The Other Side


By Jason Aaron, Cameron Stewart with Dave McCaig & various (Image: Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-53430-222-8 (Image HB)                     978-1-4012-1350-3 (Vertigo PB)

The Viet Nam conflict scarred the American psyche the way no other war has – not even the still somehow-technically-ongoing debacle in Iran, Afghanistan and all points pointless.

Depending on your politics you will either agree or disagree with that statement. These days there are no shady areas or topics of nuance to debate.

What is indisputable is the effect Viet Nam still has on the American consumer. So, it was intriguing to see an attempt to portray that earlier conflict less in term of “Us and Them” and more as “You and Me”.

This superb and deeply memorable tale contrasts the journey from happy home to bloody combat of surly average teen Billy Everette, his counterpart, farmer’s son Vo Binh Dai, and their predestined clash at the Battle of Khe Sanh.

Drafted from his Alabama home, Everette is a reluctant screw-up turned into an average Marine by the sheer hell of Boot Camp, where even the terrifying and very real hallucinations and delusions he suffers from can’t keep him from that dreaded Tour of Duty.

In contrast, patriotic, dutiful Vo Dai enlists in the People’s Army of Vietnam and endures starvation and disease on his long march south, determined to sell his life dearly to free his country from oppression. He too is plagued both by doubts of his worth, and terrifying hallucinations…

This simple tale, powerfully told and subversively drawn, is a sensitive, darkly magical, horrific parable about war, politics and insanity, if indeed they aren’t all the same thing in the end.

The paperback book also contains sketches and artist Cameron Stewart’s photo diary of his research trip to modern Viet Nam – a compelling bonus greatly amplified in the 2017 deluxe hardcover edition from Image comics as well as the various digital editions – and hopefully those gentle counterpoints to history’s blunders from a later if no less wise era can offer a shred of hope to soldiers and families currently reliving the traumas of another age.
© 2007 Jason Aaron & Cameron Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Guide to Groot – a Sound Book


By Matthew K. Manning & Nicholas Rix (Becker & Mayer! books/Quarto)
ISBN: 978-0-7603-6217-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sheer Delight for Youngsters of Any Age… 9/10

Technically speaking, Groot is one of Marvel’s oldest characters, having debuted as a woody alien invader in Tales to Astonish #13 (cover-dated November 1960), a good year before Fantastic Four #1.

Crafted by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, ‘I Challenged Groot! The Monster from Planet X’ revealed how a studious biologist saved humanity from a rapacious rampaging tree intent on stealing Earth cities and shipping them back to his distant world. That tale’s not in this tome, because in the intervening decades the deciduous despot cleaned up his act, pruned off the bad wood and now resides firmly on the side of the good guys…

As a beloved star of print and screen, the leafy legend has profoundly planted himself in the hearts of kids everywhere and this nifty marriage of sound and vision allows readers to enjoy a succession of cool narrative image scenarios by Nicholas Rix whilst Rocket Raccoon (in his identity of author Matthew K. Manning) clarifies the intricacies of Groot’s seemingly limited vocabulary in text. And all while Groot emotes right in your ears!

This is all achieved via a selection of 10 pushbutton activated sound files, each revealing the utterance nuances of the titanic timber-man’s 3-word vocalisations.

Following Rocket’s Introduction, the lessons commence with “I Am Groot” which of course means ‘Hello’ whereas the second spoken “I Am Groot” reveals just how the super sapling says ‘Did You Mean This?’

You get the picture – and they’re all beautifully rendered illustrations of key moments featuring Star-Lord, Gamora, Mantis, Drax, Rocket and other old favourites – as they are followed in close order by ‘I Gotcha’, ‘Nope. Not Gonna Happen’, ‘Geez. Leave Me Alone, Already’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Trust Me. I Got This’, ‘I Want That!’, ‘Face My Wrath, Chumps!’ and ‘I Love You’

This is a marvellously accessible addition to any fan’s library or toybox so it’s a shame that Guide to Groot is not available in the UK yet. Still, as I’m sure you know the internet is your friend in situations like these…

I am Groot I am Groot I am Groot, I am Groot I am Groot I Am Groot I am Groot-I am Groot I am Groot I am…
© 2018 Marvel. MARVEL and all characters, names and distinct likenesses thereof ™ & © 2018 Marvel characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Gillbert volume 1: The Little Merman


By Art Balthazar (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-5458-0144-4 (HB)                    978-1-5458-0145-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Captivating and Charming Cartoon Wonderment… 9/10

Art Baltazar has come long way since his self-published The Cray-Baby Adventures. Along the way he has crafted – singly or in conjunction with similarly fun-loving artisans – a veritable storm of books and comics for kids: magical and award-winning, sublimely strange, instantly engaging tomes and series such as Tiny Titans, Itty Bitty Hellboy, The DC Super Pets, Action Cat, Adventure Bug and so many more.

Throughout all the multicoloured madcappery, he has remained a dedicated and passionate advocate of children’s literacy and adhered to a set of unswerving principles: keep it fun, keep it funny and keep it accessible.

That’s certainly the case in this new venture with family publisher Papercutz. Gillbert, The Little Merman introduces a charming wide-eyed little prince about to embark on his initial learning experience…

After opening a bottle floating in the ocean, Gill finds a message from the surface world and wants to read it. None of his finny, scally, gelid or amphibian friends can help him, so he returns home to Atlanticus to consult his mum and dad, Queen Niadora and King Nauticus. They however, expect him to wait until later…

Impatient and overexcited, Gill is soon lured away by an enigmatic mermaid who says she can help. Before long Anne Phibian is escorting him to many new and thrilling places such as submerged party house Wewillrocktopolis and the Sub-Atomic Awesomator, but all the while Gill is blithely unaware that his world is increasingly imperilled by a swarm of Fiery Pyrockians: blazing meteor creatures with a grudge against his father…

Anne and her allies are on the ball though: they have unsuspected connections to the royal family and are taking steps to ensure everything will be okay, especially with Gill’s help…

Available in hardback, soft cover and digital formats, Gillbert offers a rapturous escapade of thrills and frolics to delight any imaginative reader of any vintage.

