Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown volume 1


By Jack Kirby, Bob Brown, Dave Wood, Ed Herron, Roz Kirby, Marvin Stein, Bruno Premiani, George Klein, Wally Wood & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1087-8 (TPB)

In an era where comicbooks had slipped into an undirected and formless mass of genre-niches, the Challengers of the Unknown were a bridging concept between the fashionably all-American human trouble-shooters who monopolised comicbooks for most of the 1950s and the costumed mystery men who would soon return to take over the industry.

As superheroes were being gradually revived in 1956 under the cautious aegis of Julius Schwartz, here was a super-team – the first of the Silver Age – with no powers, the most basic and utilitarian of costumes and the most dubious of motives: Suicide by Mystery.

Despite all that they were a huge hit and struck a chord that lasted for more than a decade before they finally died… only to rise again and yet again. The idea of them was stirring enough, but their initial execution made their success all but inevitable.

Jack Kirby was – and remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are, quite rightly, millions of words written about what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium. I’m going to add even more words to that superabundance in this review of one of his best projects, which like so many others, he perfectly constructed before moving on as he always did, leaving highly competent but never quite as inspired talents to build upon his legacy.

When the comic industry suffered an economic collapse in the mid 1950’s, Kirby’s partnership with Joe Simon ended and he returned briefly to DC Comics. Here he worked on mystery tales and the minority-interest Green Arrow back-up strip whilst creating newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

Never idle for a moment, he also re-packaged for Showcase (a try-out title that launched the careers of many DC mainstays) an original super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and collaborator Simon had closed their innovative but unfortunate Mainline Comics.

After years of working for others, Simon and Kirby had finally established their own publishing company, producing comics for a much more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by the anti-comic book witch-hunt of US Senator Estes Kefauver and psychologist Dr Fredric Wertham.

Simon moved into advertising, but Kirby soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if less experimental, companies.

The Challengers of the Unknown were four ordinary mortals; heroic adventurers and explorers who walked away unscathed from a terrible plane crash. Clearly what we now call “adrenaline junkies”, they decided that since they were all living on borrowed time, they would dedicate what remained of their lives to testing themselves and fate. They would risk their lives for Knowledge and, naturally, Justice.

The Kirby tales of the team have been thankfully immortalised in full-colour archival print and digital editions, but the team captivated readers for a decade beyond those glorious beginnings, and thus far those tales are only available in these monochrome tomes. Hope springs eternal, though…

The series launched with ‘The Secrets of the Sorcerer’s Box!’ (Showcase #6, cover-dated January/February 1957 – which meant it came out in time for Christmas 1956). Kirby and scripter Dave Wood, plus inkers Marvin Stein and Jack’s wife Roz, crafted a spectacular epic as the doom-chasers are hired by duplicitous magician Morelian to open an ancient container holding otherworldly secrets and powers.

This initial story roars along with all the tension and wonder of the B-movie thrillers it emulates and Kirby’s awesome drawing resonates with power and dynamism. That continues for the sequel, a science fiction drama sparked by an alliance of Nazi technologies and American criminality which unleashes a terrible robotic monster. ‘Ultivac is Loose!’ (Showcase #7, dated March/April 1957) introduces beautiful and capable boffin (aren’t they always?) Dr. June Robbins, who becomes the unofficial fifth Challenger at a time when most comic females (and living ones too) – had been banished back to subsidiary domestic status in that so-conservative era.

The team didn’t reappear until Showcase #11 (November/December 1957) as The Flash and Lois Lane got their shots at the big time. When the Challs did return, it was in alien invasion adventure ‘The Day the Earth Blew Up’, with unique realist Bruno Premiani inking a taut doomsday chiller pinning readers to the edges of their seats even today, and by the time of their last Showcase outing (#12, January /February 1958) they had won their own title.

‘The Menace of the Ancient Vials’ was defused by the usual blend of daredevil heroics and ingenuity (with the wonderful inking of George Klein adding subtle clarity to the tale of an international criminal who steals an ancient weapons cache that threatens the entire world if misused), but the biggest buzz came two months later with the debut of their own magazine.

Issue #1, written and drawn by Kirby, with Stein on inks, presented two complete stories plus an iconic introductory page that would become almost a signature second logo for the team.

‘The Man Who Tampered with Infinity’ pits the heroes against a renegade scientist whose cavalier dabbling liberates dreadful monsters from the beyond onto our defenceless planet, after which the team are abducted by aliens to become ‘The Human Pets’.

The same creators were responsible for a brace of thrillers in #2. ‘The Traitorous Challenger’ is a monster mystery, with June returning to sabotage a mission in the Australian Outback, whilst ‘The Monster Maker’ finds the team seemingly helpless against a super-criminal who can conjure up and animate solid objects out of his thoughts.

The third issue features ‘Secret of the Sorcerer’s Mirror’ with Roz Kirby & Marvin Stein again inking the mesmerising pencils, as the boys pursue a band of criminals whose magic looking glass can locate deadly ancient weapons, although the most intriguing tale for fans and historians is undoubtedly ‘The Menace of the Invincible Challenger’.

Here team strongman Rocky Davis is rocketed into space, only to crash back to Earth with strange, uncanny powers.

For years the obvious similarities of this group – and especially this adventure – to the origin of Marvel’s Fantastic Four (FF #1 came out in the autumn of 1961) have fuelled speculation. In all honesty, I simply don’t care. They’re both similar and different but equally enjoyable, so read both. In fact, read them all.

With #4 the series became artistically perfect as the sheer luminous brilliance of Wally Wood’s inking elevated the art to unparalleled heights. The scintillant sheen and limpid depth of Wood’s brushwork fostered an abiding authenticity in even the most outrageous of Kirby’s designs and the result is – even now – breathtaking.

‘The Wizard of Time’ is a full-length masterpiece wherein a series of bizarre robberies leads the team to a scientist with a time-machine. By visiting oracles of the past, he finds a path to the far future. When he gets there, he plans on robbing it blind, but the Challengers find a way to follow him…

‘The Riddle of the Star-Stone’ (#5) is a contemporary full-length thriller, wherein an archaeologist’s assistant uncovers an alien tablet bestowing various super-powers when different gems are inserted into it. The exotic locales and non-stop spectacular action are intoxicating, but the solid characterisation and ingenious writing are what make this such a compelling read.

Scripter Dave Wood returned for #6’s first story. ‘Captives of the Space Circus’ has the boys kidnapped from Earth to perform in a interplanetary show, but the evil ringmaster is promptly outfoxed and the team returns for Ed Herron’s mystic saga ‘The Sorceress of Forbidden Valley’, as June becomes an amnesiac puppet in a power struggle between a fugitive gangster and a ruthless feudal potentate.

There are also two stories in #7. Herron scripted both the relatively straightforward alien-safari tale ‘The Beasts from Planet 9’ and much more intriguing ‘Isle of No Return’ with the team confronting a scientific bandit before his shrinking ray leaves them permanently mouse-sized.

Issue #8 is a magnificent finale to a superb run, as Kirby & Wally Wood go out in style via two gripping spectaculars (both of which introduce menaces who would return to bedevil the team in future tales).

‘The Man Who Stole the Future’ by Dave Wood, Kirby and the (unrelated) Wally, introduces Drabny – a mastermind who steals mystic artefacts and conquers a small nation before the lads hand him his marching orders. This is a tale of blistering battles and uncharacteristic, if welcome, comedy, but the true gem is science fiction tour-de-force ‘Prisoners of the Robot Planet’, with art by Kirby & Wally, and most probably written by Kirby & Herron. Petitioned by a desperate alien, the Challs travel to his distant world to liberate the population from bondage to their own robotic servants, who have risen in revolt under the command of fearsome automaton Kra.

