Abe Sapien: The Drowning and Other Stories


By Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Scott Allie, Jason Shawn Alexander, Guy Davis, Patric Reynolds, Michael Avon Oeming, Santiago Caruso, Peter Snejbjerg, James Harren, Kevin Nowlan, Mark Nelson, Juan Ferreyra, Alise Gluškova & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-488-3 (HB)

Hellboy is a creature of vast depth and innate mystery; a demonic baby summoned to Earth by Nazi occultists at the end of World War II but subsequently raised, educated and trained by democracy-loving parapsychologist Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm to destroy unnatural threats and supernatural monsters as the chief agent for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

This book is not about him, but one of his equally engaging co-stars, whose occult and occluded back-story has been gradually and tantalising unfolding for more than 25 years in the potently cohesive and compelling universe built by Mike Mignola and his creative collaborators…

A brilliant intellect in a piscine (more likely piscoid?) body, he was discovered in a glass tank by B.P.R.D. agents in 1978: a bizarre fish-human hybrid with no memory of his past languishing in a secret chamber of St. Trinian’s Hospital in Washington D.C. He narrowly escaped being dissected before gradually emerging as a top investigator – in the Enhanced Talents Task Force – and scientific research asset, using the name Abraham Sapien.

Over the intervening decades he learned that once he was human. Early cryptozoologist and psychical researcher Dr. Langdon Everett Caul was a minor light in social and scientific circles who vanished after falling in with a group of like-minded men fascinated with arcane secrets. In 1859 certain events regarding this Oannes Society led to his transformation…

This omnibus collection relates through chronologically arranged comics tales (not necessarily publishing release date) the history of the fabulous fishman, supplemented by clarifying and contextualising Introduction and Interstitial Notes from editor and sometime writer Scott Allie.

The aquatic archive launches with neophyte Abe’s first official solo exploit: originally released as a 5-part miniseries from February to June, 2008.

Scripted by creative head honcho Mignola and moodily realised by Jason Shawn Alexander (who liberally contributes to a fabulous and informative Abe Sapien Sketchbook at the back of this full-colour walk – or is that swim? – on the weird and wild side), The Drowning is lettered by Clem Robins with benefits from the magical colours of Dave Stewart.

The action opens with a glimpse into demonic deeds of the past as, in 1884, occult detective Edward Grey boldly and bombastically defeats mighty warlock Epke Vrooman before sinking his hellish ship 60 miles off the French coast near the former leper-colony of Isle Saint-Sébastien.

In 1981 Hellboy is gone from the B.P.R.D. and Chief Bruttenholm pushes reticent trainee Abe into leading a milk-run mission to retrieve the fabulous, lore-laden Lipu Dagger Queen Victoria’s Most Special Agent used to end the malevolent mage almost a century before.

With experienced operatives already in place, all the merman has to do is dive deep and fetch back the prize artefact. Sadly, with the supernatural, nothing is ever easy…

As the on-site proceedings get underway none of the B.P.R.D. team are aware that unquiet spirits are already undertaking their own recovery mission and whilst horrific monsters intercept Abe at the sunken wreck, back on land an ancient crone puts into motion the ceremony she has waited her entire life to complete…

By the time the battered aquatic investigator struggles ashore almost everyone on Saint-Sébastien is dead and a pack of wizened devils are attempting to resurrect their diabolical master. Cut off from the outside world and unable to pass this mess on to somebody more qualified, Abe is flailing until the old woman takes charge, instructing him in some deeper truths about the Isle, the replacement god the benighted inhabitants chose to worship and what truly moved and motivated Vrooman on the last night of his former life…

Armed with appalling information and the knowledge that there’s no one to save the day, the reluctant troubleshooter turns to face his greatest challenge and worst nightmares…

‘B.P.R.D.: Casualties’ comes from the Dark Horse Digital Retailer Exclusive program and saw general release in the trade paperback B.P.R.D.: Being Human. Written by Mignola & Allie with art by Guy Davis, the vignette is set in the aftermath of The Drowning as Abe and pyrokinetic Liz Sherman investigate werewolf sightings in Minnesota. When Sapien makes a rookie mistake that endangers his team, all his self-doubt comes flooding back…

Mignola, John Arcudi & Patric Reynolds produce ‘The Haunted Boy’ as an Abe Sapien one-shot in 2009, detailing the submersible star’s investigation of a child drowning and ghostly phenomena in Vermont. On investigating the “simple” case, the cautious agent discovers a terrifying truth far worse than any expectation…

A master planner, Mignola has orchestrated a magnificent interconnected saga in his assorted tales and spin-off sagas. Another one shot (from 2013) ‘The Land of the Dead’ cowritten by Allie and illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming references stories from his Hellboy in Mexico sequence as in January 1983 Abe travels south of the border to Campeche in search of lost cave divers and discovers the basis for Mayan Hell Xibalba as well as a bizarre variant vampire…

‘Witchcraft & Demonology’ – by Mignola, Allie & Santiago Caruso – comes from Abe Sapien #30 (January 2016) and provides a potted history of Western Satanism and magic as Abe in full-research mode encounters arcane heavy-hitter Gustav Strobl: another man who cannot stay dead, but really should…

Set in 1984 and courtesy of Mignola, Arcudi & Peter Snejbjerg, ‘The Abyssal Plain’ was originally a 2-issue miniseries released in June and July 2010 detailing how ancient magic, Nazi experimentation and Cold War tensions collide. Here Abe and a team of agents are required to salvage a magical artefact in a Russian sub at the bottom of the Norwegian Atlantic. Everybody wants the magical helmet looted from the Vatican during WWII: the Soviets have sent a destroyer, the Americans have the B.P.R.D. and the unquiet dead have the fearsomely mutated zombie who has guarded Melchiorre’s Burgonet since the vessel went down with all hands in 1948…

‘The Devil Does Not Jest’ was another Mignola & Arcudi 2-issue miniseries; this time from September and October 2011. Eerily illustrated by James Harren, it reveals how in 1985 Sapien accompanies the descendant of a celebrated demonologist to the family manse in Maine, uncovering generational secrets and incalculable terror and tragedy…

A one-shot from 2015, ‘The Ogopogo’ is by Mignola, Allie & Kevin Nowlan, beguilingly recounting the far more professional fishman’s off-kilter 1992 encounter with a mythical beast venerated by the First Nations tribes of British Columbia. As he and Hellboy soon discover, it’s not always the monster who’s the bad guy…

‘Subconscious’ by Mignola, Arcudi & Mark Nelson originated in Dark Horse Presents #11 (June 2015) and is set in the aftermath of Professor Bruttenholm’s death with Abe revealing a bizarre and overwhelming dream encounter with subsea ghosts, after which ‘Lost Lives’ (Mignola, Allie & Juan Ferreyra from Abe Sapien #25, August 2015) jumps to 2005 where senior Agent Sapien squabbles with fellow specialist Roger the Homunculus. Abe is still reeling from the revelation that he used to be human when a recently-impounded artefact starts to possess him…

The drama-drenched suspense concludes with flashback tale ‘Icthyo Sapien’ (Mignola, Allie & Alise Gluškova, from Abe Sapien #27, October 2015) as, mourning the death of so many of his friends and comrades, Abe relives his time as Langdon Everett Caul, the Oannes Society’s war with rival sect the Heliopic Brotherhood and his fall from grace with all he previously believed in…

Closing out this mammoth maritime log is the aforementioned ‘Sketchbook’, with commentary and visual contributions from Mignola, Jason Shawn Alexander, Patric Reynolds, Peter Snejbjerg, James Harren, Michael Avon Oeming, Santiago Caruso, Kevin Nowlan, Juan Ferreyra & Alise Gluškova, a full cover gallery by Max & Sebastián Fiumara, Dave Johnson, Francesco Franca villa and others plus bonus story The Calm before the Storm: a Caul flashback story originally created by Alise Gluškova as a piece of fan fiction.

Mignola has an incredible knack for creating powerfully welcoming mythologies and this colossal hardback (or digital) compilation successfully salvages Abe Sapien from the overwhelming shadow of satanic superstar Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. to set him on his way as a celebrated solo star.

Potent, powerful and utterly sodden with uncanny atmosphere, this terrific tome is an irresistible siren calling to haunt your dreams.
ABE SAPIEN © 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 Mike Mignola. All key and prominently featured characters ™ Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.

Aquaman: The Search for Mera Deluxe Edition


By Steve Skeates, Jim Aparo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8522-7 (HB)

Aquaman was one of a handful of costumed adventurers to survive the superhero collapse at the end of the Golden Age: a rather nondescript and genial guy who solved maritime crimes and mysteries when not rescuing fish and people from sub-sea disasters. He was created by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris in the wake of and in response to Timely Comics’ Sub-Mariner, debuting in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941).

Strictly a second stringer for most of his career, he nevertheless continued on beyond many stronger features; illustrated by Norris, Louis Cazaneuve, Charles Paris, and latterly Ramona Fradon who drew every adventure until 1960.

When Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s taste for costumed crimefighters with the advent of a new Flash in 1956, National/DC updated its small band of superhero survivors, especially Green Arrow and the Sea King. As the sixties unfolded, Aquaman was appearing as a back-up feature in Detective and World’s Finest Comics. Following a team up with Hawkman in Brave and the Bold # 51 and a try-out run in Showcase #30-33, Aquaman made his big jump. After two decades of continuous adventuring, the marine marvel finally got his own comicbook (cover-dated January/February 1962).

