Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection volume 1


By Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, Steve Lavigne & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-007-8 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-298-3

FORTY(!!!) years ago this month an indie comic by a pair of cannily adroit wannabe creators began making waves and soon sparked a revolution. The guys were Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird and their work did remarkably well, interesting companies outside our traditionally cautious insular industry and garnering a few merchandising deals. Thanks to TTE (the Telescoping Time Effect that renders the passage of many years between adulthood and the grave to the blink of an eye), my comics generation still regard these upstart critters as parvenu newcomers.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first appeared in May 1984, bombastically occupying an oversized, self-published black-&-white parody mag. Eastman & Laird were huge fans of Ditko and Kirby, and so set up Mirage Studios so they could control their efforts, having great fun telling pastiche adventures notionally derived and inspired by contemporary superhero fare.

They especially honed in on the US marketplace’s obsession with Frank Miller’s reinterpretations of manga stars Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima: particularly Lone Wolf & Cub. There were also smart pokes at and conceptual themes poached from other top trends as inspired by The X-Men, New Teen Titans and outsider icon Howard the Duck. This was at a time when the US industry was experiencing an explosive boom in do-it-yourself comics: one that changed forever the very nature of the industry and destroyed the virtual monopoly od DC and Marvel.

Eastman & Laird’s quirky concept became the paradigm of Getting Rich Quick: a template for many others and – in their case at least – an ideal example of beneficial exploitation. Their creation expanded to encompass toys, movies, games, food, apparel, general merchandising and especially television cartoons. In 1987 it became – and remains – a globally potent franchise. There’s probably another movie on the go even as I type this…

None of that matters here as I want to look at the actual comics that started everything and there’s no better way than with this carefully curated edition chronologically covering the primal tales and offering commentaries and reminiscences from the guys who were there…

Just as Los Bros Hernadez had done with Love and Rockets in 1981, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted as a self-published (print run of 3000 copies), self-financed one-shot that was swiftly picked up by a legion of independent comics shops run by fans for fans. Word of mouth and frantic demand generated a wave of reprintings and much speculative imitation. The rest is history…

This book – re-presenting issues #1-7 and one-shot Raphael Micro-Series – was the first of a sequence of collections published a dozen years ago by licensing specialists IDW. By that time the original creators had long sold the rights and moved well on, to the extent of even occasionally revisiting their baby through nostalgia, but here their fevered passion in their creation and the sheer joy of having fun by learning was at its intoxicating height.

Drafted with verve, gusto and no respect for “the rules”, the saga of ‘Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens with four outlandish humanoids fighting for their lives in a dingy alley. The enemy are thugs and street scum and – once they’re emphatically taken care of – with victory assured, the bizarre heroes retreat into the sewers…

Here they greet a giant rat dressed as a sensei and discuss their origins and goals. You all already know the tale – or just don’t care – but briefly: the pet rat of martial artist Yoshi absorbed kung fu skills and concepts of honour and duty by observation. He also witnessed romantic rivals become arch foes. The losing suitor’s brother subsequently destroys the lovers (even after they fled to New York) and is now leader of ninja clan The Foot.

The youngster – Oroku Saki but known as The Shredder – pursued his warped obsession in the New World and murdered the lovers, even as nearby a boy saved an old one from being hit by a truck carry toxic material. The kid was blinded when the cannister hit his eyes, but as he was carted off to his own comics destiny, the canister that hit him broke, leaking mutagens into sewers where an uncaring owner had dumped somebaby turtles and where Yoshi’s escaped pet was hiding…

Over years exposure changed them all. The rat called Splinter became a sagacious humanoid rodent who diligently trained four brilliant, rapidly growing reptiles in the skills he had observed with his master. Splinter named them Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael and at last deemed them sufficiently advanced to obtain vengeance for his murdered master.

Called to battle, the villain employs all his minions but nevertheless falls to turtle justice…

Fast-paced and action-packed, the tale delivers a sure no-frills punch and – as revealed in the commentary ‘Annotations’ section that follows – left the creators with a rare dilemma: overnight success, demands for reprints and readers demanding more of the same…

Each issue’s bonus section also provides background, insights and developmental drawings but the meat is contained in the stories as the debutantes quickly gained confidence and ran wild. The second issue introduced insufferable mad scientist Baxter Stockman who unleashes robot rat-hunters (“Mousers”) in a scheme to get rich by cleaning up the sewers. In fact, he is also using them to rob from below and when his assistant April O’Neil finds out he frames and tries to kill her. Thankfully the turtles step in to save her and New York…

The third episode reveals heroism comes at a cost: when they return to their underground lair, the Turtles discover it devastated, with Mouser fragments and rat blood everywhere… but no Master Splinter…

When April offers them shelter, relocation turns into a major headache as the strange, heavily shrouded quartet are mistaken for burglars, triggering a massive police car chase through the streets. The spectacular road riot is appended by an ‘Epilogue’ revealing exactly what happened to Splinter, leading to major plot developments in #4, as mystery company TCRI are revealed as the creators of the mutagen and far more than they seem.

Before that though, the Raphael Micro-Series offers all-action romp ‘Me, Myself and I’ as the moody, anger-management-challenged young warrior loses control whilst sparring and flees the team in shame. Sadly, Raphael seeks to calm down by prowling the streets and encounters well-meaning street vigilante Casey Jones thrashing a gang of molesters. Of course, a violent misunderstanding ensues…

In TMNT #4, the search for Splinter is interrupted by an army of Foot ninjas, but the ambush drops our heroes right into TCRI HQ. With the corporate logo from that fateful cannister blazoned across a skyscraper, priorities shift and the turtles retrench. When they infiltrate the building, the shock of finding Splinter is instantly erased by finding out just what they’re facing, but it is as nothing to the trauma of being teleported to another universe…

The fifth issue came out in November 1985, the first to sport a full colour cover and used to expand a phenomenon into a merchandisable continuity universe by guest-starring another, subsequent Eastman & Laird creation – Fugitoid. The little droid was a (non-Terran) human teleportation scientist whose discoveries made him a target of the local military dictatorships on a world packed with hundreds of different sentient species. When Honeycutt was killed, his mind was trapped in a small mechanoid and his plight intersected that of the shanghaied shellbacks. They join forces to thwart evil tyrant General Blanque and an army of secretly invading “Triceratons”, all whilst Honeycutt finds a way to send them home…

Sadly, that route leads directly to an orbiting Triceraton war base in #6 and magnifies the manic mayhem and martial arts magic as the Turtles battle every creature imaginable and still end up as interstellar gladiators before another transmat glitch sends them, Fugitoid and some Triceratons back to Earth and the heart of TCRI.

Of course, in the interim, the building has been surrounded by America’s military and the robotic-augmented Kraangs who run the place are in full battle mode. Cue much more ray gun shenanigans and sword-filled fists of fury as TMNT #7 offers conflict, contusions, confusions, conclusion, explanations and a long-awaited reunion…

To Be Continued…

Fast, furious, fun-filled and funny, but with all sharp edges prominently featured (so nervous parents might want to pre-assess the material before giving this book to true youngsters) this debut saga of the shell-backed sentinels of the sewers offers a superb slice of excitement and enjoyment that will keep kids and adults alike bouncing off the walls with eager appreciation.
© 2011 Viacom International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Deadpool Epic Comics volume 1: The Circle Chase 1991-1994


By Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza, Glenn Herdling, Gregory Wright, Tom Brevoort, Mike Kanterovich, Mark Waid, Dan Slott, Pat Olliffe, Mark Pacella, Greg Capullo, Mike Gustovich, Joe Madureira, Isaac Cordova, Jerry DeCaire, Bill Wylie, Ian Churchill, Sandu Florea, Terry Shoemaker, Al Milgrom, Scot Eaton, Ariane Lenshoek, Tony DeZuñiga, Lee Weeks, Don Hudson, Ken Lashley & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-302-3205-3 (TPB/Digital edition)

With a long, LONG awaited cinematic combo clash finally headed our way this summer and in the year of a certain Canadian Canucklehead’s 50th Anniversary, expect a few cashing-in style commendations and reviews in our immediate future. Here’s a handy starter package to set the ball rolling…

Bloodthirsty killers and stylish mercenaries have long made for popular protagonists and this guy is probably one of the most popular. Deadpool is Wade Wilson: a survivor of sundry experiments that left him a scarred, grotesque bundle of scabs and physical unpleasantries – albeit functionally immortal, invulnerable and capable of regenerating from literally any wound.

Moreover, after his initial outings on the fringes of the X-Universe, his modern incarnation makes him either one of the few beings able to perceive the true nature of reality… or a total gibbering loon.

Chronologically collecting and curating cameos, guest shots and his early outrages from New Mutants #98, X-Force #2, 11 & 15, Deadpool: The Circle Chase #1-4, and Secret Defenders #15-17, as well as pertinent excerpted material from X-Force #4, 5 10, 14, 19-24; X-Force Annual #1, Nomad #4; Avengers #366 & Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #23 & 30, (spanning February 1991 to November 1994), this tome is merely the first in a series cataloguing his ever more outlandish escapades.

