OMAC – One Man Army Corps by Jack Kirby


By Jack Kirby with D. Bruce Berry, Mike Royer & various (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-1026-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

There’s a magnificent abundance of Jack Kirby collections around these days – but still not everything, so I reserve my right carrying on whining…

This slim trade paperback/digital collection re-presents possibly his boldest, most bombastic and most heartfelt creation after the comics landmark that was his Fourth World Cycle.

Famed for larger than life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, “King” Kirby was an astute, spiritual man who had lived through poverty, gangsterism, the Depression and World War II. He experienced Pre-War privation, Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures, but always looked to the future while understanding human nature intimately. In OMAC: One Man Army Corps, he gave his darkest assumptions and prognostications free rein, and his “World That’s Coming” has proved far too close to the World we’re frantically trying to escape now…

In 1974, with his newest creations inexplicably tanking at DC, Kirby tentatively considered a return to Marvel, but – ever the consummate professional – he scrupulously carried out every detail of an increasingly onerous and emotionally unrewarding DC contract. When The Demon was cancelled, the King needed another title to maintain his Herculean commitments (Jack was legally obliged to deliver 15 completed pages of art and story per week!) and returned to an idea he had shelved in 1968.

That was to re-interpret Captain America for a possible future where all Kirby’s direst suspicions and fears could be made manifest. In 1974 he revisited those anxieties: producing a nightmare scenario that demanded not a hero but a warrior.

Dubbing his Day-After-Tomorrow dystopia “The World That’s Coming”, Kirby let his mind run free – and scared – to birth a frighteningly close appreciation of our “Now”, where science and wealth have outstripped compassion and reason, and humanity teeters on the brink of self-inflicted global destruction. His thoughts then are represented here in the editorial that accompanied the premier issue…

OMAC #1 launched in September-October 1974, introducing the Global Peace Agency, a world-wide Doomwatch-style police force who manufactured a super-soldier to course-correct mankind and crisis-manage the constant threats to a species with hair-trigger fingers on nuclear stockpiles, chemical weapons of mass destruction and made-to-measure biological horrors.

Base human nature was the true threat behind this series, and that was first demonstrated by decent young man Buddy Blank who – whilst working at Pseudo-People Inc. – discovers that the euphemistically entitled Build-A-Friend division hides a far darker secret than merely pliant girls that come in kit-form. (I believe we even have those now, too…)

Luckily Buddy has been singled out by the GPA’s resident genius Professor Myron Forest for eternal linkage to sentient satellite Brother Eye. His atoms shifted and reconstructed, Buddy is rebuilt to become a living God of War, and the new-born human weapon easily destroys his ruthless employers before their murderous plans can be fully realised. ‘Buddy Blank and Brother Eye’ was followed by a truly prophetic tale, wherein impossibly wealthy criminal Mister Big purchases an entire city simply to assassinate Professor Forest in ‘The Era of the Super-Rich!’

Kirby’s tried and trusted approach was always to pepper high concepts throughout blazing action, and #3 was the most spectacular thus far. OMAC fought ‘One Hundred Thousand Foes!’ to get to murderous Marshal Kafka; terrorist leader of a Rogue State with a private army, WMDs and a solid belief that the United Nations can’t touch him. Sound familiar…? That incredible clash carries on and concludes in #4’s ‘Busting of a Conqueror!’

With #5, Kirby moved on to other new crimes for a new world. The definition of a criminal tends to blur when you can buy anything – even law and justice – but rich old people cherry-picking young men and women for brain-implantation is (hopefully) always going to be a no-no. Still, you can sell or plunder specific organs even now…

Busting the ‘New Bodies for Old!! racket took two issues, and after the One-Man-Army-Corps smashed ‘The Body Bank!’ he embarked on his final adventure. Ecological disaster and water shortage was the theme of the last tale, but as our hero trudges across a dry, desolate lake bottom amidst the dead and dying marine life he is horrified to discover the disaster is the work of one man. ‘The Ocean Stealers!’ (#7) introduced scientific madman Doctor Skuba, who mastered atomic manipulation techniques that had turned feeble Buddy Blank into an unstoppable war machine.

Joe Kubert drew the cover to final outing OMAC #8. ‘Human Genius Vs Thinking Machine’; was an epic episode seeing Brother Eye apparently destroyed as Skuba and Buddy Blank died together in an incredible explosion.

