Showcase Presents DC Comics Presents Superman Team-Ups volume 1

By Martin Pasko, Dave Michelinie, Len Wein, Paul Levitz, Cary Bates, Steve Englehart, Denny O’Neil, Gerry Conway, Mike W. Barr, Jim Starlin, Marv Wolfman, José Luis García-López, Murphy Anderson, Curt Swan, Dick Dillin, Joe Staton, Rich Buckler & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2535-3

As I’ve been inundating you with Superman stuff in this Anniversary year and celebrating the graphic literary device of team-ups this week, how could I let this superb collection go unremarked, especially as so much of the material remans inaccessible in more modern, full-colour compilations? Comics fans are all completists at heart, and until new editions or digital equivalents are released this is as good at it gets…

From the moment a kid first sees his second superhero the only thing he/she wants is to see how the new gaudy gladiator stacks up against the first. From the earliest days of the comics industry (and according to DC Comics Presents editor Julie Schwartz it was the same with the pulps and dime novels that preceded it) we’ve wanted our idols to meet, associate, battle together – and if you follow the Timely/Marvel model, that means against each other – far more than we want to see them trounce their archenemies in a united front…

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with less well-selling company characters – was far from new when DC awarded their then-biggest gun (it was the publicity-drenched weeks before the release of Superman: The Movie and Tim Burton’s Batman was over a decade away) a regular arena to have adventures with other stars of their firmament, just as Batman had been doing since the middle of the 1960s in The Brave and the Bold.

In truth, the Action Ace had already enjoyed the serial sharing experience once before, when World’s Finest Comics briefly ejected the Caped Crusader and Superman battled beside a coterie of heroes including Flash, Robin, Teen Titans, Vigilante, Dr. Fate and others (issues #198-214; November 1970 to October/November 1972) before the proper status quo was re-established.

This superbly economical monochrome collection re-presents the first 26 issues of the star-studded monthly and opens the show with a two-part thriller featuring Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash who had also been Superman’s first co-star in that aforementioned World’s Finest Comics run.

‘Chase to the End of Time!’ and ‘Race to the End of Time!’ featured in DC Comics Presents #1 and 2 (July-August and September-October 1978), as scripter Marty Pasko and the utterly astounding José Luis García-López (inked by Dan Adkins) rather reprised that WF tale. Here warring alien races trick both heroes into speeding relentlessly through the time-stream to prevent Earth’s history from being corrupted and destroyed.

As if that wasn’t dangerous enough, nobody could predict the deadly intervention of the Scarlet Speedster’s most dangerous foe, Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash

David Michelinie wrote a tantalising pastiche of classic Adam Strange Mystery in Space thrillers for García-López to draw and ink in ‘The Riddle of Little Earth Lost’ wherein the Man of Two Worlds and Man of Tomorrow foil the diabolical cosmic catastrophe scheme of a deranged genius to transpose, subjugate and/or destroy Earth and light-years distant planet Rann.

Len Wein came aboard to script the superb ‘Sun-Stroke!’ wherein the Man of Steel and the madly-malleable Metal Men join forces to thwart solar-fuelled genius I.Q. and toxic elemental menace Chemo after an ill-considered plan to enhance Earth’s solar radiation exposure provokes a cataclysmic solar-flare.

Sea King Aquaman is embroiled in ‘The War of the Undersea Cities’ (by Wein, Paul Levitz & Murphy Anderson) when his subjects re-open ancient hostilities with the mer-folk of undersea neighbour Tritonis, home of Superman’s old college girlfriend Lori Lemaris. Fortunately, cooler heads prevail when the deadly Ocean Master is revealed to be meddling in their sub-sea politics, after which ‘The Fantastic Fall of Green Lantern’ (Levitz, Curt Swan & Francisco Chiaramonte) sees the Man of Steel inherit the awesome power ring after Hal Jordan falls in battle against Star Sapphire.

Although triumphant against his female foe, Superman is subsequently ambushed by anti-matter warriors from Qward leading to ‘The Paralyzed Planet Peril!’ (#7, Levitz, Dick Dillin & Chiaramonte) wherein those aliens try to colonise Earth until the robotic Red Tornado swirls in to the rescue.

‘The Sixty Deaths of Solomon Grundy’ by Steve Englehart & Murphy Anderson co-stars Swamp Thing (at a time when the bog-beast still believed he was a transformed human and not an enhanced plant) searching the sewers of Metropolis for a cure to his condition, only to stumble onto a battle between the Man of Steel and the mystic zombie who was “born on a Monday”…

Marty Pasko returns to script the Joe Staton & Jack Abel illustrated ‘Invasion of the Ice People!’ wherein Wonder Woman assists in repelling an attack by malign disembodied intellects before another 2-part tale commences with ‘The Miracle Man of Easy Company’ (Cary Bates, Staton & Abel)…

Here a super-bomb blasts Superman back to World War II and a momentous meeting with indomitable everyman soldier Sgt. Rock, before the Caped Kryptonian returns home to battle a brainwashed and power-amplified Hawkman in ‘Murder by Starlight!’ (Bates, Staton & Chiaramonte).

DCCP #12 offered a duel between the Action Ace and New God Mister Miracle in ‘Winner Take Metropolis’ by Englehart, Richard Buckler & Dick Giordano before Levitz scripts an ambitious continued epic that begins with ‘To Live in Peace… Nevermore!’ (art from Dillin & Giordano), wherein the Legion of Super-Heroes prevent Superman saving a little boy from alien abduction to preserve the integrity of the time-line. It didn’t help that the lad was Jon Ross, son of Clark Kent’s oldest friend and most trusted confidante…

Driven mad by loss, Pete Ross risks the destruction of reality itself by enlisting the aid of Superboy to battle his older self in ‘Judge, Jury… and No Justice!’ (Levitz, Dillin & Giordano), after which the Man of Steel helps scientist-hero Ray Palmer regain his size-changing powers in ‘The Plight of the Giant Atom!’ (Bates, Staton & Chiaramonte).

Issue #16 finds Superman and Black Lightning battling a heartsick alien trapped on Earth foe millennia in ‘The De-volver!’ (Denny O’Neil, Staton & Chiaramonte) after which Gerry Conway, García-López & Steve Mitchell herald the return of Firestorm in ‘The Ice Slaves of Killer Frost!’: a bombastic, saves-the-day epic which brought the Nuclear Man back into the active DC pantheon after a long hiatus.

Zatanna co-stars in the Conway, Dillin & Chiaramonte rollercoaster ride ‘The Night it Rained Magic!’; Batgirl helps solve the eerie mystery ‘Who Haunts This House?’ (O’Neil, Staton & Chiaramonte) and Green Arrow steals the show as always in the gripping, big-business-busting eco-thriller ‘Inferno from the Sky!’ by O’Neil, García-López & Joe Giella.

DCCP #21 depicts the eclectic and eccentric detective Elongated Man as patient zero in ‘The Alien Epidemic’: a tense medical mystery by Conway, Staton & Chiaramonte, after which Mike W. Barr provides an effective science fiction doom-tale co-starring Captain Comet as the future-man endures ‘The Plight of the Human Comet!’ (art by Dillin & Frank McLaughlin).

‘The Curse Out of Time!’ (#23, O’Neil, Staton & Vince Colletta) affects two separate Earths, compelling Superman and Doctor Fate to defeat imps and ghosts before normality can be restored and the supernatural theme continues in a magnificent team-up with Deadman in #24 wherein Wein & García-López revealed the tragic and chilling story of ‘The Man Who Was the World!’

The long unresolved fate of Jon Ross is happily concluded in the cunning and redemptive ‘Judgement Night’ with the enigmatic Phantom Stranger finagling and overcoming an insoluble, intolerable situation with Superman, courtesy of Levitz, Dillin & McLaughlin.

This stellar collection concludes with a spectacular return engagement for Green Lantern as Emerald Crusader and Man of Tomorrow battle each other and a trans-dimensional shape-shifter in ‘Between Friend and Foe!’; plotted and pencilled by Jim Starlin, scripted by Marv Wolfman and inked by Steve Mitchell.

These short, pithy adventures act as a perfect shop window for DC’s fascinating catalogue of characters and creators; delivering a breadth and variety of self-contained, exciting and satisfying entertainments ranging from the merely excellent all the way to utterly unmissable. This book is the perfect introduction to the DC Universe for every kid of any age and a delightful slice of the ideal Costumed Dramas of a simpler, more inviting time…
© 1978, 1979, 1980, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Team-Ups of the Brave and the Bold

By J. Michael Straczynski, Jesús Saíz, Chad Hardin, Justiniano, Cliff Chiang & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2793-7 (HB)                :978-1-4012-2809-5 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955; an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales starring a variety of period heroes and a format mirroring and cashing in on that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas.