My copy even includes a tantalising free glimpse at another all-ages star with captivating cartoon pages from the upcoming Gumby: 50 Shades of Clay release. So I’ll bet yours will, too…
© 2018 Art Baltazar. All Rights Reserved. All other material © 2018 Papercutz.

Gillbert volume 1: The Little Merman will be released on October 30th 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Adventures of Tintin: The Black Island


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-806-2 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-61-1 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi accomplished 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

Originally published as monochrome strip Le Mystère De L’Avion Gris (The Mystery of the Grey Plane) from April 15th to November 16th 1937, the stirring saga was rerun in French Catholic newspaper Coeurs Vallaint from April 17th 1938. Its doom-laden atmosphere of espionage, criminality and darkly gathering storms settling upon the Continent clearly caught the public imagination…

Later that year Éditions Casterman released the entire epic as L’Île noire in a hardback volume that Hergé hated. It was eventually re-released in 1943, reformatted, extensively redrawn and in full colour and was greeted with rapturous success and acclaim.

Further revisions came after Tintin crossed the channel into British bookstores. The Black Island required a number of alterations to suit British publisher Methuen, leading to Herge’s assistant Bob De Moor travelling to England in 1961 for an extensive and extremely productive fact-finding mission which resulted in a new revised and updated edition that appeared not only here but was again serialised in Europe.

One evening as Tintin and Snowy are enjoying a walk in the country, a small plane experiences engine trouble and ditches in a field. When the helpful reporter offers assistance, he is shot…

Visited in hospital by bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson, the patient discovers they’re off to England to investigate the crash of an unregistered plane. Putting the meagre facts together Tintin discharges himself, and with Snowy in tow, catches the boat-train to Dover.

The young gallant is utterly unaware that he’s been targeted by sinister figures. Before journey’s end they have framed him for an assault and had him arrested. All too soon the wonder boy has escaped and is hounded across the countryside as a fugitive.

Despite the frantic pursuit, he makes it safely to England, having temporarily eluded the authorities, but is still being pursued by the murderous thugs who set him up…

He is eventually captured by the gangsters – actually German spies – and uncovers a forgery plot that circuitously leads him to the wilds of Scotland and a (visually stunning) “haunted” castle on an island in a Loch.

Undaunted, the bonny boy reporter goes undercover to investigate and discovers the gang’s base. He also finds out to his peril that the old place is guarded by a monstrous ape…

And that’s when the action really takes off…

This superb adventure, powerfully reminiscent of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, guarantees the cherished notion that, as always, virtue, daring and a huge helping of comedic good luck inevitably leads to a spectacular and thrilling denouement…

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, now is the time series to rectify that sorry situation.

The Black Island: artwork © 1956, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1966 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Elseworlds Batman volume 2


By Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, John Beatty & Malcolm Jones III (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6982-1

During the 1990s DC regrouped and rebranded its frequent dalliances with alternate reality scenarios under the copious and broad umbrella of a separate imprint. The Elseworlds banner and credo declared that heroes would be taken out of their usual settings and put into strange places and times – some that have existed, or might have existed, and others that can’t, couldn’t or Shouldn’t exist…

Here a recent reissue (originally released in 2007 as Batman Vampire – Tales of the Multiverse) and now available in paperback and eBook editions collects a trilogy of unlikely Batman stories that began with a literary cross-pollination of the type publishers seem so in love with.

Crafted by Doug Moench, Kelley Jones and Malcolm Jones III, Batman and Dracula: Red Rain was and remains is a genuinely creepy adventure of heroism and sacrifice. Here the Lord of Vampires moves into Gotham City and turns the city into a hellscape unimaginable to behold.

Desperate to save his home, the Dark Knight is forced to ally himself with “good vampires” in an attempt to stop Dracula. It can’t be a spoiler to reveal that he also has to sacrifice his life and his humanity before the threat to his beloved city is ended…

This tale was a great success when it was first released in 1991; a minor gothic masterpiece, both philosophical and tension drenched, with the sleek, glossily distorted artwork of Jones & Jones III creating a powerful aura of foredoomed predestination. It alone is well worth the price of admission.

And that is a very good thing because the two sequels are a possibly unnecessary indulgence.

Batman: Bloodstorm (1994, with the somehow more visually hygienic John Beatty replacing Malcolm Jones III as inker) sees a devasted-but-still-hanging-on Gotham protected by a vampiric Batman.

The Dark Nosferatu now combines his crime-fighting mission with dispatching those bloodsuckers who escaped the cataclysmic events of Red Rain. Tragically, he is a tortured hero suffering the agonies of the damned, struggling perpetually with his unholy thirst, but is determined nonetheless never to drink human blood.

However, when the Joker assumes command of the remaining vampire packs and attempts to take control of Gotham, not even the hero’s greatest friends and a lycanthropic Cat-Woman can forestall Batman’s final fate…

And yet Batman’s eternal rest is thwarted and stolen from him after the heartsick Alfred Pennyworth and desperate Commissioner Jim Gordon recall the Batman from his tomb in Batman: Crimson Mist.

Moench, Jones & Beatty recount a bleak but predictable saga (originally released in 1999) of a beleaguered metropolis overrun by super-criminals since the caped Crusader went to his reward.

So, when his faithful manservant brings him back, the faithful retainer is horrified to find the now corrupted hero is just another malevolent, blood-hungry beast. One who plans to save Gotham by slaughtering every criminal still breathing in it…

Only a bizarre alliance of good men and monstrous villains can rectify this situation before humanity itself pays the awful price…

These stories take the concept of Batman as scary beast to logical extremes – and far beyond – but although well drawn and thoughtfully written, the sequels lack the depth and intensity of the initial tale and feel too much like most sequels – just an attempt to make some more money.

If you’re a superhero fan at least in this volume you have the real deal, so buy it and just treat the last two thirds as bonus material. If you’re a sucker for stylish bloodbaths and dramatic scarlet-drenched suspense, however, there’s plenty here for you to wade through and wallow in…
© 1991, 1994, 1999, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Hellboy Omnibus volume 2: Strange Places


By Mike Mignola with Richard Corben, Gary Gianni, Dave Stewart & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-667-2 (PB)                     eISBN: 978-1-50670-688-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Spooky, Sensational, Unmissable… 9/10

Hellboy was first seen 25 years ago in the 1993 San Diego Comic Con programme. Many Happy Returns, Big Red.