But that final panel was a hasty, last-minute addition by unknown editorial hands, for the saga never actually finished. Kirby, his contract completed, had promptly returned to Marvel and new challenges like Black Panther, Captain America, 2001, Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man and especially The Eternals.

Hormone treatments, Virtual Reality, medical computers, satellite surveillance, genetic tampering and all the other hard-science predictions in OMAC pale into insignificance against Kirby’s terrifyingly accurate social observations in this bombastic and tragically incomplete masterpiece.

OMAC is Jack Kirby’s Edwin Drood: an unfinished symphony of such power and prophecy that it informs not just the entire modern DC universe and inspires ever more incisive and intriguing tales from the King’s artistic inheritors but still presages more truly scary developments in our own mundane and inescapable reality…

As always in these wondrously economical collections it should be noted that the book includes Kirby pencilled pages.

Jack Kirby is unique and uncompromising. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind. That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the entire American comics scene, affected the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in all areas of artistic endeavour around the world for generations and still wins new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep whilst being simultaneously mythic and human: and just plain Great.

© 1974, 1975, 2021 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost


By Keezy Young (The Lion Forge/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-941302-46-0 (Lion Forge PB/Digital edition) ‎978-1-63715-073-3 (Oni Press PB/Digital edition)

I’m ending our meagre contributions to this year’s Pride Month with a heads up/timely reminder for a superb, upbeat love story in the sincere hope that one day we won’t need a specially appointed time and space for queer people, or women, or black and asian ones or in fact any person not white and “naturally” hetero-male.

It’s all just stories, folks. Why can’t we just share them out fairly?

Back in 2017, queer, non-binary artist, author and storyteller Keezy Young (Never Heroes, Hello Sunshine) created a supernatural romance that garnered lots of critical attention, accolades and awards. Young resides in Seattle and has used art to tell tales since able to hold a crayon in a fist, so it’s no surprise how good they are at it now. They specialise in creating YA comics and stories about being young, adventurous and LGBTQIA.

Rendered in bright pastel colours and big, welcoming images, Taproot is the story of Hamal; a gentle young man who loves plants and growing things. He always has time to chat and offer advice on plant care, even though his boss at the flower store is a bit of a tartar about unnecessary customer service.

Mr Takashi would be even more surly if he realised that many of the people Hamal talks to are dead. Unable to understand or explain his gift, Hamal is not afraid: gathering a small band of ghostly regulars who spend much of their time with him. There’s moody teen April, effervescent grade schooler Joey and Blue. a good looking older teen who spends too much time trying to fix up Hamal’s love-life. If Blue knows who Hamal really pines for, he’s good at covering it up…

They’ve been close for a year now. The aimless revenant just followed Hamal one day and was astounded when the living doll stared into his invisible face and asked him why. No longer isolated and cut off from existence, Blue stuck around and other wandering spirits gradually tagged along.

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. Recently, something dark and strange has begun slowly unfolding. The plants aren’t thriving, and increasingly the spooks are being sucked into a ghastly spectral forest realm of doom and decay. It would be really frightening if they weren’t already dead…

It all comes to a head after Blue is drawn to the forest and confronts a monster who knows what’s really going on in creation. Terrifying and predatory, it recognises what Hamal really is and has plans for both the living and the dead. Worst of all, it has a way to fulfil Blue’s most heartfelt desire… if the ghost boy will play along…

Thankfully, that’s just the beginning of a whole new life for the would-be lovers and a novel existence for Hamal, as the story takes on fresh life via some captivating plot twists that every romantic who loves happy endings can see just by tapping this…
© 2017 Keezy Young. All Rights Reserved. English text © 2007 NetComics.

Heathen volume 1


By Natasha Alterici with Rachel Deering (Vault Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-939424-18-1 (TPB) ISBN: eISBN: 978-1-939424-19-8

The creation myths and heroic sagas of Scandinavia are part of a global grand storytelling heritage: classic epics of paragons that have been constantly retold and reinvented for more than a thousand years, subtly reshaded to suit every generation. Here’s one that’s boldly innovative and very much in tune and in demand at this moment in time.

