Doctor Who Graphic Novels volume 15 – Nemesis of the Daleks


By Richard Starkings, John Tomlinson, John Freeman, Paul Cornell, Dan Abnett, Steve Moore, Simon Jowett, Mike Collins, Andrew Donkin, Graham S. Brand, Ian Rimmer, Tim Robins, Lee Sullivan, John Ridgway, Steve Dillon, David Lloyd, Geoff Senior, Art Wetherell & Dave Harwood, Andy Wildman, John Marshall & Stephen Baskerville, Cam Smith & many and various (Panini Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-531-4 (TPB)

Despite the strangely quarked variety of entangled quantums, if you prefer your reality in a sequential manner, this year will always be the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who. Thus there is/has been/will be a bunch of Timey-Wimey stuff on-going as we celebrate a unique TV and comics institution in a periodical manner …

The British love comic strips, adore “characters” and are addicted to celebrity. The history of our homegrown graphic narratives includes an astounding number of comedians, Variety stars and television actors: such disparate legends as Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Askey, Charlie Drake and so many more I’ve long forgotten and you’ve likely never heard of.

As much adored and adapted were actual shows and properties like Whacko!, Supercar, Pinky and Perky, The Clangers and literally hundreds more. If folk watched or listened, an enterprising publisher made printed spectacles of them. Hugely popular anthology comics including Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Comic, TV Tornado, and Countdown readily and regularly translated our light entertainment favourites into pictorial joy every week, and it was a pretty poor star or show that couldn’t parley the day job into a licensed strip property…

Doctor Who debuted on black-&-white televisions across Britain on November 23rd 1963 with the premiere episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. In 1964, a decades-long association with TV Comic began: issue #674 heralding the initial instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

On 11th October 1979, Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly. Turning monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) it’s been with us – via various iterations – ever since. All proving the Time Lord is a comic star of impressive pedigree, not to be trifled with.

Panini’s UK division ensured the immortality of the comics feature by collecting all strips of every Time Lord Regeneration in a uniform series of over-sized graphic albums – although we’re still waiting for digital versions. Each time tome focuses on a particular incarnation of the deathless wanderer, with this one gathering stories originally published in Doctor Who Magazine #152-156, 159-162, The Incredible Hulk Presents #1-12, Doctor Who Weekly #17-20, #27-30 and Doctor Who Monthly #44-46 communally spanning 1980-1990) and nominally starring Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy.

Also on show are awesome ancillary stars from the monolithic Time Lord “Whoniverse” including the eponymous trundling terrors of the title, legendary cosmic crusaders The Star Tigers and the long-revered tragic, demented antihero Abslom Daak, Dalek-Killer.

Delivered beauty-contest style in reverse order, the magnificent magic opens with the cataclysmic ‘Nemesis of the Daleks’ (DWM #152-155) as Richard and Steve Alan – AKA Richard Starkings & John Tomlinson – deliver a definitive and classic clash between the nomadic chrononaut and the ultimate foes of life, wherein deadly Daleks enslave a primitive civilisation. This is done by driving the pitiful, primitive Helkans to the brink of extinction in forced labour to construct a Dalek Death Wheel armed with the universe’s most potent and toxic Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Grittily illustrated by Lee Sullivan, the blockbuster opens with the valiant last stand of stellar champions the Star Tigers, before the peripatetic Doctor accidentally arrives in the right place at the wrong time – no surprise there then – joining death-obsessed Abslom Daak in a doomed attempt to stop the Emperor of the Daleks from winning supreme power.

Filled with evocative do-or-die heroics, this is a battle only one being can survive…

In a complete change-of-pace, ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (#156 from January 1990, by John Freeman, Paul Cornell & Gerry Dolan) takes a wry, merrily murderous poke at modern art and the slavish gullibility of its patrons that still holds true now – and probably always will…

The Incredible Hulk Presents was a short-lived reprint weekly from Marvel UK that launched on September 30th 1989. It targeted younger readers with 4 media-fed features. As well as the Big Green TV sensation, it also reprinted American-produced stories of Indiana Jones and GI Joe/Action Force, but the mix was augmented by all-new adventures of the Gallant Gallifreyan crafted by a rotating roster of British creators.

The plan was to eventually reprint the Who stories in DWM – thus maximising the costly outlay of new material at a time in British comics publishing where every penny counted. It didn’t quite go to plan and the comic folded after 12 issues, with only a couple of the far simpler – though no less enjoyable – offerings making it into the mature magazine publication.

It began with ‘Once in a Lifetime’ by Freeman & Geoff Senior, wherein an obnoxious alien reporter learns to his dismay that some stories are too big even for the gutter press, after which issues #2-3 saw Dan Abnett & John Ridgway depict ‘Hunger From the Ends of Time!’ as the Doctor and Foreign Hazard Duty (the future iteration of UNIT) save the Universal Library from creatures who literally consume knowledge.

‘War World!’ by Freeman, Art Wetherell & Dave Harwood finds the irascible time-traveller uncharacteristically fooled by an (un)common foot soldier, whilst in Abnett & Wetherell’s ‘Technical Hitch’ the Doctor saves a lonely spacer from unhappy dreams of paradise…

Freeman & Senior concocted a riotous monster-mash for ‘A Switch in Time!’ whilst ‘The Sentinel!’ (Tomlinson & Andy Wildman) finds the Time Lord helpless before a being beyond the limits of temporal physics. Claiming to have created all life in the universe, he still needs a little something from Gallifrey to finish his latest project…

Another 2-parter in #8-9 declared ‘Who’s That Girl!’, as the Doctor’s latest regeneration apparently results in a female form just as the Time Lord is required to stop inter-dimensional war between malicious macho martial empires. Of course, there’s more than meets the eye going on in a silly but engaging thriller by Simon Furman, John Marshall & Stephen Baskerville.

Simon Jowett & Wildman offered a light-hearted salutary fable as ‘The Enlightenment of Ly-Chee the Wise’ proves some travellers are too much for even the most mellow of meditators to handle, after which Mike Collins, Tim Robins & Senior prove just how dangerous fat-farms can be in ‘Slimmer!’, before The Incredible Hulk Presents ended its foray into time-warping with the portentous ‘Nineveh!’ by Tomlinson & Cam Smith.

