Doom Patrol: The Silver Age volume 2


By Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, Bruno Premiani, Bob Brown, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0098-4 (TPB)

1963 was the year when cautious comicbook publishers finally realised that superheroes were back in a big way and began reviving or creating a host of costumed characters to battle outrageous menaces and dastardly villains.

Thus it was that the powers-that-be at National Comics decided venerable anthology-mystery title My Greatest Adventure would dip its toe in the waters with a radical take on the fad. Still, famed for cautious publishing, they introduced a startling squad of champions with their thematic roots still firmly planted in the B-movie monster films of the era that informed the parent comic.

No traditional team of masked adventurers, this cast comprised a robot, a mummy and an occasional 50-foot woman, joining forces with and guided by a vivid, brusque, domineering, crippled mad scientist to fight injustice in a whole new way…

Covering June 1965 to November 1966, this stunning trade paperback – and eBook – compilation collects the Fabulous Freaks’ eccentric exploits from Doom Patrol #96-107, and includes a brace of team-ups: one from The Brave and the Bold #65 and an early crossover from Challengers of the Unknown #48.

The dramas were especially enhanced by the drawing skills of Italian cartoonist and classicist artist Giordano Bruno Premiani, whose highly detailed, subtly humanistic illustration made even the strangest situation dauntingly authentic and grittily believable. He was also the perfect vehicle to squeeze every nuance of comedy and pathos from the captivatingly involved and grimly light-hearted scripts by Arnold Drake who always proffered a tantalising believably world for the outcast heroes to strive in.

Premier tale ‘The Doom Patrol’ was co-scripted by Drake & Bob Haney, detailing how a mysterious wheelchair-bound scientist summoned three outcasts to his home through the promise of changing their miserable lives forever…

Competitive car racer Cliff Steele had died in a horrific pile up, but his undamaged brain had been transplanted into a fantastic mechanical body. Test pilot Larry Trainor had been trapped in an experimental stratospheric plane and become permanently radioactive, with the dubious benefit of gaining a semi-sentient energy avatar which could escape his body to perform incredible stunts for up to a minute at a time.

To pass safely amongst men Trainor had to constantly wrap himself in special radiation-proof bandages.

Ex-movie star Rita Farr had been exposed to mysterious swamp gases which gave her the terrifying, unpredictable and – at first – uncontrolled ability to shrink or grow to incredible sizes.

The outcasts were brought together by brilliant but enigmatic Renaissance Man the Chief, who sought to mould the solitary misfits into a force for good. He quickly proved his point when a mad bomber attempted to blow up the city docks. The surly savant directed the trio of strangers in defusing it and no sooner had the misfits realised their true worth than they were on their first mission…

…And they were off and running…

Now two years later Doom Patrol #96, opens on ‘The Day the World Went Mad!’, as frantic investigations reveal that a global wave of insanity is being caused by a deadly alliance of old foes The Brotherhood of Evil, alien tyrant Garguax and undying terrorist General Immortus. Cue last-ditch heroics …

In issue #97 that sinister syndicate attacks Earth by transforming innocent citizens into crystal, spectacularly resulting in ‘The War against the Mind Slaves’, heralding the return of super-rich wannabee and self-made superhero Mento, resulting in a stunning showdown free-for-all on the moon, after which #98 sees both ‘The Death of the Doom Patrol’ – a grievous over-exaggeration on behalf of transmutational foe Mr. 103 – who was actually compelled to save Caulder from radiation poisoning – and a Bob Brown-drawn solo-thriller ‘60 Sinister Seconds’ in which Negative Man has to find and make safe four atomic bombs in different countries within one minute…

Brown also handled both tales in Doom Patrol #99, starting with an old-fashioned battle against a deranged entomologist whose mechanical insects deliver ‘The Deadly Sting of the Bug Man’ before proceeding to the groundbreaking first appearance of shape-shifting juvenile delinquent ‘The Beast-Boy’. He burgles then saves the team with his incredible ability to become any animal he could imagine…

An extended storyline began with #100 and ‘The Fantastic Origin of Beast-Boy’ (illustrated by Premiani) wherein the obnoxious kid is revealed as orphan Gar Logan: a child being slowly swindled out of his inheritance by his ruthless guardian Nicholas Galtry.

The conniving accountant even leases his emerald-hued charge to scientist Dr. Weir for assorted experiments, but when the Patrol later tackle rampaging dinosaurs, the trail leads unerringly to Gar who at last explains his uncanny powers…

Whilst in Africa as a toddler, Logan contracted a rare disease. His scientist father then tried an experimental cure which left him the colour of cabbage but with the ability to change shape at will. Now it appears that Weir has used the lad’s altered biology to unlock the secrets of evolution… or has he?

Despite foiling the scheme, the team have no choice but to return the boy to his guardian. However, Rita is not prepared to leave the matter unresolved…

The anniversary issue also saw the start of an extended multi-part thriller exploring Cliff’s early days after his accident and subsequent resurrection, beginning with ‘Robotman… Wanted Dead or Alive’.

Following Caulder’s implantation of Cliff’s brain into the mechanical body, the shock drove the patient crazy and Steele went on a city-wide rampage…

Doom Patrol #101 is riotous romp ‘I, Kranus, Robot Emperor!’, wherein an apparently alien mechanoid has a far more terrestrial and terrifying origin, but the real meat of the issue comes from the events of the subtle war between Galtry and the Chief for possession of Beast Boy.

