My Favorite Martian – The Complete Series Volume One


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume II


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Carter – The End


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

Sundiata, the Lion of Mali – a Legend of Africa


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The James Bond Omnibus volume 001


By Ian Fleming adapted by Anthony Hern, Peter O’Donnell, Henry Gammidge & John McLusky (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-1-84856-364-3 (TPB)

It’s sad to admit but 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 or Flash Gordon, let alone Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon, or the likes of Little Lulu, Blondie, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye and yes, I know I said him twice, but Elzie Segars’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good.

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

I’d like to hope so, but I 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 plus a completely different editorial view of the marketplace (which just didn’t consider strips an infallible, readership-attracting magnet, as our American cousins did) never seemed to be in the business of creating household names… until the 1950’s.

Something happened in ‘50s 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 “mere” entertainment media from radio serials to paperback novels) got carried along on the wave. Just like television, periodicals such as The Eagle, the regenerated Dandy and Beano and girls’ comics in general all shifted into creative high gear …and so at last did newspapers.

And that means that I can happily extol the virtues of a graphic collection with proven crossover appeal for a change. The first 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and was subsequently serialised – after much dithering and nervousness on behalf of author Fleming – as a strip in the Daily Express from 1958. It was the start of a beguiling run of novel and short story adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence, a jobbing writer for American features (who had previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) came aboard on The Man With the Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the Fleming canon to strip format. Thereafter he was invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s demise in 1983.

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

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who debuted on Man with the Golden Gun, offering 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 illustrated 26 complete adventures until 1977 when The Daily Express axed the Bond feature (with a still-running adventure suddenly switching to The Sunday Express from January 30th until conclusion on May 22nd).

Later adventures had no UK presence at all, only appearing in syndication in European papers. This state of affairs continued until 1981 when British paper The Daily Star revived the feature with ‘Doomcrack’.

Titan Books re-assembled those scarce-seen tales – a heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death – into addictively accessible monochrome Omnibus Editions, (sadly not available digitally at the present) wherein a dedicated band of creators on top form prove how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe, shaken, stirred and thoroughly entertained…

In this premier no-nonsense paperback gem adapting 11 of Fleming’s best, the frantic derring-do and dark, deadly diplomacy commences with ‘Casino Royale’ as British operative Bond is ordered to gamble with and bankrupt Le Chiffre, a communist agent who has insanely embezzled away his Soviet masters’ operating capital.

The moodily compelling tale of tension that results depicts torture and violent death as well as oppressively suspenseful scenes of graphic gambling: heady stuff for newspaper readers of 1958, when it first ran.

Without pausing for breath or a fresh martini the Bond briefing segues straight into ‘Live and Let Die’ which sees 007 and US agent Felix Leiter tackle Mr. Big, another scurrilous commie agent, a devious genius who rules the Harlem underworld through superstition, voodoo and brutal force before, ‘Moonraker’ details the attempt by ex-Nazi officer Hugo Drax to drop a guided missile on London: a task made far simpler since the maniac has infiltrated the British aristocracy…

These newspaper strips come from a period when dependable John McLusky was developing a less formal approach, before going on to produce some of his best work. ‘Casino Royale; was the opening strip in a near 25-year run, and the somewhat muted artwork shows an artist still not completely comfortable with his task.

It was adapted and scripted by Anthony Hern, who had won the author’s approval after writing condensed prose versions of the novels for the Daily Express. Live and Let Die and Moonraker were both adapted by Henry Gammidge.

As McLusky settled in for the long haul, he warmed to the potentialities of the job with cracking tales of Cold-War intrigue and fast, dangerous living set in a multitude of exotic locales, providing here a welcome return to public gaze of some of the most influential – and exciting – comic strips in British history.

The adaptation of ‘Diamonds are Forever’ pits Bond against an insidious gang of diamond smuggling criminals, in an explosive if uncomplicated all-action romp before shifting into terse, low-key thriller ‘From Russia With Love’ (both courtesy of Gammidge & McLusky). The artist hit a creative peak with ‘Dr No’ perhaps because of the sparkling script from Peter O’Donnell (before he sloped off to create the amazing Modesty Blaise) with Bond returning to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of two operatives and stumbling upon a plot to sabotage the American rocketry program.

These stories come from an age at once less jaded but more worldly; a place and time where the readers lived daily with the very real threat of instant annihilation. As such, the easy approachability of the material is a credit to the creators.

‘Goldfinger’ faithfully adapts Fleming’s novel of the world’s most ambitious bullion robbery, so if you’re only familiar with the film version there will be a few things you’ve not seen before. The action fairly rockets along and the tense suspense is high throughout this signature tale.

