The Adventures of Jo, Zette & Jocko: The Valley of the Cobras


By Hergé, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK/Mammoth)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-1244-1 (HB)                    978-0-74970-385-1 (PB)

George Remi, world famous as Hergé, had a long creative connection to Catholicism. At the behest of Abbot Norbert Wallez, editor of Belgian Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle, he had created Tintin before moving on to such strips as the mischievous Quick and Flupke, Tim the Squirrel in the Far West’, ‘The Amiable Mr. Mops’, ‘Tom and Millie’ and ‘Popol Out West’ – all while continuing and expanding the globe-trotting adventures of the dauntless boy reporter and his faithful little dog.

In 1935, between working on serialised Tintin epics The Blue Lotus and The Broken Ear, Remi was approached by Father Courtois, director of the French weekly newspaper Coeurs Vaillants (Valiant Hearts). The paper already carried the daily exploits of Hergé’s undisputed star-turn, but Courtois also wanted a strip depicting solid family values and situations that the seemingly-orphaned and independent boy reporter was never exposed to.

He also presumably wanted something less subversive than the mischievous, trouble-making working-class boy rascals Quick and Flupke

The proposed feature needed a set of characters typifying a decent, normal family: A working father, a housewife and mother, young boy, a sister, even a pet. Apparently inspired by a toy monkey called Jocko, Hergé devised the family Legrand.

Jacques was an engineer, and son Jo and daughter Zette were average kids; bright, brave, honest, smart and yet still playful. Mother stayed home, cooking and being rather concerned rather a lot. They had a small, feisty monkey for a pet – although I suspect as Jocko was tailless, he might have been a baby chimpanzee, which “As Any Fule Kno” is actually a species of ape.

The first adventure was a two-volume treasure: ‘The Secret Ray’ – only once published in English and consequently rarer than Hen’s teeth or monkey feathers. A ripping yarn of scientific bandits, gangsters, mad professors, robots and, regrettably, some rather ethnically unsound incidences of cannibal savages, this is very much a product of its time in too many respects.

Although Hergé came to deeply regret (and wherever possible amend) his many early uses of that era’s racial stereotyping, the island dwelling natives in Le “Manitoba” Ne Répond Plus and L’ Éruption Du Karamako (which originally ran in Coeurs Vaillants from January 19th 1936 to June 1937) will now always be controversial.

It’s a true pity that such masterful and joyous work has to be viewed with caution, read strictly in context and must be ascribed subtext and values which may never have been intended, merely because the medium is pictorial and its meaning passively acquired rather than textual, and which can therefore only be decoded by the conscious effort of reading.

I also wonder how much was a quiet, sensitive artist led by an aggressively proselytising, missionary Church’s doctrine and policy…

How much Church opposition was there to Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935 for example? And don’t get me started on Nazi Germany and the Vatican…

Sorry. Rant brakes have been applied now…

The last completed adventure of the boldly capable Legrand family came out in the 1950’s, when Hergé was at the peak of his creative powers. Although he found the concept a difficult one to work with, devoid of the opportunities for satire or social commentary, the wholesome derring-do of this series still provides thrilling and funny entertainment for kids of all ages.

Whilst vacationing in the Alps, Jo and Zette inadvertently fall foul of the whimsical and capricious Maharajah of Gopal, who is infuriated that they are better skiers than he. Matters only worsen when Jo accidentally hits the Maharajah with a snowball.

The spoiled, rich bully’s appalling behaviour escalates until eventually their father Jacques administers a long overdue spanking to the middle-aged potentate which completely changes his attitude. The much friendlier Maharajah promptly commissions the engineer to construct a bridge across the fabled Valley of the Cobras that divides his mountainous kingdom.

As the family embark for the sub-continent, all are unaware that the villainous Prime Minister of Gopal has colluded with a greedy Fakir to sabotage the project…

Begun in 1939 but shelved for nearly two decades, this is still a light exuberant romp, full of thrills and packed with laughs, executed with the captivating artistry that has made Tintin a global phenomenon. This is a book any child will adore and it baffles me why it and its companion volumes are out of print. Hopefully not for long though
© 1957, 2007 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. All rights reserved. English text © 1986, 2005 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 7


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Gary Friedrich, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, Dick Ayers, John Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6668-9 (HB)

As the 1970s opened the Incredible Hulk had settled into a comfortable – if always excessively and spectacularly destructive – niche. The globe-trotting formula saw tragic Bruce Banner hiding and seeking 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.

Herb Trimpe had made the character his own, displaying a penchant for explosive action and an unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance and vehicles. Scripter Roy Thomas – unofficial custodian of Marvel’s burgeoning shared-universe continuity – played the afflicted Jekyll/Hyde card for maximum angst and ironic heartbreak even as he continually injected the Jade Juggernaut into the lives of other stalwarts of Marvel’s growing pantheon…

This chronologically-curated hardback and eBook compendium re-presents issues #135-144 plus a crossover tale from Avengers #88 and a delightful surprise from Marvel Super-Heroes #16 (September 1968), encompassing cover-dates January to October 1971 and opens – after Thomas’ Introduction shares a few more intimate behind-the-scenes secrets – with Incredible Hulk #122.

Inked by Sal Buscema, one of the strangest Marvel team-ups occurred in ‘Descent into the Time-Storm!’ as Kang the Conqueror dispatches the Jade Juggernaut to the dog-days of World War I to prevent the Avengers’ ancestors from being born, only to fall foul of the enigmatic masked aviator known as the Phantom Eagle.

Apparently as the result of a Gerry Conway suggestion, Moby Dick (among other cross-media classics) was then homaged in ‘Klattu! The Behemoth From Beyond Space!’ and ‘The Stars, Mine Enemy!’ (this last inked by Mike Esposito) as a vengeance-crazed starship captain pursues the Brobdingnagian alien beast that had maimed him, consequently press-ganging the Hulk in the process and pitting him against old foe the Abomination.

It was back to Earth and another old enemy in ‘…Sincerely, the Sandman!’ (inked by Sam Grainger) as the vicious villain turns Banner’s true love Betty Ross to brittle, fragile glass, whilst #139’s ‘Many Foes Has the Hulk!’ looks in on the Leader’s latest attempt to kill his brutish nemesis: by exhaustion, with seemingly hundreds of old villains attacking the man-monster all at once…

A most impressive crossover follows as Harlan Ellison, Thomas, Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney craft ‘The Summons of Psyklop!’ for Avengers #88 (May 1971) wherein an insectoid servant of the Elder Gods abducts the Hulk to fuel their resurrection… This leads directly into Incredible Hulk #140 and landmark yarn ‘The Brute that Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom’ (pencilled & inked by Grainger over Trimpe’s layouts). Trapped on a sub-atomic world, Banner’s intellect and the Hulk’s body are reconciled, and he becomes a barbarian hero to an appreciative populace, and the lover of the perfect princess Jarella, only to be snatched away by Psyklop at the moment of his greatest happiness.

The sudden return to full-sized savagery is the insectoid’s undoing and the Hulk resumes his ghastly existence… at least until #141 when an experimental psychologist provides a means to drain the Hulk’s gamma-energy and utilise it to restore the crystalline Betty.

He even uses the remaining gamma force to turn himself into a superhero in ‘His Name is … Samson!’ (with the wonderful John Severin inking).

Next comes a satirical poke at “Radical Chic” and the return of the “feminist” villain Valkyrie when the Hulk is made a media cause celebre by Manhattan’s effete elite in the oddly charming ‘They Shoot Hulks, Don’t They?’

But don’t fret, there’s plenty of monumental mayhem as well…

This titanic tome terminates with an inevitable but long-delayed clash as the Green Goliath battles Doctor Doom in a two-part epic begun by Thomas, Dick Ayers & Severin wherein the hunted Banner finds ‘Sanctuary!’ in New York City’s Latverian Embassy. The deal is a bad one, however, since the Iron Dictator proceeds to enslave the Gamma scientist for his bomb-making knowledge in an attempt to make his awesome alter ego into an unstoppable war machine…

The scheme goes awry in ‘The Monster and the Madman!’ (scripted by Gary Friedrich over Thomas’ plot) as the brainwashed Banner shucks his mind-warped conditioning – thanks to Doom’s conflicted consort Valeria – just in time for the Hulk to deliver a salutary lesson in mayhem throughout the dictator’s domain.

Did I say it was all over? Not so as wrapping up is the cover to Hulk Annual #3 and original artwork by Ayers & Severin as well as the debut tale of ‘The Phantom Eagle’ by Friedrich & Trimpe as seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #16.