These are classic adventures, told in a classical manner. Kirby developed a brilliantly feasible concept with which to work and heroically archetypical characters in cool pilot Ace Morgan, indomitable strongman Rocky, intellectual aquanaut “Prof”. Haley and daredevil acrobat Red Ryan. He then manipulated, mixed and matched an astounding blend of genres to display their talents and courage in unforgettable exploits that informed every team comic that followed, and certainly influenced his successive and landmark triumphs with Stan Lee. But then he left.

The Challengers would follow the Kirby model until cancellation in 1970, but, due to a dispute with Editor Jack Schiff the writer/artist resigned at the height of his powers. The Kirby magic was impossible to match, but as with all The King’s creations, every element was in place for the successors to run with.

Challengers of the Unknown #9 (September 1959) saw an increase in the fantasy elements favoured by Schiff, and perhaps an easing of the subtle tension and inter-group fractious bickering that marked previous issues (Comics Historians take note: the Challs were snapping and snarling at each other years before Marvel’s Cosmic Quartet ever boarded that fateful rocket-ship).

A number of writers, many sadly lost to posterity, stepped in, including Bill Finger, Ed Herron and possibly Jack Miller, Bob Haney and Arnold Drake, but one man took over the illustrator’s role: Bob Brown.

Brown was born August 22nd 1915 and he died in 1977 following a long illness. He studied at Hartford Art School and Rhode Island School of Design, and worked with his showbiz folks and sister in a song-&-dance act from 1927 onwards. He was drafted in 1940 – the year he also began working as a comics artist and scripter for Fox, Timely/Atlas. As the war intensified, he was an aircraft radio operator, an aviation cadet and served in the Pacific as bombardier and navigator in B-29 bombers, earning six air medals and a Distinguished Flying Cross.

After jobbing around the industry during the late 1040s and 1950’s Brown settled at National Comics/DC, co-created the long-running Space Ranger, drawing Tomahawk, western hero Vigilante, Batman, Superboy, Doom Patrol, World’s Finest Comics and a host of other features and genre shorts. He moved to Marvel in the 1970s where he drew Warlock, Daredevil and the Avengers among others.

He was a consummate professional and drew every issue of the Challengers from #9-63: almost a decade of high adventure ranged from ravaging aliens, cute-and-fuzzy space beasts to truly scary supernatural horrors.

‘The Men who Lost their Memories’ finds the team fighting crooks with a thought-stealing machine, whereas ‘The Plot to Destroy Earth!’ is a full-on, end-of-humanity thriller with monsters bent on carving our world into chunks for their resource-hungry alien masters. Only the guts and ingenuity of our heroes can save the day…

A destructive giant with a deadly secret is the motivating premise of ‘The Cave-Man Beast’ and #10’s cover-featured second tale sets another time-travel conundrum as the boys discover their own likenesses on a submerged monolith in fanciful thriller ‘The Four Faces of Doom’.

Issue #11 is an action-packed full-length interdimensional romp subdivided into ‘The Creatures from the Forbidden World’, ‘Land beyond the Light’ and ‘The Achilles Heel’, after which the two-story format returns for the next issue, which boasts ‘The Challenger from Outer Space’ – with an alien superhero joining the team – and ‘Three Clues to Sorcery’ with our quarrelsome quartet again forced to endure exotic locales and extreme perils to acquire mystic artefacts for a criminal mastermind. Even so, this time there’s a unique and deadly twist in this oft-told tale…

‘The Prisoner of the Tiny Space Ball’ see the team rescuing the ruler of another world, before Rocky is possessed by the legendary Golden Fleece, making him a puppet of ‘The Creatures from the Past’.

Issue #14 opens with one of the few adventures with a credited scripter. Ed “France” Herron was a 30-year comics veteran and ‘The Man who Conquered the Challengers’ is one of his best tales, with crooked archaeologist Eric Pramble stealing an ancient formula for “liquid light” which makes him functionally immortal. Moreover, every time he’s killed, he reanimates with a different super-power!

As Multi-Man, Pramble became the closest thing to an arch-villain the series ever had, and even graduated to becoming a regular foe across the DCU. Once again, cool wits and sheer nerve find a way to victory that sheer firepower never could.

In second yarn ‘Captives of the Alien Beasts’, all five Challs are teleported to another world by animals who have invaded a scientist’s laboratory. It’s a relatively innocuous tale when compared to #15’s all-out fight-fest ‘The Return of Multi-Man’ and bizarre offering ‘The Lady Giant and the Beast’, wherein June is transformed into a 50-foot leviathan just as a scaly monster cuts a swathe of destruction through the locality.

Issue #16’s ‘Incredible Metal Creature’ sees an Earth thug join forces with an escaped alien criminal. No real Challenge there, but a back-up yarn finds the team in Arabia as ‘Prisoners of the Mirage World’ facing knights who have been trapped there since the time of the Crusades.

This thrill-stuffed then tome concludes with #17’s supernatural crime whimsy ‘The Genie who Feared June’, and interplanetary mission of mercy ‘The Secret of the Space Capsules’; both solid pieces of adventure fiction that, if not displaying the unique Kirby magic, are redolent with its flavours.

As well as being probably (certainly at this moment, anyway) my favourite comics series, Challengers of the Unknown is sheer escapist wonderment, and no fan of the medium should miss the graphic exploits of these perfect adventurers in the ideal setting of not so long ago in a simpler better world than ours. If only we could convince DC Comics to give them the archival home in print and digital editions they so richly deserve, to match the constant re-imaginings the team and title regularly enjoy…
© 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Tintin in Tibet


By Hergé, Bob De Moor, Roger Leloup and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-819-2 (HB) 978-1-40520-631-0 (Album PB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a timeless masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and entourage of iconic associates.

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the Hergé Studio, he created 23 timeless yarns (initially serialised in instalments for a variety of newspaper periodicals) which have grown beyond their pop culture roots to attain the status of High Art.

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

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

The rest is history…

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

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

Leblanc also provided cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands, which allowed the artist and his growing studio team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by the Fascist occupiers and unwillingly added to ideologically shade the wartime adventures. These modernising exercises generally improved and updated the great tales, just in time for Tintin to become a global phenomenon.

With World War II over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure. Sadly, Hergé’s personal life was less satisfactory, but although plagued by physical and mental health problems, the travails only seemed to enhance his storytelling abilities…
Tintin au Tibet began initial serialisation in Le Journal de Tintin #523, running from 17th September 1958 to #585: the November 25th 1959 issue. The inevitable book collection was released in 1960.

Tintin in Tibet is unlike any other story of the plucky, valiant boy reporter. At this time Hergé’s 25-year marriage was ending, and he was recovering from a series of nervous breakdowns whilst tormented by dreams of “unending white”. Rather than take a break or even retire, he began the most eerie, mystical and personal story of his long career.
This yarn is special in many ways and the Master’s personal favourite…

Tintin and Captain Haddock are vacationing in the mountains of Europe when the boy reporter is seized by a bizarre fit after reading of a plane crash in Nepal. Inexplicably, he screams the name of his old friend Chang (Chang Chong-Chen, left behind in China at the end of The Blue Lotus).

From that moment, his entire consciousness is preoccupied with his old friend. Frenzied inquires reveal that Chang was indeed, on the crashed airliner and is now believed dead. Despite all rational argument, Tintin knows somehow his friend has survived and immediately sets out to rescue him, with a protesting Captain Haddock reluctantly in tow.

