Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians


By Ricardo Delgado with colours by Ryan Hill & Jim Campbell (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-820-8 (TPB) eISBN: 978-63008-360-1

As we’re confronted with the prospect of our own extinction-level event – yes, that’s hyperbole, but tell that to the scared millions who can’t actually envisage a world without themselves in it – let’s enjoy ourselves whenever and however we can. For me that’s comics, so let’s look at a classic paperback tome now available in digital editions…

There’s an irresistible, nigh-visceral appeal to dinosaurs. Most of us variously – and too often haphazardly – over-evolved apes seem to be irresistibly drawn to all forms of education and entertainment featuring monster lizards of our primordial past.

Designed as a purely visual experience, the beguiling series of sequences from Ricardo Delgado still represents one of the most honestly enchanting brushes with prehistory ever imagined. His initial run of Age of Reptiles opened a window onto distant eons of saurian dominance and – completely devoid of sound or text – provided a profound, pantomimic silent movie focusing on everyday experiences which simply have to be exactly how it was, way back then…

Crafted by one of the most respected concept and storyboard men in Hollywood (with credits for Men in Black, The Incredibles, WALL-E, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Matrix and much more) the dino-dramas and sauro-sagas offered – even in comics – a unique reading experience which must be seen to be believed. The tales originally appeared as a sequence of miniseries between 1993 and 2010 before being subsequently collected as individual compilations. In 2011 a titanic tome, part of Dark Horse’s excellent and economical Omnibus line, gathered the material into one handy Brachiosaur-sized book to treasure forever.

And in 2015 Delgado found time to do it all over again utilising fresh facts unearthed about a unique region of the antediluvian world…

Collecting that 4-issue miniseries Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians opens with an enthusiastic Foreword from author Alan Dean Foster and another text piece from Barbara S. Grandstaff (PhD) explaining what Egypt was like at the height of the Cenomanian Era, when this saga is stirringly set…

The brutal struggle to survive and procreate is followed by Delgado’s original essays from the miniseries, affording us a view into his process and influences via ‘The Revolver and the Katana’, ‘The Agony of Gwanji in Alajuela’ and ‘The Bahariya Formation… and Other Stuff’, as well as offering a gallery of wraparound covers and ‘Character Sketches and Color Guides’. So, what happens in the middle? Life, Death and Everything…

Once upon a time, a lonely Araripesuchus (Rat Croc to me and thee) took a stroll down a river. He met some Carcharodontosuars, Deltadromeus, Paralititans, Rugops, Spinosaurs, Stomatosuchus and others. Not everything wanted to kill or eat him…

As in all these tales, the astoundingly rendered and realised scenery and environment are as much leading characters in the drama as any meat and muscle protagonists. Moreover, all the opportunistic scavengers and hangers-on that prowl the peripheries of the river and plains are ever-eager to take momentary advantage …

Delgado has an unquestioned and incredibly infectious love for his subject, a sublime feel for spectacle and an unmatchable gift for pace and narrative progression. Coupled to the deft hand which imbues the vast range and cast of big lizards with instantly recognisable individual looks and characters, this ensures the reader knows exactly who is doing what. There’s even room for some unexpectedly but most welcome rough-love humour in this brilliantly simple primal time drama…
Text & illustration of Age of Reptiles™: Ancient Egyptians © 2015, 2016 Ricardo Delgado. All rights reserved.

The Light and Darkness War


By Tom Veitch & Cam Kennedy (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-180-8 (HB)

During the 1980s, the American comics scene enjoyed an astounding proliferation of new titles and companies in the wake of the creation of the Direct Sales Market. With publishers able to firm-sale straight to retail outlets rather than overprint and accept returned copies from non-specialised vendors, the industry was able to support less generic titles and creators could experiment without losing their shirts.

In response, Marvel Comics developed a line of creator-owned properties at the height of the subsequent publishing explosion, launching a number of idiosyncratic, impressive series in a variety of formats under the watchful, canny eye of Editor Archie Goodwin. The delightfully disparate line was dubbed Epic Comics and the results reshaped the industry.

These days, that font of independence and creativity is threatened by the major publishers’ timidity in the face of COVID19 and just the general costs of doing business. The medium you love is under threat again. If you can support your local comic shop – even through online sales – please do so. If that’s too late, then just buy more stuff in digital form. At least then smaller publishers can keep going and we won’t lose comics as a form altogether…

Now, back to your irregularly scheduled reading recommendation…

One of the most evocative Epic releases was a darkly compelling war/fantasy/science fiction serial with a beautifully simple core concept: Valhalla is real and forever…

Conceived and created by author, poet and comics scribe Tom Veitch (Legion of Charlies, Antlers in the Treetops, Animal Man, Star Wars: Dark Empire) and Scottish national treasure Cam Kennedy (Fighting Mann, Judge Dredd, Batman, Star Wars: Dark Empire), The Light and Darkness War originally ran from October 1988 to September 1989, just as that period of exuberant creative freedom was giving way to a marketplace dominated by reductive exploitation led by speculators.

Because of that downturn, this fantastic saga of martial pride and redemption through valiant service in the Great Beyond never really got the popular acclaim it deserved, hopefully something this glorious hardback or eBook retrospective compilation from Titan Comics can belatedly address…

Following heartfelt reminiscences and an appreciation in the ‘Foreword by Commander Mike Beidler, USN Retired’, the astounding fable introduces paraplegic Vietnam war veteran Lazarus Jones, a broken, troubled warrior for whom the fighting never ended.

Home when he should have died with his inseparable friends, plagued with red-hot memories of beloved comrades lost when their Huey went down, by 1978 the wheelchair-bound wreck of a man is in a most parlous state.

Shattered by what will one day be designated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Laz cannot help making life hell for his devoted wife Chris. His miserable existence takes an even darker turn when Jones begins seeing visions of long-gone Huff, Slaw and Engle, all calling him to join them.

A little later when Chris’ car crashes, Laz is severely hurt and left in a coma he might never awake from…

Elsewhere on the other side of Eternity, a shadowy shape speaks to Lazarus offering a choice: he can go back or he can join his long-departed brothers …

Thus begins a fantastic adventure as the half-man is restored to perfect health and reunited with those who know him best. The catch is that this afterlife is like nothing any holy book ever promised. It’s a vast cosmos of painful, unrelenting physicality where strange alien species commingle and Earth’s dead continue much as they had before.

Pilots steer gunships – albeit flying ones made of stone and levitated by little blue aliens called “menteps” – Leonardo da Vinci carries on inventing weapons for powerful lords, and soldiers from every era have one more chance to serve and die…

Miraculously and joyously restored, Laz eagerly rejoins Engle, Slaw and Huff in the only thing he was ever good at. Manning a flying boat armed with light-powered weapons he becomes part of a vast force perpetually defying an unimaginable wave of invading evil from the Outer Darkness.

