Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians


By Ricardo Delgado with colours by Ryan Hill & Jim Campbell (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-820-8 (TPB) eISBN: 978-63008-360-1

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

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

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

Crafted by one of the most respected concept and storyboard men in Hollywood (with credits for Men in Black, The Incredibles, WALL-E, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Matrix and much more) the dino-dramas and sauro-sagas offered – even in comics – a unique reading experience which must be seen to be believed. The tales originally appeared as a sequence of miniseries between 1993 and 2010 before being subsequently collected as individual compilations. In 2011 a titanic tome, part of Dark Horse’s excellent and economical Omnibus line, gathered the material into one handy Brachiosaur-sized book to treasure forever.

And in 2015 Delgado found time to do it all over again utilising fresh facts unearthed about a unique region of the antediluvian world…

Collecting that 4-issue miniseries Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians opens with an enthusiastic Foreword from author Alan Dean Foster and another text piece from Barbara S. Grandstaff (PhD) explaining what Egypt was like at the height of the Cenomanian Era, when this saga is stirringly set…

The brutal struggle to survive and procreate is followed by Delgado’s original essays from the miniseries, affording us a view into his process and influences via ‘The Revolver and the Katana’, ‘The Agony of Gwanji in Alajuela’ and ‘The Bahariya Formation… and Other Stuff’, as well as offering a gallery of wraparound covers and ‘Character Sketches and Color Guides’. So, what happens in the middle? Life, Death and Everything…

Once upon a time, a lonely Araripesuchus (Rat Croc to me and thee) took a stroll down a river. He met some Carcharodontosuars, Deltadromeus, Paralititans, Rugops, Spinosaurs, Stomatosuchus and others. Not everything wanted to kill or eat him…

As in all these tales, the astoundingly rendered and realised scenery and environment are as much leading characters in the drama as any meat and muscle protagonists. Moreover, all the opportunistic scavengers and hangers-on that prowl the peripheries of the river and plains are ever-eager to take momentary advantage …

Delgado has an unquestioned and incredibly infectious love for his subject, a sublime feel for spectacle and an unmatchable gift for pace and narrative progression. Coupled to the deft hand which imbues the vast range and cast of big lizards with instantly recognisable individual looks and characters, this ensures the reader knows exactly who is doing what. There’s even room for some unexpectedly but most welcome rough-love humour in this brilliantly simple primal time drama…
Text & illustration of Age of Reptiles™: Ancient Egyptians © 2015, 2016 Ricardo Delgado. All rights reserved.

Yoko Tsuno volume 8 the Devil’s Organ


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

The edgy yet uncannily accessible European exploits of Japanese scientific adventurer Yoko Tsuno began gracing the pages of Le Journal de Spirou in September 1970 and are still going strong, with latest album Anges et faucons released last year.

The engaging, eye-popping, expansively globe-girdling multi award-winning series was created by Belgian Roger Leloup, a man of many talents born in 1933. He toiled as one of Herge’s meticulous researchers and background assistants on the Adventures of Tintin strip before striking out on his own.

Compellingly told, superbly imaginative but always solidly placed in hyper-realistic settings sporting utterly authentic and unshakably believable technology, these illustrated epics were at the forefront of a wave of strips featuring competent, brave and immensely successful female protagonists which revolutionised European comics from the 1970s onwards and are as potently empowering now as they ever were. I just wish they were more popular in English (that’s my job I suppose) and that publisher Cinebook would release few more than the dozen or so currently available. It would also be nice if such a forward-looking feature was available in digital editions…

The first Spirou stories ‘Hold-up en hi-fi’, ‘La belle et la bête’ and ‘Cap 351’ were all short introductory vignettes before the formidable Miss Tsuno and her ever-awestruck and overwhelmed male comrades truly hit their stride with premier extended saga Le trio de l’étrange, which began serialisation with the May 13th 1971 issue.

That epic of extraterrestrial intrigue was the first of 29 European albums, promptly followed here with a more down-to-earth but equally breathtaking contemporary thriller set in the heart of Germany against a merely mortal menace who was every inch her match…

Serialised in 1972 as L’orgue du diable in Spirou #1767-1793, the suspenseful thriller first reached us as 8th translated chronicle The Devil’s Organ and begins when young TV mogul Vic Van Steen and frivolous cameraman pal Pol Paristake their new chum – sleekly capable freelance Japanese electrical engineer Yoko Tsuno – with them up the so-scenic Rhine to shoot a travel documentary.

What the working tourists don’t realise is that the epic views and beautiful castles were recently the scene of a bizarre duel which left one man dead whilst his improbably garbed, demonic murderer escaped without anyone knowing a crime had been committed…

Now a week later, Pol is not so subtly ogling (and filming) a comely fräulein on the top deck of the stately, palatial riverboat when the subject of his attentions falls into the chilly waters.

Yoko is only seconds behind him as the cameraman hits the water trying to save the girl. When they are all hauled back aboard, the Japanese adventurer discovers the nearly drowned victim has been drugged…

Ingrid Hallberg is one of Germany’s most promising young classical organists and she has made the trip to the idyllic, fairy tale region to see where her father took his own life a week previously. However, when Pol’s voyeuristic photos are developed, they reveal a strange man injecting her with something before pushing her into the river and Yoko begins to suspect that the senior Hallberg’s death might not be all it appears either. Adding to the mystery is a strange tape he sent Ingrid which she was intending to play once she arrived at his now deserted home in Sankt Goar

As always, the most potent asset of these edgy dramas is the astonishingly authentic and hyper-realistic settings, which benefit from Leloup’s diligent research and meticulous attention to detail. Tourists could use these pages as an A-Z and never get lost, except in rapturous wonder…

As they accompany the damp damsel Yoko discovers the girl has been electronically bugged and urges all haste, with the party arriving just as a masked man flees the house with the tape. Giving chase, Yoko finds herself facing no ordinary foe and despite all her martial arts skills is near death by the time her friends catch up. The mystery man gets away but not with all of the tape…

The fragment that remains lead the baffled, battered heroes to buried copper artefacts which were part of an incredible restoration project. Werner Hallberg, being an expert in church music and instruments, was apparently contracted to restore a 16th century contraption for an anonymous millionaire. The colossal ancient device was known as The Devil’s Organ and, from what the modern tech team can discern, it was actually a sonic weapon of devastating power…

Tracking down the original location of the device at the world-famous Katz fortress, the self-appointed detectives settle on its current occupier Otto Meyer as the likely wealthy patron who hired Werner. Determined to get to the bottom of the criminal conundrum, they barge in on him, only to be attacked by his misanthropic and overprotective nephew Karl. Over the young man’s strenuous objections, the elder Meyer surprisingly invites the wary intruders to stay and look around all they want.

