I Love You, Broom-Hilda


By Russell Myers (Tempo Books/Grossett & Dunlap)
ISBN: 978-0-44805-593-0 (mass market PB)

Broom-Hilda launched on April 19th 1970, the conception of newspaper comics veteran big wheel Elliot Caplin (1913-2000) He was the brother of Al (Li’l Abner) Capp and writer and/or creator of The Heart of Juliet Jones, Little Orphan Annie, Big Ben Bolt, Long Sam, Abbie and Slats and a host of other classic strips). He passed the concept on to then 32-year old Russell Myers to write and draw, choosing to remain in the background as agent and business manager. The strip is still in syndication today, but the 25 collections (of which I Love You, Broom-Hilda was the second) are all inexplicably out of print and you’ll need your trusty search engine of choice to enjoy the zinger-bestrewn mystic marvel in action…

Myers, who’d previously worked as a Hallmark Card artist whilst trying to break in to the strip biz, hit the ground running and the zany antics of the old girl soon garnered lots of fans through the Chicago Tribune Syndicate’s numerous client papers.

Like all popular strips, Broom-Hilda dances on that line dividing homogeneity and uniqueness. Back then – and even now – a successful strip concept has to appeal to a relatively vast audience (not all of them rocket scientists) but be strong enough to provide lots of gags and still be perceived as a stand-out property.

The brief, terse and decidedly surreal adventures of a homely, sharp-tongued witch and her peculiar supporting cast (which in this book from the third year of publication includes Irwin the Troll, Gaylord Buzzard, and the enigmatic and professionally abusive Grelber) proved exactly what the 1970s public wanted.

Claiming to be 1500 years old and Attilla the Hun’s ex-wife, Broom-Hilda’s cleaned up a little over the years. She is no longer a booze-swilling, stogie-smoking harridan, and she’s a little lonely. She’s still looking for a second husband…

Broom-Hilda has had a few brushes with fame. In 1971 she had her own segment on the Filmation animated series Archie’s TV Funnies and in 1978 she was part of the line-up for The Fabulous Funnies – another Filmation vehicle which ranked her alongside strip royalty Alley Oop, Tumbleweeds, and Nancy. There was even serious talk of a stage musical in 2004…

Myers was awarded the Best Humour strip Award in 1975 by the American National Cartoonist Society and the strip is still going strong today. If you do track down any of the collections from the 1970s and early 1980s, the stylish, loose yet meticulous line-work of Myers lends an abstract weight and intensity to the panels that got gradually left behind as papers forced strips into smaller and smaller boxes, although the pointed and deprecating humour remains a constant for this splendid feature.

Happy 50th, Broom-Hilda and many more.
© 1973 The Chicago Tribune. All Rights Reserved.

The Flash: 80 Years of the Fastest Man Alive – the Deluxe Edition

By Gardner F. Fox, Robert Kanigher, John Broome, Cary Bates, William Messner-Loebs, Mark Waid, Mark Millar & Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato, Joshua Williamson, Gail Simone, Harry Lampert, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino, Alex Saviuk, Greg LaRocque, Mike Wieringo, Paul Ryan, Scott Kolins, Neil Googe, Clayton Henry & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9813-5 (HB)

The Flash was the first specialist superhero in comics. He was the blessed by only one extra-normal power yet started a trend and inspired a wave of imitators.

Jay Garrick debuted as the very first Scarlet Speedster in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940) and  “The Fastest Man Alive” wowed readers for over a decade before changing tastes benched him in 1951. After a period of unremarkable he-men dominated comics pages for half a decade, the concept of speedsters, and indeed, superheroes in general were revived in 1956 by Julie Schwartz in Showcase #4 where and when police scientist Barry Allen became the second hero to run with the concept.

The Silver Age Flash, whose creation and subsequent stellar run ushered in a new and seemingly unstoppable era of costumed crusaders, died heroically during Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-1986). He was promptly succeeded by his sidekick Kid Flash. Of course, Allen later returned from the dead, but doesn’t everyone, eventually?

There have been many super-speedsters in the DCU and most of them congregate in the conjoined metropolis of Keystone and Central City. As Kid Flash/Flash, Wally West – chronologically the third official incarnation – lived there with his true love Linda Park, his Aunt Iris (Barry Allen’s widow) and fellow fast-fighters such as Jay Garrick. Impulse (juvenile speedster Bart Allen from the future, who also became a/The Flash) and his mentor/keeper Max Mercury – the Zen Master of hyper-velocity – lived in Alabama, but often visited as they only were picoseconds away…

A true icon of the industry and art form, The Flash is synonymous with superb comics storytelling and this splendid collection – available as a bonanza hardback and in various digital formats – offers curated material from Flash Comics#1, 89, 96, Showcase #4, The Flash #106, 110, 123, 155, 275, 300, Flash #54, 91, 133, 182, The Flash #0, DC Comics Holiday Special 2017 and The Flash Giant #2, celebrating a concept as much as the heroes who serially embodied it. The stories span January 1940 to February 2019 and are augmented by a succession of essays and articles, beginning with an Introduction by Dan Didio, before sprinting head first into the first milestone.

Created and crafted by Gardner F. Fox & Harry Lampert, ‘The Origin of the Flash’ appeared in and headlined anthology Flash Comics #1, which also introduced Hawkman and Johnny Thunder amongst others. The fast-paced first feature reveals how over-achieving physics student Garrick is exposed to “hard water fumes”. After initially putting him in a coma, the accident gives him super-speed, reactions and endurance. The breezy tale speedily delivers an origin, a returning cast and a classic confrontation with sinister syndicate the Faultless Four and their diabolical leader Sieur Satan.

Essay ‘Flash of Two Whirls’ by Roy Thomas then details Garrick’s career with a canny concentration on psychologically-framed arch enemy The Thorn. She was a plant-themed villain who hid within an innocent and demure split personality called Rose, who only had two published appearances. A third “lost” adventure completes the comics section, then  follows one of many unpublished episodes shelved by the abrupt decline of superheroes at the end of the 1940s. How and why so much material was saved is also revealed in Thomas’ treatise before the action resumes with ‘Introducing the Thorn: The Flash’s Newest Opponent’.

Cover-dated November 1947, Flash Comics #89, the lead story was crafted by Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert and detailed how a vicious, sexy criminal rampaged across the city pursued by the hero and her “sister”. Sporting a far more refined outfit, she resurfaced in Flash Comics #96 (June 1948, Kanigher & Kubert) threatening Keystone in ‘The Flash and the Thorn-Stalk’, before once again apparently perishing.

Seen here in stark monochrome, again by Kanigher & Kubert, ‘Strange Confession’ sat in a draw unpublished since 1948 until rescued by Marv Wolfman. Now it completes a trilogy of epic psycho-dramas as Rose and the Thorn battle the Fastest Man Alive again before being apparently cured by the intervention of the Justice Society of America

‘A Flash of Inspiration’ by Paul Kupperberg then sets the scene for the Allen Age of Comics…

No matter which way you look at it, the Silver Age of the American comic book began with The Flash. It’s an unjust but true fact that being first is not enough; it also helps to be best and people have to notice. MLJ’s The Shield beat Captain America to the newsstands by over a year, yet the former is all but forgotten today.

America’s comicbook industry had never really stopped trying to revive the superhero genre when Showcase #4 was released in late summer of 1956 (cover-dated October). The newsstands had already been blessed – but were left generally unruffled – by such tentative precursors as The Avenger (February-September 1955), Captain Flash (November 1954-July 1955) and a revival of Marvel’s Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and the aforementioned Captain America between December 1953 and October 1955.

Both DC’s own Captain Comet (December 1953-October 1955) and Manhunter from Mars (November 1955 until the end of the 1960’s and almost the last days of superheroes again!) had come and made little mark. What made the new Fastest Man Alive stand out and stick was … well, everything!

Once DC’s powers-that-be decided to seriously attempt superheroes once more, they moved pretty fast themselves. Editor Julie Schwartz asked office partner, fellow editor and Golden-Age Flash scripter Robert Kanigher to recreate a speedster for the Space Age, aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino and former flash artist Joe Kubert.

The new Flash was a forensic scientist simultaneously struck by lightning and bathed in exploding chemicals from his lab. Supercharged by the accident, Barry Allen cheekily took his superhero identity from an old comic book featuring his (at that time “fictional”) predecessor Jay Garrick. Designing a sleek, streamlined bodysuit (courtesy of Infantino – a major talent rapidly approaching his artistic and creative peak), Barry became point man for the spectacular revival of a genre and an entire industry.

From his spectacular run comes the pivotal event which marked the beginning of a way of life for so many addicted kids. Written by Kanigher, pencilled by Infantino and inked by Kubert, Showcase #4’s ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt!’was another quick-fire origin with crime story attached as the brand-new hero discovers his powers and mission and still finds time to defeat a modern iteration of the Turtle – a criminal mastermind dubbed “the Slowest Man Alive!”.

Following his meteoric launch in Showcase #4, the Flash was uncharacteristically slow in winning his own title, but finally (after three more cautiously released trial issues) finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash #105 (February-March 1959 – so it was out for Christmas 1958). John Broome and Gardner Fox would write the bulk of the early tales, introducing a “big science” sensibility and – courtesy of Broome – an unmatched Rogues Gallery of fantastic foes which would become the template for all proper superheroes.

