Jaimie Smart’s Bunny Vs Monkey: Rise of the Maniacal Badger


By Jaimie Smart, with Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-280-9 (TPB) 978-1-78845-118-5 (Waterstones Exclusive Edition)

Bunny vs. Monkey has been a staple of comics phenomenon The Phoenix since the very first issue in 2012: recounting a madcap vendetta gripping animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia masquerading as more-or-less mundane but critically endangered English woodlands.

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by cartoonist, comics artist and novelist Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Looshkin; Flember), the trendsetting, mindbending yarns have been wisely retooled as graphic albums available in remastered, double-length digest editions such as this one.

All the tail-biting tension and animal argy-bargy began yonks ago after an obnoxious little beast popped up in the wake of a disastrous British space shot. After crashlanding in Crinkle Woods – scant miles from his launch site – lab animal Monkey believed himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite all efforts from reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative forest resident Bunny to dissuade him. For all his patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine just could not contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who was – and is – a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating loutish troublemaker…

Problems are exacerbated by the other unconventional Crinkle creatures, particularly a skunk called Skunky who has a mad scientist’s attitude to life and a propensity to build extremely dangerous robots and super-weapons…

Here – with artistic assistance from Sammy Borras – the war of nerves and mega-ordnances resumes and intensifies. The unruly assortment of odd critters loitering around and cluttering up the bucolic paradise have finally picked sides: shifting and twisting into bipartisan factionalism. They all seem to have forgotten that rapidly encroaching Hyoomanz as they respond to another personal crisis and the rise to power of an unsuspected third force in woodland politics…

As ever divided into seasonal outbursts, the saga starts slowly with a chilly teaser tale as Winter ends in the ‘Thaw of the Snow-Bots’…

The assorted animals have been in stasis in a giant freezer, and once fire-breathing snowmen attack, they decide it’s best to have a little more kip… or do they?

The story actually resumes in Spring and the far future where time-traveller Ai – a superfast Ai-Ai not naturally indigenous to our sylvan glades and endangered shores – learns of a disaster that’s history here but her tomorrow. A good person, she undertakes ‘The Journey Home’ but arrives too late as ‘A Rather Maniacal Badger’ details how the woods have been conquered at last…

Previously, a catastrophic rivalry erupted when rival evil genius Maniacal Badger vied with Skunky for the title of “The Most Brilliant Animal in the Woods”. Now, while everyone was hibernating, the black-&-white bounder has occupied the region and established a base in a 50-foot (15-24 meters) high statue of himself as the first step in building his dream of Badgertopia.

The shock of defeat particularly affects Skunky, who descends into a spiral of depression and lowering esteem…

Universal innocents Weenie squirrel and Pig have their own way of de-stressing and not even roving robot drones can upset ‘A Quiet, Uneventful Day’ on the lake. Old animosities are paused and enemies become temporary allies planning to resist through ‘Distraction’ and strategic deployment of brain-battered, bewildered suicide bomber/former stuntman Action Beaver, but when that scheme flops we instead focus on ‘A Sad Skunk’ as the original mad scientist undergoes an existential crisis and needs Bunny to share it with…

The relative inactivity soon triggers his robot back-up to mischief mode, but even ‘Mecha Skunky!’ is not immune to the doldrums and there’s nothing ‘Action Beaver!’ can do to rectify the situation, especially after the badger activates a gross flying terror who swallows everybody in ‘The Whale!’

Having retreated to the tunnels built by long-gone but not forgotten local legend Fantastic Le Fox, the uneasy animal animals hide from the tyrant’s tantrums in ‘Too Noisy!’: unexpectedly discovering a hidden, weapon-stocked lair that will be the base for their fight back… once they have safely reassembled ‘All the Toys in the Toyshop!’

Although initial giant robot ‘Battle Bat!’ spectacularly fails, resistance efforts continue, but Monkey is easily distracted and soon moves to make his own empire in ‘Monkeyopia Rises!’ and as Summer begins ‘Divisions!’ proliferate. Before long the war with Bunny flares up again and instantly moves into the province of war crimes as the simian unleashes his flatulence-powered ‘Rofl-Copter!’

Weenie and Pig go on a ‘Treasure Hunt!’ in the mouldering pile of toxic rubbish kindly left by the Hyoomanz, but find no shield from the badger’s latest infamy: mind controlling everyone and turning the Woods into his digital plaything in ‘Game Over!’

A brief diversion follows in an exclusive Bunny vs Monkey Detective Story, but ‘The Curious Case of the Pig in the Night-Time’ is less baffling than Bunny’s failure to join mystic brotherhood ‘The Order of the Moose’…

When young Hyoomanz find themselves ‘(Not) Alone in the Woods’ during a class trip one little girl renews her old acquaintance with Metal Steve after he saves them from Maniac Badger attacks, whilst elsewhere ‘Monst-Ughs!’ run wild after improper use of Skunky’s old monster ray, leading to a glimpse at the tyrant’s origins and family issues in ‘The Making of a Maniacal Badger!’

Incorrigible Monkey then loses control of marauding robot ‘Doom Fists!’ after he is attacked by his wicked doppelganger Evil Monkey and partner in crimes Evil Monkey Wife, whilst elsewhere Skunky recovers some of life’s zest after helping Weenie and Pig repair one of the badger’s ‘Evil Drones!’

Three part saga ‘The Saving of Skunky!’ sees order restored after the badger’s plan to kidnap Skunky and steal what’s left of his evil genius goes awry. Trapped together in the Dark Woods, the skunk experiences a ghastly visitation and by the time the Maniacal one gets back to his conquered kingdom, there’s a restored archenemy waiting to deliver ‘A Sharp Shock’ with electrified clouds and a Zeus costume…

Badger’s retaliation is ancient thought monster ‘Ragnaggtrix!’ but there’s an inherent flaw in something dependent on belief that the evil genius didn’t consider. Thankfully, Skunky is preoccupied ‘Distracting the Monkey!’ from cadging more superweapons to misuse…

Bunny becomes guinea pig when Skunky and Monkey test emotion-warping Mind Mines in ‘Highly Strung!’ and as ‘Autumn begins The Rise of an Empire!’ finds expansionist Monkeytopia devasted by its ruler’s idiocy, even as the badger traps the woodland creatures inside his new phone app in ‘Game On!’ It’s a huge, costly mistake…

‘Balloonacy!’ breaks out when Weenie and Pig try to attend Ai’s birthday party, before a new character debuts. ‘Lucky!’ is a red panda who escaped a lab doing weird experiments. It might not have been in time though, since the three-way war for supremacy in the woods triggers an odd reaction…

The action and drama ramp up for a big finish as Badger is made to clean his room and employs the ‘Doomsday Device!’ that opens portals to Hell. Shame about his mum and dad…

Skunky makes a silly mistake and gives the wrong animal some atomic powered ‘Explosive Sweets!’ which makes Halloween’s ‘Fright Night!’ Scare-Off pretty anticlimactic war, before another peek at the future reveals the legend of ‘Jetpack Beaver!’

A distant relative tries to make one woodland weirdo ‘Pigging Rich!’ with little success, after which a bad tooth and unwise consultation with Skunky results in Monkey taking a big bite out of everything in ‘Chomp!’

The cataclysmic end begins when the Maniacal one pressgangs ‘The Badger Army’ to do his bidding but forgets the species’ tendency to unionise even as Skunky creates a ‘Terraforming Orb!!’ to purpose-build a new world. It’s a shame Monkey dropped it on his own head while it was switched on…

Winter begins with 3-chapter epic ‘A Very Badger Christmas’ that delivers shocking big reveals, pulls all the plot threads of the past year together, ends the world and still leaves rueful survivors wondering what comes next in ‘Aftermath’. Whatever you think happened you’re wrong, so you just have to buy this book to see how…

The animal anarchy might end for now there’s one more secret to share with detailed instructions on ‘How to Draw Maniacal Badger’ so, as well as beguiling your young ’uns with stories, you can use this book to teach them a trade…

The zany zenith of absurdist adventure, Bunny vs Monkey is weird wit, brilliant invention, potent sentiment and superb cartooning crammed into one eccentrically excellent package: never failing to deliver jubilant joy for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids. This is the kind of comic parents beg kids to read to them. Is that you yet?

Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2022. All rights reserved.
Bunny vs Monkey: Rise of the Maniacal Badger is published on July 7th 2022 and is available for pre-order now.

Dungeon: Twilight Vols. 1-2 – Cemetery of the Dragon


By Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim & Kerascoet, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-293-9, (TPB/Digital)

Somewhere way out there, is a planet called Terra Amata. On this populated world of rich history and diverse ways of life, there’s a magic castle in a fantastic land of miracles, quests and adventures. There was once also a rather dangerous meeting place called the Dungeon…

As primarily crafted by prolific artisans Joann Sfar (Le Ministère secret, Professeur Bell, Les olives noires, The Rabbi’s Cat) and Lewis Trondheim (Kaput and Zösky, Little Nothings, Stay, Ralph Azham) in collaboration with assorted associates of their New Wave-ish collective of bande dessinée creators (most often seen under the aegis of L’Association) – the Donjon saga has generated more than fifty volumes since debuting in 1998 and become a cult hit all over the world. It began as a fanciful spoof/parody of roleplaying fantasy games, but as so often with stories of innate charm and high quality, it grew beyond its intentions…

After a cruelly long hiatus, English translations of the epic are at last returned. Repackaged in the first of a series of full-colour paperback collections, the initial quartet of the Donjon Crepuscule series have been rereleased for your delight and delectation.

