despite another blatant cover-up and no clue as to whom all the various parties hounding them really were, Sinkage knew what he had seen when Gloria vanished. Now he could only wait for her inevitable return…

Three years later, in September 1955, he was still waiting. He’d spent much of that time in an asylum. On release, he moved to bucolic Rockhaven and resumed his old trade as a journalist. The uncaring outsider had tentatively established himself in the small town, but his job at The Ranger paid a pittance and offered no satisfaction. Sinkage earned extra cash writing fake news for spurious tabloid The Tattler.

His life spiralled again after a proposed piece on cattle mutilations led to a quasi-religious space cult in his own backyard. At first journalistic sight, the Sirian Utopia Foundation was a long con gulling wealthy widow Gladys Tanner. She devoutly believed the world was heading for imminent Armageddon and that her new gurus were in contact with a benign cosmic council promising enlightenment and global paradise, and could reunite her with her departed husband…

Her followers included prominent Washington politicians who Sinkage connected to missing scientists. When Housley turned up, acting friendly, Matt lapsed into old suspicions and started snooping, “discovering” a fake flying saucer in the Tanner barn was a prop disguising the real thing…

The Council’s top thug Brennan resurfaced, spouting drivel about commie conspiracy at the Tanner farm but again, drastic action by the Feds ended the investigation convincing Sinkage that America and the world are in the midst of a sly alien conquest only he can expose.

Sinkage joined his nemesis as part of Housley Investigations in Union City, even though it meant moving living with Walter and despicable Katie. By May 1958, he was a phantom celebrity: a flying saucer freak regularly cited by the media, yet seldom seen. Cassandra-like, he warned of invasion, and stalked Presidential hopeful Senator Harrison T. Callahan – a candidate he believed to be a mind-controlled alien puppet.

By 1959, he was an anonymous star on TV, stridently declaring how aliens seized minds. When Senator Callahan sought to stifle Sinkage’s campaign, The Council reactivated Housley, claiming the entire alien issue a Soviet plot to destabilise America. Over Walter’s objections Katie manoeuvred to get Sinkage back into the asylum and he subsequently vanished from their lives…

In August, Callahan officially announced his candidacy and Sinkage made a desperate move, resolved to save humanity whatever the cost…

He was foiled by Housley who briefly became a minor celebrity, but by 1965 the grizzled world-weary Private Eye was old news. Nobody cared anymore how he saved the life of America’s next president in August or that he killed a crazy reporter. Housley’s life was all about making ends meet, accommodating estranged wife Vivian while still seeing his kids, and keeping secretary/girlfriend Meredith Baxter happy. Union City, meanwhile, reeled from a string of bizarre serial killings…

With life constantly kicking him hard, Phil found an unexpected upside after predatory, exceedingly generous client Sarah Finster hired him to find her husband, Howard. He was an attorney at prestigious Phelps, Finster and Phelan: a simple, uncomplicated guy who started suffering blackouts, He’d been disappearing for days at a time and reappearing with no knowledge of where he’d been or that time has passed. That truly intrigued Housley, since he’d been experiencing exactly the same problems lately…

Diligent investigation led Phil to a shrink named Jeffrey Plunck, and more than he bargained for. Apparently, Howard had been disappearing and experiencing memory problems for a year, and claimed he’d been abducted by aliens…

Officious Dr. Plunck stonewalled in a manner Phil thought only Feds could pull off, and for some reason Housley had a chilling dream about Matt Sinkage. When an envelope arrived, containing a note and recent photo of Plunck and the impossibly still-alive Sinkage, Phil sought out Nora Marsh: Howard’s girl on the side and another regular alien abductee. Abruptly ambushed, he regained consciousness to find Nora gone, leaving a list of names that led him to Howard. When he took the bewildered lawyer home, Housley was blasted by blazing light and awakened having lost more time and memories…

Revisiting all he knows about Sinkage and confronting the reporter’s former boss Frank Costello, Housley learned Nora’s list is people who have recently died or been murdered in uncanny circumstances. Walter Sinkage then added fuel to the insane alien nonsense by expounding a raft of crazy suppositions about Canada’s Flying Saucer programme – and their football exploits – which left the weary detective more baffled than ever and blithely unaware of how many different people have him under observation…

When bodies start piling up and circumstantially pointing to Phil, his increasingly troubled homelife and those oh-so-convenient memory black-outs only add fuel to a well-built fire of conspiracy, and as witnesses and potential allies vanish or die, a procedural net he was very used to holding closed around him.

