Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung


Adapted by P. Craig Russell, translated by Patrick Mason, with Lovern Kindzierski & Galen Showman (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-401-9 (HB) eISBN 978-1-63008-154-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Classical Comic Perfection… 10/10

P. Craig Russell began his illustrious career in comics during the early 1970s and came to fame early with a groundbreaking run on science fiction adventure series Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds. His fanciful, meticulous classicist style was derived from the great illustrators of Victorian and Edwardian heroic fantasy and was greatly at odds with the sausage-factory deadlines and sensibilities of the mainstream comicbook industry.

By the 1980s he had largely retired from the merciless daily grind, preferring to work on his own projects (mostly adapting operas and plays into sequential narratives) whilst undertaking occasional high-profile Special Projects for the majors – such as Dr. Strange Annual 1976 (totally reworked and re-released as the magnificent Dr. Strange: What Is It that Disturbs You, Stephen? in 1996) or Batman: Robin 3000.

As the industry grew up and a fantasy boom began, he returned to comics with Marvel Graphic Novel: Elric (1982), further adapting Michael Moorcock’s iconic sword-&-sorcery star in the magazine Epic Illustrated and elsewhere.

Russell’s stage-arts adaptations had begun appearing in 1978: firstly in groundbreaking independent Star*Reach specials Night Music and Parsifal and then, from 1984, at Eclipse Comics where the revived Night Music became an anthological series showcasing his earlier experimental adaptations: not just operatic dramas but also tales from Kipling’s Jungle Books and others.

As mainstream comics matured, his stylings could be seen in Vertigo titles such as The Sandman or Mike Mignola’s Hellboy titles. He never, however, abandoned his love of operatic drama. In 2003 Canadian publisher NBM began a prodigious program to collect all those music-based masterpieces into The P. Craig Russell Library of Opera Adaptations, but just before that, the artist took a couple of years (2000 and 2001) to complete a passion project. Originally released as a succession of linked miniseries – The Ring of the Nibelung: The Rhinegold #1-4, The Ring of the Nibelung: The Valkyrie#1-3, The Ring of the Nibelung: Siegfried #1-3 and The Ring of the Nibelung: Götterdämmerung #1-4, Russell and his regular collaborators Lovern Kindzierski adapted Richard Wagner’s masterpiece to comics. His wasn’t the first, but it’s most certainly the best.

Collected in a stunning hardback volume (also available digitally) the Teutonic saga is augmented by a Preface from music critic and scholar Michael Kennedy, an Introduction by comics star Matt (no relation)Wagner, and is followed by Russell’s fascinating, heavily-illustrated essay ‘What is an Adaptation?’ describing his thinking, creative process and philosophy in the crafting of this epic, offering an intimate peek into how the magic was made along with as a range of pencil, ink and/or fully-coloured sketches and art studies as well as the entire gallery of covers from the original comics.

The four operas Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (or Twilight of the Gods if you’re less pompous or well-travelled than me) is a classic distillation of Germano-Norse myth and the classic poems collected as the Icelandic Eddas. Over 26 years the master of German music distilled them into a cycle of staggering power, which people either love or hate. Great tunes, too.

Doesn’t absolutely everybody love the brilliant animated tribute-come-distillation starring Bugs Bunny entitled “What’s Opera, Doc?” They probably refer to it as “Kill the Wabbit!”, though.

Joking aside, the Ring Cycle is a true masterpiece of Western Culture and an immortal inspiration to purveyors of drama and historic fiction. In 1989 and 1990 long-time fans and comics superstars Roy Thomas (who had already integrated the plot into the canon of Marvel’s Mighty Thor) and Gil Kane produced a 4-part, prestige-format miniseries that adapted the events into comic strip form and it’s superbly impressive, but trust me Russell’s is in a league of its own.

Bold, bright, glittering and tightly adhering to the rhythms and staging of the theatre version – thanks to translator Patrick Mason’s deft contribution – it begins with the creation of the world

Alberich the Nibelung is a dwarf shunned by all, but still manages to outwit the three Rhine Maidens. Commanded to guard an accursed treasure horde t even the Gods cannot tame, the river nymphs reveal the secret to the glib intruder. Whoever casts The Rhinegold into a ring will have all the wealth and power of the world, but must forever forswear love and joy. Never having known either, greedy Alberich readily forsakes these joys and seizes the treasure even All-Father Voton feared to touch.

Meanwhile, wily Logé has convinced Voton to promise giants Fasolt and Fafnir anything they wish if they build the great castle Valhalla to house the world’s heroes. Assured that the trickster god can free him from his promise to the giants, the all-father and Preserver of Oaths accepts their price, but on completion the giants want Freia; goddess of the apples of immortality.

Bound by their Lord’s sworn oath the gods must surrender Freia, but malicious Logé suggests that Alberich’s stolen gold – now reshaped into a finger-ring – can be used by any other possessor without abandoning love. The brothers demand the world-conquering trinket as a replacement fee and no god can sway or deter them. The course is set to disaster…

Second miniseries The Valkyrie sees an earthly warrior who calls himself “Woeful” as the sole survivor of a blood-feud. Fleeing, he claims Right of Hospitality from a beautiful woman in a remote cottage. But when her husband Hundingreturns, they discover that he belongs to the clan Woeful recently slaughtered so many of.

Secure for the night in the holy bond of Hospitality, Woeful realises he must fight for his life in the morning when the sacred truce expires. Without weapons, he thinks little of his chances until the woman reveals to him a magic sword embedded in the giant Ash tree that supports the house. Sadly, the gods have decreed there can be no happy ending to be won, only further sin and shame and the fall of Voton’s most beloved servant Brunhildé

Sixteen years later, Siegfried is the child of an illicit union, raised by malicious, cunning Mime, a blacksmith who knows the secrets of the Nibelung. No loving parent, the smith wants the indomitable wild boy to kill the dragon Fafnir – who was once a giant – and steal the magical golden horde the monster so jealously guards.

But the young hero has his own heroic dreams and wishes to wake an otherworldly maiden who slumbers eternally behind a wall of fire…

Years of plotting and treachery and inescapable burden culminate in Götterdämmerung, as all the machinations, faithlessness and oath-breaking of the flawed divinities lead to ultimate destruction. Siegfried has won his beauteous Brunhildé from the flames but their happiness is not to be. False friends Hagen and Gunther drug him to steal his beloved, and betroth the befuddled hero to a woman he does not love. Final betrayal by a comrade whose father was Alberich leads to his death and the inevitable fall of all that is…

If you know the operas you know how much more remains to enjoy in this quartet of tales, and the scintillating passion and glowing beauty the art magnificently captures the grandeur and tragedy of it all. This primal epic is visual poetry and no fan should be without it.
© 2000, 2001, 2014 P. Craig Russell. All rights reserved.

The James Bond Omnibus 005


By Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-0-85768-590-2 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Still the Most Traditional Licence to Thrill… 9/10

I’ve just heard that one of the true cartooning greats has passed away. Yaroslav Horak (12th June 1927 – 24th November 2020) was a conics star in Australia for years before taking over James Bond in 1966: a unique stylist and gifted writer and painter too. For a full biography and appreciation, check out the wonderful downthetubes.net. You should be doing that anyway if you’re a lover of comics and related media.

As my own farewell and thanks, here’s an old review of one of the best examples of Horak’s work, still readily accessible through online vendors. Your actions will be well rewarded…

There are very few British newspaper strips to challenge the influence and impact of classic daily and Sunday “funnies” from America, especially in the field of adventure fiction. The 1930’s and 1940’s were particularly rich in popular, not to say iconic, creations. You would be hard-pressed to come up with home-grown household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon or Steve Canyon, let alone Terry and the Pirates or the likes of Little Lulu, Blondie, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye – and yes, I know I cited him twice, but Elzie Segars’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good.