It’s a war with no overall plan or envisaged endgame, just eternal conflict, but recently a dark lord named Na has risen to the foremost rank of the “Deadsiders” and the legions of night seem to be gaining an advantage in the never-ending conflict fought on a million planets and a billion fronts…

For five hundred years however, the genius da Vinci has created weapons that have checked the rapid advance and held the invaders to a tenuous stalemate, but Deadsiders are tirelessly patient and resort to inexorably taking worlds one at a time.

But now a novel event has taken place. Although Lazarus has happily enlisted in the army of Light comprised of those who died in battle on Earth, on the other side of the sky his body is still alive…

Stationed on besieged world Black Gate, Laz and the “Light Gang” are unable to prevent libidinous Lord Na from infiltrating and overcoming the planetary defences, but at least they save Governor Nethon’s daughter Lasha from becoming the conqueror’s latest power-supplying plaything.

Although gradually winning the war for the dark, Na is impatient for a faster outcome. To achieve that end he has his necromancers rediscover an ancient, long-forgotten way to contact the Earth realm and dupes millionaire arms-dealer and devout Satanist Niles Odom into creating a device to physically bridge the dimensions.

Na’s wishes are simple; he wants earthly particle weapons, rail guns, atom bombs…

The unwitting dupe building Odom’s bridge is Nicky Tesla, a brilliant physicist whose intellect rivals that of his dead uncle Nikola, the wizard of electricity who once astounded the world.

With his clairvoyant girlfriend Delpha, little Nicky has used uncle’s old researches to complete an inter-realm gate for crazy-rich Odom, but when an army of zombies come through it and abduct him and Delpha nobody is prepared for what follows.

As the scientists are dragged across into an impossible world where Uncle Nikola is alive again, Laz and the Light Gang – following in Na’s wake – explosively head the other way…

They soon find themselves trapped on their birth-world, just as whole and hale as the day they died… and where Jones still languishes somewhere in a hospital bed.

With all the Afterworlds at stake, they have no choice but to fight their way back to the War again…

Also embellishing this gloriously fulsome chronicle is a sketch-&-developmental art ‘Background Briefing’ by Veitch & Kennedy, discussing the Underground Comic origins and antecedents of the story as well as the history, physics and metaphysics of The Light and Darkness War plus a potent overview and personal recollection from Stephen R. Bissette, ‘Endless War: The Life, Loss and Afterlife of Lazarus Jones’.

Fast paced, suspenseful, astonishingly imaginative and utterly beautiful to behold, the complex tale of Laz’s team and their struggle, how two generations of Tesla reshape a war that has been waged forever, and how in the end only love and devotion can battle overwhelming evil is a masterpiece of graphic endeavour and one no lover of fantasy fiction should miss.
The Light and Darkness War is ™ and © 2015 Tom Veitch & Cam Kennedy. All rights reserved.

Comanche volume 2: Warriors of Despair


By Hermann & Greg, translated by Montana Kane (Europe Comics)
No ISBN. Digital only edition

Welcome to another Wild West Wednesday with a self-indulgent peek at a favourite book I first read way back in the 1980s, crafted by two Belgian masters of graphic narrative.

Best known as Greg, Michel Régnier was born in 1931 in Ixelles. The cartoonist, writer editor and publisher sold his first series – Les Aventures de Nestor et Boniface – at age 16 to Belgian magazine Vers l’Avenir and followed up over many decades with legendary strips such as Luc Orient, Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince and Achille Talon in Héroic Albums, Le Journal de Spirou (scripting the title feature amongst many others), Paddy and Le Journal de Tintin (which he eventually edited from 1966-1974). One of his new finds on Spirou during this period was an artist named Hermann Huppen…

Greg is estimated to have worked as writer or artist on more than 250 strip albums during his career. He died in 1999, leaving behind an astounding and beautiful legacy of drama and adventure.

Hermann Huppen entered the world on July 17th 1938 in what’s now the Malmedy region of Liège Province. He studied to become an interior architect and furniture maker but was thankfully swayed and diverted by comics. His narrative career began in 1963 but really took off three years later when he joined with writer Greg to create cop series Bernard Prince for Le Journal de Tintin. The artist then added to his weekly chores with Roman adventure serial Jugurtha (scripted by Jean-Luc Vernal).

In 1969, Hermann expanded his portfolio further, adding Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output. At this time Charlier & Jean Giraud’s epic Blueberry was reaching its peak of excellence…

Bernard Prince and Comanche made Hermann a superstar of the industry – a status built upon with further classics such as The Towers of Bois-Maury, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16 and many more (I estimate upwards of 24 separate series and a total north of 94 albums, but I bet I’m falling short).

In 1978 Hermann bravely dropped guaranteed money-spinner Bernard Prince to create as (writer and illustrator) Jeremiah but he stayed with Comanche until 1982 (10 albums in total) because of his abiding love for western-themed yarns.

Thanks to digital-only publishing commune Europe Comics, it’s easy to see why in this second translated volume of the sprawling cowboy epic which here resumes with no-longer wandering gunslinger Red Dust and his new friends at the Triple 6 ranch. The taciturn hombre has found a home – if not peace and quiet – after joining a most unlikely band of comrades on an on-its-uppers cattle spread in Wyoming. The heart of the ranch crew are crotchety ancient pioneer Ten Gallons and the new owner he dotes upon: a young, lovely and immensely stubborn woman called Comanche

Comprised of linked weekly episodes, and originally published in 1978, ‘Warrior of Despair’ sees our quotidian, ever-expanding cast prepare steers for hungry railway workers rapidly build their way across the plains. The backbreaking toil is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of a party of Cheyenne who want the beef the cowboys are guarding…

A fractious but peaceful conference reveals the Indians are starving: the supplies they’ve been promised by treaty haven’t arrived and no one can locate the Government’s Indian Agent to sort out the problem…

After the warriors rush off with the cattle, she and Red join them at their camp in a last attempt to prevent a mess becoming a crisis. The upshot is that Dust has three days to find the Agent and restore the missing provisions. For that time Comanche will remain a “guest” of the tribe…

And so begins a desperate chase with double-dealing, ingrained mistrust and sheer bad luck on all sides hindering the quest and leading to the inescapable conclusion that the plains will soon be awash in flame and blood…

An epic tale in the classical manner of the western genre, this yarn also has plenty of European style and ingenuity to recue it from the unreconstructed mire, uncomfortable associations and unsavoury old tropes that make even venerated old movie an uncomfortable experience in these enlightened days.

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

A splendid confection of Cowboys and Indians combined with sleek yet gritty European style, Warriors of Despair is a timeless treat comics fans and movie lover will adore. Don’t miss out on a chance to enjoy one of the most celebrated comics classics of all time…
© 2017 – LE LOMBARD – HERMANN & GREG. All rights reserved.

Yoko Tsuno volume 8 the Devil’s Organ


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

The edgy yet uncannily accessible European exploits of Japanese scientific adventurer Yoko Tsuno began gracing the pages of Le Journal de Spirou in September 1970 and are still going strong, with latest album Anges et faucons released last year.

