U.S.S. Stevens – The Collected Stories


By Sam Glanzman (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80158-2 (HB)

To the shame and detriment of the entire comics industry, for most of his career Sam Glanzman was one of the least-regarded creators in American comicbooks. Despite having one of the longest careers, most unique illustration styles and the respect of his creative peers, he just never got the public acclaim his work deserved. Thankfully that all changed in recent years and he lived long enough to enjoy the belated spotlight and bask in some well-deserved adulation.

Glanzman drew and wrote comics since the Golden Age, most commonly in classic genres ranging from war to mystery to fantasy, where his work was – as always – raw, powerful, subtly engaging and irresistibly compelling.

On titles such as Kona, Monarch of Monster Island, Voyage to the Deep, Combat, Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Hercules,The Haunted Tank, The Green Berets, The Private War of Willie Schultz, and especially his 1980s graphic novels A Sailor’s Story and Wind, Dreams and Dragons – which you should buy in a single volume from Dover – Glanzman produced magnificent action-adventure tales which fired the imagination and stirred the blood. His stuff always sold and at least won him a legion of fans amongst fellow artists, if not from the small, insular and over-vocal fan-press.

In later years, Glanzman worked with Tim Truman’s 4Winds outfit on high-profile projects like The Lone Ranger, Jonah Hex and barbarian fantasy Attu. Moreover, as the sublime work gathered here attests, he was also one of the earliest pioneers of graphic autobiography; translating personal WWII experiences as a sailor in the Pacific into one of the very best things to come out of DC’s 1970s war comics line…

U.S.S. Stevens, DD479 was a peripatetic filler-feature which bobbed about between Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, G.I. Combat, Star Spangled War Stories and other anthological battle books; quietly backing-up the cover-hogging, star-attraction glory-boys. It provided wry, witty, shocking, informative and immensely human vignettes of shipboard life, starring the fictionalised crew of the destroyer Glanzman had served on. It was, in most ways, a love story and tribute to the vessel which had been their only home and refuge under fire.

In 4- or 5-page episodes, the auteur recaptured and shared a kind of comradeship we peace-timers can only imagine and, despite the pulse-pounding drama of the lead features, us fans all knew these little snippets were what really happened when the Boys went “over there”…

A maritime epic to rank with Melville or Forester – and with stunning pictures too – every episode of this astounding unsung masterpiece is housed in one stunning hardback compilation (also available digitally for limp-wristed old coots like me) and if you love the medium of comics, or history, or just a damn fine tale well-told, you must have it…

That’s really all you need to know, but if you’re one of the regular crowd needful of more of my bombastic blather, a much fuller description follows…

As I’ve already stated, Glanzman belatedly enjoyed some earned attention, and this tome opens by sharing Presidential Letters from Barack Obama and George Herbert Walker Bush for his service and achievements. Then follows a Foreword from Ivan Brandon and a copious and informative Introduction by Jon B. Cooke detailing ‘A Sailor’s History: The Life and Art of Sam J. Glanzman’.

Next comes a brace of prototypical treats; the initial comic book appearance of U.S.S. Stevens from Dell Comics’ Combat #16 (April-June 1965) and the valiant vessel’s first cover spot from Combat #24, April 1967.

The first official U.S.S. Stevens, DD479 appeared after Glanzman approached Joe Kubert, who had recently become Group Editor for DC’s war titles. He commissioned ‘Frightened Boys… or Fighting Men’ (appearing in Our Army at War #218, April 1970), depicting a moment in 1942 as boredom and tension are replaced by frantic action when a suicide plane targets the ship…

A semi-regular cast was introduced slowly throughout 1970; fictionalised incarnations of old shipmates including skipper Commander T. A. Rakov, who ominously pondered his Task Force’s dispersal, moments before a pot-luck attack known as ‘The Browning Shot’ (Our Fighting Forces #125, May/June) proved his fears justified…

Glanzman’s pocket-sized tales always delivered a mountain of information, mood and impact and ‘The Idiot!’ (OAaW#220, June) is one of his most effective, detailing in 4 mesmerising pages not only the variety of suicidal flying bombs the Allies faced, but also how appalled American sailors reacted to them.

Sudden death was everywhere. ‘1-2-3’ (OFF #126, July/August) details how quick action and intuitive thinking saves the ship from a hidden gun emplacement whilst ‘Black Smoke’ (Our Army at War #222, from the same month) shows how a know-it-all engineer causes the sinking of the Stevens’ sister-ship by not believing an old salt’s frequent, frantic warnings…

All aboard ship were regularly shaken by the variety of Japanese aircraft and skill of the pilots. ‘Dragonfly’ (OFF #127, September/October) shows exactly why, whilst an insightful glimpse of the enemy’s psychological other-ness is graphically, tragically depicted in the tale of ‘The Kunkō Warrior’ (OAaW #223, September).

A weird encounter with a wooden WWI vessel forces a ‘Double Rescue!’ (Star Spangled War Stories #153, October/November) before OFF #128’s (November/December) ‘How Many Fathoms?’ again counts the human cost of bravery with devastating, understated impact. ‘Buckethead’ (OAaW #225, November) then relates one swabbie’s unique reaction to constant bombardment.

‘Missing: 320 Men!’ (G.I. Combat #145, December 1970-January 1971) debuted Glanzman-avatar Jerry Boyle who whiled away helpless moments during a shattering battle by sketching cartoons of his astonished shipmates. ‘Death of a Ship!’ (OAaW #227, January 1971) then deals with classic war fodder as submarine and ship hunt each other in a deadly duel…

A military maritime mystery was solved by Commander Rakov in ‘Cause and Cure!’ (Our Army at War #230, March) whilst the next issue posed a different conundrum as the ship loses all power and sticks ‘In the Frying Pan!’ (April 1971).

The vignettes were always less about warfare than its effect – immediate or cumulative – on ordinary guys. ‘Buck Taylor, You Can’t Fool Me!’ (OAaW #232) catalogues his increasingly aberrant behaviour but posits some less likely reasons, after which old school hero Bos’n Egloff saves the day during the worst typhoon of the war in ‘Cabbages and Kings’(OFF #131, July/August) whilst ‘Kamikaze’ (OAa #235 August) boldly and provocatively tells a poignant life-story from the point of view of the pilot inside a flying bomb…

An informative peek at the crew of a torpedo launch station in ‘Hip Shot’ (G.I. Combat #150 October/November) segues seamlessly into the dangers of shore leave ‘In Tsingtao’ (OFF #134, November/December) whilst ‘XDD479’ (Our Army at War #238 November) reveals a lost landmark of military history.

The real DD479 was one of three destroyers test-trialling ship-mounted spotter planes. This little gem explains why that experiment was dropped…

Buck pops back in ‘Red Ribbon’ (G.I.C #151 December 1971-January 1972), sharing a personal coping mechanism for making shipboard chores less “exhilarating”, whilst ‘Vela Lavella’ (OAaW #240, January 1972) captures the claustrophobic horror of night time naval engagement before ‘Dreams’ (G.I.C #152 February/March) peeps inside various heads to see what the ship’s company would rather be doing. ‘Batmen’ (OAaW #241, February) uses a lecture on radar to recount one of the most astounding exploits of the war…

Every U.S.S. Stevens episode was packed with fascinating fact and detail, culled from the artist’s letters home and service-time sketchbooks, but those invaluable memento belligeri also served double duty as the basis for a secondary feature.

The debut ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ appeared in Our Army at War #242 (March 1972): a compendium of pictorial snapshots sharing quieter moments, such as the first passage through the Panama Canal, sleeping arrangements or K.P. duties peeling spuds, and precedes an hilarious record of the freshmen sailors’ endurance of an ancient naval hazing tradition inflicted upon every “pollywog” crossing the equator for the first time in ‘Imperivm Neptivm Regis’ (OFF #136 (March/April 1972).