Devised and written by Robert Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was replaced by National Periodicals/DC Comic’s iteration of Robin Hood, but the high adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning superhero revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like the astounding successful Showcase.

Used to launch enterprising concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Strange Sports Stories, Hawkman and the epochal Justice League of America, the title then evolved to create a whole sub-genre – although barely anybody noticed at the time…

That was Superhero Team-Ups.

For almost a decade DC had enjoyed great success pairing Superman with Batman and Robin in World’s Finest Comics and in 1963 sought to create another top-selling combo from their growing pantheon of masked mystery men. It didn’t hurt that the timing also allowed extra exposure for characters imminently graduating to their own starring vehicles after years as back-up features…

This was during a period when almost no costumed heroes acknowledged the jurisdiction or (usually) existence of other costumed champions. When B&B offered this succession of team-ups, they were laying the foundations for DC’s future close-knit comics continuity. Now there’s something wrong with any superstar who doesn’t regularly join every other cape or mask on-planet every five minutes or so…

That short-lived experiment eventually calcified as “Batman and…” but for a while readers were treated to some truly inspired pairings such as Metal Men and Metamorpho, Flash and The Spectre or Supergirl and Wonder Woman.

The editors even achieved their aim after Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad remained together after their initial foray and expanded into the Teen Titans

That theme of heroes united together for a specific time and purpose was revived in 2007 for the third volume of The Brave and the Bold, resulting in many exceedingly fine modern Fights ‘n’ Tights classics, and this compilation – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – collects issues #27-33 (November 2009 – June 2010): the first seven issues scripted by TV and comics star scribe J. Michael Straczynski.

The run of easily accessible, stand-alone tales delved into some of the strangest nooks and crannies of the DCU and opens here with ‘Death of a Hero’, illustrated by Jesús Saíz wherein teenager Robby Reed visits Gotham City and soon decides to help out a Batman sorely pressed by the machinations of The Joker

The child prodigy had his own series in the 1960s as a kid who found a strange rotary device dotted with alien hieroglyphics that could temporarily transform him into a veritable army of super-beings when he dialled the English equivalents of H, E, R and O…

Here, however, after the lad dials up futuristic clairvoyant Mental Man, the visions he experiences force him to quit immediately and take to his bed…

He even forgets the Dial when he leaves, but it is soon picked up by down-&-out Travers Milton who also falls under its influence and is soon saving lives and battling beside the Dark Knight as The Star

What follows is a meteoric and tragic tale of a rise and fall…

Again limned by Saíz, B&B #28 takes us a wild trip to the ‘Firing Line’ as the Flash (Barry Allen) falls foul of a scientific experiment and winds up stranded in the middle of World War II. Injured and unable to properly use his powers, the diminished speedster is taken under the wing of legendary paramilitary aviator squadron The Blackhawks, but finds himself torn when his scruples against taking life crash into the hellish cauldron of the Battle of Bastogne and his martial love for his new comrades in arms…

Brother Power, The Geek was short-lived experimental title developed by the legendary Joe Simon at the height of the hippy-dippy 1960s (of just last week if you’re a baby booming duffer like me). He was a tailor’s mannequin mysteriously brought to life through extraordinary circumstances, just seeking his place in the world: a bizarre commentator and ultimate outsider philosophising on a world he could not understand.

That cerebral angst is tapped in ‘Lost Stories of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’ as the elemental outcast crawls out of wreckage in Gotham City and clashes with Batman as they both strive to save homeless people from authoritarian brutality and greedy arsonists. Like the times it references, this story is one you have to experience rather than read about…

Straczynski & Saíz then play fast and loose with time travel in ‘The Green and the Gold’ as mystic Lord of Order Doctor Fate is helped through an emotional rough patch by Green Lantern Hal Jordan. As a result of that unnecessary kindness the mage gets to return the favour long after his own demise at the moment the Emerald Warrior most needs a helping hand…

Illustrated by Chad Hardin & Walden Wong and Justiniano, The Brave and the Bold #31 describes the ‘Small Problems’ encountered by The Atom after Ray Palmer is asked to shrink into the synapse-disrupted brain of The Joker and perform life-saving surgery. Despite his better judgement the physicist eventually agrees, but nobody could have predicted that he would be assimilated into the maniac’s memories and be forced to relive the Killer Clown’s life…

Straczynski & Saíz reunite as sea king Aquaman and hellish warrior Etrigan the Demon combine forces in a long-standing pact to thwart a revolting Cthonic invasion of ‘Night Gods’ from a hole in bottom of the ocean before this mesmerising tome concludes with a bittersweet ‘Ladies Night’ from times recently passed, illustrated by Cliff Chiang.

When sorceress Zatanna experiences a shocking dream, she contacts Wonder Woman and Batgirl Barbara Gordon, and insists that they should join her on an evening of hedonistic excess and sisterly sharing. Only Babs is left out of one moment of revelation: what Zatanna foresaw would inescapably occur to her the next day at the hands of the Joker…

Smart, moving and potently engaging, these heroic alliances are a true treat for fans of more sophisticated costumed capers, and skilfully prepared in such a way that no great knowledge of backstory is required. Team-ups are all about finding new readers and this terrific tome is a splendid example of the trick done right…
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Super-Villains Unite: The Complete Super-Villain Team-Up

By Roy Thomas, Larry Lieber, Tony Isabella, Jim Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Peter Gillis, John Buscema, George Tuska, Bill Everett, George Evans, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, Keith Giffen, George Pérez, Bob Hall, Carmine Infantino, Arvell Jones & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9406-4

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner was the second super-star of the Timely Age of Comics – but only because he followed the cover-featured Human Torch in the running order of Marvel Mystery Comics #1 in 1939. He has had, however, the most impressive longevity of the company’s “Big Three”: Torch, Subby and Captain America…

The Marine Marvel was revived in 1962 in Fantastic Four#4; once again an anti-hero/noble villain, prominent in the company’s pantheon ever since.

The following FF issue introduced the first great villain of the Silver Age in the form of technologically armoured dark knight Doctor Doom, who shares star-billing in this eclectic yet excellent trade paperback and eBook compilation of dastardly double-dealings encompassing Giant-Sized Super-Villain Team-Up #1-2, Super-Villain Team-Up #1-14, 16-17, as well as pertinent crossover appearances from Avengers #154-156 and Champions #16 and spanning March 1975 – May 1980.

Incidentally, Fantastic Four #6 featured the first Super-Villain Team-Up of the Marvel Age as Doom and Namor joined forces as ‘The Deadly Duo’: an epic regrettably omitted from this collection.

The Master of Latveria inevitably betrayed and tried to kill the Prince of Atlantis in that tale: an event which colours the relationship of the characters to this day…

So popular was the metal-shod maniac that during Marvel’s first big expansion, he helmed his own solo-series in Astonishing Tales #1-10. That feature vanished with no warning and Doom returned to his status as premier antagonist in the Fantastic Four and elsewhere until Giant-Sized Super-Villain Team-Up #1 was released (cover-dated March 1975); once more bathing the Deadly Despot in a starring spotlight.

In the intervening years the Sub-Mariner had also lost his own series, despite some very radical and attention-grabbing stunts. A nerve-gas dumping accident perpetrated by surface dwellers had catastrophically altered his hybrid body, forcing him to wear a hydrating-suit to breathe. The same toxin had plunged the entire nation of Atlantis into a perpetual coma…

For this new venture, Prince Namor – alone and pushed to the brink of desperation – rescues Doom from a deadly plunge to Earth after the Iron Dictator’s latest defeat (at the hands of the FF and Silver Surfer) in an impressive and effective framing sequence bracketing two classic reprint tales.