Shifting into furious overdrive, Phil went on the run, determined to find answers. Raiding Plunck’s office, he stumbled upon an incredible nest of secrets, provoking a massive, deadly response which precipitated a savage clash with resurgent Council forces and the irresistible powers behind them…

The chilling campaign reaches 1970 in new volume Dark Matter, where (after ‘Previously in The Silent Invasion’ – a far more succinct précis of past events) dull and boring Walter Sinkage steps up to the paranoia plate after moving to suburban ‘Willowdale’.

Status-hungry wife Katie finally sees her life back on track, but the move proves her downfall as it causes Walter to look through brother Matt’s copious files, which have festered in the basement since before he died. It also overlaps the moment Walter experiences his first – but not last – flying saucer sighting…

Soon and inevitably, Walter is drawn into a beguiling web of intrigue and cautiously joins AAA – Alien Abductees Anonymous – run by creepily unctuous Reverend Wilson Monroe Parsons on behalf of the remarkably ubiquitous Xylotec Research Foundation. As “Steve”, Sinkage learns there are two kinds of abductee: the usual whacko attention-seekers and people like Charlene Bathgate – and himself – who have clearly been changed by something uncanny. Parsons can tell the difference and assigns Charlene to watch the new guy…

Home and work life deteriorate as Walter sinks further into obsession. Time and memories slip as the AAA crowd becomes his sole focus, and a tipping point comes when he’s introduced to gleaming and scary Pam and Sam, Missionary vanguards for the Cosmic Fellowship of Our Lady of the Spaceways temple (think Scientologists with even better teeth, and sparkles) who insist Steve has “the Gift” and give him their utmost attention. It translates into inviting themselves into Walter’s home and converting Katie into a braindead zealot. Events have meanwhile moved far beyond Walter’s control and he’s being dragged somewhere strange: seeing more lights in the sky and worse…

When he’s snatched by government-type heavies who want to take him to Stubbinsville, he’s saved by the miraculous appearance of Matt Sinkage before being drawn into the heavens for Enlightenment…

The Council return in a dominant position, executing plans that will reshape human society in ‘Camp X’ as Walter’s disappearance triggers a police missing persons investigation. For Detective Sawchuck it’s just another case, but his partner Eddy Dime is utterly overwhelmed by Walter/Matt’s files and irretrievably sucked in to the mystery. After talking to Reverend Parsons and Charlene, Dime cannot let go, especially after pressure from on high forces his boss to shelve the case…

Eddy doesn’t care. After finding Walter’s car in Stubbinsville and talking to town historian Sydney Ellsworth, he’s determined to examine a supposedly-decommissioned military base everyone knows is still active and the reason for so many UFO sightings. Ellsworth knows it’s just a lab for mind-control experiments by the Military-Industrial Complex that controls the government…

Whilst reporting to Katie Sinkage, Dime meets Pam and Sam, experiences headaches and disorientation and wakes up days later with jumbled memories. Refusing to drop the case he then realises he’s being watched by trench-coated strangers…

Enigma and intensity exponentially expand in ‘Feints and Fumbles’ as the web closes around Dime, who goes off the reservation, stashing Sinkage’s files. While Katie shills for the Cosmic Fellowship temple and predicts Walter’s imminent return, Charlene seemingly opens up to Dime: moving into his apartment to hide from the army of conspirators closing in. Soon after, Eddy sees lights in the sky and has his own inexplicable experience, and when Feds try to confiscate his findings, quits the force…