After the establishment of the comicbook direct market system, there was a huge outburst of independent publishers in America and, as with all booms, a lot of them went bust. Some few, however, were more than flash-in-the-pans and grew to become major players in the new world order.

Arguably, the most successful was Dark Horse Comics who fully embraced the shocking new concept of creator ownership (amongst other radical ideas). This concept – and their professional outlook and attitude – drew a number of big-name creators to the new company and in 1994 Frank Miller & John Byrne formally instituted the sub-imprint Legend for those projects major creators wanted to produce their own way and at their own pace.

Over the next four years the brand counted Mike Mignola, Art Adams, Mike Allred, Paul Chadwick, Dave Gibbons and Geof Darrow amongst its ranks; generating a wealth of superbly entertaining and groundbreaking series and concepts.

Unquestionably the most impressive, popular and long-lived was Mignola’s supernatural thriller Hellboy.

As previously cited, the monstrous monster-hunter debuted in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (August 1993) before formally launching in 4-issue miniseries Seed of Destruction (with Byrne scripting over Mignola’s plot and art). Colourist Mark Chiarello added layers of mood with his understated hues. Once the fans saw what was on offer there was no going back…

This new trade paperback and digital series re-presents the succession of long form tales and miniseries that followed in omnibus volumes, accompanied by a companion series of tomes featuring all the short stories. I’ll get around to them too before much longer…

This second stellar select starring the Scourge of Sheol collects Hellboy: Conqueror Worm, Hellboy: Strange Places, Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea plus ‘Right Hand of Doom’ and ‘Box Full of Evil’ from Hellboy: The Right Hand of Doom and the lead tale from companion volume BPRD: Being Human.

What You Need to Know: on December 23rd 1944 American Patriotic Superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers interrupted a satanic ritual predicted by Allied parapsychologist Professors Trevor Bruttenholm and Malcolm Frost.

They were working in conjunction with influential medium Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones. Those stalwarts were waiting at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when a demon baby with a huge stone right hand appeared in a fireball. The startled soldiers took the infernal yet seemingly innocent waif into custody.

Far, far further north, off the Scottish Coast on Tarmagant Island, a cabal of Nazi Sorcerers roundly berated ancient wizard Grigori Rasputin whose Project Ragna Rok ritual seemed to have failed. The Russian was unfazed. Events were unfolding as he wished…

Five decades later, the baby had grown into a mighty warrior engaging in a never-ending secret war: the world’s most successful paranormal investigator. Bruttenholm spent years lovingly raising the weird foundling whilst forming an organisation to destroy unnatural threats and supernatural monsters – The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. “Hellboy” quickly became its lead agent.

Moreover, as the decades of his career unfolded, Hellboy gleaned tantalising snatches of his origins, hints that he was an infernal creature of dark portent: born a demonic messiah, somehow destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil. It is a fate he despises and utterly rejects…

Answers began seeping out in ‘The Right Hand of Doom’ (originally seen in in Dark Horse Presents Annual 1998 in macabre monochrome and coloured here by Dave Stewart) as the B.P.R.D. big gun meets a priest with a connection to his arrival on Earth during WWII.

Adrian Frost carries an ancient document depicting Hellboy’s arcane stone appendage and offers to trade it for the true story of his terrestrial nativity and subsequent career…

The cleric learns how a Lord of Hell and an earthly witch spawned a child of diabolical destiny and how the grand plan was derailed by destiny and a human-reared child who moved Heaven and Hell to live his own life…

That fascinating background was expanded in 2-part 1999 miniseries ‘Box Full of Evil’ when Hellboy and agent associate Abe Sapien return to modern-day Britain to assess a mystic burglary.

Old antagonist Igor Bromhead has used his magic to steal the ancient metal coffer Saint Dunstan used to imprison a devil, but by the time the occult operatives find him the vile plotter has opened the box and sold on its contents to debauched Satanists Count Guarino and Countess Bellona.

Their facile joy is short-lived as the dubious double-dealer takes possession of the cask’s true treasure. In return for paltry wealth and appalling knowledge, the liberated demon shares the secret name and true nature of Hellboy as well as his Abysmally-ordained destiny.

It even helps Igor ambush the investigator, usurping both Hellboy’s true power and ascribed role in the destruction of the universe…

With that misappropriated magical might, the demon starts to end Creation but has not reckoned on the incredible will and sheer bloody-mindedness of the paranormal troubleshooter, nor those other ancient powers of the Earth who have no intention of dying before their appointed times…

This astounding tale of hell-bent heroism and cosmic doom is then followed by a 4-page epilogue which offers dark portents of further trials for the monster who will always be his own man…

Written by Mignola & illustrated by comics legend Richard Corben, ‘Being Human’ comes from 2011 and details how Hellboy and former foe-turned-new-recruit Roger the Homunculus debate relative ethics and personal worth whilst calamitously battling a necromantic witch and her ghastly zombie slave…

A chronological reversion to earlier graphic terrors and grave wit unleashes the award-winning 4-issue miniseries ‘Hellboy: Conqueror Worm’ (originally seen from May to August 2001); featuring earth-shattering battles, cosmic revelations and a crucial turning point in the life of the world’s greatest supernatural superhero.

It begins on March 20th 1939 when Nazi stronghold Hunte Castle is invaded by a select force of American soldiers, intent on disrupting the plans of “Nazi Einstein” Ernst Oeming.

Deep within the Austrian alpine fortress, fanatical scientists and occultists are counting down to Earth’s first space shot when the crack unit – led by two-fisted mystery man Lobster Johnson – storm in with explosive repercussions…

Sixty-one years later the ruins are the scene of careful scrutiny by the B.P.R.D.

NASA telescopes have spotted a Nazi-emblazoned capsule rocketing back to Earth, clearly a result of that clandestine commando mission’s ultimate failure. With the fallen Reich’s past track record of supernatural surprises, Director Tom Manning wants Hellboy and Roger to see what lost secrets they can uncover.

