‘There’s a Lot of it About’


By Geoffrey Dickinson (Columbus Books)
ISBN: 978-0-86287-253-3 (PB)

The government are keen on co-opting and channelling the “Blitz Spirit” these days to embody the nation’s resistance to adversity, but it wasn’t our dogged determination that pulled us though our darkest hours. It was the national ability to find humour in the most appalling circumstances that kept us going…

Since we’re all absorbed by snot and sniffles and sudden death, I thought I’d cheer myself up for a moment with this handy handbook of ailments and medical mis-practice from one of Britain’s best and most influential cartoonists and a time far less fraught.

Geoffrey Dickinson was a veteran mainstay of Punch, Time, The Financial Times and many other periodical venues. This is probably his best collection of gags but his second opinion on medical matters ‘Probably Just a Virus’ is almost as good but a lot harder to find these days…

British cartooning has been magnificently served over the centuries by masters of form, line, wash and most importantly clever ideas, repeatedly poking our funny bones, pricking our pomposities and feeding our fascinations, and nothing says more about us than our rocky relationship with the beloved yet criminally underfunded National Health Service.

Award-winning scribbler Geoffrey Samuel Dickinson was born on May 5th 1933 in Liverpool and studied at Southport School Art (1950-1953) before graduating to the Royal Academy Schools. Set on a career as a landscape painter, he taught art in Croydon, at Tavistock Boys School and the Selhurst Grammar School until 1967.

To supplement his meagre income – governments have never reckoned much to the value of teachers either – he freelanced as a graphic designer and animator for the BBC and began selling gags to Punch as early as 1963.

In 1966, his famous cover for the April 15th issue of Time Magazine was deemed to have officially launched “the Swinging Sixties” and London as the capital city of cool. A year later he took a staff position with Punch as Deputy Art Editor under the legendary Bill Hewison, but still found time to freelance, working for Reader’s Digest, Which?Esquire, Highlife, Hallmark Cards and many more.

In 1984, Dickinson left the humour standard to take up a position at the Financial Times, drawing cartoons for the daily and producing illustration material for the weekend supplement. He died far too young in 1988.

Within the pages of ‘There’s a Lot of it About’ – and following a pithy introduction from much-missed master of acerbic wit Alan Coren – the fit, the fat, the festering and the foolish will all learn the truth about the health of the nation in such chapters of chilling encounters and dodgy diagnoses as ‘The Waiting-Room’, ‘In the Surgery’ and ‘Sharp Practice’, before meeting stroppy secretaries, seen-it-all sawbones and formidably starched matrons, as well as the puling punks, cadaverous clerks and clerics, cocky kids, goofy old gaffers, loony little old ladies, brusque businessmen and other tedious time-wasters all abusing valuable visiting hours ‘On the Touchline’, ‘At the Barbers’ and ‘At the Dentist’

Moreover, as well as warning of ‘Student Doctors’, ‘Showbiz Doctors’ and the ‘Bogus Doctor’, we follow fully-rounded physicians into their private lives ‘On Holiday’, ‘At the Wheel’, in the garden with ‘Doctor Greenfinger’, at the ‘Doctor’s Wedding’, over ‘The Festive Season’ and on ‘The Morning After’, before examining doctors in love undergoing ‘Affairs of the Heart’

These kinds of cartoon collections were once ubiquitous best-sellers available everywhere, but these days are perennial library and jumble sale fare – in fact, I actually found this brilliant cure-all for the blues at a Hospital charity shop in the days before they became so frantically overburdened – but if you ever see a Dickinson (or indeed, any cartoon collection) in such a place, do yourself a favour, help out a good cause and have a healthy horse-laugh with these all-but-forgotten masters of illustrative mirth.

They’re really good for what ails you…
© 1985 Geoffrey Dickinson.

Black Widow: Web of Intrigue


By Ralph Macchio, George Pérez, Gerry Conway, Paul Gulacy, George Freeman & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-78514-474-8 (HB) 978-1-3029-0026-7 (TPB)

The Black Widow started life as a svelte and sultry honey-trap Soviet Russian agent during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days. As superhero fever mounted, Natasha Romanoff was subsequently redesigned as a supervillain, fell for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – and finally defected; becoming an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., freelance do-gooder leader of superteam The Champions and occasional commander in chief of The Avengers.

Throughout her career she has been considered efficient, competent, deadly dangerous and somehow cursed to bring doom and disaster to her paramours. As her backstory evolved, it was revealed that she had undergone experimental procedures which had enhanced her physical capabilities and lengthened her lifespan, as well as assorted psychological processes which had messed up her mind and memories…

Always considered a minor fan favourite, the Widow only really hit the big time after appearing in the Iron Man and Captain America movies, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her print escapades have always offered a cool, sinister frisson of delight.

This particular caper compilation originally surfaced in 2010 but was revived for the post-Avengers movie crowd, compiling an extended adventure from Marvel Fanfare #10-13 (August 1983-March 1984), a landmark mission from Bizarre Adventures #25 (March 1981) and 1990’s Marvel Graphic Novel – The Coldest War.

Leading off the espionage entertainment is Ralph Macchio’s introduction ‘For Your Eyes Only’, extolling the virtues of the genre and reminiscing about his time as Natasha’s scribe scripter, and an Al Milgrom pin-up before the action and intrigue kick off with a convoluted yarn by Macchio and George Pérez, with inkers Brett Breeding, Jack Abel, Joe Sinnott, Milgrom & John Beatty as ‘Widow’ finds the superspy tapped by SHIELD to rescue an abducted asset – her beloved  mentor Ivan Petrovich.

As she tracks and trashes assorted killers and crazies, we get a potted rundown of her complex origins before she arrives ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’, infiltrating a top-secret science project and facing the assemble killer elite of a mystery madman with a grudge…

As the mercenary assassins close in, ‘The Web Tightens!’ until a last-minute rescue by SHIELD agent Jimmy Woo and frenzied clash with mad killer Snapdragon at last leads to revelation and full disclosure after ‘The Widow… Alone!’ faces a foe long believed dead and spectacularly triumphs…

That superheroic struggle is followed by an iconic appearance from 1981, seen in mature-reader monochrome magazine Bizarre Adventures #25 featuring short tales starring female heroes. Here Macchio scripted a far more devious spy yarn of double and triple cross with agents betraying each other while trying to ascertain who might be working for “the other side”…

‘I Got the Yo-Yo… You Got the String’ finds the Widow despatched by SHIELD to assassinate her former teacher Irma Klausvichnova in an African political hot spot, but as the mission proceeds, Natasha learns that she can’t trust anybody and everything she knows is either a lie or a test with fatal consequences…

The chilling, twist-ridden tale is elevated to excellence by the powerful tonal art of Paul Gulacy who fills the piece with ironic tributes to many movie spies and the actors – such as Michael Caine and Humphry Bogart – who first made the genre so compelling.