As the Council exerts its power over the police and city leaders, with many old faces like Dr. Plunck or Frank Costello in attendance, ‘Return to Stubbinsville’ finds Dime in business as a PI and finally face-to face with back-but-baffled Walter Sinkage. The abductee can’t remember much beyond probes and lights, but is convinced brother Matt was there. Hungry for answers, Dime enrols in the Cosmic Fellowship church and undergoes an orientation process that changes him forever, even as Charlene endures her own comeuppance. And then Ellsworth phones, urgently suggesting Dime come to Camp X if he wishes to achieve ‘Enlightenment’

The truth might well be out there, but it’s not what anybody expects or is ready to accept…

Supplemented by a fascinating selection of ‘Sketches and Layouts’; riddled throughout with in-joke DC Comics creators Easter eggs, and contemporary critiques like a delicious swipe at a former President and legendary sore loser, this is another impeccable brush with mindboggling paranoia-as-entertainment you won’t be able to put down.

The Silent Invasion: Dark Matter provides an unforgettable gateway to an eerily familiar yet comfortably exotic era of innocent joy and a million “top secrets” no fan of fantastic thriller fiction should ignore – and the best is still to come…
© 2021 Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock. All rights reserved.

The Silent Invasion: Dark Matter will be released on December 16th 2021 and is available digitally and for physical copy pre-order now.

Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Christmas Treat: the entire saga thus far can be yours for a bargain festive price. Just head to…
THE SILENT INVASION Bundle (Includes VOLS. 1-4)
By Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock

The Art of Sushi


By Franckie Alarcon, translated by Peter Russella (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-285-4 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-86-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sensational Sagacity for All Seasonings… 9/10

Usually this bit is about sex or swearing, but I’m issuing my first ever culinary advisory here.

If you are vegan, squeamish or simply care about fish and other animals and are likely to be upset by graphic depictions of the preparation of really cool creatures like octopi or eels, do not buy this book. It’s really not your thing.

Once more confirming that there’s nothing you can’t craft compelling comics about if you’re talented and inspired, here’s a gripping graphic testament to the art, philosophy and mindset of Japan’s most misunderstood culinary export.

First seen as L’Art du Sushi in 2019, and courtesy of ever-inquisitive, fantastically convivial cartoonist-foodie Franckie Alarcon, The Art of Sushi follows the artist and close associates on a fact-finding tour of Japan. Their mission is in response to the recent phenomenon of France falling madly in love with the oriental art of food, and subsequent seeking to mimic and master its traditions and pure quality; whilst making it just a little bit theirs, too…

After a cheery introduction, scene-setting, history and visual précis to the discipline’s antecedents and nine basic forms, “Bibi” Alarcon, girlfriend Marilyne, Editor David and photographer Chloe join translator/guide Rica in Tokyo to track down a revered Master, one who is also a three-starred Michelin chef…

As well as fascinating insights into the philosophy, personal beliefs and techniques of 50-year veteran craftsman Hachiro Mizutani, the researchers taste marvels and come to understand the importance of sourcing the components. ‘Mizutani: Traditional Sushi’ catalogues dishes and how they’re constructed before following him to legendary Tsukiji Market to test the daily catch in still-living splendour before detailing how they are prepared… and why. The lesson includes eye-watering comparisons with the practices of Brittany fishermen….

Sidebars include the parlous state of the oceans and fish stocks, how to make rice and a beguiling history of knife-making.

As seen in ‘Maguro bocho and Oroshi bocho’, the nation’s metallurgical artisans used to make swords, but now craft far more dangerous implements…

After reinforcing our presentiments with tastes of old Japan, the tourists explore the rush of the contemporary city with a brilliant young chef making all the right waves in ‘Okada: Modern Sushi’. Prior to that, they headed into the country to visit with Rica’s family and spent time on fishing boats.

