Spider-Man Newspaper Strips volume 1: January 3rd 1977 – January 28th 1979

4 images (2 covers + 1 illo and a spare combined covers if the preferred don’t match up)


By Stan Lee & John Romita, with Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8561-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

It’s been a year since we lost genial giant John Romita. His work and life were inextricably woven into the Marvel canon: permeating and supporting the entire company’s output from top to tail, from before the House of Ideas even existed to the stellar Sixties to right now…

By 1977 Stan Lee had all but surrendered his role as editor and guiding light of Marvel Comics for that of a roving PR machine to hype-up the company he had turned into a powerhouse. In that year two events occurred that catapulted Marvel’s standout, signature character into the popular culture mainstream. One was the long-anticipated debut of The Amazing Spider-Man live action TV show (a mixed blessing and pyrrhic victory at best) whilst the other, and one much more in keeping with his humble origins, was the launch of a syndicated newspaper strip with the same hallowed title.

Both mass-audience outreach projects brought the character to a wider audience, but the latter offered at least a promise of editorial control – a crucial factor in keeping the wondrous wallcrawler’s identity and integrity intact. But even this closely-aligned creative medium dictated some tailoring of the Merry Marvel Madness before the hero was a suitable fit with the grown-up world of the “Funny Pages”.

Which is just my longwinded way of saying that completists, long-time fans and lovers of great artwork will absolutely enjoy this collection of periodical strips, as will any admirer of the stunning talents of the senior John Romita (latterly inked by the great Frank Giacoia) even though the stories are tame, bowdlerised and rather mediocre. Deprived of the support network of an overlapping Marvel Universe, they often struggled to find their wallcrawling feet and might feel a tad toned down and simplistic for readers familiar with the wider cast or long history. Those completists, however, might be keen on catching lost adventures featuring Wolverine, Doctor Strange and Daredevil, and it was always easier to import supervillains like Mysterio, The Kingpin and Doctor Doom into the alternate adventures of this Amazing Spider-Man.

Marvel Multiversal Continuity eventually caught up with the feature and it’s now designated Earth-77013 and a regular component of the “Spider-Verse” strand…

The strip was first posited and peddled around the papers in 1970 (Lee & Romita’s initial proposal and two weeks of trial continuities are included at the back of this book) but The Amazing Spider-Man only began on January 3rd 1977. It ran as a property of the Register and Tribune Syndicate until 1985, briefly switching to Cowles Media Company before becoming part of the King Features Syndicate in 1986. The strip went on hiatus following Lee’s death with the final new strip appearing on March 23rd 2019. Lee was still credited as writer even though Roy Thomas had been its ghost writer since 2000. It soon reappeared as reruns – until October 21st 2023 – before being replaced in syndicate packages by Flash Gordon.

One of the industry’s most polished stylists and a true cornerstone of the Marvel Comics phenomenon, the elder John Romita began his comics career in the late 1940s (ghosting for other artists) before striking out under his own colours, eventually illustrating horror and other anthology tales for Stan Lee at Timely/Atlas.

John Victor Romita was Brooklyn born and bred, entering the world on January 24th 1930. From Brooklyn Junior High School he moved to the famed if not legendary Manhattan School of Industrial Art, and graduated in 1947. After spending six months creating a medical exhibit for Manhattan General Hospital he moved into comics in 1949, working for Famous Funnies. A “day job” toiling at Forbes Lithograph was abandoned when a friend found him various inking and ghosting assignments, until he was drafted in 1951. Showing his portfolio to a US army art director, after boot camp at Fort Dix New Jersey, Romita was promoted to corporal, and stationed on Governors Island in New York Bay doing recruitment posters. He was allowed to live off-base in Brooklyn. During this period he started doing the rounds and struck up a freelancing acquaintance with Stan Lee at rapidly expanding genre factory Atlas Comics…

Romita illustrated horror, science fiction, war stories, westerns, Waku, Prince of the Bantu in Jungle Tales, a superb run of inviting cowboy adventures starring The Western Kid and was handed 1954’s abortive revival of Captain America and more, before an industry implosion derailed his – and many other – blossoming careers. He eventually found himself trapped in DC’s romance comics division – a job he hated – before – in 1965 – making a reluctant jump back to the resurgent House of Ideas. As well as steering the career of the wallcrawler and so many other Marvel stars, his greatest influence was felt when he became Art Director in July 1973 – a job he had been doing unofficially since 1968. He had a definitive hand in creating or shaping many key characters, such as Mary Jane Watson, Peggy Carter, The Kingpin, The Punisher, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Satana, ad infinitum. One story goes that it was Romita who suggested Gwen Stacy’s murder to Spidey scripter Gerry Conway…

Working from full scripts (not the acclaimed “Marvel Method”), Romita illustrated The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip for its first four years, after which Stan’s brother Larry Lieber (Rawhide Kid, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Thor) took on the pencilling. Unhappy with the deadline pressures, he soon left, and was replaced by Fred (Airboy, Captain Britain) Kida who soldiered on from August 1981 to July 1986. A brief interim with Dan (Flash Gordon, Airboy, Tarzan) Barry led to Leiber’s return, and he drew the feature for the next 32 years with a variety of inkers and ghosts such as Alex Saviuk.

Since 2015 the stories have also been collected in IDW’s The Library of American Comics as The Amazing Spider-Man: The Ultimate Newspaper Comics Collection with five lavish hardback volumes released to date. This collection – available in landscape paperback and digital formats – is a modified rerelease of a hardback tome from 2008, offering extra editorial and commentary as it re-presents the first two years of the strip, with traditional single tier monochrome dailies accompanied by full-colour, full page Sunday strips. If the reader is steeped in the established folklore of the comic book Spider-Man, the serials here – solidly emphasising Peter Parker‘s personal relationships in the grand manner of strip soap opera drama – begin by introducing Dr. Doom and Dr. Octopus in heavy-handed potboilers light on action but intrinsically riffing on what has gone before in comic books.

However, for the presumed millions of neophyte readers the yarns must have been a tad confusing: presented as if all participants are already fully-established, with no development or real explanation of backstory. After the full-on Marvel villains are successively trounced, serpentine new baddie The Rattler stalks the city in search of increased powers, followed in turn by the more appropriate and understandable (for strips at least) gangster The Kingpin, who combines seditious politics with gun-toting thuggery.

Only then do the creators finally get around to a retelling of the origin, albeit one now based on that aforementioned TV show rather than the classic Lee/Ditko masterpiece. It’s safe to say that in those early years television informed the strip much (too much) more than monthly comic books.

A suitably revised Kraven the Hunter debuts next, presenting an opportunity to remove glamourous but shallow good-time girl Mary Jane Watson from the strip in favour of a string of temporary girl-friends, more in line with the TV iteration. This also signalled a reining-in of super-menaces in favour of less-fantastic or far-fetched opponents such as a middle-Eastern terrorist.

The launch of a Spider-Man movie (surely the most improbable of events!) then takes photojournalist Peter Parker to Hollywood and into a clash with a new version of deranged special-effects genius Mysterio, before Dr. Doom returns, attempting to derange our hero with robot pigeons and duplicates of Parker’s associates..

This is followed by an exceptional, emotionally-stirring run of episodes as three street thugs terrorise senior citizen Aunt May for her social security money, after which Spider-Man must foil a crazed fashion-model who has discovered his identity and blackmails him…

These drama-framed and human-scaled threats are a far more fitting use of the hero in this ostensibly more grown-up milieu – which pauses here with a protection racket romp set in the (feel free to shudder) discotheque owned by young entrepreneurs Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn, courtesy of newly-returned corpulent crimelord Kingpin…

To Be Continued…

Adding to the time capsule of arachnid entertainment is that aforementioned proposal by Lee & Romita, archival interviews with both creators conducted by John Rhett Thomas and Alex Lear plus a gallery of six Sunday title panels (used to summarise events and set the tone for readers who only read the sabbath colour strips), as well as a classic Romita pin-up page starring the artist and his greatest co-creations…

Happily, although goofy stories predominate in this oddball collection, and time has not been gentle with much of the dialogue, the stunning artwork of John Romita in his prime helps to counteract the worst of the cultural excesses. Moreover, there remains a certain guilty pleasure to be derived from these tales if you don’t take your comics too seriously and are open to alternative existences…
© 1977, 1978, 2019 Marvel. All rights reserved.

