Batman Begins – the Movie and Other Tales of the Dark Knight

By Scott Beatty, Denny O’Neil, Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Bill Willingham, Kilian Plunkett, Dick Giordano, Rick Burchett, Scott McDaniel, Tom Fowler & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0440-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Bat Fun… 8/10

It looks like I’m just destined to be wrong. Do you remember flared jeans, or even bell-bottoms? From which time? As the 1970s gasped to a close I said that we’d never see those again. Horribly, tragically, I was wrong.

I was seven when the Batman TV show first aired, and I loved it. By the time I was nine I had learned the word ‘travesty’ and loathed the show with a passion. When it was all over and the “Camp” fallout had faded from my beloved comics, giving way to the likes of Frank Robbins, Denny O’Neil and the iconoclastic Neal Adams, I was in seventh heaven and praised pantheons of deities that I should never see ‘Batmania’ again. I was, of course, doubly wrong.

The Caped Crusader reconquered the world in 1989 and only the increasing imbecility of its movie sequels stopped that particular multimedia juggernaut. Now there’s a been a whole new sequence of films (some not half-bad – though that’s beside the point) spin-offs and a new iteration beyond that beckons. Each of these cinematic milestones generated its own host of print (and latterly, digital) tie in Bat Products.

Originally released in 2005, this crafty marriage of an inevitable “Official Movie Adaptation” of Batman Begins with a well-considered selection of thematically similar stories is one of the best I can recall and a nice prospect if you’re looking for a great read or ideal gift option…

The lead feature – creditably handled by Scott Beatty on script with Kilian Plunkett & Serge LaPointe illustrating – is an intensely readable reworking of the myth, so much so that I was able, for once, to stifle the small, shrill and incessant comic-fan voice that always screams “why do they keep mucking about with this?”, and “why isn’t the comic version good enough for those movie morons?”

I do, however, still question the modern hang-up with having to start from origin stories at all. Was Star Wars: A New Hope a relative flop because we didn’t know how Darth Vader got Laryngitis? Which Bond movie tells us how he got to be so mean and sardonic? Why can’t film-makers assume that an audience can deduce motivation without a brand-spanking-new road-map every time? Although to be painfully honest, most modern comics seem to be afflicted with this bug too…

Could it be that it’s simply a cheap way of adding weight to the villain du jour, who can then become a Motivating Force in the Birth of the Hero? Said baddies this time out are the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul, but I’m not going to speak any more about the cinema or plot of a movie that’s already being superseded by this generation’s Gotham Guardian. Batman fans will have already passed judgement…

Accompanying the filmic iteration, and following a pin-up by Ruben Procopio, is ‘The Man Who Falls’ by the aforementioned O’Neil and veteran Bat-artist Dick Giordano and taken from Secret Origins of the World’s Greatest Heroes. This is a skilful, engaging comics retooling of the so-pliable natal legend, created to address the media mania around the 1989 movie.

Hard on its heels and prefaced by a pin-up courtesy of Bill Sienkiewicz comes one of the better stories of recent vintage. ‘Air Time’ is by Greg Rucka, Rick Burchett & Rodney Ramos from Detective Comics #757 in 2001. It’s a taut countdown thriller that in many ways presages the style adopted for the wonderful procedural series Gotham Central.

KReasons’ (Batman #604, 2002), by Ed Brubaker & Scott McDaniel, revisits Batman’s origins in a tale seeking to redefine his relationship to inimical amour Catwoman, before the volume concludes with the brilliant ’Urban Legend’ from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #168.

In a grim and unsettling tale of frailties, Tom Fowler illustrates a wickedly sharp Bill Willingham script stuffed with the dark humour and skewed sensibilities that made his Fables stories such a joy for grown-ups who love comics.

This is a smart package for any casual reader the films might send our way, with a strong thematic underpinning. In an era of streaming and ultra-rapid home release, I’m increasingly unsure of the merit of comic adaptations, but if you are into such things it’s probably best they’re done well, like here…
© 1989, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Casper the Friendly Ghost Classics

By Sid Jacobson, Warren Kremer, Howie Post, Ernie Colón & various (American Mythology)
ISBN: 978-1-94520-509-5 (TMB)

Once upon a time the American comicbook for younger readers was totally dominated by Dell/Gold Key – with numerous Movie, TV and Disney licenses – and Harvey Comics. The latter had begun in the 1941 when Brookwood Publications sold its comicbook licenses for Green Hornet and Joe Palooka to entrepreneur Alfred Harvey. Hiring his brothers Robert B. and Leon, the new publisher began making impressive inroads into a burgeoning new industry.

For its first nine years the company combined conventional genres with some licensed properties in a bid for the general market, but from 1950 onwards devoted an ever-greater proportion of its resources to a portfolio of wholesome, kid-friendly characters for early readers and all-ages fans of gentle comedy.

Back in the late 1940s, the perspicacious Harvey Brothers had struck a deal with Famous Studios/Paramount Pictures to produce strips starring movie animation stars Little Audrey, Baby Huey, Herman and Katnip and Casper, the Friendly Ghost to supplement their newspaper comics stars such as Blondie and Dagwood, Mutt and Jeff and Sad Sack. Eventually the publishers minted original wholly-owned stars like Little Dot, Little Lotta and Richie Rich to cement their position as the kids’ comicbook company.

Even though Harvey consistently and persistently tried to maintain their strands in mainstream genres such as horror, science fiction, western, war and superheroes (producing some of the very best “forgotten classics” of the era such as Stuntman, Black Cat and Captain 3-D), it was always the junior titles that made the most money.

