The Graphic Canon volume 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons

By Many and Various, edited by Russ Kick (Seven Stories)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-376-6

Once upon a time in the English-speaking world, nobody clever, educated or in any way grown-up liked comics. Now we’re an accredited really and truly art form and spectacular books like this can be appreciated…

The Graphic Canon is an astounding literary and art project, instigated by legendary crusading editor, publisher, anthologist and modern Renaissance Man Russ Kick, which endeavours to interpret the world’s great books through the eyes of masters of crusading sequential narrative in an eye-opening synthesis of modes and styles.

The project is divided into three periods roughly equating with the birth of literature and its evolution up to the rise of the modern novel. Debut volume From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons covers literature from ancient times to the end of the 1700s in stories and poetry. Much of the material here has been taken from already extant or ongoing projects: indeed, as editor Russ Kick explains in his Introduction, it was a realisation that so many creative individuals were attempting to publish their own graphic responses to global heritage literature that led him to initiate this mammoth project in the first place…

Rather than simply converting the stories, the artists involved have enjoyed the freedom to respond to texts in their own way, producing graphics – narrative or otherwise, monochrome or something else, sequential or not – to accompany, augment or even offset the words before them and the result is simply staggering…

Make no mistake: this is not a simple bowdlerising “prose to strip” exercise like generations of Classics Illustrated comics, and you won’t pass any tests on the basis of what you see here. Moreover, these images will make you want to re-read the texts you know and hunger for the ones you haven’t got around to yet. You will of a certainty marvel at the infinite variety of the artistic responses the canonical works inspired…

They certainly did for me…

Each piece is preceded by an informative commentary page by Kick, and the wonderment begins with a colourful and outrageously engaging ‘Three Panel Review: Hamlet’ by Lisa Brown after which grateful Acknowledgements and that aforementioned Editor’s Introduction lead directly into a delirious snippet from The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Like many contributions collected here, The Bull of Heaven – as adapted by Kent & Kevin Dixon – was already in production when invited into this book. The finally-completed saga has recently re-manifested and you can read of it here.

Those august remnants of lost Babylonian Tablets are followed by a delicious retelling of the origin of the stars in ‘Coyote and the Pebbles’. The beguiling and witty Native American Folktale is given a compelling reworking by Dayton Edmonds & Micah Farritor and leads seamlessly into a double dose of Homeric grandiloquence.

Alice Duke samples the duel between Paris and Menelaus from The Iliad after which Gareth Hinds dips into The Odyssey to re-present the monstrous duel between the lost Greeks and the ghastly Cyclops, after which we stay firmly in the cradle of civilisation to enjoy Sappho’s ‘Poem Fragments’ as embellished by Alessandro Bonaccorsi before Tori McKenna sums up the vengeful force of Euripides’ ‘Medea’.

Aristophanes’ still-shocking and controversial play Lysistrata is potently and hilariously précised in strip form by Valerie Schrag before J.T. Waldman powerfully synthesises the erotic vision of ‘The Book of Ester’ from the Hebrew Bible and Yeji Yun translates Plato’s Symposium into stark yet effective pantomimic visuals.

Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey have adapted numerous deep thinkers in their series Action Philosophers! ‘Tao Te Ching’ as dictated by Lao Tzu is both wickedly funny and thoughtfully compelling and perfectly offset by Matt Wiegle’s colourful heroic snippet ‘The House of Lac’ from The Mahabharata.

Van Lente & Dunlavey bring us some Analects and Other Writings of Confucius – called here ‘Master Kong’ – before the Hebrew Bible provides Benjamin Frisch with the golden-hued inspiration for dreamy fable ‘The Book of Daniel’, after which Tom Bilby & Jonathan Fetter-Vorm (AKA Two Fine Chaps) graphically discourse On the Nature of Things as originally cited by Lucretius.

Michael Lagocki captures the graceful ferocity of Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ – specifically the founding of Rome – before master cartoonist Rick Geary astoundingly encapsulates the entirety of ‘The Book of Revelation’ from the New Testament and Sharon Rudahl restores calm and sanity with ‘Three Tang Poems: Frontier Song by Wang Han, A Village South of the Capital by Cul Hu and Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon by Li Bai’

Gareth Hinds grittily adapts the battle between hero and monster in Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem Beowulf after which idyllic romance is referenced by Molly Kiely through a series of portraits of some of the many erotic conquests of an ideal Japanese prince as inspired by Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji.

Far darker and more troubled love guides the images crafted by Ellen Lindner to illustrate ‘The Letters of Heloise and Abelard’ after which Kiely illuminates the profoundly eco-activist poem ‘O Nobilissima Viriditas’ by Hildegard of Bingen (look her up, you really should…).

Andrice Arp puckishly illustrates stories within a story for ‘The Fisherman and the Genie’ from The Arabian Nights, after which the same source – albeit the unexpurgated translation by Sir Richard Burton – provides racy and outrageously wry ‘The Woman with Two Coyntes’ as adapted by Vicki Nerino.

Coleman Barks translates a wonderful plenitude of ‘Poems’ by Sufi sage – and advocate of a loving universe – Rumi for Michael Green to spectacularly illustrate, after which a double dose of Dante Alighieri begins with Seymour Chwast’s smart and sassy take on The Divine Comedy. Hunt Emerson than adds his own unique spin to ‘The Inferno’ (The Eighth Circle, if you’re keeping score) whilst Sanya Glisic sustains the post-viva theme by offering views of the Eastern afterlife as cited in Padmasambhava and Karma Lingpa’s translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol).