Beyond Mars – The Complete Series 1952-1955


By Jack Williamson & Lee Elias (IDW Publishing)
ISBNs: 978-1-631404-35-1 (HB/Digital edition)

The 1950s saw the last great flourish of the American newspaper strip. Invented and always used as a way to boost circulation and encourage consumer loyalty, the inexorable rise of television and spiralling costs of publishing gradually ate away at all but the most popular features as the decade ended. However, the post-war years saw a final, valiant, burst of creativity and variety as syndicates looked for ways to recapture popular attention and editors sought ways to maximise every fraction of a page-inch for paying ads, rather than fritter away column inches on expensive cost-centres. No matter how well produced, imaginative or entertaining, if strips couldn’t increase sales, they weren’t welcome…

The decade also saw fantastic social change as commercial boomtimes and technological progress created a new type of visionary consumer – one fired up by the realization that America was Top Dog in the world.

The optimistic escapism offered by the stars above led to a reawakening in the science fiction genre, with a basic introduction for the hoi-polloi offered by the television industry through such pioneering (if clunky) programmes as Tom Corbett, Space Cadet or Captain Video, cinema serials like King of the Rocket Men and major movies from visionaries like Robert Wise (Day the Earth Stood Still) and George Pal (Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, War of the Worlds and others).

Most importantly, for kids of all ages, conceptual fancies were being tickled by a host of fantastic comic books ranging from the blackly satirical Weird Science Fantasy to affably welcoming, openly enthusiastic and optimistic Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space. In the gradually expiring pulp magazines, master imagineers like Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke, Sturgeon, Dick, Bester and Farmer were transforming the genre from youthful melodrama into a highly philosophical art form…

With Flying Saucers in the skies and headlines, Reds under every Bed and refreshing adventure in mind, the multifarious Worlds of Tomorrow were common currency and newspapers wanted in on the phenomenon. Established strip features such as Buck Rogers, Brick Bradford and Flash Gordon were no longer enough and editors demanded bold new visions to draw in a wider public, not just those steady fans who already bought papers for their favourite futurians.

John Stewart “Jack” Williamson was one of the first superstars of American science fiction writing, a rurally raised, self-taught author with more than 18 short story collections, 50 books, and even volumes of criticism and non-fiction to his much-lauded name. Arizona-born in 1908, he was reared in Texas and sold his first story to Amazing Stories in 1928. He created a number of legendary serials such as the Legion of Space, The Humanoids and Legion of Time. Williamson is credited by the OED with inventing the terms and concepts of “terraforming” and “genetic engineering” and was one of the first literary investigators of anti-matter with his Seetee novels.

“See Tee” or “Contra Terrene Matter” is also at the heart of the strip under discussion here, completely collected in a magnificent full colour volume available in positive matter Hardback and the ethereal pulses technique we dub digital publication.

Following a damning newspaper review of Seetee Ship – which claimed the book was only marginally better than a comic strip – Williamson’s second novel in that sequence moved the editor of a rival paper to engage Williamson and artist Lee Elias to produce a Sunday page based in the same universe as the books.

Leopold Elias was born in England in 1920, but grew up in the USA after the family emigrated in 1926. He studied at the Cooper Union and Art Students League of New York before beginning his professional comics illustration career at Fiction House in 1943. He worked on Captain Wings and latterly western classic Firehair. His sleek, Milt Caniff-inspired art was highly prized by numerous publishers, and Elias contributed to the lustre of The Flash, Green Lantern, Sub-Mariner, Terry and the Pirates and, most notably, the glamourous Black Cat series at Harvey Comics.

Elias briefly left the funnybook arena in the early 1950s after his art was singled out by anti-comic book zealot Dr. Fredric Wertham. He traded up to the more prestigious newspaper strips, ghosting Al Capp’s Li’l Abner before landing the job of bringing Beyond Mars to life. He returned to comic books after the strip’s demise, becoming a DC mainstay in the 1960s, Marvel in the 1970s and Warren in the 1980s. He died in 1998, having spent his final years teaching at the School of Visual Arts and the Kubert School.

The glorious meeting of minds is preceded here by an effusive and informative Introduction from Bruce Canwell –‘When “Retro” Was Followed by “Rocket” – packed with cover art, original pages and illustrations setting the scene and sharing lost secrets of the strips genesis and Armageddon.

With Dick Tracy strip maestro Chester Gould as adviser at the start, Beyond Mars ran exclusively and in full colour in the New York Daily News every Sunday from February 17th 1952 to May 13th 1955: a glorious high-tech, high-adventure romp based on and around Brooklyn Rock in 2191 AD. This bastion was a commercial space station bored into one of the rocky chunks drifting in the asteroid belt “Beyond Mars” – an ideal rough-&-tumble story venue on the ultimate frontier of human experience.

Although as the series progressed, a progression of inspired extraterrestrial sidekicks and svelte, sultry, sexy women beloved of the era’s movies increasingly stole the show, but the notional star is Spatial Engineer Mike Flint, an independent charter-pilot based on the rock. The first tale begins with Flint selling his services to plucky Becky Starke who has come to the furthest edge of civilisation in search of her missing father. A student of human nature, she cloaks that motivation as a quest for a city-sized, solid diamond asteroid floating in the deadly “Meteor Drift”…

Soon Mike and his lisping ophidian Venusian partner Tham Thmith are contending with Brooklyn Rock’s crime boss Frosty Karth: a fantastic raider dubbed The Black Martian, a super-criminal named Cobra and even more unearthly menaces in a stirring tale of interplanetary drug dealers, lost cities and dead civilisations. There’s even a fantastic mutation in the resilient form of a semi-feral Terran boy who can breathe vacuum and rides deep space on a meteor!

With that tale barely concluded the crew, including that rambunctious space boy Jimikin, plunge deep into another mystery: Brooklyn Rock has gone missing!

Tough guy Flint has no time to grieve for the family and friends left behind as he intercepts an inbound star-liner and discovers both an old flame and a smooth-talking thug bound for the now-missing space station. One of them knows where it went…

Unknown to even this mastermind, the Rock – stolen by pirates – is out of control and drifting to ultimate destruction in a debris field, but no sooner is that crisis averted than the heroes are entangled in a “First Contact” situation with an ancient alien from beyond Known Space. Perhaps it might actually be more correctly deemed becoming snared by the devilish devices he/she/it left running? Ultimately, Mike, Tham, Jimikin and curvaceous Xeno-archaeologist Victoria Snow narrowly escape alien vivisection from robotic relics before the tragic, inevitable conclusion…

Snow’s brother Blackie is a fast-talking ne’er-do-well, and when he shows up, Karth takes the opportunity to settle some old scores, leading Flint into a deadly trap on Ceres in a slick saga of genetic manipulation, eugenic supermen and mega-wealth. Meanwhile on an interplanetary liner, a new cast member “resurfaces” in the shape of crusty coot/Mercurian ore prospector Fireproof Jones, just in time to help Flint and Sam mine their newfound riches.

As ever, Karth is looking to make trouble for the lads but he wins some for himself when his young daughter suddenly turns up on the Rock, accompanied by gold-digging Pamela Prim. Suddenly, murderous raider Black Martian returns to plague the honest pioneers of the Brooklyn frontier…

Glamour model Trish O’Keefe causes a completely different kind of trouble when she lands, looking for her fiancé. Naturally, Tack McTeak isn’t the humble space-doctor he claims to be but a cerebrally augmented criminal mastermind, with plans to snatch the biggest prize in space inevitably leading to a sequence of stunning thrills and astonishing action.

Focus switches to Earth as the cast visit “civilisation” and find it far from hospitable, with the chance to battle manufactured monsters and mysterious Dr. Moray on his private tropical island something of a welcome – if mixed – blessing…

By this time, the writing must have been on the wall, as the strip had been reduced to a half page per week. Even so, the creators clearly decided to go out in style. Sheer bravura spectacle was magnificently ramped up and all the tools of the sci fi world were utilized to ensure the strip ended with a bang. Moray’s plans are catastrophically realised when the villain employs an anti-gravity bomb to steal Manhattan; turning it into a deadly Sword of Damocles in the sky…

The series abruptly ended when the New York Daily News changed its editorial policy: dropping all comics from its pages. The decision was clearly unexpected, as the saga finished satisfactorily if quite abruptly on Sunday 13th March 1955.