Against all odds, the duo travel through India to the mountainous borderlands and into the Himalayas. Nothing can shake Tintin’s obsessive belief that Chang is alive and urgently needs him… Along the way they make another new comrade in the person of Sherpa guide Tharkey

How the attendant physical and mental hardships are overcome make for a grim and uncharacteristically bleak tale, whilst the examples of mysticism, paranoia and overtly supernatural phenomena are an uncomfortable fit in the fantastic but rational universe that Tintin inhabits. There isn’t even a villain du jour, but for all that, the story does work, and no other adventure so well depicts the heroic qualities of the lad and the deep emotional bond between him and his greatest friends, Chang and Haddock.

Of course, Hergé’s utter professionalism would not allow him to produce anything that was not eminently readable, captivatingly funny (where appropriate) and stirringly thrilling. Although perhaps the oddest tale, this might just be the author’s most revealing.
Tintin in Tibet: artwork © 1960, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1962 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Red Sea Sharks


By Hergé, Bob De Moor, Roger Leloup and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-818-5 (HB) 978-140520-630-3 (TPB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a timeless masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and entourage of iconic associates.

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the Hergé Studio, he created 23 splendid volumes (originally serialised in instalments for a variety of newspaper periodicals) which have grown beyond their pop culture roots to attain the status of High Art.

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

While illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette – written by the staff sports reporter – Wallez asked Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

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

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist. Leblanc also provided cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands, which allowed the artist and his team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by the occupiers and unwillingly added to ideologically shade the war time adventures. The modernising exercise generally improved and updated the great tales, just in time for Tintin to become a global phenomenon.

With World War II over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure. Although Hergé’s later life was plagued by personal and health problems, this only seemed to enhance his storytelling abilities.

Coke en stock began initial serialisation in Le Journal de Tintin from 31st October 1956 and on completion (1st January 1958) issue was collected into album form. In 1960 it voyaged across the channel to become The Adventures of Tintin: The Red Sea Sharks: a slick, perfectly polished comedy thriller, rife with intrigue and camaraderie. Even after decades it reads as a fresh and challenging romp ideal for young and old alike.

The Red Sea Sharks has lost none of its original contemporary urgency. Produced during the turbulent times that led to the Middle Eastern Suez Crisis, it remains worryingly relevant with nations and mad millionaires carrying out proxy wars amidst the sand dunes and shipping lanes…

The yarn reintroduces Emir Ben Kalish Ezab (from Land of Black Gold) whose oil-rich country is in the throes of a civil war manufactured by the moneyed powers of the West. Fearful of the consequences, the hard-pressed potentate sends his son Abdullah to stay with Captain Haddock at rural Marlinspike Hall, unaware that the old dipsomaniac and Tintin are currently embroiled in a minor mystery involving former south American dictator General Alcazar (The Broken Ear), cheap war surplus aircraft and a hidden criminal mastermind…

As eager to escape the infernal practical jokes of the incorrigible Prince Abdullah as to solve the case, the heroic pair trace the trail of the sinister arms dealers and soon find themselves back in the Desert Kingdom of Khemed.

The Europeans are closely monitored and arrive as unwelcome intruders after the rebels defeat the Emir and drive him into hiding, thanks to their illicitly gained fighter planes. When a hidden bomb leaves Tintin’s plane wrecked in the wastelands, the indomitable pair trek overland into enemy territory before finally finding the Emir-in-hiding.

Here they learn the coup has been instigated by the Marquis di Gorgonzola, an enigmatic self-made millionaire whose vast commercial interests are supplemented by selling into slavery pilgrims undertaking the Hajj to Mecca!

Hot on the trail, the pair take ship for that holy city but are strafed by warplanes. Shooting one down they rescue the pilot, but when they and their new-found ally are rescued by Gorgonzola’s yacht, Tintin discovers that one of his oldest foes is behind it all…

This spectacular high-adventure, despite its political and moral underpinnings, is primarily an action yarn with plenty of twists and turns and a terrific feel-good climax.
The Red Sea Sharks: artwork © 1958, 1986 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1960 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Calculus Affair


By Hergé, Bob De Moors and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-817-8 (HB) 978-1-40520-629-7 (TPB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created an incontrovertible masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates.

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he created 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

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

He was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Wallez asked Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

After a troubled period during the war years, the Boy Reporter and his companions became a staple of the European childhood experience through weekly trans-national magazine Le Journal de Tintin and regular album collections. The anthology comic regularly achieved a circulation in the hundreds of thousands, allowing the artist and his team to remaster past tales and create bold new romps reflecting the tone of the times.

Although Hergé’s later life was troubled by personal problems and health issues, this only seemed to enhance his storytelling abilities. The later adventures are all sleek, polished thrillers, rife with intrigue and camaraderie; perfectly garnished with comedy set-pieces of timeless brilliance. Even after decades of working, the artist/auteur continued fresh and challenging, always seeking new arenas of drama to explore.
Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure. That meant a return to observations of contemporary themes and situations, as in this effective treatise on the burgeoning Cold War…

L’Affaire Tournesol began in the Christmas issue of the Belgian edition of Le Journal de Tintin (dated December 22nd 1954) and ran uninterrupted until February 22nd 1956. The French editions ran it from February 1955, and the completed saga was collected as an album in 1956 and is notable for the introduction of three characters who would become semi-regular cast members: Jolyon Wagg, Cutts the Butcher, and recurring villain Colonel Spoons.

The Calculus Affair once again sees the zany Professor abducted from the palatial home of Captain Haddock, resulting in a dire and desperate chase through espionage-infested Europe. Our heroes are hampered in their efforts to save their friend by the introduction of the infinitely annoying and crushingly dull insurance salesman Jolyon Wagg and, more ominously, rival bands of relentless, ruthless spies.

As they doggedly pursue Calculus to Geneva, Tintin and Haddock encounter not only the insidious agents of Borduria but find that their erstwhile allies of Syldavia are also trying to make the Professor “disappear”. After frantic chases, pitched battles and assassination attempts, diplomatic duplicity defeats them, and Calculus becomes an unwilling guest of the totalitarian Bordurians, who are pleased to accept as a “gift” his new invention, which they intend to use as a weapon of mass destruction.

Temporarily stymied, Tintin and Haddock finagle their way into the country, and with the aid of Opera Diva and human tornado Bianca Castafiore, bamboozle the secret police to rescue the Professor and save the day.

Although all the elements in play are tried and trusted ingredients of the Tintin formula, the level of artistic achievement here is superb and the interplay of tense drama, slapstick comedy and breakneck action make this brooding thriller the most accomplished of Hergé’s tales. The simple fact that the contemporary Cold War fever is absent for modern readers makes no difference at all to the enjoyment of this magnificent graphic masterpiece.

The Calculus Affair: artwork © 1956, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1960 Methuen & Co Ltd/2012 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

King Coo: The Curse of the Mummy’s Gold


By Adam Stower (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-052-2 (PB)

The old demarcations – whether in format or content – between comics and “proper books” are all but gone these days and the results are, quite frankly, long overdue and simply intoxicating…

Since the pre-print era of illustrated manuscripts, books have always possessed the capacity (budgets permitting) to include images in the text. As the book trade progressed, pictures were generally phased out of cheaper, mass-market editions because they required costly and time-consuming extra effort by skilled technicians. Most artists and illustrators wanted payment for their efforts too, so books with pictures were regarded as extra special, most often crafted for children, students or aficionados of textbooks…

Comics strips grew out of cartoon images, beginning as static illustrations accompanied by blocks of printed text before gradually developing into pictorial sequences with narration, dialogue and sound effects incorporated into the actual design.

These days print processes are speedy and efficient, and many creative bright sparks have realised that they can combine all these tangential disciplines into a potent synthesis.

Gosh, wasn’t that lecture dull?

What I’m saying is that these days, the immediacy of comics, the enchantment of illustrated images, the power of well-designed infographics and the mesmeric tone and mood of well-written prose can all be employed simultaneously to create tales of overwhelming entertainment.