In 1959 the Harvey’s bought the controlling rights to their own Famous Studios characters just in time for the 1960s boom in children’s television cartoons. The result was a stunning selection of superb young reader comics starring Casper, Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost, Nightmare, The Ghostly Trio, Stumbo, Wendy, the Good Little Witch and Hot Stuff, the Little Devil: all bolstered and popularised by “free-to-air” weekly Harveytoons TV shows.

It was a new Golden Age for child-appropriate funny books that lasted until declining morals, the inexorable rise of “cost-free” television, growing games saturation and rising print costs finally forced Harvey to bow out in 1982 when company founder Alfred Harvey retired.

That gloriously evergreen archive of material has regularly resurfaced in assorted print revivals since then. This latest attempt to recapture the glory days comes from licensing specialists American Mythology, who also count Underdog, Pink Panther, Three Stooges and many other properties in their ever-expanding catalogue of comics gems.

Available in trade paperback and digitally, Casper the Friendly Ghost Classics gathers a timelessly wonderful wealth of reprint material to delight youngsters but, quite frankly, the reproduction is rushed and a bit shoddy, and there’s precious little creator information to satisfy older readers who might want to share these fragments of their own childhoods with children or grandkids.

Don’t get me wrong, this a wonderful and long-overdue collection of magical stories, but it – and the people who crafted those original gems – deserve to be treated with a little respect and a little due diligence in future volumes would definitely pay dividends. I’ve included my guesses where I’m able, but writers are harder to identify, so the likes of Ralph Newman, Lennie Herman and Sid Couchey only get a mention here, not on the tales they may or may not have penned…

This economical, no-nonsense affair could stand a few editorial extras and a little more care and attention to reproduction values and creator credits, but is nonetheless a delightful package of charming yarns and gloriously timeless 1-page gags displaying the sheer ingenuity and wit of its originators.

One such solo jape opens proceedings with our happy dead boy and his witch friend Wendy foiling the scary intentions of their relentlessly fear-inducing relatives, before the sweet little spirit decides to visit less noisome kinfolk in ‘Booed Relations’, ‘Educated Ghosts’ and ‘The Mysterious Helper’ (illustrated by the legendary Warren Kremer and originally from giant-sized Casper’s Ghostland #15, October 1962).

Of course, the extended expired family are all equally dedicated to scaring the living out of their wits…

Following a 1-page telephonic boo-duel starring Tuff Little Ghost Spooky, Hot Stuff the Little Devil visits and evicts ‘The Monsters of Creepwood Castle’, scoring ‘A Clean Sweep’ of horrors (from Hot Stuff the Little Devil #72 June 1966, with art, I suspect, by the astounding Ernie Colon).

The Ghostly Trio get a page to harass assorted woodland wildlife before Casper returns in fourth-wall bending yarn ‘Real Gone’ (Casper’s Ghostland #31 August 1966, by Stan Kay & Kremer I think). After an invisible menace bullies assorted forest folk Casper investigates and leaves his own reality to sort out unpleasant, out-of-control artist Pete Pencil who’s messing about in ‘Uncomic Book’. Before long ‘The Honeymoon is Over’ and the friendly ghost is heading back where he belongs…

The Good Little Witch gets some limelight of her own in ‘Flattery Works’, teaching her mean aunts the benefits of niceness before Spooky’s next vignette sees him using a garden hose to maximise his scare tactics, after which talking horse Nightmare (the Galloping Ghost) visits a human theatre and wants to become ‘The Actress’ (Casper and Nightmare #20 June 1969, with art by Marty Taras?)

From that same issue, Casper then visits ‘Puzzleland’, enduring a ‘Dog-Gone Dilemma’ and offering illustrator Kremer plenty of opportunity to display his graphic virtuosity whilst the see-through star is engaged in ‘Baffling the Baffler’

Courtesy of Colon, Hot Stuff visits ‘Dreamland’ to cure his recurrent nightmares before Wendy has a brief but good-natured duel with an artist and Casper drops in on a ‘School for Fools’ (The Friendly Ghost Casper #112, December 1967): learning lots that the students somehow cannot…

The Ghostly Trio lose a battle with a mean dark cloud before Spooky solos again in ‘Nobody Hoid a Woid’ – an exercise in restraint utterly wasted – before Casper strives against a bizarre vandal in ‘The Scribbling Menace’, ‘Erasers for Sale’ and ‘Trouble Erased’ (Casper’s Ghostland #80, September 1974).

Hot Stuff’s Grampa Blaze exhibits his hot temper and foul language in a sharp short strip before Spooky gets a present from Australia and suffers the woes of ‘The Wacky Come Back Stick’, after which Casper & Wendy remark ‘Wow! What a Whammy’ (The Friendly Ghost Casper #112, December 1967) when the witch girl’s awful aunts begin playing mystic pranks…

As Hot Stuff tries turning his trident into ‘The Magnetic Fork’ (Hot Stuff Sizzlers #10, November 1962) – with predictably painful results – Spooky is dreaming of a perfect Scare Raid and Wendy helps an unhappy hobo follow his dreams, before joining Casper in search of ‘The Prize!’ (Casper’s Ghostland #31 August 1966) hidden on a demon’s ship.

