Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 16


By Len Wein, Roger Stern, John Buscema, Walter Simonson, Tony DeZuñiga, Sal Buscema & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0358-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Once upon a time, disabled physician Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway, only to stumble into an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, he found an ancient walking stick which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder! Within moments, he was defending the weak and smiting the wicked.

Months swiftly passed, with the Lord of Storms tackling rapacious extraterrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs, but these soon gave way to a vast kaleidoscope of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces, usually tackled with an ever-changing cast of stalwart immortal warriors at his side…

Whilst the ever-expanding Marvel Universe had grown ever-more interconnected as it matured through its first decade, with characters literally tripping over each other in New York City, the Asgardian heritage of Thor and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had most often drawn the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning, unique landscapes and scenarios.

However, by the time of this power-packed compendium, the King was long gone and in fact enacting his Second Coming – technically third, but definitely Second Return to the House of (mostly his) Ideas – and only echoes of his groundbreaking presence remained. John Buscema had visually made the Thunder God his own over the interceding years, whilst a succession of scripters had struggled with varying success to recapture the epic scope of Kirby’s vision and Stan Lee’s off-kilter but comfortingly compelling faux-Shakespearean verbiage…

Spanning January-December 1977, this power-packed compilation re-presents The Mighty Thor #255-266 and Annual #6, and leads with ‘Over the Rainbow Bridge’: an engaging Introduction intriguingly illustrated  from involved illustrator and eventual redeemer of the Thor franchise – Walter Simonson.

The action opens behind the Kirby cover for Thor #255, as Len Wein & Tony DeZuñiga launch a new epic interstellar adventure in ‘Lo, the Quest Begins!’ Previously, embattled Asgard survived invasion only to learn their divine Liege Lord Odin had gone missing. Now, having exhausted every avenue of location available, Thor is compelled to search the galaxies, prompted by vague hints from all-knowing spirit Mimir of a distant destination – the Doomsday Star…

Boarding spacefaring dragonship Starjammer, Thor, Lady Sif, and Warriors Three Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg set (solar) sail, leaving a beleaguered Eternal Realm under the stewardship of Balder the Brave and his dark inamorata Karnilla the Norn Queen. However, before they even leave local space, the seekers encounter – and battle – malign aliens marooned ever since they initially fought the Storm Lord in his debut adventure…

A classic case of Marvel Misunderstanding occurs in #256 as the voyagers encounter an ancient and colossal colony ship populated by the last survivors of a civilisation that died from over-exploiting their environment. As the Asgardians are joined by Rigellian Recorder Memorax, the slowly-fading Levianons reveal how their poverty and resource-blighted existence has been further threatened by an invasive beast who takes the elderly like a ‘Lurker in the Dark!’ (Wein, John Buscema & DeZuñiga).

When the hideous Sporr also abducts recently wounded Sif, enraged Thor leads a savage counter-assault that sparks incomprehensible tragedy in concluding chapter ‘Death, Thou Shalt Die!’

Another mineral-based miscreant resurfaces in #258. ‘If the Stars be Made of Stone!’ sees the Starjammer attacked by space pirates inexplicably led by human super-villain – and early Thor foe – the Grey Gargoyle. The job is not one he wants, but as the unwilling captain conspires with the beaten-&-enslaved Asgardians for a chance to see again the Green Hills of Earth, their plot is exposed by fanatical second-in command Fee-Lon.

The brutal usurper is a truly ferocious brigand, but ultimately fights in vain to end the gods’ ‘Escape into Oblivion!’

Meanwhile in Asgard, Balder and Karnilla have been resisting an invasion helmed by arch-traitors Enchantress and Executioner. As Walter Simonson signs on beside Wein & DeZuñiga from #260, that subplot expands and intensifies even as ‘The Vicious and the Valiant’ sees the interstellar questors finally locate the Doomsday Star and falter before ‘The Wall Around the World!’ (inked by Ernie Chan).

The terrifying global construct is comprised of the power-drained husks of dead gods, but determinedly pushing on, the seekers discover Odin has been captured and slowly diminished by the energy-leeching Soul-Survivors whose civilisation subsists on stolen divine power. As they valiantly strive to save their sovereign, the Asgardians learn to their cost that ‘Even an Immortal Can Die!’ (#262, illustrated by Simonson & DeZuñiga).

Thankfully, ‘Holocaust and Homecoming!’ proves Odin is both wily and mighty as the heroes’ ferocious clash and inevitable victory results in a weary and wounded pantheon returning to Asgard to find it taken over by Loki and his cohort of treacherous allies.

With Odin in a coma – and ultimately abducted again – a covert civil war erupts between the returned champions and the city Loki has subverted. ‘Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me!’ sees a sinister scheme exposed, but not before Loki unleashes ultimate weapon The Destroyer against his step-brother in #265’s ‘When Falls the God of Thunder…!’ (inked by Joe Sinnott). As before, it’s not long before Loki loses control of his ultimate sanction…

Once again, everything hinges on the power and determination of Thor and his valiant resistance to chaos. In #266’s ‘…So Falls the Realm Eternal!’, Wein, Simonson & DeZuñiga show the Thunderer at his indomitable best, keeping Loki at bay and off kilter until the Warriors Three rescue and revive an extremely unhappy All-Father…

This saga presaged a change of focus that we’ll cover in the next volume but before then the epic entertainment concludes with ‘Thunder in the 31st Century!’ by Roger Stern, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson from Thor Annual #6 (December 1977).