It’s March 1917 and barnstorming aviator Karl Kaufman chafes at his inability to enlist in the US Army Air Corps. America is not in the Great War yet, but everyone knows it’s coming and Karl’s best friend cannot understand his pal’s reticence. Despite a crash-created infirmity, Rex Griffin signed up immediately but doesn’t realise that Karl can’t be an allied air warrior until he has smuggled his German parents out of the Fatherland and beyond the reach of reprisals…

All too suddenly the war comes to Karl as, while testing his new super-plane, he encounters a gigantic Fokker-carrying zeppelin over Long Island Sound, and realizes the Kaiser has launched an invasion of America…

Mobilising his meagre resources and masked as a Phantom Eagle, Karl takes to the skies but his sortie, although successful, will cost him dearly…

The Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, TV shows and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these yarns so why not Go Green.
© 1970, 1971, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! volume 1


By Mike Kunkel, Art Baltazar, Franco, Byron Vaughns, Ken Branch & Stephen DeStefano (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2248-2

After the runaway success of Jeff Smith’s magnificent reinvention of the original Captain Marvel (see Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil) it was simply a matter of time before this latest iteration won its own title in the monthly marketplace. What was a stroke of sheer genius was to place the new Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! under the bright and shiny aegis of the company’s young reader imprint – what used to be the Cartoon Network umbrella.

In a most familiar world, slightly askew of the mainstream DC Universe, these frantically ebullient and utterly contagious tales of the orphan Batson and his obnoxious, hyperactive little sister – both gifted by an ancient mage with the powers of the gods – can play out in wild and woolly semi-isolation hampered by nothing except the page count…

Billy Batson is a homeless kid with a murky past and a glorious destiny. One night he follows a mysterious figure into an abandoned subway station and met the wizard Shazam, who grants him the ability to turn into an adult superhero called Captain Marvel. Gifted with the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and speed of Mercury, the lad is despatched into the world to do good, a noble if immature boy in a super man’s body.

Accompanied by talking tiger-spirit Mr. Tawky Tawny, Billy tracks down his missing little sister, but whilst battling evil genius Dr. Sivana (US Attorney General and would-be ruler of the universe) he impetuously causes a ripple in the world’s magical fabric through which monsters and ancient perils occasionally slip through. Now, the reunited orphans are trying to live relatively normal lives, but finding the going a little tough…

Firstly, without adults around, Billy often has to masquerade as his own dad and when he’s not at school he’s the breadwinner, earning a living as a boy-reporter at radio and TV station WHIZ. Moreover, little Mary also has access to the Power of Shazam, and she’s a lot smarter than he is in using it… and a real pain in Billy’s neck.

Mike Kunkel, inspired creator of the simply lovely Herobear and the Kid, leads off this collection (gathering the first six issues of the much-missed monthly comic-book for readers of all ages): writing and drawing a breakneck, riotous romp reintroducing the new Marvel Family to any new readers and, by virtue of that pesky rift in the cosmic curtain, recreating the Captain’s greatest foe: Black Adam.

This time the evil predecessor of the World’s Mightiest Mortal is a powerless but truly vile brat: a bully who returns to Earth after millennia in limbo ready to cause great mischief – but he can’t remember his own magic word…

This hilarious tale has just the right amount of dark underpinning as the atrocious little thug stalks Billy and Mary, trying to wheedle and eventually torture the secret syllables from them, and when inevitably Black Adam regains his mystic might and frees the sinister Seven Deadly Evils of Mankind from their imprisonment on the wizard’s Rock of Eternity, the stage is set for a classic confrontation.

Pitched perfectly at the young reader, with equal parts danger, comedy, sibling rivalry and the regular outwitting of adults, this first storyline screams along with a brilliantly clever feel-good finish…

From issue #5 the writing team of Art Baltazar and Franco (responsible for the incomparably compulsive madness of Tiny Titans and Superman Family) take over, and artists Byron Vaughns & Ken Branch handled the first bombastic tale as convict Doctor Sivana unleashes the destructive giant robot Mr. Atom to cover his escape from prison.

The story-section concludes with another funny and extremely dramatic battle – this time against primordial super-caveman King Kull, who wants to reconquer the planet he ruled millennia ago. Older fans of gentle fantasy will be enthralled and delighted here by the singular art of Stephen DeStefano, who won hearts and minds with his illustration of Bob Rozakis’ seminal series Hero Hotline and ‘Mazing Man (both painfully, criminally overdue for graphic novel collections of their own…)

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! is an ideal book for getting kids into comics: funny, thrilling, beautifully, stylishly illustrated and perfectly in tune with what young minds want to see. Moreover, with the major motion picture adaptation set to premiere in April, it’s a timely moment to get reacquainted with the Big Red Cheese…

With a gloriously enticing sketches section and a key code for those pages written in the “Monster Society of Evil Code” this is an addictive treat for all readers who can still revel in the power of pure wonderment and still glory in an unbridled capacity for joy.
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Chris Claremont, Bill Mantlo, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Bob Brown, Tony DeZuñiga & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1193-1 (TPB)                  978-0-7851-3704-7 (TMB)

In the autumn of 1963 The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier.

The teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo Superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After nearly eight years of eccentrically spectacular adventures the mutant misfits virtually disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just like in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes once more dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although their title returned at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the ongoing Marvel universe, whilst the bludgeoning Beast was opportunistically transformed into a scary monster to cash in on the horror boom.

Then, with sales of the spooky stuff subsequently waning in 1975, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas green-lighted a bold one-shot as part of the company’s line of Giant-Size specials and history was made…

This second startling selection (available in luxurious hardcover, trade paperback and eBook editions) is perfect for newbies, neophytes and even old lags nervous about reading such splendid yarns on fragile but extremely valuable newsprint paper. It celebrates the unstoppable march to market dominance through the exuberant and pivotal early stories: specifically, issues #101-110 of the decidedly “All-New, All-Different” X-Men – spanning October 1976 to April 1978 and tracing the reinvigorated merry mutants from young, fresh and delightfully under-exposed innovations to the beginnings of their unstoppable ascendancy to ultimate comicbook icons, in their own title and through an increasingly broad clutch of guest shots…

As #101 unfolds, scripter Chris Claremont and illustrators Dave Cockrum & Frank Chiaramonte were on the on the verge of utterly overturning the accepted status quo of women in comics forever…

Led by field-leader Cyclops, the team now consisted of old acquaintance and former foe SeanBansheeCassidy, Wolverine, and new creations Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus and part-timer Jean Grey still labouring under the nom-de guerre Marvel Girl… but not for much longer…

‘Like a Phoenix from the Ashes’ sees a space-shuttle cataclysmically crash into Jamaica Bay. The X-Men – fresh from eradicating a space station full of mutant-hunting Sentinels – had safely travelled in a specially-shielded chamber but Jean had manually piloted the vehicle, unprotected through a lethal radiation storm…

As the mutants escape the slowly sinking craft, a fantastic explosion propels the impossibly alive pilot into the air, now-clad in a strange gold-&-green uniform screaming that she is “Fire and Life Incarnate… Phoenix!”

Immediately collapsing, the critically injured girl is rushed to hospital and a grim wait begins.

Unable to explain her survival and too preoccupied to spare time for teaching, Xavier packs the newest recruits off to the Irish mutant’s home in County Mayo for a vacation, blissfully unaware that Cassidy Keep has been compromised and is now a deadly trap for his new students…

Within the ancestral pile, Sean’s mutant cousin Black Tom has usurped control of the manor and its incredible secrets before – at the behest of mysterious plotter Eric the Red – contriving an inescapable ambush, assisted by an old X-Men enemy.

‘Who Will Stop the Juggernaut?’ (Sam Grainger inks) sees the inexperienced heroes in over their heads and fighting for their lives, but still finds room to reveal the origins of Storm and provide an explanation for her crippling claustrophobia, before ‘The Fall of the Tower’ explosively ends the tale with mutant heroes and the Keep’s Leprechaun colony (no, really!) uniting to expel the murderous usurpers.

Although still bi-monthly at the time, the series kicked into confident top gear with ‘The Gentleman’s Name is Magneto’ as the weary warriors head for Scotland to check on Moira MacTaggert’s island lab: a secret facility containing myriad mutant menaces the X-Men have previously defeated.

It’s a very bad move since the ever-active Eric has restored the dormant master of magnetism to full power…

The mutant terrorist had been turned into a baby – a strangely commonplace fate for villains in those faraway days – but he was all grown up again now but indulging in one last temper tantrum…

Freshly arrived from America, Moira (who had been acting as the team’s US housekeeper) and Cyclops are only just in time to lead a desperate, humiliating retreat from the triumphant Master of Magnetism. Scott doesn’t care: he realises the entire affair has been a feint to draw the mutant heroes away from Xavier and Jean…

He needn’t have worried. Although in ‘Phoenix Unleashed’ (inks by Bob Layton) Eric orchestrates an attack by Firelord – a cosmic flamethrower and former herald of Galactus much like the Silver Surfer – Jean is now fully-evolved into a being of unimaginable power who readily holds the fiery marauder at bay…

In the interim a long-standing mystery is solved as the visions which have haunted and tormented Xavier for months are revealed as a psychic connection with a runaway warrior-princess from a distant alien empire.