Following that is ‘Risico’ as 007 is tasked with stopping a heroin smuggling gang whose motive is not profit but social destabilisation. Next is ‘From a View to a Kill’, a traditional and low-key Cold War thriller with Bond on the trail of a gang who have been stealing state secrets by ambushing military dispatch riders…

In the Roger Moore film incarnation Risico was folded into ‘For Your Eyes Only’ but here you get the real deal with a faithful adaptation of Fleming’s short story, wherein Bond is given a mission of revenge and assassination. Set in Jamaica with Nazi war-criminal Von Hammerstein as culprit and target for the man with a licence to kill, it is a solid piece of dramatic fiction that once again bears little similarity to the celluloid adventure.

The volume concludes with the then-controversial ‘Thunderball’ adaptation. That particular tale was savagely censored and curtailed at the behest of Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Express. Five days of continuity were excised but what remains is still pretty engrossing comic fare and at least some effort was made to wrap up the storyline before the strip ended. In case you can’t recall: When Bond is sent on enforced medical leave, he stumbles into a deadly plot to steal nuclear weapons by a new subversive organisation calling itself Spectre

These grand stories are a must for not only aficionados of Bond but for all thriller fans, as an example of truly gripping adventure uncluttered by superficial razzamatazz. Get back to basics, and remember that classic style is never out of fashion.

All strips are © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1987. James Bond and 007 are ™Danjaq LLC used under license from Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Graphic Canon volume 2: From “Kubla Khan” to the Brontë Sisters to The Picture of Dorian Gray


By many and various, edited by Russ Kick (Seven Stories)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-378-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A “Worthy” Present That’s Actually a Joy to Receive and Devour… 10/10

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 editor, publisher, anthologist and modern Renaissance Man Russ Kick, which endeavours to interpret the world’s great books through the eyes of masters of crusading sequential narrative in an eye-opening synthesis of modes and styles.

The project is divided into three periods, roughly equating with the birth of literature and its evolution up to the rise of the modern novel. Debut volume From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons covers literature from ancient times to the end of the 1700s in stories and poetry, and this sequel edition takes us up to the end of the 19thcentury and the rise of mass-market fiction and (nigh) universal literacy…

Much of the material for the project has been taken from already extant or ongoing projects: as editor Russ Kick explains in his Introduction, it was the realisation that so many creative individuals were attempting to publish their own graphic responses to global heritage literature that led him to initiate this mammoth project in the first place…

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

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

Available in mammoth paperback and digital formats, each piece here is preceded by an informative commentary page by Kick, and the wonderment is presaged by a barrage of micro-comic ‘Three Panel Reviews’ by Lisa Brown (specifically Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities; Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary; Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter) before Alice Duke sets the ball properly rolling with a stunning painted interpretation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’.

National treasure Hunt Emerson has already wonderfully and hilariously adapted the poet’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner and here loans ‘Part the Second’ to this tome wherein the foolish sailor realises why he shouldn’t have shot that damn sea bird…

Straight text-&-picture juxtapositions by Aidan Koch of William Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence’, lead to a formal and most mannerly adaption in ‘A Selection from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Chapter 2’ by Huxley King with designer Terrence King, after which George Gordon, Lord Byron reminds us ‘She Walks in Beauty’, courtesy of David Lasky.

The period poesy corner continues and briefly concludes with Percy Bysshe Shelley and ‘Ozymandias’ as interpreted by Anthony Ventura, William Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ via a futuristic vision from PMurphy before enjoying another Hunt Emerson gem re-examining John Keats’ ‘O Solitude’

The novel makes its first appearance here with a gothic classic as Jason Cobley & Declan Shalvey precis a key moment from Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ after which, a selection of Fairy Tales begins with text-heavy original extracts from ‘The Valiant Little Tailor’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘Little Snow White’ by the Brothers Grimm, all deliriously illuminated by S. Clay Wilson.

The Grimm kids’ stuff then translates to comic strip form as Shawn Cheng adapts ‘How Six Made Good in the World’before Neil Cohn pictorializes Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ and William Blake’s own words and images are combined to bring to life ‘Jerusalem: The Emancipation of the Giant Albion’.

‘The Confessions of Nat Turner’ is a contemporary account of a southern slave rising as narrated, prior to his execution, by Turner himself to lawyer Thomas R. Gray, adapted by controversial artist John Pierard, whilst Lance Tooks devilishly tackles a lost classic by Mary Shelley in ‘The Mortal Immortal’ before another tranche of Fairy Tales commences with more original text limned by S. Clay Wilson.

