The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists


By Robert Tressell; adapted by Scarlett & Sophie Rickard (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-910593-92-9 (TPB/Digital edition)

Born in Dublin to unfavourable circumstances, Robert Croker – AKA Robert Noonan – (17 April 1870 – 3 February 1911) was a man of many parts. His short, globetrotting, eventful life ended with him a housepainter and signwriter (a skilled trade) dying of tuberculosis in The Liverpool Royal Infirmary in 1911.

In all likelihood nobody today would remember him if he hadn’t spent his off hours in the declining years of 1906 to 1910 writing a book. He failed to have it published in his lifetime, but his daughter Kathleen Noonan persevered and a first (heavily edited, highly abridged and politically redacted) version was released on April 23 1914 – four months before the Great War began. That clash resulted in a changed planet and the first socialist (sic) state…

The full manuscript didn’t reach the public until 1955. Even bowdlerized editions were potent enough to make it one of the most important books of the century. Released under the nom de plume Robert Tressell, the cultural satire and barely-disguised socialist polemic was The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

After reading the million plus-selling, never out-of-print pioneering prose opus of working class literature, you should research the times it was set in and read up on the author, if you want to see how a fascinating man responded to the injustice of his world. There’s a splendid Afterword by the creators in this hefty graphic novel to get you started…

A more jaded person might assume current businesses and governments have also studied the text, with a view to rolling back all the hard-won advances made since then, returning us to the days where workers toiled in a brutal gig economy without safety nets of social housing, medicine or pensions. Work or die was the way of world and it’s well on its way back…

The tale – masquerading, like a Thomas Hardy Wessex novel, as a peek at the lives of poor working folk – was a major influence on thinkers in the aftermath of WWI, and many of the civil rights and common benefits of civilisation that we’re gradually allowing to be taken from us were predicted in its more utopian moments…

Politics aside however, it’s also a sublime realisation and examination of the working classes in all their warty, noble, scurrilous, generous, mean-spirited, self-sacrificing, self-serving, gullible, aspirational, tractable, intractable, skiving, hard-working, honest and human glory: a state perfectly realized in this warm-hearted and supremely inviting comics adaptation by Sophie Rickard, illustrated with charm, simplicity and abiding empathy by Scarlett Rickard. You will also want to see Mann’s Best Friend and A Blow Borne Quietly and their eagerly-anticipated adaptation of suffragist Constance Maud’s inspirational No Surrender…

The semi-autobiographical story detailed here closely follows a group of workers and their families over a year in the town of Mugsborough: proudly go-getting municipal powerhouse (closely based on Hastings, where Croker had worked) with the usual band of rich, mercantile bastards in charge and on the Council, feathering their own lavish nests with the approval and assistance of the local churches and clergy…

The 23 chapters span a year as seen through the eyes of skilled labourers at a time when jobs were scarce and cut-throat competition had the men who hire them fiercely undercutting each other to secure commissions. The artisans are currently refurbishing an ornate house on the cheap for a grasping boss, under the penny pinching eye of foreman Mr. ’Unter.

In breaks and off moments the disparate crew – dispassionately at first – discuss the job, the way of the world and ever-present threat of work drying up again. Artisan painter/signwriter Frank Owen argues the greed and dishonesty of capitalism and enlightening sense of socialism to his highly resistant and openly hostile mates. Over many days, they all hotly debate ‘The Causes of Poverty’ and the Church’s complicity in maintaining an unfair status quo in ‘The Lord Our Shepherd’. Further discussion in ‘The Economists’ focuses on the impossibility of making do on ever-diminishing wages and ‘The Ever-Present Danger’ of being thrown away once a worker is no longer usable.

This is no pedant’s dry and dusty tirade. “Tressell’s” arguments are bolstered by the declining state of the wives, elders and children of the workers – most of whom still argue ferociously against improvement of their own conditions. As those above them reduce wages and increase hours, uncaring of the horrific repercussions of their parsimony, Frank and enigmatic associate George Barrington gradually convert many, but a resolute group cannot countenance any change to the old system.

That begins changing in ‘The Truth’, and revelation is heightened after the Church is exposed to ‘The Shining Light’, especially once Owen makes a breakthrough by explaining ‘The Money Trick’ underpinning Capitalism.

The damaging power of booze on the hopeless is witnessed after a night at ‘The Cricketers’, presaging work briefly pausing for ‘The Christmas Party’. A New Year exposes corporate skulduggery and public malfeasance by ‘The Council’ of Mugsborough…

Every opinion expounded by the painters can be seen here and now: echoed on modern TV vox-pop segments with today’s exploited, bread & circus sated citizens repeating that we should let the rich (our “betters”) do the hard job of making the big decisions for us, happily abrogating all responsibility for their own evermore parlous state…

Deepening personal crises auger greater tragedies as ‘The Beginning of The End’ finds a beloved friend condemned to the Workhouse as a cynically tongue-in-cheek glimpse at what the Establishment considers ‘The Solutions’ to poverty lead to a long look at ‘The Meetings’ inside the Municipal Council and how a glimmer of reform is crushed by the prestigious clique…

After a period of scarcity, fresh work at a lower wage comes in ‘The Summer’ before a turning point comes when Barrington challenges the Bosses on a rare day’s holiday jaunt in ‘The Beano’ (slang for “BNO” – Boys Night Out).

Again arguing – but with a much smaller and more vocal group of workmates – Owen and Barrington begin ‘The Great Oration’, overruling and disproving ‘The Objections’ of bellicose working class holdouts – the apologists and willing henchmen who happily betray their own sort for elevated status, extra pennies and the cheery disdain of the capitalists. However, grief has not ended and as talk of elections and the growth of a socialist Labour Party blooms, death comes again. Even here the rich and their lackeys find a way to make a profit in ‘The Rope’ and a sordid exhibition at ‘The Funeral’. After the worker’s death comes what we today call “the cover-up”…

Feelings of hope manifest in final chapters ‘The Will of the People’, ‘The Sundered’ and ‘The New Position’ as utopian ideals and practical solutions are leavened with home truths, and a concentration on making change happen…

Uplifting ending notwithstanding, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a major milestone in the west’s path to becoming truly civilised, and this beautifully accessible iteration – deliciously illustrated in the manner of an inviting children’s picture book – could not be more timely, both as a reminder and warning from history. It’s also a wonderfully human drama gauging the limitations and frailties of the most exploited and vulnerable in society and “a book that everyone should read”.

I didn’t write that, George Orwell did, in 1946. Who could argue with that? Class is class no matter what you think…
© 2020 SelfMadeHero. Text © 2020 Sophie Rickard. Artwork © 2020 Scarlett Rickard. All rights reserved.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: The Complete Joe Kubert Years


By Joe Kubert with Burne Hogarth, Hal Foster, Frank Thorne, Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-982-3 (TPB/digital editions)

For those that care, it’s a week until St. Valentine’s Day, and once more I’m foregoing gift recommendations in favour of comics-related pep talks. This year, you can see here how some relationships – albeit in cartoon form – have weathered the test of time. One of the longest drives a strip that – despite a shift in social sensibilities and general growth in consensus attitudes – still has lot to offer on many levels…

Soon after first publication in 1912, Tarzan of the Apes became a multi-media sensation and global brand. More novels and many, many movies followed: a comic strip arrived in 1929, followed by a radio show in 1932 with the Ape-Man inevitably carving out a solid slice of the comic book market too, once that industry was firmly established.

Rivalling and frequently surpassing DC and Marvel at the height of their powers, Western Publishing were a big publishing/print outfit based on America’s West Coast. They specialised in licensed properties and the jewels in their crown were comics starring the Walt Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters.

As publishers, they famously never capitulated to the wave of anti-comics hysteria that resulted in the crippling self-censorship of the 1950s. Dell Comics – and latter imprints Gold Key and Whitman – never displayed a Comics Code Authority symbol on their covers. They never needed to.

Dell also handled other properties like movie or newspaper strip franchises, and would become inextricably associated with TV adaptations once the small screen monopolised modern homes. In 1948, Dell produced the first all-new Tarzan comic book. The newspaper strip had previously provided plenty of material for expurgated reprint editions until Dell Four Color Comic #134 (February 1947).