Guiding them is a local girl with useful connections. Lisa Karnstein grew up near the ruins and now works for the Austrian Secret Police…

Before they finally embark, Hellboy endures a distasteful interview with his new boss. The B.P.R.D. bigwigs have placed explosives inside Roger – “just in case” – and require the crimson colossus to carry the detonator with him at all times…

Furious but committed, Hellboy storms off, but soon the cautious trio are nearing the summit and ominous ruins. Their way is briefly barred by an enigmatic figure begging them to turn back from the haunted site, but it quickly succumbs to Hellboy’s already short fuse and thundering fists.

Before long they are picking their way towards the entrance when shots are fired from ambush and Roger plunges off the side of the mountain…

Angrier than ever, Hellboy smashes into the derelict building to discover one of his oldest enemies in charge of a restored Nazi mission control suite.

Herman Von Klempt was there when Oeming took off for the stars in 1939 and in the years since has become a major menace to civilisation through his macabre transplant experiments and cybernetic killer-apes. The latest incarnation of the latter is what smashes Hellboy into unconsciousness…

When the investigator comes to he is trussed into a typically sadistic torture device. As he screams in agony his Nazi nemesis is smugly boasting of the fruition of decades of planning. He is also congratulating his devoted mole within the B.P.R.D. operation…

Elsewhere, the earthly remains of Lobster Johnson make contact with a presumed-lost B.P.R.D. agent and begins a desperate counterstrike which might be mankind’s only chance of survival, even as Von Klempt’s technicians guide the vintage space capsule to a safe descent…

With Hellboy free and liberally wreaking havoc amidst the mad scientist’s forces, a third faction then enters the fray, offering crucial intelligence into the demon-foundling’s true origins and early life.

Ignoring the many ghosts infesting the castle, he also reveals how the plan was never to send a living human into space, but to deliver a corpse which would be inhabited by an ancient, arcane monstrosity from antediluvian prehistory: a creature whose reign on Earth would signal the end and obliteration of humanity…

Before dying he finally offers a meagre weapon to oppose the beast, but it seems utterly inconsequential compared to the hideous transformative majesty of the chthonic horror Von Klempt calls the Conqueror Worm…

With all sides in play the supernatural action goes into Armageddon overdrive as Hellboy and his allies strive to destroy the creeping evil and its insane acolytes. Enemies fall and allegiances shift from moment to moment, but when the gift-weapon is shattered only the greatest sacrifice imaginable can halt the monster’s domination.

Most tellingly, even after Hellboy’s greatest, most important triumph, his anger at mankind’s madness and venality force him to make the most important decision of his unconventional life…

Wrapping up the spectral sideshow is an ominous Epilogue revealing how a convocation of the Weird Warrior’s most dangerous foes results in one less archenemy but more trouble in store…

‘The Third Wish’ was first released as a 2-issue micro-series between July and August 2002 and reveals how, at the bottom of the sea, three mermaid sisters implore the mighty Bog Roosh to grant their wishes.

Her acquiescence comes at a great cost however: the marine maidens must somehow hammer a mystic nail into the head of her great enemy…

Hellboy is currently in Africa, estranged from the B.P.R.D. but still encountering mystic menaces that need stopping. Eventually he stops to listen to the tales of witch-man Mohlomi and is soon under the spell of the tale-teller. Lapsing into a deep sleep, he dreams of lions who foretell his future…

Hellboy awakens to find they have somehow moved to the coast. When Mohlomi tells him the ocean is calling, the baffled but resigned parapsychologist enters the roaring surf and is promptly dragged under the waves, protected only by a bell-charm the sorcerer has given him…

Attacked by sea beasts and the three sisters, Hellboy is overcome as soon as he lets go of the jingling trinket and is helpless to prevent them driving in the damned nail…

Bound and helpless in the Bog Roosh’s power, Hellboy can only watch as the sisters are given their hearts’ desires and – in the usual manner of such things – suffer the cruel consequences of double-dealing demonry.

Wise in such matters, Hellboy tries to help the third mermaid avoid her fate but is powerless to prevent the sea-witch granting the last wish. His kind act touches the mermaid’s heart and – whilst the witch tries to dismember Hellboy and all the powers of The Pit stand helpless to prevent the end of all their hopes and dreams – she sneaks back and frees him.

Released to vent his considerable anger, Hellboy ends the Bog Roosh and decimates her power, but is ultimately unable to save his saviour…

‘The Island’ debuted in June and July 2005 and signalled the grand finale of the First Chapter in Hellboy’s life…

Hellboy wades ashore in a drear limbo of shattered ships and broken vessels. Anxious but resolved, he trudges on and joins a motley assemblage of mariners in a protracted boozing session, only later realising he has been drinking with dead men.

A further shock to his system is delivered by old enemy Hecate, who appears gloating and glad that the Bog Roosh failed to kill him. As long as Hellboy lives she can still corrupt or conquer him…

Shunning the Goddess of the Damned, Hellboy trudges on, entering a dilapidated castle where he is sucked into an ancient vision offering potential clues to his past and future. Now though, it only results in him battling ferociously with little success against yet another gargantuan monster…

He awakes an unknowable time later on a dry, dusty plain with Mohlomi who offers yet more occluded, oblique advice before a revived ghost joins the conversation with the tale of his mortality in ancient Tenochtitlan.

This story of life, death and resurrection coincidentally reveals the secret history of creation, the inevitable end of mankind, what will follow and – most terrifyingly – the truth about Hellboy’s stone hand and his intended role in the ghastly Grand Scheme of Cosmic Doom…

Wrapping up the spectral showcase is another ominous Epilogue as arcane and infernal powers confer over what the revelations mean to Hellboy. The Fated One is now armed with knowledge but is only drifting closer to his future, no matter how hard he struggles to turn away from it…

This second comics compilation concludes with the inclusion of 2017’s Original Graphic Novel ‘Into the Silent Sea’, co-written by Mignola & Gary Gianni, with the latter fully illustrating the tale in his usual lush classicist style.

Sailing through a Sargasso of wrecked ships, Hellboy is drawn into a bizarre time-bending miasma and is captured by the crew of an 18th century scientific exploration vessel. At least so it first seems…

Once he learns that the abusive Captain is merely the flunky of the mysterious Lady, whose obsessive search for deeper cosmic truths knows no bounds, Hellboy knows bad things are coming. Once Heca Emen Raa, the Serpent from the Beginning of the World answers her insane call, he realises it’s a case of every man for himself and the devil will most certainly take the hindmost…

And even after the thrashing surf settles, there’s one more horrifying shock in store…

Rounding out this apocalyptic endeavour is a stunning Hellboy Sketchbook Section which includes behind-the-scenes insights, author commentary, character designs, breathtaking drawings and roughs detailing the development and visual evolution of the beasties and bad guys populating the stories to sweeten the pot for every lover of great comics art.