In 2017 Natasha Alterici (Gotham Academy, Women of Marvel) began retelling those myths through a lens of female empowerment in an age still too much mired in gender subjugation. There are still talking beasts, fantastic beings and big brawny warriors aplenty and some of them are women, but here we get a look at what the consequences of a maiden bearing arms meant and what any act of female independence actually cost…

Modern iterations of historical/fantasy scenarios are rife with glamorous women warriors, but whether the goal is prurient pandering (and what idiot believes skimpy chainmail bikinis and saucer-encased boobs count as armour?) or a well-meant attempt to balance scales of omission with the Sword & Sorcery equivalent of “colourblind casting”, the truth is that that very few women fought beside male combatants in any combat. Against, most definitely, but that’s a wholly different scenario with their struggles being more in the nature of a violently resisting prize or momentary diversion from the macho business of butchery…

Okay, maybe some pirates and legendary queens have been recorded as having joined in physical fighting, but traditionally, most women in combat were reduced to side roles or forced to disguise themselves AS MEN to even have a chance of surviving the attentions of their own allies and comrades…

A far more reasonable and rational scenario underpins this vivid reworking of the Valkyries’ legend, with fugitive Norsewoman Aydis riding out on a most private mission. Capable and doughty as any male, she shares with her horse Saga how Godking Odin created the fierce and beautiful Choosers of the Slain to escort men’s souls to Valhalla …if they fell in battle. She also relates how their leader Brynhild once disobeyed micromanaging, conniving, petty Odin and was punished by exile and compelled to marry a mortal.

Crafty Brynhild thought she had the last word, convincing her creator to allow her to test her suitors’ mettle. This was done by confining her atop a mountain behind a wall of magic fire, where only the bravest, strongest and most worthy would dare to go…

Aydis is inspired by this tale as she hunts a deer and meets again Liv, reexperiencing the moment they kissed and how it changed both lives. Their act of deviancy could only be expunged by death or marriage, but while Liv’s father married her off immediately, Aydis’ sire had apparently opted to execute the degenerate fruit of his loins…

Now, the almost-lovers meet over a slaughtered stag and ruefully ponder what might have been and how it might feel to not be man’s property. They are interrupted by a rampaging bull…

Aydis easily defeats the maddened beast only to find it is shapeshifting trickster god Ruadan who lets slip that he is watching her on behalf of an intrigued god and that immortals live cyclic lives, reliving the same stories over and again…

Aydis is resolved her existence will break the eternal mould. Bidding farewell to Liv, she fashions a warrior helmet from the stag and sets out to free Brynhild and chart the course of her own life…

This initial collection gathers the first four issues of Heathen, and chapter 2 opens with wolf gods Skull and Hati idly debating food, entertainment and ending the world until one sibling steps into a metal trap he cannot break. Happily, Saga – whom they were disinterestedly stalking – is a most unique special steed and frees the godling’s paw, even as high above them all, Aydis clears the flame wall and rouses Brynhild.

She does not seek to marry the Valkyrie, but rather prove her own bravery and liberate a fellow captive of fate from male-ordained doom, but it’s not that simple. Nothing ever is…

When they reach solid ground again, Brynhild reveals a shocking secret about Saga just as other Valkyries arrive, led by their new chieftain – love divinity Freyja. The scheming immortal takes one look and kidnaps Aydis to her heavenly citadel…

The saga diverges here as Aydis becomes a guest of hedonistic Freyja, leaving the defrocked Chooser of the Slain and Saga to roam the Nordic lands, seeking allies to help them challenge the gods in their own kingdom. More secrets are shared and Aydis learns hard truths in heaven, winning an ally in mute mortal Shannon, even as on Earth, Brynhild experiences the unjust status and roles women must endure. Eventually, she reunites with a tragic hero. Centuries previously, Sigurd was the last man to free her from the flames and in these new times, he still lives, thanks to wily Odin’s divinely pedantic curse…

The final chapter sees an end to Aydis’ time in heaven, while on Earth, her would-be rescuers wander into another savage situation caused by humanity’s hidebound rules on who and how to love. This situation is further exacerbated by a new sect called Christians, who not only frown on “unnatural” love, but will not tolerate wise women and witches dispensing potions and advice. Typically, Brynhild has a most forceful and fast-acting resolution to a growing hostage situation and building riot…

And for Aydis and Shannon, a Rubicon is crossed as the outcast warrior declares war on the father of the gods…

Thrilling, compelling and beautifully illustrated, Heathen ran to 3 volumes (now available as a Complete Omnibus edition since a movie adaptation imminently looms), but here the epic concludes with a gallery of the original wraparound covers rendered by Tess Fowler & Tamra Bonvillain, with variants from Alterici, Jen Bartel and Nathan Gooden sweetening the deal.