The pride of their catch comes with them to Okada’s city restaurant for a display of his innovative virtuosity and is supplemented by lessons in consuming the beverages that are an integral part of Sushi appreciation; the history of rice; aesthetics of presentation, more blade techniques for preparing various sea creatures and useful information in spotting and dealing with the assorted parasites that infest uncooked food…

One of the most compelling asides concerns the best shape and materials of bowls, plates, cups and other tableware, which diverts into a visit to a ceramicist providing such containers to the trade…

Every visit results in a fresh eating experience and freebies to take home, but after leaving Okada’s place the team go to Mito in Ibaraki Prefecture to learn all about rice wines and ‘The Stages of making Sake’: for many the most important component in ceremonial Sushi consumption…

Once done examining old and new at the high end, our intrepid voyagers tackle the working world of ‘Everyday Sushi’ in modern Japan. Beginning with a day aboard an eel fishing boat, learning cunning tricks to keep the catch alive until ready to eat, the Europeans later enjoy a home-prepared feast courtesy of Mrs. Tanemura – who runs an eatery out of her house – and discover the hard truths about Nori (seaweed wraps/mats) from her other guests…

The trip concludes with a mind-blowing visit to a soy sauce brewery before the city offers Sushi in fast food and convenience store mode before the exhausted well-stuffed visitors go home to reassess the state of ‘Sushi in France’ with now-learnèd eyes and taste buds.

Apparently, the biggest challenge is adapting to a far smaller range of truly fresh and seasonal ingredients in a largely land-locked country, but as star chefs Takuya Watanabe – in between revealing how to grow authentic wasabi in European soil – and Yannick Alléno point out, Gastronomy and Sushi are about technique. It works with vegan or even mammal-meat ingredients. There are even chocolate desserts available for the bold and truly discerning…

Closing out a truly revelatory reading experience comes a selection of ‘Recipes’ comprising ‘Rica’s Chirashi’ with either tuna, eel or avocado as main ingredient; ‘Okada’s Green Tea Octopus’, ‘Mrs. Okada’s Temari’ (a selection including meat- and fish-free options) and ‘Sasa Sushi’ (mackerel), plus an accompanying cocktail: ‘The Sake Mojito’

Also adding value is an ‘Address Book’ of recommended restaurants in Japan and France, and physical stores and online sources for ingredients, utensils and travel advice.

The art of food and pleasures of eating have never been better appreciated or shared than in books like these, blending the exoticism of travel with the tantalising yet satisfying anticipation of gustatory consumption. The Art of Sushi is simply delightful: an inviting comics divertissement that must surely whet the appetite for more…
© Editions Delcourt 2019. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

The Art of Sushi will be released on December 14th 2021 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

The JSA All Stars Archives volume 1


By John Wentworth, Ken Fitch, Bill O’Connor, Sheldon Mayer, Charles Reizenstein, Bill Finger, Stan Aschmeier, Bernard Baily, Ben Flinton & Leonard Sansone, Howard Purcell, Hal Sharp, Irwin Hasen & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1472-2 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Golden Aged But Evergreen Enjoyment… 8/10

In their anniversary year, here’s yet another DC classic collection long overdue for revival and digital return. Until then – and if you can find it – this hardback will make a perfect present for you or yours…

After the actual invention of the comic book superhero – indisputably the Action Comics debut of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s history was the combination of individual sales-points into a group.

Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: consumers couldn’t get enough of garishly-hued mystery men and combining a multitude of characters inevitably increases readership. Plus, of course, a mob of superheroes is just so much cooler than one…or one-and-a-half if there’s a sidekick involved…

The creation of the Justice Society of America in 1941 utterly changed the shape of the budding business. However, before that team of all-stars could unite they had to become popular enough to qualify, and this superb hardcover sampler gathers the debut adventures of a septet of beloved champions who never quite made it into the first rank but nonetheless scored enough to join the big team and maintain their own solo spots for much of the Golden Age of American Comics.

Whilst the most favoured 1940s stalwarts have all won their own DC Archive collections (some even making it into digital modern editions this century), this particular tome bundles a bunch of lesser lights – or at least those who never found as much favour with modern fans and revivalists – and features the first 5 appearances of 7 of the JSA’s “secondary” mystery men: all solid supporting acts in their own anthology homes who were potentially so much more…

Gathered here are short, sharp, stirring tales from Flash Comics #1-5; Adventure Comics #48-52; All-American Comics #19-29 and Sensation Comics #1-5, collectively spanning January 1940 to May 1942. They are preceded a sparkling, informative and appreciative Foreword Golden Age aficionado and advocate Roy Thomas.

