Ordinary


By Rob Williams & D’Israeli (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-009-2 (HB)

Admit it. We’ve all wondered – and both comics and movies have explored at length and in various tones and styles – a particularly thorny contemporary question: what happens if everybody wakes up with superpowers?

Collecting a rather witty riff on that quandary, this wickedly charming little fable from Rob Williams & Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker – first seen in Judge Dredd Megazine #340-345 at the end of 2013, then as a Titan Comics miniseries and here gathered into one scintillating colour hardback or digital tome – takes the big question a step further by positing that on that day of astounding ascension everybody becomes a modern Prometheus but you…

After an effusive Introduction from Warren Ellis the strange tale of off-the-books plumber and inept gambler Michael Fisher begins one apparently typical morning as he wakes up in Queens, NYC. He’s late for another call-out and stumbling almost unthinkingly straight into a great big bunch of complete insanity…

Narrowly escaping a thorough thumping from Samoan thugs he owes cash to, the harried divorcee arrives at his latest job just in time to see the elderly client rapidly de-age to squelchy nothingness and short-tempered boss Brian turn into a talking bear.

Metamorphic madness is everywhere. Giants, flaming men and snotty dragons are popping up every second, but all Michael can think of is calling his ex, Sarah to see if their son Josh is okay.

As freaked-out military rapidly fail to control the situation, the truth slowly dawns. Not just New Yorkers but all of humanity has, in the space of an instant, become a race of shapeshifters, superhumans and worse.

Everyone except Michael…

As madness and panic grips the world, Mike naturally heads for a bar. When Brian joins him they watch the President’s emergency news conference. It would have gone much better if someone had been able to tell PotUS that his new power is broadcasting his actual thoughts in little cartoon thought balloons above his head…

When TV news shows Josh’s school is on fire, Brian urges Michael to get across the river and find his boy, but the now-empowered Samoans almost catch him and it takes low cunning, a Midas touch and a cosmically aware cabbie to save the day…

With chaos and carnage ravaging the nation, deep in the Pentagon the President is visibly losing it as his fundamentalist Vice-President stridently argues that the power proliferation is a Heaven-sent blessing intended to help the Land of the Free smite all the world’s unbelievers.

Scottish Genomics Professor and resident scientific expert Dr. Tara McDonald has a more reasoned argument. The situation is a literal plague and uncontrolled super-abilities will destroy mankind unless a cure is quickly found. Already, America’s enemies are gathering and nations all over Earth are marshalling their burgeoning meta-resources to settle age-old scores and eradicate contemporary rivals.

However, before McDonald can even postulate a remedy, they have to find someone immune to the catastrophic contagion…

Against all his normal instincts and incredible odds – which comprise both transformees and the increasingly hard-pressed, savagely dictatorial remnants of the civil authorities – Michael has made his way into Manhattan even as in Washington, McDonald’s best efforts have yielded pitiful results.

Things really go south after a nuke detonates in Afghanistan and the Veep seizes command. The rabid Christian doesn’t want a cure and when the only man in existence without uncanny abilities becomes a minor media celebrity by rescuing his son from a New York school, the acting Commander-in-Chief’s zealots are only one of a number of ruthless factions instantly targeting unfortunate Mr. Fisher…

Now it’s a race against time as deadly opponents from warring and friendly nations alike contend to control the unluckiest, most useless man in the world, with the fate of humanity in the balance. Fate and science, however, have teamed up to deliver a big surprise for everybody…

Augmenting this thought-provoking package is a gallery of guest pinups from Edmund Bagwell, Ben Oliver, Laurence Campbell, Brian Ching & Michael Atiyeh, Brendan McCarthy, Neil Googe, Dom Reardon, Henry Flint, Alison Sampson & Ruth Redmond, James Harren, Ale Aragon, Mark Buckingham & D’Israeli, plus a little learned discourse – stuffed with the illustrator’s behind-the-scenes sketches and working drawings – on ‘Ordinary Science’ from Evolutionary Biologist and comics fan JV Chamary (PhD)…

Devilishly clever, cruelly passionate, potently humane and devastatingly funny, this sharp treatise on the true meaning of power politics offers a uniquely British spin on the eternal fantastic flight of idle fantasy and will delight all lovers of the genre with a world-weary eye to the way life really works…
Ordinary is ™ and © 2014 Rob Williams and Matt Brooker. All rights reserved.

The Black Project


By Gareth Brookes (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-908434-20-3 (PB)

As I eagerly await Gareth Brookes’ imminent latest release, let’s look at his first award-winning work: one that set the scene not just for his trademark versatility of style and artistic weapons of choice, but also the uniquely skewed mindset that finds the extraordinary in everyday life and those weird things called people…

Brookes is a capital-A artist, printmaker, textile creator and educator who learned his craft(s) at the Royal College of Art and who has subsequently appeared in ArtReview; Kus; The British Library’s Comics Unmasked exhibition and numerous classrooms and lecture theatres as inspirational teacher.

He began literally crafting comics in 2015 with an astounding, disturbing and hilarious epic entitled The Black Project. In essence it’s a paean to uncomfortable, outsider British youth: the ones shunned and ignored by those who overachieve in class, look like gods on the sports field and have great hair and no trouble talking to girls or the right boys. If you’re old enough, try humming “David Watts” (either The Kinks or The Jam versions) while reading this and you won’t go far wrong…

It’s the 1990’s and schoolboy Richard is at that difficult age. Status, social pressure, shifting relationships are all acting on a bizarrely changing body, but at least he’s not overly worried about proving his burgeoning manhood. According to him, getting a prestige-enhancing girlfriend is simple. All you need is time, peace and quiet and the right components…

Sadly, once Richard has completed his amatory endeavours, there’s the small matter of keeping her secret from his few – rather unpleasant – friends, assorted adults in his family circle, teachers and overly-fussing mother. He may not be able to express why, but the clever lad instinctively knows nobody will understand what he’s done, or why…

Inevitably, disaster strikes and “Laura” is lost to him, but Richard is not daunted. He simply adjusts, regroups and starts the laborious creative process again. And again and…

Darkly hilarious and outrageously clever, powerfully mired in the minutiae of English suburban nostalgia and peppered with twisty subplots and red herrings, The Black Project is rendered with mastery in stark monochrome imagery, generated by deftly-chiselled lino cuts and pieces of painstakingly-sewn embroidery. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen and equally unique in terms of narrative.

Supplemented by a revelatory Q&A Afterword delving deep into the methodology and inspiration for the book, this is a graphic triumph no fan of the medium or lover of dark fiction should be without.
© Gareth Brookes 2013. All rights reserved.

No Country


By Patrice Aggs & Joe Brady (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-183-3 (PB)

This is the scariest book I’ve read in decades.

That’s an odd thing to say about a collection of strips from a wholesome children’s comic like The Phoenix, but true nonetheless, so I’ll qualify that statement by adding that it’s beautifully illustrated by Patrice Aggs with a complete absence of gore, supernatural terror or zombies of any kind, casting its chilling pall thanks to a subtle, understated script by Joe Brady, who convincingly speculates on the current global and national political situation…

Just imagine a Britain where the Prime Minister ignores the law, suspends Parliament and rules by ministerial fiat. Consider curfews and lockdowns, shortages in the shops and direct monitoring and control of what teachers can say and do. Further ponder on what happens when strident, impassioned protestors organise into militant groups and start systematically and violently resisting daily interventions and oppressions doled out by an ever more heavy-handed police force and too-readily deployed army…

No Country is set in Britain and follows middle schooler Bea, her little brother Dom and frequently bossy older sister Hannah as they daily adapt to a draconian new reality. Their dad used to work as a local councillor, but now looks after the kids and spends his downtime in quiet secret meetings with other adults with worried faces…

Mum has been gone for a while now, but still talks to them via the internet whenever there’s enough electricity. She’s in another country somewhere, trying to get exit visas and paperwork so the family can be reunited… somewhere safe.