Crafted by John Broome, Infantino & Joe Giella, ‘Menace of the Super-Gorilla!’ comes from The Flash #106 (May 1959). It was the second story (behind the Pied Piper’s debut) and introduces one of the most charismatic and memorable baddies in comics history. Gorilla Grodd and his hidden race of super-simians debuted here – promptly returning for the next two issues – in a cunning yarn as the ultra-advanced ape invades the human world in search of the greatest mind on Earth, which he intends to subjugate for his own nefarious purposes…

Presumably this early confidence was fuelled by DC’s inexplicable but commercially sound pro-Gorilla editorial stance (for some reason any comic with a big monkey in it markedly outsold those that didn’t in those far-ago days), but these tales are also packed with tension, action and engagingly challenging fantasy concepts.

Next up is another landmark: two in fact…

The Flash #110 (January 1960) was a huge hit, not so much for the debut of another worthy candidate to the burgeoning Rogues Gallery in ‘The Weather Wizard’ but rather for the introduction of Wally West, who in a bizarre and suspicious replay of the lightning strike that created the Scarlet Speedster became a junior version of the Fastest Man Alive. Broome, Infantino & Giella’s ‘Meet Kid Flash!’ introduced the first sidekick of the Silver Age (cover dated December 1959-January 1960 and just pipping Aqualad who premiered in Adventure Comics #269 which had a February off-sale date). Not only would Kid Flash begin his own series of back-up tales from the very next issue (a sure sign of the confidence the creators had in the character) but he would eventually inherit the mantle of the Flash himself – one of the few occasions in comics where the torch-passing actually stuck…

Super-Editor Schwartz guaranteed a new epoch with his Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, which directly led to the Justice League of America – and even more revivals. This in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire, which changed the way comics were made and read…

Whereas 1940s tales were about magic and macho, the Silver Age varnished everything with a thick veneer of SCIENCE and a wave of implausible rationalistic concepts quickly filtered into the dawning mass-consciousness of a generation of baby-boomer kids. The most intriguing and rewarding was, of course, the notion of parallel worlds: the very crux of this celebration and a prime component of most modern fantasy serials in books, film, TV and comics.

The continuing adventures of the Scarlet Speedster became the bedrock of the Silver Age Revolution. After ushering in the triumphant return of the costumed superhero concept, the Crimson Comet – with Broome and Fox at the reins – set an unbelievably high standard for superhero adventure in sharp, witty tales of technology and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Infantino.

Fox didn’t write many Flash scripts at this time, but the few he did were all dynamite; none more so than the full-length epic which literally changed the scope of American comics forever.

‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (The Flash #123, September 1961 and inked by Giella) introduces the concept of alternate Earths to the continuity. The idea grew by careful extension into a multiversal structure comprising Infinite Earths. Once established as a cornerstone of a newly integrated DCU through a wealth of team-ups and escalating succession of cosmos-shaking crossover sagas, a glorious pattern was set which would, after joyous decades, eventually culminate in a spectacular Crisis on Infinite Earths

During a benefit gig Flash accidentally slips into another dimension where he finds the comic book hero upon whom he based his own superhero identity actually exists. Every ripping yarn he had avidly absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his comrades on the controversially designated “Earth-2”. Locating his idol, Barry convinces the elder to come out of retirement just as three Golden Age villains make their own criminal comeback…

The floodgates were opened, and over the following months and years many Earth-1 stalwarts met their counterparts either via annual collaborations in the pages of Justice League of America or in their own series. Schwartz even had a game go at reviving a cadre of the older titans in their own titles. Public approval was decidedly vocal and he used DC’s try-out magazines to take the next step: stories set on Earth-2 exclusively featuring Golden Age characters, but of those bold sallies, only The Spectre briefly graduated to his own title…

When the Scarlet Speedster wasn’t boggling minds he was furiously fighting the best villains in comics. The inevitable had to happen – and finally did – in The Flash #155 (September 1965) when Broome teamed six of the Rogue’s Gallery into ‘The Gauntlet of Super-Villains!’: a bombastic Fights ‘n’ Tights extravaganza, but one with a hidden twist and a mystery foe concealed in the wings…

As tastes changed, The Flash evolved with them and survived the early 1970s downturn in superhero storytelling, but nobody was prepared for a truly big shock. When Cary Bates, Alex Saviuk & Frank Chiaramonte held ‘The Last Dance’in #275 (July 1979), it heralded the end of an era when comfortable married Barry was unable to prevent the murder of his beloved Iris by a truly insane enemy…

No, that’s not a spoiler. She came back. They always do: it’s just that nobody knew that back then and it did take decades to undo the evil act…

In the meantime, Barry moved on and began life as a widowed singleton. Anniversary epic The Flash #300 (August 1981, Bates, Infantino & Bob Smith) featured ‘1981- A Flash Odyssey’ comprising a deft recapitulation of his life and career, all wrapped up in a cunning and sadistic scheme to drive him mad perpetrated by his most vicious foe…

‘The Flash – A.K.A. Wally West’ by William Messner-Loebs ushers in the era of the third Flash as the DCU underwent a radical reboot during Crisis on Infinite Earths. Initially Wally West struggled to fill the boots of his predecessor, both in sheer ability and, more tellingly, in confidence. Feeling a fraud, he nonetheless persevered and eventually overcame, becoming the greatest to carry the name. Typifying that highly-engaging transition period comes ‘Nobody Dies’ (Flash #54 September 1991) by Messner-Loebs, Greg LaRocque & José Marzán Jr., focussing on the intricacies of the speedster’s powers as his hyper-fast abilities – and their limits – are tested whilst trying to save a flight attendant plunging from a aircraft…

Mark Waid discusses the hero’s ‘Legacy’ before ‘Out of Time’ from Flash #91 (June 1994) expands the dilemma of how much even the most powerful man can do in a classic mind-boggler by Waid, Mike Wieringo & Marzán Jr.

Towards the end of the 1990s the grand, old-fashioned Fights ‘n’ Tights mythology and methodology was given a bit of post-modern gloss when Caledonian wizards Grant Morrison and Mark Millar turned their considerable talents to Wally West incarnation of the Fastest Man Alive. In Flash #133 (cover-dated January 1998), the Celtic lads showed American writers how it’s all pronounced when Scottish legacy villain Mirror Master attacks a wounded and recuperating hero: abducting his bride-to-be Linda in ‘Flash Through the Looking Glass’. Illustrated by Paul Ryan & John Nyberg, the story features a spectacular race against time to prevent her de-aging out of existence and is followed by a memorable contribution from Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins & Dan Panosian. ‘Absolute Zero’ (Flash #182, March 2002) delves deep into the frosty psyche of arch rogue Len Snart as the chilling Captain Cold goes looking for the killer of his little sister Lisa

Reboots are an inescapable hazard of modern comics as publishers periodically seek to make old soldiers fresh and palatable to an ever-changing readership. In 2011 DC used the Flashpoint publishing event to restart their entire continuity in a project dubbed The New 52. As always, the result was instant attention-grabbing from the press but mixed results for the fans. The Flash weathered the change better than most and a new, younger Barry Allen returned to the streets of his city to start his career all over again.

Crafted by Francis Manapul and lettered by Steve Wands, ‘First Step’ offers a potent painted picture spread introducing the new-old vizier of velocity and is followed by a rehashed origin in Manapul & Brian Buccellato’s ‘Before the New 52’from The Flash #0: released in November 2012, a year after the big change.

TV Flash scripter Todd Helbing describes ‘The Impossible’ before we hit the final stretch with delightful and evocative short tale ‘Hope for the Holidays’ by Joshua Williamson & Neil Googe – taken from DC Holiday Special December 2017 and with Scarlet Speedster playing Christmas spirit – before The Flash Giant #2 (February 2019) provides ‘Get Out of the Kitchen’ by Gail Simone, Clayton Henry, reintroducing classic Rogue Mick Rory as a far nastier Heatwave.

Closing this immense commemorative tome comes Cover Highlights celebrating each era – the Golden, Silver, Bronze, Dark and Modern Ages – with a selection of unforgettable front images and a full roster of Biographies celebrating the many artist and writers who have passed on the baton since 1940.

One of the most revered comics heroes of all time, The Flash has probably been all things to most people in his/their time. Always exciting and never a waste of time, the hero is one no fan of the basics should miss. Why not try them all? It’s a marathon, not a sprint, right?
© 1940, 1947, 1948, 1956, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1965, 1979, 1981, 1991, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2012, 2017, 2019 DC Comics. DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Shazam! Archives volume 1


By Bill Parker, C. C. Beck & Pete Costanza (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-053-6 (HB)

At their most impressive, superhero comics combine the gravitas of mythology with all the sheer fun and exuberance of a child’s first rollercoaster ride. A perfect example of this is the original happy-go-lucky hero we can’t call Captain Marvel anymore.

First seen in the February 1940 issue of Whiz Comics (#2 – there was no #1) and cashing in on the comicbook sales phenomenon of Superman, the big red riot eventually won his name after narrowly missing being Captain Flash or Captain Thunder. He was the brainchild of Bill Parker and Charles Clarence Beck.