What can you recall for simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? The Perishers? Garth?

I hope so, but doubt it.

The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly very many wonderful strips being produced: well-written and beautifully drawn, but that stubborn British reserve just didn’t seem to be in the business of creating household names… until the 1950’s.

Something happened in ‘fifties Britain – but I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics (as well as all entertainment media from radio to novels) got carried along on the wave. Eagle, the regenerated Dandy and Beano, girls’ comics in general: all shifted into creative high gear, and so did newspapers. And that means that I can go on about a graphic collection with proven crossover appeal for a change.

The first 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and subsequently serialised in the Daily Express from 1958, beginning a run of paperback book adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence, a jobbing writer for American features (who previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) came aboard with The Man With The Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the Fleming canon to strip format, thereafter being invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s ultimate demise in 1983 – all apparently thanks to the striking effects of his artistic collaborator.

The art on the feature was always of the highest standard. Initially John McLusky provided illustration until 1966’s conclusion of You Only Live Twice and, although perhaps lacking in verve, the workmanlike clarity of his drawing easily coped with the astonishing variety of locales, technical set-ups and sheer immensity of cast members, whilst serving the then-novel conceit of advancing a plot and ending each episode on a cliff-hanging “hook” every day.

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who also debuted on …Golden Gun with a looser, edgier style; at once more cinematic and with a closer attention to camera angle and frenzied action that seemed to typify the high-octane 1960’s.

Horak was born in Manchuria in 1927, of Russian/Czech descent and the family relocated to Australia before WWII. Artistic from the start, Horak worked as a portraitist and magazine illustrator before moving into the nation’s vibrant comics industry in 1947. Following years of success and even some controversy from high-minded busybodies, the writer/artist moved over to newspaper strips in the 1950’s before emigrating to England in 1962. Even after landing the 007 gig he maintained links “Downunder”, carrying on with ‘Mike Steel – Desert Rider’ for Women’s Day until 1969. His pre-Bond UK output includes a selection of War and Battle Picture Library stories, and serial strips for DC Thomson’s The Victor and The Hornet.

In 1975, he returned to Australia, continuing the super-spy’s exploits while crafting homegrown features such as Cop Shop and Andea. We’ll not see his like again…

Titan books have re-assembled the heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death into a series of addictively accessible monochrome Omnibus editions and this fifth compilation finds the creators on top form as they reveal how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe and highly entertained…

The James Bond Omnibus gathers the series’ frantic derring-do and dark, deadly diplomacy in fabulous monochrome editions and this one commences with ‘Till Death Do Us Part’, which first ran in the Daily Express from July 7th to October 14th 1975. Solidly traditional 007 fodder, it found Bond assigned to kidnap/rescue Arda Petrich, comely daughter of a foreign asset, and keep vital intelligence out of the hands of the KGB.

This pacy thriller is most notable more for the inevitable introduction of the eccentric gadgets which had become an increasingly crucial component of the filmic iteration than for the actual adventure, but there are still racy thrills and icy chills aplenty on view.

Hard on the heels of that is brief but enthralling encounter ‘The Torch-Time Affair’ (October 15th 1975 – January 15th1976), wherein the hunt for a record of all Soviet subversion in Latin America leads to bodies on the beach, a mountain of lies and deceit, breathtaking chases on roads and through jungles, plus an astonishingly intriguing detective mystery as Bond and female “Double-O” operative Susie Kew must save the girl, get the goods and end the villain.

But, which one…?

‘Hot-Shot’ (January 16th – June 1st) finds the unflappable agent assisting Palestinian freedom fighter Fatima Khalid as she seeks to restore her people’s reputation for airline atrocities actually committed by enigmatic Eblis terrorists. Their cooperative efforts uncover a sinister Indian billionaire behind the attacks before Bond recognises an old enemy at the heart of it all… Dr. No!

In ‘Nightbird’ (2nd June – 4th November) sporadic attacks by what appear to be alien invaders draw Bond into a diabolical scheme by a cinematic genius and criminal master of disguise apparently in search of military and political secrets and weapons of mass destruction. However, a far more venal motive is the root cause of the sinister schemes and reign of terror…

Despite surreal trappings, ‘Ape of Diamonds’ (November 5th 1976 – January 22nd 1977) is another lethally cunning spy exploit as a deadly maniac uses a colossal and murderous gorilla to terrorise London and kidnap an Arab banker, leading Bond to a financial wild man determined to simultaneously destroy Britain’s economic prosperity and steal the Crown Jewels. Happily for the kingdom, Machiavellian Rameses had completely underestimated the ruthless determination of James Bond…

‘When the Wizard Awakes’ finds bad guys employing supernatural chicanery, when the body of a Hungarian spy – dead for two decades – walks out of his tomb to instigate a reign of terror that eventually involves S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the Mafia and the KGB until the British Agent unravels the underlying plot…

In 1977 the Daily Express ceased publication of the Bond feature and the tale was published only in the Sunday Express(from January 30th -May 22nd 1977). Later adventures had no UK distribution at all, only appearing in overseas editions. This state of affairs continued until 1981 when another British newspaper – the Daily Star – revived his career. Presumably, we’ll deal with those cases in another volume.

The first of those “lost” stories are included here, however, beginning with ‘Sea Dragon’, produced for European syndication: a maritime adventure with geo-political overtones wherein crazed billionairess and scurrilous proponent of “women’s liberation” Big Mama Magda Mather tried to corner the World Oil market using sex, murder and a deadly artificial sea serpent.

In ‘Death Wing’ Bond is needed to solve the mystery of a new and deadly super-weapon employed by the Mafia for both smuggling contraband and assassination. Despite a somewhat laborious story set-up, once the tale hits its stride, the explosive end sequence is superb as the undercover agent becomes a flying human bomb aimed at the heart of New York City. His escape and subsequent retaliation against eccentric hit-man Mr. Wing is an indisputable series highpoint.

This astounding dossier of espionage exploits ends with ‘The Xanadu Connection’ (1978) as the daring high-tech rescue of undercover agent Heidi Franz from East Germany inexorably leads Bond down a perilous path of danger and double-cross.

When Bond is tasked with safeguarding the wife of a British asset leading resistance forces in Russian Turkestan, the mission inevitably leads 007 to the Sino-Soviet hotspot where he is embroiled in a three-sided war between KGB occupation forces, indigenous Tartar rebels and their ancestral enemies of the Mongol militias led by insidious, ambitious spymaster Kubla Khan.

Deep in enemy territory with adversaries all around him, Bond is hardly surprised to discover that the real threat might be from his friends and not his foes…

Fast, furious action, masses of moody menace, sharply clever dialogue and a wealth of exotic locales and ladies make this an unmissable adjunct to the Bond mythos and a collection no fan can do without. After all, nobody does it better…
© 1975, 1977, 1977, 1978, 2013 Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/ Express Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up volume 1


By Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401249465 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: All-Ages Fun and Frolic… 8/10

It’s been bad year for everybody, but from my selfish and blinkered perspective, the graphic arts have been particularly diminished by the loss of many giants. Here’s an offhand tribute to two more…

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

Although never actual comics workers, animation titans and series writers Joe Ruby (March 30th 1933-August 26th 2020) and Ken Spears (March 12th 1938-November 6th 2020) co-originated dozens of cartoon shows which ultimately translated into multi-million comic book sales, joy and glee for generations and a subtle reshaping of the World’s cultural landscape. They also popularised the superhero concept on TV, through shows such as Superman, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show and Thundarr the Barbarian, consequently employing former funnybook creators such as Doug Wildey, Alex Toth, Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby and other comics giants. For all this, they are most renowned for devising mega-franchise Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

Over decades of screen material, Scooby-Doo and his sidekicks Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Freddy became global icons, and amidst the mountain of merchandise and derivatives generated by the franchise was a succession of comic book series from Gold Key (30 issues beginning December 1969 and ending in 1974), through Charlton (11 issues 1975-1976), Marvel (9 issues 1977-1979), Harvey (1993-1994) and Archie (21 issues, 1995-1997). The creative cast included Phil DeLara, Jack Manning, Warren Tufts, Mark Evanier, Dan Spiegle, Bill Williams, and many others.