Daily tensions ratchet up when the long-declared Martial Law edict is shockingly enforced by new army divisions who occupy the town and “requisition” everything not nailed down. Hannah just got her first boyfriend and is acting really weird, especially after he reveals he’s part of the patriotic rebel front called the Free Kingdom – the other side in a rapidly escalating, ideologically fanatical civil war, ripping sedate stuffy Britain apart.

As hunger grows, home raids and “searches” intensify and friends and teachers start disappearing, Mum finally contacts them that the documents are ready and the family must act immediately. Tragically, not everyone is there to get the message but there’s no time to wait. This is the moment to run…

To Be Continued…

A superb and gripping exploration of the refugee crisis with the comfy, cosy UK all-too-convincingly substituting for Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar (please feel free to look up why I chose those countries). This is a brilliant introduction to real world problems any kid can grasp and be moved by, in exactly the same way books like Animal Farm, A Kestrel for a Knave, Ring of Bright Water or Lord of the Flies ushered in a new, transformational understanding for generations of youngsters.
Illustrations © Patrice Aggs 2021. Text © Joe Brady. rights reserved.

A Thousand Coloured Castles


By Gareth Brookes (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-0-993563-30-0 (HB)

The world is filled with amazing women passing largely unnoticed by the loud, shouty males with their hands on the tillers of history and the media, but seldom the kettle or shopping bags. This amazing tale is broadly based on one of them…

It comes to us from an equally intriguing source. Gareth Brookes is a capital-A Artist, printmaker, textile creator and educator who began literally crafting comics in 2015 with his astounding and disturbing epic (and forthcoming review) The Black Project.

With A Thousand Coloured Castles, RCA graduate Brookes sealed a growing reputation for challenging and rewarding graphic narratives of the artisanal kind. Brookes is a deep and slyly humorous thinker with his roots in the Littlest of Englands and a skewed eye to storytelling. This captivating hardback tome was created solely from dark wit and wax crayons, resulting in a truly tactile and absurdly otherworldly viewing experience…

Myriam is in her declining years: married to a set-in-his-ways old know-it-all curmudgeon, as seen in most traditionally happy families and captured on paper by Raymond Briggs and TV sitcoms by Richard Wilson.

Fred spends most of his time complaining about everything, which is why it takes a very long time for him to notice that Myriam’s eyesight is fading. It takes even longer for him to grasp that she’s increasingly subject to wild, abstract and utterly convincing hallucinations: vivid visions and shapes that baffle and bewilder even as they light up her drab, interminable existence.

Of more concern to Fred is the wife’s increasing fascination with the overgrown, unkempt back garden next door. He’s happy to moan about it in private but doesn’t want to engage in potential suburban hostilities with the woman living there.

Myriam, however, keeps seeing a strange bedraggled little boy trapped there, even though everybody knows that’s not possible. All except her toddler grandson Jack, who’s always happy to see things her way…

And thus unfolds a multi-layered observation of social norms and aberrant behaviours, supposition and expectation, declining faculties and domestic evil that is truly magical to behold and impossible to predict.

Despite her condition, Myriam proves that she knows what’s what and what’s right as events spiral to an inevitable conclusion and answers are shockingly forthcoming…

Gentle, genteel and utterly beguiling, this is a masterpiece of British fantasy understatement with a potent underpinning of quietly desperate lives truly lived…
© Gareth Brookes 2017. All rights reserved.

Corpse Talk: Dead Good Storytellers


By Adam & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: ISBN: 978-1-78845-125-3 (PB)

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make the material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be better taught with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive… or at least – as here – outrageously, informatively undead…

The fabulous and effective conceit in Corpse Talk is that your scribbling, cartooning host Adam Murphy (ably abetted off-camera by Lisa Murphy) tracks down (or rather digs up) famous personages from the past: all serially exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Was Your Life talk-show interview that – in Reithian terms – simultaneously “elucidates, educates and entertains”. It also often grosses one out, which is no bad thing for either a kids’ comic or a learning experience…

Another splendid album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix, this authorially-themed collection is dedicated to not-so-private audiences with a succession of legendary and/or unsung wordsmiths, in what would almost certainly not be their own words…

Catching up in order of date of demise, these candid cartoon conferences begin by digging the dirt with ‘Enheduanna: Priestess-Poet 23rd century BCE’, who has a claim to inventing poetry with her religion themed anthems in ancient Sumeria. As always, each balmy biography is accompanied by a side-feature examining a key aspect or artefact of their lives such as here with ‘Inanna and the Mountain’ (The Corpse Talk version) illustrating the power and short temper of the primal goddess…

Moving on in time – and perhaps into fiction rather than fact – comes an intimate investigation into the truth behind Greek epic poet ‘Homer’ (8th century BCE – possibly) supplemented by a vivid and truncated Corpse Talk version of ‘The Odyssey’ which could get you a passing grade if schools and exams weren’t another thing of the past…

Astounding female and unconventional Mandarin’s daughter ‘Li Qingzhao – Lyric Poet 1084-1155’ discusses her fortunate career in the Song Dynasty: accompanied by her translated, illustrated ode ‘Like a Dream’, after which a Sufi poet spanning 1207-1273 takes centre stage.

‘Jalaluddin Rumi’ details his transformation from acerbic scholar to impassioned love poet and is backed up by his illustrated poem ‘The Guest House’ before we head into more familiar territory with Medieval poet ‘Geoffrey Chaucer – 1343-1400’ who relates the tale of his times, backed up by the pertinent facts of ‘The Canterbury Tales’ plus a Corpse Talk adaptation of ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’

Playwright ‘William Shakespeare – 1564-1616’ tells it like it was, accompanied by the (fun) version of ‘Macbeth’ after which we go gothic by chatting with Romantic Poet ‘John Keats – 1795-1821’ and get acquainted with ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ and double down with dark fantasy courtesy of Gothic Novelist ‘Mary Shelley – 1797-1851’ who candidly discloses how and why her groundbreaking novel came about, supplemented by a cartoon adaptation of ‘Frankenstein’.

Sticking with Gothic Novels, the life of ‘Charlotte Brontë – 1816-1865’ is explored, with definitive classic ‘Jayne Eyre’enjoying a Corpse Talk make-over, after which ‘Charles Dickens 1812-1870’ reviews his amazing career and endures a comics interpretation of ‘Great Expectations’, whilst Adventure Novelist ‘Alexandre Dumas – 1802-1870’ details how the son of French plantation slaves rose to pre-eminence in the literary world, accompanied by a rousing rendition of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’

Epic Novelist and spiritual questor ‘Count Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy – 1828-1910’ comes under the necroscope next, with a serviceable truncation of ‘War and Peace’ in his wake, before horrorist ‘Bram Stoker – 1847-1912’ tells his life-story while the Murphys deftly adapt his undying masterpiece ‘Dracula’ and Crime Writer ‘Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – 1859-1930’ examines his serried career and influences, with Sherlock Holmes short story ‘The Speckled Band’ leading us to final interviewee Children’s Author ‘Beatrix Potter – 1866-1943’; describing a life well-lived, and a splendid legacy, backed up a fresh take on the tale of ‘Peter Rabbit’.