With the help of a living boy, this ‘Adventure on Ghastly Island’ leads to a suitably strange ‘Journey’s End’

Hot Stuff’s final appearance finds him aiding an archaeologist against tomb-robbers in ‘A Fortune in Fire’ before the spiritual shenanigans close with one last treat as Casper supernaturally scuppers a western bank raid…

For a worrisome while it looked like contemporary children’s comics would become extinct, but far-seeing outfits in the US and UK have thankfully engineered a robust revival in the marketplace that has seen ubiquitous ever-proliferating licensed product joined by brilliant original kids’ titles – just check out The Phoenix, Goldie Vance, Gotham Academy, Lumberjanes and many others, to see what I mean…

Nevertheless, it’s a boon that we have such timeless characters as Casper and Richie Rich to draw upon and draw kids in with, so compilations like this one belong on the shelves of every loving parent and even those still-contented, well-rested couples with only a confirmed twinkle in their eyes. This clutch of classic children’s tales is a fabulous mix of intoxicating nostalgia and exuberant entertainment readers of all ages cannot fail to love (but there’s still room for improvement, pretty please)…
© 2018 Classic Media LLC. Casper, its logos, names and related indicia are trademarks of and copyright by Classic Media LLC. All rights reserved.

Edgar Allen Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales of Horror

Adapted by Richard Corben & Rich Margopoulos (Catalan Communication/Del Rey)
ISBNs: Catalan signed hb 0-87416-013-8   Del Rey pb 978-0-34548-313-3

Richard Corben is one of America’s greatest proponents of graphic narrative: a multi-award-winning legendary animator, illustrator, publisher and cartoonist surfing the tumultuous wave of independent counterculture commix of the 1960s and 1970s to become a major force in pictorial storytelling with his own unmistakable style and vision. He is renowned for a mastery of airbrush and captivatingly excessive anatomical stylisation and infamous for delightfully wicked, darkly comedic horror and beguiling eroticism in his fantasy and science fiction tales. Corben is also an acclaimed and dedicated fan of the classics of gothic horror literature, so no season of Halloween reviews could be complete without invoking his name and at least some of his work.

Always garnering huge support and acclaim in Europe, he was regularly collected in luxurious albums even as he fell out of favour – and print – in his own country. This collection gathers a number of adaptations of works by Godfather of eerie fantasy Edgar Allan Poe, first seen in issues of Creepy magazine between 1974-1975 and in Pacific Comics’ A Corben Special in 1984.

This superb hardback Catalan collection (one of many long overdue for a definitive archival compilation) was re-released in softcover by prose publisher Del Rey Books in July 2005.

The terror commences with the moody monochrome madness of ‘The Oval Portrait’ (from Creepy #69, February 1975 and adapted by writer Rich Margopoulos, as were all the Warren originated stories here) wherein the wounded survivor of a duel breaks into an abandoned chateau to recover and falls under the sinister spell of a beguiling painting and seductive journal…

‘The Raven’ is a fully airbrushed, colour phantasmagoria from Creepy #67 (December 1974) which perfectly captures the oppressive majesty of the classic poem, as is the next macabre vignette wherein the focus shifts to ancient Greece and the inevitable approach of death amongst the warriors at a funeral: a wake tainted by an invisible ‘Shadow’ (Creepy #70 April, 1975).

The obvious and worthy star turn of this tome is the artist’s own adaptation of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, created for the comicbook A Corben Special in May 1984 and here expanded and reformatted for the larger, squarer page of this European album.

Traveller Edgar Arnold is trapped in the bilious swamp where the ancestral seat of the ancient Usher clan is slowly dissolving into the mire that surrounds it.

The tainted blood of the melancholic master Roderick and his debauched clandestinely closeted, sumptuously seductive, deranged sister Madeline proves certain to extinguish the family long before the dank Earth reclaims the crumbling manse, but if it doesn’t Roderick is determined to expedite matters himself.

Madeline however, has other dreams and desires and is not above using her unique charms to win her objectives…

Corben – with the assistance of colourists Herb & Diana Arnold – perfectly captures the trenchant, doom-laden atmosphere, erotic charge and cataclysmic denouement of the original and this seminal, seductive work is undoubtedly one of the very best interpretations of this much-told and retold tale.

The artist’s sublime acumen in depicting humanity’s primal drives has never been better exemplified than with these immortal stories and this is a book no comics or horror fan should be without.
© 1974, 1975, 1984, 1985 1993 Richard Corben and Richard Margopoulos. All rights reserved.

Where’s My Cow?

By Terry Pratchett, illustrated by Melvyn Grant (Doubleday)
ISBN: 978-0-38560-937-1

Here’s a charming little thing. Not strictly a comic strip or a graphic novel, but rather a beautifully illustrated picture book. Originally a plot device from Thud!, one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld prose fantasy novels, until some bright spark wisely decided to manufacture the thing for real. They also pulled the same trick for The World of Poo, as seen in Snuff

What’s it all about?: Watch Commander Sam Vimes is the best copper in Anhk Morpork (the most unpleasant city in all fact and fiction), and his day job ranges from colourful to sheer hell. What makes worth living for him is to get home, kick off his boots and breastplate, and read his baby boy their favourite bedtime story – and do all the noises too.

And so can you if you get this wonderful book (sadly only available in hardback, not digital editions) which manages to be both an engaging, clever side-bar to the novels and also a superbly illustrated easy reader for the very young.

If you’re a fan of the Discworld you’ll want this, if you’re not, buy the novels and become one, and if you have small kids get them one of the prettiest picture books on the market. It’s the first sure step to getting them hooked on pictorial wonderment, and a darn fine thing besides.