Originally dispensing the same sort of summary rough justice as his contemporaries, the character soon distanced himself from the pack – Man of Steel included – by employing and enjoying an increasingly light, surreal and comedic touch, which made him the best-selling comics character in America.

Ultimately, he proved that he could beat everybody but copyright lawyers; during his years of enforced inactivity the trademarked name passed to a number of other publishers before settling at Marvel Comics and they are never, never, never letting go. You can check out and compare their cinematic blockbuster version with the DC Extended Universe’s Shazam! flick too…

Publishing house Fawcett had first gained prominence through an immensely well-received magazine for WWI veterans entitled Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang, before branching out into books and general interest magazines. Their most successful publication – at least until the Good Captain hit his stride – was the ubiquitous boy’s building bible Mechanix Illustrated and, as the comicbook decade unfolded, the scientific and engineering discipline and “can-do” demeanour underpinning MI suffused and informed both art and plots of the Marvel Family titles.

As previously stated, the big guy was created by writer/editor Bill Parker and brilliant young artist Charles Clarence Beck who, with his assistant Pete Costanza, handled most of the art on the series throughout its stellar run. Other writers included William Woolfolk, Rod Reed, Ed “France” Herron, Joe Simon, Joe Millard, Manley Wade Wellman and the wonderfully prolific Otto Binder.

Before eventually evolving his own affable personality, the Captain was a serious, bluff and rather characterless powerhouse, whilst his juvenile alter ego was the true star: a Horatio Alger archetype of impoverished, boldly self-reliant and resourceful youth overcoming impossible odds through gumption, grit and sheer determination…

Homeless orphan and good kid Billy Batson is selected by an ancient wizard to be given the powers of six gods and heroes to battle injustice. He transforms from scrawny precocious kid to brawny (adult) hero Captain Marvel by speaking aloud the wizard’s name – an acronym for six legendary divine patrons: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.

This magnificent full-colour, deluxe hardback compendium re-presents the first 15 exploits from Whiz Comics #2 to 15 (February 1940 to March 1941). There was no #1, two issue #5’s and two editions in March, but I’ll try to explain all that as we go along) to cash in on the sales phenomenon of Superman and his many imitators and descendants.

Author, journalist and fan Richard A. Lupoff covers in great detail the torturous beginnings of the feature in his Foreword before the magic proper starts with a rare and priceless glimpse at the hero’s nigh-cursed design stage. This shamefully out-of-print tome also contains biographical details on all the creators.

To establish copyright, publishers used to legally register truncated black and white facsimile editions called “Ash-can Editions” in advance of their launch issues. For Fawcett, the production of their first comicbook proved an aggravating process since this registration twice uncovered costly snags which forced the editors to redesign both character and publication.

Contained herein are cover reproductions of Flash Comics #1 starring Captain Thunder (obliviously scheduled for release mere days after DC’s own Flash Comics title hit the stands), and Thrill Comics #1 which repeated the accident just as Standard’s Thrilling Comics launched. Also on view is the uncoloured art for the first half of the story of “Captain Thunder” which would eventually be re-lettered and released as the lead in anthology title Whiz Comics #2, finally safely released cover-dated February 1940.

Like many Golden Age series, the stories collected here never had individual titles and DC’s compilers have cleverly elected to use the original comics’ strap-lines or cover blurbs to differentiate the tales…

‘Gangway for Captain Marvel!’ – drawn in style reminiscent of early Hergé – sees homeless orphan newsboy Billy Batson lured into an abandoned subway tunnel to a meeting with infinitely ancient wizard Shazam. At the end of a long life confronting evil, the white-bearded figure grants the lad the powers and signature gifts of six gods and heroes; bidding him to continue the good fight.

In 13 delightfully clean and simple pages Billy gets his powers, has his secret origin revealed (he’s heir to a fortune embezzled by his crooked uncle Ebenezer), wins a job as a roaming radio reporter for Amalgamated Broadcasting and defeats the demonic schemes of Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, who is holding the airwaves of America hostage. The mighty, taciturn and not yet invulnerable Marvel is only sparingly used to do the heavy lifting. It is sheer comicbook poetry…

The March issue had no cover number but was listed as #3 in the indicia. It featured ‘The Return of Sivana’ as the insane inventor unleashes a mercenary army equipped with his super-weapons upon the nation, attempting to become Emperor of America. His plan is duly thwarted by Billy acting as a war correspondent, and the mighty muscles of Marvel…

The third (April) Whiz Comics had “Number 3” on the cover but #4 inside and proudly proclaimed ‘Make Way for Captain Marvel!’ before bolding leaping into full science fiction mode as Billy is shanghaied to Venus in Sivana’s mighty rocket-ship. The boy is forced to reveal his amazing secret to the demented inventor whilst battling incredible monsters and giant frog-men dubbed “Glompers”, with the magnificently guileless and gallant Marvel seemingly helpless against the savant’s new ally Queen Beautia as the deadly duo prepare to invade Earth.

Only seemingly though…

‘Captain Marvel Crashes Through’ (4 on the cover, #5 inside) details how the bewitching Beautia, aided by Sivana’s technology, runs for President. However, the sinister siren has a soft heart and when Billy is captured (and faces the first of a multitude of clever gadgets designed to stop him saying his magic word), she frees him, thus falling foul of the gangsters who were backing her. Luckily Captain Marvel is there to save the day…

An inexplicable crime-wave shakes the country in ‘Captain Marvel Scores Again!’ (the wild numbers game finally ends here as there’s a 5 on the cover and #5 inside) as a different sinister scientist uses a ray to turn children into thieves. Even Billy is not immune…

‘Captain Marvel and the Circus of Death’ (July 1940) sees Sivana return with fantastic Venusian dino-monsters which the Good Captain is hard-pressed to handle. Incidentally, this was the first issue where the Big Red Cheese is seen definitely flying as opposed to leaping – something Superman is not acknowledged as doing until late 1941. It means nothing, I’m just saying emulation goes both ways…

In ‘Captain Marvel and the Squadron of Doom’, young Billy travels to the North Pole for a radio story and discovers a secret organisation thawing out frozen cavemen to act as their army of conquest, after which he and his mature magical avatar foil a murderous spiritualist causing mass-drownings to bolster his reputation and fortune in ‘Saved by Captain Marvel!’

Whiz #9’s ‘Captain Marvel on the Job!’ finds man and boy foiling a revolution, recovering foreign crown jewels and flummoxing a madman with a shrinking ray, after which Sivana and Beautia return in ‘Captain Marvel Battles the Winged Death’: a blistering yarn involving espionage and America’s latest secret weapon. In this tale, the Empress of Venus finally reforms to became a solid American citizen…

‘Hurrah for Captain Marvel!’ finds Batson investigating college hazing and corrupt sporting events whilst in #12 (January 1941), the World War looms large as “Gnatzi” maritime outrages bring Billy to London where he uncovers the spy responsible for sinking refugee ships in ‘Captain Marvel Rides the Engine of Doom!’

‘Captain Marvel – World’s Most Powerful Man!’ then features Sivana’s latest atrocity as the madman disrupts hockey matches, blitzes banks and incapacitates the US army with a formula that turns men into babies. Even Billy isn’t immune, but at least Beautia is there to help him…

War looked increasingly inescapable and many heroes jumped the gun and started fighting before America officially entered the fray. ‘Captain Marvel Boomerangs the Torpedo!’ is a superb patriotic cover for Whiz #14 (March 1941) even though the actual story involves Sivana’s capture and subsequent discovery of a thought process which allows him to walk through walls – and cell bars. Happily, the World’s Mightiest Mortal possesses the Wisdom of Solomon and deduces a solution to the unstoppable menace…

This superb collection concludes after another stirring cover ‘With the British Plane Streaking to a Fiery Doom, Captain Marvel Dives to the Rescue!’ (issue #15 and also cover-dated March), fronting an unrelated adventure which reveals the incredible origin of Dr. Sivana, his astounding connection to Beautia, and also introduced her brother Magnificus – almost as mighty a fighter as Marvel after Billy is kidnapped and trapped once again on Venus…

DC/National Periodical Publications had filed suit against Fawcett for copyright infringement as soon as Whiz Comics #2 was released. The companies slugged it out in court until 1953, when, with the sales of superhero comics decimated by changing tastes, Captain Marvel’s publishers decided to capitulate. The name lay unclaimed until 1967 when M.F. Enterprises released six issues of an unrelated android hero before folding after which Marvel Comics secured rights to the name in 1968.