The engaging, eye-popping, expansively globe-girdling multi award-winning series was created by Belgian Roger Leloup, a man of many talents born in 1933. He toiled as one of Herge’s meticulous researchers and background assistants on the Adventures of Tintin strip before striking out on his own.

Compellingly told, superbly imaginative but always solidly placed in hyper-realistic settings sporting utterly authentic and unshakably believable technology, these illustrated epics were at the forefront of a wave of strips featuring competent, brave and immensely successful female protagonists which revolutionised European comics from the 1970s onwards and are as potently empowering now as they ever were. I just wish they were more popular in English (that’s my job I suppose) and that publisher Cinebook would release few more than the dozen or so currently available. It would also be nice if such a forward-looking feature was available in digital editions…

The first Spirou stories ‘Hold-up en hi-fi’, ‘La belle et la bête’ and ‘Cap 351’ were all short introductory vignettes before the formidable Miss Tsuno and her ever-awestruck and overwhelmed male comrades truly hit their stride with premier extended saga Le trio de l’étrange, which began serialisation with the May 13th 1971 issue.

That epic of extraterrestrial intrigue was the first of 29 European albums, promptly followed here with a more down-to-earth but equally breathtaking contemporary thriller set in the heart of Germany against a merely mortal menace who was every inch her match…

Serialised in 1972 as L’orgue du diable in Spirou #1767-1793, the suspenseful thriller first reached us as 8th translated chronicle The Devil’s Organ and begins when young TV mogul Vic Van Steen and frivolous cameraman pal Pol Paristake their new chum – sleekly capable freelance Japanese electrical engineer Yoko Tsuno – with them up the so-scenic Rhine to shoot a travel documentary.

What the working tourists don’t realise is that the epic views and beautiful castles were recently the scene of a bizarre duel which left one man dead whilst his improbably garbed, demonic murderer escaped without anyone knowing a crime had been committed…

Now a week later, Pol is not so subtly ogling (and filming) a comely fräulein on the top deck of the stately, palatial riverboat when the subject of his attentions falls into the chilly waters.

Yoko is only seconds behind him as the cameraman hits the water trying to save the girl. When they are all hauled back aboard, the Japanese adventurer discovers the nearly drowned victim has been drugged…

Ingrid Hallberg is one of Germany’s most promising young classical organists and she has made the trip to the idyllic, fairy tale region to see where her father took his own life a week previously. However, when Pol’s voyeuristic photos are developed, they reveal a strange man injecting her with something before pushing her into the river and Yoko begins to suspect that the senior Hallberg’s death might not be all it appears either. Adding to the mystery is a strange tape he sent Ingrid which she was intending to play once she arrived at his now deserted home in Sankt Goar

As always, the most potent asset of these edgy dramas is the astonishingly authentic and hyper-realistic settings, which benefit from Leloup’s diligent research and meticulous attention to detail. Tourists could use these pages as an A-Z and never get lost, except in rapturous wonder…

As they accompany the damp damsel Yoko discovers the girl has been electronically bugged and urges all haste, with the party arriving just as a masked man flees the house with the tape. Giving chase, Yoko finds herself facing no ordinary foe and despite all her martial arts skills is near death by the time her friends catch up. The mystery man gets away but not with all of the tape…

The fragment that remains lead the baffled, battered heroes to buried copper artefacts which were part of an incredible restoration project. Werner Hallberg, being an expert in church music and instruments, was apparently contracted to restore a 16th century contraption for an anonymous millionaire. The colossal ancient device was known as The Devil’s Organ and, from what the modern tech team can discern, it was actually a sonic weapon of devastating power…

Tracking down the original location of the device at the world-famous Katz fortress, the self-appointed detectives settle on its current occupier Otto Meyer as the likely wealthy patron who hired Werner. Determined to get to the bottom of the criminal conundrum, they barge in on him, only to be attacked by his misanthropic and overprotective nephew Karl. Over the young man’s strenuous objections, the elder Meyer surprisingly invites the wary intruders to stay and look around all they want.

Cautiously accepting, they continue their enquiries in plain sight but are all too soon the latest targets in the mysterious murderer’s sights…

It takes all Yoko’s considerable ingenuity and boldness to stay one step ahead of the hidden killer, but when she finally unmasks the villain and learns his sordid reasons for the deaths it is almost too late: the Organ from Hell is ready to sound and nothing can prevent it from unleashing a horrific wave of destruction.

…But that doesn’t stop Yoko Tsuno from giving it one final mighty try…

Absorbing, compelling and blending tense suspense with blistering adventure, this is another superbly rationalist mystery and fantastic exploit of the most unsung of all female action heroes: one you’ve waited far too long to meet…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1973 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2013 © Cinebook Ltd.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 6


By Bill Finger, Don Cameron, Jack Schiff, Mort Weisinger, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Samachson, Joseph Greene, Edmond Hamilton, Bob Kane, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9416-8 (TPB)

Debuting a year after Superman, “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 Steel, 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 crime-busters were judged.

Batman: The Golden Age is a series of paperback feasts (there are also weightier, pricier, more capacious hardback Omnibus editions available, and digital iterations too) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Presented in original publishing release order, the tomes trace the character’s growth into the icon who would inspire so many and develop the resilience needed to survive the stifling cultural vicissitudes that coming decades would inflict upon him and his partner, Robin.

Re-presenting a glorious and astounding treasure-trove of cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #82-92, Batman #21-25 as well as contemporary companion tales from World’s Finest Comics #12-14, this book covers groundbreaking escapades from April/May 1943 to December 1943 to October 1944: with the Dynamic Duo continually developing and storming ahead of all competition even as the war and its themes began to fade away from the collective comics consciousness.

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. These Golden Age greats are some of the finest tales in Batman’s decades-long canon, as lead writers Bill Finger and Don Cameron, supplemented by Joe Samachson, Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene and Mort Weisinger, pushed the boundaries of the adventure medium whilst graphic genius Dick Sprang slowly superseded and surpassed Bob Kane and Jack Burnley, making the feature uniquely his own and keeping the Peerless Pair at the forefront of a vast army of superhero successes. Moreover, with the end of WWII in sight, the escapades became upbeat and more wide-ranging…

These tales were crafted just as triumph was turning in the air and an odour of hopeful optimism was creeping into the escapist, crime-busting yarns – and especially the stunning covers – seen here in the work of Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Bob Kane Jack Burnley, Dick Sprang, Charles Paris and Stan Kaye…

War always stimulates creativity and advancement and these sublime adventures of Batman and Robin more than prove that axiom as the growing band of creators responsible for producing myriad adventures of the Dark Knight hit an artistic peak which only stellar stable-mate Superman and Fawcett’s Captain Marvel were able to equal or even approach.