Cautiously accepting, they continue their enquiries in plain sight but are all too soon the latest targets in the mysterious murderer’s sights…

It takes all Yoko’s considerable ingenuity and boldness to stay one step ahead of the hidden killer, but when she finally unmasks the villain and learns his sordid reasons for the deaths it is almost too late: the Organ from Hell is ready to sound and nothing can prevent it from unleashing a horrific wave of destruction.

…But that doesn’t stop Yoko Tsuno from giving it one final mighty try…

Absorbing, compelling and blending tense suspense with blistering adventure, this is another superbly rationalist mystery and fantastic exploit of the most unsung of all female action heroes: one you’ve waited far too long to meet…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1973 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2013 © Cinebook Ltd.

You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation!: More Comics by Fletcher Hanks


By Fletcher Hanks, edited by Paul Karasik (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-606699-160-2 (TPB)

Although he was a pioneering auteur and prolific creator, the work of troubled artisan Fletcher Hanks (December 1st 1889 – January 22nd 1976) was all-but lost to posterity for decades following the Darwinian dawn of the American comic book. Happily, he was rediscovered relatively recently by comics’ intelligentsia in such magazines as Raw!

Hank’s unique visual style and frankly histrionic manner of storytelling resulted in only 51 complete stories created over less than three years (1939-1941) – but those were during the make-or-break, crucially formative times that would shape the industry for decades to come.

Like so many of his contemporaries, Hanks was an artist plagued by a dependence on alcohol and a tendency to violence. Surviving on odd jobs and as a mural painter, he abandoned his wife and four children in 1930 and disappeared until the incredible commercial drive to fill comic book pages saw him resurface in 1939 as part of the Jerry Iger/Will Eisner production “Shop”. Here he generated whole stories (script, art, lettering and probably even colour-guides) for some of the most successful publishers of the Golden Age. All were fast-paced, action-packed, relentless blood-&-thunder thrillers, underpinned by what might well be hallucinogenic delirium…

Hanks is now globally prominent in art circles and regarded as a key Outsider Artist – defined by critic Roger Cardinal as an English-language equivalent to the French movement Art Brut or Raw/Rough Art: works created outside the boundaries of official culture. Jean Dubuffet connected the phenomenon especially and specifically to the paintings and drawings of insane asylum inmates but Cardinal extended the definition to include Naïve art, some Primitivism and sustained bodies of work by creators working at all fringes of the mainstream.

In his woefully short career, the impact of those 51 stories were further reduced since he only worked in a few returning characters. This book follows on from and concludes the complete works compilation begun in editor Karasik’s I Shall Destroy all the Civilized Planets! (which I simply must track down and review too).

Presented in chronological order, this book contains seven Space Smith adventures – ‘Captured by Skomah!’ (Fantastic#1, December 1939), ‘The Martian Ogres!’ (Fantastic #2, January 1940), ‘The Leopard Women of Venus’ (#3, February), ‘The Thinker’ (#4, March), ‘The Hoppers’ (#5, April), ‘The Vacuumites’ (#6, May) and ‘Planet Bloodu’ (#8, July): a single tale of Tabu, Wizard of the Jungle from Jungle Comics #1 (‘The Slave Raiders’, January 1940) plus a batch of red-blooded lumberjack yarns starring Big Red McLane: ‘King of the North Woods’, ‘The Timber Thieves’, ‘The Lumber Hijackers’, ‘The Sinister Stranger’, ‘The Paper Racketeers’, ‘Sledge Sloan Gang’, ‘The Monk’s War Rockets’ and ‘Searching for Sally Breen’ from the monthly Fight  Comics (#1, January 1940, and #3 through 9).

The incomparable Stardust the Super-Wizard (whose slick, sleek costume surely influenced Britain’s Mick Anglo when he redesigned Captain Marvel into All-English Marvel Man in 1954!) is stirringly represented by ‘Rip the Blood’(Fantastic #2 January 1940), ‘The Mad Giant’ (#4), ‘The Emerald Men of Asperus’ (#8) ‘The Super Fiend’ (#10), ‘Kaos and the Vultures’ (#12), ‘The Sixth Columnists’ (#14) and ‘The World Invaders’ (Fantastic #15, February 1941).

No violent genre was beyond Hanks and prototype sword-wielding barbarian hero Tiger Hart rousingly romped through the jungles of Saturn in ‘The Dashing, Slashing Adventure of the Great Solinoor Diamond’ in Planet Comics #2 (February 1940).

From early 1940, Daring Mystery #4 and #5 supply ‘Mars Attacks’ and ‘Planet of Black-Light’, two exploits of brawny, clean-limbed Whirlwind Carter of the Interplanetary Secret Service, whilst Yank Wilson, Super Spy Q-4 performed much the same role for the contemporary USA in ‘The Saboteurs’ from Fantastic #6 (May 1940).

For me the biggest, most enjoyable revelation is the captivating batch of uncanny tales featuring the frankly indescribable Fantomah. The “Mystery Woman of the Jungle” – a blend of witch, goddess and reanimated corpse – used startling magic to monitor and defend the green places of the world against all manner of threats from poachers to mad scientists and aliens.

