Mickey’s Craziest Adventures


By Lewis Trondheim & Keramidas, with Brigitte Findakly: translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger & David Gerstein (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-694-2 (HB) eISBN 978-1-68406-124-2

In his ninety years of existence, Walt Disney’s heroic everyman Mickey Mouse has tackled his fair share of weirdos and super freaks in tales crafted by creators from every corner of the world. A true global phenomenon, the little wonder has staunchly overcome all odds, and he’s always done so as the prototypical nice guy beloved by all. Mickey might have been born in the USA, but he belongs to all humanity now and thus some of his very best comics adventures come from countries like Denmark, Holland, Italy and France. This translation of a saga by Lewis Trondheim & Keramidas ranks right up at the top of the list…

With over 100 books bearing his pen-name (his secret identity is actually Laurent Chabosy), writer/artist/editor/animator and educator Lewis Trondheim is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators: illustrating his own work, overseeing cartoons adaptations of previous successes such as La Mouche (The Fly) and Kaput and Zösky or editing the younger-readers book series Shampooing for Dargaud.

His most famous tales are such global hits as Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot (seen in English as The Spiffy Adventures of McConey), the Donjon series of nested fantasy epics (co created with Joann Sfar and translated as conjoined sagas Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: the Early Years), comedy fable Ralph Azham and an utterly beguiling cartoon diaries sequence entitled Little Nothings.

In his spare time – and when not girdling the globe from convention to symposium to festival – the dourly shy and neurotically introspective savant wrote for satirical magazine Psikopat and provided scripts for many of the continent’s most popular artists such as Fabrice Parme (Le Roi Catastrophe, Vénézia), Manu Larcenet (Les Cosmonautes du futur), José Parrondo (Allez Raconte and Papa Raconte) and Thierry Robin (Petit Père Noël).

Ostensibly retired but still going strong, Trondheim is a cartoonist of uncanny wit, outrageous imagination, piercing perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy who prefers to scrupulously control what is known and said about him…

Nicolas Kerimidas (Donjon Monstres, L’Atelier Mastodonte, Donald’s Happiest Adventures) is a French cartoonist hailing from Grenoble who studied animation at the Gobelins School. He worked at Walt Disney Animation France’s Montreuil Studious for almost a decade before switching to comics as illustrator of Didier Crisse’s Luuna. He branched out and carried on, scripting his own stuff as well as being a much sought-after artist for others…

Patterned on Gold Key’s fabulous 1950-1960s run of anthological Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, Mickey’s Craziest Adventures purports to be a restored – but tragically incomplete – compilation of a lost serial that ran in those vintage comics, “rediscovered” by the author and artist. The overwhelmingly successful conceit of this little gem – available in hardback and digital formats – is that we all love comics and can’t resist the mystery of an unread one we’ve never heard of…

After opening with essay ‘A Forgotten Treasure’ the yarn jerks into high gear once the “found” pages appear, starting with ‘Chapter 2’ as Mickey gives Donald Duck a lift to Uncle Scrooge’s Money Bin. On arrival, they witness the entire kaboodle swiped via Gyro Gearloose’s shrinking ray before being perilously diminished themselves!

Hot pursuit takes our heroes into a primeval world of (comparatively) giant insects and backyard jungles, but the game is afoot and even stranger hazards await them as they pursue the mystery bandits…

With cameos from most of Duckburg and Mouseton’s pantheon of major and minor stars and veteran villains such as Pegleg Pete and the Beagle Boys, this pell-mell romp across the world also encompasses monsters, cavemen, outer space perils and even the gods themselves, to create an unmissable delight for both aged aficionados like you and me and the newest generation of fans.

Frantic, frenzied fun for one and all. You know you have to have it!
© 2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

An Age of Reptiles Omnibus volume 1


By Ricardo Delgado with colours by James Sinclair & Jim Campbell (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-683-1 (TPB)

As we’re confronted with the prospect of our own extinction-level event – yes, that’s hyperbole, but tell that to the scared millions who can’t actually envisage a world without themselves in it – let’s enjoy ourselves whenever and however we can. For me that’s comics, so let’s look at a classic paperback tome now available in digital editions…

There’s an irresistible, nigh-visceral appeal to dinosaurs. Most of us variously – and too often haphazardly – over-evolved apes seem to be irresistibly drawn to all forms of education and entertainment featuring monster lizards of our primordial past.

Designed as a purely visual experience, this hypnotically beguiling series of sequences from Ricardo Delgado still represents one of the most honestly enchanting brushes with prehistory ever imagined. Age of Reptiles opens a window onto distant eons of saurian dominance and – completely devoid of sound or text – provides a profound, pantomimic silent movie that focuses on a number of everyday experiences which simply have to be exactly how it was, way back then…

Crafted by one of the most respected concept and storyboard men in Hollywood (with credits for Men in Black, The Incredibles, WALL-E, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Matrix and much more) these dino-dramas and sauro-sagas offer – even in comics – a unique reading experience that must be seen to be believed, which is why I’m forgoing my usual laborious forensic descriptive blather in favour of a more general appreciation…

The tales originally appeared as a sequence of miniseries between 1993 and 2010 before being subsequently collected as individual compilations. In 2011 this titanic tome, part of Dark Horse’s excellent and economical Omnibus line, gathered the material into one handy Brachiosaur-sized book to treasure forever.

Following the expansive praise of Animator, Director and Producer Genndy Tartarkovsky in his Foreword, the original introductions to initial outing ‘Tribal Warfare’ (from Ray Harryhausen, Burne Hogarth and John Landis) precede a fantastic extended clash between a pack – or perhaps more properly clan – of Deinonychus and a particularly irate opportunistic and undeterrable Tyrannosaur.