Text © 2005 Terry Pratchett & Lyn Pratchett. All Rights Reserved.
Illustrations © 2005 Melvyn Grant. All Rights Reserved.W

Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Emerald Knight

By Landry Q. Walker, Sholly Fisch, Adam Schlagman, Robert Pope, Eric Jones, Carlo Barberi & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3143-9 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format which mirrored that era’s filmic fascination with flamboyant if fanciful historical dramas. Devised and written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was alternated with Robin Hood, but the adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like Showcase.

Used to premiere concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Hawkman and Strange Sports Stories as well as the epochal Justice League of America, the comic soldiered on until issue #50 when it provided another innovative new direction which once again truly caught the public’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, and was followed by other ones: Aquaman and Hawkman in #51, WWII “Battle Stars” Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie & the Haunted Tank in #52 and Atom & Flash in #53.

The next team-up – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – quickly evolved into Teen Titans and after Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter appeared, a new hero debuted in #57-58: Metamorpho, the Element Man.

From then it was back to the increasingly popular superhero pairings with #59, and although no one realised it at the time, that particular conjunction – Batman with Green Lantern – would be particularly significant….

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans, two issues spotlighting Earth-2 champions Starman and Black Canary and Earth-1’s Wonder Woman with Supergirl, an indication of things to come came when Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64: an early acknowledgement of the brewing TV-induced mania mere months away.

Within two issues (following Flash/Doom Patrol and Metamorpho/Metal Men), B&B #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and the lion’s share of the team-ups. With the late exception of #72 and 73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom) the comic was henceforth a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

Decades later, the Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in the 1990s revolutionised the Dark Knight and subsequently led to some of the absolute best comicbook adventures in his seventy-year publishing history with the creation of the spin-off print title…

With constant funnybook iterations and tie-ins to a succession of TV cartoon series, Batman has remained popular and a sublime introducer of kids to the magical world of the printed page. One fun-filled incarnation was Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which gloriously celebrated the team up in both its all-ages small-screen and comicbook spin-off.

Shamelessly and magically plundering decades of continuity arcana in a profusion of alliances between the Dark Knight and DC’s other heroic creations, the show was supplemented by a cool kid’s periodical full of fun, verve and swashbuckling dash, cunningly crafted to appeal as much to the parents and grandparents as those fresh-faced neophyte kids…

This stellar trade paperback and digital collection re-presents issues #13, 14, 16, 18, 19 and 21 in an immensely entertaining package suitable for newcomers, fans and aficionados of all ages originally released between March and November 2010. Best of all, although not necessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience…

Following the format of the TV show, each tale opens with a brief vignette adventure before telling a longer tale. Issue #13 sees the Caped Crimebuster break a leg while working with Angel O’Day and Sam Simeon (the astonishingly daft but wonderful Angel & The Ape) and laid up for main feature ‘Night of the Batmen’ (by Sholly Fisch, Robert Pope & Scott McRae) as an army of (uninvited and unwelcome) heroic comrades – including Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Aquaman and Shazam!-powered Captain Marvel among others – impersonate the Dark Knight to keep Gotham safe from fiends such as Bane, Killer Croc, Penguin, Deadshot and Catwoman. However, when the Joker joins the party, it results in the real deal ending his recuperation early…

Crafted by Landry Q. Walker & Eric Jones, the next yarn opens with Bats and Plastic Man tackling the Scarecrow before the Gotham Gangbuster meets the Huntress. She is having trouble with a costumed crazy with a nasty obsession and ends up briefly ‘Captured by Mr. Camera!’

The same creative crew return for #16 as a battle with the Teen Titans against Nocturna hatches a sinister sub-plot in ‘Egg Hunt! or: The Evil of Egg Head!’ as the ovoid mastermind revives antediluvian elder god Y’ggphu Soggoth (offering a guilty treat for old fans of truly naff supervillains) and Batman needs the aid of Wonder Woman to scramble the scheme…

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #18 alters the format slightly with a brace of linked tales from Walker & Jones. ‘Life on Mars’ features Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz defeating the human extermination plans of super-psionic shapeshifting White Martian Ma’alefa’ak before a strangely off-kilter Dark Knight calls in mystic master Doctor Fate to diagnose and treat a case of possession in follow-up thriller ‘All in the Mind’

The last two yarns collected here both co-star Hal Jordan and other stalwarts of the Green Lantern Corps. From #19 and by Adam Schlagman, Carlo Barberi & Terry Beatty, ‘Emerald Knight’ details how the ring-slinger is captured by ultimate tech pirate Cyborg Superman and robotic Manhunters. Unable to prevail alone, Jordan temporarily bequeaths his power to Batman who lead his comrades in the Corps to victory, after which a brief interlude battling dinosaur gangsters beside the Lady Blackhawks leads to the Gotham Guardian and the fully-restored Jordan uniting to defeat ‘The Menace Known as Robert’. Another Walker & Jones production, this depicts the calamitous threat of a primordial alien horror invading Earth and the terrifying lengths Batman will go to save the world…

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV-addicted kids, these mini-sagas are also wonderful, traditional comics thrillers no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a fabulously fun rollercoaster ride and confirms the now-seamless link between animated features and comicbooks. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end; really unmissable entertainment…

What more do you need to know?
© 2010, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Mort: A Discworld Big Comic

By Terry Pratchett & Graham Higgins (VG Graphics/Gollancz)
ISBN: 978-0-57505-697-8 (HB)                    978-0-57505-699-2 (PB)

Us old codgers have always maintained that a good comic needs a good artist and this superb adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s fourth Discworld novel proves that point.

