Lala Albert: Seasonal Shift – Comics 2013-2019


By Lala Albert (Breakdown Press/The Library of Contemporary Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-911081-09-8 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Not All Beautiful Things are Pretty… 9/10

All right-thinking people know that graphic narrative is the most expressive and expansive medium to work in, right? The range of themes explored, stories told and varieties of delivery are pretty near infinite if created by an inspired artisan.

The act of stringing pictures and/or words together is something almost everybody has done at some stage of their lives. It’s a key step in the cognitive path of children and, for an increasing number of us, that compulsive, absorbing euphoria never goes away.

Whilst many millions acquiesce to the crushing weight of a world which stifles the liberation of creativity, turning a preponderance of makers into consumers, a privileged, determined few carry on: drawing, exploring, and in some cases, with technology’s help, producing and sharing.

That emotional and creative volatility has never been better realised than in the modern crop of storymakers, many of whom are being rightly-celebrated in collections of minicomics and collections such as this compilation of works by Brooklyn-based Lala Albert as part of the Library of Contemporary Comics, which is collecting shorter works by the best cartoonists currently working in the medium right now.

Opening with a forthright ‘Interview’ conducted by Michael DeForge, this sequence of tales, vignettes and self-publications addresses body issues, human relationships, and most especially interactions with society and the ever more imperilled environment through terse short stories, generally framed in science fictional, fantasy and horror terms of reference.

Gathered from Albert’s last six years, the raw, primitivist, questing revelations begin with ‘Morning Dew’: a self-published moment of luxurious hedonism in natural circumstances from 2019 that lapses into a glimpse at the inevitable, if improbable, consequence of plastic saturation, first seen in Future Shock #7 (2014), before ‘Starlight Local’ – part of Alien Invasion volume 3, 2013 – details the disturbing outcome of a casual hook-up during an interstellar commute…

Consumerism and self-determination get a handy heads-up when a girl orders a ‘nu device’ (Trapper Keeper volume 4, 2016) after which a new kind of surveillance society dystopia is explored and overturned in ‘R.A.T.’ (crafted for Latvia’s Kuš Comics in 2015).

These tales are delivered in a range of styles and palettes, but for me, pure stark monochrome is always a blessing, so the ferocious attitude of ‘Brainbuzz’ (Weird Magazine volume 5, 2014) only intensifies the disturbing exploration of bodily invasion undertaken here…

Masks and the mutability of personas are thoroughly, forensically questioned in kJanus’’:a voyage of intense personal discovery first released by Breakdown Press UK in 2014, before a distressing fascination of what lurks under our skins is displayed in ‘Flower Pot’! courtesy of Marécage, Revue Lagon, France, 2019.

An epic of ecological combat and fairy survival is revealed in multi-chapter saga of survival ‘Wet Earth’ (Sonatina, 2017), pitting ethereal pixies against the lower ends of an uncaring food chain, before a modicum of sanity – but never safety or true security – returns via comforting self-assessment in ‘Pinhole’ (Over the Line, Sidekick Books UK, 2015). After everything, it’s always good to check back in with your own skin…

Dark but never hopeless, and always avoiding slick, glib professional sheen, these tales bore right in to the heart, asking questions we all have. Whether you find any answers truly depends on you…
All work © Lala Albert 2019. This edition © Breakdown Press 2019. All rights reserved.

The Artist: The Circle of Life


By Anna Haifisch (Breakdown Press)
ISBN: 978-1-91108-107-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Picture Perfect Grown Up Fun… 9/10

Like Norwegian émigré and cartoon superstar Jason, Anna Haifisch is a compulsive visualiser and raconteur with a devastating touch of whimsy that is impossible to resist.

Born in 1986 in Leipzig, the illustrator and screen printer is a truly dedicated purveyor of captivating comics that exude charm and wit whilst tackling big issues in accessible ways. She’s also very sly, and very funny. It’s made her something of an international celebrity…

In 2017 her book The Artist introduced an effete intellectual avian utterly in love with the fashionable concept of being a creator and this long-awaited sequel delivers another clutch of wry, vainglorious, heartfelt, pompous and charming episodes detailing how tough it is to dedicate one’s life to the Muse… especially if you only want to draw birds and snakes…

A vivid hardback collation, sequel volume The Circle of Life collects strips from 2016 that first appeared online at Vice.Com and shares even more insights in powerful line and flat colour combinations, beginning with an eponymous self-deprecating introduction…

Delivered as short 2-3 page cartoon colloquies, the drama dioramas open on a wearying, pharmaceutical-fuelled night out with Owl, leading to an origin of sorts and a challenging confrontation with that bane of all artists, the wealthy but clueless collector/sponsor…

Most episodes are brief and untitled but some earn themselves notoriety and utility through names such as ‘Art Rap’ which follows a deliriously engaging vignette about St. Luke (Patron Saint of artists). After that blending of imagery with devious street patter, an idealised day segues into a faux documentary on lost painter Edzard Fünfhauser, an incident of excoriating self-recrimination, a visit to the psych ward and a restorative trip down memory lane…

A fanciful sojourn amidst Art’s Great Ones and a historically significant moment of letter-writing leads to a temporary abandonment of dreams and principles before a sordid session of tool fetishism restores equilibrium via a period of Japanese impressionism and Haiku drafting.

There follows and Interlude: On Birds enquiring ‘What Happened to All the Aspiring Cartoon Birds’ (such as Donald, Woodstock and Tweety), after which a dissertation on being online and painful interactions with a non-artistic relative lead to a re-examination of favourite themes and a brief commission in frozen Greenland.

A sad tryst with a cage bird triggers ‘3 Jolly Autumn Strips’; a visit to the Jail built for Artists and the horrors of tawdry commercialism and hawking your work to the public (so clearly autobiographical, as Haifisch is co-founder of Germany’s The Millionaires Club Indie Comics Festival in Leipzig) before concluding on an uplifting high note with an illustrative paean to creativity and a singalong tribute to ‘Sorority’

Outrageous and charming, these exploration of the fabled life and anxiety-drenched traps of the creative spirit are a delight for everyone who’s ever picked up a pencil or looked at a masterpiece and thought “I can do that”…
© Anna Haifisch Breakdown Press 2019.

Jack Kirby’s Silver Star


By Jack Kirby, with Mike Royer, D. Bruce Berry, Janice Cohen, Erik Larsen & Eric Stephenson (Image)
ISBN: 978-1-58240-764-7 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Monumental Marvel Magic for Fun Seekers… 8/10

Jack Kirby was – and remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are millions of words about what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium.

Of course I’m going to add my own two-bobs’-worth, pointing out what you probably already know: Kirby was a man of vast imagination who translated big concepts into astoundingly potent and accessible symbols for generations of fantasy fans. If you were exposed to Kirby as an impressionable kid you were his for life. To be honest, the same probably applies whatever age you jump aboard the “Kirby Express”…

For those of us who grew up with Jack, his are the images which furnish our interior mindsets. Close your eyes and think “robot” and the first thing that pops up is a Kirby creation. Every fantastic, futuristic city in our heads is crammed with his chunky, towering spires. Because of Jack, we all know what the bodies beneath those stony-head statues on Easter Island look like, we are all viscerally aware that you can never trust great big aliens parading around in their underpants and, most importantly, we know how cavemen dressed and carnosaurs clashed…

Kirby’s creations are magical: they all inspire successive generations of creators to pick up the ball and keep running with it…

In the late 1930s, it took a remarkably short time for Kirby and his creative partner Joe Simon to become the wonder-kid dream-team of the new-born comic book industry. Together they produced a year’s worth of pioneering influential monthly Blue Bolt, rushed out Captain Marvel Adventures (#1) for overstretched Fawcett and, after Martin Goodman appointed Simon editor at Timely Comics, co-created a host of iconic characters such as Red Raven, the original Marvel Boy, Mercury, Hurricane, The Vision, Young Allies and of course million-selling mega-hit Captain America.

When Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations, Simon & Kirby were snapped up by National/DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a fat chequebook. Bursting with ideas the staid company were never really comfortable with, the pair were initially an uneasy fit, and were given two moribund strips to play with until they found their creative feet: Sandman and Manhunter.

They turned both around virtually overnight and, once established and left to their own devices, switched to the “Kid Gang” genre they had pioneered at Timely. Joe and Jack created wartime sales sensation Boy Commandos and a Homefront iteration dubbed the Newsboy Legion before being called up to serve in the war they had been fighting on comicbook pages since 1940.

Once demobbed, they returned to a very different funnybook business and soon left National to create their own little empire…

Simon & Kirby heralded and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not just by inventing the Romance genre, but with all manner of challenging modern material about real people in extraordinary situations – before seeing it all disappear again in less than eight years.

Their small stable of magazines – generated for the association of companies known as Prize, Crestwood, Pines, Essenkay and/or Mainline Comics – blossomed and as quickly wilted when the industry abruptly contracted throughout the 1950s.

After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby had finally established their own publishing house, producing comics for a far more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by an anti-comicbook pogrom.

Hysterical censorship-fever spearheaded by US Senator Estes Kefauver and opportunistic pop psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham led to witch-hunting Senate hearings. Caving in, publishers adopted a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulatory rules. Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high. Crime comics vanished and mature themes challenging an increasingly stratified and oppressive society were suppressed…

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Jack soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if less experimental, companies. As the panic abated, Kirby returned briefly to DC Comics where he worked on mystery tales and Green Arrow (at that time a mere back-up, page-filler in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics) whilst concentrating on his long-dreamed-of newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

During that period Kirby also re-packaged an original super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and Joe Simon had closed their innovative, ill-timed ventures. At the end of 1956 Showcase #6 premiered the Challengers of the Unknown

After three more test issues the “Challs” won their own title with Kirby in command for the first eight issues. Then a legal dispute with Editor Jack Schiff exploded and the King was gone…

He found fresh fields and an equally hungry-for-change new partner in Stan Lee at ailing Atlas Comics (which had once been mighty Timely) and there created a revolution in superhero comics storytelling…

After just over a decade of never-ending innovation and crowd-pleasing wonderment, Kirby felt increasingly stifled. His efforts had transformed the little publisher into industry-pioneer Marvel but now felt trapped in a rut. Thus, he moved back to DC for another burst of sheer imagination and pure invention.

Kirby always understood the fundamentals of pleasing his audience and strived diligently to combat the appalling state of prejudice about the comics medium – especially from industry insiders and professionals who despised the “kiddies’ world” they felt trapped in.

After his controversial, grandiose Fourth World titles were cancelled, Kirby looked for other concepts which would stimulate his own vast creativity yet still appeal to a market growing evermore fickle. His follow-ups included science fiction themed heroes Kamandi and OMAC, supernatural star The Demon, a run of war stories starring The Losers, and even a new Sandman co-created with old Joe Simon, but although the ideas kept coming (Atlas, Kobra, Dingbats of Danger Street), yet again editorial disputes ended up with him leaving for promises of more creative freedom elsewhere…

Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel in 1976 was much hyped at the time but again turned out to be controversial. His new works and creations (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man) found friends rapidly, but his return to earlier creations Captain America and Black Panther divided the fanbase.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity, and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on titles as another “Day One”: a policy increasing at odds with the close-continuity demanded by a strident faction of the readership…

They were apparently blind to the unfettered, joyous freedom of imagination run wild, the majesty of pulse-pounding thrills and galvanising BIG ART channelling BIG IDEAS!

The end of the 1970s saw Kirby drift into animation: designing characters and scenarios for shows such as Turbo-Teen, Thundarr the Barbarian and even The New Fantastic Four. His comics efforts included graphic novel The Hunger Dogs and Super Powers for DC, and an adaptation of movie The Black Hole for syndicated strip Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales.

However, his most memorable move was to validate the newly-minted Independent Comics/Direct Sale Market sector where he launched bombastic sci fi shocker Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers for distributor-turned-publisher Pacific Comics.

For Eclipse, he co-created with Steve Gerber the industry-excoriating symbol of creative rebellion Destroyer Duck (part of a grass-roots campaign that ultimately destroyed the iniquitous work-for-hire business model that had made creators little more than indentured servants for decades).

Also for Pacific at that time, Kirby crafted a 6-issue miniseries returning to his cherished themes of human advancement and perfection. The lure of these projects was that after decades of toil and unleashed genius, now Jack owned his stuff and had complete editorial control…

That’s paid off here in this deluxe hardback and digital edition celebrating the sheer power and exuberance of The King’s gifts. Kirby never threw away a notion or design, and from his copious “Maybe Later/Maybe One Day” file in 1983, he crafted this frantic, frenetic superhero/espionage/doomsday thriller based on an unsuccessful screenplay he and then-assistant Steve Sherman had put together in the 1970s.

Accompanied by an early concept drawing, the origins and impact of the original Silver Star miniseries – which ran from February 1983 to January 1984 – are discussed by Pacific’s editorial director Dave Scroggy in his Introduction before we meet Morgan Miller: Homo Geneticus! in premiere outing ‘Silver Star is here!!’ as, via a communal psychic network, the next stage in human evolution reveals his secrets…

Morgan’s incredible powers come from prenatal genetic tampering by his father Dr. Bradford Miller, who was seeking to offset the repercussions of prospective atomic war, and the son is apparently not the only one of this “Next Breed”.

He soon might be though, since earlier prototype Darius Drumm is methodically and ruthlessly exterminating them whenever he tracks them down…

Morgan’s powers manifest when he comes under heavy fire as a good soldier fighting in another American overseas war. After such a public debut, he’s quickly co-opted by Secret Service agent Floyd Custer to protect America, but Drumm’s campaign of terror against ‘The Others’ continues, not just with uncanny powers in the all-too-frail physical world, but also in torment-fuelled sorties into the communal astral plane where Morgan seeks to preserve the life and sanity of mysterious gamin Tracy Coleman

Sadly, the hero’s success rate is pretty abysmal, and Drumm’s twisted religious mania gives him an advantage in the war, as seen in ‘The Super-Normals: Are they God’s or Satan’s Children?’  It seems the tireless demagogue is also charismatic leader of a vast, anti-happiness and wellbeing cult…

The first four issues were inked & lettered by Mike Royer with colours from Janice Cohen, but the remaining two chapters (which coincided in the 1980s with Pacific moving to more experimental print processes and paper stock, with a noticeable loss of reproduction quality) are graced with the pens and brushes of D. Bruce Berry. They have been re-coloured for this edition by Erik Larsen & Eric Stephenson, who usher in a climactic showdown and moment of global revelation as ‘The World According to Drumm!’ finds hard-pressed hero Silver Star and his surviving species-mates zeroing in on the killer, who has expanded his remit to encompass all Earth, forcing the hero to battle a science-spawned ‘Angel of Death!’

Peppered with concept and developmental sketches, unused artwork and covers, plus pin-ups and designs inked by the likes of Jim Lee and Joe Sinnott, Kirby’s self-described and long-awaited Visual Novel also offers a lavishly illustrated look at his and Steve Sherman’s Silver Star Original Screenplay.

Jack Kirby’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 makes for a captivating read. His comics should be compulsory for all and found in every home…
© 2007 the Jack Kirby Estate. All rights reserved.

Batman in the Brave and the Bold: The Bronze Age volume two


By Bob Haney, Denny O’Neil, Jim Aparo, Nick Cardy, Neal Adams, Bob Brown, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8582-1 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect Pairings for Festive Fun Seekers… 10/10

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 that mirrored the contemporary movie fascination with historical dramas.