After Gail Simone’s joyous Foreword ‘He was always Deadpool’ justifies and confirms his fame, escalating antics and off-kilter appeal, his actual debut in New Mutants #98’s ‘The Beginning of the End, part one’ opens proceedings. The “merc with a mouth” was created as a villain du jour by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza, as that title wound down in advance of a major reboot/rebrand. He seemed a one-trick throwaway in a convoluted saga of mutant mayhem with little else to recommend it. An employee of enigmatic evildoer Mr. Tolliver, Deadpool was despatched to kill to kill future-warrior Cable and his teen acolytes… but spectacularly failed. The kids were soon after rebranded and relaunched as X-Force though, so he had a few encores and more tries…

With appropriate covers and text to precis events between excerpt moments, we learn Deadpool first popped back in September 1991’s X-Force #2’s ‘The Blood Hunters’ where he clashed with another product of Canada’s clandestine super-agent project (which had turned a mutant spy into feral, adamantium-augmented warrior Wolverine as well as unleashing so many other second-string cyborg super-doers). Gritty do-gooder Garrison Kane was dubbed Weapon X (first of many!) and the tale also included aging spymaster GW Bridge

Still just a derivative costumed killer for hire popping up in bit part roles, the merc continued pushing Tolliver’s agenda and met Spider-Man until as seen here via snippets from X-Force Annual #1 (1991) before stumbling through Nicieza-scripted crossover Dead Man’s Hand. Illustrated by Pat Olliffe & Mark McKenna, ‘Neon Knights’ (Nomad #4, August 1992) finds Deadpool just one of a bunch of super-killers-for-hire convened by a group of lesser crime bosses seeking to fill a void created by the fall of The Kingpin. His mission is to remove troublemaking fellow hitman Bushwacker, but former super sidekick Jack “Bucky” Monroe has some objections…

Excerpts from X-Force #10 (May 1992) presage #11’s extended fight between Deadpool, the teen team, Cable and mutant luck-shaper Domino in ‘Friendly Reminders’ (Nicieza, Liefeld, Mark Pacella & Dan Panosian) before a clip from X-Force #14 (September 1992 limned by Terry Shoemaker & Al Milgrom) reveals a shocking truth about Domino and Deadpool’s relationship with her, prior to X-Force #15’s ‘To the Pain’ (October 1992 with art by Greg Capullo) wrapping up a long-running war between Cable’s kids, Tolliver and The Externals

Excerpts from X-Force #19-23 – as first seen in 1993 – find the manic merc hunting Domino and/or Vanessa and sparking a mutant mega clash before Wade Wilson guests in Avengers #366 (September 1993 by Glenn Herdling, Mike Gustovich & Ariane Lenshoek). A tie-in to Deadpool’s first solo miniseries, ‘Swordplay³’ sees the merc and a group of meta-scavengers embroiled in battle with each other and new hero Blood Wraith with The Black Knight helpless to control the chaos…

That first taste of solo stardom came with 4-issue miniseries The Circle Chase: cover-dated August-November 1993 by Nicieza, Joe Madureira & Mark Farmer. A fast-paced but cluttered thriller, it sees Wilson doggedly pursuing an ultimate weapon: one of a large crowd of mutants and variously-enhanced ne’er-do-wells seeking the fabled legacy of arms dealer/fugitive from the future Mr. Tolliver. Among other (un)worthies bound for the boodle in ‘Ducks in a Row’, ‘Rabbit Season, Duck Season’, ‘…And Quacks Like a Duck…’ and ‘Duck Soup’ are mutant misfits Black Tom and The Juggernaut; the then-latest iteration of Weapon X; shape-shifter Copycat and a host of fashionably disposable cyborg loons with quirky media-buzzy names like Commcast and Slayback. If you can swallow any understandable nausea associated with the dreadful trappings of this low point in Marvel’s tempestuous history, there is a sharp and entertaining little thriller underneath…

A follow-up tale in Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #23 (April 1994, Gregory Wright, Isaac Cordova & Hon Hudson) pits Wilson against Daredevil and notional heroes-for-hire Paladin and Silver Sable before uniting to thwart fascist usurpers The Genesis Coalition, prior to a relatively heroic stance in Doctor Strange team-up title Secret Defenders.

Beginning in #15’s ‘Strange Changes Part the First: Strangers and Other Lovers’ (May 1994 by Tom Brevoort, Mike Kanterovich, Jerry Decaire & Tony DeZuñiga) the Sorcerer Supreme sends Doctor Druid, Shadowoman, Luke Cage and Deadpool to stop ancient life-sucking sorceress Malachi – a task fraught with peril that takes #16’s ‘Strange Changes Part the Second: Resurrection Tango’ (pencilled by Bill Wylie and debuting zombie hero Cadaver), and #17’s ‘Strange Changes Part the Third: On Borrowed Time’

A moment from Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #30 (November 1994, by Wright, Scot Eaton & Jim Amash) depicting Wade’s reaction to his rival’s fall from grace segues into the second 4-part Deadpool miniseries (August – November 1994) which revolves around auld acquaintances Black Tom and Juggernaut. Collaboratively contrived by writer Mark Waid, pencillers Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks and Ken Lashley with inkers Jason Minor, Bob McLeod, Bub LaRosa, Tom Wegryzn, Philip Moy & W.C. Carani, ‘If Looks Could Kill!’, ‘Luck of the Irish’, ‘Deadpool, Sandwich’ and ‘Mano a Mano’ delivers a hyperkinetic race against time heavy on explosive action.

The previous miniseries revealed Irish archvillain Black Tom Cassidy was slowly turning into a tree (as you do). Desperate to save his meat-based life, the bad guy and best bud Cain “The Juggernaut” Marko manipulate Wade Wilson: exploiting the merc’s unconventional relationship with Siryn (a sonic mutant, Tom’s niece and X-Force member). Believing Deadpool’s regenerating factor holds a cure, the villains stir up a bucket-load of carnage at a time when Wade is at his lowest ebb. Packed with mutant guest stars, this is a shallow but immensely readable piece of eye-candy that reset Deadpool’s path and paved the way for a tonal change that would make the Merc with a Mouth a global superstar…

All Epic Collections offer bonus material bonanzas and here that comprises images from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Master Edition, many cover reproductions (Deadpool Classic volume 1 by Liefeld & John Kalisz, Deadpool Classic Companion by Michael Bair & Matt Milla, Deadpool: Sins of the Past and The Circle Chase TPBs by Madureira, Farmer & Harry Canelario), pin-ups by Rob Haynes & John Lowe from X-Force Annual #2 and Annual #3 by Lashley & Matt “Batt” Banning, plus Sam Kieth’s Marvel Year-in-Review ’93 cover. That magazine’s parody ad by Dan Slott, Manny Galen, Scott Koblish & Wright, follows with Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti & Mark McNabb’s foldout cover to Wizard #22 and Liefeld’s “Marvel ‘92” variant cover for Deadpool #3 (2015).

Featuring a far darker villain evolving into an antihero in a frenetic blend of light-hearted, surreal, full-on fighting frolics these stories only hint at what is to come but remain truly compulsive reading for dyed-in-the-wool superhero fans who might be feeling just a little jaded with four-colour overload…
© 2021 MARVEL.

History of the DC Universe (New Edition)


By Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Karl Kesel & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-77952-139-2 (HB/Digital edition)

Over the past few years DC have spent a lot of time and effort rationalising and rectifying their multiversal shared continuity, which has been chopped about, excised, reinstalled, revived resurrected and tweaked over and over again since landmark saga Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Now with a revamped cinematic/TV universe unfolding the company’s editorial ranks have been happily returning prior landmarks to the greater whole and started to sensibly curate past glories, presumably because now the buying public are suitably au fait with wild ideas like parallel timelines and alternate realities…

History of the DC Universe is a fan’s book. The material it contains was originally an early 2-part prestige format miniseries designed to complement and complete the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover which celebrated 50 years of DC by trashing it all and starting afresh. The magic commences with candid Introduction ‘Printing the Legend…’ as author Wolfman grants behind-the-scenes access to how the monolithic task actually happened…

In HotDCU, The Monitor’s devoted assistant Harbinger chronicles the new run of cosmic history and universal events for the last remaining reality after the creation-altering events of the Crisis have finally settled. It was a smart and extremely pretty way of telling fans just what was and wasn’t canonical from now on: the “real and true” if you like, in the DC Universe.

It was ambitious, concise, informative, lovely to read and – creators being what they are -pretty much redundant almost before the ink had dried. As a tool it was useless, but as a tale it still looks and reads very well. As well as setting foundations for all future DC stories, it also linked all prior characters and possible futures, as well as incorporating stars from the company’s numerous genres star-stables into one vast story-scape. It even became source material for major crossover events to come…

The series was quickly collected into numerous editions – each with different bonus material – and this definitive edition gathers much of it into one bumper ‘Extras Gallery’ section incorporating the original covers, 15 pages of original art tableaus by George Pérez & Karl Kesel and Alex Ross’ un-liveried wraparound cover for the new edition.