In 1997, DC Comics acquired all the Hanna Barbera properties for its Cartoon Network imprint, which was for a very long time the last bastion of children’s comics in America. It produced some truly magical homespun material (such asTiny Titans, Batman: Brave and the Bold or Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!) as well as stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Ben 10 and vintage gems such as The Flintstones and Scooby Doo

In 2013, the mystery-solving pesky kids fully integrated with the DCU via a digital series of team ups that inevitably manifested as comics books and graphic novels. Compiling material from Scooby-Doo! Team-Up #1-6 (January-November 2014) this first fabulous trade paperback – or eBook – features a wild parade of joint ventures from writer Sholly Fisch illustrator Dario Brizuela, colourists Franco Riesco & Heroic Age and letterers Saida Temofonte & Deron Bennett.

It all begins with Mystery Inc. aiding Dynamic Duo Batman and Robin in a hunt for mutated scientist Kirk Langstrombefore being diverted by a gang of fake flyers in ‘Man-Bat and Robbin’!’ after which issue #2 asks ‘Who’s Scared?’ As the Caped Crusader and Ace, the Bat-Hound enjoy seeing the original Scooby gang admitted to the legendary Mystery Analysts of Gotham City, the terror-inducing Scarecrow strikes, and only the canine contingent can resist his latest fear chemicals…

Still visiting Gotham City, the gang discover ‘Two Mites Make It Wrong’ as impulsive imp Bat-Mite starts his reality-altering pranks again and normality is only possible through the intervention of unforeseen antithesis Scooby-Mite

Channelling a contemporary surreal TV hit, ‘Teen Titans – Ghost!’ then brings the Mystery Machine to Jump City for a spot of haunting at Titans Tower, before Daphne and Velma visit Wonder Woman on Themyscira and indulge in a Kanga rodeo whilst the boys mess about in the invisible jet before reuniting to solve a mythological monster mystery causing ‘Trouble in Paradise’

This initial outing concludes with a mass masked hero marathon when a visit to the Super Friends’ Hall of Justice leads to a ghost hunt. Mystery soon solved, the gang, Wonder Twins Zan and Jayna, the Justice League of America and Supergirl then must all battle the notorious Legion of Doom in ‘A (Super) Friend in Need’

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV kids, this fast-paced, funny and superbly inclusive parcel of thrills skilfully revisits the charm of early DC in stand-alone mini-sagas no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a terrific tome offering perfect, old fashioned delight. What more do you need to know?
© 2014, 2015 Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and all related characters and elements are ™ DC Comics. Scooby-Doo and all related characters and elements are ™ and © Hanna-Barbera.

Storm


By Tim Minchin, DC Turner, Tracy King & various (Orion)
ISBN: 978-1-4091-5209-5 (HB), 978-1-4091-5625-3 (TPB), eISBN: 978-1-4091-5210-1)

The world is a magical, wondrous place stuffed with miracles and mysteries.

However, there’s not one single atom of it that depends on the eldritch or supernatural and none of it – or even the greater universe around it – is wrought from the efforts of supreme beings. Nor does it operate on principles of forgotten lore denied us common folk…

It’s all explainable, utterly rational and absolutely subject to revision by us every time we find out or disprove something that previously has been a puzzle or misunderstood. To do otherwise is nothing less than a crime against humanity.

No gods, no ghosts, no witchcraft, no magic crystals. Got it?

It’s amazing how many people haven’t and how the latest anti-science fad or fashion can cause genuine harm to the world, deprive generally sensible folk of their money and too often make dinner parties a theatre of war. That’s especially relevant at a time when a new lifeform is predating upon large sections of humanity in a manner we haven’t anticipated or properly categorised yet…

Tim Minchin is an Australian creative whirlwind and multi-media entertainment polymath who performs musical stand-up comedy, acts in edgy sitcoms, composes award-winning stage musicals like Matilda and acts in hit shows like Jesus Christ, Superstar.

He’s very smart, very funny and doesn’t believe in goblins or faith-healing.

In 2006 his 90-second diatribe ‘If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife)’ – a “refutation of the plausibility of astrology, psychics, homeopathy and an interventionist God” impressed and delighted fans.

In 2008, after a close encounter with a pontificating new-agey nitwit at a party where the reasonable, rationalist Mr. Minchin politely opted not to contest a stream of bubble-headed nonsense, he took his ire and indignation and turned it into a piece of true inspiration: a beat poem, Socratic dialogue and “anthem for critical thinkers”…

It’s a very funny, edgy slice of entertaining refutation and I-wish-I’d-said-that-ism which was used as the closer for the Ready For This? Tour for more than two years.

In Britain animators/illustrators/producers Dan “DC” Turner and Tracy King saw that show and determined that at all costs they must turn that paean to logic and sense into an animated film. As described in Minchin’s Introduction to this book (available in trade paperback and eBook formats as well as a 1000 copy Limited Edition Deluxe Hardback with extra content) and the Afterword by Turner and King, after some wheeler-dealing, they did just that…

Storm became an internet sensation with many million hits on YouTube after its launch in 2011. The artists and Mr. Minchin then completely reworked that cartoon sensation into an astoundingly compulsive and scathingly funny graphic novel which opens at an intimate soiree in North London where the narrator and his wife sit down to sup with friends and are force-fed a stream of nonsensical blather by a beautiful girl with a tattoo of a fairy.

Her name is Storm and this time the quiet man she inanely and arrogantly lectures is not going to hold his tongue…

By turns tense, barbed, hilariously evocative and furiously cathartic, this stunning visual feast delivers the barrage of scathing sense we’ve always wanted (but been too polite) to unleash on evolution-deniers, pseudo-scientists, astrological aromatherapy advocates, vaccination-withholders, ghost-chasers and every other stripe of pontificating irrationalist in a graphic tumult of colour, line and typography that will simultaneously stun and galvanise.

This magnificent reinterpretation includes a Foreword by Neil Gaiman, Biography pages for Minchin, Turner & King and – because it’s all about the fun – a selection of variant covers by Ricky Earl, Freya Harrison, Andy Herd, Dave “Swatpaz” Ferguson and Stuart Mason & Rachael King which might have graced the issues had this yarn been serialised as comic periodicals rather than released as a complete book…

There has been and always will be a valuable and cherished place for fantasy, imagination and all the wild and woolly boggles and phantasms of a rich realm of tradition and ignorance. Indeed I believe it’s absolutely necessary for every child to be fully acquainted with all aspects of fairies and spectres and wish-fulfilling rings and lamps, but there comes a time when they must retire to a place of nostalgia and fun, regularly revisited for amusement but never, never, never used to dictate the content of school curricula, divert funds from genuine medical research or be employed as justification to persecute whole sectors of society or even one single “different” individual…

Storm is an edgy pictorial tour de force to delight and enchant readers who love the funny and fantastic but never forget where the horizons of fantasy end and the borders of imagination begin…
Text © Tim Minchin 2014. Illustrations © Tracy King and Daniel Charles Turner 2014. All rights reserved.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones Omnibus volume 1


By Walt Simonson, Denny O’Neil, David Michelinie, Howard Chaykin, Archie Goodwin, John Buscema, John Byrne, Gene Day, Richard Howell, Ron Frenz, Kerry Gammill, Dan Reed, Luke McDonnell & various (Dark Horse/Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-246-8 (Dark Horse TPB) 978-1-84576-808-9 (Titan TPB)

Although dormant for the moment, Dark Horse Comics have held the comics-producing franchise for Indiana Jones since 1993: generating thousands of pages of material, much of it excellent and some not quite. It might be construed as heretical to say it, but dedicated film fans aren’t all that quality conscious when it comes to their particular fascination, whether it’s games about finding Atlantis or the latest watered-down kids’ interpretation or whatever.