Written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Golden Gladiator, the Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. From #5 the Gladiator was increasingly alternated with Robin Hood, but such manly, mainly mainstream romps still carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like sister publication Showcase.

Issue #25 (August-September 1959) featured the debut of Task Force X: Suicide Squad, followed by Justice League of America (#28), Cave Carson (#31) and Hawkman (#34). Since only the JLA hit the first time out, there were return engagements for the Squad, Carson and Hawkman.

Something truly different appeared in #45-49 with the science fictional Strange Sports Stories before Brave and the Bold #50 triggered a new concept that once again truly caught the reader’s imagination.

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

Then it was back to superhero pairings with #59, and although no one realised it at the time this particular conjunction (Batman with Green Lantern) would be particularly significant.

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans in #60, the next two issues highlighted Earth-2 champions Starman and Black Canary, whilst Wonder Woman met Supergirl in #63.

Then, in an indication of things to come, and in anticipation of the TV-induced mania mere months away, Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64. Within two issues, following Flash/Doom Patrol (#65) and Metamorpho/Metal Men (#66), 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 to be a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

For the sake of brevity and clarity and according to the wise ones who dictate such arbitrary demarcations, it’s also the point at which Comics’ Silver Age transitioned into the Bronze Age…

This second selection of unalloyed Batman pairings with other luminaries of the DC universe reprints B&B #92-109 (spanning October/November 1970 to October/November 1973) featuring the last vestiges of a continuity-reduced DC where individual story needs were seldom submerged into a cohesive overarching scenario, and where lead writer Bob Haney crafted stories that were meant to be read in isolation, drawn by a profusion of artists with only one goal: entertainment. At this time editors favoured regular if not permanent creative teams, feeling that a sense of visual and even narrative continuity would avoid confusion amongst younger readers.

It thus signalled the advent of the superb Nick Cardy as an innovative illustrator: his short run of beautifully drawn and boldly experimental assignments is still startling to see five decades later.

Haney was always at his best with terse, human scale dramas, especially “straight” crime thrillers, as in the eccentric thriller in #92 wherein Batman travels to England, embroiled in a moody, gothic murder mystery with a trio of British stereotypes fancifully christened “The Bat Squad.” Although the scratch team never reappeared, ‘Night Wears a Scarlet Shroud!’ remains a period delight and a must for those who still remember when “Eng-ga-land Swung”…

At the end of the 1960s the Comics Code Authority ended its ban on crime and horror comics to allow publishers to exploit the global interest in the supernatural. This had instantly affected comics and more and more stories had macabre overtones. It led to the revival of horror and suspense anthologies, such as the venerable House of Mystery and unquestionably the oddest team-up in B&B history.

Scripted by Denny O’Neil and illustrated by Neal Adams, #93’s ‘Red Water, Crimson Death’ is a chilling ghost story with the added advantage of having the Dark Knight’s sombre shtick counterbalanced by the musings of the sardonic laconic Cain, ethereal and hip caretaker of that haunted habitat…

Haney, Cardy and the Teen Titans returned for powerful counter-culture bomb-plot ‘Rebels in the Streets’ after which a forgotten mystery hero (I won’t spoil it for you) helps Batman get the goods on ruthless, fat-cat industrialist Ruby Ryder in ‘C.O.D. – Corpse on Delivery’ in #95 before – somewhat more palatable for continuity bugs – Sgt Rock’s second engagement with the Bat was set in contemporary times rather than in WWII. Here the honourable old soldier becomes a bureaucrat’s patsy in compelling espionage thriller ‘The Striped-Pants War!’

Haney clearly had a fondness for grizzled older heroes as former pugilist Wildcat made another comeback in #97’s South-of-the-Border saga ‘The Smile of Choclotan!’: an epic of exploration inked by Cardy over the husky he-man pencils of the hugely underrated Bob Brown.

The Phantom Stranger guested next in a truly sinister tale of suburban devil worship which found Batman thoroughly out of his depth in ‘The Mansion of the Misbegotten!’, illustrated by the man who would soon become the only B&B artist: Jim Aparo.

Brown & Cardy returned to draw the Flash saving the Gotham Gangbuster from ghostly possession in ‘The Man who Murdered the Past’ and Aparo illustrated the anniversary 100th issue as Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary had to take over for a Batman on the verge of death and trapped as ‘The Warrior in a Wheel-Chair’.

Aparo stuck around for the outrageous murder-mystery ‘Cold-Blood, Hot Gun’ wherein Metamorpho, the Element Man assists the Caped Crusader in foiling the World’s most deadly hitman, but Brave and the Bold #102 featured a true rarity.

The Teen Titans again featured in an angry tale of the generation gap but ‘Commune of Defiance’ began as an Aparo job, but in a bizarre turnabout Neal Adams – an artist legendary for blowing deadlines – was called in to finish the story, contributing the last nine pages of the tension-packed political thriller, after which Brown and Frank McLaughlin illustrated ‘A Traitor Lurks Inside Earth!’: a doomsday saga of military computers gone awry featuring the multipurpose Metal Men.

Aparo was back in #104 for a poignant story of love from beyond the grave in the enigmatically entitled ‘Second Chance for a Deadman?’ after which a depowered Wonder Woman resurfaced after a long absence in Haney & Aparo’s superb revolutionary epic ‘Play Now… Die Later!’ as Diana Prince and the Darknight Detective become pawns in a bloody South American feud exported to the streets of Gotham.

Newly penniless social reformer Green Arrow is then sucked into a murderous get-rich-quick con in #106’s ‘Double Your Money… and Die’, featuring a surprise star villain, before Black Canary co-stars in a clever take on the headline-grabbing – and still unsolved – D.B. Cooper hijacking of an airliner in ‘The 3-Million Dollar Sky’ from B&B #107 (June-July 1973). Inflation sucks: “Cooper” only got $200,000 when he jumped out of that Boeing 727 in November 1971, never to be see again…

A wonderfully chilling tale of obsession and old soldiers never dying follows as Sgt. Rock tries once more to catch the greatest monster in history on ‘The Night Batman Sold his Soul!’ before this bronze bonanza concludes with superb supernatural thriller ‘Gotham Bay, Be My Grave!’ wherein the Caped Crusader and Jack Kirby’s then newest sensation Etrigan the Demon battle an unquiet spirit determined to avenge his own execution after nearly a century…

These are some of the best and most entertainingly varied yarns from a period of magnificent creativity in the American comics industry. Aimed at a general readership, gloriously free of heavy, cloying continuity baggage and brought to stirring, action-packed life by some of the greatest artists in the business, this is a Batman for all seasons and reasons with the added bonus of some of the most fabulous and engaging co-stars a fan could imagine. How could anybody resist? Can you…?

© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection volume 1: Great Power 1962-1964


By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, with Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8834-6 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless and Essential Comics Perfection… 10/10

Marvel is often termed “the House that Jack Built” and King Kirby’s contributions are undeniable and inescapable in the creation of a new kind of comic book storytelling, but there was another unique visionary toiling at Atlas-Comics-as-was: one whose creativity and even philosophy seemed diametrically opposed to the bludgeoning power, vast imaginative scope and clean, broad lines of Kirby’s ever-expanding search for the external and infinite.

Steve Ditko was quiet and unassuming, voluntarily diffident to the point of invisibility, but his work was both subtle and striking: innovative and meticulously polished. Always questing for detail, he ever explored the man within. He found heroism – and humour and ultimate evil – all contained within the frail but noble confines of human scope and consciousness. His drawing could be oddly disquieting… and, when he wanted, decidedly creepy.

Crafting extremely well-received monster and mystery tales for and with Stan Lee, Ditko had been rewarded with his own title. Amazing Adventures/Amazing Adult Fantasy featured a subtler brand of yarn than Rampaging Aliens and Furry Underpants Monsters and the ilk which, though individually entertaining, had been slowly losing traction in the world of comics ever since National/DC had successfully reintroduced costumed heroes.