That milestone featured a lengthy, captivating tale of the Ape-Man scripted by Robert P Thompson – who wrote both the radio show and aforementioned syndicated strip – with art by the legendary Jesse Marsh.

Marsh & Thompson’s Tarzan returned with two further tales in Dell Four Color Comic #161, cover-dated August 1947. This was a frankly remarkable feat: Four Colour was an umbrella title showcasing literally hundreds of different properties – often as many as ten separate issues per month – so such a rapid return meant pretty solid sales figures.

Within six months, the bimonthly Tarzan #1 was released (January/February 1948), beginning an unbroken run that only ended in 1977, albeit by a convoluted route…

After decades as solid Whitman staples, licensed Edgar Rice Burroughs properties transferred to DC – not just Tarzan and his extended family, but also fantasy pioneers John Carter of Mars, Carson of Venus, Pellucidar and others – with the new company continuing the original numbering.

Tarzan #207 had an April 1972 cover-date and the series carried on until #258 in February 1977. Thereafter, Marvel, Malibu and Dark Horse extended the Jungle Lord’s comic canon…

The early 1970s were the last real glory days of National/DC Comics. As they lost market share to Marvel, their response was controversial: delivered in the form of landmark superhero material eschewing fantasy and super-villains in favour of social commentary. However their greatest strength lay – as it always had – in the variety and quality of its genre divisions. War, Mystery & Supernatural, Romance, and Kids’ titles remained strong and the company’s eye for a strong brand was as keen as ever.

The Ape Man and his family were a Dell/Gold Key mainstay and global multi-media phenomenon, so when DC acquired rights they justifiably trumpeted it out, putting one of their top creators in sole charge of the legend’s monthly exploits, as well as generating a boutique bunch of ERB titles in a variety of formats.

DC’s incarnation premiered in a blaze of publicity at the height of a nostalgia boom and was generally well received by fans. For many of us, those years provided the definitive graphic Tarzan, thanks solely to the efforts of the Editor, publisher and illustrator who shepherded the Ape-man through the transition.

They were all the same guy: Joe Kubert.

Kubert was born in 1926 in rural Southeast Poland (which became Ukraine and might be Outer Russia by the time you read this). His parents took him to America when he was two. and he grew up in Brooklyn. According to his Introduction, his earliest memory of cartooning was Hal Foster’s Tarzan Sunday strips…

Joe’s folks encouraged him to draw and the precocious kid began a glittering career at the start of the Golden Age, before he was even a teenager. Working and learning at the Chesler comics packaging “Shop”, MLJ, Holyoke and assorted other outfits, he began his lifelong association with DC in 1943.

A canny survivor of the Great Depression, he also maintained outside contacts, dividing his time and energies between Fiction House, Avon, Harvey and All-American Comics, where he particularly distinguished himself on The Flash and Hawkman. In the early 1950s he and old school chum Norman Maurer were the creative force behind publishers St. Johns: creating evergreen caveman Tor and launching the 3D comics craze with Three Dimension Comics.

Joe never stopped freelancing: appearing in EC’s Two-Fisted Tales, Avon’s Strange Worlds, Lev Gleason Publications & Atlas Comics until 1955 when, with the industry imploding, he took a permanent position at DC, only slightly diluted whilst he illustrated the contentious and controversial newspaper strip Tales of the Green Berets (1965 to 1968). From then on, he split his time drawing Sgt. Rock and other features, designing covers and editing DC’s line of war comicbooks.

And then DC acquired Tarzan…

This monumental archive collects the entirety of his work with the Ape-Man: stories from Tarzan #207-235 (April/November 1972 to February/March 1975): a tour de force of passion transubstantiated into stunning comic art, with Kubert writing, illustrating and lettering.

Moreover, the vibrant colours in this epic re-presentation are based on Tatjana Wood’s original guides, offering readers a superbly authentic and immersive experience whether you’re coming fresh to the material or joyously revisiting a beloved lost time.

The only disconcerting things about this stellar compilation are the cover reproductions, which appear in all their iconic glory but manipulated to remove DC’s trademark logos. The mightiest force in the modern jungle is still Intellectual Property lawyers…

The tense suspense begins with Kubert’s Introduction to earlier collections before his adaptation of debut novel Tarzan of the Apes opens with a safari deep in the jungle. A pretty rich girl is driving her white guide and native bearers at a ferocious pace as she desperately hunts for her missing father.

When a bronzed god bursts into view battling a panther, she watches aghast as human impossibly triumphs over killer cat and then pounds his chest whilst emitting astounding screams. As the terrifying figure vanishes back into the green hell, the girl’s questions are grudgingly answered by the old hunter who relates a story he has heard…

‘Origin of Tarzan of the Apes’ reveals how, following a shipboard mutiny, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke – and his wife Lady Alice – are marooned on the African coast with all their possessions, including a vast library of books and Primers intended for their soon-to-be-born baby…

Against appalling odds, they persevered with Greystoke building a fortified cabin to shelter them from marauding beasts, particularly the curious and savage apes roaming the region. Despite the birth of a son, eventually the jungle won and the humans perished, but their son was saved by a grieving she-ape who adopted the baby to replace her own recently killed “Balu”…

The ugly, hairless boy thrived under Kala’s doting attentions, growing strong but increasingly aware of intrinsic differences. He only discovered the how and why after years of diligent effort: through sheer intellectual effort and the remnants of his father’s books and papers, Tarzan learned to read and thereby deduced that he was a M-A-N…

The tale within a tale continues in ‘A Son’s Vengeance: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 2’ as the boy rises to prominence amongst his hirsute brethren and through imagination and invention masters all the beasts of his savage environment. Eventually, brutal, nomadic natives settle in the area and Tarzan has his first contact with creatures he correctly identifies as being M-E-N like him…

The new situation leads to the greatest tragedy of his life as a hunter of M’Bonga’s tribe kills beloved, devoted Kala and Tarzan learns the shock of loss and overpowering hunger for revenge…

Issue #209 revealed how civilisation finally caught up with Tarzan as ‘A Mate For the Ape-Man: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 3’ saw him meet and save American Jane Porter, her elderly father and his own cousin…

Just as had happened years earlier, these unlucky voyagers were marooned by mutineers. Discovering John Clayton’s cabin, the castaways find the lost peer’s diary, which is of especial interest to William Clayton, the current Lord Greystoke. As tensions rise and humans die, Tarzan takes his golden-haired mate deep into the impenetrable verdure…

It all concludes neatly and tantalisingly in ‘Civilisation: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 4’ wherein the innately noble Tarzan returns Jane to her fiancé William, just in time for the westerners to be rescued by Naval Officer Paul D’Arnot.

When the dashing French Lieutenant is captured and tortured by M’Bonga’s warriors, Tarzan rescues and nurses him back to health. In return, the grateful sailor teaches him to speak human languages that up until that moment he could only read and write in. By then, however, the navy vessel and saved souls have all sailed away, each carrying their own secrets with them…

With no other options, lovelorn Tarzan accompanies D’Arnot back to civilisation. The eternal comrades eventually settle in Paris with Tarzan practically indistinguishable from other men…

Even today ‘Origin of the Ape-Man’ is still the most faithful adaptation of ERB’s novel in any medium: potent and evocative, fiercely expressive: a loving, utterly visceral translation of the landmark saga.

Kubert’s intent was to adapt all 24 Burroughs novels and intersperse them with short, complete tales, but the workload, coupled with his other editorial duties, was crippling. To buy some time #211 combined old with new as ‘Land of the Giants’ partially adapted and incorporated Don Garden & Burne Hogarth’s newspaper classic ‘Tarzan and the Fatal Mountain’: Sunday strip pages #582-595 which had originally ran from May 3rd to August 2nd 1942.