Beyond Mars is a breathtaking lost gem from two master craftsmen successfully blending the wonders of science and the rollicking thrills of Westerns with broad, light-hearted humour to produce a mind-boggling, eye-popping, exuberantly wholesome family space-opera the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again until Star Wars put fun back into futuristic fiction.

Thankfully, after years of frustrated agitation by fans, the entire saga is available in this fabulous oversized (244 x 307 mm) edition no lover of stars & strife can afford to be without.
© 2015 Tribune Content Agency LLC. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2015 Bruce Canwell.

Pogo – Bona Fide Balderdash: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 2


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-584-6 (HB/Digital edition)

By golly, we finally got us an election, and in these moments of elation and trepidatious uncertainty, it’s only natural to turn to the steadfast things in our lives such as the total conviction that this guy knew all about liars, chancers, opportunists and self-serving, utterly unqualified dissimulators suddenly paying really close attention to what the public has been telling them for years…

It doesn’t hurt that his creator was one of the greatest cartoonists and humourists of all time and that his comics are timelessly wonderful. Read this book and all the others – it may well be your last chance to do so…

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and started his cartooning career whilst still in High School, as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, after relocating to California he joined the Disney Studio, working on short cartoon films and such major features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio. When the infamous animator’s strike began in 1941 Kelly refused to take sides, and moved back East and into comic books – primarily for Dell Comics who at that time held the Disney funnybook license, amongst so many others.

Despite glorious work on such popular people-based classics as the Our Gang movie spin-off, he preferred and particularly excelled with anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy material.

For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 this other Walt created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum: sensibly retaining copyrights in the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star. On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive characters began their second careers, on the far more legitimate funny pages, appearing in the paper six days a week until it folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its run (reprinted in full at the back of Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1 link please) the first glimmers of an increasingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary began to emerge. When The Star closed, Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, and launched in selected outlets on May 16th 1949. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950: both produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 (and even beyond, courtesy of his talented wife and family). At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries with book collections – which began in 1951 – eventually numbering nearly 50 and collectively selling over 30 million copies – and all that before this Fantagraphics series began…

In this second volume the main aspect of interest is the personable Possum’s first innocently adorable attempts to run for Public Office. This became a ritual inevitably and coincidentally reoccurring every four years, whenever America’s merely human inhabitants got together for raucous caucuses and exuberant electioneering. It’s remarkable – but not coincidental – to note that by the close of the 2-year period contained herein, Kelly had increased his count of uniquely Vaudevillian returning characters to over one hundred. The sordid likes of Solid MacHogany, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport, Tamananny Tiger, Willow McWisper, Goldie Lox, Sarcophagus MacAbre, bull moose Uncle Antler and three brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred, amongst so many others, would pop up with varying frequency and growing impact over following decades

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation (356 pages) offers monochrome Dailies from January 1st 1951 to December 31st 1952, plus the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 7th 1951 to December 28th 1952: each faithfully annotated and listed in a copious, expansive and informative Table of Contents. Supplemental features include a Foreword from pioneering comedy legend Stan Freberg, delightful unpublished illustrations and working/developmental drawings by Kelly, extra invaluable context and historical notes in the amazing R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ and a biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ from Mark Evanier.

In his time, satirical mastermind Kelly unleashed his bestial spokes-cast on such innocent, innocuous sweethearts as Senator Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, The John Birch Society, Richard Nixon and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as less loathsome louts like of Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney (US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) Governor of Michigan and dad of a guy named Mitt…

This particular monument to madcap mirth and sublime drollery naturally carries the usual cast: gently bemused Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagger Seminole Sam Fox, pompous (doesn’t) know-it-all Howland Owl and all the bestial rest: covering not only day-to-day topics and travails like love, marriage, weather, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sports, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other, but also includes epic and classic sagas: the stress of Poetry Contests, hunting – from a variety of points of view – Christmas and other Public Holidays, incipient invasion, war and even cross-dressing, to name but a few…

Kelly spent a good deal of 1952 spoofing the electoral race, and this tome offers magical, magnificent treatment of all problems associated with grass (and moss) roots politics, dubious campaign tactics, loony lobbying, fun with photo ops, briefings (for & against), impractical tactical alliances, glad-handing, a proliferation of political promos and ephemera, how to build clockwork voters – and candidates – and of course, life after a failed run for the top job…

As the delicious Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah would no doubt say: “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”

Either I heard it somewhere or I’m just making it up, but I gather certain embattled Prime Ministers and Presidents are using the cartoons as tactical playbooks and there’s a copy in every gift bag handed out at Riyadh and Davos. Gosh, how I hope so…

Kelly’s uncontested genius lay in a seemingly effortless ability to lyrically and vivaciously portray – through anthropomorphic affectation – comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human. He used that blessed gift to blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre.

The hairy, scaly, feathered slimy folk of the surreal swamp lands are, of course, inescapably us, elevated by burlesque, slapstick, absurdism and all the glorious joys of wordplay from puns to malapropisms to raucous accent humour into a multi-layered hodgepodge of all-ages delight. Tragically, here at least, we’ve never looked or behaved better…

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement. Timeless and magical, Pogo is a weeny colossus not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent collection should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the first one. Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the critters involved: “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.
POGO Bona Fide Balderdash and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2012 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2012 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarzan and the Lost Tribes (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 4)


By Burne Hogarth & Rob Thompson (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-320-7 (Album HB)

The 1930 and 1940s was an era of astounding pictorial periodical adventure. In the years before television, newspaper strips (and later comicbooks) were the only visually-based home entertainment for millions of citizens young and old and consequently shaped the culture of many nations. Relatively few strips attained near-universal approval and acclaim. Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates and Prince Valiant were in that rarefied pantheon but arguably the most famous was Tarzan.

The full-blown dramatic adventure serial started on January 7th 1929 with Buck Rogers and Tarzan debuting that day. Both were adaptations of pre-existing prose properties and their influence changed the shape of the medium forever. The 1930s saw an explosion of similar fare, launched with astounding rapidity and success. Not just strips but actual genres were created in that decade, still impacting on today’s comic-books and, in truth, all our popular fiction forms.

In terms of art quality, the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immensely successful novels starring jungle-bred John Clayton, Lord Greystoke by Canadian commercial artist Harold “Hal” Foster were unsurpassed. These strips soon became a firm favourite of the masses, supplementing movies, books, a radio show and ubiquitous advertising appearances.

As detailed in previous volumes of this sublime oversized (330 x 254 mm), full-colour hardback series, Foster initially quit the strip at the end of a 10-week adaptation of first novel Tarzan of the Apes and was replaced by Rex Maxon. At the insistent urging of author ER Burroughs, Foster returned when the black-&-white daily expanded to include a lush, full colour Sunday page featuring original adventures.

Maxon was left to capably handle the weekday book adaptations, and Foster crafted the epic and lavish Sunday page until 1936 (233 consecutive weeks). He then left again, for good: moving to King Features Syndicate and his own landmark weekend masterpiece Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur – debuting in February 1937. Once the 4-month backlog of material he built up was gone, Foster was succeeded by precociously brilliant 25-year old Burne Hogarth: a graphic visionary whose superb anatomical skill, cinematic design flair and compelling page composition revolutionised the entire field of action/adventure narrative illustration. The galvanic modern dynamism of the idealised human figure in today’s comicbooks can be directly attributed to Hogarth’s pioneering drawing and, in later years, educational efforts. Burroughs cannily used the increasingly popular comic strip to cross-market his own prose efforts with great effect.

This fantastic fourth tome begins with the spectacularly illustrated ‘Jusko on Hogarth: An Education in Form and Movement’ with the fantasy painter harking back to his childhood comics experiences and influences after which the astounding action/adventure epic recommences. At this time, Hogarth was sharing the scripting chores veteran collaborator Rob Thompson, having only recently returned to the feature after a dispute with the owners. He had moved to the Robert Hall Syndicate for whom he produced seminal adventure classic Drago, and then United Features to create comedy strip Miracle Jones. During the time away from Tarzan, Hogarth – with Silas Rhodes – opened the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, which later evolved into the School of Visual Arts.