Lee & Kirby had responded with Fantastic Four and the ahead-of-its-time Incredible Hulk but there was no indication of the renaissance to come when the cover of officially just-cancelled Amazing Fantasy featured a brand new and rather eerie adventure character.

This compelling and economical full-colour trade paperback and digital compilation re-presents the early run of Amazing Spider-Man #1-17, plus Annual #1 and that auspicious tale from Amazing Fantasy #15 (spanning August 1962 through October 1964): allowing newcomers and veteran readers to relive some of the greatest moments in sequential narrative.

The wonderment came and concluded in 11 captivating pages: ‘Spider-Man!’ tells the parable of Peter Parker, a smart but alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider on a high school science trip. Discovering he has developed arachnid abilities – which he augments with his own natural engineering genius – he does what any lonely, geeky nerd would do when given such a gift… he tries to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Creating a costume to hide his identity in case he makes a fool of himself, Parker becomes a minor celebrity – and a vain, self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief flees past, he doesn’t lift a finger to stop him, only to find when he returns home that his Uncle Ben has been murdered.

Crazy for vengeance, Parker stalks the assailant who made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, only to find that it is the felon he couldn’t be bothered with. Since his social irresponsibility led to the death of the man who raised him, the boy swears to always use his powers to help others…

It wasn’t a new story, but the setting was one familiar to every kid reading it and the artwork was downright spooky. This wasn’t the gleaming high-tech world of moon-rockets, giant monsters and flying cars – this stuff could happen to anybody…

Amazing Fantasy #15 came out the same month as Tales to Astonish #35 (cover-dated September 1962) – the first to feature the Astonishing Ant-Man in costumed capers, but it was the last issue of Ditko’s Amazing playground. In this volume you’ll find the ‘Fan Page – Important Announcement from the Editor!’ that completely misled fans as to what would happen next…

However, the tragic last-ditch tale struck a chord with the reading public and by Christmas a new comicbook superstar was ready to launch in his own title, with Ditko eager to show what he could do with his first returning character since the demise of Charlton action hero Captain Atom

Holding on to the “Amazing” prefix to jog reader’s memories, the bi-monthly Amazing Spider-Man #1 arrived with a March 1963 cover-date and two complete stories. It also prominently featured the Fantastic Four and took the readership by storm. The opening tale, again simply entitled ‘Spider-Man!’, recapitulated the origin whilst adding a brilliant twist to the conventional mix…

By now the wall-crawling hero was feared and reviled by the general public thanks in no small part to J. Jonah Jameson, a newspaper magnate who pilloried the adventurer from spite and for profit. With time-honoured comicbook irony, Spider-Man then had to save Jameson’s astronaut son John from a faulty space capsule in extremely low orbit…

The second yarn ‘Vs the Chameleon!’ finds the cash-strapped kid trying to force his way onto the roster – and payroll – of the FF whilst elsewhere a spy perfectly impersonates the web-spinner to steal military secrets. This is a stunning example of the high-strung, antagonistic crossovers and cameos that so startled the jaded kids of the early 1960s. Heroes just didn’t act like that and they certainly didn’t speak directly to the fans as in ‘A Personal Message from Spider-Man’ that’s reprinted here…

With his second issue, our new champion began a meteoric rise in quality and innovative storytelling. ‘Duel to the Death with the Vulture!’ catches Parker chasing a flying thief as much for profit as justice. Desperate to help his aunt make ends meet, Spider-Man starts to taking photos of his cases to sell to Jameson’s Daily Bugle, making his personal gadfly his sole means of support.

Matching his deft comedy and moody soap-operatic melodrama, Ditko’s action sequences were imaginative and magnificently visceral, with odd angle shots and quirky, mis-balanced poses adding a vertiginous sense of unease to fight scenes. But crime wasn’t the only threat to the world and Spider-Man was just as (un)comfortable battling “aliens” in ‘The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer!’

Amazing Spider-Man #3 introduced possibly the apprentice hero’s greatest enemy in ‘Versus Doctor Octopus’; a full-length saga wherein a dedicated scientist survives an atomic accident only to discover his self-designed mechanical tentacles have permanently grafted to his body. Power-mad, Otto Octavius initially thrashes Spider-Man, sending the lad into a depression until an impromptu pep-talk from Human Torch Johnny Storm galvanises Spider-Man to one of his greatest victories. Also included here is a stunning ‘Special Surprise Bonus Spider-Man Pin-up Page!’…

‘Nothing Can Stop… the Sandman!’ was another instant classic wherein a common thug who gains the power to transform to sand (another pesky nuclear snafu) invades Parker’s school, and must be stopped at all costs, whilst issue #5 finds the webspinner ‘Marked for Destruction by Dr. Doom!’ – not so much winning as surviving his battle against the deadliest man on Earth.

Presumably he didn’t mind too much, as this marked the transition from bi-monthly to monthly status for the series. In this tale Parker’s social nemesis, jock bully Flash Thompson, first displays depths beyond the usual in contemporary comicbooks, beginning one of the best love/hate buddy relationships in popular literature…

Sometime mentor Dr. Curtis Connors debuts in #6 when Spidey comes ‘Face-to-face with… The Lizard!’ Ttttas the wallcrawler fights far from the concrete canyons and comfort zone of New York – specifically in the murky Florida Everglades. Parker was back in the Big Apple in #7 to breathtakingly tackle ‘The Return of the Vulture’ in a full-length masterpiece.

Fun and youthful hi-jinks were a signature feature of the series, as was Parker’s budding romance with “older woman” Betty Brant, Jameson’s secretary/PA at the Daily Bugle. Youthful exuberance was the underlying drive in #8′s lead tale ‘The Living Brain!’ wherein an ambulatory robot calculator threatens to expose Spider-Man’s secret identity before running amok at beleaguered Midtown High, just as Parker is finally beating the stuffings out of school bully Flash Thompson.

This 17-page triumph was accompanied by ‘Spiderman Tackles the Torch!’: a 6-page vignette drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Ditko, wherein a boisterous wall-crawler gate-crashes a beach party thrown by the flaming hero’s girlfriend… with suitably explosive consequences.

Amazing Spider-Man #9 is a qualitative step-up in dramatic terms, as Aunt May is revealed to be chronically ill – adding to Parker’s financial woes – with the action supplied by ‘The Man Called Electro!’ – an accidental super-criminal with grand aspirations.

Spider-Man was always a loner, never far from the streets and small-scale-crime, and with this tale – wherein he also quells a prison riot single handed – Ditko’s preference for tales of gangersterism starts to show through; a predilection confirmed in #10′s ‘The Enforcers!’ This is a classy mystery with a masked mastermind known as the Big Man using a position of trust at the Bugle to organise all New York mobs into one unbeatable army against decency.

Longer plot-strands are also introduced as Betty mysteriously vanishes, although most fans remember this one for the spectacularly climactic 7-page fight scene in an underworld chop-shop that has still never been beaten for action-choreography.

The wonderment intensifies with a magical 2-part yarn. ‘Turning Point’ and ‘Unmasked by Dr. Octopus!’ sees the return of the lethally deranged and deformed scientist and the disclosure of a long-hidden secret which had haunted Parker’s girlfriend Betty Brant for years.

The dark, tragedy-filled tale of extortion and excoriating tension stretches from Philadelphia to the Bronx Zoo and cannily tempers the trenchant melodrama with spectacular fight scenes in unusual and exotic locations, before culminating in a truly staggering super-powered duel as only the masterful Ditko could orchestrate it.