The vintage vim and vigour begins with a character equally adored and reviled in modern times. Johnny Thunderbolt – as he was originally dubbed – was an honest, well-meaning, courageous soul who was also a grade “A” idiot. However, what he lacked in smarts he made up for with sheer luck, unfailing pluck and the unconscious (at least at first) control of an irresistible magic force.

The series was played for action-packed laughs, but there was no getting away from it: Johnny was, quite frankly, a simpleton in control of an ultimate weapon. At least his electric genie was more plausible than an egomaniacal orange-toned cretin in control of America’s nuclear arsenal…

John Wentworth & Stan Aschmeier introduced the happy sap in ‘The Kidnapping of Johnny Thunder’, from the first monthly Flash Comics (#1, January 1940) in a fantastic origin which detailed how, decades previously, the infant seventh son of a seventh son was abducted by priests from the mystic island of Badhnisia. He was to be raised as the long-foretold wielder of a fantastic magical weapon, all by voicing the eldritch command “Cei-U” – which sounds to western ears awfully like “say, you”…

Ancient enemies on neighbouring isle Agolea started a war before ceremonial indoctrination could be completed and at age seven the lad, through that incomprehensible luck, returned to his parents to be raised in the relative normality of the Bronx.

Everything was fine until Johnny’s 17th birthday when the ancient rite finally came to fruition and – amid bizarre weather conditions – the Badhnisians intensified the search for their living weapon…

By the time they tracked him down, he was working in a department store and had recently picked up the habit of blurting out the phrase “say you”. It generally resulted in something very strange happening. One example being a bunch of strange “Asiatics” attacking him and being blown away by a mysterious pink tornado…

The pattern was set. Each month Johnny looked for gainful employment, stumbled into a crime or crisis where his voluble temperament would result in an inexplicable unnatural phenomenon that solve the problem but left him no better off. It was a winning theme that lasted until 1947 – by which time the Force had resolved into a wisecracking thunderbolt-shaped genie – while Johnny was slowly ousted from his own strip by sexy new crimebuster Black Canary

Flash Comics #2 featured ‘Johnny Becomes a Boxer’. After stepping in to save a girl from bullies, he somehow convinced vivacious Daisy Darling to be his girlfriend. He than became Heavyweight Champion, leading to his implausibly winning a fixed bout in #3’s ‘Johnny versus Gunpowder Glantz’. Only now Daisy refused to marry a brute who lived by hitting others…

The solution came in ‘Johnny Law’ when kidnappers tried to abduct Daisy’s dad. Following his sound thrashing of the thugs, and at his babe’s urging, Johnny then joined the FBI …

This tantalising taste of times past concludes with ‘G-Man Johnny’ (#5 May 1940) as the kid’s first case involves him in a bank raid resulting in his own dad being taken hostage…

Although he eventually joined the JSA, and despite the affable, good-hearted bumbling which carried him through the war, the peace-time changing fashions found no room for a hapless hero anymore and when he encountered a sultry masked female Robin Hood who stole from crooks, the writing was on the wall. Nevertheless, fortuitously imbecilic Johnny Thunder is fondly regarded by many modern fans and still has lots to say and a decidedly different way of saying it…

Ken Fitch & Bernard Baily’s Hourman was a far more serious proposition who actually had a shot at stardom. He began by supplanting the Sandman as cover feature on Adventure Comics #48 (March 1940). Here, his exploits run through issue #52 (July) establishing the unique and gripping methodology which made him such a favourite of later, more sophisticated fans…

In an era where origins were never as important as action, mood and spectacle, ‘Presenting Tick-Tock Tyler, the Hour-Man’ begins with a strange classified ad offering assistance to any person in need. Chemist Rex Tyler has invented “Miraclo”: a drug super-energising him for 60 minutes at a time and his first case sees him help a wife whose man was being dragged back into criminal endeavours by poverty and bad friends…

‘The Disappearance of Dr. Drew’ finds Tyler locating a missing scientist kidnapped by thugs whilst ‘The Dark Horse’ has the Man of the Hour crush a crooked, murderous bookie who had swiped both horse and owner before a key race.

