Civil War Adventure volume 1


By Chuck Dixon & Gary Kwapisz with Esteve Polls, Enrique Villagran, Silvestre & Erik Burnham and various (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-48679-509-6 (TPB)

From its earliest inception, cartooning and graphic narrative has been used to inform. In newspapers, magazines and especially comic books the sheer impact of pictorial storytelling – with its ability to distil technical recreations of time, place and personage whilst creating deep emotional affinities to past or imagined events – has been used to forge unforgettable images and characters within us. When such stories affect the lives of generations of readers, the force they can apply in a commercial, social, political or especially educational arena is almost irresistible…

Thus, the compelling power of graphic narrative to efficiently, potently and evocatively disseminate vast amounts of information and seductively advocate complex issues with great conviction through layered levels has always been most effectively used in works with a political, social or historical component.

Comics have brought the past to life since they began. Superb examples of a broad view include such triumphs as Jack Jaxon’s Los Tejanos and Comanche Moon or Of Dust and Blood by Jim Berry & Val Mayerik, but the medium is equally adept in crafting more personal biographs such as Terry Eisele & Jonathon Riddle’s With Only Five Plums and others…

And that brings us to another superb re-release from Dover Comics & Graphic Novels (available in trade paperback and digital formats) designed to bring “The War Between the States” to life for younger readers.

Originally published by History Graphics Press in 2009 as Civil War Adventure 1: Real History Stories of the War that Divided America, this marvellous monochrome tome – crafted primarily by comics veterans Chuck Dixon and Gary Kwapisz – switches between actual historical events – with handy maps, diagrams and found writings – and a fictionalised thread of tales depicting how the conflict affected one poor Southern family.

The graphic re-enactments are preceded by a ‘Map of the United States’ detailing the division of the States in 1860 and a‘Civil War Timeline’ which marks key moments and battles (sensibly linking them directly to the stories which follow), after which ‘Choice of Targets’ by Dixon and Esteve Polls offers a text vignette explaining the development of snipers and sharpshooters.

That’s counterpointed by a pithy moment during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 when opposing marksmen find themselves in a life-or-death duel…

‘Berdan’s Sharpshooters’ is a short cartoon lesson on the inspired Union soldier who invented the concept of snipers, and is promptly followed by a chilling and heartrending incident of battlefield misfortune in Dixon & Kwapisz’s ‘Home Again’ plus an illustrated info-&-glossary page which reproduces an actual letter from a Confederate lad the night before he fell…

All-Kwapisz affair ‘Mosby Bags a General’ combines a potted history of the South’s most successful raider with a compelling strip revealing how bold Lieutenant John Mosby infiltrated far behind Union lines to capture 58 horses, thirty prisoners and their captain, plus sleeping General Stoughton, all in one night…

‘Tempered in Blood’ (Dixon & Kwapisz) then introduces the narrative strand as the modest Campbell clan are torn apart when, after heated family discussion, both father and first son Tybalt sneak off from the farm to enlist in the Spring of 1861. Each confidently assures themselves that all the shooting will all be over long before harvest as they unknowingly individually abandon Mrs. Campbell and the little sisters to link up with overconfident volunteers massing for what everybody believes will be one fast knockout blow…

After barely surviving the brutal training that turns hunters, croppers and ploughmen into real soldiers, the Southern heroes finally learn what warfare means at Bull Run…

More contemporary terms, facts and historical insight are offered in ‘The War is Joined!’ before ‘The Devil’s Due’(Kwapisz) delves into the atrocity of total warfare as a Bluecoat patrol diligently follows its bald orders to “turn the South into a wasteland”…

A fact-feature page on ‘John Singleton Mosby’ leads to a feature on rising star and flamboyant self-aggrandiser George Armstrong Custer whose rash adventuring leads ‘The Boy General’ (Dixon & Enrique Villagran) into desperate straits against overwhelming rebel opposition… resulting in Custer’s First Stand…

Data pages on the devastating ‘Sharps Rifle’ and double-pronged naval blockade of the Mississippi River spins off into an account of the duel between ironclad vessels and the brilliant countermeasure devised by Colonel Charles Ellet in ‘Ram Squadron’ (Dixon & Silvestre), capped off by a Kwapisz segment detailing ‘Hell on the Mississippi’, as a Union flotilla horrifically fails to sneak past the naval guns established above Vicksburg…

‘Tempered in Blood II’ returns to the troubled Campbell Clan as Ty wakes in the bloody aftermath of battle to discover his best friend Seth has had enough and absconded. However, by the time he’s found and brought back Seth, Ty discovers his own father has similarly fled.

The elder is not running from bloody death but heading home to save his farm from ruin and family from fever, but that won’t make any difference if he’s picked up by ruthless and remorseless Confederate Picquets…

The tragic true tale of ‘Colonel Cocke’ and his unseemly death gives way to the ribald eccentricity of ‘Darnel Dingus is a…’ which reveals the insane and impecunious ends to which some States descended to ensure their manpower obligations were met. The tale is couched in the story of famous war artist Winslow Homer and a practical joking jackass who learns the hard way that war isn’t funny: appended by a grim examination of ‘The Ultimate Punishment’ for desertion under fire and other – even worse – infringements…

The strip section closes with a sobering and ironic tale of comeuppance in ‘The Letter’ (by Erik Burnham & Kwapisz) wherein a burned-out sawbones steals a missive from one of his less-lucky patients and chases a dream to a woman he’s fallen for based solely on her handwriting and prose…

Following one last Kwapisz-illustrated info page – on ‘Battle Field Surgery’ – this stunning introduction to the birth of modern warfare ends with a comparative list of ‘Further Reading’ and a moving notification of how to learn more in ‘If the Valley Was Lost’.