Safely back among the living, we turn to the outrageous lifestyle of French poet and courtier François Villon, who penned in a jailhouse ‘The Last Ballad’ illustrated here by Julian Peters long before his actual end. It’s followed by another medieval masterpiece as Seymour Chwast deftly tackles the ‘Wife of Bath’ from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

Staying in England, Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur is given a stunning treatment by Omaha Perez who illumines the parable of ‘How the Hart was Chased into a Castle and There Slain, and How Sir Gawaine Slew a Lady’

The reason we have so much European and Asian literature today is the sheer fact that it wasn’t deliberately eradicated. That’s tragically not the case for the pre-Columbian Americas and a great pity since sole surviving Incan play Apu Ollantay – adapted here by Caroline Picard – is a smart and potent family star-crossed love affair worthy of the Greeks or even Shakespeare…

Outlaws of the Water Margin is a vast and sprawling epic of heroes battling against corruption and injustice in ancient China. As Shi Nai’an’s opus is far too large to handle here, illustrator Shawn Cheng has instead offered a rogues’ gallery of some of the heroic characters who feature in the portmanteau classics, whereas Isabel Greenberg has time and space to lyrically adapt Japanese Noh play ‘Hagoromo (Celestial Feather Robe)’ in full.

Roberta Gregory then pictorialises the decidedly more wholesome and charming creation myth from Popul Vuh – the Sacred Book of the Quiché Maya – and Edie Fake illuminates ‘The Visions of St. Teresa of Ávila’ as first seen in the Spanish religious reformer’s autobiography.

Almost forgotten English poet George Peele penned his own interpretation of the drama of Solomon and Bathsheba centuries ago, a snippet of which is here transformed by Dave Morice into stunning op-art masterpiece ‘Hot Sun, Cool Fire’. Conor Hughes then expertly covers in more traditional form ‘The Sun Rises’ from Wu Cheng’en’s revered Chinese epic Journey to the West before Michael Stanyer adapts and Eric Johnson illustrates a mere fragment from Edmund Spenser’s unfinished opus The Faerie Queene.

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream must be one of the most popular comic strip topics of all, but Maxx Kelly & Huxley King still add fresh zest and contemporary sparkle to the scene where Titania and Oberon haggle over the fate of an abducted child…

Ian Pollock then tackles The Bard’s darkest drama as King Lear challenges the heavens themselves before Will Eisner lends his unique light touch to Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

Robert Berry and Josh Levitas then translate Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 18’ to an effectively modern setting whilst Aidan Koch applies a more esoteric approach to the eternally-mystifying ‘Sonnet 20’ before Noah Patrick Pfarr supplies a suitably raunchy setting and quirky twist to John Donne’s erotic poem ‘The Flea’.

Andrew Marvell’s equally celebrated devious love-ploy ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is given a sentimental 19th century makeover by Yien Yip after which real-life Restoration-Era Wonder Woman Aphra Behn provides moody inspiration for artist Alex Eckman-Lawn through her poem ‘Forgive Us Our Trespasses’.

John Milton’s magnificent Paradise Lost – specifically ‘the Fall of Satan’ – is astoundingly depicted by Rebecca Dart after which ‘Part II: A Voyage to Brobdingnag’ sees Gareth Hinds lovingly limning an extract from Jonathan Swift’s satirical salvo Gulliver’s Travels whilst Ian Ball uses abreaction to hammer home the finer points of Voltaire’s Candide.

Modern graphic crusader Peter Kuper then lambasts us with a lethally edgy visualisation of Swift’s brutally critical A Modest Proposal.

Benjamin Franklin’s scandalous epistle ‘Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress’ is accompanied by a sumptuous painting from Cortney Skinner before James Bosworth’s shocking and sordidly biographical London Journal is captivatingly interpreted by comix pioneer Robert Crumb in ‘A Klassic Komic: excepts from Boswell’s London Journal 1762-1763’.

Veteran cartoonist Stan Shaw then captures the wryly scatalogical spirit of Benjamin Franklin’s ‘Letter to the Royal Academy of Brussels (AKA ‘Fart Proudly’)’ and van Lente & Dunlavey return with another Action Philosophers! titbit clarifying Mary Wollstonecraft’s momentous political tract A Vindication of the Rights of Woman before Molly Crabapple illustrates select moments from Choderios de Lacios’ dark and disturbing social satire Dangerous Liaisons to bring the art schooling to a close.

Wrapping up the elucidatory experience are suggestions of ‘Further Reading’ from Liz Byer, a full list of ‘Contributors’, plus details of ‘Credits and Permissions’ and an ‘Index to volume 1’.

Although no replacement for actually reading as much of the source material as you can find, this astonishing agglomeration of visual interpretations is a magnificent achievement and one every fan of the comics medium should see: a staggering blend of imperishable thoughts and words wedded to and springing from sublimely experimental pictures.

This type of venture is just what our art form needs to grow beyond our largely self-imposed ghetto, and anything done this well with so much heart and joy simply has to be rewarded.
© 2012 Russ Kick. All work © individual owners and copyright holders and used with permission. All rights reserved.

Doctor Who Graphic Novel #1: The Iron Legion

Illustrated by Dave Gibbons and scripted by Pat Mills, John Wagner & Steve Moore (Panini Books)
ISBN: 978-1-904159-37-7

The British love comic strips and they love celebrity and they love “Characters.” The history of our homegrown graphic narrative has a peculiarly disproportionate amount of radio comedians, Variety stars and film icons and television actors: such disparate legends as Charlie Chaplin, Flanagan & Allen, Shirley Eaton (“The Modern Miss”), Arthur Askey, Winifred Atwell, Max Bygraves, Jimmy Edwards, Charlie Drake and so many more long forgotten.

As well adored and adapted were 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, Thunderbirds, Pinky and Perky, The Clangers and literally hundreds more.

Hugely popular anthology comics such as Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Tornado, TV Comic and Countdown translated our viewing and listening favourites into pictorial joy every week, and it was a pretty poor star or show that couldn’t parley the day job into a licensed comic property…

Doctor Who premiered on black-&-white televisions across Britain on November 23rd 1963 with the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. In 1964 his decades-long association with TV Comic began: issue #674 offered 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. It 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 was the very first, gathering 36 weekly monochrome strips from the first 38 weeks, all drawn, inked and lettered by International Treasure Dave Gibbons and published between 11th October 1979 and July 3rd 1980.