Just in case you’ve been living on another world: The Discworld is a flat planet supported on the backs of four elephants standing on the shell of a giant turtle swimming across the universe. Magic works there and the people are much too much like us.

This, of course, makes it an ideal location for spleen-venting, satire, slapstick and social commentary…

Scripted by the so-very-much-missed author and brilliantly illustrated by Graham Higgins, it tells a complex and darkly witty tale of Death (big grim chap, carries a scythe, nobody gets his jokes, always has the last laugh) and hapless, literal-minded, sort-of-useless young oaf Mort, whom he hires as his apprentice.

Of course, that’s not all there is to it, with sub-plots including an orphaned princess and her dangerously ambitious guardian, Death’s vacation, the daughter he adopted and the mystery of his most peculiar servant Albert to season a very impressive spin on a very familiar myth.

Higgin’s light, dry touch adds volumes of texture to the mix, and his deft sense of timing and comedy pacing – reminiscent of Hunt Emerson – marvellously match Pratchett’s unmistakable, acerbic dialogue and plot.

Incomprehensibly unavailable digitally and only physically in editions from the last century, if you have to have adaptations of great novels, this is how they should be done.
Text © 1994 Terry and Lyn Pratchett. Illustrations © 1994 Graham Higgins. All Rights Reserved

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

By Bram Stoker & Fernando Fernández (Catalan Communications/Del Rey Books)
DLB: 18118-1984 (Catalan) ISBN: 978-0-34548-312-6 (Del Rey)

Here a gloriously OTT example of Anglo-European collaboration long overdue for reconsideration and another go-round. I don’t mean anything by it; I’m just saying…

Multi-disciplinary Spanish artist Fernando Fernández began working to help support his family at age 13 whilst still at High School. He graduated in 1956 and immediately began working for British and French comics publishers.

In 1958 his family relocated to Argentina and whilst there he added strips for El Gorrión, Tótem and Puño Fuerte to his ongoing European and British assignments for Valentina, Roxy and Marilyn.

In 1959 he returned to Spain to begin a long association with Fleetway Publications in London, producing mostly war and girls’ romance stories.

During the mid-1960’s he began to experiment with painting: selling book covers and illustrations to a number of clients, before again taking up comics work in 1970, creating a variety of strips (many of which found their way into US horror magazine Vampirella), the successful comedy feature ‘Mosca’ for Diario de Barcelona and educational strips for the publishing house Afha.

Increasingly expressive and experimental as the decade passed, Fernández produced ‘Cuba, 1898’ and ‘Círculos’ before, in 1980 beginning his science fiction spectacular Zora y los Hibernautas for the Spanish iteration of fantasy magazine 1984. It eventually made it into English in Heavy Metal magazine as Zora and the Hibernauts.

He then adapted this moody, Hammer Films-influenced version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the Spanish iteration of Creepy, before (working with Carlos Trillo) moving on to mediaeval fantasy thriller La Leyenda de las Cuatro Sombras , after which he created Argón, el Salvaje and a number of adaptations of Isaac Asimov tales in Firmado por: Isaac Asimov and Lucky Starr – Los Océanos de Venus.

His last comics work was Zodíaco begun in 1989, but mounting heart problems soon curtailed the series and he returned to painting and illustration. He passed away in August 2010, aged 70.

For his interpretation of the gothic masterpiece under review here, Fernández sidelined the expansive, experimental layouts and lavish page design that worked so effectively in Zora and the Hibernauts for a moodily classical and oppressively claustrophobic, traditional page construction, trusting to his staggering mastery of colour and form to carry his luxuriously mesmeric message of mystery, seduction and terror.

The story is undoubtedly a familiar one and the set pieces are all executed with astounding skill and confident aplomb as, in May 1897, English lawyer Jonathan Harker is lured to the wilds of Transylvania and horror beyond imagining wherein an ancient bloodsucking horror prepares to move to the pulsing heart of the modern world.

Leaving Harker to the tender mercies of his vampiric harem, Dracula travels by schooner to England, slaughtering every seaman aboard the S.S. Demeter and unleashing a reign of terror on the sedate and complacent British countryside…

Meanwhile, in the seat of Empire, Harker’s fiancée Mina Murray finds her flighty friend Lucy Westenra fading from troublesome dreams and an uncanny lethargy which none of her determined suitors, Dr. Jack Seward, Texan Quincy P. Morris and Arthur Holmwood – the future Lord Godalming – seem capable of dispelling…

As Harker struggles to survive in the Carpathians, in Britain, Seward’s deranged but impotent patient Renfield claims horrifying visions and becomes greatly agitated…

Dracula, although only freshly arrived in England, is already causing chaos and disaster, as well as constantly returning to the rapidly declining Lucy. His bestial bloodletting prompts her three beaux to summon famed Dutch physician Abraham Van Helsing to save her life and cure her increasing mania.

Harker survived his Transylvanian ordeal, and when nuns summoned Mina she rushed to Romania where she married him in a hasty ceremony to save his health and wits….