A second ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ (OAaW #244, April) reveals the mixed joys of “Liberty in the Philippines” after which a suitably foreboding ‘Prelude’ (Weird War Tales #4 (March/April 1972) captures the passive-panicked tension of daily routine whilst a potentially morale-shattering close shave is shared during an all-too-infrequent ‘Mail Call!’ (G.I. Combat #155, April/May)…

A thoughtful man of keen empathy and insight, Glanzman often offered readers a look at the real victims. ‘What Do They Know About War?’ (OAaW #244, April) sees peasant islanders trying to eke out a living, only to discover far too many similarities between Occupiers and Liberators, whilst the next issue focussed on the sailors’ jangling nerves and stomachs. ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the War!’ (#245, May) reveals what happened when DD479 was mistakenly declared destroyed and, thanks to an administrative iron curtain, found it impossible to refuel or take on food stores…

Cartoonist Jerry Boyle resurfaced in a ‘Comic Strip’ in OFF #138 (July/August) after which Glanzman produced one of the most powerful social statements in an era of tumultuous change.

Our Army at War #247 (July 1972) featured a tale based on decorated Pearl Harbor hero Doner Miller who saved lives, killed the enemy and won medals, but was not allowed to progress beyond the rank of shipboard domestic because of his skin. ‘Color Me Brave!’ was an excoriating attack on the U.S. Navy’s segregation policies and is as breathtaking and rousing now as it was then…

‘Ride the Baka’ (OAaW #248 August) revisits those constant near-miss moments sparked by suicide pilots after which Glanzman shares broken sleep in ‘A Nightmare from the Beginning’ (OFF #139, September/October) whilst ‘Another Kunkō Warrior’ (OFF #140, November/December) sees marines taking an island and encountering warfare beyond their comprehension.

1973 began with a death-dipped nursery rhyme detailing ‘This is the Ship that War Built!’ (G.I.C #157 December 1972-January 1973) before ‘Buck Taylor’ (OFF #141 January/February) delivers an impromptu lecture on maritime military history. Glanzman struck an impassioned note for war-brides and lonely ships passing in the night with ‘The Islands Were Meant for Love!’ (Star Spangled War Stories #167 February)…

Terror turns to wonder when sailors encounter the ‘Portuguese Man of War’ (OAaW #256 August), a shore leave mugging is thwarted thanks to ‘Tailor-Mades’ (OFF #143 June/July) and letters home are necessarily self-censored in ‘The Sea is Calm… The Sky is Bright…’ (OAaW #257 June), but shipboard relationships remain complex and bewildering, as proved in ‘Who to Believe!’ (SSWS #171, July).

The strife of constant struggle comes to the fore in ‘The Kiyi’ (OAaW #258 July) and is seen from both sides when souvenir hunters try to take ‘The Thousand-Stitch-Belt’ (SSWS #172 August), but, as always, it’s non-combatants who truly pay the price, just like the native fishermen in ‘Accident…’ (OAaW #259, August).

Even the quietest, happiest moments can turn instantly fatal as the good-natured pilferers swiping fruit at a refuelling station discover in ‘King of the Hill’ (SSWS #174, October).

An unlikely tale of a kamikaze who survives his final flight but not his final fate, ‘Today is Tomorrow’ (OAaW #261, October) precedes a strident, wordless plea for understanding in ‘Where…?’ (OAaW #262 November 1973) before the sombre mood is briefly lifted with a tale of selfishness and sacrifice in ‘Rocco’s Roost’ from OAaW #265, February 1974.

The following issue provide both a gentle ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ covering down-time in “The Islands” and a brutal tale of mentorship and torches passed in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, after which a truly disturbing tale of what we now call gender identity and post-traumatic stress disorder is recounted in the tragedy of ‘Toro’ from the April/May Our Fighting Forces #148…

‘Moonglow’ from OAaW #267 (April 1974) reveals how quickly placid contemplation can turn to blazing conflagration, whilst – after a chilling, evocative ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ (OAaW #269 June) – ‘Lucky… Save Me!’ (OAaW #275, December 1974) shows how memories of unconditional love can offset the cruellest of injuries…

‘Heads I Win, Tails You Lose!’ (OAaW #281, June 1975) explores how both friend and foe alike can be addicted to risk, after which the next issue’s ‘I Am Old Glory…’ sardonically transposes a thoughtful veneration with the actualities of combat before ‘A Glance into Glanzman’ by Allan Asherman (Our Army at War #284, September 1975) takes a look at the author’s creative process.

Then it’s back to those sketchbooks and another peep ‘Between the Pages’ (OAaW #293, June 1976) before ‘Not Granted!’ (OAaW #298, November 1976) discloses every seaman’s most fervent wish…

Stories were coming at greater intervals at this time and it was clear that – editorially at least – the company was moving on to fresher fields. Glanzman, however, had saved his best till last as a stomach-churning visual essay displayed the force of tension sustained over months in ‘…And Fear Crippled Andy Payne’ (Sgt. Rock #304, May 1977) before an elegy to bravery and stupidity asked ‘Why?’ in Sgt. Rock #308 from September 1977.

And that was it for nearly a decade. Glanzman – a consummate professional – moved on to other ventures. He was, however, constantly asked about U.S.S. Stevens and eventually, nearly a decade later, returned to his spiritual stomping grounds in expanded tales of DD479: both in his graphic novel memoirs and comic strips.

The latter appeared in anthological black-&-white Marvel magazine Savage Tales (#6-8, spanning August to December 1986) under the umbrella title ‘Of War and Peace – Tales by Mas’.

First up was ‘The Trinity’ blending present with past to detail a shocking incident of a good man’s breaking point, whilst a lighter tone informed ‘In a Gentlemanly Way’, as Glanzman recalled the different means by which officers and swabbies showed their pride for their ships. ‘Rescued by Luck’ than concentrated on a saga of island survival for sailors whose ship had sunk…

Next comes the hauntingly powerful black-&-white tale of then and now entitled ‘Even Dead Birds Have Wings’ (created for the Dover Edition of A Sailor’s Story from 2015) after which a chronologically adrift yarn (from Sgt. Rock Special #1, October 1992) evokes potently elegiac feelings, describing an uncanny act of gallantry under fire and the ultimate fate of old heroes in ‘Home of the Brave’

A few years ago, by popular – and editorial – demand, Glanzman returned to the U.S.S. Stevens for an old friend’s swan song series; providing new tales for each issue of DC’s anthological 6-issue miniseries Joe Kubert Presents (December 2012- May 2013).

More scattershot reminiscences than structured stories, ‘I REMEMBER: Dreams’ and ‘I REMEMBER: Squish Squash’recapitulate unforgettable moments seen through eyes at the sunset end of life; recalling giant storms and lost friends, imagining how distant families endured war and absence and, as always, balancing funny memories with the tragic, like that time when the stiff-necked new commander…

‘Snapshots’ continues the reverie, blending a veteran’s war stories with cherished times as a kid on the farm whilst ‘The Figurehead’ delves deeper into the character of Buck Taylor and his esoteric quest for seaborne nirvana…

Closing that last hurrah were ‘Back and Forth 1941-1944’ and ‘Back and Forth 1941-1945’: an encapsulating catalogue of war service as experienced by the creator, mixing facts, figures, memories and reactions to form a quiet tribute to all who served and all who never returned…

With the stories mostly told, the ‘Afterword’ by Allan Asherman details those heady days when he worked at DC Editorial, and Glanzman would unfailingly light up the offices by delivering his latest strips, after which this monolithic milestone offers a vast and stunningly detailed appendix of ‘Story Annotations’ by Jon B. Cooke.

This is a magnificent collection of comic stories based on real life and what is more fitting than to end it with ‘U.S.S. Stevens DD479’ (coloured by Frank M. Cuonzo & lettered by Thomas Mauer): one final, lyrical farewell from Glanzman to his comrades and the ship which still holds his heart after all these years…?

This is an extraordinary work. In unobtrusive little snippets, Glanzman challenged myths, prejudices and stereotypes – of morality, manhood, race, sexuality and gender – decades before anybody else in comics even thought to try.

He also brought an aura of authenticity to war stories which has never been equalled: eschewing melodrama, faux heroism, trumped-up angst and eye-catching glory-hounding to instead depict how “brothers in arms” really felt and acted and suffered and died.