‘Encounter at Land’s End!’ (by Roy Thomas, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott) finds Doom plucked from the sea and the edge of death by a Sub-Mariner in dire need of scientific wizardry to cure his somnolent race. As such, he is prepared to offer an alliance against all mankind to get it…

Painfully aware of their unhappy past history, the outlaws recall a previous encounter (from Sub-Mariner #20 by Thomas, Buscema & Johnny Craig). ‘In the Darkness Dwells Doom!’ recounts how a fugitive Atlantean monarch was offered sanctuary in New York’s Latverian embassy before inevitably being blackmailed and betrayed (again) by the Devil Doctor…

Back in the present, initially reluctant Doom reconsiders the partnership deal after recalling a past battle against the diabolical Diablo…

‘This Man… This Demon!’ (Larry Lieber, Thomas, Frank Giacoia & Vince Colletta) was a solo try-out from Marvel Super-Heroes #20 in 1969, which restated the Doctor’s origins and revealed his tragic, doomed relationship with a gypsy girl named Valeria. That relationship was than exploited by demon alchemist Diablo who claimed he need an ally but instead wanted a new slave. Doom dealt with the charlatan in typically effective style…

The regal debate descends into another cataclysmic clash of egos and raw destructive power with both parties more bitterly opposed than ever, but the follow-up ‘To Bestride the World!’ (Thomas, Mike Sekowsky & Sam Grainger) in the all-original Giant-Sized Super-Villain Team-Up #2 (June 1975), sees Doom compelled to change his mind after his own android army rebels when the tyrant’s long-lost Doomsman (in its new guise of Andro) returns and co-opted them for a war against all organic life.

As a result of blistering battle and extensive carnage-wreaking, Namor and Doom triumph together and part as uneasy allies, only to regroup in the pages of Super-Villain Team-Up #1 (August 1975) in a chaotic ongoing series that began with ‘Slayers from the Sea!’ by Tony Isabella, George Tuska, Bill Everett & Fred Kida.

Doom actually contemplates treating an ally as an equal in the opening chapter ‘An Alliance Asunder?’, whilst in the second part ‘Frenzy on a Floating Fortress’ (illustrated by George Evans & Frank Springer) Namor is ambushed by old foes Attuma, Dr. Dorcas and Tiger Shark

This compels Doom to rush to his rescue in #2 as ‘In the Midst of Life…!’ (with art from Sal Buscema & Kida), the Sub-Mariner’s truest friend is murdered by his assembled enemies, leading to a brutal climax in ‘If Vengeance Fails!’ by Jim Shooter, Evans & Jack Abel.

Super-Villain Team-Up was an intriguing concept cursed with a revolving-door creative team crisis: nobody seemed able to stay with the series for more than a couple of issues. Somehow, the standards remained high but with no long-term planning the plots and characterisation jumped all over the place.

Bill Mantlo, Herb Trimpe & Jim Mooney produced ‘A Time of Titans!’ in #4 as Doom and Sub-Mariner battle each other and encountered a prototype Deathlok the Demolisher before splitting up yet again, after which Steve Englehart stepped in for ‘…And Be a Villain!’ (illustrated by Trimpe & Don Perlin).

Here the Lord of Latveria artificially exacerbates Namor’s breathing affliction and threatens to annihilate dormant Atlantis. Despite all the efforts of the Fantastic Four, Sub-Mariner is forced to swear fealty to Doom or see his people and himself perish forever…

This tumultuous issue also introduced mystic Batman knock-off the Shroud whose avowed mission was to free the world from the curse of Doom at any and all costs…

Jack Abel inked ‘Prisoner!’ in #6 as the FF invade Latveria to rescue the oath-bound Sub-Mariner, only to be sent packing by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who has just signed a non-aggression pact with Doom.

Another American observed no such legal or diplomatic niceties in ‘Who is… The Shroud?’ (Pablo Marcos inks) and, after revealing his origins to Namor, the Master of Darkness frees him from his vow by executing Dr. Doom.

As Shroud and Namor flee for the border chaos breaks out in Latveria, but in actuality Doom was not dead. Rescued and imprisoned by Namor’s cousin Namorita and girlfriend Tamara in ‘Escape!’ (illustrated by Keith Giffen & Owen McCarron) he bides his time, exploiting their misguided apprehension that they can make the Metal-shod Monarch help Atlantis and their Prince.

The international crisis escalates as it segued into an ongoing Avengers storyline, beginning ‘When Strikes Attuma?’ (Avengers #154 by Conway, George Perez & Marcos) as the Sub-sea slayer enslaves the World’s Mightiest Heroes and commands them to kill Namor…

The saga continued in Super-Villain Team-Up #9 (scripted by Mantlo, drawn by Jim Shooter & Sal Trapani) as the ‘Pawns of Attuma!’ attack, only to discover Doom in charge and easily able to thwart their half-hearted assault.

In Avengers #155 the beaten heroes are helpless captives, leaving only the confused, battle-crazed Namor and a substitute team comprising The Beast and aging WWII speedster The Whizzer to hunt down the barbarian sea lord, before the epic conclusion ‘The Private War of Doctor Doom!’ (#156, written by Shooter, drawn by Sal Buscema & Marcos) wherein the liberated and resurgent heroes unite to crush Attuma and prevent Doom from turning the situation to his own world-conquering advantage…

Meanwhile, behind the scenes in Latveria, Shroud has installed former ruler Prince Rudolfo as a faux Doctor Doom, but things go wrong very quickly in Super-Villain Team-Up #10 (Mantlo, Bob Hall & Perlin) when Captain America investigates ‘The Sign of the Skull!’

In the Latverian Embassy, the genuine despot learns from the Star-Spangled Avenger that Nazi overlord The Red Skull has once more invaded Doom’s homeland, even as the Sub-Mariner discovers greedy surface-men pillaging his comatose city of Atlantis.

As Doom and Captain America carve their way through Latveria’s formidable defences, the Skull proceeds in establishing his Fourth Reich, easily defeating the Shroud in ‘My Ally, My Enemy’ but when Namor rages in, tracking the ravagers of Atlantis to Doom’s castle, the tables are finally turned and the Iron Dictator swears to finally cure the Atlanteans in return for the Sub-Mariner’s aid against the Nazi invaders.

Firstly though, the Skull plans to enslave the Earth with a hypno-ray and must be crushed in ‘Death Duel!’, with the Iron Doctor pursuing the Fascist mastermind to his hidden moonbase, casually sacrificing the Shroud in the process…

Finally fulfilling his oath, Doom resurrects the comatose Atlanteans in SVTU #13, but only after a blistering sub-sea battle with amphibian arch-nemesis Krang and a Brobdingnagian sea beast in ‘When Walks the Warlord!’ (by Mantlo, Giffen & Perlin).

With Atlantis and Namor restored, a new era begins and ends with Super-Villain Team-Up #14 (October 1977).

‘A World for the Winning!’, by Mantlo, Hall, Perlin & Duffy Vohland, opens with mutant villain Magneto tricked into a duel with Doom who was at that moment de facto master of the world since he had seeded the planet’s atmosphere with a mind-control gas.

Ever the sportsman, the Lord of Latveria releases Magneto from his control, allowing him to liberate one other thrall and challenging them both to save the world from his ultimate dominance…

It was the troubled title’s last issue and the story concluded in Champions #16 (November 1977) as the Master of Magnetism and the Beast spectacularly overcome all odds and save the day in ‘A World Lost!’ (Mantlo, Hall & Mike Esposito).

A year later Super-Villain Team-Up #15 appeared from nowhere (dated November 1978 and presumably released to safeguard the copyright) with a reprint of the Red Skull story from Astonishing Tales #4-5. You’ll need to look elsewhere to see that yarn.

‘Shall I Call Thee Master?’ by Peter Gillis, Carmine Infantino & Bruce Patterson, was released a year after that (#16, May 1979, with one final issue 12 months after that) wherein the Red Skull, Hatemonger and radical geneticist Arnim Zola while away the days in a human atrocity lab conducting experiments on a camp full of human slaves.

This is a dark exploration of monstrous inhumanity where torture and degradation are simply a way of passing the time until the leftover Fascists can build a new Cosmic Cube and reshape all reality to their twisted whims…

In this instance they are thwarted by merely mortal secret agents in the long delayed but savagely effective conclusion ‘Dark Victory!’ (Gillis, Arvell Jones & Patterson), after which the concept and title were shelved for decades.

This eccentric and thoroughly fan-only compendium includes a full cover gallery by Ron Wilson, Gil Kane, Ed Hannigan, Rich Buckler, Jim Starlin, Marie Severin, Jack Kirby, Dave Cockrum, Giffen, John Byrne, Hall, Al Milgrom & Keith Pollard plus Roy Thomas’ editorial text feature ‘The Road to Land’s End’.

For all its flaws Super-Villain Team-Up was a bold experiment and a genuinely enjoyable dalliance with the different during the 1970s – as long as the reader had a solid knowledge of the company’s complex continuity. I truly wish more people would sample the delights of this offbeat saga, but I doubt any new reader could cope with the terrifying torrent of unexplained backstory.