We start here with Detective Comics #82 as Cameron, Kane & George Roussos explore the dark side of American Football through the rise and explosive downfall of the ‘Quarterback of Crime!’ after which premiere anthology World’s Finest Comics #12 reveals how ‘Alfred Gets His Man!’ (Finger & Sprang), as Batman’s faithful new retainer revives his own boyhood dreams of being a successful detective with hilarious and action-packed results…

Portly butler Alfred’s diet regime thereafter led the Gotham Guardians to a murderous mesmerising medic and criminal insurance scam in ‘Accidentally on Purpose!’, courtesy of Cameron, Kane & Roussos (Detective #83), after which Batman #21 caters an all-Sprang art extravaganza.

The drama opened with slick Schiff-scripted tale ‘The Streamlined Rustlers’, following the Gotham Gangbusters way out west to solve a devilish mystery and crush a gang of beef-stealing black market black hats, after which Cameron describes the antics of murderous big city mobster Chopper Gant who cons a military historian into planning his capers and briefly stymies Batman and Robin with his warlike ‘Blitzkrieg Bandits!’

Alvin Schwartz penned delightfully convoluted romp ‘His Lordship’s Double’ which sees newly dapper, slimline manservant Alfred asked to impersonate a purportedly crowd-shy aristocratic inventor… only to become the victim in a nasty scheme to secure the true toff’s latest invention…

It all culminates with ‘The Three Eccentrics’ by Joe Greene, which detailing the wily Penguin’s schemes to empty the coffers of a trio of Gotham’s wealthiest misfits…

Over in Detective Comics #84, Mort Weisinger & Sprang (with layouts by Ed Kressy)

pit the Partners in Peril against an incredible Underworld University churning out ‘Artists in Villainy’ before #85 – written by Bill Finger – glories in Sprang’s first brush with the Clown Prince of Crime. In one of the most madcap moments in the entire annals of adventure, Batman and his arch-foe almost unite to hunt for the daring desperado who stole the Harlequin of Hate’s shtick and glory as ‘The Joker’s Double’

World’s Finest Comics #13 featured ‘The Curse of Isis!’ (Finger & Jack Burnley, inked by brother Ray & Roussos): a maritime mystery of superstition, smugglers and sabotage after which Batman #22 offers another quicksilver quartet of classics beginning with ‘The Duped Domestics!’ by Schwartz, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson, wherein a select number of Gotham’s butlers are targeted by a sultry seductress looking for easy inroads to swanky houses. Despite being an old enemy of Batman’s, “Belinda” more than meets her match when Alfred becomes her next patsy…

When the little rich boy secretly takes a menial job, his generous guardian is rightly baffled but after ‘Dick Grayson, Telegraph Boy!’ (Finger, Burney & Robinson) exposes a criminal enterprise centred around Gotham Observatory, the method of his madness soon becomes clear.

A new solo series debuted as Mort Weisinger & Robinson launched ‘The Adventures of Alfred’ with ‘Conversational Clue!’, wherein Batman’s batman misapprehends an overheard word at the library and stumbles into a safecracking gang. The issue concludes with ‘The Cavalier Rides Again!’ (Finger, Burnley & Charles Paris) as the Dashing Desperado mystifyingly begins bagging cheap imitations rather than authentic booty in his ongoing campaign to best the Batman…

In Detective #86, Cameron & Sprang recount how a sleuthing contest between Bruce, Dick and Alfred leads to a spectacular battle against sinister smugglers in ‘Danger Strikes Three!’ and further dramas unfold in #87’s ‘The Man of a Thousand Umbrellas’ written by Joseph Greene.

The Penguin had a bizarre appeal and the Wicked Old Bird has his own cover banner whenever he resurfaced, as in this beguiling crime-spree highlighting his uncanny arsenal of weaponised parasols, brollies and bumbershoots…

The Harlequin of Hate led in Batman #23, with Finger, Sprang & Gene McDonald’s eccentric thriller ‘The Upside Down Crimes!’, wherein the Joker turns the town topsy-turvy in his latest series of looting larcenies after which smitten Dick’s bold endeavours save classmate and ‘Damsel in Distress!’ (Cameron & Sprang) Marjory Davenport and her dad from gangster kidnappers. Unfortunately for him, she soon has her head turned by flamboyant Robin and the Boy Wonder becomes his own rival…

Anonymously scripted but again rendered by Jerry Robinson, ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Borrowed Butler!’ finds the domestic detective loaned out by Bruce Wayne to a snooty neighbour and accidentally uncovering an insider’s scheme to burgle the place.

Wrapping up this issue is another fact-packed “Police Division Story” with Batman and Robin joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to stop a vicious ring of fur bandits who have decided to forego robbing big city stores. Instead, the ‘Pelt Plunderers!’ (by Joe Samachson & Sprang) head due north to steal directly from the trappers…

As World War II staggered to a close and Home Front tensions subsided, spies gradually gave way to more domestic threats and menaces. Detective #88 offered a nasty glimpse at true villainy when ‘The Merchants of Misery’ – by Greene – pits the Dynamic Duo against merciless and murderous loan sharks preying on poverty-stricken families, whilst ‘Laboratory Loot!’, by Don Cameron in #89, sees the return of flamboyant crime enthusiast The Cavalier, who is ignominiously forced to join temporarily forces with Batman to thwart petty gangsters stealing loot he’d earmarked as his own…

World’s Finest Comics #14 again highlighted maritime menace as ‘Salvage Scavengers!’ (Finger Robinson & Roussos) plundered Gotham Harbor before Batman #24 adds a smidgen of science fiction flair and a dash of sheer whimsy to the regular mix. ‘It Happened in Rome’ (Samachson & Sprang) introduces Professor Carter Nichols who devises a method of time-travel dependant on deep hypnosis. His first subjects are old friend Bruce Wayne and his ward, who both wing back metaphysically back centuries for a sightseeing trip and end up saving a charioteer from race-fixers as Batmanus and Robin

Bruce also plays a pivotal role in ‘Convict Cargo!’ (Cameron & Sprang), masquerading as an embezzler to expose a ring of thugs offering perfect getaways to Gotham’s white-collar criminals. Happily, when the villain vacations turn out to be one-way trips, Gotham’s Guardians are on hand to mop up the pirates responsible.

Cameron & Robinson then describe how ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Police Line-Up!’ leads the bewildered butler into trailing the wrong crook but still nabbing a mob of bad eggs before portly purveyors of peril Tweedledum and Tweedledee(soon to be major motion picture stars!) connive their way into the position of ‘The Mayors of Yonville!’

Their flagrant abuse of civic power dumps the Dynamic Duo into jail but still isn’t enough to keep their goldmine scam from coming to light once the heroes bust out…

Detective Comics #90 exposes ‘Crime Between the Acts!’ (Greene & Kane) as the Caped Crusaders followed a Mississippi Riverboat full of crooked carnival performers from one plundered town to another, before Edmond Hamilton scripts a terrifically twisty tale in ‘The Case of the Practical Joker’, wherein some crazy and wisely anonymous prankster starts pulling stunts and having fun at the Crime Clown’s expense.