Similar in tone and style to the best of Harvey Kurtzman’s magnificent anti-war classics from Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, this is a rousing, evocative, potently instructive collection amalgamating history and horrific entertainment – and not a little grim wit and actual belly-laughs – to bring a pivotal time to vivid life.
© 2009 Chuck Dixon & Gary Kwapisz. All other material © 2015 its respective creators.

Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 4

By Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane & various (Marvel)
ISBN:  978-1-3029-1520-9 (HB)

In the 1970s, Marvel grew to dominate the comic book market despite losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators. They did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties. The only real exception to this was an en masse creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

The concept of team-up books was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of this new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch. In those long-lost days, editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline at that time, they may well have been right.

Nevertheless, Marvel Team-Up was the second full Spider-Man title (abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the magazine market in 1968 but had died after two issues). It launched in March 1972, and was a resounding hit.

This fourth fabulous compilation (in hardback or digital formats) gathers material from MTU #31-40 plus the contents of team-up styled Giant-Size Spider-Man #4-5, spanning March to December 1975, and opens with an informative recollection from former Editor Ralph Macchio in his Introduction before we plunge into the many-starred dramas…

Another attraction of those early comics combos was an earnest desire to get things “done in one”, with tales that concentrated on plot and resolution with the guest du jour. Here on the crest of a martial arts boom in film and TV, the action explosively commences with MTU #31 as the webspinner and kung fu star Iron Fist experience time unravelling whilst battling reverse-aging Drom, the Backwards Man in ‘For a Few Fists More!’ by Gerry Conway Jim Mooney & Vince Colletta.

This is followed by Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 (April 1975, by Conway, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) which sees an eagerly-anticipated reappearance of Marvel’s most controversial antihero in an expanded role. The Giant-Size titles were quarterly double-length publications added to the schedule of Marvel’s top tier heroes, and the wallcrawler’s were used to highlight outré and potentially controversial pairings such as Dracula and Doc Savage. Here, ‘To Sow the Seed of Death’s Day’ finds the webslinger uncomfortably allied with the Punisher when ruthless arms dealer Moses Magnum perfects a diabolical chemical weapon and begins testing it on randomly kidnapped victims.

Tracking down the monster in ‘Attack of the War Machine!’, the unlikely comrades infiltrate his ‘Death-Camp at the Edge of the World!’ before summary justice is dispensed… as much by fate as the heroes’ actions…

That same month back in MTU, Conway & Colletta welcomed Sal Buscema aboard as penciller in #32 for a fiery collaboration between Human Torch Johnny Storm and Son of Satan Damian Hellstrom, who inflicts ‘All the Fires in Hell…!’ on a demon possessing Johnny’s pal Wyatt Wingfoot and assorted fellow members of his Native American Keewazi tribe.

The craving for conventional continuity commences in #33 when Spider-Man and Nighthawk acrimoniously tackle raving mega-nutcase Norton Fester – who had forgotten he had super strength – in ‘Anybody Here Know a Guy Named Meteor Man?’

Whilst Nighthawk is happy to drop the case at his earliest opportunity, Defenders comrade Valkyrie is ready to step in and help Spidey finish off the looney Looter, but they both miss the real threat: mutant demagogue Jeremiah, Prophet of the Lord, who has acquired Fester’s home to house his mind-controlled cult of human psychic batteries in ‘Beware the Death Crusade!’

The religious maniac’s predations only end in Marvel Team-Up #35 when the Torch and Doctor Strange save Valkyrie from becoming a sacrifice in the zealot’s deranged ‘Blood Church!’

Giant-Size Spider-Man #5 (July 1975, by Conway, Andru & Esposito) offers a strange yet welcome break from conventionality as ‘Beware the Path of the Monster!’ sees Peter Parker despatched to Florida to photograph the macabre Man-Thing, only to discover the lethal Lizard is also loose and hunting ‘The Lurker in the Swamp!’

It takes all the web-spinner’s power and the efforts of a broken man in sore need of redemption to set things right in climactic conclusion ‘Bring Back my Man-Thing to Me!’

In Marvel Team-Up #36 Spider-Man is kidnapped and shipped off to Switzerland by assuredly insane Baron Ludwig Von Shtupf, who proclaims himself The Monster Maker in ‘Once Upon a Time, in a Castle…’

The bonkers biologist wants to pick-&-mix creature traits and has already secured The Frankenstein Monster to practise on, but after the webslinger busts them both out and they stumble upon sexy SHIELD Agent Klemmer, their rapid counterattack goes badly wrong. Von Shtupf unleashes his other captive – the furiously feral Man-Wolf – and only big Frankie can prevent a wave of ‘Snow Death!’ in #37.

As writer Bill Mantlo and inker Esposito join Sal Buscema, the Amazing Arachnid is back in the USA for MTU #38, meeting again The Beast and barely surviving the ‘Night of the Griffin’ when the former X-Man’s constantly-evolving manmade monster foe goes on a ruthless murder spree…

Ending this shared glory session, another extended epic begins when Spider-Man and the Torch are simultaneously targeted by supposedly deceased archenemies Crime-Master and The Big Man in #39’s ‘Any Number Can Slay!’ The masked mobsters are fighting for control of the city and each has recruited their own specialist meta-thugs – Sandman and The Enforcers respectively – but the shady double-dealers are all utterly unprepared for the intervention of mystic kung fu collective The Sons of the Tiger in #40’s concluding ‘Murder’s Better the Second Time Around!’

Capping off this collection is the cover to all-reprint Giant-Size Spider-Man #6 (December 1975 and starring Spidey and the Torch in tale from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4) plus a selection from the ‘Mighty Marvel Calendar for 1975’, featuring new art by John Romita, Barry Windsor-Smith, Rick Buckler, John Buscema, Mike Ploog, Gil Kane & Sal Buscema, wedded to classic clip art from Marvel’s mightiest artists, topped off with house ads and Romita’s front and back cover art for tabloid-sized Marvel Treasury Edition #8 AKA Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag.