Still, I’d be delighted if you prove me wrong…
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons

By Bob Haney & Dick Dillin, Dennis O’Neil, John Calnan, Ernie Chan, Rich Buckler, Kieron Dwyer & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6968-5

Are you old enough to yearn for simpler times?

The brilliant expediency of the 52 Parallel Earths concept lends the daftest tale from DC’s back catalogue credibility and contemporary resonance since there’s now a chance that even the hippest and most happening of the modern pantheon can visit/interact with the most outrageous world or concept in DC’s long history. It doesn’t hurt either that following DC’s Rebirth reboot the actual sons of the Dark Knight and Man of Tomorrow are now part of the established – and “real” – DC Universe.

Thus, this collection (available in trade paperback and eBook editions) of well-told “imaginary” tales from the 1970s (January 1972-December 1976), supplemented by a few episodes from more self-conscious times, can be re-released with a clear continuity-conscience without even the most strident fan complaining.

Written by Bob Haney and drawn by Dick Dillin, the Super-Sons appeared with no preamble fanfare in World’s Finest Comics #215, 1972; a bad time for superhero comics, but a great era for teen rebels. Those free-wheeling, easy-rider, end of the flower-power days saw a huge focus on “teen consciousness” and the “Generation Gap” was a phrase on many lips.

The editors clearly saw a way to make arch-establishment characters instantly pertinent and relevant and – being mercifully oblivious to the constraints of continuity (and some would say logic) – simply generated tales of the maverick sons of the World’s Finest heroes out of whole cloth.

And well-constructed, well told tales they are. In debut outing ‘Saga of the Super Sons!’ (inked by Henry Scarpelli) the young warriors run away from home – on the inevitable motorcycle, natch! – and encounter a scurrilous gang-lord.

But worry not, the paternalistic parents are keeping a wary eye on the lads! Speaking as someone who was the target market for this experiment, I can admit that the parental overview grated then and still does, but as there were so many sequels somebody must have liked it.

‘Little Town with a Big Secret!’ appeared in the very next issue: another low key human interest tale, but with a science-fiction twist and the superb inking of Murphy Anderson complimenting Haney & Dillin’s murder-mystery yarn.

Crafted by the same team, WF # 221 featured ‘Cry Not for My Forsaken Son!’ which showed a troubled runaway boy the difference between merit and worth, and the value of a father as opposed to a biological parent, whilst in #222 ‘Evil in Paradise’ (inked by Vince Colletta) the young heroes voyaged to an undiscovered Eden to resolve the ancient question of whether Man is intrinsically Good or Evil.

‘The Shocking Switch of the Super-Sons’ (WF #224, and also inked by Colletta) carried teen rebellion to its most logical conclusion as a psychologist convinces the boys to temporarily trade fathers whereas ‘Crown for a New Batman!’ provides a radical change of pace as Bruce Wayne Jr. inherits the Mantle and the Mission after his father is murdered!

Never fear, all is not as it seems, fans! This thriller – guest starring Robin – first appeared in WF #228, and was inked by Tex Blaisdell, who then inked Curt Swan, on the more traditional Lost Civilisation yarn ‘The Girl Whom Time Forgot’ in WF#230.

The Relevancy Era was well over by the time Haney, Dillin & Blaisdell crafted ‘Hero is a Dirty Name’ (WF #231), wherein the Sons are forced to question the motivation for heroism, in a thriller also featuring Green Arrow and The Flash.

In #233’s ‘World Without Men ‘(inked by John Calnan) the ever-questioning rambling Super-Sons tackle sexual equality issues and unravel a crazy plot to supplant human males, after which ‘The Angel with a Dirty Name’ (by the same team in WF #238) offers a super-villains ‘n’ monsters slug-fest indistinguishable from any other super tale, before the original series ends with WF #242’s ‘Town of the Timeless Killers’ – illustrated by Ernie Chua (nee Chan) & Calnan – wherein the kids are trapped in a haunted ghost town and stalked by immortal gunslingers; an ignominious close to a bold experiment.

Four years later the boys popped back for a momentary revival in ‘Final Secret of the Super-Sons’ (Denny O’Neil, Rich Buckler & Dick Giordano in WF #263, 1980) where it was shockingly revealed that they were no more than a simulation running on Superman’s giant Computer. In a grim indication of how much of a chokehold shared continuity had grown into, they then escaped into “reality” anyway to wreak havoc in a manner the Matrix movies would be proud of…

The collection concludes with a short tale by Haney & Kieron Dwyer that appeared in Elseworlds 80-Page Giant in 1999. ‘Superman Jr. is No More!’ is a charming and fitting conclusion to this odd, charming and idiosyncratic mini-saga, embracing the original conceit as it posits what wold happen if the Man of Steel died and his boy was forced to take over too soon…

Supplemented with a full cover gallery by Nick Cardy, Chan, Calnan, Dick Giordano, Ross Andru & Ty Templeton, these classic adventures are packed with potency and wit. If you’ve an open mind and refined sense of fun, why not take a look at a few gems (and one or two duds) from an era where everybody read comics and nobody took them too seriously?
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1999, 2017 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Marvel Team Up Marvel Masterworks volume 1

By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Jim Mooney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4210-2 (HB)

Inspiration isn’t everything. In fact, as Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in the wake of losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators, they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties.

The only real exception to this was the assembly line creation of horror and horror-hero titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with less well-selling company characters – was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of this new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch.

In those long-lost days editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since superheroes were actually in a decline they may well have been right.

Marvel Team-Up was the second regular Spider-Man title (abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the magazine market in 1968 but had died after two issues). MTU launched at the end of 1971 and went from strength to strength, proving the time had finally come for expansion and a concentration on uncomplicated action over sub-plots…

This engaging hardback and/or eBook compilation gathers the first 11 issues – covering March 1972 to July 1973 – and opens with scripter Gerry Conway’s engaging recollections in ‘Behold: An Introduction’ before the comicbook magic commences with the webspinner and his flighty flaming frenemy reluctantly spending the holidays together…

Marvel Team-Up #1was crafted by Roy Thomas, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito as a mutual old enemy reared his gritty head in the charming ‘Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas!’. A light-heated romp full of Christmas cheer, rambunctious action and seasonal sentiment, the story set the tone for all epics to follow.

Merry Marvelite Maximii can award themselves a point for remembering which martial arts and TV heroine debuted in this issue but the folk with lives can simply take my word that it was Iron Fist’s sometime squeeze Misty Knight

Gerry Conway assumed the writer’s role and Jim Mooney the inker’s for ‘And Spidey Makes Four!’ in the succeeding issue as our heroes then take on and trounce the Frightful Four and Negative Zone bogeyman Annihilus before seemingly without pause going after Morbius the Living Vampire in #3’s ‘The Power to Purge!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia).

The new horror-star was still acting the villain in MTU #4 as the Torch was replaced by most of Marvel’s sole mutant team (The Beast having gone all hairy – and solo) in ‘And Then… the X-Men!’

This bold and enthralling thriller was illustrated by the magnificent Gil Kane at the top of his form and inked by Steve Mitchell. Kane became a semi-regular penciller, and his dynamic style and extreme anatomy lifted many rather pedestrian tales such as #5’s ‘A Passion of the Mind!’ (Conway script & Esposito inks), pitting Spidey and The Vision against manipulative mesmeric Puppet Master and robotic assassin the Monstroid.

The villain carried over to the next issue and was joined by the Mad Thinker ‘…As Those Who Will Not See!’ pitted the wallcrawler and the Thing against the cerebral scoundrels in a cataclysmic battle no Fights ‘n’ Tights fan could be unmoved by…

‘A Hitch in Time!’ in #7 was produced by Conway, Andru and Mooney: guest-starring Thor as otherworldly Trolls freeze Earth’s time-line as a prerequisite step to conquering Asgard, after which MTU #8 provides a perfect example of the team-up comic’s other function – to promote and popularise new characters.

‘Man-Killer Moves at Midnight!’ was most fans’ first exposure to The Cat (later retooled as Tigra the Were-Woman) in a painfully worthy if ham-fisted attempt to address feminist issues from Conway and Jim Mooney. The hard-pressed heroes joined forces her to stop a male-hunting murderer paying back abusive men. These days we’d probably be rooting for her…

Iron Man then collaborated in the opening foray of 3-part tale ‘The Tomorrow War!’ (Conway, Andru & Frank Bolle) as he and Spidey are kidnapped by Zarkko the Tomorrow Man to battle Kang the Conqueror. The Torch returned to help deal with the intermediate threat of ‘Time Bomb!’ (with art by Mooney & Giacoia) before the entire race of Black Bolt’s Inhumans pile in to help Spidey stop history unravelling in culminatory clash ‘The Doomsday Gambit!’ – this last chapter scripted by Len Wein over Conway’s plot for Mooney & Esposito to illustrate.