A perfect example of this is artist Adam Stower’s (Bottom’s Up!, Spymice, The Dragons of Wayward Green, The Secret Country) second adventure of Ben Pole and his fabulous companion King Coo.

When Ben was being pitilessly persecuted by bullies at school, one desperate attempt to escape took him to a vast and fantastic forest that lay somehow hidden at the bottom of a hole in a tatty alleyway between skyscrapers in the city. Here he met capable wild-child King Coo: a spear-carrying, crown-wearing girl who builds incredible, impossible inventions and lives in a tree house with her wombat chum Herbert. Most of the time, Coo is covered from her nostrils to her sturdy bare feet in a luxuriant, all-encompassing beard.

She soon helped him sort out his bullying problem once and for all…

Now, as summer holidays end, Ben is heading back to school, just as his mum starts her new job as a security guard at the City Museum. As if having a massive new exhibition featuring the priceless golden treasures of mummified medicine-man Mighty Ozozo of the Blue-Foots Tribe isn’t enough to worry about, many other museums and galleries have recently been plundered by the sinister and mysterious Midnight Mob

Sadly for Ben, his homebody dad’s culinary escapades haven’t gotten any better either…

Ben’s desire to continue having life-&-limb threatening adventures with Coo and her bizarre gizmos is slightly lessened after his class is introduced to substitute teacher Professor Pickering and his attendant transfer students: the oddly fascinating pupils of the Lilly Lavender Private Academy for Exceptional Girls

And thus unfolds a thrill-stuffed, action-packed romp involving vile villains, daring robberies, a hostage situation, dastardly deception and the terrifying prospect of supernatural revenge from beyond the grave. Happily, King Coo has a plan… but then again, she always has a plan, and blueprints and prototypes and…

Fast-paced, astoundingly inventive and laugh-out-loud hilarious, this brilliant kids’ caper merges compact effective prose with beguiling monochrome pictures, comic strips, breathtaking double-page spreads, explanatory diagrams, informative info-pages, mini-posters and all the visual gimmicks that give comics their overpowering immediacy.

This is a book kids of all ages will adore, so why not grant yourself and your entourage a personal audience with King Coo at your earliest convenience?
Text and illustrations © Adam Stower 2019. All rights reserved.

King Coo: The Curse of the Mummy’s Gold will be released on 6th June 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

James Bond™ volume 3: Black Box


By Benjamin Percy, Rapha Lobosco, Chris O’Halloran, Simon Bowland & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-5241-0409-2

James Bond is the ultimate secret agent. You all know that and have – thanks to the multi-media empire that has grown up around Ian Fleming’s masterful creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to the latest movie, game or novel.

Amongst those various iterations are some exceedingly enjoyable comicbook and newspaper strip versions detailing the further exploits of 007 which have never truly found the appreciation they rightly deserve. This collection is one of the most recent, compiling a 6-issue miniseries from licensing specialists Dynamite Entertainment. Their take was originally redefined by Warren Ellis & illustrator Jason Masters, who jettisoned decades of gaudy paraphernalia accumulating around the ultimate franchise hero, opting instead for a stripped-down, pared-back, no-nonsense iteration who is all business.

Benjamin Percy accepted the poisoned chalice of following on, and here blends the austere power of the reboot with his own tributes to the movie contributions of the Roger Moore era. Capably and effectively handling the visuals is Rapha Lobosco, with colours and letters supplied by Chris O’Halloran, and Bowland respectively.

It begins with Bond in the French Alps, stalking an assassin, but his licence to kill proves unnecessary as his target is lethally excised by another sharpshooter, who then escapes him in a rollercoaster ski race down the mountain slopes. Perhaps 007 was distracted by her skill or maybe her great – albeit slightly scarred – beauty…

Returning to MI6 HQ in Vauxhall Cross, Bond picks up his next assignment: eradicating the perpetrators of a hack which has captured vital Crown political information and recovering the stolen data.

The hack originated in Tokyo and soon Bond is executing Operation Black Box, supported and supplied by department armorer Boothroyd. The wily technician is also – unofficially – helping to ascertain the identity of the woman who bested Bond in the Alps…

The hacker’s trail leads to the nefarious Shinjuku District and a plush Yakuza gambling den, where the British agent meets and calamitously clashes with aging billionaire Saga Genji. The tech wizard is the proud culprit of the data grab and almost succeeds in gruesomely removing the interfering agent until the mysterious woman resurfaces to murderously intervene…

When CIA comrade Felix Leiter shows up, the terrifying global scope of Genji’s plans becomes apparent and a race to secure the Black Box (for the rulers of a host of greedily ambitious nations) turns allies into merciless competitors with the entire world’s dirty secrets as the prize.

Meanwhile, Genji has supplemented his loyal army of thugs with a barely human serial killer dubbed No Name: an unstoppable psychopath who takes faces for his keepsakes and is now utterly devoted to adding Bond and his annoying female accomplice to his tally at any cost…

With the clock ticking down to international information Armageddon and bloody death and destruction constantly dogging them, Bond and his enigmatic ally overcome all odds to invade Genji’s secret base and secure all the World’s dirty laundry, only to discover at the end that their aims are not entirely similar…

Packed with all the traditional set-pieces such as exotic locales, spectacular car chases and astoundingly protracted fight sequences, this is a rip-roaring romp fans will love, supported by Bonus Material including a gallery of covers by Dominic Reardon and a host of variants from John Cassaday, Jason Masters, Goni Montes, Moritat, Lobosco, Giovanni Valletta, Patrick Zircher and Matt Taylor; an interview with author Percy by Will Nevin first seen in the Oregonian and the full script for issue #1, accompanied by its equivalent line art.

This thrill-filled espionage episode is fast, furious and impeccably stylish: in short, another perfect James Bond thriller.

Try it and see for yourselves…
© 2017 Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. James Bond and 007 are ™ Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Will Eisner’s Hawks of the Seas


By Will Eisner & various
ISBN: 1569714274 (Dark Horse)

ISBN: 0-87816-022-1 (HB) ISBN: 0-87816-023-X (TPB) (Kitchen Sink Press)

It is pretty much accepted today that Will Eisner was one of the prime creative forces that shaped the comicbook industry, but still many of his milestones escape public acclaim in the English-speaking world. This is one long overdue for fresh efforts and digital immortality.

From 1936 to 1938 Eisner worked as a jobbing cartoonist in the comics production firm known as the Eisner-Eiger Shop, creating strips to be published in both domestic US and foreign markets.

Using the pen-name Willis B. Rensie he wrote and drew the saga of the mysterious American adventurer known only as “The Hawk”, who sailed the 18th century Caribbean seas with his piratical band. An intellectual and dreamer, the freebooter had been taken as a slave, and now dedicated his life to destroying the slave trade and punishing injustice.

With a stalwart and scurvy crew of characters at his back, this charismatic blend of Robin Hood, Sir Francis Drake and the Count of Monte Cristo captivated readers all over the world in single-page instalments of swashbuckling thrills delivered via spectacular bravura art and narrative ingenuity: appearing in newspapers and weekly magazines as far apart as England, South America, France, and Australia.

After years as a lost classic, it was gathered into an awesome collected edition (measuring 376 x 270) by Dennis Kitchen, thanks mainly to happenstance and the good graces of another comics legend, Al Williamson. He had been a huge fan of the strip when it ran in Paquin – a weekly strip anthology magazine he’d read growing up in Bogota, Colombia.

Years later, now revered professional artist Williamson acquired an almost complete run of publisher’s proof sheets – in Spanish – which when translated and re-lettered would form the basis of this volume. Fellow well-wishers in France, England and Australia also contributed pages for an almost complete run.