Although not really a book for the casual or more maturely-oriented enthusiast, there’s lots of fun on hand and younger readers will have a blast, so why not make this tome part of to your comics library?
© 1974, 1975, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Shaft Volume 2: Imitation of Life


By David F. Walker, Dietrich Smith & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-52410-260-9 (TPB)

For most of modern history black consumers of popular entertainments have enjoyed far too few fictive role models. In the English-speaking world that began changing in the turbulent 1960s and truly took hold during the decade that followed. A lot of the characters stemming from those days come from a cultural phenomenon called Blaxploitation. Although criticised for its seedy antecedents, stereotypical situations and violence, the films, books, music and art were the first mass-market examples of minority characters in leading roles, rather than as fodder, flunkies or flamboyant villains.

One of the earliest movie icons of the genre was the man called Shaft. His filmic debut in 1971 was scripted by journalist and screenwriter Ernest Tidyman (The French Connection; High Plains Drifter; A Force of One) who adapted his own 1970 novel. Tidyman authored six more between 1972 and 1975, with his timeless urban warrior simultaneously starring in numerous films and a (far, far tamer) TV series. He even starred in his own retro-themed, adults-only comic book…

An eighth prose novel – Shaft’s Revenge – was released in 2016, written by David F. Walker. Amongst his many talents – you should hunt down his online culture-crunching ‘zine BadAzzMoFo: you won’t be sorry – Walker numbers writing intriguing, hard-edged comics (Occupy Avengers; Cyborg; Red Sonja, Planet of the Apes, Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes and many more), so in 2014 it was probably inevitable that he be invited to write that long-overdue comics iteration…

Blockbusting premier miniseries Shaft: A Complicated Man – relating the lone wolf’s origins – happily led to this sequel in 2016, illustrated by Dietrich Smith and coloured by Alex Guimarães (Walker lettered the series himself), and whereas that comic book took its look, settings and tone from the novels more than the Richard Roundtree films, this one gradually refocuses and aims for a satisfactory blending of the prose and film iterations.

Originally released as a 4-issue miniseries, Imitation of Life finds the detective ‘Before and After’, regretting his life choices, successes and recent notoriety as the highly publicised rescue of an abducted girl suddenly make him a famous man…

It’s nothing he wanted: he was literally forced to take the job by a big-time mobster no one in their right mind ever refuses, and now after sorting the problem in his inimitably pitiless manner, Shaft is slowly drinking himself to death on the huge fee he also couldn’t safely turn down…

Eventually guilt and boredom compel him to get back in the game and, with no money worries, he can pick and choose from a big list of inquiries. That said, Shaft can’t explain just why he takes on the pointless problems of the Prossers; a hick couple desperate to find their son. Mike is 18; a good-looking homosexual (we say “gay” today) kid swallowed up by the sleaze-peddlers of 1970s Times Square. He’s legal and not even a real missing person, but there’s something Shaft can’t get out of his head about this particular runaway…

Convinced it’s all pointless, Big John hits the appropriate bars and clubs but no one knows anything: they never do. And then a kid named Tito recognizes him and just like that, the violence starts coming…

Surviving a homophobic attack – and teaching a few bigots the cost of intolerance – Shaft finds his case stalled just as shady wannabe filmmakers seeks to hire him to consult on their new (blaxsploitation) flick The Black Dick. It promises to be an easy gig, but they never are…

Before long Shaft is writhing in discomfort as the script ludicrously bastardises his career and reputation, but when Tito turns up and bamboozles the detective into facing off with a Mafia pornographer just as the secret moneyman behind his own filmic fiasco starts demanding an early return on his investment, it stops being a laugh and becomes deadly serious again. Once more, he remembers there’s no such thing as ‘Easy Money’

As the fictional and real worlds increasingly intersect, Vice cops contact Shaft and he sees that somehow all his irons seem to be stacked in the same fire. When the ludicrous leading man is abducted and troublemaking Tito pops up again with some very dangerous photographs from his own incessant snooping, Shaft discovers in ‘Love & Loss’ just what happened to Mike Prosser and tools up to rescue one bad actor while invading a film set where pornos and snuff films are the preferred hot product…

The strands all pull together in a typically cathartic climax as ‘All the World’s a Stage’ sees order restored, the bad guys dealt with righteously and even sets up a delicious funny ending to usher us out…

Revisiting a foetid cesspool of civic corruption, warring mobsters and get-rich-quick chancers, this tour of a mythic milieu is another wry and intoxicating crime thriller no fan of the genre should miss…
Shaft is ™ and © 2016 Ernest Tidyman. All rights reserved.

Liberty Meadows: Sundays Book One


By Frank Cho (Image/Monkey Boy Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60706-564-7 (HB)

It’s ALMOST too late to concoct a suitable St Valentine’s Day extravaganza worthy of the one who puts up with you, so let todays review serve to remind you that not only is love strange but it can also tolerate an incredible amount of unsavoury behaviour – it just shouldn’t have to…

Like many wonderful modern comics strips, Liberty Meadows grew out of a prototype college newspaper incarnation: specifically, the University of Maryland (College Park) student periodical The Diamondback.

Back then the strip was called University² but it still revealed the warped genius and stunning graphic virtuosity of native Marylander Frank Cho. As a syndicated strip Liberty Meadows launched on March 31st 1997, running until December 30th 2001. It also enjoyed a respectable run as a comic book released through Insight Studios.

The strip which won a hoard of awards before going on hiatus (hey, if Bloom County can come back after decades, so long as the artist’s still alive, I’m keeping the faith for this and Calvin & Hobbes), is a whimsical masterpiece of comedy appealing to anyone afflicted with a love of pop culture, wistfulness, slacker-ness and unrequited passions. This first hardcover (or digital) compilation of full-colour Sunday strips cover the first three years and is saucily appreciated by Cho’s great pal and confederate Mike McSwiggin in his Introduction.