Now with his own title and soon a to be featured in the popular, groundbreaking cartoon show Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, the Finned Fury seemed destined for super-stardom, but despite increasingly bold and innovative tales his title was cancelled as the decade closed. Towards the end, outrageously outlandish yarns gave way to grittily hard-edged epics steered by revolutionary editor Dick Giordano and hot new talents Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo …

This compelling compilation – collecting material from Aquaman volume 1 #40-48 (July/August 1968 to November/December 1969) – is available in hardback and digital formats, offering a potent and timeless drama that changed perceptions of the amiable aquatic avenger forever…

In Aquaman #18, (December 1964 and not included here) the King of Atlantis met extradimensional princess Mera, who became ‘The Wife of Aquaman’ in one of the first superhero weddings of the Silver Age. Talk about instant responsibilities…

A few years later scripter Steve Skeates and new illustrator Jim Aparo began an epic extended tale as the Sea Lord abandoned all kingly duties to hunt for his beloved after she is abducted from his very arms.

The quest began in ‘Sorcerers of the Sea’ with her being brutally whisked away, leaving Aquaman and Aqualad to voyage to strange, distant undersea realms in search of her. In the interim, royal heir Aquababy is left in the care of loyal comrade Aquagirl (her actual name was Tula) while the kingdom devolves to the ministrations of top advisor Narkran. Their first encounter is with a village of mystics whose queen is a doppelganger of missing Mera. Barely escaping, Aquaman’s resources are further taxed when his faithful sidekick is gravely wounded, but, raging and impatient, the Sea King cannot wait for him to heal…

His only clue is the distinctive jewellery one of his assailants wore and ‘The Trail of the Ring’ eventually leads to a deep-sea realm of barbarians known as Maarzons. To reach them, though, Aquaman has to traverse unexplored depths, facing monsters with telepathic powers similar to his own and escape a super civilised micro-culture with some repellent ideas on the price of survival…

On finally reaching Maarzon country, Aquaman savagely confronts warlike primitives who somehow worship his greatest enemy and is forced to ask ‘Is This My Foe?’, before realising he is being played for a fool. Meanwhile, in Atlantis Aqualad has taken a turn for the worst and Tula gets the first inkling that Narkran might not be completely stable. It’s a situation that will soon be reflected throughout the domed city-state…

Despite physical injuries and mental confusion, Aqualad absconds from hospital in Atlantis to aid his friend’s search, only to be captured and forcibly turned into a monster-slayer by a dying subsea race in ‘To Win is to Lose!’ Aquaman has since encountered another bizarre race and a helpful surface-man Phil Darson. The explorer provides a powerful clue that changes everything and sends the Sea King swimming for the sunlight lands above…

And in Atlantis, shattering quakes presage a different kind of instability as the drowned realm begins shifting upwards too…

The mystery begins to resolve in ‘Underworld Reward!’ as Aquaman exposes American gangsters planning a big coup that somehow involves him and Mera. Sadly, that only leads to a bounty landing squarely on his head and every rat in the city gunning for him, before ‘Underworld Reward! Part 2’ sees a partial resolution and fraught reunion when the king and queen explosively meet up and crush the thugs.

Embellished by Frank Giacoia (as “An Inker”) ‘The Explanation!’ fills in the blanks on a bizarre and complex scheme that highlights high level treachery in Atlantis and collusion between the subsea corridors of power and the back alleys of American crimelords…

Dash back home, Aquaman and Mera fortuitously save embattled Aqualad en route as ‘Come the Revolution’ finds Aquagirl and the city’s youth taking on the usurpers until the Royal Family return in climactic earth-shaking conclusion ‘A Kingdom to Re-Build!’

Also boasting a telling Foreword from latterday scripter Dan Abnett and a full cover gallery from Nick Cardy – some of his best ever work – this bombastic thriller forever ended the genteel, anodyne days of the B-lister Aquaman: reforging the hero into a passionate, questioning, forceful champion far more in keeping with the turbulent times.

What this collection proves is that his past adventures are all worthy of far more attention than they’ve received of late, and even though it’s probably just the commercial fallout of his movie incarnation, comics readers get to benefit from the renewed exposure and unearthed gems of aquatic adventure.

It is a total joy to find just how readable they still are. With tumultuous sea-changes always in store for Aquaman, the comics industry and America itself, this tasty testament to the inestimable value of a good bad-guy is a true delight for fans of all ages and vintage.
© 1968, 1969, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Adventures of Blake & Mortimer: The Mystery of the Great Pyramid parts 1 & 2 – The Papyrus of Manethon & The Chamber of Horus


By Edgar P. Jacobs, translated by Clarence E. Holland & Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-37-3 (Manethon TPB) 978-1-905460-38-0 (Horus TPB)

Master storyteller Edgar P. Jacobs pitted his distinguished duo of Scientific Adventurers Captain Francis Blake and Professor Philip Mortimer against a wide variety of perils and menaces in stunning action thrillers which merged science fiction, detective mysteries and supernatural thrillers in the same timeless Ligne Claire style which had done so much to make intrepid boy reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The strip debuted in Le Journal de Tintin #1 (26th September 1946): an anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. The new weekly was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features…

Brussels-born Edgar P. Jacobs was a prodigy who drew from an early age and was besotted by music and the performing arts – especially opera. Upon graduation from commercial school in 1919, he promptly rejected safe, steady office work and instead avidly pursued his artistic passions…

His dream of operatic glory was crushed by the Great Depression, and when arts funding dried up following the global stock-market crash he was forced to pick up whatever dramatic work was going, although this did include more singing and performing. He moved into illustration in 1940, with regular work for Bravo magazine and some jobs for short stories and novels and, when the occupying Nazi authorities in Belgium banned Alex Raymond’s quintessentially All-American Hero Flash Gordon, Jacobs famously took over the syndicated strip to complete the saga.

His Stormer Gordon lasted less than a month before being similarly embargoed by the Occupation dictators, after which the man of many talents simply created his own epic science-fantasy feature in the legendary Le Rayon U, a milestone in both Belgian comics and science fiction adventure.

At this time, Jacobs and Tintin creator Hergé got together, and whilst creating the weekly U Ray strip the younger man began assisting on Tintin, colouring original monochrome strips from The Shooting Star (originally run in newspaper Le Soir) for an upcoming album collection.

By 1944 Jacobs was performing similar duties on Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in America, King Ottokar’s Sceptre and The Blue Lotus. He was contributing to the drawing too, working on extended epic The Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun.

Following the Liberation, publisher Raymond Leblanc convinced Hergé, Jacobs and a few other comics masters to work for his bold new venture: publishing house Le Lombard, and Le Journal de Tintin. Beside Hergé, Jacobs and writer Jacques van Melkebeke, the weekly featured Paul Cuvelier’s Corentin and Jacques Laudy’s The Legend of the Four Aymon Brothers.

Laudy had been a friend of Jacobs’ since their time together on Bravo, and ‘Le secret de l’Espadon’ starred English Military Intelligence officer Blake, closely modelled on him. The debonair spy was to be partnered with a bluff, gruff, excitable British boffin…

The serial ran from issue #1 for three years, cementing Jacobs’ status as a star in his own right. In 1950, with the first 18 pages slightly redrawn, The Secret of the Swordfish became Le Lombard’s first album release with the concluding part published in 1953. The volumes were reprinted nine more times between 1955 and 1982, supplemented in 1964 by a single omnibus edition.

Chronologically, the next epic was this eerily exotic thriller which originally ran in Le Journal de Tintin as Le Mystère de la Grande Pyramide from March 23rd 1950 to February 21st 1951.

The ongoing adventures resume in the months following the defeat of Tibetan warlord Basam-Damdu and liberation of the planet from his monomaniacal tyranny…

Available in paperback album form and in digital editions and subtitled ‘The Papyrus of Manethon’The Mystery of the Great Pyramid Part 1 opens with the author’s fascinating and pertinent illustrated Foreword on everything Anciently Egyptian – complete with extremely handy maps and plans – before the story proper begins with fretful Professor Mortimer taking some time off to pursue his occasional hobby.

A keen amateur archaeologist, the war-weary big brain has flown to Cairo with devoted assistant Ahmed Nasir for a holiday …and to help Egyptologist Ahmed Rassim Bey translate an astounding new find.

However, as they debark at the airport, the vigilant Indian thinks he spots an old enemy…

When no sign can be found the travellers move on, and the following morning Mortimer is examining some fragile scraps of papyrus attributed to legendary contemporary archivist Manethon. The ancient priest’s writings indicate that a secret treasure is hidden beneath a certain pyramid in a “Chamber of Horus”…

Cautious of the effect of such a sensationalistic discovery, the historians decide to proceed carefully, blithely unaware that trusted assistant Abdul Ben Zaim is in the employ of a cruel and dangerous enemy…

Even after an evening of socialising, the learned men are keen to get to work. Returning late to the laboratory of the Egyptian Museum, they discover Abdul furtively loitering and Mortimer’s suspicions are aroused. When nobody is watching, the physicist craftily secures a portion of the papyrus and talks Ahmed into conducting a clandestine test…

Abdul is indeed playing a double game and his mysterious master is a man both subtle and exceedingly dangerous. That night the hidden leader tries to steal the documents, but is surprised by Mortimer who has anticipated such a move. The canny scientist is just as surprised when the villain is exposed as treacherous Colonel Olrik.

The wily war criminal has been missing since the fall of Basam-Damdu, but has lost none of his lethal skills. Overpowering Mortimer, the rogue escapes, taking with him the last shred of papyrus the Professor had been holding…

Safe in his lair, Olrik presses Abdul, who hastily translates the assembled fragments and declares the Chamber of Horus must be in the Great Sphinx on the Giza Plateau…

Under constant surveillance by Olrik’s gang, Mortimer and Nasir warily go about their business, hoping to lure the mastermind out of hiding. Meanwhile Abdul, believing himself undiscovered, returns to work at the museum, where flashy German Egyptologist Herr Doktor Grossgrabenstein is loudly informing all and sundry of his latest search for the tomb of Tanitkara.

The bombastic treasure-hunter invites Mortimer to visit him and view his unique collection but the boffin is too absorbed with shadowing Abdul – a task made far harder by the inept assistance of the local police.

When a lucky clue leads the resolute researcher to an antique store, Olrik’s scurrilous henchman Basendjas ambushes and imprisons Mortimer in the basement, but after a tremendous, extended battle the doughty doctor breaks free and calls in the cops.