The savage struggle, literally red in tooth and claw, takes both sides to the very edge of extinction…

As in all these tales, the astoundingly rendered and realised scenery and environment are as much leading characters in the drama as any meat and muscle protagonists. Moreover, all the other opportunistic scavengers and hangers-on that prowl the peripheries of the war, are ever-eager to take momentary advantage of what seems more a mutual quest for vengeance than a simple battle for survival…

That theme is further explored in ‘The Hunt’ (with then-Disney chief Thomas Schumacher offering his observations in the attendant introduction) wherein the eat-or-be-eaten travails of a mother Allosaurus end only after she dies defending her baby. The culprits are a determined and scarily-organised pack of Ceratosaurs who latterly expend a lot of energy trying to consume the carnosaur’s kid amidst scenes of staggering geographical beauty and terrifying magnificence.

Their failure leads to the beast’s eventual return and a bloody evening of the score. Think of it as Bambi with really big teeth and no hankies required…

The theme of unrelenting and ruthless species rivalry and competition is downplayed or at least diverted for the final episode. ‘The Journey’, with introduction and appreciation by educator and illustrator Ann Field, concentrates on an epic migration across the barren surface of the world as millions of assorted saurians undertake a prodigious and arduous trek to more welcoming feeding and spawning grounds. Because that’s how life works, they are dogged every step of the way by flying, swimming and remorselessly running creatures looking for their next tasty meal…

Supplementing the feral beauty of these astonishing adventures is a full Cover Gallery from the assorted original miniseries and earlier book compilations; Delgado’s fulsome and effulgent Essays on his influences (‘Ray Harryhausen and the Seventh Voyage to the Drive-In’, ‘Desi Arnaz and the Eighth Wonder of the World’, ‘Real Dinosaurs: the Art of Charles R. Knight’ and ‘Zen and Zdeněk Burian’) plus a fabulous, copious and – if you think you’re an artist – envy-invoking Sketchbook section, with everything from quick motion studies to full colour preliminary pieces for the final artwork..

Although occasionally resorting to a judicious amount of creative anachronism and historical overlap, Delgado has an unquestioned love for his subject, a sublime feel for spectacle and an unmatchable gift for pace and narrative progression. Coupled to the deft hand which imbues the vast range and cast of big lizards with instantly recognisable individual looks and characters, this always ensures that the reader knows exactly who is doing what. There’s even room for some unexpectedly but most welcome rough-love humour in these brilliantly simple forthright, primal dramas…
© 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2009, 2010, 2011 Ricardo Delgado. All rights reserved.

Rosa Goes for a Walk


By Nic Lawson (Nic Lawson Comics/Canberra)
ISBN: 978-0-646-90434-4 (PB)

The current comics/graphic novel market is a true wonderland these days. For every planetary megastar and proprietorial blockbuster romp or spectacular action thriller, staggering horror yarn or historical journey there are incisive, revelatory biographies, archival collections of veteran properties, self-exploratory observations and deeply personal reminiscences as well as cartoon stars of every era revived for modern delectation.

…And the wealth of internationally generated, globally-sourced book for kids is mouth-watering in its vast variety…

In that nigh-infinite cauldron of choice, there’s even room for small, personal works that defy ready categorisation and shine through sheer novelty, innovation, whimsy, talent and charm. Just like Rosa Goes for a Walk, the very best adventure comic you’ve not read yet…

Nicole Lawson (If a Tree Falls, Pretty in Pink, Nic and Craig Go to Japan) is an Australian painter, illustrator and storyteller who creates wonderful comics. Her work has been mostly self-published but she has also appeared in Canberra Zine Machine and Supanova. This particular tale was shortlisted for a Ledger Award…

Seditiously eccentric, the story begins as we ‘Meet Rosa’, a faded flower of an old lady who resides in a distressed hotel (“the Discovery”) in a deserted outback ghost town. There’s a road, but nobody ever stops for food or fuel or conversation…

Rosa’s days are pretty much identical, but she maintains her standards and keeps the old place ready for guests who never come, which leaves her lots of time to remember the good old days. Hers were especially good. Rosa Philips used to be a globe-girdling adventurer, explorer and treasure-hunter. She’s even got the scrapbooks and press-cuttings to prove it… if anybody was around to see…

And so her days pass, until one morning ‘The Adventure Begins’ after she spots an inexplicable alteration to the stunning but so-familiar landscape. Plagued with curiosity, Rosa tools up one last time and heads for the distant horizon. Making her rickety way through the bush, she eventually encounters something utterly astonishing which changes her knowledge of how the entire world works before ‘The Conclusion’ reveals even more shocking secrets both personal and profound…

Largely free of dialogue and narration, rendered in a simplified but compelling watercolour manner and wistfully tinged with the emotive impact of the best of Raymond Briggs, Rosa Goes for a Walk is a superb exploration of isolation, abandonment and life passed by, elevated by a brilliant twist of imagination. This a lovely, moving story of old age and past glories as it affects a person and a planet. Moreover, while we’re all pining away in necessary solitude, it’s a tale full of the perspective and uplift we can all do with. Do yourself a favour and track it down – preferably in digital format and beamed to you behind your own sealed doors – and feel a part of something bigger and better, supremely well-crafted and with some inkling of where we’re all going…
© 2013 Nicole Lawson All rights reserved.

Yoko Tsuno volume 7 – The Curious Trio


By Roger Leloup (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-127-3 (PB Album)

The edgy yet uncannily accessible European exploits of Japanese scientific adventurer Yoko Tsuno began gracing the pages of Le Journal de Spirou from the September 24th issue in 1970 and are still going strong, with 29 albums at the last count. The mind-blowing, eye-popping, extremely expansive multi-award-winning series was created by Belgian author, artist and novelist Roger Leloup, who was born in 1933 and worked as one of Hergé’s meticulous background assistants on the iconic Adventures of Tintin strip before striking out on his own.

Compellingly told and superbly imaginative, whilst always framed in hyper-realistic settings and sporting utterly authentic and unshakably believable technology, these illustrated epics were at the forefront of a wave of strips featuring competent, brave and immensely successful female protagonists which began revolutionising European comics in the 1970s and 1980s and are as potently empowering now as they ever were.