This initial gathering also includes two splendid samples of Kane original art – a cover and interior page.

These stories are of variable quality but nonetheless all show an honest drive to entertain and please whilst artistically the work is superb, and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about. Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers, there’s lots of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so surely that’s reason enough to add this titanic tome to your library…
© 1972, 1973, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 9

By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia, Herb Trimpe, Sam Grainger & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3501-2

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket paid off big-time; even when all Marvel’s all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man were absent, it merely allowed the lesser lights of the team to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars regularly featured due to a rotating, open door policy which meant that most issues included somebody’s fave-rave. The increasingly bold and impressively ambitious stories and artwork were no hindrance either.

This sturdy hardcover and eBook compilation gathers the astounding contents of Avengers issues #80-88 and a cosmic crossover from Incredible Hulk #140 spanning September 1970-June 1971): evocative, socially-informed tales which confirmed Roy Thomas as a major creative force in comics whilst simultaneously consolidating John Buscema’s status as the foremost artist of Marvel’s second generation.

Following another candid reminiscence from Thomas – unravelling the behind-the-scenes secrets of the Dawning Marvel Age in his Introduction – this epochal tome opens with the debut of the company’s first Native American costumed hero in ‘The Coming of Red Wolf!’ (Thomas, John B & Tom Palmer) as the Avengers are drawn into a highly personal and decidedly brutal clash between ruthless entrepreneur Cornelius Van Lunt and a tribe of Indians he is defrauding and persecuting.

The dramatic dilemma (heralding the team’s entry into the era of “Relevant”, socially conscious tales) divides the team and concludes with Vision, Scarlet Witch and Goliath aiding Red Wolf in concluding episode ‘When Dies A Legend!’, whilst the remaining team pursues super crime combine Zodiac and the Black Panther pursues what he believes is a personal quest beside Daredevil. (This last tale occurred in DD #69 but is not included here. You’ll need to see the equivalent Daredevil Masterworks volume [#9, I think] for that).

Sadly, the malevolent mega-mob move first and take the entire island of Manhattan ‘Hostage!’, leaving only the solitary sightless vigilante Daredevil free to save the day, after which Militant Feminism raises its disconcertingly strident head as the Wasp, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Madame Medusa are seduced into joining a new team called the Lady Liberators (yes, I know how that sounds now but the all-male creative team meant well…).

However, the Valkyrie who declares ‘Come on in… the Revolution’s Fine!’ had her own dark secret and sinister agenda that has nothing to do with justice or equality…

Avengers #84 featured part-time paladin Black Knight who had become addicted to the bloodthirsty hunger of his Ebony Blade, resulting in an otherworldly confrontation with alternate-Earth barbarian king Arkon and his latest paramour the Enchantress in ‘The Sword and the Sorceress!’ The resulting acrimonious clash subsequently left half the team lost in a parallel existence…

In ‘The World is Not for Burning!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia), Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s efforts to return home leave them stranded on an Earth where the Squadron Supreme are the World’s Greatest heroes and a solar Armageddon is only hours away…

Illustrated by Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney, ‘Brain-Child to the Dark Tower Came…!’ sees the extremely reluctant trans-Earth allies unite to save a very different world after which, back home, the Black Panther reprises his bombastic origin before taking leave of his comrades to assume the throne of his hidden African nation in ‘Look Homeward, Avenger’ (Giacoia & Sal B).

Novelist Harlan Ellison was a very vocal comics fan in the 1970s and occasionally collaborated on Marvel tales. Avengers #88 began a radical adaptation of one his best short stories, heralding ‘The Summons of Psyklop’ (Ellison, Thomas, Sal Buscema & Mooney) wherein an experiment to cure the Hulk of his destructive nature leads to the Jade Juggernaut’s abduction by a preternatural entity.

The saga concluded in Incredible Hulk #140 (Ellison, Thomas, Herb Trimpe & Sam Grainger) as ‘The Brute… That Shouted Love… at the Heart of the Atom!’ finds the man-monster experiencing truelove and idyllic peace in a sub-molecular paradise, only to lose it all when the demonic Psyklop tracks him down…

Following a reproduction of the cover of the all-reprint Avengers Annual #4, the romantic tragedy is somewhat leavened by a bonus yarn from Marvel’s spoof publication Not Brand Echh #5 (December 1967). Here Thomas, Gene Colan & John Tartaglione recount the sterling saga of ‘The Revengers vs Charlie America’, reinterpreting how – if not why – the heroes saved the Star-Spangled Simpleton of Liberty from icy entombment. Wrapping up the memorable magic is a brace of contemporary house ads and full biographies of all creative folk involved…

Thomas and John Buscema (and Sal too, actually) gloriously led Marvel’s second generation of creators in building on and consolidating Lee, Kirby and Ditko’s initial burst of comics creativity: spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder- machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to.

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superheroes done exactly right and a pivotal step of the little company into the corporate colossus. They are also utterly fabulous stories you’ll never tire of reading
© 1970, 1971, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Superman in the Forties

By Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster & the Superman studio (DC Comics/Little, Brown & Co)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0457-0

Part of a series of trade paperbacks intended to define DC’s top heroes through the decades (the other being Batman, of course), these much-missed books always delivered a superb wallop of comicbook magic and a tantalising whiff of other, perhaps better, times.

Divided into sections partitioned by cover galleries, this box of delights opens with the untitled initial episodes from Action Comics #1 and 2 (even though they’re technically ineligible, coming from June and July 1938) as written and drawn by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

With boundless enthusiasm the Man of Tomorrow explodes into action, saving an innocent condemned to the electric chair, teaching a wife-beater a salutary lesson, terrorising mobsters and teaching war profiteers to think again. It’s raw, unpolished and absolutely captivating stuff.

Swiftly following from Superman #58 (May/June 1949) is a beguiling teaser written by William Woolfolk and illustrated by Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye. ‘Lois Lane Loves Clark Kent!’ finds the intrepid pioneering lady reporter seeing a psychiatrist because of her romantic obsession with the Man of Steel. His solution?

The quack tells her to switch her affections to her bewildered, harassed workmate with resultant hilarity and chaos ensuing! A rare treat follows as the seldom seen Superman prose story from Superman #1 (Summer 1939 and of course written by Siegel with accompanying art by Shuster) reappears for the first time in decades.

In 1948 the editors finally declassified the full and original ‘Origin of Superman’ written by Bill Finger with art from Boring and Kaye (Superman #53, cover-dated July/August). It was sequelled a year later and is directly followed in this volume by ‘Superman Returns to Krypton’ (Finger and Al Plastino) wherein the Man of Tomorrow breaks the time barrier to observe his lost homeworld at first hand.

This little gem (from Superman #61, November/December, 1949) provided the comic-book explanation for Kryptonite – which was originally introduced on the radio show in 1943 then promptly forgotten – and opened the door for a magical expansion of the character’s universe that still resonates with us today.

During the late 1940s Siegel & Shuster retrofitted their creation by creating Superboy (“the adventures of Superman when he was a boy”) for More Fun Comics #101 (January/February 1945). An instant hit, the youthful incarnation soon took the lead spot in Adventure Comics and won his own solo title in 1949.

From Superboy #5 (November/December, 1949) comes the charming tale of a runaway princess ironically entitled ‘Superboy Meets Supergirl’ by Woolfolk and the hugely talented John Sikela.

The second section is dedicated to the Man of Steel’s opponents, starting with ‘Superman Meets the Ultra-Humanite’ (Action Comics #14; (July 1939) by Siegel, Shuster and Paul Cassidy. They also devised a much more memorable criminal scientist in Lex Luthor who debuted in an untitled tale from Action #23 (April 1940). This larcenous landmark is followed by ‘The Terrible Toyman’ (Action #64, September 1943) by Don Cameron, Ed Dobrotka & George Roussos.

In such socially conscious times one of Superman’s most persistent foes was a heartless swindler called Wilbur Wolfingham. ‘Journey into Ruin’ by Cameron, Ira Yarbrough & Stan Kaye (Action #107; November #107) is a fine example of this type of tale and the hero’s unique response to it.