There and then, the Tardis is ensnared in the deadly clutches of the Watcher at the End of Time – an impossibly mythical being who harvests Time Lords after their final regeneration…

For most of its run and in all its guises the Doctor Who title suffered from criminally low budgets and restricted access to concepts, images and character-likenesses from the show (many actors, quite rightfully owning their faces, wanted to be paid if they appeared in print! How’s that work today?) but diligent work by successive editors gradually bore fruit and every so often fans got a proper treat…

Crafted by Andrew Donkin, Graham S. Brand & John Ridgway, ‘Train-Flight’ ran in DWM #159-161 (April to June 1990), benefitting from slick editorial wheeler-dealing and the generosity of actor Elizabeth Sladen (who allowed her Sarah Jane Smith character to be used for a pittance) in a chilling tale of alien abductions. Here, a long overdue reunion between The Doctor and his old Companion is derailed when their commuter train is hijacked by marauding carnivorous insects…

‘Doctor Conkerer!’ (#162 by Ian Rimmer & Mike Collins) terminates this tome’s Time Lord travails in a humorous escapade describing the unsuspected origins of that noble game played with horse chestnuts so beloved by British schoolboys (of 40 years or older), assorted aliens and, of course, Vikings of every stripe…

There’s still plenty of high quality action and adventure to enjoy here, however, as the complete saga of ‘Abslom Daak, Dalek-Killer’ follows. A potent collaboration between Steve Moore and artists Steve Dillon & David Lloyd from Doctor Who Weekly #17-20 (February-March 1980; Doctor Who Weekly #27-30 (April 1980) and Doctor Who Monthly #44-46, (December 1980 to February 1981) the epic fills in the blanks on the doomed defenders of organic life everywhere…

In the 26th century the Earth Empire is in a death struggle with voracious Dalek forces, yet still divided and focused on home-grown threats. One such is inveterate, antisocial killer Abslom Daak, who – on sentencing for his many crimes – chooses “Exile D-K”: being beamed into enemy territory to die as a “Dalek Killer”. As such, his life expectancy is less than three hours – and that suits him just fine. Materialising on an alien world, the madman eagerly expects to die but finds an unexpected reason to live until she too is taken from him, leaving only an unquenchable thirst for Dalek destruction…

The initial ferociously action-packed back-up series led to a sequel and ‘Star Tigers’ found the manic marauder winning such improbable allies as a rebel Draconian Prince, a devilish Ice Warrior and the smartest sociopath in Human space, all willing to trade their pointless lives to kill Daleks…

As always, this compilation chronicle is supplemented with lots of text features, and truly avid fans can also enjoy a treasure-trove of background information in the 17-page prose Commentary section at the back: story-by-story background, history and insights from the authors and illustrators, supplemented by scads of sketches, script pages, roughs, designs, production art covers and photos.

This includes full background from former DWM editor/scripter John Freeman on the stories, plus background on the guest stars in ‘Tales from the Daak Side’ by John Tomlinson.

More details and creator-biographies accompany commentaries on The Incredible Hulk Presents tales. and there’s a feature on ‘Hulk meets Who’, explaining that odd publishing alliance, plus reminisces from editor Andy Seddon and even more info on the legendary Dalek killer and his Star Tiger allies to pore and exult over.

None of which is relevant if all you want is a darn good read. However all creators involved have managed the ultimate task of any artisan – to produce engaging, thrilling, fun work which can be equally enjoyed by the merest beginner and the most slavishly dedicated and opinionated fans imaginable.

This is another marvellous book for casual readers, a fine shelf-addition for dedicated fans of the show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics one more go.

All Doctor Who material © BBCtv. Doctor Who, the Tardis and all logos are trademarks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. Licenced by BBC Worldwide. Tardis image © BBC 1963. Daleks © Terry Nation. All commentaries © 2013 their respective authors. Published 2013 by Panini Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Philosopher, The Dog and the Wedding


By Barbara Stok, design & colours by Ricky van Duuren: translated by Michele Hutchison (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: (978-1-914224-09-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

It’s long been a truism of the creative arts that the most effective, efficient and economical method of instruction and informational training is the comic strip. If you simply consider the medium’s value as a historical recording and narrative system, the process encompasses cave paintings, hieroglyphs, pictograms, oriental prints, Stations of the Cross, the Bayeux Tapestry and so much more: and pretty succinctly covers the history of humanity…

For well over a century and a half, advertising mavens exploited the easy impact of words wedded to evocative pictures, whilst public information materials frequently used sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply. In a surprisingly short time, the internet and social media restored and enhanced the full universal might of image narratives to transcend language. Who doesn’t “speak” emoji?

Since World War II, strips have been used as training materials for every aspect of adult life from school careers advice to various disciplines of military service – utilising the talents of comics giants as varied as Milton Caniff, Will Eisner (who spent decades producing reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments), Kurt Schaffenberger and Neil Adams. The educational value and merit of comics is a given.

The magnificent Larry Gonick in particular uses the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into weary brains of jaded students with his webcomic Raw Materials and such seasoned tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Genetics, Sex, The Environment et al). That’s not even including his crusading satirical strip Commoners for Common Ground, and educational features Science Classics, Kokopelli & Company and pioneering cartoon work with the National Science Foundation. He never stops: his most recent books are Hypercapitalism: The Modern Economy, Its Values, and How to Change Them and The Cartoon Guide to Biology. Gotta Get ‘Em All…

Japan has employed manga textbooks in schools and universities for decades and even releases government reports, documents and business prospectuses in comics formats to get around the public’s apathy towards reading large dreary volumes of information. So do we and everybody else. I’ve even produced the occasional multi-panel teaching-tract myself. The method has also been frequently used to sublimely and elegantly tackle the greatest and most all-consuming preoccupation and creation of the mind of Man…

Like organised religion, the conceptual discipline dubbed Philosophy has had a tough time relating to modern folk and – just like innumerable vicars in pulpits everywhere – advocates and followers have sought fresh ways to make eternal questions and subjective verities understandable and palatable to us hoi-polloi and average simpletons.

In 2021 award-winning Dutch artist Barbara Stok (Barbaraal Tot Op Het Bot, De Omslag, Vincent) translated her interest in the discipline, history and one particular groundbreaking, revolutionary deep thinker to produce De filosoof, dehond en debruiloft and it was published by Nijgh &Van Ditmas, Amsterdam).

Born in Groningen in 1970, Stok was a journalist who studied at The Hague’s Fotoacademie School of Photography before moving into editorial cartooning and illustration in the 1990s. With Maaike Hartjes and Gerrie Hondius she pioneered a generation of female cartoonists using the art form to speak about their lives. Most of her personal work was amusingly autobiographical, working out her life’s big questions via strips. Inevitably, pondering life & death and right &wrong led her to other older investigators and after taking some formal philosophy courses – five years’ worth – she created a history of the astounding and incredibly bold and brave Hipparchia. Since 2020 Stok has taken on a regular gig: creating the strip Jan, Jans en de Kinderen for women’s weekly Libelle.

Delivered in her sublimely accessible child-like primitivist/Niavist style and preferred anecdotal episodic narrative format, The Philosopher, The Dog and the Wedding explores the life and status of women in 4th century (BCE) Greece through the thoughts and experiences of Hipparchia, daughter of a wealthy lumber-merchant in Maroneia, and long overdue to be profitably married off.