The tale ends on a pensive cliffhanger as the Patrol then dashed off to rescue fellow adventurers The Challengers of the Unknown – but before that the second instalment of the Robotman saga sees the occasionally rational, if paranoid, Cliff Steele hunted by the authorities and befriended by crippled, homeless derelicts in ‘The Lonely Giant’

Firmly established in the heroic pantheon, the Doom Patrol surprisingly teamed with fellow outsiders The Challengers of the Unknown at the end of 1965. The crossover began in the Challs’ title (specifically #48, cover-dated February/March 1966). Scripted by Drake and limned by Brown, ‘Twilight of the Challengers’ opened with the death-cheaters’ apparent corpses, and the DP desperately seeking who killed them…

Thanks to the Chief, our heroes recover and a furious coalition takes off after a cabal of bizarre super-villains. The drama explosively concluded in Doom Patrol #102, with ‘8 Against Eternity’ battling murderous shape-shifting maniac Multi-Man and his robotic allies to stop a horde of zombies from a lost world attacking humanity.

Another team-up follows as Haney, Dick Giordano & Sal Trapani craft ‘Alias Negative Man!’ for The Brave and the Bold #65 (May 1966), wherein Larry’s radio energy avatar is trapped by The Brotherhood of Evil and the Chief recruits The Flash to impersonate and replace him…

Doom Patrol #102 offered two tales, beginning with a tragedy that ensues when Professor Randolph Ormsby asks for the team’s aid in a space shot. When the doddery savant is transformed into a rampaging flaming monster dubbed ‘The Meteor Man’, it takes the entire team – as well as Beast Boy and Mento – to secure a happy outcome.

‘No Home for a Robot’, however, continues to reveal the Mechanical Marvel’s early days following Caulder’s implantation of Cliff’s brain into an artificial body. The shock had seemingly driven the patient crazy and Steele subsequently went on a city-wide rampage, continuously hunted and hounded by the police. Here the ferrous fugitive finds temporary respite with his brother Randy, but Cliff quickly realises trouble will trail him anywhere…

Issue #104 astounded everybody as Rita abruptly stops refusing the loathed Steve and becomes ‘The Bride of the Doom Patrol’. However, the guest star-stuffed wedding is almost spoiled when Garguax and the Brotherhood of Evil crash the party to murder the groom. So unhappy are Cliff and Larry with Rita’s “betrayal”, that they almost let them…

Even whilst indulging in her new bride status in issue #105, Rita can’t abandon the team, joining them to tackle old elemental enemy Mr. 103 during a ‘Honeymoon of Terror’, before back-up yarn ‘The Robot-Maker Must Die’ concludes the origin of Cliff Steele as the renegade attempts to kill the surgeon who had imprisoned him in a metal hell – which finally give Caulder a chance to fix the malfunction in Steele’s systems…

‘Blood Brothers’ in #106 introduces domestic disharmony as Rita steadfastly refuses to be a good trophy wife and resumes the hunt for Mr. 103 with the rest of the DP. Her separate lives continue to intersect, however, when Galtry hires the elemental assassin to wipe Gar and his freakish allies off the books.

The back-up section shifts focus onto ‘The Private World of Negative Man’: recapitulating Trainor’s doomed flight and the radioactive close encounter which turned him into a walking mummy. Tragically, even after being allowed to walk amongst men again, the gregarious pilot find himself utterly isolated and alone…

The Silver Age celebrations pause here with Doom Patrol #107 which begins an epic story-arc concerning ‘The War over Beast Boy’. Here Rita and Steve start legal proceedings to get Gar and his money away from Galtry, and the embezzler responds by opening a criminal campaign to beggar Dayton, inadvertently aligning himself with the Patrol’s greatest foes. Already distracted by the depredations of marauding automaton Ultimax, the hard-pressed heroes swiftly fall to the murderous mechanoid and Rita is dispatched to a barbaric sub-atomic universe…

The secret history of Negative Man continues and also ends on a cliffhanger with ‘The Race Against Dr. Death’. When fellow self-imposed outcast Dr. Drew tries to draw the pilot into a scheme to destroy the human species which had cruelly excluded them both, the ebony energy being demonstrates the incredible power it possesses to save the world from fiery doom.

To Be Continued…

Although as kids we all happily suspended disbelief and bought into the fanciful antics of the myriad masked heroes available, somehow the exploits of Doom Patrol – and their strangely synchronistic Marvel counterparts The X-Men (freaks and outcasts, wheelchair geniuses, both debuting in the summer of 1963) – always seemed just a bit more “real” than the usual cape-&-costume crowd.

With the edge of time and experience on my side it’s obvious just how incredibly mature and hardcore Drake, Haney & Premiani’s take on superheroes actually was. These superbly engaging, frantically fun and breathtakingly beautiful tales should rightfully rank amongst the finest Fights ‘n’ Tights tales ever told.
© 1965, 1966, 2020 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Stigmata


By Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-409-2 (HB)

It’s rather hard not to think that it’s the end of days at the moment, and naturally that’s affecting what I’m reading. You too, I expect.

In that spirit, here’s a book you simply must read before you die, and if you already have, it truly stands another go.

In his latest magnificent endeavour, Lorenzo Mattotti is a giant of European graphic narrative with a back catalogue of truly stunning confections. In 1999 he teamed with novelist and screenwriter Claudio Piersanti for the first of two potent yarns (the other being the still untranslated Anonymes): to produce one of the most powerful and memorable examinations of religious experience with Stigmata.

This impressive hardback (still no digital edition yet) describes the Job-like trials and tragedies of a brutal, alcoholic shipwreck of a man pushed beyond the brink of tolerance and sanity. The pariah finds a kind of peace and resolution, but unlike his Old Testament antecedent, what begins in misery with nothing, only proceeds to forfeit even his last remaining graces. By the end of his travails, the sinner has found precious little knowledge or understanding, but some sort of peace…

Drunken, brutal, dissolute, middle-aged and heading nowhere, the last thing he needed was holes in his hands that bled but wouldn’t heal. Already despised and feared, the lonely bum works at a bar, but the wounds and the blood upset even those gin-soaked sots. Moreover, people follow him, thinking he possesses some divine secret or power to heal…

Eventually he snaps, wrecking the bar and confronting the vicious gangster who runs it… Some folks call him “the Saint”. He doesn’t think it’s funny…

As the city becomes even more savage and ugly, he takes off; tracking down an uncle who worked in a carnival. When he finds the travelling show his uncle is gone – arrested for stealing – but the Carnies accept him and he strikes up a romance with the vivacious Lorena. Even working as a handyman, his bleeding hands interfere, but the canny show-people turn it to their advantage, setting him up in a booth dispensing piety and miracle from his shabby, tawdry “House of Blessings.”