…And just when you think it’s all over, up pops an extra item: a cracking adaptation of ‘All the World’s a Stage…’ from Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’, rounding out the fun and whimsy before ushering all and sundry back to their biers and sepulchres for now.

Clever, cheeky, outrageously funny and formidably factual throughout, Corpse Talk unyieldingly tackles history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great, the grim, the good and especially the greatly entertaining for coming generations.

It is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist. Don’t take my word for it though, just read and enjoy…
Text and illustrations © Adam & Lisa Murphy 2021. All rights reserved.

Bogart Creek volume 1


By Derek Evernden (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-98890-349-1 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-98890-355-2

Fancy a laugh? Not one of those genteel chuckles, but a big hearty guffaw laced with a heaping dose of old-fashioned guilt because the subject matter might be a bit cruel or near-the-knuckle. Hilarity evincing undertones of nervous titters because the whole thing is just a bit strange and surreal?

If so, Derek Evernden has got you covered…

You know that old line about writing/drawing what you know? Evernden grew up in actual Bogart Creek, Ontario, so let’s all hope at least some of this stuff is just made up, right? He’s Canadian, so is polite and sympathetic, but clearly, he’s also the other sort of Canadian: someone with a lot to laugh at, plenty of time to sit up and take notice and probably perfused with that slow-burning, ever-mounting rage everyone gracious and well-mannered has boiling inside, because of the nonsense the rest of us get up to…

The strip Bogart Creek is a daily single panel gag delivered in a variety of artistic styles; turning a mordant, trenchant and cruelly satirical eye on modern life. It deftly offers the lighter side of suicide, philosophy, crime, psychiatry, the natural (!?) world, murder, movies, fashion, vengeance, sports, cryptozoology, popular culture and anything else two strangers might feel compelled to discuss at a water cooler or bus stop in deference to social convention…

The strip is also hopelessly addicted to painful punning on a mega “dad-joke” scale, absurdist revelation and surreal slapstick. The creator has mastered the art of marrying funny notions to effective dialogue and efficient, smart cartooning. Evernden proudly admits his debt to and influence of Gary Larson’s The Far Side, but he can’t blame that guy for all of this stuff…

Sick, inventive, witty: instantly addictive and charmingly outrageous, this is a collection (in paperback or digital editions) to delight any weary adult in need of tension release and a therapeutic slice of schadenfreude.
Cover illustration, book design and cartoons all © 2019 Derek Evernden. All rights reserved.

Bunny vs Monkey and the Human Invasion!


By Jaimie Smart, with Laura Bentley & Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-195-6 (PB)

Way back in 2012, Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a weekly comics anthology for girls and boys which harked back to the grand old days of British picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

Each issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material: a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy. Since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, packed with splendid tales from amazing creators. This is a handily repackaged instant classic from one of the best…

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by cartoonist, comics artist and novelist Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Looshkin; Flember), Bunny vs. Monkey has been a fixture from the very first issue: a madcap duel of animal arch rivals set amidst the idyllic arcadia of a more-or-less ordinary English Wood. Those trend-setting, mind-bending antics were rapidly retooled as graphic albums and are now available in remastered, double-length digest editions. In case you’re wondering, the fabulous fun found here originally inhabited volumes 3 & 4, then entitled The Stench and The Wobbles

The tittering, tail-biting tension details the ongoing war of wits and wonder-weapons over another year in the country. The obnoxious simian co-star originally arrived after a disastrous space shot went awry. Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – a scant few miles from his blast-off site – Monkey believes himself rightful owner of a strange new world, despite the continual efforts of reasonable, sensible, contemplative Bunny. Despite patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine is increasingly compelled to wearily admit that the incorrigible idiot ape is a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker…

Following a vivid gallery of stars, the month-by-month mayhem reports recommence with January as chilly snow blankets the ground. ‘Log Off!’ finds Bunny in need of firewood, but he should never have asked happily brain-battered, bewildered former stuntman Action Beaver to help gather it…

Blithering innocents Weenie Squirrel and Pig then take centre stage as the baking-addicted tree-rodent reveals he has an imaginary friend. The mocking fools have no idea ‘Lionel!’ is actually one of the ghastly Hyoomanz intent on demolishing the Wood to build something called a motorway…

Monkey’s greatest ally is ostracised outcast and hairy mad scientist Skunky – a brilliant inventor with a bombastic line in animal-themed atrocity weapons and a secret agenda of his own. His latest bovine-inspired stealth weapon – ‘Ca-Moo-Flarj!’ – promptly goes the way of most of his ghastly gimmicks, after which both furry factions catch gold fever in ‘The Quest for Blackbeard’s Treasure!’ Sadly, the old map stuffed in a tree trunk is of very recent vintage…

February opens with ‘T3-ddy!’ as Skunky’s colossally devastating robo-bear is suborned and defeated by its own innate need for a cuddle, after which Bunny discovers a vast cavern under his food store. At first, he thinks it’s just Skunky’s latest indiscretion, but even the evil mega-genius is surprised at the hideous thing ‘What Lies Beneath!’

‘Casa Del Pig!’ sees woodland folk unite to make the porcine ingénue a home of his own, after which ‘Meet Randolph!’sees them all together to greet a visiting raccoon. The masked stranger claims to be the cousin of surly radical environmentalist (and keeper of ancient secrets) Fantastique Le Fox, and he can certainly handle himself in a crisis, as evidenced by the swift and efficient way he despatches Monkey and Skunky’s rampaging mechanical Helliphant

March ushers in a not-so fragrant Spring as Skunky decides to weaponize his own natural defences, but ‘The Stench!’proves yet again that his intellect far outstrips common sense and any iota of self-restraint…

When an irrepressible yet lonely cyber-crocodile finds a message in a bottle, he unbends enough to ask Bunny for reading and writing lessons in ‘The Educating of Mister Metal Steve!’ Sadly, his eventual RSVP proves that core-programming is hard to escape…

A rare victory for Evil is revealed through the creation of a giant beached flounder in ‘Fishy Plops!’ before nature reasserts itself in ‘Bad Crowd!’, wherein the tantrum-throwing Monkey meets some heretofore unknown woods-dwellers who terrify even him…

The Skunk boffin finally goes too far in his quest for knowledge and accidentally invents Boomantium, capable of creating ‘The Biggest, Mostest Enormousest Explosion in the World!’ Nobody expected dim-witted Action to find a solution to the imminent cacophonous catastrophe, but as April opens ‘Billion Dollar Beaver!’ reveals that their crash-helmeted comrade is indestructible. He should therefore be considered another actual ultimate weapon… unless, of course, you’re just a short-sighted, imagination-limited primate with delusions of grandeur…

Over the months the Woods have become home to an increasingly impressive variety of non-native species and an unsavoury crisis of explosive proportions is barely averted when ‘The Kakapo Poo Kaboom!’ defeats the ever-encroaching “Humans” but not the combined efforts of Bunny and Skunky.