As seen in ‘eudaimonia/happiness’, she is given far too much liberty: being able to read, allowed full access to her father’s large library and indulged in her habit of eavesdropping on the philosophical debates of men. Naturally, this leads to her developing a keen mind and opinions of her own, but she can only share them with the house dogs…

After only a few embarrassments, she is bundled off to Athens where her brother Metrocles studies Philosophy with all the greatest thinkers of the Age of Alexander the Great. Wealthy silver mine owner Leandros has a son Kallios who needs a wife, and if she behaves herself and acts like a decent daughter should, she can bind the two families together…

In ‘paracharassein/deface the currency’ her education truly begins. A thrilling and revelatory mental readjustment comes from her apparent resignation to stay in her place, but only after after encountering a homeless tramp who is sublimely content and intellectually brilliant. Crates is the chief proponent of a radical offshoot of the Cynical movement: called by those who don’t mock him and rubbish his teachings as “the new Socrates”…

Distracted but still devout, Hipparchia endures: trying her best to follow family interests and convince Kallios’ family that she is worthy, but the gorgeous glittering prize – an Olympic javelin contender – doesn’t own a single book.

Always accompanied by a male slave, she goes through the traditional motions, buying clothes, learning the secrets of cosmetics and making herself as valuable as she can, but constantly encounters Crates, living his perfect life of poverty and thought. Her distraction proves advantageous, however, when Metrocles almost quits school and she begs Crates to talk him round…

The vagabond is respected by many: a student of the great Diogenes. Its why the Cynic school philosophers are called “Dogs”…

Successfully negotiating Leandros’ conditions, Hipparchia becomes the official fiancée in ‘physis/nature’ and begins learning her expected duties, but chafes at the utter lack of intellectual stimulation. When her brother buys Crates’ book of thoughts, she cannot stop herself reading it. Soon she’s listening in on the students debating in the men-only areas of the house and craving more…

Philosophers at that time could expound anywhere, and men would gather to listen, debate, contend and contribute. On her way to another fitting spree, Hipparchia joins a heated debate despite her social standing (“seen but never heard in public”) and it’s all her slave can do to extricate her from a dangerous situation. It’s worth it though, to hear Crates speak…

Frustrated and guilty as her brother bawls out the negligent slave, a crux moment occurs as she looks over Metrocles’ library and finds a scroll written by a woman. Perictione was Plato’s mother and her thoughts were clearly worth preserving…

Soon she embarks on a dangerous plan, and finds a way to join the male crowds and even openly debate with Crates…

As the marriage proceedings roll on, Hipparchia’s social sins and personal transgressions mount in ‘autarkeia/self-sufficiency’ before culminating in a ‘parrhèsia/freedom of speech’ crisis, the landmark resolution of ‘askêsis/training’ and a new beginning in ‘ataraxia/inner peace’

This story of a powerful woman defining female empowerment and the fight for personal truth is delivered in a potent and accessible manner that beguiles fully as much as Hipparchia and Cratus’ logic and example convinced and challenged the literally patriarchal system of ancient Greece. Augmented by an impassioned ‘Afterword’ and detailed, copious and comprehensive ‘Notes’ to aid comprehension and provide context, this is a visual delight and telling hammer-blow of reasoned debate which should be compulsory reading for all.
© 2021 Barbara Stok. English translation © 2022 by Michelle Hutchison. All rights reserved.

Night and the Enemy


By Harlan Ellison & Ken Steacy (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels/Graphitti Designs)
ISBN: 978-0-486-79961-2 (Dover TPB/Digital edition) 978-0-936211-07-7 (Graphitti Designs Limited Editions HB)

Harlan Ellison’s dark and chilling space war tales are always eminently readable. This gloriously impressive re-issued volume – good luck on getting your hands on the 1987 premium hardback! – gathers five of the best and most celebrated, taken from the long-running sequence of novellas and short-stories detailing Mankind’s extended intergalactic struggle against a race of star-spanning rivals. They’re adapted and interpreted in a variety of visual formats by air-brush wizard and aviation-addict Ken Steacy, together with a new prose framing-sequence from the author.

Humanity’s literary battle against the Kyben spanned ten generations and involved all manner of technologies, up to and including time-travel. Probably the most famous of them is the award-winning Demon with a Glass Hand, adapted as both an episode of The Outer Limits TV show in 1964 and as one of the very best of the long-gone and much-lamented DC Graphic Novel series, but that’s a graphic extravaganza we’ve already covered elsewhere…

Right here, right now, this classy full-colour album-sized paperback resurrects a glorious artefact first released by Comico and Graphitti Designs in 1987, just as the market for English-language graphic novels was taking off. It also piles on the treats by adding a brace of fabulously informative and keenly reminiscent Introductions: ‘In these Pages, the War Still Wages’ from author Ellison and ‘…As We Go Forward, Into the Past!’ by astoundingly multi-talented adaptor Ken Steacy.

Closing down the show are more goodies: an eye-popping glimpse at Steacy’s visual virtuosity in the feature ‘Afterwords & Pictures’, sharing unpublished art, roughs, layouts and finished covers, as well as working models and more, and the original Afterwords ‘War Artist’ and ‘Whispers from the Telling Box’ by Steacy & Ellison respectively from the 1987 edition.

Following a specially created ‘Prologue’ by E & S, the pictorial panoply shifts seamlessly into the earliest tales of the epic conflict, beginning with the apocalyptic ‘Run for the Stars’: a traditional panels and balloons strip describing life and its imminent end on Deald’s World after the hordes of Kyba drop in. It’s followed by ‘Life Hutch’, a grim survival tale combining blocks of text with big bold images in both lavish colour and stark monochrome, highlighting a soldier-survivor’s battle against a malfunctioning robot…

‘The Untouchable Adolescents’ is a bright and breezy art job disguising a tragic and powerful parable of good intentions gone awry, whilst sardonic 2-pager ‘Trojan Hearse’ rates just one powerful, lonely illustration for its cunning tale of invasion. ‘Sleeping Dogs’ is a moody epic which fittingly concludes the short sagas with the story of a force of liberating Earthmen who trample all over a few aliens in their rush to defeat the Kyben… and realise too late they’ve poked the wrong bear…

Fans will be delighted to find this volume also carries an original entry in the annals of the Earth-Kyba conflict with prose & picture piece The Few… The Proud’: at the time of this collection’s original release, Ellison’s first new story for the sequence in 15 years.

This epic tome was a groundbreaking landmark at the time of its original release and remains an innovative, compelling treat for both old and new fans of the writer, lovers of seductively unconventional graphic narrative and of course comic readers in general.