The Dark Horse Omnibus line is a wonderfully economical way to keep older material in print for such fans by bundling old publications into classy, full-colour digests. They’re slightly smaller than US comic-books but larger than a standard tankōbon manga volume, running about 400 pages per book, but not all of them are available in digital editions at the moment.

This initial Indy volume (of three) chronologically re-presents the first dozen Marvel Comics (the original license holder) interpretations which followed the film Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as including the 3-issue miniseries adaptation by Walt Simonson, John Buscema & Klaus Janson that preceded that celluloid landmark. I’m being this specific because the comic version was also released as a single glossy, enhanced-colour magazine in the Marvel Super Special series (#18: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, if you’re curious).

And, just in case you’re the one who hasn’t seen the film… Set in the days before World War II, Hitler’s paranormal investigation division gathers occult artifacts from around the planet and soon crosses swords with a rough and ready archaeology professor from a New York university. Soon the unconventional Doctor Indiana Jones is scammed by the US government into tracking down his old tutor: a savant who might have knowledge of the biblical and mystically potent Ark of the Covenant…

Although Abner Ravenwood has since died, his daughter Marion possesses the clues the Jones needs. Unfortunately, she’s also an old flame he abandoned and would rather burn in hell than help him…

However, when the Nazis turn up and try to torch her in the Nepalese bar she washed up in, Marion joins Jones in a breakneck chase across the globe from Cairo to the lost city of Tanis to a secret Nazi submarine base on a tropical island, fighting natives and Nazis every step of the way until the ancient artifact separates the just from the wicked in a spectacular and terrifying display of Old Testament style Wrath…

The movie’s format – baffling search for a legendary object, utterly irredeemable antagonists, exotic locales, non-stop chase action, outrageous fights and just a hint of eldritch overtones – became the staple for the comic book series that followed, opening in impressive manner with ‘The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones’ a 2-part yarn from Jack-of-all-genres John Byrne, assisted by Terry Austin, with veteran scripter Denny O’Neil pitching in for the concluding ‘22-Karat Doom!’

When an old student is murdered before his eyes, Indy swears to complete the lad’s research, subsequently trekking through Africa in search of a tribe who can turn men to gold. He is never more than one step ahead of a maniac millionaire with no love of mysteries or antiquities, but is possessed by a deep and abiding love of profit…

That adventure ends with our hero plunging out of a doomed plane and into issue #3’s American-set adventure ‘The Devil’s Cradle’ (by O’Neil, Gene Day, Richard Howell, Mel Candido & Danny Bulanadi) wherein he lands in a hillbilly wilderness where a rogue US Army Colonel and a band of witch-burning yokels are separately hunting a 400 year-old alchemist with all the secrets of the ages at his fingertips…

David Michelinie, Ron Frenz & Bulanadi’s ‘Gateway to Infinity!’ then sees the archaeological adventurer en route to Stonehenge, courtesy of the US government, as a ring of Nazi spies again fail to kill him. Hitler’s spies and parapsychologists are still hunting preternatural artifacts and the crystal cylinder uncovered at the ancient monument definitely qualifies. English professor Karen Mays dates it to the Triassic period, millions of years before Man evolved, so the murderous Aryans will stop at nothing to make it theirs…

Luckily for Jones and Mays – but not the Reich – the spies eventually succeed. However, to their eternal regret their vile machinations unleash ‘The Harbingers’ and only Indy’s swift reactions prevent a horror beyond time escaping into our world.

Jazz Age mastermind Howard Chaykin joins Austin to illustrate the wonderfully classy ‘Club Nightmare’ (plotted by Archie Goodwin and scripted by Michelinie) as Marion opens a swanky Manhattan night-spot only to run afoul of mobsters and worse even before it opens. With Indy on hand to save the day, the situation swiftly goes from calamitous to disastrous…

Michelinie, Kerry Gammill & Sam de La Rosa soon have the hero globe-trotting again in ‘Africa Screams’, as a tussle in Tuscany with tomb-robber Ian McIver provides a solid clue to an even deeper mystery. Following an old map, Indy and Marion are soon on their way to the Dark Continent in search of the legendary Shintay – a tribe of pale giants, outcast from and last survivors of fabled Atlantis…

Unfortunately, McIver and those ever-eager Nazi scavengers are also on the trail and in ‘Crystal Death’ the vast power of the Shintay nearly wipes out half of Africa…

Issues #9 and 10 find our artifact hunter the target of a sinister plot by German spies and Aztec wannabees in ‘The Gold Goddess: Xomec’s Raiders’ (Goodwin, Michelinie, Dan Reed & Bulanadi), leading to a series of death-defying battles in the lofty heights of the Big Apple and the depths of the Brazilian jungle

This volume concludes in epic style with a breathtaking global duel and a brand-new villain as Indy is seduced by nefarious antiquities collector Ben Ali Ayoob into hunting down a persistent Biblical myth: ‘The Fourth Nail’.

In ‘Blood and Sand’, Jones travels from the Australian Outback to Barcelona trying to find the unused final spike that should have ended Christ’s suffering on the Cross, but his quest is dogged by bad luck, Arabic ninjas, guardian gypsies, immense insane bandits and irascible bulls looking for a handy matador to mangle…

The perilous pilgrimage reaches an inevitable conclusion in ‘Swords and Spikes’ (with additional art from Luke McDonnell and Mel Candido), a cavalcade of carnage, breakneck action and supernatural retribution.

With a covers gallery from such able and diverse hands as James T. Sherman, Walt Simonson, Terry Austin, Byrne, Howell & Armando Gil, Frenz, Mike Gustovich, Chaykin, Gammill, Bob Wiacek and Bob McLeod, this is a splendid chunk of simple escapist fun: the type of buried treasure any fan of any age would be delighted to unearth and rejoice over.
™ &© 1981, 1983, 2009 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

My Favorite Martian – The Complete Series Volume One


By Paul S. Newman, Bob Ogle, Russ Manning, Dan Spiegle, Sparky Moore, Mike Arens & various (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-932563-79-5(HB) eISBN 978-1-932563-79-2

My Favorite Martian debuted in America in September 29th 1963, the forerunner of a miniature golden age of fantasy-themed sitcoms that included Living Doll, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Ghost and Mrs Muir, Nanny and the Professor and many more: all operating on the premise of a science fictional or magical character acting as disruptive outsider and playing hob with “normal” American domestic life.

Coming in at the height of the Space Race, My Favorite Martian ran for three seasons and 107 episodes – the last of which premiered in May 1966 – and particularly shone because of the laidback style, intriguing music, strong scripts and the unparalleled gifts of lead actor Ray Walston and his “straight man” young Bill Bixby. Many episodes haven’t dated at all – at least in term of gags, if not cultural attitudes, something which sadly, cannot be said of Disney’s 1999 movie reboot…

Like most successful television properties, the series spawned a ton of nifty merchandise, including a comic book (nine issues running between January 1964 and October 1966) from licensing specialists Gold Key. Here, the first five are curated in an imposing hardcover (or eBook) collection from comics-resurrection and nostalgia specialists Hermes Press. It’s especially welcome as it unearths incidences of masterful lost work from some of our industry’s biggest names…

Preceded by stunning H. Greer game box art, Kate Walston’s Foreword ‘My Dad and My Favorite Martian’ reminisces over her dad’s career, friendship with co-star Bixby and the show before a photo from the pilot episode (the volume is liberally and peppered throughout with photos) precedes Daniel Herman’s Introduction discussing the careers of ‘The Artists of My Favorite Martian’.