Mad science and a crazy doctor employing ‘The Wax-Double Killers’ adds scary thrills and super-villain cachet for the timely hero to handle, whilst ‘The Counterfeit Hour-Man’ – which concludes the offerings here – sees him again battling Dr. Snegg in a scurrilous scheme to frame the hooded hero.

Hourman always looked great and his adventures developed into a tight and compulsive feature, but he never caught on: timed out at the beginning of 1943 (#83).

Next second string star is Calvin College student Al Pratt: a diminutive but determined lad fed up with being bullied by jocks who remade himself into a pint-sized, two-fisted mystery man ready for anything.

One of the longest lasting Golden Age greats, The Mighty Atom was created by writer Bill O’Connor and rendered by Ben Flinton & Leonard Sansone. He debuted in All-American Comics #19 and eventually transferring to Flash Comics in February 1947. He sporadically appeared until the last issue (Flash #104, February 1949) and was last seen in the final JSA tale in All Star Comics#57 in 1951.

The tales here span #19-23 (October 1940-February 1941), beginning by ‘Introducing the Mighty Atom’ as the bullied scholar hooks up with down-and-out trainer Joe Morgan, whose radical methods soon have the kid in the very peak of physical condition and well able to take care of himself.

However, when Al’s hoped-for girlfriend Mary is kidnapped, the lad eschews fame and potential sporting fortune to bust her loose and then opts for a new extra-curricular activity…

He sported a costume for his second exploit, going into ‘Action at the College Ball’  to foil a hold-up and then tackling ‘The Monsters from the Mine’ who were enslaved by a scientific mania intent on conquest. The college environment offered plentiful plot opportunities. In ‘Truckers War’ the Atom crushes hijackers who had bankrupted a fellow student and football star’s father. The episodes conclude here with ‘Joe’s Appointment’ as the trainer is framed for spying by enemy agents and needs a little atomic aid…

Although we think of the Golden Age as a superhero wonderland, the true watchword was variety, and flagship anthologyAll-American Comics offered everything from slapstick comedy to aviation adventure on its four-colour pages. One of the very best humour strips featured the semi-autobiographical exploits of Scribbly Jibbet: a boy who wanted to draw. Created by real-life comics wonder boy Sheldon Mayer, Scribbly: Midget Cartoonist debuted in the first issue (April 1939) and soon built a sterling rep for himself beside star reprint features like Mutt and Jeff and all-new adventure serial Hop Harrigan, Ace of the Airways.

However, contemporary fashions soon demanded a humorous look at mystery men, and in #20 (November 1940) Mayer’s long-term comedy feature evolved into a delicious spoof of the trend when Scribbly’s formidable landlady Ma Hunkeldecided to do something about crime in her neighbourhood – so she dressed up as a husky male masked hero.

‘The Coming of the Red Tornado’ sees her don cape, woollen long-johns and a saucepan for a identity-obscuring helmet to crush gangster/kidnapper Tubb Torponi. The mobster had made the mistake of snatching her terrible nipper Sisty and Scribbly’s little brother Dinky (they would later become her masked sidekicks) and Ma was determined to see justice done…

An ongoing serial rather than specific episodes, the dramedy concluded in ‘The Red Tornado to the Rescue’, with the irate, inept cops deciding to pursue the mysterious new vigilante, but the ‘Search for the Red Tornado’ only made them look (more) stupid.

With the scene set for outrageous parody ‘The Red Tornado Goes Ape’ pits the parochial masked manhunter against a zoo full of critters before this superb selection ends with ‘Neither Man nor Mouse’ (All-American Comics #24) with the hero apparently retiring and crime resurging… until Dinky and Sisty become the Cyclone Kids

A far more serious and sustainable contender debuted in the next issue, joining a growing host of grim masked avengers.