A riot of time-busting mayhem, it commences with Mighty Thor plucked from contemporary Manhattan: accidentally summoned to the time period of the original/future (time travel tenses suck!) Guardians of the Galaxy by a cyborg maniac named Korvac.

The legendary god-warrior briefly joins Vance Astro, Charlie 27, Yondu, Nikki, Martinex and Starhawk to bombastically battle super-powered aliens and thwart the sinister cyborg’s scheme to become master of the universe. At the conclusion, Thor returns to his own place and time, unaware how Korvac will reshape the destiny of reality itself in coming months…

To Be Continued…

Augmenting this volume is a blockbusting original art gallery, offering 21 pages of sketches, layouts, pencils and fully inked covers, splash and story-pages by Kirby & John Verpoorten, Buscema, DeZuñiga, Simonson, Joe Sinnott &Ernie Chan: a true treat for every art lover.

The tales gathered here may lack the sheer punch and verve of the early years but fans of ferocious Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy will find this tome still stuffed with intrigue and action, magnificently rendered by artists who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, were every inch his equal in craft and dedication. In Thor’s anniversary year, this a definite and decidedly engaging must-read for all fans of the character and the genre.
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Welcome Home 


By Clarrie & Blanche Pope (Minor Compositions) 
ISBN: 978-1-57027-394-0 (PB)  

Comics are cheap and primal: easy to create, disseminate and understand. That’s why (after music) they are the most subversive and effective form of revolutionary art. To see what I mean just check out straightforward polemical texts such as The Adventures of Tintin: Breaking Free, Fight the Power, Speechless, Wildcat Anarchist Comics, Willie & Joe: Back Home, or subtler cartoon sagas that couch their message in terms of an ostensible entertainment narrative like Brought to Light, Puma Blues, The Stringer, or Pogo. Welcome Home fits comfortably into the latter category, as creators Clarrie & Blanche Pope concoct a contemporary soap opera cast to carry their observations about the way society is heading and the disturbing questions that path leaves unaddressed and unanswered. Like most of that noteworthy list cited above, the sisters drew from and referenced personal experience whilst cunningly employing humour and pathos to hone their scalpel-like investigations: trusting to the familiarity of shared context to make their point.  

Haven’t you wondered what and who occupied your space before you did? Don’t you dread the fading of your memories and the loss of the places that punctuated your time on earth? And who hasn’t had a mate or relative who was more Trouble than Worth? 

Having both been young, squatters and care home workers, the creators weave a rowdily rousing, frighteningly authentic yet engagingly upbeat yarn of activism riding piggyback on modern need and ingrained privation that begins when a disparate band of acquaintances and old friends break into an empty flat.  

The place is in a tower block that has been condemned, where tenant families wait powerlessly for rehoming and the building’s demolition. The squatters range from die-hard believers in a cause to friends and lovers who can’t afford rent, united in a mission to rouse the entire block and organize resistance to the destruction of homes and a community that only needs a little financial care and attention.  

Sadly, before the final page comes, romance, passion (so NOT the same thing), ambition, confusion and the distractions of everyday life are going to play hob with their good intentions and grand dreams… 

The story is told primarily through the actions of Rain, a professional care worker who can’t make ends meet despite being worked to death with compulsory extra shifts at the Fairview home that was built as part of the original housing estate. Its post-privatisation owners Who Care and on-site manager Julie are positively Dickensian in their blindly self-indulgent hypocrisy, but at least by talking to residents like dementia-afflicted Dottie/Doris – whose vacant flat they now illicitly occupy – Rain gradually builds up a potent picture of the generational community the imminent demolition will finally end.  

Ultimately, the young/old bond will also allow the fraught and confused protagonist to sort out her own feelings and stop looking for love in all the wrong places… 

Shortlisted for the Myriad First Graphic Novel Prize, this bleak yet beguiling monochrome study of urban dissolution societal safety nets, relationship triangles, generational cultural continuity, dementia and the disempowerment of the old, young, different, nonconformist and poor is peppered with ferociously barbed faux ads drenched in the contemporary Thought Speak used by Local Councils, Cabinet Ministers, social engineers and gentrifying property companies who constantly find nonsensically bland and comforting ways to restate “you’re the wrong colour, too poor, and love the wrong sort to live here anymore”. 

Welcome Home is an enticingly introspective and painfully universal saga that should appeal to anyone who ever had a moment of monetary despair and emotional outrage at what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. It will not appeal at all to many of the societal predators listed at the end of the last paragraph, but they should be made to read to too. Or maybe hit with it: It’s a free country, after all, if you’re prepared to accept the consequences of your actions… 

© Clarrie & Blanche Pope, 2022. 

Days of Sand


By Aimée De Jongh, translated by Christopher Bradley (SelfMadeHero) 
ISBN: 978-1-914224-04-1 (HB)  

Certain eras and locales constantly resonate with both narrative consumers and creators. The mythical Wild West, the trenches of the Somme, Ancient Rome, 1940s Hollywood and so many more emotionally evocative enclaves of mythologised moments spark responses of drama, tension and tales crying out to be told.  

