The Complete James Bond: OCTOPUSSY – the Classic Comic Strip Collection 1966-1969

By Ian Fleming, Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-1-78565-325-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Truly Traditional Licence to Thrill… 9/10

There are sadly few British newspaper strips that can rival the influence and impact of the 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 and you’d be hard-pressed to come up with household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy or Flash Gordon, let alone Blondie, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye – and yes, I know I said him twice, but Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good. You should really read them if you haven’t yet…

What can you recall for simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? Garth? I’d hope so, but I doubt it. The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly 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 the Britain of the New Elizabethans – and I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did. Now we’re moving on.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics got carried along on the wave. Eagle, Lion, the regenerated Beano and girls’ comics in general all shifted into visually receptive high gear… and so did daily newspapers at a time when print was everyone’s major source of staying in touch with the world…

Thanks to another canny and comforting luxury repackaging – just in time for the Christmas presents rush! – I can once more communally reminisce about one of British strip-cartooning’s greatest triumphs, since Titan Books have a new addition to their line of lavish, oversized (294 x 277 mm) monochrome compilations of Ian Fleming’s immortal James Bond.

Debut 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and subsequently serialised in the Daily Express from 1958: initiating a sequence of paperback novel adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence (a jobbing writer for American features who had previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) signed on for The Man with the Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the authorial canon to strip format.

When that mission was accomplished, Lawrence was invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s ultimate demise in 1983.

Illustration of the feature was always of the highest standard. Initially John McLusky provided art the until 1966’s conclusion of You Only Live Twice and – although perhaps lacking in vivacity – the workmanlike clarity of his drawing easily coped with the astonishing variety of locales, technical set-ups and sheer immensity of cast members…

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who also debuted on Golden Gun; instituting 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 vim and verve of the 1960’s. Horak illustrated 26 complete adventures until 1977 when The Daily Express ceased carrying Bond and the then-running case suddenly switched to The Sunday Express (from January 30th until conclusion on May 22nd).

Here, however, the heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death is at an all-time high in this addictively accessible fourth volume which 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 frantic derring-do and dark, deadly last-ditch double-dealings commence once superstar screenplay writers Neal Purvis & Robert Wade (The World is Not Enough; Die Another Day; Casino Royale; Quantum of Solace; Skyfall and Spectre as well as Johnny English) share some secrets and observations in their Introduction ‘Adapting Bond’.

Then ‘Octopussy’ (Daily Express 14th November 1966 – 27th May 1967) unfolds: a classic Ian Fleming tale. Originally a short story, under the skilful hands of Lawrence & Horak, a simple smuggling caper in the West Indies blossoms into a complex tale of Nazi Gold, murdered agents and exotic deaths in exotic locales as Bond pits his wits against deplorable rogue Major Smythe….

Bowing to the wave of popularity caused by the blockbuster films of the time, there are even a few Q Branch gadgets on offer. Horak excels at the extended underwater sequences and the action is frenetic and non-stop. Moreover, thanks to the enlarged landscape pages of this edition, every picturesque detail is there to be drooled over…

The sea also plays a major role in ‘The Hildebrand Rarity’ (29th May – 16th December 1967) which details the true fate of a new Royal Navy robot weapon which seemingly fails but has in fact been stolen by flamboyant millionaire and career sadist Milton Krest. At his most dashing undercover best, Bond infiltrates the wealthy sicko’s glamorous circle in a terrific tale full of innovation and intrigue. You won’t believe how many ways there are to kill with fish!

Having exhausted Fleming’s accumulated prose canon, all-original material begins with ‘The Harpies’ (4th October 1968 – 23rd June 1969) as Bond adopts he persona of ex-copper Mark Hazard to infiltrate defence contractor Simon Nero’s factory and rescue a kidnapped scientist whilst seeking to end the depredations of a deadly gang of female flying bandits.

Here Horak’s extreme design style and dynamic lines impart tremendous energy to scenes that must labour under the incredibly difficult restrictions of the 3-panel-a-day newspaper format.

Wrapping up the sinister espionage shenanigans is Lawrence’s second addition to 007 lore – and what a cracker it is! In ‘River of Death’ (24th June – 29th November 1969) Bond must penetrate the Amazon River stronghold of a maniacal oriental scientist and former Red Chinese torturer Dr. Cat. This latest madman is supplying trained animals to international criminals for the purposes of robbery, espionage and murder…

Horak’s intense illustration is approaching a career peak here and easily copes with action, mood, cutting edge science, beautiful women and exotic locales as diverse as the Alps, sultry Rain Forests, London’s underworld and Rio de Janeiro at Carnival time.

James Bond is the ultimate secret agent. You all know that and have – thanks to the multi-media empire that has grown up around Ian Fleming’s masterful creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to the latest movie, game or novel. Here, however, is James Bond at his suave and savage best and as close to his original conception and roots as you will ever find.

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…

Octopussy © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1966. The Hildebrand Rarity © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1967. The Harpies © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1969. River of Death © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd. 1969. James Bond and 007 are ™ of Danjaq LLC used under licence by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
The Complete James Bond: OCTOPUSSY – the Classic Comic Strip Collection 1966-1969 will be published on November 24th and is available for pre-order now.

H.P. Lovecraft’s The Hound and Other Stories

Adapted by Gou Tanabe, translated by Zack Davisson (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-312-1

If you’re one of those people who’s never read a manga tale, or who’s been tempted but discouraged by the terrifying number of volumes these tales can run to, here’s a delicious feast of fantasy fables complete in one book revealing all that’s best about comics from the East in one darkly digestible big gulp.

Most manga can be characterised by a fast, raucous, even occasionally choppy style and manner of delivery but this volume of emphatically eerie adaptations is atmospheric, suitably scary and marvellously moody: just as you’d hope when recreating classic tales by the undisputed master of supernatural terror…

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a frail, troubled and particularly ill-starred man. Born August 20th 1890, he was truly afflicted with the hunger to write but only achieved any degree of success after his death in March 1937 – following a life of desperate penury – from the complications of intestinal cancer. Once he was gone, his literary star ascended and posthumous publications made him a household name who changed the face of fiction forever.

His stories have deeply affected generations of readers all over the world. One person particularly moved is international literary specialist Gou Tanabe who has previously adapted the works of Maxim Gorky and Anton Chekov to manga form.

Perfectly capturing the relentlessly oppressive and inescapably sombre sense of approaching fatality that permeates most of Lovecraft’s potent prose, ‘The Temple’ was written in 1920 and first published five years later in the September issue of Weird Tales. The adaptor’s mildly updated version originated in esteemed anthology magazine COMIC BEAM in March and April 2009. It details the depredations of German U-Boat U-29 and the doomed fools who man her.

After a particularly rewarding campaign Commander Karl Heinrich Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein and his officers are taking the night air when they notice a dead British mariner gripping the sub’s handrail. Whilst trying to unlock the death grip and discard the corpse, one of them salvages an ancient artefact – a small carved head – and pockets it.

From that moment on their mission is doomed…

Soon, madness and mishap plague the vessel. Death decimates the crew and inexorably the survivors drift ever deeper into depths both physical and metaphorical. When only one remains, he finds the U-boat drawn to a fantastic city and magnificent temple sunken beneath the waves, filled with statuary like the little head in his pocket…

Just as he raises his pistol to end the horror, the shattered sole survivor sees shining lights in the sunken edifice…

Lovecraft penned ‘The Hound’ in September 1922 and Weird Tales published it in 1924. Gou Tanabe’s chilling interpretation debuted in the July 2014 online edition of Comic Walker. The tale is grim, grisly, exquisitely decadent and supremely shocking, detailing the extravagant excess of English gentleman grave-robbers and diabolist magical parvenus St. John and our unnamed narrator.