Almost lost again, Hawks of the Seas was re-issued in 2003 by Dark Horse as part of their Will Eisner Library (although at a more modest and bookshelf-friendly size) and stands as a fascinating insight into this creator’s imaginative power, moral and philosophical fascinations and spellbinding ability to tell a great story with magical pictures. It’s also a thumping good tale of pirates and derring-do that will captivate kids of all ages, so let’s some savvy publisher makes the necessary moves soon.

Forget Jack Sparrow: get on the trail of The Hawk…
© 1986 Kitchen Sink Press. 2003 Will Eisner. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon



By Hergé, Bob De Moors and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-815-4 (HB Destination) 978-1-40520-627-3 (TPB Destination)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-816-1 (HB Explorers) 978-1-40520-628-0 (TPB Explorers)
As Tintin’s Moon Adventure (Magnet/Methuen) ISBN: 978-0-41696-710-4 (TPB)
Forthcoming – Tintin on the Moon (Egmont) ISBN: 978-1405295901 (HB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created an incontrovertible masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates.

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he created 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

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

He was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Wallez asked Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

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

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands and allowed the artist and his team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by and unwillingly added to ideologically shade the war time adventures as well as generally improving and updating great tales that were about to become a global phenomenon.

With World War II over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure.

In 1949 he returned to unfinished yarn Tintin au pays de l’or noir; abandoned when the Nazis invaded Belgium. The story had been commissioned by Le Vingtiéme Siécle, running from 28th September 1939 until 8th May 1940 when the paper was closed down. Set on the eve of a European war, the plot revolved around Tintin hunting seditionists and saboteurs sabotaging oil supplies in the Middle East. Before being convinced to update and complete the tale as Land of Black Gold, Hergé briefly toyed with the notion of taking his cast into space…

Collected albums Objectif Lune and On a marché sur la Lune were huge hits after the initial serialisation in Le Journal de Tintin from 30th March 1950 to 7th September 1950 and – after what must have been an intolerable wait for readers – from 29th October 1952 to 29th December 1953.

The tale was produced after discussions between Hergé and his friends Bernard Heuvelmans (scientist, author and father of pseudo-science Cryptozoology) and Jacques Van Melkebeke (AKA George Jacquet: strip scripter, painter, journalist and a frequent if unacknowledged contributor to the Tintin canon). The sci fi epic that became a 2-volume masterpiece first made the leap to English in 1959.

On a personal note: I first read Destination Moon in 1964, in a huge hardcover album edition (as they all were in the 1960s) and was blown completely away. I’m happy to say that except for the smaller pages – and there’s never a substitute for “Big-ness” – this taut thriller and its magnificent, mind-boggling sequel are still in a class of their own in the annals of science fiction comic strips…

Moreover, during the 1980s the entire tale was (repeatedly) released in a combined tome as Tintin’s Moon Adventure: an utterly inescapable piece of publishing common sense that is finally being repeated this summer in a new hardback album from Methuen…

Our tale begins with our indomitable boy reporter and Captain Haddock returning to ancestral pile Marlinspike Hall only to discover that brilliant but “difficult” savant Professor Cuthbert Calculus has disappeared. When an enigmatic telegram arrives, the puzzled pair are off once again to Syldavia (as seen in King Ottokar’s Sceptre) and a rendezvous with the missing boffin…

Although suspicious, Tintin soon finds that the secrecy is for sound reasons. In Syldavia, Calculus and an international team of researchers and technologists are completing a grand project to put a man on the Moon! In a turbulent race against time and amidst a huge and all-encompassing security clampdown, the scheme nears completion, but Tintin and Haddock’s arrival coincides with a worrying increase in espionage activity.

An enemy nation or agency is determined to steal the secrets of Calculus’s groundbreaking atomic motor at any cost, and it takes all Tintin’s ingenuity to keep ahead of the villains. The arrival of detectives Thompson and Thomson adds nothing to the aura of anxiety but their bumbling investigations and Calculus’ brief bout of concussion-induced amnesia do provide some of the funniest moments in comics history…

As devious incidents and occurrences of sabotage increase in intensity and frequency, it becomes clear that there may be a traitor inside the project itself, but at last the moment arrives and Tintin, Haddock, Calculus, technologist Dr. Frank Wolff – and Snowy – blast off for the Moon!

Cold, clinical and superbly underplayed, Destination Moon is completely unlike the flash-and-dazzle razzamatazz of British and American tales from that period – or since. It is as if the burgeoning Cold War mentality of the era has infected even Tintin’s bright clean world. Once again, the pressure of work and Hergé’s troubled private life resulted in a breakdown and a hiatus in the strip – but this time some of that darkness transferred to the material – although it only seems to have added to the overall effect of claustrophobia and paranoia. Even the comedy set-pieces are more manic and explosive: This is possibly the most mature of all Tintin’s exploits…

Presumably to offset the pressures of creation to weekly deadlines, the master founded Studio Hergé on 6th April 1950: a public company to produce the adventures of Tintin as well other features, with Bob De Moor enthroned as chief apprentice.

He became a vital component of Tintin’s gradual domination of the book market, frequently despatched on visual fact-finding missions. De Moor revised the backgrounds of The Black Island for a British edition, and repeated the task for the definitive 1971 release of Land of Black Gold. An invaluable and permanent addition to the production team, De Moor supervised while filling in backgrounds and, most notably, rendering the unforgettable eerie and magnificent Lunar landscapes that feature here.

If the first book is an exercise in tension and suspense, Explorers on the Moon is sheer bravura spectacle. En route to Luna the explorers discover that the idiot detectives have accidentally stowed away, and along with Captain Haddock’s illicit whisky and the effects of freefall, provide brilliant comedy routines to balance the eerie isolation and dramatic dangers of the journey.

Against all odds the lunanauts land and make astounding scientific discoveries, but must cut short their adventures due to the imminent threat of suffocation caused by the introduction of the extra passengers on the fantastic atomic moon rocket…

Moreover, lurking in the shadows, there is still the very real threat of a murderous traitor to be dealt with…

This so-modern yarn is a high point in the series, blending heroism and drama with genuine moments of irresistible emotion and side-splitting comedy. The absolute best of the bunch in my humble opinion, and still one of the most realistic and accurately depicted space comics ever produced. If you only ever read one Hergé saga it simply must be this translunar Adventure of Tintin.
Destination Moon: artwork © 1953, 1959, 1981 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved. Explorers on the Moon: artwork © 1954, 1959, 1982 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

A new combined compilation – Tintin on the Moon – will be released on June 27th 2019 and is available for pre-order now

Showcase Presents Sea Devils volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Bob Haney, France E. Herron, Hank P. Chapman, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Joe Kubert, Gene Colan, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Jack Abel, Bruno Premiani, Sheldon Moldoff, Howard Purcell & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3522-2

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy and outrageous imagination in his signature war comics, as well as for the wealth of horror stories, romance yarns, “straight” adventure, westerns and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Flash, Batman (plus other genres far too numerous to cover here) at which he also excelled.

He sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features “shop” at the beginning of the comicbook phenomenon where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for established features like Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel (who we all call “Shazam!” these days).

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote the Golden Age Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and many sexily memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and (Rose and) the Thorn. This last temptress he redesigned during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting super-heroine who haunted the back of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane – which Kanigher also scripted at the time.

When mystery-men faded at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved easily into other genres such as spy-thrillers, westerns and war stories. In 1952 he became chief writer and editor of the company’s small combat line: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War.

He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his packed portfolio when Quality Comics sold their dwindling line of titles to National/DC in 1956.