What’s it About, I hear you enquire? Easier asked than answered…

Exhibiting elements of the aforementioned Berkely Breathed’s magnum about Opus, and cheekily pilfering and channelling every comicbook, TV, movie and trash culture icon you might imagine, the episodes occur in and around the animal sanctuary of Liberty Meadows and generally revolve around the ever-so-patient animal psychologist Brandy Carter as she blithely tries to circumvent her innate hottie-ness and get on with her job.

The major obstacles to this simple ambition include not just human impediments such as shyly adoring vet Frank Melisch, clumsily dangerous janitor Tony, sanctuary owner Julius, and Brandy’s super sexy roommate Jen (she’s a rocket scientist who loves to toy with men…) but also the scene-stealing frequently obnoxious smart alec talking animals such as midget circus bear Ralph, literally sexist pig Dean, hypochondriac frog Leslie, innocent waif – and duck – Truman, mute dachshund Oscar, OCD-suffering raccoon Mike, Khan the catfish and an evil cow dubbed The Cow

Further turning this small word upside down are conspiracy-theorist and local barkeep Al, Brandy’s ex Roger, her parents (say no more), and a couple of duplicates from a mirror universe: Evil Brandy and Alternate Frank

You’ll thank me for not giving away any of the 138 beautifully rendered, seditiously surreal gags, but I will push my luck by stating Cho insinuates himself into proceedings on a regular basis (as forth-wall busting chimpanzee Monkey Boy) and warning you to watch out for low flying dinosaurs, wandering daydreams, outbursts of 3-D, and constant outbreaks of strip and movie spoofs such as Prince Valium, Mighty Shmoe Pong, Jungle Gym and Flush Gordon

Frank Cho is a very funny guy and also one of the best dramatic illustrators in the business, so you’ll also appreciate the spiffy Sketch Gallery featuring pencils, inks, roughs and some delicious images of Brandy as your favourite female superheroes.

Magnificently redolent of (and proudly swiping from) Walt Kelly, Dave Stevens, Frank Frazetta, Barry Windsor-Smith, Michelangelo (not the turtle), and others of their prestigious ilk as the gag demands, Cho’s blend of anthropomorphic anarchy, sublimely lavish glamour illustration and devilish wit means this is a timeless treat and treatise on love you simply must see…
™ and © 2012 Frank Cho, Monkey Boy Press. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk: Heart of the Atom


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Archie Goodwin, Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Peter Gillis, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema& various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6212-4 (TPB)

Love is in the air and it’s a Leap Year too, so if you’re a typical guy you’ll want to pay attention. Don’t wait for February 13th. Start looking for a St. Valentine’s Day present for The One now. I’m reviewing romance-themed graphic novels sporadically between now and then as a prompt.

PAY EVEN MORE ATTENTION. A graphic novel – no matter how good – is not suitable as a romantic gift on its own. For Pete’s Sake buy something else – and more thoughtful – too.

Bruce Banner is a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, any kind of stress causes him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury. He was one of Marvel’s earliest innovations and first failure but, after an initially troubled few years, finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of the company’s premiere antiheroes and most popular features.

As such a rambunctious, rampaging monster, it’s hard to imagine the Hulk as a heartbroken star of romantic tragedy but that’s just what this compilation – collecting stories from Incredible Hulk #140, 148, 156, 202-203, 205-207, 246-248, What If? #23 and pertinent pages from The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, collectively covering June 1971 to October 1980: the everyday love story of a meandering monster and a sub-atomic alien princess…

By the close of the 1960s the Hulk had settled into a comfortable niche and satisfyingly effective formula: world-weary Banner sought cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains. Artist Herb Trimpe made the character his own, adapting the “house” Jack Kirby-based art-style into often startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by his unmatched facility for drawing technology: especially honking great ordnance and vehicles…

And, of course, no one can deny the cathartic reader-release of a great big “Hulk Smash!” moment…

The titanic trysts open with the concluding chapter of a landmark crossover that had opened in Avengers #88 (but not included here). In that missing fragment, Psyklop – insectoid servant of Elder Gods – abducted the Hulk to fuel their resurrection…

This leads directly into Incredible Hulk #140 and ‘The Brute that Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom’ (by Harlan Ellison & Roy Thomas, pencilled & inked by Sam Grainger over Trimpe’s layouts). Banished and imprisoned on sub-atomic world K’ai, Banner’s intellect and the Hulk’s body are reconciled and form one unbeatable warrior champion. He becomes a barbarian hero to an appreciative populace, and lover of their perfect noble princess Jarella. However, at the moment of his greatest joy, the Green Goliath is snatched away by Psyklop and exacts justified vengeance even as his departure cause havoc on the microversal paradise….

For issue #148 (February 1972) Archie Goodwin debuted as scripter – with a little plotting assistance from a very junior Chris Claremont – in ‘But Tomorrow… the Sun Shall Die!’ Lost love Jarella travels to Earth and a longed-for reunion, just as Banner is cured of his curse by radical solar-energy experimentation. Unfortunately, she accidentally brings with her a super-assassin determined to end her life at all costs, which somehow triggers the sun into going nova…

Forced to return to her planet, Jarella becomes an object of obsession for the Jade Juggernaut – as detailed in a text précis of his months-long hunt for her – before we resume in Incredible Hulk #156 (October).