A clash with crocodiles lands Tarzan in a lost valley where giant natives are persecuted by deformed, diminutive outworlder Martius Kalban: a sadist hungry for the secrets of their prodigious size and strength. Even after gaining his dark desire, Kalban finds himself no match for the outraged Ape-Man…

It’s followed by ‘The Captive!’: a latter-day exploit beginning a run of yarns based on the short stories comprising ERB’s book Jungle Tales of Tarzan as the relationship between Ape-Man and elephants is explored with each saving the other from the ever-present threat of the hunters of M’Bonga…

The Jungle Tales reworkings continue with ‘Balu of the Great Apes’ with childhood friends of Tarzan becoming incomprehensibly aggressive after the birth of their first baby, before ending with ‘The Nightmare’ as starving Tarzan steals and gorges on meat and drink from the native village. The resultant food poisoning takes him on a hallucinogenic journey never to be forgotten: one that almost costs his life when he can no longer tell phantasm from genuine threat…

Following Kubert’s Introduction to Tarzan #215-#224, the pictorial wonderment resumes with another vintage visual treat as ‘The Mine!’ (Tarzan #215, December 1972) incorporates material originally seen in 1930s Sunday newspaper strips (by Foster & George Carlin) embedded in an original tale by Kubert.

As before, deadline pressure again compelled Kubert to combine original with found material, detailing how Tarzan is captured by slavers and pressed into toil deep in the bowels of the earth for a sadistic mine owner. Naturally, he soon chafes at enforced servitude and leads a savage workers’ revolt to overturn and end the corporate bondage…

Issue #216 took another route to beating deadlines with old pal Frank Thorne pencilling Kubert’s script for ‘The Renegades’: leaving hard-pressed Joe to ink and complete the story of a murderous raid which wipes out a Red Cross mission.

Investigating the atrocity, Tarzan discovers the “maddened savages” responsible are actually white men in disguise; stealing supplies for a proposed expedition to plunder a lost treasure vault. When he catches the culprits, Tarzan’s vengeance is terrible indeed…

‘The Black Queen!’ was all-new, all-Kubert, as the Jungle Lord almost saves a man from crocodiles. Acceding to the ravaged victim’s last wish, Tarzan then travels to his distant country and overturns the brutal regime of tyrannical Queen Kyra – who rules her multicultural kingdom with whimsy, ingrained prejudice and casual cruelty…

The equally selfish choices of American millionaire tycoon Darryl T. Hanson blight his family as his search for ‘The Trophy’ decimates the fauna of Tarzan’s home and leads to a clash of wills and ideologies which can only end in tragedy…

With #219, Kubert began an epic 5-issue adaptation of ERB’s sequel novel The Return of Tarzan. It opens in Paris as the unacknowledged son of long-vanished Lord Greystoke tries to adapt to his new life as a civilised man of leisure.

One night, his natural gallantry draws him to the side of a woman screaming for help and he is attacked by a gang of thugs. After easily thrashing the brigands he is astounded to find her accusing him of assault and simply bounds effortlessly away from the gendarmes called to the disturbance. The entire trap had been engineered by a new enemy; Russian spy and émigré Nikolas Rokoff beside his duplicitous toady Paulvitch…

The rightful heir to the Greystoke lands and titles silently stood aside and let his apparently unaware cousin William Cecil Clayton claim both them and the American Jane Porter after the wild one rescued her from attacking apes in the jungle. Missing her terribly, Tarzan has chosen to make his own way in the human world beside French Naval Officer D’Arnot. In the course of his urbane progression, Tarzan had exposed the Russian cheating at cards to blackmail French diplomat Count De Coude and earned himself a relentless, implacable foe, forever.

When Rokoff subsequently tries to murder Tarzan, the vile miscreant agonisingly learns how powerful his jungle-bred enemy is…

With physical force clearly of no use, Rokoff’s latest plan is to put the Ape-Man through a ‘Trial by Treachery’: manufacturing “evidence” that Tarzan is having an affair with the Comte’s wife. Once again, the civilised beast underestimates his target’s forthright manner of handling problems and is savagely beaten until he admits to the plot and clears the innocent woman’s name…

With news of Jane’s impending marriage to Clayton, Tarzan seeks to ease his tortured mind with action, and the next chapter sees him in Algeria where, sponsored by the grateful, ashamed Count, he works for the French Secret Service in Sidi Bel Abbes, ferreting out a traitor in the turbulently volatile colony. His hunt leads to a likely turncoat and subsequent brutal battle with Arab agent provocateurs, but things start to turn his way after he liberates a dancing slave who is the daughter of a local sheik.

When word of Jane comes from D’Arnot, Tarzan throws himself even more deeply into his tasks and falls into another ambush organised by Rokoff. This time his ‘Fury in the Desert’ seems insufficient to his needs …until his newfound friend the Sheik rides to the rescue…

The intrigue further unfolds in ‘Return of the Primitive’ as Tarzan finally uncovers a link between Rokoff and spies at Sidi Bel Abbes. Mission accomplished, he is then posted to Capetown and aboard ship meets voyager Hazel Strong, a close friend of Jane’s who reveals the heiress had never forgotten her tryst with an Ape-Man.

Unable to watch Jane enter into a loveless marriage, Hazel took off on an ocean cruise…

The story rocks Tarzan’s mind, but not so completely that he fails to notice Rokoff is also aboard and murderously dogging his footsteps. This time, the Tsarist is properly prepared and that night the jungle man vanishes from the ship…

Rokoff’s act of assassination is a purely pyrrhic victory. Soon after reaching Capetown the villain insinuates himself into the Clayton wedding party but when their yacht’s boilers explode next morning, he, Hazel, Clayton, Jane and her father are left adrift in a lifeboat…

Tarzan, meanwhile, has survived being tumbled overboard and spent days swimming hundreds of miles. He now washes up on the same beach his parents were left upon decades ago. Staggering inland, he finds himself in the cabin his father built before being stolen and adopted by Kala the She-Ape.

John Clayton is forgotten, for fate has brought Tarzan home…

A man changed by his time amongst other men, the Jungle Lord instinctively saves a native warrior from certain death and is astonished to find himself declared chieftain of the Waziri nation.

…And off the coast, a lifeboat filled with dying travellers espies land and wearily sculls towards a welcoming beach in the heart of primeval forests…

Revelling in his newfound status, popularity and freedom, Tarzan enquires about the fabulous jewelled ornaments of his new friends and learns of an incredible lost metropolis. Soon he is curiously journeying to ‘The City of Gold’ to encounter debased, degenerate sub-men led by a gloriously beautiful Queen.

La is high priestess of lost Atlantean outpost Opar, but can barely control her subjects enough to allow the perfect specimen of manhood to escape to safety. Both she and Tarzan know they are destined to meet again…

Refusing to be cheated of their sacrifice, the bloodthirsty Oparian males search far into the jungle and soon encounter the Clayton yacht survivors. When the primitives attack the human strangers and carry off Jane, Rokoff shows his true colours, leaving William to his fate. This callous act also inadvertently clears the path for Tarzan to finally claim his inheritance and reunite with Jane. All the Jungle Lord has to do is break back into Opar, save his one true love from ‘The Pit of Doom!’ and escape the wrath of spurned Queen La…

That mission accomplished, he and Jane return to the beach in time to witness William’s dying confession and accept the succession to the estates and title of Lord Greystoke…

The adaptation is followed by an original adventure codicil, seeing Tarzan rescue a beautiful maiden from attacking apes to find she comes from La, now in peril of her life…

In Opar, another Beast Man insurrection has left the Queen imperilled by her subjects and threatened by a gigantic mutant whom she tearfully reveals is her sibling in ‘Death is My Brother!’ With no choice, Tarzan regretfully battles the nigh-mindless brute and proves to the insurgents that his wrath is greater than their malice…

A third and final Kubert text missive of fond reminiscences about Tarzan #225-235 leads into original tale ‘Moon Beast’ which sees a mother and child brutally slaughtered and Tarzan captured: framed for the hideous crime by cunning medicine man Zohar. When the vile trickster overreaches himself, the captive lord breaks free but still has to deal with the mutant brute Zohar employed to perpetrate the atrocity…

Kubert only produced the cover for #226, as deadline pressures finally caught up with him. The contents – not included here – featured a retelling of the Ape-Man’s origins by Russ Manning, taken from the Sunday newspaper strips of 15thNovember 1970-7th February 1971.