Bored and indolent, they renew their sordid, blasphemous hobby in a Dutch boneyard, exhuming an arcane trinket from a grave sealed for half a millennium and reap a ghastly bounty after releasing a vengeful howling horror…

After its first foray into the material world the surviving dabbler attempts every stratagem to escape or expiate the beast, and finds some things have no use for apologies or reparations…

Concluding this first (hopefully of many) Lovecraft treasure trove is another export from Comic Walker (August 2014 this time).

‘The Nameless City’ was written in January 1921 and published ten months later in The Wolverine. Tapping into the then-vogue for arcane exploratory adventure also favoured by the likes of literary horrorist brethren Seabury Quinn, Clark Ashton Smith, and latterly August Derleth and Robert E. Howard, here Lovecraft shares the story of an itinerant western wanderer (think Indiana Jones without a sense of humour or chance in Hell) who survives the Arabian deserts only to stumble upon a previously unsuspected deserted conurbation suddenly exposed by the roaring eternal winds.

Genned-up on local legends, the explorer cannot resist entering the vast metropolis. However, as he plunges deeper within, he finds thousands of boxes like a legion of coffins and realises the occupants are far from human. They may not even be dead…

Enthralling, understated and astoundingly effective, these classic tales – printed in the traditional ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format – have been reverently adapted and packaged in an inexpensive, digest-sized monochrome paperback that will delight avowed aficionados and beguile terror-loving newcomers alike.
© 2014 Gou Tanabe. All rights reserved. This English-language edition© 2017 Dark Horse Comics, Inc.

Eagle Classics: Riders of the Range

By Charles Chilton, Jack Daniel & Frank Humphris (Hawk Books)
ISBN: 978-0-94824-827-6

In the 1950s Cowboys and Indians ruled the hearts and minds of the First World public. Westerns were the most popular subject of books, films and comics in Britain, America and most of Europe. The new medium of television screened both recycled cowboy B-movies and eventually serials and series especially created for the stay-at-home aficionado.

Some examples were pretty good and became acknowledged as art – as is always the way with popular culture once it gains a few decades and the polished veneer of fond nostalgia – whilst most others faded from memory, cherished only by the hopelessly past-imprisoned and fannishly-driven.

One entertainment arena I didn’t list was radio: a medium ideal for creating spectacular scenarios and dreamscapes on a low budget. However, the BBC (the sole British radio broadcaster of the post-war period) even managed a halfway decent Western/musical show called Riders of the Range. It was written by producer/director Charles Chilton and ran from 1949 until 1953, six series in total.

At the height of its popularity Riders was adapted as a comic strip in Eagle, which already featured the strip exploits of the immensely successful radio star P.C. 49. The hugely successful weekly anthology magazine had already trialled one cowboy strip – Seth and Shorty – but promptly dropped it. With a popular show to bolster it the pictorial Riders of the Range began as a full-colour page in the first Eagle Christmas edition (December 22nd 1950; volume 1, No. 37) and ran continuously until 1962, surviving the demise of its radio parent and becoming the longest-running western strip in British comics history. In all that time it only ever had three artists.

The first was Jack Daniel, an almost abstract stylist in his designs who worked in bold (almost primitive) lines, but whose colour-palette was years ahead of his time. Crude and scratchy-seeming, his western scenarios were subversive and subliminal in impact. He had previously worked on the newspaper strip Kit Conquest. His “European” style of illustration was notoriously unpopular with Editor Marcus Morris and apparently led to the illustrator’s replacement…

Author Chilton had a deep and abiding fascination with the West and often wrote adventures that interwove with actual historical events, such as ‘The Cochise Affair’ included in this splendid oversized paperback collection. It was the second adventure and had heroic Jeff Arnold and sidekick Luke branding cattle for their “6T6” ranch near the Arizona border when they find a raided homestead.

A distraught, wounded mother begs for help and reveals that Indians have stolen her little boy. Taking her to Fort Buchanan, Arnold becomes embroiled in a bitter battle of wills between Chief Cochise and Acting Cavalry Commander Lieutenant George N. Bascom. The lean sparse scripts are subtly engaging and Daniel’s unique design and colour sense – although perhaps at odds with the more naturalistic realism of the rest of Eagle’s drama strips – make this a hugely enjoyable lost gem.

Angus Scott took over from Daniel with ‘Border Bandits’ (September 7th 1951), but was not a popular or comfortable fit and departed after less than a year. With only a single page of his art reprinted here, it’s perhaps fairest to move on to the artist most closely associated with the strip.

Frank Humphris was a godsend. His artwork was lush, vibrant and full-bodied. He was also as fascinated with the West as Chilton himself and brought every inch of that passion to the tales. From July 1952 and for the next decade Chilton and Humphris (with a few one-off and Christmas Annual contributions from Jesús Blasco, Giorgio Bellavitis and Roland Davies) crafted a thrilling and even educational western saga that is fondly remembered to this day. His tenure is represented here by ‘The War with the Sioux’

In 1875 gold was discovered in the Black Hills of Dakota and the resultant rush of prospectors resulted in the Cavalry being dispatched to protect them from the incensed Indians. Hired as intermediaries and scouts, Jeff and Luke are increasingly helpless as the situation worsens, resulting in the massacre at Little Big Horn. There have many tales woven into this epochal event, but the patriotically dispassionate creativity of two Britons have united here to craft one of the most beautiful and memorable…

The day of the cowboys’ dominance has faded now but the power of great stories well told has not. Although still relatively easy to find in second hand shops or online, this is a series and a book worthy of a more extensive revival, and well worthy of being resurrected at least as a digital edition. Let’s hope someone with the power to do something about it agrees with me. We’d all be winners then…
Riders of the Range © 1990 Fleetway Publications. Compilation © 1990 Hawk Books.

Doctor Who Graphic Novel #24: Emperor of the Daleks

By Dan Abnett, Paul Cornell, Warwick Gray, Richard Alan, John Ridgway, Lee Sullivan, Colin Andrew & various (Panini Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-807-0

The British love comic strips and they love celebrity and they love “Characters.”

The history of our graphic narrative has a peculiarly disproportionate amount of radio comedians, Variety stars and film and television actors such as Charlie Chaplin, Flanagan & Allen, Shirley Eaton (“The Modern Miss”), Arthur Askey, Winifred Atwell, Max Bygraves, Jimmy Edwards, Charlie Drake and their ilk as well as actual shows and properties such as Whacko!, ITMA, Our Gang (a British version of the Hal Roach film sensation by Dudley Watkins ran in The Dandy as well as the American comicbook series by Walt Kelly), Old Mother Riley, Supercar, Pinky and Perky and literally hundreds more.

Anthology comics such as Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Tornado, TV Comic and Countdown among others all translated our viewing and listening favourites into pictorial joy every week, and it was a pretty poor star or show that couldn’t parley their day job into a licensed comic property.

Doctor Who premiered on black and white televisions across Britain with the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’ on November 23rd 1963, and in 1964 his decades-long association with TV Comic began in #674 and the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us – under various names – ever since. All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree.