The book concludes with intriguing superhero spy-romp The Coldest War.

Set in the last days of the US/Soviet face-off – with what looks to be an epilogue added to address the collapse of the Soviet State – the entire affair was clearly scripted as a contemporary thriller (probably for fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents) before events overtook the time-consuming process of printing a comic. The afterword – set after the fall of the Berlin Wall – doesn’t jar too much and must have lent an air of imminent urgency to the mix at the time.

Gerry Conway provides a typically complex, double-dealing tale set in the dog-days of Mikhail Gorbachev’s “Perestroika” (“openness”) government where ambitious KGB upstarts undertake a plan to subvert Natasha (nee NataliaRomanova) and return her to Soviet control. Their leverage and bait is husband Alexei Shostokoff – whom she has believed dead for years. Naturally, nothing is as it seems, nobody can be trusted and only the last spy standing can be called the winner…

Low key and high-tech go hand in hand in this sort of tale, and although there’s much reference to earlier Marvel classics this tale can be easily enjoyed by the casual reader or movie convert.

And what art! George Freeman is a supreme stylist, whose drawing work – although infrequent – is always top rate. Starting out on the seminal Captain Canuck, he has excelled on Jack of Hearts, Green Lantern, Avengers, BatmanAnnual #11 (with Alan Moore), Wasteland, Elric, Nexus and The X-Files (for which he won an Eisner Award). Here, inked by Ernie Colon, Mark Farmer, Mike Harris, Val Mayerik & Joe Rubinstein with colours from Lovern Kindzierski, he renders a subtle and sophisticated blend of costumed chic and espionage glamour that make this tale to a “must-have” item all by itself.

Augmented with original art by Arthur Adams, previous collection cover by Yancy LaBat, Mark Morals, Steve Buccellato and Pérez, this epic Primer into the world of the Widow is a dark delight no fan should miss.
© 1990 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Rosa Goes for a Walk


By Nic Lawson (Nic Lawson Comics/Canberra)
ISBN: 978-0-646-90434-4 (PB)

The current comics/graphic novel market is a true wonderland these days. For every planetary megastar and proprietorial blockbuster romp or spectacular action thriller, staggering horror yarn or historical journey there are incisive, revelatory biographies, archival collections of veteran properties, self-exploratory observations and deeply personal reminiscences as well as cartoon stars of every era revived for modern delectation.

…And the wealth of internationally generated, globally-sourced book for kids is mouth-watering in its vast variety…

In that nigh-infinite cauldron of choice, there’s even room for small, personal works that defy ready categorisation and shine through sheer novelty, innovation, whimsy, talent and charm. Just like Rosa Goes for a Walk, the very best adventure comic you’ve not read yet…

Nicole Lawson (If a Tree Falls, Pretty in Pink, Nic and Craig Go to Japan) is an Australian painter, illustrator and storyteller who creates wonderful comics. Her work has been mostly self-published but she has also appeared in Canberra Zine Machine and Supanova. This particular tale was shortlisted for a Ledger Award…

Seditiously eccentric, the story begins as we ‘Meet Rosa’, a faded flower of an old lady who resides in a distressed hotel (“the Discovery”) in a deserted outback ghost town. There’s a road, but nobody ever stops for food or fuel or conversation…

Rosa’s days are pretty much identical, but she maintains her standards and keeps the old place ready for guests who never come, which leaves her lots of time to remember the good old days. Hers were especially good. Rosa Philips used to be a globe-girdling adventurer, explorer and treasure-hunter. She’s even got the scrapbooks and press-cuttings to prove it… if anybody was around to see…

And so her days pass, until one morning ‘The Adventure Begins’ after she spots an inexplicable alteration to the stunning but so-familiar landscape. Plagued with curiosity, Rosa tools up one last time and heads for the distant horizon. Making her rickety way through the bush, she eventually encounters something utterly astonishing which changes her knowledge of how the entire world works before ‘The Conclusion’ reveals even more shocking secrets both personal and profound…

Largely free of dialogue and narration, rendered in a simplified but compelling watercolour manner and wistfully tinged with the emotive impact of the best of Raymond Briggs, Rosa Goes for a Walk is a superb exploration of isolation, abandonment and life passed by, elevated by a brilliant twist of imagination. This a lovely, moving story of old age and past glories as it affects a person and a planet. Moreover, while we’re all pining away in necessary solitude, it’s a tale full of the perspective and uplift we can all do with. Do yourself a favour and track it down – preferably in digital format and beamed to you behind your own sealed doors – and feel a part of something bigger and better, supremely well-crafted and with some inkling of where we’re all going…
© 2013 Nicole Lawson All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Batgirl volume 1


By Gardner Fox, Cary Bates, Mike Friedrich, Robert Kanigher, Frank Robbins, Denny O’Neil, Elliot S. Maggin,Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, Frank Springer, Mike Sekowsky, Bob Brown, Neal Adams, Gil Kane, Win Mortimer, Irv Novick, Don Heck & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1367-1 (TPB)

Today comics readers are pretty used to the vast battalion of Bat-shaped champions infesting Gotham City and its troubled environs, but for the longest time it was just Bruce, Dick, Alfred – and occasionally their borrowed dog Ace – keeping crime on the run. However, in Detective Comics #233 (July 1956 and three months before the debut of the Flashofficially ushered in the Silver Age of American comicbooks) the editorial powers-that-be introduced heiress Kathy Kane, who sporadically suited-up in chiropteran red-&-yellow for the next eight years.

In Batman #139 (April 1961) her niece Betty started dressing up and acting out as her assistant Batgirl, but when Editor Julie Schwartz took over the Bat-titles in 1964 both ladies unceremoniously disappeared in his root-and-branch overhaul.

In 1966 the Batman TV series took over the planet, but its second season was far less popular and the producers soon saw the commercial sense of adding a glamorous female fighter in the fresh, new tradition of Emma Peel, Honey West and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., especially when clad in a cute cape, shiny skin-tight body-stocking and go-go boots…

Of course, she had to join the comics cast too, and this Showcase edition re-presents her varied appearances as both guest-star and headliner in her own series, beginning with her four-colour premiere. Hopefully, with the Batwoman TV show now inspiring a new generation of screen-based fans, it won’t be long before the material in this tantalising monochrome tome will be rereleased in in new – full-colour – print and digital editions…

In ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl’ (Detective Comics #359, January 1967) writer Gardner Fox and art team supreme o Carmine Infantino & Sid Greene introduced young Barbara Gordon, mousy librarian and daughter of the Police Commissioner, so by the time the third season began on September 14, 1967, she was well-established.