Batman #25 opens with lauded classic ‘Knights of Knavery’ (Cameron, Burnley& Robinson) which sees arch rivals Penguin and Joker join forces to steal the world’s biggest emerald and outwit all opposition, before falling foul of their own mistrust and arrogance once the Dark Knight puts his own thinking cap on.

Schwartz then leads the artists on an exotic journey as ‘The Sheik of Gotham City!’ sees an Arabian refugee working as a cab driver in Gotham abruptly restored to sovereignty over his usurped desert kingdom after our heroes foil an assassination attempt, before ‘The Adventures of Alfred: The Mesmerised Manhunter!’ (Cameron & Robinson) finds the off-duty domestic a plaything of a stage magician whilst simultaneously foiling a box office heist…

The action and suspense wrap up in spectacular style as Finger, Burnley & Robinson detail a saga of sabotage and redemption when the Dynamic Duo join the rough-and-ready electrical engineers known as ‘The Kilowatt Cowboys!’

As if the job of bringing the nation’s newest hydroelectric dam on line is not dangerous enough and a plague of thefts by murderous copper thieves isn’t cutting into productivity, most of Batman’s time is spent stopping rival wire men Jack and Alec from killing each other…

Greene and Sprang bring this marvel of nostalgic adventure to a close with ‘Crime’s Manhunt’ in Detective #92, with a particularly nasty band of bandits resorting to bounty hunting and turning in all their friends and associates for hefty rewards. Once they run out of pals to betray, they simply organise jailbreaks to provide more crooks to catch: a measure the Dark Knight takes extreme umbrage with…

The history of the American comicbook industry in almost every major aspect stem from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of DC’s twin icons: Superman and Batman.

It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in chronological order in a variety of formats from relatively economical newsprint paperbacks to deluxe hardcover commemorative Archive editions – and digital formats too.

These are the stories that 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…
© 1943, 1944, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Kurdles


By Robert Goodin (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-832-8 (HB)

The power of strip and picture books is that they can jump right through your eyes, bombarding but bypassing your brain and lodging straight into your heart. If you don’t believe me, just read Sock Monkey: Into the Deep Woods, A Wish for Wings That Work, Usagi Yojimbo, The Moomins and the Great Flood, Bone, Copper, The Squickerwonkers, Pogo or The Velveteen Rabbit.

In fact, read them anyway. You can never read enough.

You should also add to that list this splendidly eerie, all-ages cartoon tale from illustrator and animator Rob Goodin (Duckman, The Wild Thornberries, American Dad!) which blends – in the best tradition of the genre – crippling loneliness, astounding wonder and the finding of a new family; all delivered in a gloriously illustrated, magnificently oversized (305 x 222 mm) full-colour hardback tome that will take your breath away. It just as much a menace to respiration if you consume digitally, so you might do that too…

When little Ellie starts acting up again, poor Sally Bear gets flung out the car window on a cold, rainy night and left in the wilds to rot.

The trenchant little toy is made of far sterner stuff, however and, picking herself up, gamely wanders the terrifying great outdoors, narrowly avoiding doom and destruction from assorted beasts and natural hazards.

Battered and bedraggled, Sally eventually finds her way deep into a swamp where a bizarre conurbation exists. More accurately, one of the denizens of Kurdleton finds her, dragging the bedraggled bear back to a band of little weirdoes who extend jolly hands of friendship the damaged bear is too proud and standoffish to accept with any grace at all…

Claiming all she needs are directions back to the road, Sally is nevertheless soon embroiled in the jovial strangers’ ongoing crisis: their magnificent dwelling has contracted a strange malady and is growing hair and eyes…

Soon a case of Casa Pilosa – an infamous “Disease of the American Home” – is diagnosed. This house is coming alive…

That’s all the plot you get, and you’ll thank me for that when you see for yourselves this fabulously moving, suspensefully thrilling and wryly funny fractured fable of outcasts banding together into a potently different modern family.

Bold, beguiling and beautiful, The Kurdles is the kind of book you will remember forever.
The Kurdles © 2015 Robert Goodin. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Outsiders by Judd Winick volume 1: The Darker Side of Justice


By Judd Winick, Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez, Tom Raney, ChrisCross, Alé Garcia, Carlo Barberi, Ivan Reis, & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8851-8 (TPB)

Once upon a time, superheroes sat around their assorted lairs or went about their civilian pursuits until the call of duty summoned them like firemen – or Thunderbirds – to deal with a breaking emergency. In the grim and gritty world after Crisis on Infinite Earths, the concept changed with a number of costumed adventurers evolving into pre-emptive strikers – as best exemplified by covert penal battalion and cinema darlings The Suicide Squad. Soon the philosophy had spread far and wide…

Following the break-up of Young Justice and the – of course, temporary – death of founding Teen Titan Donna Troy, a number of her grief-stricken comrades also changed from First Responders to dedicated – if morally contentious – hunters tracking down threats and menaces before they attacked… or indeed committed crimes at all…

This volume collects the initial storyline which introduced Judd Winick’s aggressive new take on edgy team-concept the Outsiders, compiling material from Teen Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day, Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003 and issues #1-7 of the compelling and much-missed monthly comicbook that sprang from the first two…

Winick, Alé Garcia and inkers Trevor Scott, Marlo Alquiza & Lary Stucker subdivided the tale into ‘Invocation’, ‘Commencement’ and ‘Graduation Day’ as a really sexy robot arrives from the future just as juvenile superhero team Young Justice are getting on each other’s nerves and breaking up.

Her confused actions inadvertently release a deadly android stored at S.T.A.R. Labs, which neither the child heroes nor the Teen Titans can stop. In a cataclysmic battle both Omen and Donna Troy are killed. These tragedies lead to the dissolution of Young Justice, the formation of the covert and pre-emptive Outsiders and the reformation of a new Titans group dedicated to better training the heroes of tomorrow.

Even though a frightfully contrived ploy to launch some new titles, this tale is still a punchy and effective thriller from writer Winick, penciller Alé Garcia & inkers Trevor Scott, Larry Stucker and Marlo Alquiza.

In the aftermath of the deadly debacle, the surviving champions reformed the Teen Titans as a group dedicated to better training the heroes of tomorrow. However, CIA trained ex-Green Arrow sidekick Arsenal felt that it was not enough and convinced the heartbroken Nightwing to help devise a covert and pre-emptive pack of professionals to take out perceived threats before innocent lives were endangered. Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003 contributed a brace of tales setting the scene, beginning with ‘A Day After…’ by Winick, Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Mark Campos which peeks into the private lives of all involved whilst ‘Who was Donna Troy’ – written and drawn by Phil Jimenez, with inks by Andy Lanning – is a short, moving eulogy for the character set at her funeral with friends and guest-stars discussing her life and career.

The series proper begins with the 3-parter ‘Roll Call’, illustrated by Tom Raney & Scott Hanna. ‘Opening Offers’introduces new characters Thunder (daughter of original Outsider Black Lightning) and enigmatic super girl Grace, established player Jade, recently resurrected and amnesiac Rex Mason AKA Metamorpho the Element Man and, in a not particularly welcome, wise or team-building move, the futuristic fem-bot who had started the whole mess.