‘Tarzan and N’Ani’ (episodes #875-896, 14th December to 1948 – 9th May 1948) offers more raw drama as Tarzan visits old friend Pangola only to find the chief dead and his Wakamba warriors under the thumb of apparent spirit soldiers and their White Queen. A little spirited resistance and dedicated investigation by the Ape-Man soon reveals crooked circus performers exploiting and enslaving the natives, but before he can confront the villains they take his wife Jane hostage. N’Ani’s big mistake is thinking her captive is a weak and feeble civilised woman…

When the bad guys and their trained big cats are dealt with, the excitement briefly subsides, but all too soon the Jungle Lord is duped into boarding a scientist’s reconditioned atomic submarine and whisked away against his will to uncanny uncharted regions in year-long saga ‘Tarzan on the Island of Mua-Ao’ (pages #897-947 and running from 16th May 1948 to 1st May 1949). After some Nemo-like subsea escapades (the mad scientist not the cartoon fish) Tarzan and his unwelcome companions fetch up on a Polynesian (minor) lost continent only to be captured by the scientifically advanced but morally barbarous Lahtian people. This slave-owning totalitarian kingdom is ripe for revolution and after our hero – with worthy warriors Soros and Timaru – escapes a gladiatorial arena they go about arranging one. Of course, that necessitates traversing the savage jungle hinterlands, surviving its ubiquitous feline predators and making peace with the dominant Ornag-Rimba and Thalian tribes…

A little complication crops up when local witchdoctor Totama feels threatened and repeatedly seeks to assassinate Tarzan, but the Ape-Man counters every plot and foray in his own unstintingly decisive manner…

Eventually, Tarzan has his coalition in place and leads an unstoppable assault against the Lahtians which inevitably leads to regime-change and his return to Africa…

The titanic tome concludes in a macabre yarn and a radical overhaul of the strip. During ‘Tarzan and the Ononoes’ (#948-972) which ran from May 8th to 23rd October 1949, the venerated traditional full-page vertical format was controversially downgraded to episodes printed in landscape format, allowing a certain liberalisation of layouts but making pages seem cramped and claustrophobic…

Narratively, the tone is full-on fantasy as Tarzan swears to expiring explorer Philip Ransome that he will rescue his lost daughter from mysterious creatures holding her beyond the impassable Ashangola Mountains.

That mission brings him into conflict with Waloks – intelligent missing-link anthropoids – and their bitter enemies, a race of depraved monsters called Ononoes. These carnivorous horrors are giant heads with arms but no legs or torsos with a penchant for human sacrifice. Their next victim is to be an outworlder girl named Barbara Ransome

Grim, grotesque and genuinely scary, Tarzan’s struggle against the rotund terrors is a high point of the strip and anticipates even greater thrills in the forthcoming final collection.

To Be Concluded…

Tarzan is a fictive creation who has attained an immortal reality in a number of different creative arenas, but none offer the breathtaking visceral immediacy of Burne Hogarth’s comic strips.

These vivid visual masterworks are all coiled-spring tension or vital, violent explosive motion, stretching, running, fighting: a surging rush of power and glory. It’s a dream come true that these majestic exploits are back in print for ours and future generations of dedicated fantasists to enjoy.
Trademarks Tarzan® and Edgar Rice Burroughs® owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Used by Permission. Copyright © 2017 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Flash Gordon Dailies: Dan Barry volume 1 – The City of Ice 1951-1953


By Dan Barry & Harvey Kurtzman with Frank Frazetta, Harry Harrison & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-683-4 (HB/Digital edition)

Happy 90th, space man!

By almost any metric Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip of all time. When the husky hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) he was an answer to revolutionary, inspirational, but clunky Buck Rogers strip ) by Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins – which also began on January 7th, albeit five years previously. Two new elements were added to the wonderment: Classical Lyricism and astonishing beauty.

Where Buck Rogers blended traditional adventure and high science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted Fairy Tales, Heroic Epics and Mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of a contemporary future, with varying “Rays”, “Engines’ and “Motors” as seen in pulps substituting for spells, swords and steeds. To be fair there were also plenty of those too – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

Most important of all, the sheer artistic expertise of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for sumptuous detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When all-original comic books began two years later, dozens of talented kids weaned on the strip’s clean-lined, athletic Romanticism entered the field, their interpretations of Raymond’s mastery a ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Almost as many went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias).

For over a decade, sheer escapist magic in Ruritanian Neverlands blending Camelot, Oz and every fabled Elysium that promised paradise whilst concealing hidden vipers, ogres and demons, enthralled the entire world, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek art deco futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil, animally magnetic Ming, emperor of a fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and fabulous conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to the drab and dangerous real world…

Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’ – with journalist/editor magazine writer Don Moore (Jungle Jim and a long career in television scripting the likes of Captain Video, Rawhide, Sea Hunt and Death Valley Days) doing the bulk of the word stuff – ran every Sunday until 1944, when the illustrator enlisted in the Marines. On his return he would create gentleman detective Rip Kirby. The continuous, unmissable weekly appointment with sheer cosmic wonderment continued under the artistic auspices of Raymond’s assistant Austin Briggs – who had been drawing the daily instalments since 1940.

The Monday-to-Saturday monochrome feature ran from 1940 to 1944 when it was cancelled to allow Briggs to take on the Sunday page. Often regarded as the poor relation, the daily strip got an impressive reboot in 1951 when King Features, keenly aware of the burgeoning science fiction zeitgeist in the post-war world, revived it, asking Dan Barry to produce the package. The Sunday was continued by Austin Briggs until 1948 when Mac Raboy assumed artistic control, beginning a 20-year resurgence of classicist elegance and sheer beauty. On Raboy’s death Barry added the Sunday to his workload… until he quit over a pay dispute in 1990.

A contemporary of Leonard Starr and Stan Drake, Dan Barry (1911-1997) began his career as a jobbing comic book artist. Like them and his own brother Seymour “Sy” Barry – who produced The Phantom newspaper strip for three decades – Dan worked in a finely-detailed, broadly realistic style, blending aesthetic sensibility with straightforward visual clarity and firm, almost burly virile toughness: a gritty “He-man” attitude for a new era, contemporarily christened “New York Slick”. He drew varied comic stars fare such as Airboy, Skywolf, Boy King, Black Owl, Spy Smasher and Doc Savage before joining the US Air Force and, on returning after the hostilities, limned monster hero The Heap and sundry genre shorts for new titles like Crimebusters and started his own outfit producing educational/informational comics.

Dan began his gradual withdrawal from funnybooks as early as 1947, assuming art chores on the Tarzan daily strip for a year, but was still gracing DC’s crime, mystery and science fiction anthologies as late as 1954. When he was offered Flash Gordon he quickly accepted, intending to write the feature himself. However, remuneration was meagre and he soon started looking for a scripter.

The (short term) solution was to hire arguably the most important cartoonist of the latter half of the last century, even more so than Jules Feiffer, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Joe Kubert or Will Eisner. Harvey Kurtzman’s early triumphs in the fledgling field of comic books (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially groundbreaking, game-changing Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on, but he was also a force in young kids comics and newspaper strips (Hey Look!, Silver Linings, Rusty) and a restless innovator, commentator and social critic who kept on looking at folk and their doings and just couldn’t stop making art or sharing his conclusions.

Kurtzman invented a whole new format when he converted extremely successful colour comic book Mad into a monochrome magazine, safely distancing the brilliant satirical publication from fallout caused by the 1950s comics witch-hunt that eventually killed all EC’s other titles. He then pursued comedy and social satire further in newsstand magazines Trump, Humbug and Help!, all the while creating challenging and powerfully effective, culturally challenging humour strips like Jungle Book, Little Annie Fanny (in Playboy), Nutz, Goodman Beaver, Betsy’s Buddies and so much more.