Shockingly funny, painfully realistic and visually captivating, U.S.S. Stevens is phenomenal and magnificent: a masterpiece by one of the very best of “The Greatest Generation”. I waited 40 years for this and I couldn’t be happier: a sublimely insightful, affecting and rewarding graphic memoir every home, school and library should have and one every reader will return to over and over.
Artwork and text © 2015 Sam Glanzman. All other material © 2015 its respective creators.

The Marvel Art of Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian


By John Rhett Thomas, Roy Thomas, P. Craig Russell, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Alex Toth, Walter Simonson, M.W. Kaluta, Tony DeZuñiga, Richard Corben, Boris Vallejo, Earl Norem, Joe Jusko, Michael Golden & many & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2382-2 (HB)

During the 1970’s the American comic book industry opened up after more than 15 years of cautious and calcified publishing practises that had come about as a reaction to the censorious oversight of the self- inflicted Comics Code Authority. This body was created to keep the publishers’ product wholesome after the industry suffered their very own McCarthy-style Witch-hunt during the 1950s.

One of the first genres revisited was Horror/Mystery comics and from that sprang pulp icon Conan the Barbarian, via a little tale in anthology Chamber of Darkness #4, whose hero bore no little thematic resemblance to the Cimmerian. It was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry (now Windsor-) Smith: a recent Marvel find, and one who was gradually breaking out of the company’s all-encompassing Jack Kirby house-style.

Despite some early teething problems – including being cancelled and reinstated in the same month – the comic book adventures of Robert E. Howard’s brawny warrior soon became as big a success as the revived prose paperbacks which had heralded a world boom in tales of fantasy and the supernatural.

After decades away, and despite being fully owned by CPI (Conan Properties International), the brawny brute returned to the aegis of Marvel in 2019 and made himself fully at home. As well as his own title and in-world spin-offs, many collections celebrating “the Original Marvel Years” – due to the character’s sojourn with other publishers – have been released. This one is indubitably the most pretty to look upon.

The first time around, Conan broke many moulds, including being able to sustain not just his general audience boutique of titles and a newspaper strip, but also easily fitting Marvel’s black & white magazine division, offering more explicitly violent and risqué fare for supposedly more mature readers. For this market he debuted in Savage Tales #1 (1971) before winning his own monochrome title. Savage Sword of Conan launched in August 1974, running 235 issues until its cancellation in July 1995.

Throughout its life SSoC offered powerful stories, features on all things Robert E Howard and some of the most incredible artwork ever to grace comics pages.

All of that is covered by legendary Hyborian Scribe Roy Thomas in his Introduction and the page-by-page annotations of compiler John Rhett Thomas, but what’s really of interest is the painted covers, pin-ups, portfolios and extracts of story sequences by a stunning pantheon of internationally acclaimed artists which include John Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, Alex Toth, Neal Adams, Tony DeZuñiga, Jim Starlin, Frank Brunner, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, Mike Zeck, Walter Simonson, Tim Conrad, Val Mayerik, Richard Corben, Steve Leialoha, Vicente Alcazar, Dick Giordano, Gene Colan, Pablo Marcos, E.R. Cruz, Rudy Nebres, Kerry Gammil, Nestor Redondo, Ernie Chan, Gene Day, Pat Broderick, Bill Sienkiewicz, Armando Gil, Gary Kwapisz, Adam Kubert, Dale Eaglesham, Dave Simons, Mike Docherty, Rafael Kayanan, Andrew Currie and P. Craig Russell, who also provides a picture-packed Afterword and appreciation of the mighty magazine and it’s star. I’m sure there are plenty more artists I’ve missed here, but you get the picture. Everyone and his granny wanted a shot at Conan…

Cover artists providing pulse-pounding paintings include Buscema, Adams, Starlin, Conrad, Sienkiewicz, Mayerik, Boris Vallejo, Earl Norem, Bob Larkin, Joe Jusko, Joe Chiodo, Michael Golden, Steve Hickman, Doug Beekman, David Mattingly, Dorian Vallejo, Nick Jainschigg, Ovi Hondru, Michael William Kaluta, George Pratt, Julie Bell and more, making this bombastic compilation a must-have bestiary of how to have cathartic fun and get paid too…

Groundbreaking, gripping, graphic wonderment, this astounding hardback and digital delight is every fantasy fan’s dream come true – and you know gift-giving season is just around the corner, right?
Conan the Barbarian published monthly by MARVEL WORLDWIDE INC., a subsidiary of MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT LLC. Conan © 2020 Conan Properties International LLC.

Problematic: Sketchbook Drawings 2004-2012


By Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-594-5 (HB)

Some creators in the world of comics just defy description and their collected works are beyond the reviewer’s skills (mine certainly) to elucidate or encapsulate. Some are just so pedestrian or mind-numbingly bad that one simply can’t face writing about them. Others are so emphatically wonderful that no collection of praise and analysis can do them justice.

At the apex of that tricky funnybook pyramid is Jim Woodring: a position he’s maintained for years and appears capable of holding for years to come. Woodring’s work is challenging, spiritual, philosophical, funny, beautiful and extremely scary. And, even after reading that sentence, you will have absolutely no idea of what you will be seeing the first time you read any of it.

Moreover, even if you have scrupulously followed cartoonist, animator, Fine Artist, toy-maker and artistic Renaissance Man James William Woodring through an eccentric career spanning his first mini-comics in 1980; groundbreaking Fantagraphics magazine series such as Jim (1986), notional spin-offs Frank and Weathercraft, Tantalizing Stories, Seeing Things, Congress of the Animals or more mainstream storytelling such as Star Wars and Aliens tales for Dark Horse, you’ll still have no idea how you will respond to his work.

Woodring delivers surreal, abstract, wild, rational, primal cartooning: his clean-mannered art a blend of woodblock prints, Robert Crumb style, wry humour and eerie conviviality, Dreamscape, religious art and monstrous phantasmagoria. His works form a logical, progressional narrative pockmarked with multiple layers of meaning but generally devoid of speech or words, magnificently dependent on the intense involvement of the reader as a fully active participant.

So you can imagine what his first formative thoughts, passing observations and moments of wild unfettered graphic whimsy must be like…

This stunning hardback or digital compilation opens the gates of dream just a crack wider than is safe, offering selected graphic snippets from the artist’s sketchbooks covering a superbly productive period following the millennium and offering a few choice views of other graphic avenues he might have pursued if the world of harnessed hallucinations had not exhibited such a strong hold…

In his ‘Introduct’, Woodring describes his abandonment of traditional graphic tomes for diminutive “Moleskine” doodle-pads: using the flimsy palm-sized books to capture ideas roughly, quickly and with intense immediacy. The gimmick clearly works. The material collected here – mostly enlarged 140% up from the originals – simply buzzes with life and energy….

Many Frank regulars show up, including the eponymous Krazy Kat-like ingénue himself, and there are absolute torrents of bizarre, god-like household appliances, vulture-things, frog-things, rhino-things, plant-things and unspeakable Thing-things, all resident in the insanely logical traumic universe of his sensoria.

There are snippets of reportage, plenty of designs and even roughs and layouts from finished stories. Woodring also proves himself a pretty sharp pencil when it comes to capturing the weird moment of reality we all experience, a keen caricaturist and a deliciously funny “straight gag-man”, glamour artist and capturer of friends in idle moments – just like all of us sad art-school escapees who break into a cold sweat whenever we realise we’ve left the sketchbook at home and there’s only beer-mats and napkins to draw on….

Woodring is not to everyone’s taste or sensibilities – for starters, his drawings have a distressing habit of creeping back long after you’ve put the book down and scaring the bejeezus out of you – but he is an undisputed master of the form and an innovator always warping the creative envelope.

As such, this welcome peek into his creative process and conceptual/visual syllabary offers encouragement and delight to artists and storytellers of every stripe, as well as being just plain wonderful to see.

All art-forms need such creators and this glorious hardback monochrome tome could well change your working and reading habits for life.