A different kind of whimsy is in play when Lois’s niece – a liar who could shame Baron Munchausen – returns with a new pal who can make her fantasies reality in ‘The Mxyztplk-Susie Alliance’ (from Superman #40; May/June 1946), charmingly crafted by Cameron, Yarbrough & Kaye.

The American Way section begins with a genuine war-time classic. ‘America’s Secret Weapon’ is from Superman #23 (July/August 1943, by Cameron, Sam Citron and Sikela): a masterpiece of patriotic triumphalism, as is the excerpt from the Superman newspaper strip which reveals how the over-eager Man of Tomorrow accidentally fluffs his own army physical. These strips by Siegel, Shuster & Jack Burnley originally ran from 16th – 19th February 1942,

Look Magazine commissioned a legendary special feature by the original creators for their 27th February 1943 issue. ‘How Superman Would End the War’ is a glorious piece of wish-fulfilment which still delights, and it’s followed by a less famous but equally affecting human interest yarn ‘The Superman Story’.

Taken from World’s Finest Comics #37 (1947, by Finger, Boring & Kaye), it pictures a pack of reporters trailing Superman to see how the world views him…

The book ends with ‘Christmas Around the World’ as Superman becomes the modern Spirit of the Season in a magical Yule yarn by Cameron, Yarbrough & Kaye from Action #93 (February 1946).

With a selection of cover galleries, special features and extensive creator profiles this is a magnificent Primer to the greatest hero of a bygone Golden Age, but one that can still deliver laughter and tears, thrills and spills and sheer raw excitement. No real fan can ignore these tales…
© 1940-1939, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Jonah Hex volume 1

By John Albano, Arnold Drake, Michael Fleisher, Robert Kanigher, Denny O’Neil, Tony DeZuñiga, Noly Panaligan, Doug Wildey, George Moliterni, José Luis García-López, Gil Kane, Jim Aparo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0760-1

These days comics fans are not well-served in regard to genre fare. Although Marvel has gone a long way towards recovering (at least in digital formats) its back catalogue of war, crime horror and western yarns, DC – which arguably excels in all those categories as well as teen humour and funny animal publications – seems content to let such riches lie fallow.

So if you want classic material you need to look at older offerings such as their wonderful Showcase Presents archive line…

The Western is an odd story-form which can almost be sub-divided into two discrete halves: the sparkly, shiny version that dominated kids’ books, comics and television for decades, best typified by Zane Grey stories and heroes such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry… and the other stuff.

That sort of cowboy tale – grimy, gritty, excessively dark – was done best for years by Europeans in such strips as Jean-Michel Charlier’s Lieutenant Blueberry or Bonelli and Galleppini’s Tex Willer, which made their way into US culture through the films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone.

Jonah Hex was always the latter sort.

DC – or National Periodicals as it then was – had run a notable stable (sorry!) of clean-cut gunslingers since the collapse of the super-hero genre in 1949, with such dashing – and immensely readable – luminaries as Johnny Thunder, The Trigger Twins, Nighthawk, Matt Savage and dozens of others in a marketplace that seemed limitless in its voracious hunger for chaps in chaps. However, all things end and comic tastes are notoriously fickle, and by the early sixties the sagebrush brigade had dwindled to a few venerable properties as an onslaught of costumed super-characters assaulted the newsstands and senses.

They too would temporarily pass…

As the 1960s closed, the thematic changes in the cinematic Cowboy filtered through to a comics industry suffering its second superhero retreat in twenty years. Although a critical success, the light-hearted Western series Bat Lash couldn’t garner a solid following, but DC, desperate for a genre that readers would warm to, retrenched and revived an old and revered title, gambling once again on heroes who were no longer simply boy scouts with six-guns.

All-Star Western #1 was released with an August/September 1970 cover date, packed with Pow-Wow Smith reprints, and became an all-new anthology title with its second bi-monthly issue.

The magazine was allocated a large number of creative all-stars, including Robert Kanigher, Neal Adams, Gray Morrow, Al Williamson, Gil Kane, Angelo Torres, and Dick Giordano, working on such strips as Outlaw!, Billy the Kid and the cult sleeper hit El Diablo, which combined shoot-’em-up shenanigans with supernatural chills, in deference to the true hit genre that saved comics in those dark days.

But it wasn’t until issue #10 and the introduction of a disfigured and irascible bounty hunter created by writer John Albano & Tony DeZuñiga that the company found its greatest and most enduring Western warrior.

This superb collection of the early appearances of Hex has been around for a few years, so consider this a heartfelt attempt to generate a few sales and lots of interest…

But before we even get to the meat of the review let’s look at the back of this wonderfully economical black-&-white gunfest where some of those abortive experimental series have been included at no added expense.

Outlaw was created by Kanigher and DeZuñiga, a generation gap drama wherein Texas Ranger Sam Wilson is compelled by duty to hunt down his troubled and wayward son Rick. Over four stylish chapters – ‘Death Draw’, ‘Death Deals the Cards!’ (#3, illustrated by Gil Kane), ‘No Coffin for a Killer’ and the trenchant finale ‘Hangman Never Loses’ (#5, drawn by Jim Aparo), the eternal struggles of Good and Evil, Old and New effectively played out, all strongly influenced by Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns.

The series was replaced by one of the best and definitely the most radical interpretation of Billy the Kid ever seen in comics; a sardonic, tragic vengeance-saga that begins with the hunt for the killer of Billy’s father and develops into a poignant eulogy for the passing of an era.

Billy’s quest (‘Billy the Kid… Killer’, Bullet for a Gambler’ and ‘The Scavenger’: all by Albano & DeZuñiga) ran in issues #6-8. The book closes with a classic spooky Western tale from issue #7: ‘The Night of the Snake’ was written by Gil Kane & Denny O’Neil, and strikingly illustrated by Kane & DeZuñiga, clearly showing each creator’s love for the genre…

As good as those lost gems are, the real star of this tome is the very model of the modern anti-hero, Jonah Hex, who first appeared in All-Star Comics #10: a vulgarly coarse and callous bounty hunter clad in a battered Confederate Grey tunic and hat.

With half his face lost to some hideous past injury he was a brutal thug little better than the scum he hunted and certainly a man to avoid. ‘Welcome to Paradise’ by Albano & DeZuñiga introduced the character and his world in a powerful action thriller, with a subtle sting of sentimentality that anyone who has seen the classic Western Shane cannot fail to appreciate.

From the first set-up Albano was constantly hinting at the tortured depths hidden behind Hex’s hellishly scarred visage and deadly proficiency. In ‘The Hundred Dollar Deal’ (#11) the human killing machine encounters a wholesome young couple who aren’t at all what they seem and the scripts took on an even darker tone from #12. The comic had been re-titled Weird Western Tales (aligning it with the company’s highly successful horror/mystery books) and ‘Promise to a Princess’ combine charm and tragedy in the tale of a little Pawnee girl and the White Man’s insatiable greed and devilish ingenuity.

From the very start the series sought to redress some of the most unpalatable motifs of old-style cowboy literature and any fan of films like Soldier Blue and Little Big Man or Dee Brown’s iconoclastic book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee will feel a grim sense of vicarious satisfaction and redress at most of the stories here.

There’s also a huge degree of world-weary cynicism that wasn’t to be found in other comics until well past the Watergate Scandal, when America as a whole lost its social and political innocence…

Issue #13 ‘The Killer’s Last Wish!’ again tugged the heartstrings in the tale of a lovable old man and his greedy, impatient son, with Hex the unlikely arbiter of final justice. ‘Killers Die Alone!’ is an vicious tear jerker as Hex’s only friend dies to save him from the vengeance of killers who blame the bounty man for their brother’s death, whilst ‘Grasshopper Courage’ (#16 – Hex didn’t appear in #15) displays a shrewd grasp of human nature as Hex and an inept young sheriff track a gang of stagecoach robbers.

‘The Hangin’ Woman’ in #17 is a classy thriller wherein Hex runs afoul of a sadistic harridan who rules her hometown with hemp and hot lead, after which ‘The Hoax’ finds him embroiled in a gold-rush scam that – as usual – ends bloody.

With this tale the length of the stories, always growing, finally reached the stage where they pushed everything else out of the comic for the first time. Before too long the situation would become permanent. ‘Demon on my Trail’ in #19 dealt with kidnapping and racism, whilst ‘Blood Brothers’ (written by Arnold Drake) again addressed Indian injustice as Hex is hired by the US Cavalry to track down a woman stolen by a charismatic “redskin”.