A delicious and wry alternate take on primal heroic myths, this book offers fresh ideals and a fair shake at last while proving the Good Fight can be fought by anybody for everybody.
© 2017 Natasha Alterici. All rights reserved.

Operation Liberate Men volume 1 & 2


By Mira Lee (NetComics/Ecomix)
ISBN: 978-1-60009-231-2 and 978-1-60009-232-9 (Tankōbon PB/Digital editions)

Authored by Mira Lee (Land of Silver Rain), Operation Liberate Men began in the late 1990s: a challenging comics concept released in a country where female roles in society were still painfully hidebound, and the concept of the “Ideal Woman” was a very real anchor to freedom of expression and lifestyle. The wild fantasy ran for 9 volumes before going on hiatus.

Now controlled by South Korean publisher Ecomix, episodes are available online with the promise of resumption and a conclusion after Lee concludes her current comics projects.

In volume 1, Sooha Jung is sixteen and an officially inadequate woman. For her whole life, she never fitted in, and has now failed the High School Admissions Exam. In achievement-oriented, socially-conservative, gender-orthodox South Korea, it’s damaging enough just to be a tomboy who prefers fighting to preening, primping or dating boys, but now she must add mediocre student to her list of failings.

Then, all of a sudden, the ethereally beautiful and androgynous Ganesha literally bumps into her…

Sooha is unsure if the lovely but weird foreigner is boy or girl, but quickly realises that it’s not as relevant as the fact that the stranger is completely crazy, claiming to come from another dimension – the Para Empire – where men are slaves and sex objects dominated by sadistic, domineering women. Disbelieving yet inspired by the thought of a world where women are in charge, she humours Ganesha, agreeing to travel to the Para Empire. Unfortunately, the story is completely accurate and she’s soon trapped on a very alien and dangerous world. Moreover, when they first met, Ganesha had assumed she was a ferocious male – the perfect man to lead the downtrodden males of Para to freedom!

Embroiled in a civil war in a fantastical primitive place, Sooha bolts, but soon realises the genuine need of the oppressed in the ruthless, savage society. She also discovers Ganesha has a secret. As the most beautiful man in the worlds, he’s not only a secret freedom-fighter but also the cherished, pampered plaything of the utterly diabolical Supreme Ruler: a woman called The Emperor…
Malevolent schemers, Court intrigues, broad humour and a remarkably progressive take on gender discrimination elevates this old, old plot, whilst healthy doses of supernatural conflict, countered by Sooha’s Bull-in-a-China-Shop temperament, make this tale an unexpected treat.
It’s nice to see a less-than-deferential, plain girl as lead character for once and the cliffhanger the first volume concludes on ensures readers will return to see what happens next. Give it a go and perhaps you’ll feel the same way too…

Operation Liberate Men volume 2 steams straight in with the next step in the campaign of sexual revolution, as Sooha Jung reviews her position. It was hard enough to get by as a mannish young girl, better at fighting than dating, and a poor student too, in modern society, but when you’re so ashamed that you make a foolish decision and end up trapped in a parallel dimension where sadistic, autocratic, bullying women have enslaved men, it’s almost too much to bear.

When you compound all that with the shameful fact that the oppressed men who expect you to deliver them from bondage are all completely oblivious of the fact that you are actually female, you can see why the teenager thinks she might have made a major mistake in travelling to this magical realm to liberate the men of the Para Empire.
Grudgingly accepting command of the Laharshita (“Male Liberation Army”) she now falls foul of the brutal women – also unaware of Sooha’s gender – leading to a savage battle in which rebel conspirator and undercover Boy-Toy Ganesha is near-fatally wounded.