One of the most evocative derives from Depression-era America, but rather than a noir-drenched misty Big City, Aimée De Jongh drew her inspiration from a scrupulously documented decade long human catastrophe that inescapably presages ecological collapse in our imminent future. 

The Netherlands-born comics creator, story-boarder, Director and animator studied at Rotterdam, Ghent and Paris before beginning her career as a newspaper cartoonist. While releasing graphic novels The Return of the Honey Buzzard, Blossoms in Autumn and Taxi!, the multi-disciplined, multi award-winning artist worked in television, on music videos and animated movies (Aurora), for gallery shows (Janus), and latterly turned to graphic journalism, detailing refugee life in Greece’s migrant camps. 

Combining overlapping interests in travel, documentary and ecology, her latest opus tells a carefully curated and fictionalized account of one young man’s reaction to the 1930’s Dust Bowl disaster and the resultant diaspora it triggered over ten years of drought.  

To research the tale – released in Europe in 2021 as two-volume Jours de sable – De Jongh travelled extensively through the region (Oklahoma to California), visiting remaining historical sites and museums while accessing the precious wealth of photographic material sponsored by the contemporary Farm Security Administration. This federal entity recorded the tragedy which forms the narrative spine of this story.  

De Jongh’s blog offers interested readers further insights and this book includes commentary and many of the original photographs that ultimately moved the event from environmental aberration to cultural myth and human tragedy. 

This is not a tale about plot and action but premise and reaction. Captivatingly rendered with colour acting as a special effects suite and utilizing original 1930s photographs throughout, it sees unemployed photographer John Clark take a job in 1937: hired like many others to document the human and economic effects of a decade-long drought and bad farming practises on the people of Oklahoma. Trapped at the heart of an un-Natural Disaster, they daily endure the frightening and no-longer gradual transition of their once lush lands of milk and honey and grass and fruitfulness into a new Sahara desert… 

Unfortunately, Clark has more baggage than just a shooting script and camera cases, and as he carries out his task, he slowly loses perspective and secure distance in the face of awestriking nature and humanity in its rawest, most reduced state. How can his camera intrude and explore when he’s as much lost and unbalanced as any of his subjects? 

It’s easy to read in subtextual messages and apply modern tropes and memes ranging from the movie Dune to the current global migrant crisis or each and every western government’s insipid pettifogging disinclination to take charge or an iota of responsibility. The world has never been in a worse state and if this book motivates anyone to make a change – however small – that’s a big win. However, it’s not the point.  

Terror, loss, hopeless misery and hunger for a better life have always been with us. The fact that our imminent doom is self-inflicted is irrelevant. The fact that everyone is/will be affected is a non sequitur. What’s germane is that when Kent or Hampshire are dust bowls and all Pacific islands are underwater, it’s still going to come down at some point to every one of us making a decision…  

An international hit garnering many honours and accolades, Days of Sand is staggering beautiful, distressingly unforgettable and never more timely, but please don’t dismiss it as a trendy and pretty polemic. This is a timeless examination of individual human choice in reaction to overwhelming, immeasurable forces and how individuals may respond. What’s presented here is one concerned artist’s narrative riposte. What’s yours? 

Jours de sable © DARGAUD-BENELUX (DARGAUD-LOMBARD S.A.) 2021, by Aimée De Jongh. All rights reserved  

White Rapids


By Pascal Blanchet, translated by Helge Dascher (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-897299-24-1 (Album PB)

A fascinating moment in relatively recent social history was brought magically to life in this captivating and innovative graphic novel which eschewed the traditional iconography and lexicography of sequential narrative, instead utilising the bold stylisations of art deco design and the gloriously folksy imagery of 1950s Modernism (think the architecture and landscape of David Suchet’s definitive television Poirot and the movie Metropolis wedded to the crinkly curlicue characters populating the title sequences of Bewitched or Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines).

The effect is like looking at a period brochure, which tragically underscores the bold and far too typical story of the town which lived and died at the behest of forces beyond the control of the everyday working stiffs who lived there.

A design tour de force, this was the first translated work of award-winning Québécois creator Pascal Blanchet who transformed the history from dry fact into a magnificent torrent of visual music. And no, you can’t find this bloody book anywhere. It’s why I’m re-reviewing it, in the hope some wise (and probably Canadian) publisher will revive it…

In the 1920s, Canada’s growing power demands were supplied by private companies, and the most efficient generation method was hydroelectric, created by damming the mighty rivers of the country. In 1928 the Shawinigan Water & Power Company decided to build a new dam in a remote northern region of the St. Maurice River at Rapide Blanc, a section where the waters narrowed into the eponymous fast-running white waters of the title.

To operate a power-plant in such an inaccessible – and for nearly half of each year, actively hostile – region, a company town needed to be built for workers and their families. Moreover, for any man to bring his family into such a wilderness, it would have to be an impressive and wonderful town indeed…

Blanchet avoids the tempting option of personalising or dramatizing the tale, preferring to let mood, impression, atmosphere and style describe the birth, brief life and sad, sudden death of White Rapids (here’s a clue: it involved bottom lines and transfers of ownership, not evolving environmentalism) as a gleaming moment of Enlightened Capitalism actually doing the right and decent thing for the Proletarian Worker winked out and was washed away.