Having swallowed a defective shrinking formula created by the Astonishing Ant-Man in a forlorn attempt to rejoin Jarella in her subatomic world, Hulk reduces in sporadic bursts and is propelled into a succession of micro-worlds, before a shrinking spasm happily deposits him on Jarella’s world in time for ‘Holocaust at the Heart of the Atom!’(Goodwin, Trimpe & Sal Trapani) to pit him against his worst nightmare – himself – before once more losing his true love to the vicissitudes of cruel fate…

With Hulk #202-203 (August and September 1976) Len Wein, Sal Buscema & Joe Staton start bringing the romance to its inevitable close as a once more miniaturised man-monster plunges through micro-space before arriving in the promised land of his beloved and long-lost alien queen…

Havoc at the Heart of the Atom’ reveals how his previous visit rendered the world tectonically unstable, shattering the civilisation which once had the power to blend Banner’s mind with the Hulk’s body. Moreover, the once-civilised population have turned on the queen they hold responsible…

Reunited with his beloved, the simplistic brute swears to fix the problem but is soon embroiled again with the antediluvian horror who first stuck him in the microverse, and who still craves bloody revenge…

The ‘Assault on Psyklop!’ proves another crushing defeat for the vile insectoid and a guardedly happy ending for the man-brute as a coincidental rescue attempt from Earth brings Hulk home, carrying his astounded lover with him…

In Hulk #205, Wein, Buscema & Staton depict the most soul-shattering moment in the Green Goliath’s tortured life as ‘Do Not Forsake Me!’ finds Jarella adapting to life on Earth only to sacrifice herself to save a child from rampaging robbery robot Crypto-Man.

Stunned and bereft, the Hulk becomes ‘A Man-Brute Berserk!’: his grief-stricken trail of grief-fuelled destruction leading from Gamma Base, New Mexico all the way to New York City where even his closest friends and allies are unable to calm the green gargantuan, leading to a brutal battle ‘Alone Against the Defenders!’ who finally realise compassion is the only method that can work against their traumatised foe…

Another catch-up text page brings us to Incredible Hulk #246 (April 1980) for another traumatic experience. ‘The Hero and the Hulk!’ by Bill Mantlo & Buscema reveals that Jarella’s body has been kept for study by the military and opens with an infuriated Gamma Giant determined to take her back home for decent burial: a grim task made easier with the assistance of Kree-born Protector of the Universe Captain Marvel

Returned to ‘Jarella’s World’, Hulk finds a desolate planet on the edge of death, with only one solitary oasis of verdant life remaining. It is jealously guarded by wander Universal Elder the Gardener – who will brook no intrusions of any kind – but a combination of Banner’s empathy and the Hulk’s forceful nature eventually convince him to allow her interment: triggering an unexpected blossoming of new life in ‘How Green My Garden Grows!’

Completing this collected star-crossed tale of woe, is an alternate take originating in October 1980’s What If? #23. Concocted by Peter Gillis, Trimpe & Mike Esposito ‘What If… Hulk’s Girlfriend Jarella Had Not Died?’ posits what might have occurred if Jarella had not died and the lovers had returned to K’ai to liberate that world from the influence of the Elder Gods…

Packed with bonus features such as informational pages about Jarella and The Gardener (from the Marvel Universe Handbook), this potently passionate primer of love without limits is a vibrantly verdant delight to charm any savage beast…
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Black Panther: The Bride


By Reginald Hudlin, Scot Eaton, Klaus Janson, Dean White & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2107-7 (TPB)

If you’re still looking for a St. Valentines’ Day gift for your one and only (or one of many: I don’t judge even if I do reserve the right to scorn…), you won’t find much help here. At least you better not…

I do, however, have an intriguing, romantically-themed suggestion you can read for inspiration or, latterly, consolation…

Regarded as the first black hero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since July 1966 when he first attacked the Fantastic Four as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

T’Challa, son of T’Chaka, is an African monarch whose secluded kingdom is the only source of a miraculous alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth is founded. Those mineral riches – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in lost antiquity – enabled him to turn his country into a technological wonderland.

Moreover, the tribal resources and the people have been eternally safeguarded by a cat-like human champion deriving incredible physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb simultaneously ensuring the generational dominance of the nation’s Panther Cult.

In recent years that continuity-mythology was retooled to reveal that the “Vibranium” mound had actually made the country a secret Superpower for centuries, but now increasingly makes Wakanda a target for subversion and incursion.

This slim, unassuming but extremely engaging Costumed Drama – available in trade paperback and eBook editions – collects Black Panther volume 4 #14-18 (May – September 2006). Set during the first Superhero Civil War, it tackles a thorny, perennial political issue with earthy wit and wisdom as the Great King of Wakanda confronts the most contentious issue of his reign thus far…

Previously: the dutiful son of Queen Mother Ramonda at last accedes to her increasingly strident demands that the nation needs an heir, and goes looking for a suitable queen. That turned into a full-blown fiasco but the needs of State remain, so the drama here begins as 4-chapter quest ‘Bride of the Panther’ sees the Panther eschew new flames and set off to woo and win back the first girl he ever loved…

With streetwise Power Man Luke Cage as his smirking wingman, T’Challa recalls his early days and a certain something…

Ororo Munroe AKA Storm is actually a lost daughter of a Kenyan princess and an American journalist. She grew up an orphan in Cairo following their deaths in a war. After joining Charles Xavier’s X-Men, she spends years fighting the world’s most deadly threats as part – and often leader – of the unloved, distrusted mutant hero horde.

As puberty triggered her mutant powers long ago, the wily thief left Egypt, walking across Africa, drawn by a yearning she could not explain. Eventually she settled with nomadic tribes, using her weather powers to ease their burdens. They called her “Goddess”. However, before she reached that part of her life, Ororo encountered a determined boy also trekking across the Dark Continent…

Young Prince T’Challa had single-handedly avenged the murder of his father T’Chaka and driven off the resource raiders of deranged scientist Ulysses Klaw, but before he could inherit the role of king and spiritual leader of his people there were certain trials and rituals to undertake.

Whilst wandering the plains of Africa in a walkabout manhood trial, he met a beautiful young girl with incredible powers trekking from Egypt to West Africa. Together they found love and survived a deadly attack by South African mercenaries. Ultimately, his sense of duty tore them apart. Years later, T’Challa found her again before once more rejecting her for the needs of Wakanda.