Desperate and on the run, Sooha is soon captured and imprisoned and, as events in the rebel hierarchy proceed without her, suddenly realises that this is not her first contact with the male denizens of the Para Empire. There was an incident so long ago, back when she was just a little girl…

A touch of Aubrey Beardsley and the occasional flurry of Charles M Schulz in the dreamy artwork is so effective in elevating this compelling manhwa (Korean for manga or comics) fantasy. Ending on another cliffhanger, this war story will grip readers in fevered anticipation for that hopefully imminent conclusion…
© 1997, 2001 Mira Lee. All Rights Reserved. English text © 2007 NetComics.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be Continued…

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

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

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

Thor: For Asgard


By Robert Rodi, Simone Bianchi & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4445-8 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1-84653-482-9 (TPB Marvel/Panini UK)

In his anniversary year and with another motion picture interpretation of Marvel’s Thor eagerly anticipated, it appropriate to remember his roots and that there’s plenty for established fans and freshly-interested parties to grapple with in book form. Here’s one that might tickle the fancy of older readers…

In an effective and beautiful re-imagining by Robert Rodi, illustrated with astounding imagination and beauty by Simone Bianchi (assisted by Andrea Silvestri and colourist Simone Peruzzi), the long dreaded Twilight of the Gods has begun and cracks are beginning to show in the heroic façade of the noble and mighty Asgardians…

Reprinting a six-issue miniseries published in 2010 under the Marvel Knights imprint, our saga opens in the second icy year of the dread Fimbulwinter, with shining god Balder long dead, all-father Odin long missing and Thor as long-suffering Regent.

A better warrior than ruler, the Thunderer leads an embattled, increasingly contentious and disgruntled populace in punitive forays against old enemies such as the Frost Giants. All around them, former vassal states are stretching long unused muscles and airing old grievances whilst the unhappy ruler’s two closest advisors are at constant odds with each other…

With the snowy streets of Asgard awash with resentment, if not outright sedition, Idunn informs the out-of-his-depth Storm Lord that the Golden Apples – source of Asgardian immortality – are almost gone and with Spring and Summer banished, no more will grow.

Asgard’s enemies are gathering, led by a secret mastermind, Odin’s mysterious mission has gone awry and, in the gleaming city, mutterings have become desperate, traitorous acts. With even Valhalla – glorious Hall of the Dead – threatened, and now murder in the streets, Thor needs all his powers to help him, but even his faithful magic mallet has betrayed him: it has been long indeed since the Prince of Asgard was worthy enough to wield the Hammer of the Gods…

With chaos and destruction from every faction and direction, can hard-pressed Thor hold things together, or is the truly heroic action letting Ragnarok come and starting afresh amid the ruins…?

Bleak, subtly allegorical and utterly enchanting, this moody epic of endings and new beginnings is a powerful tale of a deftly different pantheon that will delight newcomers to the character but possibly irritate long-term Marvelites. Moreover, by ending on a foreboding note – completists should take heed – the tale is not completely done yet and more may follow…

The moody, sexy, and uncompromisingly violent tale is augmented in this 2019 re-release by a ‘Spotlight’ addendum, featuring stills from the movies and heavily-illustrated background feature ‘For Asgard!’ by historian Mike Conroy, covering author Rodi’s other Thor sagas (The Deviant Saga, Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers and Astonishing Thor). This volume is also still readily available in a British released edition from Marvel/Panini UK.
© 2019 MARVEL.

Marsupilami volume 5 Baby Prinz


By Franquin, Batem & Yann; coloured by Cerise and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-542-4 (Album PB/Digital edition)

One of Europe’s most popular comic stars is an eccentrically irascible, loyally unpredictable, super-strong, rubber-limbed ball of explosive energy with a seemingly infinite elastic tail. The frantic, frenetic Marsupilami is a wonder of nature and icon of European entertainment invention who originally spun-off from another immortal comedy adventure strip…

In 1946 Joseph “Jijé” Gillain was crafting eponymous keystone strip Spirou for flagship publication Le Journal de Spirou when he abruptly handed off the entire kit and caboodle to his assistant Franquin. The apprentice took the reins, slowly abandoned a previous format of short complete gags to pioneer longer adventure serials, and began introducing a wide and engaging cast of new characters.

For 1952’s Spirou et les héritiers, he devised a beguiling and boisterous South American critter and tossed him like an elastic-arsed grenade into the mix. Thereafter – until his resignation in 1969 – Franquin frequently included the bombastic little beast in Spirou’s increasingly fantastic escapades …

The Marsupilami returned over and over again: a phenomenally popular magical animal who inevitably grew into a solo star of screen, toy store, console games and albums all his own.

André Franquin was born on January 3rd 1924 in Etterbeek, Belgium. Somewhat a prodigy, he began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943, but when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found animation work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. Here he met Maurice de Bevere (Lucky Luke’s creator Morris), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945, all but Culliford signed on with publishing house Dupuis, and Franquin began a career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, drawing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu. During those formative days, Franquin and Morris were being trained by Jijé – at that time the main illustrator at Le Journal de Spirou. He quickly turned the youngsters – and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite (AKA Will: writer/artist of Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, The Garden of Desire and much more) – into a potent creative bullpen dubbed La bande des quatre; or “Gang of Four”. They subsequently revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling.

