You Are Maggie Thatcher: A Dole-Playing Game

You Are Maggie Thatcher: A Dole-Playing Game

By Pat Mills & Hunt Emerson (Titan Books)
ISBN: 1-85286-011-1

The most successful comic strips depend more on the right villain than any hero or combination of protagonists, so this quirky little oddment was better placed than most for success. Created by British legends Pat Mills and Hunt Emerson this strident, polemical satire puts the boot in on the appalling tactics and philosophies of the third term Thatcher government with savagely hilarious art and stunningly biting writing.

The concept is simple now but groundbreaking in 1987. The reader is to be Prime Minister Maggie who, by reading sections of the book and selecting a choice of action at the end of each chapter is directed to another page to experience the ramifications of that decision. The objective is to win another election, and the method is to make only vote-winning decisions – thus the multiple-choice page-endings. The intention is not to win the game, obviously.

This powerful piece of graphic propaganda may have dated on some levels but the home-truths are still as pertinent. Even as Maggie and her demented pack of lap-dogs wriggled and squirmed on Mills and Emerson’s pen-points, their legacy of personal gain was supplanting both personal and communal responsibility to become the new norm. Today’s Britain is their fault and this book still reminds us of a struggle too few joined and a fight we should have won, but didn’t.

It’s still really, really funny though…

Text and concept © 1987 Pat Mills. Illustrations © 1987 Hunt Emerson. All Rights Reserved.

One Year Affair

One Year Affair

By Byron Preiss & Ralph Reese (Workman Publishing Co.)
ISBN: 0-911104-86-0

Before beginning his own attempts to invent the Graphic Novel, Byron Preiss worked on a number of projects including a comic strip for the American humour magazine National Lampoon. With celebrated cartoonist and illustrator Ralph Reese he produced a wry, charming and oddly engaging examination of the contemporary dating scene, circa 1973.

Steve is just some guy and his casual meeting with the so-with-it, so-sexy Jill over a dropped feminine hygiene product leads to a funny, quirky and thoroughly readable modern romance of the type we’d call a RomCom nowadays. From one-night stands to open relationships, through engagements to the ending (and I’m not telling you just in case you find a copy) this little treat shows with warmth and superb artwork (like Mort Drucker meeting Jack Davis with Wally Wood and Dick Giordano doing the catering) how human mating rituals have never really changed since men eschewed Big Wooden Clubs and tried to grow “A Good Sense of Humour” instead.

© 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 Byron Preiss Visual Publications, Inc., by arrangement with Ralph Reese & Byron Preiss. All Rights Reserved.

Night Raven: House of Cards

Night Raven: House of Cards

By Jamie Delano & David Lloyd (Marvel)
ISBN13: 978-1-85400-288-4

This (regrettably!) one-off sequel to Night Raven: The Collected Stories (ISBN13: 978-1-85400-557-3), although the second comic-strip adventure, actually followed a long and impressive run of prose tales that appeared in a huge variety of Marvel UK titles throughout the 1980s, written by such luminaries as Alan Moore and Jamie Delano, and eerily illustrated by some of Britain’s top artists. This utilisation of such a pulp-fiction style character in a modern equivalent of the originating genre was very fitting and those stories will hopefully be gathered together in a collection one day.

House of Cards is set in those fabled gangster days and tells a complex tale of tragic love and futile vengeance. Night Raven – who gets an origin of sorts here – is fascinated by the nearly-fallen-flower Inez Pearl. In the Depression-era Big City a girl does whatever she has to, but although in love with Soldier Jack, a charismatic Trigger-man for Tall Saul’s mob, she has remained mostly clean. That’s all going to change once she sings in Tall Saul’s Speakeasy, though…

When corrupt Congressman Harry Chase decides he wants Inez, Tall Saul orders Soldier Jack to lend the politician his girlfriend, precipitating a savage clash that devastates the underworld and leaves no winners, and even the enigmatic Night Raven is helpless to affect the outcome of this star-crossed melodrama.