In London, Dracula renews his assaults and Lucy dies, only to be reborn as a predatory child-killing monster. After dispatching her to eternal rest, Van Helsing, Holmwood, Seward and Morris – joined by recently returned and much-altered Harker and his new bride – resolve to hunt down and destroy the ancient evil in their midst, following a chance encounter in a London street between the newlyweds and the astoundingly rejuvenated Count…

Dracula, however, has incredible forces and centuries of experience on his side and having tainted Mina with his blood-drinking curse flees back to his ancestral lands. Frantically, the mortal champions give chase, battling the elements, Dracula’s enslaved gypsy army and the monster’s horrific eldritch power in a race against time lest Mina finally succumb forever to his unholy influence…

Although the translation to English in the Catalan version is a little slapdash in places – a fact happily addressed in the 2005 re-release from Del Rey – the original does have the subtly enhanced benefit of richer colours, sturdier paper stock and a slightly larger page size (285 x 219mm as opposed to 274 x 211mm) which somehow makes the 1984 edition feel more substantial. This would all be irrelevant if a digital edition were available…

This breathtaking oft-retold yarn delivers fast paced, action-packed, staggeringly beautiful and astoundingly exciting thrills and chills in a most beguiling manner. Being Spanish, however, there’s perhaps the slightest hint of brooding machismo, if not subverted sexism, on display and – of course – plenty of heaving, gauze-filtered female nudity which might challenge modern sensibilities.

Nevertheless, what predominates in this Dracula is an overwhelming impression of unstoppable evil and impending doom.

There’s no sympathy for the devil here – this is a monster from Hell that all good men must oppose to their last breath and final drop of blood and sweat…

With an emphatic introduction (‘Dracula Lives!’) from noted comics historian Maurice Horn, this is a sublime treatment by a master craftsman that all dark-fearing, red- blooded fans will want to track down and savour.
© 1984, 2005 Fernando Fernández. All rights reserved.

Batman Beyond

By Hilary J. Bader, Rich Burchett, Joe Staton & Terry Beatty (DC comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-604-0

This March sees the 80th anniversary of the Bat-Man’s debut. I expect there to be some fuss about the event. I shall certainly be indulging myself in a few fond looks back. Here’s a taste of the amazing influence the Caped Crusader has exerted over the decades, and a book long overdue for a new edition and some digital exposure…

The Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Bruce Timm & Paul Dini in the 1990s revolutionised the Dark Knight and also led to some of the absolute best comicbook adventures in his entire publishing history with the tie-in monthly printed series.

With his small screen credentials firmly re-established, follow-up series began (and are still coming), even ultimately feeding back into and enriching the overarching DCU continuity.

Following those award-winning episodes, in 1999 came a new incarnation set a generation into the future, featuring Bruce Wayne in the twilight of his life while a new teenaged hero picked up the eerily-scalloped mantle. In Britain the series was uninspirationally re-titled Batman of the Future but for most of the extremely-impressed-despite-themselves cognoscenti and awe-struck kids everywhere it was Batman Beyond!

Once again, the show was augmented by a cool kids’ comicbook and this collection collects the first 6-issue miniseries in a hip and trendy, immensely entertaining package suitable for fans and aficionados of all ages. Although not necessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience…

All stories are written by Hilary J. Bader and the book opens with a 2-art adaptation of the pilot episode, illustrated by Rick Burchett & Terry Beatty. ‘Not on My Watch!’ offers brief glimpses of the last days of Batman’s crusade against crime before age, infirmity and injury slow him down to the point of compromising his principles and endangering the citizens he’s sworn to protect…

Years later, Gotham City in the mid-21st century (notionally accepted as 2039 CE – 100 years after the comicbook debut of Batman in Detective Comics #27) is a dystopian urban jungle where angry, rebellious school-kid Terry McGinnis strikes a blow against pernicious street-punks The Jokerz and is chased out of the metropolis to the gates of a ramshackle mansion.

Meanwhile, his research-scientist father has discovered a little too much about the company he works for…

Wayne-Powers used to be a decent place to work before old man Wayne became a recluse. Now Derek Powers runs the show and is ruthless enough to do anything to increase his profits…

Outside town, Terry is saved from a potentially fatal encounter with the Jokerz by a burly old man who then collapses. Helping the aged Bruce Wayne inside the mansion, Terry discovers the long-neglected Batcave before being chased away by the surly Wayne. He really doesn’t care… until he gets home to find his father has been murdered.

A storm of mixed emotions, McGinnis returns to Wayne Manor…

Concluding chapter ‘I Am Batman’ sees him attempt to force Wayne to act before giving up in frustration and simply stealing the hero’s greatest weapon; a cybernetic bat-suit that enhances strength, speed, durability and perception. Alone, untrained and unaided, the new Batman sets to exact justice and take revenge…

In the ensuing clash with Powers, the unscrupulous entrepreneur is mutated into a radioactive monster named Blight before Wayne and Terry reach a tenuous truce and working understanding. For the moment, Terry will continue to clean up the Dark Knight’s city as a probationary, apprentice hero…

With issue #3 Bader, Burchett & Beatty crafted original stories in the newly established future Gotham, commencing with ‘Never Mix, Never Worry’ wherein Blight returns to steal a selection of man-made radioactive elements which can only be used to cause harm… or can they?