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through a storyline (Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, in Le Journal de Spirou #427, June 20th 1946). The eager novice ran with it and carried on with Spirou for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons until the feature became purely his own.

Every week, fans would meet startling and zany new characters like comrade eventual co-star Fantasio or crackpot inventor Count of Champignac, and ultimately Spirou et Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, “reporting back” their exploits in unbroken four-colour glory for and in Le Journal de Spirou…

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle, Boule et Bill/Billy and Buddy); Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe/Gomer Goof) and Greg (Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Achille Talon, Zig et Puce), who all worked with him during his tenure on Spirou et Fantasio.

In 1955 a contractual spat with Dupuis resulted in Franquin signing up with publishing rivals Casterman on Le Journal de Tintin, collaborating with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

Franquin and Dupuis patched things up within days, and he went back to Le Journal de Spirou. In 1957, he co-created Gaston Lagaffe, but was still legally obliged to carry on his Tintin strip work too. From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but a decade later the artist had reached his Spirou limit and in 1969 resigned for good, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

Plagued by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997, but his legacy remains: a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics. Moreover, having learned his lessons about publishers, Franquin retained all rights to Marsupilami and in the late 1980’s began publishing his own adventures of the rambunctious miracle-worker.

He tapped old comrade Greg as scripter and invited commercial artist/illustrator Luc Collin (pen-name Batem) to collaborate on – and later monopolise – the art duties for a new series of raucous comedy adventures. In recent years, the commercial world has triumphed again and since 2016 the universes of Marsupilami and Spirou have again collided allowing the old firm to act out in shared stories again…

Blessed with a talent for mischief, the Marsupilami is a deviously adaptive anthropoid inhabiting the rain forests of Palombia and regarded as one of the rarest animals on Earth. It speaks a language uniquely its own and also has a reputation for causing trouble and instigating chaos. The species is rare and is fanatically dedicated to its young. Sometimes that takes the form of “tough love”…

Baby Prinz was released in 1989, fifth of 32 albums (not including all-Franquin short-story collection volume #0, AKA Capturez un Marsupilami): a canny fable on the dangers of power which opens in Palombian capital city Chiquito, where zookeepers examine an all but forgotten exhibit. This Marsupilami has been caged for decades – nobody knows quite how many – and seems to by dying. The event has deeply agitated all the other animals, and during the fuss a macaw escapes, heading straight for the dark heart of the dense rainforest…

Soon, it finds jungle-dwelling white kids Bip and Sarah, who have been raising themselves in the green hell – with a little oversight from the Marsupilami patriarch. The bird carries a desperate request: the zoo “Marsu” is willing himself to die but the macaw believes a quick intervention from a fresh, wild cousin might give his oldest friend a reason to go on…

The bird has it all figured out. There’s a festival looming and all Chiquito is gearing up for fancy dress larks as the nation celebrates the anniversary of the coup that first brought Papa Prinz to tyrannical power. He’s been dead for years now and his son Baby Prinz is in charge but has to publicly appear to give a speech. It’s a tradition.

Everyone is very excited. Baby Prinz is seldom seen after surviving 12 annual coup attempts and assassinations. His Papa managed 27 before finally being killed by revolutionaries, and the people know that when Baby ceremonially appears again, they can have another go at the little dictator. It’s also tradition…

As festivities escalate, secret police are everywhere: spying on gatherings of one or more people and anticipating trouble on every side. The oppressed and very drunk citizens carry on regardless, gleefully aware of the covert Seguridad cops’ big blunder. Each spy/thug wears exactly the same Marsupilami costume…so they can recognize each other in the crowds…

There is one snag, however. Spoiled, despotic fop Baby Prinz has reached his emotional limit. His nerve has gone. He cannot face making a balcony speech to the foul, unwashed rabble who are literally beneath him.. and probably all concealing a weapon to kill him with. He just wants to curl up in his sensory deprivation tank with his collection of plush animal toys, but his overbearing and bullying major domo/butler/father’s best friend won’t let him…

Just one appearance is enough. The crowds confirm that their tyrant is not a “real man” and their shouts convince the army (the usual suspects and beneficiaries of every Palombian revolution) pick sides and start the process all over again…