DC eventually acquired the Fawcett properties and characters and in 1973 revived the Good Captain for a new generation, to see if his unique charm would work another sales miracle during one of comics’ periodic downturns. Retitled Shazam! due to the incontestable power of lawyers and copyright convention, the revived heroic ideal enjoyed mixed success before being subsumed into the company’s vast stable of characters…

Nevertheless, Captain Marvel is a true icon of American comic history and a brilliantly conceived superhero for all ages. This collection only scratches the surface of the canon of delights produced over the 80 years of his tumultuous existence, but is an ideal introduction to the world of adventure comics: one that will appeal to readers of any age and temperament.
© 1940, 1941, 1992 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Scorpion volume 1: The Devil’s Mark


By Stephen Desberg & Enrico Marini, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-62-5 (Album PB)

We in the English-speaking world will have to work long and hard to come anywhere near the astonishing breadth of genres present in European comics. Both in scenario and narrative content, our continental cousins have seemingly explored every aspect of time and place to tell tales ranging from comedy to tragedy, drama to farce and most especially encompassing the broad, treasure-laden churches of adventure and romance. Le Scorpion is a graphic series which embraces and accommodates all of these and more…

Belgian writer Stephen Desberg is one of the most popular and bestselling comics authors in the business. Born in Brussels, he is the son of an American lawyer (European distribution agent for Metro-Goldwyn Mayer) who married a French woman. He began studying law at Université Libre de Bruxelles, but dropped out to follow a winding path into the bande dessinée biz.

It began with plots – and eventually scripts – for Willy Maltaite – AKA “Will” – on Tif et Tondu in Le Journal de Spirou, growing into a reliable jobbing creator on established strips for younger readers and ultimately launching his own with Billy the Cat (a funny-animal strip) drawn by Stéphane Colman, not the be-whiskered boy superhero of DC Thomson fame). In quick succession came 421 with Eric Maltaite, Arkel (with Marc Hardy), Jimmy Tousseul (Daniel Desorgher) and many, many more. Throughout the 1980s, Desberg gradually redirected his efforts into material for older readerships (such as The Garden of Desire) and in 1999 he originated contemporary thriller IR$, with this historical romp joining his catalogue of major hits a year later.

Enrico Marini attended the School of Fine Arts in Bêle before starting his creative career. Drawn since childhood to comics and manga, he began selling his artistic skills as the 1980s ended. A stint on junior adventure strip Oliver Varèseled to Gypsy (1993-1996), after which he began collaborating with Desberg on western L’Étoile du Desert. Contiguously crafting detective serial Rapaces with Jean Dufaux, Marini teamed again with Desberg in 2000 on Le Scorpion. In 2007, the illustrator added writing to his repertoire with historical drama Les Aigles de Rome

A complex historical romp in the movie style of Robin Hood, the Three Musketeers, and even, if you squint right, Dangerous Liaisons, The Scorpion is a devious rollercoaster of sumptuous epic intrigue with cunning factual underpinnings fuelling frantic fantasy and chilling conspiracy. This first expansive English-language translation from Cinebook is available in album-sized paperback and eBook formats, bundling together the first two European tomes – La marque du diable and Le secret du pape from October 2000 and October 2001 – into one grand bulging behemoth of literary and pictorial gold.

The fun starts in The Devil’s Mark, opening with a fulsome flashback to the most critical moment in the mighty Roman Empire’s long history. At a place and time where nine families secretly own and rule everything, a pact is made which places all their resources – if not actual Faith – in the coming thing: a new religion to be called Christianity. The families will remain in charge and in control, but now the official face and might of Rome will not be short-lived Caesars, but rather Popes…

Tumbling forward to the early 18th century, we see roguish conman, historian, tomb-robber and relic retailer Armando Catalano – and his capable but constantly carping assistant Hussard – deftly swiping the bones of long-lost Saint Alastor. The affable scoundrels are blithely unaware that, elsewhere malign forces within the Church are mobilising to change the way the world runs with especial significance to freewheeling entrepreneurs like themselves…

The current Pope is a well-meaning, unconventional commoner set on a path of reform, but that doesn’t matter to Monsignor Trebaldi. Even though doctrine should make the Pope infallible, literally God’s hand and word on Earth, the militant cleric gives his allegiance to an older belief than Christianity…

“Cardinal Eagle” has decided to reinstate the direct influence of the nine families using the papacy as his tool of statecraft. That means somehow first reuniting the varied clans who have drifted into isolation and bitter rivalry over centuries. The first step has already been accomplished. Cosmopolitan Rome is now heavily policed by the Order of the Knights of Christianity: warrior monks who are The Eagle’s own paramilitary zealots and a militant faction gaining in strength despite every effort of the incumbent Pontiff to reign them in…

Devil-may-care Armando is the son of Magdalena Catalan, an infamous witch burned for seducing a high-ranking priest away from the one true faith. As sign of his ill-begotten origins, their son bears a birthmark of the devil on his shoulder: a scorpion signalling his diabolical origins. It has not stopped him becoming well-known to every rich patron desperate to possess holy relics, but now, inexplicably, makes him Trebaldi’s personal obsession…

However, after the Cardinal despatches seductive gypsy Mejai to assassinate him, her repeated attempts all fail. It is as if her target has the luck of the devil on his side…

Alerted and affronted, Armando retaliates, even breaking into a palace to have a discussion with the Pope, only to discover a previously-hidden connection between Trebaldi and his own long-dead mother and that an even greater scandal and mystery have been draped around the circumstances of his birth…

The war of wills escalates rapidly, and the Scorpion finally confronts the Cardinal… seemingly paying the ultimate price…

The drama continues in The Pope’s Secret with an hallucinogenic flashback offering even more clues into the astoundingly long-planned conspiracy, via a glimpse at Armando’s early life following Magdalena’s execution. This ends abruptly as faithful Hussard rouses him from the death-like coma caused by Mejai’s latest attempt to kill them. With the gypsy their prisoner, they seek further information regarding which high-ranking churchman was Armando’s debauched father and boldly infiltrate the Eagle’s citadel. They discover instead that the Cardinal has appropriated the Secret Files of the Vatican, planning to kill the Pope and replace him…

The outlaws are horrified at this travesty and assault on reality. They frantically race back to Rome to halt the abomination. They almost make it…

To Be Continued…

Effortlessly combining devious plots and beguiling historical conspiracies with riotous swashbuckling adventure and non-stop, breathtaking action, this blistering, bombastic and exotically engaging period thriller gives Game of Thrones, The Name of the Rose and even frothier romps like Da Vinci’s Demons a real run for their money. The twelfth and latest volume Le Mauvais Augurearrived last year after far too long a hiatus, so there’s plenty for fans of the genre to catch-up to and adore…
Le Marque du diable & Le Secret du pape © Dargaud Benelux (Dargaud-Lombard SA) 2000, 2001 by Desberg & Marini. All rights reserved. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold volume 1


By Matt Wayne, J. Torres, Andy Suriano, Phil Moy, Carlo Barberi, Dan Davis & Terry Beatty (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2650-3 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold began in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format which mirrored that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas. Devised and written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now-legendary Viking Prince. Soon, the Gladiator was increasingly alternated with Robin Hood, but the manly adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle in the manner of Showcase.

Used to premiere concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Hawkman, Strange Sports Stories and the epochal Justice League of America, the comic soldiered on until issue #50 when it provided another innovative new direction which once again truly caught the public’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow & Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, as did succeeding ones: Aquaman with Hawkman in #51, WWII Battle Stars Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie & the Haunted Tank in #52 and Atom & Flash in #53. The next team-up – Robin, Aqualad & Kid Flash, evolved after further try-outs into the Teen Titans and after, Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter appeared, brand new hero Metamorpho, the Element Man debuted in #57-58.

From then it was back to the extremely popular superhero pairings with #59, and although no gone realised it at the time, this particular conjunction – Batman with Green Lantern – would be particularly significant….

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans, two issues spotlighting Earth-2 champions Starman & Black Canary and Wonder Woman witth Supergirl, an indication of things to come materialised as Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64: an acknowledgement of the brewing TV-induced mania mere months away…

Within two issues, following Flash/Doom Patrol and Metamorpho/Metal Men, Brave and the Bold #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and the lion’s share of the team-ups. With the exception of #72-73 Spectre</Flash and Aquaman/Atom) the comic was henceforth a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

Decades later, the Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in the 1990s revolutionised the Dark Knight and subsequently led to some of the absolute best comicbook adventures in his decades-long publishing history with the creation of the spin-off print title.

With constant funny book iterations and tie-ins to a succession of TV cartoon series, Batman has remained popular and a sublime introducer of kids to the magical world of the printed page.

One relatively recent incarnation was Batman: the Brave and the Bold, which gloriously teamed up the all-ages small-screen Dark Knight with a torrent and profusion of DC’s other heroic creations, and once again the show was supplemented by a cool kid’s comic book full of fun, verve and swashbuckling dash, cunningly crafted to appeal as much to the parents and grandparents as those fresh-faced neophyte kids…

This stellar premier collection (available in paperback but aggravatingly not in digital editions) gathers the first 6 issues in a hip, trendy, immensely entertaining package suitable for newcomers, fans and aficionados of all ages and, although not necessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience (and they’re pretty good too)…

Following the format of the TV show, each tale opens with a brief vignette adventure before telling a longer tale. Issue #1 has the Caped Crimebuster and Aquaman putting paid to robotic rogue Carapax. This feeds into main feature ‘The Panic of the Composite Creature’ (by Matt Wayne, Andy Suriano & Dan Davis) wherein Batman and the pulchritudinous Power Girl save London from Lex Luthor’s latest monster-making mechanism.