Written by Harlan Ellison ®. © 1987, 2015 The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All Rights Reserved. New material by Harlan Ellison®. © 2015 The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Cover and illustrations © 1987, 2015 Ken Steacy. All Rights Reserved.

(The Tragedie of) Macbeth


By William Shakespeare, adapted by K. Briggs (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-73-8 (HB)

Depending on how you liken it, William Shakespeare may be one of the most prolific comic scripters in the business. His mighty works have been staged and adapted as graphic narratives for decades in every language you might consider, and frequently allow contemporary artistic collaborators opportunity to be bold, experimental and vibrantly daring.

This is certainly the case with the lovingly crafted vision of American illustrator, performer and educator K. Briggs (Resistance, The New Chapter Tarot) who opts for colour-blind and gender-balanced casting to recount a visually striking and vivid interpretation which makes Scotland itself a player in the mix. Combining the full text with an abundance of mixed media including collage, paints, markers and pure linework, in a procession of nature-informed, magically-motif-ed page designs referencing ancient charts and maps, Illuminated manuscripts, tapestries, Tarot iconography, medical grimoires, nigh-abstract mood-enhancing tableaux and found historical artworks. These function as a moving backdrop to the actors unfolding the tale before your eyes.

What you already know: valiant general Macbeth meets three witches after saving the kingdom of his liege lord Duncan, and comes away with the notion that he will be King instead. Egged on by greed, ambition and his wife, the Thane of Cawdor personally kills the King whilst the monarch graces them with a visit. The red trail includes framing the guards and heirs and then progressively removing all threats to his reign.

However, both he and his Lady cannot escape their own consciences and the witches’ prophecy leads to delusion, disaster, derangement and death, but never glory…

As far as we can tell, Macbeth was first performed in 1606, written for Shakespeare’s patron King James I of England/VI of Scotland. It is an epic tragedy of ill-starred political ambition, the psychological costs of guilt, the consequences of betrayal and inevitability of tyranny, all wrapped up in veneer of supernatural horror.

The story is one of the greatest in world literature, but also a studied hatchet job, with the Bard shamelessly currying favour by ignoring facts and bigging up James’ distant ancestor and antecedent Macduff. The text first appeared in print in the Folio of 1623, but there have been plenty of editions since then.

The immortal story has frequently made it into comics form. If you’re one of the precious few people unfamiliar with the tale in its intended format (firstly, shame on you and secondly, go watch it right now; there are many excellent filmed versions in every possible language), this imaginatively welcoming rendition is extremely enthralling and powerful…

Moreover, the plot lends itself to many eras and milieux. You may even have already enjoyed it in epics as varied as Joe MacBeth (UK 1951), Throne of Blood (Japan 1957), Teenage Gang Debs (USA 1966), Men of Respect (USA 1991), and Mandaar (India 2021), amongst so many more interpretations – or even thematically as Blackadder Season 1…

Maybe you have seen it all before, but this is better….

Or if you will permit, “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something Wicked your way comes…”
© K. Briggs, 2023. All rights reserved.

Macbeth will be published on 23rd July 2023 and is available for pre-order now.

Beowulf – First Comics Graphic Novel #1


By Jerry Bingham, with Ken Bruzenak (First Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-915419-00-5 (Album PB)

The mid-1980s were a great time for comics creators. It was as if an entire new industry had opened up with the proliferation of the Direct Sales market and dedicated specialist retail outlets; new companies were experimenting with format and content, and punters had a bit of spare cash to play with. Moreover, much of the “kid’s stuff” stigma had finally abated and the US was catching up to the rest of the world in acknowledging that sequential narrative might just be an actual art-form…

Many new companies began competing for the attention and cash of punters who had grown accustomed – or resigned – to getting their four-colour kicks from DC, Marvel Archie and/or Harvey Comics. European and Japanese styled material had been creeping in but by 1983 a host of young companies such as WaRP Graphics, Pacific, Eclipse, Capital, Now, Comico, Dark Horse, First and many others had established themselves and were making impressive inroads.

New talent, established stars and fresh ideas all found a thriving forum to try something a little different both in terms of content and format. Chicago based First Comics was an early frontrunner, with Frank Brunner’s Warp, Mike Grell’s Starslayer and Jon Sable, Freelance and Howard Chaykin’s landmark American Flagg!, as well as an impressive line of titles targeting a more sophisticated audience.

In 1984 they followed Marvel and DC’s lead with a line of impressive, European-styled over-sized graphic albums featuring new and out-of-the-ordinary comics sagas (see Time Beavers, Mazinger and two volumes of Time2 to see just how bold, broad and innovative the material could be). The premier release was a stunning – subsequently award-winning (1985 Kirby Award for Best Graphic Album) – fantasy epic by Jerry Bingham.

Beowulf is a thrilling, compulsive and intensely visceral visualisation of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem committed to parchment sometime between the 8th and 11th century AD, and recently the subject of numerous screen iterations and re-interpretations.

Need a plot summary? Long ago in the far North, noble King Hrothgar built a mighty mead-hall for heroes, thereby incurring the malignant enmity of the monster Grendel. This beast ruthlessly and relentlessly raided the citadel, slaughtering many noble warriors every night. After a dozen years of horror, a valiant band of heroes led by Beowulf, Prince of the Geats, came to their aid, seeking glory and fame through battle…

The clash of Beowulf and Grendel is spectacularly handled as is the succeeding exploit wherein the stalking horror’s demonic mother comes seeking revenge and drags the warrior prince to her hideous lair beneath an icy lake, but the most effective and moving chapter is the very human-scaled Twilight of the Gods as, after 50 years ruling his Geatish kingdom, worn and elderly Beowulf goes to his final glorious battle, dying heroically whilst destroying a ravening firedrake which threatens to eradicate his people: the only proper end for a Northman Hero…

Bingham’s raw, fiercely realistic art-style perfectly captures the implacable sense of doom and by employing Prince Valiant’s text block-&-picture format he endows the tale with a grandeur frequently as mythic as Hal Foster’s strip masterpiece, whilst leaving the art gloriously free of distracting word-balloons.

Letterer/calligrapher Ken Bruzenak’s particular facility perfectly enhances the artistic mood by carefully integrating captions filled with Bingham’s free-verse transliterations of the original 3182-lines-long poem into a classic interpretation of the epic. This is a wonderful and worthy piece of work that will delight any fan of the medium. Let’s bring it back pretty please?

And for a perfect all-ages prose telling of the timeless tale I also heartily recommend Rosemary Sutcliff’s magnificent Beowulf: Dragonslayer: first released in 1961 and captivatingly illustrated by Charles Keeping. It is still readily available and one of the books that changed my life.
© 1984 First Comics, Inc. All rights reserved.