The writers were “King of Comics” Paul S. Newman – whose astoundingly prolific career encompassed scripts for almost every publisher in the US on titles such as The Lone Ranger, Tom Corbett – Space Cadet, Turok, Son of Stone, Dr. Solar, Patsy Walker, G.I. Combat, House of Mystery ad infinitum – and Bob Ogle, an animator and voice actor who also wrote for Gold Key’s vast stable of ties-in and TV shows such as Shirt Tales, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, The Kwicky Koala Show and Yogi’s Gang.

The premise of My Favorite Martian was supremely evergreen, yet smartly contemporary. The pilot episode revealed how 450-year old Martian anthropologist Exigius 12½ is marooned on Earth after his ship almost collides with experimental American rocket-plane X-15, fired from Edwards Air Force Base. The crash is observed by passing journalist Tim O’Hara who takes the alien under his wing – and into his lodgings as his Uncle Martin – until the voyager can repair his wrecked vessel.

Sadly, Tim has a nosy landlady in busybody Mrs Brown and Martin has strong opinions, incredible scientific gifts, a whole raft of uncanny powers and no luck at all…

The comic launched in January 1964 and, behind a photo-cover, was graced with artwork from one of the industry’s greatest exponents. Russ Manning (Magnus, Robot Fighter, Tarzan, Star Wars) was one of comics’ greatest stylists and perfectly caught the tone of the show in Newman’s ‘My Favorite Martian’, which adapted and reprised the origin before revealing how Tim’s scoop on the X-15 – and suppression of his meeting with Martin – lead to his being arrested by the authorities for espionage…

No sooner has the Martian finagled Tim out of a cell and cleared his name than he’s risking his new friend’s life by having them infiltrate a top-secret project in search of a fuel source necessary to power the hidden Martian ship he’s gradually rebuilding…

The romp ends with a monochrome single page gag highlighting Martin’s ability to talk to animals, probably drawn by Mike Arens.

Issue #2 carries a July 1964 cover-date and is the only one to employ an illustrated rather than photographic cover. It and the interiors that follow are by the criminally unsung Dan Spiegle, whose career was two-pronged and incredibly long. Born in 1920, Spiegle wanted to be a traditional illustrator but instead fell – after military service in the Navy – into comics at the end of the 1940s. He was equally adept at dramatic and cartoon narrative art and his portfolio includes impeccable work on Hopalong Cassidy, Rawhide, Sea Hunt, Space Family Robinson, Blackhawk, Crossfire, Nemesis, Scooby Doo, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Indiana Jones, the Hanna-Barbera stable and so much more.

He opens here with ‘Destination Mars’ as a well-meaning intervention by the landlady’s daughter ruins Martin’s latest fuel formulation and he is driven by frustration and loneliness to try stowing away on a robotic Mars probe built by the backward earthmen…

This is counterbalanced by a romantic flight of whimsy in ‘Priscilla Loves Melvin’ as Martin intervenes – with catastrophic effect – to reunite a lovesick zoo gorilla with her missing spouse…

Another monochrome gage strip detailing the danger of Mrs Brown’s pies segues into #3 (February 1965) with Sparky Moore (Rin Tin Tin, The Three Stooges) assuming visual control for ‘It’s a Small World’, with Martin and Tim off to Africa in search of an ancient Martian crash-site and discovering an astonishing connection to the Martian’s past! ‘Sighted! Green Monster’ reveals a startling side effect of Martian food on human physiology when Tim and Martin have a picnic in Florida and set off a E.T. panic…

Ogle took over scripting and Mike Arens (Dale Evans, Chuckwagon Charley, Roy Rogers) became regular artist with MFM #4 (May 1965), nicely balancing the drama and fantasy elements for ‘Once Upon a Ding-Ding’, wherein a trip to the Zoo and an incautious nap manifests a beloved beast of Mars from Martin’s ferociously potent, semi-autonomous subconscious with the now-traditional calamitous results, after which the visitor’s attempts to diminish his own awesome powers inadvertently revert Tim to toddler size and threaten to rejuvenate him out of existence in ‘Kid Stuff’

This initial outing concludes with August 1965’s fifth issue, opening with ‘The Creep of Araby’, as Martin’s latest invention – a molecular duplicator – complicates and endangers Tim’s life just as he’s about to interview a desert sultan. Later, when the Martian’s escaped and now-physically realised subconscious starts recklessly granting wishes in ‘Martin’s Other Self’, Tim has to take extraordinary action to circumvent the chaos that follows…

Wrapping up the vintage wonderment, ‘Memorabilia, Photos and Publicity’ offers a collection of merchandise, art – such as colouring book covers, game and model kit boxes – and publicity stills (including show costume designs) to delight fans old and freshly-minted.

TV-themed compendia of screen-to-page magic were an intrinsic part of growing up in Britain for generations and still occur every year with only the stars/celebrity/shows changing, not the package. The show itself has joined the vast hinterland of fantasy fan-favourites immortalised in DVD and streamed all over the world, but if you want to see more, this rewarding tome is a treat you won’t want to overlook.
My Favorite Martian® © 1966-1965 and 2011 The Contingent Trust of the Jack and Florence Chertok Trust dated October 22, 1990/ Jack Chertok Television, Inc; Peter Greenwood Licensing Manager Worldwide. Reprinted with Permission. All Rights Reserved.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume II


By Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill & various (Americas Best Comics/WildStorm/DC)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0118-0 (TPB)

The Victorian era saw the birth of both popular and populist publishing, particularly the genres of fantasy and adventure fiction. Writers of varying skill but possessing unbounded imaginations expounded personal concepts of honour and heroism, wedded unflinchingly to the innate belief in English Superiority. In all worlds and even beyond them the British gentleman took on all comers for Right and Decency, viewing danger as a game and showing “Johnny Foreigner” just how that game should be played.

For all the problems this raises with our modern sensibilities, many of the stories remain uncontested classics of literature and form the roadmap for all modern fictional heroes. Open as they are to charges of Racism, Sexism (even misogyny), Class Bias and Cultural Imperialism the best of them remain the greatest of all yarns.

An august selection of just such heroic prototypes were seconded – and slyly re-examined under modern scrutiny – by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill for a miniseries in 1999 that managed to say as much about our world as that long gone one, and incidentally tell a captivating tale as compelling as any of its antecedents.

In short succession there was an inevitable sequel, once more pressing into service vampire-tainted Wilhelmina Murray, aged Great White Hunter Allan Quatermain, Invisible Man Hawley Griffin, the charismatic genius Captain Nemo and both cultured Dr. Henry Jekyll and his bombastic alter-ego Mister Hyde. The tale also added cameos from the almost English Edwin Lester Arnolds’ Gullivar Jones, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars and even many creatures from C.S. Lewis’ allegorical sequence Out of the Silent Planet.