The 1988 Graphitti Designs hardcover included a 3-page gatefold (later made into a poster and mural) crafted by 56 star artists. The list included Neal Adams, Joe Shuster, Dick Sprang, Joe &Adam Kubert, Kurt Schaffenberger, Steve Lightle, Steve Bissette & John Totleben, Jack Kirby & Steve Rude, Ramona Fradon, Pérez & Frank Miller, and was augmented by a Julius Schwartz piece studded with a dozen pictures by more of DC’s finest artists. The fold-out features 53 of the company’s greatest characters from the first five decades, nestled behind new illustrations of Sugar & Spike by Sheldon Mayer and Space Ranger’s pal Cryll by Art Adams. All the component drawings of a signature character were signed and are reprinted here with the final poster in black-&-white and full colour. Thankfully art fans, it all comes with a priceless ‘Gatefold Directory’ of Who’s Who and by whom…

Pure comic book wonderment in a classy timeless package…
© 1986, 1987, 2021, 2023 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Planetes Omnibus volume 1


By Makoto Yukimura, adapted by Anna Wenger & Brendan Wright, translated by Yuki Johnson (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-921-2 (Omnibus TPB)

The hard, gritty mystery and imagination of space travel, so much a component of immediate post-WWII industrial society, briefly re-captivated legions of level-headed imagineers at the end of the 20th century when relative newcomer and manga debutante Makoto Yukimura  rekindled interest in near-space exploration in all its harsh and grimy glory with this inspirational “nuts-&-bolts” manga series exploring the probable rather than the possible…

Yukimura (born in Yokohama in 1976, just as the once-ambitious US space program was languishing in cash-strapped doldrums and five long years before the first space shuttle launch) began his professional life as an assistant to veteran Mankaka (“comics creator”) Shin Morimura before launching his independent career with the Planetes. Working exclusively for Kodansha, his award-winning premier Seinen series ran in Weekly Morning magazine (from January 1999 – January 2004) before being collected in four tankōbon editions. The serial easily made the jump to an anime series and the books became a multi-award-winning global sensation. Yukimura – after producing evocative one-shot Sayōnara ga Chikai node (For Our Farewell is Near) for Evening magazine – in 2005 abandoned the future for the past, to concentrate his creative energies on monolithic historical epic Vinland Saga. Serialized in Weekly Shōnen Magazine and Afternoon, it has thus far filled 27 rousing volumes to date…

The premise of Planetes is diabolically simply and powerfully engaging. Humanity is a questing species but cannot escape its base origins. In 2074, space travel and exploitation is commonplace but as we’ve conquered the void between Earth and the asteroid belt and prepare to explore – and ruinously exploit – the outer planets, the once-pristine void around us has become clotted and clustered with our obsolete tech and all manner of casually discarded rubbish. Even the most minute speck of junk or debris falling through hard vacuum is a high-velocity, potentially deadly missile, so to keep risk to a minimum hardy teams of rugged individualists must literally sweep the heavens free of our discarded crap.

Prelude ‘Phase 1: A Stardust Sky’ begins with the death of a passenger on a commercial low-orbit spaceliner before jumping six years forward and introducing a trio of these celestial dustbin-men scooping up Mankind’s negligent castoffs and unconsidered detritus. Hachirota Hoshino is the newest, youngest member of the team, a kid who craves becoming a real astronaut and famed explorer like his dad. Dreaming of one day owing his own prestige spaceship, excitable “Hachimaki” is soon disenchanted with the dreary, dull and disgusting daily life of drudgery aboard DS-12: a sanitation/cargo ship fondly dubbed “Toybox” but little better than the discards he and his two comrades daily scoop up or destroy…

These days there’s something wrong with the sombre, stoic Russian, Yuri Mihairokov. The big man is increasingly distracted, blanking out, staring vacantly into the Wild Black Yonder as the cleaners orbit Earth at 8 kilometres per second. Events come to head when a shard of micro-debris holes their ramshackle vessel and an old timer reveals the Russian’s tragic secret.

Long ago Yuri and his wife were passengers on that shuttle and when it was holed she died. Heartbroken, her husband – one of the few survivors – returned to space to clear the deadly trash that took his wife. He never forgot her.

Years later, whilst drifting in the void the solitary heartsick astronaut sees a glitter, and her keepsake compass just floats into his hand, brought back to him by the winds of space and cruel fate. Beguiled, he falls into Earth’s gravity well and only Hachimaki’s most frantic efforts save his comrade from fiery death.

Safely back in free orbit, the Russian opens his gauntleted fist. On the compass are scratched his wife’s final thoughts as death took her – “please save Yuri”…

The poignant, bittersweet and deeply spiritual tale properly begins with ‘Phase 2: A Girl From Beyond the Earth’ wherein Hoshino slowly and impatiently recovers from a broken leg in the hospital of the moon colony Archimedes Crater City. These tales are laced with the most up-to-date space science available to author Yukimura, and the recent revelations that extended time spent in low/zero-gravity radically weakens bones and muscles was the lynchpin of this moving brush with another youngster bound irrevocably to the void.

When a doctor suggests returning to full-gravity Earth to recuperate the easy way, Hachi is in two minds and sorely tempted. His commander and fellow debris-destroyer Fee Carmichael and a grizzled 20-year both veteran pour scorn on the quitter’s option. All real astronauts know that once back on the home world few ever come back to space.

The kid is still tempted though… until he strikes up a friendship with a thin, wasted young woman. Nono has been on Luna for 12 years and dreams of blue skies and open seas, even though she will never see them. After aged Mr. Roland chooses to spend the rest of his life among the stars, Hachimaki discovers Nono’s sad, incredible secret and at last abandons all notion of forsaking the stars…

Focus stays on nicotine-fiend Fee Carmichael as she struggles to enjoy a well-deserved vice in ‘Phase 3: A Cigarette Under Starlight’ in Orientale Basin Underground City some months later. With breathing-oxygen at a premium, smokers must juggle their addiction with the dedication to life in space. Poor Fee has been Jonesing for a drag for far too long. Now though, whilst on shore-leave at a station big enough (and sufficiently civilised) to house a designated smoking area, the Toybox’s chief is still unable to indulge her vice…

Ideological terrorist group the Space Defense Fighters want to keep the void pristine and free of Mankind’s polluting influence and have been detonating bombs in outposts all over the moon. Their latest outrage targets the base’s vending machines and smoking rooms, so the authorities have sealed them all in the name of public safety. Driven near to madness, Fee snaps and lights up in public toilets, forgetting fire countermeasures and smoke detection devices are automatic, incredibly sensitive and painfully effective…

Humiliated, sodden but undeterred, she takes off for another city and a solitary snout (for any non-Brits, that’s a particularly demeaning and derogatory term for a smoke) and finds the only guy more in need of a drag than her. Of course, setting bombs is nervous work and a quick ciggy always calms his nerves…

The frustration is too much and Fee returns to her job, but the SDF’s explosive campaign has barely begun. Their next scheme is the creation of a deadly Kessler Syndrome wave (a blast or impact which changes the trajectories of free-floating orbital scrap and debris, creating even more debris/shrapnel and aiming it like a hard rain of lethal micro-missiles)…

With a commandeered satellite directed at a space station, the terrorists intend to detonate their captured vehicle and shred the habitat – which coincidentally carries the last cigarettes in space – shooting it out of the sky to create a lethal chain reaction to make high-orbit space forever unnavigable.

Unsure of her own motives, Fee uses the DS-12 to suicidally shove the stolen projectile away from the station and into Earth’s atmosphere…

Whilst she recuperates in Florida, ‘Phase 4: Scenery for a Rocket’, depicts Hachimaki bringing Yuri to visit the family home in Japan. However, the volatile lad immediately slips back into a violent sibling rivalry with younger brother Kyutaro: a rocketry prodigy even more resolved to conquer space than his surly and increasingly fanatical brother… or their absentee astronaut father Goro. Happily the steadfast Russian’s calming influence begins repairing fences between the warring Hoshino boys, although not before a series of explosive confrontations lead to Yuri finally passing on his beloved wife’s compass…

‘Phase 5: Ignition’ finds Fee, Yuri and Hachimaki reunited just in time for the junior junkman to suffer an (almost) career-ending psychological injury. Although physically uninjured by a rogue solar flare, the lad is completely isolated in the void for so long that he develops post-traumatic “Deep-Space Disorder”. If he can’t shake off the debilitating hallucinatory condition his life in space is over. Nothing experts at the supervising Astronaut Training Center do has any lasting effect, but fortunately Yuri knows just what prodding might awaken the wide-eyed, Wild Black Wonderment in his feisty little comrade…

‘Phase 6: Running Man’ has the Toybox’s weary crew visit Moon Orbital Space Port where the obsessively training Hachimaki is approached by an unctuous business type looking for his infamous dad. Werner Locksmith is head and chief designer of the Earth Development Community-sponsored manned mission to Jupiter and, unknown to the starry-eyed kid, had pegged Hachi’s father as the only man capable of piloting the innovative new vessel on the 5-year mission: one the lad would give anything to be on. Frustratingly, the elder explorer doesn’t want to go and has actually absconded from the Private/Public sector project and is currently a fugitive on the run through the vents and ducts of various moon bases…

The old rogue has had enough of space-faring: a fact he finds impossible to relate to his furious, outraged son when they accidentally meet. The old spacer intends to retire to Earth and make things right with the wife he’s abandoned so many times…

Meanwhile Locksmith has been called away. Something has gone disastrously wrong with the Jupiter ship “Von Braun”…

Above Luna as Hachi argues with his dad, another crisis crescendos as a devastating explosion rips through the station. As everybody evacuates, in the safe chill of the void, Hachi and the crew watch a phenomenal debris field emanate from the moon’s surface. The Von Braun’s experimental engines have failed and an entire lunar base has been evaporated…

Following the tragedy, ruthlessly cool Locksmith unswervingly starts to rebuild and the senior Hoshino breathes a huge sigh of relief. Hachi however is undeterred. He fanatically resumes his physical training, knowing that when the Von Braun is ready to fly, he will be ready to join it…

In ‘Phase 7: Tanabe’ stoic Yuri and harassed commander Fee acknowledge and address their comrade’s impossible dream, inducting a raw recruit to the Toybox crew and task Hachi with training her to be his (eventual) replacement. According to the ambitious spacer, however, mere girl Ai is a hopeless case, fruitlessly wasting valuable time he could be using to train and study for his application to the Jupiter Mission. Suffering mightily from having to babysit the useless girl, he only discovers her suppressed inner fire after a 50-year old space coffin is recovered from the dark expanse and provokes a bitter dispute about love, passion and man’s place in the cold, lonely universe…

Hachi’s dream comes a giant leap closer to reality in ‘Phase 8: A Black Flower Named Sakinohaka (Part 1)’ as he begins his official audition regimen for the Von Braun. He has become an emotional void with nothing but cold ambition driving him. He can’t even process the deadly constant threat posed by increased sabotage activity from the terrorist SDL: more determined than ever to keep space free of Man’s toxic presence.