Joe Staton assumed the pencilling role with #4 as a schoolboy nerd frees a devil from limbo and old man Wayne introduces cocksure Terry to parapsychologist Jason Blood and his eldritch alter ego Etrigan the Demon in spooky shocker ‘Magic Is Everywhere’: a sentiment repeated when a school-trip to the museum unleashes ancient lovers who feed on life energy in the delightfully comical tragedy of ‘Mummy, Oh! and Juliet’

This captivating compendium of action and adventure ends with another compelling and edgy thriller as Terry stumbles into a return bout with a shape-shifting super-thief in ‘Permanent Inque Stains’, only to find that there are far worse crimes and far more evil villains haunting his city…

Fun, thrilling and surprisingly moving, these tales remain magnificent examples of thrilling comics that appeal to young and old alike. Stick ‘em on the same shelf as Tintin, Asterix and Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge tales and you can’t go wrong…

In 2000 Titan Books released a British edition re-titled Batman of the Future (to comply with the renamed UK TV series) and this version is a little easier to locate by those eager to enjoy the stories rather than own an artefact.
© 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Marley’s Ghost

Adapted by Harvey Kurtzman & expanded by Gideon Kendall, Josh O’Neill, Shannon Wheeler & various (ComiXology Originals)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Reverential Revisitation of a Cornerstone Christmas Classic… 9/10

Harvey Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the latter half of the last century – even more so than Jules Feiffer, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert or Will Eisner.

His early triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially the groundbreaking, game-changing Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on, but Kurtzman was also a force in newspaper strips (Flash Gordon Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953) and a restless innovator, commentator and social critic who kept on looking at folk and their doings and just couldn’t stop making art or sharing his conclusions…

He invented a whole new format when he converted the highly successful colour comicbook Mad into a black-&-white magazine, safely distancing the brilliant satirical publication from the fall-out caused by the 1950s comics witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles.

He then pursued comedy and social satire further with newsstand magazines Trump, Humbug and Help! all the while creating challenging and powerfully effective humour strips such as Little Annie Fanny (for Playboy), Nutz, Goodman Beaver, Betsy and her Buddies and many more. He died far too soon, far too young in 1993.

As recounted in Denis Kitchen’s appendix ‘The Origins of the Marley’s Ghost Graphic Novel’, despite helming a huge and influential comicbook sensation, by 1954 Kurtzman was looking to expand the influence and appeal of the medium even further.

Mad was reaching millions but he wanted to get to everybody and he wanted his efforts to be treated with respect…

His notion was to adapt – properly, faithfully, and not as an abridged, bowdlerized kiddie’s version such as seen in Classics Illustrated – a global masterpiece of literature. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was the perfect vehicle and Kurtzman feverishly set to in his spare time, producing more than 70 tightly laid out thumbnails and seven colour layouts, plus a complete page rendered by EC/Mad comrade Jack Davis.

The luxurious coffee-table book he’d envisioned foundered due to the timidity and short-sightedness of publishers – and quite possibly the toxic fug around comicbooks caused by Senate Hearings and Frederick Wertham’s hysterical campaign against teenage culture and fun…

Kurtzman shelved the project, but his papers and notes were discovered after his death and the result – adapted by writers Josh O’Neill & Shannon Wheeler and compellingly illustrated by Gideon Kendall – is a splendidly engaging addition to the novel’s legion of cross-media iterations. Just like Kurtzman knew it would be…

The tale is augmented here by Kurtzman’s original thumbnails and layouts, the Davis page and a wealth of development sketches generated by Kendall in completing the project.

Moreover, Marley’s Ghost is even more groundbreaking than Kurtzman ever imagined. Released as a digital book, it has garnered acclaim and awards even before its inevitable transition to physical form… which means, as long as you’re connected you can buy this as the most literal of last-minute gifts…

The Story? It’s what you’d expect and want, all executed with warmth, with and sublime grace. Scrooge Mean. Ghosts! Revelations! Scared Scrooge! Change of Heart! Happies all around! God bless us every one!

And if that was a spoiler in any manner, you have no right to be reading this review…

Here is a superb work long overdue and a comics god’s dream at long-last realised: a new old master of our art form no true devotee can afford to be without. And it’s fun and engaging enough to be an introducer to youngsters looking for comics to love.

Marley’s Ghost as adapted by Harvey Kurtzman is published by Kitchen, Lind & Associates, LLC. Adaptation © 2017 by Gideon Kendall, Josh O’Neill, & Kurtzman Properties LLC. All rights reserved.

The Graphic Canon of Children’s Literature

By Many and various, Edited by Russ Kick (Seven Stories)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-530-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Amazing Recollections for Every Kid of Voting Age… 10/10

If you are of a certain age, you will remember that Christmas when you got The Book. What it was varies and you may not even have it now (probably not, in truth), but the getting of it, the cherishing of it in that moment, and the nostalgic debilitation recalling it brings now shaped your life. This book might well be it for someone you know and can’t think of a gift for…

Swallow the lump in your throat, grab a tissue and we’ll begin…

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. It seeks 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 was initially divided into three periods roughly equating with the birth of literature and the rise of the modern novel.

Such was the success and impact of the feat that a number of side projects grew from the original, such as this startling confection celebrating the uniquely dual-purpose arena of stories for Children.

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. Even those you think you’ve known for your entire life…

They certainly did for me…

Following the fascinating and agenda-setting ‘Editor’s Introduction’ the reimagination of centuries of wonder begins with a selection of Aesop’s immortal fables. Deliciously concocted by Roberta Gregory ‘The Miller, His Son, and the Donkey’ and ‘The Eagle, The Cat, and The Sow’ are followed by Peter Kuper’s refreshing interpretations of ‘The Ape and the Fisherman’ and ‘The Wasp and the Snake’.