His evil dominance drastically declining, the appalling anthropoid is blackmailed by Pig and Weenie into being their ‘Monkey Butler!’, before May blossoms and ‘The Big Eye Am!’ sees a gigantic laser-firing orb crashing through the verdure, closely followed by its previous owner…

‘On the Road!’ finds the beastly boys trying to decide on how to stop the motorway builders when the meeting is disrupted by cute running-toy addict Hamster 3000. This allows Skunky and Le Fox to resume their own private negotiations, after which Monkey returns to his devious top form when subjecting the flora and fauna to the inundation of ‘The Purple!’

May becomes June during ‘The Weird, Weird Woods! (Part One and Two)’ as the animals invade the humans’ building-site shed. They are furiously repelled and pursued by the bizarre and terrified creatures within, but their first foray is soon forgotten when Bunny wakes up in proposed paradise ‘Bunnyopia!’, only to discover it is a monstrous and frightening sham…

Skunky’s perpetual and wanton splashing about in the gene-pool then results in terrifying travesty ‘Octo-Fox!’ and only Monkey’s arrant disregard for all rules and laws – including Nature’s – saves the day: one-upping the tentacled terror, after which ‘Weenie’s Big Adventure!’ gives the benign waif a day to remember after waking an oversleeping bear. A little later, however, a mind-swapping device in the wrong paws leads to a plague of chaotic ‘Brainache!’

With a seemingly quiet moment to spare, the animals consider the past and their futures in ‘Woodland Story!’, leading to Skunky’s new Clone-a-Tron generating ‘So Many Monkeys!’ that the dream of Monkeytopia seems a forgone conclusion…

Focus switches now on the pasts of our uncanny assortment of odd critters littering and loitering around the bucolic paradise as the Hyoomanz are now well underway in building that motorway through the sylvan glades and apparently unprotected parks…

Sadly, all the tail-biting tension does nothing to derail the ongoing but so-far-localised war of wits and wonder-weapons, and the already fraught atmosphere gets another unnecessary shot of adrenaline as ‘A New Challenger Appears’ in the fuzzy form of The Maniacal Badger, resolutely challenging Skunky for the title of top mad scientist, after which Monkey wrecks a playground but loses face once Bunny gets him to share a ‘See-Saw!’

Skunky horrifies blithering innocents Weenie and Pig when his ‘Grav-O-Box’ sets the river running backwards, although when co-conspirator Monkey ruins the test flight of his Hot Air Balloon Jet Engines and propels them ‘Around the Woods in 80 Seconds’ the malcontents themselves are the only ones to suffer…

Sinking into over-indulgence, the simian stinker has to take drastic action after becoming a ‘Fat Monkey’ before stealing some building machinery from the Hyoomanz in ‘Monkey at Work’

Skunky upsets the balance of nature – and value of custard – after creating aberrant lifeform ‘The Wobbles!’, after which every animal pulls together when a Hyooman wanders in and Bunny orders ‘Battle Stations’. Of course, Skunky stupidly makes things so much worse by splicing Science to Nature and releasing ‘The Vines’

An annoying game of ‘Poink!’ drives everybody bonkers but welcome terror returns after the colossal ‘Monkeytron!’rampages through the trees, in time to greet rocket scientists searching for a test monkey they lost in the very first episode…

Pig’s origin is revealed in the cleverly obfuscatory (not!) ‘A Pig on the Range’ before Park Ranger Derek P. Brigstockehas a close encounter with a net and ‘A Bear Bum!’, whilst irrepressible yet lonely cyber-crocodile ‘The Incredible Metal Steve’ undergoes a ferocious metal-morphosis even as ‘Bunny Vs. Monkey!’ finds our notional stars getting back to bruising basics in their never-ending struggle…

After a troop of Hyooman cub scouts fail to ‘Catch That Bunny’, Pig and Squirrel dig up ‘Worms’ and take the slimy earth-movers fishing, but not in any way you’ve seen before… ‘Goodbye, Bunny’ then finds our pacifist protagonist plunging deep into the distant city in search of his origins, and Pig becomes a dragon-slaying knight in ‘Arise, Lord Wuffywuff!’

…And none too soon as it happens, since, with snow falling, the Maniacal Badger returns to worry the woodland folk with ‘The Thing!’ he’d stolen from the Hyoomanz Building Site, prompting a desperate search for natural leader Bunny: a trail taking them to a comfortable suburban hutch and ‘A Place Where You Belong’

Reunited with the Crinkle Woods critters, Bunny finds a time machine and – by accidentally visiting ‘Once Upon a Time’– discovers the true secret of Skunky’s vast and evil intellect, courtesy of an extra-long extravaganza which segues straight into the formation of sadly deficient superhero team The Rather Good Squad in ‘Choose Your Side!’

With Christmas fast approaching, festivities are briefly disrupted by marauding ‘Snow Meanies’ before the Builders try secretly bulldozing the Woods. They are stopped by Monkey, gleefully brain-battered, bewildered former stuntman Action Beaver and ‘The Real Santa!’

The madcap mayhem concludes with a portentous epilogue as ‘Door B’ opens to reveal the ultimate triumph of the ultimate villainous mastermind, but that’s…

To Be Continued…

Adding lustre and fun, this superb treat includes detailed instructions on ‘How to Draw Pig’ and ‘How to Draw Skunky’, so, as well as beguiling your littl’uns with stories, you can use this book to teach them a trade…

The absolute acme of absurdist adventure, Bunny Vs Monkey is halfway to becoming a British Institution of weird wit, brilliant invention and superb cartooning: an utterly irresistible joy for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids. Endlessly inventive, sublimely funny and outrageously addictive, this is the kind of comic parents beg kids to read to them. Why isn’t that you, yet?
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2021. All rights reserved.

Bunny vs. Monkey and the Human Invasion! will be published on February 4th 2021, and is available for pre-order now.

Johnny Red: Falcon’s First Flight


By Tom Tulley & Joe Colquhoun (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-033-8 (HB)

Britons have been enamoured of fighting aviators since the earliest days of popular fiction, but wonderful and thrilling as Biggles, Paddy Payne, I Flew with Braddock or Battler Britton might have been, the true hellish horror of war in the air didn’t really hit home for comics readers until strip veterans Tom Tully & Joe Colquhoun began crafting the epic career of a troublesome working-class maverick pilot.

Kicked out of the RAF at our time of greatest need, he eventually carved a bloody legend for himself in the blistering skies of the Eastern Front. Johnny Red debuted in January 1977, in issue #100 of increasingly radical war comic Battle Picture Weekly and Valiant. He rapidly became a firm fixture, appearing for the next 500-odd issues, before finally calling it a day in 1987. Even then, the strip continued as a reprint feature in Best of Battle until Fleetway stopped publishing comics.

Presented in a sturdily lavish and reliable hardback archival tome (but not sadly in digital formats yet), Falcon’s First Flight collects chapters 1-37 of the aerial epic in the original stark monochrome and includes an effusive introduction from starry-eyed fan Garth Ennis, plus a fascinating historical essay from Jeremy Briggs.

Genesis of a Hero provides some intriguing perspective as well as revealing the incredible story of the pilot who was the real-life inspiration for Johnny Red…

The racing breakneck action (utterly unavoidable since almost all Battle instalments were between 3-4 pages long) opens on September 1941 as young Liverpool oik Johnny Redburn helplessly watches Stukas and Junkas strafe and bomb the merchant ship he’s working on. The Empire Cape is part of a relief convoy en route to Murmansk with supplies for Britain’s hard-pressed Russian allies.