In 1955 Kanigher devised historical adventure anthology The Brave and the Bold and its stalwart early stars Silent Knight, Golden Gladiator and Viking Prince whilst still scripting Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog and a host of others.

In 1956, for Julius Schwartz he scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen as the new Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the world.

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and frequently used his uncanny if formulaic action arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts. Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, The War that Time Forgot, The Haunted Tank and The Losers, but he always kept an eye on contemporary trends too.

When supernatural comics took over the industry in the late 1960s, he was a mainstay at House of Mystery, House of Secrets and Phantom Stranger and in 1975 created gritty human interest/crime feature Lady Cop. Fifteen years earlier he had caught a similar wave (Oh, ha ha, hee hee…) by cashing in on the popularity of TV show Sea Hunt.

His entry into the sudden sub-genre deluge of scuba-diver comics featured the magical contemporary adventure formula of a heroic quartet (Smart Guy, Tough Guy, Young Guy and A Girl) who would indulge in all manner of (undersea) escapades from logical to implausible, topical to fantastical. He dubbed his team The Sea Devils

These classy yarns still haven’t made it into modern full-colour editions but they are magnificent examples of comics storytelling and if you have to read these lost treasures in mere monochrome, at least that’s better than nothing…

Re-presenting the turbulent, terrific try-out stories from Showcase #27-29 (July/August to November/December 1960) and Sea Devils #1-16 – cover-dated September/October 1961-March/April 1964 – this mammoth black-&-white paperback tome blends bizarre fantasy, sinister spy stories, shocking science fiction and two-fisted aquatic action with larger-than-life yet strictly human heroes who carved their own unique niche in comics history…

In almost every conceivable way, “try-out title” Showcase created the Silver Age of American comicbooks and is responsible for the multi-million-dollar industry and nascent art form we all enjoy today. The comicbook was a printed periodical Petri dish designed to launch new series and concepts with minimal commitment of publishing resources. If a new character sold well initially a regular series would follow. The process had been proved with Frogmen, Lois Lane, Challengers of the Unknown and many, many more.

The principle was a sound one which paid huge dividends. The Editors at National were apparently bombarded with readers’ suggestions for new titles and concepts and the only possible way to feasibly prove which would be popular was to offer test runs and assess fan – and most crucially sales – reactions.

Showcase #27 followed a particularly historic and fruitful run of successful non-superhero debuts which included Space Ranger, Adam Strange, and Rip Hunter…Time Master. At a time when costumed characters seemed to be ascendant but memories of genre implosions remained fresh, it seemed that the premier publication could do no wrong. Moreover, it wasn’t Kanigher and artist Russ Heath’s first dip in this particular pool.

Showcase #3 had launched war feature The Frogmen in an extended single tale following candidates for a US Underwater Demolitions Team in WWII as they perilously graduated from students to fully-fledged underwater warriors.

The feature, if not the actual characters, became a semi-regular strip in All-American Men of War #44 (April #1957) and other Kanigher-edited war comics: making Frogmen the first but certainly not the last graduate of the try-out system. Now, with tales of underwater action appearing in comics, books film and TV, the time was right for a civilian iteration to make some waves…

The drama here begins in ‘The Golden Monster’ (by Kanigher & Heath) as lonely skin-diver Dane Dorrance reminisces about his WWII frogman father – and the senior’s trusty buddies – before being saved from a sneaky shark by a mysterious golden-haired scuba-girl.

Judy Walton is an aspiring actress who, seeking to raise her Hollywood profile, has entered the same underwater treasure hunt Dane is engaged in, but as they join forces, they have no idea of the dangers awaiting them…

Locating the sunken galleon they’ve been hunting, both are trapped when seismic shifts and a gigantic octopus bury them inside the derelict. Happily, hulking third contestant Biff Bailey is on hand and his tremendous strength tips the scales and allows the trio to escape.

Now things take a typical Kanigher twist as the action switches from tense realistic drama to riotous fantasy with the explosive awakening of a colossal reptilian sea-monster who chases the divers until Judy’s little brother Nicky races in to distract the beast…

Temporarily safe, the relative strangers unite to destroy the thing – with the help of a handy floating mine left over from the war – before deciding to form a professional freelance diving team. They take their name from the proposed movie Judy wanted to audition for, becoming forever “The Sea Devils”…

In Showcase #28 Dane’s dad again offers his boy ‘The Prize Flippers’ he won for his war exploits, but Dane feels his entire team should be allowed to compete for them. Of course, each diver successively outdoes the rest, but in the end a spectacular stunt with a rampaging whale leaves the trophy in the hands of a most unlikely competitor…

A second story then sees the new team set up shop as “underwater trouble-shooters”, only to stumble into a mystery as pretty Mona Moray begs them to find her missing father. Professor Moray was lost when his rocket crashed into the ocean, but as the scuba stalwarts diligently search the crash site, they are ambushed by underwater aborigines and join the scientist in an uncanny ‘Undersea Prison’

Only when their captors reveal themselves as invading aliens do the team finally pull together, escape the trap and bring the house down on the insidious aquatic horrors…

Showcase #29 also offered two briny tales, casting off with ‘The Last Dive of the Sea Devils’, wherein a recently-imprisoned dictator from Venus escapes to Earth and battles the astounded team to a standstill from his giant war-seahorse.

The blockbusting battle costs them their beloved vessel The Sea Witch before the crew make use of a handy leftover torpedo to end the interplanetary tyrant. Sea-born giants also abound in ‘Undersea Scavenger Hunt’, wherein the cash-strapped trouble-shooters compete in a flashy contest to win a new boat.

Incredible creatures and fantastic treasure traps are no real problem, but the actions of rival divers The Black Mantas almost cost our heroes their lives…

Everything worked out though, and nine months later Sea Devils #1 hit the stands with Kanigher & Heath leading the way. In ‘The Sea Devils vs. the Octopus Man’, our watery quartet are now stars of a monster movie, but when the lead beastie comes to lethal life and attacks them, all thoughts of fame and wealth sink without trace…

The second tale was scripted by the superbly inventive Bob Haney who riffed on Moby Dick’s plot in a tale of how Vikings hunted a mythical orca with a magic harpoon before latter-day fanatical whaler Captain Shark mercilessly seeks out the ‘Secret of the Emerald Whale’ with the desperate Sea Devils dragged along for the ride…

Haney wrote both yarns in the next issue, beginning with ‘A Bottleful of Sea Devils’ as mad scientist Mr. Neptune uses a shrinking device to steal a US Navy weapon prototype. With the aquatic investigators hard on his flippered heels, the felon is soon caught whilst ‘Star of the Sea’ introduces brilliant performing seal Pappy who repeatedly saves the team before finding freedom and true love in the wild waters of the Atlantic…

Kanigher returned for #3’s ‘Underwater Crime Wave’ as the Devils clashed with a cunning modern Roman Emperor who derives incredible wealth from smuggling and traps the team in his undersea arena.

Judy then finds herself the only one immune to the allure of ‘The Ghost of the Deep’ as subsea siren Circe makes the boys her latest playthings and her human rival is compelled to pull out all the stops to save her friends…

Sea Devils # 4 led with ‘The Sea of Sorcery’ as the team investigate – but fail to debunk – incredible myths of a supposedly haunted region of ocean, after which Haney detailed how the squad travelled into the heart of South America to liberate a tribe of lost pre-Columbian Condor Indians from a tyrannical witch doctor whilst solving ‘The Secret of Volcano Lake!’

‘The Creature Who Stole the 7 Seas’ (Kanigher) opened issue #5, as a particularly dry period for the trouble-shooters ends after a crashing UFO disgorges a sea giant intent on transferring Earth’s oceans to his own arid world. Oddly for the times, here mutual cooperation and a smart counter-plan save the day for two panicked planets.