These tales form a mere sub-division of a vast, eccentrically raucous and addictively wacky generational franchise which welds starkly adult whimsy to the weird worlds of Sword & Sorcery sagas. This resurrected, revised and enlarged (8.5 x 11 inch/ 216 x 279 mm) omnibus Twilight tomes take the loony legion of horribly human anthropomorphic characters into territories even wilder than those seen in Dungeon: Early Years, Parade, Zenith and Monstres. Latterly, new adjuncts such as Antipodes and Bonus have been added to the sprawling braided mega-saga set on an alien world very much like ours in all the ways that really matter…

Dungeon tells the story of Terra Armata in time-separated epochs via periodic glimpses of a fantastic magic castle on a magically unstable world. Anthropomorphic inhabitants of the strangely surreal realm include every kind of talking beast and bug, as well as monsters, demons, smart-a$$es, wizards, politicians and always – in all ways – stroppy women-folk. Whenever and wherever you look there’s always something happening and it’s usually quite odd…

The nominal star is a duck with a magic sword which enabled – and eventually compelled – him to channel and be possessed by dead heroes and monsters. By this declining period on the dying world, legendary hero Herbert of Craftiwich has risen to the unassailable rank of Grand Khan – though he’s still not quite sure how – and the doddering but still puissant old guy is now steeped in Total Evil…

Crafted by Sfar & Trondheim with the latter half illustrated by Kerascoët (Miss Don’t Touch Me; Jolies Ténèbres; Reine Beauté): joint pen name of married French illustrators, comics and animation artists Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset, Cemetery of the Dragon comprises four French albums (Donjon Crepuscule: Le Cimetiere des Dragons, Le Volcan des Vaucanson, Armageddon and Les Dojo du Lagon), spanning 1998-2005. At this time in-world, the planet has ceased spinning, with one half eternally seared whilst the obverse is frozen into chilled darkness. As it just sits rotting in space, life only clings on in the narrow band between the extremes, and is as harsh and unforgiving as it ever was…

We open with the eponymous ‘Cemetery of the Dragon’ as a little talking bat is enticed to become the eyes of immortal blinded dragon and political exile The Dust King. The action prompts a cascade of events which will shake and shatter the dying world. The unchanging saurian is a mage of incredible power under perpetual house arrest on the orders of the Khan and – ravaged by ennui – has decided to die at last. Although Dust King has decided to end it all, he is still too mighty for simple suicide. He needs to journey to a special place and requires a little assistance…

He and the Khan were once great friends, but over intervening eons the potentate had become increasingly wicked and isolated by a coterie of unctuous, ambitious hangers-on and would-be usurpers. The dragon’s decision is detected at the Black Fortress of Gehenna by one of those parasites. Vile functionary Shiwomeez fiendishly facilitates the prisoner’s escape with the tedious journey scrupulously monitored by the malign major domo who also despatches waves of military goons with orders to await an opportune moment to strike.

The last unit have instructions to eradicate the sundry soldiery beside them as the plotter believes the old wizard is travelling to the legendary and mystically significant “Dragon’s Graveyard” and doesn’t want too many menials knowing its location…

The trek is more complex than the sneaky pursuers realise. Dust King needs the assistance of elusive shaman Orlandoh to pass over, and is keenly aware of being followed. When he catches a crazy red rabbit warrior named Marvin the Destroyer, the ancient acts with precipitate haste and almost ends a willing would-be ally…

The obnoxious newcomer – named for a mighty killer of ancient times – attaches himself to the expedition and is stunned to find he is travelling with an old warrior who once also went by the legendary name Marvin…

After finally finding Orlandoh, the Dust King’s necropolitan journey takes a bizarre diversion and, before long, the pilgrims are battling Shiwomeez’s murderous minions and a host of diminutive horrors known as Olfs in their colossal citadel of Poopooloo. At long last the trek ends and the original Marvin prepares to let everything go…

However, in ‘Volcano of the Vaucanson’ events take a bizarre turn after the schemer’s mystic meddling accidentally drags long-eared young Marvin and the bitty bat to the Black Fortress where the crimson crusader’s manic skill with a sword causes utter carnage…

Not only is the pitiful plotter unable to stop the intruder, but Shiwomeez also disturbs the long-distant Grand Khan, calling him back to the mundane world… and the overlord seems to know everything…

Casually blasted back to the Dragon Cemetery, Marvin and the bat can only await further developments…

The Dust King’s demise isn’t going well and after a while the blind antediluvian gives up attempting to expire. Deciding to find what became of his odd acolytes, the testy titan stumbles across red rabbit Marvin dallying with some rather lascivious cat women.

The ancient mage has an announcement: emboldened by his brush with death, he has decided to force a meeting with old friend the Khan. All they have to do is retrace their wearisome path and fight their way through the legions of warriors determined to stop them…

The expedition results in a vast pile of exotic corpses, but one fine day old Marvin and his former friend Herbert have their long-deferred conference. The Dust King pleads with the Grand Khan to renounce Evil and ultimate power. Of course if he does, Terra Amata will begin revolving again and quickly explode…

Naturally, Herbert refuses and – with no other option – the Dust King tries to kill him. The cataclysmic clash ends inconclusively and Herbert, mentally displaced by one of the many monsters which periodically possess him, gives orders for the blind beast and his puny companions’ capture and execution…

Fleeing on giant war-bats into the nocturnal zone the trio soon arrive at the troubled military outpost of Craftiwich, built on a huge volcano. The site is an armoury operated by fanatical duck soldiers, ruled by the Grand Khan’s son Arch-Duke Papsukal. It also houses Herbert’s ogre son Elyacin and libidinous, troublesome daughter Duchess Zakutu. There’s no love lost between this father and these children…

Papsukal is developing firearms and explosive ordnance, so to make conservative warriors give up swordsmanship, he’s ordered all smiths to be hunted down and destroyed. Pretending to be an envoy from the Grand Khan, bunny Marvin tricks the military technicians into fitting him with the first fully-functional suit of nitro-powered super armour…

His impersonation – and assignation with the sexually voracious but insecure Zakutu – come a cropper, however, when the Khan arrives, at the head of an army to resume his death duel with the Dust King…

Now illustrated by Kerascoët, ‘Armageddon’ opens with the fugitives hiding out in a village of cat women. The Dust King had been terribly maimed in his struggle with the Khan but is still unable to die after regaining a terrible power which he anticipated would come in most useful when their pursuers finally catch up with them…

Packing the women off with Red Marvin as guardian, Dust King stays to meet the deadly duck forces. The result is the end of the Khan’s army and ambitions, but in the aftermath, as birdlike shaman Gilberto helps the dragon and his faithful bat hunt down his missing limbs, the surface of Terra Amata detonates, fragmenting into thousands of tiny floating islands above a core of lava…

Jaunting from islet to islet the mystic duo eventually track down old Marvin’s missing parts before landing in the remnants of once-formidable Poopooloo. Here they encounter no Olfs, but a far more deadly, invisible threat. Pausing only to pillage a vast stash of magic botanicals and thaumaturgic vegetable pharmaceuticals, the voyagers flee the hidden horrors before blundering into the free-floating Olf bastion of Boobooloo where they are condemned to death…

Whilst awaiting execution the emotionally repressed Dust King shares some of Gilberto’s plundered stash and in a traumatic daze relives the dogmatic days of dragon philosophy which lost him his family and the subsequent event which cost him his eyes…

When he comes to his senses again the Olf courtroom is a shredded, burning wreck and what few survivors remain are fleeing in terror. Gilberto too has swallowed too many drugs and is stricken with a debilitating possession of incredible new powers. One of them makes him a perfect predictor of every floating island’s path whilst another inflicts random, uncontrollable teleportation upon him…

Forced to escape by more prosaic means (at least by Terra Amata standards), old Marvin and his bat buddy find their own way to Orlandoh and the drifting Hut of Spirits to await fate’s next move…

This first encounter concludes with ‘The Dojo of the Lagoon Hereupon’ as, one day, Red Marvin turns up and is promptly recruited as the Dust King and shamans of the Spirit Hut make plans to combat the remnants of the Grand Khan’s forces. Despatched on an infiltration to the rapidly approaching remnants of Craftiwich, the dry old lizard unexpectedly goes off reservation and drags his bunny disciple to a passing islet inhabited by dragons. As the bunny makes eyes at a reptilian firebrand who subsequently swipes his super-armour, the elder Marvin is meeting a seductive sorceress who was once, so long ago, his wife…

The Dust King is desperate to amend the sacrilege which drove them apart and is astounded when he meets his grandchildren. The rabbit meanwhile has joined a school of dragons learning how to be true warriors. Sadly, he has trouble being taken seriously by the colossal students, let alone their grizzled old tutors. It takes a few pointers from the crestfallen Dust King to make the mockers pay proper attention to his eager friend. Once he’s got them listening, the saurian sage goes about dismantling the doctrinaire dragon religion which cost him his love, his children and his eyes before the heroes return to their shamanic mission in time to rescue Duchess Zakutu from a parched death.

However, taking the faithless trollop back to the dragon isle proves a big – almost fatal – mistake for the besotted rabbit…

To be Continued…

Please be warned that these are welcoming cartoon tales that are a wee bit more sophisticated than general English/American fare. I know you’re okay with them vicariously indulging in extreme and excessive depictions of violence, but if you fear your children, loved ones or servants might be adversely affected by the odd mild swearword or nipples on lady lizards, take what you consider appropriate action. The rest of us will just carry on without you…

Surreal, earthy, sharply poignant, wittily hilarious and brilliantly outlandish, the sophisticated fantasy comedy is subtly addictive to read whilst the vibrant, wildly eccentric cartooning is an absolute marvel of exuberant, graphic style. Definitely not for the younger reader, Dungeon Twilight is the kind of near-the-knuckle, illicit and just plain smart epic older kids and adults will adore, but for a fuller comprehension – and even more insane fun – I strongly recommend acquiring all attendant incarnations too.
© Editions Delcourt 1999-2005. (Donjon Crepescule #101-104, by J. Sfar, L.Trondheim & Kerascoet). © 2006 NBM for the English translation.

Dungeon: Twilight Vols. 1-2 – Cemetery of the Dragon will be released on June 30th 2022 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads please go to http://www.nbmpub.com/

Lifelike


By Dara Naraghi & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-122-9 (HB) 978-1-60010-286 8 (TPB)

We do it for fame, we do it for fortune (or at least to pay bills), we do it for fun and the very best of us make comics because we absolutely have to. Every story we hear, every event we see provokes the reaction “how would I break that down into panels? How many on a page?” All data – from shopping lists to bad TV – is taken in, panned like gold nuggets through an internal grid and then we worry about how we’ll draw that damn thing one day…

All creative people are a little bit chained to their art-form, and Dara Naraghi apparently more so than most. As well as his own celebrated BigCityBlues and Persia Blues comics, he keeps busy adapting licensed properties such as Robert Patterson’s Witch & Wizard novels, Terminator: Salvation, It! The Terror From Beyond Space and Ghostbusters into graphics narrative form, writing for DC, Image and IDW whilst running his own publishing house Ferret Press. He also scripts (and occasionally draws) utterly sublime tales covering every aspect of the human experience from wild fantasy to chilling slice-of-life in a splendid series of webcomic features.