Scared and helpless, Redburn recalls the incident which got him cashiered from RAF training and banned from flying – originally striking an officer, but later retconned into accidentally killing an instructor. He doesn’t miss the snobs and stupid rules, but Johnny was a natural flier and is still hungry for the skies…

Unable to provide fighter escorts or aircraft carriers, the Navy at this time outfitted some freighters with a catapult-launched plane. The Cape has one of these insane contraptions: a single Hurricane which would be launched into enemy-filled skies with a few hours’ fuel and a pilot expected to do whatever he could until German bullets or the seas claimed him. Convoy ships had no landing facility and if the flier survived the dogfights he was expected to ditch in the sea or crash…

When the assigned aviator is killed on the way to launch, Johnny takes his place and against all odds shoots down enough attackers to allow the crew of the Cape to successfully abandon ship. Now he faces a unique dilemma. He is an illegal pilot in a stolen plane he can’t land. Having no faith in British military justice or the cold cruel waters below, Redburn decides to try for the Russian mainland and a proper landing field…

Typically, it’s a case of out of the frying pan and into the freezer as lethal weather conditions close in. Miraculously escaping fog, storm and ice, Johnny lands at a hidden base, only to be mistaken for a German by the starving and desperate air fighters of the 5th Soviet Air Brigade… the “Falcons”.

These are patriotic but damned men, ordered to resist to the last in creaky biplanes against the overwhelming forces of the Luftwaffe. As the embattled communists close on Johnny, the Germans attack and a unique bond of comradeship is formed as his skill and modern Hurricane wreaks havoc amongst the complacent Nazis. With nowhere else to go Johnny joins the squadron of the doomed, galvanising them into a competent squadron of rule-breaking, triumphant aerial killers risking everything to save their beleaguered homeland.

Ill-supplied and written off by their own leaders, the Soviet airmen are convinced by “Johnny Red” to steal whatever food, replacements and weapons they need from their own retreating forces, quickly becoming a cohesive and credible threat to the once unstoppable Germans.

The warrior’s spectacular revival causes its own problems. Johnny is hiding from all contact with the British, convinced only jail or the gallows await him, whilst beyond the close brotherhood of his fellow Falcons, successive Soviet military bureaucrats such as demented political officer Major Alexie Kraskin – a martinet who loves executing his own troops if they won’t obey suicidal orders – or cowardly, carpet-bagging Comrade Colonel Grigor Yaraslov, politically appointed to lead the resurgent squadron, all seem far too eager to get rid of the humiliatingly competent foreign interloper…

In sortie after sortie, “Johnny Red” tackles privation, exhaustion and the enmity of his superiors whilst clearing Russian skies of fascist predators, but as this first volume closes he faces his greatest challenges.

With the Falcons posted to the frozen hell of Leningrad during the worst part of the German siege, Johnny is increasingly plagued by the recurring effects of an old head-wound causing sporadic fits of blindness. Simultaneously, a kill-crazy psychopathic replacement to the Falcons is determined to murder the Englishman, for stopping the strafing of Germans after they have surrendered…

These gritty, evocative tales are packed with historical detail, breathtaking passion and a staggering aura of authenticity. The classic theme of a misfit making good under incredible adversity has never been better depicted and Tom (Kelly’s Eye, Roy of the Rovers, Steel Claw, Raven on the Wing, Harlem Heroes, Mean Arena) Tully’s visceral scripts are perfectly realised by miracle worker Joe Colquhoun. The artist quit writing and drawing Roy of the Rovers to perfect his mastery of aviation war-stories on the long-running but more traditional Paddy Payne in Lion (from 1959 until the feature was retired) before co-creating Johnny Red in late 1976.

He illustrated 100 episodes before moving on to his greatest work Charley’s War.

This premiere collection is a grand moment in the transition of comics from boy’s own bravado in a Toff’s World to mature, mercurial yet moving adventures starring ordinary working-class heroes. Johnny Red was at the forefront of this invasion of extraordinary commoners during a war that almost abolished the class system forever.

However, whatever your dogma or preferred arena of struggle, there’s no question that these magnificent war-stories are among the Few: the cream of British comics well worth your avid time and attention, especially in these perilous times when today’s toffs continually seek to appropriate the language and actions of real wartime heroism for their own shameful, self-serving purposes.
Johnny Red © 2010 Egmont UK Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Introduction © 2010 Garth Ennis. Genesis of a Hero © 2010 Jeremy Briggs.

Merry Christmas, One and All

In keeping with my self-imposed Holiday tradition here’s another pick of British Annuals selected not just for nostalgia’s sake but because it’s my house and my rules…

After decades when only American comics and memorabilia were considered collectable or worthy, the resurgence of interest in home-grown material means there’s lots more of this stuff available and if you’re lucky enough to stumble across a vintage volume or modern facsimile, I hope my words convince you to expand your comfort zone and try something old yet new…

Still topping my Xmas wish-list is further collections from fans and publishers who have begun to rescue this magical material from print limbo in (affordable) new collections…

Great writing and art is rotting in boxes and attics or the archives of publishing houses, when it needs to be back in the hands of readers once again. As the tastes of the reading public have never been broader and since a selective sampling of our popular heritage will always appeal to some part of the mass consumer base, let’s all continue rewarding publishers for their efforts and prove that there’s money to be made from these glorious examples of our communal childhood.

Look and Learn Book 1964
By various (Fleetway)
No ISBN

One of the most missed of publishing traditions in this country is the educational comic. From the features in legendary icon The Eagle to the small explosion of factual and socially responsible boys’ and girls’ papers in the late 1950s, to the heady go-getting heydays of the 1960s and 1970s, Britain had a healthy sub-culture of kids’ periodicals that informed, instructed and revealed – and don’t even get me started on sports comics!

Amongst many others, Speed & Power, World of Wonder, Tell Me Why and the greatest of them all, Look and Learn, spent weeks over decades making things clear and bringing the marvels of the world to our childish but avid attentions. Moreover, when we had no screens of our own, it was all accomplished with wit, style and – thanks to the quality of the illustrators involved – astonishing beauty and clarity.

Look and Learn launched on 20th January 1962, the brainchild of Fleetway Publications Director of Juvenile Publications Leonard Matthews, and executed by Editor David Stone (almost instantly replaced by John Sanders), Sub-Editor Freddie Lidstone and Art Director Jack Parker.

For twenty years and 1049 issues. the comic delighted children by bringing the marvels of the universe to their doors, and became one of the county’s most popular children’s weeklies. Naturally, there were many spin-off tomes such as The Look and Learn Book of 1001 Questions and Answers, Look and Learn Book of Wonders of Nature, Look and Learn Book of Pets and Look and Learn Young Scientist, as well as the totally engrossing Christmas treat The Look and Learn Book.

Selected simply because it has a lovely and inclusive painted cover, this volume – released for Christmas 1963 (as with almost all UK Annuals they were forward-dated) is a prime example of a lost form. Within this168-heavy-stock-paged hardback are 49 fascinating features on all aspects of human endeavour and natural wonder from And in the beginning there was FIRE, Let’s Look at Canada, How this Book was Printed, It’s On the Map!, The Muscle Menders, When Man Goes to Mars, Every Carpet Tells a Story, The Charm of Canterbury, Puzzle Pix, Art Gallery in an Album, Photo Know-How, The Queen’s Bodyguard, Why Do Camels Have Humps? and dozens more articles, all cannily designed to beguile, enthral and above all else, inspire young minds.