In her small screen premiere she pummelled the Penguin, but Batgirl’s comic book origin featured the no-less-ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever, fast-paced yarn involving blackmail and murder that still stands up today and which opens in fine style this massive compilation of the early years of one of the most successful distaff spin-offs in the business.

Her appearances came thick and fast after that initial tale: ‘The True-False Face of Batman’ (Detective #363, by Fox, Infantino & Greene) was a full co-starring vehicle as she was challenged to deduce Batman’s secret identity whilst tracking down enigmatic criminal genius Mr. Brains. Next, BG teamed-up with the Girl of Steel in World’s Finest Comics #169 (September 1967) wherein the independent lasses seemingly worked to replace Batman and Superman in ‘The Supergirl-Batgirl Plot’: a whimsical fantasy feast from Cary Bates, Curt Swan & George Klein.

Detective #369 (Infantino and Greene) somewhat reinforced boyhood prejudices about icky girls in classy thriller ‘Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo’ which segued directly into a classic confrontation in Batman #197 as ‘Catwoman sets Her Claws for Batman!’ (Fox, Frank Springer & Greene). This frankly daft tale is most fondly remembered for a classic cover of Batgirl and whip-wielding Catwoman squaring off over Batman’s prone body – proving that comic fans have a psychopathology uniquely their very own…

Gil Kane made his debut on the Dominoed Daredoll (did they really call her that? – yes they did, from page 2 onwards!) in Detective #371’s ‘Batgirl’s Costumed Cut-ups’: a masterpiece of comic-art dynamism that inker Sid Greene could be proud of, but which proffered some rather uncomfortable assertions about female vanity that Gardner Fox probably preferred to forget – and just check out the cover of this book if you think I’m kidding.

Batgirl next surfaced in Justice League of America #60 (February 1968), wherein the team barely survive a return match with alien invader Queen Bee and are temporarily transformed into ‘Winged Warriors of the Immortal Queen!’ (Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Greene), after which in the June-July The Brave and the Bold (#78) Bob Brown stepped in to draw her for Bob Haney’s eccentric crime-thriller ‘In the Coils of the Copperhead’ wherein Wonder Woman vied with the fresh young thing for Batman’s affections. Of course, it was all a cunning plan… at first…

That same month another team-up with Supergirl heralded a sea-change in DC’s tone, style and content as the girls were dragged into ‘The Superman-Batman Split!’ (World’s Finest Comics #176) with Bates providing a far darker mystery for the girls and boys (including Robin and Jimmy Olsen) to solve. With this yarn artists Neal Adams & Dick Giordano began revolutionising how comics looked with their moody, exciting hyper-realistic renderings…

Although Barbara Gordon continued to crop up in the background of occasional Batman adventures, that was the last time the masked heroine was seen until Detective Comics #384, (February 1969) when Batgirl was finally awarded her own solo feature. Written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by the phenomenal team of Gil Kane & Murphy Anderson, ‘Tall, Dark. Handsome …and Missing!’ began an engaging run of human-scaled crime dramas with what all the (male) scripters clearly believed was a strong female slant, as seen in this yarn wherein librarian Babs develops a crush on a frequent borrower just before he inexplicably vanishes.

Batgirl investigates and runs into a pack of brutal thugs before solving the mystery in the second chapter ‘Hunt for the Helpless Hostage!’ (Detective #385), after which the lead story from that issue rather inexplicably follows here.

‘Die Small… Die Big!’ by Robert Kanigher, Bob Brown & Joe Giella is one of the best Batman adventures of the period, with a nameless nonentity sacrificing everything for a man he’s never met, but Babs is only in three panels and never as Batgirl…

Adventure Comics #381 (June 1969) made far better use of her as she goes undercover and is largely at odds with the Maid of Steel whilst exposing ‘The Supergirl Gang’ in a tense thriller by Bates & Win Mortimer. Batgirl shared alternating adventures in Detective back-up slot with Robin, so she next appeared in#388 which also welcomed newspaper strip star Frank Robbins to script ‘Surprise! This’ll Kill You!’: a sophisticated bait-and-switch caper which sees Batgirl impersonate herself and almost pay with her life for another girl’s crimes. Spectacularly illustrated by Kane & Anderson, the strip expanded from eight to ten pages, but that still wasn’t enough and the breathtaking thrills spill over into a dramatic conclusion in ‘Batgirl’s Bag of Tricks!

Although tone and times were changing, there was still potential to be daft and parochial too, as seen in ‘Batman’s Marriage Trap!’ (Batman #214, by Robbins, Irv Novick & Giella) wherein a wicked Femme Fatale sets the unfulfilled spinsters of America on the trail of Gotham’s Most Eligible Bat-chelor (see what I did there? I’ve done it before too and you can’t stop me…).

Not even a singular guest-shot by positive role-model Batgirl can redeem this peculiar throwback – although the art rather does…

From Detective #392, October 1969 and by Robbins, Kane & Anderson, ‘A Clue… Seven-Foot Tall!’ is another savvy contemporary crime-saga which introduces a new Bat cast-member in the form of disabled Vietnam veteran and neophyte private eye Jason Bard (who would eventually inherit Batgirl’s spot in Detective Comics). Here and in the concluding ‘Downfall of a Goliath’ Babs and Bard spar before joining forces to solve a brutal murder in the world of professional basketball.

Issues #396 & 397 (February and March 1970) see Batgirl face the very modern menace of what we’d now call a psychosexual serial killer in chilling, enthralling mystery ‘The Orchid-Crusher’ and ‘The Hollow Man’: a clear proof of the second-string character’s true and still untapped potential…

The anniversary Detective #400 (June 1970) finally teamed her with Robin in ‘A Burial For Batgirl!’(Denny O’Neil, Kane & Vince Colletta) a college-based murder mystery referencing political and social unrest then plaguing US campuses, but which still finds space to be smart and action-packed as well as topical before its chillingly satisfactory conclusion ‘Midnight is the Dying Hour!’ (Detective #401).

With issue #404, Babs became the sole back-up star as Robbins, Kane & Frank Giacoia sampled the underground movie scene with ‘Midnight Doom-Boy’, mischievously spoofing Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory studio in another intriguing murder-plot, diverting to and culminating in another branch of Pop Art as Batgirl nearly becomes ‘The Living Statue!’

In ‘The Explosive Circle!’ (#406, with Colletta inking) the topic du jour is gentrification, as property speculation rips Gotham apart, but not as much as a gang of radical bombers, leading to the cry ‘One of Our Landmarks is Missing!’ The next issue (#408) saw the vastly underrated Don Heck take over as artist, inked here by Dick Giordano on ‘The Phantom Bullfighter!’ wherein a work-trip to Madrid embroils Batgirl in a contentious dispute between matadors old and new, leading to a murderous ‘Night of the Sharp Horns!’