Phil Moy illustrates Superman and the Gotham Guardian mopping up the terrible Toyman before ‘The Attack of the Virtual Villains’ finds the Bat and Blue Beetle in El Paso battling evil Artificial Intellect The Thinker, in a compelling and extremely challenging computer-game world…

After an introductory battle between Wonder Woman , Dark Knight and telepathic tyrant Dr. Psycho’s zombie villains, ‘President Batman!’ (Wayne, Suriano & Davis) sees the Great Detective substitute for the Commander-in-Chief, with Green Arrow as bodyguard when body-swapping mastermind Ultra-Humanite attempts to seize control of the nation.

Then, in full-length thriller ‘Menace of the Time Thief!’, Aquaman and his bat-eared chum prevent well-intentioned Dr. Cyber from catastrophically rewriting history, following a magical and too brief prologue wherein sorcerer Felix Faust is foiled by a baby Batman and the glorious pushy terrible toddlers Sugar and Spike

Torres, Carlo Barberi & Terry Beatty stepped in for both the chilling vignette wherein the nefarious Key is caught by Batman and a Haunted Tank whilst ‘The Case of the Fractured Fairy Tale’ opens as the awesome Queen of Fables starts stealing children for her Enchanted Forest and the Caped Crusader needs the help of both Billy Batson and his Shazam!-shouting adult alter ego Captain Marvel

This initial outing concludes with a preliminary clash between Hourman and Batman against the crafty Calculator, after which ‘Charge of the Army Eternal!’ (Torres, Suriano & Davis) finds villainous General Immortus at the mercy of his own army of time-lost warrior bandits and desperately seeking the help of the Gotham Gangbuster and ghostly Guardian Kid Eternity..

Although greatly outnumbered, the Kid’s ability to summon past heroes such as The Vigilante, Shining Knight, Viking Prince and G.I. Robot proves invaluable, especially once the General inevitably betrays his rescuers…

This fabulously fun rollercoaster ride also includes informative ‘Secret Bat Files’ on Luthor, Power Girl, Thinker, Blue Beetle, Ultra-Humanite, Green Arrow, Dr. Cyber, Aquaman, Queen of Fables, Captain Marvel, General Immortus and Kid Eternity, and the package is topped off with a spiffy cover gallery courtesy of James Tucker, Scott Jeralds & Hi-Fi.

The links between kids’ animated features and comicbooks are long established and, I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end…

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV viewing kids, these short, sweet sagas are also wonderful, traditional comics thrillers no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers, making this terrific tome a perfect, old fashioned delight. What more do you need to know?
© 2009 DC Comics. Compilation © 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Spirit: An 80th Anniversary Celebration


By Will Eisner & various (Clover Press)
ISBN: 978-1-95103-805-2 (TPB)

It is pretty much accepted today that Will Eisner was one of the prime creative forces that shaped the comicbook industry, but still many of his milestones escape public acclaim in the English-speaking world.

William Erwin Eisner was born on March 6th 1906, in Brooklyn, and grew up in the ghettos of the city. They never left him. After time served inventing much of the visual semantics, semiotics and syllabary of the medium he dubbed “Sequential Art” in strips, comicbooks, newspaper premiums and instructional comics, he then invented the mainstream graphic novel, bringing maturity, acceptability and public recognition to English language comics.

In 1978 a collection of four original short stories in comics form released in a single book, A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories. All the tales centred around 55 Dropsie Avenue: a 1930’s Bronx tenement housing poor Jewish and immigrant families. It changed the American perception of cartoon strips forever.

Eisner wrote and drew a further 20 further masterpieces, opening the door for all other comics creators to escape the funny book and anodyne strip ghettos of superheroes, funny animals, juvenilia and “family-friendly” entertainment. At one stroke comics grew up.

Eisner constantly pushed the boundaries of his craft, honing his skills not just on the legendary Spirit but with years of educational and promotional material. In A Contract With God he moved into unexplored territory with truly sophisticated, mature themes worthy of Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald, using pictorial fiction as documentary exploration of social experience.

Restlessly plundering his own childhood and love of human nature as well as his belief that environment was a major and active character in fiction, in the 1980s Eisner began redefining the building blocks unique to sequential narrative with a portmanteau series of brief vignettes that told stories and tested the expressive and informational limits of representational drawings on paper.

From 1936 to 1938, Eisner worked as a jobbing cartoonist in the comics production firm known as the Eisner-Eiger Shop, creating strips for domestic US and foreign markets. Using the pen-name Willis B. Rensie he conceived and drew the opening instalments of a huge variety of characters ranging from funny animal to historical sagas,

Westerns, Detectives, aviation action thrillers… and superheroes – lots of superheroes …

In 1940 Everett “Busy” Arnold – head honcho of the superbly impressive Quality Comics outfit – invited Eisner to take on a new challenge. The Register-Tribune newspaper syndicate wanted a 16-page weekly comic book insert to be given away with the Sunday editions. Despite the terrifying workload such a commission demanded, Eisner jumped at the opportunity, creating three strips which would initially be handled by him before two of them were handed off to his talented assistants. Bob Powell inherited Mr. Mystic whilst masked detective Lady Luck fell into the capable hands of Nick Cardy (then still Nicholas Viscardi), and later the inimitable Klaus Nordling.

Eisner kept the lead strip for himself, and over the next twelve years The Spirit became the most impressive, innovative, imitated and talked-about strip in the business. In 1952 the venture folded and Eisner moved into commercial, instructional and educational strips. He worked extensively for the US military in manuals and magazines like P*S, the Preventative Maintenance Monthly, generally leaving comics books behind.

In the wake of “Batmania” and the 1960s superhero craze, Harvey Comics released two giant-sized reprints with a little material from the artist, which lead to underground editions and a slow revival of the Spirit’s fame and fortune via black and white newsstand reprint magazines. Initially, Warren Publishing collected old stories, even adding colour sections with painted illumination from such contemporary luminaries as Rich Corben, but with #17 the title reverted to Kitchen Sink, who had produced the first two underground collections.

Eisner found himself re-enamoured with graphic narrative and saw a willing audience eager for new works. From producing new Spirit covers for the magazine (something the original newspaper insert had never needed) he became increasingly inspired. American comics were evolving into an art-form and the restless creator finally saw a place for the kind of stories he had always wanted to tell.

He began crafting some of the most telling and impressive work the industry had ever seen: first in limited collector portfolios and eventually, in 1978, A Contract With God.

If Jack Kirby is American comics’ most influential artist, Will Eisner undoubtedly was – and remains – its most venerated and exceptional storyteller. Contemporaries originating from strikingly similar Jewish backgrounds, each used comic arts to escape from their own tenements, achieving varying degrees of acclaim and success, and eventually settling upon a theme to colour all their later works. For Kirby it was the Cosmos, what Man would find there, and how humanity would transcend its origins in The Ultimate Outward Escape. Will Eisner went Home, went Back and went Inward.

The Spirit debuted on June 2nd 1940 in the Sunday edition of newspapers belonging to the Register and Tribune Syndicate. “The Spirit Section” expanded into 20 Sunday newspapers, with a combined circulation of five million copies during the 1940s and ran until October 5th 1952. This trade paperback and digital collection re-presents a selection of classic adventures from the original 12-year canon, in stark stunning monochrome, with five digitally recoloured by Laura Martin and Jeromy Cox. Furthermore, each episode is preceded by an essay from Industry insiders and unashamed fans.

Leading the charge and providing a fascinating breakdown on the history of the masked marvel is former publisher (one of 15 to date) Denis Kitchen, who provides ‘A Brief History and Appreciation of The Spirit before the Cox-coloured ‘Who is The Spirit?’ reveals how a battle of wills between private detective Denny Colt and scientific terror Dr. Cobraleads to the hero’s death and resurrection as the ultimate man of mystery…

Editorial wonder Diana Schutz deconstructs one of Eisner’s most metaphysically mirthful yarns as ‘No Spirit Story Today’treats us all to monochrome madness with a deadline crunch inspiring a Central City cartoonist to break the fourth wall.

Dean Mullaney then spills the beans over atomic era intrigue as Martin’s hues add bite to the 1947 armageddon spoof‘Wanted’, with the entire world as well as our hero hunting a little man with a deadly secret…

According to Bruce Canwell’s essay, Li’ Abner parody ‘Li’l Adam’ was part of a scheme between Eisner and Al Capp to mutually boost popularity of their respective properties. The jury’s still out, but there no doubt that the Spirit portion is one of the wackiest episodes in the gumshoe’s case files, unlike the moody, compelling tragedy of ‘The Strange Case of Mrs. Paraffin’ (previewed by Charles Brownstein), wherein the ghostly gangbuster strives to convince a widow that she is not also a murderess…

Paul Levitz examines authorial inspiration in anticipation of a return to black & white and The Spirit’s battle against arsonist ‘The Torch’: a potentially passé romp rendered hilariously unforgettable by Eisner’s wry poke at advertising sponsorship, after which Beau Smith fondly recalls his mentor’s gift for teaching using modern magic realist western ‘Gold’ as his exemplar…

Coloured by Cox and discussed by Craig Yoe, ‘Matua’ is a deft and winsome tribute to myths and legends disguised as a poke at monster movies with the Spirit wandering the Pacific Islands and meeting an awakened colossal beast, after which Greg Goldstein focusses on ‘Sound’ as a monochrome adventure again takes a peek behind the curtain of a cartoonist’s life.