Travelling from town to town, he finds a kind of contentment, but eventually the Carnies’ secret sideline of burglary brings police attention. When his old gangster boss tracks him down and delivers a hideous punishment, he destroys the Stigmatic’s last shred of hope and Lorena’s life forever.

And then the storm hits… a tempest of Biblical proportions that changes everything…

Brooding, compelling and rendered in a cacophony of swirling miasmic lines, this fearsome modern parable is a fierce interrogation of faith and destiny asking uncompromising and uncomfortable questions about the price of Grace and the value of belief. Are these trials, so like Job’s cruel yet purposeful tests, the tough love of a benevolent father, the whims of a despicable devil or the random vagaries of an uncaring fate?

Stigmata is a grotesque and beautiful metaphysical rollercoaster with existential angst and blind faith gripping each other’s philosophical throats and squeezing really, really hard. No rational reader or mature comics fan can afford to miss this dark shining delight.
© 2010 Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti. All rights reserved.

The Bluecoats volume 4: The Greenhorn


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-014-6 (Album PB)

The modern myths and legends of the filmic American West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of stagecoaches and gunfighters. Hergé and Moebius were passionate devotees and the wealth of stand-out Continental comics series ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and Lucky Luke, and tangentially even children’s classics such as Yakari or colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara and Hugo Pratt’s superbly evocative Indian Summer.

As devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Cauvin – who has scripted every best-selling volume – Les Tuniques Bleues (we know them as The Bluecoats) debuted as the 1960s closed. The strip was specifically created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to rival publication Pilote. The substitute swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series in Europe.

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour style, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte gradually introduced a more realistic – but still broadly comedic – illustrative tone and manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936 and, after studying Fine Art in college, joined publishing giant Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

Born in 1938, scripter Cauvin is also Belgian and, before entering Dupuis’ animation department in 1960, studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling – comedy writing – and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou. In addition to Bluecoats he has written dozens of long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The 62 current volumes of Les Tuniques Bleues alone has sold in excess of 15 million copies.

As translated for English audiences, our sorry, long-suffering protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch: a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel & Hardy, hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of fabled America during the War Between the States.

The original format featured single-page gags set around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but from the second volume Du Nord au Sud (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (a tale was rewritten as 18th album Blue retro to describe how the chumps were drafted during the war). Every subsequent adventure, although often ranging far beyond America and taking in a lot of thoroughly researched history, is set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your average whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other (easier) option is available.

Chesterfield is a big burly fighting man; a career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little troll of a pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers and simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

The Greenhorn was the fourth album translated by Cinebook (chronologically 14th Franco-Belgian volume Les Tuniques Bleues: Le blanc-bec) and opens with a grand Officer’s Ball in distant, desolate Fort Bow. As the festivities continue, out in the moonlit desert two weary cavalrymen wend their way towards the stockade…

Chesterfield and Blutch have just returned for three weeks leave and are infamous amongst the troops as regular survivors of the quite mad Captain Stark’s Suicide Regiment – as well as for their own reputation for starting fights.

It’s for that reason the guards don’t want to mention that Colonel Appleton’s lovely daughter Emily has been dancing with a dashing young Lieutenant named George. Every man there knows Chesterfield is smitten with her and has subsequently developed a hair-trigger temper these days…

The news nearly incites him to mass-murder and it takes all Blutch’s guile to convince his pal to ride into town – and Charlie’s Saloon – instead. Sadly, Chesterfield’s well-earned reputation for trouble is just as feared there, and when an Indian boy is bullied by local drunks, the spoiling-for-trouble sergeant – subtly prodded by underdog-loving Blutch – gleefully steps in…

By the time the harried barman reaches Fort Bow and brings back a contingent of troops, Chesterfield has decimated most of the saloon and all of the patrons and is hungry for more. When brash neophyte Lieutenant George slaps the enraged enlisted man, all hell breaks loose…

Events spiral even further out of control after the patrol final drags the unrepentant sergeant back to the Fort. When the Indian – dragged along as a witness – takes his chance to escape, he is shot by the flustered “greenhorn” officer.

It is both a tragedy and a disaster: the boy is the son of Chief Gray Wolf who, on discovering what’s happened, demands that whoever perpetrated the appalling act be surrendered to his justice.

…Or else it’s war…

When Chesterfield and Blutch discover exactly who George is, the little corporal flees, rushing off to the encamped hostiles and claiming he was responsible. Chesterfield, not to be outdone in the guilt stakes, also owns up and baffled Gray Wolf is nearly driven crazy when bold, brave, stupid and honourable Colonel Appleton also rides into camp to take the blame…

A tense compromise is reached as Gray Wolf agrees to let the “Long Knives” treat his gravely wounded boy; decreeing that if he lives they will be no war. If the morning brings bad news, the entire fort and town will suffer…

With a little time bought, the Colonel deals with his most immediate problem. After a ferocious dressing down, Chesterfield and Blutch are sent back to Stark’s Suicide Regiment and – over Emily’s hysterical protestations – George goes with them…

Days later, the trio rendezvous with Stark’s dispirited contingent as he manically battles Confederate forces. The Captain’s sole tactic is to have his men charge straight at their artillery, presumably in the certain knowledge that the enemy must run out of ammunition eventually…