Albano returned for ‘The Gunfighter’, as an injured Hex at last hinted about his veiled past while tracking a gang of killers, but it was new writer Michael Fleisher (assisted at first by Russell Carley) who would reveal Hex’s secrets beginning with Weird Western Tales #22’s ‘Showdown at Hard Times’.

A chance meeting in a stagecoach sets a cabal of ex-Confederate soldiers on the trail of their former comrade for some unrevealed betrayal that inevitably ends in a six-gun bloodbath and introduces a returning nemesis for the grizzled gunslinger.

More is revealed in ‘The Point Pyrrhus Massacre!’ as another gang of Southern malcontents attempt to assassinate President Ulysses Grant, with Hex crossing their gun-sights for good measure.

Issue #24 was illustrated by Noly Panaligan, and ‘The Point Pyrrhus Aftermath!’ finds the grievously wounded Hex a sitting duck for every gunman hot to make his reputation, and depending for his life on the actions of a down-and-out actor…

‘Showdown with the Dangling Man’ looked at shady land deals and greedy businessmen with a typically jaundiced eye – and grisly imagination – whilst train-robbers were the bad-guys in the superb ‘Face-Off with the Gallagher Boys!’, illustrated by the inimitable Doug Wildey. Issue #27, by Fleisher & Panaligan featured ‘The Meadow Springs Crusade’ as the bounty hunter is hired to protect suffragettes agitating for women’s rights in oh-so-liberal Kansas, before ‘Stagecoach to Oblivion’ (drawn by George Moliterni) sees him performing the same service for a gold-shipping company.

Hex’s awful past is finally revealed in #29’s ‘Breakout at Fort Charlotte’, a 2-part extravaganza that gorily concludes with ‘The Trial’ (illustrated by Moliterni), as a battalion of Confederate veterans pass judgement on the man they believe to be the worst traitor in the history of the South.

‘Gunfight at Wolverine’ is a powerful variation on the legend of Doc Holliday after which the Hex portion of the book concludes with a 2-part adventure from Weird Western Tales #32 and 33, drawn by the great José Luis García-López.

‘Bigfoot’s War’ and ‘Day of the Tomahawk’ is a compelling tale of intrigue, honour and double-cross as Hex is again hired to rescue a white girl from those incorrigible “injuns” – and, as usual, hasn’t been told the full story…

Jonah Hex is the most unique and original character in cowboy comics, darkly comedic, rousing, chilling and cathartically satisfying. It’s a Western for those who despise the form whilst being the perfect modern interpretation of a great storytelling tradition. No matter what your reading preference, this is a collection you don’t want to miss.
© 1970-1976, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon: Volume 1 Sunday Strips from 1948-1953

By Don Moore & Mac Raboy (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-882-7

By most lights Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but quirkily clunky Buck Rogers by Philip Nolan and Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th, but in 1929) two new elements were added to the wonderment; Classical Lyricism and poetic dynamism. It became a weekly invitation to stunning exotic glamour and astonishing beauty.

Where Rogers blended traditional adventure and high science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted fairy tales, heroic epics and mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for galleons, chariots and magic carpets. It was a narrative trick that kept the far-fetched satisfactorily familiar – and was continued by Raboy and Moore in their run. Look closely and you’ll see cowboys, gangsters and of course, flying saucer fetishes adding contemporary flourish to the fanciful fables in this volume…

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

When all-original comic books began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean-lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Almost all the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias).

Flash Gordon began on present-day Earth (which was 1934, remember?) with a rogue planet about to smash the World. As global panic ensued, polo player Flash and fellow passenger Dale Arden narrowly escaped disaster when a meteor fragment downed their airliner. They landed on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, who imprisoned them in the rocket-ship he had built.

His plan? To fly the ship directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it…!

Thus began a decade of sheer escapist magic in a Ruritanian Neverland: a blend of Camelot, Oz and every fabled paradise that promised paradise yet concealed hidden vipers, ogres and demons, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and shattering conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to drab and dangerous reality for millions of avid readers around the world.

Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’ with Don Moore doing the bulk of the scripting, ran every Sunday until 1944, when the artist joined the Marines. On his return he eschewed wild imaginings for sober reality and created the gentleman detective serial Rip Kirby. The continuous, unmissable weekly appointment with sheer wonderment, continued under the artistic auspices of Austin Briggs – who had drawn the daily black and white instalments since 1940.

In 1948, eight years after beginning his career drawing for the Harry A. Chesler production “shop” comicbook artist Emanual “Mac” Raboy took over the illustration of the Sunday page. Moore remained as scripter and began co-writing with the artist.

Raboy’s sleek, fine-line brush style, heavily influenced by his idol Raymond, had made his work on Captain Marvel Jr., Kid Eternity and the especially Green Lama a benchmark of artistic quality in the proliferating superhero genre. His seemingly inevitable assumption of the extraordinary exploits led to a renaissance of the strip and in the rapidly evolving post-war world Flash Gordon became once more a benchmark of timeless, escapist quality that only Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant could touch.

This first 260 page volume, produced in landscape format and printed in bold stark monochrome (although one or two strips appear to have been scanned from printed colour copies) covers the period January 8th 1948 to May 10th 1953 and opens with Flash as President of Mongo when Slyk, a refugee from the believed-uninhabited moon of Lunita, arrives. Beseeching assistance to liberate his world from the tyrannical depredations of the wicked siblings Rudo and Lura, the Lunite accompanies Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov to his hidden moon where the heroes are soon captured before Slyk saves the day.

This short transitional tale set up an unfailingly popular formula of nightmarish beasts, distressed damsels and outrageous adventure that would last until Raboy’s death in 1967.

Returning to Mongo Flash and Co. discovered a red comet hurtling towards that fabulous world. Whilst trying to deflect it they become trapped by the civilisation who inhabit its interior, creatures to whom gravity is but a toy… Once more romance, intrigue and beautifully depicted action were the order of many days until the trio toppled the masters and placed far more agreeable rulers in charge, saving their adopted world and the greater universe.

The saga lasted until June of 1949 and was promptly followed by a stunning undersea odyssey as a brief trip to Mongo’s beaches led Flash and Dale into murky waters when they rescued captivating Merma from monstrous sub-sea marauder Sharki and became enmeshed in a watery range-war and tricky romantic quadrangle involving hidden kingdoms, scaly savages and outrageous leviathans and sea-beasts.

It was off to the frozen principality of Polaria next where ambitious Prince Polon was covering up a plague of giant monsters preying on the people. Of course the scurvy villain was behind the plot, using size-shifting rays and his ultimate aim was to become dictator of all Mongo…

The scheme obviously gave other regional rulers ideas. No sooner did President Flash return than he was off again to the Tropix Islands where “Queen” Rubia had fomented rebellion and seceded from the democratic federation of Mongo States. Hands-on Flash went undercover with Dale in an Arabian adventure to rival Sinbad’s greatest: before the people were liberated and the despots destroyed there was a panoply of spectacular action and fantastic creatures to survive…

Rubia, defeated, was dispatched to the prison moon Exilia, but all was not right on that grim penal colony. Once more surreptitiously investigating our hero discovered that villains had taken over the penal-planet and were preparing to attack civilized Mongo. Luckily Rubia and criminal mastermind Zin believed Flash to be his own double, dispatched to Exilia for impersonating the President – but they’re were not fooled for long…

This awesome extended epic ran from 6th March to November 5th 1950 and was followed by a proposed change-of-pace as Flash and Dale took off for a much-needed vacation on Earth. Unfortunately ever-malicious Rubia sabotaged their ship and they crash-landed on the unexplored Planet Zeta. It surely came as no surprise to fans when they discovered another beautifully barbarous lost civilisation there…

Zeta was a world of colossal plants and feudal warriors, but hid a dangerous secret. Something in the environment consumed metal. Within minutes Flash and Dale saw their ship and weapons melt away… Befriended instead of attacked the castaways found the inhabitants lived on a world seemingly immune to technological advancement, controlled by “wizards” who soon decided that Flash was a threat…

Flash discovers the metal-eating plague was artificial and helped the Zetans rebel and they helped him construct a new ship. Once more en route for Earth Flash and Dale encountered a stranger meteor, but without further mishap arrived safely. On March 25th 1951 (17 years and some months after they departed) two of earth’s first star-travellers finally returned to their birthworld and were feted like royalty. Sadly they should have paid closer attention to that vagrant space-rock as soon, Earth was under attack by strategically aimed meteors.