The idea of combining shared cultural brands is evergreen: Philip Jose Farmer in particular spun many a yarn teaming such worthies as Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, Tarzan and their like; Warren Ellis succumbed to similar temptation in Planetary and Jasper Fforde worked literary miracles with the device in his Thursday Next novels, but the sheer impetus of Moore & O’Neill’s para-steampunk revisionism, rush of ideas (and the stunning, startling visuals that carry them) make this book (and all the previous ones) form an irresistible experience and absolute necessity for every fiction fan, let alone comic collector…

In ‘Phases of Deimos’, as London rebuilds after the cataclysmic denouement of the previous volume, a savage planetary conflict on the fourth planet ends with the firing of gigantic projectiles at our fragile, unsuspecting world …

The barrage hits home in ‘People of Other Lands’ and the cohort of reluctant agents is on hand when hideous otherworldly invaders begin incinerating the best that Britain can offer. One of the operatives considers treachery as more cylinders arrive in ‘And Dawn Comes Up Like Thunder’ and acts upon the temptation as the incursion renders Earth’s most advanced defenders helpless…

With the Empire being dismantled by Tripods and other supra-scientific engines of destruction, ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ finds half of the chastened and dispirited agents seeking other allies and ideas, even as ‘Red in Tooth and Claw’ sees the traitor exposed and dealt with despite the inexorable advance of the Martian horde before the tide unexpectedly and shockingly turns in ‘You Should See Me Dance the Polka…’

This startlingly impressive and beguilingly effective interleaving of HG Wells’ landmark fantasy classic with the skewed but so-very plausible conceit that all the great adventurers of literature hung out together captures perfectly the feeling of a world and era ending. As one would expect, internal conflicts pull apart the champions – at no time do they ever even slightly resemble a team – and Moore’s irrepressible imagination and vast cultural reservoir dredges up a further elite selection of literary touchstones to enhance the proceedings.

Dark and genuinely terrifying, the tale unfolds largely unchanged from the original War of the Worlds plot, but a string of parallel side-stories are utterly gripping and unpredictable, whilst the inclusion of such famed and/or lost characters as Bill Samson, Doctor Moreau, Tiger Tim and even Rupert Bear (among others) sweetens the pot for those in the know.

Those who aren’t you can always consult A Blazing World: the official companion to the drama…

This book is an incredible work of scholarship and artistry recast into a fabulous pastiche of an entire literary movement. It’s also a stunning piece of comics wizardry of a sort no other art form can touch, and as with the other Moore & O’Neill collaborations there are wry visual supplements (including, activity pages, puzzles and mazes, faux ads and a board game) plus a substantial text feature – The New Traveller’s Almanac – at the back, in-filling the alternative literary history of the League.

It is quite wordy, but Read It Anyway: it’s there for a reason and is more than worth the effort as it outlines the antecedents of the assorted champions in a fabulously stylish and absorbing manner. It might also induce you to read a few other very interesting and rewarding books…
© 1999, 2000 Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill. All Rights Reserved.

John Carter – The End


By Brian Wood, Alex Cox, Hayden Sherman, Chris O’Halloran & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-52410-438-2 (TPB)

Edgar Rice Burroughs is arguably the most influential fantasy author of the 20th century: a creator not just of dozens of vivid and thrilling characters and concepts but also generator of at least two distinct heroic archetypes – Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. You should read the books. Despite the inherent sexism and now-deeply uncomfortable overtones of imperialist white exceptionalism (which, to be frank, still underpin the vast majority of global heroic literature and cinema) they are rip-roaring reads packed with invention and potent power.

John Carter was the star of ERB’s first novel. Written in 1911, whilst Burroughs was almost impoverished and selling pencil sharpeners wholesale, Under the Moons of Mars appeared as a serial in adventure pulp The All-Story between February and July 1912. It was promptly ignored and forgotten. In that year’s October issue however, Tarzan of the Apes began serialisation. His meteoric success prompted the revival of Carter.

In 1917, Moons of Mars was released as a complete novel, retitled A Princess of Mars. There would be ten more books, intermittently released between 1918 and 1964 when John Carter of Mars was posthumously published.

In the first book Carter is established as a former Confederate Officer and aristocratic Gentleman of Virginia who, by arcane and inexplicable means, is astrally projected to Mars. On Barsoom, as it is called by its many indigenous races, his fighting spirit and earth-gravity conditioned body allow him to rise to the forefront of its mightiest and most noble humanoid race.

He finds eternal immortal love with incomparable warrior princess Dejah Thoris, founds a dynasty and generally crushes evil and iniquity whilst extending the dying world’s dwindling lifespan…

Although undoubtedly inspired by Edwin Lester Arnold’s 1905 novel Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, it was Carter and his bombastic exploits which became the template for a breed of itinerant warrior wandering fantastic kingdoms with sword and/or gun in hand, battling debased science or sinister sorcery both in literature and comics.

Brawny barbarians and sleek duellists from Jirel of Joiry to Kothar, Thongor to Fafhrd & Gray Mouser to Conan, dozens of Michael Moorcock’s heroes such as Elric and Dorian Hawkmoon – not to mention ERB’s own numerous variations on the theme such as Carson Napier of Venus, David Innes of Pellucidar and so many others – all follow the same pattern: one that humanises the original mythic feats of Gilgamesh, Hercules and Beowulf…

The Warlord of Mars has become a touchstone, resource and meme-well for science fiction writers from Frank Herbert to Robert Heinlein to Moorcock. You can probably blame Burroughs and Carter for the whole Dungeons and Dragons, fantasy role playing phenomenon, too…

Comics books and strips borrowed shamelessly from John Carter. As well as appearing under his own brand, aspects of the Virginian’s look and milieu inspired and influenced Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Superman, Adam Strange, Warp!, Richard Corben’s Den and countless others.

When Carter and Co made the jump to comics in his own name (in 1953 and 1964 from Dell/Gold Key as well as later iterations from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Dynamite), the result was – and continues – to be some of the most potent and memorable action adventures ever seen. And that’s not simply because his female co-stars are usually depicted all but naked – and yes, I know that’s what the novels describe. I say it’s not practical to wave sharp swords about whilst clad in nipple clips and hankies, and simply suggest that the stories don’t need to assume adolescent boys of all ages are the exclusive target demographic…

Proof of that comes in this superb addition to the modern world’s “last adventure of…” sub-genre. Written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Northlanders, Star Wars) and Alex Cox (Adventure Time) and illustrated by Hayden Sherman (The Few, Kingpin, Civil War II) and colourist Chris O’Halloran, John Carter – The End takes us far into the future when even the once-reckoned immortal Barsoomians are aged and weary.

Carter and Dejah Thoris have removed themselves from Mars and are passing their advanced years rather acrimoniously on Titan, when a ship calls them home. ‘Twilight of the Red Queen’ brings word to them that the planet is dying… and it is all Carter’s fault…

The messengers are Tharks – the four-armed Green Men of Mars – and they have come to warn of genocidal conflict on the Red Planet, sparked and fanned to full fury by the Royal Couple’s grandson. The shock is more than Dejah can bear. The cause of the ill-feeling between her and her husband is that long ago the Warlord had to put down their twisted, descendent Den Thorkar like a murderous mad dog that he was. Now the Princess of Mars realises her man didn’t have the guts to do his duty then, and leaves him to finish the job herself…

Carter follows her in ‘Apocalypse Barsoom’ and finds his beloved adopted world drenched in blood and consumed in conflict. Although both estranged lovers individually hunt the architect of Barsoom’s woes, their paths are radically different. Dejah heads straight to the capital citadel New Helium to confront the deranged ruler face to face, whilst Carter joins the Tharks’ resistance movement The Swords of Old Barsoom and meets again old ally Tars Tarkas. The noble old warrior is undergoing an incredible metamorphosis…

Planet-shaking secrets begin to unravel in third chapter ‘I’m of Your Blood, Yours and the Warlord’s…’ Dejah uncovers a web of corruption at the heart of government and the horrific truth of her pitiless great, great grandson. The chaos, carnage and catastrophe escalate in ‘The Old Man on the Ocean Floor’ as Carter learns of an ancient plot conceived by one of his vilest enemies and gains the most unexpected of allies in his proposed revolution…

The climax comes in spectacular fashion as ‘Onward to New Helium’ sets the scene for slaughter, retribution and even a measure of reconciliation…

An epic action-packed romp, John Carter – The End is far closer to the spirit of the ERB novels than almost anything I’ve seen in the last twenty years and should delight old time fans, most modern sci fi aficionados and all seekers of blockbuster dramas.