Blutch and Chesterfield have developed a countermeasure which has kept them alive so far and, having sworn to Emily to keep George safe, force him to employ it too. However, the guilt-ridden, hero-struck fool is unhappy with the shameful strategy and soon starts throwing himself into the thick of battle, intending to die with dignity…

When word comes of the recovery of Gray Wolf’s son, their ordeal seems over and, with honour satisfied, all three make a grateful departure from Stark’s depleted forces. Typically however, just as a peace (and quiet) seem likely, Blutch and Chesterfield find another way to set the West ablaze and drive the natives to the brink of war…

This is a hugely amusing anti-war saga targeting young and less cynical audiences. Historically authentic, and always in good taste despite its uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war-memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable, in either paperback of digital formats, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit. And don’t we all need a bit of that these days?
© Dupuis 1979 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2010 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

London Inferno


By LF Bollée & Roger Mason (Markosia)
ISBN: 978-1-913359-80-5 (TPB)

There’s nothing better than a sharp and nasty noir crime caper and this chilling mini-epic – the result of a superb cross-Channel collaboration – is perfect proof of that.

Life is all about the promises we keep and the bonds we make, but which are the most important: the comradeship of best friends or the fierce passion of true love?

Laurent Frédéric Bollée was born in Orléans in 1967 and has been writing since he was twenty: comics such as Bruno Brazil, Terra Australis and ApocalyseMania as well as proper books too, should your inclinations stray that way…

Young Brit Roger Mason crafts the Mice series of graphic novels, drew stuff for 2000AD and first worked with Bollée on Mongo le Magnifique. Now safely ensconced in New Zealand he pushes pencils brushes and computer mice on film storyboards and other commercial art mainstays…

London Inferno is a smart and violent cop story with nasty psychological undertones used to highlight a classic noir scenario. John and Mark are hardened Vice coppers, always looking to take out the scum of the underworld and ready to give their lives for each other.

Mark is married to Valerie, but John knows it’s not a happy union. After all, he’s shagging her whenever Mark isn’t around, even in some extremely risky locations…

The unstable situation suddenly ends in the most horrific manner possible, when Valerie is murdered at a party, and John realises that despite all the witnesses, the killer they have in custody is not the perpetrator…

And thus unfolds a seamy sordid example of crimes of passion and vengeance taken, but in the end, who’s really the victim and who is truly guilty?

Rendered in stark and stunning monochrome, this is a feast for lovers of sophisticated crime thrillers that will delight the eyes and the mind, and art lovers can also enjoy a bonus section comprising a section on how the cover was created, as well as full creator biographies.

Bleak, uncompromising and splendidly amoral, this is a book you’ll enjoy over and over again.
London Inferno™ & © LF Bollée, Roger Mason & Markosia Enterprises, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Papyrus volume 5: The Anger of the Great Sphinx


By Lucien De Geiter: colours by Georges Vloeberghs & translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-115-0 (Album PB)

Papyrus is the rapturously beguiling masterwork of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. It premiered in 1974 in legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, running to 35 albums and consequently spawned a wealth of merchandise, a television cartoon show and a video game.

De Gieter was born in 1932 and studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels before going into industrial design and interior decorating. He made the jump into sequential narrative in 1961, first through ‘mini-récits’ (fold-in, half-sized booklets) inserts for Spirou, starring his jovial cowboy Pony, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis.

He later joined Peyo’s studio as inker on Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs) and took over the long-running newspaper strip Poussy.

In the 1960s, De Gieter launched mermaid fantasy Tôôôt et Puit whilst Pony was promoted to the full-sized pages of Spirou, thereafter deep-sixing the Smurfs to expand his horizons by going to work for Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974 he assisted cartooning legend Berck on Mischa for Germany’s Primo, whilst he perfected his newest project: a historical confection which would occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for the following four decades.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieux, mixing Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction, fantastic fantasy and interventionist mythology: the epic yarns gradually evolving from traditional “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Moreover, each tale readily blends light fantasy escapades with the latest historical theories and discoveries.

Papyrus is a fearlessly forthright young fisherman favoured by the gods who quickly rises to become a hero of Egypt and friend to Pharaohs. As a youngster the plucky Fellah was singled out and given a magic sword courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek.

The youthful champion’s first task was to free supreme deity Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos, thereby restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but his most difficult and seemingly never-ending duty is to protect Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely danger-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an astounding knack for finding trouble…

Avaliable in paperback and digital editions, The Anger of the Great Sphinx is the fifth Cinebook translation (20th album of the series and originally released in 1997 as La Colère du grand Sphinx); a spooky testing of faith through vile supernatural villainy, all eventually thwarted by unflinching daring and honest devotion…

The eerie escapade opens when restless Papyrus discovers the princess sleepwalking in the corridors of Pharaoh’s great Palace in Memphis. Cautiously following, he trips over court jester Puin. By the time he recovers his feet, Theti-Cheri has seized a waiting chariot and hurtled into the dark desert beyond the gates. Extremely alarmed, the lad leaps astride Puin’s phenomenally intelligent donkey Khamelot and rushes after her…

In the bleak wastes, Papyrus is attacked by a living sandstorm threatening to end the line of Pharaohs, but successfully drives it off with his magic sword, just as terrified Puin catches up. As the sun rises, they see they’re near the venerable complex of pyramids and Re Harmakhis, Guardian of the Horizon. The mighty monuments and the Great Sphinx are all but buried under the eternally shifting sands…

Nervous Puin wants to return to the city, leaving such great concerns to Pharaoh and the gods, but Papyrus refuses to abandon the mesmerised princess who can be seen between the paws of the great statue. As he approaches, the stone beast roars that Theti-Cheri now belongs to him because her father has broken an ancient pact to keep the sands from covering him and his temples.