This is like no other Graphic Novel you’ve ever seen and is stunningly effective for all that; rendered in reduced hues of orange, brown and grey, marvellously devoid of the heretofore presumed necessary clichés of narrative convention. It also avoids the dynamic seductions of Protagonist/Antagonist and the avid fetishism of Vitruvian representational faces and forms that underpin all comics art no matter how avant-garde.

This is a beautiful work and deserves every award it’s ever won as well as your rapt attention. Why not start a internet campaign to have some solid citizen publisher bring it back for us all to share?
© 2006, 2007 Pascal Blanchet. All Rights Reserved.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer volumes 9 and 10: The Sarcophagi of the Sixth Continent parts 1 & 2


By Yves Sente & André Juillard, coloured by Madeleine DeMille & translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-067-2 (Album PB) 978-1-84918-077-1 (Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Thrills No Movie Can Match… 9/10

Pre-eminent fantasy raconteur Edgar P. Jacobs devised one of the greatest heroic double acts in pulp fiction: pitting his distinguished scientific adventurers Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake against a daunting variety of perils and menaces in a sequence of stellar action-thrillers blending science fiction scope, detective mystery suspense and supernatural thrills. The magic was made perfect through his stunning illustrations, rendered in the timeless Ligne Claire style which had made intrepid boy-reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The Doughty Duo debuted on 26th September 1946: gracing the pages of the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin: an ambitious international anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. It was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous, world-famous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features for the rapidly-changing post-war world. Bon anniversaire, Chaps!…

Blake & Mortimer are the graphic personification of Britain’s Bulldog Spirit and worthy successors to the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Professor Challenger, Richard Hannay and all the other valiant stalwarts of lost Albion: valiant champions with direct connections to and allegiance beyond shallow national boundaries…

After decades of fantastic exploits, the series apparently ended with the 11th album. The gripping contemporary adventure had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in LJdT, but after the first volume was completed Jacobs simply abandoned his story due to failing health and personal issues.

Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs died on February 20th 1987, never having returned to extended adventure Les 3 formules du professeur Satō. That concluding volume was only released in March 1990, after veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor was commissioned by the Jacobs family and estate to complete the tale from the grand originator’s pencils and notes.

The long-postponed release led to a republishing of all the earlier volumes, followed in 1996 by new adventures from two separate creative teams hired by the Jacobs Studio who would produce complete books rather than weekly serials.

The first was the L’Affaire Francis Blake by Jean Van Hamme & Thierry “Ted” Benoit which settled itself into a comfortably defined, familiar mid-1950s for a rousing tale of espionage and double-dealing. The tale controversially omitted the fantastic elements of futuristic fiction and fringe science which had characterised Jacobs’ creation, whilst focusing on the suave MI5 officer rather than bombastic, belligerent boffin and inveterate scene-stealer Mortimer…

The same was broadly true for the follow-up release, published in 1999, although references to the space race and alien infestation did much to restore the series’ fantasy credentials in Yves (XIII, Le Janitor, Thorgal) Sente & André (Arno, Bohémond de Saint-Gilles, Masquerouge, Mezek) Juillard’s La machination Voronov.

The latter team eventually won the plum job of detailing the early days and origins of Blake & Mortimer in Les Sarcophages du Sixième Continent, Tome 1: La Menace universelle and Les Sarcophages du Sixième Continent, Tome 2: Le Duel des Esprits. The albums were the 16th and 17th published exploits of the peerless pair: a boldly byzantine epic spanning decades and stretching from India under the Raj to Cold War Europe and deep beneath Antarctic ice…

Retitled The Global Threat for English speakers, our mystery opens in Simla, former summer capital of India when Britain ruled the vast, disparate nation. It is February 1958, and a decade after independence and partition, a glittering conclave of rich men and maharajas has gathered, in splendour and secrecy…

Surveilling the ominous meeting of truculent minor warlords are agents of the Indian government, led by veteran warrior Lieutenant Ahmed Nasir. The mission goes badly wrong, but before the end, the operatives observe a fantastic demonstration of power from a masked demagogue who claims to be immortal Emperor Ashoka, and claims to hold an ultimate weapon that will make him – and them – the rightful rulers of all they desire…

As the discovered spies are ruthlessly dealt with, Ashoka heads for another meeting: this one with Soviet representative Major Varich (last seen in Blake and Mortimer: The Voronov Plot). The disgraced soldier soon realises his melodramatic new ally has an even greater hatred of the British do-gooders…

In a flashback to the last days of the empire, young graduate Philip Angus Mortimer travels home to Simla to stay with his military doctor father and elites of their social circle. India is in turmoil however, with independence agitators everywhere. In Bombay, he saves the life of a fellow English traveller and has an impromptu encounter with an aged gentleman called “the Mahatma” by the gathering crowd. Francis Percy Blake is also the son of a soldier and is seeing his father for the first time in years, so they agree to travel on together. After they separate at Ambala, Mortimer’s adventures continue when he is attacked by a mysterious stalker. The assault actually saves his life as the connecting train he was supposed to catch is blown up…