In fact, the Doctor Who stories were amongst the last regular comics work the artist created for the British market before being scooped up by the Americans as part of the early 1980s “British Invasion”.

All that and more is covered in the comprehensive ‘Dave Gibbons Interview’ conducted by Alan Woollcombe which precedes the frantic tales plucked from the annals of history featuring the Fourth Doctor (AKA Tom Baker). Thanks to the skills of writers Pat Mills & John Wagner (who plotted the yarns together but alternated as solo-scripters for completed stories) and latterly Steve Moore, the adventuresome episodes combine thrills, fights and scares with a suitable degree of surreal humour and whimsical Anglophilic cultural nonsense…

The cosmic comics carnage kicks off with a ‘The Iron Legion’ (originally seen in Doctor Who Weekly #1-8: 11th October to December 5th 1979) with Mills providing dialogue as the wandering Time Lord lands in a contemporary English village just as it is attacked by robot soldiers from a parallel plane where the Roman Empire never fell.

Taken as a prisoner across the dimensional divide, The Doctor faces formidable opposition from the tyrannical mechanical General Ironicus, bratty boy-Emperor Adolphus and his terrifying mother Juno.

However, as the gob-smacked Gallifreyan strives to survive the worst trials and tribulations the all-conquering empire can throw at him, he realises that there is an even greater evil controlling the toga-draped elite: immortal alien devil Magog and his arcane brethren The Malevilus.

Escape is no longer the issue: The Doctor needs to stop a ghastly scheme to enslave and consume the entire universe…

Wagner did the typing for next serial ‘City of the Damned’ (DWW #9-16: 12th December 1979 – January 30th 1980) as our hero attempts to enjoy a little downtime in placid Benidorm but instead ends up in grim metropolis Zombos, where all emotion has been outlawed and the citizens submit to mind-altering procedures to keep the all-pervasive state sound and stable.

Captured by the passionless Moderators, The Doctor is only saved from surgically-induced emotional lobotomy by daring – possibly deranged – rebels fighting to restore feeling to the People.

When one of their number unleashes a doomsday bio-weapon that thrives on the lack of emotion, the Time Lord and his ZEPO (Zom Emotional People’s Organisation) allies. The immortal wanderer has to think – and feel – fast to save the population and restore feeling to the endangered masses…

The next two tales were fill-ins and our ongoing saga resumes with the strip from #19 as, still searching for a seaside retreat, The TARDIS next dumps the increasingly harried Doctor in the English town of Blackcastle. The BBC news is full of denials that a starship has crashed into the local steelworks, but schoolgirl Sharon Davies and her friend Fudge know better. After all, they have already befriended ‘The Star Beast’ (February 20th – April 9th) that was hiding in the wreckage and promised to hide it from its enemies…

The Doctor has already met them but believes he’s successfully escaped the contingent of Wrarth Warriors. He is blissfully unaware that they have implanted a devasting bomb in his stomach for the moment he finally meets their elusive prey Beep the Meep

Even after escaping that near-death experience, the gullible Gallifreyan is unaware of quite who and what’s he’s dealing with in a devious tale where no-one and nothing are quite what they seem…

And to make things even more complicated, by the time the stardust settles, Sharon has moved into the TARDIS as his latest companion…

The Mills & Wagner stories – originally created as prospective TV adventures – conclude in deep space and an indeterminate future as The Doctor and Sharon encounter space truckers Joe Bean and Babe, servicing the colony worlds of the New Earth System. What nobody knows at this stage is that the planets are under attack by highly infectious lycanthropic horrors dubbed ‘The Dogs of Doom’ (DWW #27-34: 10th April – June 5th).

As the creatures ravage the young planets, eradication seems certain, and doubly so once the infected Doctor discerns that the werewolves are merely tools of his greatest enemies – the Daleks!

This stunning, sterling trade paperback concludes with the first story by veteran British comics stalwart Steve Moore and the threat of ‘The Time Witch’ (DWW #197-202: June 12th to 3rd July).

Before Earth formed, psychic adept Brimo was imprisoned in a timeless cell for misusing her powers. From her crystal cage she saw galaxies rise and fall and raged to be free…

That joyous moment occurred when the dashing time meddler’s TARDIS accidentally interfaced with a blank universe, freeing her and granting her the power to reshape reality. Unfortunately for her, The Doctor realised that those conditions applied to anybody trapped in that unformed region, and in a battle of wills and imagination his brain was second to none…

Sheer effusive delight from start to finish, 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 shot…
All Doctor Who material © BBCtv. Doctor Who, the Tardis, Dalek word and device mark and all logos are trademarks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. Dalek device mark © BBC/Terry Nation 1963.All other material © its individual creators and owners. Published 2004 by Panini. All rights reserved.

Star Wars: A New Hope – The 40th Anniversary

By Jess Harrold, Jordan D. White, Heather Antos & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1128-7

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the mythology of Star Wars. What you might not know – or maybe remember – is that the first glimpse future fanatics got of its enthrallingly expansive, potential-packed continuity and mythology-in-the-making way back in 1977 was the premier issue of the Marvel comicbook tie-in.

It hit US shelves and spinner racks two weeks before the film launched in cinemas (that screen release being May 25th, fact-fans), setting the scene for a legion of fans and kick-starting a phenomenon which encompassed the initial movie trilogy and expanded those already-vast conceptual horizons.

Marvel had an illustrious run with the franchise: nine years’ worth of comics, specials and paperback collections before the series ended in 1986.

After an abortive miniseries try-out in 1987-1988 from Blackthorne Publishing, regular comicbook exploits were properly reinstated in 1993 by Dark Horse Comics who built on the film legacy with numerous titles – supplemented by three more movies – until Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars in 2012.