Panini’s UK division is in the ongoing process of collecting every strip from its archive in a uniform series of over-sized graphic albums, each concentrating on a particular incarnation (those in the know refer to them as “regenerations”) of the deathless wanderer. This particular tome reprints tales plucked from the annals of history and the Terran recording dates November 1992 and July 1995.

These yarns all feature the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy – my second favourite after Patrick Troughton – but I’m sure I’ll be advised why that’s so very wrong by somebody in due course…)

This collection features both monochrome and full-colour episodes and kicks off with sinister espionage thriller ‘Pureblood’ (originally seen in Doctor Who Magazine #193-196: November 1992 to January 1993) by writer Dan Abnett and artist Colin Andrew. Here the devious Time Lord and his formidable companion Benny save the last survivors of the Sontarran race from extinction at the hands of their immortal enemies the Rutan – despite hostage humans and a spy in the embattled clone-warriors’ midst. Why save a deadly enemy? Ah well, The Doctor has a rather convoluted plan…

The epic yarn leads directly into the moody ‘Flashback’ (Doctor Who Winter Special 1992, by Warwick Gray and the superb John Ridgway) as we get a glimpse of the First Doctor (William Hartnell, keep up, keep up!) having a potentially universe- shattering falling out with his best friend: a proudly arrogant young Gallifreyan called Magnus (any guesses who he eventually regenerated as?)

The main meat of this massive collection is the eponymous ‘Emperor of the Daleks’ (Doctor Who Magazine #197-202) which reunites the dashing time meddler with his deadliest foe and their deadliest foe: Abslom Daak, a deranged maniac in love with a dead woman and determined to die gloriously exterminating Daleks…

Written by Paul Cornell and John Freeman with art from Lee Sullivan (and one chapter in full-colour thanks to the talents of Marina Graham), the sprawling epic reveals a civil war between the murderous pepperpots’ creator Davros and their current supreme commander, with the Doctor (two of them, in fact) and a motley crew of allies stirring the bubbling mix and nudging the feuding megalomaniacs in a certain direction…

And when the dust settles Richard Alan and Sullivan provide a salutary epilogue in ‘Up Above the Gods’ (Doctor Who Magazine #227, July 1995) as The Doctor explains his actions to Davros… or so, at least, the deluded devil believes…

Warwick Gray & Colin Andrew then introduce a universe where The Doctor perished in his Third Regeneration leading to a cross dimensional incursion by ours, as well as Benny and Ace, to foil the ‘Final Genesis’ of Silurian/Sea Devil renegade Mortakk (from Doctor Who Magazine #203-206) after which the full-colour fun returns in ‘Time & Time Again’ (Doctor Who Magazine #207, by Cornell, Ridgway and hues-smith Paul Vyse) with all seven incarnations of the Gallivanting Gallifreyan in action to retrieve the Key to Time in hope of stopping the Black Guardian recreating the universe in his own vile image…

Abnett and Ridgeway return to the black & white days of Kent in the 1840s for ‘Cuckoo’ (Doctor Who Magazine #208-210) as Ace and Benny understandably revolt when The Doctor seeks to steal the limelight from the first woman palaeontologist Mary Anne Wesley. His motives are quite pure: what the young scientist has found is not a missing link in human evolution but something alien that its descendants are prepared to kill for…

The dramas conclude in fine styles as Gray & Ridgway expose the ferocious spleen of the Doctor in full indignant mode as he becomes an ‘Uninvited Guest’ (Doctor Who Magazine #211) delivering judgement and punishment to a soiree of indolent and callous timeless beings who enjoyed making sport and playing games with “lesser” beings. They soon learned to their dismay that such valuations are all a matter of perspective…

Supplemented with commentaries by the original creators, this is a splendid book for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for dedicated fans of the show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics another go…
All Doctor Who material © BBCtv 2014. Doctor Who, the Tardis and all logos are trademarks of the British broadcasting corporation and are used under licence. All other material © 2017 its individual creators and owners. Published 2017 by Panini. All rights reserved.

The Piper

By J. Aldric Gaudet & Paul Schultz
ISBN: 978-1-329-73359-6

Dark, gritty – usually adult-oriented – re-workings and reinterpretations of traditional fairytales have been a staple of modern popular entertainment for some time now. Perhaps they are an easy way into the consciousness of the audience or maybe it’s just that the best plots are endlessly adaptable…

In this brief – perhaps introductory or pilot – tale of a possible future, humanity is slowly recovering from a global climatic collapse which has destroyed modern technologies and reduced survivors to frantic daily scrabbling for existence.

The fatal trigger was a wandering planet which passed too near Earth, causing super-magnetic storms, monolithic gravity-induced tidal waves and a 40-day flood. In the aftermath pockets of humanity eke out a hard-fought life on isolated island enclaves, serviced by maritime explorers, mail-carriers and traders sailing between them.

‘The Future Past’ – scripted by author and screenwriter J. Aldric Gaudet (5 Fables for the Young at Heart, The Littlest Hobo) and illustrated by Paul Schultz of Jaded Dragon Studios – opens as one of those sailing ships docks at a particularly embattled colony.

Life is hard, trade is crucial and the grain harvest is disappointing. There’s worry that blue spore mould will decimate the specialised quick-growing crop but rather than carry what produce the farmers have, the mariners want to leave the precious sacks behind to salvage a stranded vessel and save pre-disaster books from being lost…

Young Digger and his dad are taking a sensible long view but the landsmen have a valid point too. If the grain is left behind the plague of giant Northland rats infesting the island will get it all and the growers will earn nothing in return…

Eventually a compromise is reached and the partners in peril retire to celebrate. Later when the ship sails, it carries fliers advertising the desperate need for a professional exterminator…

Life goes tenuously on but soon everything changes as a macabre individual arrives in a converted coach pulled by horses. It’s none too soon. The giant rodents are bold enough now to attack humans as they congregate in their meeting halls…

The vermin eradicator is frankly terrifying: employing savage dogs and bizarre bagpipes making an infernal din. He also drives a hard, harsh bargain but eventually a deal is struck.

Then all that’s left is herding the pests into a secure killing-zone where the farmers can safely destroy them but the over-eager growers also shoot the Ratcatcher’s dogs and refuse to recompense him for his loss…

It’s a stupid, venal mistake that will cost hem dearly…

After creating an explosive distraction the stranger steals all the children and babies; heading out and resolved to sell them in the thriving slave markets he frequents. In response the resource-poor community can only spare ten individuals to go after them. Everybody else has to stay to repair the incredible damage the stranger has left in his wake…

Before the children are saved and some sort of order is restored the rescuers will confront death and destruction at close hand and learn some shocking secrets about the rats and the grain everybody depends upon…

Stark, bleak, and relentlessly uncompromising, this suspenseful saga of the struggle for survival also shows the irresistible power of unity and offers a message of hope that will certainly impress all lovers of dystopic fiction.
© 2016 J. Aldric Gaudet. All rights reserved.

Star Trek Classics volume 1 – The Gorn Crisis

By Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta & Igor Kordey (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-129-7

The Star Trek franchise has had many comic book homes. This action-heavy paperback tome (also available digitally) was originally released in the early years of the 21st century by DC/WildStorm and is narratively positioned during the period when Deep Space 9 was first being broadcast on television.