This paperback/digital collection of the 2017 miniseries also offers bonus material including design artwork and character sketches and composites by Hayden Sherman plus a covers and variants gallery by Garry Brown, Gabriel Hardman, Juan Doe, Philip Tan, Mel Rubi and Roberto Castro.
Barsoom™, John Carter™ and Edgar Rice Burroughs® owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc and used by Permission. All rights reserved.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus volume 1


By Joss Whedon, Christopher Golden, Daniel Brereton, Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Paul Lee, Eric Powell, Joe Bennett, Cliff Richards, & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-784-6 (TPB)

I’m thoroughly enjoying a complete rescreening of Buffy at the moment and thus took a look at this premier compilation of her earliest comics outings. They’re still great too. You should track them down. They’re all available as eBooks these days…

Blood-drenched supernatural doomed love is a venerable, if not always creditable, sub-genre these days, so let’s take a look at one of the relatively ancient antecedents responsible for this state of affairs in the shape of Dark Horse Comics’ translation of cult TV show franchise Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Collected here in a big bad Omnibus edition is material from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru #3 (December 2000), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: the Origin (January-March 1999) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer #51-59 (November 2002 to July 2003); nearly three hundred pages of full-colour, tongue-in-cheek mystical martial arts mayhem and merriment.

As explained in comicbook Editor Scott Allie’s Introduction, although the printed sagas and spin-offs were created in a meandering manner up and down the timeline, this series of Omnibus books re-presents them in strict chronological continuity order, beginning with a perilous period piece entitled ‘All’s Fair’ – by Christopher Golden with art from Eric Powell, Drew Geraci & Keith Barnett – originally seen in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru #the 3 (from December 2000).

Although Buffy was a hot and hip teen cheerleader-turned-monster-killer, as the TV series developed it became clear that the bad-guys were increasingly the true fan-favourites. Cool vampire villain and über-predator Spike eventually became a love-interest and even a suitably tarnished white knight, but at the time of this collection he was still a jaded, blood-hungry, immortal, immoral psychopath… every girl’s dream date.

His eternal paramour was Drusilla: a demented precognitive vampire who killed him and made him an immortal bloodsucker. She thrived on a stream of fresh decadent thrills and revelled in baroque and outré bloodletting.

There has been an unbroken mystical progression of young women tasked with killing the undead through the centuries, and here we see the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1900, where Spike and Dru are making the most of the carnage after killing that era’s Slayer. The story then shifts to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 where the undying mad lovers are still on the murderous prowl. However, the scientific wonders of the modern world displayed in various exhibits are all eclipsed by one scientist who has tapped into the realm of Elder Gods as a cheap source of energy. To further complicate matters, Spike and Dru are being stalked by a clan of Chinese warriors trained from birth to destroy the predatory pair and avenge that Slayer killed back in Beijing…

Gods, Demons, Mad Scientists, Kung Fu killers, Tongs and terror all combine in a gory romp that will delight TV devotees and ordinary horrorists alike…

Next up is a smart reworking of the cult B-movie which launched the global mega-hit TV.

Starring Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry and Rutger Hauer, the film was released in 1992 with a modicum of success and to the lasting dissatisfaction of writer/creator Joss Whedon. Five years later he got the chance to do it right and in the manner he’d originally intended. The ensemble action-horror-comedy series became a genuine phenomenon, inspiring a new generation of Goth gore-lovers as well as many, many “homages” in assorted media – including comics.

Dark Horse won the licensing rights in the USA, subsequently producing an enthralling regular comicbook series goosed up with a welter of impressive miniseries and specials. In 1999 the company – knowing how powerfully the inclusivity/continuity/completism gene dominates comics fan psychology – finally revisited that troublesome cinematic debut with miniseries Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Origin running from January to March.

Scrupulously returning to the author’s script and core-concept, restoring excised material, shifting the tone back towards what Whedon originally intended whilst reconfiguring events until they better jibed with the established and beloved TV mythology, adaptors Christopher Golden & Daniel Brereton (with artists Joe Bennett, Rick Ketcham, Randy Emberlin & J. Jadsen) produced a fresh 3-issue miniseries which canonically established just exactly what the formerly vapid Valley Girl did in her old hometown that got her transferred to scenic Sunnydale and a life on the Hellmouth…

It all kicks off in ‘Destiny Free’ as shallow yet popular teen queen/cheerleader Buffy Summers shrugs off recurring nightmares of young women battling and being killed by vampires throughout history to continue her perfect life of smug contentment. Even a chance meeting with grungy stoner bad-boys Pike and Benny can’t dent her aura of self-assured privilege and studied indolence…

The nightmares keep mounting in intensity, however, and all over town teenagers keep disappearing…

Things come to a head the week her parents leave town for a trip. In a dark park, a maniac attacks Pike and Benny and is only driven off by the intervention of a mysterious, formidable old man. Even so, the assailant manages to take the screaming Benny with him…

Next day the same old geezer is at school, annoying Buffy. She is blithely mocking until he tells her about her nightmares and explains that she has an inescapable destiny… as a slayer of monsters…

Meanwhile, deep in the bowels of the Earth a monster is marshalling his forces and making terrifying converts out of the spoiled, worthless – but tasty – children of California…

Buffy’s strange stalker is exceedingly persistent and that night, despite her disbelieving misgivings, she and Merrick – an agent of an ancient, monster-hunting secret society – lurk in a graveyard waiting for a recently murdered man to rise from his fresh grave…

When he does – along with unsuspected others – Buffy’s unsuspected powers and battle reflexes kick in and, against all odds, she spectacularly overcomes…

‘Defenseless Mechanisms’ finds the aggressively altered Buffy grudgingly dropping her fatuous after-school activities and friends to train with the increasingly strident and impatient Watcher Merrick. Even though her attitude is appalling and her attention easily diverted, the girl is serious about the job, and even has a few new ideas to add to The Slayer’s traditional arsenal…

Even as she starts her career by pretending to be a helpless lost girl to draw out vile vamps, across town Pike is in big trouble. He also knows what is happening: after all, every night Benny comes to his window, begging to be let in and offering to share his new life with his best bud…

At school, the change in Buffy is noticeable and all her old BFFs are pointedly snubbing her, even as every sundown Lothos’ legion gets bolder and bigger. A fatal mistake occurs on the night when Slayer and Watcher save the finally-outmanoeuvred Pike from Benny and the Vampire Lord. Only two of the embattled humans survive and escape…

The tale escalates to a shocking climax when an undead army invades the long-awaited Hemery High School dance, looking for Buffy and fresh meat/recruits. With his bloodsuckers surrounding the petrified revellers and demanding a final reckoning, Lothos believes his victory assured, but in all his centuries of unlife he’s never encountered a Slayer quite like Buffy Summers…

As Allie’s Introduction already revealed, there are major hassles involved in producing a licensed comicbook whilst the primary property is still unfolding. Thus, as the print series was winding up the editors opted for in-filling some glaring gaps in the Slayer’s early career. Buffy the Vampire Slayer #51-59, spanning November 2002 through July 2003, addresses the period between the film’s end and her first days in Sunnydale, leading off with ‘Viva Las Buffy’ (Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Cliff Richards & Will Conrad) detailing what the Slayer did next: abandoning her disintegrating family as they prepared to leave LA and the reputation their daughter has garnered.

Buffy hooks up with sole survivor and wannabe monster-hunter Pike and they eventually fetch up in Nevada to investigate the apparently vampire-run Golden Touch Casino. The young warriors have no idea that a dark solitary stranger with a heavenly name is stalking them or that somewhere in England a Council of arrogant scholar-magicians are preparing a rather controversial candidate to join her as the new Watcher…

Sadly, Rupert Giles has a rival for the post who is prepared to do literally anything to secure the position…

Pike and the Slayer infiltrate the gambling palace as menial workers, whilst moodily formidable solo avenger Angelus goes straight to the top: hiring on as an enforcer for the management. When both independently operating factions are exposed, the Vamp with a Soul is tossed into a time-trap and despatched back to the 1930s as Buffy and Pike battle an army of horrors before confronting the ghastly family of monstrosities running the show across two eras.