Night Raven: House of Cards

The writing of Jamie Delano is in the modern florid, faux-poetic style and as such seems almost untrue to its pulp origins, which worked on a staccato rhythm of tough, clipped prose. Nevertheless it does work and the subtly washed-out, painted artwork by David Lloyd more than compensates for any perceived failing. The dreamy, muted tones belie the intensity of the events and make the action and the sad, still moments all the more powerful. This is a beautiful book to look at and one you should own.

A Prestige-format, comic-book sized edition was also released in 1992.

© 1991, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Night Raven: The Collected Stories

Night Raven: The Collected Stories

By Steve Parkhouse, David Lloyd & John Bolton (Marvel)
ISBN13: 978-1-85400-557-3

In the good old days comic stories were pithy and punchy, (like the all-but-dead and much-missed prose short-story) relying on mood and action rather than excessive exposition and breast-beating pseudo-poetry to enthral their readers. A perfect example would be the three page instalments of pulp-noir magic created by Steve Parkhouse and David Lloyd for the weekly Hulk comic produced by Marvel UK in 1979.

Gathered in this volume and coloured (the originals were captivating in stark, moody black and white) they outline the earliest adventures of Night Raven, a helmeted, trench-coating wearing vigilante who stalked the grimy streets and alleys of Prohibition-era America dealing out fearsome personal justice to a succession of low-life hoods and thugs. Lloyd masterfully illustrated Night-Time in the City, Blind Justice, Gang Rule, In the Frame, The Assassin and Scoop before leaving the strip, but his replacement was another British star on the rise.

The Dragon is an eerie drama of the mythic Chinese Tongs that resonates with Parkhouse’s long fascination with all subjects Oriental, powerfully realised by John Bolton, in the days just before he made it big with King Kull, Marada the She-Wolf and Classic X-Men.

Clean, simple and irresistibly compelling these action vignettes serve to show how far we’ve come since the 1970’s, and sadly just how much we’ve lost in telling comic stories. But at least we can still see how it should be done…

©1979, 1990, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek: Who Killed Captain Kirk?

Star Trek: Who Killed Captain Kirk?

By Peter David, Tom Sutton & Ricardo Villagran (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-563890-96-3

Here’s another comfortingly superior comic adventure of the most venerable science-fiction franchise in history seamlessly blending spectacular drama, subtle character interplay and good old fashioned thrills, with the added ingredient of madcap whimsy thanks to the strip debut of Peter David as scripter. This tense, swashbuckling space-opera (originally printed in issues #49-55 of DC’s monthly Star Trek comic-book) pulls together many old plotlines (but in an easily accessible manner for newcomers) in a fantastic whodunit liberally sprinkled with in-jokes and TV references for the über-fans to wallow in.

In the aftermath of a drunken stag-night near-riot (caused by three very senior officers separately spiking the punch) The Enterprise crew discover a rogue Federation ship is destroying remote colonies in an apparent attempt to provoke all-out war with the Klingons. At one decimated site they find a stunted, albino Klingon child who holds the secrets of the marauders, but his traumatised mind will need special care to coax them out.

Things are no easier aboard ship. Not only is the big wedding of two officers suffering last-minute problems, and a promising ensign must be cashiered for the High Crime of Species Bigotry, but a telepathic crew-member contracts Le Guin’s Disease (that’s one of those in-jokes I mentioned earlier) endangering the entire ship as Kirk is fighting for his life after being stabbed…

This inter-galactic murder-mystery masterfully weaves a compelling web of elements into a fabulous yarn of great and small moments, capped for the faithful by the “return” of Kirk’s Starfleet Academy nemesis Sean Finnegan (who first appeared in the classic TV episode Shore Leave – written by the legendary Theodore “Ted” Sturgeon) as the investigating officer dispatched to solve the case.

Seductively understated art from Tom Sutton and Ricardo Villagran perfectly augments this magically compelling script to produce one of the greatest Star Trek stories in any medium, which will please fans of the franchise and any readers who just love quality comics.