The home of Donald & Mickey had already acquired Marvel Comics (in 2009) 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. They haven’t looked back since.

2017 was the 40th anniversary of the movie premiere and in a slyly subtle salute to the event many comics were earmarked for a rather novel event: variant covers depicting unforgettable moments from the cinematic Star Wars: A New Hope. These were commissioned as 48 key images that would combine to relate and encapsulate the entire tale in an entirely new way.

Just So’s You Know: variant covers are alternative frontages for some comicbooks, usually by big-name artists; often “homaging” earlier covers or as part of an event, commemoration or even trends such as Skottie Young’s occasional series of star characters depicted as comedic babies. Star Wars #1 (2015) was released with a staggering 70 variant covers. Successive issues also had a plethora of the same.

This gleefully exuberant hardcover art-collection (also available in eBook formats), takes that sales-boosting process to a new level; gathering those covers designed to celebrate A New Hope and presenting them as a new way of enjoying the original story…

Following ‘Star Wars and Marvel’, which explains the process and progression of the project, those crucial moment-as-iconic-images – accompanied by narrative guides, appropriate quotes and often alternate sketch ideas and works-in-progress – unfold to tell a well-known tale of a galaxy long ago and far, far away…

Juan Giménez sets things off with ‘It is a period of Civil War…’, after which Stuart Immonen, Ryan Stegman & Jordan Boyd and Meghan Hetrick carry us from confrontations in space to the surface of Tatooine.

In quick succession Terry & Rachel Dodson, Pepe Larraz & David Curiel, Kevin Wada, Marc Laming & Matthew Wilson, Leinil Francis Yu & Sunny Gho, Paul Renaud and Javier Rodríguez advance the tale to the moment old hermit Ben Kenobi tells a young warrior-to-be ‘You must learn the ways of The Force.’

Stunning images follow from Rod Reis, Jef Dekal, Kevin Nowlan, Mike Mayhew, Greg Land & Edgar Delgado, David Marquez, Chip Zadarsky, Will Robson& Jordan Boyd and Jen Bartel before Stephanie Hans steals the show with a stunning rendition of the death of Alderaan for ‘No Star System will dare oppose the Emperor now.’

The memorable moments come thick and fast as Julian Totino Tedesco, David Lopez, Reilly Brown & Jim Charalampidis, Caspar Wijngaard, Paulina Ganucheau, Paolo Rivera, Daniel Acuña, Russell Dauterman & Matthew Wilson, Amy Reeder carry us ever onward until Tradd Moore & Wilson nail the key moment in a trash compactor where Han Solo utters the immortal phrase ‘I got a bad feeling about this.’

Taking us into the third act and final straits, Ed McGuiness, Mark Morales & Laura Martin, Nick Roche & Jordan Boyd, Chris Samnee & Wilson, Adi Granov, Greg Smallwood, Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire, Rahzzah, Ryan Level & Boyd, Kris Anka, Will Sliney & Rachelle Rosenberg, Ashley Witter, Mark Brooks, Salvador Larroca & Angel Unzueta, Daniel Warren Johnson & Mike Spicer and Mike Del Mundo visualise the thrilling final fight culminating in Phil Noto’s triumphal procession scene in ‘Remember, The Force will be with you, always’

Backing up the picture feast is text feature ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Far, Far Away’ wherein Marvel Star Wars editor Jordan D. White discusses the project with comics writers Jason Aarons (Star Wars) and Kieron Gillen (Darth Vader, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, Star Wars) whilst Heather Antos incites insights from illustrators Terry Dodson, Stephanie Hans, Mike Mayhew and Will Sliney on ‘How to Draw Star Wars the Marvel Way’ for the anniversary project.

This comes with a multitude of non-Anniversary images from Mayhew, John Cassady, Immonen, the Dodsons, Yu, Brooks, Francesco Francavilla, Lee Bermejo, Michael Allred, Tula Lotay, Skottie Young, Alex Ross, Simone Bianchi, Granov, Kaare Andrews, Giménez, Kamome Shirahama, Samnee, Joe Quesada, Francesco Mattina, Giuseppe Camuncoli and David Aja.

Wrapping up the fabulous picture-fest is a stroll down memory lane for comics fans as ‘The Greatest Space-Fantasy of All!’ harks back to that initial comics release: reprinting adapter Roy Thomas’ introductory ‘Star Warriors’ columns and the full first issue as translated from an original, uncut shooting script by illustrator Howard Chaykin (and yes, that does mean scenes that didn’t make it into any cut of the movie…).

The Star Wars franchise has spawned an awful lot of comics, but this isn’t really one of them. It is, however, a fascinating art compendium commemorating the verve, vitality and sheer impact of the source material in a way no fan could possibly…
STAR WARS and related text and illustrations ™ and/or © of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & ™ of Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

Marvel’s Avengers – Infinity War Prelude

By Will Corona Pilgrim, Tigh Walker, Jorge Fornés, Chris O’Halloran, with Jonathan Hickman, Jim Starlin, Jim Cheung, Ron Lim & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0943-7

With another eagerly anticipated Marvel Cinematic Universe film premiering around the world, here’s a timely trade paperback and eBook edition to augment the celluloid exposure and cater to movie fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience.

Comprising selected reprints and new digital material designed to supplement the movie release, these Prelude editions have become a traditional part of the dissemination and build-up and this compilation contains Marvel’s Avengers Infinity War Prelude #1-2 plus material starring the ultimate arch-villain Thanos taken from Infinity #1 and Thanos Annual #1.