The story of how cartoon genius Kurtzman came aboard and what happened next is covered in preliminary article Flash Gordon vs the Reluctant Collaborators of Manhattan Isle’, as first written by Dave Schreiner in 1988 for the Kitchen Sink compilation Flash Gordon: Complete Daily Strips – 19th November 1951- 20th April 1953. The feature section also offers a wealth of Kurtzman’s rough-pencilled script layouts, ancillary sketches and a large sampling of ghosted pencils from young Frank Frazetta. There’s even a brief glimpse of Flash spoofs from other magazines (if you’re interested, they include ‘Flesh Garden’ by Wally Wood from Mad #11 (May 1954), ‘Flyashi Gordonovitch’ (Jack Davis, Humbug #10, June 1958) and ‘Little Annie Fanny’ (Playboy 1962, Will Elder). For more, you’ll need to see the utterly effervescent Kitchen Sink iteration, and you should because it’s great too…

This monochrome tome reprints all Barry’s episodes and Kurtzman’s entire run (until his departure with the 20th April episode) before thundering on with non-stop space opera under other scripters’ aegis. Later story collaborators included writers Harry Harrison and Julian May, but we’re not certain who immediately took over – it might well have been Barry again until he found someone to handle what he considered the least rewarding part of the process.

Art assistants were commonplace with Frazetta pitching in during 1953’s Mr Murlin sequence and are early glimpses of Dan’s old Hillman Publications associates Bob Fujitani (The Hangman, Crime Does Not Pay, Prince Valiant, Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom) and Fred Kida (Airboy, Valkyrie, The Spirit, Steve Canyon, Captain Britain, Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip) who joined early and continued on Flash Gordon intermittently for decades thereafter. Preceded by introductory recap ‘The Story Thus Far’ and series listing ‘The Dan Barry Flash Gordon Checklist Part One (1951-1958)’, and biographical features on the major contributors, the wide black yonder wonderment then takes off.

The new Flash Gordon daily debuted on 19th November 1951 with the beloved baroque regalia and fanciful scenarios of Mongo and its universe shelved in favour of grittier, harder-edged contemporary-toned pulp fiction atmosphere and trappings. In ‘Space Prison’ (11/19/1951 to 2/16/1952), in the near future (the imminent end of the 20th century in fact) astronaut Flash Gordon blasts off into space: part of Expedition X-3 to Jupiter. However, technical trouble forces the rocket to stop at the Space Prison Station. Docked for repairs, his crew – especially female member Dale – inadvertently trigger a riot. Soon ruthless hopeless convicts take a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escape the space rock…

Terse and gripping, the two-fisted yarn rockets along with Flash, Dale and their valiant explorer comrades fighting for their lives as rapacious head thug Big Moe orchestrates a ruthless double cross which only fails when one of the rioters rebels… someone who would eventually join them on their voyage to the gas giant and beyond.

Stories were only seldom titled to herald the forthcoming adventure, so here what was previously billed as ‘Man Against Jupiter!’ is retitled ‘The City of Ice. With iconoclastically fresh tone and milieu firmly established, the real adventure began on Monday, February 25th 1952 (with Kurtzman’s first scripts appearing in April). The crew orbiting the colossal mystery globe again experience terrifying malfunctions and their atomic powered ship “Planet Pioneer” heads to nearby moon Ganymede to effect repairs. On landing, the voyagers discover a subterranean civilisation within the icy satellite – and a young Earth boy.

Ray Carson is the son of a lost lunar scientist and his presence halfway across the solar system is but one of the baffling mysteries challenging Flash and Dale as they battle alien madmen and malicious monsters in the eponymous hidden frozen metropolis. Of course, the real threat is wilful, voluptuous Queen Marla who had originally abducted Ray and his dad…

Via teleport technology, she latterly dispatched the missing scientist to another star-system to search for an element vital to Ganymedan survival, but when geophysical upheaval and a takeover attempt by sadistic usurping Prince Garl tear the city apart Flash, Dale, Ray and Marla can only escape by following the missing savant into an unknown universe…

Concluding on 14th June, it was followed by a fuller return to traditional fantasy element as ‘The Butterfly Men’ (16/6 – 9/8/1952) saw many old accoutrements of the classic strip reappear: lost civilizations, monsters, arena duels – and with this new sequence the creators brought back more fantasy elements as the survivors explore a new world whilst hunting Dale, who has been lost in transit. After an intriguingly offbeat encounter with cruelly wronged but vengeful winged aliens and a gruelling ocean odyssey, the sage segues into diabolical continuation ‘Tartarus’ (11/8 – 18/10/1952) as Flash, Marla and Ray are found by a feudal race of horned, tailed, cloven-hoofed warriors in their devil city… Happily, they also encounter a long lost old friend making relatively primitive Earth weapons for the horn-headed natives as they strive to overthrow a tyrannical warlord and gain independence…

Wherever Flash goes, war and revolution seem to follow, but once the devil-men have settled their differences, Flash, Ray and Marla (who has besotted and beguiled surviving Planet Pioneer crewman Bill Kent) resume the search for Dale, stumbling into bizarrely advanced city Pasturia, ruled by devious masters of the mind. These savants hide behind a wall of deception and test the mettle of the visitors in ‘The Awful Forest’ (20/10 to 30/12/1952). When spoiled, greedy Marla typically exploits their technology for her own gain, a potential golden age for humankind is squandered away, but her meddling does bring Flash – still searching for Dale – into contact with a legendary Earth wizard. The voyagers learn that this astronomically distant world is the retirement home of ‘Mr Murlin’ (31/12/1952 – 20/4/1953) before becoming involved in the mage’s desperate attempts to forestall his own long-foreseen murder. As an enticement, Murlin restores Dale to Flash and rescues Ray’s dad too…

The fugitive’s super technologies include a time-machine that proves bewilderingly complex but easily coopt-able by the bad guys. The romp opens with a rapid return to Earth, devolves into a chronal comedy-of-errors, a cruel killer spree and a catastrophic mass destruction event, all sparked by 29th century bandit Boss Punch seeking to escape the long arm of the law by “taking over” 900 years before his time…

This extended sequence rattles along with immense pace and spectacular action, much of it ghosted (which used to mean “crafted by an unattributed replacement”) by up-&-coming star Frank Frazetta, as Flash and his team strive to save the present and guarantee the future. The saga also acts as a formal full re-set for the next few years of the feature…

The first of those new stories offers abroad change of pace via ‘The Space Kids on Zoran’ (21/4/ to 24/10/1953) as Ray starts meeting children his own age and founds a club of boy pace enthusiasts determined to build their own rocket and travel into orbit. Soon the callous machinations of money-mad space industrialist J.B. Pennington and efforts of his cruelly-neglected son Cyril to belong jointly spark a stowaway crisis on a prototype “starliner”, catapulting them – and Flash’s trusty test crew of rocketeers – into another star system and galaxy.

The marooned humans’ struggle to survive is hindered and enhanced by the suspicion that one of their number is unwittingly able to call upon uncanny powers of the mind which manifest as randomly materialised wishes and daydreams: lost kingdoms, flying horses, flaming monsters, pirates and worst of all capable of dealing out death and destruction…

Gripping, alluring, stunningly well illustrated (did I mention that the incomparable Frank Frazetta pencilled a long sequence of incredible strips?) this lost treasure is pure graphic gold, presented on huge pages that perfectly display the virtuosity of all involved. Perfect, perfect comic strip wonderment. Please gods of space, bring it back and more besides!

As I’ve constantly stated, most of the material here was first collected in 1988 by Kitchen Sink Press as Flash Gordon: Complete Daily Strips – 19th November 1951- 20th April 1953 in oversized (320 x 260mm) editions (ISBNs 978-0-87816-035-3/HB & 978-0-86801-969-7/TPB). There the focus solidly on the writer: more so than on the legendary character or the artists. If that’s not confusing enough for you, if you buy on Kindle, this book is retitled Flash Gordon Volume 5: The City of Ice. However, none of that should deter you from enjoying some of the most thrilling and endlessly enjoyable science fiction fun ever made…
Flash Gordon © 2016 King Features Inc. and ™ Hearst Holdings Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Flash Gordon vs. the Reluctant Collaborators of Manhattan Isle: Dave Schreiner. © 2016 used with permission of Lesleigh Luttrell. All rights reserved.