Inevitably, fashion reared its stylish head in a strip with a female lead, but Robbins’ wickedly clever ‘Battle of the Three “M’s”’ (that’s Mini, Midi and Maxi to you) proved to be one of the most compelling and clever tales of the entire run as a trendsetting celebrity finds herself targeted by an unscrupulous designer, leading to a murderous deathtrap for Babs in ‘Cut… and Run!’

Clearly inspired, Robbins stayed with girlish things for ‘The Head-Splitters!’ (Detective #412) and Heck, now inking himself, rose to the occasion for a truly creepy saga about hairdressing that features one of the nastiest scams and murder methods I’ve ever seen, ending in a climactic ‘Squeeze-Play!’

Babs reunites with Jason Bard for an anniversary date only to stumble onto an ‘Invitation to Murder!’ (another celebrity homage; this time to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) – a classy fair-play mystery resolved in ‘Death Shares the Spotlight!’

When a cop-killing tears apart the city, Babs’ father Commissioner Jim Gordon takes it badly in ‘The Deadly Go-Between!’, but militant radicals aren’t the only threat as seen in concluding episode ‘A Bullet For Gordon!’: heralding a far greater role for the once-anodyne authority figure and leading to his integral role in today’s Bat-universe.

Robbins & Heck also revealed a shocking secret about the Commissioner that would build through the remaining Batgirl adventures, beginning with ‘The Kingpin is Dead!’, concerning a “motiveless” hit on an old gang-boss all cleared up in spectacular fashion with ‘Long Live the Kingpin!’ in #419.

‘Target for Mañana!’ has Babs and her dad travel to Mexico on a narcotics fact-finding mission only to fall foul of a sinister plot in ‘Up Against Three Walls!’, before the series took a landmark turn in ‘The Unmasking of Batgirl’ as a charmer breaks her heart and Babs decides to chuck it all in and run for Congress in ‘Candidate For Danger!’

Detective Comics #424 (June 1972) features ‘Batgirl’s Last Case’ as “Battlin’ Babs” overturns a corrupt political machine and shuffles off to DC, leaving Jason to manage on his own…

That wasn’t quite the end of her first run of adventures. Superman #268 (October 1973) found her battling spies in the Capitol beside the Man of Steel in ‘Wild Week-End in Washington!’, courtesy of Elliot S. Maggin, Swan & Bob Oksner before repeating the experience a year later in ‘Menace of the Energy-Blackmailers!’ (Superman #279, by Maggin, Swan & Phil Zupa.

This eclectic but highly entertaining compendium concludes with one last Supergirl team-up, this time by Maggin Swan & Colletta from Superman Family #171 (June/July 1975), wherein a distant descendent of the Empress of the Nile uses magic to become ‘Cleopatra, Queen of America’, overwhelming even Superman and the Justice League before our Cape and Cowl champs finally lower the boom…

Batgirl’s early exploits come from and indeed partially shaped an era where women in popular fiction were finally emerging from the marriage-obsessed, ankle-twisting, deferential, fainting hostage-fodder mode that had been their ignoble lot in all media for untold decades. Feminism wasn’t a dirty word or a joke then for the generation of girls who at last got some independent and effective role-models with (metaphorically, at least) balls.

Complex yet uncomplicated, the adventures of Batgirl grew beyond their crassly commercial origins to make a real difference. However, these tales are not only significant but drenched in charm and wit; drawn with a gloriously captivating style and panache that still delights and enthrals. This is no girly comic but a full-on thrill ride you can’t afford to ignore and which deserves to be revived with all the bells, whistles and respect the characters and stories rightfully command…
© 1967-1975, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 15


By Steve Englehart, Tony Isabella, Scott Edelman, George Tuska, George Pérez, Don Heck, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9196-4 (HB)

The Avengers have always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when all Marvel’s classic all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either.

As explained in Steve Englehart’s Introduction – which also includes everything you need to know about the pre-superhero Patsy Walker – a new era was supposed to begin in Avengers #136 but a deadline was missed and instead ‘Iron Man: DOA’ by Englehart, Tom Sutton & Mike Ploog was reprinted from Amazing Adventures #12, wherein the newly-mutated and furry Hank McCoy AKA the Beast had attacked the Armoured Avenger whilst mind-controlled by evil mutants. You can find the story here.

But in this book – available in hardback and digital formats and collecting Avengers # 136-149 and spanning June 1975 through July 1976 – all you’ll enjoy is the spiffy cover by Gil Kane, Joe Sinnott & John Romita sr.

Although an excellent story in its own right, it rather gave the game away for the next issue after the painfully depleted team declared ‘We Do Seek Out New Avengers!!’ Illustrated by George Tuska & Vince Colletta, #137 depicted an eclectic mix of applicants – comprising Moondragon, Yellowjacket and the Wasp – and included an athletic, enigmatic guy bundled up in a raincoat…

No sooner had the introductions begun than a cosmic interloper attacks, hunting for the honeymooning Scarlet Witch and Vision, but at far from his expected level of puissance. Easily escaping imminent doom, our heroes smell a rat – but unfortunately not before the Wasp is gravely injured, resulting in a blazing battle with a ‘Stranger in a Strange Man!’ who proved to be far from what he claimed in the next issue…

After all the intergalactic hyper-cosmic extravaganzas and extended epic-ing, Avengers #139’s ‘Prescription: Violence!’and #140’s ‘A Journey to the Center of the Ant’ resort to mayhem on a comfortingly down-to-Earth scale as the malevolent Whirlwind tries to murder the bed-ridden Wasp even as her devoted defender Yellowjacket succumbs to a growing affliction which dooms him to exponentially expand to his death… but only until the refreshed, returned Vision and the bludgeoning Beast save the day in an extraordinary riff on classic Avengers history (you can see Avengers #93 for that, if you want)…

A new extended saga began in #141 which welcomed George Pérez & Vince Colletta as new art team. ‘The Phantom Empire!’ (scripted by Englehart,) heralded another complex, multi-layered epic combining superheroic Sturm und Drang with searing – for 1975, at least – political commentary. It all starts when Beast is ambushed by mercenaries from corporate behemoth Roxxon Oil.