A new super-foe premiered in Amazing Spider-Man #13 with ‘The Menace of Mysterio!’ as a seemingly eldritch bounty-hunter hired by publisher J. Jonah Jameson to capture Spider-Man eventually reveals his own dark criminal agenda, whilst #14 is an absolute milestone in the series as a hidden criminal mastermind manipulates a Hollywood studio into making a movie about the wall-crawler.

Even with guest-star opponents the Enforcers and Incredible Hulk, ‘The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin’ is most notable for introducing Spider-Man’s most perfidious and flamboyant enemy.

Jungle superman and thrill-junkie ‘Kraven the Hunter!’ makes Spider-Man his intended prey at the behest of embittered Spidey-foe the Chameleon in #15, and promptly reappears in the first Amazing Spider-Man Annual that follows.

A timeless landmark and still magnificently thrilling battle, tale, the ‘Sinister Six’ begins after a team of villains comprising Electro, Kraven, Mysterio, Sandman, Vulture and Doctor Octopus abduct Aunt May and Betty, and Spider-Man is forced to confront them without his Spider-powers – lost in a guilt-fuelled panic attack. A staggeringly enthralling Fights ‘n’ Tights saga, this influential tale also featured cameos (or, more honestly, product placement segments) by every other extant hero of the budding Marvel universe.

Also included from the colossal comic book are special feature pages on ‘The Secrets of Spider-Man!’ and the comedic short ‘How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Created Spider-Man’ and a gallery of pin-up pages featuring ‘Spider-Man’s Most Famous Foes!’ – (the Burglar, Chameleon, Vulture, Terrible Tinkerer, Dr. Octopus, Sandman, Doctor Doom, The Lizard, Living Brain, Electro, The Enforcers, Mysterio, Green Goblin and Kraven the Hunter) – plus pin-ups of Betty and Jonah, Parker’s classmates and house and heroic guest stars…

Amazing Spider-Man #16 extended that circle of friends and foes as the webslinger battles the Ringmaster and his Circus of Evil and meets a fellow loner hero in a dazzling and delightful ‘Duel with Daredevil’.

An ambitious 3-part saga began in Amazing Spider-Man #17 wherein the rapidly-maturing hero touches emotional bottom before rising to triumphant victory over all manner of enemies. Sadly, ‘The Return of the Green Goblin!’ only opens that encounter here and you’ll need the next Epic Collection to conclude the saga…

Offering some consolation however is the entire debut tale from AF #15, in original art form, taken from the Library of Congress where it now resides and fully curated and commented upon by historian and scholar Blake Bell. Also on view are unused Ditko covers and early monochrome pin-ups, unretouched cover art for AS #11 and a barrage of pulse-pounding house ads, plus a photo-feature on the Marvel Bullpen circa 1964.

These immortal epics are something no serous fan can be without, and will make the ideal gift for any curious newcomer.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 2019 MARVEL. All rights reserved.

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom Archives volume 1


By Paul S. Newman, Matt Murphy, Bob Fujitani, Frank Bolle & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-285-8 (HB) 978-1-59582-586-5 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Atom Age Adventure… 9/10

The comics colossus identified by fans as Dell/Gold Key/Whitman had one of the most complicated publishing set-ups in history but that didn’t matter one iota to the kids of all ages who consumed their vastly varied product.

Based in Racine, Wisconsin, Whitman had been a crucial part of the monolithic Western Publishing and Lithography Company since 1915 and could draw on the commercial resources and industry connections that came with editorial offices on both coasts (and even a subsidiary printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York).

Another connection was with fellow Western subsidiary K.K. Publications (named for licensing legend Kay Kamen who facilitated extremely lucrative “license to print money” merchandising deals for Walt Disney Studios between 1933 and 1949).

From 1938, Western’s comicbook output was released under a partnership deal with a “pulps” periodical publisher under the umbrella imprint Dell Comics – and again those creative staff and commercial contacts fed into the line-up of the Big Little, Little Golden and Golden Press books for children. This partnership ended in 1962 and Western had to swiftly reinvent its comics division as Gold Key.

As previously cited, Western Publishing had been a major player since comics’ earliest days, blending a huge tranche of licensed titles such as newspaper strip, TV and Disney titles, (such as Nancy and Sluggo, Tarzan, or the Lone Ranger) with home-grown hits like Turok, Son of Stone and Space Family Robinson.

In the 1960s, during the camp/superhero boom these original adventure titles expanded to include Brain Boy, M.A.R.S. Patrol, Total War (created by Wally Wood), Magnus, Robot Fighter (by the incredible Russ Manning) and – in deference to the atomic age of heroes – Nukla and another brilliantly cool and understated nuclear white knight…

Despite supremely high quality and passionate fan-bases, they never really captured the media spotlight of DC or Marvel’s costumed cut-ups. Western eventually shut up their comics division in 1984 having lost or ceded their licenses to DC Marvel and Charlton.

All this and much more can be found far more clearly explained by the wonderful Mark Evanier in this hardback or trade paperback collection’s Foreword – ‘The Golden Years’ – as well as a fond critical appraisal of the superb comics yarn-spinning that follows…

As a publisher, Gold Key never really “got” the melodramatic, breast-beating, often-mock-heroic Sturm und Drang of the 1960s superhero boom – although for many of us, the understated functionality of Silver Age classics like Magnus, Robot Fighter or the remarkably radical concepts of atomic crusader Nukla and crime-fighting iterations of classic movie monsters Dracula, Frankenstein and Werewolf were utterly irresistible. The sheer off-the-wall lunacy of features like Neutro or Dr. Spektor I will save for a future occasion…

The company’s most recognisable stab at a superhero was an understated nuclear era star with the rather unwieldy codename Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom who debuted in an eponymous title dated October 1962, sporting a captivating painted cover by Richard M. Powers that made the whole deal feel like a grown up book rather than a mere comic.

Crafted by writers Paul S. Newman & Matt Murphy with art by Bob Fujitani, the 2-part origin ‘Solar’s Secret’ and ‘An Atomic Inferno’ detailed how a campaign of sabotage at research base Atom Valley culminates in the death of Dr. Bentley and the accidental transmutation of his lab partner Doctor Solar into a (no longer) human atomic pile with incredible, impossible and apparently unlimited powers and abilities. Of course, his very presence is lethal to all around him…

The espionage and murder are at the instigation mysterious Bad Actor Nuro, who wants the monopoly on atomic science and when his operative targets Solar’s girlfriend Gail Sanders, the reluctant hero – still learning his potential and limitations – is forced to act fast…

Powers painted a second rousing cover (before handing the job over to Gold Key mainstay George Wilson for the rest of this collections inclusions) and #2 (December) opens with Nuro’s latest plot: using radio implants to turn Gail into ‘The Remote-Control Traitor’ before unwise atomic testing triggers tectonic terror for the entire region on ‘The Night of the Volcano’…

By the time of Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom #3 (March 1963), a solid pattern was in place. Solar continued his researches aided by his two confidantes, Gail and project leader Dr. Clarkson, facing a wide variety of nefarious challenges and unnatural disasters at a rate of two stories per issue.

In ‘The Hidden Hands’ the science hero becomes a clandestine globetrotter to foil a plundering terrorist with the power of invisibility, whilst Atom Valley’s own prototype weather satellite triggers atmospheric conditions which split the hero into polar opposites in ‘Solar’s Deadly Double’.