Despite everything, the young man eventually reaches Simla, but his fondly-remembered childhood days have clearly ended. His first clue is how lifelong friend Sushil treats him, later bolstered by a friendly warning from his mother to stay away from the natives…

That doesn’t stop him from trying to bridge barriers, but only leads to heartbreak after he meets Princess Gita, daughter of local rajah and militant the great Emperor Ashoka. Irresistibly drawn together, their brief romance stoked deadly tensions between the races and led to her death and his being cursed by the allegedly immortal rebel leader. For his own safety, the heartbroken boy is sent from India to lose himself in the study of physics at university…

February 1958, and older, sadder Mortimer wakes from a horrific familiar nightmare of the home and love he lost. Oddly, it has not gripped him for years but he has no time to ponder, as he is imminently to depart for Belgium: part of the British Pavilion contingent attending the Universal Exposition. As the cultural, scientific and trade fair of the world’s nations, it will be a hotbed of intrigue and propaganda…

Meanwhile in Antarctica, an Indian team are setting up their own science colony, aided by neighbouring British outpost Halley Station. However, “Gondwana Base” has been compromised from the start, and transformed – with the logistical assistance of Soviet technology and Major Varich – into a sub-surface citadel housing Emperor Ashoka’s fabled secret weapon. The last component to arrive is villainous Colonel Olrik, but the nemesis of Blake and Mortimer is a far from willing participant…

Day later, Mortimer is in Brussels, meeting Blake and supervising the breakthrough radio experiment connecting them to Halley Station, unaware that the expo – and his own team – are riven with spies and saboteurs. He is troubled by another dream, one where Olrik was menaced by Ashoka and the trained apes that followed him everywhere in long-ago Simla.

After quieting his friend’s concerns, the MI5 Intelligence Chief is introduced to the rest of the British contingent given a privileged tour of the whole site and meets again old ally Labrousse (S.O.S. Meteors). The French meteorologist has a bold new venture underway and is actually in transit to South Africa and ultimately Antarctica…

It’s a “busman’s holiday” for Blake too. He’s actually at the Expo to prevent the illegal transfer of uranium from a foreign power to a nebulous new independent threat and is working with the Indian government…

His seemingly casual meet-&-greet with representatives from third world countries soon bears fruit, even as, at Gondwana Base, Olrik is reluctantly encased in a high tech coffin. His previous susceptibility to the telecephalscope of Professor Septimus (The Yellow M) makes him an ideal candidate for Ashoka’s weapon: a system capable of turning cerebral energy into planet-spanning power capable of affecting electrical devices, heavy machinery and solid objects with tremendous force.

The results are catastrophically and almost instantly experienced at the Expo as a weird energy wrecks buildings and exhibits. Only technical difficulties at the base prevent more death and destruction in Brussels, but before it ends Olrik commandeers Pavilion TV screens to send a threatening message to his despised foes…

Mortimer canvases other countries’ science teams and while seeking to quash resurgent national rivalries and unrepentant suspicions soon forms a hypothesis which is suddenly confirmed by Nasir. Their old comrade has covertly made his  way to Europe to warn them and brings also the name of the traitor in the British party. They are too late to stop the uranium transfer, but now know it is southbound to Antarctica and meant to power a doomsday weapon. Without a moment’s pause the trio take a plane to South Africa in desperate pursuit…

Concluding volume The Sarcophagi of the Sixth Continent part 2: Battle of the Spirits opens with our heroes initially frustrated. Their plan had been to join old friend Labrousse as he transported his atomic powered-ice-boring submersible to the frozen continent, but his ship has already sailed. Their dashed hopes are restored after eccentric millionaire ecological advocate and adventurer Lord Archibald McAuchentoshan offers them his ship and crew.

Their hopes are even further elevated when the vessel turns out to be a capacious flying boat, not a luxury yacht. Three hours later they are reunited with Labrousse aboard the freighter Madeline and en route to Halley Base, but they have not reckoned with storms and icebergs. The stormy conditions prove fortuitous however, as they allow them to catch up to the uranium-carry traitor’s ship and a little cunning allows them to secrete Nasir aboard as a wounded sailor…

Ahead of them climate and geology are playing tricks on all concerned. A minor earthquake wrecks the British loading dock and a polar storm looms, prompting Ashoka’s minions into attacking Halley Base and abducting the staff. The Eternal Emperor knows Mortimer is coming and seeks time for his agent to deliver the uranium, but has again underestimated the determination and ingenuity of his foes. Even though the Professor is captured on arrival, Blake escapes into the icy wastes. His epic pursuit leads him to Varich and exposes Ashoka’s Soviet support system, before he eventually links up with Labrousse’s team and is offered the use of his ice-sub for a counterattack.

Meanwhile at Gondwana Base, gloating Ashoka is attempting to use Mortimer as a second living battery in his diabolical machine, until long-forgotten Nasir – who had infiltrated the base as the traitor agent – intervenes. In the chaos that ensues, the ice-borer breaks into the control room from below. Amidst bloodshed and tectonic turmoil, Mortimer is cut off and leans from a dying acolyte the true story of Gita’s death, shaking him from decades of guilt and shame, but is forced by an unrepentant and finally exposed Ashoka to man the second electronic sarcophagus. Soon, his consciousness joins the ether inhabited by Olrik’s personality, resolved to stop the crazed villain from wreaking havoc at the Universal Exposition, in a mind-bending and literal battle of wills…

Thankfully, the Professor’s allies are as swift-thinking and indomitable as he, and one final sally against the Emperor saves him as he saves the Expo and as Gondwana erupts and vanishes in a welter of fire and ice.