As assign of his dissatisfaction, the princess will die at sunset…

Desperate for a solution, our hero agrees to give the insidious sandstorm his magic sword if it will save the princess and the swirling devil advises the lad to find Anty, the Divine Ferryman and seek passage to the Island of the Gods where he can petition the Divinities for merciful intervention…

Dashing to the Nile with Puin and Khamelot in hot pursuit, Papyrus matches wits with the duplicitous Ferryman – a conniving talking crocodile boat with a grudge against the boy from previous encounters.

Once again, the rogue vessel tries to cheat and bamboozle the boy. Whilst ostensibly taking the trio to the gods’ home, Anty plies the humans with a hallucinogenic drink – resulting in a stunning and baroque display of the author’s spectacular imagination and artistic virtuosity – before leaving them unconscious in a bed of reeds.

Here they are discovered by trio of sibling dotards – dubbed Pepi I, Pepi II and Pepi III – who minister to them. They are in turn saved by Papyrus when bullying brigands try to rob their hovel. The elders are fishermen now, but once they were paid by Pharaoh to keep the Sphinx and pyramids clear of sand. In recent years though they appear to have been forgotten…

With horror the boy realises they have been left back near the Sphinx and the day is fast fading. With ho hope left of gaining the gods’ aid, he rushes off to find Anty and teach the conniving Ferryman the error of his wicked ways before returning to hand his wonderful sword over to the smugly triumphant sandstorm…

At his most despondent moment, through the roaring sand Papyrus sees the Pepis. The elderly janitors have organised the entire village: young and old alike are toiling amid the storm to clear the Sphinx for the sake of their beloved princess.

When Khamelot inadvertently reminds the frantically labouring peasants of a tried-and-true – albeit noxious – way to dampen down the swirling grains and make them more manageable, the furiously screaming storm devil is at last beaten and blows away…

In the quiet still morning, the Sphinx is again free from obstruction and obscurity, but Papyrus is heartbroken to see that it is all too late.

Carrying the corpse of Theti-Cheri into the desert he denies his faith, screaming at the gods who have been so unfair… and they answer, revealing the foolish mistake the passionate, impatient lad has made…

With the princess joyously restored and Re Harmakhis gleaming in all his golden glory, Pharaoh at last arrives in a blare of trumpets to reaffirm his dynasty’s obligations and devotion to the gods, elevating the three Pepis to the exalted station of Eternal Guardians of the Sphinx. The newly appointed opponents of the shifting sands have recently taken possession of a certain magic sword and gratefully return it to the boy who restored their family fortunes…

Epic, chilling, funny, enthralling and masterfully engaging, this is another amazing adventure to thrill and beguile lovers of wonder from nine to ninety-nine, again proving Papyrus to be a sublime addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions who wed heroism and humour with wit and charm, and anybody who has worn out those Tintinand Asterix albums would be wise beyond their years to add these classic chronicles to their dusty, well-beloved bookshelves. Let’s hope Cinebook will soon resume translating the rest for our eager eyes…
© Dupuis, 1997 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd.

The Question: Zen and Violence


By Dennis O’Neil, Denys Cowan & Rick Magyar (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1579-8 (TPB)

Denny O’Neil died on June 11th. It didn’t make the news or mostly anywhere. For comics readers of my vintage he was the voice of our generation, carrying us through some of the most turbulent times in world history and using his gifts to pass on a philosophy never before seen in comics. He utterly remade Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Superman. He created the relevancy movement, bringing social conscience back to comics for the first time since Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster were told to tone it down with the wife beaters and grasping mine owners…

He was a remarkably insightful and prolific writer and a nurturing, imaginative editor. Think of a hero or title: Denny probably made it better. We’ve been the poorer since his retirement, but now there’s no chance of one last hurrah…

One of DC’s best comics series of the 1980’s – and probably the closest to O’Neil’s personal beliefs – is criminally out of print in trade paperback format and still hasn’t made it to digital editions yet, but it’s something well worth tracking down.

The Question, as created by Steve Ditko, was Vic Sage: a driven, justice-obsessed journalist who sought out crime and corruption irrespective of the consequences. This Charlton “Action-Line Hero” was purchased by DC when the Connecticut outfit folded and was the template for the compulsive avenger Rorschach when Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons first drafted the miniseries that would become the groundbreaking Watchmen.

The contemporary rumour-mill had it that since the creators couldn’t be persuaded to produce a spin-off Rorschach comic, the company went with a reworking of the Ditko original…

An ordinary man pushed to the edge by his obsessions, Vic Sage used his fists and a mask that made him look utterly faceless to get answers (and justice) whenever normal journalistic methods failed. After a few minor appearances around the DC universe, Sage got a job in the town where he grew up.

Hub City is a hell-hole, the most corrupt and morally bankrupt municipality in America. Mayor Wesley Fermin is a degenerate, drunken sot and the real power is insane cleric and political advisor Reverend Jeremiah Hatch, whose hand-picked gang of “heavies” are supplemented by the world’s deadliest assassin, Lady Shiva.

Reuniting with Aristotle Rodor, the philosopher-scientist who first created his faceless mask and other gimmicks, Sage determines to clean up The Hub, but despite early victories against thugs and grafters, is easily defeated by Shiva, and left to the mercies of Hatch and his gang. A brutal beating by the gangsters breaks every bone in his body and – after shooting him in the head – the callous minions simply dump his body in the freezing waters of the river.

Obviously, he doesn’t die. Rescued by the inscrutable Shiva, but utterly crippled, Sage is sent into the wilderness to be healed and trained by O’Neil’s other legendary martial arts creation, Richard Dragon. A year passes…

It’s a new type of hero who returns to a Hub City which has sunk even lower into degradation. Sage’s old girlfriend is now the Mayor’s wife, Reverend Hatch has graduated from thugs to terrorist employees, and his madness has driven him to actually seek the destruction of Humanity. Will the new Question be sufficient answer to the problems of a society so utterly debased that the apocalypse seems like an improvement?