Superman Smashes the Klan


By Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0421-0 (TPB/Digital edition)

It’s indisputable that the American comic book industry – if it existed at all – would have been an utterly unrecognisable thing without Superman. Siegel & Shuster’s unprecedented invention was rapturously adopted by a desperate and joy-starved generation, quite literally giving birth to a genre if not an actual art form.

Spawning an astounding army of imitators within 3 years of his 1938 debut, the intoxicating blend of breakneck breathtaking action and cathartic wish-fulfilment epitomising the primal Man of Tomorrow expanded to encompass cops-&-robbers crime-busting, science fiction, fantasy, whimsical comedy, socially reforming dramas – and, once the war in Europe and the East engulfed America – patriotic relevance for a host of gods, champions and monsters, all dedicated to profit through exuberant, eye-popping excess and vigorous dashing derring-do.

In comic book terms Superman was master of the world and, whilst transforming the fledgling funnybook industry, the Metropolis Marvel was also inexorably expanding into all areas of entertainment media. Although we all think of Jerry & Joe’s iconic invention as the epitome and acme of kid stuff creation, the truth is that very soon after his debut in Action Comics #1, the Man of Steel became an all-ages fictional multimedia monolith in the same league as Popeye, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse.

We parochial, possessive comics fans too often regard our purest and most powerful icons in purely graphic narrative terms, but the likes of Batman, Spider-Man, The Avengers and all their hyperkinetic kin long ago outgrew their 4-colour origins. These days, comics characters don’t really succeed until they’ve been fully mythologized creatures instantly recognisable across all platforms and age ranges… especially by TV, video games and movies…

Far more people have seen or heard an actor as Superman than have ever read his comic tales. The globally syndicated newspaper strips alone reached untold millions, and by the time his 20th anniversary rolled around at the very start of what we know as the Silver Age of Comics, Superman had become an immensely popular, thrice-weekly radio serial milestone with its own spin-off: a landmark novel by radio-show scripter George Lowther.

The audible exploits were translated into 17 astounding animated cartoons by the Fleischer Studios and latterly into live action via two movie serials (Superman 1948 and Atom Man vs Superman 1950) plus a proper movie in 1951 (Superman and the Mole Men).

These paved the way for groundbreaking television series Adventures of Superman which owned the 1950s: running 104 original episodes across six seasons, from September 1952 to April 1958 and for decades after in reruns.

The Man of Steel was a perennial sure-fire success for toy, game, puzzle and apparel manufacturers and had just ended that first smash live-action television presence. In his future were more shows (Superboy, Lois & Clark, Smallville, Superman & Lois), a stage musical, two blockbuster movie franchises and an almost seamless succession of games, bubble gum cards and TV cartoons beginning with The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 and continuing ever since. Even superdog Krypto got in on the small-screen act, and that’s not including spin-offs for Supergirl and even planet Krypton

There have always been “other” versions of Superman, but arguably the most important – even more than his epic newspaper strip career – was the radio serial. The daily newspaper strip launched on 16th January 1939, supplemented by a full-colour Sunday page from November 5th and on February 12th 1940, the Mutual Network transmitted the Man of Tomorrow into homes across America. Initially sponsored by Kellog’s Pep and broadcast as 15-minute episodes three times a week (and in some regions 5 days a week), the show grew into half-hour instalments by August 1942 and continued until February 4th 1949. Thereafter it shifted to ABC in an evening slot and thrice weekly afternoons until March 1st 1951: a total of 2,088 episodes and 128 different storylines. There was even an Australian version with Anzac actors: a total of 1040 episodes from 1949 -1954…

The US serial’s scripters and directors (including B. P. Freeman & Jack Johnstone, Robert & Jessica Maxwell, George F. Lowther, Allen Ducovny & Mitchell Grayson) introduced many innovations that became canonical in comics continuity – such as team-ups with Batman & Robin, inventing Jimmy Olsen and Kryptonite and the immortal opening mantra that began “Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!”…

The show fuelled the imaginations of millions through wonder and action, but also embraced the refugee hero’s socially crusading roots. In 1946, inspired by a resurgence of activity by the Ku Klux Klan, the writers used the 118th saga to fight back against intolerance and bigotry with ‘The Clan of the Fiery Cross’. It began on June 10th and ran16 episodes into July, detailing how a Chinese -American family moves to Metropolis and is targeted by hooded racists until the Action Ace steps in and steps up…

How that ancient tale was revived and adapted into a 3-issue miniseries for DC’s Young Adult imprint by award-winning Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Boxers and Saints, Avatar: The Last Airbender, New Super-Man) and Japanese women’s illustration collective Gurihiru AKA Chifuyu Sasaki & Naoko Kawano (Avatar: The Last Airbender, Sonic, Unbelievable Gwenpool Power Pack, Tails of the Pet Avengers and more) is recounted at the end of this enthralling adaptation.

‘Superman and Me by Gene Luen Yang’ traces the turbulent and often ludicrous history of the Ku Klux Klan; slavery in the US, Jim Crow laws; The Chinese Exclusion Act; the advent and impact of Superman; abuses of the well-intentioned 1944 G.I. Bill and the radio show that uniquely united non-racist Americans whilst effectively setting the Klan back 20 years…

The story itself is charming, inspirational and decidedly hard-hitting in a manner easily accessible to youngsters; beginning with the Metropolis Marvel still learning about his powers. Strong, fast and able to leap tall buildings, Superman knows very little about his origins but still drives himself tirelessly to save the helpless and punish the guilty.

That starts to change after a titanic battle against leftover Nazi terrorist Atom Man. In the course of a brutal clash, our hero is exposed to a strange green crystal empowering his foe: one that which makes him sick for the first time in his life and triggers bizarre hallucinations – weird smells, odd conversations and images of being a monstrous alien…

As Superman’s friend – “negro” Police Inspector William Henderson – carts off the defeated Nazi, across town Lan-Shin Li is also feeling billious. Her family are driving into Metropolis and their new house, but she already misses Chinatown. She also can’t get used to being called “Roberta Lee” now…

Father’s new job as Chief Bacteriologist for Doctors Segret Wilson and William Jennings at the Metropolis Health Department is a huge triumph and advancement, and her easy-going brother Tommy is ecstatic to move into a white neighbourhood, but mother speaks very little English and is always frightened. Roberta just hates change and misses old friends…

Her anxiety remains high even after new neighbour Jimmy Olsen welcomes them and invites the kids to join the local baseball team. It only really fades after seeing Superman running past at superspeed. Something about him nudges Roberta’s brilliant scientific mind…

Sporting paragon Tommy is a big hit at the Unity House community center, but Roberta just feels out of place, especially after starting pitcher Chuck Riggs uses racist slurs and is fired from the team.