Lilandra of the Shi’ar had rebelled against her imperial brother and, whilst fleeing, somehow telepathically locked onto her trans-galactic soul-mate Charles Xavier. As she made her circuitous way to Earth, embedded Shi’ar spy Shakari had assumed the role of Eric the Red and attempted to remove Lilandra’s potential champion before she even arrived…

During the blistering battle which follows the X-Men’s dramatic arrival, Shakari snatches up Lilandra and drags her through a stargate to their home galaxy, before, with the entire universe imperilled, Xavier urges his team to follow.

All Jean has to do is re-open a wormhole to the other side of creation…

A minor digression follows as overstretched artist Cockrum gains a breather via a fill-in “untold” tale of the new team featuring an attack by psychic clones of the original X-men. ‘Dark Shroud of the Past’ is a competent pause by Bill Mantlo, Bob Brown & Tom Sutton, set inside a framing sequence from Cockrum.

The regular story resumes in a knowing homage to Star Trek as ‘Where No X-Man Has Gone Before!’ (Claremont, Cockrum & Dan Green) sees the heroes stranded in another galaxy where they meet and are beaten by the Shi’ar Imperial Guard (an in-joke version of DC’s Legion of Super Heroes in the inimitable Cockrum manner). The odds change radically when bold interstellar rebel freebooters the Starjammers bombastically arrive to turn the tables once again whilst uncovering a mad scheme to unmake the fabric of space-time.

Lilandra’s brother Emperor D’Ken is a deranged maniac who wants to activate a cosmic artefact known alternatively as the M’Kraan Crystal and “the End of All that Is” in his quest for ultimate power. He’s also spent time on Earth in the past and played a major role in the life of one of the X-Men…

This tale (from issue #107) was Cockrum’s last for years. He would eventually return to replace the man who replaced him. John Byrne not only illustrated but also began co-plotting the X-tales and, as the team roster expanded, the series rose to even greater heights. It would culminate in the landmark Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character and the departure of the team’s heart and soul. The epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the epochal working relationship of Claremont and Byrne.

Within months of publication they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with the mutants whilst Byrne moved on to establish his own reputation as a writer on series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionised Fantastic Four

Here though, the X-Men and Starjammers battle the Crystal’s astoundingly deadly automated guardians, as this final chapter depicts the newly puissant Phoenix literally saving all Reality in a mind-blowing display of power and skill.

Trapped inside a staggering other-realm, and appalled and enthralled by the intoxicating, addictive nature of her own might, Phoenix rewove the fabric of Reality and for an encore brought the heroes home again.

The conclusion of this ambitious extended saga was drawn by Byrne and inked by Terry Austin and their visual virtuosity was to become an industry bench-mark as the X-Men grew in popularity and complexity.

However, even though the bravura high-octane thrills of ‘Armageddon Now’ seem an unrepeatable high-point, Claremont & Byrne had only started. The best was still to come, as in X-Men #109’s ‘Home Are the Heroes!’ (Claremont, Byrne & Austin) Wolverine finally begins to develop a back-story and some depth of character after technological wonder Weapon Alpha attacks the recuperating team in an appallingly misjudged attempt to force the enigmatic Logan to rejoin the Canadian Secret Service.

Renamed Vindicator Alpha would later return leading Alpha Flight – a Canadian government sponsored super-team which would eventually graduate to their own eccentric high-profile series.

The drama concludes with X-Men #110 (April 1978) wherein Claremont, and illustrators Tony DeZuñiga & Cockrum, detail ‘The “X”-Sanction!’: a rather limp and hasty fill-in with cyborg mercenary Warhawk infiltrating the Xavier mansion in search of “intel” for a mysterious, unspecified master… before getting his shiny silver head handed to him…

Entertaining, groundbreaking and incredibly intoxicating, these adventures are an invaluable and crucial grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can be allowed to ignore.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Top 10


By Alan Moore, Gene Ha, Xander Cannon & various (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5493-3

Let’s start the New Year with a fresh look at a much-neglected gem of mature-reader Fights ‘n’ Tights fun courtesy of the grandmaster of the sub-genre. These tales first appeared at the turn of the century under the America’s Best Comics banner – and are still available in those editions should you be so minded to seek them out – but this hefty paperback (or eBook) gathers the first dozen award-winning issues in one nifty pack, so that’s convenient, if nothing else…

Following his usual avuncular introduction in ‘Powers of Arrest: Precinct Ten and Social Super-Vision’ Alan Moore effortlessly welds superteam dynamics to the modern world’s fascination with police procedural dramas in this series based on the premise of everyday life in a universe where Super-Nature is accepted and common place.

Neopolis is a city entirely populated by super-beings. Heroes, villains, gods, robots and monsters, the city is a vast dumping ground for copyright-confounding analogues of everything that ever appeared in a comicbook, cartoon or movie since the genre and industry began.

Such a city needs really special policing and the beat cops are based at Precinct Ten – or Top 10 to you and me. In the mid-1980s this city joined a pan-dimensional league of worlds and came under the jurisdiction of the security organisation based on “Grand Central”. That morsel of data will play a large part in the overarching storyline, but the nature of this fascinating ensemble piece is to build a longer narrative by seeming disconnected snippets and increments of daily drudgery.

Robyn Slinger is the new rookie at Top 10 and we start on her first day as a “real Police”. Her dad was a respected officer, but her own talent – controlling tiny robotic toys (like General Jumbo if you’re a doddery old Beano reader like me) – doesn’t instil her with any great confidence as she is gently ushered into the routine by the affable desk-sergeant Kemlo Caesar. Nor, really, does the realisation that he’s an actual talking dog in a mecha suit.

Adapting to the banter, routine and teasing of her fellow officers is daunting, but not as much as being partnered with the surly, invulnerable blue giant Smax.

In short order, whilst going about their regular duties, which include sorting out super-powered “domestics” (no, not housekeepers – spousal confrontations), crowd control at robotic murder scenes, rousting hookers and generally keeping the peace, they become embroiled in an unsolved – now potentially ongoing – serial killer case and a drug investigation that will eventually reach to the highest levels of their own organisation (‘Blind Justice’ and ‘Internal Affairs’).

By adopting the “day-in-the-life” approach, Moore and Gene Ha cover a lot of character ground and fill in back-story history whilst showing us “The Job”. As the method is used so effectively in TV Cop shows, readers not only get the same benefits of tone, texture and information value, but the added bonus of making the super-heroic elements more “real” and authentic seeming: a huge advantage when your protagonists deal every day with the most outlandish concepts comics have devised in the last 80 years.

For example: When – in ‘Eight Miles High’ – a reptilian gangbanger is arrested his dad wants to bust him out, and even the cops have to think twice when a foul-mouthed, 300-foot drunken lizard comes calling… Or how do you bust up a rave-party when all the revellers are dancing so fast they can’t be seen? Perhaps your apartment has been invaded by hyper-intelligent UltraMice? Check out ‘Great Infestations’ for a truly bizarre sit-rep…

When the serial killer case finally breaks it exposes an alien monster whose real identity will bring nothing but trouble…

Before that though, the guys have to deal with the usual Seasonal problems brought on by the Yule Holidays as ‘You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Cry…’ leads to murder and other ‘Mythdemeanors’ in a bar frequented by the gods of Asgard and other pantheons…

Like any good cop story, cases run in parallel, at different rates and often in opposition, and the large cast all have their own lives which are impossible to completely divorce from “The Job”. That’s epitomised by more “one-day-at-a-time” storytelling and ‘The Overview’, as a major traffic accident draws most of the day-shift’s resources.

A couple of teleporting extra-dimensional travellers have catastrophically intersected, but by the end of the clear-up it’s clear the tragedy wasn’t a simple accident. Meanwhile, influential friends are trying to quash the case against the monstrous serial killer known as Libra, and Voodoo-powered officer King Peacock is sent to Grand Central, the head office of the police force…

‘Rules of Engagement’ finds him being given a particularly deadly form of the old run-around whilst the war between the UltraMice and the AtomCats in the apartment Duane shares with his ghastly mother has escalated to cosmic levels, in a brilliant swipe at comicbook mega-crossovers. Moreover, a long-running investigation is starting to look like a case for Internal Affairs…

‘Music for the Dead’ then sees the death of one of the key cast members as those corruption suspicions are horribly confirmed in a brutal incident that also closes the Libra killer case for good.