Sadly, even on the defensive, Olrik is formidable and fights free of the encroaching authorities before vanishing into the warrens of the city. After Abdul is killed in a hit-and-run incident, effusive Grossgrabenstein is present when Mortimer admits defeat and calls in a seasoned professional…

In London, Captain Francis Blake receives a cablegram and takes a leave from desk duty at I.S. Scotland Yard’s international security division is already investigating a surge of criminal activity in Northeast Africa and is happy to have their top man take a personal interest.

Blake heads out to Egypt by devious and complex means but, despite his circuitous route and customary caution, does not make it. Mortimer becomes increasingly impatient as he awaits the espionage expert’s arrival and to kill time finally accedes to his German colleague’s repeated requests to visit his dig at Giza.

When he arrives, Mortimer finds bullying foreman Sharkey whipping native workers and is just in time to thrash the brute as he tries to attack an old Holy Man who has objected…

The enraged thug pulls a gun, but is admonished by Grossgrabenstein, who then reluctantly allows the Professor to inspect the recently-cleared chambers below the pyramid.

As Mortimer climbs back to the surface, a hasty, anonymous cry alerts him and he narrowly dodges a huge rock which crashes into the space where he stood. The area it fell from is empty and nobody recognises the voice which called out…

Making his way back to his hotel, the weary scientist is then metaphorically crushed to receive news that his best friend has been shot to death in a phone booth at Athens airport…

Bitter and enraged, Mortimer swears to make Olrik pay…

To Be Concluded…

The Chamber of Horus’ concludes Le Mystère de la Grande Pyramide after a brief summary of past events.

With his great friend murdered, Mortimer is resolved to finish the case himself and begins by visiting decidedly odd and off-kilter Doktor Grossgrabenstein in his mansion. He hasn’t made up his mind about the German, but the archaeologist’s staff – especially thuggish foreman Sharkey – are definitely playing some deeper game…

The visit almost ends in disaster, but once again a mysterious warning – in Egyptian – tips Mortimer off and he leaves before the gang can grab him. Later that night, he meets again the aged holy man Sheik Abdel Razek which results in the enigmatic cleric giving him a strange talisman and a warning of the arcane forces he faces. Rationalist sceptic though he is, the physicist keeps the artefact near and that night, when another vicious attempt is made on his life, the charm proves its worth…

Instructing Nasir to make discreet inquiries, Mortimer returns to the Giza excavation, unaware that he has picked up a silent shadow. A commotion then brings him to Razek’s dwelling where Sharkey is threatening the old man. Before the Professor can intervene, the bully is sent scurrying by a shocking display of spooky pyrotechnics…

The house is incredibly ancient, built from reclaimed materials, and as he chats with the sheik, Mortimer sees glyphs and symbols etched into the walls which can only have come from the original pyramids. Razek is charmingly evasive however, and Mortimer eventually leaves, but on his way back sees figures lurking around Grossgrabenstein’s work site.

Although he loses them, the subsequent chase gives him an opportunity to inspect the tunnels under the tomb. Further investigation is cut short when he clashes with native worker Abbas whom he suspects has been following him…

Things take a dangerous turn the next night when he returns to the German’s grand home. A sudden slip by Grossgrabenstein tips off Mortimer that the boisterous historian has at some stage been replaced by gifted mimic Olrik. After a mighty struggle, the Professor is captured and before long Nasir too is bundled into the opulent cell the Prof has been dumped in…

Their bacon is saved by the unexpected arrival of the police, who storm the mansion with guns blazing. In the confusion a beloved old comrade resurfaces as Francis Blake sheds his own disguise to rescue his beleaguered friends.

When the gunfire subsides, the triumphant police attempt to arrest the real Grossgrabenstein. As they blunder around, slippery Olrik again escapes…

With all nefarious opposition seemingly routed, Blake and Mortimer are free to concentrate on solving the mystery of the Chamber of Horus and why ultra-modern super-criminal Olrik was so obsessed by it. Soon they are carefully exploring the claustrophobic tunnels beneath the Great Pyramid and eventually discover not only the incredible treasures of the pharaohs but their old arch-foe plundering the sacrosanct horde.

Olrik is as hard-headed and no-nonsense as his British adversaries and puts no faith in curses, talismans or magic, but the sudden arrival of Razek teaches all of the western sceptics and heretics a lesson they will never forget… before carefully erasing their memories to protect the secrets his line has spent millennia protecting…

Suspenseful and fantastic in the grandest tradition of epic intrigue, Blake & Mortimer are the very epitome of dogged heroic determination and graphic personifications of the Bulldog Spirit: worthy successors to Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Professor Challenger, Richard Hannay and all the other valiant stalwarts of lost Albion …and decent chaps proudly participating in the grand international alliance against insular ignorance and wickedness.

This saga delivers splendid Blood-&-Thunder thrills and spills in timeless fashion and with breathtaking visual punch. Every kid of any age able to suspend modern mores and cultural disbelief can’t help but revel in the adventure of their lives… and so will you.
Original editions © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud – Lombard s.a.). © 1986, 1987 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007, 2008 Cinebook

The Power of SHAZAM!


By Jerry Ordway (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-085-7 (HB) 978-1-56389-153-3 (TPB)

Since DC acquired the rights to the Golden Age Captain Marvel (as published by Fawcett from 1940-1953) there have been many enjoyable and effective treatments of the characters. One of the very best which succeeded in to capturing the exuberance and charm of the originals – albeit layered with a potent veneer of modern menace – was Jerry Ordway’s 1994 re-imagining of the concept, based as much on the strengths of the 1940s movie serial as the forceful fun comics of Bill Parker, Otto Binder, C.C. Beck and their close cohort of creative stalwarts…

In Egypt, archaeologists Charles Batson and his wife Marilyn lead the prestigious Sivana Expedition in a search for knowledge and antiquities. That doesn’t fit with the instructions given to the sponsor’s ruthless fixer and overseer Theo Adam, who has his own instructions regarding certain treasures. When they uncover an unknown tomb belonging to an utterly unknown dignitary named “Shazam”, tensions boil over and murder occurs.

The historians had left their son in America with Charles’ brother, but taken their toddler Mary with them. After the bloodshed ends, both she and Adam have vanished without trace…

Some Years Later…

Billy Batson is a little boy living on the streets of ultra-modern art deco Fawcett City, USA. His parents had left him with his uncle Ebenezer when they went away. They never returned and he was thrown out as his uncle stole his inheritance. No one knows where his baby sister is…

Sleeping in a storm drain, selling newspapers for cash, the indomitable kid is pretty street-savvy, but when a mysterious shadowy stranger who seems comfortingly familiar bids him follow into an eerie subway, Billy just somehow knows it’s okay to comply.

When he meets the wizard Shazam and gains the powers of the ancient Gods and Heroes he knows he has the opportunity to make things right at last. But he isn’t aware of just what depths of evil corporate vulture Thaddeus Sivana is capable, nor the role that Black Adam played in the fate of his parents…

This superb and mesmerising retelling was an original graphic novel (available now in Hardback, Trade Paperback and in digital editions) that led to the most successful comic-book revival the original Captain Marvel has yet experienced. The characters refitted in that series are potently realistic but the stories offer a young voice and sensibility.

Moreover, the pulp adventure atmosphere conjured up by Ordway in conjunction with his sumptuous art and spectacular design make for a captivating experience, and the artist’s writing has never been more approachable and beguiling. This is a wonderful book for fans of adventure as well as “costumed drama” addicts and well worth pursuing in light of the movie release.
© 1994 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Astro Boy volume 5

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By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Frederik L. Schodt (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-680-9 (TPB)

From beginning his professional career in the late 1940s until his death in 1989, Osamu Tezuka generated an incomprehensible volume of quality work which transformed the world of manga and how it was perceived in his own country and, ultimately, across the globe. Devoted to Walt Disney’s creations, he performed similar sterling service with Japan’s fledgling animation industry.

The earliest stories were intended for children but right from the start Tezuka’s expansive fairy tale stylisations harboured more mature themes and held hidden pleasures for older readers and the legion of fans growing up with his manga masterpieces…

“The God of Comics” was born in Osaka Prefecture on November 3rd 1928, and as a child suffered from a severe illness. The doctor who cured him inspired the lad to study medicine, and although Osamu began drawing professionally whilst at university in 1946, he persevered with college and qualified as a medical practitioner too. Then, as he faced a career crossroads, his mother advised him to do the thing which made him happiest.

He never practiced as a healer but the world was gifted with such masterpieces as Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Black Jack and so many other graphic narratives.

Working ceaselessly over decades, Tezuka and his creations inevitably matured, but he was always able to speak to the hearts and minds of young and old equally. His creations ranged from the childishly charming to the distinctly disturbing such as The Book of Human Insects.

Tezuka died on February 9th 1989, having produced more than 150,000 pages of timeless comics, created the Japanese anime industry and popularised uniquely Japanese graphic narrative which became a fixture of world culture.

This fifth monochrome digest volume (173 x 113 mm in the physical world and any size you like if you get the eBook edition) continues to present – in non-linear order – early exploits of his signature character, with the emphasis firmly on fantastic fun and family entertainment…

Tetsuwan Atomu (literally “Mighty Atom” but known universally as Astro Boy due to its dissemination around the world as an animated TV cartoon and one of post-war Japan’s better exports) is a spectacular, riotous, rollicking sci fi action-adventure starring a young boy who also happens to be one of the mightiest robots on Earth.

The series began in 1952 in Shōnen Kobunsha and ran until March 12th 1968 – although Tezuka often returned to add to the canon in later years. Over that period, Astro spawned the aforementioned global TV cartoon boom, starred in comicbook specials and featured in games, toys, collectibles, movies and the undying devotion of generations of ardent fans.