This original 2-part miniseries sets the scene for the film blockbuster: written by Will Corona Pilgrim and based on the Captain America: Civil War screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. It was realised by illustrator Tigh Walker, colourist Chris O’Halloran and letterer Travis Lanham and reveals how the knowledge that Captain America’s old ally Bucky (AKA Winter Soldier) assassinated Tony Stark’s parents splits the Avengers into two warring teams…

After a ferocious battle, Cap’s allies – Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man and Hawkeye – are broken out of prison by the renegade Sentinel of Liberty and take refuge in Wakanda where the advanced technologies of the Black Panther deprogram Bucky even as in America an isolated Stark reconfigures his armour in advance of an overwhelming threat heading to Earth from the depths of space…

The second chapter – with Jorge Fornés as artist – features new movie maven Dr. Strange, coming to terms with his role in a terrifying universe of appalling unknown forces and deadly dangers.

As advisor Wong regales the wizard with tales and histories of the Infinity Stones and how they have shaped events (as seen in many previous MCU films), Thor and Loki return to Earth to consult the mage in the matter of the sudden disappearance of Asgardian All-Father Odin

In space, the Guardians of the Galaxy are also gauging a growing threat as cosmic overlord Thanos turns his avaricious eyes upon Earth…

Of course, all these plot threads get knotted together in the movie…

The supplemental classic appearances then open with the first chapter of mega publishing event Infinity #1 (August 2013), scripted by Jonathan Hickman.

In the aftermath of the blockbuster Avengers versus X-Men war, the company-wide reboot MarvelNOW! reformed the entire overarching continuity: a drastic reshuffle and rethink of characters, concepts and brands with an eye to winning new readers and feeding the company’s burgeoning movie blockbuster machine…

Moreover, numerous story strands were slowly building and combining to kick off the Next Big Thing with the cosmically revamped Avengers titles forming the spine of an encroaching mega-epic.

The intergalactic Hammer of Doom finally fell as a two-pronged, all-out attack which saw an impossibly ancient threat materialise to wipe out life in the cosmos, whilst Earth itself was targeted by an old enemy with a long memory and monstrous agenda…

What Came Before: In recent Avengers episodes an impossibly ancient trio of galactic “Gardeners” – robotic Aleph, seductive Abyss and passionate Ex Nihilo – attempted to remake Earth into something special. To that end they bombarded the world with “Origin bombs”, seeding locations with bizarre, exotic and uncompromising new life-forms.

When the Avengers went after them, the invaders claimed to have been tasked by The Builders – first species in creation – and their Mother of the Universe to test and, whenever necessary, eradicate, recreate and replace life on all worlds.

Although the World’s Mightiest Heroes defeated the intruders and set about mitigating the effects of the O-bombs on Earth, it seemed increasingly futile as global threats seemingly multiplied without surcease. Evidence also indicated that the very structure and celestial mechanics of the multiverse were catastrophically unravelling.

And then rumours began of an incredible alien armada heading directly for Earth…

It all starts here with the miniseries’ first issue as ‘Infinity’ (illustrated by Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, John Livesay & David Meikis) focuses on Saturnian moon Titan where death-driven despot Thanos dispatches his diabolical Outrider to demand ‘The Tribute’ from another newly enslaved world in his growing interstellar empire. Some of the Dark Lord’s most effective agents are already on Earth, stalking the planet’s greatest champions and ‘Constructing Apocalypse’

Sixty thousand light-years away, an even bigger threat is mopping up the puissant Space Knights of Galador. Various varieties of Builders – of the same ancient order that spawned Aleph, Abyss and Ex Nihilo – have razed the planet whilst unearthly new Avenger Captain Universe (whom the Gardeners call “Mother”) can only look on with despair as her wayward children destroy another world tainted by contact with Earth…

‘Orbital’ finds Captain America and Hawkeye cleaning out a nest of Skrulls in Palermo, but these invaders are far from the arrogant, treacherous warriors they’re accustomed to. The shapeshifters are scared, cowering refugees, fleeing and hiding from something incomprehensibly bad…

‘What was Hidden, Now Uncovered’ then focuses on the Inhumans’ floating city Attilan, currently parked above Manhattan, where Outrider prepares to extract secrets from the brain of slumbering monarch Black Bolt.

Even as the supremely powerful Inhuman foils the ghastly intrusion, the Avengers have regrouped following Captain Universe’s return with warnings of an oncoming impossibly vast Builder Armada. It merely confirms what Earth’s deep space monitoring array already shows: The fleet is bearing directly on Earth and any race or empire in the way is summarily destroyed as the invaders move ever closer.

The once unbeatable Kree are only the latest to fall…

When a distress call arrives from the rulers of the Galactic Council representing Kree, Skrulls, Badoon, Spartax, Brood and Shi’ar, the Avengers are soon ‘Outbound’, resolved to stop the fleet long before it reaches Earth.

Severely wounded, Outrider returns to Titan to inform Thanos that the thing he seeks most in the universe has been hidden on Earth by Black Bolt, prompting an invasion by the Titan’s own fleet long before the Builders can arrive. Moreover, almost all the planet’s infernal metahuman champions have left for Kree space…

If that whetted your appetite, you’ll need to see the two volume Infinity collection…

Here, however, we move on to Thanos Annual #1 (July 2014) as a defeated, comatose Mad Titan recalls an early turning point in his life. Written by Jim Starlin, pencilled by Ron Lim and inked by Andy Smith, ‘Damnation and Redemption’ begins after his first defeat by Captain Marvel and the Avengers, when he used a Cosmic Cube to become God before being stripped of everything through his own arrogance.

At this low ebb he is tempted by arch demon Mephisto but saved by his own future self, using the Infinity Gauntlet’s Time Gem to correct an almost irrevocable error…

Shown his potential future, the Titanian plotter thinks he is on the rise but has not counted on the interference of true cosmic gods such as the Living Tribunal…

This selection also includes a cover and variants gallery by Adam Kubert, Dale Keown & Ive Svorcina, Skottie Young, Marko Djurdjević, Lim & Smith and Starlin & Al Milgrom.