The incident escalates when Chuck sounds off to his Uncle Matt, and that unrepentant racist has his friends leave a burning cross on the Lee’s lawn. As Grand Scorpion of the Klan of the Fiery Kross, he strives to keep America free from impurity, and decides it’s time Chuck also started defending the besieged white race…

Scared and already regretful and repentant, Chuck goes along with the adults, but when he tries to firebomb the house, Roberta recognises him despite his hooded robes…

By-passer Bill Henderson and his buddies help extinguish the flames, but the Inspector cannot convince the Lees to file a complaint. The incident does, however, make Roberta determined to stay and fight back…

Clark Kent and Lois Lane soon arrive and start asking questions. Something about little Roberta reminds the clandestine Kryptonian of growing up in Smallville, particularly those times when his hidden abilities made him feel like an outsider… or even a monster.

… And elsewhere, the secrets of Atom Man and the alien green rock are being decoded by mysterious scientists with a nasty agenda: potential tyrants intent on making mischief at the heart of a brave new society. Soon after, events escalate when the Klan kidnap Tommy and Roberta furiously confronts Chuck…

Thus begins a powerful and rewarding adventure detailing not simply the antagonisms of outsiders and ultra-conservatives, and incomers against entrenched privilege, but also how diversity and inclusion benefits everyone on so many levels. It’s also a smart saga of good versus evil, growth, accommodation and acceptance and a parable of how a wise child taught the Man of Steel where he was going wrong and how to use his powers correctly…

An immigrant’s tale about knowing oneself and adapting to change, Superman Smashes the Klan is wise and welcoming and wants you to see the best in everyone everywhere.
© 2020, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. Essay by Gene Luen Yang © 2019 Humble Comics LLC.

From the Files of… Mike Hammer: The Complete Dailies and Sundays


By Mickey Spillane & Ed Robbins: edited by Max Allan Collins (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-61345-025-3 (HB/Digital edition)

Frank Morrison Spillane was Brooklyn born on March 9th 1918 and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He started writing in High School and, after trying a wide variety of jobs, joined a production shop in 1940, where he worked on articles for magazines (“slicks”), pulps and – thanks to a connection to Joe Gill (Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker and more horror, war and science fiction tales than you can imagine) – comic books.

Spillane wrote dozens of text fillers (usually the only place you could sign your own name) for Funnies Inc. who supplied Timely Comics, Fawcett, National/DC and more, but also crafted comics tales too, including Blue Bolt, Captain Marvel, Batman, Captain America and Sub-Mariner. A rough, tough guy, and already qualified pilot, he enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor, but his expertise denied him the combat he craved and relegated him to the despised role of Army Air Corps flight instructor, stationed in Mississippi.

Married in 1945, he found employment scarce when peace broke out and turned his 1942 comic creation Mike Lancer P.I. (latterly Mike Danger) into a rough, tough, vulgar and compelling paragon of toxic masculinity. The 1947 novel I, The Jury was written in 9 days and, on the suggestion of Ray Gill (brother of Joe), offered to EP Dutton. They published it in hardback which sold moderately that year. One year later the paperback edition sold six and a half million copies in the US alone, was translated everywhere, kicked off a detective boom in film and books, and created both an iconic character and arguably an entire subgenre. Spillane died in July 2006.

Love him or loathe (and people have always fallen pretty equally on either side) Mike Hammer changed the world of entertainment. Apparently based on Texas Ranger Mike Hamer (who killed Bonnie & Clyde in 1934), Hammer is hard-boiled and smart but also brutally violent, mercurial and misogynistic. His hatred for criminality borders on psychosis and in his later books viciously anti-communist. Despite respecting law and cops he considers both a constant impediment to justice. He carries a Colt 45 M1911A1 and has a distinctly modern relationship with his secretary Velda – who might well be a harder man than him. His best pal is NYPD Homicide Captain Pat Chambers

Spillane wrote 13 Hammer novels between 1947 and 1996: a tiny fraction of a frankly heroic output, with the canon further extended in later years by crime maven and comics marvel Max Allen Collins – a close friend and associate who added 30 more to the tally. Working from Spillane’s notes, he posthumously extended Spillane’s Hammer canon by writing a further 13 Hammer novels and 17 other characters from the author’s notes…

Collins (Dick Tracy, Batman, Ms. Tree, Wild Dog, Mike Danger, Nathan Heller, Mallory, Nolan & Quarry series, The Road to Perdition) also edited and curated this epic collected archival edition, gathering another controversial Hammer spin-off but one of the anti-hero’s few failures…

We open with his Foreword ‘Mickey and Me’ and informative Introduction From the Files of… Mike Hammer’ relating history and building context in heavily illustrated features sharing novel dustjackets, posters and lobby cards from some of the many movies, logos, designs and original art from the strip, all augmented throughout by promotional ads.

The short run was distributed by Phoenix Features Syndicate from 1953-1954: written by Spillane, Joe Gill and illustrator Ed Robbins, narrated like the books, in first person by Hammer. The reason for the minor league management was to keep authorial control out of the hands of timid censorious editors but it proved the strip’s undoing…

Originally compiled by Ken Pierce Books as Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer – The Comic Strip volume 1 (The Sudden Trap and Other Stories) & 2 (The Dark City and Other Stories), this edition maintains their layout of up to 4 dailies per page and opens with ‘Half-Blonde’ as the grim gumshoe stumbles over a pretty singer, witness – or culprit – to senseless murder. Inserting himself into the case, Hammer is shot, beaten and lied to but still unearths a long-buried secret to expose high society schemes of embezzlement and casual execution…

Whilst recovering from the latest bullet wounds incurred in the line of duty, Mike discovers dark deeds in the hospital and intercedes on behalf of ‘The Bandaged Woman’ who doesn’t officially exist; bringing down a diabolical doctor happy to butcher and torture patients to mollify his own monstrous child and maximise his personal fortune. Hammer’s cure is suitably efficient and comes in a single treatment…

The strip was full of raw, violence, barely concealed sex and comparatively shocking violence for America’s prime family entertainment medium, which made the subject of ‘The Child’ a charged one as Hammer is gulled by one gangster inro saving a little girl from another mob of kidnappers. When he learns he’s been made a patsy and the actual bereaved parent is President Eisenhower things get really nasty in the name of patriotism…

Hammer was never a conventional hero and the stories always pushed boundaries. Emotional turmoil rages through ‘Another Lonely Night’ after best pal Pat callously makes Mike bait to draw out mob killers and sits back as a procession of assassins seek to rub him out. At least the wounded warrior can always depend on pistol-packing Velda…

Newspapers used seasons as key sales points and everybody worked a ‘Christmas Story’ angle. For Hammer it took a typically bleak turn as – after arguing with Velda – Mike sets out to catch a crook on Christmas Eve: the busiest day of the year for grifters, grafters, pickpockets and buttonmen. Although apparently proving his point, Hammer had to ultimately concede that there is such a thing as the spirit of the season…

The dailies wrapped up with an epic ideological challenge as Hammer is targeted by the greatest criminal in America and forced to hunt an even worse public enemy in ‘Adam and Kane’. Facing three generations of sheer evil, Mike suffers a psychological freeze and is helpless against the truly diabolical son of aged Adam Shaver.