Eisner always had a superb team to back him up and here letterers Sam Rosen and Abe Kanegson combine with design assistant Jules Pfeiffer to make the wordforms the surreal stars of this picture show about another murdered pencil pusher…

Rounding out this tribute to eight tumultuous decades of Spiritual Enlightenment, is a Will Eisner Art Gallery of latterday sketches, pin-ups and covers by the master.

Will Eisner is rightly regarded as one of the greatest writers in American comics but it is too seldom that his incredible draughtsmanship and design sense get to grab the spotlight. This book is a joy no fan or art-lover can afford to be without, and is especially recommended for newbies who only know Eisner’s more mature works.

By the Way: Although Eisner started out utilising the commonplace racial and gender stereotypes employed by so many sectors of mass entertainment, he was among the first in comics – or anywhere else – to eschew and abandon them. In these more enlightened, if not settled, times, it’s nice to see a statement addressing the historical and cultural problems not to mention potential distress these outdated sensibilities might cause right at the front of the collection. So, if funny books can do it, how come statues can’t?

THE SPIRIT and WILL EISNER are Registered Trademarks of Will Eisner Studios, Inc. Will Eisner’s The Spirit © 2020 Will Eisner Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All other material © its respective contributor. © 2020 Clover Press, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The Golden Age Spectre Archives


By Jerry Siegel & Bernard Baily with various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-5638-9955-3 (HB)

There are a lot of comics anniversaries this year. Many will be rightly celebrated, but it appears that some few are going to be unjustly ignored. As a feverish fanboy wedged firmly in the past, I’m abusing my privileges here to kvetch yet again about another brilliant vintage book, criminally out of print and not slated for revival either physically or in digital formats. That means I’ll be occasionally recommending some items that might be a bit hard to find. But at least that means you might be buying from those poor beleaguered comics shops and specialists desperately in need of your support now, rather than some faceless corporate internet emporium…

In fact, considering the state of the market, how come DC doesn’t just convert its entire old Archive line into eBooks and win back a few veteran fans? Don’t ask me, I only work here…

The Spectre is one of the oldest characters in DC’s vast stable of characters, created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily in 1939 before debuting with a 2-part origin epic in More Fun Comics #52 and 53 (cover-dated February and March 1940). He was the first superhero to star in the previously all-genres adventure anthology. For a few years, the Ghostly Guardian reigned supreme in the title with flamboyant and eerily eccentric supernatural thrillers, but gradually slipped from popularity as firstly Dr. Fate and successively Johnny Quick, Aquaman, Green Arrow and finally Superboy turned up to steal the show.

By the time of his last appearance in More Fun #101 February 1945, the Spectre had been reduced to a foil for his own comedic sidekick Percival Popp, the Super-Cop

Just like Siegel’s other iconic creation, the Dark Man suffered from a basic design flaw: he was just too darn powerful. Unlike the vigorously vital and earthy early Superman however, the ethereal champion of justice was already dead, so he couldn’t be logically or dramatically imperilled. Of course, in those far-off early days that wasn’t nearly as important as sheer spectacle: grabbing the reader’s utter attention and keeping it stoked to a fantastic fever pitch. This the Grim Ghost could do with ease and always-increasing intensity.

Re-presenting the first 19 eerie episodes and following a fulsome Foreword from pre-eminent Comics historian Dr. Jerry Bails, detailing the state of play within the budding marketplace during those last months of the 1930s, the arcane action in this astoundingly enticing full-colour deluxe hardback collection commences with ‘The Spectre: Introduction’ from More Fun Comics #52.

This wasn’t the actual title: like so many strips of those early days, most stories didn’t have individual titles and have been only retroactively designated for compilations such as this.

The Ghostly Guardian was only barely glimpsed in this initial instalment. Instead, the action rests upon hard-bitten police detective Jim Corrigan, who is about to wed rich heiress Clarice Winston when they are abducted by mobster Gat Benson. Stuffed into a barrel of cement and pitched off a pier, Corrigan dies and goes to his eternal reward.

Almost…

Rather than finding Paradise and peace, Corrigan’s spirit is accosted by a glowing light and disembodied voice which, over his strident protests, orders him return to Earth to fight crime and evil until all vestiges of them are gone…

Standing on the seabed and looking at his own corpse, Corrigan began his mission by going after his own killers…

In #53 ‘The Spectre Strikes’ find the outraged revenant swiftly, mercilessly and horrifically ending his murderers and saving Clarice, before calling off the engagement and moving out of the digs he shared with fellow cop and best friend Wayne Grant. After all, a cold, dead man has no need for the living…

The origin ends with Corrigan implausibly sewing himself a green and white costume and swearing to eradicate all crime…

Splendidly daft, this 2-part yarn comprises one of the darkest and most memorable origins in comic book annals and the feature only got better with each issue as the bitter, increasingly isolated lawman swiftly grows into most overwhelmingly powerful hero of the Golden Age.

In MFC #54 the Supernatural Sentinel tackled ‘The Spiritualist’, a murderous medium and unscrupulous charlatan who almost kills Clarice and forever ends the Spectre’s hopes for eternal rest, after which #55 introduces ‘Zor’: a ghost of far greater vintage and power, dedicated to promulgating evil on Earth. He too menaces Clarice and only the intervention of the Heavenly Voice and a quick upgrade in phantasmal power enables The Spectre to overcome his malign menace.

More Fun Comics #56 was the first to feature Howard Sherman’s Dr. Fate on the cover but the Spectre was still the big attraction, even if the merely mundane bandits and blackmailers instigating ‘Terror at Lytell’s’ are no match for the ever-inventive wrathful wraith. Far more serious was ‘The Return of Zor’ in #57, as the horrific haunt escapes from beyond to frame Corrigan for murder and again endanger the girl Jim dare not love…

An embezzler turns to murder as ‘The Arsonist’ in #58, but is no match for the cop – let alone his eldritch alter ego – whilst ‘The Fur Hi-Jackers’ actually succeed in killing the cop, yet are still suffer the Spectre’s unique brand of justice.

In #60, ‘The Menace of Xnon’ sees a super-scientist using incredible inventions to frame the ghost – and even menace his ethereal existence – prompting The Voice to again increase its servant’s power. This means giving The Spectre the all-powerful Ring of Life – but not before the Ghostly Guardian has been branded Public Enemy No. 1.

With Corrigan now ordered to arrest his spectral other self on sight, #61 (another Dr. Fate cover) features ‘The Golden Curse Deaths’ wherein prominent citizens perish from a scientific terror with a deadly Midas Touch, after which ‘The Mad Creation of Professor Fenton’ pits the Phantom Protector against a roving, ravaging, disembodied mutant super-brain…

In #63, a kill-crazy racketeer gets his just deserts in the electric chair only to return and personally execute ‘Trigger Daniels’ Death Curse’ upon all who opposed him in life. Happily, The Spectre proves to be more than his match whereas ‘The Ghost of Elmer Watson’ is a far harder foe to face. Murdered by mobsters who also nearly kill Wayne Grant, the remnant of the vengeful dead man refuses to listen to The Spectre’s brand of reason. Thus, its dreadful depredations must be dealt with in fearsome fashion…

‘Dr. Mephisto’ was a spiritualist who utilised an uncanny blue flame for crime in #65, after which the Ghostly Guardian battles horrendous monsters called forth from ‘The World Within the Paintings’ (probably written by the series’ first guest writer Gardner Fox), before Siegel returns with ‘The Incredible Robberies’ putting the phantom policeman into fearful combat with diabolical mystic Deeja Kathoon to the death and beyond…

With MFC #68 The Spectre finally lost his protracted cover battle to Dr. Fate even though, inside, the ‘Menace of the Dark Planet’ features a fabulously telling tale of Earthbound Spirit against alien invasion by life-leeching Little Green Men. In his next exploit ‘The Strangler’ murders lead Corrigan into an improbable case with an impossible killer…

This terrifying titanic tome terminates with issue #70 and ‘The Crimson Circle Mystery Society’ in which a sinister cult employs a merciless phantasmal psychic agent named Bandar to carry out its deadly schemes…

Although still a mighty force of fun and fearful entertainment, The Spectre’s Glory Days and Nights were waning and more credible champions were coming to the fore. He would be one of the first casualties of the post-War decline in mystery men and not be seen again until the Silver Age 1960’s…

Moreover, when he did return to comics, the previously omnipotent ghost was given strict limits and as he continued to evolve through various returns, refits and reboots The Spectre was finally transmogrified into a tormented mortal soul bonded inescapably to the actual embodiment of the biblical Wrath of God. Revamped and revived in perpetuity, revealed to be the Spirit of Vengeance wedded to a human conscience, Jim Corrigan was finally laid to rest in the 1990s and HalGreen Lantern) Jordan replaced him. Returning to basics in more recent years, the next host was murdered Gotham City cop Crispus Allen.