He’s saved by ex-Avenger Captain America who had been investigating the company on a related case and, after comparing notes, realises something very big and very bad is going on…

Linking up with Thor, Iron Man, trainee Moondragon and the newly-returned newlyweds Vision and Scarlet Witch, the pair learn of another crisis after Hawkeye goes missing: probably captured by time-tyrant Kang the Conqueror

Just as the Assemblage are agreeing to split into teams, former child model Patsy Walker-Baxter (star of a bunch of Marvel’s girl’s market comics such as Patsy Walker and Patsy & Hedy) bursts in, threatening to expose Beast’s secret identity…

When he had first further mutated, Hank McCoy had attempted to mask his anthropoid form and Patsy helped him in return for his promise to make her a superhero. Now she resurfaces, prepared to blackmail him into honouring his pledge. She is dragged along as one squad (Cap, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch and Vision) join Beast in returning to his old lab at Brand/Roxxon… where they are ambushed by alternate-Earth heroes Squadron Supreme

Meanwhile, Moondragon and Thor co-opt sometime ally Immortus and follow Hawkeye back to 1873. Bushwhacked, they are soon battling Kang beside a coterie of cowboy legends (Kid Colt, Night Rider, Ringo Kid, Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid) in ‘Go West, Young Gods!’, even as the present-day team learn their perilous plight involves a threat to two different dimensions, because Roxxon have joined with the corporations which rule the Squadron Supreme’s America – thanks to the malignly mesmeric Serpent Crown of Set

Inked by Sam Grainger, Avengers #143 sees the Wild West showdown culminate with the apparent death of a deity in ‘Right Between the Eons!’

Elsewhen, the 20th century heroes are beginning their counterattack in the esoteric weaponry factory at Brand, and during all that running wild, liberate the technologically-advanced, ability-enhancing uniform of short-lived adventurer The Catin a storeroom. When Patsy dons it, the hero-groupie neophyte dubs herself Hellcat in ‘Claws!’ (Mike Esposito inks)…

Soon after, the Avengers are cornered by the Squadron and as battle recommences Roxxon president Hugh Jones plays his trump card and transports all the combatants to the other Earth…

The dreaded deadline doom hit just at this crucial juncture and issues #145-146 were taken up with a 2-part fill-in by Tony Isabella, Don Heck & John Tartaglione, with additional pencils by Keith Pollard for the concluding chapter.

‘The Taking of the Avengers!’ reveals how a criminal combine takes out a colossal contract on the World’s Mightiest Superheroes, but even though ‘The Assassin Never Fails!’, the killer is thwarted and Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Beast, Vision and Scarlet Witch – plus Wasp, Yellowjacket and the Falcon – are all safely returned to their various cases untroubled by the vagaries of continuity or chronology… which makes this rather impressive and thrilling yarn such an annoyance in this specific instance…

The trans-dimensional traumas resume in Avengers #147, describing a ‘Crisis on Other-Earth!’ courtesy of Englehart, Pérez & Colletta). With the corporate takeover of other-America revealed to have been facilitated by use of the mind-bending serpent crown, the Scarlet Witch takes possession of the sinister helm whilst her teammates try desperately to keep the overwhelming Squadron Supreme from regaining it.

On our Earth, Hawkeye brings Two-Gun Kid to the modern world but chooses to go walkabout rather than rejoin his comrades, even as Thor and Moondragon start searching for their missing colleagues…

‘20,000 Leagues Under Justice!’ (Grainger inks) features the final showdown and the Avengers’ victory over a wiser and repentant Squadron Supreme, and as the heroes return to their home dimension ‘The Gods and the Gang!’ reunites them with Moondragon and the Thunder God to clean up Brand/Roxxon. The Corporate cabal has one trick left to play however: a colossal, biologically augmented Atlantean dubbed Orka, the Human Killer Whale

The next issue would see a drastic changing of the guard, but this epic tome now concludes with splendid as-standard extras including the covers – by Jack Kirby & Frank Giacoia – and contents page of tabloid Marvel Treasury Edition #7, house ads and pages of original art by Tuska & Colletta.

This type of timeless heroic adventure set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the sleek, cool and permanently perilous 21st century…

No lovers of Costumed Dramas can afford to ignore this superbly bombastic book and fans who think themselves above superhero stories might also be pleasantly surprised…
© 1974, 1975 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon


By Jill Thompson, lettered by Jason Arthur (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4901-4 (HB) 978-1-4012-7450-4 (TPB)

Iconic global role model Wonder Woman was conceived by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston and illustrated by Harry G. Peter in an attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model. She debuted as a special feature in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941), before springing into her own series and the cover-spot of new anthology title Sensation Comics a month later. An instant hit, the Amazing Amazon quickly won her own eponymous supplemental title in late Spring of that year (cover-dated Summer 1942).

Once upon a time in the traditional history, on a hidden island of immortal super-women, American aviator Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence crashed to Earth. Near death, he was nursed back to health by young and impressionable Princess Diana.

Fearing her daughter’s growing obsession with the creature from a long-forgotten and madly violent world, Queen Hippolyte revealed the hidden history of the Amazons: how they were seduced and betrayed by men but rescued by the goddess Aphrodite on condition that they henceforward isolate themselves from the rest of the world and devote their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However, when goddesses Athena and Aphrodite subsequently instructed Hippolyte to send an Amazon back with the American to fight for global freedom and liberty, Diana overcame all other candidates in a vast sporting and combat competition and became their emissary – Wonder Woman.

On arriving in America, she purchased the identity and credentials of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince, elegantly allowing the Amazon to be close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick medic to join her own fiancé in South America. Soon after, Diana also gained a position with Army Intelligence, ensuring she would always be able to watch over her beloved.

Now this modern alternate version requests that you forget most of that as Jill Thompson offers another take on the formative years of the Princess Diana in an epic retelling painted in the manner of a picture book but with the no-holds barred punch you’d expect from Earth’s premiere Warrior Woman (Diana, not Jill).

Following an ‘Introduction’ by novelist and comics creator Mariko Tamaki (Skim; Saving Montgomery Sole; This One Summer), the subtly reconfigured saga opens on idyllic Themyscira: an island paradise inhabited by immortal warrior women. As before, their fate is the result of iniquities inflicted upon them by male “heroes” such as Herakles – secretly abetted by lustful Zeus – before stern Hera intervened to allow the Amazons to escape and build a bastion of culture in isolation.

However, their triumphant leader Queen Hippolyta was discontented. She craved a child more than life itself, and one special night her sadness and yearning touched the gods, who turned a shape drawn in sand into a real baby…

The child was beloved of all the Amazons, growing in an atmosphere of adoration and constant, uncritical approval. As well as smart, fast, brave and strong, baby Diana subsequently became insufferably spoiled, incurably vain and revoltingly selfish.