That “Napoleon of Crime” retired when he found true love but the fruit of it was even more evil and Adam now wants the toughest man in New York to bring him down for the sake of all.

Despite being physically outmatched and intellectually dwarfed, Hammer’s biggest handicap is his own fear until gloating Kane attacks other innocents under Mike’s protection. From then on, the gloves are off…

Sundays began on May 17th 1953 and there were only three before reader complaints ended the run and both strips. It began in full colour splendour with ‘Comes Murder!’ as Hammer discovers a young couple who have been gulled and roughed up by pro gambling racketeers. Incensed, Mike goes after slick Art Selton and meets his match and a major setback in the mobster’s busty blonde “assistant”. Overpowered but undaunted, he changes tack and quickly realises he’s not the only one after Selton. All he has to do is stir things up and stand back, but it helps if you know who’s actually calling the shots…

Crime never rests and when Hammer takes a short country break he meets a ghost in ‘The Sudden Trap.’ His astonishment at seeing the wife of gang boss Al Quinn two years after she died in a car crash and hubby dearest collected a million-dollar insurance pay out obsesses the PI, and his bullish investigations soon have everyone gunning for him. Luckily, local reporter Miss Hayes (no first name; just loads of diminishing “terms of affection”!) backstops him as he crashes from one wrong conclusion to the next until the many murderous fiends who want the revenant dead again are caught and the incredible truth is exposed…

The series concluded with ‘Dark City’ as traumatised Korean War vet Buddie and his sister Eve hire Mike to keep her safe from unknown assailants. Whilst doing the job, Hammer learns that he’s been lied to again. However, before he can confront them, the shamus is compelled by sheer decency to rescue her from abductors.

The scene of her being tortured is extremely graphic even by modern standards, leading to artist Robbins being accused of doing what no man could… killing Mike Hammer…

The story was wrapped up rapidly with our hero exposing the siblings’ scam in two-fisted style and the dream was over…

At its best the strip was evocative and extremely competent as well as being true to its times and its tenets. For those who admired Hammer’s oeuvre they comprise a lost treasure…

Closing this collection is behind-the-scenes feature ‘Restoring Mike Hammer by Daniel Herman revealing how the scattered and distressed remnants of the series were saved for publication.

Then come more objects of interest in Mike Hammer and Pop Culture’ delivering poster and book cover art, extracts from comic spoofs ‘My Gun is the Jury! By Melvie Splane’ (Panic! #1 1954) and Mad Magazine’s parody of the 1980’s TV show (illustrated by Sam Viviano), candid photos and more.

Certainly not everybody’s shot of rye, From the Files of… Mike Hammer: The Complete Dailies and Sundays is a glimpse at a global icon at his visual peak: one you can take or leave but never ignore if you love exploring the annals of crime fiction.
© 2013 Mickey Spillane Publishing, LLC.

Crossroad Blues – A Nick Travers Graphic Novel


By Ace Atkins & Marco Finnegan (12-Guage Comics/Image)
ISBN: 978-1-5343-0648-0 (TPB/Digital edition)

Following the success of long-delayed originating Nick Travers tale Last Fair Deal Gone Down, Ace Atkins & Marco Finnegan regrouped and applied their brand of Southern discomfort to the first official published exploit. Prose novel Crossroad Blues was released in 1998, with three more following every two years thereafter until 2004.

Here history and myth collide with modern tastes and business practises as Travers reviews the celebrated legend of Robert Leroy Johnson who infamously sold his soul to the Devil for musical success. He “invented” the Delta Blues, was killed in still-mysterious circumstances, is a global presence and still personifies the image of a doomed musician at the mercy of his gifts and cruel commerce. Despite his fame then and influence since, Johnson’s recording career only lasted seven months in total…

Here, a glimpse at his last moments neatly segues into college lecturer/blues documentarian Travers who is momentarily stymied in his plans to make a film about his hero Guitar Slim. Keen to break the deadlock, he checks in with Tulane’s Head of Jazz Archives Professor Randy Sexton. A guy who likes to help and one easily distracted, Nick is soon heading into the Delta for Sexton, looking for absent colleague Professor Michael Baker, who has been missing since some big-time collector hired him to locate the fabled but apparently fictional “lost recordings of Robert Johnson”…

Disbelieving but still beguiled by the notion of the Holy Grail of Blues music, Travers dogs his trail across Mississippi, encountering many dubious characters and finding new girlfriend Virginia before being sent in the direction of negro-albino “Cracker”. This enigmatic “devil-touched” old coot actually met Johnson and now lives at the Old Three Forks Store where Johnson was murdered in 1938. Sadly, he’s not there now, having been abducted and tortured by a wannabe (possibly reincarnated?) new Elvis Presley. The gun for hire has been told the aged hermit knows the location of certain legendary recordings but is all shook up at the dotard’s resistance to pain and mockery of “The King”…

After rescuing Cracker, Travers and local sheriff Willie Brown join forces, but when Nick and multi-talented Virginia search another potential location, the sheriff is murdered and Travers takes the fall until Virginia provides an alibi…

In the interim, the closeted money man behind “Elvis” breaks cover and takes over questioning Cracker. When Nick gets home to New Orleans, trouble follows him back and begins hitting his closest friends – like JoJo and Loretta

He also has a new suspect but nobody wants to tell him who Earl Snooks is or was, and many other people even try to kill just for saying his name…

In the end, it’s Professor Randy who supplies that information and also a possible prime suspect behind all the killings and horror. Just as Travers decides to come down heavy, he gets a message that the villain will trade the recordings no one has actually seen yet for Virginia…

When the dust and blood settles, the mystery of Johnson’s death is solved, but it’s only one of many homicides and the lost records are where they’ve always been as befits the dictates of a real myth…

Complex, compelling and sublimely orchestrated, this is a yarn to delight crime cognoscenti everywhere and one you cannot miss..
© 2018 Ace Atkins. 12-Guage Comics LL authorized user. All Rights Reserved.