‘His First Day on the New Job’ introduces Joe Pi, the new (robotic) rookie experiencing some rather unsettling prejudice from his fellow officers as well as the funeral of the beloved colleague he’s replacing. The volume – in fact, the original series – concludes with ‘Court on the Street’, with an atypical clear win for the Good Guys when they go after the influential cronies of the deceased Libra Killer…

Superbly sardonic, this blend of low-key action and horror coupled with dark, ironic and occasionally surreal humour, is drawn in a super-realistic style by Gene Ha, leavened by the solid inks of Zander Cannon, and the drama is supplemented by a Top 10 Gallery (artists’ designs and commentary by Moore) of the huge cast of characters, plus a Precinct Layout and floor plans.

This cross-genre mix is immensely entertaining reading and the subtle shades of the writing are matched in full by Gene Ha’s beautiful, complex, detail-studded art, but in truth this seductive blend of police procedural drama and the whacky world of full-on superhero universes isn’t really about the narrative: its joys are to be found in the incidentals, the sidebars and the shared in-jokes.

This is a must-read series for jaded fans and newcomers with an open, imaginative mind.
© 1999, 2000, 2001 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Doctor Strange Epic Collection volume 1 1963-1966: Master of the Mystic Arts


By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, with Don Rico, Roy Thomas, Dennis O’Neil, George Roussos & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1138-6

We lost some grand masters of our art form this year, including arguably the biggest name left in the pantheon in American comics, Stan Lee. Also gone is certainly the most influential and least understood of American comics’ true greats: Steve Ditko. Despite their infamous acrimonious later working relationship, Lee & Ditko literally made magic together.

Here’s a recently-released collection with them at their very best and most groundbreaking…

When the budding House of Ideas introduced a warrior wizard to their burgeoning pantheon in the summer of 1963 it was a bold and curious move. Bizarre adventures and menacing monsters were still incredibly popular but mention of magic or the supernatural – especially vampires, werewolves and their eldritch ilk – were harshly proscribed by a censorship panel which dictated almost all aspects of story content.

At this time – almost a decade after a public witch hunt led to Senate hearings – all comics were ferociously monitored and adjudicated by the draconian Comics Code Authority. Even though some of the small company’s strongest sellers were still mystery and monster mags, their underlying themes and premises were almost universally mad science and alien wonders, not necromantic or thaumaturgic horrors.

That might explain Stan Lee’s low-key introduction of Steve Ditko’s mystic adventurer: an exotic, twilit troubleshooter inhabiting the shadowy outer fringes of rational, civilised society.

Capitalising on of the runaway success of Fantastic Four, Lee had quickly spun off the youngest, most colourful member of the team into his own series, hoping to recapture the glory of the 1940s when the Human Torch was one of the company’s untouchable “Big Three” superstars.

Within a year of FF #1, anthology title Strange Tales became home for the blazing boy-hero (beginning with issue #101, cover-dated October 1962): launching Johnny Storm on a creatively productive but commercially unsuccessful solo career.

Soon after, in Tales of Suspense #41 (May 1963) current sensation Iron Man battled a crazed technological wizard dubbed Doctor Strange, and with the name successfully and legally in copyrightable print (a long-established Lee technique: Thorr, The Thing, Electro, Magneto and the Hulk had been disposable Atlas “furry underpants monsters” long before they became in-continuity Marvel characters), preparations began for a new and truly different kind of hero.

The company had already – recently – published a quasi-mystic precursor: balding, trench-coated savant Doctor Droom – later rechristened (or is that re-paganed?) Dr. Druid – had an inconspicuous short run in Amazing Adventures (volume 1 #1-4 & #6: June-November 1961).

He was a psychiatrist, sage and paranormal investigator tackling everything from alien invaders to Atlanteans (albeit not the ones Sub-Mariner ruled). Droom was subsequently retro-written into Marvel continuity as an alternative candidate and precursor for Stephen Strange’s ultimate role as Sorcerer Supreme…

Nevertheless, after a shaky start, the Marvel Age Master of the Mystic Arts became an unmissable icon of the cool counter-culture kids who saw in Ditko’s increasingly psychedelic art echoes and overtones of their own trippy explorations of other worlds and realms…

That might not have been the authors’ intentions but it certainly helped keep the mage at the forefront of Lee’s efforts to break comics out of the kids-stuff ghetto…

This enchanting full colour paperback compilation – also available as a digital download – collects the mystical portions of Strange Tales #110, 111 and 114-146 plus a titanic team-up from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2; spanning July 1963 to July 1966. Moreover, although the Good Doctor was barely cover-featured until issue #130, it also magnanimously includes every issue’s stunning frontage, thus offering an incredible array of superbly eye-catching Marvel masterpieces from the upstart outfit’s formative heyday by Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Bob Powell, John Severin and others.

Thus, without any preamble, our first meeting with the man of mystery comes courtesy of a quiet little chiller which has never been surpassed for sheer mood and imagination.

Lee & Ditko’s ‘Doctor Strange Master of Black Magic!’ debuted at the back of Strange Tales #110 and saw a terrified man troubled by his dreams approach an exceptional consultant in his search for a cure…

That perfect 5-page fright-fest introduces whole new realms and features deceit, desperation, double-dealing and the introduction of both a mysterious and aged oriental mentor and devilish dream demon Nightmare in an unforgettable yarn that might well be Ditko’s finest moment…

A month later in #111 the good Doctor was back, ‘Face-to-Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo!’ which sensibly introduced a player on the other side…

The esoteric duel with such an obviously formidable foe established Strange as a tragic solitary guardian tasked with defending the world from supernatural terrors and uncanny encroachment whilst introducing his most implacable enemy, a fellow sorcerer with vaulting ambition and absolutely no morals. In the astounding battle that ensued, it was also firmly confirmed that Strange was the smarter man…

Then things went quiet for a short while until the letters started coming in…

Strange Tales #114 (November 1963) was one of the most important issues of the era. Not only did it highlight the return of another Golden Age hero – or at least a villainous facsimile of him – by Lee, Kirby & Ayers. Here’s a quote from the last panel. “You guessed it! This story was really a test! To see if you too would like Captain America to Return! As usual, your letters will give us the answer!” We all know how that turned out…

Nevertheless, for many of us the true treasure trove here was the fabulously moody resurrection of Doctor Strange: permanently installing an eccentric and baroque little corner of the growing unified universe where Ditko could let his imagination run wild…

With #114, the Master of the Mystic Arts took up monthly residence behind the Torch as ‘The Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo!’ (uncredited inks by George Roussos) finds the Doctor lured to London and into a trap, only to be saved by unlikely adept Victoria Bentley: an abortive stab at a romantic interest who would periodically turn up in years to come.

The forbidding man of mystery is at last revealed in all his frail mortality as Strange Tales #115 offered ‘The Origin of Dr. Strange’, disclosing how Stephen Strange was once America’s greatest surgeon. A brilliant man, yet greedy, vain and arrogant, he cares nothing for the sick except as a means to wealth and glory. When a self-inflicted, drunken car-crash ends his career, Strange hits the skids.

Then, fallen as low as man ever could, the debased doctor overheard a barroom tale which led him on a delirious odyssey or, perhaps more accurately, pilgrimage to Tibet, where a frail and aged mage changed his life forever. It also showed his first clash with the Ancient One’s other pupil Mordo: thwarting a seditious scheme and earning the Baron’s undying envious enmity…

Eventual enlightenment through daily redemption transformed Stephen the derelict into a solitary, dedicated watchdog for at the fringes of humanity, challenging all the hidden dangers of the dark on behalf of a world better off not knowing what dangers lurk in the shadows…

‘Return to the Nightmare World!’ sees the insidious dream predator trapping earthly sleepers in perpetual slumber until the doubtful authorities asked Strange to investigate. The hero’s invasion of his oneiric enemy’s stronghold is a masterpiece of moody suspense and is followed here by ‘The Many Traps of Baron Mordo!’: apparently showing the malevolent mage devising an inescapable doom, which once more founders after Strange applies a little logic to it…

The wildness and infinite variety of Strange’s universe offered Ditko tremendous opportunities to stretch himself visually and as plotter of the stories. In ST #118 the Master of Magic travels to Bavaria to combat ‘The Possessed!’, finding humans succumbing to extra-dimensional invaders neither fully mystic or mundane, whilst ‘Beyond the Purple Veil’ has Strange rescuing burglars who have stolen one of his deadly treasures from ray-gun wielding slaver-tyrants…

Strange Tales #120 played with the conventions of ghost stories as a reporter vanishes during a live broadcast from ‘The House of Shadows!’ and the concerned Doctor diagnoses something unworldly but certainly not dead…

Mordo springs yet another deadly trap in ‘Witchcraft in the Wax Museum!’ but is once again outsmarted and humiliated after stealing his rival’s body whilst Strange wanders the world in astral form…

Roussos returned as an uncredited inker for #122’s ‘The World Beyond’ wherein Nightmare nearly scores his greatest victory after the exhausted Strange falls asleep before uttering the nightly charm that protects from him from attack through his own dreams.