Her beguiling feats open with ‘The Elephants Graveyard’ (Jungle Comics #2, February 1940) and just get wilder and wilder, continuing with ‘The Super-Gorillas’ (#4), ‘Mundoor and the Giant Reptiles’ (#5), ‘Phantom of the Tree-Tops’(#6), ‘The Temple in the Mud Pit’ (#8), ‘The Scarlet Shadow’ (#11), ‘The New Blitzers’ (#12) and ‘The Tiger-Women of Wildmoon Mountain’ before ominously concluding with ‘The Revenge of Zomax’ from February 1941’s Jungle #14.

These stunningly surreal and forceful stories created under the pseudonyms Barclay Flagg, Hank Christy, Henry and Chris Fletcher, Charles Netcher, C.C. Starr and Carlson Merrick are a window into a different, bolder, proudly unconventional era and the troubled mind of a true creative force. Seen in conjunction with Karasik’s insightful introduction and the many early sketches and illustrations from before that too-brief foray into comics, these pages present an intimate glimpse of a fascinating man at a crossroads he was clearly able to shape but never grasp.

This is a magical book for both fans of classical comics and the cutting edge of modern art: and just in case you were wondering, the stories are weird but read wonderfully.

It Must Be Yours!!!

All stories are public domain but the specific restored images and design are © 2009 Fantagraphics Books.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls volume 1: Girl on Fire


By Jeremy Whitley & Jamie Noguchi (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-492-6 (HB) 978-1-54580-493-3 (TPB)

Once upon a time, stories designed to enthral and entertain young girls were a prolific staple of comics output. By the end of the 20th century the sector had all but faded from the English-speaking world, but enjoyed a splendid resurgence – particularly in America – as the graphic novel market expanded to its current prominence.

Based in New York, Papercutz are committed to publishing comics material for younger readers – especially girls – and combine licensed properties such as The Smurfs, Gumby and Nancy Drew with intriguing European imports like Brina the Cat and compelling new concepts such as The Wendy Project. This supremely enticing premier volume from Jeremy Whitley (The Unstoppable Wasp, Princeless) & Jamie Noguchi (Erfworld) is home grown, but magnificently captures a few contemporary zeitgeists that seem certain to generate huge interest and probably a TV series…

Tara Smith is 15-years old, smart, diligent and extremely hard-working. She obeys her rather strict, cold parents and strives at all times to be good and succeed in all her endeavours. In her most private moments, she stares at the stars and feels that one day she will be extraordinary, especially if she manages to fulfil her longed-for destiny…

She is admittedly a bit odd. Her life is totally regulated and Tara takes special medicine every day. She also wears an electronic medical alarm bracelet 24/7 as well as an heirloom necklace. She never, ever takes them off…

However, even though her life is one of unremitting routine, one day the alarm clock doesn’t go off and Tara will never be the same again…

As a result of the timing malfunction and rushing for the school bus, Tara forgets to take her pills. It’s a day for disasters. She trips, breaks her bracelet and, even after frantically making it to school on time, feels weird all day. After terrorising her classmates and making an exhibition of herself, Tara ends the day by catching on fire, rushing through the school like a human torch and passing out in the showers…

When she awakens, she’s in a freezer with her bracelet missing and confronted by the formidable presence of female MIB Agent Stone. When she makes Tara remove the necklace the terrified girl instantly transforms into a reptilian being and catches fire again. Suspicions confirmed, Stone swiftly explains some unsavoury facts of life to her shellshocked captive…

Before long Tara is despatched to a very special top-secret school built to house and safeguard girls just like her: young alien refugees abandoned or trapped on Earth and educated under the directives of numerous clandestine treaties, all unsuspected by the greater mass of humanity which still believes itself to be the only life in the universe…

Thus begins a thrilling epic as Tara gradually assimilates into her new school (Blacksite 513 AKA The School for Extraterrestrial Girls), making friends, enemies and many, many mistakes as she slowly uncovers the secrets of her hidden past and an awful truth regarding her own existence on Earth…

And as if just surviving being the new girl isn’t hard enough, as she continues hiding in human form and denying her true saurian self, events spiral out of control when Tara’s “parents” stage a deadly raid to reclaim their “property”. That’s when the confused reptilian finally learns who her real friends are…

Moreover, in the aftermath Stone decides the campus has been fatally compromised and that for security she must move students and faculty into a facility already occupied by Extraterrestrial boys…

To Be Continued…

Championing diversity and tolerance, whilst subtly addressing issues of gender, puberty and peer acceptance, this rollicking action romp successfully blends and updates the traditional girls boarding school/extraordinary chums model that was the backbone of British girls comics for decades and now seems set to shape the lives of another generation of youngsters looking for understanding and a few appropriate role models.

Irresistible fun no one should miss and available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is drama and thrills in perfect balance to delight any young adult or wistfully nostalgic parent or guardian.
© 2020 Jeremy Whitley and Jamie Noguchi. All other editorial material © Papercutz.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones Omnibus volume 1


By Walt Simonson, Denny O’Neil, David Michelinie, Howard Chaykin, Archie Goodwin, John Buscema, John Byrne, Gene Day, Richard Howell, Ron Frenz, Kerry Gammill, Dan Reed, Luke McDonnell & various (Dark Horse/Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-246-8 (Dark Horse TPB) 978-1-84576-808-9 (Titan TPB)

Although dormant for the moment, Dark Horse Comics have held the comics-producing franchise for Indiana Jones since 1993: generating thousands of pages of material, much of it excellent and some not quite. It might be construed as heretical to say it, but dedicated film fans aren’t all that quality conscious when it comes to their particular fascination, whether it’s games about finding Atlantis or the latest watered-down kids’ interpretation or whatever.