Back for #227, Joe took Tarzan out of his comfort zone as ‘Ice Jungle’ saw young warrior Tulum endure a manhood rite at the top of a mountain. Also converging on the site for much the same reason is American trust-fund brat J. Pellington Stone III: determined to impress his father by bagging a legendary snow ape. Sensing impending doom, Tarzan follows them both and is proved correct in his assessment…

After single-handedly killing an immense Sabretooth tiger in an unexplored region of the continent, Tarzan is captured by pygmies intent on offering him as sacrifice to a mighty monster that has terrorised them for years. However, a ‘Trial By Blood!’ sees the Ape-Man cleverly outwit a giant lizard and teach tribal elders a valuable lesson in leadership, after which albino queen Zorina seeks to extend her power by making him her consort.

The mighty wanderer wants nothing to do with ‘The Game!’, and, after the kingdom descends into savage civil war, sees ironic Fate deal the white queen a telling death blow…

With Tarzan #230 (April/May 1974), the title transformed into a sequence of 100-page giants, mixing new material with reprints of ERB characters and thematically-aligned stars from DC’s vast back-catalogue.

Leading off that issue was a brief all-Kubert vignette as ‘Tarzan’ saves a deer from a lioness. It neatly segues into ‘Leap into Death’ starring Korak, Son of Tarzan (written by Robert Kanigher, with Kubert pencilling and inks from Russ Heath). Here the titanic teen nomad hunts for his stolen true love Meriem and barbarian Iagho who   abducted her, before stumbling into a nest of aggressively paranoid bird-people who learn to respect his courage before flying away with his lover…

The next issue featured the start of another-Kubert-adapted Burroughs novel: possibly the most intriguing conception of the entire canon.

‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part One’ sees a movie company on location in the deep jungle. They are making a picture about a white man raised by animals who becomes undisputed master of all he surveys. The chain of coincidences grows more improbable as actor Stanley Obroski is a dead ringer for Tarzan… which probably explains why he is taken by savages set on torturing the Jungle Legend to death…

Rescued by Tarzan, Stanley explains how the expedition was attacked, unaware exactly how much trouble his fellow actors are in. During Obroski’s absence, stand-in Rhonda Terry and starlet Naomi Madison are kidnapped by El Ghrennem’s Arab bandits. They think the production’s prop map leads to an actual valley of diamonds…

When Tarzan finds the rest of the film crew, he is mistaken for Stanley and drawn into their search for the missing women. The plucky Americans have already made a mad dash for freedom, however, and Rhonda has been captured by creatures she simply cannot comprehend…

After a fascinating bonus section revealing Kubert’s ‘Layouts and Thumbnails’ for the opening chapter, ‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part Two’ reveals Rhonda taken by apes who speak Elizabethan English, and made the subject of a fierce debate. Half of the articulate anthropoids want to take her to “God” whilst the other faction believes her a proper prize of their liege lord “King Henry VIII”…

After being briefly recaptured by El Ghrennem, Naomi too is taken by the talkative Great Apes. When Tarzan discovers the kidnapper’s corpses, he follows a trail up an apparently unscalable escarpment. Rescuing and returning Miss Madison to her surviving friends, “Stanley” then re-ascends the stony palisade to discover an incredible pastoral scene complete with feudal village and English castle…

Tracking Rhonda, he enters the citadel and meets a bizarre human/ape hybrid calling himself God. The garrulous savant explains that once he was simply a brilliant Victorian scientist pursuing the secrets of life. When his unsavoury methods of procuring test-subjects forced him to flee England and relocate to this isolated region of Africa, he resumed his experiments and transformed himself into a superior being, before making the apes into fitting servants.

Now they have a society of their own – based on the history books he brought with him – and his experiments near completion. Having already extended his life and vitality far beyond its normal span by experimenting upon himself, God is now ready to attain immortality and physical perfection. All he has to do is consume Tarzan…

Of course, the madman has no conception of his captive’s capabilities, and when the Ape-Man and Rhonda promptly vanish from his dungeon it sends the palace into turmoil and God into a paroxysm of insanity…

The chaos also prompts already ambitious apostate King Henry to begin a revolt to overthrow his creator. As ‘Part Three’ opens, war between Church and State is in full swing and Tarzan battles to rescue Rhonda whilst God’s castle becomes a flaming hell. Losing her in the chaos, Tarzan is forced into a hasty alliance with God, unaware that maniacal monarch Henry has taken her back to the jungles below the escarpment, and into a region where God casts his scientific failures…

All too soon Henry is dead and Rhonda is facing beings even stranger than talking apes. Thankfully, ‘Part Four’ (preceded by another fascinating Kubert Layout spread) sees the Ape-Man arrive in time to save and return her to the film party in a dazzling, tragic conclusion…

Kubert ended his close association with Tarzan in #235’s ‘The Magic Herb’. Here, the hero saves a couple from a crashed aeroplane and siblings Tommy and Gail urge him to help them find a legendary flower that might cure the man’s fatal ailment. However, something about them makes Tarzan deeply suspicious…

Nevertheless, he takes them to the primeval lost valley where it grows, only to be betrayed as the intruders frame him: throwing the jungle lord to the resident lizard men and fleeing with specimens that will make them millionaires in the outside world. Sadly, the treacherous pair have completely misunderstood the powers of the plant and pay the ultimate price all betrayers must…

Wrapping up the astounding thrills and captivating artistry, more revelatory treasures from ‘Joe Kubert’s Tarzan Sketchbook’ trace the art process from page-roughs to competed page.

Supplemented by Creator Biographies of Burroughs and Kubert, this tome is an unmissable masterpiece of romance fantasy, wild adventure and comics creation no lover of the medium or genre can do without.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Complete Joe Kubert Years © 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 2005, 2016 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All rights reserved. Trademark Tarzan and Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. All rights reserved.

Star Wars – The New Republic Epic Collection volume 5: Dark Empire


By Tom Veitch, Peet Janes, Scott Allie, Jason Hall, Henry Gilroy, Joe Casey, Cam Kennedy, Jim Baikie, Paul Lee, Brian Horton, John McCrea, Dario Brizuela, Francisco Paronzini, Arthur Adams, Edvin Biuković, Steve Crespo, Rodolfo DaMaggio, Doug Mahnke, John Nadeau, Jordi Ensign, Stan Manoukian, Vince Roucher, Isaac Buckminster Owens, Dusty Abell, Jim Royal, Jan Duursema, Pop Mhan, Andrew Robinson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2698-4 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Entertainment and Adventure… 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 comic book adaptation. 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. Comic book exploits were reinstated in 1991 by Dark Horse Comics who built on the film legacy with numerous superb titles and tales 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. Moreover, rather than ignore what had passed between their two bites of the cherry, Disney/Marvel began reissuing the Dark Horse material too. Amongst the very best of it was a tryptic of miniseries released as one grand adventure under their Star Wars Legend imprint.

Scripted primarily by Tom Veitch, this fifth paperback/digital Epic Collection gathers Star Wars: Dark Empire #1-6; Dark Empire II #1-6; Empire’s End #1-2, plus material from Star Wars Tales #8, 11, 16, 17 and Star Wars Handbook volume one: X-Wing Rogue Squadron & Star Wars Handbook volume three: Dark Empire: originally seen between December 1991 and September 2003.

Set after the movie Return of the Jedi and now relegated conceptually to an alternate universe in light of later cinematic releases, Dark Horse kicked off its Star Wars franchise with a supremely moody, action-packed thriller. Illustrator Cam Kennedy (reuniting with scripter Veitch after previously collaborating on the excellent and peculiar Light and Darkness War), rendered the alien universe and familiar characters in his own unique and magnificent manner, delivering quirky but reassuringly authentic settings and scenarios for a space opera romp that satisfyingly captures the feel and pace of the cinema versions, whilst building on the canon for Force-starved fanatics everywhere.