Strange hosts his first Marvel guest star in #123 whilst meeting ‘The Challenge of Loki!’ (August 1964 by Lee, Ditko & George Roussos as George Bell) as the god of Mischief tricks the earthly mage into briefly stealing Thor’s hammer before deducing where the emanations of evil he senses really come from…

Strange battles a sorcerer out of ancient Egypt to save ‘The Lady from Nowhere!’ from time-bending banishment and imprisonment, and performs similar service to rescue the Ancient One after the aged sage is kidnapped in ‘Mordo Must Not Catch Me!’, after which Roussos moves on whilst Lee & Ditko gear up for even more esoteric action.

Strange Tales #126 took the Master of the Mystic arts to ‘The Domain of the Dread Dormammu!’ as an extra-dimensional god seeks to subjugate Earth. In a fantastic realm Strange meets a mysterious, exotic woman who reveals the Dread One operates by his own implacable code: giving the overmatched Earthling the edge in the concluding ‘Duel with of the Dread Dormammu!’

This sees Earth saved, the Ancient One freed from a long-standing crippling curse and Strange awarded a new look and mystic weapons upgrade…

Restored to his homeworld and Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village, Strange then solves ‘The Dilemma of… the Demon’s Disciple!’ by saving a luckless truth-seeker from an abusive minor magician and – after a stunning pin-up by Ditko – defeats a demonic god of decadence stealing TV guests and execs in #129’s ‘Beware… Tiborro! The Tyrant of the Sixth Dimension!’ (scripted by Golden Age great Don Rico).

Doctor Strange got his first star cover slot for Strange Tales #130 to celebrate the start of an ambitious multi-part saga which would be rightly acclaimed one of the mystic’s finest moments.

‘The Defeat of Dr. Strange’ opens with an enigmatic outer-dimensional sponsor entering into a pact with Baron Mordo to supply infinite power and ethereal minions in return for the death of Earth’s magical guardian…

With the Ancient One assaulted and stuck in a deathly coma, Strange is forced to go on the run: a fugitive hiding in the most exotic corners of the globe as remorseless, irresistible forces close in all around him…

A claustrophobic close shave whilst trapped aboard a jetliner in ‘The Hunter and the Hunted!’ expands into cosmic high gear in #132 as Strange doubles back to his sanctum and defeats the returning Demon only to come ‘Face-to-Face at Last with Baron Mordo!’ Crumbling into weary defeat as the villain’s godly sponsor is revealed, the hero is hurled headlong out of reality to materialise in ‘A Nameless Land, A Timeless Time!’ before confronting tyrannical witch-queen Shazana.

Upon liberating her benighted realm, the relentless pursuit resumes as Strange re-crosses hostile dimensions to take the fight to his foes in ‘Earth Be My Battleground’.

Returning to the enclave hiding his ailing master, he gleans a hint of a solution in the mumbled enigmatic word “Eternity” and begins searching for more information, even as, in the Dark Dimension, a terrified girl attempts to sabotage Dread Dormammu’s efforts to empower Mordo…

As the world went super-science spy-crazy and Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. took over the lead spot with Strange Tales #135, the Sixties also saw a blossoming of alternative thought and rebellion. Doctor Strange apparently became a confirmed favourite of the blossoming Counterculture Movement and its recreational drug experimentation subculture. With Ditko truly hitting his imaginative stride, it’s not hard to see why. His weirdly authentic otherworlds and demonstrably adjacent dimensions were just unlike anything anyone had ever seen or depicted before…

‘Eternity Beckons!’ when Strange is lured to an ancient castle where an old ally seeks to betray him and, after again narrowly escaping Mordo’s minions, the Mage desperately consults the aged senile Genghis in #136: a grave error in judgement. Once more catapulted into a dimension of deadly danger, Strange barely escapes a soul-stealing horror after discovering ‘What Lurks Beneath the Mask?’

Back on Earth and out of options, the Doctor is forced to test his strength against the Ancient One’s formidable psychic defences to learn the secret of Eternity in ‘When Meet the Mystic Minds!’ After barely surviving the terrible trial, he translates himself to a place beyond reality to meet the embodiment of creation in ‘If Eternity Should Fail!’

The quest for solutions or extra might bears little fruit and, as he despondently arrives on Earth, the Doctor finds his mentor One and his unnamed female friend prisoners of his worst enemies in anticipation of a fatal showdown…

Strange Tales #139 warns ‘Beware…! Dormammu is Watching!’, but as Mordo – despite being super-charged with the Dark Lord’s infinite energies – fails over and again to kill the Good Doctor, the Overlord of Evil loses all patience and drags the whole show into his home domain…

Intent on making a show of destroying his mortal nemesis, Dormammu convenes a great gathering before whom he will smash Strange in a duel using nothing but ‘The Pincers of Power!’ and is again bathed in ultimate humiliation as the mortal’s wit and determination result in a stunning triumph in concluding episode ‘Let There Be Victory!’

As the universes tremble, Doctor Strange wearily heads home, blithely unaware that his enemies have laid one last trap. The weary victor returns to his mystic Sanctum Sanctorum, unaware that his foes have boobytrapped his residence with mundane explosives…

Scripted by Lee and plotted and illustrated by Ditko, Strange Tales #142 reveals ‘Those Who Would Destroy Me!’ as Mordo’s unnamed disciples ready for one last stab at the Master of the Mystic Arts.

They would remain anonymous for decades, only gaining names of their own – Kaecillius, Demonicus and The Witch – upon their return in the mid-1980s. Here, however, they easily entrap the exhausted mage and imprison him with a view to plundering all his secrets. It’s a big mistake as, in the Roy Thomas dialogued sequel ‘With None Beside Me!’, Strange quickly outwits and subdues his captors…

In #144 Ditko & Thomas take the heartsick hero ‘Where Man Hath Never Trod!’ Although Dormammu was soundly defeated and humiliated before his peers and vassals, the demonic tyrant takes a measure of revenge by exiling Strange’s anonymous female collaborator to realms unknown. Now, as the Earthling seeks to rescue her while searching myriad mystic planes, he stumbles into a trap laid by the Dark One and carried out by devilish collector of souls Tazza

On defeating the scheme, Strange returns to Earth and almost dies at the hands of a far weaker, but much sneakier wizard dubbed Mister Rasputin. The spy and swindler utilises meagre mystic gifts for material gain but is happy to resort to base brutality ‘To Catch a Magician!’ (scripted by Dennis O’Neil).

All previous covers had been Kirby S.H.I.E.L.D. affairs but finally, with Strange Tales #146, Strange and Ditko won their moment in the sun. Although the artist would soon be gone, the Good Doctor remained, alternating with Nick Fury’s team until the title ended.

Ditko & O’Neil presided over ‘The End …At Last!’ as a deranged Dormammu abducts Strange before suicidally attacking the omnipotent embodiment of the cosmos known as Eternity.

The cataclysmic chaos ruptures the heavens over infinite dimensions and when the universe is calm again both supra-deities are gone. Rescued from the resultant tumult, however, is the valiant girl Strange had loved and lost. She introduces herself as Clea, and although Stephen despondently leaves her, we all know she will be back…

This cosmic swansong was Ditko’s last hurrah. Issue #147 saw a fresh start as Strange went back to his Greenwich Village abode under the auspices of co-scripters Lee & O’Neil, with comics veteran Bill Everett suddenly and surprisingly limning the arcane adventures.

Before that though there are a few treats still in store, beginning with one last Lee/Ditko yarn to enthral and beguile: Although a little chronologically askew, it is very much a case of the best left until last…

In October 1965 ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange!’ (from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2) was the astonishing lead feature in an otherwise vintage reprint Spidey comicbook.

The entrancing fable unforgettably introduced the webslinger to arcane adventure and otherworldly realities as he teamed up with the Master of the Mystic Arts to battle power-crazed wizard Xandu in a phantasmagorical, dimension-hopping masterpiece involving ensorcelled zombie thugs and the purloined Wand of Watoomb.

After this story it was clear that Spider-Man could work in any milieu and nothing could hold him back… and the cross-fertilisation probably introduced many fans to Lee & Ditko’s other breakthrough series.

But wait, there’s even more! Wrapping up the proceeding is a selection of original art beginning with an unused pencil sketch of a master and student pinup plus a completed pinup published in 1967’s Marvel Collectors’ Item Classics #10 and the original art for it.

Following those is a contemporary T-shirt design, a cover gallery of Marvel Tales #1 and Doctor Strange Classics #1-4 (by John Byrne & Al Milgrom, including text pages by Roger Stern) all nicely rounded off by a re-presentation of previous Ditko collection covers modified by painters Dean White & Richard Isanove as well as Alex Ross’ epic Doctor Strange Omnibus cover.