The living and undead heroes endure heartbreak and sacrifice before this evil empire is ended forever…

Paul Lee then reveals the bizarre story of ‘Dawn & Hoopy the Bear’ wherein Buffy’s little sister accidentally intercepts a Faustian gift intended for the absent Slayer and finds herself befriended by a demonic Djinn who seems sweet but is pre-programmed for murder…

Through the narrative vehicle of Dawn reading her big sister’s diary, the last piece of the puzzle is revealed in ‘Slayer, Interrupted’ (Lobdell, Nicieza, Richards, Conrad, Lee & Horton) as Buffy’s own written words disclose her apparent delusional state. With no other choice, her parents have their clearly-troubled teen committed to a psychiatric institution.

Meanwhile in Ireland, Giles – having overcome his own opposition – completes his training preparations by undergoing a potentially lethal ritual and confronting his worst nightmare before heading to the USA, where Angelus and demonic attendant Whistler are still clandestinely watching over the Slayer.

That’s all to the good, as the asylum has been infiltrated by a sorcerous cult intent on gathering “brides” for infernal night-lord Rakagore

As Buffy undergoes talk therapy with the peculiar Dr. Primrose, she comes to realise the nature of her own mission, her role as a “Creature of Destiny” in the universe and, most importantly, that the elderly therapist is not all she seems either…

With her head clear at last, all Buffy has to do is prove she’s sane, smash an invasion of devils, reconcile with her family and prepare for the new school year at Sunnydale High…

To Be Continued…

Supplementing a hoard of supernatural treasures is a copious photo, Title Page and Cover Gallery with contributions from Ryan Sook, Guy Major, Bennett, Gomez, Jadsen, René Micheletti, Paul Lee & Brian Horton.

Visually impressive, winningly scripted and illustrated and – most importantly – proceeding at a breakneck rollercoaster pace, this supernatural action-fest is utterly engaging even if you’re not familiar with the vast backstory: a creepy chronicle as easily enjoyed by the most callow neophyte as by the dedicated devotee. Moreover, with the shows readily available, if you aren’t a follower yet you soon could – and should – be…
Buffy the Vampire Slayer ™ & © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Sundiata, the Lion of Mali – a Legend of Africa


Retold by Will Eisner (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-332-6(HB)  978-1-56163-340-1(TPB)

It’s pretty much accepted today that Will Eisner was one of the pivotal creators who shaped the American comicbook industry, with most – but not sadly, all – of his works more or less permanently in print – as they should be.

Active and compellingly creative until his death in 2005, Eisner was the consummate storysmith and although his true legacy is making comics acceptable fare for adult Americans, his mastery and appeal spanned the range of human age and he was always as adept at beguiling the young as he was enchanting their elders…

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

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

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

In 1940 Everett “Busy” Arnold, head honcho of the superbly impressive Quality Comics outfit, invited Eisner to take on a new challenge. The Register-Tribune newspaper syndicate wanted a 16-page weekly comicbook insert for the Sunday editions and Eisner jumped at the opportunity, creating three series which would initially be handled by him before two of them were delegated to supremely talented assistants. Bob Powell inherited Mr. Mystic and distaff detective Lady Luckfell into the capable hands of Nick Cardy (then still Nicholas Viscardi) and later the inimitable Klaus Nordling.

Eisner kept the lead feature for his own, and over the next twelve years The Spirit became the most impressive, innovative, imitated and talked-about strip in the business. However, by 1952 Eisner had more or less abandoned it for more challenging and certainly more profitable commercial, instructional and educational strips. He worked extensively for the US military in manuals and magazines like Army Motors and P*S, the Preventative Maintenance Monthly, generally leaving comicbooks behind.

After too long away from his natural story-telling arena, Eisner creatively returned to the ghettos of Brooklyn where he was born and capped a glittering career by inventing the mainstream graphic novel for America, bringing maturity, acceptability and public recognition to English language comics. After that he just kept on going…

In 1978 a collection of four original short stories in strip form were released as a single book: A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories. All four centred around 55 Dropsie Avenue, a 1930’s Bronx tenement, housing poor Jewish and immigrant families. It changed the American perception of cartoon strips forever. Eisner wrote and drew a further 20 comics masterworks, opening the door for all other comics creators to escape the funnybook and anodyne strip ghettos of superheroes, funny animals, juvenilia and “family-friendly” entertainment. At one stroke comics grew up.

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

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

Naturally that would make him a brilliant choice to illustrate primal folktales and creation myths from our collective past. This stunning, slim yet over-sized tome (288 x 224mm) again proves his uncanny skill in exhibiting the basic drives and passions of humanity as he lyrically recounts a key myth of West Africa. Although I can’t find it in any digital editions, at least it’s still widely available in print formats…

The historical Sundiata Keita brought the Mandinka People out of bondage and founded the Mali Empire in the 13thcentury AD. He is still celebrated as a staple of the oral tradition handed down by the tribal historians, bards and praise-singers known as “Griots”.

Rendered in a moody, brooding wash of sullen reds, misty greys and dried out earth-tones, the tale begins; narrated by the Great Gray Rock, foundation stone of the world.

Once only the beasts were masters of Africa, but when people came, they sought to rule the land. The newcomers consulted the ghosts of Good and soon became the masters of the beasts and the land.

However, Evil ghosts also lurked. Once ambitious, greedy Sumanguru, King of Sasso had conquered all he could see, he still seethed with dissatisfaction, and the Gray Rock of Evil accosted him…

Sasso was a poor, arid country and when the wicked stone offered the king dark magical powers to conquer all the surrounding lands, Sumanguru eagerly accepted. Soon all the neighbouring nations were smouldering ruins as Sasso warriors and their mad lord’s control of the elements demolished all resistance.

Still Sumanguru was not content and, when a trader brought news of a rich, fertile land settled by peaceful gentle people, the king wanted to rule them too. The unctuous merchant also related how Nare Famakan, wise king of Mali, had recently passed away, leaving eight youthful healthy sons and a ninth who was weak and lame…

Ignoring the rock of Evil’s advice to beware the “frog prince”, Sumanguru led his mighty armies against Mali, unaware the double-dealing trader – denied a reward due to the mad king’s parsimony – had warned the nine princes that warriors of Sasso were coming.

Lame little Sundiata also wished to defend his land, but his brothers laughed and told him to stay home, trusting to their superior tactics to repel the invasion. Indeed, their plans were effective, and the battle seemed to go their way… until Sumanguru summoned an eldritch wind to destroy the army of Mali and added the defeated land to his possessions.

Gloating, he mocked Sundiata but, ignoring the advice of the Gray Rock of Evil, foolishly allowed the frog prince to live…

As unstoppable, insatiable Sumanguru ravaged every tribe and nation, an aged shaman showed Sundiata how to overcome his physical shortcomings. Years passed and the boy learned the ways of the forests, growing tall and mighty. Now a man, he prepared for vengeance and when Sumanguru heard and tried to have him killed, he fled and rallied an army of liberation.

On the eve of battle an uncle revealed Sumanguru’s one mystic weakness to Sundiata and the stage was set for a spectacular and climactic final confrontation before, as will always happen, Evil inevitably betrayed itself…

Although there might be something a little disquieting about an old Jewish white guy appropriating and retelling African myths and legends, this is an epic and intensely moving, all-ages fable re-crafted by a master storyteller: one well-versed in exploring the classic themes of literature and human endeavour, whilst always adding a sparkle and sheen of his own to the most ancient and familiar of tales.

A joy not just for Eisner aficionados but all lovers of mythic heroism.
© 2002 Will Eisner. All rights reserved.