Tezuka frequently drew himself into his tales as a commentator, and in his later revisions and introductions often mentioned how he found the restrictions of Shōnen comics stifling; specifically, having to periodically pause a plot to placate the demands of his audience by providing a blockbusting fight every episode. That’s his prerogative: most of us avid aficionados have no complaints…

Tezuka and his production team were never as wedded to close continuity as fans are. They constantly revised both stories and artwork in later collections, so if you’re a purist you are just plain out of luck. Such tweaking and modifying is the reason this series seems to skip up and down the publishing chronology. The intent is to entertain at all times so stories aren’t treated as gospel and order is not immutable or inviolate.

It’s just comics, guys…

And in case you came in late, here’s a little background to set you up…

In a world where robots are ubiquitous and have won (limited) human rights, brilliant Dr. Tenma lost his son Tobio in a traffic accident. Grief-stricken, the tormented genius used his position as head of Japan’s Ministry of Science to build a replacement. The android his team created was one of the most ground-breaking constructs in history, and for a while Tenma was content.

However, as his mind re-stabilised, Tenma realised the unchanging humanoid was not Tobio and, with cruel clarity, summarily rejected the replacement. Ultimately, the savant removed the insult to his real boy by selling the robot to a shady dealer…

One day, independent researcher Professor Ochanomizu was in the audience at a robot circus and realised diminutive performer “Astro” was unlike the other acts – or indeed, any artificial being he had ever encountered. Convincing the circus owners to part with the little robot, the Prof closely studied the unique creation and realised just what a miracle had come into his hands…

Part of Ochanomizu’s socialization process for Astro included placing him in a family environment and having him attend school just like a real boy. As well as providing friends and admirers the familiar environment turned up another foil and occasional assistant in the bellicose form of Elementary School teacher Higeoyaji (AKA Mr. Mustachio)…

The wiry wonder’s astonishing exploits resume after the now traditional ‘A Note to Readers’ – explaining why one thing that hasn’t been altered is the depictions of various racial types in the stories.

‘Crucifix Island’ originally ran January through April, 1957 in Shōnen Magazine and begins with an explanation of why most robots are generally humanoid before concentrating on obsessive Doctor Tozawa who channelled his ancient ninja lineage to create an ultimate shape-changing mechanoid. He was interrupted and arrested before he could complete his masterpiece but that was then and this is now where our story properly begins…

Following a manic prison break, Tozawa and his new crooked cronies wash up on and take over a desolate island housing one hundred thousand robots operating the deepest and most sophisticated uranium mine on Earth. The merest by-product is a daily fortune in other precious ores and gems…

Meanwhile, at the Isle’s Robot School Astro is having problems with another young automaton. Pook is troubled because he’s incomplete: his “father” was arrested and imprisoned before he could make his boy perfect…

When Pook and Tozawa are reunited, the mad scientist ambushes Astro, harvesting his body for the parts needed to complete his dream robot. The troubled mechanoid finally gains the power to change shape…

Sadly, one thing that never changes is human greed and Tozawa’s fellow fugitives turn on him when he ignores their pleas to plunder the discarded mountain of gems. Inviting their army of criminal comrades to take over the island, they try to kill the now repentant technologist. With his breath fading, the Doctor repairs Astro to tackle the thieves, but nobody anticipated Pook’s reaction to gaining his full powers or how that would affect the multitude of lethal digging robots…

After a tremendous battle order is eventually restored but not everybody makes it out alive…

Running in Shōnen Magazine from February to April 1960, ‘Space Snow Leopard’ details how frosty precipitation across Earth steals energy from robots and machines. Seemingly unaffected, Astro is challenged by a space wizard and his six-legged killer feline Lupe, but barely escapes as they continue softening up the planet for an alien takeover.

On the run, Astro consults his school friends hoping organic humanity can prevail against the bizarre duo. Ultimately however it takes humans and robots working together and the invention of a giant amalgamated mecha comprised of many smaller automatons working in unison to save the world…

‘The Artificial Sun’ first ran between December 1959 and February 1960 and concludes this compilation in glorious style as a ship at sea reports a deadly floating fireball causing weather disruptions. Fearing the worst, the International Council of Police Organizations consult super-cop Sherlock Holmspun to tackle the crisis. His pride in in a swift breakthrough is soon scotched, however, when the council insist he take along some competent backup/additional firepower in the form of a robot codenamed Mighty Atom …

With the game afoot, the odd couple track down prime suspect Professor Hirata and his deadly monster, but will Holmspun’s prejudice jeopardise the mission… or will his dreadful secret shame leave them all unable to fight off the deadly fireball beast and the real culprit behind it?

Breathtaking pace, outrageous invention, slapstick comedy, heart-wrenching sentiment and frenetic action are the hallmarks of these captivating comics constructions: perfect examples of Tezuka’s uncanny storytelling gifts, which can still deliver a potent punch and instil wide-eyed wonder on a variety of intellectual levels.
Tetsuwan Atom by Osama Tezuka © 2002 by Tezuka Productions. All rights reserved. Astro Boy is a registered trademark of Tezuka Productions Co., Ltd., Tokyo Japan. Unedited translation © 2002 Frederik L. Schodt.

Batman: The Man Who Laughs


By Ed Brubaker, Doug Mahnke, Patrick Zircher & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1622-1 (HB) 978-1-4012-1626-9 (TMB)

This March saw the 80th anniversary of the Bat-Man’s debut in Detective Comics #27. About one year later his inescapable primal nemesis debuted in Batman #1 (cover-dated “Spring” and released on April 25th, 1940. Thus, I’m selfishly pleasing myself and getting my patronising geek on by indulging in a few fond looks back and sharing some books you might like to try for yourselves. Here’s one featuring a superb brace of creative collaborations revelling in the sheer power the Dark Knight has exerted over the decades, and one that’s happily now available in digital formats as well as in a good old-fashioned Hardcover and Trade Paperback tomes…

Grittily devious writer Ed Brubaker teamed with artist Doug Mahnke, colourist David Baron and letterer Rob Leigh treated us to a rather gripping treatment based on the original 1940s debut tales (with a tip of the hat to the Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers tales of the early seventies), in the form of an impressive prestige one-shot released in February 2005.

The title – and apparently the original inspiration for the Clown Prince of Crime himself – comes from Paul Leni’s seminal 1928 film classic starring Conrad Veidt in the title role. The plot concerns the actions of innocent Gwynplaine who had a permanent smile carved into his face by the King as a punishment for his father’s crimes…

Set not long after the events of Batman: Year One, The Man Who Laughs sees Police Captain Jim Gordon recognise that Gotham City has been changed forever when an outlandish and macabre serial killer goes on a very public, attention-seeking murder spree. Even his secret ally and vigilante outlaw The Batman is daunted by the sheer scale and audacity of the chalk-faced lunatic who seems utterly unstoppable and capable of anything…

The initial ghastly, gore-drenched clash of wills is a trip into hell for all concerned, but even with the Joker behind bars, the prognosis for the future seems grim beyond all reckoning…

The remainder of this book collects a 3-part adventure from Detective Comics #784-786 (September-November 2003). Here Brubaker scripts a generational serial-killer mystery steeped in the continuity of DC’s Golden Age guest-starring the original Green Lantern. Radio tycoon Alan Scott was Gotham City’s superhero-in-residence in the 1940s and early 1950s before mysteriously dropping out of sight as the “Red-baiting”, “Commie-hunting” decade unfolded…

Illustrated by Patrick Zircher, Aaron Sowd & Steve Bird, with hues by Jason Wright & letters by Todd Klein, ‘Made of Wood’ skips to contemporary times as Batman hunts a prolific serial killer who originally terrorised the populace in 1948. This maniac left a nasty signature message carved into his victims way back when and even assassinated the then-Mayor before simply disappearing. Now he’s apparently back to add to his tally

Matters are further complicated when a guilt-plagued and exceedingly short-tempered Green Lantern returns to action, determined to finally close the case he fumbled nearly 50 years previously…

Brubaker is an excellent writer at the peak of his abilities here providing tension and catharsis in equal measure and the art on both stories is effective and compelling. This is one of the better collections in the canon of the Dark Knight and a great treat for any fan or casual browser.
© 2003, 2005, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 4: Plunder Island


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-169-5 (HB)

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought when you hear the name is the cheerful, indomitable sailor in full Naval whites always fighting a hulking great beardy-bloke and mainlining tinned spinach, that’s okay. The Fleischer Studios and Famous Films animated features have a brilliance and energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed all based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into the fully cast and firmly established newspaper strip Thimble Theatre and simple wouldn’t leave. But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure.

In the less than ten years Elzie Crisler Segar worked with his iconic sailor-man (from January 1929, until the creator’s untimely death on 13th October 1938), he built an incredible meta-world of fabulous lands and locations, where unique characters undertook fantastic voyages and experienced big, unforgettable thrills as well as the small human dramas we’re all subject to. His was a saga both extraordinary and mundane, which could be hilarious or terrifying and frequently both at the same time. For every trip to the rip-roaring Wild West or sunken kingdom there was a brawl between squabbling neighbours, spats between friends or disagreements between sweethearts – any and all usually settled with mightily swung fists.

Popeye is the first Superman of comics, but he was not a comfortable hero to idolise. A brute who thought with his fists and didn’t respect authority; uneducated, short-tempered, fickle (when hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes – or thereabouts – at him), a worrisome troublemaker and gambler who wasn’t welcome in polite society …and he wouldn’t want to be.

The sailor-man is the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, with an innate and unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not, a joker who wants kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and a man who takes no guff from anyone. Always ready to defend the weak and with absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows, he was and will always be “the best of us”…

With this fourth magnificent hardcover collection of Segar’s comic masterpiece the Sunday Colour pages take precedence as, for the first time ever, his magnum opus ‘Plunder Island’ is reprinted in its full, unexpurgated totality. The reprinted selection covers the period December 3rd 1933 to April 7th 1935, with the epitome of stirring sea-sagas taking up the first six months of that time (ending with the July 15th 1934 instalment).