Lavishly illustrated with photographs, diagrams, infographics, and paintings and drawings by some of the world’s greatest commercial artists including such luminaries as Ron and Gerry Embleton, Don Lawrence, Helen Haywood, Ron Turner, Ken Evans, Angus McBride, Severino Baraldi, Graham Coton, Ralph Bruce, Cecil Langley Doughty and many others, these books were an utter delight for hungry minds to devour whilst the turkey and Christmas pudding were slowly digested…

Earlier editions such as this one also valued literary entertainment and hands-on activity: providing illustrated extracts from classic books (as here with ‘Midshipman Easy Goes to Sea’ by Captain Frederick Marryat and illuminated poems ‘The Fall of Ratisbon’ by Robert Browning and William Wordsworth’s ‘An Evening Walk’) and hobby crafts as seen in a vast and detailed section on ‘How to build Model Boats’ – complete with plans and blueprints.

With the internet and TV, I suppose their like is unnecessary and irrelevant, but nostalgia aside, the glorious pictures in these volumes alone make them worth the effort of acquisition, and I defy any child of any age to not be sucked into the magic of learning stuff in such lively, lovely style…
© Fleetway Publications Ltd 1963. All Rights Reserved.

Hotspur Book for Boys 1975
By Many & various (DC Thomson)
Retroactively awarded ISBN: 978-0-85116-077-1

If you grew up British any time after 1960 and read comics, you probably cast your eye occasionally – if not indeed fanatically – over DC Thompson’s venerable standby The Victor.
The Dundee based publisher has long been a mainstay of British popular reading and arguably the most influential force in our comics industry. Its strong editorial stance and savvy creativity is responsible for a huge number of household names over many decades, through newspapers, magazines, books and especially its comics and prose-heavy “story-papers” for Girls and Boys.

That last category – comprising Adventure, Rover, Wizard, Skipper and Hotspur – pretty much-faded out at the end of the 1950s when the readership voted overwhelming with their pocket money in favour of primarily strip-based entertainments…

The last of those venerable all-prose story-papers wasn’t dormant for long. Cover-dated 24th October 1959, Hotspur the comic seamlessly replaced the prose stalwart (which had run from 2nd September 1933 to October 17th 1959) as a (mostly) pictorial serial package, running for 1110 weekly issues until finally folding into Victor with the January 24th1981 edition. It was very much the company’s weird and wonderful repository, like a general interest magazine for kids but with strange and exotic leanings. It was always heavy on bizarre situations and splendidly esoteric superheroes. Hostspur Annuals ran from 1966 to 1992 and were an unmissable fact of many a boy’s Yule loot…

This particular example hit the shops in September 1974, and behind that Ian Kennedy (?) cover opened with a two-coloured fact frontispiece exploring ‘Oil from under the Sea – the Finders’. The feature is mirrored at the end with ‘Oil from under the Sea – the Keepers’.

‘The Black Sapper’ was reformed criminal turned globetrotting troubleshooter: a brilliant engineer who built a mighty mechanical Worm-ship ship to travel beneath the Earth. He transferred to Hotspur from The Beezer, and was illustrated by Jack Glass, Keith Shone and Terry Patrick, who here details how the adventurer extinguishes an Arabian oil fire and scotches a sinister plot to usurp the king, after which we’re clued in on industrial ‘Deep Sea Fishing’.

Combining football and nautical adventure, comedy yarn ‘The Rust Bucket Rovers’ (John Richardson art?) sees soccer-crazed Pacific islanders contending with a multinational crew to clear a cargo, after which hearty spoof ‘Grizzly Grant’(Mike Dorey, or perhaps CD Bagnall) finds a junior Mountie and his ursine assistant battle frontier crime.

Tank commander ‘Blake of the Ironfists’ (Peter Sutherland?) then wins a major engagement in WWII Africa, leading to Dorey’s ‘Willie the Winner’ entering yet more contests with hilarious outcomes, before a 1941 naval blockade is overcome by doughty British mariners in ‘HMS Dent – the Deadly Decoy’.

The secrets of ‘Coastal Fishing’ segue into more mirth as motor racing pioneers ‘Spick and Spanner’ compete on a snowbound course in the Italian Alps after which veteran star ‘Iron Teacher’ and his handler Special Agent Jake Toddtackle an evil hypnotist with designs on a circus.

The history of ballooning in ‘Up, Up and Away!’ neatly proceeds into Great War saga ‘Hasket’s Battle Basket’, after which ‘Last of the Warriors’ sees a Cheyenne cavalry scout solving a murder mystery before slapstick oaf ‘Ossie the Outlaw’ proves again that for him crime does not pay…

After aviation pioneer ‘Skyscraper Kidd’ crashes his flying machine on a desert island and thinks his way home, time-displaced highwayman ‘Nick Jolly’ (and his robot flying horse) do their best to make Christmas unforgettable at a ski resort and mega department store in a rousing romp from Ron Smith whilst ‘Parker’s Barkers’ sees the rundown pooches of a local kennel humiliate the elite racers of the local dog track

Fact feature ‘The King of the Tankers’ leads into Z-Cars spoof ‘The Voice of the Panda’ before serious drama returns as football star ‘Cracker Jackson’ takes some sage advice to get over his psychological barriers. After learning all about ‘The World’s Biggest Shovel’, it’s back to desert islands where castaway WWII survivors ‘Thudd and Blunder’ deal with a native uprising in a manner simply not acceptable to today’s audiences.

Stealing the show is Ron Smith’s captivatingly odd teen hero ‘Red Star Robinson’ who – with the invaluable assistance of his android butler Mr. Syrius Thrice – thwarts The Spider’s plan to steal England’s crown jewels, after which ‘Heavyweights’ details a selection of massive transport options before the fun wraps up in anarchic hilarity as clod-footed ‘Dim Dan the Boobyguard’ (Dorey?) tries escorting his own boss to a crucial meeting and everybody else pays the price for his eager ineptitude…

Divorcing the sheer variety of content and entertainment quality of this book from simple nostalgia may be a healthy exercise but it’s almost impossible. I’m perfectly happy to luxuriously wallow in the potent emotions this annual still stirs. It’s a fabulous read from a magical time and turning those stiffened two-colour pages is always an unmatchable Christmas experience… happily one still relatively easy to find these days.

You should try it…
© DC Thomson & Co., Ltd., 1974.

Hurricane Annual 1969
By Many & various (Fleetway)
SBN: 900376-04-X

From the late 1950s and increasingly through the 1960s, Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtook their London-based competitors – monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press.

Created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century, AP perpetually sought to regain lost ground, and the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed as commercial countermeasures offered incredible vistas in adventure and – thanks to the defection of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid to the enemy – eventually found a wealth of anarchic comedy material to challenge the likes of the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and their unruly ilk.

During the latter end of that period the Batman TV show sent the entire world superhero-crazy. Amalgamated had almost finished absorbing all its other rivals such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press to form Fleetway/Odhams/IPC and were about to incorporate American superheroes into their heady brew of weekly thrills.

Once the biggest player in children’s comics, Amalgamated had stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad: keeping their material contemporary, if not strictly fresh. The all-consuming company began reprinting the early successes of Marvel comics for a few years; feeding on the growing fashion for US style adventure which had largely supplanted the rather tired True-Blue Brit style of Dan Dare or DC Thompson’s Wolf of Kabul.