…But what happened to Olrik?…

Binding many vivid facets of the heroes’ prestigious past exploits and achievements into a vibrant sci fi romp, this epic extravaganza blends Cold War tension with modern ethical and ecological concerns in a rip-roaring chase yarn to delight fans of many genres.

These Cinebook editions – available in paperback album and digital formats – also include previews for other albums, plus a biographical feature and chronological publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts.

Gripping and fantastic in the truest tradition of pulp sci-fi and Boy’s Own Adventures, Blake and Mortimer are the very epitome of dogged heroic determination; always delivering grand, old-fashioned thrills and spills in timeless fashion and with astonishing visual punch. Any kid will experience the adventure of their lives… and so will their children.
Original editions © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombardgreet s.a.) 2003, 2004 by André Juillard & by Yves Sente. All rights reserved. English translation © 2010, 2011 Cinebook Ltd.

Hubert Reeves Explains BiodiversitY


By
Hubert Reeves, Nelly Boutinot & Daniel Casanave, coloured by Claire Champion and translated by Joseph Laredo (Europe Comics)
No ISBN: digital release only

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Lasting Lessons Lavishly Limned and Laudably Learned… 9/10

It’s sometimes easy to forget that other countries have national treasures, too: popular spokes-folk sharing their passions for the good of us all. Living folk, that is, not pilfered artefacts taken into “protective custody” by most western “explorers” whilst visiting other people’s continents: that’s just shameful and unforgivable…

Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, Professors Brian Cox, Lucy Worsley, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and many others have translated their passions into education, elucidation, mass entertainment and good works, but they are not alone and most nations have their own voices of wonder, reason and sanity. For French-speakers, one of those effulgent natural educators is Professor Hubert Reeves.

Born Quebecois in 1932, raised and educated in Montreal but now resident in Paris, the physicist and professional educator is a major name in Thermonuclear Reactions, Light Nuclei and “Positronium”; advises NASA and has – since 1965 – been Director of Research at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique.

In later life he became the go-to guy for science stuff on French TV and has contrived a series of bande dessinée detailing Earth’s rapidly dwindling and almost expired bounties. Following the translated book featured here – which started life in 2017 as Hubert Reeves explique: La bioversité – he turned his sagacious eye to Oceans and Forests, which I’ll probably get around to later, assuming we still have any next year…

Working with co-writer Nelly Boutinot (vice-president of the Humanity and Biodiversity Association) and publisher/illustrator Daniel Casanave (Shelly; Romantica; Une Aventure rocambolesque) the Man of Letters has here inserted himself into a gentle and laconic nature ramble with a group of school children exploring lush countryside which inescapably includes all our mighty works. Delivered with simple but strictly factual directness in a captivating cartoon style that enchants and seduces, the relationships and shared history of cities, suspension bridges and other technologies is deconstructed in terms of their impact on the natural world.

Clarifying and connecting the link between microorganisms and petrochemicals; weather cycles and climate change; the balance between prey and predators in healthy ecosystems; the impact of invasive species (both deliberately imported and free-roaming); the cost to us all of every extinction and the no-brainer importance and function of the oxygen cycle that keeps us all alive, Le Professeur makes his case and proves his points while exulting in the majesty and complexity of existence…

Explained with stunning clarity using powerful symbols and examples from all across the embattled globe, yet still able to end on an optimistic note, Hubert Reeves Explains Biodiversity affords a superb and satisfying life lesson that belongs in every classroom, library and boardroom. Get it for the kids, or maybe they’ll get it for you…
© 2019 – LE LOMBARD (DARGAUD-LOMBARD s.a.) – CASANAVE, REEVES, & BOUTINOT

A Sea of Love


By Wilfrid Lupano & Grégory Panaccione (Lion Forge/The Magnetic Collection)
ISBN: 978-1-942367-45-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Words Just Aren’t Enough… 10/10

The sheer breadth, variety and creative ambition of comics holds me breathless sometimes. It feels like there’s no subject or blend thereof; no tone or trope; no limits and absolutely no style or admixture that talented individuals can’t turn into heartrending, hilarious, thrilling, educational, evocative, uplifting and/or infuriating stories.

This completely silent saga from prolific French writer Wilfrid Lupano (Old Geezers; Azimut; Blanc Autour; Le Loup; Valerian spin-off Shingouzlooz Inc. and many more) and illustrator Grégory Panaccione (Someone to Talk To; Toby Mon Ami; Match; Âme perdue) somehow offers all of those in one delicious hardback or digital package.

Originally seen au continent as Un Océan d’amour in 2014, this wordless yet universally comprehensible pantomime is an unforgettable saga celebrating the timeless resilience of mature love. Here it is craftily concealed but constantly displayed in a tale of tetchy devotion between an aged diminutive fisherman and his quiet, timid, overly-flappable but formidably indomitable wife.

