Yesterday’s Lily

Yesterday's Lily
Yesterday's Lily

By Jeffrey Jones (Dragon’s Dream)
ISBN: 90-6332-681-5

Jeffrey Catherine Jones was born in 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia, and after studying Geology in college drifted into illustration and commercial art in the late 1960s. As well as painting book covers for Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series, Andre Norton’s Postmarked the Stars and many others, he illustrated many tales in science fiction and fantasy magazines, and far too few strips for such comics icons as Creepy and Eerie.

The most notable comic strips were Idyl for National Lampoon (1972-1975) and I’m Age in Heavy Metal but other shorts appeared in many disparate places. Deeply intellectual and philosophical, Jones’ drawing style was classicist and fancifully Romantic, with echoes of N.C. Wyeth as well as Roy G. Krenkel and Frank Frazetta, who were his major competitors for book commissions at the time.

The artist was both stylistically and actually associated with other master stylists Barry Windsor-Smith, Bernie Wrightson, and Michael William Kaluta, who together formed the artist’s cooperative known as The Studio. Coming in at the start of the 1960s paperback fantasy boom, Jones was soon developing a unique personal style across a broad spectrum of genres as a painter of covers.

Even at the early stage this book was published Jones was continually searching for something more, something deeper from art, as both the interview and introduction here express, but personal journeys aren’t really the point here.

What is is the phenomenal beauty and power of the three complete strips ‘Luce’, ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Spirit of ’76’ and the 54 pages of drawings (both pencil and inks) and paintings that are the forerunner of the entire painted comics phenomenon of the 1980s.

How much of a direct influence Jones was on the likes of George Pratt, Jon Jay Muth and all the rest is open to debate of course, but it’s clear – to me at least – that this brief time with painted narrative did much to elevate comics to the status of an adult art form, and it’s far past time Jones was a household name in comics circles again. Reprint, Please!

© 1980 Dragon’s Dream Ltd. Illustrations © 1980 Jeffrey Jones. Introduction © 1980 Irma Kurtz. Interview © 1980 Eric Kimball. All Rights Reserved.

World’s Greatest Superheroes Present Superman

World's Greatest Superheroes
World's Greatest Superheroes

By Martin Pasko, George Tuska & Vince Colletta (Tor)
ISBN: 0-523-49094-1

In my perpetual quest to highlight the rare and odd (or “show off” as my mum used to call it) I’ve unearthed this little gem from the early 1980s, when the Superman franchise was riding high due to the motion picture and its sequels. Although he’s got the biggest logo and the lion’s share of the action, inside this standard sized paperback is actually the collected first adventure of the Justice League of America newspaper strip, which launched on 9th April 1978, variously entitled The World’s Greatest Superheroes, …Presents Superman, and from 9th January 1983, The Superman Sunday Special, until it folded on 10th February 1985.

This initial story pits the Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman against the immortal mass-murderer Vandal Savage, who plans to further extend his long life by absorbing the life energies of most of Earth’s population. Of course to do that he has to kill them all first…

Later creators included Paul Levitz, Gerry Conway, Paul Kupperberg, Bob Rozakis, Jose Delbo, Bob Smith, Frank McLaughlin, and Sal Trapani, but the opening credits go to Martin Pasko, George Tuska and Vince Colletta in this engaging, gloriously traditional costume drama. Never flashy or “with it”, this strip is a great read and deserves a definitive collection likes the Batman and Superman newspaper strips.

In the meantime there’s still the internet and local comic shops to haunt and hunt in…

© 1982 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Vampirella: A Scarlet Thirst


By various (Harris Comics)

Vampirella was the third title in Jim Warren’s burgeoning comic magazine empire. Issue one was released in September 1969 and starred a sexy alien vampire as well as a selection of short horror tales aimed at an older audience. The series ran until 1983, a soft-core, tongue-in-cheek horror romp, which ranged in quality from appalling to brilliant depending upon which of a simply vast pool of creators was working on the feature. After the collapse of Warren’s company the property languished until revived by Harris Comics and Dark Horse.

During the 1990s “Bad Girls” comics fad she was appeared in a veritable deluge of series and miniseries, and from that time comes this quirky collection of yarns culled from the pages of the Warren back catalogue. ‘Vampire of the Nile’ leads off, written by Flaxman Loew and brilliantly illustrated by the great Jose Ortiz, which reveals that the sexy bloodsucker is the reincarnation of the legendary Cleopatra.

A two part tale from #71 and 72 follows, both written by Bill Dubay, with art from Jose Gonzalez. ‘The Case of the Connected Clowns and the Collector’ and ‘The Beauty and the Behemoth’ find Vampirella among the modern glitterati of Hollywood, in a far more comedic tale of madmen and monsters. Right on their tail comes two shorts from #83.

Low and Gonzalez crafted both the gory ‘The God of Blood’ and its tragic sequel ‘The Betrothed of the Sun-God!’ before deferring to Rich Margopoulos and Rudy Nebres who produced the satanic thriller ‘Bracelets, Demons and Death’ in #92 and the robotic adversary known as ‘Death Machine’ in #94.