The Dark Horse Omnibus line is a wonderfully economical way to keep older material in print for such fans by bundling old publications into classy, full-colour digests. They’re slightly smaller than US comic-books but larger than a standard tankōbon manga volume, running about 400 pages per book, but not all of them are available in digital editions at the moment.

This initial Indy volume (of three) chronologically re-presents the first dozen Marvel Comics (the original license holder) interpretations which followed the film Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as including the 3-issue miniseries adaptation by Walt Simonson, John Buscema & Klaus Janson that preceded that celluloid landmark. I’m being this specific because the comic version was also released as a single glossy, enhanced-colour magazine in the Marvel Super Special series (#18: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, if you’re curious).

And, just in case you’re the one who hasn’t seen the film… Set in the days before World War II, Hitler’s paranormal investigation division gathers occult artifacts from around the planet and soon crosses swords with a rough and ready archaeology professor from a New York university. Soon the unconventional Doctor Indiana Jones is scammed by the US government into tracking down his old tutor: a savant who might have knowledge of the biblical and mystically potent Ark of the Covenant…

Although Abner Ravenwood has since died, his daughter Marion possesses the clues the Jones needs. Unfortunately, she’s also an old flame he abandoned and would rather burn in hell than help him…

However, when the Nazis turn up and try to torch her in the Nepalese bar she washed up in, Marion joins Jones in a breakneck chase across the globe from Cairo to the lost city of Tanis to a secret Nazi submarine base on a tropical island, fighting natives and Nazis every step of the way until the ancient artifact separates the just from the wicked in a spectacular and terrifying display of Old Testament style Wrath…

The movie’s format – baffling search for a legendary object, utterly irredeemable antagonists, exotic locales, non-stop chase action, outrageous fights and just a hint of eldritch overtones – became the staple for the comic book series that followed, opening in impressive manner with ‘The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones’ a 2-part yarn from Jack-of-all-genres John Byrne, assisted by Terry Austin, with veteran scripter Denny O’Neil pitching in for the concluding ‘22-Karat Doom!’

When an old student is murdered before his eyes, Indy swears to complete the lad’s research, subsequently trekking through Africa in search of a tribe who can turn men to gold. He is never more than one step ahead of a maniac millionaire with no love of mysteries or antiquities, but is possessed by a deep and abiding love of profit…

That adventure ends with our hero plunging out of a doomed plane and into issue #3’s American-set adventure ‘The Devil’s Cradle’ (by O’Neil, Gene Day, Richard Howell, Mel Candido & Danny Bulanadi) wherein he lands in a hillbilly wilderness where a rogue US Army Colonel and a band of witch-burning yokels are separately hunting a 400 year-old alchemist with all the secrets of the ages at his fingertips…

David Michelinie, Ron Frenz & Bulanadi’s ‘Gateway to Infinity!’ then sees the archaeological adventurer en route to Stonehenge, courtesy of the US government, as a ring of Nazi spies again fail to kill him. Hitler’s spies and parapsychologists are still hunting preternatural artifacts and the crystal cylinder uncovered at the ancient monument definitely qualifies. English professor Karen Mays dates it to the Triassic period, millions of years before Man evolved, so the murderous Aryans will stop at nothing to make it theirs…

Luckily for Jones and Mays – but not the Reich – the spies eventually succeed. However, to their eternal regret their vile machinations unleash ‘The Harbingers’ and only Indy’s swift reactions prevent a horror beyond time escaping into our world.

Jazz Age mastermind Howard Chaykin joins Austin to illustrate the wonderfully classy ‘Club Nightmare’ (plotted by Archie Goodwin and scripted by Michelinie) as Marion opens a swanky Manhattan night-spot only to run afoul of mobsters and worse even before it opens. With Indy on hand to save the day, the situation swiftly goes from calamitous to disastrous…

Michelinie, Kerry Gammill & Sam de La Rosa soon have the hero globe-trotting again in ‘Africa Screams’, as a tussle in Tuscany with tomb-robber Ian McIver provides a solid clue to an even deeper mystery. Following an old map, Indy and Marion are soon on their way to the Dark Continent in search of the legendary Shintay – a tribe of pale giants, outcast from and last survivors of fabled Atlantis…

Unfortunately, McIver and those ever-eager Nazi scavengers are also on the trail and in ‘Crystal Death’ the vast power of the Shintay nearly wipes out half of Africa…

Issues #9 and 10 find our artifact hunter the target of a sinister plot by German spies and Aztec wannabees in ‘The Gold Goddess: Xomec’s Raiders’ (Goodwin, Michelinie, Dan Reed & Bulanadi), leading to a series of death-defying battles in the lofty heights of the Big Apple and the depths of the Brazilian jungle

This volume concludes in epic style with a breathtaking global duel and a brand-new villain as Indy is seduced by nefarious antiquities collector Ben Ali Ayoob into hunting down a persistent Biblical myth: ‘The Fourth Nail’.

In ‘Blood and Sand’, Jones travels from the Australian Outback to Barcelona trying to find the unused final spike that should have ended Christ’s suffering on the Cross, but his quest is dogged by bad luck, Arabic ninjas, guardian gypsies, immense insane bandits and irascible bulls looking for a handy matador to mangle…

The perilous pilgrimage reaches an inevitable conclusion in ‘Swords and Spikes’ (with additional art from Luke McDonnell and Mel Candido), a cavalcade of carnage, breakneck action and supernatural retribution.