The book therefore tangentially informs and contributes to a seasons-long storyline featuring an intergalactic war between the Federation and its Alpha Quadrant allies on one side and the J’em Haddar warriors of The Dominion on the other. So if you’re a bugbear, completist or unfamiliar with the mileau, you might be left feeling a little bewildered. Nevertheless if you’re of a forgiving mien this adventure is a real ripsnorter…

In case you were wondering, The Gorn were an aggressive civilisation of reptiles who appeared in an episode of the original 1960s Star Trek TV show. The story was in fact an adaptation of a classic SF short story by Fred Brown entitled “Arena”, in which Captain Kirk and his Gorn opposite number were co-opted by a super-advanced race to represent their species in a brutal duel for galactic supremacy. The loser race would be curbed to avoid horrendous, bloody and nigh-eternal space-war.

A century later mankind and its intergalactic partners are losing just such a conflict with the Dominion and desperately seeking fresh allies. Thus Captain Jean-Luc Picard has been dispatched to the embargoed Gorn solar system to renew relations and broker a military alliance, but the USS Enterprise arrives just as the reptile’s own black-crested Warrior Caste – frustrated by a century of enforced peace – stages a bloody coup and subsequently launches an all-out attack on neighbouring worlds.

These planets are now, perhaps unwisely, packed with human colonists and Federation/Klingon bases…

Beaming down just in time to be captured amidst the remains of the Administrative caste, Picard, Dr. Beverly Crusher and their Away Team are promptly captured and can only subtly influence the outcome as Commanders Will Riker and amazing android Data battle with brilliance on two very different fronts to stop the marauding Gorn war-lovers…

With no back-up available from hard-pressed Starfleet, the Next Generation stalwarts must act independently and ingeniously to quell the barbarous uprising, restore order and build that elusive alliance with the Gorn. Their efforts won’t just dictate how the humans, Federation and reptiles will co-exist in the future, but might well decide if they exist at all…

Although not to everybody’s taste, and despite an occasional certain rough hesitancy in Igor Kordey’s fully-painted artwork, this tale from Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta does rattle along in the approved Star Trek manner, and even casual readers will come away with a sense of expectation fulfilled.

Moreover, augmenting the interstellar excitement is a comprehensive fact-file on the sinister sarurians entitled ‘The Gorn Dossier’, contributed by illustrator Kordey who apparently moonlights as a “Federation Anthropologist”. Here he highlights his root and branch redesign of the alien antagonists with biology, language, symbology, livery and weaponry all updated for discerning modern readers

Fast, fierce fun for lovers of high quality Space Opera so boldly go and give it a look.
Star Trek ® & © 2011 CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Solomon Kane volume 2: Death’s Black Riders

By Scott Allie, Mario Guevara, Juan Ferreyra & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-590-2

Following on from their revitalisation – if not actual creation – of the comicbook Sword and Sorcery genre in the early 1970s with their magnificent adaptation of pulp superstar Conan the Barbarian, Marvel Comics quite naturally looked for more of the same, and found ample material in Robert Ervin Howard’s other warrior heroes such as King Kull, Bran Mac Morn and dour Puritan Avenger Solomon Kane.

The fantasy genre had undergone a global prose revival in the paperback marketplace since the release of soft-cover editions of Lord of the Rings (first published in 1954), and the 1960s resurgence of two-fisted action extravaganzas by such pioneer writers as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline and Fritz Lieber. This led to a generation of modern writers such as Michael Moorcock and Lin Carter kick-starting their literary careers with contemporary interpretations of man, monster and mage. Without doubt, though, nobody did it better than the tragic Texan whose other red-handed stalwarts and tough guys such as El Borak, Steve Costigan, Dark Agnes and Red Sonya of Rogatino excelled in a host of associated genres and like milieux.

As a prose paragon, Solomon Kane debuted in the August 1928 issue of Weird Tales in a gripping tale of vengeance entitled “Red Shadows”; thereafter making seven more appearances before abruptly vanishing in 1932 as his creator concentrated on the far more successful Conan.

Three more tales, some epic poems and a few unfinished ideas and passages remained unpublished until 1968 when renewed interest in the author’s work prompted publishers to disinter and complete the yarns.

Apart from two noteworthy 4-colour exceptions, during the 1970s and 1980s, Marvel was content to leave Solomon Kane to monochrome adaptations of canonical Howard stories in Dracula Lives, Savage Sword of Conan, Monsters Unleashed and other older-reader magazines, but with his 21st century transfer to the Dark Horse stable, the Holy Terror has flourished in broader, lavishly-hued and much-expanded interpretations of the short stories and assorted unfinished snippets left when the prolific Howard took his life in 1936.

Beginning in 2008 and released as a succession of miniseries, these almost-new adventures offer modern fans a far darker and more moody iteration of the driven, doom-laden wanderer. This second volume features as graphic narrative short story Rattle of the Bones combined with a mere fragment of recovered prose latterly dubbed Death’s Black Riders, with scripter Scott Allie fleshing out the meagre fare for modern audiences. The strips were originally published in 4-issue miniseries Solomon Kane: Death’s Black Riders and are supplemented here by an all-new short continued saga which originally ran online in MySpace Dark Horse Presents #27 and 28.

For the uninitiated: Kane is a 17th century disenfranchised English soldier-of-fortune on a self-appointed mission to scour the Earth doing God’s Work. He interprets that to mean punishing the wicked and destroying devils and monsters. With no seeming plan, the devout Puritan lets fate guide his footsteps ever onwards towards trouble…

The drama opens here where the previous collection left off. Having survived epic clashes with demon wolves, devilish pagans and satanic thralls, the surly pilgrim is still lost in Germany’s vast and foreboding Black Forest and eager to find his way out.

Sadly, his wanderings merely lead to more conflict as he encounters the remains of a band of slaughtered gypsies where an extremely capable Frenchman named Gaston battles against a vile pack of voracious double-mouthed, distressingly equine talking horrors.

Joining the fray, the chilling churchman kills three of ‘Death’s Black Riders’, but not in time to save any but Gaston from the beast’s butchery…

Although something about the Frenchman disturbs and unsettles him, Kane accompanies the sole survivor as they make their way on foot through the benighted forest, eventually coming upon a lonely inn, blithely unaware that the hostelry is afflicted by ‘The Rattle of Bones’

The deeply suspicious landlord is far from welcoming but the wanderers’ misgivings are offset by inclement weather and the fact that the four-legged devils are still at large and probably close at hand. Despite gaining entry behind the stout walls and sturdy doors the travellers are cautiously on guard as they assess their temporary dwelling, especially after discovering their room cannot be secured from the inside…

Searching for bars and barricades, they come upon a room with a skeleton chained to a wall and Gaston – in an act of courage-bolstering bravado – smashes the aged links with his sword. Not long after, the Frenchman makes his long-delayed move, ambushing Kane and attempting to steal his purse. Too late the puritan recognises infamous bandit Gaston the Butcher, but before he can save himself the demented innkeeper strikes…

This madman had been preying on visitors for years, despatching those unfortunate enough to share his hospitality. The lunatic even managed to kill a travelling sorcerer and was wise enough to chain up his corpse so that the enchanter could not strike back at from beyond the grave…

Thus, although recently added to the murderer’s tally, Gaston’s revenge comes as the skeleton prowling the inn finds the target it has waited decades to meet again, and in the gory aftermath the aghast Kane prepares to take his chance with the forest when a pounding comes upon the door. It is a terrified Catholic priest and at his heels is a pack of ravening horse-like monsters…

The terrifying tension rises to fever pitch as ‘The Black Riders Return’ to lay siege to the inn with puritan and priest trading doctrinal sallies whilst battling the bludgeoning beasts outside and evading the unquiet sorcerer’s unburied corpse within the house…

As a shattering storm rages, the war of Good and Evil reaches an appalling crescendo, and when day breaks only one man walks away…

A non-stop parade of peril and explosive action, the art here is both beguiling and emphatically evocative with Mario (The Lone Ranger and Tonto) Guevara’s pencils ably augmented by the potent palette of colourist Juan Ferreyra (Rex Mundi), but the tone changes utterly as Guy Davis assumes the illustration chores for Allie’s eerie follow-up ‘All the Damned Souls at Sea’

Here the exhausted, world-weary horror hunter takes ship for his long-missed England, intent on seeing once more his beloved childhood haunts of Devon.