Now as she visits Africa, he has to make her forgive him, because no other woman can be his First Lady of Wakanda…

As Ororo makes him really earn her love, elsewhere malign forces gather. The possibility of a union between mutants and Wakandans is seen by many as a dangerous alliance. An Iraqi dictator creates his own super-powered Arabian Knight to attack them, Hydra attempts to abduct relatives Ororo doesn’t even know she has and even the Kenyan government are taking steps to maintain a status quo the gradually reunited couple couldn’t care less about…

Once Storm finally accepts the marriage offer, the insanity escalates. The Wakandans all adore their new queen-in-waiting and aren’t shy in letting her know it: the world’s fashion and media goes crazy at the prospect of a super Royal Wedding and become ultra-intrusive, and T’Challa’s old enemy Princess Zanda starts impersonating Ororo in the world’s most expensive boutiques, determined that only she shall have the Panther…

Ororo might be – grudgingly – okay with T’Challa’s old flames (the ladies in question, not so much), but tensions still abound. His formidable Dora Milaje bodyguards are imperiously withholding final judgement, SHIELD wants to take over security for the bride and groom and Cage is obnoxiously determined to organise the greatest Bachelor Party of all time…

The King only agrees after Invisible Woman Susan Richards pre-empts his stag debacle with a Bachelorette do unlike any other…

Eventually, the day arrives and a host of heroes and villains, politicos, family and journalists descend on Wakanda for the Wedding of the Century in ‘Here Comes a Storm’. It’s everything you’d expect from a ceremony packed with drunk and angry powered types, and a sinister psychic parasite hidden amongst the entourage and determined to possess the groom and rule the kingdom. Ororo is more concerned with last-minute detail. Wakanda’s god is the Panther Spirit: a live predator deity prone to eating anyone considered unworthy of joining the Royal family…

This deliciously light and frothy Fights ‘n’ Tights romp is perfectly balanced between suspense, comedy and brutal action (as all good weddings are) and also offers Jim McCann’s text feature ‘Diving the Design’ describing the creation of the wedding dress by Shawn Dudley.

What more could any True Romantic need?
© 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Star Trek Classics Volume 4: Beginnings


By Mike Carlin, Pablo Marcos & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-671-1 (TPB)

Many companies have published comic book adventures based on the exploits of Gene Roddenberry’s legendary brainchild, and the run from the 1980s produced under DC’s aegis were some of the finest. Never flashy or sensationalistic, the tales embraced the same storytelling values as the shows and movies, and were strongly character and plot-driven.

A fine example can be found in this epic primer by long-time writer Michael Carlin, illustrated by the underrated Pablo Marcos, which collects miniseries Star Trek: The Next Generation #1-6 from February – July 1988 and not to be confused with the monthly comic-book that followed it.

With inks by Carlos Garzon & Arne Starr, colours by Carl Gafford and letters from Bob Pinaha, the bold adventures – available in trade paperback or in digital formats you can scan on your personal PADD™ – commence with double length saga ‘…Where No One Has Gone Before!’

Here, the revamped and reimagined NCC-1701-D starship Enterprise heads into a completely unexplored sector of the galaxy. As freshly-installed and formidably prestigious Captain Jean-Luc Picard acclimatises to his new crew and mission, the ship is fired upon by beings unknown on recently discovered planet Syntagus Thelev.

That’s a bizarre mystery, considering the unseen inhabitants are currently negotiating with the Starfleet vessel and claim they know nothing about the attacks…Although the ship is in no imminent danger, the quandary Picard to despatch a top-level Away Team to find out where the barrages are coming from…

In the end, it requires the uncanny psychic abilities of Ship’s Counsellor Deanna Troi to reveal the uncanny source and motives of the astral assaults…

The second tale is a Christmas yarn wickedly spoofing a certain tale by Dr. Seuss, as ‘Spirit in the Sky!’ finds the Enterprise in festive mode, with the many cultures and families all celebrating their particular version of the Yule Season, before a flock of mysterious strangers invite themselves to the feasts. Happily, their obsessive covert hunt for a eerie energy spirit ends joyously… after a few tense moment and close encounters…

Issues #3-5 comprise an extended repeat confrontation with an apparently omnipotent moral gadfly. ‘Factor Q’ finds the crew assaulted by terrifying memories made real. Particularly targeted is Security Chief Tasha Yar who relives her appalling abusive early years as a survivor of The Colony, when an Away Mission traps her on an alien vessel, even as the almighty Q attempts to seduce Picard into a shooting war with an equally-manipulated stranger ship.

Events escalate in ‘Q’s Day’ as the increasing unstable instigator turns the screw: bringing Yar’s old abuser back to torment her, killing helmsman Geordi LaForge, terrifying the crew and rapidly descending into frustration-induced insanity, before the impossible becomes commonplace as more judgemental intruders from the Q Continuum manifest with their own imponderable agenda in concluding chapter ‘Q Affects!’

Wrapping up this initial foray into the future, ‘Here Today’ sees Enterprise ordered to investigate seeming paradise planet Faltos via concealed orders somehow hardwired into android crewman Lieutenant Data. An extragalactic Shangri-La, the weird world has – over uncounted eons – been able to pacify and integrate every hostile visitor, but when the benevolent emissaries of the Foundation beam down, they find that the miraculous haven is a unique and inescapable trap…

Or is it?

These tales originate from the earliest days of the TV series so there are a few uncertain moments and quirks of characterisation obsessive fans might quibble over, but overall these are solid adventure yarns in the tried-&-trusted Rodenberry manner that will astound and satisfy Trekkies, Trekkers, comics fans and even the Next-est Generation just coming to the franchise via the current Star Trek: Picard TV revival/revamp…
® & © 2013 CBS Studios Inc. STAR TREK and related marks and trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. © 2013 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All rights reserved.

The Bluecoats volume 2: The Navy Blues


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-905460-82-3 (Album PB)

The mythology of the American West has never been better loved or more honourably treated than by Europeans. Hergé was a passionate devotee, and the range of incredible comics material from Tex Willer to Blueberry, Yakari to Lucky Luke to Camanche display over and over again our fascination with all aspects of that legendary time and place.