The series has a complex history in English. Comcat previously released a few adventures – albeit poorly translated and adapted – before British-based Cinebook acquired the franchise and opened a comprehensive and entrancing sequence in 2007 with the seventh collected exploit (1976’s La frontière de la vie– AKA On the Edge of Life).

Moreover, in French and Dutch the first Spirou stories ‘Hold-up en hi-fi’, ‘La belle et la bête’ and ‘Cap 351’ were all brief, introductory vignettes testing the waters. Miss Tsuno truly hit her stride with premier full-length epic Le trio de l’étrange, which started serialisation with the May 13th 1971 issue. Translated as The Curious Trio, it was actually the 7th chronicle released by Cinebook and is still not available digitally…

The story opens in a busy TV studio at midnight (back when actual humans pushed, pulled and focussed the clunky paraphernalia) as young Director Vic Van Steen loses his rag with best pal Pol Paris for falling asleep on his camera. Later, still smarting from another fractious tiff, the pair walk home past a deserted construction site and espy what looks like an elegantly brilliant burglary…

The quietly flamboyant break-in is, in fact, a pre-arranged test by a sleekly capable freelance Japanese electrical engineer named Yoko Tsuno. She has been hired by the owners of a major company to test their new security. After apologising for nearly ruining her trial with their well-intentioned interference, the lads invite the enigmatic tech-bod to join their film crew as sound engineer on a proposed outside shoot.

The gig is to explore a region of flooded caves for a documentary and before the week ends the new friends are hauling equipment to a spectacular cavern, ready to work out the technical details. No sooner do they begin, however, than something goes terribly wrong when the trio are dragged deep underground by irresistible, swirling waters…

From here the achingly realistic and rationalist strip takes a huge leap into the uncanny as their subterranean submersion dumps them into a huge metal-shod vault where they are seized by blue-skinned humanoids.

The colossal complex is of incredible size and, as the captives are bundled into a fantastic vessel which runs on rails via magnetic levitation and driven even deeper underground, a handy translation helmet enables the only friendly-seeming stranger to explain. Her name is Khany and her race, the Vineans, have been sleeping deep beneath the Earth for almost half a million years…

However, since recently awakening, internecine strife has entered the lives of the colonists. Ambitious militaristic brute Karpan now constantly manoeuvres to seize power from the vast electronic complex known as The Centre, which regulates the lives of the colonists.

The humans’ first meeting with the blustering bully does not go well. When he attempts to beat Khany, martial artist Yoko gives him a humiliating and well-deserved thrashing…

Infuriated, Karpan tries to disintegrate them but is pulled away by security forces. As the newcomers resume their trip to the Centre, he secretly follows their magnetocarrier, resolved to destroy them…

As the maglev ship hurtles to unimaginable depths, Khany introduces the humans to a stowaway – her young daughter Poky – while relating the astounding tale of the Vineans’ escape from planetary doom and two-million-light-year voyage to Earth. Accustomed to subterranean living, on arrival the Vineans hollowed out a mountain and dug down even further.

The history lesson is interrupted by Karpan’s murderous attack, which is only thwarted by Yoko’s quick thinking and her companions’ near-insane bravery…

Eventually, after another, far more subtle murder attempt, the badly damaged magnetocarrier reaches its destination and the astonished visitors are brought before a stupendous computer to plead their case and expose Karpan’s indiscretions. The vast calculator dubbed The Centre controls every aspect of the colony’s life and will deliver judgement on the human invaders’ ultimate fate. After mind-scanning Yoko its pronouncement is dire: the strangers are to be placed in eternal hibernation…

When Pol plays his long-hidden trump card and threatens to destroy the machine with a stolen disintegrator, diplomatic Khany proposes a solution; suggesting simply waiting until they can all confront the still-absent Karpan. Yoko is still deeply suspicious and not convinced that Karpan is responsible for every attempt on their lives. That “night”, while Yoko’s resting, Poky sneaks into her habitation chamber and takes her on an illicit tour of the underside and innards of the impossibly huge complex. The jaunt verifies the engineer’s suspicions with a ghastly revelation. What they expose is a horrific threat not just to the Vineans – Karpan included – but to every human on the surface of Earth…

The eerie mystery then explodes into spectacular action and a third act finale worthy of a James Bond movie as Tsuno’s dramatic duel with an incredible malign menace settles the fate of two species…

Absorbing, rocket-paced and blending tense suspense with bombastic thrills, spills and chills, this is a terrific introduction to a world of rationalist mystery and humanist imagination with one of the most unsung of all female action heroes and one you’ve waited far too long to meet…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1979 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2012 © Cinebook Ltd.

Jack Kirby’s The Losers


By Jack Kirby with D. Bruce Berry & Mike Royer (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-184856-194-6 (HB)

There’s a glorious profusion of Jack Kirby material around these days but much of the best and rarest stuff is still – unforgivably – somehow hard to access. This astounding collection of his too-brief run on DC war comic Our Fighting Forces is, for far too many, an unknown delight. You can still find it in the original 2009 hardback edition, but as far as I know, there’s neither digital or even an English-language trade paperback edition to satisfy the desires of fans lacking an infinite bank balance…

Famed for his larger than life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, the King was a decent, spiritual man from another generation, and one who had experienced human horror and bravery as an ordinary grunt during World War II. Whether in the world-weary verité of his 1950s collaborations with Joe Simon or the flamboyant bravado of his Marvel creation Sgt. Fury, Kirby’ combat comics always looked and felt real: grimy, tired, battered yet indomitable.

In 1974, with his newest creations inexplicably not setting any sales records at DC, and while he tentatively pondered a return to Marvel, Jack took over the creative chores on a well-established and compelling but always floundering series that had run in Our Fighting Forces since 1970.

The Losers were an elite unit of American warriors cobbled together by amalgamating three pre-existing war series that had reached the end of their solo star roads. Gunner and Sarge (supplemented by “the Fighting Devil Dog” Pooch) were Pacific-based Marines; debuting in All-American Men of War #67, (March 1959) and running for 50 issues in Our Fighting Forces (#45-94, May 1959 to August 1965), whilst Captain Johnny Cloud – Navaho Ace and native American fighter pilot – shot down his first bogie in All-American Men of War #82 (December 1960). He flew solo until issue #115 (1966).