Even though sales of all British comics were generally – and in some cases, drastically -declining, the 1960s were a period of intense and impressive innovation with publishers embracing new sensibilities; constantly trying new types of character and tales. At this time Valiant and its stable-mate Lion were the Boys’ Adventure big guns (although nothing could touch DC Thomson’s Beano and Dandy in the comedy arena).

Hurricane was an impressive-looking upgrade that began during that period of expansion and counterattack, apparently conceived in response to DCT’s action weekly Hornet. It launched the week of February 29th 1964 and ran for 63 issues, but was revamped three times during that period before ultimately being merged into companion paper Tiger.

It carried a superbly varied roster of features in that that time, including two (and a half) stars who survived its extinction. Racing driver Skid Solo and comedy superman Typhoon Tracy as well as Sgt Rock – Paratrooper… but not for so long for him…

There was heavy dependence on European and South American artists initially, among them Mario Capaldi, Nevio Zeccara, Georgio Trevisan, Renato Polese and Lino Landolfi, some of whom lasted into the Annuals. As with so many titles, although the comics might quickly fade, Christmas Annuals sustained their presence for years after Hurricane seasonal specials were produced for every year from 1965 to 1974…

Following a tried-&-true formula, this book – published in 1968 – offers comics adventures, prose stories, fact-features, and funnies and puzzles, kicking off with visual vexations in ‘Fantastic – but True!’ before western star Drago joins an embattled cavalry troop in staving off an invasion from Mexico (no, really!) in duo-hued thriller ‘The Gun that Saved the West’ – possibly illustrated by Renato Polese.

‘The Worst Boy in the School’ – as illustrated by Geoffrey Whittam? – was a long-running boarding school saga enlivened by its star Duffy coming from Circus stock. Here the comedy chaos and espionage excitement stems from the boys trying to keep an escaped chimp and parrot secret from the Masters…

‘Two Fists Against the World!’ was a Regency-set strip featuring prize-fighter Jim Trim. Illustrated by Carlos Roume, this origin reprint sees how, in 1804, the husky orphan first sets out on his pugnacious path…

‘Casey and the Champ’ then details in strip form the last hurrah of a broken-down steam engine as prelude to a text feature of weird facts corralled here as ‘It Was the Way Out West’ feature. Truly gripping prose yarn ‘The Vanished Wreck’then recounts how a clever insurance scam is foiled by an inventive salvage crew, before Typhoon Tracy – Extra Special Agent stars in ‘Mad, Mad Mission’: baffling spies and American agents in equal measure with his blundering rescue of a kidnapped boffin. Switching back to prose, Rex Barton, Investigator of the Weird and Unknown foils a cunning robbery in ‘The Phantom Monks of Milborough’.

Following the comedy capers of ‘Rod the Odd Mod and ‘is old pal Pervy Vere’, pictorial history lesson ‘Into Battle with King-Sized Catapults!’ and ‘Safari Quiz’ segue into a thrilling prose sci-fi short illustrated by immaculate stylist Reg Bunn. ‘Hunt for the Human Time-Bomb!’ stars atomic accident survivors Ace Sutton and Flash Casey who use their abilities to walk through walls to avert imminent catastrophe, after which The Robot Builders (drawn by what looks like early Massimo Bellardinelli?) attend a New World symposium and experience ‘All the Fear of the Fair!’ when a giant mechanical brain goes haywire…

Masked cowboy ‘The Black Avenger’ then exposes a fake sheriff before we jump to luscious full-colour as the worst ship in the WWII navy again confounds the British Admiralty and escapes being broken up for parts in ‘HMS Outcast in the Big Scrap’. Geoff Campion’s unruly mob here stave off doom and dispersal by implausibly capturing an Italian super dreadnaught in the Mediterranean…

‘Defeat for the ‘Boy General’ – the True Story of Custer’s Last Stand’ gives a fairly jaundiced review of the cavalryman’s career (backed up by visuals from contemporary movie Custer of the West) whilst ‘War Under the Sea’ offers technical speculation on the development of the Oceans, ending the colour section and leading into monochrome soccer star Harry of the Hammers who wins his cup-tie after first foiling a robbery in prose piece ‘Mystery Marksman’

After gag magician ‘Marvo Brings the House Down’, Giovanni Ticci limns a sublime light-hearted ‘Sword for Hire’ romp starring Cavalier soldier-of-fortune Hugo Dinwiddie who pawns his blade but still manages to save the day against burglars and bandits, and racer Geoff Hart wins a war of wills and wheels in ‘Stock-Car Duel!’

Sport was a major fascination of publishers at this time and ‘Soccer Special by The Ref’ opens an extended section of pictorial mini-features comprised of ‘Cap-and-Cup Winners’, ‘Before they were Famous’, ‘Odd Things Happen in Soccer’ and ‘They Made Soccer History’, before full-on fantasy returns with cover-star ‘The Juggernaut from Planet Z’, who revisits his Earth chum Dr. Dan Morgan and foils alien invaders employing tectonic terror tactics.

Another outing for Rod the Odd Mod and ‘is old pal Pervy Vere brings us to prose fable ‘The Impostor Knight’, revealing how an affable blacksmith’s assistant wins a joust, augmented by fact-filled sidebar ‘Warriors in Armour’ before ‘Sgt. Rock – Special Air Service’ is assigned to destroy a Nazi fuel dump and ‘Typhoon Tracy Trouble-Shooter’ riotously ends a revolution far, far South of the Border in his own inimitable incompetent manner…

Mischievous moppet ‘Terrible Tich’ literally brings the house down and ‘Wild West Funmen’ offers a magazine of owlhoot hoots before the nostalgia-fest closes in spectacular style as Hugo Dinwiddie stalks a flamboyant highwayman and ends up as a ‘Courier for the King!’

Eclectic, wide-ranging and always of majestically high quality, this blend of fact, fiction, fun and thrills is a splendid evocation of lost days of joy and wonder. We may not be making books like this anymore but at least they’re still relatively easy to track down. Of course, what’s really needed is for some sagacious publisher to start re-issuing them…
© Fleetway Publications Ltd., 1968

The Complete Johnny Future


By Alf Wallace, Luis Bermejo & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-758-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Wonderment and an Ideal Last-Minute Gift… 10/10

Until relatively recently, Britain never really had a handle on superheroes. Although every reader from the 1950s on can cite a particular favourite fantasy muscle-man or costumed champion – from Thunderbolt Jaxon to Morgyn the Mighty, or Gadget Man & Gimmick Kid to the Spider, Tri-Man and Phantom Viking to Red Star Robinson and Billy the Cat (& Katie!) – to have populated our pages, they all somehow ultimately lacked conviction. Well, almost all…

During the heady Swinging Sixties days of “Batmania”, just as Marvel Comics was first infiltrating our collective consciousness, a little-remembered strip graced the pages of a short-lived experimental title and the result was sheer, unbridled magic…

With Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtaking their London-based competitors – monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press – throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed to compete offered incredible vistas in adventure material. Thanks to the defection of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid to Amalgamated, they also found a wealth of anarchic comedy material to challenge the likes of the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and their unruly ilk.

During that latter end of the period, the Batman TV show sent the entire world superhero crazy just as Amalgamated absorbed all its local rivals such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press to form Fleetway/Odhams and ultimately IPC.