Les Tuniques Bleues or Bluecoats began at the end of the 1960s, visually devised by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius with scripts by Raoul Colvin – who has also written the succeeding 63 volumes of this much-loved Belgian comedy western series. The strip was created on the fly to replace the aforementioned Lucky Luke when the great gunslinger defected from prominent weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to rival comic Pilote, and became another one of the most popular series on the Continent.

After its initial run, Bluecoats graduated to the collected album format (published by French publishing powerhouse Dupuis) that we’re all so familiar with in Un chariot dans l’OuestA Wagon in the West – in 1972.

Salvé was proficient in the Gallic style of big-foot/big-nose humour cartooning, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his artistic replacement Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte gradually leavened the previous broad style with a more realistic – but still crucially comedic – illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian, born in 1936, and after studying Fine Art, joined Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

In 1959 he created Sandy – about an Australian teen and a kangaroo – later self-parodying it and himself with Hobby and Koala and Panty et son kangaroo as well as creating the comics industry satire ‘Pauvre Lampil’.

Belgian writer Raoul Cauvin was born in 1938 and, after studying Lithography, joined Dupuis’ animation department in 1960. His glittering and prolific writing career began soon after. Almost exclusively a humourist and always for Le Journal de Spirou, other than Bluecoats he has written more than 20 long-running and award-winning series – more than 240 separate albums. Bluecoats alone has sold in the region of 23 million copies.

The protagonists are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch, a hopeless double act of buffoons in the manner of Laurel and Hardy, perhaps Abbot & Costello or our own Morecambe & Wise: two hapless and ill-starred cavalrymen posted to the wilds of the arid frontier.

The first strips were single-page gags based around an Indian-plagued Wild West fort but with second volume Du Nord au Sud (North and South) the sorry soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this scenario was retconned in the 18th album Blue retro which described how the everyman chumps were first drafted into the military). All subsequent adventures, although ranging all over the planet and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history, are set within that tragic conflict.

Blutch is your average little man in the street: work-shy, reluctant and ever-critical of the army – especially his inept commanders. Ducking, diving, deserting when he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other easier option is available. Chesterfield is a big man, a career soldier, who has bought into all the patriotism and esprit de corps. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers and simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

The Navy Blues, second book in this translated series, is actually the 7th French volume ‘Les Bleus de la marine’, and finds the lads as usual in the midst of a terrible battle. However, when Blutch is wounded, his cavalry commanders prefer to save his horse rather than aid a fallen soldier, and Chesterfield finds all his cherished dreams of camaraderie and loyalty ebbing away.

Disillusioned, he demands a transfer to the infantry and with the never-happy Blutch beside him tries to adapt to his lowered status. Sadly, Chesterfield discovers officers are the same everywhere and stupidity and cupidity are rife throughout the armed forces. A progression of calamitous transfers eventually lands the pair in the Union Navy at a time of intriguing technological advancement, playing an unfortunately ill-omened part in the development of both Submarines and armoured battleships. As always, their misadventures result in pain, humiliation and not a few explosions…

The secret of Les Tuniques Bleues success…? This is a hugely amusing anti-war saga targeting younger less cynical audiences. Historically authentic, always in good taste despite its uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war-memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1975 by Lambil & Cauvin. English edition © 2008 Cinebook Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Hobo Mom


By Charles Forsman – Max de Radiguès (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-176-5 (HB) eISBN

The most wonderful thing about the comics medium is that it is utterly transformative and variable; dependent upon the abilities of the individuals or teams of creatives involved. Hobo Mom is a sublime case in point, a single story crafted by two separate cartoonists working simultaneously and collaboratively, even though situated thousands of miles apart.

Forsman is a multi-award-winning graduate of Vermont’s celebrated Center for Cartoon Studies (founded at White River Junction by James Sturm and Michelle Ollie in 2004), whose previous releases include Celebrated Summer, The End of the Fucking World and I Am Not Okay with This. You should also be aware of his self-published mini-comics Snake Oil, Revenger and Slasher

Max de Radiguès hails from Belgium. He was born in 1982 and, when not creating books and comics for youngsters and adults, runs publishing houses L’employé du Moi (Ego Employee) and Éditions Sabarcane. In September 2009 he began a one-year residency at the Center for Cartoon Studies and turned his experiences into Meanwhile in White River Junction from Six Feet Under the Earth: a biography celebrated at the Angoulême International Comics Festival 2012.

During 2018, although divided by an entire ocean, these gentlemen used the magic of comics to seamlessly craft this poignant, understated examination of family break-up and possible renewal…

Single parent Tom lives a quiet life with his young daughter Sissy (and her pet rabbit Hazel). It’s not paradise, but it will do. Meanwhile, on a freight train, a bindlestiff heads toward them, practising what she’s going to say. It’s not an uneventful trip, but what lies ahead is far more daunting the hardship, privation and potential molestation and murder…

A little later, Sissy is playing when a woman introduces herself as Natasha and asks if her dad’s home…

That’s all you’re getting. You’ve already guessed what’s going on from the title, but you really must see for yourselves what happens when a compulsion for independence battles a need to renew maternal drives, and a need to keep moving wars with a hunger for love and even suffocating emotional ties…

And that’s not even considering how the stay-at-homes might feel and react…

Deceptively simple but devastatingly effective, Hobo Mom is a cunning and evocative exploration of humanity anyone with a heart must read.
© 2019 Charles Forsman – Max de Radiguès. This edition © 2019 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All rights reserved.