Star Wars: Dark Empire opened in December 1991 with ‘The Destiny of a Jedi’: unfolding about ten years after the Battle of Endor and the death and redemption of Darth Vader. Although the Emperor is gone, the war continues. The militaristic remnants of the Empire are still battling for every inch of the galaxy. The New Republic is desperately hard-pressed. Han Solo and his wife Leia, although new parents, are as deeply involved as ever, and Luke Skywalker is pushed to ever-more desperate measures as he attempts to destroy the pervasive unleashed evil corrupting the universe. His solution to rebalance the Force is to revive and rebuild the fabled Jedi Knights…

A mysterious new leader employing ingenious new super-weapons is winning the war for the Empire in ‘Devastator of Worlds’ and the heroes must separate to succeed. The Alliance is being picked off world by world and as ‘The Battle for Calamari’ rages, Han and Leia pursue the strategic aspects of the conflict resulting in a ‘Confrontation on the Smugglers Moon’ whilst Luke heads directly to the source and succumbs to the Dark Side when a dead foe returns thanks to he horrors of cloning in ‘Emperor Reborn’.

‘The Fate of a Galaxy’ is decided with closing 6th issue (October 1992) with Leia’s newly conceived child destined to become the greatest threat the galaxy has ever faced…

Can the heroes reunite to avert the tragedy before all is lost?

No need to guess as December 1994 saw the start of sequel series Star Wars: Dark Empire II with ‘Operation Shadow Hand’.

Veitch & Kennedy returned in a blaze of glory after the runaway success of Dark Empire with a superb continuation featuring the further battles of Luke, Leia, Han Solo and all the other movie favourites…

Deprived of clone bodies he was incubating to ensure a return to physicality, the ghost of Emperor Palpatine is intent on possessing the unborn child in Leia’s belly even as his Dark Side lieutenants struggle to become his successor. The Empire’s last infrastructure remnants are producing more diabolical planet-killing weapons to terrorise and subdue the battered, war-weary galaxy and the monster expects success thanks to his last resort weapon: Seven Dark Jedi fanatically executing his contingency plans, whilst his nemesis Skywalker pursues a cosmic wild goose chase sparked by Jedi database the Holochron. It has set him in pursuit of scattered Jedi survivors who might have escaped the purge…

‘Duel on Nar Shaddaa’, ‘World of the Ancient Sith’ and ‘Battle on Byss’ unite old favourites with new Star Warriors – such as Ysanna tribe adepts Rayf and Jem – in a desperate struggle for survival even as reborn, young Palpatine readies ‘The Galaxy Weapon’ to deliver total victory.

Han and Leia have been hiding their Force-rich twins Jacen and Jaina from the Emperor for years, but are now fearful that their imminent third child will be the spectral horror’s new target for possession. When news comes that Palpatine has eradicated the entire Alliance leadership, Luke and his new Jedi disciples arrive in time to rally the last survivors in a last-ditch attempt to push back the swiftly-closing ‘Hand of Darkness’ (#6, May 1995). Tragically, the Dark Jedi are hot on their trail and a deadly confrontation looms…

This big bombastic blockbuster rockets along, packed with tension and invention, with action aplenty and spectacular set pieces for the fans – although it might be a tad bewildering if your Star Wars IQ is limited.

The trilogy concluded later that year in Star Wars: Empire’s End (October & November 1995) with Jim Baikie replacing Kennedy as artist for a much shorter adventure wrapping up all the plot-threads in a fittingly spectacular fashion. Issue #1’s ‘Triumph of the Empire’ sees the regrowth and expansion of a new rebel alliance and next generation of Jedi Knights when Palpatine discovers his clone-body is breaking down. The ‘Rage of the Emperor’ compels him to attempt a precipitous possession of new-born Anakin Solo leading to one final, sacrifice soaked confrontation…

Accompanying the colossal star-shaking events are a tranche of short stories taken from anthological series Star Wars Tales, beginning with ‘Tall Tales’ by Scott Allie, Paul Lee & Brian Horton from #11 (March 2002). Here, gossip among patrons in a cantina about a ship called the Millennium Falcon leads to another brawl by some very familiar strangers, after which ‘The Other’ (#16, June 2003 by Jason Hall & John McCrea) sees Luke and Leia on Coruscant, debating her future and provoking some awful memories of when they were constantly at war…

Star Wars Tales #8 (June 2001 by Henry Gilroy & Dario Brizuela & Francisco Paronzini) shares ‘The Secret Tales of Luke’s Hand’ as 4-year old Anakin Solo hears bedtime stories of his uncle’s prosthetic paw before Joe Casey & Francisco Paronzini expose ‘Phantom Menaces’ (#17, September 2003) when Ambassador Luke Skywalker encounters a seemingly spectral Sith Lord haunting a candidate planet of the New Republic …

After all that, true Jedi adepts and prospective Padawans can enhance their SWIQ through studying a veritable avalanche of new friends and foes whilst also reacquainting themselves with old favourites in data-drenched Star Wars Handbook volume one: X-Wing Rogue Squadron by Peet Janes, Arthur Adams, Edvin Biuković, Steve Crespo, Rodolfo DaMaggio, Doug Mahnke, John Nadeau, Jordi Ensign, Stan Manoukian, Vince Roucher and Star Wars Handbook volume three: Dark Empire by Janes, Nadeau, Ensign, Isaac Buckminster Owens, Dusty Abell, Jim Royal, Jan Duursema, Pop Mhan & Andrew Robinson.

These catalogues detail everybody and everything from Wedge Antilles and Boba Fett to World Devastators and the Jedi Holocron and segue efficiently into a trove of extras including a gallery of covers – movie photos and painted works from Dave Dorman, Ashley Wood, Kia Asamiya, John Nadeau – plus previous collection covers by Dorman, Mark Zug and Tsuneo Sanda.

There’s also Dark Empire painted promo art, character roughs and equipment sketches, and pencilled pages all by Cam Kennedy; text End-pieces and Introductions from the original comics as well as art Prints and Plates by Kennedy and Dorman.

Exceptional fun, in strong stories with beautiful pictures, this is an utter delight for devotees of a galaxy not so very far, far away and anyone hungry for good old fashioned action entertainment.
STAR WARS and related text and illustrations are trademarks and/or copyrights in the United States and other countries of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & ™ Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

GWAR – The Enormogantic Fail


By Matt McGuire & Matt Miner, Jeff Martin, Katie Longua, Matt Young, Liana Kangas, Lukasz Kowalczuk, Clay Henss, Matt Harding & various (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: -978-1-98890-351-4 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-98890-364-4

Fancy a bit of scary dress-up?

GWAR have played loud, fantasy-themed heavy metal music since 1984. The ever-shifting band roster comprises of an excessively theatrical rock combo performing as mythological Sci Fi personas, delivering raucous, rousing good times as well-defined yet fluid fantasy characters. They are happy to shock and might well offend your nan – unless she’s like my nan was…

Operating under the umbrella designation Slave Pit Inc., they should more correctly be assessed as an arts collective of musicians, artists and filmmakers. You should check them out, especially if you’re the sort of reader who was weaned on the anarchic glory days of British comics like 2000 AD and The Beano…

Their brand and output is soaked in rude, crude satire, ultra-violent and sexualised imagery and a deliciously deviant sense of fun…

Shock Rockers GWAR positively encourage sidebar story projects and ventures. This graphic novel is their second starring vehicle (the first was in 1998), craftily capturing the spirit of the performances through the lens of comic combat as pawns and agents of rival galactic archetypes The Master, the Destructo Brothers and Cardinal Syn.

Crafted collaboratively by writers Matt McGuire & Matt Miner, and finishers Jeff Martin, Katie Longua, Matt Young, Liana Kangas, Lukasz Kowalczuk, Clay Henss, Matt Harding and others, this rocket-paced, rollicking yarn exposes the very origins of humanity after the daft but doughty warrior-scumdogs go on trial for their many failures – and failings – in pursuit of the much-desired Jizmogoblin.

Tragically, and as per normal operating conditions, there’s far more going on than these simple berserker grunts can fathom…

Wild, rowdy and manically cathartic, this exuberant romp is heaped high with fun and sly commentary, masquerading as simple cosmic cartoon carnage. Think Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy on steroids mating with Red Dwarf’s disinherited half-brother, scored by Cradle of Filth and catered by Slipknot and you won’t be far out… but will be much amused.