Formerly the biggest player in children’s comics, Amalgamated Press (created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the 20th century) had stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad: keeping their material contemporary, if not always fresh or original. The all-consuming monolith had been reprinting the early successes of Marvel comics for a few years; feeding on a growing fashion for US-style adventure which had largely supplanted the rather tired True-Blue Brit style of Dan Dare or DCT’s Wolf of Kabul or the Tough of the Track. A key point at that time was that although both part of the Mirror Group, Fleetway and Odhams were deadly rivals…

“Power Comics” was a sub-brand used by Odhams to differentiate their periodicals – which contained reprinted American superhero material – from the greater company’s regular blend of sports, war, western adventure and gag comics such as Buster, Valiant, Lion or Tiger. During this time, the Power weeklies did much to popularise budding Marvel characters and their shared universe in this country, which was still poorly served by distribution of the actual American imports.

The line began with Wham! – but only after the comic was well-established. Originally created by newly-ensconced Leo Baxendale, it launched on June 20th 1964. At the start, the title was designed as a counter to The Beano, as was Smash! (which launched February 5th 1966), but the tone of times soon dictated the hiving off into a more distinctive imprint, which was augmented by the creation of little sister Pow!

Pow! launched with a cover date of January 31st 1967, combining home-grown funnies such as Mike Higgs’ The Cloak,Baxendale’s The Dolls of St Dominic’s, Reid’s Dare-a-Day Davy, Wee Willie Haggis: The Spy from Skye and British originated thrillers such as Jack Magic and The Python with the now ubiquitous resized US strips: in this case Spider-Man and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The next step was even bolder. Fantastic – and its sister paper Terrific – were notable for not reformatting or resizing the original US artwork whereas in Wham!, Pow! or Smash!, an entire 24-page yarn could be resized and squeezed into 10 or 11 pages, accompanied by British comedy and adventure strips.

These slick new periodicals – each with a dynamic back cover pin-up taken from Marvel Comics or created in-house by apprentice comics bods and future superstars Barry Windsor-Smith and Steve Parkhouse – reprinted US Superhero fare, supplemented by minimal amounts of UK originated filler and editorial.

Fantastic #1 debuted with cover-date February 18th 1967 (but was first seen in newsagents on Saturday 11th), revealing the origin stories of Thor, Iron Man and the X-Men, but from the get-go, savvy tykes like me were as engrossed by a short adventure serial also included to fill out the page count. The Missing Link was beautifully drawn and over the following year (February 18th 1967 – February 3rd 1968) would become a truly unique reading experience…

The series began inauspiciously as a kind of homegrown Incredible Hulk knock off. Oddly, editor and writer Alfred “Alf” Wallace crafted for the filler a tone very similar to that adopted by Marvel’s own Green Goliath when he became a small screen star a decade later…

The illustrator was the astoundingly gifted Luis Bermejo Rojo, a star of Spanish comics forced to seek work abroad after the domestic market imploded in 1956. He became a prolific contributor to British strips, working on a succession of moody masterpieces such as the Human Guinea Pig, Mann of Battle, Pike Mason, Phantom Force Five and Heros the Spartan, in a variety of genres, appearing in Girls Crystal, Tina, Tarzan Weekly, Battle Picture Library, Thriller Picture Library The Eagle, Buster, Boys World, Tell Me Why, Look and Learn and many more. He finally achieved a modicum of deserved acclaim in the 1970s, after joining fellow studio mates José Ortiz, Esteban Maroto and Leopoldo Sanchez working on adult horror stories for Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella.

I’m a big kid helplessly enmired in nostalgia, but to me his greatest moments were the year spent drawing Johnny Future

The Missing Link – as the feature was entitled for the first 15 episodes – was disturbingly similar to TV’s Hulk of the 1970s. Superhumanly strong, tragically misunderstood, the strip combined human-scaled drama with lost world exoticism in the manner of King Kong, as can be see seen following Steve Holland’s incisive and informative Introduction ‘Welcome to the Future!’, when the drama opens in the wilds of Africa.

A bestial man-beast roams the veldt, swamps and mountains, until great white hunter Bull Belson comes to capture him, accompanied by secretary/photographer Lita Munro. The infamous tracker sees only profit in the mute beast, who, after much frustratingly destructive behaviour, is lured into captivity by an inexplicable attraction to Miss Munro…

To be fair, she has the brute’s interests at heart, attempting to befriend and teach the Link on the slow voyage back to England, but on reaching London Dock, the sideshow attraction is spooked by mocking labourers and breaks his bonds and cage…

Brutally rampaging across the city at the heart of the Swinging Sixties, the Link is soon being hunted by the army, but nobody realizes that beneath the bestial brow is a cunning brain. Hopping a freight train up north, he seeks refuge in an isolated government atomic research laboratory run by Dr. Viktor Kelso and is accidentally dosed with vast transformative radiation…

The unleashed uncanny forces jumpstart an evolutionary leap, turning the primitive beast into a perfect specimen of manhood, while simultaneously sparking a near-catastrophic meltdown in the machinery, which is only averted by the massive instinctive intellect of the new man. Arrested as a terrorist spy, the silent superman is very publicly tried in court and again encounters Lita.

Meanwhile, Kelso has deduced the true course of events. As the Link uses his prison time to educate himself in the ways of the world, the scientist works on a deadly super-weapon, prompting the Link to escape jail and clear his name. With his super-strength and massive mind, the task is easy but he still needs Lita to complete his plan…

The series cheerfully plundered the tone of the times and the drama seamlessly morphs into chilling science fiction tropes as Kelso’s device brings the nation to a literal standstill leaving only the evolved outsider to thwart a staggeringly ambitious scheme…

Set on a new heroic path, although still a hunted fugitive, the Link creates a civilian identity (John Foster) and a costumed persona just as Britain is assaulted by ‘The Animal Man’: a psionic dictator able to control all beasts and creatures. Incredibly, that includes recently ascendant Johnny Future, but the villain is defeated after overextending himself and accidentally awakening a primordial horror from Jurassic times…

In short order, Johnny Future tackles Dr. Jarra and his killer robot; a society of evil world-conquering scientists, invention-plundering shapeshifting aliens, prehistoric giants, and deranged science tyrant The Master.

Fully hitting his stride, the future man overcomes personality warping psychopath Mr. Opposite and defeats the Secret Society of Science’s top assassins ‘The Brain, The Brute and the Hunter’ before saving Earth from marauding living metal and defeating Dr. Plasto’s animated waxwork killers.

And that was that. Without warning the comic merged with sister publication Terrific and there was no more room for a purely British superhero. Here, however, there’s one more delight: a 14-page, full-colour complete adventure with Johnny battling diabolical primordial revenant Disastro, first seen in Fantastic Annual 1968, plus a colour pin-up from Fantastic #30 (September 9th 1967).

Interest in superheroes and fantasy in general were on the wane and British weeklies were diversifying. Some switched back to war, sports and adventure stories, whilst with comedy strips on the rise again, others became largely humour outlets. Johnny Future (available in comforting hardback and accessible digital formats) is a unique beast: a blend of British B-movie chic, with classic monster riffs seen through the same bleak but compelling lens that spawned Doctor Who and Quatermass: the social sci fi of John Wyndham trying on glamourous superhero schtick whilst blending the breakneck pace of a weekly serial with the chilling moodiness of kitchen sink crime dramas.

There was never anything like this before or since and if you love dark edges to your comics escapism you must have this amazing collection far sooner than tomorrow.
™ & © 1967, 1968, & 2020 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.