With a covers gallery from such able and diverse hands as James T. Sherman, Walt Simonson, Terry Austin, Byrne, Howell & Armando Gil, Frenz, Mike Gustovich, Chaykin, Gammill, Bob Wiacek and Bob McLeod, this is a splendid chunk of simple escapist fun: the type of buried treasure any fan of any age would be delighted to unearth and rejoice over.
™ &© 1981, 1983, 2009 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Scorpion volume 1: The Devil’s Mark


By Stephen Desberg & Enrico Marini, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-62-5 (Album PB)

We in the English-speaking world will have to work long and hard to come anywhere near the astonishing breadth of genres present in European comics. Both in scenario and narrative content, our continental cousins have seemingly explored every aspect of time and place to tell tales ranging from comedy to tragedy, drama to farce and most especially encompassing the broad, treasure-laden churches of adventure and romance. Le Scorpion is a graphic series which embraces and accommodates all of these and more…

Belgian writer Stephen Desberg is one of the most popular and bestselling comics authors in the business. Born in Brussels, he is the son of an American lawyer (European distribution agent for Metro-Goldwyn Mayer) who married a French woman. He began studying law at Université Libre de Bruxelles, but dropped out to follow a winding path into the bande dessinée biz.

It began with plots – and eventually scripts – for Willy Maltaite – AKA “Will” – on Tif et Tondu in Le Journal de Spirou, growing into a reliable jobbing creator on established strips for younger readers and ultimately launching his own with Billy the Cat (a funny-animal strip) drawn by Stéphane Colman, not the be-whiskered boy superhero of DC Thomson fame). In quick succession came 421 with Eric Maltaite, Arkel (with Marc Hardy), Jimmy Tousseul (Daniel Desorgher) and many, many more. Throughout the 1980s, Desberg gradually redirected his efforts into material for older readerships (such as The Garden of Desire) and in 1999 he originated contemporary thriller IR$, with this historical romp joining his catalogue of major hits a year later.

Enrico Marini attended the School of Fine Arts in Bêle before starting his creative career. Drawn since childhood to comics and manga, he began selling his artistic skills as the 1980s ended. A stint on junior adventure strip Oliver Varèseled to Gypsy (1993-1996), after which he began collaborating with Desberg on western L’Étoile du Desert. Contiguously crafting detective serial Rapaces with Jean Dufaux, Marini teamed again with Desberg in 2000 on Le Scorpion. In 2007, the illustrator added writing to his repertoire with historical drama Les Aigles de Rome

A complex historical romp in the movie style of Robin Hood, the Three Musketeers, and even, if you squint right, Dangerous Liaisons, The Scorpion is a devious rollercoaster of sumptuous epic intrigue with cunning factual underpinnings fuelling frantic fantasy and chilling conspiracy. This first expansive English-language translation from Cinebook is available in album-sized paperback and eBook formats, bundling together the first two European tomes – La marque du diable and Le secret du pape from October 2000 and October 2001 – into one grand bulging behemoth of literary and pictorial gold.

The fun starts in The Devil’s Mark, opening with a fulsome flashback to the most critical moment in the mighty Roman Empire’s long history. At a place and time where nine families secretly own and rule everything, a pact is made which places all their resources – if not actual Faith – in the coming thing: a new religion to be called Christianity. The families will remain in charge and in control, but now the official face and might of Rome will not be short-lived Caesars, but rather Popes…

Tumbling forward to the early 18th century, we see roguish conman, historian, tomb-robber and relic retailer Armando Catalano – and his capable but constantly carping assistant Hussard – deftly swiping the bones of long-lost Saint Alastor. The affable scoundrels are blithely unaware that, elsewhere malign forces within the Church are mobilising to change the way the world runs with especial significance to freewheeling entrepreneurs like themselves…

The current Pope is a well-meaning, unconventional commoner set on a path of reform, but that doesn’t matter to Monsignor Trebaldi. Even though doctrine should make the Pope infallible, literally God’s hand and word on Earth, the militant cleric gives his allegiance to an older belief than Christianity…

“Cardinal Eagle” has decided to reinstate the direct influence of the nine families using the papacy as his tool of statecraft. That means somehow first reuniting the varied clans who have drifted into isolation and bitter rivalry over centuries. The first step has already been accomplished. Cosmopolitan Rome is now heavily policed by the Order of the Knights of Christianity: warrior monks who are The Eagle’s own paramilitary zealots and a militant faction gaining in strength despite every effort of the incumbent Pontiff to reign them in…

Devil-may-care Armando is the son of Magdalena Catalan, an infamous witch burned for seducing a high-ranking priest away from the one true faith. As sign of his ill-begotten origins, their son bears a birthmark of the devil on his shoulder: a scorpion signalling his diabolical origins. It has not stopped him becoming well-known to every rich patron desperate to possess holy relics, but now, inexplicably, makes him Trebaldi’s personal obsession…

However, after the Cardinal despatches seductive gypsy Mejai to assassinate him, her repeated attempts all fail. It is as if her target has the luck of the devil on his side…

Alerted and affronted, Armando retaliates, even breaking into a palace to have a discussion with the Pope, only to discover a previously-hidden connection between Trebaldi and his own long-dead mother and that an even greater scandal and mystery have been draped around the circumstances of his birth…

The war of wills escalates rapidly, and the Scorpion finally confronts the Cardinal… seemingly paying the ultimate price…

The drama continues in The Pope’s Secret with an hallucinogenic flashback offering even more clues into the astoundingly long-planned conspiracy, via a glimpse at Armando’s early life following Magdalena’s execution. This ends abruptly as faithful Hussard rouses him from the death-like coma caused by Mejai’s latest attempt to kill them. With the gypsy their prisoner, they seek further information regarding which high-ranking churchman was Armando’s debauched father and boldly infiltrate the Eagle’s citadel. They discover instead that the Cardinal has appropriated the Secret Files of the Vatican, planning to kill the Pope and replace him…

The outlaws are horrified at this travesty and assault on reality. They frantically race back to Rome to halt the abomination. They almost make it…

To Be Continued…

Effortlessly combining devious plots and beguiling historical conspiracies with riotous swashbuckling adventure and non-stop, breathtaking action, this blistering, bombastic and exotically engaging period thriller gives Game of Thrones, The Name of the Rose and even frothier romps like Da Vinci’s Demons a real run for their money. The twelfth and latest volume Le Mauvais Augurearrived last year after far too long a hiatus, so there’s plenty for fans of the genre to catch-up to and adore…
Le Marque du diable & Le Secret du pape © Dargaud Benelux (Dargaud-Lombard SA) 2000, 2001 by Desberg & Marini. All rights reserved. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Killraven Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Don McGregor & P. Craig Russell, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Herb Trimpe, Rich Buckler, Gene Colan, Keith Giffen & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1135-5 (HB)

When the first flush of the 1960s superhero revival began to fade at the end of the decade, Marvel – who had built their own resurgent renaissance on the phenomenon – began desperately casting around for new concepts to sustain their hard-won impetus. The task was especially difficult as the co-architect of their success (and the greatest and most experienced ideas-man in comics) had jumped ship to arch-rival National/DC, where Jack’s Kirby’s battalion of Fourth World series, The Demon, Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth, OMAC and other innovations were opening up new worlds of adventure to the ever-changing readership.