Wonderfully expansive in narrative scope and illustrated by an astounding gathering of talented artisans, an exemplary bunch of these brief delights was compiled into a fabulous compilation. Every yarn in this anthology comes from the webcomic and are written (and lettered) by Naraghi, complete with commentary and context on the illustrators interpreting each piece.

The wonderment begins with ‘The Long Journey’ illustrated by Irapuan Luiz, following the dramatic escape of a disillusioned Iranian soldier determined to leave the Iran-Iraq War behind him forever. Naraghi is Iranian (born in Tehran in 1971) and his own journey to the west would make pretty interesting reading, although probably without the telling sting in the tale embedded here…

‘Imaginarians’ – winningly crafted by award winning Tom Williams – takes a barbed look at how the media deals with artists on the promo circuit, whilst equally lauded Marvin Mann’s atmospheric ‘Double Cross at the Double Down’ proves that even if crime doesn’t pay, stories about it certainly do.

Rendered by Neil Errar, ‘Art/Life’ is a feel-good fable about a comics creator we all concur with, and Jerry Lange’s moody, misty paint-and-Paintbox (showing my digital age there) treatment examines the exquisite pain of unconditional love lost with ‘Remembrance’, after which Stephen Spenser Ledford opts for monochrome ink washes to recount a particularly trenchant tale of crime and ‘Punishment.’

Sex and booze and rock ‘n’ roll form the basis of cheeky dating vignette ‘Intermission’, illustrated by Andy Bennett, whilst Jerry Lange’s watercolour expertise displays a different arena for the relationship dance in ‘Crush’ and Tim McClurg’s ‘Comeback’ describes a meteoric fall from stardom for one has-been actor.

Marvin Mann displays his artistic versatility in ‘Smoke Break’: a heart-warming peek at modern life and ‘The Routine’ by Steve Black touchingly reminds us that even small victories count in our work-a-day world, whereas the stunning drawing of Adrian Barbu’s gritty thriller ‘Rooftop Philosophy’ adds acres of edge to a dark tale of criminal Darwinism. Tom Williams then astounds again with ‘Skin Deep’, a charming semi-autobiographical shaggy-dog story before our pictorial programme ends on a heartwarming high note in‘Repair’ as Shom Bhuiya treats us to a view of the common man at his very best…

The 14 tales assembled in Lifelike demonstrate the sheer breadth and depth that comics can and should cover: a book that opens up all of human experience and imagination to the cartoonist’s particular skills and insights. Now it’s up to the rest of us to respond and react…
Created and © 2007 Dara Naraghi. All artwork © 2007 by its respective artist. © 2007 Idea and Design Workshop. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck by Carl Barks: volume 6 – The Old Castle’s Secret


By Carl Barks & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-653-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Donald Duck ranks among a number of fictional characters who have transcended the bounds of reality to become – like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Popeye and James Bond -meta-real. As such, his origins are complex and convoluted. His official birthday is June 9th 1934: a dancing, nautically-themed bit-player in the Silly Symphony cartoon short The Wise Little Hen.

However, that date is based on the feature’s release, as announced by distributors United Artists and latterly acknowledged by the Walt Disney Company. Recent research reveals the piece was initially screened at Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles on May 3rd, part of a Benefit show. The Wise Little Hen officially premiered on June 7th at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, before the general release date was settled.

The animated cartoon was adapted by Ted Osborne & Al Taliaferro for the Silly Symphonies Sunday comic strip and thus classified by historians as Donald’s official debut in Disney comics. Controversially though, he was also reported to have originated in The Adventures of Mickey Mouse strip which began 1931. Thus the Duck has more “birthdays” than the Queen of England (plus the generally disUnited Kingdom and gradually diminishing Commonwealth) which probably explains why he’s such a bad-tempered old cuss.

Visually, Donald Fauntleroy Duck was largely the result of animator Dick Lundy’s efforts, and, with partner-in-fun Mickey Mouse, is one of TV Guide’s 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time. The Duck has his own star on the Hollywood walk of fame and has appeared in more films than any other Disney player.

During the 1930s his screen career grew from background and supporting roles to a team act with Mickey and Goofy to a series of solo cartoons that began with 1937’s Don Donald, which also introduced love interest Daisy Duck and the nephews Huey, Louie and Dewey. By 1938 Donald was officially more popular than company icon Mickey Mouse, especially after his service as a propaganda warrior in a series of animated morale boosters and information features during WWII. The merely magnificent Der Fuehrer’s Face garnered the 1942 Academy Award (that’s an Oscar to you and me) for Animated Short Film…

Crucially for our purposes, Donald is also planet Earth’s most-published non-superhero comics character and has been blessed with some of the greatest writers and illustrators ever to punch a keyboard or pick up a pen or brush.

A publishing phenomenon and mega star across Europe – particularly Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland – Donald & Co have spawned countless original stories and characters. Sales are stratospheric there and in the more than 45 other countries they export to. Japanese manga publishers have their own iterations too…

The aforementioned Silly Symphonies adaptation and Mickey Mouse newspaper strip guest shots were trumped in 1937 when Italian publisher Mondadori launched an 18-page story by Federico Pedrocchi in comic book format. It was quickly followed by a regular serial in Britain’s Mickey Mouse Weekly. The comic was produced under license by Willbank Publications/Odhams Press and ran from 8th February 1936 to 28th December 1957.

In #67 (May 15th 1937) it launched Donald and Donna (a prototype Daisy Duck girlfriend), drawn by William A. Ward. Running for 15 weeks it was followed by Donald and Mac before ultimately settling on Donald Duck, and a fixture until the magazine folded. The comic inspired similar Disney-themed publication across Europe with Donald regularly appearing beside company mascot Mickey…

In the USA, a daily Donald Duck newspaper strip launched on February 2nd 1938, with a colour Sunday strip added in 1939. Writer Ted Karp joined Taliaferro in expanding the duck cast, adding a signature automobile, dog Bolivar, cousin Gus Goose, grandmother Elvira Coot and expanded the roles of both Donna and Daisy…

In 1942, his licensed comic books canon began with the October cover-dated Dell Four Color Comics Series II #9 as Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold: conceived by Homer Brightman & Harry Reeves, scripted by Karp and illustrated by Disney Studios employees Carl Barks & Jack Hannah. It was the moment everything changed…

Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon in 1901, and raised in rural areas of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He tried his hand at many jobs before settling into the profession that chose him. His early life is well-documented elsewhere if you need detail, but briefly, Barks was an animator before quitting in 1942 to work in the new-fangled field of comic books.

With studio partner Jack Hannah (another future strip illustrator) Barks adapted Karp’s rejected script for an animated cartoon short into Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold, and although not his first published comics work, it was the story that shaped the rest of his career.

From then until his official retirement in the mid-1960s, Barks operated in self-imposed seclusion: writing, drawing and devising a vast array of adventure comedies, gags, yarns and covers that gelled into a Duck Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters. These included Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952), Magica De Spell (1961) and the nefarious Beagle Boys (1951) to supplement Disney’s stable of cartoon actors. His greatest creation was undoubtedly the crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad giga-gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the World’s wealthiest winged nonagenarian.

Whilst producing all that landmark material Barks was also just a working guy, generating cover art, illustrating other people’s scripts when asked, and contributing stories to the burgeoning canon of Duck Lore. After Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material amongst other Disney strips in the 1980s, he discovered the well-earned appreciation he never imagined existed…

So potent were his creations that they inevitably fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his brilliant comic work was done for Dell/Gold Key and not directly for the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly the animated series Duck Tales: heavily based on his classic Uncle Scrooge tales.

Barks was a fan of wholesome action, unsolved mysteries and epics of exploration, and this led to him perfecting the art and technique of the blockbuster tale: blending wit, history, plucky bravado and sheer wide-eyed wonder into rollicking rollercoaster romps that utterly captivated readers of every age and vintage. Without the Barks expeditions there would never have been an Indiana Jones…

During his working life Barks was blissfully unaware that his work (uncredited by official policy, as was all Disney’s comics output) had been recognised by a rabid and discerning public as “the Good Duck Artist.” When some of his most dedicated fans finally tracked him down, a belated celebrity began.

In 2013, Fantagraphics Books began chronologically collecting Barks’ Duck stuff in wonderful, carefully curated archival volumes, tracing his output year-by-year in hardback tomes and digital editions that finally do justice to the quiet creator. These will eventually comprise the Complete Carl Barks Disney Library. The physical copies are sturdy and luxurious albums – 193 x 261 mm – that would grace any bookshelf, with volume 6 re-presenting works from 1948 – albeit not in strict release order. I should also note that all the Four Color issues come from Series II of that mighty anthological vehicle and all cover are by Barks.

It begins eponymously with ‘The Old Castle’s Secret’ (FC #189, June 1948) as a crisis in the McDuck financial empire triggers a mission for Donald and the nephews: accompanying Scrooge to the ancestral pile in Scotland to search for millions in hidden treasure. Apparently the craggy citadel is haunted, but what they actually encounter is both more rationalistically dangerous and fantastically unbelievable…

Two single-page gags from the same issue follow, with ‘Bird Watching’ exposing the hidden perils of the hobby whilst superstition is painfully debunked in ‘Horseshoe Luck’ before ‘Wintertime Wager’ (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #88, January) introduces annoying cousin Gladstone Gander. Amidst chilling winter snows, the miraculously lucky, smugly irksome oik invites himself over for Christmas and soon he and Donald are involved in an escalating set of ordeals that might cost the Duck his house. Thankfully, Daisy and the boys are there to solve the problem…

Gainful employment was a regular dilemma for Donald and February’s ‘Watching the Watchman’ (WDC&S #89) finds him taking a midnight-to-daybreak job at the docks, but pitifully unable to alter his sleep patterns. Once again, Huey, Louie and Dewey offer outrageous assistance but this time it’s the Duck’s inability to stay awake that foils a million dollar heist….