Typically, however, Kane clashes with a witch before boarding and, as he reminisces during the crossing of his previous voyages battling the Spanish navy, an uncanny transformation grips the ship, remaking it into a predatory beast hungry for sailors’ souls…

As always, this turbulent battle-scarred tome is packed with fascinating artistic extras and behind-the-scenes bonuses such as a gallery of covers and art pieces from Mike Mignola, Jason Shawn Alexander and Darick Robertson plus creative insights via ‘The Art of Solomon Kane’ with sketches, designs, process art and commentary by Guevara, Davis, Chad Vaughn and Allie.

Powerful, engaging and sumptuously spooky, this fight-filled fantasy fear-fest will delight both fans of the original canon and all lovers of darkly dreaming, ghost-busting thrillers.
© 2009 Solomon Kane Inc. (“SKI”). Solomon Kane and all related characters, names and logos are ™ and ® SKI.

Genre Annuals

The comic has been with us a long time now and debate still continues about where, when and exactly what constitutes the first of these artefacts to truly earn the title. There’s a lot less debate about the Children’s Annual: a particularly British institution and one that continues – albeit in a severely limited manner – to this day.

It’s a rare and tragic individual who never received a colourful card-covered compendium on Christmas morning; full of stories and comic-strips and usually featuring the seasonal antics of their favourite characters, whether from comics such as Beano, The Dandy, Lion, Eagle and their ilk, or TV, film or radio franchises/personalities such as Dr Who, Star Wars, Thunderbirds, Radio Fun or Arthur Askey. There were even sports and hobby annuals and beautifully illustrated commemorative editions of the fact and general knowledge comics such as Look and Learn, and special events such as the always glorious Rupert Bear or Giles Annuals.

Here then is a brief celebration of the kinds of genre celebrations which delighted kids and their parents…

Bimbo Book 1981

By many and various (DC Thomson & Co, Ltd)
ISBN: 0-85116-190-1

Once upon a time – and for the longest time imaginable – comics were denigrated as a creative and narrative ghetto cherished only by children and simpletons. For decades the producers, creators and lovers of the medium struggled to change that perception and – gradually – acceptance came.

These days most folk accept that word and pictures in sequential union can make statements and tell truths as valid, challenging and life-changing as any other full-blown art-form.

Sadly, along the way the commercial underpinnings of the industry fell away and they won’t be coming back…

Where once there were a host of successful, self-propagating comics scrupulously generating tales and delights intended to entertain, inform and educate through periodical publications such specific demographics as Toddler/Nursery, Young and Older Juvenile, General, Boys and Girls, nowadays Britain, America and most of Europe can only afford to maintain a few paltry out-industry, licensed tie-ins and spin-offs for younger readers.

The greater proportion of strip magazines are necessarily manufactured for a highly specific – and dwindling – niche market, whilst the genres that fed and nurtured comics are more effectively and expansively disseminated via TV, movies and digital/games media.

Thankfully old-fashioned book publishers and the graphic novel industry have a different business model and far more sensible long-term goals, so the lack has been increasingly countered and the challenge to train and bring youngsters into the medium taken up outside the mainstream – and dying – periodical markets.

I’ve banged on for years about the industry’s foolish rejection of the beginner-reading markets, but what most publishers have been collectively offering young/early consumers – and their parents (excepting, most notably the magnificent efforts of David Fickling Books and their wonderful comic The Phoenix, or Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly’s Toon Books imprint) – has seldom jibed with what those incredibly selective consumers are interested in or need.

Rant over…

Bimbo was a high production value weekly title intended for nursery age and pre-school children first released by DC Thomson in 1961. The name came from its lead character, an adventurous lad originally drawn by Bob Dewar, whilst the rest of the comic featured numerous strips, stories games and puzzles. Bimbo ran until 1972, with Annuals continuing well into the 1980s.

The comic was especially noteworthy because it wisely adapted stars from its older range magazines to appear in simpler tales suitable to a younger audience.

Amongst the migrants thus gainfully employed were Dudley D. Watkins’ Tom Thumb from The Beano, Patsy the Panda from girl’s weekly Twinkle and Bill Ritchie’s mischievous scamp Baby Crockett from Beezer.

This particular inspirational and entertaining tome hit the shelve in 1980 and adults would have read to their younglings an enchanting procession of beautifully illustrated, full-colour strips, puzzles and stories that challenged little minds but didn’t confuse them with such modern contrivances as word balloons or sound effects. Bimbo was strictly old-school and only offered prose or the traditional text-block-&-cartoon panel comics.

The wonderment begins with an expansive double page spread frontispiece with a battalion of mice attacking a giant cheese – a conceit concluded at the end of the book where readers could see the incredible sculpture the rowdy rodents made while consuming their beloved fave-food – after which a cunning rebus welcomes the audience with ‘A Letter From Bimbo’

The first block-&-text strip depicts ‘A Merry Mouse Christmas’ as little Lily pilfers snacks from the human’s indoor tree to create a feast for her many brothers and sisters after which ‘Wiggles’ the Worm goes looking for a less earthy home whilst tiger cub ‘Brave Little Bertie’ breaks down barriers of prejudice by inviting the fearsome crocodile Snapper to the animals’ picnic in a delightful prose story with superb illustrations by a cruelly anonymous artist.

As the strips resume, the farm animals unite to find a new wallow for ‘Roly-Poly Percy’ after his pig pen dries up whilst bold pigeon ‘Puffy’ and his pal Seagull Sam go sightseeing in London and an unseen artist demonstrates the joys of ‘Dotty Doodles’ with Robby Rabbit

‘Pantomime Puzzles’ then offer a variety of paper-based games and age-appropriate brain-teasers and ‘Patsy Panda’ finds an equitable solution to a farmer’s woes after hungry rabbits start consuming his carrot crop…

Illustrated poem ‘The Christmas Robin’ segues into a mesmerising prose fantasy as little Joanna discovers a magical train still stops at the shut-down rail station near her house. Her eye-opening excursion on the ‘The Bumble-Bee Line’ then leads to strip ‘A Holiday trip for Terry’ as a plodding tortoise gives his invertebrate pals a ride and discovers activities that don’t demand rush or hustle…

‘The Funumbers – the Fun Folk who live in Numberland’ combines comic fun with counting skills after which cover-star ‘Pip Penguin’ (by Bill Ritchie?) turns his new fancy dress costume into a useful new career whilst ‘Twirlies’ share the secret of how to make a transformation game out of old scraps and crayons…

Toy bear ‘Jimpy’ gets up to comic strip hijinks with a bunch of elves whilst a kind-hearted bird helps a wounded fairy and is rewarded with ‘Bobbie’s picnic party’.