Or you will be utterly shaken, outraged and appalled, and reinforced in your views that the modern world and its sundry entertainments are further confirmatory proof of the end of days. You be the judge…
GWAR The Enormogantic Fail © Slave Pit Inc. 2019.

Steed and Mrs Peel volume 3: The Return of the Monster


By Caleb Monroe, Steve Bryant, Will Sliney, Yasmin Liang & Chris Rosa (Boom! Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-60886-363-1 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-61398-363217-4

The (British) Avengers was an astoundingly stylish, globally adored TV show glamorously blending espionage with arch comedy and deadly danger with technological extrapolation from swinging Sixties through to the beginning of the 1980s. A phenomenal cult hit, it and sequel The New Avengers call up pangs of Cool Britannia style, cheeky action-adventure, kinky quirkiness, mad gadgetry, dashing heroics, bizarrely British festishistic attire, surreal suspense and the wholly appropriate descriptive phrase “Spy Fi”.

Enormously popular everywhere, the show evolved from 1961’s gritty crime thriller Police Surgeon into a paragon of witty, thrilling and sophisticated adventure lampoonery with suave, urbane British Agent John Steed and dazzlingly talented amateur sleuth Mrs. Emma Peel battling spies, robots, criminals, secret societies, monsters and even “aliens” with tongues very much in cheeks and always under the strictest determination to remain calm, dashingly composed and exceedingly eccentric…

The format was a winner. Peel, as played by Dame Diana Rigg, and replacing landmark character Cathy Gale – the first hands-on fighting female on British TV history – took the show to even greater heights of success. Emma Peel’s connection with viewers cemented the archetype of a powerful, clever, competent woman into the nation’s psyche: largely banishing the screaming, eye-candy girly-victim to the dustbin of popular fiction.

Rigg left in 1967, herself replaced by another feisty female: Tara King (Linda Thorson) who carried the series to its demise in 1969. Continued popularity in more than 90 countries led to a revival in the late 1970s. The New Avengers saw glamorous Purdey (Joanna Lumley) and manly Gambit (Gareth Hunt) as partners and foils to the agelessly debonair but deadly Steed…

The show remains an enduring cult icon, with all the spin-off that entails. During its run and beyond, The Avengers spawned toys, games, collector models, a pop single and stage show, radio series, audio adventures, posters, books and all the myriad merchandising strands that inevitably accompany a media sensation. The one we care most about is comics and, naturally, the popular British Television program was no stranger there either.

Following an introductory strip starring Steed & Gale in listings magazines Look Westward and The Viewer – plus the Manchester Evening News – (September 1963 to the end of 1964), legendary children’s staple TV Comic launched its own Avengers strip in #720 (October 2nd 1965) with Emma Peel firmly ensconced.

This ran until #771 (September 24th 1966) and the dashing duo also starred in TV Comic Holiday Special, whilst a series of young Emma Peel adventures featured in June & Schoolfriend, before transferring to DC Thomson’s Diana until 1968 whereupon it returned to TV Comic with #877, depicting Steed and Tara King until #1077 in 1972.

In 1966 Mick Anglo Studios unleashed a one-off, large-sized UK comicbook, and two years later in America, Gold Key’s Four-Color series published a try-out book using recycled UK material as John Steed/Emma Peel – since Marvel had secured an American trademark for comics with the name “Avengers”…

A constantly evolving premise, fans mostly fixate on the classic pairing of Steed and Peel – which is handy as the Avengers title is embargoed up the wazoo now

There were wonderful, sturdily steadfast hardback annuals for the British Festive Season trade, beginning with 1962’s TV Crimebusters Annual and thereafter pertinent TV Comic Annuals before a run of solo editions graced Christmas stockings from 1967-1969: supplemented by a brace of New Avengers volumes for 1977 and 1978.

Eclipse/ACME Press produced a trans-Atlantic prestige miniseries between 1990 and 1992. Steed & Mrs. Peel was crafted by Grant Morrison & Ian Gibson with supplementary scripts from Anne Caulfield. That tale was reprinted in 2012 by media-savvy publishers Boom! Studios: a kind of pilot for the later iteration under review here.

The Adventures of Steed and Mrs. Peel began with issue #0 (August 2012), reintroducing the faithful and newcomers to a uniquely British phenomenon, and terminate here with #8-11, as Caleb Monroe, Yasmin Liang, Ron Riley and letterer Ed Dukeshire conclude the sparkling revival with a quartet of fabulous missions, beginning with ‘The Art of Resurrection’.

A long-delayed sequel to 1966 TV episode ‘A Touch of Brimstone’ sees the demented offspring of Hellfire Club Supremo the Honorable John Cleverly Cartney rescue their barely-alive sire and begin a campaign of vengeance decked out as doppelgangers of Steed and Peel.

The manic scheme takes a darker twist as daddy dearest’s personality is installed in a robotic body for ‘The Clothes Make the Cybernaut’ (who featured in three small screen episodes). His progeny might be no match for our True Brits, but Cartney 2.0 is far more formidable, easily subduing the agents when they track down the mad malefactors…

However, the perfidious plan unravels in ‘Punchlines and Proposals’ when the wicked kids accidentally discover their daddy never had any children and still intends on making Mrs Peel his bride…

The madness and mayhem spectacularly wrap up in wedding issue ‘What They Do’, with the reunited operatives firing on all cylinders to thwart all the treacherous plots and counterplots before enjoying a spot of bubbly and another splendid sunset…

Wry, arch and wickedly satisfying, this closing salvo of the reborn franchise is a delight for staunch fans and curious newcomers alike and includes a covers and variants gallery by Joseph Michael Linsner, Joe Corroney & Brian Miller, and Dan Davis & Vladimir Popov to charm the eyes whilst the story salves the senses…
© 2014 Studio Canal S.A. All rights reserved.

Steed and Mrs Peel volume 2: The Secret History of Space


By Caleb Monroe, Yasmin Liang, Ron Riley & various (Boom! Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-60886-340-2 (TPB)

The (other) Avengers was an incredibly stylish, globally popular British TV show which blended espionage with arch glamor, seductively knowing comedy and deadly danger with elements of technological fantasy. It ran from the 1960s through to the beginning of the 1980s. A phenomenal cult hit, the show (and sequel The New Avengers) is best remembered for Cool Britannia outreach, stylish action-adventure, kinky quirkiness, mad gadgetry, dashing heroics, uniquely English festishistic trappings, surreal suspense and the wholly appropriate descriptive phrase “Spy Fi”.

Enormously popular all over the globe, the show evolved from 1961’s gritty crime thriller Police Surgeon into a paragon of witty, thrilling and sophisticated drama/lampoonery with suave, urbane British Agent John Steed and dazzlingly talented amateur sleuth Mrs. Emma Peel battling spies, robots, criminals, secret societies, monsters and even “aliens” with tongues very much in cheeks and always under the strictest determination to remain calm, dashingly composed and exceedingly eccentric…

The format was a winner. Peel, as played by Dame Diana Rigg, had replaced landmark character Cathy Gale – the first hands-on fighting female on British TV history – and took the show to even greater heights of success. Emma Peel’s connection with viewers cemented into the nation’s psyche the archetype of a powerful, clever, competent woman: largely banishing the screaming, eye-candy girly-victim to the dustbin of popular fiction.

Rigg left in 1967, herself replaced by another feisty female: Tara King (Linda Thorson) who carried the series to its demise in 1969. Continued popularity in more than 90 countries led to a revival in the late 1970s. The New Avengers saw glamorous Purdey (Joanna Lumley) and manly Gambit (Gareth Hunt) as partners and foils to agelessly debonair but deadly Steed…

The show remains an enduring cult icon, with all the spin-off that entails. During its run and beyond, The Avengers spawned toys, games and collector models; a pop single, stage show and radio series, plus audio adventures, posters, books and all the myriad merchandising strands that inevitably accompany a media sensation. The one we care most about is comics and naturally, the popular British Television program was no stranger there either.

Following an introductory strip starring Steed & Gale in listings magazines Look Westward and The Viewer – plus the Manchester Evening News – (September 1963 to the end of 1964), legendary children’s staple TV Comic launched its own Avengers strip in #720 (October 2nd 1965) with Emma Peel firmly ensconced.