With her memory-banks scrubbed clean and desperately keen to redeem herself, Indigo adds eagerness and innocence to an embittered, but highly motivated and very determined team…

Their first mission catches them off-guard after a cruise ship is hijacked and an army of talking gorillas invades New York under the command of super-ape Grodd. However, the devastating actions of ‘Lawyers, Guns and Monkeys’ is quickly revealed to be no more than a sinister diversion as the Joker uses the chaos to abduct new American President Lex Luthor, leaving the team with the unwelcome task of rescuing one of the people they would most like to take out in ‘Joke’s on You’

ChrisCross & Sean Parsons depict the Outsiders’ first true hunting party in ‘Brothers in Blood’: part 1 ‘Small Potatoes’ as, after a series of small-time busts (acting on information from a mysterious and secret source), the squad uncover a diabolical scheme by religious maniac Brother Blood to steal one million babies…

The cult leader activates hypnotised deep-cover agents in ‘Finders Sleepers’ and almost murders Arsenal, but even as the hero is undergoing life-saving surgery, the Outsiders – assisted by two vengeful generations of Green Arrow – rocket to Antarctica where Blood is attempting to free and recruit 1,600 metahuman villains incarcerated in maximum security super-prison the Slab.

As the battle rages and casualties mount, Nightwing is forced to choose between saving the infants or allowing Blood and an army of criminals to escape in concluding chapter ‘Pandora’s Box’

This first collection ends on a powerfully poignant and personal note as Metamorpho at last discovers the shocking reason for his lack of memories and faces ultimate dissolution in the superbly downbeat and disturbing ‘Oedipus Rex’ (by Raney & Hanna)…

Adding extra lustre and clarity, information pages on Thunder, Arsenal, Nightwing, Jade, Grace, Indigo & Metamorpho by Winick, Jason Pearson, Garcia. Raney & Mike McKone, reveal all you need to know about the secret strike force…

Fast-paced, action-packed, cynically sharp and edgily effective, Outsiders was one of the very best series pursuing the “take-‘em out first” concept and resulted in some of the very best Fights ‘n’ Tights action of the last ten years. Still punchy, evocative and highly effective, these thrillers will delight older fans of the genre.
© 2003, 2004, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Willie Nelson: A Graphic History


By T.J. Kirsch, Coşkun Kuzgun, Jeremy Massie, Håvard S. Johansen, Jesse Lonergan, Jason Pittman, J.T. Yost,Adam Walmsley & various (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-262-5 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-263-2

I live a pretty blessed life these days. I love history and am addicted to comics and many of the best ones are just sent to me. The present trend is to combine both of my passions in graphic biographies – or even autobiographies. Our continental cousins have pretty much collared the market on the former, with a range of personal histories featuring the great, the good and especially the extremely cool, but just for a change here’s an all American(ish) confection that deftly hits that elusive sweet spot.

Whether you’re a fan or not of the music, you can’t deny the tenacity and enormous spirit of musician, writer, actor, filmmaker and activist Willie Nelson: an outsider’s outsider.

Utilising the talents of a group of indie artists writer T.J. Kirsch has compiled an effective and moving monochrome testament to the troubadour’s determination and talent which begins in 1933 in ‘Hill County, Texas’. Rendered throughout in monochrome, the history begins with Coşkun Kuzgun detailing a hard life for a young boy wedded to mischief and addicted to music…

As they grew, Willie and sister Bobbie became local celebrities – but not rich – performing, so he began a career in radio, using the opportunity to plug his own material. Never finding that elusive hit, Willie joined the Air Force in 1951 until a persistent back injury forced him out of the services, just in time to stumble into matrimony…

‘A Humble Picker’ (by Jeremy Massie) traces that tempestuous relationship and Willie’s attempts to feed his family in and out of showbiz, before sliding back into disc jockeying and discovering marijuana…

The slow painful climb begins in Håvard S. Johansen’s ‘Country Willie’, continues in ‘Grinding Away’ (Jesse Lonergan) and culminates in professional breakthroughs and personal breakdowns in Austin, Texas (by Jason Pittman) as 1970 sees the true commencement of the legend…

J.T. Yost depicts a life hard-lived but well-worth the effort in ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ and the saga sparkles to a close – for now – in the all-T.J. Kirsch chapter ‘Elder Statesman’, revealing that music and legends just keep on going…

With Intro, Outro, Chapter and Endpaper illustrations by Adam Walmsley plus a bibliography and full ‘Song Credits’listing, this is an immensely likable tract that feels like a journey shared with a most interesting stranger. You may not like the music – yet – but you’ll be unable to not love the indomitable, irrepressible man.

© 2020 T.J. Kirsch and each respective artist. All rights reserved and managed by NBM Publishing, Inc.
First printing September 2020

Willie Nelson: A Graphic History is scheduled for release in hardback and digitally on September 15th 2020, and is available for pre-order now.

Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

 

Vowels


By Skye Ogden (Gestalt Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-9775628-1-7 (PB)

I’ve long admitted my love for comics in black & white and frequently expressed my admiration for creators who can tell a tale in utter silence, without benefit of text, and this lavish and splendid digest sized (212 x 144mm) paperback is one of my favourite examples of the form.

Created by Australian cartoonist, designer and illustrator Skye Ogden, Vowels is a phenomenally engaging sequence of five linked fables which mesmerically examine aspects of the human condition, all played out in an oddly welcoming, if harsh, desert landscape that houses hulking cavemen and their suitably formidable women, adorable lizards, wide eyed aliens and, latterly, extremely unpleasant invading soldiery…

This is one of those books you’ll thank me for staying non-specific about, so I’ll only go so far as to say that ‘a’ is a broadly comedic chase vignette starring those aforementioned dawn people and the unlucky reptile, whilst ‘e’ introduces a diminutive alien wanderer to the happy, hirsute couple before following the unhappy voyager into a most peculiar afterlife and rebirth…

In ‘i’ the little guy’s distant relatives take the stage in a bustling marketplace for a dose of Romeo and Juliet frustration and tragedy before overwhelming, abiding loss is expressively characterised in ‘o’, after which the fascinating, universally accessible discussion on the nature of existence concludes with the brutal horrors of war, occupation and vengeance…

Depicted in a beguiling, timelessly engaging cartoon style, deliciously reminiscent of the legendary Vaughn Bode and employing all the devastatingly expressive, pantomimic artifices of Charlie Chaplin, Vowels is a masterpiece of the cartoonist’s craft where life, death, love, hate, jealousy, obsession, protectiveness, greed, raw naked aggression and cruelty are pared down to the bone and graphically, forensically explored in a manner which only makes us hungry for more.