Baroque, grandiose, alternating suspenseful slow-boiling tension with explosive spectacle, Hellboy mixes apocalyptic revelation with astounding adventure to enthral horror addicts and action junkies alike. This is another cataclysmic compendium of dark delights you simply must have.
Hellboy™ Strange Places © 1993, 2018 Mike Mignola. Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and all other prominently featured characters are trademarks of Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.

Hunger House


By Loka Kanarp & C/M Edenborg, translated by C/M Edenborg & Martin Tistedt (Borderline Press)
ISBN: 978-0-99269-724-2

If you thought “Scandi-Crime” was an impressive tweak on an old genre, you should see what our northern cousins can do with horror…

This is an imported and translated classic of supernatural suspense that went largely unremarked when it was first released in English, but it’s still one of the most powerful phantom menace tales I’ve ever seen and is long overdue for rediscovery and greater renown.

Resurrecting and refining the classical ghost story with this seductive and compellingly lavish two-colour hardback tome, husband-&-wife team Carl-Michael Edenborg and Loka Kanarp concocted a sharp, sweet and sour compote of dark desire and chilling craving in this account of a slumbering supernatural force and its irresistibly appalling allure for two troubled and unhappy girls…

Deep in the woods, a ramshackle edifice stands and waits. Closer to selfish, facile, judgemental modern civilisation, young sisters Elsa and Fredrike grow increasingly uncomfortable with their new foster parents.

Those smugly sanctimonious old poseurs are delighted with the idea and their new roles as guardians – and especially in the politely-stifled reactions of their equally shallow friends and neighbours – but really don’t seem that emotionally invested in the recently-bereft children now in their charge…

Unhappy to be the prize exhibit at a stuffy garden party, the girls soon sneak off and wander into the wilds on the edge of town. They’re heading for a strange place Elsa heard about at school. They really shouldn’t go in. All the kids say it’s haunted…

The deserted domicile is vast: a procession of bleak and empty rooms where the previous inhabitants seemingly disappeared in the middle of a smart soiree…

As the girls idly roam together, the bare boards suddenly break beneath them and Elsa falls into a darkness far deeper and longer than the mere gap between floors. The hole is bigger than the house itself and, even after climbing down on a rope, Fredrike cannot touch the bottom…

Dejectedly returning alone to her foster parents’ home she tries to explain what has happened but is cut short when calmly Elsa saunters in. The returnee is not the same as she was…

For one thing, she is cruel and mean and bullying, but the real kicker is at supper when a cutlery mishap proves the elder sister is no longer even human…

Of course, the pompous, self-opinionated adults notice nothing and later, as Fredrike cowers in bed looking at photos of happier times, the thing that looks like Elsa creeps in and offers to reveal secrets and surprises if she will return to the ruined house with her…

Author, publisher and editor Edenborg (My Cruel Fate) runs his own publishing house – Vertigo Forlag – and co-wrote Hungerhuset with graphic novelist Kanarp (another sterling alumnus of the Comics Art School of Malmö whose previous works include Pearls and Bullets and To My Friends and Enemies) to satisfy their own love of suspense-horror movies.

Their passion is our happy windfall as this sublimely seductive and truly beguiling mystery unfolds in ways both uneasily familiar and intensely original…

If being simultaneously unsettled and delightfully satiated is your particular meat, Hunger House is a dish you will never regret ordering. A disquieting terror tome worth every moment it takes to track down and acquire…
© 2014 Loka Kanarp & C/M Edenborg.

Jonah Hex: Shadows West


By Joe R. Lansdale, Timothy Truman, Sam Glanzman & various (DC/Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4715-7

As initially imagined by John Albano & Tony DeZuñiga, Jonah Hex is probably the most memorable western comic character ever created. He’s certainly the darkest and most grippingly realised, as is the brutal and uncompromising world he inhabits.

A ruthless demon with gun or knife or whatever is at hand, he hunts men for the price on their heads in the years following the American civil war, and the scars inside him are more shocking even than the ghastly ruin of his face.

DC – or National Periodicals as it then was – had run a notable stable of clean-cut gunslingers since the collapse of the super-hero genre in 1949, with such dashing – and immensely readable – luminaries as Johnny Thunder, The Trigger Twins, Nighthawk, Matt Savage and dozens of others in a marketplace that seemed limitless in its voracious hunger for chaps in chaps. However, all things end and comic tastes are notoriously fickle, and by the early sixties the sagebrush brigade had dwindled to a few venerable properties as an onslaught of costumed super-characters assaulted the newsstands and senses.

They too would temporarily pass…

As the 1960s closed, the thematic changes in the cinematic Cowboy filtered through to a comics industry suffering its second superhero retreat in twenty years. Although a critical success, the light-hearted Western series Bat Lash couldn’t garner a solid following, but DC, desperate for a genre that readers would warm to, retrenched and revived an old and revered title, gambling once again on heroes who were no longer simply boy scouts with six-guns.

the very model of the modern anti-hero, Jonah Hex, who first appeared in All-Star Comics #10: a vulgarly coarse and engagingly callous bounty hunter clad in a battered Confederate Grey tunic and hat.

With half his face lost to some hideous past injury, Hex was a brutal thug little better than the scum he hunted and certainly a man to avoid.

From the very start the series sought to redress some of the most unpalatable motifs of old-style cowboy literature and any fan of films like Soldier Blue and Little Big Man or Dee Brown’s iconoclastic book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee will feel a grim sense of vicarious satisfaction and redress at most of the stories here.

There’s also a huge degree of world-weary cynicism that wasn’t to be found in other comics until well past the Watergate Scandal, the first time when America as a whole lost its social and political innocence. Sadly, not the last, though…

It was that edgy dissimilarity to standard comicbook fare that first attracted esteemed author, occasional comics scripter and devout Robert E. Howard fan Joe R. Lansdale (Bubba Hotep, Edge of Dark Water, Dead Aim) to the series as a child.