Although a global fascination with the supernatural had gripped the public – resulting in a huge outpouring of mystery and horror comics – other tried-&-true genre favourites were also revived and rebooted for modern sensibilities: westerns, war, humour, romance, sword & sorcery and science fiction…

At this time Stan Lee’s key assistant and star writer was (former-English teacher and lover of literature) Roy Thomas. As he gained editorial power Thomas increasingly dictated the direction of Marvel: creating new concepts and securing properties that could be given the “Marvel Treatment”. In a decade absolutely packed with innovative trial-&-error concepts, the policy had already paid huge dividends with the creation of Tomb of Dracula, Monster of Frankenstein and Werewolf by Night, whilst the brilliantly compelling Conan the Barbarian had quickly resulted in a whole new comicbook genus…

This hardback/digital compilation collects the bold and mercurial science-fiction thriller from Amazing Adventures #18-39, as well as the saga’s notional conclusion in Marvel Graphic Novel #7: an eclectic and admittedly inconsistent hero-history that has at times been Marvel’s absolute best and strong contender for worst character, in a sporadic career spanning May 1973 to 1983.

The feature struggled for a long time to carve out a solid identity for itself, but finally found a brilliantly effective and fantastically poetic voice when scripter Don McGregor arrived – and stayed – slowly recreating the potential epic into a perfectly crafted examination of contemporary American society in crisis; proving the old adage that all science fiction is about the Present and not the Future….

He was ideally complimented in his task by fellow artisan P. Craig Russell whose beautifully raw yet idealised art matured page by page over the long, hard months he illustrated the author’s increasingly powerful and evocative scripts.

The tone of those times is scrupulously recalled in McGregor’s Introduction before Marvels most successful Future Past opens…

The dystopian tomorrow first dawned in Amazing Adventures #18, conceived by Thomas & Neal Adams – before being ultimately scripted by Gerry Conway – wherein a ‘Prologue: 2018 A.D.’ introduces a New York City devastated by invasion and overrun by mutants, monsters and cyborgs all scavenging for survival.

The creative process was a very troubled one. Adams left the project in the middle of illustrating the debut episode, leaving Howard Chaykin & Frank Chiaramonte to flesh out the tale of how, at the turn of the 20th century, a refugee mother sacrifices her life defending her two young sons from terrifying alien Tripods and the vile human turncoats who had early switched allegiance to their revolting, human-eating new masters…

Nearly two decades later, escaped gladiator Killraven overcomes all odds to kill a monstrous genetic manipulator dubbed the Keeper and save his brother Joshua, only to discover his sibling long gone and his despised tormentor grateful for death.

The elderly scientist had been compelled to perform countless mutagenic experiments for his alien masters but had secretly enacted a Machiavellian double-cross, creating hidden powers in Jonathan Raven which might eventually overthrow the conquerors. All the boy had to do was survive their horrific arena games until he was old enough to rebel against the Martians who have occupied Earth since 2001…

With his dying breath, Keeper provides his uneducated murderer with the history of ‘The War of the Worlds!’: of Free Mankind’s furious futile, atomic last stand and how the alien conquerors had possessed the shattered remnants of Earth…

Keeper reveals how gladiatorial training and scientific abuses shaped Killraven into the perfect tool of liberation and retribution, even to the warrior’s recent escape and first attempts at raising a resistance movement. However, just as the story ends, the designated-liberator realises he has tarried too long and mutant monsters close in…

The adventure resumed in #19 as Killraven narrowly escapes the psionic snares of ‘The Sirens of 7th Avenue’ (by Conway, Chaykin & Frank McLaughlin) and the other myriad terrors of the devastated metropolis to link up with second-in-command M’Shulla and strike a heavy blow against the alien butchers by destroying two hulking mechanical Tripods.

Newly elevated by the conquerors to the status of genuine threat, the rebel and his followers plan a raid on a New Jersey base but are instead captured by the mesmerising Skarlet, Queen of the Sirens, who hands them over to the Martian governing the city…

Forced to fight a mutated monstrosity in the alien’s private arena, Killraven unexpectedly turns the tables and drives off the gelatinous horror before boldly declaring he is the guardian of Mankind’s heritage and will make Earth free again…

Amazing Adventures #20 was written by Marv Wolfman, with Herb Trimpe & Frank Giacoia illustrating ‘The Warlord Strikes!’, wherein the Freemen raid a museum and acquire weapons and armaments, and create a brand-new look for Killraven…

Easily defeating the traitorous lackeys of the Martian Masters, the rebels are blithely unaware that the carnivorous extraterrestrial devils have deployed their latest tool: a cruelly augmented old enemy who hunts them down and easily overcomes their primitive guns, swords and crossbows with his own onboard cyborg arsenal…

The ambitious new series was already floundering and dearly needed a firm direction and steady creative hands, so it’s lucky that the concluding chapter in #21 (November 1973) saw the debut of Don F. McGregor: a young ambitious and lyrically experimental writer who slowly brought depth of character and plot cohesiveness to a strip which had reached uncanny levels of cliché in only three issues.