How that privileged brat became the humble, driven, noble protector of the weak is a tale of love, valour, repentance and redemption to delight and shock as the young wonder warrior endures a ghastly transformational motivating incident that traumatically reshapes her life in one shocking moment…

Embracing and channelling Classical Greek motifs while offering a most believable and human childhood for the little princess, this dark fairy tale is a powerful revision of Wonder Woman’s creation myth for a world marginally more inclusive than the patronising era of WWII, and provides a far more potent and logical reason for her exile to the world of Men than simple infatuation…

Augmented by a ‘Sketchbook’ section detailing page-roughs, scene-designs, fashions; the creation of the book cover; the process From Pencils to Color and a feature on ‘Designing the Wonder Woman Statue’, this is a brilliant reassessment of the iconic Diana and one well worth seeking out in either hardback or trade format, or even nature-nurturing eBook editions.
© 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Asterix Omnibus volume 1: Asterix the Gaul; Asterix and the Golden Sickle; Asterix and the Goths


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion)
ISBN: 978-0-75289-154-5(HB) 978-1-44400-423-6(TPB)

I’ve just heard the sad news about Albert Uderzo, who has just passed away after 92 amazing, gloriously productive and fun-filled years. In the current climate of horrific global crisis, it’s ultimately just one more death, no more or less important than any other, but I’m compelled to mark his end with sadness, inexpressible gratitude and this rerun of a review for his greatest work.

In a career absolutely packed with joyous invention, Uderzo brought happiness and inspiration to generations of readers across the world through Asterix and his many other creations, so I can only say “thank you” to him and urge you to revisit his works if you’re already au fait. If you have never seen his genius in action – especially in conjunction with his perfect partner René Goscinny – this collection is the ideal place to start, and you won’t be sorry…

Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export. The feisty, wily little warrior who fought the iniquities and viewed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and – whenever necessary – a magical potion imbuing the imbiber with incredible strength, speed and vitality, is the go-to reference all us non-Gallic gallants when we think of France.

The diminutive, doughty darling was created at the close of the 1950s by two of our artform’s greatest masters…

René Goscinny is arguably the most prolific and remains one of the most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever known. Born in Paris in 1926, he grew up in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age René showed artistic promise. He studied fine arts and graduated in 1942. Three years later, while working as junior illustrator at an ad agency, his uncle invited him to stay in America, where he worked as a translator.

After National Service in France, he returned to the States and settled in Brooklyn, pursuing an artistic career and becoming, in 1948, an assistant for a small studio which included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin, as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (Morris, with whom from 1955-1977 Goscinny produced Lucky Luke) and Joseph Gillain (Jijé).

Goscinny also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Le Journal de Spirou.

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and Jerry Spring, Goscinny was promoted to head of World Press’ Paris office where he met his ultimate creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time, Rene also created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (Martial) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio.

In 1955, Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier and Jean Hébrard formed the independent syndicate Édipress/Édifrance, creating magazines for business and general industry (Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory). With Uderzo, René spawned Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, whilst illustrated his own scripts for Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Under nom-de-plume Agostini he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé), and in 1956 began an association with revolutionary periodical Le Journal de Tintin, writing for various illustrators including Attanasio(Signor Spagetti), Bob De Moor (Monsieur Tric), Maréchal (Prudence Petitpas), Berck (Strapontin), Globule le Martienand Alphonse for Tibet; as well as Modeste et Pompon for André Franquin, and – with Uderzo – the fabulously funny adventures of inimitable Indian brave Oumpah-Pah. He also wrote for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959, Édipress/Édifrance launched Pilote, and Goscinny went into overdrive. The first issue featured re-launched versions of Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet, new serials Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou(drawn by Godard), plus a little something called Astérix le gaulois: inarguably the greatest achievement of his partnership with Uderzo.

When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became Editor-in-Chief, but still found time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (with Martial), La Potachologie Illustrée (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx).

He also wrote frequently for television, but never stopped creating strips such Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussahfor Record and illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote. Goscinny died far too young, in November 1977.

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes, on the Marne, a child of Italian immigrants. As a boy reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he showed artistic flair from an early age. Alberto became a French citizen when he was seven and dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic, but at 13 he became an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When WWII broke out, he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany, joining his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being decided upon the region was the only choice…

In the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris to become a successful illustrator in the country’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior and, in 1945, he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for the world’s closer attention…).

Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist, as an illustrator for France Dimanche and created vertical comic strip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir.

In 1950, he drew a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

Another inveterate traveller, the young artist met Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they produced a comedy Western starring a very Red (but not so American) Indian who evolved into Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replacing Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine before, in 1957 adding Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio.

The following year, he made his Tintin debut, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and rapturous audience. Uderzo also illuminated Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane

When Pilote launched in 1959, Uderzo was the major creative force for the new magazine, limning Charlier’s Tanguy et Laverdure and a humorous historical strip about Romans…

Although Asterix was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (subsequently Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first serial was collected in a single volume as Astérix le gaulois (in 1961), it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death, the publication rate of Asterix tales dropped from two per year to one volume every three-to-five).

By 1967, Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation, and when Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist. Happily, he gave in and produced a further ten volumes before retiring in 2009.

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and 3rd most-translated French language comics author – right behind his old mate René and the grand master Hergé.

So what’s it all about?

Like all entertainments the premise works on two levels: as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper for younger readers and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, transformed here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue).

Originally published in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959-4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0, distributed on June 1st 1959), the story is set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50BC.

Here a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families frustrate every effort of the immense but not so irresistible Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment leaving the little seaside hamlet hemmed in by the heavily fortified permanent garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

In Asterix the Gaul this immaculate comedy-drama scenario is hilariously demonstrated when Centurion Crismus Bonus– fed up with his soldiers being casually beaten up by the fiercely free Frenchmen – sends reluctant spy Caligula Minus to ferret out the secret of their incredible strength.

The affable insurgents take the infiltrator in and, soon dosed up with potion, the perfidious Roman escapes with the answer – if not the formula itself…

Soon after, wise Druid Getafix is captured by the invaders and the village seems doomed, but wily Asterix is on the case. Breaking into Compendium and determined to teach the Romans a lesson, he drives them crazy for ages by resisting all efforts at bribery and coercion, until abruptly wizard and warrior seemingly capitulate and make the Romans a magic potion – but not the one the rapacious oppressors were hoping for…

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer energy of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, all marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish bigfoot art-style.

From the second saga on the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix – who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby – and became a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to our little wise guy…

Asterix and the Golden Sickle was originally serialised in Pilote #42-74 and recounts the disastrous consequences of Getafix losing his ceremonial gold sickle just before the grand Annual Conference of Gaulish Druids. Since time is passing and no ordinary replacement will suffice to cut ingredients for magic potion, Asterix offers to go all the way to Lutetia (you can call it Paris if you want) to find another.

As Obelix has a cousin there – Metallurgix the Smith – he also volunteers for the trip and the punning pair are swiftly off, barely stopping to teach assorted bandits the errors of their pilfering ways but still finding a little time to visit many roadside inns and taverns serving traditional roast boar…

There is concurrently a crisis in Lutetia: a mysterious gang is stealing all the Golden Sickles and forcing prices up. The druid community is deeply distressed and, more worrying still, master sickle-maker Metallurgix has gone missing. Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner and discover a nefarious plot that seems to go all the way to the office of the local Roman Prefect…

The early creative experiment was quickly crystallizing into a supremely winning format of ongoing weekly episodes slowly building into complete and readily divisible adventures. The next epic cemented the strip’s status as a popular icon of Gallic excellence.