The final component of the Land/Air/Sea team was filled by Captain Storm, a disabled PT Boat commander (he had a wooden leg) who had his own 18-issue title from 1964 to 1967. All three series were created by comics warlord Robert Kanigher.

The characters had all pretty much passed their sell-by dates when they teamed-up as guest-stars in a Haunted Tank tale in 1969 (G.I. Combat #138 October), but these “Losers” found a new resonance together in the relevant, disillusioned, cynical Vietnam years (and beyond) when their somewhat nihilistic, doom-laden anti-hero group adventures took the lead spot in Our Fighting Forces #123 (January/February 1970). Once again written primarily by Kanigher, the episodes were graced with art from such giants as Ken Barr, Russ Heath, Sam Glanzman, John Severin, Ross Andru and Joe Kubert.

With the tagline “even when they win, they lose” the team saw action all over the globe, winning critical acclaim and a far-too-small, passionate following. In an inexplicable dose of company politics, the discontented Kirby was abruptly given complete control of the series with #151 (November 1974).

His radically different approach was highly controversial at the time but the passage of years has allowed a fairer appraisal and whilst never really in tune with the aesthetic of DC’s other war-books, the King’s run was a spectacular and singularly intriguing examination of the human condition under the worst of all possible situations.

The combat frenzy kicks off in ‘Kill Me with Wagner’ as the Losers infiltrate a French village to rescue a concert pianist before the Nazis can capture her. The hapless propaganda pawn has one tremendous advantage… nobody knows what she looks like.

As with most of this series, a feeling of inevitable, onrushing Gotterdammerung permeates the tale: a sense that worlds are ending and new one’s a-coming. The action culminates in a catastrophic wave of destruction that is pure Kirby magic…

Most of DC’s war titles sported Kubert covers, but #152 featured the first in a startling sequence of hypnotic Kirby illustrations, almost abstract in delivery, to introduce the team to the no-hope proposition of ‘A Small Place in Hell!’ as they find themselves the advance guard for an Allied push, but dropped in the wrong town: one that has not been cleared…

The spectacular action here is augmented by a potent 2-page Kirby fact feature: Sub-machine guns of WWII, and it should be noted and commended that this collection is also peppered with un-inked Kirby pencilled pages and roughs.

Our Fighting Forces #153 is one of those stories that made traditionalists squeak. Behind another Kirby cover, the story of ‘Devastator vs. Big Max’ veers dangerously close to science fiction, but the admittedly eccentric plan to destroy a giant German rail-mounted super-cannon isn’t any stranger than many schemes actual Boffins dreamed up to disinform the enemy during the actual conflict, actually…

That yarn – with two beautiful info-pages on military uniforms and insignia – is followed by a superb parable about personal honour. A bombastic Kirby cover segues into the team’s deployment to the Pacific to remove a Japanese officer whose devotion to ‘Bushido’ has inspired superhuman loyalty and resistance to surrender among his men. The means used to remove him are far from clean or creditable…

Bracketed by 2 pages on war vehicles plus a wonderful pencil cover-rough, and two more on artillery pieces and the pencils for the cover to that issue, ‘The Partisans!’ (OFF #155) takes the Losers into very dark territory indeed, before the team return to America for ‘Good-bye Broadway… Hello Death!’, wherein the lads experience the home-front joys of New York whilst hunting for a notorious U-Boat commander. Naturally there’s more to the story than first appears…

This fast-paced thriller is complemented by a history of battle headgear and another pencilled rough. Issues #157 and 158 comprise a 2-part saga concerning theft, black marketeering and espionage featuring truly unique personage ‘Panama Fattie!’ Her criminal activities almost alter the course of the war; and conclude in the highly charged ‘Bombing Out on the Panama Canal’ with accompanying pages on ships, subs and Nazi super-planes.

Behind the last Kirby cover (#159), ‘Mile-a-Minute Jones!’ details a smaller-scaled duel between a black runner who embarrassed the Nazis at the 1936 Olympics and the Nazi ubermensch he defeated, reigniting on the battlefield with the Losers relegated to subordinate roles.

Kubert and Ernie Chan handled the three remaining covers of this run, an indication that Kirby’s attentions were being diverted elsewhere, but the stories remain powerful and deeply personal explorations of combat. In ‘Ivan’ (OFF #160) the Losers go undercover, impersonating German soldiers on the Eastern Front, and have an unpleasant encounter with Russian Nazi sympathizers whose appetite for atrocity surpasses anything they have ever seen before (supplemented by a 2-page tanks feature) whilst the hellish jungles of the Burma campaign prove an unholy backdrop for traumatic combat shocker ‘The Major’s Dream.’

The volume and Kirby’s DC war work ends with a sly tribute to his 1942 co-creation the Boy Commandos. ‘Gung-Ho!’sees young Gunner training a band of war orphans in Marine tactics only to find fun turn to dire necessity when Germans overrun their “safe” position. This is an optimistic, all-out action romp ending on a note of hope and anticipation, even as the King made his departure for pastures not-so-new. From issue #163 Kanigher resumed the story reins, with artists like Jack Lehti, Ric Estrada and George Evans illustrating, and the Losers returned to their pre-Kirby style and status, with readers hardly acknowledging the detour into another kind of war.

Jack Kirby is unique and uncompromising. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind. That doesn’t alter the fact that his work from 1939 onwards shaped the entire American comics scene, affected the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in all areas of artistic endeavour around the world for generations, and which still garners new fans and apostles from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. Jack’s work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral and deceptively deep whilst being simultaneously mythic and human.