Combating Western dystopia with Eastern Thought and martial arts action is not a new concept, but the author’s spotlight on cultural problems rather than super-heroics make this series O’Neil’s most philosophical work, and Denys Cowan’s quirky, edgy art – inked with jagged precision by Rick Magyar – imbues this darkly adult, powerfully sophisticated thriller with a maturity that is simply breathtaking.

This is a story about dysfunction: Social, societal, political, emotional, familial and even methodological. The normal masked avenger tactics don’t work in a “real”-er world, and some solutions require better Questions…
© 1986, 1987, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Isle of 100,000 Graves


By Fabien Vehlmann & Jason, coloured by Hubert and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-442-9 (TPB)

Not much chance of a hearty communal “Yo-Ho-Ho” or any satisfactory plundering or pillage this International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Best to stay tucked and layin’ low, with some age-appropriate grog, a few hearty nibbles and a good book on the subject… like this one, perhaps…

Multi-award-winning French comics author Fabien Vehlman was born in 1972, began his comics career in 1996 and has been likened to the legendary René Goscinny. He’s best known for the wonderful Green Manor< series (illustrated by Denis Bodart), Seven Psychopaths with Sean Phillips, Seuls (drawn by Bruno Gazzotti and available in English as Alone) and Wondertown with Benoit Feroumont. In 2011 Vehlmann assumed the writing reins on legendary series Spirou et Fatasio.

Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize). He won another Sproing in 2001 for the series Mjau Mjau before in 2002 turning almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. He is a global star among the cognoscenti and blokes like me, and has won numerous major awards from all over the planet.

This was his first collaboration with a writer, and Jason adds his uniquely laconic anthropomorphic art-stylings to a surprisingly edgy, deliciously dark and blackly comedic tale of sundered families, sinister secrets and bombastic buccaneers.

Holding his signature surreality in check, Jason perfectly captures the odd tale of homely little girl Gwenny, who leaves her appalling mother to search for her long-lost father: gone for many a year in search of pirate treasure.

The self-assured and devious lass tricks her way onto a sea-rovers vessel, outwits the murderous corsairs long enough to reach the eponymous Isle of 100,000 Graves – even tricking one of that scurrilous brotherhood into becoming her unwilling protector – and then abandons them to a horrendous fate as the uncanny denizens of the lost land attack…

The island is home to a cult of torturers and killers called the Hangman’s Academy: an institution dedicated to preserving the traditions and teaching the myriad skills necessary to becoming a top-flight inquisitor and officially-sanctioned executioner. Moreover, the scary school has recently run out of live specimens for maiming and murdering…

As Gwenny single-mindedly searches for signs of her missing dad, she meets Tobias, a killer-in-training sadly out of place amongst his fellow students. With his aid the doughty maid survives incalculable horrors before freeing the surviving pirates as a callous distraction. When they escape, a colossal battle with the hooded executioner ensues.

Gwenny, however, is not distracted: she’s found the answer to her questions…

Mordantly hilarious, this superbly cynical fable rattles along in captivating fashion: a perfect romp for older kids and a huge treat for fans looking for something a little bit different…

Jason’s work always jumps directly into the reader’s brain and heart, using his beastly repertory company to gently pose eternal questions about basic human needs in a soft but relentless quest for answers. That you don’t ever notice the deep stuff because of the clever gags and safe, familiar “funny-animal” characters should indicate just how good a cartoonist he is. His collaboration here with the slyly sardonic Vehlmann produced a genuine classic that we’ll all be talking about for years to come…
© Jason and Fabien Vehlmann. All rights reserved.

Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians


By Ricardo Delgado with colours by Ryan Hill & Jim Campbell (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-820-8 (TPB) eISBN: 978-63008-360-1

As we’re confronted with the prospect of our own extinction-level event – yes, that’s hyperbole, but tell that to the scared millions who can’t actually envisage a world without themselves in it – let’s enjoy ourselves whenever and however we can. For me that’s comics, so let’s look at a classic paperback tome now available in digital editions…

There’s an irresistible, nigh-visceral appeal to dinosaurs. Most of us variously – and too often haphazardly – over-evolved apes seem to be irresistibly drawn to all forms of education and entertainment featuring monster lizards of our primordial past.

Designed as a purely visual experience, the beguiling series of sequences from Ricardo Delgado still represents one of the most honestly enchanting brushes with prehistory ever imagined. His initial run of Age of Reptiles opened a window onto distant eons of saurian dominance and – completely devoid of sound or text – provided a profound, pantomimic silent movie focusing on everyday experiences which simply have to be exactly how it was, way back then…

Crafted by one of the most respected concept and storyboard men in Hollywood (with credits for Men in Black, The Incredibles, WALL-E, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Matrix and much more) the dino-dramas and sauro-sagas offered – even in comics – a unique reading experience which must be seen to be believed. The tales originally appeared as a sequence of miniseries between 1993 and 2010 before being subsequently collected as individual compilations. In 2011 a titanic tome, part of Dark Horse’s excellent and economical Omnibus line, gathered the material into one handy Brachiosaur-sized book to treasure forever.