Last Fair Deal Gone Down – A Nick Travers Graphic Novel


By Ace Atkins & Marco Finnegan (12-Guage Comics/Image)
ISBN: 978-0-9836937-1-0 (TPB/Digital edition)

For the majority of private eyes, unshakable ethics, deductive reasoning and an attitude are not enough. The best ones also enjoy a specific time and/or location as well as a quirk or fascination that drives them. For Nero Wolf it was fine food and rare orchids, Marcus Didio Falco was an anti-establishment family man in first century Rome, Miss Marple was elderly and genteel, and both Phryne Fisher and Lord Peter Wimsey were posh, rich, and socialist. Moreover, Harry Dresden abets sleuthing with wizardry, Dirk Gently favours a holistic approach and Detective Chimp is a chimp…

Locale and an overarching outside interest flavours so many great crimebusting ratiocinators, none more so than Nick Travers: a music-loving history-driven investigator plying his twin trades in the moody Big Easy and its shady, murder & melody immersed environs.

The musical mystery prodigy was devised by former footballer award-winning investigative journalist Ace Atkins, a prolific writer who was himself compelled to re-examine cold cases and forgotten crimes.

Born in 1970, Atkins began his fiction-weaving aged 30: penning Crossroad Blues before going on to write three more Travers books between 1998 and 2004, 11 novels of former soldier Quinn Colson and standalone novels White Shadow, Wicked City, Devil’s Garden and Infamous. In 2011, the estate of Robert B. Parker commissioned Atkins to continue that author’s saga of P.I. Spenser, with a further ten books resulting thus far.

All that industrious fictive intrigue stemmed from an unfinished, abortive early exploit of the still unformed Nick Travers. The author’s Introduction for this stunning monochrome graphic grimoire details the strange circumstances leading to that abandoned outline finally being finished in 2016 to become something of a crime-writing sensation. It pays particular heed to the fevered efforts of fan Marco Finnegan to adapt the potent parable into comics…

A masterpiece of mood and style, the story sees Blues historian and occasional Tulane University lecturer Travers enjoying the distinctive Saturday night ambience of JoJo’s Bar (as well as Loretta’s cooking). In that suitably seedy dive, veteran sax player Fats beguiles drink-sodden listeners whilst continuing his own gradual self-extinction via booze and betting. It’s the founding myth of this city…

At the close, Nick spots him a meal and realises the little legend is especially troubled. He talks about being in love Real Love. Two days later, Fats is dead… an accidental fall…

The bluesman had no friends or family so JoJo and Travers are asked to clear his meagre belongings from the flop he rented. Fats had practically nothing left but his vintage sax. It was worth a fortune if he could have ever conceived of selling it, but it’s missing now…

Outraged and overwhelmed, Nick relentlessly employs his other skillset to discover how Fats actually died, who did it and why. As more far-from-innocents are killed, he kicks open a viper’s nest of betrayal, twisted hopes, frustrated desires, criminal exploitation and bitter disappointment – which only confirms all the legends and lies of the men who make the music and the lovers they despondently play it for…

And of course, even when the case closes and the bad guy is dealt with, there’s one last moment of revelation and another betrayal to avenge…

Atmospheric, moodily authentic and drowning in potent edgy drama and tension, Last Fair Deal Gone Down is a perfect example of comics crime and Southern Noir: a wonderful passport to the world of passion, idealism and shop-soiled justice…
© 2016 Ace Atkins. Image Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe: A Trilogy of Crime


Adapted by Tom DeHaven & Rian Hughes; Jerome Charyn & David Lloyd; James Rose, Lee Moyer & Alfredo Alcala, & various (iBooks)
ISBN: 978-0-7434-7489-4 (HB), 978-1-59687-839-6 (TPB 2016 edition)

If you’re going to adapt classic, evocative crime stories into graphic narrative there really isn’t no better source material than Chandler. This follow-up to the adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe: The Little Sister was last reissued in 2016 as Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe: The Graphic Novel: once again the fruit of comics visionary Byron Preiss.

It adroitly adapts three short tales from the master of hard-boiled fiction. Significantly, they are all rendered in a variety of unique and impressive styles by an international array of top-flight creators…

Opening the show is ‘Goldfish’, first published in 1949 and the writer’s ninth short story sale. It preceded his first Marlowe novel by three years and is here adapted by Tom DeHaven (Green Candles, It’s Superman!) & lettered by Willie Schubert. The stylish illustration comes courtesy of British designer/artist Rian Hughes (Dare, I Am a Number) using muted colour tones that have only the merest hint of hue to them. The effect is powerfully evocative and atmospheric.

When former cop Kathy Horne sidles into the tough guy’s seedy office, she brings a tale of lost pearls, an absconded convict and a huge reward just waiting to be claimed. Dragged far out of his comfort zone and sent up and down the Pacific Seaboard, our world-weary shamus is just steps ahead of sadistic, casually murderous Carol Donovan and her gang of thugs in a superb thriller of double-cross and double-jeopardy…

Next up is ‘The Pencil’, scripted by award-winning mystery novelist Jerome Charyn (Isaac Sidel series, The Magician’s Wife, New York Cannibals), brilliantly rendered by British comics legend David Lloyd (V for Vendetta, Hellblazer, Wasteland, Aces Weekly) in moody, dry-brush black and white, and lettered by long-term collaborator Elitta Fell. This was Chandler’s 21st – and final – Marlowe adventure, published posthumously in 1959, shortly after the author’s death. You might know it as Marlowe Takes on the Syndicate, Wrong Pigeon or even Philip Marlowe’s Last Case.

Hollywood 1955: Ikky Rossen is a bad man, a career gangster and mob leg-breaker. When he crosses his bosses he hopes Marlowe can get him safely out of the City of Angels before The Organization’s East Coast “button men” send him to Hell. Marlowe knows these are people to be avoided at all costs and only one thing is always true: everybody lies…

Closing the casebook – and somewhat ill-considered and misplaced to my mind – is ‘Trouble is My Business’ as interpreted by James Rose (Thundercats, Savage sword of Conan), Lee Moyer (Starstruck, Dungeons & Dragons) & Alfredo Alcala (Voltar, Swamp Thing, Man Thing, Batman, Savage Sword of Conan), with Schubert again filling the word balloons.

This is a weak tale of vengeful Harriet Huntress who intends to destroy two generations of wealthy socialites mixed up in the gambling rackets originated in 1939: a rather tame and straightforward yarn in comparison to the other stories here, not to mention the landmark first full novel The Big Sleep, which was also published in that year.

Moyer and Alcala do a solid job of illustrating the plot (although it’s a little pretty for my tastes) but the cynical edge that is the hallmark of Chandler’s iconic creation is muted if not actually extinguished here.

Despite ending on a sour note, this is still a superb sample of Detective comics any fan can revel in, with the incredible Steranko cover alone well worth the effort of tracking down…
Adaptations and illustrations © 2003 Byron Preiss Visual Publications Inc. Original stories “Goldfish” and “Trouble is my Business” © 2003 Philip Marlowe BV (Estate of Raymond Chandler) All Rights Reserved. “The Pencil” © 1971 Helga Greene, Executrix, Estate of Raymond Chandler. All Rights Reserved.