As his Introduction details, it’s also a large part of what convinced him and fellow craftsmen Timothy Truman (Grimjack, Scout, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Conan) and Sam Glanzman (USS Stevens, Haunted Tank, A Sailor’s Story, The Lonely War of Willy Schultz) to revive and reimagine the grizzled veteran in what turned out to be a highly popular and painfully controversial trio of adulted-oriented miniseries for DC’s Vertigo Comics imprint.

Collecting Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo #1-5 (August-December 1993), Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #1-5 (March-July 1995) and Jonah Hex: Shadows West #1-3 (February-April 1999), this volume – available in trade paperback and digital editions – also references heaping helpings of Spaghetti Western tropes, raw-edged Texan lore and attitudes, supernatural weirdness and some of the broadest, crudest, daftest belly-laugh humour ever seen in street-level American comics…

It all kicks off with Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo as the bounty hunter is saved from lynching by the criminals he’s hunting. His saviour is nigh-decrepit aging manhunter Go Slow Smith. Together they despatch the outlaws who arranged the necktie party, but when the pecuniary lawmen try to claim the money on their latest gory prizes, they’re faced with bureaucratic obfuscation and delay.

That’s not too terrible as the town of Mud Creek has booze, beds and hot food, but when the sun goes down horror stalks Main Street and Smith is gunned down by a dead man…

Falsely accused of murder, Hex narrowly avoids another hanging and sets after traveling man Doc “Cross” Williams. When he tracks him down, however, the gunman realises the scientist has perfected a diabolical means of resurrecting the dead. It’s not so hard tackling the Doc’s bizarre coterie of ghastly freaks, but Hex has no chance against the wanderer’s star attraction, the undead but still lightning fast-draw Wild Bill Hickok.

The madman’s big mistake is trying to turn Hex into another zombie slave. After the hell-faced gunman gets way and regroups, Jonah undertakes a slow, relentless revenge that pulls Williams across the deadliest terrain in Texas and straight into the unforgiving sights of remorseless Apache renegades…

The result is a spectacular and breathtaking battle of wills you’ll never forget…

The creative band got back together for Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such: a truly inspired and deftly ridiculous spoof on western themes and attitudes with Hex cast as willing straight man in a yarn touching base with Robert E. Howard’s subterranean horror myths as viewed through Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles.

In the searing inhospitable desert scrub a rather quaint English émigré is trying to establish a cattle ranch. He’s got lots of other strange ideas too, based on a lecture he once saw by Oscar Wilde.

At the Wilde West Ranch and Culture Emporium, Mr. Graves pays good wages and provides every amenity. He is well respected, but in return expects his doughty cowpokes to write and recite poetry, perform skits and enthusiastically burst into song at every opportunity.

Sadly, they got the enthusiasm down pat, but exhibit no discernible talent or artistic ability to underpin it…

When the restless Hex and his brash young sidekick stumble upon the cultural bastion, they have just barely survived an horrific encounter with a subterranean monster that drags people and animals beneath the earth to suck out their innards via efficiently-sliced off heads.

It’s not long before the newcomers realise the Englishman and his prairie troubadours are having their own encounters with the vile beasts.

When the effusive Graves reveals that the ranch previously belonged to a luckless fool named Errol Autumn an incredible tale emerges…

Autumn had set up his spread on land that had been contested for millennia by the local Indians and an antediluvian subhuman race dubbed the Worms of the Earth. After the idiot white man accidentally destroyed the wards and charms the natives had used to keep the monsters safely below, something escaped and raped his wife.

The offspring were still wandering the region and now seem intent on reviving that age-old war on humanity…

After one particularly hungry horror busts through the floor of Graves’s compound, Hex and the cowboys decide to take the battle to them and embark on a brain-blasting, ultimately cataclysmic voyage to the heart of hell, with the hybrid worm-children dogging their heels.

At least the underground argonauts can keep up their spirits with a song or two…

The bawdy and absurdist humour remain for the final outing but Jonah Hex: Shadows West also offers plenty of trenchant things to say about the treatment of native cultures too.

After another painful brush with ever-encroaching white civilisation and the stupidity of the law, Hex is induced by diminutive sharpshooter ‘Long Tom’ to join the shamefully low-rent Wild West Show of failed dentist and inveterate chancer Buffalo Will.

It’s an uncomfortable fit despite the huge salary and a reunion with old friend Spotted Balls. Will is an unrepentant shyster and charlatan and his white performers brutally and continually abuse the native hires.

After seeing how the men treat a squaw, Hex decides to quit and is astonished when she and Spotted Balls elect to come with him. The woman has an ulterior motive: her young son is the spawn of a spirit and looks it. He’s half bear, half human, talks and is the proposed means Buffalo Will plans to become stinking rich…

Happy to frustrate the evil impresario, Hex and his charges ride out in search of the spirit folk under ‘Gathering Shadows’ with Long Tom and a posse of killers in hot pursuit and a deadly race and mobile war of attrition ensues.

By the time the fugitives reach their destination, leaving bodies on both sides, ‘Final Shadows’ are falling and all hope seems lost. But even Hex’s cynical disbelief in mystic mumbo-jumbo takes a pounding when the child is reunited with the chief of the Bear Folk…

Raucous, excessively violent and bitingly funny, these irreverent yarns capture the spirit of the original Hex series whilst adding a modicum of unnatural unworldliness and outrageously lampooning the beloved cinema standbys of a bygone era.

If you love dry wit, trenchant absurdity and a non-stop bombardment of high-octane action, you must get this book.
© 1993, 1995, 1999, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Doom Patrol: The Silver Age volume 1


By Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, Bruno Premiani, Bob Brown & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8111-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Weird Science Fun… 8/10

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

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

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

Covering June 1963 to May 1965, this stunning trade paperback – and eBook – compilation collects the Fabulous Freaks’ earliest exploits from My Greatest Adventure #80-85 and thereafter, issues #86-95 of the renamed title once overwhelming reader response compelled editor Murray Boltinoff to change it to the Doom Patrol.