Asterix and the Goths ran from 1962-1963 and followed the dangling plot-thread of the Druid Conference as Getafix, brand new sickle in hand, sets off for the Forest of the Carnutes to compete. However, on the Gaul’s Eastern border savage Goths – barbarians who remained unconquered by the might of the empire – crossed into pacified Roman territory. The barbarians are intent on capturing the mightiest Druid and turning his magic against the rule of Julius Caesar

Although non-Druids aren’t allowed into the forest, Asterix and Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge, and as the competition round of the Conference ends in victory for him and his power-potion, the Goths strike, abducting him in his moment of triumph…

Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, our heroic duo track the kidnappers, but are mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania. Although Romans are no threat, they can be a time-wasting hindrance, so Asterix and Obelix disguise themselves as Romans to invade the Barbarian lands…

Well-used to being held prisoner by now, Getafix is making himself a nuisance to his bellicose captors and a genuine threat to the wellbeing of his long-suffering translator. When Asterix and Obelix are captured dressed as Goths, the wily Gauls conceive a cunning plan to end the ever-present threat of Gothic invasion – a scheme that continues successfully for almost two thousand years…

Asterix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into 111 languages; with a host of animated and live-action movies, assorted games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 380 million copies of 38 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase that statistic by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.
© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Yoko Tsuno volume 7 – The Curious Trio


By Roger Leloup (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-127-3 (PB Album)

The edgy yet uncannily accessible European exploits of Japanese scientific adventurer Yoko Tsuno began gracing the pages of Le Journal de Spirou from the September 24th issue in 1970 and are still going strong, with 29 albums at the last count. The mind-blowing, eye-popping, extremely expansive multi-award-winning series was created by Belgian author, artist and novelist Roger Leloup, who was born in 1933 and worked as one of Hergé’s meticulous background assistants on the iconic Adventures of Tintin strip before striking out on his own.

Compellingly told and superbly imaginative, whilst always framed in hyper-realistic settings and sporting utterly authentic and unshakably believable technology, these illustrated epics were at the forefront of a wave of strips featuring competent, brave and immensely successful female protagonists which began revolutionising European comics in the 1970s and 1980s and are as potently empowering now as they ever were.

The series has a complex history in English. Comcat previously released a few adventures – albeit poorly translated and adapted – before British-based Cinebook acquired the franchise and opened a comprehensive and entrancing sequence in 2007 with the seventh collected exploit (1976’s La frontière de la vie– AKA On the Edge of Life).

Moreover, in French and Dutch the first Spirou stories ‘Hold-up en hi-fi’, ‘La belle et la bête’ and ‘Cap 351’ were all brief, introductory vignettes testing the waters. Miss Tsuno truly hit her stride with premier full-length epic Le trio de l’étrange, which started serialisation with the May 13th 1971 issue. Translated as The Curious Trio, it was actually the 7th chronicle released by Cinebook and is still not available digitally…

The story opens in a busy TV studio at midnight (back when actual humans pushed, pulled and focussed the clunky paraphernalia) as young Director Vic Van Steen loses his rag with best pal Pol Paris for falling asleep on his camera. Later, still smarting from another fractious tiff, the pair walk home past a deserted construction site and espy what looks like an elegantly brilliant burglary…

The quietly flamboyant break-in is, in fact, a pre-arranged test by a sleekly capable freelance Japanese electrical engineer named Yoko Tsuno. She has been hired by the owners of a major company to test their new security. After apologising for nearly ruining her trial with their well-intentioned interference, the lads invite the enigmatic tech-bod to join their film crew as sound engineer on a proposed outside shoot.

The gig is to explore a region of flooded caves for a documentary and before the week ends the new friends are hauling equipment to a spectacular cavern, ready to work out the technical details. No sooner do they begin, however, than something goes terribly wrong when the trio are dragged deep underground by irresistible, swirling waters…

From here the achingly realistic and rationalist strip takes a huge leap into the uncanny as their subterranean submersion dumps them into a huge metal-shod vault where they are seized by blue-skinned humanoids.

The colossal complex is of incredible size and, as the captives are bundled into a fantastic vessel which runs on rails via magnetic levitation and driven even deeper underground, a handy translation helmet enables the only friendly-seeming stranger to explain. Her name is Khany and her race, the Vineans, have been sleeping deep beneath the Earth for almost half a million years…

However, since recently awakening, internecine strife has entered the lives of the colonists. Ambitious militaristic brute Karpan now constantly manoeuvres to seize power from the vast electronic complex known as The Centre, which regulates the lives of the colonists.

The humans’ first meeting with the blustering bully does not go well. When he attempts to beat Khany, martial artist Yoko gives him a humiliating and well-deserved thrashing…

Infuriated, Karpan tries to disintegrate them but is pulled away by security forces. As the newcomers resume their trip to the Centre, he secretly follows their magnetocarrier, resolved to destroy them…

As the maglev ship hurtles to unimaginable depths, Khany introduces the humans to a stowaway – her young daughter Poky – while relating the astounding tale of the Vineans’ escape from planetary doom and two-million-light-year voyage to Earth. Accustomed to subterranean living, on arrival the Vineans hollowed out a mountain and dug down even further.

The history lesson is interrupted by Karpan’s murderous attack, which is only thwarted by Yoko’s quick thinking and her companions’ near-insane bravery…

Eventually, after another, far more subtle murder attempt, the badly damaged magnetocarrier reaches its destination and the astonished visitors are brought before a stupendous computer to plead their case and expose Karpan’s indiscretions. The vast calculator dubbed The Centre controls every aspect of the colony’s life and will deliver judgement on the human invaders’ ultimate fate. After mind-scanning Yoko its pronouncement is dire: the strangers are to be placed in eternal hibernation…

When Pol plays his long-hidden trump card and threatens to destroy the machine with a stolen disintegrator, diplomatic Khany proposes a solution; suggesting simply waiting until they can all confront the still-absent Karpan. Yoko is still deeply suspicious and not convinced that Karpan is responsible for every attempt on their lives. That “night”, while Yoko’s resting, Poky sneaks into her habitation chamber and takes her on an illicit tour of the underside and innards of the impossibly huge complex. The jaunt verifies the engineer’s suspicions with a ghastly revelation. What they expose is a horrific threat not just to the Vineans – Karpan included – but to every human on the surface of Earth…

The eerie mystery then explodes into spectacular action and a third act finale worthy of a James Bond movie as Tsuno’s dramatic duel with an incredible malign menace settles the fate of two species…

Absorbing, rocket-paced and blending tense suspense with bombastic thrills, spills and chills, this is a terrific introduction to a world of rationalist mystery and humanist imagination with one of the most unsung of all female action heroes and one you’ve waited far too long to meet…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1979 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2012 © Cinebook Ltd.