With Einsteinish Professor Brite in tow, Flash and Dale tracked the attacks to the Moon where they met beetle-men and human dictator Rak who planned to conquer Earth with his lunar meteor gun. He had never encountered a man like Flash Gordon before…

With Rak’s threat ended Flash helped Earth build a sentinel Space Platform, but when he, Dale, engineer Dr. Ruff and his annoying niece Ginger began work 1000 miles up they clashed with a strange race of flying saucer-riding space gnomes from Mars…

At this time Mars clearly preferred, if not actually needed, Earth women and with Dale and Ginger abducted, another sterling romp ensued. Flash outfoxed the malign gnome-king Toxo before subsequently leading a full expedition to the Red planet where he discovered another advanced feudal civilisation and that Martian women – or at least their Queen, Menta – had no worries, looks-wise…

Menta was however, a spoiled and murderous psychopath determined to conquer Earth…

This epic ran until February 24th 1952, whereupon Flash returned to Earth to discover his homeworld gripped in a new Ice Age. Jetting to the Arctic the good guys found Frost Giants from Saturn (the fifth moon Rhea to be exact) and that the big Freeze was artificially induced. Although he destroyed their forward base the Giants dragged Flash back to Rhea and inadvertently introduced human smallpox into their population…

Earth commander “Icy” Stark abandoned Dale after a space battle but Flash, with new Rhean allies rescued her and once more led a hostage society to overthrow its unfit rulers. On the return to Earth the fleet encountered a guided comet and met a new foe in Pyron the Comet Master.

Reunited with Dr. Zarkov the heroes battled the demented scientist’s horrendous creatures, saving Earth from flaming doom but were catapulted helplessly to the surface of enigmatic Venus for the last complete adventure in this stellar collection.

Not only is our solar system teeming with unsuspected life, but it appeared most of it was ruled by complete sods, as Flash, Dale and Zarkov battled winged tree-men, swamp horrors and the nefarious overlord Stang, enduring staggering hardship and hazard before crushing the tyrant and freeing two separate races from terror.

With a new ship, the far-flung travellers set off for Earth but were forced to land on the Moon where a secret human base had been established. For unknown reasons Dr. Stella and her thuggish aide Marc detained and delayed them, but when an increasing number of close shaves and mysterious accidents occurred, a little digging revealed that they were the unwitting guests of ruthless space pirates…

As is probably fitting for one of the world’s greatest continuity strips this first volume ends on a gripping cliffhanger, but with so much incredible action, drawn with such magnificent style there’s no way any fan of classic adventure can possibly feel short-changed

Mac Raboy was the last of the Golden Age of romanticist illustrators, but his lush and lavish flowing adoration of the perfected human form was already fading from popular taste. The Daily feature at this time had already switched to the solid, chunky, He-manly, burly realism of Dan Barry and even Frank Frazetta. Here, however, at least the last outpost of beautiful elegant heroism and gracefully pretty perils prevail, thanks to these Dark Horse volumes which you can visit just as often as Flash and Dale popped between planets…
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Tales from the Phantom Zone

By Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, Otto Binder, Curt Swan & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2258-1

Superman is comics’ champion crusader: the hero who effectively started a whole genre and, in the decades since his spectacular launch in June 1938, one who has survived every kind of menace imaginable. With this in mind it’s tempting and very rewarding to gather up whole tranches of his prodigious back-catalogue and re-present them in specifically-themed collections, such as this sinister set of sorties into the stark and silent realm of nullity designated the Phantom Zone: a time-proof timeless prison for the worst villains of lost planet Krypton.

This captivating trade paperback collection (gathering material from Adventure Comics #283, 300, Action Comics #336, Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #33, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #62, Superman #157, 205, Superboy #89, 104 and Who’s Who in the DC Universe volume 18) represents appearances both landmark and rare, crafted by the many brilliant writers and artists who have contributed to the Kryptonian canon over the years.

Naturally, this terrific tome begins with the very first appearance of the dolorous dimension in ‘The Phantom Superboy’ by Robert Bernstein & George Papp (from Adventure Comics #283 April, 1961).

Here, a mysterious alien vault smashes to Earth and the Smallville Sensation finds sealed within three incredible super-weapons built by his long-dead dad Jor-El. There’s a disintegrator gun, a monster-making de-evolutioniser and a strange projector that opens a window into an eerie, timeless dimension of stultifying intangibility.

However, as Superboy reads the history of the projector – used to incarcerate Krypton’s criminals – a terrible accident traps him inside the Phantom Zone and only by the greatest exercise of his mighty intellect does he narrowly escape…

Next is pivotal 2-part tale ‘Superboy’s Big Brother’ (by Robert Bernstein & Papp from Superboy #89, June 1961) in which an amnesiac, super-powered space traveller crashes in Smallville. Slightly older than Superboy, the befuddled visitor speaks Kryptonese and carries star-maps written by the long-dead Jor-El…

Jubilant, baffled and suspicious in equal amounts, the Boy of Steel eventually, tragically discovers ‘The Secret of Mon-El’ by accidentally exposing the stranger to a fatal, inexorable death before desperately providing critical life-support by depositing the dying alien in the Phantom Zone until a cure can be found…

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #33 (May 1962), by a sadly unknown writer but illustrated by the always exceptional art team of Curt Swan & George Klein, further explored the dramatic potential of the Zone in ‘The Phantom Lois Lane!’ wherein a temporarily deranged Lana Lang dispatches all her romantic rivals for the Man of Tomorrow’s affections to the extra-dimensional dungeon.

From one month later, ‘Superman’s Phantom Pal!’ (Leo Dorfman, Swan & Klein as seen in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #62) Jimmy Olsen in his Elastic Lad role is drawn through a miniscule rip in the fabric of reality and joins Mon-El in the Zone where the plucky cub reporter faces down the worst of Krypton’s villains and resists their ultimate temptation…

Adventure Comics #300 (September 1962) saw the launch of the Legion of Super-Heroes in their own series by Jerry Siegel, John Forte & Al Plastino. That premier yarn, ‘The Face Behind the Lead Mask!’, pits Superboy and the 30th century champions against an unbeatable foe until Mon-El intervenes, briefly freed from a millennium of confinement to save the day…

‘The Super-Revenge of the Phantom Zone Prisoner!’ by Edmond Hamilton, Swan & Klein (Superman#157, November 1962) saw the introduction of power-stealing Gold Kryptonite and Superman’s Zone-o-phone – which allows him to communicate with the incarcerated inhabitants – in a stirring tale of injustice and redemption. Convicted felon Quex-Ul uses the device to petition Superman for release since his sentence has been served, and despite reservations the fair-minded hero can only agree.

However further investigation reveals Quex-Ul has been framed and is wholly innocent of any crime, but before Superman can explain or apologise, he has to avoid the deadly trap the embittered and partially mind-controlled parolee has laid for the son of the Zone’s discoverer…

Superboy #104 (April 1963) contained an epic two-part saga ‘The Untold Story of the Phantom Zone’ and ‘The Crimes of Krypton’s Master Villains’. Crafted by Hamilton & Papp it describes Jor-El’s discovery of the Zone, his defeat of ambitious political criminal Gra-Mo and the reasons the vault of super-weapons was ultimately dispatched into space, after which ‘The Kid who Knocked Out Superboy!’ (illustrated by Swan & Klein) sees Gra-Mo return to take vengeance on the son of his nemesis.

‘The Man from the Phantom Zone!’ (Hamilton, Swan & Klein from Action Comics #336, April 1966) finds Superman releasing another convict whose time was served, leading to a captivating crime mystery in the Bottle City of Kandor as 50-year old juvenile delinquent Ak-Var discovers life in a solid and very judgemental world a most mixed blessing…

By April 1968, times and tone were changing, as seen in ‘The Man Who Destroyed Krypton!’ (Superman #205, Otto Binder & Plastino) as alien terrorist Black Zero comes to Earth, determined to blow it up just as he had planet Krypton decades ago!

Overmatched and stunned by the truth of his world’s doom, the Man of Steel is convinced that releasing Jax-Ur, the Zone’s wickedest inhabitant, is the only way to save his adopted homeworld… an absorbing, enthralling, and surprisingly gritty tale of vengeance acting as the perfect way to end this eclectic collection.

With a comprehensive informational extract from the 1986 Who’s Who in the DC Universe entry from the Zone and its most notorious inmates, illustrated by Rick Veitch, this compelling collection is an intriguing introduction to the aliens hidden amongst us and a superb treat for fans of every vintage.
© 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1986, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.