Prose parable ‘Lenny’s Long Walk’ teaches a wilful puppy the wisdom of not wandering off and a snowbound mallard experiences ‘Ducky’s lucky day’ after getting warm new attire before wits are exercised with a ‘Zoo puzzle-time’

Young Squirrel-Tail makes himself unexpectedly useful in a ‘Riverbank rescue’, after which strip fun resumes as hedgehog ‘Wandering Willie’ undertakes his evening perambulations in a poetic manner whilst ‘Models-to-make’ imparts D-I-Y details on constructing lions, camels, turtles, porcupines, hippos, elephants and snakes with household odds and ends.

Wrapping up the story time is a worrisome tale of a lost pet who finally resurfaces in ‘Pussycat-kitten gets a name’ and a last lovely strip as a little girl finds her station in life as the Keeper of ‘The Royal Robins’

Superbly entertaining and magnificently crafted, this is a children’s tome certain to inculcate a lifetime love affair with comics.
© DC Thomson & Co., Ltd 1980.

Roy of the Rovers Annual 1995

By many and various (Fleetway)
ISBN: 85037-615-7

Roy of the Rovers started his dazzling career on the front cover of the first Tiger; a new weekly anthology comic published by Amalgamated Press (later IPC and/or Fleetway Publications) which launched on September 11th 1954.

The “Sport and Adventure Picture Story Weekly” was a cannily crafted companion to Lion, AP’s successful response to Hulton Press’ mighty Eagle (home of Dan Dare). From the kick-off Tiger concentrated heavily on sports stars and themes, with issue #1 also featuring The Speedster from Bleakmoor, Mascot of Bad Luck and Tales of Whitestoke School amongst others.

In later years racing driver Skid Solo and wrestler Johnny Cougar joined more traditional, earthy strips such as Billy’s Boots, Nipper, Hotshot Hamish and Martin’s Marvellous Mini, but for most of its 1,555-issue Tiger was simply the comic with Roy of the Rovers. Such was his cachet that he starred in 37 of his own Christmas Annuals between 1958 and 2000.

Roy Race was created by Frank S. Pepper (who used the pseudonym Stewart Colwyn) and drawn by Joe Colquhoun (who inherited it when he took over scripting the feature). The scripting eventually devolved to Tiger’s Editor Derek Birnage (credited to “Bobby Charlton” for a couple of years), with additional tales from Scott Goodall and Tom Tully.

In 1975 Roy became player-manager and the following year graduated to his own weekly comic, just in time for the 1976-77 season, premiering on September 25th and running for 855 issues (ending March 20th 1993).

Roy started as a humble apprentice at mighty Melchester Rovers, and gradually rose to captain the first team. After many years of winning all the glories the beautiful game offered, he settled down to live the dream: wife, kids, wealth, comfort and sporting triumph every Saturday…

The end-of-year Annuals began in 1957 (Roy of the Rovers Football Annual 1958): sturdy hardbacks blending sporting stories and strips with games, quizzes and short fact features. The tradition lasted until 2000, although as the years passed and photography became cheaper to incorporate, the fiction began to lose out to photo features and pin-ups…

This glittering tome comes from 1984 when the comic was regularly selling half a million copies a week. The stories were always much more than simply “He shoots! He’s scored!!!” formulaic episodes: they’re closer to the sports-based TV dramas of later decades like Dream Team (litigiously so, in some cases…).

This particular touchline tome begins with photo-spread ‘Watch Out for Wark!’ featuring a winning moment for Ipswich and Scotland midfielder John Wark, before ‘Roy of the Rovers’ (by Tully or Barrie Tomlinson & David Sque?) sees the player-manager employ horse doctoring methods to get Melchester Rovers match-fit…

A selection of ‘Super Colour Photos’ of players you probably won’t remember leads to a reconditioned reprint in black-&-white as ‘Mike’s Mini Men’ details how a boy expert in tabletop football (definitely not Subbuteo!™) adopts his strategic skills to the real thing after joining the school soccer squad.

Dotted with star pin-ups throughout, the book then offers a photo-feature on reader Malcolm Dickenson who won the Mattel Electrolympics tournament in ‘Champion!’ and ‘Famous Football Funnies!’ from cartoonist Nigel Edwards before ‘Yesteryear’ offers picture-strip histories of Celtic and Manchester United in dazzling red, black & white duo-colour.

Then centre-back Johnny Dexter renews his comedic battle of wills with Danefield United manager Viktor Boskovic in ‘The Hard Man’ (Tomlinson & Doug Maxted) before more men in short shorts are photographically celebrated in ‘Internationals on Parade’.

‘Tommy’s Troubles’ (Fred Baker & Ramiro Bujeiro?) found a footy-mad lad trying to run his own team whilst attending a rugby-only school and outwitting his bullying classmates and – after more ‘Famous Football Funnies!’ from Peter Williams – details in monochrome photo-reportage ‘Saturday at Spurs’

There are loads ‘More Colour Photos’ of soccer stars in action before extended epic ‘Mike’s Mini Men’ concludes and ‘Go For Goal!’ tests sporting knowledge before the two-colour entertainment resumes with manager Dan Wayne and his groundsman Joe Croke continuing their struggles to keep minor league minnows ‘Durrells Palace’ afloat…

Gag veteran Clew provides more ‘Famous Football Funnies!’ before ‘Running For Roy’ photo-focuses on the weekly comic’s editorial team as they competed in the St. Albans mini-marathon, after which ‘Roy’s Talk-In’ reviews recent real-world seasons and – following more footy photos – details the newsworthy events in the comic with clip essay ‘Roy Hits the Headlines!’

‘Mighty Mouse’ (Baker & Julio Schiaffino) then delivers in crisp black-&-white another unlikely exploit of short, fat and myopic medical student Kevin Mouse whose uncanny ball skills and physical speed and dexterity won him a place on the team at beleaguered First Division Tottenford Rovers before proceedings are brought to full time with a closing photo-spread of ‘Norman the Conqueror’ (Norman Whiteside) in a moment of international glory…

Old football comics are never going to be the toast of the medium’s Critical Glitterati, but these were astonishingly popular strips in their day, and produced for maximum entertainment value by highly skilled professionals. They still have the power to enthral and captivate far beyond the limits of nostalgia and fashion – even when they were steadily losing ground to pin-ups and photo opportunities. If your footy-mad youngster isn’t reading enough, this might be best tactic to catch him – or her – totally offside…
© IPC Magazines Ltd., 1984.

Girls’ Crystal Annual 1974

By Many and various (Fleetway)

Like most of my comics contemporaries I harbour a secret shame. Growing up, I was well aware of the weeklies produced for girls but would never admit to reading them. My loss: I now know that they were packed with some great strips by astounding artists, many of them personal favourites when they were drawing stalwart soldiers, marauding monsters and sinister aliens.

Moreover, whenever I pass a mirror I’m well aware that me and my mates could have benefited from some make-up tips and fashion advice in our formative years…

Seriously though, It’s a bit ungracious – but quite typical – to lump in a token Girls Comic Annual in my Genre section as the quality and quantity of the output for young females was staggering, but it’s an area where my meagre knowledge of British-originated material and creators is practically non-existent, even if my late-found admiration is totally genuine.

I actually think. in terms of quality and respect for the readership’s intelligence, experience and development girl’s periodicals were far more in tune with the sensibilities of the target audience. They read pretty good today too…

The vast range of titles from numerous publishers all had Christmas Annuals and I’ve picked one at random: Girl’s Crystal Annual 1974, a time just before changing tastes slowly transformed the distaff side of the industry from story-based content into photo-packed, fashion and pop trend-led miniature life-style brochures like Cosmopolitan.