Deeply enticing, appealingly slick and intoxicatingly addictive, Vowels is an irresistible torrent of purely visual drama and which will delight all aficionados of the medium who value comics for their own sake, and don’t need a route map or score card to enjoy themselves. And it’s long overdue to be revived and rediscovered. In my alphabet, that rates a great big oooooo….
© 2007 Skye Ogden. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents the Unknown Soldier volume 2


By David Michelinie, Bob Haney, Robert Kanigher, Gerry Conway, Gerry Talaoc, Dick Ayers, Joe Kubert, Romeo Tanghal & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4081-3 (TPB)

Whereas the Britain comics scene has never relinquished its fascination with war stories, in America after the demise of EC Comics in the mid-1950’s and prior to the game-changing Blazing Combat, the only certain place to find controversial, challenging and entertaining American combat comics was DC.

In fact, even whilst Archie Goodwin’s stunning but tragically mis-marketed quartet of classics were waking up a small section of the current generation, the home of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman was a veritable cornucopia of gritty, intriguing and beautifully illustrated battle tales exploring combat on a variety of fronts and from many differing points of view.

Whilst the Vietnam War escalated, 1960s America increasingly endured a Home Front death-struggle pitting deeply-ingrained Establishment social attitudes against a youth-oriented generation with a radical new sensibility. In response, DC’s (or rather National Periodical Publishing, as it then was) military-themed comicbooks became even more bold and innovative…

That stellar and challenging creative period came to an end as all strip trends do, but a few of the more impressive and popular features (Sgt. Rock, Haunted Tank, The Losers) survived well into the second superhero revival. One of the most engaging wartime wonders was a compelling espionage thriller starring a faceless, nameless hero perpetually in the right place at the right time, ready, willing and so very able to turn the tide one battle at a time…

This second moody monochrome paperback compendium (still criminally unavailable in digital formats, as are far too many non- superhero, horror or sci fi tales) collects the lead feature from issues #189-204 of the truly venerable Star-Spangled War Stories anthology mag (July 1975-March 1977) and thereafter #205-226 (May 1977-April 1979) of the abruptly re-titled Unknown Soldier from when the “Immortal G.I.” finally took over the book in name as well as fact.

One of the very best concepts ever devised for a war comic, The Unknown Soldier was actually a spin-off – having first appeared as a walk-on in a Sgt. Rock yarn from Our Army at War #168 (June 1966, by Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert).

By 1970, the top flight illustrator had become group editor of DC’s war titles and was looking for a new cover/lead character to follow the critically acclaimed Enemy Ace who had been summarily bounced to the back of the book after issue #150.

The new series featured a faceless super-spy and master-of-disguise whose forebears had proudly fought and died in every American conflict since the birth of the nation…

As previously stated, the strip grew to be one of DC’s most popular and long-lived. With issue #205 in 1977, Star-Spangled became Unknown Soldier and the comic only folded in 1982 (issue #268) when sales of traditional comicbooks were in harsh decline.

Since then the character has resurfaced a number of times (12 issue miniseries in 1988-9, a 4-part Vertigo tale in 1997 followed by a rebooted ongoing series in 2008, and again in 2011 as part of the company’s “New 52” mega reboot): each iteration moving further and further way from the originating concept.

One intriguing factor of the initial tales is that there is very little internal chronology: for most of the run individual adventures take place anytime and anywhere between the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the surrenders of Germany and Japan. This picaresque approach adds a powerful sense of both timelessness and infallible, unflinching continuity. The Unknown Soldier has always and will always be where he is needed most…

As seen in the previous Showcase volume, his full origin was revealed in Star-Spangled War Stories #154’s ‘I’ll Never Die!’: recounting how two inseparable brothers enlisted in the days before America was attacked and were posted together to the Philippines just as the Japanese began their seemingly unstoppable Pacific Campaign.

Overwhelmed by a tidal wave of enemy soldiers one night, the brothers held their jungle posts to the last. When relief came only one had survived, his face a tattered mess of raw flesh and bone…

As US forces retreated from the islands the indomitable survivor was evacuated to a state-side hospital. Refusing medals, honours or retirement, the recuperating warrior dedicated his remaining years to his lost brother Harry and determinedly retrained as a one man-army intelligence unit.

His unsalvageable face swathed in bandages, the nameless fighter learned the arts of make-up, disguise and mimicry, perfected a broad arsenal of fighting skills before offering himself to the State Department as an expendable resource who could go anywhere and do anything…

After a long run of spectacular stories by numerous stellar creators, shifting fashions eventually provoked a shift in emphasis. Relative neophytes David Michelinie & Gerry Talaoc came aboard with Star-Spangled War Stories #183, resulting in an evocative change of direction.

The horror boom in comics was at its peak in 1974 and new editor Joe Orlando capitalised on that fascination with a few startling modifications – the most controversial being to reveal the Soldier’s grotesque, scar-ravaged face – presumably to draw in monster-hungry fear fans…

Here the military/macabre mood resumes with Michelinie & Talaoc on fine form and well dug-in as the Unknown Soldier is despatched to discover the secret of the ‘The Cadaver Gap Massacres’ (SSWS #189).

What he finds as Nazi officer Major Wollheim is a death camp where prisoners are guinea pigs for making monsters and experimental atrocity weapons. Before long he falls foul of a repentant, guilt-riddled scientist whose loyalties ultimately are only to money. The ghastly discoveries of ‘Project: Omega’ lead to a cataclysmic clash with uncontrollable beast-men and the salvation of the only true innocent in the capacious modern hellscape…

Issue #191 offered ‘Decision at Volstadt’ as the fleeing superspy encounters rabid resistance fighters, merciless Hitler Youth zealots and fanatical Lt. Strada, who has already lost far too much to the Immortal G.I. Captured by his Italian nemesis, the rival soldiers’ ‘Vendetta’ ends the only way it could in SSWS #192…

Gerry Conway scripted ‘Save the Children!’ in #193, detailing how a mission to blow up a train carrying generals directing the war on the Eastern Front goes horribly wrong after the phantom fighter finds his targets’ families have come along for the ride, after which Michelinie returns to investigate ‘The Survival Syndrome’ wherein penetration of a high-tech Nazi communications complex hidden in a French village shows the wary warrior the true cost of a having a quisling in the family…

Star-Spangled War Stories #195 introduced ‘The Deathmasters’ as the Unknown Soldier infiltrates a Nazi assassination school and find himself assigned to murder one of the Allies’ greatest assets in war-torn Odessa in #196’s ‘Target Red’.

Conning everyone into thinking he’s succeeded, the Soldier then returns to Germany to scotch a scheme to replace key Allied personnel with Nazi doppelgangers. All it costs to quash the project is the life of an innocent girl and a little bit more of his soul…

The war in North Africa is almost over in #197 but the master of disguise is nevertheless dispatched to destroy German anti-tank airplane prototypes in ‘The Henschel Gambit’. Typically however, he is intercepted by Arab raiders led by a US Senator’s maverick daughter and is again forced to choose between his mission and innocent lives…

Thereafter, thanks to Nazi counter-intelligence manoeuvrings, the Immortal G.I. is tricked into killing the Allies’ top strategist in ‘Traitor!’ Court Martialled and sentenced to death, he is forced to escape and retrace his steps, seeking a witness to his innocence in #199’s ‘The Crime of Sgt. Schepke’.