Bob Marley in Comics


By Gaets & Sophie Blitman, illustrated by Olivier Desvaux, Ammo, Didier Millotte, Tanguy Pietri, Matthieu Beaulieu, Jena, Efix, Domas, Simon Léturgie, Sarah Williamson, Cyrille Brégère, Julien Modde, Moh, Armel Ressot, Lu-K, Clément Baloup, Joël Alessandra, Julien Atika, Gil & various: translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-250-2 (HB)

Graphic biographies are all the rage at the moment and this one – originally released on the continent in 2018 – is another cracker likely to appeal to a far larger mainstream audience than comics usually reach. It certainly deserves to as it captivatingly deconstructs the life of a truly unique force in music and popular culture…

If you’ve never heard of Bob Marley or don’t like reggae, you might still want to check this out. The singer was deeply spiritual and it’s never too late to see the light and convert or, failing that, just buy a record…

Gathered in this fetching hardback (or eBook) edition are context-providing essays backing up individual comics sections; each chronological article and comics vignettes written by the ever-informative comics scribe Gaets and journalist/children’s author Sophie Blitman, supported by a veritable legion of illustrators providing vivid and vibrant strips, beginning with ‘From Nesta to Robert’ – limned by Olivier Desvaux.

The early life of the musician introduces us to his mother Cedella Malcolm and the old white soldier she married. With Norval Marley disinherited and promptly absconding, Nesta Robert Marley spent his early years in the rural farming community of Nine Miles in Jamaica until at age six, when he was whisked away to Kingston by his dad… who simply dumped him with another woman and vanished again…

Happily, a few years later Cedella joined the boy who was already showing promise as both a fortune telling mystic and award-winning singer. Rendered in stark monochrome by Ammo, ‘The Rude Boys of Trenchtown’ exposes the appalling poverty Nesta endured and the lasting friendships that privation engendered as they played, made music and hung out together: relationships expanded upon in the essay ‘Growing Up Between Worlds’.

Working in muted full colour, Didier Millotte explores ‘Reggae in the Ghetto’ as Robert Marley – now working as a full-time (14-year-old) welder – and his mates Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer are taken under the wing of pro musician Joe Higgs who teaches young Marley to play guitar…

‘Making Friends in Trenchtown’ details the development of the musical genre Reggae from Ska and Marley’s growing influence after which Tanguy Pietri illuminates sordid conditions and lack of opportunities which compel him to make music his life in ‘A Ray of Light in the Dark’

Matthieu Beaulieu reveals the unique way poor Jamaicans consumed pop music in ‘Sound Systems, Ska & Studio One’, how the blossoming star is ripped off for the first – of many – times and how he meets wife-to-be Rita Anderson: a relationship which grows in Jena’s vignette ‘Is This Love?’

Efix delineates Marley’s spiritual growth in historical lecture ‘The Roots of the Rasta Movement’, whilst Domas’ ‘Tuff Gong in Nine Miles’ follows his musical journey to America – until the threat of being drafted into Vietnam – and ultimately to London, where The Wailers become stranded…

Essay ‘The Path to Success’ concentrates upon Marley’s song-writing and musical self-determination which led to the critical meeting with British Producer Chris Blackwell in ‘The Reggae Wave’ (art by Simon Léturgie) and the release of first album Catch a Fire. Now a growing global sensation among young white music fans – as detailed in essay ‘An “International Reggae”’ – Bob Marley and The Wailers retire to Blackwell’s ‘Villa Rasta’ (illustrated by Sarah Williamson), to make more music and bask in fame in their own country whilst enjoying a few rock star trappings of success…

One such is covered in ‘Bob Marley, Rita… And All the Other Women’, recounting the numerous affairs and children the singer indulged in even as the parade of mega-hits began. Cyrille Brégère encapsulates the tone of the times in ‘The Sheriff Died Tonight’ with the financial sharks already circling, as seen in ‘Around the World’ (Julien Modde), leading to the breakup of the founding members…

Throughout this period, Jamaica was descending into political chaos and gangsterism fuelled by economic disparity. This was something no amount of interviews or comments from the pacifist, life-loving musician could affect, but did result in the assassination attempt depicted by Moh in ‘Panic in the Hen House’.

The spark was believed to be proposed peace and reconciliation concert Smile Jamaica, but despite being wounded, three days later the show went on with Marley proudly in the spotlight…

Following more history in ‘The Price of Fame’, Armel Ressot graphically caters a ‘Punk Reggae Party’ as the leading proponents of two landmark musical movements meet and cross pollinate, despite falling foul of British Law, after which ‘From Exile to Exodus’ covers the creation of the classic album before ‘Red Card’ (art by Lu-K) heralds the beginning of the end after an impromptu kickabout in Paris leads to a shocking discovery…

The star’s obsessive passion for the sport of the ghettos is examined in ‘Bob Marley and His Love of Soccer’, as is his refusal to compromise his Rastafari principles by accepting medical treatments unacceptable to his faith. Clément Baloup then pictorially details the escalating civil war in Kingston and Marley’s controversial pre-election solution of a One Love Peace Concert in ‘Ablaze’.

Knowing his end was near, Marley finally visited Ethiopia in 1978 before finishing the album Survival and discovering yet another friend and manager had been stealing from him and his fans. He played controversial concerts in Africa – including the independence ceremony of recently liberated and newly-created Zimbabwe – twice in fact, as the authorities cut the first one short through force of arms – as seen Joël Alessandra’s ‘Roots’.

Penultimate essay ‘For Peace and Unity Among Peoples’ shares his philosophies, awards and legacy, via the peace concerts he headlined, backed up by a moving strip of his final days in ‘All the Way’ (by Julien Atika), after which closing essay ‘Death of the “Pope of Reggae”’ fills in the detail of his passing and ‘What Next?’ by Gil closes the show with the events of the Tuff Gong’s state funeral and his musical legacy, courtesy of his many children.

Bob Marley in Comics is an astoundingly readable and beautifully rendered treasure for comics and music fans alike: one that resonates with anybody who loves to listen and look. Without it, you’re simply nowhere, man…

© 2016 Petit as Petit. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.
Bob Marley in Comics will be released in the UK in February 2020 and is available for pre-order now. NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com