Doctor Strange has always been the coolest of outsiders and most accessible fringe star of the Marvel firmament. This glorious grimoire is a magical method for old fans to enjoy his world once more and the perfect introduction for recent acolytes or converts created by the movie iteration to enjoy the groundbreaking work of two thirds of the Marvel Empire’s founding triumvirate at their most imaginative.
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Robin volume 1: Reborn


By Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle, Tom Lyle & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5857-3

Norman Keith Breyfogle was born in Iowa City, Iowa on February 27th 1960. Another artistic prodigy, in high school he was commissioned by Michigan Technological University to create promotional comic Tech-Team. In 1977 he submitted to DC a new costume design for Robin. It was published in Batman Family #13.

He studied painting and illustration at North Michigan University while working as a professional illustrator and in 1980 created Bunyan: Lore’s Loggin’ Hero for Book Concern. Moving to California in 1982, he worked as a technical draughtsman for NASA’s space shuttle programme and two years later began his serious attempts to get into proper comics.

Work for DC’s New Talent Showcase led him to American Flagg, Tales of Terror, Marvel Fanfare and others before, in 1986 he illustrated Whisper for a year. He then became regular artist on Detective Comics (1987-1990) where, with Alan Grant & John Wagner, he added to the Dark Knight’s gruesome gallery of foes by co-creating Scarface and the Ventriloquist, Ratcatcher, Jeremiah Arkham, Victor Zsasz and antihero Anarky.

Very much the key artist, he then transferred to Batman (1990-1992) and visually dictated the transformation of Tim Drake into the third Boy Wonder Robin before helming new title Batman: Shadow of the Bat until 1993.

Along the way he also illustrated Elseworlds yarn Batman: Holy Terror and painted Batman: Birth of the Demon, and other DC landmarks such as Flashpoint and The Spectre. For other companies he drew Prime, Black Tide, Hellcat, Bloodshot, Archie comics and many others as well as creating comics, children’s book material and poetry.

In December 2014 he suffered a massive stroke which left him paralysed, and he died on September 24 this year from heart failure.

Despite his massive and wide-ranging contribution to comics. Breyfogle will always be most well-known for his Batman tenure so it’s fitting that we remember him here with the biggest storyline of his career and its aftermath…

No matter how hard creators try to avoid it or escape it, Batman and Robin are an inevitable pairing. The first one graduated, the second died (sort of, more or less, leave it, don’t go there) and the third, Tim Drake, volunteered, applying pester-power until he got the job…

Spanning July 1990 to May 1991 and gathering Detective Comics #618-621, Batman #455-457 and the first Robin miniseries (#1-5), this volume reveals how a plucky young computer whiz convinces the Gotham Guardian to let him assume the potentially-fatal role of junior partner in a cracking adventure yarn that has as much impact today as when it first appeared decades ago.

It all begins with 4-part story arc ‘Rite of Passage’ from Detective Comics. Scripted by Alan Grant with moody art from Breyfogle & Dick Giordano ‘Shadow on the Sun’ finds a very much civilian Tim vacationing with Bruce Wayne in Gotham while his affluent, philanthropic parents visit the Caribbean and fall into the greedy hands of ruthless criminal the Obeah Man.

Tim is fully aware of Wayne’s alter ego and even helps with hacking as the Dark Knight follows a convoluted money trail, but the boy’s nerve is truly tested when his own parents become victims of a ruthless maniac…

Grant Breyfogle, With Steve Mitchell inking the sordid saga continues as ‘Beyond Belief!’ shows that not just money motivates the voodoo lord. He also revels in the worship of his terrified acolytes and is keen to keep them swayed with the occasional bloody sacrifice…

However, his ransom demand soon puts Batman on his trail and as the Gotham Gangbuster heads for Haiti, Tim is forced to consider whether the role of Robin only comes at the price of personal tragedy…

That seems to be confirmed in ‘Make Me a Hero’ as Batman’s hunt takes a negative turn even as Tim’s computer trawls lead him to a pointless confrontation with troubled teen Anarky before the concluding ‘Trial by Fire’ sees young Drake’s worst fears come true…

We resume a few months later with Batman #455 (October 1990).

Identity Crisis’ by Grant, Breyfogle & Mitchell finds the newly-orphaned (or as good as: one parent is dead and the other is in a coma) Tim Drake as Bruce Wayne’s latest ward, but forbidden from participating in the life of the Batman. The kid is willing and competent, after all, he deduced Batman’s secret identity before he even met him, but the guilt-racked Dark Knight won’t allow any more children to risk their lives…

However, when an old foe lures the lone avenger into an inescapable trap Tim must disobey Batman’s express orders to save him, even if it means his own life… or even the new home he’s just beginning to love.

Drake and stalwart retainer Alfred know Batman is off his game but can do nothing to shake his resolve in #456 as, ‘Without Fear of Consequence…’, the hero stalks a resurgent and lethally inspired Scarecrow across a Gotham City experiencing yet another Christmas terror spree…

Concluding instalment ‘Master of Fear’ sees the boy surrender every chance to become Batman’s partner: breaking his promise stay safe and saving the exhausted and overwhelmed Dark Knight from death despite the consequences…

It all works out in the end, as, following on the heels of that landmark saga, Robin got a new costume and a try-out series. …

Eliot R. Brown then provides schematics and diagrams detailing ‘Secrets of the New Robin Costume’ before writer Chuck Dixon and artists Tom Lyle & Bob Smith launch the new sidekick in his first solo starring miniseries. The apprentice hero’s path begins with a program of accelerated training intended to mimic that taken by teenaged Bruce Wayne years previously. In ‘Big Bad World’, Tim journeys to Paris, ostensibly to train in secret, but his underground martial arts dojo is a hotbed of intrigue and before long the kid is involved with Chinese street gangs…

Tracking the ambitious Lynx, Tim falls into a full-on war between disgraced DEA agent Clyde Rawlins, and a mysterious schemer. Thankfully ‘The Shepardess’ is there to give him a crash course in survival…

Sadly ‘The Destroying Angel’ has secrets of her own and the business devolves into a helter-skelter race-against-time, as she is revealed to be murderous martial artist Lady Shiva, coldly leading the lad into ‘Strange Company’ whilst executing her war against the Ghost Dragon Triad and Hong-Kong crime-lord King Snake for possession of a Nazi terror weapon…

There’s a breakneck pace and tremendous vivacity to this uncomplicated thriller that would rouse a corpse as the neophyte paladin heads to Hong Kong for the final showdown and a brush with existential horror in ‘The Dark’

Wrapping up this groundbreaking celebration of the making of a hero are a wealth of art extras beginning with ‘Unused Robin Costume Designs’ by Neal Adams, Breyfogle, George Pérez & Lyle, before Graham Nolan, Adams & Lyle & confirm the ‘Final Batman and Robin Costume Design’, Adams provides a dynamic ‘Robin Poster’ and Brian Bolland pitches in with the original cover to the Robin: A Hero Reborn trade paperback collection.

This book is a lovely slice of sheer escapist entertainment and a genuine Bat-classic. If you don’t own this you really should.
© 1990, 1991, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

El Mestizo


By Alan Hebden & Carlos Ezquerra (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-657-5

The world lost one of its most lost revered and distinguished comics artists this year in the form of multinational super-star Carlos Ezquerra. Thankfully, his work lives on and even previously ignored early works are at last making their way onto bookshelves, with new collections such as this recent release from Rebellion’s superb and ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics.

Carlos Sanchez Ezquerra was born in Aragon on November 12th 1947. Growing up in Ibdes, in the Province of Zaragoza, he began his career illustrating war stories and westerns for Spain’s large but poorly-paying indigenous comics industry. In 1973 he got a British agent (Barry Coker: a former sub-editor on Super Detective Library who formed Bardon Press Features with Spanish artist Jorge Macabich) and joined a growing army of European and South American illustrators providing content for British weeklies, Specials and Annuals.

Carlos initially worked on Girls’ Periodicals like Valentine and Mirabelle and more cowboys for Pocket Western Library as well as assorted adventure strips for DC Thomson’s The Wizard. The work proved so regular that the Ezquerras upped sticks and migrated to Croydon…

In 1974 Pat Mills and John Wagner tapped him to work on IPCs new Battle Picture Weekly, where he drew (Gerry Finley-Day’s) Rat Pack, and later Major Eazy, scripted by Alan Hebden. In 1977 he was asked to design a new character called Judge Dredd for a proposed science fiction anthology. Due to creative disputes, Carlos left the project and went back to Battle to draw a gritty western named El Mestizo

As we all know, Carlos did return to 2000AD, drawing Dredd, dozens of spin-offs such as Al’s Baby, Strontium Dog (1978), Fiends of the Eastern Front (1980), Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat adaptations and key Dredd storylines such as the epic Apocalypse War and Necropolis.