Forever Nuts: Happy Hooligan


By Frederick Burr Opper (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-542-9 (HB)

Frederick Burr Opper was one of the first true giants of comic strips: a hugely imaginative, highly skilled, immensely well-regarded illustrator and political cartoonist who moved into the burgeoning field of newspaper cartooning just as that medium was born. His pictorial creations (even more so, his dialogue) have enriched western culture and the English language ever since.

Born in 1857 the son of Austrian immigrants, Opper grew up in Madison, Ohio, and aged 14 joined the Madison Gazette as a printer’s apprentice. Two years later he was in New York. Always drawing, he worked briefly in a store whilst studying at Cooper Union independent school before obtaining a position as student, and eventually assistant to illustration colossus Frank Beard. Opper sold his first cartoon to Wild Oats in 1876, swiftly following up with further sales to Phunny Phellow, Scribbner’s Monthly, Harper’s Weekly, The Century, St. Nicholas Magazine and Frank Leslie’s Weekly, before joining prestigious premier periodical Puck in 1880. Opper drew everything from spot illustrations, gags, political cartoons and many of the new, full-colour, Chromolithographic covers. He was also a book illustrator of major renown, an incisive humourist, poet and creator of children’s books.

Clearly forward-looking and perspicacious, he first dipped his toe in the burgeoning arena of newspaper strips with an abortive short-lived feature for the staid New York Herald in 1897, but after making few inroads he returned to magazine illustration.

Undeterred by failure and after 18 lucrative, influential and solid, steady years, Opper was finally lured away by William Randolph Hearst, joining his growing stable of bold comics pioneers in 1899. Starting on the New York Journal‘s Sunday Color Supplement, he devised a wealth of different features beginning with Happy Hooligan which debuted on 11th March 1900. Although not a regular feature at first – many cartoon strippers of the fledgling art form were given great leeway to experiment with a variety of ideas in those early days – before too long his efforts became simply too popular to miss and Opper settled into a stable tenure lasting until 1932 when failing eyesight led to his retirement and the tramp’s demise. Opper passed away at the end of August 1937.

The grand master never used assistants, but his imagination and unsurpassed creativity made Hooligan – and his other creations – household favourites around the world, appealing equally to Presidents and public alike. His next strip – Mister Henry Peck (1901) – was followed by the highly popular Alphonse and Gaston (1901-1904), Our Antediluvian Ancestors (1903-1904) and the astoundingly madcap Mule strip And Her Name was Maud which began in 1904. Maud continued intermittently for decades and, on May 23rd 1926, became the regular “topper” to Happy Hooligan, running above the strip until both concluded with the artist’s well-earned retirement on October 14th 1932.

Other strips included The Red Rig-a-Jigs (1906), Adolf from Hamburg (1906), King Jake (1907-1908), His Name is Ebenezer/His Name is Smith (1908), Ship Ahoy! (1908), Howsan Lott (1909-1914), Is Boggs Cheerful? He Is! (1908), Scuse Me, Mr. Johnson (1909), The Swift Work of Count DeGink (1916) and perennial trier The Dubb Family/Down on the Farm (1918-1919, 1921-1923, 1925-1927), but none had the appeal or phenomenal staying power of Happy or Maud and had perforce to be abandoned.

Happy Hooligan is an affable, well-meaning but painfully bumbling tramp who wears an old tin-can for a hat. Always ready and eager to assist and wishing nobody ill, this gentle vagrant is constantly made the inadvertent tool and plaything of far more fortunate folk who should know better, or cops a little too fond of the truncheon and nightstick, and – in general – a harsh, unforgiving cosmos of ill-fortune. It’s a strip brimming with invention, pathos, social commentary, delightful wordplay and broad, reckless slapstick. Many source cite Happy as having a profound influence on Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp in both content and tone…

This classy hardback (sadly still not available yet in any digital form I can find) presents a selection of strips from 1902-1913 in varying forms of colour (2, 3 & full colour depending presumably on budgets of the local papers these rare survivors were culled from). The tome is compiled and edited by Jeffrey Lindenblatt with a fascinating introduction and biography from Allan Holtz who, with collector Cole Johnson, provided the majority of strips herein.

These range from June 8th 1902 to September 7th 1913 and although by no means complete or comprehensive afford a tantalizing glimpse at this iconic, influential and groundbreaking feature. Many of the reprints come from the highly productive and hilarious “Grand Tour” years of 1904 and 1905 (see also Happy Hooligan 1904-1905), and follow the sedentary sad-sack around the States and, after many abortive, knockabout attempts, across the sea to England and then on to the unsuspecting continents of Europe and Africa before returning to America in 1906.

With brothers Montmorency and Gloomy Gus, plus a burgeoning family of nephews and hangers-on, this too-slim tome ends with some of the optimistic poltroon’s foredoomed attempts to woo Suzanne, the patient and amazingly egalitarian daughter of the Duke of Cabaret.  As always, these hysterical, rowdy escapades are often exacerbated by occasional visits from the ultra-polite Alphonse and Gaston, Opper’s legendary French gentlemen of extreme etiquette elitism…

Crossovers were not Opper’s only innovation. Happy Hooligan is considered the first American strip to depend on word balloons rather than supplemental text, and the humble, heartwarming hobo was the first strip character to jump to the Silver Screen in 6 movie shorts from 1900-1902. He was also probably the first mass-market merchandising comics star…

Sadly, Opper and his creations become less well-known with each passing year, but the quality of the work can never fail to amuse and inspire. Hopefully one day soon. superb graphic appetisers such as this will lead to further, more comprehensive collections (in print or electronically – I ain’t fussy), and as this book also contains a healthy selection of Opper’s other works from the early Wild Oats and Puck to the aforementioned genteel Gallic gadabouts and the mulish Maud, perhaps we can also look forward to compendia of his other seminal sketches and comedy classics…
Published in 2009 by NBM. No © invoked.

Tarzan versus The Nazis (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 3)


By Burne Hogarth with Don Garden & Rubén Moreira (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-319-1 (Album HB)

The 1930 and 1940s was an era of astounding pictorial periodical adventure. In the years before television, newspaper strips (and later comic books) were the only visually-based home entertainment for millions of citizens young and old and consequently shaped the culture of many nations. Relatively few strips attained near-universal approval and acclaim. Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates and Prince Valiant were in that rarefied pantheon but arguably the most famous was Tarzan.

The dramatic adventure serial as we know it started on January 7th 1929 with Buck Rogers and Tarzan debuting that day. Both were adaptations of pre-existing prose properties and their influence changed the shape of the medium forever. An explosion of similar fare followed, launched with astounding rapidity and success. Not just strips but actual genres were created in that decade, still impacting on today’s comic-books and, in truth, all our popular fiction forms.

In terms of sheer quality, the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immensely successful novels starring jungle-bred John Clayton, Lord Greystoke by Hal Foster were unsurpassed, and the strip soon became a firm favourite of the masses, supplementing movies, books, a radio show and ubiquitous advertising appearances. As detailed in previous volumes of this oversized (330 x 254 mm), full-colour hardback series, Foster initially quit at the end of a 10-week adaptation of first novel Tarzan of the Apes and was replaced by Rex Maxon. At the insistent urging of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Foster returned when the black-&-white daily expanded to include a lush, full colour Sunday page featuring original adventures.

Maxon was left to capably handle the weekday book adaptations, and Foster crafted the epic and lavish Sunday page until 1936 (233 consecutive weeks). He then left again, for good: moving to King Features Syndicate and his own landmark weekend masterpiece Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur which debuted in February 1937. Once the four-month backlog of material he had built up was gone, Foster was succeeded by a precociously brilliant 25-year-old artist named Burne Hogarth: a graphic visionary whose astounding anatomical acumen, cinematic design flair and compelling page composition revolutionised the entire field of action/adventure narrative illustration. The galvanic modern dynamism of the idealised human figure in today’s comicbooks can be directly attributed to Hogarth’s pioneering drawing and, in later years, educational efforts. Burroughs cannily used the increasingly popular comic strip to cross-market his own prose efforts with great effect…

This third titanic tome begins with the prolifically illustrated ‘Hogarth on Burroughs’: George T. McWhorter’s interview with the master draughtsman from 1982’s Edgar Rice Burroughs Quarterly volume 1 #1, after which the timeless adventure resumes. At this time Hogarth had assumed writing the strip too, with veteran collaborator Don Garden leaving to pursue other, more patriotic pursuits.