Despite competing with more than 20,000 applicants, Hoshino is beginning to distinguish himself when a series of bomb blasts rock the project. Narrowly escaping death, Hachi is visited by his old friends who are horrified his obsessive and blasé attitude and apparent disregard for the pain and suffering of his rival candidates caught in the detonations. Is he truly so determined to get on the mission that all he sees are fewer competitors?

Only fellow applicant and new buddy Hakimu seems to understand that any sacrifice and personal misery are worth the prize…

Soon testing reaches its final stages and Locksmith lectures the remaining candidates from the bridge of the almost completed Von Braun. Only a handful of desperate spacers will make this final cut but the big day is again delayed after Hachi confronts the insidious saboteur… and fails to stop him.

The tale resumes six months later, and the last 23 candidates await final call as ‘Phase 9: A Black Flower named Sakinohaka (Part 2)’ sees Hachi’s still-fugitive father targeted by SDL assassins and heading back to the son who disowned him. His arrival coincides with Ai Tanabe’s visit as she delivers Hachi’s belongings from Toybox, and leads to an embarrassing confusion as to her amatory status, but before things can be clarified the terrorists attack again, seeking to kill the “only man who could pilot the Von Braun”…

Fleeing via the lowest levels of Oriental Basin Underground Tunnel City, the spacer trio are more dangerous to each other than their murderous pursuers. After another devastating blast Hachi again confronts the traitor who sabotaged his last attempt to join the Jupiter mission and almost commits an unpardonable act… until gentle Tanabe talks him off the emotionally-charged metaphorical ledge. ‘Phase 10: Lost Souls’ sees Hachi successful in final training for the mission that has become his life when a lunar accident strands him and new comrade Leonov on the unforgiving surface with only hours of oxygen and a 40-kilometre walk to the nearest relief station. It would have been impossible even if the copilot wasn’t wounded with a slowly-leaking suit. By the time rescue arrives Hachi has reached the stage where he fights his saviours, frantic to prove he needs no one’s help to achieve his goals.

‘Phase 11: – what on the page translates as “Spasibo”’ (either “thank you” or “God save you”) sees recuperating Hachi return to the family home in Japan, accompanied by his penitent father, and visited by Leonov’s grateful mother. Although he doesn’t understand a word she says, the old lady still makes far more sense than his constantly warring family and, after another drunken fight with dad, events come to tragic, galvanising crisis which at last crushes the walls enclosing his traumatised head and heart…

This first passionately philosophical, sentimentally suspenseful chronicle concludes here with a moment of eerie portent when ‘Phase 12: ‘A Cat in the Evening’ sees a simulation test with crewmate Sally turn into a creepy moment of premonition after Hachimaki finds himself stalked to the point of distraction by a dead and decaying alley cat that talks philosophy and tries to kill him…

To Be Concluded…

Each chapter opens with a full colour painted section before reverting to comfortingly appropriate monochrome line art, with superb developmental sketches, pin-ups, a selection of 4-panel sidebar humour strips (‘A Four Panel Comic’, ‘Namao-san (Presumably Male)’, ‘Eat? That Thing?’, ‘Drinking Hot Coffee through a Straw’) included throughout as breaks between story phases. Should you be lucky enough, the original turn-of-the-century English-language TokyoPop editions (which have bonus features not included in the omnibus edition) are still obtainable in many comics shops.

Suspenseful, funny, thrilling and utterly absorbing, these tales perfectly capture the allure of the Wild Black Yonder for newer generations, making this authentic, hard-edged, wittily evocative epic a treat no hard-headed dreamer with eyes set firmly above the clouds should miss…
© 2015 Makoto Yukimura. All rights reserved. Publication rights for this edition secured by Kodansha, Ltd, Tokyo.

Wolverine by Claremont & Miller Deluxe Edition & Wolverine by Claremont & Miller


By Chris Claremont & Frank Miller, with Joe Rubenstein, Paul Smith, Bob Wiacek & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8383-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Wolverine is all things to most people and in his long life has worn many hats: Comrade, Ally, Avenger, Teacher, Protector, Punisher. He first saw print in a tantalising teaser-glimpse at the end of The Incredible Hulk #180 (cover-dated October 1974 – So Happy 50th, Eyy?). That devolved into a full-on scrap with the Green Goliath – and accursed cannibal critter Wendigo – in the next issue. Canada’s super-agent was just one more throwaway foe for Marvel’s mightiest monster-star and subsequently vanished until All-New, All Different X-Men launched.

The semi-feral mutant with fearsome claws and killer attitude rode – or perhaps fuelled – the meteoric rise of those rebooted outcast heroes. He inevitably won a miniseries try-out and his own series: two in fact, in fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents and an eponymous monthly book (of which more later and elsewhere).

In guest shots across the MU – plus cartoons and movies – he carved out a unique slice of superstar status and hasn’t looked back since. Over those years many untold tales of the aged agent (eventually revealed to have been born in the 19th century) explored his erased exploits in ever-increasing intensity and detail. Gradually, many secret origins and revelatory disclosures regarding his extended, self-obscured life slowly seeped out. Afflicted with periodic bouts of amnesia, mind-wiped ad nauseum by sinister foes or well-meaning associates, the lost boy clocked up a lot of adventurous living – but didn’t remember much of it. This permanently unploughed field conveniently resulted in a crop of dramatically mysterious, undisclosed back-histories. Over the course of his X-Men outings, many clues to his early years manifested such as an inexplicable familiarity with Japanese culture and history. This was first revealed after The X-Men save the eastern nation from diabolical maniac Moses Magnum and resulted in an on-going but distanced romantic dalliance with a Japanese princess…

Most fans and amateur historians accept the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson Daredevil stories that introduced Elektra and stormed fan consciousness for fuelling the comic world’s obsession with ninjas and the Japanese underworld in the 1980’s & 1990’s. These themes dominated the funnybook landscape of the era – and spawned the seemingly unstoppable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon – but a lot of that initial traction actually came from one of Marvel’s earliest miniseries and subsequent graphic novel collections…

Wolverine by Claremont & Miller is an oft-republished landmark originally comprising just Wolverine #1-4 (cover-dated September – December 1982), but with most later editions also including the conclusion/sequel from Uncanny X-Men #172-173 as released in August and September 1983.

Big on experimental layouts, dramatic imagery and grittily iconic combat scenes revealing artist Miller’s growing fascination with Koike & Kojima’s seinen manga epic Lone Wolf and Cub, the tale is a simple fable of unrequited love and consequences of aspiring above one’s station in life…

Inked by Joe Rubinstein and lettered by Tom Orzechowski, ‘I’m Wolverine’ reveals that Mariko – the princess Logan dares to love and who loves him in return – is daughter of Shingen Harada, lord of Clan Yashida. Missing for years, the long-lost patriarch has returned but is not the honourable father figure Mariko dreams of. Austere, autocratic, ambitious and deeply bigoted, he is also supreme overlord of Japan’s most powerful Yakuza organisation…

Unaware of all this, the hero travels to Japan to win his lady only to find the dutiful daughter has allowed herself to be married off to a crime boss. Descended from an unbroken line including the Imperial family, Mariko is semi-divine, whilst Logan is a base, uncultured gaijin – and arguably not even human. Nevertheless, he makes his move…

When Wolverine invades the Yashida citadel he finds his beloved compliantly abused by both father and new husband, but his righteous response is forestalled by Mariko before he is captured by Shingen’s forces and tricked into a duel rigged to make him appear a wild, cheating, honourless beast…

Utterly outsmarted, shamed and despondent, he is cast aside and goes on a monumental bender ‘Debts and Obligations’, accompanied by mercenary assassin Yukio who literally drags him out of the gutter. She is wild and ferocious but her obvious attraction to the mutant does not get in way of her latest commission, one that further embroils Wolverine in war between crime lords and constant clashes with ninja cult The Hand

Shingen’s complex campaign to prove Logan is nothing but a trained beast with ridiculous pretensions is simply a sidebar to his scheme to become Lord of everything and he uses The Hand and Yukio to kill his rivals and drive a monumental wedge between Logan and Mariko. The mutant’s carefully orchestrated fall from grace is only halted by the killing of his old Japanese Secret Service associate Asano Kimura: another casualty of the clandestine figure seizing control of the underworld. His ‘Loss’ is the catalyst Logan needs to clear his head and soul before finally going after the debased aristocrat at the root of his troubles. Thus – through a far fairer rematch – Logan reclaims his ‘Honor’ as well as his true love’s heart and respect…

Modern editions then follow-up with a sleekly impressive turn from Claremont and illustrators Paul Smith & Bob Wiacek originally seen in Uncanny X-Men #172-173. ‘Scarlet in Glory’ sees Logan still in Japan, preparing for his impending wedding to Mariko. When his teammates jet in for the nuptials they are all poisoned, leaving Logan and new member Rogue – whom he deeply distrusts – to seek an antidote. Meanwhile, staid maternal Storm is transformed from placid nature goddess to grim-&-gritty bad-ass punk wild child by mercenary maniac and obsessive Logan-lover Yukio, even as the last X-Men race a ticking toxic clock to a literal deadline…

The pressure results in sheer carnage as Logan goes berserk. With the desperate-to-please probationer Rogue trailing his bloody wake Wolverine carves a shocking path to Yakuza mercenary Silver Samurai (current challenger to Mariko’s rule of Clan Yashida) and mass-murdering mastermind Viper in ‘To Have and Have Not’

Although the bold champions are eventually triumphant, the victory comes at great cost. Logan returns to America alone and unwed after Mariko inexplicably calls off the nuptials…
© 2010, 2014, 2023 MARVEL.

Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo volume 1: Sundays 1934-1937 (The Complete Flash Gordon Library


By Alex Raymond & Don Moore, with restorations by Peter Maresca (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-154-6 (HB)

By any metric, Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb but cruelly dated Jungle Jim running as its supplementary “topper” strip) as response to revolutionary, inspirational, but clunky Buck Rogers (by Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins and which had also began on January 7th but in 1929), a new element was added to the realm of fantasy wonderment: Classical Lyricism.

Where Rogers offered traditional adventures laced with blue sky science concepts, its new competitor reinterpreted Fairy Tales, Heroic Epics and Mythology. It did so by spectacularly draping them in trappings of a contemporary future, varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances (although there were also plenty of those) and exotic flying craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for concise, elegant detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip all young artists swiped from. When all-original comic books began some few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Most of the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (which also began in 1934 – and who will get his go another day).

Thankfully in this 90th anniversary year there are still many collections knocking about, and I’m plumping here for 2012’s hardcover archive from British publisher and keeper of traditions Titan Books, who boldly began a Complete Library of the stellar crusader’s exploits that year. We’re still waiting for its conclusion…

Augmenting the epic entertainment is a brace of photo and illustration-packed introductory essays, beginning with uber-artist/fan Alex Ross’ exploration of ‘The Flash Gordon Legacy’ and continuing with ‘Birth of a Legend’ by comics writer and historical publisher Doug Murray, detailing the fantasy milieu into which the dauntless hero was born…

The immortal saga begins with a rogue planet about to smash into Earth. As panic grips the planet, polo player Flash and fellow airline passenger Dale Arden narrowly escape disaster when a meteor fragment downs the plane they’re traveling on. Parachuting out, they land on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov – who imprisons them on a rocket-ship he has built. His plan? To fly directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it!

…And that’s just the first 13-panel episode. ‘On the Planet Mongo’ ran every Sunday until April 15th 1934 when, according to this wonderful full-colour book, second adventure ‘Monsters of Mongo’ (22nd April – 18th November 1934) began, promptly followed by ‘Tournaments of Mongo’ (25th November 1934 to 24th February 1935).

To readers back then, of course, there were no such artificial divisions. There was just one continuous, unmissable Sunday appointment with utter wonderment. The machinations of the impossibly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet, Flash’s battles and alliances with myriad exotic races subject to the Emperor’s will and the Earthman’s gradual victory over oppression captivated America and the World in tales that seemed a direct and welcome contrast to an increasingly darker reality in the days before World War II.

In short order the Earthlings become firm friends – and in the case of Flash & Dale, much more – as they encounter, battle and frequently ally with beautiful, cruel Princess Aura, the Red Monkey Men, Lion Men, Shark Men, Dwarf Men, and crucially King Vultan and the winged Hawkmen. The epic rebellion against seemingly unbeatable Ming really started with the awesome ‘Tournaments…’ sequence wherein Raymond seemed to simply explode with confidence. It was here that true magic blossomed, with every episode more spectacular than the last. Without breaking step, Raymond moved on to his next mini-epic, as our hero entered ‘The Caverns of Mongo’ on March 3rd until 14th April 1935.

Veteran editor Don Moore was only 30 when he was convinced to “assist” Raymond with the writing, starting soon after the strip first gained momentum and popularity. Moore remained until 1953, long after Raymond had gone. The artist had joined the Marines in February 1944, with the last page he worked on published on April 30th of that year. On demobilisation, Raymond moved to fresh strip fields with detective strip Rip Kirby. Mercifully, that still leaves a decade’s worth of spectacular, majestic adventure for us to enjoy…

Without pausing for breath, the collaborators introduced a host of new races and places for their perfect hero to win over in the war against Ming’s timeless evil. On increasingly epic Sunday comics pages, Flash and his entourage confronted the ‘Witch Queen of Mongo’ (April 21st – 13th October 1935), found themselves ‘At War with Ming’ (20th October 1935 – April 5th 1936) and discovered ‘The Undersea Kingdom of Mongo’ (12th April – 11th October 1936). The sheer glorious beauty and drama of the globally-syndicated serial captivated readers all over the world, resulting in not only some of the medium’s most glorious comic art, but also novels, 3 movie serials, radio and TV shows, a monochrome daily strip (by Raymond’s former assistant Austin Briggs), comic books, merchandise and so much more.

The Ruritanian flavour of the series was enhanced continuously, as Raymond’s slick, sleek futurism endlessly accessed and refined a picture-perfect Romanticism of idyllic Kingdoms, populated by idealised heroes, stylised villains and women of staggering beauty. In these episodes Azura, Witch Queen of Mongo wages brutal, bloody war against Flash and his friends for control of the underworld, eventually leading to all-out conflict with Ming the Merciless – a sequence of such memorable power that artists and movie-men would be swiping from it for decades to come.

When the war ends our heroes are forced to flee, only to become refugees and captives of the seductive Queen Undina in her undersea Coral City. The never-ending parade of hairsbreadth escapes, fights and/or chases continues as Flash, Dale & Zarkov crash into the huge jungle of Mongo. As this initial tome ends the refugees enter ‘The Forest Kingdom of Mongo’ (October 18th 1936 to January 31st 1937): barely surviving its wild creatures before weathering horrific tunnels of ‘The Tusk-Men of Mongo’ (February 7th to June 5th 1938). Here, struggling through desperate hardship and overcoming both monsters and the esoteric semi-humans they finally reach Arboria, the Tree kingdom of Prince Barin, Ming’s son-in-law. He is not what he seems…

And so the book ends, but not the adventure. Even stripped down to bare plot-facts, the drama is captivating. Once you factor in the by-play, jealousies and intrigues – all rendered with spectacular and lush visualisation by the master of classical realism – you can begin to grasp why this strip captured the world’s imagination and holds it still. To garnish all this enchantment, there’s even ‘The Alex Raymond Flash Gordon Checklist’ and biographies of both creators and this astounding tome’s key contributors

Along with Hal Foster (Prince Valiant) and Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon), Raymond’s work on Flash Gordon is considered pivotal to the development of American – if not world – comic art. These works overwhelmingly influenced everyone who followed until the emergence of manga and the advancement of computer technology. If you’ve only heard how good this strip is, you owe it to yourself to experience the magic up close and personal.

I never fail to be impressed by the quality of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon. Yes, plots are formulaic and some gender and social attitudes need to be embraced on their own historical terms but what commercial narrative medium of any vintage is free of that? What is never dull or repetitive is the sheer artistry and bravura staging of the tales. Every episode is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, but the next episode still tops it. You are a fool to yourself if you don’t try this wonderful strip out.

Flash Gordon © 2012 King Features Syndicate Inc., ™ & © Hearst Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents World’s Finest volume 3


By Edmond Hamilton, Cary Bates, Jim Shooter, Leo Dorfman, Bill Finger, Curt Swan, George Klein, Sheldon Moldoff, Al Plastino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-585-2 (TPB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest” team. Friends as well as colleagues, their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This third magnificent monochrome compendium gathers their cataclysmic collaborations from the glory days of the mid-1960’s: specifically World’s Finest Comics #146-173 – with the exception of reprint 80-Page Giant issues #161 &170 – and cumulatively covering cover-dates December 1964 through February 1968). This was a time when the entire Free World went superhero gaga in response to Batman’s live action and Superman’s animated TV shows…

A new era had begun in World’s Finest Comics #141 when author Edmond Hamilton and artists Curt Swan & George Klein (who illustrate the bulk of tales in this collection) ushered in a more dramatic, realistic and far less whimsical tone. That titanic creative trio continue their rationalist run in this volume starting with #146’s Batman, Son of Krypton!’ wherein uncovered evidence from the Bottle City of Kandor and bizarre recovered memories seemed to indicate the Caped Crusader is in fact an amnesiac, de-powered, Kryptonian. Moreover, as our heroes dig deeper, Superman thinks he’s found the Earthman responsible for Krypton’s destruction and becomes crazed with a hunger for vengeance…

WFC #147’s saw the sidekicks step up in a stirring blend of science fiction thriller and crime caper, all masquerading as an engaging drama of youth-in-revolt when ‘The New Terrific Team!’ (February 1965 Hamilton, Swan & Klein) saw Jimmy Olsen and Robin quit their underappreciated assistant roles to strike out on their disgruntled own. Naturally there was a perfectly rational, if incredible, reason. In #148 ‘Superman and Batman – Outlaws!’ (with Sheldon Moldoff temporarily replacing Klein) saw the Cape & Cowl Crimebusters sent to another dimension where arch-villains Lex Luthor and Clayface were heroes and the Dark Knight and Action Ace ruthless hunted criminals, after which World’s Finest Comics #149 (May 1965 and also inked by Moldoff) dealt out ‘The Game of Secret Identities!’ with Superman locked into an increasingly obsessive battle of wits with Batman that seemed likely to break up the partnership and even lead to violent disaster…

‘The Super-Gamble with Doom!’ (#150) introduced manipulative aliens Rokk and Sorban, whose addictive and staggeringly spectacular wagering almost gets Batman killed and Earth destroyed, before ‘The Infinite Evolutions of Batman and Superman!’ in #151 introduces junior writer Cary Bates, pairing with Hamilton to produce a beguiling sci fi thriller as the Gotham Guardian transforms into a callous future-man and the Metropolis Marvel is reduced to a brutish Neanderthal…

Hamilton solo-scripted #152’s ‘The Colossal Kids!’ wherein a brace of incomprehensibly super-powered brats outmatch, outdo but never outwit Batman or Superman (and of course there are old antagonists behind the challenging campaign of humiliation) after which Bates rejoins his writing mentor for a taut and dramatic “Imaginary Story” in #153.