Soon after Ezquerra was “discovered” by America and I’ll carry on the eulogy there when I review Just a Pilgrim or Preacher or some other mature reader material that really let the artist shine…

Carlos had moved to Andorra where he died of lung cancer on October 1st this year. His last published Dredd work appeared in 2000AD #2023 (March 2017), forty years after his first piece there…

Here, however, it’s time to appreciate him in his bold, bad-ass prime, detailing the brief but vivid exploits of a black hero in the wrongest of places at the most inconvenient of times…

El Mestizo debuted amidst a plethora of British-based war features and didn’t last long – June 4th to 17th September 1977 – with original author Alan Hebden giving you his take on why in a concise Introduction before the action begins.

Heavily leaning on Sergio Leone “spaghetti westerns”, the first starkly monochrome episode (of 16) introduces a half-black, half Mexican bounty hunting gunfighter who offers his formidable services to both the Union and Confederate sides in the early days of the War between the States.

Proficient with blades, pistols, long guns and a deadly bola, El Mestizo plays both sides while hunting truly evil men, whether they be Southern raiders, out of control Northern marauders, treacherous Indian scouts, an army of deserters from all sides organised by a crazy, vengeful femme fatale or even a demented physician seeking to end the war by releasing plague in Washington DC.

Along the way, the mercenary even finds time to pay off a few old scores from his days as a starved and beaten plantation slave…

Sadly, the feature was always a fish out of water and was killed before it could truly develop, but the artwork is staggeringly powerful and delivers the kind of cathartic punch that never gets old.

This stunning hardback (and eBook) package is another nostalgia-punch from Battle collecting a truly seminal experience and, hopefully forging a new, untrodden path for fans of the grittily compelling in search of a typically quirky British comics experience.

This recovered gem is one of the most memorable and enjoyable exploits in British comics: acerbic, action-packed and potently rendered: another superb example of what British and European sensibilities do best. Try it and see…
© 1977 & 2018 Rebellion Publishing IP Ltd. Black Max and all related characters, their distinctive likenesses and related elements are ™ Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Follyfoot Annual 1973


By anonymous, illustrated by Mike Noble & various (World Distributors)
SBN: 7235-0138-6

The Follyfoot review was scheduled to run on Christmas Day as part of our annual Annual feature but when news reached us of the death of Mike Noble we decided to retool it and put it somewhere where it could stand on its own.

Mike Noble was born in South Woodford, attended a technical art school in Walthamstow and, after graduating in 1946 and attending St. Martins School of Art, worked as an advertising junior for a firm in Holborn. Called up in 1949, he served with the 8th Royal Tank Regiment in North Yorkshire. During a follow-up three-year stint with the Territorial Army he drew graphics of military hardware.

In the early 1950’s he joined Leslie Caswell at Cooper’s Studio in Oxford Street, learning the sleek, slick techniques of magazine illustration for the likes of Woman’s Own, John Bull, the Birmingham Weekly Post and others.

In 1953 he landed his first comics strip: Simon and Sally for Hulton Press’ Robin. He went full freelance in 1956 and by 1958 was tackling lead features like The Lone Ranger and Tonto for TV-themed Express Weekly and Range Rider for TV Comic.

He was a mainstay of TV Century 21 as Gerry Anderson shows took Britain and the world by storm, illustrating with stunning vividness Fireball XL5, Zero X and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. As fads came and went, he proved equally compelling on Star Trek and Joe 90.

His gift for capturing likeness and staging dynamic action made him indispensable as licensed comics dominated UK publications and moving on Look-In (a “junior TV Times” produced by Independent Television Publications) he drew Timeslip, The Tomorrow People, The Famous Five, Kung Fu, The Freewheelers, Robin of Sherwood, Worzel Gummidge, Space: 1999 and others. A huge fan and master of equestrian art, two of Mike’s favourites were The Adventures of Black Beauty and Follyfoot.

Although largely retired from comics since the 1980’s, he kept his hand in – especially during periodic Anderson revivals – and was working on a new Captain Scarlet project when he died on November 15th this year.

Follyfoot was a joint British/West German co-production that aired between 28th June 1971 and 15th September 1973. It was inspired by the Monica Dickens novel Cobbler’s Dream (1963) and its broadcast success prompted her to write four more books between 1972 and 1976.

The series for young teens was set in contemporary North Yorkshire and featured the tribulations of a rest home/sanctuary for horses with clean cut youngsters and their hard-pressed elders keeping barely solvent whilst addressing social issues of the time. When the feature was adapted in Look-In Mike Noble produced some of the most impressive and inspirational art of his career, superbly augmented by top-of-the-line colour printing.

Sadly, that’s not available here, but even so, the strips by the master are bursting with power, grace and authenticity.

The Annual opens with a page reprinting the show’s theme lyrics ‘The Lightning Tree’ after which full-colour strip ‘Odds Against the Favourite’ finds our heroine Dora targeted by crooked bookies as she tries to win a local race and pay off the farm’s latest debts…

‘Storybook Steeds’ then recounts the legends of a quintet of historic horse heroes, before ‘Statues with a Story’ offers a photo feature on famous equine art and ‘Davy’s daring rescue’ sees a new four-footed arrival earn his oats despite being old and blind…

A directory of famous breeds follows in ‘All Kind of Horses’, after which a quiz on ‘Horse Sense’ and a page of ‘Horsing About’ gags segues neatly into another dazzling Noble effort as Dora finds ‘The Mystery Mare’ on the moors and seeks out its negligent owner…

Aging family retainer Slugger’s birthday leads to Dora finding welcome work for an old dray horse and his destitute owner in ‘Mystery at Follyfoot’, after which a cheery diagram aids ‘Getting to Know Your Horse’ and ‘Horseback Holidays’ reveals the long-abandoned joys of kids vacationing on their unsupervised own. More fact features follow: a review of blacksmithing and the farrier’s art in ‘A Country Craftsman’ and another quiz ‘Straight from the Horse’s Mouth’

When Dora and Steve find a frantic mare ‘Lost in the Snow’ it all leads to a big crisis and joyous event before military steeds are acclaimed in ‘Horses from History’, while ‘Stable Record-Breakers’ share some unlikely facts about Man’s other best friend and ‘This is your Lucky Day’ traces the superstitions connected to horseshoes.

Boardgame ‘Gymkhana at Follyfoot Farm’ leads into the truth behind many traditional songs in ‘Horse Rhymes and Reasons’ before Noble’s big finish finds our northern heroes going all cowboy for a good cause in ‘The Wild West Riding’ before this lost treat concludes with a quirkily illustrated final fact file on ‘The History of the Horse’.

Although the annual itself has a certain allure, the main point about this book is that it typifies a problem we have in British comics. Because – I presume – of rights and copyrights issues, there is a wealth of stunning and important comics material that remains in limbo, simply because no prospective publisher thinks it’s worthy of the legal hassles of resurrection.

Surely the likes of Mike Noble, Ron Embleton and their illustrious ilk are a big enough draw that we can find some way of collecting and reprinting their unseen works?
© 1972 Yorkshire Television Ltd.

Incredible Hulk Epic Collection volume 3 1967-1969: The Leader Lives


By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, Bill Everett, Archie Goodwin, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe, Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1313-7

We lost some grand masters of our art form this year, including arguably the biggest name left in the pantheon in American comics, Stan Lee. Also gone are the last vestiges of Marvel’s core “bullpen”: those often-unsung wonders who brought the fantastic and terrific tales to light. One of the best, most talented and certainly the nicest was Marie Severin. You should definitely look her up in all the old familiar places…

A lesser-known luminary, but one with some key credits to his name, is Gary Friedrich who died in August. As well as the material cited below, he worked on Rawhide Kid, Sgt Fury, Steve Ditko’s Blue Beetle and co-created Ghost Rider and the Phantom Eagle. You might also know him for Combat Kelly and Marvel UK’s Captain Britain.

Here’s a recently-released collection with all of them at their very best…

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors can cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the gamma-irradiated gargantuan finally found his size 700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, The Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour until a new home was found for him and this trade paperback (and eBook) volume covers his years as co-star of “split-book” Tales to Astonish; specifically issues #97-101; issues #102-117 of the solo-starring Incredible Hulk, the first Incredible Hulk Annual and a splendidly silly spoof yarn from Not Brand Echh #9 – spanning collectively November 1964 to June 1969.

The wonderment begins with the Jade Juggernaut recently returned to Earth by the now god-like High Evolutionary, and unknowingly gearing up to the next big change in his life. In TtA #97 he shambles into a high-tech plot to overthrow America in courtesy of ‘The Legions of: the Living Lightning!’ (by Stan Lee, Marie Severin & Herb Trimpe), but the subversives’ beguilement of the monstrous outcast and conquest of a US military base in ‘The Puppet and the Power’ soon falters and fails ‘When the Monster Wakes!’: this last chapter inked by John Tartaglione.

As I’ve already mentioned Tales to Astonish was an anthological “split-book”, with two star-features sharing billing: a strategy caused by Marvel’s having entered into a highly restrictive distribution deal to save the company during a publishing crisis at the end of the 1950s.