They’re actually Donald’s rivals in ‘Wired’ (WDC&S #90, March) when all seek big bucks as telegram messengers. Sadly, millionaires are not generally friendly, welcoming or prone to giving giant gratuities…

A dedicated social climber, Donald plans a garden party in WDC&S #91 (April), but his notion of fancy dress and family solidarity utterly anger the boys, who retaliate with manic mesmerism in ‘Going Ape’, after which March of Comics #20 finds butterfly-hunter Donald at war with avaricious lepidopterist Professor Argus McFiendy across two continents.

Donald’s sharp and ruthless tactics inspire onlooker Sir Gnatbugg-Mothley to fund a safari to ‘Darkest Africa’ in search of the rarest butterfly on Earth. The daunting quest for the Almostus Extinctus is frenetically fraught, astoundingly action-packed and fabulously fun-filled but please be aware that despite Barks’ careful research and diligent, sensitive storytelling some modern folk could be upset by his depictions of indigenous peoples in terms of the accepted style of those decades-distant times.

Nevertheless, the bombastic war ends with a delicious sting in the tail.

In case you were wondering: March of Comics releases were prestigious promotional giveaways tied to retail products and commercial clients like Sears, combining licensed characters from across Whitman/KK/Dell’s joint catalogue. The often enjoyed print runs topping 5 million copies per issue. Being a headliner for them was a low key editorial acknowledgement of a creator’s capabilities and franchise’s pulling power…

Back in the regular world, Donald’s eternal war of nerves with the kids boiled over in FC #189 (June) as ‘Bean Taken’ saw his obsessive side dominant in a guessing game, a single-pager, preceding another exploring the downside of sandlot baseball in ‘Sorry to Be Safe’ (FC #199, October) and standard 10-page romp ‘Spoil the Rod’ (WDC&S #92, May). Here passing do-gooder Professor Pulpheart Clabberhead seeks to stop Donald’s apparent abuse of Huey, Louie and Dewey – but only until he gets to know them…

Although the science fiction boom and flying saucer mania was barely beginning in 1948, Barks was an early advocate and ‘Rocket Race to the Moon’ (WDC&S #93, June) sees newspaper seller Donald suckered into piloting an experimental lunar exploration ship. Tragically, Professors Cosmic and Gamma seem more concerned with a large cash-prize contest than advancing science and rival rocketman Baron De Sleezy is a ruthless schemer, but no one – not even the stowaway nephews – were prepared for what lived on the moon…

Patriotism inspires our bellicose birdbrain to enlist as ‘Donald of the Coast Patrol’ (WDC&S #94, July) but it’s his innate gullibility and bad temper that helps him bag a bunch of spies before true wickedness rears its downy head as ‘Gladstone Returns’ (WDC&S #95, August).

The ghastly Gander was designed as a foil for Donald, intended to be even more obnoxious than the irascible, excitable film fowl.

This originally untitled tale reintroduces him as a big noxious noise every inch as blustery a blowhard as Donald but still lacking his seemingly supernatural super-luck talent. Here, both furiously boast and feud, trying to one-up each other in a series of scams that does neither any good… especially once the nephews and Daisy join the battle…

Arguably Barks’ first masterpiece, ‘Sheriff of Bullet Valley’ was the lead tale from Dell Four Color Comics #199, drawing much of its unflagging energy and trenchant whimsy from Barks’ own love of cowboy fiction – albeit seductively tempered with his self-deprecatory sense of absurdist humour. For example, a wanted poster on the jailhouse wall portrays the artist himself, offering the princely sum of $1000 and 50¢ for his inevitable capture.

Donald is – of course – a self-declared expert on the Wild West (he’s seen all the movies) so when he and the boys drive through scenic Bullet Valley, a wanted poster catches his eye and his imagination. Soon he’s signed up and sworn in as a doughty deputy, determined to catch rustlers plaguing the locals. Unfortunately for him, the good old days never really existed and today’s bandits use radios, trucks, tommy guns and ray machines to achieve their nefarious ends. Can Donald’s impetuous boldness and the nephews’ collective brains and ingenuity defeat the ruthless high-tech raiders?

Of course they can…

That same issue first saw a brace of short gags, beginning with ‘Best Laid Plans’ as Donald’s feigned illness earns him extra hard labour rather than a malingering day in bed and closing with ‘The Genuine Article’ wherein suspicions of an antiques provenance leads to disaster…

The lads plans to go fishing are scuppered – but not for too long – when Donald demands their caddying services in ‘Links Hijinks’ (WDC&S #96, September). It all really goes south once Gladstone horns in and Donald’s competitive spirit overwhelms everybody…

That tendency to overreact informs ‘Pearls of Wisdom’ (WDC&S #97, October) when the nephews find a small pearl in a locally-sourced oyster and big-dreaming Donald goes overboard in exploiting the” hidden millions” probably peppering the ocean floor, before we close with another mission for Uncle Scrooge.

To close a deal with British toff Lord Tweeksdale, McDuck must prove his family pedigree by excelling in the most “asinine, stupid, crazy, useless sport in the world”: fox hunting. Designating Donald his champion, the Downy Dodecadillionaire of Duckburg is thankfully unaware Huey, Louie and Dewey also consider themselves ‘Foxy Relations’ (WDC&S #98, November), injecting themselves covertly into proceedings with catastrophic repercussions…

The visual verve over, we move on to validation as ‘Story Notes’ offers commentary for each Duck tale and Donald Ault relates ‘Carl Barks: Life Among the Ducks’, before ‘Biographies’ explain why he and commentators Alberto Beccatini, R, Fiore, Craig Fischer, Jared Gardner, Leonardo Gori, Rich Kreiner, Ken Parille, Stefano Priarone, Francesco (“Frank”) Stajano and Mattias Wivel are saying all those nice and informative things.

We close with an examination of provenance as ‘Where Did These Duck Stories First Appear?’ explains the somewhat byzantine publishing schedules of Dell Comics.

Carl Barks was one of the greatest exponents of comic art the world has ever seen, and almost all his work featured Disney’s Duck characters: reaching and affecting untold millions of readers across the world and he all too belatedly won far-reaching recognition. You might be late to the party but it’s never too soon to climb aboard the Barks Express.
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “The Old Castle’s Secret” © 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All contents © 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.

Trent volume 4: The Valley of Fear


By Rodolphe & Léo, coloured by Marie-Paule Alluard, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-394-9 (Album PB/Digital edition)

Continental audiences have an abiding fascination with the mythologised American experience, whether it be the Big Sky Wild West or later eras of crime-riddled, gangster-fuelled dramas. They also have a vested historical interest in the northernmost parts of the New World which has resulted in some pretty cool graphic extravaganzas if comics are your entertainment drug of choice…

Born in Rio de Janeiro on December 13th 1944, Léo is actually Brazilian artist and storyteller Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira Filho. After attaining a degree in mechanical engineering from Puerto Alegre in 1968, he was a government employee for three years, until forced to flee the country because of his political views. While a military dictatorship ran Brazil, he lived in Chile and Argentina before illegally returning to his homeland in 1974.

To survive, he worked as a designer and graphic artist in Sao Paulo whilst creating his first comics art for O Bicho magazine. In 1981 he migrated to Paris, pursuing a career in Bande Dessinée, and found work with Pilote and L’Echo des Savanes as well as more advertising and graphics fare. His big break came when Jean-Claude Forest invited him to draw stories for Okapi, leading to regular illustration work for Bayard Presse.

In 1988 Léo began his long association with scripter and scenarist Rodolphe D. Jacquette – AKA Rodolphe. The prolific, celebrated writing partner had been a giant of comics since the 1970s: a Literature graduate who transitioned from teaching and running libraries to creating poetry and writing criticism, novels, biographies, children’s stories and music journalism.

After meeting Jacques Lob in 1975, Jacquette expanded his portfolio: writing for a vast number of strip artists in magazines ranging from Pilote and Circus to À Suivre and Métal Hurlant. Amongst his most successful endeavours are Raffini (with Ferrandez) and L’Autre Monde (Florence Magnin), but his triumphs in all genres and age ranges are too numerous to list here.

In 1991 “Rodolphe” began working with Léo on a period adventure of the “far north”. Taciturn, introspective, bleakly philosophical and driven Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Philip Trent premiered in L’Homme Mort, forging a lonely path through the 19th century Dominion generating eight tempestuous, hard-bitten, love-benighted albums between then and 2000. Their creative collaboration prompted later fantasy classic Kenya and its spin-offs Centaurus and Porte de Brazenac.

Cast very much in the classic mould perfected by Jack London and John Buchan, Trent is a man of few words, deep thoughts and unyielding principles who gets the job done whilst stifling emotional turmoil boiling deep within him: the very embodiment of the phrase “still waters run deep”…

As La Vallée de la peur, this fourth saga comes from 1995, with the solitary sentinel of justice and his faithful hound “Dog” initially absent from the scene. Instead, we see rail engineer George Petterson arriving at desolate shanty town White Pass and Rail Camp Seven. Here, navvies are laboriously hacking their way through a mountain, advancing the iron line inch by frozen inch.