© 1988, 1993 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All rights reserved.

Dungeon Parade Vol 2: Day of the Toads

Dungeon Parade Vol 2: Day of the Toads

By Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim & Manu Larcenet (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-507-8

This slim tome is part of an eccentric, raucous and addictively wacky franchise that it’s best to experience rather than read about. As well as Parade, Dungeon also features in Zenith, Early Years and Twilight. There’s this magic castle, right, and it’s got a dungeon…

The inhabitants of this weirdly surreal universe include a duck with a magic sword that forces him to channel dead heroes and monsters, an ibis who knows everything, assorted talking animals, monsters, demons and smart-alecs. There’s always something happening and it’s usually quite strange…

In this volume, an invasion of vampires leads inevitably to an infestation of venomous flying toads, whilst later the castle cess-pit is jammed and our stalwarts discover that taking a school-party along when trying to dislodge decades of backed-up ordure isn’t very smart. Moreover any civilisation and eco-system that might develop in such a situation doesn’t take kindly to being flushed away…

Surreal, earthy, sharp and even poignant, this fantasy comedy is subtly addictive to read and the vibrant, wildly eccentric cartooning is an absolute marvel of wild, graphic style. Perhaps a little advanced for younger kids, Dungeon is the kind of near-the-knuckle, illicit read that older kids will love.

© 1949, 1956-1959, 1996, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Criminal — Book 2: Lawless

Criminal — Book 2: Lawless

By Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Titan Books)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-611-5

This follow-up to the first volume (Criminal: Coward ISBN: 1-84576-610-5) utilises the classic plot of a man returning to his home town after his brother is murdered. But when that man is Tracy Lawless, son of a legendary bad-guy, and his dead brother appears to have been nothing like he seemed, the scene is set for another superbly dark and brooding thriller in a world where nobody is redeemable and everyone has an angle.

Our relentless protagonist lies, cheats and steals his way to what he thinks he wants but as is usually the case in this seamy, seedy world what you want and what you get are never going to make for a happy ending.

Collecting issues #6-10 of the monthly comic book this nihilistic, brutal tale is wickedly mesmerising, masterfully underplayed and powerfully addictive. The shadowy world has never been more alluring or frightening.

© 2007 Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips. All Rights Reserved.

Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle

Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle

By David Michelinie and John Romita Jr. & various (Marvel)
ISBN13: 978-0-7851-2043-8

This light, breezy thriller magically turns itself into one of the best super-hero sagas of the 1980s with its powerfully redemptive last chapter, but even before that the run of issues (reprinting Iron Man #120-128) from David Michelinie, John Romita Jr., Carmine Infantino and Bob Layton combine to make the epic battle of Good and Evil relevant to the modern reader.

Tony Stark is a millionaire inventor who moonlights as a super-hero by wearing a suit of armour stuffed with his ingenious creations, making Iron Man is one of the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe. The unrelenting pressure of running a multi-national corporation and saving the world has, by this point started to show itself in the subtle increase in Tony Stark’s partying – and drinking.

When a cascade of battles (against not only a vast array of super-villains but also amphibian superman and sometime ally the Sub-Mariner) prove to be caused by unscrupulous business rival Justin Hammer there is a mighty confrontation and resolution in grand comic-book style. But then Hammer plays his trump card…

Taking control of Iron Man’s armour, the evil plutocrat makes Stark the unwilling accomplice to a monstrous crime, pushing the hero over the edge and into a spiral of despair…

The fall and rise of a hero is a classic plot, and it’s seldom been better used in the graphic narrative medium and never bettered in the super-hero field. An adult and very mature tale for kids of all ages, it is an unforgettable instance of Triumph and Tragedy perfectly told. If you’ve never read Demon in a Bottle, and with the Iron Man movie release impending, there has never been a better time to seek out this superb adventure.