Go on, aren’t you tempted, tantalized or terrified yet? What about curious, then…?
© 2012 Jim Woodring. This edition © 2012 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Pep Digital #22: Arrrchie’s Buried Treasure


By George Gladir, Dan Parent, Fernando Ruiz, Kathleen Webb, Bob Bolling, Mike Pellowski, Angelo DeCesare,Rex Lindsey, Dan DeCarlo, Henry Scarpelli, Jeff Shultz, Dexter Taylor, Pat Kennedy & various (Archie Comics)
No ISBN: digital only

Since his debut in Pep Comics #22 (cover-dated December 1941) Archie Andrews has epitomised good, safe, wholesome cartoon fun, but the company that now bears his name has always been a deviously subversive one. Family-friendly iterations of superheroes, spooky chills, sci fi thrills, licensed properties and genre yarns of every stripe have always been as much a part of the publisher’s varied portfolio as the romantic comedy capers of America’s clean-cut teens.

As initially realised by John L. Goldwater and Bob Montana, the first escapade set the scene and ground rules for decades to come Archie has spent his entire existence chasing both the gloriously attainable Betty Cooper and wildly out-of-his-league debutante Veronica Lodge, whilst best friend Jughead Jones alternately mocked and abetted his romantic endeavours and class rival Reggie Mantle sought to scuttle every move…

Crafted over time by a veritable legion of writers and artists who’ve skilfully created the stories of teenage antics in and around the idyllic, utopian small town of Riverdale, these timeless tales of decent, upstanding, fun-loving kids have captivated successive generations of readers and entertained millions worldwide both on comic pages and in other media such as film, television, radio, newspaper strips, music and even fast food.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the company has always capitalised on contemporary trends with which to expand upon their archetypal storytelling brief. In times past they have cross-fertilised their stable of stars through unlikely team-ups like Archie Vs. Predator, whilst every type of fashion fad and youth culture sensation has invariably been incorporated and explored within the pages of the regular titles. The gang has been reinvented and remodelled numerous times, even stepping outside the parameters of broad comedy to offer dramatic – albeit light-hearted – “real-world” iterations of the immortal cast of characters and clowns…

The company the idiot built is celebrating a major anniversary this December, so here’s a chance to revel in Archie’s unique madness with a bucket of yarns primarily sparked by the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but which also finds room for a few golden oldies and classic romps on the theme of Corsairs and Privateers. This lot are all electronically cached by pirates of the airwaves commandeering a little of your time and attention for a digital-only experience. Enjoy International Talk Like a Pirate Day 2021, me buckos…

The madness begins without fanfare as the gang all go Gung Ho for the latest movie fad: dressing up for film fun and daydreaming personal period peril in ‘Pirates Ahoy’ as originally seen in Archie & Friends #87 (February 2005) courtesy of George Gladir, Rex Lindsey & Rich Koslowski.

Veronica #171 (August 2006) featured ‘One Man’s Treasure’ by Dan Parent & Jim Amash, with the star stuck rich kid finding actual buried (and cursed) loot on a film shoot but caring only about impressing hot star Johnny Dredge. Boy, does she!

‘Treasure Quest’ comes from Tales of Riverdale Digest #9 (April 2006): an Archie & Friends charmer by Fernando Ruiz & Al Nickerson, with Archie and Reggie completely fooled by an advertising flyer that looks like a treasure map. Cue signature chaos and catastrophe…

‘Soul Mates’ from Betty & Veronica #151 (September 2000 by Kathleen Webb, Dan DeCarlo and Henry Scarpelli) then pictures the Caribbean-vacationing teens as freebooting female furies, but still unable to curtail their legendary rivalry.

The Adventures of Little Archie #21 (Winter 1961-1962) then stands and delivers a classic mystery yarn by the brilliant Bob Bolling as ‘Pirates’ sees the mischievous kid exposed to a strange gas carried by an old weirdo on a bus – yes; much, much simpler times – that somehow lands him a stagecoach en route to the 18th century and his own pressganging.

Condemned to be a cabin boy on Blackbeard’s ship, he is present at the deadly sea battle between the wicked rogue and valiant naval hero Captain Morgan

Crafted at a time when kids were considered smarter and not made of porcelain, this is a grand romp blending action, suspense and humour in perfect balance, followed by a more modern take as (sadly uncredited) Little Jughead vignette ‘The Mystery Treasure’ from Jughead’s Double Digest #152 (September 2009) sees Arch and his ever hungry pal uncover a haunted chest, whilst Archie Giant Series Magazine #583 (September 1988, by Bolling & Mike Esposito) pits the juvenile lead in solo action against time-travelling arch nemesis Mad Doctor Doom who seeks buried loot from 1743 in ‘Close Scrape in Barnacle Bay’

‘Treasure Trove’ (Laugh #7, June 1988, by Gladir, Bolling & Esposito) then offers a fantasy lay with The Mighty Archie Art Players re-enacting an undying rivalry between righteous Cap’n Booty (Archie) and piratical Cap’n Skull (Reg) on the high(larious) seas, after which Veronica #180 (July 2007) refocused on romance in ‘An Old Story’ as Ronnie’s bookshop binge unearths a saucy bodice-ripper that sets her imagination racing before ‘Digging for Buried Treasure’ (Betty & Veronica #163, August 2001 by Gladir, DeCarlo & Alison Flood) sees the lasses reminiscing – and speculating – about their childhood games at the beach.

In Betty & Veronica Spectacular #55 (September 2002) Angelo DeCesare, Parent & Jon D’Agostino bring supernatural romance and comedy capers in two-parter ‘Teen Spirit’ as the girls become the obsession of a piratical spook who’s been a horny teen since his death centuries ago. Things turn ugly when he decides to get rid of rivals Archie and Reggie and drastic steps need to be taken…

Archie Comics Digest #235 (August 2007) revisited ‘Pirates Ahoy!’ courtesy of Pellowski, Scarpelli & D’Agostino as another movie (this one starring Jon E. Depth) provokes poolside nightmares for our red rascal, Ronnie enjoys a ‘Treasured Moment’ (Veronica #175, December 2006 by Pellowski, Parent & Amash) after pinch-hitting for Betty and reading pirate stories to little kids. one last brace of gold comes with ‘Festival Time’ (Betty & Veronica #256, December 2011 by Gladir, Jeff Shultz & Amash) as high school eco-club Green Girls organises a fundraiser celebrating women pirates like Annie Bonnie or Ching Shih, only to lose their men to thieving flirty rivals before we hit the far shore with ‘Scene in Public’ (Archie Comics Digest #259, January 2010 by Pellowski, Pat Kennedy & Amash) as Archie, Jughead and Reggie literally patronise a pirate-themed diner on their way to a sporting event in full supporters’ garb…

Daftly delightful, these arrr ideal example of classic comics fun: brilliant gems no Funnybook Fan or Crafty Corsair would care to share. Enjoy your spoils and bask in the knowledge that some treasures can really be yours alone.
© 2012 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hope and Hell’s Flaw – Shame books 4 and 5


By Lovern Kindzierski, John Bolton & Todd Klein (Renegade Arts Entertainment)

ISBN: 978-1-98782-548-0 (Hope TPB) ISBN: 978-1-98890389-7 (Hell’s Flaw TPB)

Comics are unequivocally a visual medium and that’s never more ably demonstrated than in a seductively bewitching allegorical fable from writer Lovern Kindzierski, painter John Bolton and letterer Todd Klein.

The story began with three Original Graphic Novels released between 2011 and 2013, before the entire epic was housed in its proper setting: a lavish and sublime full-colour hardback tome, liberally garnished with beguiling bonus features and all the usual digital equivalents.