When Editor Mort Weisinger was expanding Superman continuity and building the legend, he knew that each new tale was an event adding to a nigh-sacred canon and that what was written and drawn mattered to readers. But as an ideas man he wasn’t going to let that aggregated “consensus history” stifle a good idea, nor would he allow his eager yet sophisticated audience to endure clichéd deus ex machina cop-outs to mar the sheer enjoyment of a captivating concept. The mantra known to every baby-boomer fan was “Not a Dream! Not a Hoax! Not a Robot!” boldly emblazoned covers depicting scenes that couldn’t possibly be true… even if it was only a comic book.

Imaginary Stories were conceived as a way of exploring non-continuity plots and scenarios devised at a time when editors believed entertainment trumped consistency and knew that every comic read was somebody’s first – or potentially last. Illustrated by as ever by Swan & Klein, ‘The Clash of Cape and Cowl!’ posited a situation where brilliant young Bruce Wayne grew up believing Superboy had murdered his father, thereafter dedicating his life to crushing all criminals as a Bat Man awaiting the day when he could expose Superman as a killer and sanctimonious fraud…

WFC #154’s ‘The Sons of Superman and Batman’ (by Hamilton) opened doors to a far less tragic Imaginary world: one where the crime fighters finally found time to marry Lois Lane and Kathy Kane and have kids. Unfortunately, their lads proved to be both a trial and initially a huge disappointment…

‘Exit Batman – Enter Nightman!’ is a canny psychological thriller with the World’s Finest Team on the cusp of their 1,000th successful shared case when a new costumed crusader threatens to break up the partnership and replace burned out Batman, after which ‘The Federation of Bizarro Idiots!’ in #156 sees well-meaning but imbecilic imperfect duplicates of Superman and Batman set up shop on Earth. They end up as pawns of the duplicitous Joker, and it does not end well…

In #157’s ‘The Abominable Brats’ – drawn with inevitable brilliance by Swan and inked by both Klein & Moldoff – featured an Imaginary Story sequel as the wayward sons of heroes return to cause even more mischief, although once more there are other insidious influences in play…

‘The Invulnerable Super-Enemy!’ (#158 by Hamilton, Swan & Klein), has the Olsen-Robin Team stumble upon three Bottled Cities and inadvertently draw their mentors into a terrifying odyssey of evil. At first it appears to be the work of Brainiac but is in fact far from it, and is followed by ‘The Cape and Cowl Crooks!’ (WFC #159), dealing with foes possessing far mightier powers than our heroes – apparently a major concern for readers of those times.

To this day whenever fans gather a cry soon echoes out, “Who’s the strongest/fastest/better dressed…?” but this canny conundrum took the theme to superbly suspenseful heights as Anti-Superman and Anti-Batman continually outwit and outmanoeuvre the heroes, seemingly possessed of impossible knowledge of their antagonists…

Leo Dorfman debuted as scripter in#160 as the heroes struggled to discredit ‘The Fatal Forecasts of Dr. Zodiac’, a scurrilous Swami who appears to control fate itself. World’s Finest Comics #161 was an 80-Page Giant reprinting past tales and not included in this collection, so we jump to #162’s ‘Pawns of the Jousting Master!’: by another fresh scripting face. Teenager Jim Shooter produced an engaging time travel romp wherein Superman and Batman are defeated in combat and compelled to travel back to Camelot in a beguiling tale of King Arthur, super-powered knights and invading aliens…

‘The Duel of the Super-Duo!’ (#163, by Shooter, Swan & Klein) pits Superman against a brainwashed Batman on a world where his mighty powers are negated and other heroes of the galaxy are imprisoned by a master manipulator, after which Dorfman delivers an engaging thriller wherein a girl who is more powerful than Superman and smarter than Batman proves to be ‘Brainiac’s Super Brain-Child!’ Bill Finger & Al Plastino step in to craft WFC #165’s ‘The Crown of Crime’ (March 1967), depicting the last days of dying mega-gangster King Wolff. His plan to go out with a bang sets the underworld ablaze and almost stymies both heroes, after which Shooter, Swan & Klein depict ‘The Danger of the Deadly Duo!’ in which the 20th generation of Batman and Superman unite to battle The Joker of 2967 and his uncanny ally Muto: a superb flight of fantasy that was sequel to a brief series of stories starring Superman’s heroic descendent in a fantastic far future world.

WFC #167 saw Bates solo script ‘The New Superman and Batman Team!’: an Imaginary Story wherein boy scientist Lex Luthor gives himself super-powers and a Kal-El who had landed on Earth without Kryptonian abilities trains himself to become an avenging Batman after his foster-father Jonathan Kent was murdered. The Smallville Stalwarts briefly united in a crime-fighting partnership, but destiny has other plans for the fore-doomed friends…

In World’s Finest #142 a lowly, embittered janitor suddenly gained all the powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes and attacked Caped Crusader and Action Ace out of frustration and jealousy. Revived by Bates for #168’s ‘The Return of the Composite Superman!’ he is actually the pawn of a truly evil villain but gloriously triumphs over his own venal nature, after which #169 hosts ‘The Supergirl-Batgirl Plot’: a whimsical fantasy feast from Bates, Swan & Klein wherein the uppity lasses apparently toil tirelessly to supplant and replace Batman and Superman before it’s revealed that the Dynamic Damsels are mere pawns of an extremely duplicitous team of female felons and a brace of old WF antagonists are actually behind the Byzantine scheme…

Issue #170 is another unincluded mammoth reprint edition, after which #171 reveals ‘The Executioner’s List!’ (script by Dorfman): an intriguing, tense murder-mystery with a mysterious sniper seemingly targeting friends of Superman and Batman, before stirring, hard-hitting Imaginary Story ‘Superman and Batman… Brothers!’ (#172, December 1967) posits a grim scenario wherein orphaned Bruce Wayne is adopted by the Kents, but cannot escape a destiny of tragedy and darkness. Written by Shooter and brilliantly interpreted by Swan & Klein, this moody thriller in many ways signalled the end of angst-free days and beginning of a darker, edgier and more cohesive DC universe for a less casual readership, thereby surrendering the mythology to an increasingly devout fan-based audience.

This stunning compendium closes with World’s Finest Comics #173 and ‘The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes!’ (Shooter, Swan & Klein) as a criminal scientist devises a way to literally transform the Cape & Cowl Crusaders into their own worst enemies…

These are gloriously clever yet uncomplicated tales whose timeless style has returned to inform if not dictate the form for much of DC’s modern television animation. The stories here are a veritable feast of witty, gritty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have: unmissable adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1964-1968, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Neroy Sphinx: Playing to Lose


By Daniel Whiston, Dave Thomson & various (Markosia)
ISBN: 978-1-916968-30-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

If you grew up British in the last 50 years reading home-produced action/adventure comics, you were primarily consuming either war or science fiction tales – preferably both. 2000AD launched in February 1977 and rapidly reshaped the minds of generations of readers. It has done so ever since, affecting and inspiring hundreds of creators.

Very much in the mould of that anarchic, subversive and wickedly cynical weekly came a small press fanzine phenomenon which spawned its own home-grown stars. This titanic tome happily revisits one of the most appallingly appealing and inexplicably endearing of those players: a devious, irredeemably self-serving chancer (like so many traditional British comics rogues ranging from Charlie Peace and Grimly Feendish to The Spider) who finds the fate of humanity unhappily and inappropriately piled on his shifty, unwilling and mostly uncaring shoulders…

Neroy Sphinx first began intermittently appearing in Indie comics icon FutureQuake – specifically and sporadically between #4-20 from 2005 to 2012. In his previous compilation (Neroy Sphinx: Back in the Game and still readily available through back issue venues and internet retailers large and small) the criminal trickster was dragooned into becoming the saviour of Humanity and unlikely nemesis of encroaching dark cosmic gods: a fate even he could not weasel out of.

Sphinx is a born rogue failed politician and inveterate manipulator, whom readers of a certain age might liken to Minder’s Arthur Daley in space. However, the imaginatively inventive rapscallion is graced with a steely inner core allowing him to scheme ruthlessly and casually expend strangers, bystanders, friends and acquaintances like confetti. Many cosmic buses have had Sphinx’s associates cheerily thrown under them, but at least now he’s doing his nefarious thing for a good cause….