This ran until #771 (September 24th 1966), and the dashing duo also starred in TV Comic Holiday Special, whilst a series of young Emma Peel adventures featured in June & Schoolfriend, before transferring to DC Thomson’s Diana until 1968 whereupon it returned to TV Comic with #877, depicting Steed and Tara King until #1077 in 1972.

In 1966, Mick Anglo Studios unleashed a one-off, large-sized UK comicbook, and two years later in America, Gold Key’s Four-Color series published a try-out book using recycled UK material as John Steed/Emma Peel – since Marvel had since secured an American trademark for comics with the name “Avengers”. Although a constantly evolving premise, fans mostly fixate on the classic pairing of Steed and Peel – which is handy as the Avengers title is embargoed up the wazoo now.

There were wonderful, sturdily steadfast hardback annuals for the British Festive Seasonal trade, beginning with 1962’s TV Crimebusters Annual and thereafter pertinent TV Comic Annuals before a run of solo editions graced Christmas stockings from 1967-1969: supplemented by a brace of New Avengers volumes for 1977 and 1978.

Most importantly, Eclipse/ACME Press produced a trans-Atlantic prestige miniseries between 1990 and 1992. Steed & Mrs. Peel was crafted by Grant Morrison & Ian Gibson with supplementary scripting from Anne Caulfield. That tale was reprinted in 2012 by media-savvy publishers Boom! Studios: a notional pilot for the later iteration under review here.

The Adventures of Steed and Mrs. Peel began with issue #0-3 (August 2012), reintroducing the faithful and newcomers to a uniquely British phenomenon and saw the grand dames of Spy Fi tackle old (TV) enemies The Hellfire Club at the height of the 1960s.

After quelling last volume’s A Very Civil Armageddon, the intrigue resumes here and now with Steed and Peel clearing up loose ends by attending a highly suspect gala soiree in ‘Ballroom Dance Fu’ (by Caleb Monroe, Yasmin Liang & colourist Ron Riley). The scoundrel du jour under investigation is wealthy rogue Lloyd Cushing, but the true target is scurrilous brainwasher Mr. Blackwell – the sinister mindbender who facilitated the Hellfire Club’s schemes and previously warped Mrs Peel into their Queen of Sin.

Sadly, despite a minimum of murders and the defeat of their foe, our heroes are left little wiser, and blithely unaware that the schemes of a hidden mastermind are still proceeding apace…

Main event ‘The Secret History of Space’ then kicks off with the abduction of British Air Chief Marshal Trevor Seabrook’s wife in opening gambit ‘Steed Drifts Off into Space’. The hidden villain’s ultimate aim is achieved when the distraught airman – head of the UK’s Space Program – hands over an item long stored and forgotten in a research facility. Investigating the extortion, Steed and Peel are baffled to learn that the top-secret booty is a decades-old empty glass jar…

Diligent investigation leads the Derring Duo to a warehouse where old enemy Dr. Peter Glass (another TV series recruit) has been continuing his deadly experiments into optical lasers. It’s quite the conundrum since Steed clearly remembers killing him…

The answer is forthcoming as ‘Time Flies’ reveals a bit of chronal meddling from the bonkers boffin’s future assistant Jamie upsetting the timeline and risking things from beyond our comprehension getting dangerously close to humanity. Thankfully, even a gang of time-duplicated henchpersons are no match for Mrs Peel in full assault mode…

With normality restored, our heroes then voyage to small Welsh mining town Abergylid, where an unlikely cluster of suicides (24 in one month) has the Ministry deeply concerned. After both almost simultaneously succumb to manic death-urges, simple deduction leads to an outside influencer callously operating with malign intent and methods in ‘Tawdry Little Endings’.

Wry, sharp and wickedly satisfying, these classy cloak-&-dagger dramas are sheer delight for staunch fans and curious newcomers alike and this volume also includes a wealth of covers and variants gallery by Joe Corroney & Brian Miller; Drew Johnson, Mike Perkins, Barry Kitson and Davis (all coloured by Vladimir Popov), Lorena Carvalho and Chan Hyuk Lee.
© 2012, 2013 Studio Canal S.A. All rights reserved.

Metropolis


By Thea von Harbou, illustrated by Michael W. Kaluta (Donning/Starblaze)
ISBN: 0-89865-519-6 (HB)

People who work in comics adore their earliest influences, and will spout for hours about them. Not only did they initially fire the young imagination and spark the drive to create but they always provide the creative yardstick by which a writer or artist measures their own achievements and worth. Books, comics, posters, even gum cards (which mysteriously mutated into “Trading Cards” in the 1990s) all fed the colossal hungry Art-sponge which was the developing brain of the kids who make comics.

But by the 1970s an odd phenomenon was increasingly apparent. It became clear that new talent coming into the industry was increasingly aware only of comic-books as a source of pictorial fuel. The great illustrators and storytellers who had inspired the likes of Howard Chaykin, Bernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, P. Craig Russell, Charles Vess, Mike Grell, and a host of other top professionals were virtually unknown to many youngsters and aspirants. I suspect the reason for this was the decline of illustrated fiction in magazines – and general magazines in general.

Photographs became a cheaper option than artwork in the late 1960s and, as a broad rule, populations read less and less each year from that time onwards.

In the late 1980s, publisher Donning created a line of oversized deluxe editions reprinting “lost” prose classics of fantasy, illustrated by major comics talents who felt an affinity for the selected texts. Charles Vess illustrated Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, P. Craig Russell created magic for The Thief of Bagdad and Mike Grell revisited Pyle’s take on the world’s greatest archer in The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire.

Arch period stylist Mike Kaluta lucked in to something a little more exotic; illustrating the original film scenario (a broad shooting script used by movie-makers in the days before dialogue) written by Thea von Harbou after her husband returned from a trip to America.

Herr “von Harbou” was German expressionist genius Fritz Lang, and his account of his fevered impressions, responses and reminiscences became the ultimate social futurist fiction film Metropolis – possibly the most stirring, visually rich and influential movie of the silent era – and officially the most expensive film ever made during the pre-Talkies era.

If you haven’t seen the film… Do. Go now, a new re-re-restored version was released in 2010 – the most complete yet. I’ll wait…

The plot – in simple terms – concerns the battle between proletarian workers and the rich, educated elite of a colossal city where workers toil in hellish, conformist subterranean regiments to provide a paradise for the bosses and managers who live like gods in the lofty clouds above.

It would be the perfect life for Freder, son of the grand architect Joh Fredersen, except for the fact that he has become besotted with Maria, an activist girl from the depths. The boy will move Heaven and Earth to have her love him. He even abandons his luxuries to become a worker near her…

Distraught Fredersen renews his tempestuous relationship with the crazed science-wizard Rotwang, once an ally and rival for the love of the seductive woman Hel.

Rotwang offers his aid but it is a double-edged sword. He kidnaps Maria and constructs an incredible robotic replacement of her, to derail her passive crusade and exact his own long-deferred revenge…

This “novelisation” – for want of a better term – is as engrossing as the film in many ways, but the story is elevated by the incredible illustrations produced by Kaluta: 5 full page artworks in evocative chalk-and-pastel colour, two incredible double-page spreads in black line plus 32 assorted monochrome half-frames and full pages rendered in black & white line, grey-tones, charcoal, chalk monotones and pastel tints – an absolute banquet for lovers of art deco in particular and immaculate drawing in general.

Whilst no substitute for the actual filmic experience, this magnificent book is a spectacular combination of art and story that is the perfect companion to that so-influential fantasy masterpiece beloved by generations of youngsters. Well overdue for refit, recovery and revival…
© 1988 by the Donning Company/publishers. Art © 1988 Michael W. Kaluta. All rights reserved.