Vampi is a science-based vampire trapped on Earth, usually battling supernatural menaces, and in #95 and #96 she deals with two of the worst sorts in ‘A Plague of Vampires’ and ‘The Hound of Hell’, also by Margopoulos and Nebres. This slim tome concludes with a desperate hunt for a supernatural serial-killer in ‘A Feast of Fear’ by Margopoulos and Gonzalez.

Eccentric and never overly serious the original run of blood-drenched yarns won many devoted fans, more for the incredible European-styled black-and-white art than the scripting, and his scarce but worthwhile collection is a perfect example of just why. Perhaps without the excesses of a comics publishing frenzy to fuel hysteria, the time’s now right for a serious definitive collection, and as long as I’m wishing, a compendium of those marvelous painted covers that graced each issue as well…

™ & © 1993 Harris Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Shadowpact: Darkness and Light

Shadowpact: Darkness and Light
Shadowpact: Darkness and Light

By Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-892-8

The third Shadowpact collection (reprinting issues #14-19 of the monthly comic-book series) advances the long-running Doctor Gotham plotline as the all-powerful sorcerer sets a trap and finally confronts the Supernatural Superteam in all-out combat. Written by Willingham, with art from Tom Derenick and Wayne Faucher, ‘The Redemption Contract’ is a truly epic, highly plausible and authentic confrontation. If wizards fought superheroes this is the way they would do it!

There’s even time to further examine the plight of Blue Devil, indentured to Hell but with Vatican exorcists and the slickest lawyer in America trying to get him out of his Infernal Contract. The deeply sardonic vein of humour is counterbalanced by blockbuster thrills and chills as Chicago is almost eradicated and the team’s roster is dramatically changed.

The sheer spectacle of this tale is followed by an impressive outing from writer Matthew Sturges who splits the team when a dimensional jaunt strands Nightmaster, Nightshade and Ragman in a dire otherworld populated by zombies and madmen (a tale to be concluded in the next volume) whilst remaining earthbound members Detective Chimp, Enchantress and Blue Devil’s replacement (ex-Justice Leaguer and actual Angel) Zauriel are left to face a slaughter-crazed magical construct who has complete control over women.

‘Darkness and Light’ is an atmospheric three-part tale magnificently illustrated by Doug Braithwaite, Derenick & Faucher and Phil Winslade, and the consistently high quality writing and art has made this series one of the very best new superhero sagas on the market.

Although the comic has gone now, hopefully these books (see also Infinite Crisis: Day of Vengeance – ISBN 1-84576-230-4,  Shadowpact: the Pentacle Plot – ISBN: 1-84576-533-8 and Shadowpact: Cursed – ISBN13: 978-1-84576-738-9) will continue to find an appreciative audience and lead to a revival of this much-missed comic.

© 2007, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel Storybook Annual 1967

Marvel Storybook Annual 1967
Marvel Storybook Annual 1967

By Douglas Enefer, A. Tyson, John W. Elliott & various (World Distributors, Ltd.)

Here’s a question for all you dedicated Marvelites out there: do you remember how Ant-Man helped troubled boxer Danny Fury go straight? Or when the slaver Abdul Rey captured the Fantastic Four? How about the time Spider-Man captured the arsonists who were torching department stores?

If your memory fails you here it might not be four-colour overload but rather the singular fact that you’re neither old nor British. Please allow me to explain…

When Stan Lee rejuvenated the American comic-book industry in the early 1960s, his biggest advantage wasn’t the small but superb talent pool available, but rather a canny sense of marketing and promotion. DC, Dell/Gold Key and Charlton all had limited overseas licenses (usually in dedicated black-and-white anthologies liked the much beloved Alan Class Comics such as Suspense) but Lee – or his business managers – went further, sanctioning Marvel’s revolutionary early efforts in regular British weeklies like Pow!, Wham!, Smash! and even the venerable Eagle. There were two wholly Marvel-ised papers, Fantastic! and Terrific!, which ran from 1967 to 1968. These slick format comics featured a number of key Marvel properties, and, appearing every seven days, soon exhausted the back catalogue of the company.

Another factor to consider was the traditions of the UK market. US comics had been primarily strip based since the 1930s, but British weeklies had long provided Boy’s and Girl’s “papers” that were prose-based. In fact DC Thompson had persevered with illustrated text periodicals until well into the 1960s. So the seasonal annuals provided a vital sales peak of the publishing year and a guaranteed promotional push (see Alan Clark’s superb The Children’s Annual – ISBN 10: 1-85283-212-9 for more information). Any comic worth its salt needed a glossy hardback on the shelves over the Christmas period…

In future years UK Marvel Annuals would provide full colour reprint strip extravaganzas, but in 1966 the material just wasn’t there. Thus this peculiar novelty: a comforting 96 sturdy pages of bold illustrations, games, puzzles and prose stories featuring Marvel’s mightiest in exceedingly British tales of skulduggery and derring-do.