June 1963 brought #4 atomic contamination to the Atlantic as Solar scuppers a certain mystery mastermind’s gold extraction engine in ‘The Deadly Sea’ before ‘The Treacherous Trap’ finds the Atomic Man – who must regularly absorb lethal amounts of radiation to live – accidentally imperilled by fellow scientist Thor Neilsen’s radical rad poisoning cure. The good-looking swine has also turned poor Gail’s head with romantic notions…

A big change came with #5 in September as the until-now top-secret activities of Solar are first exposed to a ruthless thief trying to steal the Atomic Ace’s latest elemental discovery in ‘The Crystallized Killers’. This, and his advancing mutation, leads to ‘The New Man of the Atom’ as Solar adopts a public masked persona and finally dons a costume: all whilst stopping an incipient atom war…

With #6 (November 1963) illustrator Frank Bolle joins Newman & Murphy to detail Solar’s stories, beginning with ‘The Impostor’ wherein Nuro despatches a face-shifting automaton to infiltrate Atom Valley and discover the masked hero’s true identity: a saga which concludes in spectacular nuclear combat in ‘Android Against the Atom’…

This volume’s action concludes with #7 (March 1964), beginning with a drastic drop in sea levels. Upon investigation Solar discovers malevolent extraterrestrials are behind the ‘Vanishing Oceans’ but no sooner does he deal with them than ‘The Guided Comet’ covertly controlled by Nuro, simultaneously threatens human existence and acts as an almost-foolproof deathtrap for the Man of the Atom. Almost…

Augmented by fulsome ‘Biographies’ of the creative personnel, this charismatic collection offers potently underplayed and scientifically astute (as far as the facts of the day were generally known) adventures blending the best of contemporary movie tropes with the still fresh but burgeoning mythology of the Silver Age super hero boom. Enticingly restrained, these Atom Age action comics offered a compelling counterpoint to the eccentric hyperbole of DC and Marvel and remain some of the most readable thrillers of the era.

These tales are lost gems from a time when fun was paramount and entertainment a mandatory requirement. This is comics the way they were and really should be again…
DOCTOR SOLAR®, MAN OF THE ATOM ARCHIVES Volume 1 ™ and © 2010 Random House, Inc. Under license to Classic Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: Flight 714 to Sydney


By Hergé, Bob De Moor, Roger Leloup and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK/Methuen/Little Brown Books)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-821-5 (HB) 978-0-31635-837-8 (Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Great British Tradition of Belgian Origin. Gotta Get ‘Em All… 10/10

Georges Prosper Remi, AKA Hergé, created an eternal masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor, Roger Leloup and other supreme stylists of the Hergé Studio, he created 23 timeless yarns (initially serialised in instalments for a variety of newspaper periodicals) which have since grown beyond their pop culture roots to attain the status of High Art and international cultural icons.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi began working for conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy scout, one year later the artist was producing his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine. By 1928 Remi was in charge of producing the contents of the newspaper’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

While he was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette – written by the staff sports reporter – Wallez required his compliant creative cash-cow to concoct a new and contemporary adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his supremely popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus appropriated and controlled by the Nazis).

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even of being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist through words and deeds.

Leblanc provided cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a huge weekly circulation, allowing Remi and his studio team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by the Fascist invaders to ideologically shade the wartime adventures. These modernising post-war exercises also generally improved and updated the great tales, just in time for Tintin to become a global phenomenon, both in books and as an early star of animated TV adventure.

With the war over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure, if not his personal demons and declining health…

The greatest sign of this was not substantially in the comics tales – although Hergé continued to tinker with the form of his efforts – but rather in how long the gaps were between new exploits. The last romp had finished serialisation in September 1962 and been collected as an album in 1963. Vol 714 pour Sydney began its weekly run in Le Journal de Tintin #936 – 27th September 1966 – and concluded in #997, cover-dated November 28th 1967. The inevitable book collection came in May 1968.

Flight 714 To Sydney appears to be a return to classic adventure, but conceals some ironic modernist twists, opening with our heroes hurriedly en route to Australia. During an intrigue-redolent stopover at Djakarta, Tintin, Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus are inveigled (almost duped) into joining unconventional and somewhat unpleasant aviation tycoon Laszlo Carreidas on his personal supersonic prototype. The petty-minded multi-millionaire obviously has some ulterior design but cannot be dissuaded.

However, due to the type of coincidence that plagues our heroes, that plane has been targeted by the villainous outlaw Rastapopoulos whose gang hijack the aircraft and land it on a desolate Pacific island. The former criminal mastermind has a crazy scheme to siphon off Carreidas’ fortune but has lost a lot of his old sinister efficiency…

After many ploys and countermoves between the opposing forces, and with danger a constant companion, the prisoners escape the villain’s clutches only to discover that the Island is volcanic and conceals a fantastic ancient secret that dwarfs the threat of mere death and penury before escalating to a spectacular climax no reader will ever forget…

Although full of Hergé’s trademark slapstick humour, there is also a sly undercurrent of self-examination that highlights the intrinsic futility of the criminals’ acts. As time has passed, the murderous human monsters have all been exposed as foolish, posturing and largely ineffectual.

Nevertheless, the yarn is primarily an extremely effective, suspenseful action thriller with science fiction roots as the author plays with the multifarious strands of international research then in vogue which led to Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods and other lesser known tracts of cod science.

Once more the supernormal plays a large part in proceedings – but not as a malign force – and this time science and rationality, not the supernatural, are the basis of the wonderment. Flight 714 To Sydney is slick, compelling and astoundingly engaging: a true epic escapade no fan of fun could fail to adore.
Flight 714 To Sydney: artwork © 1968 Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1968 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

The Light


By Jim Alexander, edited by Kirsten Murray (Planet Jimbot)
ISBN: 978-1-9164535-2-4 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-9164535-3-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Decidedly Different Spooky Saga for the Season… 9/10

Apparently tireless raconteur and comics veteran Jim Alexander is back with another prose novel (available in paperback and a variety of eBook formats).

His pictorial back-catalogue includes Star Trek the Manga, Calhab Justice and other strips for 2000AD, licensed properties such as Ben 10 and Generator Rex as well as a broad variety of comics and strips for The Dandy, DC, Marvel, Dark Horse Comics, Metal Hurlant Chronicles, and loads of other places including his own publishing empire Planet Jimbot. He’s imminently due back in the mainstream too, with a forthcoming Marvel Graphic Novel in the offing…

Everyone dies. That’s biology. How they die isn’t as important as how they lived, right?

That’s an assumption that is devilishly challenged in The Light as a world so very much our own takes a path less travelled after a global catastrophe in 1998.

Here and now, twenty years after the event, humanity has gained an eerie new ability: unfailing certainty in the knowledge of when your time is up.

It’s not a proper super power: decedents only know from the moment they wake up that it’s their Last Day and not everyone is sure – or convinced – until they place a palm on the ubiquitous domestic device (also available on all street corners and in every lamp post) and a purple hue tells them its time…

Socially, things haven’t changed much: Capitalism has devised new ways to monetise the change and the elites and powers-that-be have found fresh ways to restrict the thinking and spending of the masses. Someone has turned Last Day into the world’s most debauched, powerful and unavoidable religion, and on dark fringes of the planet, outsiders try to live beyond the newly-established margins and avoid collaborating with the system that demands that all citizens test their light every day…

The rest of us? We just comply, testing ourselves every 24 hours and going about our lawful business until it’s that day and we have a decision to make: lie down and die or rebel and act out…

Told through a string of narrative viewpoints from the highest and mightiest to the most excluded and lowly, how The Light works – and how it ultimately fails – is beguilingly exposed in a wry and mordant, satire-saturated tale that delves like a forensic exam into the nature of what it means to be human and truly alive…

And when this has sufficiently blown your mind, you really should really read the author’s first novel GoodCopBadCop and track down the superb comics by Alexander and his confederates Luke Cooper, Gary McLaughlin, Will Pickering, Aaron Murphy, Chris Twydell & Jim Campbell.

The Jims – Alexander & Campbell – have been providing challenging, captivating and enthralling graphic narratives for ages now and you owe it to yourself to catch them too.
© 2019 Jim Alexander.