Veteran writer Hank P. Chapman joined the ever-expanding team with a smart yarn of submerged Mayan treasure and deadly traps to imperil the team as they solve the ‘Secret of the Plumed Serpent’, before Kanigher returned with a book-length thriller in #6 which sees the Devils seemingly ensorcelled by ancient parchments which depict them battling incredible menaces in centuries past.

Biff battles undersea knights for Queen Cleopatra, Judy saves Ulysses from the Sirens, Nicky rescues a teenaged mermaid from a monstrous fish-man and Dane clashes with ‘The Flame-Headed Watchman!’, but is wise enough to realise that the true threat comes from the mysterious stranger who has brought them such dire documents…

The switch to longer epics was a wise and productive move, followed up in #7 with ‘The Human Tidal Wave!’ as the heroes spectacularly battle an alien made of roaring water to stop a proposed invasion, whilst in #8 they strive to help a fish transformed into a grieving merman from the ‘Curse of Neptune’s Giant!’ This malignant horror’s mutative touch temporarily makes monsters of them all too, but in the end Sea Devil daring trumps eldritch cruelty…

More monster madness followed in #9’s ‘The Secret of the Coral Creature!’ as the team become paragliding US Naval medics to rescue an astronaut. That’s mere prelude to an oceanic atomic bomb test which blasts them to a sea beneath the sea which had imprisoned an ancient alien for eons of crushing solitude, and who had no intention of ever letting the air-breathers go…

A concatenation of crazy circumstances creates the manic madness of #10’s ‘4 Mysteries of the Sea!’ as godly King Neptune decrees that on this day every wild story of the sea will come true, just as the Sea Devils are competing in a “Deep Six Tall Tales” contest.

Soon the incredulous squad are battling pirates in an underwater ghost town, rescued from captivity by a giant octopus thanks to a friendly seal (Good old Pappy!), facing off against aliens of the Martian Canals Liars Club and saving Neptune himself from a depth-charge attack…

The hugely underrated Irv Novick took over as primary illustrator with #11, as the Sea Devils agree to test human underwater endurance limits in an ocean-floor habitat. Soon however, Dane is near breaking point, seeing a succession of monsters from the ‘Sea of Nightmares!’

Kanigher then relinquished the writing to fellow golden age alumnus France E. Herron who kicked off in rip-roaring form with a classy sci fi romp. Here Nicky’s growing feelings of inadequacy are quashed after he saves his comrades – and the world – from the ‘Threat of the Magnetic Menace!’

Always experimental and rightfully disrespectful of the fourth wall, editors Kanigher and George Kashdan turned issue #13 over to the fans for ‘The Secrets of 3 Sunken Ships’, as successive chapters of Herron’s script were illustrated by Joe Kubert, Gene Colan and Ross Andru & Mike Esposito for the audience to judge who was the best.

The artists all appear in the tale conducting interviews and “researching” our heroes as they tackle a reincarnated sea captain, travel to an ancient sea battle between Greece and Persia and meet the alien who kidnapped the crew of the Marie Celeste…

The gag continued in Sea Devils #14 as illustrator Novick came along for the ride as the amazing aquanauts try to end the catastrophic ‘War of the Underwater Giants’ This finds aging deities Neptune and Hercules battle for supremacy in Earth’s oceans.

Jack Abel was the artistic guest star in second story ‘Challenge of the Fish Champions!’, wherein our heroes enter a cash prize competition to buy scuba equipment for a junior diving club.

Unfortunately, crazy devious scientist Karpas also wants the loot and fields a team of his own technologically augmented minions. Before long, the human skin-divers are facing off against a sea lion, a manta ray, a squid and a merman. Nobody specified that contestants had to be human…

Novick got into the act again illustrating #15 as author Herron revealed Judy and Nicky’s relationship to the ‘Secret of the Sunken Sub!’ When inventor Professor Walton vanishes whilst testing his latest submersible, it’s only a matter of time before his children drag the rest of the Sea Devils to the bottom of every ocean to find him and his lost crew.

The uncanny trail takes them through shoals of monsters, astounding flora and into the lair of an incredible sea spider before the mission is successfully accomplished…

Things regained some semblance of narrative normality with the final issue in this compilation as Chapman contributed a brace of high adventure yarns beginning with ‘The Strange Reign of Queen Judy and King Biff’, superbly rendered by the wonderful Bruno Premiani & Sheldon Moldoff.

When a massive wave capsizes the Sea Witch, only Dane and Nicky seemingly survive, but the determined explorers persevere and eventually find their friends held as bewitched captives on the island of an immortal wizard. All they have to do is kidnap their ferociously resisting comrades, escape an army of angry guards and penetrate the island’s mystic defences a second time to restore everything to normal. No problem…

This eccentric and exciting voyage of discovery concludes with ‘Sentinel of the Golden Head’ – illustrated by the always impressive Howard Purcell & Moldoff – as the restored aquatic quartet stumble onto the lost island of Blisspotamia in time to witness a beautiful maiden trying to sacrifice herself to the sea gods.

By interfering, they incur the wrath of a legion of mythological horrors and have no choice but to defy the gods to free the terrified islanders from ignorance and tyranny…

These capacious black-&-white compendia are superb value and provide a vital service by bringing older, less flashy (but still astonishingly expensive in their original issues) tales to a readership which might otherwise be denied them. However, this is probably the only series which I can honestly say suffers in the slightest from the lack of colour.

Whilst the line-art story illustrations are actually improved by the loss of hue, the original covers – by Heath and Novick as supervised and inked by production ace Jack Adler – used all the clever technical print effects and smart ingenuity of the period to add a superb extra layer of depth to the underwater scenes which tragically cannot be appreciated in simple line and tone reproduction. Just go to any online cover browser site and you’ll see what I mean…

Nevertheless, the amazing art and astounding stories are as good as they ever were and Showcase Presents Sea Devils is stuffed with incredible ideas, strange situations and non-stop action. These underwater wonders are a superb slice of the engaging fantasy thrillers which were once the backbone of American comicbooks. Perhaps a little whacky in places, they are remarkably similar to many tongue-in-cheek, anarchic Saturday morning kids’ animation shows and will certainly provide jaded fiction fans with hours of unmatchable entertainment.…
© 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Buz Sawyer volume 3: Typhoons and Honeymoons


By Roy Crane (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-703-1 (HB)

I’m making an effort not to be snarky or political today. Powerless ranting and supposedly scathing asides don’t do much to change the world and nothing at all good for my blood pressure. What does is wonderful comics masterpieces. Here’s one now…

In these seen-it-all 21st century days, science is flashy: astounding and confounding us on a daily basis (I assume you’ve all seen the supermassive black hole doughnut by now?). It’s perhaps an effort, then, to remember simpler times when folk were impressed by amazing things we now take for granted, when human-scaled drama and adventure was enough to set pulses racing and hearts pounding… until you read a book like this one.

This third stout and sturdy hardcover edition re-presents more magnificent newspaper strip exploits of dynamic all-American everyman Buz Sawyer: war hero, globetrotting troubleshooter and here an imminent groom-to-be. The strips cover the epochal period from July 21st 1947 to October 9th 1949 wherein – after much procrastination, intrigue, bloodshed and sexy skulduggery – our boy clean-cut boy-next-door finally marries his extremely understanding sweetheart Christy Jameson.

Of course, he then dragged her into his lethally adventurous world as prime problem-solver for Frontier Oil – a company with fingers in many international pies…

Before the two-fisted romance kicks off, however, the ever-erudite Rick Norwood uses a letter from Crane’s personal papers (donated to Syracuse University) to examine the creator’s history, influence and opinions in his own forthright words in ‘The Life of a Professional Artist’.