So, if you’re sitting comfortably with all the doors locked and windows covered, let’s begin with a swift reprise…

Once upon a time in Conception a benevolent but homely witch named Mother Virtue spent all her days doing little favours and grand good deeds for the ordinary and unfortunate, and for these kind actions she was beloved by all. Spiritually, she was probably the most perfect woman in the world, but as for her looks…

She lived life well, growing old and content, but one day, after decades of joyous philanthropy, a single selfish thought flashed idly through her mind: a momentary longing for a daughter and wish for it to be true, that she might be a mother in fact as well as name…

The weak moment was instantly exploited by malign Shadow of Ignorance Slur. Through dark magics, he impregnated the champion of Good with a vile seed of evil, bragging to the wise-woman that her wish-made daughter would be a diabolical demon deserving the name Shame

Deeply repenting that selfish whim and dreading horrors yet to come, Mother Virtue transformed her idyllic cottage in the woods into a floral prison; a Cradle reluctantly repurposed to isolate and eventually contain the thing growing in her belly. The miserable matron-to-be also assembled Dryads to care for and guard the baby. Once Virtue finally births Shame, she leaves the devil’s burden to be reared in the mystical compound, where it grows strong and cruel but so very beautiful…

After much concentrated effort, however, minions of Shame’s sire breach Cradle’s green ramparts and school the child in vile necromancy to ensure her dire, sordid inheritance. With malefic potency, Shame refashions her guardians into something more pliable and appropriately monstrous…

As the devil’s daughter physically ripens, Slur himself comes to his evil child and through him Shame learns the terrifying power of sex. With the aid of an infernal incubus which has stolen seed from many men, she quickens a child in her own belly and eventually births a beautiful baby girl.

Into that infant Slur pours Mother Virtue’s soul; gorily ripped from the despondent dotard’s aging carcase at the moment of her granddaughter’s delivery. Even the nunnery Virtue had locked herself within was no proof against the marauding Shadow of Ignorance…

With her despised mother now her own child, securely bound within the floral penitentiary, Shame goes out into the world to make her mark…

Pursuit took up the story sixteen years later. Infant Virtue has grown strong and lovely, despite every effort of malformed, mystically mutated Dryads and Shame’s own diabolical sorcery toiling constantly but to no effect in a campaign of corruption, making every day of her young life a savage test of survival. This daily failure makes Shame – now elevated by her own evil efforts to queen of a mortal kingdom – furious beyond belief.

When not burning witches and wise women who might threaten her absolute domination, or having her armies ravage neighbouring realms, the haughty hell-spawn spies upon her offspring/ancestor with infernal devices, but is always bitterly disappointed and enraged….

Elsewhere, a valiant knight lies dying and mournfully bids his afflicted son Merritt farewell. With his last breaths, the swift-failing father dreads how his foolish, naïve, beloved boy will fare in a world ruled by the Queen who has ended him…

The hopeless dreamer is stubborn above all else and – when Merritt discovers the vegetable hell-mound of Cradle – stories his mother told him long ago run again through his head. Odd, inexplicable yearning compels him to overcome appalling arcane odds and break in. He liberates the beautiful prisoner… although she actually does most of the work…

Freed from Cradle, Virtue’s mystic might blooms. Far away, Shame reels. Slur cares little for his daughter but much for his plans: disclosing Merritt is Destiny’s wild card: a Sword of Fate who could reshape the future of humanity. Of course, that depends on whose side he joins…

The young heroes near the capital but are ambushed. After a tremendous mystic clash, Merritt awakens in a palace with a compelling dark-haired vision ministering to his every need and desire. Meanwhile, far below in a rank, eldritch dungeon, Virtue languishes, patiently adjusting plans…

This eldritch esoterically erotic epic concluded with Redemption as Merritt fell deeper under the sultry sway of the dark queen, devolving into her submissive tool of human subjugation, whilst Virtue languished in fetid squalor, weaving intricate magic with the paltry, debased materials at hand…

In the Queen’s arms, Merritt remains a child shaped by his mother’s bedtime stories. When Virtue contacts him, he readily sneaks down to her cell, dreams of nobility and valiant deeds filling his addled head…

With a final confrontation between mother and daughter imminent, Virtue sends Merritt to Hell on a vital quest to recover the Hope of the World. His triumphant return saves the kingdom and redeems the downcast…

As with all great fairy tales, justice is delivered and the world is set right side up again, with Shame dead, Slur confined to the Pit and pure reborn soul Hope in charge…

But what actually happens on the first day of “Happy Ever After”? The answer comes as the initial trilogy is extended via a second tranche of Original Graphic Novels, with Kindzierski & Bolton picking up their eldritch tapestry again in Hope

The day after Shame’s dismemberment and descent to Hell, chaos and uprising grips the kingdom, forcing Merritt and rebel wisewoman Miss Grace to escort bewildered Hope to safety outside the castle. The war has been won but evil cannot die and the rioting crowds are almost as much a danger as the Queen’s remaining stooges and free-roaming satanic spirits. Moreover, the child’s unschooled mystic force makes her a danger to herself and all around her…

Transporting her to the peaceful countryside fills Merritt with memories of his childhood and reveals what happened to his own mother, subsequently provoking Grace to review her own chequered past. Both have suffered grievously from Shame’s actions, and have no idea that the monster is still active in Hell, manipulating ghosts and demons to effect her return to Earth using the infernal contamination that used to be Cradle…

In the forests, Hope sees visions of forthcoming atrocity, which confirmed by Grace’s scrying, force the caravan to divert towards the once-green hell and meet the threat head on…

To Be Continued…

Fifth volume Hell’s Flaw resumes the epic quest, as Shame marshals her forces to secure the pathway from Hell to the living world, while the wary, weary band of heroes struggles to the verdant hellmouth.

Their way is blocked demonic forces too horrible to bear, but Grace has learned to tap Hope’s raw magic to fight them off. Slowly though, she becomes more controlling, her promises to teach the child somehow never materialising, although her need for her as a living battery constantly increases. Eventually, however, during a truly formidable assault, Hope asserts herself to save Merritt and the entire course of the quest changes…

In Hell, Shame’s own cunning endeavours have borne black fruit and she is ready to return…

To Be Concluded…

Epic and fanciful, the fairy tale trappings mask a most mature examination of Good and Evil, and the shimmering photorealistic expressionism of John Bolton’s lush painting transforms the familiar settings of fantasy standards and set-pieces into visions truly bleak and bizarre, perfectly complementing the grim, earthily seedy meta-reality of Kindzierski’s script.

Dark and nasty yet packed with sumptuous seductions of every stripe, the salutary saga of Shame is every adult fantasist’s desire made real and every comic fan’s most fervent anticipation in one irresistible package…

Hope, Hell’s Flaw and Shame: the series conceived and written by Lovern Kindzierski. The story, characters, world and designs are © Lovern Kindzierski, John Bolton and Renegade Arts Canmore Ltd.

Chicago – A Comix Memoir


By Glenn Head (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-878-6 (HB)

One of the things comics can do better than almost any other medium is autobiography. Words are immensely potent, but when wed to the images a confessor wants you to see and has devised especially for that purpose, the response is always immediate, visceral and permanent.

Cartoonist, illustrator and editor Glenn Head (Hot Wire, Snake Eyes, Weirdo) studied under Art Spiegelman at the School for Visual Art in the early 1980’s but bided his time in commercial illustration for publications like Advertising Age, Screw, Sports Illustrated and The Wall Street Journal, and with comix such as Guttersnipe and Head Shots before releasing his first graphic novel in 2015.

It was worth the wait…

In monochrome hardback Chicago – available in sturdy hardback and trustworthy digital formats – Head turned a harsh, stark spotlight on his own life, literally baring all and detailing how a troubled teenaged virgin from New Jersey turned his back on the American Dream and his own personal hopes and aspirations before touching bottom and courting madness to reach his current (still tenuous) state.

Following an incisive Introduction from Phoebe Gloeckner, the history lesson begins in a graveyard in the Garden State. “Glen” is nineteen and troubled, but not necessarily unhappy: he’s just painfully aware that he doesn’t fit in.

It’s the summer of 1977 and he’s obsessed with the cartoons and paraphernalia of the hippie Counterculture then experiencing its death-throes. Dad works on Wall Street and desperately wants to understand why his son seems at such a loss. The boy doesn’t even seem happy to be going to Art School in Cleveland, even though he claims that’s what he wants…

What Glenn actually wants most is Sarah: his best friend and a girl appallingly emotionally scarred by the treatment she has received from her Holocaust-Survivor parents. She’s already well down the road to dissolution though: pregnant, a runaway and being used to turn tricks by her latest scumbag boyfriend…

The season turns and Glen reluctantly reports to the Cleveland Institute of Art, his intolerant, abrasive attitude winning him few friends amongst staff or students. There’s something indefinably wrong inside his head and before long he drops out and starts panhandling to survive.