‘Dr. Mid-Nite: How He Began’ by Charles Reizenstein & Aschmeier (All-American Comics #25, April 1941) revealed how surgeon Charles McNider is blinded by criminals but subsequently discovers he can see perfectly in the dark. The maimed physician becomes an outspoken criminologist but also devises blackout bombs and other night paraphernalia to wage secret war on gangsters from the darkness, aided only by his new pet owl Hooty

After catching his own assailant, he smashes river pirates protected by corrupt politicians in ‘The Waterfront Mystery’ and rescues innocent men blackmailed into serving criminals’ sentences in jail in ‘Prisoners by Choice’ (#27 and guest illustrated by Howard Purcell).

With Aschmeier’s return, Mid-Nite crushes aerial wreckers using ‘The Mysterious Beacon’ to down bullion planes and then smashes ‘The Menace of King Cobra’: a secret society leader lording it over copper mine workers…

The Master of Darkness also lasted until the era’s end and appeared in that last JSA story. Since his 1960s return he’s become one of the most resilient and mutable characters in DC’s pantheon of Golden Age revivals, but the next nearly-star was an almost forgotten man for decades…

When Sensation Comics launched in January 1942 all eyes were rightly glued to the uniquely eye-catching Wonder Woman who hogged all the covers and unleashed a wealth of unconventional adventures every month. However, like all anthologies of the time, her exploits were carefully balanced by other features. Sensation #1-5 (January to May 1942) also featured a pugnacious fighter who was the quintessence of manly prowess and a quiet, sedate fellow problem solver who was literally a master of all trades.

Crafted by Charles Reizenstein & Hal Sharp, ‘Who is Mr. Terrific?’ introduced Terry Sloane: a physical and mental prodigy who so excelled at everything he touched, that by the time of the opening tale he was planning his own suicide to escape terminal boredom.

Happily, on a very high bridge he found Wanda Wilson, a girl with the same idea. By saving her, Sloane found purpose: crushing the kinds of criminals who had driven her to such despair…

Actively seeking out villainy of every sort, he performed ‘The One-Man Benefit Show’ after thugs sabotaged performers, travelled to the republic of Santa Flora to expose ‘The Phony Presidente’ and helped a rookie cop pinch an “untouchable” gang boss in ‘Dapper Joe’s Comeuppance’.

His last showing here finds him at his very best, carefully rooting out political corruption and exposing ‘The Two Faces of Caspar Crunch’

Closing out this stunning hardback extravaganza is another quintet from Sensation #1-5, this time by Bill Finger & Irwin Hasen: already established stars for their work on Batman and Green Lantern.

‘This is the Story of Wildcat’ premieres one the era’s most impressive “lost treasures” and a genuine comicbook classic in the tale of boxer Ted Grant who is framed for the murder of his best friend. Inspired by a kid’s worship for Green Lantern, Grant clears his name by donning a feline mask and costume and ferociously stalking the real killers.

Finger & Hasen captured everything which made for perfect rollercoaster adventure in their explosive sports-informed yarns. Mystery, drama and action continued unabated in the sequel ‘Who is Wildcat?’ as Ted retires his masked identity to contest for the vacant world boxing title, but cannot let innocents suffer as crime and corruption befoul the city…

‘The Case of the Phantom Killers’ sees Wildcat track down mobsters seemingly striking from beyond the grave, before his adventures alter forever with the introduction of hard-hitting hillbilly hayseed ‘Stretch Skinner, Dee-teca-tif!’ He came to the big city to be a private eye and instead became Ted Grant’s foil, manager and crime-busting partner…

The comic craziness concludes here with a rousing case of mistaken identity and old-fashioned framing, as Wildcat saves his new pal from a killer gambler in ‘Chips Carder’s Big Fix’

These eccentric early adventures might not suit some modern fan’s tastes but they stand as an impressive and joyous introduction to the fantastic worlds and exploits of the World’s (not so) Greatest Superheroes. If you have an interest in the way things were and a hankering for simpler times, less complicated or angsty adventure and fun at every turn, this may well be a book you’ll cherish forever…
© 1940, 1941, 1942, 2007 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.