Every morning before the sun lights their rustic hovel, she makes him a wonderful breakfast before he heads out into the big ocean in his little boat. They have their fractious moments and he can be a trial sometimes, but their relationship is rock solid and never-ending.

This particular morning, however, the old coot finally falls foul of a changing world, when his little vessel is snagged in the nets of a vast trawler factory ship. Saving his idiot apprentice, the old git is soon swallowed up and gone…

At least, that’s what the sole survivor believes when he washes up ashore. However, the matronly fresh widow refuses to accept that and – disregarding decades of homey domestic programming – goes looking for him.

Oh, the incredible adventures she has and the people she meets…

He, meanwhile, is still very much alive. Stranded on his little tub, with nothing but tinned sardines and memories to sustain him, he is washed uncontrollably across the world. Befriended by a sardine-loving gull, he experiences first hand and close up the way we’ve befouled the seas and meets a wide variety of people he’s casually misjudged all his life, before eventually fighting his way back to his little cottage and the faithful one who’s waiting for him. At least, he complacently assumed she is…

Epic, hilarious, terrifying, shocking and sublimely satisfying, this is masterpiece of graphic narrative with so very much to say. Why not give your eyes a treat and have a good listen?
A Sea of Love © 2018 Editions Delcourt. All rights reserved.

Y: the Last Man volume 5


By Brian K Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Goran Sudžuka, José Marzán Jr. & various (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3051-7 (HB) 978-1-4012-6372-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Treat and Salutary Warning All in One… 9/10

When an apparent plague killed every male on Earth, student Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand survived in a world instantly and utterly all-girl. Unexpectedly and unwillingly a crucial natural resource, the wilful lad was confiscated by the new government – his mother – as a potential solution to the problem. Even with a government super-agent and a clued-in geneticist escorting him across the unmanned American continent to a Californian bio-lab for research purposes, all the boy could think of was re-uniting with his girlfriend Beth, trapped in Australia since disaster struck.

With his rather reluctant companions secret agent 355 and Dr. Allison Mann – also deeply invested in solving the mystery of his continued existence – the romantically determined oaf trekked overland from Washington DC to California, getting ever closer to his fiancée… or so he thought.

Each of his minders harbours dark secrets: Dr. Mann fears she might have actually caused the plague by giving birth to the world’s first parthenogenetic human clone, whilst lethally competent 355 has old allegiances to organisations far-more far-reaching than the American government….

Also out to stake their claim and add to the general tension are renegade Israeli General Alter Tse’Elon and post-disaster cult “Daughters of the Amazon” who want to make sure that there really are no more men left to mess up the planet. Further complications include Yorick’s occasionally insane sister, Hero – stalking him across the ultra-feminised, ravaged and now utterly dis-United States – and the inexplicable-once-you’ve-met-him attraction the boy exerts on numerous frustrated and desperate women they encounter en route to Oz…

After four years and some incredible adventures Yorick (a so-so scholar but a proficient amateur magician and escapologist) and crew reached Australia, only to discover Beth had taken off on her own odyssey to Paris. During the hunt, Dr. Mann learned the inconvenient truth: Yorick was only alive because Ampersand (an escaped lab-specimen) was immune and had inoculated his owner via his disgusting habit of chucking crap which Yorick didn’t always avoid. He didn’t keep his mouth closed enough either…

Available in hardback, paperback and digital editions, this concluding volume – reprinting issues #49-60 of the award-winning series – opens with 4-chapter saga ‘Motherland’.

Illustrated by Pia Guerra & José Marzán Jr., it finds Yorick and his minders in Hong Kong, following a trail to the true architect of the plague, only to be captured by the cause of all the world’s woes – a deranged biologist cursed with genius, insanity and a deadly dose of maniacal misogynistic hubris.

Just before a breathtaking denouement wherein Yorick and Allison learn the incredible reasons for the global extinction, Agent 355 and turncoat Australian spy Rose clash for the final time with the ninja who has been stalking them for years, before the scene switches to France where Hero has successfully escorted baby boys born in a hidden Space Sciences lab to relative safety… although General Tse’Elon is not a pursuer easily avoided or thwarted…

Even after the plague is demystified, the villain dealt with and the world teeters on the verge of coming back from the brink of extinction, there’s still more stories to be told…

‘The Obituarist’ (limned by Goran Sudžuka & José Marzán Jr.) focuses on the murder of Yorick’s mother by Tse’Elon. The aftermath takes centre-stage in a divertissement which hints that the planet is already fixing itself before continuing with ‘Tragicomic’ (Sudžuka & Marzán Jr. again) as the lunatic land of Hollywood stages its own comeback: making trash movies, spawning bad comicbooks and splintering into a host of territorial gang-wars…

The end was in sight and even with the series’ overarching plot engine seemingly exhausted there was still one last string of intrigue, suspense and surprise in store from writer Brian K. Vaughn. The last of Y the Last Man proved to be the best yet but that’s an unmissable tale for another time…

Things came to a final full-stop in ‘Whys and Wherefores’ wherein various cast members all rendezvous in Paris. As well as Yorick and 355, his sister Hero is there, having successfully escorted the baby boys born to the City of Lights. She also brought Yorick’s baby daughter and the determined would-be mother who raped him to conceive her…

Still on scene and hungry for blood is General Tse’Elon with her dwindling squad of Israeli commandoes. They’re rapidly diminishing because of their leader’s increasing instability and habit of killing anybody who crosses her.