The comic had a spectacular pedigree. The Crystal launched on October 28th 1935 before renaming itself Girl’s Crystal nine weeks later. It was another story-paper success for Harmsworth’s Amalgamated Press but retooled as a comic with some prose material with the March 21st 1953 edition. It merged with School Friend in May 1963. As was often the case the brand continued through the Annuals however, running from 1939 (that would be Girl’s Crystal Annual 1940) to 1975 (a 1976 cover-date). I suspect parents and relatives were attracted at Gift-Giving Time to a familiar name from their own childhoods…

Like all such Annuals, this one features a mix of text stories, features, pin-ups, puzzles and comic strips – both new and cunningly recycled reprints – and opens with a duo-hued thriller as little Joanna Jones and her pals stumble across a baffling yet affable boffin whose newly discovered dinosaur becomes ‘The Burglar Catcher’.

The riotous strip is rendered by a tantalisingly familiar Spanish or South American artist and is followed by a cartoon-embellished, light-hearted exposé of ‘Superstitions’ and ‘The Mobile Music Makers’; a prose yarn of young entrepreneurs setting up a travelling discotheque…

Cartoon Fox and Chicken strip ‘Pete and Pecker’ segues into a splendid monochrome reprint yarn as resized and recycled adventure serial ‘Casey of the Crazy K’ (as seen in Schoolgirl Picture Library) kicks of a monochrome section.

The premise was simple but intriguing: British teen Casey Kildare inherits a ranch in Arizona and becomes embroiled in all manner of cowboy shenanigans when she goes west…

Brain-bending follows with ‘It’s Puzzling!’ and dazzling glamour when ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ reveals the history and lore of the gem trade before text thriller ‘All in a Day’s Work’ sees a young ballet student uncover smugglers at work inside her touring troupe.

A modern day Scrooge is socialised after enduring ‘A Carol for Christmas’ (strip art by Ortiz perhaps?) when some subsequent meddling by Anne and her school friends evoke the traditional change of heart. Another perplexing ‘Teaser Time’ leads to a prose panic as a Jean and Julia have a supernatural close shave in ‘The Pine Wood’

That shifts us quite sensibly into an examination of ‘Curious Curses’ before more classic comedy-adventure ensues with ‘Aunt Jemima on the Warpath’: another resized repeat from story digest June and School Friend Picture Library #376.

Here a remarkably adept lady detective in the classic mould of Margaret Rutherford gives her niece Mandy and chums Sue, John and Steve on-the-job training in catching crooks…

At a suitably tense moment the saga pauses to examine quaint ‘Festivals and Customs’ before moving prose poser – illustrated by the wonderful Brian Lewis – ‘Ferdy Comes Home’ details the heroic acts of an extremely challenging canine…

‘Sally: Dancer in Disguise’ (which looks like Arthur Ferrier art to me) sees a world-famous ballerina seek solitude by changing her looks, only to become entangled in a deadly conspiracy, which after a doggy ‘Pin-up’ leads to another lengthy text tale as Miranda helps out at her brother’s hotel and encounters blackmail, scandal and other forms of skulduggery in ‘Never a Quiet Moment!’

Strip ‘The Lady of the Manor’ sees orphan Mary McMay bamboozled into a bizarre bequest tangle after complete – and completely obnoxious – stranger Sylvia McMonk invites her to view a Scottish castle which is apparently their shared inheritance, before ‘Patsy’s Country Walk’ reveals hidden secrets of nature.

Demonstrating all her junior Modesty Blaise aplomb, globe-trotting action-ace Miss Adventure tackles a particularly nasty missing-persons case in ‘Jacey Takes Command’ after which ‘Never a Quiet Moment!’ concludes and ‘With Nature’s Help Look Beautiful’ reveals astounding historical secrets of the cosmetician’s art.

‘Janet’s Day of Dreams’ depicts the idly feverish ruminations of a star-struck girl stuck in bed with measles, whilst herb lore is explored in ‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary’ and ‘Aunt Jemima on the Warpath’ explosively wraps up.

‘The Mystery of Artist Island’ then details in terse text the tale of art student Vicky Danvers who exposes a forgery ring on her holidays.

Upholding a cherished stereotype, equestrian strip ‘No Horse for Heather!’ reveals how an impoverished girl trounces posh snobs in the show ring and wins her own steed, whilst ‘The Girl Who Conquered Fear!’ details the astounding feats of a missionary’s daughter before returning duo-colour signifies the imminent end of our travels.

Gag page ‘Time for a Laugh’ is followed by a fact feature on ‘Wise Old Owls’, ‘It’s Puzzling!: Answers’ and the animal antics of a wild girl in ‘Janie’s Jungle Jinks’ before one last strip reveals how a palace skivvy rises to an elevated status thanks to the interventions  of ‘The Cat and the King’.

Far more wide-ranging and certainly inexpressibly well written and illustrated; this a magnificent example of comics at their most enticing. It’s well past time that there was a concerted effort to get this stuff back into print…
© IPC Magazines Ltd. 1973.

Star Wars: The Marvel Covers

By Jess Harrold & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9838-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect Last-Minute Stocking-Stuffer… 9/10

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the mythology of Star Wars. What you might not know is that the first sight future fanatics got of its breathtakingly expansive continuity and the mythology-in-the-making way back in 1977 was the premier issue of the Marvel comicbook tie-in. It hit shelves two weeks before the film launched in cinemas, setting the scene for a legion of kids and beginning a mini-phenomenon which encompassed the initial movie trilogy and expanded those already vast imaginative horizons.

Marvel had an illustrious run with the franchise – nine years’ worth of comics, specials and paperback collections – before the option was left to die.

Comicbook exploits were reinstated in 1993 by Dark Horse Comics who built on the film legacy with numerous titles – and a three more movies – until Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars in 2012. Around the same time, the home of Donald & Mickey also bought Marvel Comics and before long the original magic was being rekindled…

When Marvel relaunched the enterprise, they included not just a core title but also solo books for the lead stars. Star Wars #1 debuted on January 14th 2015, with Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Poe Damaron coming soon after.

That auspicious, eagerly-anticipated event was supplemented by a crucial component of modern comics publishing: variant covers. These are alternative frontages for the same comicbook, usually by big-name artists of as part of sub-tropes of the medium such as images “homaging” earlier covers or as part of an ongoing event, commemoration or even trends such as Skottie Young’s occasional series of star characters as comedic babies…

Star Wars #1 had a staggering 70 individual variant covers. Successive issues also had a plethora of the same. What is most interesting here is how many of the name artists – and writers – were inspired by the comics they had read as kids as well as the films. Thus this gleefully exuberant hardcover art-collection, gathering those myriad covers for the new launch and interviewing the creators responsible…

Following an Introduction from Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonzo, writer Jess Harold and those writers and artists discuss their childhood memories of the phenomenon and current revival in ‘The Force is Strong with This #1’. There are reviews of the media’s reaction to the relaunch in ‘Search Your Feelings’ whilst ‘Never Tell Me the Odds’ analyses the breakdown in percentages of which character made the most appearances on the variant covers.

Then John Cassaday provides monochrome art and intimate secrets in ‘You Cannot Escape Your Destiny’ before the first tranche of covers is revealed in ‘The Force is Strong with This One’. The variants deluge includes black-&-white versions or pencils-only iterations of fully-coloured covers and both are seen side by side here.