Back Cover
Back Cover

As well as Ant-man in ‘Fightin’ Fury’, the FF in ‘The Chains of Abdul Rey’ and Spidey against ‘The Fire Raisers’, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner faced a ‘Howl in the Night’ and Iron Man faced the Bloated Bandit (one of the all-out daftest villains of all time!) in ‘A Cushioned Clash’. Captain America fought with the British Eighth Army in the World War II thriller ‘Tomb of Terror’ and Iron Man travelled to Australia to defeat ‘The Ghost of Ned Kelly’, whilst Doctor Strange rescued two pot-holers who were imperilled by ‘the Guardians of the Tomb’, far beneath the streets of Manchester and Oldham!

Along with many explanatory features providing origin info for the superheroes and related science features on ants and such-like, there’s even more thrills when the Fantastic Four faced ‘The Bull of Minos’, The Mighty Thor crushed pirates in modern day Scotland in ‘North Sea Wolf’, Doctor Strange visited mystic India on a ‘Flight into Danger’ and the book gloriously concludes with a fraught trip to Canada for Bruce Banner and Rick Jones that could lead to ‘The End of the Hulk!’

Behind superb covers by R. W. Smethurst, the interior illustrations are by M.K. Powell, J. Leeder and P. Limbert, ranging from adequate to great, but the stories, communally attributed to Douglas Enefer, A. Tyson and John W. Elliott are quirkily engaging and oddly enjoyable. This is probably hard to find, and might horrify dyed-in-the-wool fans, but I’d like to think that there’s enough of us who can temper our mania with a little nostalgic perspective to enjoy an innocent dip in rare waters, and muse on what might have been if this experiment had caught on…

© 1967 Marvel Comics Group. All Rights Reserved.

Iron Man: Avengers Disassembled

Iron Man: Avengers Disassembled
Iron Man: Avengers Disassembled

By various (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 0-7851-1653-2

A few years ago the “World’s Mightiest Heroes” were shut down and rebooted in a company-wide event known as Avengers Disassembled. Of course it was only to replace them with both The New- and The Young Avengers. Affiliated comic-books such as the Fantastic Four and Spectacular Spider-Man ran parallel but not necessarily interconnected story-arcs to accompany the Big Show.

To many fans Iron Man is the quintessential Avenger. A founding member, he has served with practically every incarnation of the team and in his other identity of billionaire technocrat Tony Stark, funds and arms the team. In this collection (re-presenting Iron Man Volume 3, #84-89) Stark is the current U.S, Secretary of Defense and his duty to the Administration is beginning to conflict with his role as a U.N. sanctioned Avenger.

When Secret Service men brief him that a World War II super weapon built by his father lies dormant beneath Avengers Mansion and a potential embarrassment to the government, Stark agrees to spy on his fellow heroes and covertly remove the Arsenal Weapon. Naturally it all goes cataclysmically wrong with lasting repercussions…

This two-part tale is by John Jackson Miller and Jorge Lucas, and annoyingly for the unprepared leads directly into Avengers #500 (for which you’ll need to have a copy of the companion volume Avengers: Disassembled ISBN: 0-7851-1482-3 to hand) before we resume with ‘the Singularity’.

Written by Mark Ricketts, drawn by Tony Harris and Scott Kolins with inks by Tom Feister and Charles Wallace this tale sees the hero’s life fall tragically apart as a component of the Big Show, wherein a sinister plot and betrayal drags the armoured hero to the brink of ultimate personal and professional disaster…

Despite the poor planning and editing this is a compelling tale that perfectly illustrates why Iron Man has remained such a popular character, and has a lot to recommend it, but for perfect clarity you really should have that Avengers book too.

© 2004 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Last Angel

Batman: The Last Angel
Batman: The Last Angel

By Eric Lustbader, Lee Moder & Scott Hanna (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-56389-156-5

Great looking art from Lee Moder, but a rather disappointing tale from the acclaimed novelist. A Batman who’s much more welcome to the Gotham authorities hunts a killer, while crash victim Selina Kyle has bloody nightmares about being hunted by a jaguar.

As Catwoman she is obsessed and bored in equal measure, but with Gotham’s gangs seemingly at each other’s throats, a Mayan exhibition of the Bat God Balam is focusing everyone’s attention from where it needs to be. And her planned heist is just a catalyst for a repeat of the events that destroyed the Mayan Empire!

When the mask possesses Batman himself, Selina is forced into the uncharacteristic role of saviour…

With everybody playing a double game and such villains as Rupert Thorne and the Joker further muddying the waters, plus a lame subplot about Selina’s lost father, this overly-convoluted tale tries just a little too hard to be all things to all people, but it does have great pace and, as I’ve already said, a superlative art job from the under-appreciated Lee Moder.

Silly, but fans will find a lot to enjoy here.

© 1994 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.