Crane and his creative team (see Buz Sawyer volume 2: Sultry’s Tigerfor details) laboured long, hard, often acrimonious hours to produce each daily strip; all beguilingly rendered in monochrome 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 underlying drawing) but the toll was heavy on personnel and feelings.

The colour Sundays were usually the province of ghost artist Hank Schlensker and starred Buz’s grizzled old sidekick Roscoe Sweeny, and this volume concludes with a brief selection that primarily guest-starred the named lead and Roscoe in wartime reminiscences and occasional contemporary gag goof-offs…

The never-ending rollercoaster of thrills, spills and chills picks up as Frontier Oil’s Mr. Fixit reels at the realisation that he’s at long last formally engaged to his girl…

Buz is only just coming to grips with the marriage in prospect, whereas avowed “Ladies Man” Chili Harrison is cynically unmoved that his former office-mate is on Cloud 9… at least until they get a desperate call from mutual Navy buddy Thirsty Collins. Their homely shipmate has a problem only Buz can solve…

The old salt had made good since hostilities ended and owns his own plantation on his own island. He has, however, been maimed in an accident whilst wooing a woman by post. Now she is coming to marry her Mr. Collins, based on his winning words and a single photo… of Buz. With the jig up, Thirsty deeds Patricia Patterson all his worldly goods, sets up Sawyer to marry her and attempts his own wildly flamboyant suicide…

Reluctantly flying down to Puerto Rico, Buz is soon embroiled in a ludicrous imbroglio as, even after having everything explained, Pat professes to prefer the hunk at hand rather than her timid, missing matrimonial mystery man.

Thankfully, a colossal hurricane and a conniving, lecherous playboy cad do more to convince Collins to fight for and win his baffled bride than all Buz’s indignant, infuriated, exasperated arguments…

In Roy Crane’s world there are no tidy beginnings and endings. Each adventure follows seamlessly on from the last and even as Buz makes his way back to New York the next escapade is well underway.

Patient sweetheart Christy has had enough waiting around and goes looking for a job, landing up as Chili’s secretary, but only after the unrepentant, blithely unaware hound-dog clears the way by promoting his own highly efficient but unsightly amanuensis – at great personal and financial cost – so that he can have unrestricted access to the pretty stranger joining Frontier Oil.

Naturally, sparks fly when Sawyer finds his fiancée toiling for his dissolute and (probably) degenerate former wingman, whilst Chili is horrified to find he had lost this particular hot babe to “old Buzzo” even before he had hired her…

As Buz lays his wedding plans and retirement, his crafty boss Mr. Wright convinces him to sideline all that mushy stuff for one last job, and soon Sawyer and Sweeney are in the Goat Islands off Portugal, hunting a devious gunrunning ring supplying rebels in Salvaduras.

Masquerading as itinerant writers on a yachting jaunt, our heroes don’t fool bombastic Brobdingnagian bully Hammerhead Gool or his puny, effete but Machiavellian boss Harry Sparrow for a moment. It’s only the diminutive mastermind’s overwhelming squeamishness and sensitivity to the thought of blood that prevents their immediate destruction.

Moreover, when deception, bribery and seduction fail to deter the undercover operatives, Sparrow resorts to abducting them whilst immediately despatching the cached ordnance and munitions to the revolutionaries wrecking Frontier’s Salvaduran oil fields.

That slow voyage of the damned only leads to the explosive loss of Sparrow’s ship and shipment, as well as the end of the coup…

Back in America, Buz has proved himself too valuable to lose, and Frontier’s most important executive J.J. Freeze finds herself – when all is said and done, a “mere woman” – compelled to employ him as a bodyguard on her secret mission to secure lucrative mineral rights deals in Java and points East.

Sawyer is just as reluctant, but the promise of enough money to retire in style proves too tempting. Yet again, patient, understanding Christy is again left behind to fret and worry. She has good reason: Sparrow is still alive and eagerly anticipating the prospect of a vast payoff and some sadistically-enacted vengeance…

Tracking Freeze and Sawyer from Ireland to Egypt to Singapore, the little weasel poisons Freeze, who orders Buz to go on to Surabaya alone, carrying a cash payment of $1,000,000 for the nation’s capricious and over-educated Maharaja.

Harry even brazenly confronts Buz; putting our hero off guard as he instigates his latest master-plan: hiring a double to blacken Sawyer’s name and reputation in prim and proper Javanese High Society.

With the deal effectively scuppered, Sparrow maroons Buz on a desert island to force him to surrender the cash – unsuccessfully – before playing his final stroke: drugging the valiant Yank with a solution that causes amnesia…

Back in America, when word comes that the deal has flopped and both Buz and a million bucks are missing, Christy refuses to accept the slanderous stories and sells everything she owns to buy passage to Java. Soon she is an innocent abroad searching the dives and alleys of Surabaya for her man. When she is targeted by bandits and worse, Christy’s frantic escape brings her into contact with a crazy old lady who collects stray cats – and did the same for a derelict American with no name or memory…

The action seamlessly shifts into romantic melodrama as Christy tries to win back Buz from the lonely and dangerous harridan he has come to love, but even after that struggle heart-wrenchingly succeeds, the greater fight to clear his mind and good name continues…

When that minor miracle is finally accomplished, the restored Buz at last begins the oft-postponed wedding plans, only to be kidnapped by his rich, crazy and somehow not dead stalker Sultry, the Maharani of Batu.

In no mood to be balked, however, the impatient two-fisted groom-to-be fights his way out of her palace and onto a Honolulu-bound plane…

Back in their rural hometown in time for Christmas, Buz and Christy finally tie the knot and prepare for the rest of their lives but the new Mrs. Sawyer is still terrified that domesticity might kill her over-active husband…

As the newlyweds enjoy a carefully sequestered and discreet honeymoon off-panel, Sweeney appropriates the daily strip for a few weeks for a hilarious comedy sequence as he attempts to find them the perfect wedding present and ends up hunting Longhorn Sheep off-season in the near-arctic conditions of the Rocky Mountains in December…

A turning point began in early 1948 as Wright and the Frontier Oil brass track down Buz to offer him a life-threateningly dull desk job or a perilous field assignment in Darkest Africa.

Perfect wife Christy, understanding Buz’s needs, bravely ignores her own feelings and talks him into the latter, offering to share his addiction to danger and the unknown…

Soon the couple are trekking across the Veldt: pioneers tasked with carving an airport and oil installation out of the jungle, but the natural wonders and threats of Africa are as nothing compared to the murderously conniving schemes of their nearest neighbour.

Dashing, debonair Kingston Diamond is solicitous in advice and unctuous in his welcome of the young Americans, but his patient game includes sabotage, terrorism, slaughtering Christy’s menagerie of pets and even murdering Buz to eventually win him the only white woman in 100 miles…

As previously mentioned, also included here are fourteen of the best Sundays – all notionally with appearances by Buz (spanning July 29th 1945 to 17th February 1963) – a cheerily tantalising bonus which will hopefully turn one day into an archival collection of their own. Whilst not as innovative or groundbreaking as Captain Easy, they’re still proficient works by one of the Grandmasters of our art form.

Buz Sawyer: Typhoons and Honeymoons is a sublime slice of compelling comics wonder and an ideal way to discover or reconnect with Crane’s second magnum opus. Bold, daring, funny and enthralling, these adventures influenced generations of modern cartoonists, illustrators, comics creators and storytellers. The series ranks amongst the very greatest strip cartoon features ever created: always offering comics tale-telling that is unforgettable, unmissable and utterly irresistible. Try it and see for yourself.
Buz Sawyer: Typhoons and Honeymoons © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All Buz Sawyer strips © 2014 King Features Syndicate, Inc. All other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.