With Trimpe & “Yolande Pijcke” illustrating, ‘The Mutant Slayers!’ began the necessary task of re-establishing the oppressive, hopeless, all-pervasive horror and loss of Well’s original novel. Determined to translate the concept into modern terms for the new generation of intellectual, comics-reading social insurgent, McGregor also took the opportunity to introduce the first of a string of complex, controversial – and above all, powerful – female characters into the mix…

Carmilla Frost is a feisty, sharp-tongued geneticist and molecular biologist ostensibly faithful to her Martian masters, but she takes the earliest opportunity to betray their local human lieutenant to help Killraven and the Freemen escape the Warlord’s brutal clutches. For her own closely-guarded reasons, she and her bizarrely devoted monster anthropoid Grok the Clonal Man join the roving revolutionaries in their quest across the shattered continent…

In issue #22 (art by Trimpe & Chiaramonte), the motley crew arrive in America’s former capital and encounter a ‘Washington Nightmare!’ After defeating a band of slavers led by charismatic bravo Sabre, Killraven forms an uneasy alliance with local rebel leader Mint Julep and her exclusively female band of freedom-fighters.

The green-skinned warrior woman has also battled Sabre and cautiously welcomes Killraven’s offer of assistance in rescuing her captured comrades from the literal meat-market of the Lincoln Memorial, where flesh-peddling mutant horror Abraxas auctions tasty human morsels to extraterrestrial patrons.

The raid goes badly and Killraven ends up on the conquerors’ menu in ‘The Legend Assassins!’, before the liberated resistance fighters unite in a last-ditch attempt to save their tempestuous leader from The High Overlord. The captured leader, meanwhile, finds himself main course in a public propaganda-feeding/execution, about to be devoured by a debased vermin-controlling freak named Rattack

The hero’s faithful followers – including gentle, simple-minded strongman Old Skull and embittered Native American Hawk – arrive just in time to join the furious fray in #24’s spectacular ‘For He’s a Jolly Dead Rebel’ (inked by Jack Abel) but their escape is only temporary before they are quickly recaptured. Their valiant example impresses more than one disaffected collaborator, however. When former foes led by Sabre unite in battle against the Martian Overlord, the result is a shattering defeat for the once-unbeatable oppressors…

A returning nemesis for the charismatic rebel and his freedom fighters debuted in Amazing Adventures #25. ‘The Devil’s Marauder’ (art by Rich Buckler & Klaus Janson), sees Killraven inconclusively clash with cyclopian Martian flunky Skar. During the battle, the hard-pressed human is unexpectedly gripped by a manifestation of hidden psychic power – granting him visions he cannot comprehend…

Travelling across country, the rebels stumble onto another forgotten glory of Mankind’s past in the state once called Indiana. The race circuit of the Indianapolis 500 is now a testing-ground for new terror-tripods and thus a perfect target for sabotage. However, when the fury-filled Killraven tackles human-collaborators and Skar resurfaces, the incensed insurgent steps too far over ‘The Vengeance Threshold!’

Gene Colan & Dan Adkins illustrated #26’s ‘Something Worth Dying For!’ as the Freemen reach Battle Creek, Michigan and the Rebel Rouser encounters a feral snake/horse hybrid he simply must possess. Soon after the band is ambushed by human outlaws guarding a fabulous ancient treasure at the behest of petty tyrant Pstun-Rage the Vigilant

Since the place was once the site of America’s breakfast cereal empire and this wry yarn is filled with oblique in-jokes – many of the villains’ names are anagrams of Kellogg’s cereals – you can imagine the irony-drenched secret of the hoard the defenders give their lives to protect and pragmatic Killraven’s reaction to it all…

The drama kicks into spectacular high gear with AA #27 and the arrival of P. Craig Russell (inked by Jack Abel) for the start of a dark epic entitled ‘The Death Breeders’.

Whilst crossing frozen Lake Michigan in March 2019, the band is attacked by monstrous lampreys and Grok suffers a wound which will eventually prove fatal…

McGregor loathed the notion of simplistic, problem-solving, consequence-free violence which most entertainment media slavishly thrived on. He frequently tried to focus on some of the real-world repercussions such acts should and would result in…

The heroes headed to what was once Chicago; now a vast industrialised breeding-pen to farm human babies for Martian consumption. En route, they met pyrokinetic mutant Volcana Ash, who has her own tragic reason for scouting the ghastly palaces of Death-Birth

While the new allies undertake an explosively expensive sortie against the Death Breeders, in the far-distant halls of the Martian Kings of Earth the Warlord is tasking the repaired Skar with a new mission: hunt down Killraven and destroy not only the man, but most importantly the legend of hope and liberation that has grown around him…

In #28 (pencilled, inked and even coloured by Russell in the original) Ash reveals her horrific origins and the purpose of her quest as the Freemen battle monsters thriving in the chemically compromised lake. Elsewhere, chief butcher The Sacrificer watches his depraved boss Atalon live up to his decadent reputation as ‘The Death Merchant!’: emotionally tenderising the frantic “Adams and Eves” whose imminent newborns will be the main course for visiting Martian dignitaries…

Everything changes during Killraven’s fateful raid to liberate the human cattle. When the disgusted hero skewers one of the extraterrestrial horrors, he experiences severe psychic feedback and realises at last his debilitating, disorienting visions are an unsuspected ability to tap into Martian minds…

And in the wastelands, Skar murderously retraces the Freemen’s route, getting closer and closer to a final showdown…

With Amazing Adventures #29 the series was rebranded Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds and ‘The Hell Destroyers’ reveals the rebel leader’s greatest victory, inspiring thousands of freshly-liberated earthlings by utterly destroying the temple of atrocity before gloriously escaping into the wilderness and a newborn mythology…

The pace of even a bi-monthly series was crippling to perfectionist Russell, and ‘The Rebels of January and Beyond!’ in #30 was a frantic 6-page melange from him, Adkins, Trimpe, Chiaramonte & Abel, all graphically treading water as The Warlord “reviewed” (admittedly beautiful) fact-file pages on Killraven, M’Shulla and Mint Julep.