As his guardian leads Baby Prinz to safety through long-disused escape tunnels, the rioting people are briefly halted by the rumour of deadly mechanised secret weapons. These mobile landmines are also disguised as Marsupilamis, and the entire revolution is being screened live by television cameramen even more ferocious than the rioters…

All this time the jungle kids, macaw and true Marsupilami have been heading towards the largely abandoned zoo, where the keeper and his wife are drinking and viewing all the excitement from the comfort of his office. The former government employees’ position of safely distanced neutral observance vanishes as the Baby and his major domo exit the escape tunnel under the lion enclosure (formerly the far-safer sloth cage), leaving the big cats their own way out via the tunnel back to the palace.

Safely stashing the fed-up, brain-shocked dictator in another cage, his bad but loyal butler goes looking for hidden passports, unaware that his useless boss has piqued the waning attention of an astoundingly ancient inmate… particularly the froufrou designer handbag with all the designer recreational pharmaceuticals in it…

As latest opportunist Aquileo Zavatas declares himself the new boss, the jungle-based rescue party’s progress is briefly halted when rioters attempt to remove Marsupilami’s “disguise” and discover to their eternal regret that there are worse things in life than a cop in a monkey suit… especially after the furious furry (called by Polombians “El diablo”, and “La catástrofe amarilla”) is trapped inside a tank carrying live rounds and more than lives up to his hype…

Joined by his friends, they continues causing chaos in the streets, even as the old Marsu revives and proceeds to enact his new last wish: travelling to the fabled Marsupilami’s grave yard to end his days among his own kind. Typically, the leechlike Baby Prinz has attached himself to the old beast and the macaw and goes with them…

Ending with astute political comics commentary and a fantastic twist of fate, this tale is a superbly savvy comparison of duty, family values and the power of corruption, but don’t worry about all that because it’s also another masterfully madcap rollercoaster of hairsbreadth escapes, close shaves and sardonic character assassinations, packed to the whiskers with wit and hilarity.

These eccentric exploits of the garrulous golden monkeys are moodily macabre, furiously funny and pithily pertinent, offering engagingly riotous romps and devastating debacles for wide-eyed kids of every age all over the world. Fancy channelling your inner El diablo and joining in the fun? It all stars with Hoobee, Hoobah Hoobah…
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 1990 by Franquin, Yann & Batem. English translation © 2020 Cinebook Ltd.

Mickey All-Stars (The Disney Masters Collection)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

A1 – The World’s Greatest Comics 


By various (Atomeka/Titan Comics) 
ISBN: 987-1-78276-016-0 (HB) 

We were saddened to learn of the sudden death of Garry Leach on March 26th. An extremely talented artist best known for Illustrating Marvelman/Miracleman, Dan Dare, and The V.C.’s, he was also a dedicated mover and shaker behind the scenes; quietly helping many other creators on the way to their own fame and glory. Our condolences go out to his friends and family, and here’s a review of one his most important and significant ventures… 

A1 began in 1988 as an anthology showcase dedicated to comics creativity. Freed from the usual strictures of mainstream publishers, the project consequently attracted many of the world’s top writers and artists to produce work at once personal and experimental, comfortingly familiar and, on occasion, deucedly odd. 

Editors Garry Leach & Dave Elliott periodically returned to their baby and in 2013 the title and concept were resurrected under the aegis of Titan Comics to provide more of the same. 

Similarly committed to past excellence and future triumphs – and following the grandest tradition of British comics – this classic compendium offered the same eclectic mix of material old and new… 

After a colossal 2-page dedication/thank you to everyone from Frank Bellamy to Face Ache in ‘The Dream Days are Back: The One’s Especially For You…’ the cartoon carnival commences with a truly “Golden Oldie” as Joe Simon & Jack Kirby (and inked by Al Williamson) provide science fiction classic ‘Island in the Sky’ – which first surfaced in Harvey Comic’s Race for the Moon #2 September, 1958. Here an expired astronaut returns from death thanks to something he picked up on Jupiter… 

Each tale here is accompanied by fulsome creator biographies and linked by factual snippets about most artists’ “drug of choice”. These photographic examples of coffee barista self-expression (with all ‘Latte Art’ courtesy of Coffee Labs Roasters) are followed by illustrator Alex Sheikman & scripter Norman Felchle’s invitation to the baroque, terpsichorean delights of the ‘Odd Ball’. 