Written throughout by Daniel Whiston, and illustrated by Dave Thomson, the culmination of his quixotic escapades are gathered in this bombastic monochrome tome, set long after the collapse of EarthFed and reopening of an Arterial Wormhole that once connected Human space systems to a wider intergalactic civilisation. Sadly it also allowed access to predatory alien gods from Space Hell…

Recruited by ultra-psionic former ally Clarence Griffin as the lynchpin of a decades-long survival plan, Sphinx (his memories selectively edited) resumes his unwanted burden after ‘Down Among the Damned Men’, where Griffin sacrifices another innocent to the great vision he’s seen. As monstrous horrors ravage creation and creep closer to total domination, Griffin and artificial lifeform/hired muscle Fenris track down the AWOL schemer for ‘The Train Job’ and the “recovery” of a certain cosmic artefact Neroy stashed away years previously. He says all he needs now is their help in securing the billions in bullion on board to buy a spaceship…

A clash with surviving members of old enemies the Dubblz clan heaps even higher the pile of collateral casualties when the would-be saviours go ‘Junkyard Shopping’ but at least finally get them off-world, but as their eventual destination is recently invaded Cassiopia System and the much-diminished Dubblz are still on their tails, the ‘Misguided Pursuits’ they indulge in only succeeds in obtaining the artefact by lumbering them with another useless hanger-on. Ensign Eudora Carver is the sole survivor of a human ship caught by the invaders, and has a potent connection to the arcane star sceptre they were hunting…

Now ‘Keep it Clean’ finds her and her extremely disturbing rescuers landing on the “ancient sublime citadel of the Gr’tk” and attacked by a legion of greedy alien hangers-on occupying a celestial shanty town and keen to keep these new rivals away from the cast-off gifts of the primal beings…

As the voyagers explore the cosmic citadel and unpick the sordid truths of eons of cosmic history and legend, their mission to repel invasion and damnation goes from bad to worse in succeeding chapters ‘Cat and Mouse and Cheddar Too’ and ‘The Fiddle Game’. Here they try ‘Pushing the Limits’ of inter-species relations while seeking a way to end Hell-being encroachment, but progress stalls after they raid a vault in ‘Good Thing, Small Package’.

Another friend is sacrificed in ‘Temptation Game’ before their last chance to ‘Bring it All Down’ delivers victory of a kind and a new start in epilogue ‘Ice Baby’

With an Introduction by comics writer/novelist Michael Carroll, and a handy potted chronology of human development and our rogue’s rap sheet courtesy of ‘The Story So Far…’ (spanning 2344 when Griffin dragooned the con man into public service up until 2360 when the saga at last commences to conclude) this much-anticipated sequel is another ambitious, gloriously engaging and exceedingly well-executed space-opera romp with a broad scope and a deft touch to delight lovers of edgily light-hearted fantastic fiction.
™ & © 2024 Daniel Whiston, Dave Thomson & Markosia Enterprises, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Asterix Omnibus volume 1: Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Golden Sickle, Asterix and the Goths


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion)
ISBN: 978-0-75289-154-5(HB) 978-1-44400-423-6(TPB)

Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export. The feisty, wily little warrior who fought the iniquities and viewed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and – whenever necessary – a magical potion imbuing the imbiber with incredible strength, speed and vitality, is the go-to reference all us non-Gallic gallants when we think of France.

The diminutive, doughty darling was created at the close of the 1950s by two of our artform’s greatest masters, with his first official appearance being October 29th in Pilote #1, even though he had actually debuted in a pre-release teaser – or “pilot” – some weeks earlier. Bon Anniversaire mon petit brave!

René Goscinny was arguably the most prolific – and remains one of the most read – writers of comic strips the world has ever known. Born in Paris in 1926, he grew up in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age René showed artistic promise. He studied fine arts and graduated in 1942. Three years later, while working as junior illustrator at an ad agency, his uncle invited him to stay in America, where he worked as a translator.

After National Service in France, he returned to the States and settled in Brooklyn, pursuing an artistic career and becoming, in 1948, an assistant in a small studio which included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis & John Severin, as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (Morris, with whom from 1955-1977 Goscinny produced Lucky Luke) and Joseph Gillain (Jijé).

Goscinny also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Le Journal de Spirou. After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and Jerry Spring, Goscinny was promoted to head of World Press’ Paris office. Here he met his ultimate creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time, René also created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (“Martial”) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio. In 1955, Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier & Jean Hébrad formed independent syndicate Édifrance/Édipresse, creating magazines for business and general industry like Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory. With Uderzo, René spawned Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, whilst illustrated his own scripts for Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Under nom-de-plume Agostini, he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé), and in 1956 began an association with revolutionary periodical Le Journal de Tintin, writing for various illustrators including Attanasio (Signor Spagetti), Bob De Moor (Monsieur Tric), Maréchal (Prudence Petitpas), Berck (Strapontin), Globule le Martien and Alphonse for Tibet; as well as Modeste et Pompon for André Franquin, and with Uderzo fabulously funny adventures of inimitable Indian brave Oumpah-Pah. Goscinny also wrote for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959, Édifrance/Édipresse launched Pilote, and René went into overdrive. The first issue featured re-launched versions of Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet, new serials Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou (drawn by Godard), plus a little something called Astérix le gaulois: inarguably the greatest achievement of his partnership with Uderzo.

When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became Editor-in-Chief, still making time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (with Martial), La Potachologie Illustré (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx). He also wrote frequently for television, but never stopped creating strips like Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record – illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote. Goscinny died far too young, in November 1977.

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes on the Marne, a child of Italian immigrants. As a boy reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he showed artistic flair from an early age. Alberto became a French citizen at age seven and dreamed of being an aircraft mechanic, but at 13 became an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching. When WWII came, he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany, joining his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being decided upon, the region was the only choice…

In France’s post-war rebuilding, Uderzo returned to Paris to become a successful illustrator in the country’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior and, in 1945, he was introduced to industry giant Edmond- Françoise Calvo (The Beast is Dead). Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated novels, worked in animation, as a journalist, as illustrator for France Dimanche and created vertical comic strip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir. In 1950, he drew a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

Another inveterate traveller, the young artist met Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were devised for La Libre Junior and they produced a comedy Western starring a very Red (but not so American) Indian who evolved into Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replacing Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine before, in 1957 adding Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio. The following year, he made his Tintin debut, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and rapturous audience. Uderzo also illuminated Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in October 1959, Uderzo was its major creative force, limning Charlier’s Tanguy et Laverdure and a humorous historical strip about Romans…

Although Asterix was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (subsequently Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first historical serial was collected in a single volume as Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it was clear the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death, the publication rate of Asterix tales dropped from two per year to one volume every 3-to-5).

By 1967, Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation, and when Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist. Happily, he gave in and produced a further ten volumes before retiring in 2009. According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and 3rd most-translated French language comics author – right behind his old mate René and the grand master Hergé.

So what’s it all about?

Like all the best entertainments the premise works on two levels: as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper for younger readers and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, transformed here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue).

Originally serialised in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959 – 4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0 distributed from June 1st 1959), the story is set in the year 50 BC (not BCE!) on the outermost tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast. Here a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families frustrate every effort of the immense but not so irresistible Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment, leaving the little seaside hamlet hemmed in by heavily fortified permanent garrisons – Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium. The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

In Asterix the Gaul, this immaculate comedy-drama scenario is hilariously demonstrated when Centurion Crismus Bonus – fed up with his soldiers being casually beaten up by the fiercely free pre-Frenchmen – sends reluctant spy Caligula Minus to ferret out the secret of their incredible strength. The affable insurgents take the infiltrator in and, soon dosed up with potion, the perfidious Roman escapes with the answer – if not the formula itself…

Soon after, wise and wily Druid Getafix is captured by the invaders and the village seems doomed, but crafty Asterix is on the case. Breaking into Compendium and resolved to teach the Romans a lesson, he drives them crazy for ages by resisting all efforts at bribery and coercion, until abruptly wizard and warrior seemingly capitulate. They make the Romans a magic potion… but not the one the rapacious oppressors were hoping for…

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer energy of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, all marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish bigfoot art-style. From the second saga on, the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix – who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby – and became a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to our little wise guy…

Asterix and the Golden Sickle originally unfolded in Pilote #42-74, recounting disastrous consequences after Getafix loses his ceremonial gold sickle just before the grand Annual Conference of Gaulish Druids. Since time is passing and no ordinary replacement will suffice to cut ingredients for magic potion, Asterix offers to go all the way to Lutetia (you can call it Paris if you want) to find another.

Since Obelix has a cousin there – Metallurgix the Smith – he volunteers for the trip too and the punning pair are swiftly away, barely stopping to teach assorted bandits the errors of their pilfering ways, but still finding a little time to visit many roadside inns and taverns serving traditional roast boar. There is concurrently a crisis in Lutetia: a mysterious gang is stealing all the Golden Sickles and forcing prices up. The Druid community is deeply distressed and, more worrying still, master sickle-maker Metallurgix has gone missing too.

When Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner they discover a nefarious plot that seems to go all the way to the office of the local Roman Prefect…

The early creative experiment was quickly crystallizing into a supremely winning format of ongoing weekly episodes slowly building into complete readily divisible adventures. The next epic cemented the strip’s status as a popular icon of Gallic excellence.