The saga continued in #31 on ‘The Day the Monuments Shattered’ wherein McGregor & Russell close the Death Breeders storyline in stunning style. Pursued by Atalon and The Sacrificer into the icy wilds from Gary, Indiana to St. Louis where broken Earth outcasts hide as the Twilight People, the fugitives take refuge in a cavern. This is to allow an accompanying Eve to give birth in safety, but only leads to an attack by a monolithic mutant monster just as their pursuers find them. The battle changes the landscape and ends three ghastly travesties forever…

In #32, ‘Only the Computer Shows Me Any Respect!’ (art by Russell & Dan Green) sees the reduced team in devastated Nashville, where Killraven, M’Shulla, Carmilla, Old Skull and Hawk wander into leftover holographic fantasy programs conjuring both joy and regret, even as Skar’s tripod brings him ever-closer to a longed-for rematch.

Things turn nasty when Hawk’s painful memories of his father’s addictions to fantasy detective Hodiah Twist then manifest as cruelly realised threats and the malfunctioning program materialises a brutally solid savage dragon…

Issue #33 was another deadline-busting fill-in. Written by Bill Mantlo and illustrated by Trimpe & D. Bruce Berry, ‘Sing Out Loudly… Death!’ finds the Freemen sheltering from the elements in a vast cave and discovering a hostile tribe of refugee African Americans who had returned to tribal roots in the aftermath of invasion. The hidden wild men observed only one rule – kill all honkies – but that changed once Killraven saved them from a marauding giant octo-beastie…

The long-delayed clash with Skar at last occurred in #34 as the cyborg ambushes the wanderers when they reach Chattanooga, Tennessee resulting in ‘A Death in the Family’ (McGregor & Russell) – two deaths, actually – before the heartbroken, enraged Warrior of the Worlds literally tears his gloating nemesis to pieces…

Amazing Adventures #35 followed the epic tragedy as the last battered survivors stumble into Atlanta, Georgia and meet ‘The 24-Hour Man’ (McGregor & Russell, with finishes by Keith Giffin & Abel), encountering an addled new mother and instant widow, even as Carmilla is abducted by a bizarre mutant with an irresistible and inescapably urgent biological imperative…

‘Red Dust Legacy’ (illustrated by Russell & Sonny Trinidad) focuses on Killraven’s ever-developing psychic powers with the charismatic champion gaining unwelcome insights into the Martian psyche, even as The Warlord travels to Yellowstone and taunts the rebel leader with news that his long-lost brother Joshua still lives. The hero has no idea it is as an indoctrinated pawn codenamed Death Raven

The self-appointed defender of humanity then invades a replica Martian environment in Georgia, shockingly destroying the Martians’ entire next generation by contaminating their incubators…

Inked by Abel, #37 reveals the origins of affable Old Skull in ‘Arena Kill!’ when the wanderers discover a clandestine enclave of humans in the Okefenokee Wildlife Preserve before one final fill-in – by Mantlo, Giffin & Al Milgrom – appeared in #38. ‘Death’s Dark Dreamer!’ sees Killraven separated and stumbling into a wrecked but still functional dream-dome to battle the materialised fantasies of its ancient occupant. His pre-invasion, memories-fuelled attacks reconstitute strangely familiar defenders patterned after Iron Man, Man-Thing, Dr. Strange and almost every other hero you could think of…

The beautiful, troubled and doomed saga stopped – but did not end – with Amazing Adventures #39 (November 1976) as McGregor & Russell introduced the decimated Band of Brothers to an incredible new life-form in ‘Mourning Prey’. This beguiling meeting of vastly different beings pauses the voyages on a satisfyingly upbeat note, with understanding and forgiveness wining out over suspicion and ingrained violence for once…

And that’s where the gloriously unique, elegiac, Art Nouveau fantasy vanished with no comfortable resolution until 1983 when Marvel Graphic Novel #7 featured an all-new collaboration by McGregor and Russell starring Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds.

That painted full-colour extravaganza is reproduced here and commences after a catch-up Prologue and six pages of character profiles to bring readers old and new up to speed…

‘Last Dreams Broken’ opens in February 2020 at Cape Canaveral where Killraven connects again to a distant consciousness and sets off for Yellowstone in search of answers to inexpressible questions…

Along the way the rebels meet 59-year old Jenette Miller – probably the last surviving astronaut on Earth – as ‘Cocoa Beach Blues’ finds her teaching the warrior wanderers some history and human perspective in between the constant daily battles, whilst in ‘Blood and Passion’ The Warlord prepares his deadliest trap for his despised antagonist as Killraven is finally reunited with Joshua. The drama runs its inevitable course in ‘Let it Die Like Fourth of July’ as all the hero’s hopes and fears are cataclysmically realised…

McGregor’s long-anticipated conclusion did not disappoint and even set up a new beginning…

Also included here is the text introduction page from Amazing Adventures #18 for a fascinating insight into Roy Thomas’ expectations of what became a landmark of visual narrative poetry that was far beyond its time and mass audience’s taste. These are augmented by working materials – notes, photos, plots and more – from McGregor’s copious files, plus house ads. Also on view are a Russell pin-up from Marvel Fanfare #45, and the Killraven-starring wraparound cover to The Official Marvel Index to Marvel Team-Up #3 by Sandy Plunkett & Russell and an expansive Biographies section on the many creators who contributed to this unique series…

Confused, convoluted, challenging, controversial (this series contained the first ever non-comedic interracial kiss in American comics – in 1975 if you can believe it!), evocative, inspirational and always entertaining, this is graphic narrative no serious fan or fantasy addict should miss. Do it now: the future is not your friend and Mars needs readers…
© 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1983, 2001, 2005 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

Mickey’s Craziest Adventures


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Age of Reptiles Omnibus volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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