Lance Tooks then takes torrid liberties but still makes magic with ‘The Lion in Love’, ‘The Fox and the Grapes’ and ‘The City Mouse and the Country Mouse’ before we move on to another timeless tale…

David W. Tripp offers a psycho-sexual take in his silent reworking of European fairy tale ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ after which Andrice Arp beguilingly details the saga of the ‘The Mastermaid’. Following that Norse fairy tale we head further north and east for Lesley Barnes’ iconic celebration of Russian folk tale ‘The Firebird’ before Miguel Molina offers a brace of scenes from Peruvian fairy tale ‘The Shepherdess and the Condor’.

The unfailingly entertaining Rachel Ball adapts a British yarn of abduction in ‘The Weardale Fairies’ after which Maëlle Doliveaux applies astounding collage and cut-paper acumen to ‘Four Fables’ by French mediaeval poet Jean de La Fontaine before a selection of Brothers Grimm tales opens with Kevin H. Dixon applying his studied blend of cultural appropriation and mordant insubordination to the ‘Town Musicians of Bremen’

Chandra Free – with technical assistance from BLAM! Ventures – then scrupulously documents ‘A Tale of One who Travelled to Learn what Shivering Meant’ before Noah Van Sciver adapts ‘Star Dollars’ and ‘The Water-Sprite’.

E.T.A. Hoffman’s ‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’ is translated into pictorial beats by Sanya Glisic and Dame Darcy revels in the full horror of ‘The Little Mermaid’ by Hans Christian Andersen whilst Isabel Greenberg concentrates the old master’s imaginative whimsy for ‘The Tinderbox’.

Billy Nunez reinvigorates British fairy tale ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ by transposing it to rural China before Frank M. Hansen has wicked fun updating Mark Twain’s shockingly wry ‘Advice to Little Girls’.

Vicki Nerino liberally updates ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ – by Lewis Carroll in case you don’t know – and Keren Katz illustrates a triptych of ‘Fables for Children’ by Leo Tolstoy (The Birds in the Net, The Duck and the Moon, The Water Sprite and the Pearl, The Mouse Under the Granary and The Falcon and the Cock) after which Sandy Jimenez adds a sheen of Glam Rock iconoclasm to an extract of Jules Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’.

Nabob of Nonsense Edward Lear is celebrated in ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ by Rick Geary and doubly so by Joy Kolitsky who colourfully interprets ‘Calico Pie’ and ‘The New Vestments’, after which R. Sikoryak stunningly reduces Twain’s ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ to a quartet of symbolically eventful maps.

Lost story master George McDonald is represented by Dasha Tolstikova’s moving treatment of ‘At the Back of the North Wind’ and Molly Brooks adapts the first tantalising chapter of Johanna Spyri’s ‘Heidi’ before Eric Knisley redeems the fabulous and unfairly embargoed sagas of Joel Chandler Harris with a vivid take on ‘The Tar Baby (From Tales of Uncle Remus)’.

Molly Colleen O’Connell adapts Carlo Collodi’s ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’ and Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ is given a meta-textual going over by Lisa Fary, Kate Eagle & John Dallaire before Tara Seibel gives a modern spin to Oscar Wilde’s heartbreaking ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’.

Caroline Picard ambitiously and simultaneously covers four tales from ‘The Jungle Book’ by Rudyard Kipling – specifically ‘Rikki Tikki Tavi’, ‘Toomai of the Elephants’, ‘Kaa’s Hunting’, and ‘The White Seal’ – whilst Matthew Houston adds a graphically futuristic spin to his treatment of H.G. Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’.

Shawn Cheng adapts L. Frank Baum’s ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ in a single colour-splashed page and then does the same for the remaining 13 novels in ‘The Oz Series’ after which Sally Madden silently shows a key scene from ‘Peter Pan’ by J.M. Barrie and Andrea Tsurumi delicately details the retaking of Toad Hall from the end of Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’ before Juliacks turns in a most dramatic reinterpretation of Frances Hodson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’

Kate Glasheen adapts and modifies ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ by Margery Williams, after which C. Frakes adapts ‘How the Potato Face Blind Man Enjoyed Himself on a Fine Spring Morning’ from Carl Sandburg’s ‘Rootabaga Stories’ and Matt Wiegle offers his rebus-filled silent take on Franklin W. Dixon’s ‘The Tower Treasure (A Hardy Boys Mystery)’ whilst Katherine Hearst goes wild with an eerie examination of ‘Peter and the Wolf’ as never imagined by Serge Prokofiev…

Astrid Lindgren’s immortal ‘Pippi Longstocking’ inhabits a decidedly off-kilter world thanks to Emelie Östergren, balanced by a sobering snippet from Anne Frank’s ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ from mainstream comicbook royalty Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colón, after which John W. Pierard treats us to a selection of contemporaneous (and Rude) ‘Schoolyard Rhymes’.

Hitting the home stretch of modernity, we close with a chilling and wordless adaption from Tori Christina McKenna of Richard Adams’ ‘Watership Down’ and a stunning recapitulation by Lucy Knisley J.K. Rowling’s ‘The Harry Potter Series’ – all of it. Really. In 8 pages…

Complementing the childhood obsessions is a ‘Gallery’ by 58 more artists, and ‘Contributors’, ‘Acknowledgments’, ‘Credits and Permissions’ and even an ‘Index’.

Each piece is preceded by an informative commentary page by Kick, and this sort of book is just what the art form comics 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.
© 2014 Russ Kick. All work © individual owners and copyright holders and used with permission. All rights reserved.