At the time when the Marvel Age Revolution took fandom by storm, the company was confined to a release schedule of 16 titles each month, necessitating some doubling-up as characters became popular enough to carry their own strip. Fellow misunderstood misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner had proved an ideal thematic companion since issue #70, and to celebrate the centenary of the title, issue #100 featured a breathtaking “who’s strongest?” clash between the blockbusting anti-heroes as the Puppet Master decreed ‘Let There be Battle!’ and Lee, Severin & Dan Adkins made it so. A few years later Severin would produce some of her most beautiful and dynamic art on the Sub-Mariner’s own solo title…

The next issue was the last. With number #102 the comic was re-designated The Incredible Hulk and Ol’ Greenskin’s success was assured. Before that, however, Lee, Severin & Giacoia set the scene with ‘Where Walk the Immortals!’ wherein Loki, god of Evil transports the monster to Asgard in an effort to distract all-father Odin’s attention from his other schemes.

The premiere issue (#102) launched with an April, 1968 cover-date.

‘…This World Not His Own!’ incorporates a rehashed origin for the Hulk before completing and concluding the Asgardian adventure in a troll invasion of the Eternal Realm with arch-villains Enchantress and the Executioner leading the charge. The issue was written by rising star Gary Friedrich, drawn by Severin and inked by veteran artist George Tuska. It was only the start of a big, bold and brutally enthralling things to come…

Veteran artist Frank Giacoia inks the all-action advent of a tragic alien antagonist in #103’s ‘And Now… the Space Parasite!’: a former planetary hero who seemingly perishes after attempting to consume the Green Goliath’s abundant life energies.

‘Ring Around the Rhino!’ in #104 is another paean to the Hulk’s destructive potential and visceral appeal as the gamma-fuelled enemy agent is tasked by his cruel masters with abducting Bruce Banner before a longer plot-strand, tinged with pathos and irony, began in Incredible Hulk #105, courtesy of surprise scripters Roy Thomas and Bill Everett, masterfully illumined by Severin & inker Tuska.

‘This Monster Unleashed!’ sees the Missing Link – a radioactive and violently mutating victim of Soviet aggression – dumped in New York, and easily capable of burning our dull-witted hero into glowing ashes.

The second part, ‘Above the Earth… A Titan Rages!’ – by Thomas and Archie Goodwin – was pencilled by the neophyte Trimpe over Severin’s breakdowns, with Tuska inking. Sadly, the result is rather a muddle: nearly as great as the story itself since the action abruptly switches from New York to Russia after the battling behemoths are suddenly abducted by Yuri Breslov, the Soviet counterpart to Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who promptly lose them over a rural and isolated farm collective

Trimpe, associated with the character for nearly a decade, began his career as Marie Severin’s inker in TtA #94 and would eventually take over pencilling the Jade Juggernaut for a ten-year tenure…

The story neatly segues into a much more polished yarn with #107’s ‘Ten Rings Hath… the Mandarin’ (Friedrich & Trimpe with wonderfully rugged inking from the great Syd Shores) as the oriental despot tries to enslave the emerald engine of destruction…

The extended epic concludes with savage success as Stan Lee returns to script and Trimpe – inked by the legendary John Severin (yep, Marie’s big brother) – pulls all the strands together in the action-packed finale ‘Monster Triumphant!’, guest-starring Nick Fury, Yuri Breslov and even Chairman Mao Tse Tung!

Cover-dated October, The Incredible Hulk Annual #1 was one of the best comics of 1968 and indisputably Marie Severin’s artistic magnum opus. Behind an iconic Jim Steranko cover, Friedrich, Severin & Shores (with lots of last-minute inking assistance) delivered a passionate, tense and melodramatic parable of alienation that nevertheless was one of the most action-stuffed fight-fests ever depicted.

In 51 titanic pages ‘A Refuge Divided!’ sees the forlorn and perpetually lonely Green Goliath stumble upon the hidden Great Refuge of a mighty race of genetic outsiders. The Inhumans – recovering from a recent failed coup by new players Falcona, Leonus, Aireo, Timberius, Stallior, Nebulo and their secret backer (the king’s brother Maximus the Mad) – are distracted by the Hulk’s arrival.

All too soon, suspicion and short tempers result in carnage and chaos. The band of super-rebels start the fight but it’s the immensely powerful Black Bolt who eventually battles the infuriated Hulk to a standstill…

This is the vicarious thrill taken to its ultimate, still one of the very best non-Lee-Kirby tales of that period, and the issue also provides a pictorial extra with a Marvel Masterwork Pin-up featuring 11 different versions of the man-monster and a challenge to identify the artists…

Back at the monthly venue, Incredible Hulk #109 takes up from the end of the Mandarin saga with the Hulk rampaging through Red China, but still without a settled creative team in place.

Written by Lee, ‘The Monster and the Man-Beast!’ was laid out by Giacoia, pencilled by Trimpe and inked by John Severin, as the Hulk trashes the Chinese Army and accidentally interferes with a Red super-missile…

The upshot is that the man-monster is hurtled into space and blasted into the Antarctic paradise known as the Savage Land. This preserve of dinosaurs and cavemen is a visually perfect home for the Hulk, and the addition of Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar and a primitive death-cult worshipping an alien device designed to destroy the world ramps up the tension nicely.

The tale concludes with the advent of ‘Umbu the Unliving!’ (Lee, Trimpe & John Severin) as yet another extraterrestrial device left to facilitate Earth’s demise goes into overkill mode. Thankfully Banner and his viridian alter-ego dispatch it with Ka-Zar’s assistance… albeit at the cost of Banner’s life.

As the 1960s drew to a socially-divisive close, the Hulk was settling into a comfortable niche and enjoyable formula as tragic nuclear scientist Banner wandered America and the world, seeking cures for his self-inflicted 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.

By this time, Lee was gradually distancing himself from the creative chair to become Marvel’s publisher, and neophyte artist Trimpe was increasingly making the character his own with the “standard-received” Jack Kirby-originated house art-style quickly evolving into startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by an unmatched facility for drawing technology… especially honking great ordnance and vehicles.

And of course, as comics readers increasingly turned to monsters and supernatural themes, no one could deny the cathartic reader-release of a mighty big “Hulk Smash” moment…

With Umbu the Unliving dead, its makers come looking for the saboteurs at the behest of their tyrannical cosmic overlord Galaxy Master in ‘Shanghaied in Space!’ (Lee, Trimpe & Adkins), using their arcane technologies to reanimate Banner’s corpse so they have a scapegoat to hand to their demonic boss…

Transported to the heart of the evil empire, ‘The Brute Battles On!’, eventually destroying the inimical energy being and sparking a revolution before being rocketed back to Earth by a grateful alien princess…

Issue #113 finds the Hulk brutally battling an upgraded Sandman in ‘Where Fall the Shifting Sands!’, before the sinister silicon villain pops right back a month later beside the Mandarin in #114’s ‘At Last I Will Have My Revenge!’; two fast-paced, power-packed yarns to whet jaded (sorry, puns are my kryptonite!) appetites for the extended return of the Green Giant’s greatest foe.

Eponymous epic ‘The Leader Lives!’ opens with the man-monster a prisoner of the US Army, when the long-believed-dead gamma genius – as smart as the Hulk is strong – takes control of the base for his own nefarious purposes.

‘The Eve of… Annihilation!’ reveals the Leader’s atomic Armageddon plans for our pitiful planet even as the indomitable Hulk escapes a seemingly perfect prison with the aid of the always-unpredictable Betty Ross before the saga explosively concludes in countdown-clock thriller ‘World’s End?’, notable not just for its cataclysmic dramatic conclusion, but also for Trimpe taking over the inking of his own pencils.

Anyone who knew (or even knew of) Marie Severin soon learned that she was a gifted gag cartoonist with a devasting wit and this tome includes her at her most devilish: adding a not-so-serious alternative spin to one of her own classics with ‘Bet There’ll be Battle!’, from spoof satire mag Not Brand Echh #9 (August 1968). Here the Inedible Bulk and Prince No-More, the Sunk Mariner, create cartoon carnage and comedy gold…

Adding even more deal-appeal to this book is a stunning selection of comedy sketches and cartoons devised by the infamously puckish Marie “the She” Severin to cheer up her fellow Bullpen pals as well as Hulk original art pages and covers by her, brother John, Trimpe, Giacoia, and Steranko – plus her unused cover for that iconic Annual.

This titanic tome of Hulk heroics offers visceral thrillers and chaotic clashes overflowing with dynamism, enthusiasm and sheer quality: tales crucial to later, more cohesive adventures. Even at their most hurried, these epics offer an abundance of full-on, butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” catharsis – all immaculately limned – to delight the destructive eight-year-old in all of us.
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 2018 Marvel. All rights reserved.