And in 2015 Delgado found time to do it all over again utilising fresh facts unearthed about a unique region of the antediluvian world…

Collecting that 4-issue miniseries Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians opens with an enthusiastic Foreword from author Alan Dean Foster and another text piece from Barbara S. Grandstaff (PhD) explaining what Egypt was like at the height of the Cenomanian Era, when this saga is stirringly set…

The brutal struggle to survive and procreate is followed by Delgado’s original essays from the miniseries, affording us a view into his process and influences via ‘The Revolver and the Katana’, ‘The Agony of Gwanji in Alajuela’ and ‘The Bahariya Formation… and Other Stuff’, as well as offering a gallery of wraparound covers and ‘Character Sketches and Color Guides’. So, what happens in the middle? Life, Death and Everything…

Once upon a time, a lonely Araripesuchus (Rat Croc to me and thee) took a stroll down a river. He met some Carcharodontosuars, Deltadromeus, Paralititans, Rugops, Spinosaurs, Stomatosuchus and others. Not everything wanted to kill or eat him…

As in all these tales, the astoundingly rendered and realised scenery and environment are as much leading characters in the drama as any meat and muscle protagonists. Moreover, all the opportunistic scavengers and hangers-on that prowl the peripheries of the river and plains are ever-eager to take momentary advantage …

Delgado has an unquestioned and incredibly infectious love for his subject, a sublime feel for spectacle and an unmatchable gift for pace and narrative progression. Coupled to the deft hand which imbues the vast range and cast of big lizards with instantly recognisable individual looks and characters, this ensures the reader knows exactly who is doing what. There’s even room for some unexpectedly but most welcome rough-love humour in this brilliantly simple primal time drama…
Text & illustration of Age of Reptiles™: Ancient Egyptians © 2015, 2016 Ricardo Delgado. All rights reserved.

The Light and Darkness War


By Tom Veitch & Cam Kennedy (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-180-8 (HB)

During the 1980s, the American comics scene enjoyed an astounding proliferation of new titles and companies in the wake of the creation of the Direct Sales Market. With publishers able to firm-sale straight to retail outlets rather than overprint and accept returned copies from non-specialised vendors, the industry was able to support less generic titles and creators could experiment without losing their shirts.

In response, Marvel Comics developed a line of creator-owned properties at the height of the subsequent publishing explosion, launching a number of idiosyncratic, impressive series in a variety of formats under the watchful, canny eye of Editor Archie Goodwin. The delightfully disparate line was dubbed Epic Comics and the results reshaped the industry.

These days, that font of independence and creativity is threatened by the major publishers’ timidity in the face of COVID19 and just the general costs of doing business. The medium you love is under threat again. If you can support your local comic shop – even through online sales – please do so. If that’s too late, then just buy more stuff in digital form. At least then smaller publishers can keep going and we won’t lose comics as a form altogether…

Now, back to your irregularly scheduled reading recommendation…

One of the most evocative Epic releases was a darkly compelling war/fantasy/science fiction serial with a beautifully simple core concept: Valhalla is real and forever…

Conceived and created by author, poet and comics scribe Tom Veitch (Legion of Charlies, Antlers in the Treetops, Animal Man, Star Wars: Dark Empire) and Scottish national treasure Cam Kennedy (Fighting Mann, Judge Dredd, Batman, Star Wars: Dark Empire), The Light and Darkness War originally ran from October 1988 to September 1989, just as that period of exuberant creative freedom was giving way to a marketplace dominated by reductive exploitation led by speculators.

Because of that downturn, this fantastic saga of martial pride and redemption through valiant service in the Great Beyond never really got the popular acclaim it deserved, hopefully something this glorious hardback or eBook retrospective compilation from Titan Comics can belatedly address…

Following heartfelt reminiscences and an appreciation in the ‘Foreword by Commander Mike Beidler, USN Retired’, the astounding fable introduces paraplegic Vietnam war veteran Lazarus Jones, a broken, troubled warrior for whom the fighting never ended.

Home when he should have died with his inseparable friends, plagued with red-hot memories of beloved comrades lost when their Huey went down, by 1978 the wheelchair-bound wreck of a man is in a most parlous state.

Shattered by what will one day be designated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Laz cannot help making life hell for his devoted wife Chris. His miserable existence takes an even darker turn when Jones begins seeing visions of long-gone Huff, Slaw and Engle, all calling him to join them.

A little later when Chris’ car crashes, Laz is severely hurt and left in a coma he might never awake from…

Elsewhere on the other side of Eternity, a shadowy shape speaks to Lazarus offering a choice: he can go back or he can join his long-departed brothers …

Thus begins a fantastic adventure as the half-man is restored to perfect health and reunited with those who know him best. The catch is that this afterlife is like nothing any holy book ever promised. It’s a vast cosmos of painful, unrelenting physicality where strange alien species commingle and Earth’s dead continue much as they had before.

Pilots steer gunships – albeit flying ones made of stone and levitated by little blue aliens called “menteps” – Leonardo da Vinci carries on inventing weapons for powerful lords, and soldiers from every era have one more chance to serve and die…

Miraculously and joyously restored, Laz eagerly rejoins Engle, Slaw and Huff in the only thing he was ever good at. Manning a flying boat armed with light-powered weapons he becomes part of a vast force perpetually defying an unimaginable wave of invading evil from the Outer Darkness.

It’s a war with no overall plan or envisaged endgame, just eternal conflict, but recently a dark lord named Na has risen to the foremost rank of the “Deadsiders” and the legions of night seem to be gaining an advantage in the never-ending conflict fought on a million planets and a billion fronts…

For five hundred years however, the genius da Vinci has created weapons that have checked the rapid advance and held the invaders to a tenuous stalemate, but Deadsiders are tirelessly patient and resort to inexorably taking worlds one at a time.

But now a novel event has taken place. Although Lazarus has happily enlisted in the army of Light comprised of those who died in battle on Earth, on the other side of the sky his body is still alive…

Stationed on besieged world Black Gate, Laz and the “Light Gang” are unable to prevent libidinous Lord Na from infiltrating and overcoming the planetary defences, but at least they save Governor Nethon’s daughter Lasha from becoming the conqueror’s latest power-supplying plaything.

Although gradually winning the war for the dark, Na is impatient for a faster outcome. To achieve that end he has his necromancers rediscover an ancient, long-forgotten way to contact the Earth realm and dupes millionaire arms-dealer and devout Satanist Niles Odom into creating a device to physically bridge the dimensions.