At long last, the Last Man is reunited with his long lost true love, only to find that she actually never was…

Tragically, his actual one-and-only is forever lost to him when Tse’Elon captures him and the babies, leading to a shocking final confrontation…

For the last chapter ‘Alas’, the action switches to Paris 60 years later. Thanks to cloning and gene manipulation, the human race is secure and other species are returning too. Men are still rarer than hen’s teeth though, as the women seem to prefer girl babies…

The geriatric Yorick is saviour of humanity, but since he keeps trying to kill himself he has to be locked up and constantly guarded. In a desperate attempt to cure his seeming madness the leaders of the matriarchal new world – which suffers just as much from most of the problems and stupidities of the old – have brought in the best of the Last Man’s seventeen viable doppelgangers to talk him round and find out what’s bugging him. The intervention doesn’t go as planned and the old escapologist has one last trick up his straitjacketed sleeve…

Illustrated by Pia Guerra & José Marzán Jr. these concluding adventures are packed with revelation, closures and disclosures plus some moments of genuine painful tragedy, so keep tissues handy if you’re easily moved. Some sense of disappointment is probably unavoidable when an acclaimed and beloved serial finally ends, but at least there’s some tangible accomplishment to savour and if you’re lucky perhaps a hint of more to be said and an avenue for further wonderment…

Also included here is Vaughn’s full script for issue #60 to provide one final treat. The last of Y: the Last Man is as controversial and challenging as ever it was: perfectly providing an ending to everything; lifting you up, breaking your heart and still leaving the reader hungry for more. And that’s just the way it ought to be…

© 2006, 2007, 2008 Brian K Vaughan & Pia Guerra. All Rights Reserved.

 

Methods of Dyeing


By B. Mure (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-62-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Mesmerising Magnum Opus Actively Unfolding Before Your Very Eyes… 8/10

Most forms of fiction depend on strong memorable characters and heaping helpings of tension, suspense and of action to hold the attention. You need to be really good and quite brave to try anything outside those often-infantile parameters. B. Mure is that good.

The Nottingham based artist and storyteller’s other notable work to date is the remarkable webcomic Boy Comics. You should check that out too.

In 2018, B. Mure pulled together threads and ideas from years of planning, dreaming and doodling, to begin building an epic fantasy saga. It started with Original Graphic Novel Ismyre, introducing a strange ancient city of song and tired wonders, unsettled by magical eco-terrorists and weaponised flora, where a sculptor’s works inspired and moved the strangest of folk. This magical city was entering a period of “interesting times”…

That was closely followed by sequel Terrible Means, which seemingly had very little to do with the protagonists of the first, but instead took readers back to a time when wizardly green rebels Niklas, Henriett and Emlyn were simply researchers whose studies divined a growing imbalance in the natural ecosystem…

The Tower in the Sea focused in on a different point in time and tale, providing a fresh approach to what is shaping up to be a vast and expansively multi-layered saga.

Contemporary Ismyre is more dictatorship than civil metropolis, and for years gifted children were spirited away from it by a clique of outlaw magicians and taken to a hidden island to be schooled in magical arts. That haven of learning was not proof against intrigue and plots, however, and before long unscholarly events upset lots of apple carts…

Now, fourth volume Methods of Dyeing returns us to the Big City, but sticks to educational themes and macabre mysteries as potential scandal rocks staid and stolid Ismyre University. Mere moments before the delivery of a much heralded lecture, visiting Professor Detlef of rival city-state Belsithan is murdered. The renowned botanist, textile expert and master dyer was discovered in bushes just outside the lecture hall…

The event manifests the usual journalistic scavengers, but both the Chief of Police and University Dean are suspiciously keen to shut down sordid speculation and all enquiries as rapidly as possible.

All hope of that outcome ends with the arrival of a forceful and enigmatic detective from Belsithan. She quickly assumes jurisdiction and begins to make herself extremely unwelcome in every stratum of college and city life. Her diligent, persistent investigations uncover plenty of secrets and suspects as well as possible motive: Detlef had accommodated the beliefs of the Eco-anarchist movement increasingly disrupting Ismyre’s economy and politics…

However, as the detective zeroes in on the truth, her own big secret is about to be exposed…

The word “tapestry” is one much overused but it really fits the gradual unpeeling of layers comprising the history of Ismyre: beautiful images coming together, small self-contained stories unfolding depending upon where you start from, yet all part of a greater whole, promising more and clearer revelations further ahead. You must read all these books but (so far) it really doesn’t matter where you start from. So, it might as well be here, right?

Sadly, this deliciously genteel, sublimely illustrated cosy murder-mystery is not available digitally yet, but that just means you can give physical copies to all your friends, suitably gift-wrapped and properly appreciated by the tactile senses as well as cerebral ones…

An anthropomorphic, luscious and compellingly realised world of wonder to savour and ponder over is waiting for you – and if you’re quick, you can exploit the publisher’s sagacious generosity by visiting the Avery Hill website and buying all four Ismyre books in one big sales bundle…
© 2021 B. Mure. All rights reserved.

Methods of Dyeing will be released on November 11th 2021 and is available for pre-order now.