En route, he encounters Maquis legend Mlle Marie but events spiral completely out of control and has no choice but to sacrifice her entire resistance unit to destroy a new super-weapon in the concluding ‘Deathride’ Although Marie honours her promise and clears his name, she also swears to kill him for expending her comrades like pawns…

The scene switches to New York City in SSWS #201 as the Soldier engages in ‘The Back-Alley War’: infiltrating a gang of German-American anti-war isolationists in search of saboteurs and spies.

He’s in Italy for #202 where an outbreak of typhus is holding up the war. His task is to find a downed US plane carrying an experimental counter serum but his infiltration of a Nazi hospital seems to indicate that neither side has found ‘The Cure’

Issue #203 sees the master-spy reduced to teaching arrogant, unstable English aristocrat (with royal connections) Richard Ebbington all the tricks of his deadly craft, only to be subsequently ordered by the top brass to stop his unstable pupil from fulfilling his first murder mission.

Somebody up top forgot to tell somebody in the middle that Ebbington’s target is a German general planning to assassinate Hitler, so the Unknown Soldier is forced to stop his protégé’s ‘Curtain Call’

After 36 years of gloriously variegated publication, Star-Spangled War Stories ended with #204 as prior scripter Bob Haney and veteran war artist Dick Ayers joined Talaoc for ‘The Unknown Soldier Must Die!’, wherein old ally Chat Noir(an African-American sergeant who got fed up of institutionalised racism and deserted the US Army to join the French Resistance) is captured by the Nazis and brainwashed into becoming their secret weapon against the Immortal G.I.…

Cover-dated May 1977 the first Unknown Soldier (#205) places history’s lynchpin at the Battle of the Bulge in winter 1944. Whilst expanding on his origins ‘Legends Never Die!’ also proves once more that the right man in the right place at the right time can change the course of destiny…

‘Glory Gambit!’ begins an extended campaign as Adolf Hitler himself unleashes the Wehrmacht’s answer to the Unknown Soldier. His Black Knight is Count Klaus von Stauffen: the chess-obsessed SS officer who captured and brainwashed Chat Noir. The fascist fanatic is now making his way into the heart of England with but one mission…

The hunt for the merciless master of disguise and doom continues throughout London in #207’s ‘Kill the King!’, before the scene again shifts, dumping the Soldier in North Africa in 1942 to rehabilitate a trio of deserters in ‘Coward, Take my Hand!’

US #209 takes us to the Pacific in 1945 and a personal duel with a Japanese prison camp torturer whose attempts to break the scarred superspy result in defeat, death and ‘Tattered Glory!’ on blood-drenched rock called Iwo Jima…

In #210 the Man of Many Faces invades a Nazi fortress by impersonating a specialist interrogator. He has been ordered to rescue or kill America’s most important agent in ‘Sparrows Can’t Sing!’, after which issue #211 reprints a classic Haney & Kubert tale from Star-Spangled War Stories #159 wherein George S. Patton became the thinly-veiled basis for ‘Man of War’ with the Unknown Soldier dispatched to investigate a charismatic general who had pushed his own troops to the brink of mutiny…

An experimental surgical operation traps the G.I. behind the wrong face on the wrong side of the German lines in #212, where he encounters Hitler’s fanatical schoolboy “Werewolf” killer-elite and becomes in turn ‘The Traitor in Wolf’s Clothing!’

The shocking theme was further explored in #213 as Unknown Soldier has to extract from the Fatherland the son of a scientist vital to the war effort. Sadly, ‘The Ten-Year-Old Secret Weapon!’ has embraced every facet of life in the Hitler Youth and fights his would-be rescuer every step of the way…

Kanigher wrote and Romeo Tanghal inked the Ayers illustrated ‘Deadly Reunion!’ in #214 as of the Soldier – in the guise of an elderly Jew – allows himself to be taken to a death camp to spring Mlle. Marie. She isn’t at all grateful…

Haney, Ayers &Talaoc reunite in #215 as the faceless fury replaces a sailor in the merchant marine to expose a traitor selling out convoy freighters to U-boats haunting ‘The Savage Sea!’, after which ‘Taps at Arlington!’ (art by Ayers & Tanghal) sees Chat Noir confront American racism whilst the Soldier exposes a spy painting a bullseye on the backs of troops in Italy…

In #217 the Man Without a Face becomes Hermann Goering’s chief supplier of stolen paintings in ‘Dictators Never Sleep!’ The plan is to give the infamous art lover a Rembrandt primed to explode when Hitler is in front of it… and it would have worked if Klaus von Stauffen hadn’t been present…

With the Black Knight hot on his heels, the frustrated phantom is harried across Europe in ‘The Unknown Soldier Must Die!’, only stopping briefly to destroy a V2 base and have another shot at the Fuehrer before experiencing ‘Slaughter in Hell!’ (inked by Tanghal) when von Stauffen turns the tables by impersonating his arch enemy in a bid to murder Winston Churchill and General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

He would have succeeded if not for the Immortal G.I.’s strategic cunning…

Issue #220 by Haney, Ayers &Talaoc sees the Soldier organise a band of maverick warriors from many Nazi-conquered countries into a daring-but-doomed foreign legion dubbed ‘The Rubber Band Heroes’, after which ‘Sunset for a Samurai!’finds him on a suicide mission to the heart of Japan to save an undercover agent crucial to the American forces…

Unknown Soldier #222 promised ‘No Exit from Stalag 19!’ when the unsung hero is ordered to rescue a military boffin from the heart of Fortress Europa (in a wry and trenchant riff on The Bridge on the River Kwai) whilst in #223, ‘Mission: Incredible!’ (Ayers &Tanghal) details the convoluted course of a plan to destroy a Heavy Water plant in the snow-capped mountains of Norway.

The Soldier and Chat Noir reunite in #224 to investigate a dead zone where Allied bombers vanish without trace, only to find barbaric military madness running wild in ‘Welcome to Valhalla!’ after which the Immortal G.I. is forced to arrest a charismatic general for treason in ‘Four Stars to Armageddon!’ (Ayers & Talaoc) before uncovering the astounding truth behind his supposed betrayals.

The military madness lurches to a bloody halt with #226 as Chat Noir and his faceless comrade do what entire flotillas of Navy vessels could not: using guile and subterfuge to board the Nazi’s unbeatable dreadnaught and ‘Sink the Kronhorst!’

Dark, powerful, moving and overwhelmingly ingenious, The Unknown Soldier is a magnificent addition to the ranks of extraordinary mortal warriors in an industry far too heavy with implausible and incredible heroes. These tales will appeal to not just comics readers but all fans of adventure fiction.
© 1975-1979, 2014 DC Comics. All rights reserved.