Running from 30th October 1943 – March 12th 1944 (episodes #660-679), ‘Tarzan Against Kandullah and the Nazis’ is an explosive procession of coiled-spring action and crushing suspense as the Ape-Man, incessantly crisscrossing fabled, unexplored Africa returns to the lands of the Boers. Here he discovers his old friends infiltrated by insidious Nazi deserters. The human monsters have seen the tide of history turn against them and instead of fighting on or surrendering are attempting to secure this desolate enclave from which they can rebuild a Fourth Reich to attack democracy again at some future date…

Their plan is to divide and conquer: fomenting strife between the indigenous Mogalla tribe and the isolationist Afrikaaners. After narrowly averting one blood-stained crisis, Tarzan swears to deliver a military packet for a dying Allied airman, undertaking a staggering trek across the hostile lands before anonymously completing his mission and heading back into the veldt. His travels next bring him into contention with a baroque and murderous slave-master in ‘Tarzan Against Don Macabre’ (#680-699, running from 19th March to 30th July). After rescuing beautiful captive Thaissa from his decadent clutches, the all-conquering Ape-Man decimates the Don’s menagerie of savage beasts – everything from a ravening bull to a giant octopus – and leads a slave revolt deep within his island citadel…

Once back on the mainland there was an extended return engagement for modern history’s most popular bad guys in ‘Tarzan Against the Nazis’ (#700-731, August 6th 1944-March 11th 1945). This clash began innocuously enough with the Jungle Lord saving albino ape Bulak from his own dark-pelted tribe, before being distracted by sadistic Arabian hunter Korojak. The vile stalker was trapping hundreds of animals for his master Emin-Nagra – and secretly mistreating his prizes for his own sick amusement – until Tarzan taught him the error of his ways. Sadly, it was not a lesson which stuck and before long both Bulak and Tarzan became part of the booty being transported to golden-domed city Bakhir

While the Ape-Man chafed in captivity as part of Emin-Nagra’s Circus, agents of Germany and Japan were negotiating for the oil under the cruel potentate’s pocket kingdom and quietly confident of a favourable deal, due to their column of storm troopers. However, when Tarzan faced a tidal wave of starved jungle beasts in the Circus, he turned them into his personal army to bring down the despot. Then he turned his merciless attention to the Nazis and their nearby new oil wells…

With the real-world war winding down, escapist fantasy became a larger part of the Sunday strip environment. ‘Tarzan Against the Gorm-Bongara Monster’ (#732-748, 18th March to July 8th) saw the nomadic Ape-Man encounter a lost tribe of pygmies in a primordial valley, battling against them before becoming their champion against a marauding, voracious dinosaur. His inevitable victory led directly into ‘Tarzan and The Tartars Part One’ (#749-768, July 15th – November 25th) wherein landless Prince Kurdu begged the Ape-Man’s assistance in overthrowing a usurper and saving his oppressed kingdom. The turbulent alliance offered privation, hardship, a quest for mystic relics and – for one of the heroes at least – the promise of true love. This romantic epic is divided into separate chapters because from December 2nd 1945 onwards, Hogarth was replaced as illustrator by Ruben Moreira, who finished the tale from his predecessor’s scripts.

‘Tarzan and The Tartars Part Two’ (pages #769-778) concluded with the February 3rd 1946) instalment, after which Don Garden returned to provide fresh material for Moreira. You won’t find that here…

Hogarth was in dispute with the feature’s owners and had moved to the Robert Hall Syndicate for whom he produced seminal adventure classic Drago and thereafter United Features where he created comedy strip Miracle Jones. During the time away from Tarzan, Hogarth – with Silas Rhodes – also opened the Cartoonists and Illustrators School which later evolved into the School of Visual Arts.

After his two-year hiatus, Hogarth bombastically returned to the Lord of the Jungle in 1947, midway through an ongoing story. For the sake of convenience, Garden & Moreira’s ‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part One’ (#840-856, April 13th-3rd August 1947) is included here, setting the scene as sassy Texan heiress Dallas Doyle journeys to the home of Tarzan and his mate Jane, determined to recruit the famed adventurer in the search for her long-missing father. It takes a lot of persuading, but eventually Tarzan capitulates, due in no small part to the urgings of native mystic Maker of Ghosts

Following an old map of a diamond mine, the expedition proceeds slowly until sneak thief Dirk Mungo and a devious riverboat skipper steal it and frame Tarzan. Jailed by a corrupt police official, the Ape-Man abandons the niceties of civilisation and breaks out, following the villains with Dallas and golden lion Jad-Bal-Ja rushing to keep up. The trail takes them through all manner of incredible horror before culminating in an aeroplane dogfight. Shot down but surviving, the pursuers doggedly press on, until captured by pygmies who trade them to decadent priests…

‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part Two’ (#857-861, August 10th to 7th September 1947) sees Hogarth’s spectacular re-emergence, illustrating Garden’s script as the lost Doyle patriarch is finally found and rescued, just as the entire lost world he ruled succumbs to volcanic destruction. Hogarth then took sole control again for the concluding instalments.

‘Tarzan on the Island of Ka-Gor Part Three’ (#862-874, 14th September-7th December 1947) swiftly wrapped up the saga with the hero saving his companions but almost losing his own life in the process.

Wounded unto death, Tarzan is lost and expiring with rumours of his passing inciting various villains of the jungle lands to begin their raids and depredations again. However, saved by the tender ministrations of Manu the monkey and elephantine comrade Tantor, Tarzan soon storms back to restore his fair if heavy-handed peace…

To Be Continued…

These tales are full of astounding, unremitting, unceasing action with Hogarth and the other contributors spinning page after page of blockbuster Technicolor action over months of non-stop wonder and exoticism. Plot was never as important as engendering a wild rush of rapt and rousing visceral responses, and every Sunday the strip delivered that in spades.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a master of populist writing and always his prose crackled with energy and imagination. Hogarth was an inspired intellectual and, as well as gradually instilling his pages with ferocious, unceasing action, layered panels with subtle symbolism. Heroes looked noble, villains suitably vile and animals powerful and beautiful. Even vegetation, rocks and clouds looked spiky, edgy and liable to attack at a moment’s notice…

These vivid visual masterworks are all coiled-spring tension or vital, violently expressively explosive motion: stretching, running, jumping, fighting in a surging rush of power and glory. It’s a dream come true that these majestic exploits are back in print for ours and future generations of dedicated fantasists to explore and enjoy.
Tarzan ® and Edgar Rice Burroughs ™ & © Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All images Edgar Rice Burroughs, 2015. All text copyright Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc 2015.

Axa Adult Fantasy Color Album


By Enrique “Enric” Badía Romero & Donne Avenell (Ken Pierce Books/Eclipse Comics)
ISBN: 0-912277-27-0 (TPB)

Born in 1930 Enrique “Enric” Badía Romero’s comics career began in his native Spain fifteen years later when he was apprenticed to popular creator Emilio Freixas. By 1949 – as “Badia” – he was drawing strips for Susy and other publications, and in 1953, launched his own magazine Alex, before going on to found publishers Ruiz Romero where he produced everything from westerns, sports, war stories and trading cards – mostly in conjunction with his brothers Jorge and Jordi. Their most memorable series were Cromos, Hombres de Lucha and Historia de la Guerra.

“Enric” began working for the higher-paying UK market in the 1960s, on strips such as ‘Cathy and Wendy’, ‘Isometrics’ and ‘Cassius Clay’ before successfully assuming drawing duties on the high-profile Modesty Blaise adventure-serial in 1970. He left in 1978 when an enticing new prospect appeared whilst he was simultaneously illustrating Modesty and Rahan with André Chéret for Franco-Belgian weekly Pif gadget. Even for the prolific artist something had to give…

Axa ran in The Sun Monday to Saturday from 14th July 1978 to her abrupt cancellation on November 16th 1986 – purportedly a victim of political and editorial intrigue which saw the strip cancelled in the middle of a story. Other than the First American Edition series from strip historian Ken Pierce and this colour collection, there has never been a definitive English language collection. It should be noted also that at the time of this book she was still being published with great success and to popular acclaim.