It all kicks off when Popeye’s old shipmate Salty Bill Barnacle invites him to go adventuring in search of fabled Plunder Island; land of stolen treasure, little suspecting that the ghastly villainous Sea Hag has reared her homely head once more…

With her new gang of deadly henchmen – including brutal Mister Skom and the monstrous Goon – she kidnaps Professor Cringly. He is an aged scholar who knows the lost island’s location, and Popeye’s latest voyage is seemingly over before it has begun….

Gathering a bunch of decidedly dubious amateur Argonauts – including but not exclusively comprising – J. Wellington Wimpy, Rough-House, Geezil and private cop G.B. Gritmore, Olive Oyl, Salty Bill and Popeye swiftly give chase, but all seems hopeless until the Witch of the Seas makes her big mistake. When she sends the Goon to take hostages, the uncanny beast returns with the indomitable Popeye and an inexplicably irresistible Wimpy. The latter’s heretofore unsuspected amatory attractions promptly turn the gruesome heads of both the Hag and her Goon (who is apparently a rather decent – if unprepossessing – lady named Alice…)

Rollercoaster adventure, thrills, chills and riotous comedy have never been better blended than in this tale, but even when the victorious crew finally return home the fun doesn’t stop. Next, we examine the bitter aftermath and how the various heroes dispose of or lose the fabulous wealth they’ve won. Wimpy, for example, simply and rapidly eats his way through most of his, whilst Popeye once again gives his away, prompting his return to the world of extreme prize-fighting…

Baby Swee’pea made his Sunday debut on 28th October 1934 (after being initially introduced during a riotous sequence in the daily strip: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 3: “Let’s You and Him Fight”), becoming the focus of many outrageous gags once Popeye, Wimpy and Olive slip back into their slapstick shtick, allowing the audience to comfortably decompress before the next big drama-drenched story…

The ubiquitous Sappo topper strip became even more imaginative in this period, with demented Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle’s mad science exploits leading to ever-crazier results and the continual breaking of the Fourth Wall. For the unprepared, this was a strip that could regularly make your brain, as well as your sides, split…

The added extra feature ‘Funny Films’ (dioramic scenes through which continuous strips of cartooned “filmstrips” could be moved to create a home cinema) eventually gave way to the fascinatingly informative and entertaining ‘Popeye’s Cartoon Club’, which provided tips and encouragement to budding artists – and Segar’s approach and advice is as sound today as it ever was…

Just because he was setting the world alight with his innovative Sunday adventure serials and complete gag strips is no reason to suppose his daily feature suffered. In fact, the breakneck pace seemed to inspire Segar, as in short order Popeye and his ever-expanding cast of clowns and reprobates rollicked through a memorable run of captivating tales in monochrome from Mondays to Saturdays.

The dailies section here covers 11th December 1933 to 24th July 1934, beginning with the sailor-man – accompanied by Swee’pea, Olive and Wimpy – moving to Puddleburg, ‘The Laziest Town on Earth’ to run their local newspaper and granting the self-deprecating and wickedly trenchant Segar an opportunity to lampoon himself and his profession with the creation of B. Loony Bullony: World Famous Cartoonist…

When Olive inherits 20 million dollars, her marital prospects increase dramatically, but since one of the most ardent converts to her previously well-hidden charms is a certain. J. Wellington Wimpy, she soon realises that money isn’t everything in ‘Romances and Riches’ – especially after Popeye rescues debutante June Vanripple from drowning and becomes the unwilling toast of the “Sassiety Crowd”

This extended morality play on the evils and travails of wealth contains some of the funniest screwball comedy set-pieces of the entire 1930s (books, movies, strips, everything!) with such memorable moments as Popeye in drag (particularly a rather fetching ladies’ swimsuit), the elder Vanripple and the sailor in a wild-oat sowing contest and Olive as a singing, dancing movie star – complete with fake “million-dollar-legs”…

Another classic and beloved sequence is ‘Unifruit or White Savages’ wherein the shock of losing her loot sends Olive into the convulsive shock syndrome of Aspenitis. The only cure is a therapeutic berry that grows on the wacky island of Nazilia, deep in the territory of a lost tribe of hulking man-beasts…

The frantic antics and comedy continue when June and Mr. Vanripple ask Popeye to go west and crush cowboy bandits plundering their gold mines in ‘Black Valley’ (and if you think drag is outrageous, check out Popeye in a tutu as a saloon dance-girl).

Fair warning though: this was an era where casual racial stereotyping was considered completely acceptable and a key part of cartooning. Segar sinned far less than most: his style was far more character-specific, and his personal delight was playing with accents and how folk spoke. George W. Geezil wasn’t merely a cheap Jewish stock figure of fun, but as fully rounded as any one of nearly fifty supporting cast members could be within the constrictions of page and panel count.

In ‘Black Valley’, Castor Oyl has a Negro manservant called Eclipse, who, although superficially little different in speech pattern and appearance from less-enlightened cartoonists’ portrayal of coloured people, played an active role in proceedings. He wasn’t there for cheap easy laughs, but even so it’s clear Segar wasn’t comfortable with him and he wasn’t a permanent addition. He may be quite disquieting to you and I, but please try and recall the tone of the times and – even though there’s still a whole lot of prejudice still to be dealt with today – just how far we’ve come…

The old salt’s greatest “emeny” returned in another bombastic fantasy romp entitled ‘The Sea Hag’s Sister or The Pool of Youth’, as the vile villainess, her scurvy band of cutthroats and Alice the Goon try to seize control of a literal fountain of youth from her own unsavoury sister and 20,000-year-old caveman, Toar.

Unfortunately, Popeye, Castor, Olive and Wimpy are caught in the crossfire…

One less than wonderful “treat” can be experienced at the end of this volume: one that tormented the kids of all ages addicted to Popeye nearly 90 years ago. ‘Popeye’s Ark’ was another spectacular 6-month long lark, wherein the sailor-man attempts to emulate the Biblical mariner who built “Nora’s Ark” to sail the seas in a giant vessel filled with beasts until he found the promised land of “Spinachova”. Sadly, we all get to “enjoy” cliffhanging tension until the next instalment as this sequence ends 12 weeks into the saga. Oh, the unrelenting tension of it all…

At least you can buy this book and its sequel simultaneously now and not wait for my next excessively excitable recommendation…

There is more than one Popeye: most of them are pretty good and some are truly excellent. Elzie Crisler Segar’s comic strip masterpiece features the very best of them all and you’d be crazy to deny it… or miss him.
© 2008 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2008 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Hellboy Omnibus volume 3: The Wild Hunt


By Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo with Dave Stewart & Clem Robins (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-668-9 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-50670-689-4

Hellboy was first seen 25 years ago in the 1993 San Diego Comic Con programme. Many Happy Returns, Big Red.

After the establishment of the comicbook direct market system, there was a huge outburst of independent publishers in America and, as with all booms, a lot of them went bust. Some few, however, were more than flash-in-the-pans and grew to become major players in the new world order.

Arguably, the most successful was Dark Horse Comics who fully embraced the shocking new concept of creator ownership (amongst other radical ideas). This concept – and their professional outlook and attitude – drew a number of big-name creators to the new company and in 1994 Frank Miller & John Byrne formally instituted the sub-imprint Legend for those projects major creators wanted to produce their own way and at their own pace.

Over the next four years the brand counted Mike Mignola, Art Adams, Mike Allred, Paul Chadwick, Dave Gibbons and Geof Darrow amongst its ranks; generating a wealth of superbly entertaining and groundbreaking series and concepts.

Unquestionably the most impressive, popular and long-lived was Mignola’s supernatural thriller Hellboy.

As previously cited, the hulking monster-hunter debuted in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (August 1993) before formally launching in 4-issue miniseries Seed of Destruction (with Byrne scripting over Mignola’s plot and art). Colourist Mark Chiarello added layers of mood with his understated hues. Once the fans saw what was on offer there was no going back…

This new trade paperback – and digital – series re-presents the succession of long-form tales and miniseries which followed as omnibus volumes, accompanied by a companion series of tomes featuring all the short stories. I’ll get around to them too before much longer…

This third titanic terror tome collects Hellboy: Darkness Calls, Hellboy: The Wild Hunt and Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury as well as short story ‘The Mole’ from Hellboy: Free Comic Book Day 2008.

What You Need to Know: on December 23rd 1944 American Patriotic Superhero the Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers intercepted and almost foiled a satanic ceremony predicted by Allied parapsychologist Professors Trevor Bruttenholm and Malcolm Frost.

They were working in conjunction with influential medium Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones. Those stalwarts were waiting at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when a demon baby with a huge stone right hand appeared in a fireball. The startled soldiers took the infernal yet seemingly innocent waif into custody.

Far, far further north, off the Scottish Coast on Tarmagant Island, a cabal of Nazi Sorcerers roundly berated ancient wizard Grigori Rasputin whose Project Ragna Rok ritual seemed to have failed. The Russian was unfazed. Events were unfolding as he wished…

Five decades later, the baby had grown into a mighty warrior engaging in a never-ending secret war: the world’s most successful paranormal investigator. Bruttenholm spent years lovingly raising the weird foundling whilst forming an organisation to destroy unnatural threats and supernatural monsters – The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. “Hellboy” quickly became its lead agent.