These tales of purely mortal heroism are in many ways the most revealing, honest and insightful of Jack’s incredibly vast accumulated works, and even the true devotee often forgets their very existence. As Neil Gaiman’s introduction succinctly declaims, “they are classic Kirby… and even if you don’t like war comics, you may be in for a surprise…”

You really don’t want to miss that, do you?
© 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Blackjack: Second Bite of the Cobra


By Alex Simmons & Joe Bennett (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-79852-3 (TPB)

Here in the west nearly 150 years of popular publishing – and its spin-off art forms film, radio, TV and especially comics – has generated a legion of legendary (if human-scaled) action adventurers. These larger than life characters have been called Pulp Heroes and their playground is all of human history and every tomorrow…

Whether you prefer Ivanhoe and Prince Valiant, Allan Quatermain, Sir Percy Blakeney, Richard Hannay, El Borak, Bulldog Drummond, Doc Savage, Mack Bolan, James Bond, Jason Bourne or even Indiana Jones, a succession of steely-eyed, immensely powerful men – and even the occasional woman – have girdled the globe righting wrongs and inspiring millions of dreamers. Although some few had friends, colleagues or assistants of colour, I can’t think of a single leading man who was black…

That all began to change in 1957 when Chester Himes began writing his tales of brutal, uncompromising cops Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones in the Harlem Detective novels… but then again, he was writing them from exile in France.

America’s history of Jim Crow laws and institutionalised racism throughout the media had driven him away from his birthland and long ago stifled the hopes and aspirations of generations of African-Americans looking for a hero all their own.

That started changing in the radical 1960s, when flunky stereotypes and dumb bad-guy representations began to give way to thoughtful portrayals of fully-feeling human beings, intelligent moral champions and powerful, vital, independent heroes – thanks to the efforts of the same media empires which had for so long censored any such image.

Sadly, one look at today’s News tells us America still has some way to go. And of course, for most of that time Britain has been no better…

That’s a rather longwinded and pompous way of recommending a splendid release from Dover’s superb line of lost and rescued graphic gems: a revived edition and a compelling modern classic of the Good Old, Bad Old Days, resurrected in a softcover or digital collection to astound and enthral all lovers of epic bravado and red-handed justice, packed with the usual extras and bonus material.

Preceded with a Foreword from Joe Illidge and the author’s exhilarating Introduction ‘The Past: A Good Time for a Dark Hero’ and bookended by an effusive Afterword by agent David Colley, you can experience a world of dangerous extremes perfectly realised by Brazilian-born illustrator Joe Bennett (X-Men, 52, Supreme).

Alex Simmons is an award-winning African-American author, playwright, comicbook scripter and educator who has produced innumerable strips, games, shows and art-events all over the world. He’s worked for Marvel, DC, Disney, Archie and others and is a passionate advocate for and champion of equality and racial issues.

In 1996 he finally fulfilled a childhood dream by creating a black character as an equal to and worthy of the fictional meta-kingdom of all his childhood heroes as cited above. Following a cruelly recognisable usual pattern, however, the saga of Arron Day AKA Blackjack proved to be a monster hit everywhere… except America…

Following the first two miniseries from Dark Angel Productions, Blackjack adapted to tough times in the comic biz by moving online as both prose and comics forms and through a serial in “Blaxploitation” magazine Bad AzzMofo. In 2001, there was even an audio adventure – Blackjack: Retribution – recorded in front of a live audience at the Museum of TV and Radio in New York City.

Now, with the first epic extravaganza compiled into one scorching saga, action fans have a chance for another bite of the cherry. During the Great War, Matthew “Mad Dog” Day found fame and a little prosperity as a soldier-of-fortune fighting all over the world; attaining the respect and acclaim no North Carolina negro could have by staying in America…

One particularly savage commission from a thankless Egyptian government sent him into the Sahara and pitted him and his fellow mercenaries against diabolical, nigh-messianic rebel Farouk Tea a la Af’a, know to insurgents everywhere as The Cobra.

After a climactic battle between eternal, implacable foes the Arab raider paid him the ultimate mark of disrespect by not bothering to kill him and his remaining comrades before vanishing back into the trackless wastes…

Back in Cairo days later, the foreign survivors were publicly castigated by an ungrateful populace and Mad Dog’s young son learned a harsh lesson. Arron knew who was truly to blame however and swore one day he would meet the Cobra…

Years passed and in 1923 the boy and his sister learned another salutary lesson when their parents were murdered by unknown assassins in Spain. By 1935 Arron has surpassed his father and become a globetrotting man of wealth and means by way of his own martial talents. Gripped by a keen sense of justice and never one to shy away from conflict or confrontation, he has used that money to challenge the American Way by buying a palatial home on Manhattan’s West Side, flying in the face of hostility and outright bigotry, even from the city police …

However, setting up home and aggravating the powers-that-be suddenly loses its appeal when a cable from Cairo arrives. Old uncle Silas – a white man who was Mad Dog’s trusted lieutenant – has learned the Cobra is back and up to his old murderous tricks…

And so begins a spectacular, ferociously gripping duel in the desert as Blackjack hunts for the man who shamed his father – and might well have had him killed – encountering and outwitting corrupt rulers, suspect capitalists hungry for the region’s as yet untapped riches, and gangs of thugs.

Ferreting out the demon from his past accompanied by a trusted band of comrades and lethal new recruit Maryam, Blackjack blazes his way across the war-torn region to meet his promised nemesis and settle forever the family business so long delayed…

As spectacular as Lawrence of Arabia, as fast-paced as The Mummy (1999) and as satisfyingly suspenseful as Hidalgo, this is pure pulp experience no lover of the genre should miss.
Story text © 1995 Alex Simmons. Illustrations © 1995, 1996 Joe Bennett. Cover art © 2015 Scott Hanna. All other material © 2015 its respective owners. All rights reserved.

750cc Down Lincoln Highway


By Bernard Chambaz & Barroux, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-245-8 (TPB)

For such a young country, there’s an astounding amount of vibrant – almost self-perpetuating – mythology underpinning America. Cowboys, Indians, colonialism, Manifest Destiny, gangsterism, Hollywood, food, Rock ‘n’ Roll and even names and places have permeated the imagination of the world. This last even created its own sub-genre: tales of travel and introspection ranging from Kerouac’s On the Road to Thelma and Louise via almost half the “Buddy movies” ever made.