It’s a strangely unsettling set-up, as Petterson finds when he moves into the cabin of the man he’s replacing as site manager. There’s an atmosphere of surly secrecy and every window of his new home has been nailed shut…

The first inclination of real trouble brewing comes as George tries to stop native labourers quitting. After two whites were injured and one of their own killed in tunnel accidents, they refuse to stay and be killed by “Hoppo”. The locals know it’s the work of a “demon-bear”, but the engineers will only admit to ordinary, natural problems and mock the silly superstitions. Nevertheless, when night falls they all bolt their doors. Every cabin has its windows nailed shut…

The account closes with reports of more accidents and problems as Mrs. Petterson completes her request to the RCMP to send someone to White Pass, which has been silent and out of touch for many days now…

Trent is assigned the mission and it’s a painful shock to meet again the woman he knows as Agnes. Years ago he had saved her – but not her beloved brother – and was given a clear invitation from her that he never acted upon. Eventually, he made his decision, travelling all the way to Providence with marriage in mind, only to learn that his Miss St. Yves had reached her own conclusion years previously…

Now she stubbornly accompanies him into unknown danger at White Pass. She is resolved to find her missing husband and Trent is wracked with indecision and other darker emotions he refuses to acknowledge…

Travelling to Fraser by train, the rescue party switches to horseback and picks up Trent’s occasional partner Mokashi. The First Nations scout also knows Agnes of old, and has his own reasons for leaving the comforts of family and civilisation, despite having already learned that Hoppo haunts Camp Seven…

After crossing the snowy beautiful wilderness – rendered as always by Leo with staggering craft and force – the riders arrive in a desolate Camp Seven with no sign of life. Seemingly abandoned, the cabins which once held more than fifty men are cold and empty, but it’s not long before Mokashi uncovers some of the former inhabitants…

As they batten down for the night in a reasonably defensible shack, the rescuers are keenly aware of eerie silence punctuated by erratic bursts of animal noise. Eventually sleep comes… until the implacable Mountie and Mokashi are roused by the sounds of an intruder furtively seeking entry…

When Trent investigates, he is ambushed by a beast out of his maddest nightmares. Barely escaping with his life, his frantic flight brings him to an even greater horror – George Petterson, more dead than alive and apparently the only survivor of a supernatural atrocity…

As dawn comes, Agnes is reunited with her husband and the lawmen begin the task of tracking what can only be an exceptionally clever and cunning beast. Trent, however, cannot shake the notion that he heard it speak as it shrugged off his rifle shots…

Tension mounts as both romantic triangle and murderous rampage bloodily converge, but even after the Mountie solves one mystery and the evacuation of George Petterson begins, there is more heartbreak and loss to come before civilisation reclaims them. And as ever, Trent is left to struggle with his solitary thoughts, loss and loneliness…

Another beguilingly introspective voyage of internal discovery, where environment and locales are as much lead characters as hero and villain, The Valley of Fear delivers mystery, epic scope, sinister suspense, action and poignant drama in a compelling concoction to satisfy any fan of widescreen cinematic crime fiction or grandiose western.
Original edition © Dargaud Editeur Paris 1993 by Rodolphe & Léo. All rights reserved. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

Richard Dragon: Kung Fu Fighter: Coming of the Dragon!


By Dennis J. O’Neil, David Anthony Kraft, Bob Haney, Mike W. Barr, Leopoldo Durañona, Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss, Jack Kirby, Ric Estrada, Jim Aparo, Alex Saviuk Wally Wood, Jack Abel, Al Milgrom, D. Bruce Berry, Vince Colletta & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0810-2 (HC/Digital edition)

The mysterious martial arts of the Orient have always fascinated western readers and writers. Adventurers like Batman, Doc Savage, The Spider and The Shadow drew much of their history and arsenal from the arcane Orient and even intellectual champion Sherlock Holmes occasionally employed the scientific combat system of “Baritsu” – actually a mixed martial art called Bartitsu which developed between 1898-1902. Moreover, every secret agent worth their salt was au fait with assorted “chop sockey” techniques: generally disparaging them while delivering a signature blow…

Putting aside references in assorted newspaper strips, the first specialist martial arts comic book star was Judo Joe: a young American raised in Japan who used his training for the benefit of all. Three issues were released between August and December 1953: the work of Dr Barney Cosneck and illustrator Paul W. Stoddard, setting the tone of the genre as well devising as an enduring feature illustrated lessons on specific moves and techniques. Kids! DO try this at home (but not on the cat, that why we let you have little brothers…)!

Comics in the 1960s were sprinkled with judo and karate users, and by far the most accurate forms were employed by Charlton Comics champions Sarge Steel (#1 December 1964, by Pat Masulli & Dick Giordano) and WWII costumed combatant Judomaster (first seen in Special War Series #4, November 1965): both benefitting from the Kung Fu knowledge and artistic skills of Frank McLaughlin – an actual judoka who had studied martial arts for years.

Gold Key simply exploited licensing power. Television’s The Green Hornet ran 26 episodes from September 1966 to March 1967 and their comics adaptation (3 issues from February to August 1967) played up the combat skills of the mystery man’s chauffeur/partner Kato. You’ll recall I’m sure, that he was played by young Bruce Lee who was in very large part responsible for the popularisation of martial arts in the west… especially after graduating to film roles.

When the big boom began in the early 1970s, Charlton were again quick off the mark: launching their own knock-off of TV series Kung Fu. Running 18 issues, Yang (by Joe Gill & Warren Sattler) launched with a November 1973 cover-date, recounting the life of a Chinese wanderer in the 1870s wild west. It spawned sequel House of Yang (#1-6 July 1975-June 1976) by Korean comics creator Sanho Kim which remains a visual highpoint to this day… if you can find it.

Marvel really reaped the benefits of the zeitgeist with the launch of Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu in Special Marvel Edition #15 (cover-dated December 1973) and a flood of follow-ups including Iron Fist, Sons of the Tiger, Daughters of the Dragon and White Tiger.

As ever – and despite teenager Jim Shooter introducing Karate Kid to the Legion of Super-Heroes in 1966 (Adventure Comics #346, July) – ever-cautious DC were late to the party, even though one of their key writers was also the co-author of a Kung Fu novel…

…And Karate Kid? As the martial arts boom was subsiding, DC awarded him his own solo series, set primarily in the 20th century: 15 bi-monthly issues running from March/April 1976 to July/August 1978. He travelled through time and across realities, but never met the stars of this particular show…

The Seventies began with a downturn in superhero sales and a resurgence of traditional genre comic tales. A few years in, a new genre emerged: one blending eastern philosophy and personal combat systems with a real-world growth in organised crime – especially drug trafficking. Popular fiction responded with a wave of lone wolf vigilantes like Mack (The Executioner) Bolan and martial arts icon Remo Williams: The Destroyer, as hardboiled crime thrillers evolved and genres began to mash up…

Riding his own wave of comic success and celebrity from Batman, Justice League of America, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Superman, former journalist Dennis J. O’Neil teamed up with editorial cartoonist James R, Berry to write a prose thriller for this burgeoning market. Under the pen-name Jim Dennis, they detailed the life path of teenage thug Richard Drakunovski after finding friends and direction with a martial arts sensei. Kung Fu Master, Richard Dragon: Dragon’s Fists was released in 1974 and ultimately pitted the hero against evil industrialist Guano Cravat…

With a phenomenon unfolding around them, DC joined the parade of warriors by having O’Neil adapt the book, expanding the premise and adding significantly to their pantheon of stars in the process: not so much with the leading man but through his potential-packed supporting cast.

Spanning April/May 1975 to November 1981, this fast and furious compendium collects Richard Dragon: Kung Fu Fighter #1-18; a team-up from The Brave and the Bold #132, plus a closing note from DC Comics Presents #39. In keeping with the tone of the genre and time, these stories are tersely underwritten and potently action driven, but racial and gender issues are ubiquitous and expressed in the terms of the times…

Opening episode ‘Coming of a Dragon!’ is credited to Jim Dennis and illustrated by comics legend Leopoldo Durañona, revealing how a teenager’s attempt to burgle a dojo in Kyoto, Japan is foiled by the head teacher O-Sensei. The venerable ancient easily masters the violent thief and then invites to him to change his life path. Richard Dragon spends the next seven years mastering countless forms of Kung Fu, higher education and his own raging nature, forming a lifelong bond with his fellow student, black American Ben Turner and seeking to become a physically and ethically “Superior Man”…

The idyllic period ends the day unctuous freelance spymaster Barney Ling turns up. He runs acronymic organisation G.O.O.D. and begs the legendary O-Sensei to aid him in stopping a world class human trafficker. Instead, the master sends his students against an army of brutes and monsters…

O’Neil, Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss & Al Milgrom tackled ‘A Dragon Fights Alone’ as, wounded but triumphant, the duo return to Japan only to be targeted by the hired thugs of a hidden enemy. The attack comes in the wake of a tearful graduation, as they seek to aid O-Sensei’s goddaughter Carolyn Woosan, and results in them all heading for San Francisco. There, mercenary The Swiss had orchestrated her uncle’s death whilst searching for a deadly secret. When the freshly-debarked adventurers investigate, Ben is shot and Carolyn taken…

It clearly took some time to assign an art-team as Jack Kirby & D. Bruce Berry limned third instalment as ‘Claws of the Dragon!’ as an enraged hero hunts The Swiss, and trounces an army of assassins, thanks in no small part to his secret weapon – a jade claw that allows him to focus all his knowledge and fury and become a beast of battle…

Crushed by continuing failure to save Carolyn, Dragon and Ben reluctantly accept help from Ling and G.O.O.D. Marshalling his resources and infiltrating a suspect dojo, Dragon accepts that there is ‘A Time to be a Whirlwind!’, and again overcomes all physical opposition, but once more fails Carolyn – this time, forever. This shattering clash signalled the start of artistic stability as Ric Estrada took over pencilling, augmented by master inker Wally Wood…

Sandra Woosan debuts in #5, a woman destined to be a major player in DC continuity. Cover-dated December 1975/January 1976, ‘The Arena of No Exit!’ introduced Lady Shiva, a conflict-addicted swordswoman seeking bloody redress for her murdered sister. She was working for grotesque super arms-dealer Guano Cravat (the secret mastermind behind The Swiss), but rejected her assignment to kill Dragon once she had fought him and realised that staying in his orbit would generate all the murderous duels her killer’s heart hungered for…

In later years she would evolve into the most dangerous assassin on Earth: a major opponent of Batman, Robin, assorted Batgirls, Black Canary, the Birds of Prey and many others.

After foiling Cravat’s scheme, Dragon and Shiva are rewarded by Ling with magnificent matched swords: katana crafted by an 18th century master smith. However, it’s just a ploy to sweeten them up. G.O.O.D. needs them to recover a “misplaced” nuke on a volcanic island: one ruled by a modern pirate with an obsessive fixation on fighting with swords. He calls himself Slash…

The spectacular conclusion of ‘Island of the Inferno’ leads to a confrontation with occasional Batman and Wonder Woman villain Doctor Moon who uses Cravat’s money to transform mere humans into surgically-augmented programmable super-warriors in #7’s ‘Command: Slay the Dragon!’ All this time, Ben has been healing and teaching at the dojo he runs with Dragon, but his life is about to change after becoming romantically entangled with promising student Janey Lewis. When she and other students are attacked by Moon’s thugs, Dragon and Shiva retaliate but are almost killed by Moon’s colossal cyborg Topper. Almost…

Another old foe resurfaces in #8, striking at his despised enemies by murdering more dojo students and rendering the hero temporarily sightless, facilitating his scheme to ‘Slay the Blind Dragon’…

Estrada inks his own pencils in #9 as Barney Ling returns, revealing that many recent dojo attacks are masking a hidden plot to assassinate Ben. The manipulative G.O.O.D. guy offers to reveal all, but only if all three kung fu fighters carry out a few errands for him…

Thus Turner, Shiva and Dragon depart for tropical San Lorenzo to stop a monster ravaging the tourist destination: a thieving mutated killer known as ‘The Preying Mantis’, after which Ben discovers he’s inherited millions in prime timberland and heads north, with his allies in tow.