From such disparate seeds movie gold can grow, but never forget that the originating material is pretty damned good too and will deliver a tempting tray of treats that should have most curious fans scurrying for back-issue boxes, bookshop shelves or online emporia…
© 2013, 2014, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Transformers UK Classics Volume One

By Steve Parkhouse, Simon Furman, James Hill, John Ridgway, John Stokes, Geoff Senior, Mike Collins, Barry Kitson, Will Simpson, Jeff Anderson & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-943-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Nostalgia-Fuelled Read to Toy With… 8/10

The metal-morphing Transformers toys took the world by storm in the 1980’s and a tie-in monthly American Marvel comicbook was a smash hit. Marvel’s UK division quickly produced their own fortnightly (ultimately weekly) periodical reprinting the US material, but the scheduling disparity soon necessitated the creation of original material.

As you’d expect from a top brand, the supremely popular shiny shapeshifters have been the jewel in the crown of numerous publishers ever since. The license currently resides with IDW and as part of their line, the new guys have kindly added archival editions of past glories to enthral new readers and give inveterate nostalgics a potent reminder of the good old days…

It should be noted that although a toy and cartoon show tie-in, the weekly British comic – when not reprinting US Marvel stories – seemed to pitch their material at a slightly older, if not necessarily more mature, readership…

As well as re-presenting originated material from The Transformers #1-44 (September 20th 1984 – January 18th 1986), this initial hardback/Trade Paperback/eBook archive also includes an erudite and extremely informative introduction – ‘A Complete History of Transformers UK’ – by James Roberts (following his Foreword) – detailing not only the origins and impact of the toys but the nuts and bolts of the creation of the British material. There’s even a list of feature pages, ads and premium give-aways!

Moreover, each episodic strip adventure is preceded by fulsome notes and commentary as well as a complete cover gallery – and that’s a lot of covers!

Following more candid background data the comics magic begins with ‘Man of Iron’ by Steve Parkhouse, John Ridgway & Mike Collins; coloured by Gina Hart & Josie Firmin and lettered by Richard Starkings.

The 4-part thriller ran in Transformers #9-12 (January 12th to February 23rd 1985) and revealed that a lost and unknown Autobot had periodically emerged for millennia from a crashed ship buried deep beneath rural England.

A castle built on the grounds provided year of sightings and legends but the era of mystery abruptly ends when both modern-day Autobots and Decepticons zero in on the legendary figure…

Weekly comics are hugely labour-intensive and time-critical, necessitating a vast turnover of staff – all duly recorded here. After the UK’s surprise hit periodical reprinted more US-originated material another Made-in-Britain epic began with the debut of star scribe-in-the-making Simon Furman who wrote ‘The Enemy Within!’ for #13-17 (March 9th – May 4th). Illustrated by Ridgway, Collins, Hart & Starkings, the saga details how rival Decepticons Megatron and Starscream vie for supremacy whilst vile spy Ravage infiltrates the Autobots’ Ark to action a malign mechanoid plan involving framing the Good Robots for an attack on a human military base…

‘Raiders of the Last Ark!’ #18-21 (May 16th – 29th by Furman, Collins, Jeff Anderson, Hart, Starkings & John Aldrich) then finds a Decepticon attempt to seize the Ark derailed when the vast ship’s AI consciousness manifests as a judgemental Auntie who proposes assessing the worthiness of both sides and eradicating those she finds lacking…

Following found text feature ‘Robot War! From Cybertron to Earth: The Story So Far!’ and another tranche of covers ‘Decepticon Dam-Busters’ (#29-30 October 5th – 12th 1985 and by Furman, John Stokes, Steve Whitaker & Starkings) attempts to marry toy, TV and comics universes in a brutal clash of ideologies and metal muscles in a tale adapted from an animated television episode.

Then it’s back to comicbook basics for #31-31 (October 19th – 26th) as Dinobots Grimlock, Sludge, Snarl and Slag face ‘The Wrath of Guardian!’ by Furman, Barry Kitson, Hart & Annie Halfacree as the tragic Autobot turned into a Decepticon slave battles his former allies before eventually succumbing to ‘The Wrath of Grimlock!’ (Furman, Kitson, Mark Farmer, Scott Whittaker & Mike Scott).

Preceded by ‘Robot War II: The Saga of the Transformers!’ and Geoff Senior’s black-&-white try-out art assignment, ‘Christmas Breaker!’ (James Hill, Will Simpson, Hart & Starkings from #41 December 28th) sees human robot hunter Circuit Breaker declare a temporary truce with her quarry to save a child, after which ‘Crisis of Command!’ (#42-44, January 4th – 18th 1986) – written by Collins & Hill, illustrated by Senior & Stokes, coloured by Steve Whitaker, John Burns, Gina Hart & Stuart Place & Starkings, and lettered by Mike Scott – sees burned out Optimus Prime under pressure from his own friends to create Super Autobots. The moral machine is severely embattled but knows becoming worse than Decepticons is no way to win the million-year-war…

Meanwhile, waiting in the shadows, Ravage lurks, ready to exploit the Autobots’ hesitation…

This initial compilation heads toward a conclusion with the all-UK material created for The Transformers Annual 1986; released in Autumn 1985 for the Christmas trade.

After plenty of candid, behind-the-scenes creative secrets shared, the narratives resume with

‘Plague of the Insecticons!’ (Furman, Collins, Anderson, Hart & Starkings) as a new breed of robots are catastrophically unleashed just as the Autobots are invited to the White House for a parley with President Reagan…

Then Tales of Cybertron takes us back eons to the robot homeworld where and when ‘And There Shall Come… A Leader!’ (by Furman, Stokes, Hart & Starkings) reveals the origins of the Autobot leader.

Annuals used prose stories to beef up the content and cut down on illustrating costs and a brace follow here.