Here Hans Christian Andersen is represented by ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, ‘The Nightingale’ and ‘The Little Match Girl’ after which Ellen Lindner presents ‘Rondeau (Jenny Kiss’d Me)’ as first conciev’d and craft’d by James Henry Leigh Hunt.

Hysterical history cartoonist Kevin Dixon concocts a beautifully bonkers snippet from Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’, a delightful prelude to a dose of Victorian nonsense as seen in Hunt Emerson’s depiction of Edward Lear’s ‘The Jumblies’ and Sanya Glisic’s bombastic treatment of a selection from Heinrich Hoffman’s moralizing cautionary tales collection Der Struwwelpeter: specifically ‘Struwwelpeter: the Story of Shock-Headed Peter’, ‘The Story of the Inky Book’ ‘The Story of the Man that went out Shooting’ and ‘The Story of Little Suck-A-Thumb’.

Literary giant Edgar Allen Poe is celebrated in a haunting Poe Montage by Gris Grimly and fuller adaptations such as‘The Raven’ by Yien Yap as well as original text extracts from ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, ‘The Raven’, ‘The Bells’, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ and ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ – all grotesquely illustrated by Maxon Crumb – before we switch themes and tone for Elizabeth Watasin to open a Brontë section with stylish interpretation of Charlotte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, whilst Tim Fish adapts Emily’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, after which Ali J in one image encapsulates Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and Matt Kish offers a post-futurist and quite disturbing vision of Herman Melville’s ‘Moby-Dick’

John Porcellino offers a compelling and effective cartoon analogue of Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ after which Walt Whitman is addressed through two vastly different depiction of ‘Leaves of Grass’: one by Tara Seibel’s and Dave Morice’s cheeky ‘Leaves of Grass: The Adventures of Walt Whitman’.

Tinges of literary modernism coincide with John Pierard’s hallucinatory adaptation of Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s ‘The Hasheesh Eater’ after which Michael Keller & Nicolle Rager Fuller lavishly and magnificently illuminate and interpret Chapter 4 from Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ (or if you’re a pedant like me On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life) and Seth Tobocman re-delivers former slave, equal rights advocate and freedom fighter Frederick Douglass’ thoughts on the Nature of Power from ‘The Message from Mount Misery’.

More exploration of social justice issues comes via Tara Seibel’s lengthy treatment of portions of Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Misérables’, before Dame Darcy leads off a brace of entries celebrating Emily Dickinson with ‘Because I Could Not Stop for Death’. Diana Evans then responds visually to ‘I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed’, before Corinne Mucha adapts Gustave Flaubert’s Letter to George Sand ‘Dear Master’ and Darcy returns to delineate a wild interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass’ and Eran Cantrell compellingly details his monstrous epic ‘Jabberwocky’.

Such is the impact of Carroll (AKA Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) – on artists and creators, if not the entire wider world – that a host of submissions led to the ‘Alice Gallery’ that follows, with inclusions by Alice and Mad Bill Carman, Kim Deitch, John Coulthart, May Ann Licudine, Andrea Femerstrand, Olga Lopata, Natalie Shau, Emerson Tung, Peter Kuper, John Ottinger, David W. Tripp, Christopher Panzer, Jasmine Becket-Griffith and Molly Kiely: all letting their imaginations run wild and proving the infinite power of a good book…

Another one such is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, starkly and paranoically envisioned here by Kako, before Molly Keilly delivers details from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s long-forbidden classic ‘Venus in Furs’ and Arthur Rimbaud’s pioneering drama ‘The Drunken Boat’ is adapted by Julian Peters…

Shifting to more sedate climes and themes, Megan Kelso deliciously delves into George Elliot’s ‘Middlemarch’ before Carroll pops up again, thanks to Mahendra Singh’s treatment of The Hunting of the Snark in ‘Fit the Second: The Bellman’s Speech’, before Ellen Lindner channels Leo Tolstoy with stylish extracts from ‘Anna Karenina’ whilst J. Ben Moss offers a key moment from Mark Twain’s ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’

Laurence Gane & Piero impressively summarize Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ in a sequence of short, sharp graphic lectures after which we enter the first moments of modernity with the accent on suspense and terror as Danusia Schejbal & Andrzej Klimowski open Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, whilst Sandy Jimenez effectively and chillingly recounts Ambrose Bierce’s ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ before John Coulthart epically and experimentally ends our literary excursions by uniquely adapting Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.

Wrapping up the elucidatory experience are background, context and suggestions in ‘Further Reading’ from Jordyn Ostroff, regarding all the works contained herein, a full list of ‘Contributors’, details of ‘Credits and Permissions’ and an ‘Index to Volume 2’.

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

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

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.