©1984, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Daily Mirror Book of Garth

(GARTH ANNUAL 1975)

The Daily Mirror Book of Garth

By Jim Edgar & Frank Bellamy (IPC)
No ISBN

This wonderful Softcover book was released whilst the amazing Frank Bellamy was still alive and astounding fans with his phenomenal illustration and design on the Mirror’s long-running time-travelling adventure strip (for fuller background you could Google ‘Garth’ or even check out our own archives for Garth: The Cloud of Balthus – ISBN: 0-90761-034-X or The Mirror Classic Cartoon Collection – ISBN: 0-948248-06-8).

This large tome is printed on thick newsprint and if you’re at all moved by the physical nature of comics as artefact, as well as the power of the work itself, the texture and even smell of such an item is as effective a time travel method as any used by our burly hero. Also, for some reason the art just seems to look better on off-white, gritty paper rather than the admittedly more durable slick and shiny stock favoured these days.

So if you can track down this book – and there are still a few out there – you can luxuriate in the majesty of Bellamy and Jim Edgar’s masterful, sexy thrillers with the first collection of The Orb of Trimandias, Ghost Town, The Cloud of Balthus, Women of Galba, Sundance (which Bellamy inherited from artist John Allard three weeks in) and Wolfman of Ausensee. I will digress and admit that the all-original cover created for this last story was a major factor in reviewing this annual. It’s a sight every comic art fan ought to be familiar with.

© IPC Magazines 1974.

Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Death and Return of Donna Troy

Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Death and Return of Donna Troy

By Phil Jimenez, Judd Winick & various (DC Comics)
ISBN12: 978-1-84576-248-3

For the continuity conscious comic reader, Wonder Girl — or Donna Troy, or Troia, or whatever — has always been a problem. From the very first moment that she joined the rest of the DC Universe in Brave and the Bold #60 (a Teen Titans tryout issue) she was a vital part of the team, despite actually only being a projection of the adult Wonder Woman in her home comic. Over the years a succession of writers has tried to retrofit the character into a semblance of logic without much success. Best then to just accept that she’s there and leave it at that, if you can.

This volume collects the latest attempt to validate her existences, reprinting her last major stories just prior to the DC Infinite Crisis storyline which reset everything. Featured here are Teen Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day #1-3, Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003 and DC Special: The Return of Donna Troy #1-4; a series of specials that attempted to reposition some of the company’s core titles in advance of that looming mega event.

‘Graduation Day’ saw a sexy robot arrive from the future as the juvenile superhero team Young Justice was breaking up. Her confused actions inadvertently release a deadly android stored at S.T.A.R. Labs, which neither the child heroes nor the Teen Titans can stop. In a cataclysmic battle both Omen and Donna Troy are killed. These tragedies lead to the dissolution of Young Justice, the formation of the covert and pre-emptive Outsiders and the reformation of a new Titans group dedicated to better training the heroes of tomorrow. Even though a frightfully contrived ploy to launch some new titles, this tale is still a punchy and effective thriller from writer Judd Winick, penciller Alé Garcia and inkers Trevor Scott, Larry Stucker and Marlo Alquiza.

‘Who was Donna Troy’, written and drawn by Phil Jimenez, with inks by Andy Lanning is a short but moving eulogy for the character set at her funeral with friends and guest-stars discussing her life and career.

‘The Return of Donna Troy’, scripted by Jimenez and illustrated by José Luis Garcia-López and George Pérez, reveals that Donna Troy’s soul was intercepted by the Titans, the mythical progenitors of the Greek Gods who reanimated her body and elevated her to their ranks. The backstory of this is much too complicated for this review, but if you’ll just accept that in one of her previous refits Troy was revealed as an adopted child of these morally ambivalent deities and they have returned to exploit her you’ll be fine.

These Gods are using her to further a plot to conquer a planet with a cosmic secret, but Troy’s near seduction to the Dark Side is thwarted when her old superhero comrades get involved. However, although beautifully drawn this tale menders and waffles way too much to be anything more than eye-candy for the faithful and a big headache for any fool brave enough to try it without a degree in Teen Titans continuity.

© 2005, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.