A casual conversation with another student attains the status of a sign from God and Glen – who we’re starting to think might suffer from bipolar disorder – abruptly hitchhikes to Chicago, determined to sell cartoons to Playboy magazine…

And thus begins an intense period of privation, hallucination, harassment by hustlers, constant danger and creeping horror, all punctuated by unexpected kindnesses from strangers, rejections, connections and moments of incomprehensible good fortune as chance meetings with Muhammad Ali and Robert Crumb begin turning the street-meat’s life around…

‘Decompression’ sees Glen in January 1978, back in comfortably suburban Madison, N.J. thanks to his amazingly understanding yet still-uncomprehending father. Although the threat of imminent starvation and murder have faded, the boy is still at risk – from his own actions after a telephone conversation with idealised inamorata Sarah’s manic mother and his own father’s poorly hidden handgun…

The final section of this diary occurs in 2010 as Brooklyn-dwelling single-dad Glen gets an email one morning. Sarah, the one that got away, the great missed opportunity, has tracked him down and wants to meet up. Is this his chance to stop being that painful, pathetic, unresolved 19-year-old virgin at last?

Breathtakingly candid, intoxicatingly forthright and irresistibly visually exhilarating, Chicago is a startling examination of the power of obsessions and memories: a potential roadmap to finding your own identity… as long as you have the nerve and stomach to try…
Chicago © 2015, Glenn Head. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Showcase Presents the Flash volume 4


By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Frank Robbins, Carmine Infantino, Ross Andru & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3679-3 (TPB)

In the anniversary year of Comics’ Silver Age, it’s a true shame that so much superb material remains out of reach of nostalgia-afflicted fans or any young neophyte looking for a vintage treat.

At least the tales gathered in this old tome – spanning the close of the Silver Age and start of the Bronze Age – are available, but only in ludicrously expensive hardback Omnibus editions, rather than paperback or digital collections. Boo to you publishers, and here’s a cheap and cheerful recommendation to track down an old monochrome masterpiece stuffed with crazy fun and thrills…

Barry Allen was the second speedster to carry the name of The Flash, and his debut was the Big Bang which finally triggered the gleaming era we’re celebrating here. He arrived after a succession of abortive original attempts such as Captain Flash, The Avenger, Strongman (in 1954-1955) and remnant revivals (Stuntman in 1954 and Marvel’s “Big Three”, The Human Torch, Sub-Mariner & Captain America during 1953-1955).

Although none of those restored the failed fortunes of masked mystery-men, they had presumably piqued readers’ consciousness, even at conservative National/DC. Thus, the revived human rocket wasn’t quite the innovation he seemed: alien crusader The Martian Manhunter had already cracked open the company floodgates with his low-key launch in Detective Comics #225 (November 1955).

However, in terms of creative quality, originality and sheer style Flash was an irresistible spark, and after his landmark first appearance in Showcase #4 (October 1956) the series became a benchmark by which every successive launch or reboot across the industry was measured.

Police Scientist (CSI today) Barry Allen was transformed by an accidental lightning strike and chemical bath into a human thunderbolt of unparalleled velocity and ingenuity. Yet with characteristic indolence the new Fastest Man Alive took 3 more try-out issues and almost as many years to win his own title. When he finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash #105 (February-March 1959), he never looked back…

The comics business back then was a faddish, slavishly trend-beset world, however, and following a manic boom for superhero tales prompted by the Batman TV show, fickle global consciousness moved on to a fixation with supernatural themes and merely mortal tales, triggering a huge revival of spooky films, shows, books and periodicals. With horror on the rise again, many superhero titles faced cancellation, and even the most revered and popular were threatened. It was time to adapt or die…

At the time this fourth collection of his own hard-won title begins, the Vizier of Velocity was still an undisputed icon of the apparently unstoppable Superhero meme and mighty pillar of the costumed establishment, but dark days and changing fashions were about to threaten his long run at the top…

Reprinting transitional issues #162-184 (June 1966-December 1968), this compilation shows how Flash had set into a cosy pattern of two short tales per issue, leavened with semi-regular book-length thrillers; always written by regular scripters John Broome or Gardner F. Fox and illustrated by Carmine Infantino (with inker Joe Giella). That comfortable format was about to radically change.

Flash #162 featured Fox-penned sci-fi shocker ‘Who Haunts the Corridor of Chills?’, in which an apparently bewitched fairground attraction opens the doors into an invasion-mystery millions of years old whilst stretching the Scarlet Speedster’s powers and imagination to the limit…

The next issue offered a brace of tales by globe-trotting author Broome, opening with ‘The Flash Stakes his Life – On – You!’, taking an old philosophical adage to its illogical but highly entertaining extreme as criminal scientist Ben Haddonuses his gadgets to make the residents of Central City forget their champion ever existed. That has the incredible effect of making the Flash fade away, if not for the utter devotion of one hero-worshipping little girl…

By contrast, ‘The Day Magic Exposed Flash’s Secret Identity!’ features a sharp duel with a dastardly villain as approbation-hungry evil illusionist Abra Kadabra breaks future jail and trades bodies with the 64th century cop sent to bring back to face justice, leaving the Speedster with an impossible choice to make…

Issue #164 offered another pair of fast fables. ‘Flash – Vandal of Central City!’ (Broome), sees the hero losing control of his speed and destroying property every time he runs. Little does he know old enemy Pied Piper was back in town… Kid Flash then solo-stars in Fox’s ‘The Boy Who Lost Touch with the World!’ as Wally West’s nerdy new friend suddenly becomes periodically, uncontrollably intangible…

With Flash #165’s ‘One Bridegroom too Many!’ Broome, Infantino & Giella made a huge advance in character development as Barry finally weds long-time fiancée Iris West. This shocking saga sees the hero’s sinister antithesis Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash attempt to replace him at the altar in a fast-paced, utterly beguiling yarn which also posed a seemingly insoluble quandary for the new groom…

Should the nervous newlywed reveal his secret identity to Iris – who has no idea she’s marrying a superhero – or say nothing, maintaining the biggest lie between them and pray she never, ever finds out? Every married man already knows the answer* but for us secretive little kids reading this the first time around, that question was an impossible, imponderable quandary…

Building soap opera tension by fudging the issue like a national government, #166 carried on as usual with Broome’s delicious comedy ‘The Last Stand of the Three-Time Losers!’ wherein a cheesy bunch of no-hoper thieves accidentally discover an unlikely exploitable weakness in Flash’s powers and psyche, before the Monarch of Motion becomes a ‘Tempting Target of the Temperature Twins!’ after spraining his ankle just as Heat Wave and Captain Cold renew their frenemy rivalry…

With #167, Sid Greene became series’ inker, kicking off his run with a light-hearted but accidentally controversial Fox/Infantino tale that utterly incensed the devoted readership. ‘The Real Origin of The Flash! introduced Heavenly Helpmate – and Woody Allen look-alike – Mopee who had long ago been ordered to create the accident which transformed a deserving human into the Fastest Man Alive.

Typically, Mopee had cocked-up and was now back on Earth to rectify his mistake. It takes all Flash’s skill, ingenuity and patience to regain his powers. The story is a delightfully offbeat hoot, but continuity-conscious fans dubbed it apocryphal and heretical ever since…

Less contentious was Fox’s back-up yarn ‘The Hypnotic Super-Speedster!’ allowing Kid Flash an opportunity to bust up a gang of thieves, prank a theatrical mesmerist and give a chubby school chum the athletic thrill of a lifetime.