The lumberjacks are certainly killers embezzling all the profits. They have already murdered Turner’s sister – leaving him the guardian of an unsuspected nephew also called Ben – and their leader Hatchett does everything possible to destroy the nosy snoopers in ‘The Human Inferno!’ (inked by Jack Abel). However, the assassination attempts only slow, but do not cease…

Cover-dated September 1976, #11 offers a change of pace and scripter as David Anthony Kraft joins Estrada & Abel in a byzantine futuristic spy conspiracy that begins ‘When Strikes the Samurai!’ After being targeted by a disappearing Japanese warrior, the trio are sent into Communist China to secure an object dubbed the Tiger Tally which in turn could unlock the secrets of bewildering Project Moon Age Daydream…

The mission results in a trail of dropped bodies before ‘A Dragon Defiant’ is subjected to a duplication device that results in him literally beating himself up before thwarting rival maniacs Telegram Sam and Madame Sun…

Back in the USA for #13, the drama increases with O’Neil & Estrada’s reunion, as Ben is poisoned and Dragon and Shiva carve their way through a murderous legion ‘To Catch an Assassin!’ and secure an antidote. When that proves fruitless, detective work leads them to The League of Assassins and a desperate quest for their chief deviser of toxins.

Viper makes his potions in the wilds of Mongolia – perilously close to the Soviet Russian border – and the countdown quest allows no time for restraint, which only allows Shiva opportunity to do the work she loves without being held back…

With Turner’s death imminent, we pause here for a diversionary team-up as The Brave and the Bold #132 (February 1977 by veteran writer Bob Haney & ultimate guest star artist Jim Aparo) enquires ‘Batman – Dragon Slayer??’

When Denny O’Neil succeeded Murray Boltinoff as B&B editor, it resulted in a rather forced tale of duelling fight stylists after a publicity-shy billionaire sought to repay an imagined debt to good Samaritan Dragon by leaving him a mysterious bequest…

In his own title, Dragon’s quest for a cure takes him back to China to find the O-Sensei’s. At that time, unknown to all, his former master was Dr. Moon’s prisoner, so Richard and Shiva’s mission generates massive mayhem and an inconclusive duel with ‘The Man Who Studied with Bruce Lee’: a gullible yet proficient martial arts purist who had learned all the celebrity’s lost secrets…

The clash might have been pointless, but the rescued O-Sensei cures Turner, who pursues his relationship with Janey to the point of asking her father for permission to wed. Tragically, at that moment in #15, ‘The Axeman’ attacks Shipyard Security Chief Luke Lewis and his adored daughter is fatally caught in the crossfire…

Crushed and broken inside, Ben hunts the killer with Dragon at his side, uncovering shocking betrayal that intensifies his fury into mania. Using all their resources, they follow to the top of the world in #16, where ‘The Doom Seer’ – outrageous and tyrannical madman Professor Ojo (later to be a Green Lantern nemesis) – pits them and Lady Shiva against outlandish martial arts skaters and an arsenal of scientific terrors before #17’s ‘The Final Victim’ provides a spectacular conclusion, but no resolution…

Richard Dragon: Kung Fu Fighter finished with #18, but ‘The Secret of the Bronze Tiger’ set up years more stories. Bereft, Turner had vanished, presumed killed battling Ojo, whilst Dragon sank into despair and dissolution. Finally, Shiva dragged him out to investigate a mysterious masked martial artist and illegal fight club. Dragon was stunned to discover Ben was the Tiger – who retained all his skills but was apparently a ruthless criminal with no memory…

This storyline was picked up and expanded upon in future Batman tales involving Ra’s Al Ghul’s League of Assassins and sinister splinter group Demonfang – whose leader was an ancient killer called The Sensei – and result in Bronze Tiger becoming an integral part of the Suicide Squad of post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe. In that rebuilt continuity, Shiva and Dragon would become crucial to the development of The Question (Vic Sage) and other martial arts-based characters, emphasising the ripple-effect of “the Superior Man” on an entire heroic universe…

Here however, there’s an epilogue of sorts as DC Comics Presents #39 (November 1981, by Mike W. Barr, Alex Saviuk & Vince Colletta) reveals ‘Whatever Happened to Richard Dragon: Kung Fu Fighter?’ Having retreated to the peace of a Shaolin monastery, Dragon is called back to the outside world to save mind-controlled Bronze Tiger from the person who had truly been responsible for most of their perils and hardships all along…

With covers by Dick Giordano, Wiess, Milgrom, Estrada & Colletta, Jose Delbo, Ernie Chan, Aparo & Rich Buckler, and including Who’s Who character profiles of Dragon, Bronze Tiger and Lady Shiva, this compendium is very much of its time, but still offers universal thrills and spills whilst providing crucial context to all devotees of DC’s overarching multiversal continuity.
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1981, 2021 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Mickey All-Stars (The Disney Masters Collection)


By Giorgio Cavazzano & Joris Chamberlain and many & various: translated by David Gerstein & Jonathan H. Gray (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-369-1 (HB) eISBN 978-1-68396-422-3

Created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Mickey Mouse was first seen – if not heard – in the silent cartoon Plane Crazy. The animated short fared poorly in a May 1928 test screening and was promptly shelved.

It’s why most people who care cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth completed Mickey feature – as the official debut of the mascot mouse and his co-star and occasional paramour Minnie Mouse since it was the first to be nationally distributed, as well as the first animated feature with synchronised sound. The film’s astounding success led to the subsequent rapid release of its fully completed predecessors Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and The Barn Dance, once they too had been given new-fangled soundtracks.

From those rather timid and tenuous beginnings grew an immense fantasy empire, but film was not the only way Disney conquered hearts and minds. With Mickey a certified, solid gold screen sensation, the mighty mouse was considered a hot property ripe for full media exploitation and he quickly invaded America’s most powerful and pervasive entertainment medium: comic strips…

In close to a century of existence, Walt Disney’s anthropomorphic everyman Mickey Mouse has tackled his fair share of weirdos and super freaks in tales crafted by gifted creators from every corner of the world. A true global phenomenon, the little wonder staunchly overcame all odds and pushed every boundary, and he’s always done so as the prototypical nice guy beloved by all.

He might have been born in the USA, but the Mouse belongs to all humanity now. Mickey has always been and is still a really big deal in Europe and thus, when his 90th anniversary loomed, a comics movement grew to celebrate the event in a uniquely comic strip way.

Invitations went out to creators with a connection to Disney endeavours from countries like Denmark, Germany, Holland, Italy, Belgium, France and more. The rules were simple: each auteur or team would have a single page to do as they liked to, for and with Mickey and all his Disney pals, with the only proviso that each exploit must begin and end with the Mouse passing through a door. The whole affair would be framed by an opening and closing page from illustrator Giorgio Cavazzano and scenarist Joris Chamberlain…

The result is a stunning joyous and often wholesomely spooky rollercoaster ride through the minds of top flight artists all channelling their own memories, feelings and childhood responses to the potent narrative legacy of Mickey & Friends: a tumbling, capacious, infinitely varied journey of rediscovery and graphic virtuosity that is thrilling, beautiful and supremely satisfying.

This translation comes with an explanatory Foreword laying out the rules far better than I just did and ends with ‘The All-Star Lineup’ offering full and informative mini biographies of all concerned responsible for each page.

They are – in order of appearance – Flix, Dav, Keramidas, Fabrice Parme, Alfred, Brüno, Batem & Nicholas Pothier, Federico Bertolucci & Frédéric Brrémaud, Silvio Camboni & Denis-Pierre Filippi, Thierry Martin, Guillaume Bouzard, José Luis Munuera, Alexis Nesme, Fabrizio Petrossi, Jean-Philippe Peyraud, Pirus, Massimo Fecchi, Boris Mirroir, Godi, Florence Cestac, Éric Hérenguel, Marc Lechuga, Cèsar Ferioli, Tebo, Clarke, Dab’s, Pieter De Pootere, Antonio Lapone, Ulf K, Pascal Regmauld, Johan Pilet & Pothier, Mathilde Domecq, Nicolas Juncker, Jean-Christophe & Pothier, Mike Peraza, Arnaud Poitevin & Chamberlain, Olivier Supiot, Éric Cartier, Zanzim, Marco Rota, Paco Rodriguez, Sascha Wüsterfeld, and the aforementioned Giorgio Cavazzano & Joris Chamberlain.

Frantic, frenzied fun for one and all. Everything you could dream of and so much more…

© 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Buz Sawyer volume 4: Zazarof’s Revenge


By Roy Crane, with Henry G. “Hank” Schlensker & Edwin Granberry (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-975-2 (HB)

Modern comics evolved from newspaper strips: pictorial features that were, until relatively recently, utterly ubiquitous. Hugely popular with the public and highly valued by publishers who used them as a weapon to secure sales and increase circulation, strips seemed to find their only opposition in blinkered local editors who often resented the low brow art form, which cut into potential ad space and regularly drew complaint letters from cranks…

It’s virtually impossible for us today to understand the overwhelming allure and power of the comic strip – especially from the Great Depression to the end of the 1950s. With limited television, broadcast radio far from universal and movie shows at best a weekly treat for most folk, household entertainment was mostly derived from the comics sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. “The Funnies” were universally enjoyed recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality of graphic sagas and humorous episodes.

From the start comedy was king; hence our terms “Funnies” and “Comics”. From these jest and stunt beginnings – blending silent movie slapstick, outrageous fantasy and vaudeville antics – came an entertaining mutant hybrid: Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs.

Debuting in April 1924, Washington Tubbs II was a comedic, gag-a-day strip which evolved into a globe-girdling adventure serial. For years, Crane spun addictive high-quality pictorial yarns – until his introduction of moody swashbuckler Captain Easy ushered in the age of adventure strips with the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929.