Moreover, as the decades of his career unfolded, Hellboy gleaned tantalising snatches of his origins, hints that he was an infernal creature of dark portent: born a demonic messiah, somehow destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil. It is a fate he despises and utterly rejects, even though the universe keeps inexorably and relentlessly moving him towards it…

The comics cavalcade of chills and thrills commences with a whimsical dreamy vignette by Mignola & Duncan Fegredo from Free Comic Book Day 2008: Hellboy. As the B.P.R.D. top gun spends a little downtime in England with some old – and largely deceased – pals, he has a bit of an extended fright after one of them points out ‘The Mole’ growing on the arcane agent’s left hand…

Re-presenting 2007’s 6-issue miniseries Hellboy: Darkness Calls and including a brace of epilogues created especially for the first collected edition, this tale is especially noteworthy as creator Mignola surrendered visual autonomy over his legendary character to illustrator Duncan Fegredo – with evocative support as always from colourist Dave Stewart and letterer Clem Robins – whilst moving the years-in-the-making saga towards its long-awaited cataclysmic conclusion…

The drama opens beneath rural Italy as accursed wizard Igor Weldon Bromhead hastens the destruction of humanity by summoning and binding the malign witch-goddess Hecate. Bromhead wants revenge and doesn’t care if the world burns in his getting of it. In faraway England, the ripples of his acts alert the fey folk and other supernatural entities that the End Times are finally upon them…

Hellboy is still in Britain; visiting old friends and desperately seeking to sidestep the fate he seems incapable of escaping or thwarting. Restless, he wanders into the woods, seemingly oblivious to the strange signs and portents dogging his heels until he encounters a strange trio of sinister characters and is sucked into a living history lesson…

After also meeting the ghost of witchfinder Henry Hood, Hellboy is made painfully aware of a deadly rising of the covens, as congregated creatures of the night attack him in an abandoned church. After a climactic battle – and more painful revelations of his past and ordained future – the paranormal paragon is suddenly yanked away into the infernal arctic domain of terrifying nemesis Baba Yaga: the Russian witch-queen sworn to destroy him…

In England, witches continue to gather, urged on by minor demon Gruagach; another unclean creature with a grudge against Hellboy. He advocates waking a long-buried queen of the dark to lead their final assault on the world and will not be dissuaded…

Meanwhile in Baba Yaga’s land of eternal chill, Hellboy is holding his own against the sorceress’ legions but is about to meet his match against her greatest thrall: an indomitable, unstoppable warrior dubbed Koshchei the Deathless.

The captive is not without allies. Fallen god Perun, giant wolves and a rebellious Domovoi (house spirit) all offer what aid they can but it’s the ministrations of little dead girl Vasilisa that provide Hellboy with an opportunity to escape the endless war and return to the physical world.

While he has been gone, however, events have moved on. The hags and weird folk have succeeded in freeing the one who will lead them in the final clash with humanity, and the benign spirits who have sheltered Man for so long see that their own long, long lives are finally done…

Offering astounding supernatural spectacle, amazing arcane action, mounting mystical tension and the imminent end of decades of slowly unfolding wonderment, this is merely the beginning of the End…

Climactic 8-issue miniseries Hellboy: The Wild Hunt from 2008-2009 draws together many subtly scattered clues disseminated throughout his innumerable tempestuous exploits and at last provides a conclusion to more than 15 years of slowly boiling magical suspense… as well as the incredible answers to the enigma of the horrific hero’s doom-drenched double destiny…

Mignola & Fegredo resume the fateful tale as the fey folk and other creatures of ancient mythology and legend are fading into non-existence in the face of a bloody rising of witches. The malevolent hags have a new queen who promises blood and slaughter and domination of the world by her kind whilst the only being who might stop her inexorable ascendance is missing…

In rural Italy, Hellboy receives a letter from a most ancient and august society. The paranormal paragon has been hiding; avoiding having to deal with the hard-wired cosmic fate which will not let him go…

Nevertheless, on reading the missive, Hellboy returns to England and meets the oldest members of the aristocratic secret society known as the Wild Hunt. They have been clandestinely defending the Sceptr’d Isles from mystic assault for centuries and – more aware of Hellboy’s destiny-drenched antecedents than the hero himself – urge him to join them in exterminating a band of primordial giants set to ravage the Realm…

The entire affair is a trap, but the mortal warriors are no match for Hellboy who defeats his duplicitous opponents before also despatching the giants in an uncontrollable burst of berserker madness…

In a faraway place, ensorcelled goblin Gruagach of Lough Leane reflects on a long-ago slight inflicted upon him by Hellboy. This has been the cause and trigger of all the carnage and world-shattering destruction about to unfold as soon as the new Queen of Witches is ready. Perhaps he repents it all, just a shade…

The subject of his hate is currently in Ireland, renewing the acquaintance of Alice whom he saved from being abducted as a baby by the Little People. The decades have been uncannily kind, as if some elfin magic rubbed off on her…

As the Red Queen cruelly consolidates her power in England, Hellboy and Alice are visited by former pixie potentate Queen Mab who reveals another missing part of a decades-long puzzle and hints that there might be way to thwart this oppressive, inescapable destiny.

However, when another supposed ally betrays them and Alice is wounded unto death, Hellboy is approached by re-embodied myth Morgan Le Fay who offers to trade for the mortal girl’s life.

Le Fay reveals that although the hell-born hero is certainly the son of the devil. his human mother could trace her own line back to Arthur Pendragon. Hellboy is the doom of mankind but also the True King of England, and she is his many-times removed grandmother…

If he wants to save humanity from an army of darkness, he has his own to call upon – one comprising millennia of Britain’s noble dead. All Morgan’s heir has to do is take up the Sword in the Stone.

It should be easy. His new occult opponent – now calling herself the Mor-Rioghain – also wants to awaken the dragons from the beginning of time and wipe out humanity: the fore-ordained role Hellboy has sworn never to enact…

With horror Hellboy realises he has not been running from one unwanted Destiny, but two…

With fate closing in all around him, Hellboy is uncharacteristically nonplussed, but an ethereal visitation prompts him to ferocious action and as he confronts his own inherently evil nature to finally throw off all the sly influences attempting to sway him and once again choose his own path…

The opportunity came via twinned 3-issue miniseries, entitled Hellboy: The Storm and Hellboy: the Fury and opens in England as the police investigate bizarre grave desecrations: ancient church crypts and stone sarcophagi all lacking the knights and nobles who once lay in them…

The constabulary are grateful for the assistance of noted parapsychologist Hellboy, but he’s not saying much…

As Hellboy and Alice review the situation they are again attacked by elements of Britain’s mythical past sworn to the new Witch Queen even as, elsewhere, Gruagach is confronted by the land’s greatest mage who reveals the shocking truth of the red-handed harridan. The petty-minded cause of humanity’s last war is given one last chance to repent and redeem himself, but with carnage and malevolence mounting in every realm, it might be too late…

As Hellboy and Alice catch their breath in the strangest tavern in the benighted kingdoms, the duties of his office and the risen army of nobles assemble and await his decision to accept or reject his twin destinies: King of Britain and all Mankind or Lord of Hell…

And as he struggles with his decision, Hellboy’s oldest enemies gather to confront him one last time and as he reels with the force of the choices the primal forces of Ragna Rok are finally awakened to Fight the Last Battle: the Champion of Man against the Great Dragon…

All that is left now is the killing and the final judgement… or is there still a chance to save the world and evade damnation?

Offering astounding supernatural spectacle, amazing arcane action, and unfolding with the pace of a mythic saga, the majestic mystery of Hellboy is a true landmark of comics storytelling and one every comics fan and fantasy aficionado should read.

Rounding out this occult endeavour is a stunning Hellboy Sketchbook Section which includes behind-the-scenes insights, author commentary, character designs, breathtaking drawings and roughs detailing the development and visual evolution of the beasties and bad guys populating the stories to sweeten the pot for every lover of great comics art.

Baroque, grandiose, alternating suspenseful slow-boiling tension with explosive catharsis, Hellboy mixes apocalyptic revelation with astounding adventure to enthral horror addicts and action junkies alike. This is another cataclysmic compendium of dark delights you simply must have.
Hellboy™ The Wild Hunt © 1993, 2018 Mike Mignola. Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and all other prominently featured characters are trademarks of Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.

Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Bill Parker, Otto Binder, Elliot S. Maggin, Denny O’Neil, E. Nelson Bridwell, Roy Thomas, Paul Kupperberg, Alan Grant, Jerry Ordway, Joe Kelly, David Goyer, Geoff Johns, Jeff Smith, C.C. Beck, Marc Swayze, Mac Raboy, Pete Costanza, Chad Grothkopf, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Don Newton, Rich Buckler, Barry Kitson, Peter Krause, Duncan Rouleau, Leonard Kirk, Gary Frank & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5538-1 (HB)

At their most impressive, superhero comics combine the gravitas of mythology with all the sheer child-like fun and exuberance of a first rollercoaster ride. A perfect example of this is the original happy-go-lucky hero we can’t call Captain Marvel anymore.

First seen in the February 1940 issue of Whiz Comics (#2 – there was no #1) and cashing in on the comicbook sales phenomenon of Superman, the big red riot eventually won his name after narrowly missing being Captain Flash and Captain Thunder. He was the brainchild of Bill Parker and Charles Clarence Beck. Originally dispensing the same sort of summary rough justice as his contemporaries, the character soon distanced himself from the pack – Man of Steel included – by an increasingly light, surreal and comedic touch, which made him the best-selling comics character in America.

Billy’s alter ego could beat everybody but copyright lawyers; during his years of enforced inactivity the trademarked name passed to a number of other publishers before settling at Marvel Comics and they are never, never, never letting go. You can check out and compare their cinematic blockbuster version with the DC Extended Universe’s Shazam! flick too…

Publishing house Fawcett had first gained prominence through an immensely well-received magazine for WWI veterans entitled Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang, before branching out into books and general interest magazines. Their most successful publication – at least until the Good Captain hit his stride – was the ubiquitous boy’s building bible Mechanix Illustrated and, as the comicbook decade unfolded, the scientific and engineering discipline and “can-do” demeanour underpinning MI suffused and informed both the art and plots of the Marvel Family titles.

As previously stated, the big guy was created by writer/editor Bill Parker and brilliant young artist Charles Clarence Beck who, with his assistant Pete Costanza, handled most of the art on the series throughout its stellar run. Other writers included William Woolfolk, Rod Reed, Ed “France” Herron, Joe Simon, Joe Millard, Manley Wade Wellman and the wonderfully prolific Otto Binder.