Broome then produced for #168 a puzzling full-length thriller in which the Guardians of the Universe sought out the Flash and declared ‘One of our Green Lanterns is Missing!’ Even as the Scarlet Speedster hunts for his missing best buddy, he is constantly distracted by a gang of third-rate thugs who have somehow acquired futuristic super weapons…

Flash #169 was an all-reprint 80-Page Giant represented here by its stunning cover and an illuminating ‘How I Draw the Flash’ feature by Infantino, followed by a full-length Fox thriller in #170. ‘The See-Nothing Spells of Abra Kadabra!’sees the Vizier of Velocity hexed by the cunning conjuror and unable to detect the villain’s actions or presence. Sadly for the sinister spellbinder, Flash has help from visiting Earth-2 predecessor Jay Garrick and Justice Society of America pals Doctors Fate and Mid-Nite

‘Here Lies The Flash – Dead and Unburied’ (Fox, Infantino & Greene) pits the restored speedster against Justice League foe Doctor Light, attempting to pick off his assembled enemies one at a time, whilst #172 offers a brace of Broome blockbusters beginning with Grodd Puts the Squeeze on Flash!’, in which the super-simian blackmails his nippy nemesis into (briefly) busting him out of a Gorilla City cell. Following up, ‘The Machine-Made Robbery!’ saw the return of that most absent-minded of Professors Ira West. Luckily, son-in-law Barry is around to foil a perfidious plot by cunning criminals. The genius’ new super-computer is public knowledge, and the crooks – intent on designing a perfect crime – want to hire the device,

Issue #173 featured a titanic team-up as Barry, Wally West and Jay Garrick were separately shanghaied to another galaxy as putative prey of alien hunter Golden Man in ‘Doomward Flight of the Flashes!’ However, Broome’s stunning script slowly reveals layers of intrigue as the Andromedan super-safari masks a far more arcane need for the three speedy pawns…

In 1967, Infantino became Art Director and Publisher of National/DC and, although he still designed the covers, Flash #174 was his final full-pencilling job. He departed in stunning style with Broome’s ‘Stupendous Triumph of the Six Super-Villains!’ wherein Mirror Master Sam Scudder discovers a fantastic looking-glass world where the Scarlet Speedster is a hardened criminal constantly defeated by a disgusting do-gooder reflecting champion.

Stealing the heroic Mirror Master’s secret super-weapon, Scudder calls in fellow Rogues Pied Piper, Heat Wave, Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang and The Top to share their foe’s final downfall, but they aren’t ready for the last-minute interference of the other, evil, Barry Allen…

When Infantino left, most fans were convinced the Flash was ruined. His replacements were highly controversial and suffered most unfairly in unjust comparisons – and I count myself among their biggest detractors at the time – but in intervening years I’ve learned to appreciate the superb quality of their work.

However, back in a comics era with no invasive, pervasive support media, Flash #175 (December 1967) was huge shock. With absolutely no warning, ‘The Race to the End of the Universe!’ proclaimed E. Nelson Bridwell as author and introduced Wonder Woman art-team Ross Andru & Mike Esposito as illustrators.

Moreover, the story was another big departure. DC Editors in the 1960s had generally avoided such questions as which hero was strongest/fastest/best for fear of upsetting some portion of their tenuous and almost-certainly temporary fan-base, but as the superhero boom slowed and upstart Marvel Comics began to make genuine inroads into their market, the notion of a definitive race between the almighty Man of Steel and the “Fastest Man Alive” had become an inevitable, increasingly enticing and sales-worthy proposition.

After a deliberately inconclusive first race around the world – for charity – (‘Superman’s Race with the Flash’ in Superman #199 (August 1967)), the stakes were astronomically raised in the inevitable rematch in Flash #175.

The tale itself sees the friendly rivals compelled to speed across the cosmos because ruthless alien gamblers Rokk and Sorban threaten to eradicate Central City and Metropolis unless the pair categorically settle who is fastest. Bridwell adds an ingenious sting in the tale and logically highlights two classic Flash Rogues, whilst Andru & Esposito deliver a sterling illustration job in this yarn – but once again the actual winning is deliberately fudged.

Broome produced a few more stories before moving on and #176 features two of his best. ‘Death Stalks the Flash!’tapped into the upsurge in spooky shenanigans when Iris contracts a deadly fever and her hyper-fast hubby runs right into her delirious dreams to destroy the nightmarish Grim Reaper, after which ‘Professor West – Lost Strayed or Stolen?’delightfully inverts all the old absent-minded gags. Barry’s Father-in-Law successfully undergoes a memory-enhancing process but still manages to get inadvertently involved with murderous felons…

Fox then scripted one of the daftest yet most memorable of Flash thrillers in #177 as The Trickster invents a brain-enlarging ray that turns his arch-foe into ‘The Swell-Headed Super-Hero!’, after which #178’s cover follows – another all-reprint 80-Page Giant…

Written by newcomer Cary Bates and Gardner Fox, Flash #179 (May 1968) was another landmark. The prologue ‘Test your Flash I.Q.’ and main event ‘The Flash – Fact or Fiction?’ extends the multiple Earths concept to its logical conclusion by trapping the Monarch of Motion in “our” Reality, where the Sultan of Speed is just a comic character! Simultaneously offering an alien monster mystery, this rollercoaster riot was a superb introduction for Bates, who eventually became regular writer and the longest serving creator of the legend of Barry Allen.

First though, jobbing cartoonist Frank Robbins added Flash to his credits, scripting an almost painfully tongue-in-cheek oriental spoof accessing everything from Kurosawa to You Only Live Twice to his own Johnny Hazard newspaper strip.

In #180, Barry and Iris visit friends in Japan and are soon embroiled in a deadly scheme by fugitive war criminal Baron Katana to turn the clock back and restore feudal control over Nippon using ‘The Flying Samurai’. The sinister plot unravels after only the most strenuous efforts of the newlyweds in all-action conclusion ‘The Attack of the Samuroids!’

Broome’s last hurrahs was in #182, with the return of Abra Kadabra whose futuristic legerdemain and envy of genuine stage magicians compel him to turn the speedster intoThe Thief Who Stole all the Money in Central City!’ whilst ‘The Flash’s Super-Speed Phobia!’ sees an unlikely accident inflict a devastating – if temporary – psychological disability on the fleet thief-taker.

The tone of the stories was changing. Aliens and super science took a back-seat to more human-scaled dramas. Robbins scripted the last two tales here, beginning with a devilishly deceptive case of bluff and double-bluff as Barry Allen becomes ‘The Flash’s Dead Ringer!’ in a convoluted attempt to convince crime-boss the Frog that the police scientist isn’t also the Fastest Man Alive, before proving that he too was adept at high-concept fabulism in #184, when a freak time-travel accident traps Flash millennia in the future after accidentally becoming the apparent ‘Executioner of Central City!’

These tales first appeared at a moment when superhero comics almost disappeared for the second time in a generation, and perfectly show the Scarlet Speedster’s ability to adapt to changing fashions in ways many of his four-colour contemporaries simply could not. Crucial as they are to the development of modern comics, however, it is the fact that they are brilliant, awe-inspiring, beautifully realised thrillers which still amuse, amaze and enthral new readers and old lags alike. This compendium is another must-read item for anybody in love with the world of graphic narrative.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

* In case you’re not married, or not a man, the answer is: Fake your own death and move to Bolivia. And if you find a partner there, always tell them everything before they ask or find out.

Extra credit answer – also try not to be a dick.

Comanche volume 3: The Wolves of Wyoming


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 saw way back in the 1980s, crafted by two Belgian masters of graphic narrative.

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 – calling himself “Greg” – 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 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 crying out for revisiting in English…

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 an industry superstar – 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’m probably short-changing the man).

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 third translated volume of the sprawling cowboy epic starring no-longer wandering gunslinger Red Dust and his growing band of friends at the Triple 6 ranch. The taciturn hombre has found a home – if not peace and quiet – after joining a most unlikely string of comradely outcasts on a struggling 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, immensely determined woman called Comanche

Comprised of linked weekly episodes, and originally published in 1974, The Wolves of Wyoming sees our quotidian, ever-expanding cast embroiled in a classic cinematic scenario that begins with a stagecoach hurtling over dusty plains with ruthless bandits slinging lead in hot pursuit.