They’re all worth tracking down and exhuming: spooky comic champions who have never failed to deliver an enthralling, haunted hero rollercoaster – or is that Ghost Train? – of thrills and chills.
© 1940, 1941, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Zorro in Old California


By Nedaud & Carlo Marcello (Eclipse Books)
ISBN: 978-0-91303-513-9 (HB) 978-0-91303-512-2 (Album PB)

Here’s a fabulous old classic that’s still generally available, but which really needs to relative immortality of a digital edition as well as simple revival. Let’s hope current license holders Dynamite Entertainment agree…

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world is perennial film favourite El Zorro, The Fox. He was originally created by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 in a 5-part prose serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’: debuting and running in All-Story Weekly from August 6th to 6th September. The tale was subsequently published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co., and Tor, respectively.

Famously, Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford read the tale in All-Story Weekly whilst on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the adventure to be the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro was a global movie sensation in 1920 and for years after, so New York based McCulley re-tailored his creation to match the extremely different filmic incarnation. The Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Spider as well as later comics champions such as Mandrake and the Phantom.

Rouben Mamoulian’s filmic remake of The Mark of Zorro further ingrained the Fox into the World’s psyche, and, as the prose exploits continued in a variety of publications, Dell began a comicbook version in 1949.

When Walt Disney began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957, the comics series was redesigned to capitalise on it and the entertainment corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various regions of the world. This classy tome collects half of the dozen stories produced for a French iteration which originally ran in Le Journal de Mickey by veteran Italian artist Raphaël Carlo Marcello and relative enigma Nedaud, of whom I sadly know very little.

The celebrated and supremely stylish Marcello (1929-2007) moved to Paris in 1948 and began his long and prestigious career drawing Loana et le Masque Chinois in Aventures de Paris-Jeunes and Nick Silver for Collection Victoire. He then switched to newspaper strips for Opera Mundi in 1950, illustrating La Découverte du Monde and L’Histoire de Parisbefore adapting Ben Hur, Jane Eyre and the Bible.

In 1952, he joined Héroic, working on Oliver Twist, Gil Blas and Bug Jargal, then began a 15-year run (1955-1970) on Le Cavalier Inconnu in Pépito. He maintained ties to newspapers throughout and continued general interest literary adaptations for Mondial-Presse.

In 1956, he contributed Bob Franck to Bugs Bunny magazine and numerous strips to Lisette, Monty, Mireille, L’Intrépide/Hurrah and Rintintin. In 1970 he moved to Pif Gadget, collaborating on his signature series Docteur Justicewith prolific scenarist/writer Jean Ollivier as well as Amicalement Vôtre (a TV adaptation scripted Spanish by the legendary Victor Mora), Taranis (scripts by Ollivier & Mora), Tarao (by Roger Lécureux) and La Guerre du Feu.

Barely stopping for breath, Marcello illustrated John Parade, Patrouilleur de l’Espace, in Le Journal des Pieds Nickelés, the Larousse series L’Histoire de France en Bandes Dessinées, La Découverte du Mond and L’Histoire du Far West until 1985 when he joined Le Journal de Mickey to render Le Regard du Tigre, Le Club des Cinq and the subject of this collection.

Solidly based on the 1950s TV series, Zorro ran for a year (1985-1986): 12 rousing swashbuckling romps, the first half of which are collected in this slim, full colour European-format album. After these thundering epics, Marcello carried on improving, drawing sci fi extravaganza Cristal, epigrammatic short stories Voulez-vous de Nos Nouvelles?, Michael Jackson, Wayne Thunder, L’Épopée du Paris Saint-Germain and mature-reader series Nuit Barbare and Amok.

In 1991 he returned to his hometown of Vintimille where he ended his days drawing episodes of iconic Italian series Tex and Zagor for Il Giornalino and Bonelli publishing.

Here and now, however, Don Diego de la Vega is the foppish son of a noble house in old California when it was a Spanish Possession. He used the masked persona of Zorro the Fox to right wrongs, defend the weak and champion the oppressed – particularly the pitifully maltreated natives and Indians – gleefully thwarting the schemes of Capitan Monastario, his bumbling sergeant Garcia and the despicable Governor who were determined to milk the populace for all they had.

In his crusade Diego was aided by Bernardo (the “deaf-mute” manservant retained for the assorted TV and movies) and the good will of the overwhelmed and overtaxed people of Los Angeles.

Whenever Zorro appeared, he left his mark – a bold letter “Z” – carved into walls, doors, curtains, but never, ever, faces…

Written for an all-ages audience, these stories, each around 10 pages long, play out an exotic eternal, riotous game of tag, beginning with ‘Wanted!’ as a huge reward galvanises the town to hunt the Fox… until Zorro turns the tables by capturing the Capitan and ransoming him back, thereby emptying the military coffers.

In ‘The Assassins’, bandits posing as patriotic rebels capture the masked hero as part of their plan to murder the Governor and loot the ever-growing township, whilst ‘Double Agent’ sees Monastario blackmail a girl into betraying the wily avenger, but once again misjudges Zorro’s ability to connect with the downtrodden Californios…

‘The Scarecrow’ sees the hero thwart a plot to discredit the Fox’s reputation as the unscrupulous Capitan employs a murderous masked impostor, after which ‘Tight as a Noose’ sees Monastario arrest Diego’s father Don Alejandro for treason to entrap the mysterious vigilante, before this rip-roaring rollercoaster ride concludes with ‘The Winds of Rebellion’ as the latest illegal tax rouses the town council against the Capitan and Zorro gets involved to prevent bloodshed and potentially appalling state reprisals…

Full-bodied, all-action and beautifully realised, these classy adventures of a global icon are long overdue for a comprehensive and complete re-release, but until then at least this terrific tome is still readily available in both hardback and softcover through many online retailers.
® and © 1986 Zorro Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Jack Kirby, with Frank Giacoia, John Verpoorten, Mike Royer, Dan Green, John Tartaglione & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1702-9 (HB)

These days Captain America is as much a global symbol of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave as Uncle Sam or Apple Pie ever were. Thus, I’m enjoying a lazy and rather obvious way to celebrate Independence Day (for them and perhaps us if we’re successfully incorporated as the nation’s 51st State soon…) by recommending this bellicose blockbuster featuring material first seen in 1976 as the nation commenced its third century of existence…

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, he was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss, but quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased. Fading away during post-war reconstruction only to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed.

Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Land of the Free’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

He quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties, but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually, however, he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, after nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s successes, Jack Kirby had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamically inspiring pantheon. Eventually he accepted that even he could never win against any publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce whilst enduring micro-managing editorial interference.

Seeing which way the winds were blowing, Kirby exploded back into the Marvel Universe in 1976 with a signed promise of free rein, to concoct another stunning wave of iconic creations – 2001: a Space Odyssey, Machine Man, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur (plus – so nearly – seminal TV paranoia-fest The Prisoner), as well as drafting a wealth of bombastic covers for almost every title in the company.

He was also granted control of two of his previous co-creations – firmly established characters Black Panther and Captain America – to do with as he wished…

His return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial since his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity: Jack always went his own bombastic way. Whilst those new works quickly found many friends, his tenure on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on Cap and the Panther as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of the Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty…

This sterling collection – available in sturdy hardback and reassuring tree-friendly digital formats – reprints Captain America and the Falcon #201-214 and the fourth Captain America Annual, cumulatively spanning September 1976-October 1977. It also offers an Introduction by Mark Waid revealing how, when Kirby came aboard as writer, artist and editor, his biggest battle was against unnamed editorial staff who sought to sabotage his efforts…

At the end of the previous volume the original Fighting American had saved the nation from a conclave of aristocratic oligarchs attempting to undo two hundred years of freedom and progress with their “Madbomb”. After saving the nation, the Star-Spangled Avenger reunites with his partner for issue #201, set in the aftermath of their struggle…

Inked by Frank Giacoia, the tone shifts to malevolent moodiness and uncanny mystery with the introduction of ‘The Night People!’: a street-full of maladjusted maniacs who periodically phase into and out of New York City, creating terror and chaos with every sunset. When Falcon Sam Wilson and girlfriend Leila are abducted by the eerie encroachers, they are quickly converted to their crazed cause by exposure to the ‘Mad, Mad Dimension!’ the vile visitors inhabit during daylight hours. This leaves Cap and folksy new millionaire colleague Texas Jack Muldoon hopelessly outgunned when their last-ditch rescue attempt results in them all battling an invasion of brutally berserk other-dimensional beasts in ‘Alamo II!’

On bludgeoning, battle-hardened top-form, the Star-Spangled Avenger saves the day once more, but no sooner are the erstwhile inhabitants of Zero Street safely re-ensconced on Earth than ‘The Unburied One!’ finds the indefatigable champions battling against a corpse who won’t play dead. The concluding chapter reveals the cadaver has become home to an energy-being from the far future as (inked by John Verpoorten) ‘Agron Walks the Earth!’ Thankfully, not even its pulsating power and rage can long baulk the indomitable spirit and ability of America’s Ultimate Fighting Man…

The non-stop nightmares resume in #206 as ‘Face to Face with the Swine!’ (Giacoia inks) sees the Star-Spangled Sensation illegally renditioned by secret police to deepest Central America. Here he subsequently topples the private kingdom and personal torture ground of psychotic sadist Comandante Hector Santiago, unchallenged monarch of the prison of Rio del Muerte

Never one to go anywhere meekly, Cap escapes and begins engineering the brute’s downfall in ‘The Tiger and the Swine!!’ but soon finds the jungles conceal actual monsters. When they exact primal justice on the tormentors, Cap’s escape with the Swine’s cousin Donna Maria down ‘The River of Death!’ is interrupted by the advent of another astounding “Kirby Kreation” …‘Arnim Zola… the Bio-Fanatic!!’