Steed and Mrs Peel volume One: A Very Civil Armageddon


By Mark Waid, Caleb Monroe, Steve Bryant, Will Sliney, Yasmin Liang & Chris Rosa & various (Boom! Studios/Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-1-60886-306-8 (TPB)

Generally, when I write about the Avengers, we’re all thinking about an assembled multitude of Marvel superheroes, but – until the blockbuster movie franchise stormed the 21st century world – for most non-comics civilians that name usually conjured up images of dashing heroics, old world charm, incredible, implausible adventure and true British style – not to say bizarrely fetishistic attire. It’s easy to see how that might lead to some consumer confusion…

In this anniversary year for the TV show, I thought we’d revisit some of the many comics outings of the English iteration, so we’re starting here. Be prepared for a sparkling variety of follow-up treats in the months ahead…

The (other) Avengers was a stylish, globally popular crime/spy TV show made in Britain: glamorously and seductively blending espionage thrills with arch, knowing comedy. After a grim-‘n’-gritty start in 1961, it gradually combined deadly danger with elements of technological fantasy, capturing the mood of two distinct eras, A phenomenal cult hit, the show and its1980s sequel The New Avengers are best remembered now for Cool Britannia-styled action, kinky quirkiness, mad gadgetry, surreal suspense and the wholly appropriate descriptive phrase “Spy Fi”.

The legacy of the series is apparent in many later shows like The Invisible Man (both TV spy iterations); Chuck, the Mission: Impossible movie franchise and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Enormously popular across the globe – even Warsaw Pact Poland was crazy for Rewolwer i melonik (“A Revolver and a Bowler Hat”) – the show evolved from bleak vengeance thriller Police Surgeon (September-December 1961) into the epitome of wittily sophisticated adventure lampoonery with suave, urbane British Agent John Steed partnering with a succession of dazzlingly talented women displaying the true meaning of the term “agency”.

Most revered was amateur sleuth Mrs. Emma Peel who battled spies, supervillains, robots, criminals, secret societies, monsters and even “aliens” with tongue very much in cheek and always under the strictest determination to remain cool, dashingly composed and exceedingly eccentric…

The format was a winner. Peel, as played by (Dame) Diana Rigg, had been a replacement for landmark and breakthrough character Cathy Gale – the first hands-on fighting female in British television history. She left the show in 1964 to become Bond Girl Pussy Galore (in Goldfinger), but her replacement with Rigg took the show to even greater heights of success. The role of recently bereaved Emma Peel hit a chord with viewers and cemented the archetype of a powerful, clever, competent woman into the nation’s psyche: forever countering – if not quite abolishing – the screaming, eye-candy girly-victim to the dustbin of popular fiction.

Rigg left in 1967 (to marry James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and another feisty female was found in the person of Tara King (Linda Thorson) to carry the series to its demise in 1969. Its continued popularity in more than 90 countries eventually resulted in a revival during the late 1970s. The New Avengers saw glamorous “Sloane Ranger” Purdey (Joanna Lumley) and brutishly manly Gambit (Gareth Hunt) acting as partners and foils to the agelessly debonair and deadly Steed…

The show has remained a hugely enticing cult icon. There was a rather ill-conceived major motion picture in 1998, but the television version regularly features in Top 20 rankings for assorted polls assessing Cult TV Shows. During its run and beyond, the internationally adored series has spawned toys; games; collector models; a pop single and stage show; radio series; posters and books plus all the myriad merchandising strands that inevitably accompany an evergreen media sensation.

Naturally, as a popular British Television program these Avengers were no stranger to our comics pages either.

Following an introductory cartoon strip starring Steed & Gale in listings magazines Look Westward, The Viewer and Manchester Evening News (September 1963 to the end of 1964), legendary children’s staple TV Comic launched its own Avengers strip in #720 (October 2nd 1965) with Emma Peel firmly ensconced and crushing crime.

This serial ran until #771 (September 24th 1966), with the dashing duo also starring in TV Comic Holiday Special, whilst a series of young Emma Peel adventures featured in June & Schoolfriend. This feature transferred to DC Thomson’s Diana, running until 1968 whereupon it returned to TV Comic (from #877): now depicting Steed and Tara King until 1972 (#1077).

In 1966 there was a one-off, large-sized UK comicbook from Mick Anglo Studios whilst in America, Gold Key’s Four-Color series published a try-out book in 1968 using recycled UK material under the rather obvious title John Steed/Emma Peel – since Marvel had already secured an American trademark for comics with the name “Avengers”.

There were also a number of wonderful, sturdily steadfast hardback annuals for the British Festive Season trade, beginning with 1962’s TV Crimebusters Annual and thereafter pertinent TV Comic Annuals after which a run of solo editions graced Christmas stockings from 1967-1969, augmented by plus a brace of New Avengers volumes for 1977 and 1978.

Between 1990 and 1992, Eclipse Comics and the UK’s ACME Press produced a trans-Atlantic prestige miniseries, Steed & Mrs. Peel: crafted by Grant Morrison, Anne Caulfield & Ian Gibson. Stay tuned for a review of that one too…

Repackaged and reprinted in 2012 by media-savvy publishers Boom! Studios, that event acted as a pilot for a fresh iteration, the first compilation of which is under review here. Wisely set in the series’ Swinging Sixties Britain heyday, this volume of Steed and Mrs. Peel collects issues #0-3 (August-December 2012): a worthy reintroduction for the faithful and happily accessible introduction for notional newcomers as the dedicated followers of felons return for another clash with memorable TV antagonists The Hellfire Club.

These baroque bounders appeared in episode ‘A Touch of Brimstone’ and so warped the maturing personalities of young Chris Claremont & John Byrne that they later created their own version for a comic book they were working on – the Uncanny X-Men…

The drama here opens in ‘A Very Civil Armageddon: Prologue’ (written by Boom! chief creative guru Mark Waid and illustrated by Steve Bryant) as, way back then, our heroes are called upon to investigate ‘The Dead Future’, as an active – albeit murdered – agent seemingly ages decades overnight.

The situation reminds Mrs. Peel of the mind-bending, lethally effective fun-&-games perpetrated by the insidious Hellfire Club and its now-defunct leader the Honourable John Clever-Cartney…

Further inquiries take them to the latest incarnation of the ancient Gentleman’s Club where avowed futurist Ian Lansdowne Dunderdale Cartney disavows any knowledge of the matter… or his dad’s old antisocial habits. In fact, the current scion is far more absorbed with the World of Tomorrow than the embarrassing peccadilloes of the past. However, it’s all a trap and whilst Mrs Peel is attacked by a killer robot maid, Steed is ambushed – only to awaken as a doddering old man 35 years later in the year 2000AD!

Forever undaunted, the temporarily separated Derring-Duo refuse to accept the improbable, impeccably and individually striking back to uncover the incredible answer to an impossible situation…

The main event – by Waid & Caleb Monroe with art from Will Sliney – depicts ‘London Falling’ as long-anticipated and dreaded nuclear Armageddon finally happens, leaving Steed, Peel and a swarm of politicians, Lords and civil servants as the only survivors, hunkered down in a battered atomic bunker beneath the utterly devastated Houses of Parliament.

The shattered, shaken remnants of Empire and Civilisation soon discover that the only other survivors are ghastly atomic mutants and a coterie of exceptionally well-stocked and fully prepared members of the Hellfire Club…

‘Life in Hell’ finds the former foes joining forces and combining resources, but Steed and Peel are convinced something is “not kosher”. For one thing, former members of once-important political committees and knowledgeable generals keep disappearing, but – most importantly – Ian Cartney and his deplorable sister Dirigent are now known to be masters of their father’s dark arts of illusion, trickery and brainwashing…

Almost too late, Steed rumbles the nature of an audaciously cunning Psy-Ops espionage scheme as Emma is once more transformed into a ferocious, whip-wielding bondage nightmare for concluding instalment ‘Long Live the Queen’. Of course, a good spy, like a boy scout, is always prepared, and the dapper detective adroitly turns the tables on his foes just in time for a rollicking, explosively old-fashioned comeuppance…

Wry, arch and wickedly satisfying, this opening salvo in the reborn franchise remains a delight for staunch fans and curious newcomers alike. This volume includes a vast (28) gallery of covers and variants by Joseph Michael Linsner, Phil Noto, Joshua Covey & Blond, Mike Perkins & Vladimir Popov and Drew Johnson to astound the eyes as much as the story assaults the senses…

…And the best is yet to come…
© 2013 StudioCanal S.A. All rights reserved.

Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The James Bond Omnibus 005


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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope so, but doubt it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, which one…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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