Back then in Britain it often appeared the only place where truly affirmative female role-models appeared to be taken seriously were cartoon sections, but even there the likes of Modesty Blaise, Danielle, Scarth, Amanda, Wicked Wanda and all the other capable ladies who walked all over the oppressor gender – both humorously and in straight adventure scenarios – lost clothes and shed undies repeatedly, continuously, frivolously and in the manner they always had…

Nobody complained (at least no one important or who was ever taken seriously): it was just tradition and the idiom of the medium… and besides, artists have always liked to draw bare-naked ladies as much as blokes liked to see them. It was even “educational” for the kiddies – who could buy any newspaper in any shop without interference, even if they couldn’t get into cinemas to view Staying Alive, Octopussy or Return of the Jedi without an accompanying adult…

Tough ’n’ sexy take-charge chicks (without clothes) were a comic-strip standard by the time the Star Wars phenomenon rekindled interest in science fiction, and the infallible old standby of scantily-clad, curvy amazons in post-apocalyptic realms never had greater sales-appeal than when The Sun – Britain’s sleaziest yet best-selling tabloid – hired Romero & Donne Avenell to produce a new fantasy feature for their already well-stacked cartoon section.

This beautifully illustrated but oddly out of kilter collection doesn’t bear much similarity in terms of tone or format to the (ostensibly) family-oriented daily strip, and features none of the regular supporting cast like long-suffering lover Matt or robotic companion Mark 10, which leads me to suspect it was created independently for a European market, perhaps as a Sunday page in Romero’s homeland or elsewhere where attitudes and mores were more liberal.

Certainly in the early 1980s Axa appeared in adult bande dessinée icon Charlie Mensuel (which reprinted many classic newspaper strips from around the world) and after that closed in Swedish publication Magnum.

Whatever their origin, the tales collected here are far stronger and more explicitly sexual in nature; occasionally coming close to being macho rape-fantasies, so please be warned as such content, no matter how winningly illustrated, will certainly offend most modern consumers.

The eponymous heroine was raised in a stultifying, antiseptic and emotionless domed city: a bastion of technological advancement in a world destroyed by war, pollution and far worse. Chafing at the constricting life of loveless living dead men, Axa broke out and, ancient sword in hand, chose to roam the shattered Earth searching for something real and true and free…

This slim oversized tome opens with Axa crossing trackless wasteland under a scorching sun until she finds a hidden grotto beneath a ruined building. The coolly sensual hidden pool is a welcome delight but harbours a ghastly monster and mutant voyeur…

Captured by a hideously scarred human degenerate Axa discovers his gentle nature but is soon abducted by his far-less sympathetic brethren who want to use her as a brood mare for their next generation. Ultimately, fate, her newfound friend and that ever-present longsword combine to effect her escape…

Resuming aimless exploration, Axa encounters a coastal village and is almost killed by wild dogs. Desperate flight takes her to a lighthouse on the promontory above the deserted town where ruggedly handsome Juame and his teenaged daughter Maria have been trapped for months. Swiftly, sexual tension between Axa and Jaume culminates in the only way it can as Maria is driven mad by jealousy she can barely comprehend. When a roving band of vicious post-apocalyptic Hell’s Angels hits town hungry for slaughter and kicks, the conflicted teen opens the tower doors for them…

The brutes casually murder her father and are intent on adding her and Axa to their string of human playthings, when a terrific storm hits and Axa breaks loose to become the bloody tool of harsh, uncompromising and final fate…

This incarnation of the warrior wanderer is certainly harder-hitting and more visceral than the British strip version and has little of the feature’s sly, dry humour, but art-lovers cannot fail to be impressed by Romero’s vibrant mixed-media illustration and imaginative, liberating page compositions.

Lush, lavish, luxurious and strictly for adventure-loving adults, Axa is long overdue for a comprehensive ethical overhaul and definitive comics collection. Is there a bold publisher out there looking for the next big thing and prepared to face a barrage of ethical vituperation?
Axa © 1985 Enrique Badia Romero. Previously © 1983, 1984 in Spanish. Express Newspapers, Ltd.

Modesty Blaise: The Green Eyed Monster


By Peter O’Donnell & Enrique “Enric” Badía Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1840238662 (Album PB)

Spanish artist Romero was a familiar presence for generations of British comics and newspaper strip readers. He died on February 15th this year with most of his work out of print and nigh forgotten. Here are two reasons why that’s not right and should be rectified as soon as possible.

Infallible super-criminals Modesty Blaise and her lethally charming, compulsively platonic, equally adept partner Willie Garvin gained fearsome reputations whilst heading underworld gang The Network. At the height of their power, they retired young, rich and still healthy. With honour intact and hands relatively clean, they cut themselves off completely from careers where they made all the money they would ever need and far too many enemies: a situation exacerbated by their heartfelt and – for their calling – controversial conviction that killing was only ever to be used as a last resort.

When devious British Spymaster Sir Gerald Tarrant sought them out, they were slowly dying of boredom in England. That wily old bird offered them a chance to get back into harness, have fun and do some good in the world. They jumped at his offer and began cleaning up society’s dregs in their own unique manner. That self-appointed crusade took decades…

From that tenuous beginning the dynamite duo went on to crush the world’s vilest villains and most macabre monsters in a succession of tensely suspenseful, inspirational action thrillers over more than half a century. The inseparable associates debuted in The Evening Standard on 13th May 1963 and, over passing decades, starred in some of the world’s most memorable crime fiction, in approximately three panels a day.

Creators Peter O’Donnell & Jim Holdaway (who previously collaborated on Romeo Brown – another lost strip classic equally as deserving of its own archive albums) crafted a timeless treasure trove of potent pictorial escapades until the illustrator’s tragic early death in 1970, whereupon Spanish artist Enrique “Enric” Badía Romero (and also occasionally John Burns, Neville Colvin & Pat Wright) assumed art duties, taking the partners-in-peril to even greater heights.

The series was syndicated world-wide and Modesty starred in prose novels and short-story collections, several films, a TV pilot, radio play, original American graphic novel from DC, an audio serial on BBC Radio 4 as well as nearly 100 comic adventures. The strip’s conclusion came on 11th April 2001 in The Evening Standard. Many papers around the world immediately began running reprints and further new cases were conceived, but British newspaper readers never saw them. We’re still waiting…

The pair’s astounding exploits comprise a broad blend of hip adventuring, glamorous lifestyle and cool capers: a melange of international espionage, crime and even plausibly intriguing sci fi/supernaturally-tinged horror fare, with ever-unflappable Modesty & Willie canny, deadly, yet all-too-fallibly-human defenders of the helpless and avengers of the wronged…

We have Titan Books to thank for collecting the saga of Britain’s Greatest Action Hero (Women’s Division), although they haven’t done so for a while now…

This volume was the first to feature Romero as sole artistic hand, following the unexpected death of Holdaway partway through ‘The Warlords of Phoenix’. To ease him into the job author O’Donnell was asked to write a lighter tale to follow up the epic. ‘Willie the Djinn’ plays well to the new artist’s strengths, and although there are echoes of a previous O’Donnell &Holdaway Romeo Brown romp, this tale of kidnapped dancing girls, oil sheikhs and military coups is a short, sweet treat, and change of pace to the usual storm of murder, intrigue and revenge.

Those elements return in ‘Green-Eyed Monster’ as the spoiled and obnoxious daughter of a British ambassador is kidnapped by South American rebels. Modesty & Willie must use all their skills to get her out of the terrorists’ clutches, escape deadly jungles and resist the overwhelming temptation to kill her themselves….

‘Death of a Jester’ closes out the volume as our antiheroes stumble across a bizarre murder that leads to another job for British spymaster Sir Gerald Tarrant. A man in Jester’s garb is impaled by a knight’s lance and thrown to lions in a caper revolving around Mediaeval Re-enactments, a band of bored and dangerous British ex-commandos and the impossible theft of the Navy’s latest super torpedo.

The infectious whimsy of the early 1970s was becoming increasingly present but under the strictly controlled conditions of prolific, ingenious O’Donnell and sleek slick Romero, Blaise & Garvin grew in stature and accomplishments to carve out a well-deserved reputation for excellence in these magnificent tales of modern adventure. Certified Gold. So bring them back please…
© 2005 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.