Asterix and the Goths ran from 1962-1963 and followed a dangling plot-thread of the Druid Conference as Getafix, brand new sickle in hand, sets off for the Forest of the Carnutes to compete. However, on Gaul’s Eastern border savage Goths – barbarians who remained unconquered despite the might of the Empire – have crossed into pacified Roman territory. These barbarians are intent on capturing the mightiest Druid and turning his magic against the rule of Julius Caesar

Although non-Druids aren’t allowed into the forest, Asterix & Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge, and as the Conference competition round ends in victory for him and his power-potion, the Goths strike, abducting him in his moment of triumph. Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, our heroic duo track the kidnappers, but are mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania. Although Romans are no threat, they can be a time-wasting hindrance, so Asterix & Obelix disguise themselves as Romans to invade the Barbarian lands…

By now well-used to being held prisoner, Getafix is making himself a real nuisance to his bellicose captors and a genuine threat to the wellbeing of his long-suffering appointed translator. When Asterix & Obelix are captured dressed as Goths, they concoct a cunning plan to end the ever-present threat of Gothic invasion – a scheme that continues successfully for almost two thousand years…

Astérix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into 111 languages, with a host of animated and live-action movies, games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). Approaching 400 million copies of 40 Asterix books and a handful of spin-off volumes have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors. This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase those statistics by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.
© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents The War That Time Forgot


By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Russ Heath, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1253-7 (TPB)

Unbelievably, STILL not a Major Motion Picture, The War That Time Forgot debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90 and ran wild there until #137 (May 1968). It skipped only three issues: #91, 93 & 126, the last of which starred the United States Marine Corps simian Sergeant Gorilla. Look it up: I’m neither kidding nor being metaphorical…

At present this stunningly bizarre black-&-white compendium is the only comprehensive collection: gathering together most but not all of the monstrously madcap material from SSWS #90, 92, 94-125 and 127-128, cumulatively spanning April/May 1960 to August 1966. Simply too good a concept to leave alone, this seamless, shameless blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caprona stories (known alternatively as the Caspak Trilogy or The Land That Time Forgot) provided everything baby-boomer boys – and surely many girls too, if truth be told – could dream of with giant lizards, humongous insects, fantastic adventures and two-fisted heroes employing lots of guns and gear and explodey stuff…

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature War comics, Horror stories, Romance, superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Iron Man, Lois Lane, Steel Sterling, Batman and other genres and stars too numerous to cover here. He scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen as The Flash to the superhero-hungry kids of the World in 1956.

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original (Shazam!-fuelled) Captain Marvel. In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He scripted Golden Age iterations of Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary, Dr. Pat and Lady Cop, plus memorable female foes Harlequin and Rose and Thorn. This last he reconstructed during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting superhero.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into westerns and war stories, and in 1952 became writer/editor of the company’s combat titles All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Amy at War. He launched Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, cowboy Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, The Viking Prince and a host of others.

Among his many epochal war series were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, The Haunted Tank and The Losers as well as the visually addictive, irresistibly astonishing “Dogfaces vs Dinosaurs” dramas depicted here. Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and I suspect he used this uncanny but formulaic adventure arena as a personal try-out venue for his many series concepts. The Flying Boots, G.I. Robot, Suicide Squad and many other teams and characters initially appeared in this lush Pacific hellhole with wall-to-wall danger. Indisputably, the big beasts were the stars, but occasionally ordinary G.I. Joes made enough of an impression to secure return engagements, too…

The wonderment commenced in Star Spangled War Stories #90 as paratroopers and tanks of the “Question Mark Patrol” are dropped on Mystery Island – from whence no American soldiers have ever returned. The crack warriors discover why when the operation is assaulted by pterosaurs, tyrannosaurs and worse on the ‘Island of Armoured Giants!’ Each yarn is superbly rendered by veteran art team Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.

Larry and Charlie, sole survivors of that first foray, returned to the lost world in #92’s ‘Last Battle of the Dinosaur Age!’ when aquatic beasts attack their rescue submarine forcing them back to the lethal landmass. ‘The Frogman and the Dinosaur!’ takes up most of SSWS #94 as a squad of second-rate Underwater Demolitions Team divers are trapped on the island, encountering the usual bevy of blockbuster brutes and a colossal crab as well.

What starts out as paratroopers versus pterodactyls in #95 turns into a deadly turf-war in ‘Guinea Pig Patrol!’ before ‘Mission X!’ introduces the Task Force X/Suicide Squad in a terse infiltration story with the increasing eager US military striving to set up a base on the strategically crucial monster island. The Navy took the lead in #97’s ‘The Sub-Crusher!’ with equally dire results as a giant gorilla joins the regular roster of horrors, after which a frustrated palaeontologist is blown off course and into his wildest nightmare in ‘The Island of Thunder’. The rest of his airborne platoon aren’t nearly as excited at the discovery…

The Flying Franks were a trapeze family before the war, but as “The Flying Boots” Henny, Tommy & Steve won fame as paratroopers. For #99’s ‘The Circus of Monsters!’ they face the greatest challenge of their lives after washing up on Mystery Island and narrowly escaping death by dinosaur. They aren’t too happy on being sent back next issue to track down a Japanese secret weapon in ‘The Volcano of Monsters!’

In #101 ‘The Robot and the Dinosaur!’ ramp up the fantasy quotient as reluctant Ranger Mac is dispatched to the primordial preserve to field-test the Army’s latest weapon: a fully automatic, artificial G.I. Joe, who promptly saves the day and returned to fight a ‘Punchboard War!’ in the next issue: tackling immense killer fish, assorted saurians and a giant Japanese war-robot that dwarfs the dinosaurs. The mecha-epic carried over and concluded in #103’s ‘Doom at Dinosaur Island!’, after which the Flying Boots encored in Star Spangled #104’s ‘The Tree of Terror!’ when a far-ranging pterodactyl drags the brothers back to the isle of no return for another explosive engagement. ‘The War on Dinosaur Island!’ sees the circus boys leading a small-scale invasion, but even tanks and the latest ordnance prove little use against pernicious, eternally hungry reptiles, after which ‘The Nightmare War!’ sees a dino-phobic museum janitor trapped in his worst nightmare. At least he has his best buddies and a goodly supply of bullets and bombs with him…

The action shifts to the oceans surrounding the island for sub-sea shocker ‘Battle of the Dinosaur Aquarium!’ with plesiosaurs, titanic turtles, colossal crabs and crocodilians on the menu, before hitting the beaches in #108 for ‘Dinosaur D-Day!’ when the monsters take up residence in the Navy’s landing craft. ‘The Last Soldiers’ then pits determined tank-men against a string of scaly perils on land, sea and air, after which a new Suicide Squad debuts in #110 to investigate a ‘Tunnel of Terror’ into the lost land of giant monsters. This time, though, there’s a giant gorilla on their side…

That huge hairy beast is the star of ‘Return of the Dinosaur Killer!’ as the harried unit leader and a wily boffin (visually based on Kanigher’s office associate Julie Schwartz) struggle to survive on the tropically reptilian atoll, whilst ‘Dinosaur Sub-Catcher!’ shifts locale to ice floes as a pack of lost sea dinosaurs attack a polar submarine and US weather station.

Star Spangled War Stories #113 returned to the blue Pacific for ‘Dinosaur Bait!’ and a pilot tasked with hunting down the cause for so many lost subs after which ‘Doom Came at Noon!’ revisits snowy climes as dinosaurs inexplicably rampage through alpine territory, making temporary allies of old enemies dispatched to destroy hidden Nazi submarine pens.

Issue #115’s ‘Battle Dinner for Dinosaurs!’ sees a helicopter pilot marooned on Mystery Island drawn into a spectacular aerial dogfight, before a duo of dedicated soldiers faced ice-bound beasts in ‘The Suicide Squad!’ The big difference being that here Morgan and Mace are more determined to kill each other than accomplish their mission…

‘Medal for a Dinosaur!’ bowed to the inevitable and introduced a (relatively) friendly baby pterodactyl to balance out Mace & Morgan’s barely-suppressed animosity, and ‘The Plane-Eater!’ finds the army odd couple adrift in the Pacific and in deep danger until our leather-winged little guy turns up once more…

The Suicide Squad were getting equal billing by the time of #119’s ‘Gun Duel on Dinosaur Hill!’, as yet another group of men-without-hope battle saurian horrors and each other to the death, after which the apparently un-killable Morgan & Mace pop back with Dino, the flying baby dinosaur. They also make a new ally and companion in handy hominid Caveboy, before the whole unlikely ensemble struggle to survive increasingly outlandish creatures in ‘The Tank Eater!’ Star Spangled War Stories #121 then presented another diving drama as a UDT frogman gains a Suicide Squad berth, proving to be a formidable fighter and ultimately ‘The Killer of Dinosaur Alley!’ Increasingly, G.I. hardware and ordnance began to gain the upper hand over bulk, fang and claw and much-missed representational maestro Russ Heath added an edge of hyper-realism to #122’s ‘The Divers of Death’ wherein two Frogman siblings battle incredible underwater insects but still can’t win the respect of their landlubber older brothers, and Gene Colan illustrated aquatic adventure ‘The Dinosaur who Ate Torpedoes!’, before Andru & Esposito reenlisted to depict ‘Terror in a Bottle!’. This was the second short saurian saga to grace issue #123 and another outing for that giant ape who loved to pummel pterosaurs and larrup lizards.

Undisputed master of gritty fantasy art Joe Kubert added his pencil-and-brush magic to tense and manic thriller ‘My Buddy the Dinosaur!’ in #124, and stuck around to illumine the return of G.I. Robot in stunning battle bonanza ‘Titbit For a Tyrannosaurus!’ (#125), after which Andru & Esposito limned Suicide Squad sea saga ‘The Monster Who Sank a Navy!’ in #127. The last tale here (#128) sees Colan resurface to illuminate a masterfully moving human drama actually improved by the inclusion of ravening reptiles in ‘The Million Dollar Medal!’.

Throughout this eclectic collection of dark dilemmas, light-hearted romps and spectacular battle blockbusters the emphasis is always on human fallibility; with soldiers unable to put aside long-held grudges, swallow pride or forgive trespasses even amidst the strangest and most terrifying moments of their lives, and this edgy humanity informs and elevates even the daftest of these wonderfully imaginative adventure yarns.

Classy, intense, insanely addictive and Just Plain Big Fun, The War that Time Forgot is a deliciously guilty pleasure and I for one hope the remaining stories from Star Spangled War Stories, Weird War Tales, G. I. Combat and especially the magnificent Tim Truman Guns of the Dragon miniseries all end up in sequel compilations before many more eons pass.

Now Read This book and you will too…
© 1960-1966, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.