That stunning parade includes work from Cassaday, Laura Martin, Joe Quesada, Daniel Acuña, Simone Bianchi, Mark Brooks, J. Scott Campbell, Nei Ruffino, Pascal Campion, Frank Cho, Jason Keith and John Tyler Christopher plus photo-still movie variants.

‘I Have a Bad Feeling About This…’ concentrates on John Tyler Christopher’s faux action-figure packages and is followed by a feature on comics-only creation Jaxxon (a giant green rabbit) with photo covers and more variations on the theme from Amanda Conner, Paul Mounts, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Muntsa Vicente, Gabriele Dell’Otto,  Mike Del Mundo, Mike Deodato Jr., Frank Martin, Dave Dorman, Pasqual Ferry, Frank D’Armata, Jenny Frison, Stephanie Hans, Adi Granov, Greg Horn, Dale Keown, Jason Keith, Justin Ponsor, Salvador Larroca, Edgar Delgado, Alex Maleev, Mike Mayhew, Rainier Beredo, Mike McKone, Bob McLeod, Mike Perkins, Andy Troy, David Petersen, Sara Pichelli, Joe Quinones, Humberto Ramos, Paul Renaud, Alex Ross, Stan Sakai, Mico Suayan and Chris Sotomayor.

The aforementioned jovial junior japes of Skottie Young are then explored and exhibited in ‘Aren’t You a Little Short for a Stormtrooper?’ before ‘Chapter Two: Star Wars #2-6’ dissects successive releases in ‘The Circle is Now Complete’ with Jordan D. White talking to writers Jason Aaron (Star Wars), Kieron Gillen (Darth Vader) and Mark Waid (Princess Leia) about their formative years and the franchise. This is augmented by covers-&-variants by Cassaday & Martin, Sergio Aragonés, Howard Chaykin & Jesus Aburtov, Tyler Christopher, Ramos & Delgado, Leinil Francis Yu, Keith, Marte Gracia, Nick Bradshaw, Giuseppe Camuncoli & Israel Gonzalez and Phil Noto.

Chapter Three: Darth Vader #1-6’ concentrates on the Sith Lord’s series with ‘Give Yourself to the Dark Side…’ supplemented by covers from Granov, Bianchi, Mark Brooks, J. Scott Campbell & Ruffino and movie stills whilst ‘Never tell Me the Odds’ features images from Cassaday & Martin, Tyler Christopher, Del Mundo, Horn, Land, Larroca & Delgado and Whilce Portacio & Sotomayor.

‘There is No Try…’ concentrates on the contributions of mega-star illustrator Alex Ross with numerous covers and an in-depth examination of his working process from posed models to pencils to finished work, before a gallery of more Vader pieces by Suayan, Sotomayor, Young, Granov, Dave Dorman, Larroca & Delgado and Noto.

‘Chapter Four: Princess Leia #1-6’ concentrates on the avenger from Alderaan as ‘There is Another…’ offers background and a wealth of original art by series illustrators Terry & Rachel Dodson. Then comes their covers plus more from Brooks, Campbell & Ruffino, Cassaday & Martin, Tyler Christopher, Amanda Conner, Dell’Otto, Granov, Jackson Guice, Horn, Land & Ponsor, Ross, Suayan, Sotomayor, Young, Maleev, Francesco Francavilla, Noto and more movie photo-covers.

Wrapping up the fabulous picture-fest is a stroll down memory lane in ‘Star Wars: The Original Marvel Years’ harking back to ‘A Long Time Ago’ with a short selection of classic covers by Rick Hoberg & Dave Cockrum, Chaykin, Carmine Infantino, Walter Simonson, Ron Frenz, Cynthia Martin, Bill Sienkiewicz and Klaus Janson, plus a range of modern tributes by Granov, Chaykin, Greg Hildebrandt, Gene Day & Delgado and Tom Palmer.

It would appear that there is an inexhaustible appetite for views of “A Galaxy Far, Far Away…” and the Star Wars franchise has spawned an awful lot of comics. This fascinating art compendium celebrates the verve, vitality and sheer impact of the printed material in a way no fan could possibly resist – especially as the latest cinematic chapter is about to unfold…
STAR WARS and related text and illustrations ™ and/or © of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & ™ of Lucasfilm Ltd.  All rights reserved.

Doctor Who – The Twelfth Doctor volume 1: Terrorformer

By Robbie Morrison, Dave Taylor, Mariano Laclaustra, Hi Fi, Luis Guerrero & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-177-8 (HB)                    978-1-78276-501-1 (SC)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Timeless Traditional Treat… 8/10

The comicbook division of the Whovian mega-franchise has roamed far and wide and currently rests with British publisher Titan Comics who have sagely opted to run parallel series starring the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth incarnations of the trickily turbulent Time Lord.

These tales – starring the Peter Capaldi incarnation – comprise the first five issues of the 2014 monthly comicbook with the tetchy Time Lord still gallivanting all over creation with schoolteacher and “Impossible Girl” Clara Oswald.

Scripted by Robbie Morrison (Nikolai Dante, The Authority) and illustrated by Dave Taylor (Zorro, Batman, Judge Dredd) with assistance from Mariano Laclaustra, colourists Hi Fi & Luis Guerrero and letterers Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt, the deadly dilemmas begin after the Doctor takes Clara skiing on his favourite ice-world. On arrival however they discover the entire planet has been re-sculpted – down to each trademarked palm leaf – into a tropical paradise by Kano Dollar: the Richest Human in the 25th Century.

His team have transformed the entire eco-structure in a sun-drenched paradise for mega-millionaires to romp through, but things are slowly going very wrong on the most primal levels…

When the Doctor begins throwing his intellectual weight around he quickly discovers the terra-formers’ meddling has awakened an ancient threat locked deep in the planet’s bowels for millennia. In the universes earliest era a race of living suns began eradicating races and could only be defeated by an alliance of Gallifrey with the cosmos’ other great races. Now with the Time Lords gone, only the Doctor is left to face a vengeance-crazed solar devil as “Hyperios Rises”…

Having pulled off another miracle, the chronal voyagers use the TARDIS to answer a plea for help from a former Companion. Tragically they arrive too late to save him and trigger a deadly duel in two time periods – Mumbai in 2314 and Madhya Province in 1825 – against insidious alien bloodsuckers seeking ‘The Swords of Kali’

With the assistance of renegade Indian Amazon and harem guard Rani Jhulka, the Doctor strives to prevent a diabolical mass sacrifice orchestrated by the sub-continent’s wealthiest family which will free the thing that created the cult of Thuggee.

The extra-dimensional devil also claims to be death goddess Kali and almost takes another of the Time Lord’s adored partners in peril before the furious time master pulls off his greatest feat of misdirection and save the day…

Sharp, spooky and wickedly witty, this premier volume comes with a vast gallery of alternate and variant covers (photographic, digitally manipulated, painted and/or drawn) by Mariano Laclaustra, Brian Williamson, AJ, Alice X. Zhang and Rob Farmer.

If you’re a fervent fan of the television Time Lord, this book – also available as a digital download – might well make you an addict to the print iteration too. Terrorformer is a glorious treat for casual readers, a fine additional avenue for devotees of the TV show to explore and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our art-form to anyone minded to give comics a proper go…
BBC, Doctor Who (word marks, logos and devices) and Tardis are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo © BBC 2009. Tardis image © BBC 1963. First edition April 2015.