Planet Jimbot has a splendid online shop so why not check it out? Conversely why not go to:

UK
Amazon (print) (ebook)
Kobo

US
Amazon (print) (ebook)
Kobo
Barnes & Noble
 

Batman: The War Years 1939-1945


By Bob Kane & Bill Finger with Gardner Fox, Joe Greene, Don Cameron, Alvin Schwartz, Sheldon Moldoff, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Fred Ray, Jack & Ray Burnley, Dick Sprang, Stan Kaye, Stan Kaye, Jack Kirby, Ed Kressey & various: curated and edited by Roy Thomas, (Chartwell Books)
ISBN: 978-0-7858-3283-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Action Adventure… 10/10

March 2019 saw the 80th anniversary of Batman’s debut in Detective Comics #27. About one year after that dynamic debut his resounding growth in popularity resulted in the launch of Batman #1 (cover-dated “Spring” and released on April 25th, 1940). At that time, only his precursor and stablemate Superman was more successful…

Created a year after and in response to the furore generated by the Man of Steel, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) confirmed DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the parameters of the metahuman with their Man of Tomorrow, the physical mortal perfection and dashing derring-do of the strictly-human Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crimebusters were judged.

However, once the war in Europe and the East snared America’s consciousness, crime and domestic deviltry increasingly gave way to combat and espionage themes. Patriotic imagery dominated most comicbook covers – if not interiors – and the USA’s mass-publishing outfits geared up for a seemingly inevitable conflict.

I feel – like many others of my era and inclinations – that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when whole-heartedly combating global fascism with explosive, improbable excitement courtesy of a myriad of mysterious, masked marvel men. I have similar thoughts about the early 1970s “relevancy period”, when my masked miracle men turned to tackling slum landlords, super-rich scum, social injustice, crushing poverty and environmental issues: at least we won that one and don’t have to face real atrocities like that anymore…

All the most evocatively visceral moments of the genre seem to come when gaudy gladiators soundly thrashed – and I hope you’ll please forgive the appropriated (but now truly offensive) contemporary colloquialism – “Nips and Krauts”.

A companion to volumes starring Superman and Wonder Woman, Batman: The War Years 1939-1945 is superb hardcover archive curated by comicbook legend Roy Thomas, exclusively honing in on the Gotham Gangbusters’ euphoric output from those war years, even though in those long-ago dark days, comics creators were wise enough to offset and counterbalance their tales of espionage and imminent invasion with a barrage of home-grown threats as well as gentler or even more whimsical four-colour fare…

Past master of WWII-era material Thomas opens this tome with scene-setting Introduction Batman: The War Years and prefaces each chapter division with an essay offering tone and context before the four-colour glories commence with Part 1: From Perfidy to Pearl Harbor

Following the cover to Detective Comics #27, the first the Dark Knight story offers is the ‘Case of the Chemical Syndicate!’ by Bob Kane and his close collaborator Bill Finger. The spartan, understated yarn introduces dilettante criminologist and playboy wastrel Bruce Wayne, drawn into a straightforward crime wherein a cabal of industrialists are successively murdered. The killings stop only when an eerie figure dubbed “The Bat-Man” intrudes on Police Commissioner Gordon’s stalled investigation and ruthlessly deals with the hidden killer.

Most of the early tales were untitled, but for everyone’s convenience have in later years been given descriptive appellations by the editors, and were teeming with intriguing extras.

Cover-dated November 1939, Detective Comics #33 featured Gardner Fox & Kane’s (with lifetime ghost-artist Sheldon Moldoff quietly toiling on in unsung anonymity with the named creator) ‘The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom’: a blockbusting disaster thriller which just casually slips in the secret origin of the Gotham Guardian, as mere prelude to intoxicating air-pirate adventure…

With backgrounds inked by new kid Jerry Robinson, the Grim Detective hunted all-pervasive enemy agents in Finger & Kane’s ‘The Spies’. They ultimately prove no match for the vengeful Masked Manhunter in #37.

The covers for Detective Comics #38 (April 1940 and introducing Robin) and Batman #1 (Spring 1940) then precede Finger, Kane, Robinson & George Roussos’ ‘The Strange Case of the Diabolical Puppet Master’: an eerie episode of uncanny mesmerism and infamous espionage first seen in Batman #3 (Fall 1940).

The all-out action continues with a magnificent horrific Joker jape from Detective Comics #45 (November 1940) as ‘The Case of the Laughing Death’ displays the Harlequin of Hate undertaking a campaign of macabre murder against everyone who has ever defied or offended him. Apart from its release date, the wartime connection comes through the catastrophic climax aboard a ship under full steam…

Detective #55 (September 1941, by Finger, Kane, Robinson & Roussos) favours a back-to-basics approach with spectacular mad scientist thriller ‘The Brain Burglar’ as diabolical Dr. Deker plunders the thoughts and inventions of patriotic armaments inventors.

From Batman #8 (newly-promoted to bi-monthly just as the nation began paper-rationing), cover-dated December 1941-January 1942, comes a then-rare foray into science fiction as a scientist abused by money-grubbing financial backers turns himself into a deadly radioactive marauder in ‘The Strange Case of Professor Radium.’ This tale was later radically revised and recycled by Finger & Kane as a sequence of the Batman daily newspaper strip…

This initial section then closes with the cover to Batman #10 before neatly segueing into Part 2: The Home Front War: a section heavy on the unforgettable patriotic covers crafted by Fred Ray, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson and others: preceded here by a context-establishing briefing from Thomas.

As the heroes’ influence expanded, new talent joined the stable of creators. Jerry Robinson had already worked with writer Bill Finger and penciller Bob Kane, and during this period more scripters gradually joined the ever-expanding team to detail morale-boosting adventures during the darkest days of World War II.

I’m certain it’s no coincidence that many of these Golden Age treasures are also some of the best and most reprinted tales in the Batman canon. With Finger at a peak of creativity and production, everybody on the Home Front was keen to do their bit – even if that was simply making kids of all ages forget their troubles for a while…

Beginning with a gallery consisting of World’s Finest Comics #5. 6 and 7 (Ray), Detective #64 and 65 (Robinson, with Joe Simon & Jack Kirby pitching in on the latter) and Batman #12 (Robinson & Roussos), the story portion then offers the astounding case of ‘The Harlequin’s Hoax!’ (Detective #69 November 1942) with Joseph Greene, Kane, Robinson & Roussos detailing the Joker’s latest escapade, which ends explosively in an aircraft factory…

The chapter ends – following the stunning Robinson cover for Batman#12 – with Don Cameron’s ‘Swastika Over the White House!’ (limned by Jack & Ray Burnley from Batman #14, October/November 1942): a typically rousing slice of spy-busting action readers were gratuitously lapping up at the time.

Part 3: Guarding the Home Front opens with another historically-informative essay – and Jack Burnley’s cover to Batman #15 – before Cameron and those Burnley boys introduce plucky homeless boy Bobby Deen as ‘The Boy Who Wanted to be Robin!’ so badly he became an easy mark for a sinister Svengali…

The same art team illustrated Finger’s powerful propaganda tale ‘The Two Futures’, which examined an America under Nazi subjugation after which Cameron, Kane & Robinson go back to spooky basics in Detective Comics #73 (March 1943) as ‘The Scarecrow Returns’, intent on profiting from wrecking American morale through a campaign of terror…

Following Burnley’s cover to World’s Finest #9 (Spring 1943) is Finger, Robinson & Roussos’ saga of a criminal mastermind who invents a sure-fire ‘Crime of the Month!’ scheme from that same anthological issue.

Augmented by the all-Robinson eye-catcher from the front of Batman #17 (June/July 1943), WFC #10 (Summer) provides Finger, Robinson & Roussos’ ‘The Man with the Camera Eyes’: a gripping battle of wits between the tireless Gotham Guardians and a crafty crook possessing an eidetic memory, leading to the chapter’s end and a stunning Burnley masterpiece from the front of World’s Finest #11 (Fall 1943)…

Part 4: Closing the Ring supplements that vital history feature with the cover to Batman #18 – by Ed Kressey, Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye – before Finger, Kane & Roussos introduce a fascinating new wrinkle to villainy with the conflicted doctor who operates ‘The Crime Clinic’ in Detective #77. Crime Surgeon Matthew Thorne would return many times over the coming decades…

The next issue (#78, August 1943) then pushes the patriotic agenda with ‘The Bond Wagon’ (by Greene, Burnley & Roussos) wherein Robin’s efforts to raise war funds through a parade of historical look-alikes is targeted by Nazi spies and sympathisers.