Doughty driver Sid Bullock is hit, but the lone passenger is more than holding his own with a sixgun, and when Triple 6 ranch-hands Toby and Clem intercept the chase, the predatory Dobbs Brothers peel off and flee…

Diverting to the homestead, the party formally meet self-confessed lay preacher Brian Braggshaw; a notorious former gunslinger with an extremely unforgiving attitude to sin and sinners and who takes an instant dislike – fully reciprocated – to Red…

As Ten Gallons doctors Bullock, Comanche learns that the Dobbs were after a cash shipment to the Ranchers Union – money Greenstone Falls depends on. The gang have bled the town dry with their recent raids. It’s like they have an inside man informing them of key shipments…

Compounding the problem is that fact that wily Sid actually diverted the latest money: carrying an empty decoy strongbox while legendary old drunk Pharoah Colorado carried the cash by a circuitous route. It’s a cunning, brilliant plan that only falls short on one point. Finishing his booze early, Colorado has been forced to make a detour, visiting local moonshine maker Trapper Hans even as the Triple 6 hands split up into search parties to find the leathery soak and precious funds…

Covering many potential routes, they are being secretly observed. The Dobbs are mostly cruel brutes, but oldest Dobbs brother Russ is as smart as he is sadistic and quickly deduces what the ranchers are hunting for: money he feels is his by right.

Red has been paired with the vengeance-happy Braggshaw, and their heated debates over morality bring them close to blows. It’s not enough to stop the preacher killing Melvin Dobbs when he tries bushwhacking them, and as they backtrack to the gang’s cabin, they observe the entire clan riding off. Investigating the cabin, Red finds missing Indian Affairs Commissioner Howard Calhoun, who embezzled funds and almost sparked a war. His cunning hideaway amongst the Dobbs Boys has clearly proved there’s no honour among thieves, and their treatment of their criminal “comrade” has resulted in what can only be regarded as divine justice…

Russ meanwhile has gathered the clan to scour the region, whilst Red has made a few deductions of his own. Trapper Hans’ sturdy shack is the only place to find booze in the Wyoming wilds so he and Braggshaw head there. As night falls, Comanche and Toby are already there, preparing to fight for their lives against the besieging Dobbs gang.

As the bloodshed begins, the rest of the Triple 6 men converge on the scene. With battle joined it’s not long before a hero dies and the gang turn tail. In the aftermath, Red Dust rides off, having embraced the Preacher’s unforgiving doctrine and now determined to destroy all the “wolves of Wyoming”…

To Be Continued…

A classic saga of the filmic western genre, this yarn is drenched in European style and ingenuity, elevating it above the unreconstructed mire, uncomfortable associations and unsavoury tropes that make even venerated old movies an uncomfortable experience for most of us in these enlightened days.

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

A splendid confection of the Wild West blended with sleek yet gritty European style, this is a timeless treat comics fans and movie lovers will adore. Don’t miss one of the most celebrated comics cowboys of all time…
© 2017 – LE LOMBARD – HERMANN & GREG. All rights reserved.

Can’t Get No


By Rick Veitch (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1059-5 (TPB)

The terrorist atrocity of September 11th, 2001 changed the world and in our own small corner, generated a number of graphic narrative responses of varying quality, not to mention deep emotional honesty. Rick Veitch’s 2006 entry Can’t Get No was as powerful and heartfelt as any, but benefited greatly from a little time and distance.

Chad Roe’s company sold the world’s most permanent and indelible marker pen, the “Eter-No-Mark”. Everyone was flying high but then the lawsuits hit all at once. A cheap, utterly irremovable felt-pen is a godsend to street-artists and the most virulent of vandalistic weapons to property owners…

As his universe collapses on him, Chad goes on a bender, picks up two hippie-artist-chicks in a bar and wakes up a human scribble-board, covered literally from head to toe in swirling, organic, totally permanent designs.

Even then he tries so very hard to bounce back. A walking abstract artwork, he is ostracized by mockery, unable to conceal his obvious “otherness”, and neither self-help philosophies, drugs, nor alcohol can make him feel normal again. Defeated, reviled and eventually crushed in spirit, he’s trapped in a downward spiral. He meets the pen-wielding girls again and finds solace and uncomplicated joy in the artist’s world of sex, booze and dope.

Lost to “normal” society, Chad goes on a road-trip with the women, but they haven’t even left the city before they’re all arrested. It is morning on September 11th and as the girls violently resist the cops an airplane flies overhead, straight towards the centre of Manhattan…

With no-one looking at him, just another part of the shocked crowd, he watches for an eternity, and then no longer anything but another stunned mortal, Chad drives away with an Arab family in their mobile home.

And thus begins a psychedelic, introspective argosy through America’s philosophy, symbolism and meta-physicality. With this one act of terrorism forever changing the nation, Chad is forced on a journey of discovery to find an America that is newborn both inside and out. His travels take him through vistas of predictable cruelty and unexpected tolerance, through places both eerily symbolic and terrifyingly plebeian, but by the end of this modern Pilgrim’s Progress, both he and the world have adapted, accommodated and accepted.

Born in 1951, Rick Veitch is a criminally undervalued creator who has lived through post-war(s) America’s many chimeric social revolutions. He has a poet’s sensibilities and a disaffected Flower-Child’s perspectives informing a powerful creative consciousness – and conscience. Can’t Get No is a landmark experiment in both form and content which deserves careful and repeated examination.

Black and white in a landscape format, and eschewing dialogue and personal monologues for ambient text (no word balloons or descriptive captions, just the words that the characters encounter such as signs, newspapers, faxes etc.) this graphic narrative – in paperback and digital editions – screams out its great differences to usual comic strip fare, but the truly magical innovation is the “text-track”, a continual fluid, peroration of poetic statements that supply an evocative counterpoint to the visual component.

Satirical, cynical, strident: Lyricism is employed for examination and introspection, in perhaps occasionally over-florid, but nonetheless moving and heartfelt free verse and epigrams don’t make this an easy read or a simple entertainment. They do make it a piece of work every serious consumer of graphic narrative should attempt.
© 2006 Rick Veitch. All Rights Reserved.

Desolation Jones: Made in England


By Warren Ellis & JH Williams III & various (WildStorm)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1150-9 (TPB)

Los Angeles is a dump and a dumping ground. Personal opinions aside, that’s the premise of this deep, dark espionage thriller from comics wunderscribe Warren Ellis and graphic illuminator JH Williams III. When MI6 screw-up MichaelJones is no longer capable of doing his job, he’s offered a comfy testing role as his ticket out. No-one in their right mind should ever trust security service types, but that’s the point – the burnt out, alcoholic agent just isn’t all that anymore.

After years of unspeakable atrocities ostensibly intended to create better operatives – up to and including the bizarre and inexplicable Desolation Test, the ravaged remains of Michael Jones are consigned to the reservation provided by the West’s Intelligence Agencies for retired, rejected and discarded agents plus all the experiments that didn’t measure up: Los Angeles, USA.

There they can live out their lives as they see fit, but can never, EVER leave the city. There’s no pension scheme but the dregs can do whatever they need to make a living as long as it’s within city limits.

Jones is a mess, both physically and mentally. He can’t drink, won’t sleep and takes too many drugs. He avoids daylight, regularly hallucinates and is numb to all sensation and emotion. In “the Community” he freelances as a private eye/fixer: sorting out problems that can’t be resolved through legitimate methods.

In this first compilation (available in paperback and digital formats and collecting issues #1-6 of the WildStorm comic book) that problem is a retired NSA spook who’s being blackmailed by new members of the Community who have somehow stolen the Holy Grail of pornography. The ravaged Colonel Nigh wants Adolf Hitler’s homemade porno back and will do anything to get it. Unfortunately, so will all the other filthy rich deviants who populate Tinseltown.

However, something just isn’t right. Jones may not feel, but something deeper is hiding behind all the subterfuge and depravity…

Sardonic and rather bleak, this caustic, tension-soaked, trauma-packed action caper dwells on the nasty side of the espionage genre: a thriller with plenty of twists and a solid mystery to intrigue the most jaded reader. The content is strictly adults only – and by that, I mean that the subtext of duty, love and honour are assaults on the traditions of the hero-spy in as brutal a manner as the sex and violence underscore the dark side of the American Dream-town.

This is a story for cynical adults, not horny kids with appropriate IDs. Great stuff beautifully conceived and magically limned.
© 2005, 2006 Warren Ellis & JH Williams III. All Rights Reserved.