The dramas were especially enhanced by the drawing skills of Italian cartoonist and classicist artist Giordano Bruno Premiani, whose highly detailed, subtly humanistic illustration made even the strangest situation dauntingly authentic and grittily believable. The premier tale ‘The Doom Patrol’ was co-scripted by Arnold Drake and Bob Haney, and saw a mysterious wheelchair-bound scientist summon three outcasts to his home through the promise of changing their miserable lives forever…

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

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

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

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

In second chapter ‘The Challenge of the Timeless Commander’, an incredibly ancient despot tried to seize a fallen alien ship, intent on turning its extraterrestrial secrets into weapons of world conquest, culminating in ‘The Deadly Duel with General Immortus’ which saw the Doom Patrol dedicate their lives to saving humanity from all threats.

My Greatest Adventure #81 featured ‘The Nightmare Maker’, combining everyday disaster response – saving a damaged submarine – with a nationwide plague of monsters. Stuck at base, The Chief monitors missions by means of a TV camera attached to Robotman’s chest, and quickly deduces the uncanny secret of the beasts and their war criminal creator Josef Kreutz

Solely scripted by Drake, a devious espionage ploy outed the Chief – or at least his image, if not name – in #82’s ‘Three Against the Earth!’, leading the team to believe Rita a traitor. When the cabal of millionaires actually behind the scheme are exposed as an alien advance guard who assumed the wheelchair-bound leader to be a rival invader, the inevitable showdown nearly costs Cliff what remains of his life…

In #83, ‘The Night Negative Man Went Berserk!’ spotlights the living mummy as a radio astronomy experiment interrupts the Negative Man’s return to Larry Trainor’s body, pitching the pilot into a coma and sending the ebony energy creature on a global spree of destruction. Calamity piles upon calamity when crooks steal the military equipment constructed to destroy the radio-energy creature and only desperate improvisation by Cliff and Rita allows avatar and host to reunite…

Issue #84 saw ‘The Return of General Immortus’ as ancient Babylonian artefacts lead the squad to the eternal malefactor, only to have the wily warrior turn the tables and take control of Robotman. Even though his comrades soon save him, Immortus escapes with the greatest treasures of all time…

My Greatest Adventure #85 was the last issue and featured ‘The Furies from 4,000 Miles Below’: monstrous subterranean horrors fuelled by nuclear forces. Despite having tricked Elasti-Girl into resuming her Hollywood career, the paternalistic heroes are pretty grateful when she turns up to save them all from radioactive incineration…

An unqualified success, the comicbook transformed seamlessly into The Doom Patrol with #86 and celebrated by introducing ‘The Brotherhood of Evil’: an assemblage of international super-criminals and terrorists led by French genius-in-a-jar The Brain. He was backed up by his greatest creation, a super-intelligent talking gorilla dubbed Monsieur Mallah.

The diametrically opposed teams first cross swords after brotherhood applicant Mr. Morden steals Rog, a giant robot the Chief intended for the US military…

DP #87 revealed ‘The Terrible Secret of Negative Man’ after Brotherhood femme fatale Madame Rouge attempts to seduce Larry. When the Brain’s unstoppable mechanical army invades the city, Trainor is forced to remove his bandages and allow his lethal radiations to disrupt their transmissions…

An occasional series of short solo adventures kicked off in this issue with ‘Robotman Fights Alone’. Here Cliff is dispatched to a Pacific island in search of an escaped killer, only to walk into a devastating series of WWII Japanese booby-traps…

All the mysteries surrounding the team’s leader are finally revealed in issue #88 with ‘The Incredible Origin of the Chief’: a blistering drama telling how brilliant but impoverished student Niles Caulder suddenly received unlimited funding from an anonymous patron interested in his researches on extending life.

Curiosity drove Caulder to track down his benefactor and he was horrified to discover the money came from the head of a criminal syndicate who claimed to be eons old…

Immortus had long ago consumed a potion which extended his life and wanted the student to recreate it since the years were finally catching up. To insure Caulder’s full cooperation, the General had a bomb inserted in the researcher’s chest and powered by his heartbeat …

After building a robot surgeon, Caulder tricked Immortus into shooting him, determined to thwart the monster at all costs. Once clinically dead, his Ra-2 doctor-bot removed the now-inert explosive and revived the bold scientist, but tragically the trusty mechanoid had been too slow and Caulder lost the use of his legs forever…

Undaunted, ‘The Man Who Lived Twice’ then destroyed all his research and went into hiding for years, with Immortus utterly unaware that Caulder had actually succeeded in the task which had stymied history’s greatest doctors and biologists…

Now, under the alias of super-thief The Baron, Immortus captures the Doom Patrol and demands a final confrontation with the Chief. Luckily the wheelchair-locked inventor is not only a biologist and robotics genius but also rather adept at constructing concealed weapons…

In #89 the team tackle a duplicitous scientist who devises a means to transform himself into ‘The Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Menace’ before ‘The Private War of Elasti-Girl’ finds the Maid of Many Sizes using unsuspected detective skills to track down a missing soldier and reunite him with his adopted son.

‘The Enemy within the Doom Patrol’ sees shape-shifting Madame Rouge infiltrate the team and almost turn them against each other whilst issue #91 introduces multi-millionaire Steve Dayton.

Used to getting whatever he wants, he creates a superhero persona solely to woo and wed Rita Farr. With such ambiguous motivations ‘Mento – the Man who Split the Doom Patrol’ was a radical character for the times, but at least his psycho-kinetic helmet proved a big help in defeating the plastic robots of grotesque alien invader Garguax

DP #92 tasks the team with a temporal terrorist in ‘The Sinister Secret of Dr. Tyme’ and features the abrasive Mento again saving the day, after which ‘Showdown on Nightmare Road’ in #93 features The Brain’s latest monstrous scheme. This results in the evil genius being transplanted inside Robotman’s skull whilst poor Cliff is dumped into a horrific beast, until the Chief out-plays the French Fiend at his own game…

Creature-feature veteran Bob Brown stepped in to illustrate #94’s lead tale ‘The Nightmare Fighters’ as an eastern mystic’s uncanny abilities are swiftly debunked by solid American science. Premiani returned to render back-up solo-feature ‘The Chief “Stands” Alone’ wherein Caulder eschews his deputies’ aid to bring down bird-themed villain The Claw with a mixture of wit, nerve and weaponised wheelchair.