Batman #19 (October/November) then delivers the magnificent artwork of rising star Dick Sprang who pencilled breathtaking fantasy masterpiece ‘Atlantis Goes to War!’ with the Dynamic Duo rescuing that fabled submerged city from overwhelming U-Boat assault.

The same creative team returned for Batman #21 (February/March 1944) as detailing the sly antics of murderous big city mobster Chopper Gant who cons a military historian into planning his capers, briefly bamboozling Batman and Robin with his warlike ‘Blitzkrieg Bandits!’

‘The Curse of Isis’ comes from WFC #13 (Spring 1944) courtesy of Finger & Jack Burnley with inks by brother Ray & George Roussos: a maritime mystery of superstition, smugglers and sabotage with devious transatlantic crooks targeting hapless American Merchant Marine sailors, after which a legendary classic still proves its worth and punch…

Crafted at the end of 1944, Greene & Sprang’s ‘The Year 3000!’ was a timely allegory of recent terrors and earnest warning to tomorrow as the usual scenario boldly switches to an idyllic future despoiled when the Saturnian hordes of Fura invade Earth and nearly crush humanity.

Happily, one brave man and his young friend find records of ancient heroes named Batman and Robin and, patterning themselves on the long-gone champions, lead a rebellion which overturns and eradicates those future fascists…

The war’s end and aftermath are covered in the feature opening Part 5: Victory after which this titanic tome concludes on a redemptive high note as ‘Batman Goes to Washington!’ (Alvin Schwartz & Robinson, from Batman #28, April/May 1945) finds the Dark Knight supporting a group of former criminals heading to the nation’s capital to argue the case for jobs for ex-offenders.

Typically, some gang bosses react to the threat to their potential labour pool with murderous overkill and the whole affair is neatly completed by a brace of contemporary Sprang covers, from Detective Comics #101 (July) and Batman #30 (August/September 1944).

This stuff set the standard for comic superheroes. Whatever you like now, you owe it to these tales. Superman gave us the idea, and writers like Finger and Cameron refined and defined the meta-structure of the costumed crime-fighter. Where the Man of Steel was as much social force and wish fulfilment as hero, Batman and Robin did what we ordinary mortals wanted and needed to do. They taught bad people the lesson they deserved.

The history of the American comic book industry – in almost every major aspect – stems from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of DC’s twin icons: Superman and Batman. These wartime tales cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin, bringing welcome surcease to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to Buy This Book…
™ & © 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Mimi and the Wolves volume 1


By Albaster Pizzo (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-548-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A New Fairy Tale with Plenty of Bite… 9/10

Alabaster Pizzo is an animator and cartoonist who hails from New York, but these days makes her living in Los Angeles. A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, she’s been intermittently releasing episodes of an epic anthropomorphic post-modern fantasy since 2013.

When not animating or storyboarding for major companies you or your kids are quite familiar with, she crafts her own comics such as Ralphie and Jeanie, Hellbound Lifestyle and more of the one under consideration here…

Those early Mimi minicomics – three thus far – have been lavishly compiled into a sturdy hardback monochrome tome by the astute powers-that-be of British publisher Avery Hill and comprise the opening salvo in what I trust will be a potent and lengthy allegory for personal empowerment… as all the best fairy tales are…

Preceded by a handy and informative map of the bucolic Hilly City region and a roll call of the major characters, Mimi and The Wolves Act I ‘The Dream’ opens with enigmatic, voyeuristic magician Severine chiding her attendant spirits in snow-draped forests before herbalist Mimi goes gathering plants and herbs for the constructions, concoctions and confections she makes.

Times are tough for her and partner Bobo, but they have good friends in the same boat and each other, so the treehouse they live in is all they really need…

The couple spend a lot of time helping out old farmers Cato and Ceres. Shady Island Farm is getting to be too much for them, so trading toil for food is always a welcome standby option…

Thankfully, Saffron at the general store is always ready to trade for Mimi’s creations and the farm’s dwindling produce, but the sensitive artisan is painfully aware that unrelenting strain is getting the better of her fellow workers. Tough but happily idyllic, life would be perfect for Mimi if only she wasn’t plagued by horrific dreams and terrifying nightmares…

Determined to get to the bottom of her traumas, Mimi distils a brew to provoke a lucid dream and is “rewarded” with an audience: a face to face confrontation with a seeming goddess calling herself the Holy Venus. The ethereal visitor tells her to seek out like-minded others and reveals to her a strange symbol by which she will know them…

As spring turns to summer, the image obsesses her and becomes part of her artistic output, much to the growing discomfort and increasing resentment of Bobo. Evermore distracted, Mimi forages deeper into the woods around the village and one day comes face to face with a huge wolf…

For small woodland creatures like her and Bobo, the giant predators are a constant terror, but this one is different. His name is Ergot and he is a dedicated follower of the Holy Venus. In Mimi he sees not lunch, but a fellow congregant. Before long she is invited to join his pack and share knowledge. Hungry for answers – and new experiences – the little artisan slowly falls under Ergot’s sway, and her life changes forever…

Act II ‘The Den’ was included in Best American Comics 2015 and reveals how life has treated Mimi since Bobo turned into an abusive controlling dick and she moved in with the wolves. Ergot and his mate Ivy have been sharing history and doctrine with her, but other than her former lover Mimi still maintains contact with hr other friends in Hilly City.

That circle expands when Ceres and Cato take in wandering musician Kiko, and all but implodes when Mimi finally introduces them all to Ergot. Some prejudices are hardwired and cannot be placated or ameliorated…

Life becomes even more bewildering after she meets other wolfpacks. Cobalt, Copper and Opal are friendly enough – although they have unspoken problems with Ergot – but night-dark Nero and Galena live up to every scary stereotype the city folk hold dear… and they seem to have an unsettling, unspecified interest in Mimi…

Events take a dark turn in Act III ‘The Howl’ after the revelation that constantly-observing Severine has a foreboding connection to the Holy Venus and is gradually enacting a long plan. Mimi, however, is now fully inducted into the pack, but blithely unaware that she is a highly desirable pawn in plans between rival groups who act more like cult “Families” than simple kin.

When Nero approaches her, she is so terrified that she flees back to her city friends, but soon returns to the lupine lair and agrees to attend a large gathering of packs.

And in the unnoticed background, Kiko quietly observes all…

Joining the Howl is a big mistake. Mimi is attacked by Nero and given to the Holy Venus as an offering. Although possibly an induced hallucination, in the aftermath allegiances amongst the smaller packs are now twisted and shifted. When Ergot reverts to his true nature, the Goddess makes her move and Mimi comes into her true power…

One common notion of Paradises, Edens and Utopias is that they are always under imminent threat of ending. Life in the allegorical Hilly City and evergreen woods is a rural and a small town ideal, but it’s never portrayed as immutable and stable. Amidst the cunning social echoes of Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons – as plain and simple rustic folk eke out a hard but generally rewarding life – comes an implicit awareness that things beyond the group are disrupting and potentially harmful. Dissent is bad, change is bad, we trust only ourselves are proven truisms but they don’t mean a thing if the society harbours – and hinders – a rebel who needs to find their true self…

Bewitching and enticing, this is a magical mystery tour of self-discovery that will charm and reward readers, so why not start your own quest for knowledge by joining this pack?
© Alabaster Pizzo. All rights reserved.