Before eventually evolving his own affable personality, the Captain was a serious, bluff and rather characterless powerhouse whilst his junior alter ego was the true star: a Horatio Alger archetype of impoverished, boldly self-reliant and resourceful youth overcoming impossible odds through gumption, grit and sheer determination…

Collecting in a big bold hardback trade paperback (and assorted digital formats) Whiz Comics #2, 21, Captain Marvel Adventures #18, 38, 39, 137, 148, Captain Marvel Jr. #12, Marvel Family #1, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny #6, Shazam! #1, 29, Superman #176, World’s Finest Comics #275, DC Comics Presents #49, L.E.G.I.O.N. ‘91 #31, The Power of Shazam! #1, 2, 33, Action Comics #768, JSA #48, Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil #2, Justice League #21 and The Multiversity: Thunderworld #1 this is a magnificent primer of key moments and triumphs for a hero to whom change is everything…

The action opens in the Golden Age as Part I 1940-1953: The Big Red Cheese offers an abridged version of writer and historian Richard A. Lupoff’s 1992 Introduction to the Shazam Archives volume #1: a context-setting appreciation and appraisal covering the facts of his creation and his impact, after which Whiz Comics #2, (February 1940) provides our glimpse of the boy hero…

Drawn in a style reminiscent of early Hergé, ‘Introducing Captain Marvel’ sees homeless orphan Billy Batson lured into an abandoned subway tunnel to a meeting with millennia-old wizard Shazam. At the end of a long, long life fighting evil, the white-bearded figure grants the lad the power of six gods and heroes (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury) and urges him to carry on the good fight. In thirteen delightfully clean and simple pages crafted by Bill Parker & C.C. Beck, Billy gets his powers, has his secret origin revealed (he’s heir to a fortune embezzled by his crooked uncle Ebenezer), wins a job as a roaming radio reporter for Amalgamated Broadcasting on Station WHIZ, and defeats the mad scheme of Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana who is holding the airwaves of America hostage. Defeating the demonic mad scientist sets a pattern that would captivate readers for the next 14 years…

Next, from Whiz Comics #21 ‘The Vengeful Four’ (September 5th 1941 – fortnightly, remember?) is an uncredited script limned by Beck wherein Sivana gathers three other villains to attack the hero in his youthful identity. What luck then that three other kids named Billy Batson are in town and that the magic of Shazam apparently extends to them…

Fat Billy, Tall Billy and Hill Billy took to trouncing thugs in a trice and, as the Three Lieutenant Marvels, would become frequent guest stars in years to come…

Billy soon found a companion in peril when Fascist überman Captain Nazi almost murders newsboy Freddie Freeman. Guilt-plagued Billy brings the dying lad to Shazam’s mystic citadel where the old wizard saves his life by granting him access to the power of the ancient gods and heroes. Physically cured – except for a permanently maimed leg – there is a secondary effect: whenever he utters the phrase “Captain Marvel” Freeman transforms into a super-powered, invulnerable version of his mortal self…

That origin isn’t included here but does lead into the debut of Billy’s long-lost twin sister. Cover-dated December 11th 1942, Captain Marvel Adventures #18 cover features ‘Captain Marvel Introduces Mary Marvel’ (by Otto Binder, Marc Swayze & Mac Raboy) as radio contest competitor Mary Bromfield – a wealthy (adopted) heiress – is kidnapped. While saving her, Billy and Freddie uncover the family connection and Mary discovers that shouting “Shazam!” has a remarkable effect upon her too…

While the adult Captain Marvel was having increasingly light-hearted adventures, Freddie’s adventures in Master Comics and Captain Marvel Jr. were dark and dramatic: illustrated with potent, dynamic verve and grace by one of the most gifted draughtsmen of the era. A typical magnificent example features here as Captain Marvel Jr. #12, (October 1943, by Binder & Mac Raboy) provides the boy hero with a brutal arctic rematch against Captain Nazi in ‘Baffin Land’

Fawcett in full bloom was a true publishing innovator and marketing dynamo – now regarded as the inventor of many established comicbook sales-tactics, and storytelling innovations we all take for granted today were invented by their creative folk. Fawcett was responsible for creating crossover-events and also devised a truly unforgettable villain as part of a two-year long continued story!

The “Monster Society of Evil” began in March 1943’s Captain Marvel Adventures #22, and blazed away until ending with issue #46 (May 1945). The alien tyrant in charge was a malevolent worm from Venus dubbed Mr. Mind. Included here are two chapters – #17 and 18 from Captain Marvel Adventures #38 & 39 September and October 1944. Crafted by Binder & Beck, ‘Mr. Mind’s Movie Madness’ and ‘Peril Behind the Camera’ pits Billy and his older self against the utterly vile ubi vermis (that’s Latin for worm, science fans) during the making of the world’s worst monster movie…

‘The Mighty Marvels Join Forces’ (December 1945 by Binder, Beck & Pete Costanza) finds Billy, Mary and Freddie battling the depraved and corrupted Black Adam, who was old Shazam’s first gods-empowered champion 5000 years ago in the lead tale from team-title Marvel Family #1 (December 1945).

Superheroes began to fall from popularity as WWII ended and every publisher began searching other genres. Fawcett had already applied their winning formula to the all-ages cartoon critters market with Fawcett’s Funny Animals #1 (December 1942), which featured a lop-eared costumed crusader. Hoppy the Marvel Bunny (by Chad Grothkopf) got his own title as hostilities died down, and from #6 (November1946) comes ‘Phantom of the Forest’ as the mighty rabbit exposes supposed ghosts terrorising woodland folk…

The post-war years were simply magical times, with the creative crew at the top of their game. Captain Marvel Adventures #137 (October 1952) provides ‘King Kull and the Seven Sins’ by Binder, Beck wherein a beast-king from a pre-human civilisation frees the embodiments of Man’s greatest enemies from Shazam’s custody to plague the planet. These are wholesome tales for the entire family, however, so don’t worry – “Lust” has become “Injustice” and “Wrath” is “Hatred”, here…

The last yarn is from the Good Captain’s final year of Golden Age publication: a year that generated some of the best tales in the entire run, represented here by the wonderfully surreal ‘Captain Marvel Battles the World’ from Captain Marvel Adventures #148 (September 1952, by Binder and Beck) wherein Earth decides it has had enough of humanity mistreating it and tries to wipe out life and start again…

DC, in their original identity of National Periodical Publications, had filed suit against Fawcett for copyright infringement as soon as Whiz Comics #2 was released, and the companies had slugged it out ever since. In 1953, with sales of superhero comics decimated by changing tastes, Captain Marvel’s publishers decided to capitulate. They settled and the “Big Red Cheese” vanished – like so many other superheroes – becoming no more than a fond memory for older fans…

In Britain, where an English reprint line had run for many years, creator/publisher Mick Anglo had an avid audience and no product, and so swiftly transformed Captain Marvel into the atomic age hero Marvelman, continuing to thrill readers into the early 1960s.

DC eventually acquired all rights, titles and properties to the Captain Marvel characters. Beck returned to commercial and magazine illustration, while Binder & Schaffenberger joined the victorious opposition, becoming key Superman creators of the next few decades….

At the height of his popularity Captain Marvel was an international franchise across the world. However, tastes and the decade changed, and the mighty marvel faded away. Time passed, other companies and heroes were created and also failed, as America lived through another superhero boom-and-bust. We call it the Silver Age now…

The Bronze Age of the 1970s dawned with a shrinking industry and a wide variety of comics genres servicing a base that was increasingly founded on collector/fans and not casual or impulse buys. We rejoin our hero with the new decade fully founded as Part II 1973-1993: Cancellation and Revival sees his glorious return…

National Periodicals – rebranded as DC Comics – needed sales and were prepared to look for them in unusual places. After 1953’s settlement with Fawcett, they had secured the rights to Captain Marvel and Family, and even though the name itself had been taken up by Marvel Comics (via a circuitous and quirky robotic character published by Carl Burgos and M.F. Publications in 1967), DC decided to tap into that discriminating older fanbase.

In 1973, DC turned to the Good Captain to see if his unique charm could work another sales miracle during one of comics’ periodic downturns. Riding a wave of mass-media and movie nostalgia, they revived the entire beloved Captain Marvel cast in their own kinder, weirder universe.

To circumvent the intellectual property clash, they entitled the new comic book Shazam! (‘With One Magic Word…’) the trigger phrase used by the majority of Marvels to transform to and from mortal form and a word that had already entered the American language due to the success of the franchise the first time around.

Recruiting the top talent available, the company tapped editor Julie Schwartz – who had a few notable successes with hero revivals – to steer the project. He teamed top scripter Denny O’Neil with original artist C.C. Beck for the initial story…

All this is succinctly covered in E. Nelson Bridwell’s essay (originally published in 1978’s All-New Collectors Edition #C-58) which leads off this eclectic second section…

Strangely positioned before that debut, however, comes Superman #176 (June 1974): Elliot S. Maggin, Curt Swan & Bob Oksner’s ‘Make Way for Captain Thunder!’ The sales and fan rivalry between fans of the Man of Steel and Big Red Cheese (Sivana’s pet name for his stout-hearted nemesis) had endured for decades, and Schwartz took full advantage by having the two finally – if notionally – meet, courtesy of magical trans-dimensional jiggery-pokery in a titanic tussle to delight 10-year-olds of all ages.

You will recall, I’m sure, that Captain Thunder was one of the options considered in 1940 before Fawcett went with the Marvel name…

Finally, then comes Shazam! #1 (February 1973)… ‘In the Beginning’ recounts, in grand old self-referential style, the classic origin whilst ‘The World’s Wickedest Plan’ relates how the Captain, his super-powered family and all the supporting cast (there’s a very useful seating chart-cum-biography page provided for your perusal) had been trapped in a timeless state for 20 years by the invidious Sivana Family who had subsequently been trapped in their own Suspendium device too.