This led to a Sunday colour page which was possibly the most compelling and visually imaginative of the entire Golden Age of Newspaper strips (see Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volumes 1-4). Improving almost minute by minute, it benefited from Crane’s relentless quest for perfection. His fabulously imaginative compositional masterpieces attained a timeless immediacy that made each page a unified piece of sequential art. The influence of his pages can be seen in the works of near-contemporaries like Hergé, giants-in-waiting such as Charles Schulz or comic book masters Alex Toth, John Severin and many more.

The material was obviously as much fun to make as to read. In fact, Crane’s cited reason for surrendering the Sunday strip to his assistant Les Turner in 1937 was NEA/United Features Syndicate’s abrupt and arbitrary diktat that all strips would henceforward be produced in a rigid panel-structure to facilitate their being cut up and re-pasted as local editors dictated.

They just didn’t lift the artist any more so he stopped making them. At the height of his powers, Crane walked away from the astounding Captain Easy Sunday page; concentrating on the daily feature until his contract expired in 1943 whereupon he left United Features: lured away by that grandee of strip poachers William Randolph Hearst.

The result was an aviator strip set in then-ongoing World War II: Buz Sawyer.

Where Wash Tubbs was a brave but largely comedic Lothario and his pal Easy a surly, tight-lipped he-man, John Singer “Buz” Sawyer was a joyous amalgam of both: a handsome, big-hearted, affable country-boy who went to war because his country needed him…

Buz was a fun-loving, skirt-chasing, musically-inclined pilot daily risking his life with his devoted gunner Rosco Sweeney: a bluff, brave ordinary Joe – and one of the most effective comedy foils ever created.

The wartime strip was – and remains – a marvel of authenticity: portraying not just action and drama of the locale and situation but crucially also capturing the quiet, dull hours of training, routine and desperate larks between the serious business of killing and staying alive. When the war ended the action-loving duo – plus fellow pilot/girl-chasing competitor Chili Harrison – all went looking for work that satisfied their thirst for action and adventure…

Crane had mastered popular entertainment tastes, blending adventure with drama and sophisticated soap opera, all leavened with raucous comedy in a seamless procession of unmissable daily episodes. He and his team of assistants – which over decades comprised co-writers Ed “Doc” Granberry, Clark Haas and Al Wenzel, and artists Hank Schlensker, Joel King, Ralph Lane, Dan Heilman, Hi Mankin & Bill Wright – soldiered on under relentless deadline pressure, producing an authentic and exotic funny romantic thriller rendered in his stark signature style as well as a prerequisite full-colour Sunday page.

This fourth stout and sturdy hardcover edition is a mostly monochrome tome re-presenting more magnificent strip shenanigans starring a dynamic All-American good guy, but now Buz is just another fading war hero: albeit admittedly a globetrotting, troubleshooting one and a newlywed husband to boot.

Having – after much kerfuffle, procrastination, intrigue, bloodshed, sexy skulduggery and delay – finally married extremely understanding childhood sweetheart Christy Jameson, our clean-cut boy-next-door then dragged her into his regularly perilous and frequently lethal working world as prime problem-solver for Frontier Oil: a company with fingers in many international pies and one most modern readers will find hard to consider “the Good Guys”…

These strips – made in collaboration with Granberry & Hank Schlensker – cover the societally turbulent period spanning July 1949 to June 1952, as America leaned hard into its dreams of Exceptionalism and enjoyed domestic boom times while embracing it’s self-appointed role as the World’s Policeman. Crane and his creative laboured long, hard, often acrimonious hours to produce each daily strip; all beguilingly rendered in black-&-white through Crane’s masterly techniques employing line art and craftint (a tricky mechanical monochrome patterning effect which added greys and halftones to produce miraculous depths and moods to the superb base drawing) but the toll was heavy on personnel and feelings.

Before the ten self-contained tales here kick off, heavily-illustrated preliminary prose piece ‘The Three of Us are a Team’ (‘remarks at the New York Banshee Society’ from transcripts donated to Syracuse University) revisits Crane’s acceptance speech on winning the 1961 Silver Lady Award as determined by a collation of contemporary communications executives. Effusive and reminiscent, it sees him give his partners all the credit for the hard work in crafting the feature…

Buz Sawyer began on November 1st 1943 and ran until 1989. Crane officially retired with the April 21st 1977 episode (dying on July 7th) while it continued under Granberry, Schlensker, Haas, Wenzel and John Celardo until cancelation on October 7th 1989.

The story resumes with an example of contemporary trends…

Chimpanzees were becoming a popular story addition for most media as the 1940s ended (just look at movies or comic books) and ‘Monkey Business’ finds our happy couple back in the USA after an African honeymoon (of sorts) which left the them owners of a young chimp named Junior…

Anticipating decades of future sitcoms, the tale details how Junior plays up during a critical dinner party/holiday weekend held by Sawyer’s boss Colonel Harrison but the resulting debacle at a swish soiree on Harrison’s palatial estate fails to impress potential business partner Mr Tidley Bragg. A cheeky excuse for manic screwball comedy and social gaffes, the chaos generates explosive hilarity, humiliation and Buz’s sacking before fate intervenes to show everyone that Junior was a boisterous blessing in disguise…

Swiftly rehired, Buz heads south, encountering ‘Revolution’ (September 19th 1949 – January 18th 1950) in a Central American republic. Frontier Oil was seeking an oil concession, but apparently their agent – Barstain – had played a double game. Before long, Buz is using his war experiences to lead a counter revolution to save democracy…

January 20th- June 17th offers a grimly chilling change of pace as ‘Buz Alone’ sees Christy and her husband on a well-earned vacation at a Florida honeymoon cottage. Tragically, danger is never far from them, and the brief idyll is shattered after a nature-watching boat trip leaves them stranded on a sandbar with no food, water, shelter or prospect of rescue.

A true champion, Buz survives a gruelling swim to the mainland and returns in a seaplane only to find three men on the sandbar and no trace of Christy. When he gets agitated, he’s accused of making it all up and – if she ever existed – doing away with the woman…

Beaten up when he tries to search their boat, Buz is left to pick up the pieces and track down Christy. In his hunger for clues, he is manipulated by a woman seeking a new husband – and someone to remove her current one – before eventually clashing with vengeful old enemy Harry Sparrow. At no time does he ever get near his missing better half…

While he flounders, a comely, capable lady with no memory is picked up on the mainland before losing herself amidst the sleazy local underworld. With the police now assisting, Buz sets out on the fresh trail, aided by trusty pal Sweeney. After more trauma and tribulation, Christy is found, but it’s not the girl Buz married yet – not by a long shot…

A return to lighter intrigue and enterprise comes when spoiled debutante ‘Diana’ (June 19th – November 24th) makes Daddy find her a job. Unluckily for Buz, Remington Chase is a bigwig at Frontier and his bored hellion of a daughter likes the idea of being Sawyer’s secretary – or at least the idea of Sawyer…

Even debonair Chili Harrison can’t sway her aim and when Buz “escapes” into work – despatched to Iron Curtain nation Sovmania just when he and Christy began looking at homes to buy – Miss Chase infuriatingly follows. Negotiating with the Soviets is tricky enough, but when it’s a US corporation demanding the communists hand back wells and refineries they illegally annexed and expropriated, Sawyer knows he can’t win and may end up mysteriously deceased. It’s no surprise to find Diana draws attention and danger like a magnet, but her response when the oppressors decide to arrest them is a life-changing revelation.

Spectacular spy games give way to a lighter interlude when Buz reunites with Christy and they babysit a parrot named ‘William Shakespeare’ (November 24th 1950-January 6th 1951). The beloved baby of a poetry professor, with an astounding talent for repeating what he hears, the bird proves to be even more trouble that their chimp was…

Clearly qualified in policing difficult customers, Buz is then assigned to locate a wandering landowner with 6,000 prime acres to lease. ‘Wish Jones’ (January 8th to April 19th) is old, homely, rich, romantic, suggestible and (suddenly) married to exotic dancer Taffy Fawn. However, he hasn’t signed the contracts Frontier needs, leaving Buz playing catch across all the love nests of the South Pacific. The fixer’s greatest asset is Taffy herself, who never thought wedded bliss and matchless wealth included so much sand, birds or bugs. His biggest problem is that even desert island paradises have crooks, radios and newspapers…

Another episode of animal husbandry catastrophes – this time a dachshund and a voracious baby heron – leads implausibly to a sojourn in ‘Alaska’ (26th April – August 22nd) with Sawyer undercover as John Singer.

While seeking a geologist’s killers, he’s also acting as courier for the Government in a serious and solid spy escapade worthy of Alfred Hitchcock with abductions, misreported deaths, murderous sailors, devious twins, fake relatives and hidden uranium reserves all in play, with Buz’s survival skills pushed to the limit before his mission is accomplished.

In dire need of relaxation, the reunited Mr & Mrs Sawyer trust to fate and pluck a name out of an atlas for a vacation. They land in a lakeside resort boasting peace and quiet but dreary ‘Doldrums’ (August 23rd – September 29th) is soon a pandemonium of envy and excitement as bored couples seek to spice up their passionless lives by emulating the infamous, glamorous newcomers…

Eponymous epic ‘Zazarof’s Revenge’ spans October 1st 1951-January 10th 1952, opening with a global sabotage campaign against Frontier, leading Buz to Switzerland where there’s no doubt of mystery man Igor Zazarof’s guilt, but apparently no way to find or face him.

Ultimately, persistence and charm break down the villain’s obvious pawn Neri, whilst all attempts to bribe, frame, frighten or kill the American fail, leading to an extended and brutal duel to the death on a mountain peak as the only way to deal with Sawyer…

We conclude for now with home-grown bad men ‘The Hawks Boys’ (January 10th – June 19th) terrorising and sabotaging a Frontier installation in Utah. As assault escalates to murder, Buz discovers why the Hawks’ – already well-paid for the oil rights to their land – are doing everything they can to force the company to pull out. What could be worth more than oil and what won’t they do to keep their secret?