Somehow, these stories always seem to particularly resonate with non-Americans. Scottish, French and Italian consumers are especially partial to westerns and Belgians adore period gangster and tales set in the golden age of Los Angeles. I must admit that during my own times stateside there was always a little corner of my head that ticked off places I’d seen or heard of in film, TV or comics (Mann(Grauman)’s Chinese Theatre, Central Park, Daly Plaza, Empire State Building) or uniquely American moments and activities (pretzel cart, bag of potato chips bigger than my head, bar fight) as I experienced them myself. That’s the true magic of modern legends.

It’s also the theme driving this beautiful travelogue depicting life imitating art…

Available in oversized (288 x 214 mm) paperback and digital formats, 750cc Down Lincoln Highway reveals how a French competitor in the New York Marathon takes a cathartic life detour after getting a “Dear John” text from his apparently no-longer significant other an hour before the start.

Understandably deflated, he hits a bar, discovers bourbon and strikes up a conversation with one of life’s great survivors…

Ed’s barfly philosophy hits home – as does his description and potted history of the Lincoln Highway – and before long our narrator has hired a motorbike and decided to cross the USA down the historic route from East Coast to West…

Rendered in a dreamy, contemplative wash of greytones, his ride becomes a shopping list of transitory experiences confirming – and occasionally debunking – the fictive America inside his head and his preconceptions of the people who live there.

Putting concrete sounds, tastes, sights and smells to such exotic ports of call as Weehawken, Princeton, Trenton, Philadelphia, Gettysburg, Pittsburgh, Zulu, Fort Wayne, Chicago, Dekalb, Mississippi, Central City, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Eureka, Reno, Lake Tahoe, Berkeley and so many other places before reaching the highway’s end at Poteau Terminus, the rider regains his life’s equilibrium and gets on with the rest of his life, happy that the trip and the anonymous people he met have rewarded him with perspective and fresh hope…

Backed up by an extensive map of the trip and garnished with suitable quotes from Abraham Lincoln, this is quite literally all about the journey, not the destination…

Written by award-winning novelist, poet and historian Bernard Chambaz (L’Arbre de vies, Kinopanorama), this beguiling excursion is realised by multimedia artist and illustrator Barroux (Where’s the Elephant?, In the Mouth of the Wolf) and serves as a potent reminder of the power names and supposition can exert on our collective unconsciousness.

It’s also a superbly engaging, warmly inviting graphic meander to a mutual destination no armchair traveller should miss.
750cc Down Lincoln Highway is published on February 17th 2020 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com

Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon


By Matt Kindt & Brian Hurtt (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-943-4 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-63008-465-3

Remember when adventure was an exclusively male preserve and icky girls weren’t allowed? No? Good, because then you can’t be persuaded to avoid books like this one and miss out on a superb, joyous treat!

Crafted by Matt Kindt (Pistolwhip, Revolver, Suicide Squad, Mind MGMT) & Brian Hurtt (The Damned, Shadow Roads, The Sixth Gun – and why haven’t I reviewed that yet?) this all-ages fantasy shares one of the incredible exploits and proves the prodigious pedigree of young Poppy Pepperton, latest globe-girdling explorer of a valiant dynasty to challenge the unknown and push back the frontiers of knowledge in search of Lost Things…

It all begins as Poppy and her aged sidekick Colt Winchester (inherited from her long-missing grandfather, the incredible explorer Pappy Pepperton and now acting as her legal guardian, if not particularly responsible adult) arrive back in New York City for yet another fractious confrontation with their extremely odd sponsor and employer.

Ramses (AKA Tut) is a millennia-old Egyptian wizard in the body of an 8-year old boy, but his capacity for fun and mischief is curtailed since he is inescapably trapped in his own apartment. The young sage provides resources and even new missions in return for vicariously sharing the adventurers’ wild life – sometimes through the eyes of his cat Krums, if he can convince his employees to include it in the entourage. He also gets to keep most of the loot they bring back…

Tonight, he grants them the latest prophecy of the Sacred Shrunken Mummy Head in his possession, catapulting our dynamic duo into a fresh and terrifying case that might just explain many of the still-unsolved mysteries of Poppy’s eccentric forebear…

Taking ship for Europe, the courageous couple begin their search for the long-lost Love Fish (as cited in Pepperton’s Incomplete Compendium of Lost Things volume 16), stirring up uncomfortable memories for Colt of the last time he visited the twin cities of Old and New Macadamia… and how he was responsible for the tragic separation of the perpetually paired passionate piscids…

Poppy only learns the appalling truth after her elderly guardian is confronted by an old flame at the Aquafica Exotica in Old Macadamia. Apparently way back then, he and Pappy Pepperton’s blundering search for a fabled Gigantipus and treatment of one of the Love Fish caused untold ecological upheaval: forcing a country-sized cephalopod to flee the lagoon and relocate elsewhere. The detrimental effects of that blunder still blighted geologically shattered Macadamia…

In a maritime excursion that took in giant turtles, subsea kingdoms, floating islands and even stranger locales, the gallants strove for ages before eventually admitting defeat. Now Poppy – armed only with her courage, “typographic memory” (unable to forget anything she’s ever read), puzzle-solving abilities and a futuristic super-ship manned by a dedicated crew – swears to set things right…

The only thing that might impact upon her success is an incomprehensibly huge monster and the aquatic civilisation currently living in the city on its head and the sinister robotic figure surreptitiously dogging her every step…

Packed with brilliant innovation and inspired settings, Poppy! blends wild whimsy with sly wit, rollicking action with subversive satire and emotional warmth with potent suspense, combining traditionally familiar quest drama with cunningly incorporated games and tests (the answers kindly included at the end) to produce a decidedly memorable addition to the ranks of Indiana Jones, Von Doogan and Lara Croft.
Poppy! ™ & © 2016 Matt Kindt & Brian Hurtt. All rights reserved.