Written by Hill with spot illos from Ridgway & Hart, ‘Missing in Action!’ details how neophyte Autobot Tracks gets accidentally involved in a bank robbery whilst ‘Hunted!’ finds Bumblebee battling for his life against Ravage in the Amazon jungle…

Rounding out this procession of childhood delights is a big bunch of ‘Adverts and Ephemera’ reprinting numerous toy infomercials and ‘Interface Fact Files’ offering byte-sized (sorry!) bursts of data on the galvanised Goodies and Baddies…

Fast-paced and furious in intensity, this cosmic drama for all ages still carries a punch today and the early work of modern graphic luminaries is a distinct pleasure for today’s fans to see.

Chock full of high-tech, explosive-but-not-gratuitous action, this book fairly barrels along: A solid read for aficionados and thrill-seeker of all ages.
The Transformers Classics UK vol. 1. Hasbro and its logo TRANSFORMERS and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro and are used with permission. © 2011 Hasbro. Circuit Breaker and all related characters are ™ and © Marvel Entertainment LLC and its subsidiaries All Rights Reserved.

Land of the Giants: The Complete Series

By Paul S. Newman, Tom Gill & various (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-93256-343-6

Land of the Giants debuted in America in September 1968, the fourth of producer Irwin Allen’s incredibly successful string of TV fantasy series which also included Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Time Tunnel.

The key premise was that in the then far-future of 1983 the passengers and crew of Sub-Orbital Space-liner flight 703 from Los Angeles to London fall through a space-warp and crashes in an incredible world twelve times larger than ours (mimicking the dimensions of the Brobdingnagians in Gulliver’s Travels).

To make things even scarier, the giant society closely parallels Earth in the primitive era of the mid-1960s, with crime, Cold War espionage, cultural paranoia and social injustice obsessing every anxious citizen of the Big New World…

The motley and disparate occupants of the ailing Spindrift thus have to survive and seek ways to return home whilst giant beasts, agents of totalitarian governments of that colossal planet, greedy opportunists and their own perverse natures all conspire against them.

The fact that doom is always looming above them is exacerbated by a perpetual dilemma: the ship is still space-worthy and the dimensional warp a permanent fixture but Spindrift is drained of the electrical energy needed to achieve high orbit.

Daily existence consists of staying alive and free whilst somehow scavenging – like high-tech Borrowers – enough motive power from the hulking natives to blast off forever…

The TV series generated 51 episodes and ran until 1970 with many re-runs throughout the intervening decades. It spawned a Viewmaster reel and book, a comicbook series, numerous games and toys plus a string of excellent novels by pulp Sci Fi legend Murray Leinster.

While the show aired it was the most expensive television series ever produced, but a special effects budget was no hindrance to publisher Gold Key whose five comicbook issues – released between November 1968 to September 1969 – honed in on the perilous plight of the starlost Spindrifters via the scripts of Paul S. Newman (Turok, Son of Stone, Lone Ranger) and sagely meticulous illustrator Tom Gill (Flower Potts, Lone Ranger).

Collected in this sturdy hardcover archival edition (also available in eBook editions), the miniscule voyagers’ odyssey is preceded by an effusive photo-filled ‘Introduction: Revisiting Gulliver’ by Chris Irving, covering every aspect from series production to the history of Gold Key before the graphic reverie opens with ‘The Mini-Criminals’ from Land of the Giants #1.

Behind the evocative photo-montage cover (each issue boasted one), Part I – ‘The Power-Stealers’ – sees the crew’s perpetual search for fuel sources to re-energise Spindrift lead to capture by opportunistic and imaginative thief Carlo Krogg.

In this action-oriented adventure the focus is on passengers Mark Wilson, fugitive conman Fitzhugh and he-men crew members Captain Steve Burton and co-pilot Dan Erickson who toil mightily to free hostage stewardess Betty Hamilton from Krogg’s clutches whilst pretending to burgle a jewellery store for him.

Issue #2 featured ‘Countdown to Escape’ and opens with flighty socialite Valerie Scott revealing an unsuspected talent for falconry after catching and training a giant raptor to carry the ship on ‘The Wings of an Eagle’

Sadly, the plan goes agonisingly wrong for ‘The Little Buccaneers’ after animal keepers recapture their missing exhibit, inadvertently marooning the Little People in a zoo. Although this presents them with an astounding opportunity to secure their energy-needs, the end result is another frustrating return to square one…

In ‘Giant Damsel in Distress’, Val and Betty befriend a young woman unjustly accused of a terrible crime and on the run. Colossal fugitive Linda offers to restore the stranded ship’s energy reserves with ‘Mirror Power’ but before they can benefit from the deal, the real criminals track her down, leading to a catastrophic and one-sided battle in ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’

LotG #4 reveals a daring ‘Safari in Giantland’ as the mini-marooned break into a department store to steal super-strong power cells in ‘Assault and Battery’. Typically, however, even after purloining model trucks from the kids’ wing to transport their electrical booty, the ‘Babes in Toyland’ lose the precious batteries when a giant rat attacks…

The last issue is uncharacteristically dark and grim for comics of the period. By never signing up to the draconian overreaction of the bowdlerizing Comics Code Authority, Dell/Gold Key became the company for life and death thrills, especially in the arena of traditional adventure stories.

If you were a kid in search of a proper body count instead of flesh wounds you went for Tarzan, Zorro, Roy Rogers, Tom Corbett and their ilk. That’s not to claim that the West Coast outfit were gory, exploitative sensationalists – far from it – but simply that the writers and editors knew that fiction – especially kids’ fiction – needs a frisson of danger and honest high stakes drama to make it work.