Completing this vivid vintage venture is a wry glimpse of Crane’s early days. With text written by Jeet Heer, ‘A Cartoonist’s Travels’ offers a brief gallery of cartoons about bums, hoboes, tramps and voyagers, with the artist drawing upon his own youthful experiences as an itinerant bindlestiff and drifter…

This a sublime slice of compelling comics wonder is an ideal way to discover or reconnect with Crane’s second magnum opus. Bold, daring, funny and astonishingly enthralling, these episodic exploits influenced generations of modern cartoonists, illustrators, comics creators and storytellers. The series ranks amongst the very greatest strip cartoon features ever created: always delivering comics tale-telling unforgettable, unmissable and utterly irresistible. Try it and see for yourself.
Buz Sawyer: Zazarof’s Revenge © 2016 Fantagraphics Books. All Buz Sawyer strips © 2016 King Features Syndicate, Inc. All other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Yoko Tsuno volume 13: The Light of Ixo


By Roger Leloup, coloured by Beatrice/Studio Leonardo, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-392-5 (Album PB)

Indomitable intellectual adventurer Yoko Tsuno began her career in Le Journal de Spirou in 1970 and is still delighting regular readers and making new fans to this day. Her astounding, all-action, excessively accessible adventures are amongst the most intoxicating, absorbing and broad-ranging comics thrillers ever created.

The globe-girdling, space-&-time-spanning episodic epics starring the Japanese technologist-investigator were devised by monumentally multi-talented Belgian maestro Roger Leloup, who began his own solo career after working as a studio assistant on Herge’s Adventures of Tintin.

Compellingly told, superbly imaginative and – no matter how implausible the premise of any individual yarn may appear – always firmly grounded in hyper-realistic settings underpinned by authentic, unshakably believable technology and scientific principles, Leloup’s illustrated escapades were at the vanguard of a wave of strips revolutionising European comics in the mid-1970s.

That long-overdue sea-change heralded the rise of competent, clever and brave female protagonists taking their rightful places as heroic ideals; elevating Continental comics in the process. Happily, most of their endeavours are as timelessly engaging and empowering now as they ever were, and none more so than the trials and tribulations of Miss Tsuno.

Her very first outings (the still unavailable Hold-up en hi-fi, La belle et la bête and Cap 351) were simple introductory vignettes before the superbly capable electrical engineer and her valiant if less able male comrades Pol Paris and Vic Van Steen properly hit their stride with premier full-length saga Le trio de l’étrange in 1971 with Spirou’s May 13th issue…

Yoko’s exploits include explosive exploits in exotic corners of our world, time-travelling jaunts and sinister deep-space sagas – such as this one – with our human troubleshooters working beside the disaster-prone alien colonists of planet Vinea beside devoted best friend Khany: a competent, commanding single mother who combines parenting her toddler Poky with saving worlds, leading her people and chasing cosmic adventure…

There have been 30 European albums to date and today’s tale originally debuted in 1980 as La Lumière d’Ixo, technically the 10th Yoko Tsuno exploit and the fifth to feature the extraterrestrial Vineans. It appears here via UK translation powerhouse Cinebook, offering an interstellar mystery of beguiling power and confirming the dreadful menace of faith in the hands of ruthless manipulators…

In their first outing together, Yoko, Vic and frivolous Pol discovered a pocket of dormant extraterrestrials hibernating for eons in the depths of the Earth. After freeing them from robotic tyranny, the valiant humans occasionally helped the alien refugees (who had fled their own planet two million years previously) rebuild their lost sciences, before ultimately accompanying them on their return to their own star system and presumed-dead homeworld. As the Vineans rebuilt their civilisation and culture, the humans became regular guests…

On this excursion, the trio join an exploratory mission to distant moon Ixo. In ages past, it was a dumping ground for lethal toxic wastes, uncontrollable superweapons and other deadly discoveries, but since reclaiming their homeworld, the Vinean refugee/re-colonisers have observed periodic flashes of luminescence from what should be nothing but a dead ball of ice and rock. Now, the humans, Khany and her ever-present Poky join a science team seeking answers…

As the expedition travels across the eerily beautiful frozen vacuum of the moon, they discover a hidden sub-surface enclave of enigmatic survivors dedicated to a staggering goal. In the millions of years the Vineans slept in the depths of Earth, their primary civilisation collapsed. One of the greatest casualties was a neighbour planet used to house rebels and exiles, which at some distant time was reduced to a field of space debris.

For eons now, the banished dwellers of surviving self-contained orbital city Shyra have been harvesting energy on Ixo and transmitting it at the rubble, where it has been utilized to slowly reconstruct the broken world.

Tragically, the vast generational task has devolved into a holy crusade, governed by dogma and superstition. As an age-old power struggle between engineers and priests reaches boiling point, Khany and her human companions are captured and impressed into service. Plunged right into the heart of the clash, with hostile forces all around, the deeply empathic Yoko overcomes all odds and opposition: dethroning two minor dictators while perfecting the colossal concave ice mirror used to beam power across space to the shattered world, and even brokers a tenuous peace between Vinea and the Shyrans who have for millions of years considered their sister world a demonic, implacable enemy…

Gripping and visually spectacular, The Light of Ixo combines hard science with tense drama and a soupcon of social criticism: delivering another terse, action-packed, “Big Sky” sci fi thriller, once again magnified into magnificence by the astonishingly compelling and staggeringly detailed draughtsmanship and storytelling of Leloup.
Original edition © Dupuis, 1980 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2018 © Cinebook Ltd.

The Cisco Kid™ 


By Rod Reed & José Luis Salinas (Ken Pierce Books) 

ISBN: 0-912277-00-9 (PB) 

As with so many classic mass-media heroes, The Cisco Kid began as charismatic villain. Created by O. Henry for short prose tale “The Caballero’s Way”, he first appeared in Everybody’s Magazine in July 1907, and was included in the author’s anthological collection Heart of the West, which was published in the same year. 

Gone but not forgotten, The Kid returned and was gradually rehabilitated via a series of 27 films spanning 1914-1950; a radio serial running from 1942-1956; a one shot comic book in 1944 and – most crucially – a TV series (the first ever shot in colour) comprising 156 episodes, which spanned 1950-1956. Those latter media milestones in particular spawned a Dell Comics series (41 issues from 1950-1958) and informed a spectacular and beautiful comic strip licensed by King Features Syndicate which ran in numerous newspapers and across the world from 1951 to 1968. 

The hero is a dashing Mexican roaming the American west like the Lone Ranger, righting wrongs for no appreciable reason or reward. His comedy sidekick Pancho is fat, jolly, and eternally anxious, but also smart, deceptively brave and extremely capable: a rare example of positive depictions of Latino characters at that time or even by most modern examples… 

In the end, every effort of so many creators across the mass-communications divide couldn’t much help as increasingly polarized views about minorities pretty much cemented a certain view of Mexican characters in American public opinion in the 1960s and 1970, but at least our guys always were heroes, not low-grade villains, and lazy language stereotyping was kept to an absolute minimum.  

Cisco and Pancho spoke floridly, but never like Speedy Gonzales…  

This strip feature, like so many beautiful examples of western adventuring, has been all but forgotten today, but holds up remarkably well in terms of modern sensibilities …and as I’ve indicated, it is so very, very beautifully drawn.  

This impossible-to-find collection comes courtesy of pioneering comics archivist Ken Pierce, whose one-man campaign to preserve the best of newspaper strips throughout the 1970 and 1980s (Abbie an’ Slats; Axa; Danielle; Fred Kida’s Valkyrie) resulted this slim single volume of monochrome daily episodes, fronted by writer Rod Reed’s evocative Introduction. Reed was a veteran golden age scripter whose best work was for Fawcett and Quality Comics, and in the five stories re-presented here (covering January 17th to May 4th 1950), he ingeniously blends traditional family entertainment/action with wry wit and a devilishly wicked sense of the absurd… 

The writing is top notch but the true joy comes from the stunning draughtsmanship and graphic empathy of the illustrator. José Luis Salinas (February 11, 1908-January10, 1985) was Argentinian, beginning as an advertising artist before moving into comics El Tony and Paginas de Columba. In 1936 he created his first strip. Hernán el Corsario in Patoruzu was followed by many more classic adventure escapades. In 1949, he began working for American enterprise King Features Syndicate, who eventually partnered him with Reed. Their partnership – and the strip – lasted eighteen years, and apparently they never ever met or even corresponded even once… 

Individual storylines very much mirror TV episodes of any western of the era – like Hopalong Cassidy, Champion the Wonder Horse; Gunsmoke, Bonanza or the aforementioned Lone Ranger and all the usual tropes are in play, but thanks to Reed’s deft touches and Salinas’ skill, what might to us seem cliched, still sparkles with verve and vivacity… 

The dramas launches with ‘The First Story’ as the heroes help feisty rancher Lucy Baker uncover a swindle perpetrated by the local judge. His malfeasance is initially uncovered because he won’t allow “the wimmen-folk” vote on his new dam project, but all too soon it devolves into murder plots, frantic horse-chases and plenty of gunplay… 

‘The Deadly Stage Ride’ then sees the nomads save a failing stage coach company by replacing the driver and shotgun guard. Even if they had known sinister mastermind The Jagged Dagger was behind the campaign of sabotage and robbery, it would not have stopped them doing the right thing…  

Humour is paramount in ‘The Artist’ as French painter François Palette arrives, determined to capture the action and glamour of the Wild West and its great heroes – like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and The Cisco Kid – only to become the target of a fugitive Barbary Bill: a bullying thug who didn’t like his portrait… 

The Latin Lawgivers stumble across a dying man and carry out his deathbed wish to save an innocent man from execution in ‘The Harmonica Mistake’ before this delicious but dated delight closes down with a heartwarming mystery as Cisco and Pancho aid a poor widow and her son when outlaws kidnap the family pet. It seems there’s lost loot somewhere which old Spot can track in ‘Treasure Dog’…    

Swashbuckling thrills in the flamboyant style of Errol Flynn and Gene Kelly, combining the character dynamics of Don Quixote (& Sancho Panza ) with Holmes & Watson and Batman and Robin, these merry light-adventure yarns are so very moreish, and it’s well past time one of the specialist archival outfits like Hermes Press or IDW brought them all back to us… 

The Cisco Kid™ © 1983 Doubleday & Company. Editorial content and arrangement © 1983 Rod Reed. All rights reserved.