Arena – A Marvel Graphic Novel


By Bruce Jones (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-87135-557-7

In  the early 1980s Marvel led the publishing pack in the development of high quality original graphic novels: mixing out-of-the-ordinary Marvel Universe tales, new in-continuity series launches, creator-owned properties, licensed assets, movie adaptations and even the occasional creator-owned property in extravagantly expansive packages (a square-ish standard page of 285 x 220mm rather than the now customary elongated 258 x 168mm) that felt and looked instantly superior to the average comicbook no matter how good, bad or incomprehensible (my way of saying outside your average Marvel customer’s comfort zone) the contents might be.

By 1990 Marvel’s ambitious line of outré all-area epics had begun to stall and some less-than-stellar tales were squeaking into the line-up. Moreover, the company was increasingly relying on hastily turned out cinema adaptations with built-in fan appeal and safe in-continuity stories offering established and company copyrighted characters rather than creator-owned properties and original concepts. The once-unmissable line began to have the appearance of an over-sized, over-priced clearing house for leftover stories.

So this stunning suspense saga counts as one of the last – and very best – indie/mainstream fiction experiments from before the rot set in; a creepy, clever, sexy thriller from screenwriter,  novelist, artistic Everyman and ardent EC fan Bruce Jones which sets up shop in Stephen King and Ray Bradbury territory to deliver an overwhelmingly impressive rollercoaster of shocks and twists.

Sharon and her 12 year old daughter Lisa are driving through the majestic rural backwoods of America. It’s a pretty acrimonious journey and when the opportunity presents itself Mom takes a break and goes for a refreshing dip in a mountain pool whilst daughter stays in the car sulkily playing with her toy planes.

Sharon’s idyllic moment is shattered when she sees a jet crash scant yards away. However she can’t find any wreckage or even the slightest sign of it. Lisa saw and heard nothing and neither did the sinister voyeur who had been spying on them…

Rushing back to his shack simpleminded Lem tells his demented Granny about the strange woman. The old crone smells opportunity: if they can capture her and if she’s fertile they can sell her babies in the Big City… and even if she’s not big brother Rut will have a new plaything for awhile…

Lost in the deep woods Lt. Roberts, USAF crawls out of her crashed plane and hears voices. Sharon and the downed pilot start talking and realise that although they can’t see each other they are standing side by side. They’re invisible because they’re separated by two decades…

Somehow the mountain and forest are one huge time-warp… and increasingly, various eras are overlapping. Even though Sharon can only talk to Roberts, dinosaurs and cavemen are chaotically roaming over the hills, endangering both women in their own time-zones…

At that moment Lem and Rut strike, snatching Sharon. locking her up ready to make some money-spinning young ‘uns. From the car little Lisa sees her mother taken and twenty years in the future pilot Lisa Roberts suddenly remembers the horrifying moment her mother was killed by Hillbilly rapist psychopaths…

The time-shifts briefly stabilise and the two Lisas meet…

With beasts and worse roaming the woods the elder Lisa realises she has a chance to unmake the worst day of her life, but there are complications she could never have imagined in store for her and the girl she used to be…

Sultry, sinister and devilishly cunning, this chronal conundrum is beautifully illustrated by Jones and his corkscrew plot is packed full of genuine surprises. Don’t think you’ve guessed the ending because you most likely haven’t…

A perfect sci fi movie-in-waiting, this terse and evocative yarn follows all the rules for a great screen shocker without ever having to “dumb-down” the temporal mechanics in deference to the Great Un-read in the popcorn seats.

Smart, seductive storytelling for sharp-witted punters, this is book long overdue for re-release, but until that happy future materialises, this remains a time-lost gem you should track down however long it takes…
© 1989 Bruce Jones. All Rights Reserved.

Adulthood is a Myth – A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection


By Sarah Andersen (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-44947-419-5 (PB)

Scary times need radical solutions, but in lieu of that and considering how helpless we all are, all I can suggest is burying yourself in a book (gallows pun not intended). Here’s one that both funny and incisive and is available online either in physical form or digitally. Moreover, as it’s about – and by – a millennial, all us old sods who lived through a few crises can chortle and feel smugly superior in the knowledge that problems such as these in here are transitory and shall also pass. That one was deliberate…

Sarah’s Scribbles started in 2013 as a webcomic (first on Tumblr, and latterly Facebook, Instagram and Line Webtoon) before going legit in 2016 in book from Andrews McMeel. Adulthood is a Myth was followed by Big Mushy Happy Lump in 2017 and Herding Cats in 2018. Each collection won that year’s Goodreads Choice Award. That’s because the strips and lead character are accessible, personable, relatable and fetchingly funny.

Autobiographical to a degree I’m unqualified to assess and distressed to acknowledge, what you get are pithy observational comedy gag strips with a semi-surreal undertone about the thoughts and (mostly) inactions of an arty student who lives with an exceptionally critical but ultimately supportive rabbit. Think of it as pictorial inner monologue from a very nervous and unconfident teen, roaring and giddy with hormones and expectations she can’t possibly hope to meet and indoctrinated with standards she can’t let go of…

As well as casual interactions with her peers, major causes of cartoon comment include projections of her eventual senility and decrepitude (‘Me in the Future’), social anxiety, body issues, relationships, housework, fashion, awkwardness, bingeing and attraction through episodes with such enticing titles as ‘Nightmares for Introverts’, ‘When to Change/Wash’, ‘Things I Know’, ‘Habits of the Common Bookworm’, ‘Getting Drunk (For Beginners)’, ‘Social Media in Real Life’, ‘What I Eat on a Typical Day’, ‘5 Phrases that make My Blood Run Colder than Ice’, ‘Watching Stuff’, ‘Things that make me Feel Safe’ and ‘Benefits of Stealing Boys’ Hoodies’.

On less excoriating days you’ll share her views on ‘Normal People’ versus ‘Me’, ‘How Graduating Feels’, ‘Internet Comment Threads’, ‘Folding Laundry’, ‘The Introvert’s Brain’, ‘How to know Your Partner is Serious about the Future’, and the potential of ‘The Future’, so that’s pretty much a view on everything to deal with…

Brooklyn-based Sarah Andersen was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art before this took over her life so she knows the value of Extra Credits. That’s why this tome includes lots of strips created specifically for the collection so if you’ve been following her on the interwebs, you’ll still miss some good stuff if you don’t get this delirious delight.
© 2016 by Sarah Andersen. All rights reserved.