Smash! Annual 1975


By many and various (IPC Magazines, Ltd)
SBN: 85037-166-X

Smash! launched with a cover-date of February 5th 1966: an ordinary Odhams anthology weekly which was quickly re-badged as a Power Comic at the end of the year; combining home-grown funnies and British originated thrillers with resized US strips to capitalise on the American superhero bubble created by the Batman TV series.

Power Comics was a sub-brand used by Odhams to differentiate those periodicals which contained reprinted American superhero material from the company’s regular blend of sports, war, western, adventure and humour comics – such as Buster, Valiant, Lion or Tiger.

During the Swinging Sixties the Power weeklies did much to popularise the budding Marvel universe characters in this country, which was still poorly served by distribution of the original American imports.

The increasingly expensive American reprints were dropped in 1969 and Smash! was radically retooled with the traditional mix of action, sport and humour strips. Undergoing a full redesign, it was relaunched on March 15th 1969 with all-British material and finally disappeared into Valiant in April 1971 after 257 issues.

However, the Seasonal specials remained a draw until October 1975 when Smash Annual 1976 properly ended the era. From then on, the Fleetway brand had no room for the old guard – except as re-conditioned reprints in cooler, more modern books…

As I’ve monotonously repeated, Christmas Annuals were forward-dated so this monumental mix of shock, awe and haw-haw was probably being put together between spring and September 1974, combining new strip or prose stories of old favourites with remastered reprints from other Fleetway-owned comics and a wealth of general interest fact features.

Here then, following a contents page/cast pin-up double page spread of the Swots and Blots, the festive fun kicks off with a promise of trouble to come – and a modicum of editorial fourth wall-busting – from ‘Bad Penny’ with what today seems a rather uncomfortable photo spread featuring chimps in human dress entitled ‘Monkey Music Tricks’

Devised by Barrie Mitchell and unbelievably popular, ‘His Sporting Lordship’ was a light-hearted everyman comedy drama and one of the most popular strips of the era. Debuting in Smash!, in 1969 Henry Nobbins survived the merger with Valiant and only retired just before the comic itself did.

Cover-featured Nobbins was only a common labourer when he unexpectedly inherited £5,000,000 and the title Earl of Ranworth. Unfortunately, he couldn’t touch the cash until he restored the family’s sporting reputation… by winning all the championships, prizes and awards that his forebears had held in times past…

Further complicating the issue was rival claimant Parkinson who, with henchman Fred Bloggs, constantly tried to sabotage his attempts. Luckily the new Earl was ably assisted by canny, cunning butler Jarvis…

With art (possibly?) by Douglas Maxted, this red-&-black-hued romp is his last ever appearance as the unlikely toff and his capable manservant attempt a sporting double – in ballooning and knitting – despite the scurrilous efforts of the skulking nemeses…

The first of a series of puzzle pages is next as ‘Smash Quiz No. 1’ asks questions on sporting subjects after which a prose tale of ‘Master of the Marsh’ (illustrated by the Solano Lopez studio) sees enigmatic hermit/P.E. teacher Patchman taking his pack of hooligans and rabble-rousers on an exchange trip to America, after which gags return in a perilous sub-sea lark for the crew of ‘Ghost Ship’ (by Sid Burgon?) and a nasty dose of civic pride causes carnage amidst the ongoing class war on Reg Parlett’s ‘Consternation Street’.

Also splitting sides and tickling ribs is Leo Baxendale’s ‘The Swots and the Blots’ – with a cataclysmic snowy guest shot from minxish Penny – whilst Fool who Fell to Earth ‘Monty Muddle’ (originally Milkiway – The Man from Mars in Buster) explores Earthlings’ obsession with digging holes.

Prose fact-feature ‘Fishing Can be Fun’ – illustrated by Ted Andrews and with photos – leads to history vignette ‘Pursuit in the Snow’ detailing an alpine pursuit during WWII before we enjoy a true gem of British comics suspense.

Written by Scott Goodall with Ken Mennell and Chris Lowder, ‘Cursitor Doom’ is the unquestioned masterpiece of Eric Bradbury – one of our greatest ever stylists. The strip is a darkly brooding Gothic thriller quite unlike anything else in comics then or since. If pushed, I’ll liken it most to William Hope Hodgson’s Karnacki the Ghost Breaker novelettes – although that’s more for flavour than anything else and even that doesn’t really cover it.

Doom is a fat, bald, foul-tempered, cape-wearing know-it-all who is also humanity’s last-ditch defence against the forces of darkness. With his strapping and rugged young assistant Angus McCraggan and Scarab, a trained raven (or is it, perhaps, something more?), Doom crushes without mercy any threat to humanity’s wellbeing. Here, that’s the sudden rising of ancient pagan gods animating the nations flora and imbuing it with a taste for blood…

Refreshing ourselves with more laughs, a brace of animal antics in Stan McMurtry’s ‘Percy’s Pets’ segues neatly into chilling chuckles in Leo Baxendale’s ‘The Haunts of Headless Harry’

Globe trotting journalist/adventurer Simon Test barely survives the diabolical ‘Revenge!’ of mad millionaire boffin Jabez Coppenger: a breathtaking thriller courtesy of Angus Allen & Bradbury, after which ‘Smash Hits’ doles out a double helping of single-panel gags and ‘Wacker’ (originally Elmer when first seen in Buster) finds the oaf trying out the job of lorry driver in a riotous romp from Roy Wilson, before we pause once more for intellectual stimulation as ‘Smash Quiz No. 2’ tests our affinity ‘For Motorcars’

A full-colour section begins and ends with a brace of strips starring smug know-it-all ‘Big ’Ead’ (another Buster ex-pat, limned by Nadal), bookending a lengthy photo-feature on model railways dubbed ‘Weeny Wonders’ before monochrome returns with ‘Smash Quiz No. 3 (For Animals)’ and another Baxendale (or maybe the legendary Mike Brown? You should look him up…) clash between ‘The Swots and the Blots’: a seasonal shocker as the kids perform a panto…

Another historical photo-feature on the British NRA and the shooting range at ‘Bisley’ follows, after which the spooks of the ‘Ghost Ship’ clash with a seagoing saurian and ‘Sam’s Spook’ gets his adopted mortal into more trouble before ‘Storm Hero’ tantalises in text with the tale of a daring cliff rescue.