Two decades later, they are all freed, baddies included, to restart their lives and resume their feuds.

Beck was profoundly unhappy with the quality of stories he was given to draw and soon left the series. One of his assistants and stable-mates from the Fawcett days had been a Superman Family mainstay for decades and smoothly fitted into the vacated lead-artist position. Kurt Schaffenberger was delighted to again be drawing one of his all-time favourite assignments again, and his shining run is represented here by Shazam! #29 (June 1977), as ‘Ibac meets Aunt Minerva’ (Bridwell, Schaffenberger & Vince Colletta. Set in Buffalo, New York and at Niagara Falls, it features a comedic battle of the sexes that was heavy on the hitting. Although the series was not a soaring success, it had spawned a hit kids TV show, introducing the Big Red Cheese to a new generation of viewers…

When the title was cancelled, the Shazam Family began appearing in anthology titles such as World’s Finest Comics with the scent gradually shifting from whimsy to harder-edged contemporary superhero stories. Here WF #275 (January 1982) supplies ‘The Snatching of Billy Batson’ by Bridwell, Don Newton & Dan Adkins; a stirring crime thriller mystery with Freddie taking the lead role…

Team-up title DC Comics Presents #49 (September 1982) then features ‘Superman and Shazam’ (Roy Thomas, Paul Kupperberg, Rich Buckler & John Calnan) which sees the immortal wizard enlist the Action Ace’s assistance to create a Captain Marvel for Earth-1. It does not go well after Black Adam interferes…

Now fully part of the DC universe, Captain Marvel popped up everywhere. He was even a long-suffering straight man in Justice League International for a while, and here (from L.E.G.I.O.N. ‘91 #31, September 1991) Alan Grant & Barry Kitson concoct a wickedly funny slugfest as the big red boy scout tries to reason with drunk and hostile super-lout Lobo in ‘Where Dreams End’

After a number of ill-received reinventions of the Shazam! concept and franchise – revised over and over again to seem relevant to a far darker, more hopeless and uncompromising world and readership – in 1994 a fresh new treatment by Jerry Ordway revitalised the heroic legend; offering a thoroughly modern but spiritually pure reboot that finally held the interest of modern readers.

Following Ordway’s introduction to Part III 1994-2010: The World’s Mightiest Mortal, a too-brief selection of those tales begins with ‘Things Change’ and ‘The Arson Fiend’ (by scripter Ordway, Peter Krause & Mike Manley from The Power of Shazam! #1 & 2, March and April 1995).

The monthly series had resulted from an original graphic novel (which I’ll be covering imminently as it’s not here) which transplanted Billy to Fawcett City in the DC Universe and enticingly added all the old plot points the readership loved: abandoned street kid, lost sister, talking tigers, and manic villains such as Sivana and Black Adam…

In the initial yarn Billy confronts his evil, embezzling uncle Ebenezer just as a lethal supernatural pyromaniac sets the Batson mansion ablaze. To make things worse, old Shazam has just cut off his rebellious protégé from the wellspring of his superpowers…

The series balanced superb Fights ‘n’ Tights clashes with potent emotional tension, and issue #33 (December 1997, by Ordway, Krause & Dick Giordano) offers a remarkable human-interest tale with ‘Yeah – This is a Face Only a Mother Could Love’: a powerful, poignant yet ultimately uplifting treatment of intolerance and the collateral damage of superhero encounters where Billy tries to help a school-friend hideously scarred by the Arson Fiend. It’s possibly the best-executed and least known story in the book…

Superman and Captain meet again in Action Comics #768, (August 2000 by Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau & Jaimie Mendoza) as ‘O Captain, My Captain’ sees a goddess-controlled Marvel Family attack the Man of Tomorrow in a fun-filled romp after which JSA #48 (July 2003) provides ‘Enlightenment’ courtesy of David Goyer, Geoff Johns, Leonard Kirk & Keith Champagne.

Extracted from extended epic ‘Princes of Darkness’, this sidebar yarn finds Billy deprived of his adult alter ego, and battling to survive beside teen hero Star Girl as mystic night closes over Earth.

A true return to greatness came in 2007 when Jeff Smith rebooted the magic in Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil. You can find the entire saga recently reviewed here, represented in this titanic tome by issues #2’s ‘NZIB GZPVH GSV XZPV! [Mary Takes the Cake!]’

Bringing us almost up to date, final chapter Part IV 2011 and Beyond: The New 52 focuses on the latest reboot which grew out of a new Justice League configuration.

Set as a series-within-a-series (in issues #7-11, #0 and #14-17) and again turning to a far harder-edged street kid persona ‘Shazam!’ was reimagined by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank and in Justice League #21 (August 2013) where the confused kid finds his Marvel Family and earns his hero stripes in final battle with murderous Black Adam…

Rounded out with stunning covers by Beck, Costanza, Mac Raboy, Chad Grothkopf, Nick Cardy, Murphy Anderson, Schaffenberger, Rich Buckler & Dick Giordano, Dan Brereton, Jerry Ordway, Duncan Rouleau & Lary Stucker, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino, Jeff Smith & Gary Frank, this is a glorious tribute to a truly mercurial comics champion.

The original Captain Marvel is a genuine icon of American comics history and a brilliantly conceived superhero for all ages. This stunning flag-of-convenience collection only scratches the surface of the canon of delights produced over the years, but is still a perfect introduction to the world of those ever-changing comics charm and one that will appeal to readers of any age and temperament, especially after a few hours in a darkened movie theatre…
© 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1952, 1973, 1974, 1977, 1982, 1991, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2013, 2014, 2015, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Deadpool Classic volume 1


By Fabien Nicieza, Rob Liefeld, Mark Waid, Joe Kelly, Joe Madureira, Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks, Ken Lashley, Ed McGuiness & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3124-3 (TPB)

Bloodthirsty killers and stylish mercenaries have long made for popular protagonists. Here’s one we prepared earlier. Deadpool is Wade Wilson: a survivor of genetics experiments that have left him a scarred, grotesque bundle of scabs and physical unpleasantries – but practically invulnerable and capable of regenerating from literally any wound.

In his modern incarnation he’s also either one of the few beings able to perceive the true nature of reality or a total gibbering loon…

Collecting – in paperback and digital editions – his early outrages from New Mutants #98, Deadpool: The Circle Chase, Deadpool: Sins of the Past and Deadpool #1 (spanning February 1991 to January1997), this tome is the first in a series archiving his ever more outlandish escapades…

The wisecracking high-tech “merc with a mouth” was created by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza and first appeared in the aforementioned New Mutants #98 in ‘The Beginning of the End’. A throwaway killer in a convoluted saga of mutant mayhem with little else to recommend it, he was another product of the Canadian “Weapon X” project that created Wolverine and so many other second-string mutant and cyborg super-doers. Here he fails to kill future warrior Cable and his teen acolytes (imminently rebranded as X-Force)…

His first shot at stardom came with 4-issue miniseries The Circle Chase from August to November 1993 and by Nicieza, Joe Madureira & Mark Farmer. A fast-paced if cluttered thriller sees Wade pursuing an ultimate weapon as one of a large crowd of mutants and variously enhanced ne’er-do-wells trying to secure the fabled legacy of arms dealer and fugitive from the future Mr. Tolliver.

Among the other worthies after the boodle in ‘Ducks in a Row’, ‘Rabbit Season, Duck Season’, ‘…And Quacks Like a Duck…’ and ‘Duck Soup’ are Black Tom and the Juggernaut, the then-latest iteration of Weapon X, shape-shifter Copycat and a host of disposable yet fashionable cyborg loons with odd names like Commcast and Slayback.

If you can swallow any nausea associated with the dreadful trappings of this low point in Marvel’s tempestuous history, there is a sharp and entertaining little thriller underneath…

The second miniseries (from August to November 1994) revolves around Black Tom and Juggernaut.

Collaboratively contrived by writer Mark Waid, pencillers Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks, Ken Lashley and inkers Jason Minor, Bob McLeod, Bub LaRosa, Tom Wegryzn, Philip Moy & W.C. Carani, ‘If Looks Could Kill!’, ‘Luck of the Irish’, ‘Deadpool, Sandwich’ and ‘Mano a Mano’ offer a hyperkinetic race against time heavy on explosive action.

During the previous yarn it was revealed that Irish arch-villain Black Tom was slowly turning into a tree. Desperate to save his life the bad guy and his best bud Juggernaut manipulate Wade by exploiting the mercenary’s relationship with Siryn (a sonic mutant and Tom’s niece).

Believing Deadpool’s regenerating factor holds a cure, the villains cause a bucket-load of carnage at a time when Wilson is at his lowest ebb. Packed with mutant guest stars, this is a shallow but immensely readable piece of eye-candy.

Closing this debut Classic collection is the first fun-&-fury filled issue of Deadpool by Joe Kelly, Ed McGuiness, Nathan Massengill & Norman Lee. Opting for devious, daring, near-the knuckle comedy to balance the manic action, it is the true beginning of the killer clown we all know and love…

Extra-sized spectacular ‘Hey, It’s Deadpool!’ reintroduces the mouthy malcontent, and depicts his “office” and “co-workers” at the Hellhouse where he picks up his contracts. We are also afforded a glimpse at Wade’s private life in San Francisco where he has a house and keeps an old, blind lady as a permanent hostage. This was never your regular run-of-the-mill hero comic…

The insane action part of the tale comes from the South Pole where the Canadian government has a super-secret gamma weapon project going, guarded by the Alpha Flight strongman Sasquatch. Somebody is paying good money to have it destroyed so cue merc, mouthiness, and mayhem…

Featuring a frenetic blend of light-hearted, surreal, fighting frolics and incisive, poignant relationship drama that is absolutely compulsive reading for dyed-in-the-wool superhero fans who might be feeling just a little jaded with four-colour overload, this is the real deal and promises more and better to come…
© 1993, 1994, 1996, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.