‘Operation Mini-Surgeon’ begins with ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma…’ as juvenile Spindrift passenger Barry Lockridge – who had been travelling unaccompanied to meet his parents in London – succumbs to a deadly infection. The adult castaways determine to take the boy to a giant physician, whatever the risk, and are on hand when a diplomat from a hostile foreign power is caught in an assassin’s bomb blast…

Although under government scrutiny and initially unable to save the dying Premier Klosson, surgeon Dr. Rains is still willing to aid the Little People in curing Barry. In return Mark and Steve enter the dying Klosson’s wounds to repair the tyrant from the inside in ‘A Life in Their Hands’

Tragically, before the eternally-grateful Rains can deliver the batteries that would send the aliens home, political intrigue and expedience make him a martyr to someone else’s cause…

Stuffed throughout with cast stills and candid photos, the rocket ride down memory lane concludes with ‘Photos, Artwork, and Collectibles’, offering a bonanza of stills, production photographs, promo material, posters, cast shots, original artwork from the comics, bubble gum cards, pages from Mort Drucker’s Mad Magazine parody “Land of the Giant Bores”, box art from a jigsaw puzzle and the Aurora model kit of the Spindrift, plus a picture gallery of the show’s celebrity guest stars.

Even more tantalising treats include Leinster’s novel covers, the View Master packaging, colouring Book covers and the cover of the British TV21 1971 annual…

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 and is immortalised in DVD and streamed all over the world but if you want to see more, this sparkling tome is a treat you won’t want to overlook.
Land of the Giants® is © 1968, 1969 and 2010 Irwin Allen Properties, LLC and 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved throughout the world.

Doctor Who – The Twelfth Doctor volume 2: Fractures

By Robbie Morrison, George Mann, Brian Williamson, Mariano Laclaustra, Hi Fi & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-301-7 (HB)                    978-1-78276-659-9 (SC)

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

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, Winifred Atwell, Jimmy Edwards and their ilk as well as actual shows and properties such as Whacko!, ITMA, Old Mother Riley, Supercar, Pinky and Perky plus hundreds more.

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

Doctor Who premiered on black-&-white televisions across the UK 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 (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 British subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly. It 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.

The comicbook division of the Whovian mega-franchise has roamed far and wide and currently rests with Titan Comics who have sagaciously opted to run parallel series starring many individual incarnations of the trickily turbulent Time Lord…

These tales – starring the Peter Capaldi iteration – comprise issues #6-10 of the monthly periodical plus a short tale from Doctor Who – The Twelfth Doctor Free Comic Book Day 2015 with our tetchy Time Lord still gallivanting all across the universe in the company of schoolteacher and “Impossible Girl” Clara Oswald.

Scripted by Robbie Morrison (Nikolai Dante, The Authority) and illustrated by Brian Williamson (Torchwood, Primeval, Spider-Man) with assistance from Hi Fi Colour Design, the calamity commences soon after the defeat of self-proclaimed goddess Kali (see volume 1)

Strange occurrences are plaguing the area around Coal Hill Secondary School in Shoreditch, East London where Miss Oswald has a teaching job. They all centre around young Molly Foster whose dad – a Unified Intelligence Task-Force scientist – recently died in a car crash.

The family is naturally devastated, but little Molly’s black mood turns quite suddenly after she pulls the somehow not-deceased Dr. Foster out of a hole in the air…

When the TARDIS alarms reveal that something is trying to tear down the walls of the Multiverse, Clara and the Doctor warp into UNIT HQ and find the militarised boffins have been meddling with Foster’s last experiment… a Trans-Reality Gate…

Molly has no idea that the Daddy she’s hiding from the rest of the bereaved family in the shed in the garden comes from a parallel world where he was the only survivor of the traffic wreck. Paul only knows he’s found his lost loved ones again. The Doctor knows the reality breaches are eroding the crucial interdimensional barriers preserving Reality.

Nobody has any notion that the universes have their own safeguards and upholders of the Laws of Reality until merciless energy beings calling themselves ‘The Fractures’ leak into our dimension, possess humans and start hunting for the transgressors: Paul Foster, little Molly and anyone aiding and abetting them.

Since he considers Earth under his personal protection, The Doctor – despite utterly disapproving of Foster’s experiment and familial sentimentality – is resolved that the rampaging Fractures’ brutal police action will not go unpunished…

Bombastic ultra-cosmic invasion and last-ditch combat action gives way to cool wit, slick moves and devious criminal intent as ‘Gangland’ (with additional art by Mariano Laclaustra) sees Clara and The Doctor pop back to 1963 Las Vegas to catch a concert by the inimitable “Wolf Pack”.

Sadly, Frankie, Dino and the Boys are blithely unaware that their Mafioso employers are in a spot of extraterrestrial bother…

Millenia previously, the Hyperion War between the universe’s great races ended with the chief Time Lord employing a deadly chronal gun in a game of chance with Count D’if of the Cybock Imperium. The gambit – known as “Rassilon’s Roulette” – ensured Gallifreyan dominance for uncounted eons.

Now, however, the surviving Cybock octoids have stolen Rassilon’s legendary pistol and created a gangster syndicate on Earth. The intention is to subjugate the planet and reconstitute their Imperium as a criminal enterprise through which they can ultimately conquer the galaxy, but they have not counted on the ruthless greed and stubbornness of Earth mobsters, the devil-may-care pluck of drunken entertainers or the deadly wiles of the last Time Lord…

Scripted by George Mann and illustrated by Laclaustra & Luis Guerrero, ‘The Body Electric’ comes from Doctor Who – The Twelfth Doctor Free Comic Book Day 2015.

Short, sharp and shocking, the tale reveals how the Time Lord and Clara arrive on quartz planet Asmoray just as the humans mining the world for its electricity begin dying. It doesn’t take the grumbling Gallifreyan long to determine that the world is neither lifeless nor exclusively owned by humanity. Then all he has to do is stop two species eradicating each other…

All in a day’s work really…

Enthrallingly entertaining and wickedly witty, this titanic time-space tome comes with a gallery of alternate and variant covers by Blair Shedd, Brian Williamson & Luis Guerrero, Rian Hughes and AJ, so if you’re a fervent fan of the television Time Lord, this book – also available as a digital download – could well make you an addict of the print iteration too.

Fractures is a splendid romp for casual readers, a fine additional avenue for devotees of the TV show to explore and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote comics to anyone minded to give strip sagas another 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.

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.