The former Nazi geneticist is absolute master of radical biology, abducting Cap and Donna Maria to his living castle and inflicting upon them a horde of diabolical homunculi at the behest of a mysterious sponsor, even as the Falcon is closing in on his long-missing pal.

Indomitable against every kind of shapeshifting horror, Captain America battles on, enduring a terrible ‘Showdown Day!’(with Mike W. Royer taking over the inking), whilst back home Steve Rogers’ girlfriend Sharon Carter uses her resources as SHIELD’s Agent 13 to trace wealthy Cyrus Fenton and expose ‘Nazi “X”!’ as Zola’s sponsor and the Sentinel of Liberty’s greatest nemesis…

With his time on the title counting down, Kirby ramped up the tension in #212 as ‘The Face of a Hero! Yours!!’ finds Zola preparing to surgically insert the Red Skull into Cap’s form, triggering a cataclysmic clash which leaves the hero bloodied and blind, but ultimately victorious…

With the hero recuperating in a US hospital, Dan Green steps in to ink #213 as ultimate assassin ‘The Night Flyer!’ targets the ailing Cap at the behest of unfettered capitalist villain Kligger (from the insidious Corporation), inadvertently restoring his victim’s vision in time for spectacular – if abrupt – conclusion ‘The Power’ (Royer inks)…

Reading slightly out of sequence here, Captain America Annual #4 wraps up the Kirby contributions to the career of the Star-Spangled Avenger with ‘The Great Mutant Massacre!’: a feature- length super-shocker which again eschews convoluted back-story and the cultural soul-searching which typified the character before and after Kirby’s tenure.

It sees America’s Super Soldier strive against humanity’s nemesis Magneto and his latest mutant recruits Burner,Smasher, Lifter, Shocker, Slither and Peeper. This riot of rampaging action and end-of-the-world wonderment pits the Sentinel of Liberty against a Homo Superior hit-squad aiming to take possession of a super-powered being whose origins are far stranger than anybody could conceive…

This tome then concludes with a wonderful gallery of original art pages and covers for fans to drool over…

The King’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read and this stuff is as good as anything Jack crafted over his decades of creative brilliance.

Fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing Fights ‘n’ Tights masterpieces no fan should ignore and, above all else, fabulously fun tales of a true American Dream…
© 2019 MARVEL

Boo$ter Gold: The Big Fall


By Dan Jurgens, Mike DeCarlo, John Verpoorten, & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0075-5 (HB)

After the cosmos-crunching Crisis on Infinite Earths re-sculpted the DC Universe in the mid-1980s, a host of characters got floor-up rebuilds for the tougher, no-nonsense, straight-shooting New American readership of the Reagan-era. Simultaneously, a number of corporate buy-outs such as Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and The Question joined the DC roster with their own much-hyped solo titles. There were even a couple of all-new big launches for the altered sensibilities of the Decade of Excess such as the superb Suicide Squad and a Shiny, Happy Hero named Booster Gold.

A true icon of capitalist brand-aware America, the newcomer has suffered numerous setbacks and relaunches, before finally finding his proper place as the guardian of DC’s timestream and continuity. This engaging hardback and eBook compilation covers his early days, re-presenting Booster Gold volume 1 #1-12 (spanning February 1986 to January 1987), and offers fascinating bonus background material as well as a backwards-looking revelatory Introduction from Dan Jurgens.

The blue and yellow paladin appeared amidst plenty of hoopla in his own title – the first post-Crisis premiere of the publisher’s freshly integrated superhero line- and presented a wholly different approach to the traditional DC costumed boy-scout.

Created, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens with inks by Mike DeCarlo ‘The Big Fall’ introduces a brash, cocky, mysterious metahuman/obnoxious golden-boy jock who has set up his stall as a superhero in Metropolis. Unlike any other costumed champion, BG actively seeks corporate sponsorships, sells endorsements and has a management team in place to maximise the profit potential of his crusading celebrity…

Accompanied everywhere by sentient flying-football-shaped robot Skeets, the glitzy showboat soon encounters high-tech criminal gang The 1000 and their super-enforcer Blackguard. This earns him the unrelenting ire of sinister mastermind The Director and the shallow approbation of models, actresses, headline-hungry journalists, politicians and the ever-fickle public…

In issue #2’s ‘Cold Redemption’, Blackguard is aided and abetted by thought-casting mercenary Mindancer as the Director’s campaign of malice leads to another close call for Booster. Soon after, his highly public private life takes a tawdry turn in ‘The Night Has a Thousand Eyes’ when opportunistic starlet Monica Lake begins briefing the ravenous media on her “relationship” with the Man of Gold. He is unable to refute the claims since he was knee-deep in hired thugs and super-villains at the times she claims to have shared with him…

That cataclysmic combat in #4 results in a tremendous ‘Crash’ when urban vigilante The Thorn drops in to help scuttle the 1000’s latest scheme, but once the dust settles Booster finds himself in real trouble as business manager Dirk Davis is so busy licensing his boss for a comicbook that he fails to head off an IRS audit.

It appears Booster Gold has no official record and has never paid a penny in taxes…

Happily, in ‘Face Off’, our hero saves an entire stadium of ice hockey fans from avaricious terrorist Mr. Twister, earning himself a reprieve from the Federal authorities, after which an alien refugee crashes in Metropolis’ Centennial Park in #6’s ‘To Cross the Rubicon’. This sets up Man of Gold to finally meet Man of Steel for the long-awaited origin saga…

Michael Jon “Booster” Carter was a rising sports star in the 25th century who fell in with a gambling syndicate and began fixing games for cash pay-outs. When he was caught and banned from competition, he could only find menial work as a night-watchman in The Space Museum. Whilst there, he struck up a friendship with automated tour-guide and security-bot Skeets, and devised a bold plan to redeem himself.

Stealing a mysterious flight ring and force-field belt plus energy-rods, an alien super-suit and wrist-blasters, Booster used the Museum’s prize exhibit, Rip Hunter’s time machine, to travel to the fabled 20th Century Age of Heroes and earn all the fame and glory his mistakes had cost him in his own time…

Superman, already antagonistic because of Booster’s attitude, is ready to arrest him for theft when the almost-forgotten alien attacks…

They all awaken on a distant world, embroiled in a vicious civil war and personally still at odds. As a result of ‘The Lesson’ and a vicious battle, Superman and Booster both accept some uncomfortable truths and agree to tolerate each other when they return home. Meanwhile, back in Metropolis, Dirk Davis and company PA Trixie Collins hire hotshot scientist Jack Soo to build a super-suit that would enable Booster to hire a camera-friendly, girly eye-candy sidekick…

More questions are answered in 2-parter ‘Time Bridge’ when the 30th century Legion of Super-Heroes discover evidence that their flight-rings and forcefield technology were being used by a temporal fugitive named Michael Carter. Dispatched to 1985 by the Time Institute, Ultra Boy, Chameleon Boy and Brainiac 5 arrive soon after the fugitive Carter and become involved in his very first case. The Director and shape-shifting assassin Chiller were planning to murder and replace Ronald Reagan but, in the best superhero tradition, Carter and the Legionnaires misunderstood each other’s intentions and butted heads…

The plot might have succeeded had not Skeets intervened, allowing Carter to save the day and get official Presidential approval. Ronnie even got to name the new hero…

Back in 1986, the long-building final clash with the Director opens in #10 with ‘Death Grip of the 1000’ as Dirk’s daughter is kidnapped and he’s coerced into betraying Booster, just as the nefarious super-mob unleash a horde of robotic terrors on Metropolis to wear out the Man of Gold and catalogue his weaknesses…

After Trixie is also abducted in ‘When Glass Houses Shatter’, the 1000 increase the pressure by setting blockbusting thug Shockwave on Booster, resulting in the utter destruction of the hero’s corporate HQ and home before a frenzied and frenetic final clash in ‘War’, which leaves a proud owner of an extremely pyrrhic victory…

To Be Continued…

Supplementing these blockbuster battle frenzies, ‘The Making of Booster Gold’ takes us back to the beginning and reveals how the series came about, reprinting Jurgens’ original series proposal, first character and costume studies, augmented by models of Skeets and premium give-aways, assorted press release materials and house ads, and the editorial pages from #1.

Even more enticing is ‘The Secret Origin of Booster Gold #6’, detailing how John Byrne’s reimagination of Superman in Man of Steel caused some frantic rewriting of the published BG issue. The hidden benefit of that is five pages of unused pencils that had to be scrapped to accommodate the new reality offer an intriguing “What If?” to end proceedings here…

As a frontrunner of the new DC, Booster Gold was a radical experiment in character that didn’t always succeed, but which definitely and exponentially improved; as the months rolled by the time traveller grew into one of DC’s best books.

Perhaps not to every Fights ‘n’ Tights fan’s taste, these formative fictions are absolutely vital to your understanding of the later classics and have a dated charm that may well suit you, too.
© 1986-1987, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.