The fantastic gothic revisionism resumes after another coffee-break as the sublime Sandy Plunkett details in captivating monochrome the picaresque perils of life in a sprawling urban underworld with his ‘Tales of Old Fennario’. 

‘Odyssey: A Question of Priorities’ by Elliot, Toby Cypress & Sakti Yuwono is a thoroughly up-to-date interpretation of pastiche patriotic avenger Old Glory, who now prowls modern values-challenged America, regretting choices he’s made and the timbre of his current superhero comrades… 

‘Image Duplicator’ by Rian Hughes & Dave Gibbons is, for me, the most fascinating feature included here, detailing and displaying comics creator’s admirable responses to the appropriation and rapine of comic book images by “Pop” artist Roy Lichtenstein. 

In a move to belatedly honour the honest jobbing creators simultaneously ripped off and denigrated by the “recontextualisation” and transformation to High Art, Hughes & Gibbons approached a number of professionals from all sectors of the commercial arts and asked them to re-appropriate Lichtenstein’s efforts. 

The results were displayed in the exhibition Image Duplicator with all subsequent proceeds donated to the charity Hero Initiative which benefits comic creators who have fallen on hard times. 

In this feature are the results of the comic book fightback with contributions from Hughes, Gibbons, FuFu Frauenwahl, Carl Flint, Howard Chaykin, Salgood Sam, Mark Blamire, Steve Cook, Garry Leach, Dean Motter, Jason Atomic, David Leach, Shaky Kane, Mark Stafford, Graeme Ross, Kate Willaert & Mitch O’Connell. 

Master of all funnybook trades, Bambos Georgiou offers his 2011 tribute to DC’s splendidly silly Silver Age in the Curt Swan inspired ‘Weird’s Finest – Zuberman & Batguy in One Adventure Together!’ and Dominic Regan crafts a stunning Technicolor tornado of intriguing illumination as Doctor Arachnid has to deal with cyber Psychedelia and a divinely outraged ‘Little Star’… 

Bill Sienkiewicz’s ‘Emily Almost’  first appeared in the original A1 #4; a bleak paean to rejection seen here in muted moody colour, after which Scott Hampton revisits the biblical tale of ‘Daniel’ and Jim Steranko re-presents his groundbreaking, experimental multi-approach silent story ‘Frogs!’ before following up with ‘Steranko: Frogs!’ – his own treatise on the history and intent behind creating the piece 40 years ago… 

‘Boston Metaphysical Society’ is a prose vignette of mystic Steampunk Victoriana written by Madeleine Holly-Rosing from her webcomic, ably illustrated by Emily Hu, whilst ‘Mr. Monster’ by Alan Moore & Michael T. Gilbert (with inks from Bill Messner-Loebs) is a reprint of ‘The Riddle of the Recalcitrant Refuse!’ first found in #3 (1985) of the horror hunter’s own series. It recounts how a dead bag-lady turns the city upside out when her mania for sorting junk transcends both death and our hero’s best efforts… 

‘The Weirding Willows: Origins of Evil’ by Elliot, Barnaby Bagenda & Jessica Kholinne is one of the fantasy features from the later A1 iteration – a dark reinterpretation of beloved childhood characters like Alice, Ratty, Toad and Mole, which fans of Bill Willingham’s Fables should certainly appreciate… 

‘Devil’s Whisper’ by James Robinson & D’Israeli also came from A1 #4, and features Matt Wagner’s signature creation Grendel …or does it? 

Stechgnotic then waxes lyrical about Barista art in ‘The Artful Latte’ after which ‘Melting Pot – In the Beginning’ by Kevin Eastman, Eric Talbot & Simon Bisley ends the affair; revisiting the ghastly hellworld where the gods spawned an ultimate survivor through the judicious and repeated application of outrageous bloody violence. 

Of course it’s a trifle arrogant and rather daft to claim any collection as “The World’s Greatest Comics” and – to be honest – these weren’t. There’s no such thing and never can be… 

However, this absorbing, inspiring oversized collection does contain plenty of extremely good, wonderfully entertaining material by some of the best and most individualistic creators to have graced our art form. 

What more can you possibly need? 
A1 Annual © 2013 Atomeka Press, all contents copyright their respective creators. ATOMEKA © 2013 Dave Elliott & Garry Leach.