‘Percy’s Pets’ (McMurtry or possibly Cyril Price) sees a skunk save the day before ‘Giants of Sport’ offers a roundup of contemporary legends and triumphs and ‘The Swots and the Blots’ indulge again in their own class war and thus won’t join us for ‘Smash Quiz No. 4 – For Soldiers’

Returning to full-colour, Victorian escapologist and showman ‘Janus Stark’ involves himself in a police hunt for a fantastic band of thieves only to discover all is not as it seems…

Stark was a fantastically innovative and successful strip. Created by Jack Legrand, and written by Tom Tully for the 1969 relaunch of Smash!, the majority of the art was from Francisco Solano Lopez’s Argentinean studio (including stints by Francisco Fuentes-Man, Juan García Quirós and Tom Kerr). The eerie moodiness well-suited the saga of a foundling who grew up in a grim orphanage to become the greatest escapologist of the Steam Age.

The Man with Rubber Bones also had his own ideas about Justice, and would joyously sort out scoundrels the Law couldn’t or wouldn’t touch. A number of creators worked on this feature, which survived until the downsizing of Fleetway’s comics division in 1975 – and even beyond – as Stark escaped oblivion when the series was continued in France – even unto Stark’s eventual death and succession by his son!

Back in black & white for the final stages, ‘Smash Quiz No. 5’ tests For Hobbies, ‘Big ’Ead’ goes skiing and photo-essay‘Clowning Around’ clues us in on everything we need to know about making kids laugh and some adults scream.

‘The World-Wide Wanderers’ were a literally international team of footballers drawn from many different countries – talk about prophetic! – who here star in prose yarn ‘Five-A-Side’ as acrimony and resentment between attack and defence divides the team, with unexpected benefits for a local charity before everything ends with ‘It’s Bad Penny Again’ as the tiny terror learns a painful lesson…

As my knowledge of British creators from this time is so woefully inadequate, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve misattributed and besmirched the good names of Leo Baxendale, Gordon Hogg, Stan McMurtry, Graham Allen, Mike Lacey, Terry Bave, Artie Jackson and numerous international artists anonymously utilised throughout this period. Even more so the unsung authors responsible for much of the joy in my early life – and certainly the childhoods of millions of others…

Christmas simply wasn’t right without a heaping helping of these garish, wonder-stuffed compendia offering a vast variety of stories and scenarios. Today’s celebrity, TV and media tie-in packages simply can’t compete, so why not track down a selection of brand-old delights with proven track record and guaranteed staying power…?
© IPC Magazines, Ltd. 1974.

Tintin and the Picaros


By Hergé and Studios Hergé, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-823-9 (HB) 978-1-405206-35-8 (Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Great British Tradition of Belgian Origin. Gotta Get ‘Em All… 10/10

Georges Prosper Remi, AKA Hergé, created an eternal masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor, Roger Leloup and other supreme stylists of the Hergé Studio, he created 23 timeless yarns (initially serialised in instalments for a variety of newspaper periodicals) which have since grown beyond their pop culture roots to attain the status of High Art and international cultural icons.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi began working for conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy scout, one year later the artist was producing his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine. By 1928 Remi was also in charge of producing the contents of the Le Vingtiéme Siécle weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

While he was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette – written by the staff sports reporter – Wallez required his compliant creative cash-cow to concoct a new and contemporary adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his supremely popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus appropriated and controlled by the Nazis).

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even of being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist through words and deeds.

Leblanc provided cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a huge weekly circulation, allowing Remi and his studio team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by the Fascist invaders to ideologically shade the wartime adventures. The post-war modernising exercises also improved and updated the great tales, just in time for Tintin to become a global phenomenon, both in books and as an early star of animated TV adventure.

With the war over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure, if not his personal demons and declining health…

The greatest sign of this was not substantially in the comics tales – although Hergé continued to tinker with the form of his efforts – but rather in how long the gaps were between new exploits. The previous romp had finished serialisation in 1967 and was collected as an album in 1968. It was eight years before Tintin et les Picaros was simultaneously serialised in Belgium and France in Tintin-l’Hebdoptmiste magazine (from 16th September 1975 to April 13th 1976) but at least the inevitable book collection came out almost immediately upon completion in 1976.

Tintin and the Picaros is in all ways the concluding adventure, as many old characters and locales from previous tales make one final appearance. A partial sequel to The Broken Ear it finds Bianca Castafiore implausibly arrested for spying in Central American republic San Theodoros with Tintin, Haddock and Calculus eventually lured to her rescue.

Insidious Colonel Sponsz – last seen in The Calculus Affair – is the Bordurian Military Advisor to the Government of usurper General Tapioca, and has used his position to exact revenge on the intrepid band who humiliated him in his own land. When the Tintin and company escape into the jungles during a murder attempt they soon link up with their old comrade Alcazar, who now leads a band of Picaro guerrillas dedicated to restoring him to power.

South American revolutions were all the rage in the 1970s – even Woody Allen made one the subject of a movie – and Hergé’s cast had been involved with this one on and off since 1935. With the welcome return of anthropologist Doctor Ridgewell and the hysterical Arumbayas, and even an improbable action role (of sorts) for obnoxious insurance salesman and comedy foil Jolyon Wagg, the doughty band bring about the final downfall of Tapioca in a thrilling and bloodless coup during Carnival time, thanks to a hilarious comedy maguffin (initially targeting dipsomaniac Haddock) that turns out to be a brilliant piece of narrative misdirection by the author.

Sly, subtle, thrilling and warmly comforting, this tale was generally slated when first released but with the perspective of intervening decades can be seen as a most fitting place to end the Adventures of Tintin… but only until you pick up another volume and read them again – as you indubitably will.
Tintin and the Picaros: artwork © 1976 by Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1976 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.