Na’s wishes are simple; he wants earthly particle weapons, rail guns, atom bombs…

The unwitting dupe building Odom’s bridge is Nicky Tesla, a brilliant physicist whose intellect rivals that of his dead uncle Nikola, the wizard of electricity who once astounded the world.

With his clairvoyant girlfriend Delpha, little Nicky has used uncle’s old researches to complete an inter-realm gate for crazy-rich Odom, but when an army of zombies come through it and abduct him and Delpha nobody is prepared for what follows.

As the scientists are dragged across into an impossible world where Uncle Nikola is alive again, Laz and the Light Gang – following in Na’s wake – explosively head the other way…

They soon find themselves trapped on their birth-world, just as whole and hale as the day they died… and where Jones still languishes somewhere in a hospital bed.

With all the Afterworlds at stake, they have no choice but to fight their way back to the War again…

Also embellishing this gloriously fulsome chronicle is a sketch-&-developmental art ‘Background Briefing’ by Veitch & Kennedy, discussing the Underground Comic origins and antecedents of the story as well as the history, physics and metaphysics of The Light and Darkness War plus a potent overview and personal recollection from Stephen R. Bissette, ‘Endless War: The Life, Loss and Afterlife of Lazarus Jones’.

Fast paced, suspenseful, astonishingly imaginative and utterly beautiful to behold, the complex tale of Laz’s team and their struggle, how two generations of Tesla reshape a war that has been waged forever, and how in the end only love and devotion can battle overwhelming evil is a masterpiece of graphic endeavour and one no lover of fantasy fiction should miss.
The Light and Darkness War is ™ and © 2015 Tom Veitch & Cam Kennedy. All rights reserved.

Comanche volume 2: Warriors of Despair


By Hermann & Greg, translated by Montana Kane (Europe Comics)
No ISBN. Digital only edition

Welcome to another Wild West Wednesday with a self-indulgent peek at a favourite book I first read way back in the 1980s, crafted by two Belgian masters of graphic narrative.

Best known as Greg, Michel Régnier was born in 1931 in Ixelles. The cartoonist, writer editor and publisher sold his first series – Les Aventures de Nestor et Boniface – at age 16 to Belgian magazine Vers l’Avenir and followed up over many decades with legendary strips such as Luc Orient, Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince and Achille Talon in Héroic Albums, Le Journal de Spirou (scripting the title feature amongst many others), Paddy and Le Journal de Tintin (which he eventually edited from 1966-1974). One of his new finds on Spirou during this period was an artist named Hermann Huppen…

Greg is estimated to have worked as writer or artist on more than 250 strip albums during his career. He died in 1999, leaving behind an astounding and beautiful legacy of drama and adventure.

Hermann Huppen entered the world on July 17th 1938 in what’s now the Malmedy region of Liège Province. He studied to become an interior architect and furniture maker but was thankfully swayed and diverted by comics. His narrative career began in 1963 but really took off three years later when he joined with writer Greg to create cop series Bernard Prince for Le Journal de Tintin. The artist then added to his weekly chores with Roman adventure serial Jugurtha (scripted by Jean-Luc Vernal).

In 1969, Hermann expanded his portfolio further, adding Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output. At this time Charlier & Jean Giraud’s epic Blueberry was reaching its peak of excellence…

Bernard Prince and Comanche made Hermann a superstar of the industry – a status built upon with further classics such as The Towers of Bois-Maury, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16 and many more (I estimate upwards of 24 separate series and a total north of 94 albums, but I bet I’m falling short).

In 1978 Hermann bravely dropped guaranteed money-spinner Bernard Prince to create as (writer and illustrator) Jeremiah but he stayed with Comanche until 1982 (10 albums in total) because of his abiding love for western-themed yarns.

Thanks to digital-only publishing commune Europe Comics, it’s easy to see why in this second translated volume of the sprawling cowboy epic which here resumes with no-longer wandering gunslinger Red Dust and his new friends at the Triple 6 ranch. The taciturn hombre has found a home – if not peace and quiet – after joining a most unlikely band of comrades on an on-its-uppers cattle spread in Wyoming. The heart of the ranch crew are crotchety ancient pioneer Ten Gallons and the new owner he dotes upon: a young, lovely and immensely stubborn woman called Comanche

Comprised of linked weekly episodes, and originally published in 1978, ‘Warrior of Despair’ sees our quotidian, ever-expanding cast prepare steers for hungry railway workers rapidly build their way across the plains. The backbreaking toil is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of a party of Cheyenne who want the beef the cowboys are guarding…

A fractious but peaceful conference reveals the Indians are starving: the supplies they’ve been promised by treaty haven’t arrived and no one can locate the Government’s Indian Agent to sort out the problem…

After the warriors rush off with the cattle, she and Red join them at their camp in a last attempt to prevent a mess becoming a crisis. The upshot is that Dust has three days to find the Agent and restore the missing provisions. For that time Comanche will remain a “guest” of the tribe…

And so begins a desperate chase with double-dealing, ingrained mistrust and sheer bad luck on all sides hindering the quest and leading to the inescapable conclusion that the plains will soon be awash in flame and blood…

An epic tale in the classical manner of the western genre, this yarn also has plenty of European style and ingenuity to recue it from the unreconstructed mire, uncomfortable associations and unsavoury old tropes that make even venerated old movie an uncomfortable experience in these enlightened days.

It’s also so beautifully rendered the images will stay with you forever…

A splendid confection of Cowboys and Indians combined with sleek yet gritty European style, Warriors of Despair is a timeless treat comics fans and movie lover will adore. Don’t miss out on a chance to enjoy one of the most celebrated comics classics of all time…
© 2017 – LE LOMBARD – HERMANN & GREG. All rights reserved.