This initial outing concludes with The Chief’s disastrous effort to cure Rita and Larry (DP #95); resulting in switched powers and the ‘Menace of the Turnabout Heroes’, so naturally that would be the very moment the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man would pick for a return bout…

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

With the edge of time and experience on my side it’s obvious just how incredibly mature and hardcore Drake, Haney & Premiani’s take on superheroes actually was. These superbly engaging, frantically fun and breathtakingly beautiful tales should rightfully rank amongst the finest Fights ‘n’ Tights tales ever told. Moreover, you should definitely own them, and now you can…
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 2018 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Lola – a Ghost Story


By J. Torres & Elbert Or (Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-934964-33-0 (HB)                    978-1-93266-424-9 (PB)

These days young kids are far more likely to find their formative strip narrative experiences online or between the card-covers of specially tailored graphic novels rather than the comics and periodicals of my long-dead youth.

In times past the commercial comics industry thrived by producing copious amounts of gaudy, flimsy pamphlets subdivided into a range of successfully, self-propagating, seamlessly self-perpetuating age-specific publications.

Such eye-catching items generated innumerable tales and delights intended to entertain, inform and educate such well-defined target demographics as Toddler/Kindergarten, Younger and Older Juvenile, General, Girls, Boys and even Young Teens, but today the English-speaking world can only afford to maintain a few paltry out-industry, licensed tie-ins and spin-offs for a dwindling younger readership.

Where once cheap and prolific, strip magazines in the 21st century are extremely cost-intensive and manufactured for a highly specific – and dwindling – niche market, whilst the beguiling and bombastic genres that originally fed and nurtured comics are more immediately disseminated via TV, movies and assorted interactive games media.

Happily, old-school prose publishers and the burgeoning graphic novel industry have a different business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, so magazine makers’ surrender has become their window, as solid and reassuringly sturdy Comic Books increasingly buck the pamphlet/papers trend.

Some of the old-fashioned publishers even evolved to join the revolution…

Independent comics mainstay Oni deftly made the switch to sturdy stand-alone one-offs at the end of the last century, publishing a succession of superb illustrated tales splendidly pushing the creative envelope whilst providing memorable yarns that irresistibly lure young potential fans of the form into our world…

That looks quite creepy in type-form but that’s okay – this is a beguilingly spooky story and you should be on your guard…

Aimed at readers of seven and above, Lola – a Ghost Story follows young Canadian Jesse as he returns to the rural Philippines farm where his parents grew up. It’s not his first visit, but it is the saddest. They’re going back for the funeral of his grandmother…

In the native Tagalog language Lola means “grandmother” and Jesse’s was pretty scary. She was old and ugly, had a hump on her back and – he thinks – she tried to drown him when he was a baby…

Grandma Lola also saw dead things and monsters and the future… just like Jesse does.

Despite all this he loved her very much and really doesn’t want to accept that she’s gone forever.

After hours of exhausting travel into the forbidding wild region Jesse and his folks at last arrive at the old farmhouse which has seen so much tragedy. The little visitor fulsomely greets his uncle and cousin Maritess, but won’t acknowledge her brother JonJon. That kid’s acting like a jerk as usual, and besides he’s been dead for over a year and no-one else can see him…

Soon the family are gathered together: eating, memorialising the departed and telling stories of Lola – like the time she saw the giant devil-pig and saved the entire family from financial ruin. Despite the convivial atmosphere, Jesse is still ill at ease. Even though everyone here believes his grandmother had second sight and blessed gifts, the sensibly modern boy can’t bring himself to believe the things he sees are real…

Maritess believes though, and she suspects what Jesse won’t admit even to himself…

After JonJon teases him some more and taunts him with the giant bestial, cigar-smoking Kapre lurking at the window, Jesse finally drops into an exhausted, nervous slumber.

The funeral next day is horrible. Everybody is sad, the church is filled with so many shockingly damaged spirits and Jesse is afflicted with a vision of being trapped and burning which makes him run screaming from the ceremony.

Still traumatised that evening, he finds JonJon’s old toybox on his bed and Maritess guesses what has happened.

She tells her cousin the story of the bloodsucking Manananggal which attacked Lola’s mother, causing her unborn daughter’s hump-back and magical sight. Such gifts and curses usually skip a generation and Maritess always assumed she’d be the one to get the sight, but now that it’s clear Jesse is the one to inherit the power, she’s determined to give him all the help he needs.

The box is full of JonJon’s toy cars, and after playing with them Jesse and the dead boy romp over by the farm wall – the one where nobody is allowed to go anymore…

Jesse’s uncle isn’t doing very well: all the tragedies have made him very sad and he’s drinking an awful lot.

There are other problems bothering Jesse. The entire family have stories about his grandmother and it’s clear that she was brave and determined and fought monsters all her life: is that, then, why she tried to drown him when he was a baby?

Maritess tells her Canadian cousin about the time little Lola saved her school friends from a predatory Tiyanak – a baby-shaped carnivorous monster – and he readies himself to ask her if she thinks he might be evil. Just then her father comes in very drunk and shouts at him for leaving JonJon’s cars in the garden.

They are all he has left to remember his son and the boy’s favourite one is already missing. Jesse knows which one it is… the striped one JonJon calls “Zebra” which he wouldn’t share with him last night by the wall…

Uncle Tim hates the wall. It had something to do with his son’s death and Jesse knows he’ll get into trouble if he goes over it. But Uncle is so sad. He misses his boy and really wanted to bury Zebra with JonJon, but it’s gone and the man is so drunk and angry all the time now…

Jesse’s fear that Lola saw something evil in him is assuaged by Maritess who thinks he should use his gift to help people – just like just their grandmother used to – so when JonJon appears again, Jesse climbs the hated wall and vanishes into the wild unknown beyond…

With Jesse’s first good deed successfully accomplished, JonJon can rest and Uncle Tim is at peace. The troubled psychic is even a little less disturbed by his power and his apparent destiny, but that all changes on the trip back to the airport when Jesse sees something utterly horrifying…

Evocative, compelling, gently enthralling and with a genuinely scary shock ending, this superb kid’s chiller is filled with a fascinating new bestiary of monsters and bogey-men to bedazzle Western eyes and imaginations, but mostly relies on captivating art and top-notch storytelling to draw readers in.

I loved it and so will you…
Lola is ™ & © 2009 J. Torres. All other material © 2009 Oni Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved.