Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 17

By Jim Shooter, Jim Starlin, Roger Stern, Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, David Michelinie, Bill Mantlo, Mark Gruenwald, Sal Buscema, Dave Wenzel, Tom Morgan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302903411 (HB)

The Avengers have always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when all Marvel’s classic all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy, which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either. With the team now global icons, let’s look again at the stories which form the foundation of that pre-eminence.

Re-presenting Avengers #164-177, Avengers Annual #7 plus the concluding half of the legendary crossover epic from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (cumulatively spanning October 1977 to November 1978), these stories again see the team in transition and against the biggest threats ever imagined.

During this period Jim Shooter, having galvanised and steadied the company’s notional flagship, moved on, leaving David Michelinie to impress his own ideas and personality upon the team, even as Cosmic Doomsmith Jim Starlin recruited the team to inscribe an epic ending to his seminal interpretation of tragic antihero Adam Warlock

Opening this titanic tome is an informative Foreword from scripter Roger Stern, followed by a stunning 3-part saga by Shooter, John Byrne & Pablo Marcos which reinvented one of the team’s oldest adversaries.

It begins in #164 as, after months of speculation and experimentation, the resurrected Wonder Man is finally revealed to have evolved into a creature of pure ionic energy. Elsewhere, aging Maggia Don Count Nefaria recruits Whirlwind, Power Man (the original mercenary who had undergone the same transformative experiment as Wonder Man) and Living Laser to amass plunder for him. This tactic is mere subterfuge…

After the thieves trash a squad of Avengers, Nefaria uses his flunkies’ bodies as templates and power source to turn himself into a literal Superman before attacking the already-battered heroes in ‘To Fall by Treachery!’

The tension builds in #165 as ‘Hammer of Vengeance’ sees the out-powered team fall, only to be saved by elderly speedster The Whizzer who points out that, for all his incredible strength, Nefaria too is an old man with death inevitably dogging his heels…

Panicked and galvanised, the Overman goes berserk, carving a swathe of destruction through the city whilst seeking a confrontation with Thunder God Thor and the secret of his immortality. Before too long he had reason to regret his demands. The surprise arrival of the Thunderer in ‘Day of the Godslayer!’ ends the madman’s dreams but also highlights growing tensions within the victorious team…

This superb thriller is followed by ‘The Final Threat’ (Jim Starlin & Joe Rubinstein) from Avengers Annual #7, wherein Kree warrior Captain Marvel and Titanian mind-goddess Moondragon return to Earth with vague anticipations of an impending cosmic catastrophe.

Their premonitions are confirmed when galactic wanderer Adam Warlock arrives with news that death-obsessed Thanos has amassed an alien armada and built a Soul-gem powered weapon to snuff out the stars like candles…

Broaching interstellar space to stop the scheme, the united heroes forestall the stellar invasion and prevent the Dark Titan from destroying the Sun, but only at the cost of Warlock’s life…

Then ‘Death Watch!’ (Starlin & Rubinstein from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2) finds Peter Parker plagued by prophetic nightmares, disclosing how Thanos had snatched victory from defeat and now holds the Avengers captive whilst again preparing to extinguish Sol.

With nowhere else to turn, the anguished, disbelieving Spider-Man heads for the Baxter Building, hoping to borrow a spacecraft, unaware that The Thing also has history with the terrifying Titan.

Although utterly overmatched, the mismatched champions of Life subsequently upset Thanos’ plans enough so that the Avengers and the Universe’s true agent of retribution can end the Titan’s threat forever… or at least until next time…

Back in the monthly, an epic of equal import was about to unfold. Shooter’s connection to the series, although episodic, was long-lived and produced some of that period’s greatest tales, none more so than the stellar – if deadline-doomed – saga which occurred over succeeding months: a sprawling tale of time-travel and universal conquest which began in Avengers #167-168 and, after a brief pause, resumed for #170 through #177.

In previous issues a difference of opinion between Captain America and Iron Man over leadership styles had begun to polarise the team. Cracks appeared and tensions started to show in #167 with ‘Tomorrow Dies Today!’ (Shooter, George Pérez & Marcos).

In the Gods-&-Monsters filled Marvel Universe there are entrenched and jealous Hierarchies of Power, so when a new player mysteriously materialises in the 20th century the very Fabric of Reality is threatened…

It kicks off when star-spanning 31st century superheroes the Guardians of the Galaxy materialise in Earth orbit, hotly pursuing cyborg despot Korvac. Inadvertently setting off planetary incursion alarms, their minor-moon sized ship is swiftly penetrated by an Avengers squad, and – after the customary introductory squabble – the future men (Charlie-27, Yondu, Martinex, Nikki, Vance Astro and enigmatic space God Starhawk) explain the purpose of their mission…

Captain America had fought beside them to liberate their home era from Badoon rule and Thor battled the fugitive Korvac before, so peace soon breaks out, but even with the resources of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the time travellers are unable to find their quarry…

Meanwhile on Earth, a mysterious being named Michael lurks in the background. At a fashion show staged by the Wasp, he achieves a psychic communion with model Carina Walters before they both vanish…

‘First Blood’ (Avengers #168) stirs up more trouble as Federal liaison and hidebound martinet Henry Peter Gyrich begins making life bureaucratically hot for the maverick team. In Colorado, meanwhile, Hawkeye gets a shock as his travelling partner Two-Gun Kid vanishes before his eyes whilst in suburban Forest Hills, Starhawk – in his female iteration of Aleta – approaches a quiet residence…

Michael/Korvac’s plan consists of subtly altering events as he gathers strength in secret preparation for a sneak attack on those aforementioned Cosmic Hierarchies. His entire plan revolves around not being noticed. When Starhawk confronts him, the villain kills the stellar intruder and instantly resurrects him minus the ability to perceive Michael or any of his works…

The drama screeches to a halt in #169, which declares ‘If We Should Fail… The World Dies Tonight!’ The out of context potboiler – by Marv Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Dave Hunt – sees Cap, Iron Man and the Black Panther scour the planet in search of doomsday bombs wired to the failing heart of a dying man, after which the major mayhem resumes in #170 with ‘…Though Hell Should Bar the Way!’ by Shooter, Pérez & Marcos.

As Sentinel of Liberty and Golden Avenger finally settle their differences, in Inhuman city Attilan, ex-Avenger Quicksilver suddenly disappears even as dormant mechanoid Jocasta (designed by maniac AI Ultron to be his bride) goes on a rampage before vanishing into the wilds of New York City.

In stealthy pursuit and hoping her trail will lead to Ultron himself, the team stride into a trap ‘…Where Angels Fear to Tread’ but nevertheless triumph thanks to the hex powers of the Scarlet Witch, the assistance of pushy, no-nonsense new hero Ms. Marvel and Jocasta’s own rebellion against the metal monster who made her. However, at their moment of triumph the Avengers are stunned to see Cap and Jocasta wink out of existence…

The problems pile up in #172 as Watchdog-come-Gadfly Gyrich is roughly manhandled and captured by out-of-the-loop returnee Hawkeye and responds by rescinding the team’s Federal clearances.

Badly handicapped, the heroes are unable to warn other inactive members of the increasing disappearances even as a squad of heavy hitters rush off to tackle marauding Atlantean maverick Tyrak the Treacherous who is bloodily enacting a ‘Holocaust in New York Harbor!’ (by Shooter, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson)…

Answers to the growing mystery are finally forthcoming in ‘Threshold of Oblivion!’, plotted by Shooter, with David Michelinie scripting for Sal Buscema & D(iverse) Hands to illustrate.

As the vanishings escalate, the remaining Avengers (Thor, Wasp, Hawkeye and Iron Man – with the assistance of Vance Astro) finally track down their hidden foe and beam into a cloaked starship to liberate the ‘Captives of the Collector!’(Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Dave Wenzel & Marcos)…

After a staggering struggle, the heroes triumph and their old foe reveals the shocking truth: he is in fact an Elder of the Universe who foresaw cosmic doom millennia previously and sought to preserve special artefacts and creatures – such as the Avengers – from the slowly approaching apocalypse.

As he reveals that predicted end-time is here and that he has sent his own daughter Carina to infiltrate the Enemy’s stronghold, the cosmic curator is obliterated in a devastating blast of energy. The damage however is done and the entrenched hierarchies of creation may well be alerted…

Issue #175 began the final countdown as ‘The End… and Beginning!’ (Shooter, Michelinie, Wenzel & Marcos) sees the amassed and liberated ranks of Avengers and Guardians follow the clues to Michael, just as the new god shares the incredible secret of his apotheosis with Carina, before ‘The Destiny Hunt!’ and ‘The Hope… and the Slaughter!’ (Shooter, Wenzel, Marcos & Ricardo Villamonte) depicts the entire army of champions destroyed and resurrected as Michael easily overpowers all opposition but falters for lack of one fundamental failing…

Spread through a series of lesser adventures, the overarching epic ponderously and ominously unfolds before finally exploding into a devastating and tragic Battle Royale that is the epitome of superhero comics. This is pure escapist fantasy at its finest.

Despite being somewhat diminished by the artwork when the magnificent Pérez gave way to less inspired hands and cursed by the inability to keep a regular inker (Pablo Marcos, Klaus Janson Ricardo Villamonte and Tom Morgan all pitched in), the sheer scope of the epic plot nevertheless carries this story through to its cataclysmic and fulfilling conclusion.

Even Shooter’s reluctant replacement by scripters Dave Michelinie and Bill Mantlo (as his editorial career advanced) couldn’t derail this juggernaut of adventure.

If you want to see what makes Superhero fiction work, and can keep track of nearly two dozen flamboyant characters, this is a fine example of how to make such an unwieldy proposition easily accessible to the new and returning reader.

Available in hardback and digital iterations, and supplemented by original cover art by Pérez and Dave Cockrum, contemporary House Ads, editorial material and covers from previous compilations plus an epilogue strip by Mark Gruenwald & Tom Morgan, this archival tome and this type of heroic adventure might not be to every reader’s taste but these – and the truly epic yarns that followed – set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and informed all those movies everybody loves. This tale can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the quietly isolated and no less dangerous 21st century…

No lovers of Costumed Dramas can afford to ignore this superbly bombastic book, and fans who think themselves above superhero stories might also be pleasantly surprised…
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 6

By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1631403255 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-786-5

How many cartoon classics can you think of still going after a century? Here’s one…

There are a few fictional personages to enter communal world consciousness – and fewer still from comics – but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894. His father was a general handyman, and the boy’s early life was filled with the kinds of solid, dependable blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. He worked as a decorator, house-painter and also played drums; accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre.

When the town got a movie-house, he played for the silent films, absorbing all the staging, timing and narrative tricks from keen observation of the screen. Those lessons would become his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was while working as the film projectionist, at age 18, that he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others in those hard times, he studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio, before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – regarded by most in the know today as the inventor of modern newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown.

The celebrated pioneer introduced Segar around at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, the kid’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916.

In 1918, Segar married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, but Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and packed the newlyweds off to New York, HQ of the mighty King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, which launched December 19th 1919 in the New York Journal. It was a smart pastiche of cinema and knock-off of movie-inspired features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies, with a repertory of stock players to act out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies for vast daily audiences. It didn’t stay that way for long…

The core cartoon cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl; their lanky, highly-strung daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and the homely ingenue’s plain and (very) simple occasional boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (latterly, just Ham Gravy).

Segar had been successfully, steadily producing Thimble Theatre for a decade when he introduced a brusque, vulgar “sailor man” into the daily ongoing saga of hapless halfwits on January 17th 1929. Nobody suspected the giddy heights that stubborn cantankerous walk-on would reach…

Many Happy Returns, you old matelot, you…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle. This one endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career. The feature even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great humour stylist: Bud Sagendorf.

After Segar’s far-too-premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the strip, even as the Fleischer Studio’s animated features brought Popeye to the entire world, albeit a slightly different vision of the old salt of the funny pages. Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments. But then, finally, Bud arrived…

Born in 1915, Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf was barely 17 when his sister – who worked in the Santa Monica art store where Segar bought his drawing supplies – introduced the kid to the master cartoonist who became his teacher and employer as well as a father-figure. In 1958, after years on the periphery, Sagendorf finally took over the strip and all the merchandise design, becoming Popeye’s prime originator…

When Sagendorf became the main man, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. Bud wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years and when he died in 1994, he was succeeded by controversial “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London.

Young Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and from 1948 onwards was exclusive writer and illustrator of Popeye’s comicbook adventures. These launched in February of that year in a regular monthly title published by America’s unassailable king of periodical licensing, Dell Comics.

When Popeye first appeared, he was a rude, crude brawler: a gambling, cheating, uncivilised ne’er-do-well. He was soon exposed as the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate, unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not; a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who took no guff from anyone…

Naturally, as his popularity grew, Popeye mellowed somewhat. He was still ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows, but the shocking sense of dangerous unpredictability and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed… but not in Sagendorf’s comicbook yarns…

Collected in their entirety in this beguiling full-colour hardback (also available in digital editions) are issues #25-29 of Popeye’s comic book series, produced by the irrepressible Sagendorf and collectively spanning July-September 1953 to July-September 1954.

The stunning, nigh stream-of-consciousness slapstick sagas are preceded by an effusively appreciative ‘Society of Sagendorks’ mission statement by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe, offering a mirthful mission statement after which the regular collation of ephemera and a merchandise dubbed the ‘Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’ shares cover art domestic and foreign; themed key-rings, art from Segar Russell (Broom-Hilda) Myers and excerpts from Bud’s Artists Cartoon Course (1960). Also included are ghosted Thimble Theatre strips he did during the Tom Sim/Bela Zaboly era, commissioned cast sketches and assorted trivia such as packaging for the Popeye Funny Face Maker and a TV syndication ad.

We rejoin the ceaseless parade of laughs, surreal imagination and thrills with #25 which opens and closes with a prose yarn adorning both inside front and back covers. ‘Bread Time!’ reveals how a cow named Harriet deals with her unlikely passion for baked goods before the comic capers commence with ‘Shrink Weed!’ as some “wild spinach” reduces the old salt and baby Swee’Pea to the size of insects with potentially dire and outrageous consequences…

Sagendorf was a smart guy in tune with popular trends and fashions as well as understanding how kids’ minds worked. His tales are timeless in approach and delivery. In the era of rapid television expansion, cowboys were King, with westerns dominating both large and small screens as well as plenty of comics. Thus, many sagas featured Popeye as a horse-riding sagebrush wanderer who ran a desert railroad when he wasn’t prospecting…

‘Live Game’ finds infant Swee’Pea contending with a little Indian boy and his pet bear before teaming up to play a prank on the adults after which back-up feature Sherm features another bright spark youngster. Here the kid succumbs to the juvenile blandishments of the girl next door in ‘Ah Love!’

Issue #26 opens and closes with text tale ‘Cat Fish’ as an inner-city moggy imaginatively satisfies a yearning for fresh fodder, whilst ‘Popeye and the Gang’ face an invasion of ‘Spookers!’ intent of avenging themselves on senior reprobate Poopdeck Pappy after which ‘Popeye and Swee’Pea in “Kid Raising!!”’ finds Popeye and Olive using book learning to counter Swee’Pea’s pester power.

Following the trend for sci fi fun, new feature ‘Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco’ introduces a robotic father and son in a wild romp featuring a spare-parts scavenging rogue called the Black Mechanic

Popeye #27 (January-March 1954) starts with a prose parable about a blacksmith’s cat discovering a new toy in ‘Space Ball!’ before the entire cartoon cast visit ‘The Happy Little Island’ and confront subsurface creatures doing their darndest to spoil that jolly atmosphere.

Popeye and Swee’Pea then clash as the little nipper tries boosting his strength with a spinach overdose in ‘Full Power!’, before Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco! sees the clever kid construct a junk yard dog from junk yard junk…

In #28 ‘Fowl! Fowl!’ offers a text yarn about an alley cat promising a slap-up feed for his pals before ‘Popeye and Swee’Pea! in “Moneybag! Or Buddy, Can You Spare a Nugget?”’ sees old moocher Wimpy bamboozle himself when he sees Swee’Pea playing with Popeye’s bullion bags…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiably ravenous J. Wellington Wimpy debuted in the newspaper strip on May 3rd 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s pugilistic bouts. The scurrilous yet scrupulously polite oaf struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Always hungry, keen to solicit bribes and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases – such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and “Let’s you and him fight” – Wimpy is the perfect foil for a simple action hero who increasingly stole the entire show… and anything else unless it was extremely well nailed down…

He’s no match for the kid, though…

Calamity strikes courtesy of the sinister Sea Hag next as ‘“Weed Shortage” or “Pass the Spinach!”’ finds the sailor man scuppered by a global spinach blight. Captured by his frightful foe, the weakened water warrior needs the motivation of Wimpy and sweety-pie Olive to save his own bacon…

Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco then clash as the junior robot starts copying human kids and their bizarre games, and dad tries to set him straight…

Closing the comic capers for now, Popeye #29 (July-September 1954) opens with prose poser ‘Nine for Nine’ wherein Garry the Cat plays fast and loose with his stockpile of spare lives. Popeye then excels in another epic confrontation with the Sea Hag, who unleashes magical menace ‘The Boo-Bird!’ in the certainty that the old salt has no defence. Yet again, the villain underestimates Olive and the restorative power of spinach…

When Popeye refuses to give his kid a dime, Swee’Pea consults Wimpy and crafts a brilliant get-rich quick scheme in ‘Pay Dirt!’ after which ‘Axle and Cam!’ sees dad swept off his feet by the boy’s latest fun invention…

Outrageous and side-splitting, these all-ages yarns are evergreen examples of surreal narrative cartooning at its most inspirational. Over the last nine decades Thimble Theatre’s most successful son has unfailingly delighted readers and viewers around the world. This book is simply one of many, but definitely top-tier entertainment for all those who love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure. If that’s you, add this compendium of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 6 © 2015 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2015 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

Sub-Mariner Marvel Masterworks volume 4

By Roy Thomas, Marie Severin, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Jack Katz & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5048-0 (HB)

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner is the offspring of a water-breathing Atlantean princess and an American polar explorer; a hybrid being of immense strength, highly resistant to physical harm, able to fly and exist above and below the waves. Created by young, talented Bill Everett, Namor technically predates Marvel/Atlas/Timely Comics.

He first caught the public’s attention as part of the elementally appealing fire vs. water headlining team in the October 1939 cover-dated Marvel Comics #1 which became Marvel Mystery Comics with issue #2. He shared honours and top billing with The Human Torch, but had originally been seen (albeit in a truncated monochrome version) in Motion Picture Funnies: a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

Rapidly emerging as one of the industry’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (Spring 1941) and was one of the last super-characters to go at the end of the first heroic age. In 1954, when Atlas (as the company then was) briefly revived its “Big Three” (the Torch and Captain America being the other two) costumed characters, Everett returned for an extended run of superb darkly timely fantasy tales, but even his input wasn’t sufficient to keep the title afloat and Sub-Mariner sank again.

When Stan Lee & Jack Kirby began reinventing comic book superheroes in 1961 with the groundbreaking Fantastic Four, they revived the awesome and all-but-forgotten amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac anti-hero. Decidedly more bombastic, regal and grandiose, the returnee despised humanity; embittered at the loss of his sub-sea kingdom (seemingly destroyed by American atomic testing) whilst simultaneously besotted with the FF’s Susan Storm.

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for a few years, squabbling with other star turns such as the Hulk,Avengers, X-Men and Daredevil, before securing his own series as one half of Tales to Astonish, and ultimately his own solo title.

This fourth subsea selection – available in hardback and eBook editions – collects Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner #14-25, spanning June 1969 to May 1970 and opens with another heartfelt appreciation and some creative secret-sharing from sometime-scribe and life-long devotee Roy Thomas in his Introduction.

Innovative action and shameless nostalgia vie for attention as Thomas, Marie Severin and Mike Esposito (moonlighting as Joe Gaudioso) decree ‘Burn, Namor… Burn!’ in Sub-Mariner #14, as the Mad Thinker apparently resurrects the original – android – Human Torch and sets him to destroy the monarch of Atlantis. This epic clash was one prong of an early experiment in multi-part cross-overs (Captain Marvel #14 and Avengers #64 being the other episodes of the triptych).

Inked by Vince Colletta, ‘The Day of the Dragon!’ finds Namor back in Atlantis after months away, only to find his beloved Lady Dorma has been abducted by old foe Dr. Dorcas. The trail leads to Empire State University and brutal battle against mighty android Dragon Man

“Gaudioso” returned for Namor’s voyage to a timeless phenomenon in search of mutated foe Tiger Shark who had conquered ‘The Sea that Time Forgot!’, after which the Sub-Mariner contends with an alien intent on draining Earth’s oceans in ‘From the Stars… the Stalker!’ pencilled in tandem by Severin and Golden Age Great Jack Katz, using nom de plume Jay Hawk.

The saga ends calamitously in ‘Side by Side with… Triton!’ (Thomas, Severin & Gaudioso) as, with the help of the aquatic Inhuman, Namor repels the extraterrestrial assault, but loses his ability to breathe underwater. Now forced to dwell on the surface, the despised Atlantean then crushingly clashes with an old friend in the livery of a new superhero in ‘Support your Local Sting-Ray!’ This bombastic battle yarn also offers a delicious peek at the Marvel Bullpen, courtesy of (ex-EC veterans) Severin and inker Johnny Craig’s deft caricaturing skills…

John Buscema returns for #20, with Thomas scripting and Craig inking a chilling dose of realpolitik. ‘In the Darkness Dwells… Doom!’ sees Namor lured by the promise of a cure to his breathing difficulties into the exploitative clutches of the mad Monarch of Latveria. Trapping the Sub-Mariner and keeping him, however, are two wildly differing concepts…

Informed of Namor’s condition, the armies of Atlantis are marshalled by Dorma and disgraced Warlord Seth in ‘Invasion from the Ocean Floor!’ (art by Severin & Craig) besieging New York and almost invoking a new age of monsters.

As Namor’s malady is treated by Atlantean super-science, a key component of a new Superhero concept begins.

Last of the big star conglomerate super-groups, the Defenders would eventually count amongst its membership almost every hero – and a few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No surprise there as initially they were composed of the company’s bad-boys: misunderstood, outcast and often actually dangerous to know.

The genesis of the team in fact derived from their status as publicly distrusted “villains”, but before all that later inventive approbation linked tales of enigmatic antiheroes as best exemplified by Prince Namor, and the Incredible Hulk. When you add the mystery and magic of Doctor Strange the recipe for thrills, spills and chills became simply irresistible…

Following on from Dr. Strange #183 (November 1969) – which introduced the infernal Undying Ones, an elder race of demons hungry to reconquer the Earth – February 1970’s Sub-Mariner #22 ‘The Monarch and the Mystic!’ brought the Prince of Atlantis into the mix, as Thomas, Severin & Craig relate a moody tale of sacrifice in which the Master of the Mystic Arts apparently dies holding the gates of Hell shut with the Undying Ones pent behind them.

In case you’re curious, the saga concludes on an upbeat note in Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970). You might want to track down that yarn too…

Even restored to full capacity, there’s no peace for the regal, and Sub-Mariner #23 finds Namor still contending with Dorcas and arch villain Warlord Krang after the human mad scientist uses his power-transfer process to create an Atlantean wonder with the might of killer whales in ‘The Coming of… Orka!’ The slow-witted psycho subsequently sets an army of enraged cetaceans against the sunken city as John Buscema & Jim Mooney step in artistically to depict how ‘The Lady and the Tiger Shark!’ finds Namor enslaved and Dorma making Faustian pacts to save Atlantis.

This scintillating volume concludes with a landmark tale as – restored to rule and ready to be riled – Namor becomes an early and strident environmental activist after surface world pollution slaughters some of his subjects. Crafted by Thomas, Sal Buscema & Mooney, ‘A World My Enemy!’ follows Sub-Mariner’s bellicose confrontation with the UN as he puts humanity on notice: clean up your mess or I will…

From this point on the antihero would become a minor icon and subtle advocate of the issues, even if only to young comics readers…

These tales feature some of Marvel’s greatest artists at their visual peak, with all the verve and enthusiasm still shining through. Many early Marvel Comics are more exuberant than qualitative, but this volume, especially from an art-lover’s point of view, is a wonderful exception: a historical treasure fans will delight in forever.
© 1968, 1969, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tales of the Batman: Steve Englehart

By Steve Englehart, Sal Amendola, Walt Simonson, Marshall Rogers, Irv Novick, Dusty Abell, Javier Pulido, Trevor Von Eeden & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9554-7 (HB)

Steve Englehart was born on April 22, 1947 and, after studying psychology and earning a Batchelor of Arts from Wesleyan University in 1969, began a multi-pronged creative career incorporating novels, games and comics. He began as an art assistant to Neal Adams: one of the inking all-stars dubbed the “Crusty Bunkers” but the early 1970s, had switched to scripting. He was one of the most popular and innovative writers of superheroes in the field on titles such as Captain America, Hulk, Captain Marvel and others. In 1973 he and collaborator Jim Starlin brought martial arts to comics with Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. In his near 50-year career he has created and scripted countless comics wonders, but will probably be best regarded foe his astounding efforts on Batman.

Although his contributions to the Dark Knight’s canon are relatively few, they are all of exceptional quality as proved by this commemorative hardback and digital tome, reprinting his stories from Batman #311, Batman: Dark Detective #1-6, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #109-111, Detective Comics #439, 469-476, Legends of the DC Universe #26-27 and The Batman Chronicles #19, cumulatively spanning March 1974 to September 2005.

Kicking off the tense drama and flamboyant action is stand-alone saga ‘Night of the Stalker’ (from Detective #439, 1974), illustrated by Vin and Sal Amendola, with Dick Giordano inking one of most powerful intense and stories in the canon, hinting at the psychological traumas driving Batman, and a precursor of many future tales. Here, the Dark Knight is helpless to prevent another young boy from losing his parents to crime and becomes a remorseless, relentless avenger until justice is done…

In the mid-1970s Marvel were kicking the stuffings out of DC Comics in terms of sales if not quality product. The most sensible solution – as always – was poaching away top talent. That strategy had limited long-term success but one major defection was Englehart, who had recently scripted groundbreaking, award-winning work on The Avengers, Defenders and Dr. Strange titles.

He was given the Justice League of America for a year but also requested – and was given – the Batman slot in flagship title Detective Comics. Expected to be daring, innovative and forward looking, he instead chose to invoke a classic and long-departed style which became a new signature interpretation, and one credited with inspiring the 1989 movie mega-blockbuster. It also gibed perfectly with the notions of artistic partner Marshall Rogers and his inseparable inker Terry Austin. However, initially Englehart was paired with artists Walt Simonson & Al Milgrom for the series, who jointly introduced not only a skeletal, radioactive new villain but also Gotham’s corrupt City Council chief, Rupert “Boss” Thorne in epic opening gambit ‘…By Death’s Eerie Light!’ and supplementary opus of corruption ‘The Origin of Dr Phosphorus’

Here the Caped Crimebuster is first politically isolated and then outlawed in his own city. The art team also limned sequel ‘The Master Plan of Dr. Phosphorus!’, debuting another landmark character: captivating and competent Modern Woman Silver St. Cloud.

With issue #471 (August 1977) relative newcomers Rogers & Austin took over and true magic began to be made. As the scripts brought back revered golden-age A-list villains, the art recaptured and reinforced the power and moodiness of the strip’s formative years: all whilst adding to the unique and distinctive iconography of the Batman.

Last seen in Detective Comics #46 (1940), quintessential Mad Scientist Hugo Strange came closer than any other villain to destroying both Bruce Wayne and the Batman in ‘The Dead Yet Live’ and ‘I Am The Batman!’ (Detective #471 and #472 respectively), briefly stealing his identity and setting in motion a diabolical scheme that would run through the entire sequence…

Teen Wonder Robin returned in #473’s ‘The Malay Penguin!’ as nefarious Napoleon of Crime the Penguin challenges a temporarily reunited Dynamic Duo to an entrancing, intoxicating duel of wits, after which ‘The Deadshot Ricochet’updates an old loser for the second ever appearance of a murderous high society dilettante sniper (after an initial outing in Batman #59, 1950). The tale so reinvigorated the third-rate trick-shooter that he’s seldom been missing from the DC Universe since; starring in a number of series such as Suicide Squad and Secret Six: in a couple of eponymous miniseries and on both silver and small screens.

The best was saved for last, with all the sub-plots concerning Silver St. Cloud, Boss Thorne, Gotham City Council, and even a recurring ghost culminating in THE classic confrontation with The Joker.

The absolute zenith in this too-short, stellar sequence resurrecting old foes could only star the Dark Knight’s nemesis at his most chaotic. Cover-dated February and April 1978, Detective #475-476 introduces ‘The Laughing Fish’ before culminating in ‘The Sign of the Joker!’ One of the most reprinted Bat-tales ever concocted, it was adapted as an episode of award-winning Batman: The Animated Adventures TV show in the 1990s.

In fact, you’ve probably already read it. But if you haven’t… what a treat you have awaiting you! Manic and murderous, the Harlequin of Hate goes on a murder spree after mutating fish. As seafood with the Joker’s horrific smile turn up in catches all over the Eastern Seaboard, the Clown Prince attempts to trademark them. When patent officials foolishly tell him it can’t be done, they start dying… publicly, impossibly and incredibly painfully…

The story culminates in a spectacularly apocalyptic clash among the city’s rooftops which shaped and informed the Batman mythos for decades after…

Having said all he wanted to say, Englehart left Batman and soon after quit comics for a few years.

He was enticed back for Batman #311 (May 1979, rendered by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin) as Batgirl joins the embattled hero to spoil a mad vengeance plot in Doctor Phosphorus is Back!’

Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths – which wiped multiple universes in exchange for a new unified, rationalised DCU – Legends of the Dark Knight was a Batman title employing star guest creators to reimagine the hero’s history and past cases for modern audiences. Englehart and illustrators Dusty Abell & Drew Graci contributed a sharp brain-twisting turn in issues #109-111 (August-October 2000) as ‘Primal Riddle’ – broken down into ‘Nasty, Brutish and Short!’, ‘Perhaps the Only Riddle That We Shrink From Giving Up!’ and ‘A Dumpster of Chèrées’, traces Batman’s recovery from a life-altering injury even as the manic Prince of Puzzlers offers his greatest and weirdest challenge yet…

For The Batman Chronicles #19 (Winter 2000) the writer skipped back to the earliest moments of Batman’s career, with artist Javier Pulido as ‘Got a Date with an Angel’ sees the neophyte avenger forced to choose between love and duty for the first time…

Legends of the DC Universe was an attempt by the publishers to bring updated classic stories to a fresh-eyed reading public. With #26-27 (March & April 2000), Englehart, Trevor Von Eeden & Joe Rubenstein present the flip side to the Joker-Fish sage as ‘The Fishy Laugh’ finds the Harlequin of Hate in Atlantis vying with Aquaman to be king of fish. The cod crisis only escalates until Batman finally swims in to end the ‘Reign of the Joker!’

Under Englehart, Rogers & Austin, Detective Comics had managed to be nostalgically avant-garde and iconoclastically traditional at the same time, setting both the tone and the character structure of Batman for generations. That made thoughts of a reunion run both constant and inevitable – like a school reunion where you forget yourself for a moment, then catch yourself pogoing to “God Save the Queen” in the bar mirror. Of course, the truth is you can’t ever go back and you just look like an idiot doing it now.

Although not quite as bad as that, miniseries Batman: Dark Detective #1-6 (running from July to September 2005) suffers from an excess of trying too hard as the titanic trio reunited to recount what happened after the major players reassembled on ‘Some Enchanted Evening’.

It begins as Silver St. Cloud returns to Gotham to help her new fiancé Senator Evan Gregory secure nomination as a Gubernatorial candidate. That means looking for donations from her old lover Bruce Wayne, and events are further complicated when the Joker announces his own run for the role. His tactics can be best described by his own slogan “Vote for Me …Or I’ll Kill You”. I think I’m seeing another parallel to modern real-world politics here…

The plot thickens in ‘You May See a Stranger’ when – amidst a growing body count – other lethal loons make their own sinister sorties. Now, as well as The Joker’s terrifyingly unconventional political tactics, Batman also has to deal with The Scarecrow’s unwitting release of Wayne’s repressed memories of a murder attempt upon himself the night after his parents were killed, and a frankly ludicrous clone-plot as Two Face tries to fix himself through Mad Science.

Before long, the shamefully inescapable occurs and Bruce and Silver succumb to unresolved passions in ‘Two Faces Have I’

Plagued by guilt – both long entrenched and of more recent vintage – the Dark Knight writhes in manufactured nightmares even as fresh horrors are actually happening in grim reality. ‘Thriller’ sees the Maniac of Mirth abduct Silver, and her recently un-engaged would-be Governor joins Batman in a rescue bid for ‘Everybody Dance Now’ that leads only to tragedy and doom in catastrophic concluding chapter ‘House’

These tales are just as fresh and welcoming today, their themes and scenes just as compelling now as then and this vision of Batman remains a unique and iconic one. This is a Bat-book everybody can enjoy: a lavish treat any Batfan or comics aficionado will always treasure.
© 1974, 1977-1979, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

By various Archie Superstars (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-67-9 (PB)

As you probably know by now, Archie Andrews has been around for seventy-nine years: chasing both the incomprehensibly devoted Betty Cooper and wildly out-of-his-league Veronica Lodge whilst best friend Jughead Jones alternately mocks and abets his romantic endeavours.

As devised by the legion of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories of teenage antics in and around the idyllic, utopian small town of Riverdale over the decades, these are timeless tales of the most wholesome Kids in America which have captivated successive generations of readers and entertained millions worldwide.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the company has often supplanted and expanded upon their storytelling brief with short gags, pin-ups and cartoons, jokes and puzzles and Archie’s Even Funnier Kid’s Joke Book has bundled scads of the very best of these brief diversions – starring the full capacious coterie of companions and hangers-on as well as few guest-stars – into a captivating compilation guaranteed to engross and amuse young and old alike.

Duty and sincere respect compel me to tell you that all the vignettes, cartoons, appalling puns, “guess the gag” games, crazy comebacks, silly riddles, visual extracts and “write your own caption” material re-presented in the 192 big, big pages here are the result of sheer hard work and inspiration from Bob Montana, Frank Doyle, Bill Vigoda, George Gladir, Al Hartley, Bill Golliher, Hy Eisman, Dick Malmgren, Bob Bolling, Samm Schwartz, Stan Goldberg, Dan Parent, Fernando Ruiz, Harry Lucey, Dan DeCarlo (Senior and Junior), Jeff Shultz, Joe Edwards, Rudy Lapick, Rich Koslowski, Bob Smith, Terry Austin, Barry Grossman, Tito Pena, Joe Morciglio, Jon D’Agostino, Bill Yoshida & Jack Morelli.

Common sense then informs me that you’ll have immeasurable fun inwardly digesting all the superbly silly stuff culled from more than seven masterful decades of madcap mirth…

Spoiled Sports gets us underway by providing 26 pages of iconic and hilarious gags and strips celebrating football, baseball, golf, skiing, hockey and all those other strenuous pastimes kids enjoy, after which What’s So Funny? abstracts 50 panels so amusing that they don’t need any context – or the rest of their stories they originally came from – and all liberally augmented with marginal riddles and brainteasers…

Ever-hungry Jughead plays a big part in chapter 3 as Food For Thought gathers 22 pages worth of nosh-themed material, whilst the accumulated and unsavoury staff of Riverdale High looms large in the 24 page Faculty Funnies chapter which uproariously follows, before Mixed Nuts offers 28 sides of crazy situations and mad laughter starring just about everybody and their friends…

Archie always played well at and pulled out all the stops for Christmas issues and here Holiday Hijinks repeats some the best festive moments in a bumper section which too soon swiftly segues into an appreciation of the eternal struggle for romantic bliss in Rabid Rivals or Love and War

This stunning collection – available in wrist-crunching monolithic paperback and easy-to-hold digital formats – of gags and good times then ends with a tumult of audience participation as Say What? offers 23 pages of classic strips and pin-ups with all the word balloons emptied for you to fill in with your own brilliant bon mots and sassy comebacks…

Hilarious, absorbing and way more fun than a Christmas cracker, Archie’s Even Funnier Kid’s Joke Book is an addictively enticing treat no family should be without…
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ghost Rider Marvel Masterworks volume 2

By Tony Isabella, Gary Friedrich, Bill Mantlo, Marv Wolfman, Steve Gerber, Jim Mooney, Frank Robbins, George Tuska, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, John Byrne & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2214-6 (HB)

At the end of the 1960s American comicbooks were in turmoil, much like the youth of the nation they targeted. Superheroes had dominated for much of the decade; peaking globally before explosively falling to ennui and overkill. Older genres such as horror, westerns and science fiction returned, fed by radical trends in movie-making where another, new(ish) wrinkle had also emerged: disenchanted, rebellious, unchained Youth on Motorbikes seeking a different way forward.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen, Captain America and many others all took the Easy Rider option to boost flagging sales (and if you’re interested, the best of the crop was Mike Sekowsky’s tragically unfinished mini-masterpiece of cool Jason’s Quest in Showcase). Over at Marvel – a company still reeling from Kirby’s defection to DC/National in 1970 – canny Roy Thomas green-lighted a new character who combined the freewheeling, adolescent-friendly biker-theme with the all-pervasive supernatural furore gripping the entertainment fields.

Back in 1967, Marvel published a western masked hero named Ghost Rider: a shameless, whole-hearted appropriation of the cowboy hero creation of Vince Sullivan, Ray Krank & Dick Ayers (for Magazine Enterprises from 1949 to 1955), who utilised magician’s tricks to fight bandits by pretending to be an avenging phantom of justice.

Scant years later, with the Comics Code prohibition against horror hastily rewritten – amazing how plunging sales can affect ethics – scary comics came back in a big way. A new crop of supernatural superheroes and monsters began to appear on the newsstands to supplement the ghosts, ghoulies and goblins already infiltrating the once science-only scenarios of the surviving mystery men titles.

In fact, the lifting of the Code ban resulted in such an avalanche of horror titles (new stories and reprints from the first boom of the 1950s), in response to the industry-wide down-turn in superhero sales, that it probably caused a few more venerable costumed crusaders to – albeit temporarily – bite the dust.

Almost overnight nasty monsters (and narcotics – but that’s another story) became acceptable fare within four-colour pages and whilst a parade of pre-code reprints made sound business sense, the creative aspect of the contemporary fascination in supernatural themes was catered to by adapting popular cultural icons before risking whole new concepts on an untested public.

As always in entertainment, the watchword was fashion: what was hitting big outside comics was incorporated into the mix as soon as possible. When proto-monster Morbius, the Living Vampire debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #101 (October 1971) and the sky failed to fall in, Marvel moved ahead with a line of shocking superstars – beginning with a werewolf and a vampire – before chancing something new with a haunted biker who could tap into both Easy Rider’s freewheeling motorcycling chic and the prevailing supernatural zeitgeist.

The all-new Ghost Rider debuted in Marvel Spotlight #5, August 1972 (preceded by western hero Red Wolf in #1 and the aforementioned Werewolf by Night in #2-4).

This sturdy hardback and equivalent digital compendium collects more of those early flame-filled exploits: specifically Ghost Rider #6-20 pairing with the Thing in Marvel Two-in-One #8 and a crossover with Daredevil #138, spanning June 1974 to June 1976, and preceded by an informative Introduction in writer Tony Isabella’s ‘The Remembrance Run’

What Has Gone Before: Carnival cyclist Johnny Blaze sells his soul to the devil in an attempt to save his foster-father Crash Simpson from cancer. As is the way of such things, Satan follows the letter but not spirit of the contract and Simpson dies anyway. When the Dark Lord later comes for Johnny, his beloved virginal girlfriend Roxanne Simpsonintervenes. Her purity prevents the Devil from claiming his due and, temporarily thwarted, Satan spitefully afflicts Johnny with a body that burns with the fires of Hell every time the sun goes down…

Creative team Isabella, Gary Friedrich, Jim Mooney & Sal Trapani hit the kickstart here as GR #6 sees a perhaps ill-considered attempt to convert the tragic haunted biker into a more conventional superhero. ‘Zodiac II’ sees Blaze stumble into a senseless fight with a man possessing all the powers of the Avengers’ arch-foes. However, there’s a hidden Satanic component to the mystery as Blaze discovers when reformed super-villain turned TV star Stunt-Master turns up to help close the case and watch helplessly as the one-man Zodiac falls foul of his own diabolical devil’s bargain in ‘…And Lose His Own Soul!’ (Isabella, Mooney & Jack Abel).

A final confrontation – of sorts – begins in Ghost-Rider #8 as ‘Satan Himself!’ comes looking for Johnny’s soul, with a foolproof scheme to force Roxanne to rescind her protection. She finally does so as the Hell-biker battles Inferno, the Fear-demon and most of San Francisco in a game-changing epic called ‘The Hell-Bound Hero!’. Here Blaze is finally freed from his satanic burden by the intervention of someone who appeared to be Jesus Christ

The cover of issue #10 (by Ron Wilson & Joe Sinnott) featured GR battling the Hulk, but a deadline cock-up delayed that tale until #11 and the already included origin from Marvel Spotlight #5 filled those pages. Gil Kane & Tom Palmer reinterpreted the scene for their cover on #11 as the issue finally detailed ‘The Desolation Run!’ (by Isabella, Sal Buscema, Tartaglione & George Roussos).

As Johnny joins a disparate band of dirt-bikers in a desert race, he collides with the legendarily solitary and short-tempered Green Goliath and learns who his true friends are, after which we divert to Marvel Two-in-One #8, teaming Ben Grimm with the supernatural sensation in a quirkily compelling Yuletide yarn. Crafted by Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito ‘Silent Night… Deadly Night!’ sees the audacious Miracle Man attempting to take control of a very special birth in a modern-day stable…

Artists Frank Robbins, Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito limn Ghost Rider #12 wherein Isabella reveals the fate of World War I fighter ace Phantom Eagle. When Blaze tries to rescue a stranger from a ghostly aerial assault, he soon learns he has innocently thwarted justice and helped the warrior’s murderer avoid the ‘Phantom of the Killer Skies’

Ghost Rider #13 declares ‘You’ve Got a Second Chance, Johnny Blaze!’ (Isabella, George Tuska & Vince Colletta) as the terms of the hero’s on-going curse are changed again, just as the dissolute biker heads to Hollywood and a promised job as Stunt-Master’s body-double. No sooner has he signed up, however, than Blaze becomes involved with starlet Karen PageDaredevil’s one-time girlfriend – and a bizarre kidnap plot by super-villain The Trapster.

‘A Specter Stalks the Soundstage!’ features Blaze’s revenge-hungry nemesis The Orb who returns to destroy the Ghost Rider, an action yarn that spectacularly concludes with ‘Vengeance on the Ventura Freeway!’ (illustrated by Bob Brown & Don Heck).

Whilst hanging out on the West Coast Blaze joins new superteam The Champions, but they play no part in Bill Mantlo, Tuska & Colletta’s fill-in yarn ‘Blood in the Waters’, as the Ghost Rider oh, so topically tangles with a Great White Shark in the gore-soaked California surf.

Back on track in #17, ‘Prelude to a Private Armageddon!’ by Isabella, Robbins & Colletta sees a team-up with the Son of Satan wherein fellow stunt-actor Katy Milner is possessed by a demon and only Daimon Hellstrom can help…

The saga continues in ‘The Salvation Run!’ as Blaze must race through the bowels of Hell and relive his own traumatic past before finally saving the day, Katy and his own much-tarnished soul in ‘Resurrection’.

All this time the mystery of Karen’s attempted abduction had percolated through the subplots here, but explosively boil over in Daredevil #138 as ‘Where is Karen Page?’ (by Wolfman, John Byrne & Mooney) reveal the machinations of criminal maniac Death’s-Head to be merely part of a greater scheme involving Blaze, Stunt-Master, the Man without Fear and the homicidal Death Stalker. The convoluted conundrum cataclysmically climaxes in Ghost-Rider #20 with ‘Two Against Death!’ by Wolfman, Byrne & Don Perlin…

This spooky compendium compounds the chilling action with a cover gallery from repint series The Original Ghost Rider #14-20, and original art covers from Gil Kane to truly complete your fear-filled fun fest.

One final note: backwriting and retcons notwithstanding, the Christian boycotts and moral crusades of a later decade were what compelled the criticism-averse and commercially astute corporate Marvel to “translate” the biblical Satan of these early tales into generic and presumably more palatable or “acceptable” demonic creatures such as Mephisto, Satanish, Marduk Kurios and other equally naff downgrades, but the original intent and adventures of Johnny Blaze – and indeed series spin-offs Daimon Hellstrom and Satana, respectively the Son and Daughter of Satan – tapped into the period’s global fascination with Satanism, Devil-worship and all things Spooky and Supernatural which had begun with such epochal films as Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski’s 1968 film more than Ira Levin’s novel) and remember these aren’t your feeble bowdlerised “Hell-lite” horrors.

These tales are about the real-deal Infernal Realm and a good man struggling to save his soul from the worst of all bargains – as much as the revised Comics Code would allow – so brace yourself, hold steady and accept no supernatural substitutes…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Shazam! The World’s Mightiest Mortal volume 2

By E. Nelson Bridwell, Gerry Conway, Elliot S! Maggin, Denny O’Neil, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dick Giordano, Rich Buckler, Tenny Henson, Alan Weiss, Don Newton, Bob Oksner & various (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0117-2 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Joyous Superhero Fun… 9/10

One of the most venerated and loved characters in American comics was created by Bill Parker and Charles Clarence Beck as part of the wave of opportunistic creativity that followed the successful launch of Superman in 1938. Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett character moved swiftly and solidly into the area of light entertainment and even broad comedy, whilst as the 1940s progressed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action and drama.

Homeless orphan and thoroughly good kid Billy Batson is selected by an ancient wizard to battle injustice and subsequently granted the powers of six gods and mythical heroes. By speaking aloud the wizard’s name – itself an acronym for the six patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury – he can transform from scrawny boy to brawny (adult) hero Captain Marvel.

At the height of his popularity, Captain Marvel hugely outsold Superman and was even published twice a month. However, as the decade progressed and tastes changed, sales slowed, and an infamous court case begun in 1941 by National Comics citing copyright infringement was settled. Like many other superheroes, the “Big Red Cheese” disappeared, becoming a fond memory for older fans. A big syndication success, he was missed all over the world…

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

Then, as America lived through another superhero boom-&-bust, the 1970s dawned with a shrinking industry and wide variety of comics genres servicing a base that was increasingly founded on collectors and fans rather than casual or impulse buyers. National – now DC – Comics needed sales and were prepared to look for them in unusual places.

After the court settlement with Fawcett in 1953 they had secured the rights to Captain Marvel and his spin-off Family. Now, and 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), the publishing monolith decided to tap into that discriminating if aging fanbase.

In 1973, riding a wave of national nostalgia on TV and in the movies, DC brought back the entire beloved cast of the Captain Marvel crew in their own kinder, weirder universe. To circumvent the intellectual property clash, they named the new title Shazam! (‘With One Magic Word…’): the memorable trigger phrase used by myriad 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.

Now the latest star of film and TV is back in print in this stylish Hardback and digital compendium, collecting select material from Shazam! #14-17 and all of 19-35; and All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-58 (spanning July 1975 – May 1978).

The previous volume – ya gotta gettem all! – revealed how the entire Marvel family was trapped in time for a generation before being released to preserve gain justice and decency on their own kindler, gentler, more whimsical Earth and here Shazam! #19 introduces extra-dimensional delinquent Zazzo, the malevolent culprit revealed when Elliot S! Maggin and Kurt Schaffenberger ask ‘Who Stole Billy Batson’s Thunder?’.

Billy’s super sister Mary Marvel is the back-up feature, cannily solving E. Nelson Bridwell and Bob Oksner’s ‘Secret of the Smiling Swordsman!’, before the next issue teams the entire Marvel Family in full-length sci fi thriller ‘The Strange and Terrible Disappearance of Maxwell Zodiac!’, courtesy of Maggin and Schaffenberger.

Shazam! #21, 22, 23 and 24 were all reprint, represented here by covers from Ernie Chua & Bob Oksner, two from Schaffenberger and then another from Chua & Oksner, reflecting a scheduling change that saw the comic released quarterly.

I suspect, but have no proof, that this coincided with the TV show that ran in parallel being off-air, as – when issue #24 appeared in Spring 1976 – new editor Joe Orlando oversaw a massaging of the scenario which would see young Billy and Uncle Dudley (a mainstay of the TV incarnation) set off around America in a minivan as roving reporters, encountering threats and felons in America’s Bicentennial year.

Bridwell and Schaffenberger became the permanent creative team, with occasional inkers such as Vince Colletta, Bob Wiacek and Bob Smith pitching in, if seldom to the enhancement of Schaffenberger’s pencils.

There were even bigger changes in store. Shazam! #25 (September/October 1976) featured a team-up of the Captain with Mighty Isis, a TV character that DC was then licensing for a tie-in comic book. ‘Isis… as in Crisis!’ is by Denny O’Neil & Dick Giordano and sees Cap reduced to a cameo as Isis recalls how archaeologist Andrea Thomas uncovered an Egyptian Amulet and scroll, gaining the powers of an ancient goddess to fight modern crime and injustice…

That issue’s back-up ‘The Bicentennial Villain’ introduces a new roving format as TV reporter Billy briefly clashes with arch-nemesis Dr. Sivana and learns of a far-reaching plot to destroy America in its anniversary year, courtesy of Bridwell & Schaffenberger …

Issue #26 sees the saga properly launched in a highly enjoyable romp. ‘The Case of the Kidnapped Congress’ finds Billy and Uncle Dudley battling Sivana in Washington DC. Vince Colletta inked the self-explanatory ‘Fear in Philadelphia’, but that doesn’t detract from a right royal romp as the Mad Doctor uses a resurrection machine to bring back the greatest rogues in America’s history – a much shorter list to pick from in 1976…

Clearly having tremendous fun, writer Bridwell began his own resurrections: bringing back Fawcett and Quality Comics characters as guest-stars. First up was the ghostly Kid Eternity and Mister Keeper, and with issue #28 he scripted his masterstroke with ‘The Return of Black Adam’: a Golden-Age villain whose fabled single appearance was a landmark long remembered by fans.

That he is still a huge favourite today shows the astuteness of that decision. That was in Boston, with #29 set in Buffalo and Niagara Falls where ‘Ibac meets Aunt Minerva!’: a comedic battle of the sexes that was heavy on the hitting.

Another faux meeting with his greatest rival occurred in #30’s ‘Captain Marvel Fights the Man of Steel’, wherein the Batson bus reaches Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Here, inspired by a comic book Sivana recrates local folk legend Joe Magarac (the Paul Bunyan of Steel workers) and the Three Lieutenant Marvels guest-star.

All girl villain-team ‘The Rainbow Squad’ expose Captain Marvel’s gentlemanly weakness in #31, heralding the return of patriotic hero Minute Man to step in, step up and save the day.

Tenny Henson pencilled #32’s tale from Detroit (with Bob Smith inking) as aliens led by wicked space worm Mr. Mindattempt to eliminate baseball in ‘Mr. Tawny’s Big Game!’ and fans knew that the good old days were coming to an end. A radical change to Shazam!

issue #33 heralded the metamorphosis in ‘The World’s Mightiest Race’ (Bridwell, Henson & Colletta) as Nuclear robotic menace Mister Atom tries to disrupt the Indianapolis 500 motor race. The radical about-face came with #34 (April 1978) as Bridwell, Alan Weiss & Joe Rubinstein ditch the charming light-heartedness to insert a brutal dose of reality. ‘The Fuhrer of Chicago’ reintroduces sadistic super-fascist Captain Nazi, but his plans to annexe the city are brought to sorry end by a vengeful Captain Marvel Junior, eager for some payback on the monster who crippled him…

The realism was reinforced in #34 as Bridwell, Don Newton & Schaffenberger decreed ‘Backward, Turn Backward, O Time in Your Flight!’ with the Marvels battling murderous Beastman King Kull’s attempts to roll back history and re-establish his extinct race and empire. The war carries on into Hell itself and features a return for infernal foe Sabbac

Part of DC’s experimental line of bigger, bolder comics, All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-58 was a tabloid-sized, 72-page extravaganza intended to restore the “wow-factor” to the medium and industry.

Crafted by Gerry Conway, Rich Buckler & Giordano, ‘When Earths Collide!’ features a trans-dimensional team up of Captain Marvel and Superman, engineered by primordial Martian sorcerer Karmang, who seeks to resurrect his people and civilisation by destroying two Earths. Aid, abetting and adding tension are Black Adam and the Quarrmer Sand-Thing Superman, with Supergirl and Mary Marvel also intent on averting Armageddon.

The epic adventure wraps up with a series of essays and vignettes from Shazam! #14-17 and 22, detailing the histories of the Patrons in ‘Legends of Shazam!’ – specifically Solomon, Hercules, Atlas and Zeus in prose by Bridwell with Achilles rendered in strip form by Schaffenberger & George Papp.

Although still controversial amongst older fans like me, the 1970’s incarnation of Captain Marvel/Shazam! has a tremendous amount going for it. Gloriously free of angst and agony (mostly), beautifully, simply illustrated, and charmingly scripted, these are clever, funny wholesome adventures that would appeal to any child and positively promote a love of graphic narrative. There’s a horrible dearth of exuberant superhero adventure these days. Isn’t it great that there is somewhere to go for a little light action?
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Human Torch Marvel Masterworks volume 2

By Stan Lee, Larry Ivie, Dick Ayers, Bob Powell, Jack Kirby, Carl Burgos & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3505-0 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Superhero Frolics… 9/10

Hot on the heels of the Fantastic Four’s stunning success, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby spun the team’s most colourful and youngest member into his own series, eager to recapture the 1940s glory days when the Human Torch was one of the company’s “Big Three” superstars.

This captivating, esoteric and joyously exuberant collection of pure 1960s superhero shenanigans gathers those the latter end of those eclectic but crucial yarns from Strange Tales #118 to 134, (spanning March 1964 to July 1965) and comes with an evocative Introduction from Bruce Canwell before all the hot action kicks off…

Filled with fabulous classics of old school Marvel Fights ‘n’ Tights mayhem and mirth, this particular compendium (available in scarce but sturdy Hardback and assorted eBook formats) is a perfect antidote to angst overload.

Within a year of FF #1, magic-&-monsters anthology Strange Tales became the home for our hot-headed hero as issue #101 saw mostly-typical teenager Johnny Storm start an ancillary solo career. The non-stop riot of adventure begins here with Stan Lee & Dick Ayers highlighting the return of envy-obsessive hyper-intellectual the Wizard who has yet another go at the Flaming Kid in ‘The Man Who Became the Torch!’, an act which consequently nearly kills the Thing and Reed Mister Fantastic Richards besides.

A first brush with Marvel’s soon-to-be core readership came in #119. ‘The Torch Goes Wild!’ details how Commie AgentRabble Rouser mesmerises decent citizens, making them surly and rebellious, after which Jack Kirby pops back for #120 as ‘The Torch Meets Iceman!’: a terrific action-extravaganza with Ayers inks that pretty much closes the glory days of this strip. From then on, despite every gimmick – and occasional burst of sheer inspiration the Bullpen could muster – a slow decline sets in as quirky back-up strip Doctor Strange grew in popularity and cover space…

ST #121 sees Johnny as ‘Prisoner of the Plantman!’ (by Lee & Ayers) and #122 finds a thug, a conman and a crooked yogi all augmented by Dr. Doom and mustered as a woefully inadequate Terrible Trio ordered to launch an ill-conceived attack in ‘3 Against the Torch!’

Strange Tales #123 has a creepy inventor build himself an impressive insectoid exo-suit to get rich the easy way, as – in an effort to boost ratings – The Thing becomes a permanent fixture in ‘The Birth of the Beetle!’

This saga was most notable for the pencil job by Golden Age Human Torch originator Carl Burgos, after which Johnny and Ben tackle a fully re-designed ‘Paste-Pot Pete’ (Ayers inked by Paul Reinman) before going after another old adversary in ‘The Sub-Mariner Must Be Stopped!’

‘Pawns of the Deadly Duo!’ host a fresh assault by the Puppet Master, allied to the Mad Thinker in a smart yarn, after which #127 pits Ben and Johnny against a bizarre and baffling puzzle thanks to ‘The Mystery Villain!’

After a stunning Kirby pin-up of the Thing, the Fantastic Two then unwillingly battle ‘Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch’in #128 (this one inked by Frankie Ray, AKA Frank Giacoia), as the Homo Superior siblings make an abortive first attempt to quit Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, after which ‘The Terrible Trio!’ once more fail to impress or assassinate our heroes…

Pop culture at its most opportunistic reeled and staggered with #130 in ‘Meet the Beatles’ (not villains, but actually some sort of popular musical combo of the times, whom they actually didn’t meet at all), although sublime Golden Age artist Bob Powell (with inking from Chic Stone) did take over the art chores for the comedy of errors/crime caper.

Ayers returned to ink #131, a frankly dire Lee script entitled ‘Bouncing Ball of Doom!’, with the Mad Thinker siccing a cybernetic bowling bowl on our torrid twosome before Larry Ivie scripts a capable Space Race thriller in ‘The Sinister Space Trap!’ (inked by Mike Esposito under his Mickey DeMeo alias).

Lee returned for the last two Torch tales in ST #133 and #134: beginning with sharp-looking saga ‘The Terrible Toys’, wherein Puppet Master tries a new modus operandi and closing with ‘The Challenge of… The Watcher!’ (inked by the majestic Wally Wood) wherein Torch and Thing are transported to ancient Camelot to battle time-reaver Kang the Conqueror.

It was clear the writer’s mind was elsewhere, most likely with the new Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. strip that would replace the FF pair from Strange Tales #135 onwards.

Wrapping up this memory lane meander is a tantalising cover gallery from the 1974-75 reprint series of Golden and Silver Age Torch Tales, rendered by John Romita, Joe Sinnott, Larry Lieber, Ron Wilson, Frank Giacoia, Gil Kane, Al Milgrom &Vince Colletta, to complete your visit with the hottest duo in early Marvel history.

It’s remarkable to note that as the parent Fantastic Four title grew in scope and quality, the Human Torch’s own series diminished. Perhaps there is something to be said for concentrating one’s efforts or not overexposing your stars. Maybe it was just having Kirby do some plotting? Here, however, what was originally a spin-off for younger readers faded as Marvel found its voice and its marketplace, although there would be periodic efforts to reinvigorate the Torch.

Perhaps the historic value supersedes the quality of most of these strange tales, but there’s still a great deal that’s great about this series and Costumed Drama devotees with a sense of tradition and love of fun will find this book irresistible and unmissable.
© 2020 MARVEL.

Justice League of America: A Celebration of 60 Years

By Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Brad Meltzer, Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin, George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Chuck Patton, Kevin Maguire, Howard Porter, Ed Benes, Jim Lee, Jim Cheung & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9951-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comic Perfection and the ideal Stocking Stuffer… 10/10

A keystone of the DC Universe, the Justice League of America is the reason we have comics industry today. This stunning compilation – part of a series reintroducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts – is available in hardback and digital formats and offers a too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of snapshots detailing how the World’s Greatest Superheroes came to be, and be and be again…

Collecting material from The Brave and the Bold #28; Justice League of America #29, 30, 77, 140, 144, 200; Justice League of America Annual #2, Justice League #1, 43 and Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (covering July 1960- August 2018), the landmarks selected are all preceded by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in their development, beginning with Part I – 1960-1964: The Happy Harbor Years

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – by which we mean the launch of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s progress was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to everyone with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was irrefutably proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces. Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick…

The Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comic books, and – when Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956 – the true key moment came a few years later with the inevitable teaming of his freshly reconfigured mystery men…

When wedded to the relatively unchanged big guns who had weathered the first fall of the Superhero at the beginning of the 1950s, the result was a new, modern, Space-Age version of the JSA and the birth of a new mythology.

That moment that changed everything for us baby-boomers came with issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold, a classical adventure title that had recently become a try-out magazine like Showcase.

Just in time for Christmas 1959, ads began running…

“Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!”

When the Justice League of America was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) it cemented the growth and validity of the genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comics in America and even spread to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Crafted by Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky with inking from Bernard Sachs, Joe Giella & Murphy Anderson, ‘Starro the Conqueror!’ saw Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars unite to defeat a marauding alien starfish whilst Superman and Batman stood by (in those naive days editors feared that their top characters could be “over-exposed” and consequently lose popularity). The team also picked up an average American kid as a mascot. “Typical teenager” Snapper Carr would prove a focus of fan controversy for decades to come…

The series went from strength to strength and triumph to triumph, peaking early with a classic revival as the team met the Justice Society of America, now sensibly relegated to an alternate Earth rather callously designated Earth-2.

From issues #29-30, ‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ reprise the first groundbreaking team-up of the JLA and JSA, after the metahuman marvels of yet another alternate Earth discover the secret of multiversal travel. Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are ruthless villains from a world without heroes who see the costumed crusaders of the JLA and JSA as living practice-dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon…

With this cracking 2-part thriller a tradition of annual summer team-ups was solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

Although a monster hit riding a global wave of popularity for all things masked and caped, the JLA suffered like all superhero features when tastes changed as the decade closed. Like all the survivors, the team adapted and changed…

A potted history of that interregnum, emphasising the contributions of iconoclastic scripters Denny O’Neil and Steve Englehart follows in Part II – 1969-1977: The Satellite Years after which groundbreaking issue #77 exposes a new kind of America.

America was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation at this time, with established beliefs constantly challenged and many previously cosy comics features were using their pages to confront issues of race, equality, and ecological decline. O’Neil and his young colleagues began to utterly redefine superhero strips with their relevancy-driven stories; transforming complacent establishment masked boy-scouts into uncertain, questioning champions and strident explorers of the revolution.

Here, the team’s mascot suddenly grows up and demands to be taken seriously. The drama commences with the heroes’ collective confidence and worldview shattered as enigmatic political populist Joe Dough suborns and compromises their beloved teen sidekick in ‘Snapper Carr… Super-Traitor!’ Crafted by O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, the coming-of age-yarn changed the comfy, cosy superhero game forever…

By March 1977, the team was back in traditional territory but still shaking up the readership. Issue #140, by Steve Englehart, Dick Dillin & Frank McLaughlin questioned heroism itself in ‘No Man Escapes the Manhunter!’ as the venerable Guardians of the Universe and their beloved Green Lanterns are accused of planetary extinctions – until the JLA expose a hidden ancient foe determined to destroy galactic civilisation…

Sadly, all you get here is the opening chapter, but it’s worth tracking down the entire saga elsewhere…

Closely following is issue #144 ‘The Origin of the Justice League – Minus One!’ (July 1977) by the same team. Here Green Arrow does a little checking and discovers the team have been lying about how and why they first got together: a smart and hugely enjoyable conspiracy thriller guest-starring every late 1950’s star in the DC firmament…

Change is a comic book constant and events described in the essay fill in crucial context before Part III: The Detroit Years 1982-1987 precis’ the first Beginning of the End for the World’s Greatest Superheroes, starting with blockbuster anniversary giant #200.

Here scripter Gerry Conway and artists George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Brett Breeding, Terry Austin & Frank Giacoia reprise, re-evaluate and relive the alien Appellax invasion that brought the heroes together in ‘A League Divided’: a blockbuster saga involving every past member…

Big changes began in Justice League of America Annual #2 1984. ‘The End of the Justice League!’ by Conway, Chuck Patton & Dave Hunt saw the team disband following a too-close-to-call alien attack, leading Aquaman to recruit a squad of full-time agents rather than part-time champions. Relocating to street level in Detroit, his old guard veterans Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna and Vixen also began training a next generation of costumed crusaders…

The biggest innovation came after a couple of publishing events recreated the universe and a new kind of team was instituted. In 1986 DC’s editorial leaders felt their 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline, redefine and even add new characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths was such a spectacular commercial success, those movers-&-shakers felt more than justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman, the moribund and unhappy Justice League of Americawas earmarked for a radical revision. Editor Andy Helfer assembled plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis and untried penciller Kevin Maguire to produce an utterly new approach to the superhero monolith: they played them for laughs…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7. The new team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel (now Shazam!), Dr. Fate, Green Lantern Guy Gardner and Mr. Miraclewith heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men.

The first story introduced charismatic filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who used wealth and influence to recreate the neophyte and rather shambolic team who started their march to glory by fighting and defeating a bunch of rather inept terrorist bombers in initial outing ‘Born Again’ (Giffen, DeMatteis Maguire & Terry Austin).

An eventful decade passed and the team were rebooted again, as described in Part IV: The Watchtower Years 1986-2003

After the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, wasting death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival of the Justice League of America, tapping Big Ideas wünderkind Grant Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

The result was a gleaming paradigm of comic book perfection which again started magnificently before gradually losing the attention and favour of its originally rabid fan-base. Apparently, we’re a really fickle and shallow bunch, us comics fans…

That idea that really clicked? Put everybody’s favourite Big-Name superheroes back in the team.

It worked, but only because as well as name recognition and star quantity, there was a huge input of creative quality. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality. With JLA you could see all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be on every page.

The drama begins in ‘Them!’ (January 1997 by Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell) as a family of alien super-beings called the Hyperclan dramatically land on Earth and declare that they’re going to usher in a new Golden Age – at least by their standards.

Almost simultaneously the current iteration of the Justice League is attacked in their orbital satellite and only narrowly escape utter destruction. Tragically, one of their number does not survive…

Hyperclan’s very public promises to make Earth a paradise and attendant charm offensive does not impress veteran heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman or even the latest incarnations of Flash and Green Lantern.

These legends see their methods and careers questioned and are not impressed by seeming miracles or summary executions of super-criminals in the streets. They know there’s something not right about the overbearing sanctimonious newcomers…

The hits kept coming: a strung of superb adventures that enticed the readership. One of the very best and often cited as one of the best Batman stories ever created, multi-part paean to paranoia Tower of Babel saw immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul’s latest plan to winnow Earth’s human population to manageable levels well underway. Again, only the first instalment is here but you know where else to look…

Issue #43 declared ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (by Mark Waid, Porter & Drew Geraci), as a series of perfectly planned pre-emptive strikes cripple Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Plastic Man and Green Lantern whilst Batman is taken out of the game by the simple expedient of stealing his parents’ remains from their graves…

Comics stars increasingly became multi-media franchises at the beginning of this century, and Part V: The Crisis Years 2006-2011 acknowledges the change as the printed form started a constant stream of ever-escalating blockbuster scenarios to compete. A perfect example is Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (October 2006) as Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes & Sandra Hope examine ‘Life’.

Thanks to the events Infinite Crisis, One Year Later and 52, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman convene as a star-chamber to reform the Justice League of America as a force for good, only to discover that events have escaped them and a new team has already congealed (I really can’t think of a better term) to defeat the imminent menace of Professor Ivo, Felix Faust and the lethal android Amazo, plus a fearsome mystery mastermind and a few classic villains as well.

The tale is told through the heartbreaking personal tragedy of the Red Tornado, who achieves his deepest desire only to have it torn from him: an enjoyable if complex drama that hides its true purpose – that of repositioning the company’s core team in an expanded DCU which encompasses all media, tacitly accepting influences from TV shows, movies and animated cartoons underpinning everything – even the Super Friends and Justice League Unlimited-inspired HQ.

In 2011, DC took a draconian leap: restarting their entire line and continuity with a “New 52”. Justice League volume 2 #1 (November) led from the front as ‘Justice League Part One’ by biggest guns Geoff Johns, Jim Lee & Scott Williams introduced a number of newly debuted heroes acrimoniously pulled together to fight an alien invader called Darkseid

This celebration concludes with Part VI: The Media Era 1986-2018 and Justice League volume 4 #1 (August 2018) wherein Scott Snyder, Jim Cheung & Mark Morales kick off a colossal, years-long company-wide event. ‘The Totality Part 1’ sees the universe fall apart, its creator escape eternal imprisonment and the JLA hard-pressed to prevent the final triumph of Evil as represented by Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom

Adding immeasurably to the wonderment is a superb gallery of covers by Sekowsky, Anderson, Rich Buckler, Dillin & McLaughlin, Pérez, Patton & Giordano, Maguire & Austin, Porter, Dell & Geraci, Ed & Mariah Benes, Lee & Williams and Jim Cheung.

The Justice League of America has a long, proud history of shaking things up and providing dynamic provocative, drama delivered with quality artwork. This compelling assortment is staggeringly entertaining and a monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a strong core concept matured over decades of innovation.
© 1960, 1964, 1969, 1977, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2005, 2011, 2018, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Win’s Top Ten Best and Most Enjoyable MUST READ THIS List 2020

What a year it’s been. I’m not talking about the other stuff. I can’t do anything about that. As usual, I’m waffling on about comics and 2020 has seen some absolute graphical wonders released: so much so that I’m about to do a thing I hate and list some.

Not all of them; that would be silly and achieve nothing. Just the ones that impressed me and that I liked most. There isn’t a countdown and my top ten has more than ten in it. They moved and delighted me the most, stood rereading best and were the ones published last year that I would be proudest to give other people to read as examples of what my chosen medium can accomplish.

The titles are all linked to the original reviews so you can say you researched them too, but frankly your best bet would be to just unhitch your payment method and order them all without wasting any more time.


Here we go then…

Blackwood by Hannah Eaton (Myriad Editions)

Giant by Mikaël, (NBM)

Two Dead by Van Jensen & Nate Powell (Gallery 13/Simon & Schuster)

The Wolf of Baghdad by Carol Isaacs/The Surreal McCoy (Myriad Editions)

Victory Point by Owen D. Pomery (Avery Hill)

Red Mother with Child by Christian Lax (NBM/Musée du Louvre Éditions)

Mongrel by Sayra Begum (Knockabout)

The Emotional Load and Other Invisible Stuff by Emma (Seven Stories Press)

The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott by Zoe Thorogood (Avery Hill)

The Silent Invasion: Abductions by Michael Cherkas, Larry Hancock & Paul McCusker (NBM)

Leonardo2 by Stéphane Levallois (NBM/Musée du Louvre Éditions)

What We Don’t Talk About by Charlot Kristensen (Avery Hill)

Plutocracy by Abraham Martínez (NBM)


I just realised most of those might be challenging or uncomfortable reading for (the parents of) our younger followers. If so here’s another Winning List. These have none of the swear words or rude bits – although there’s a modicum of wholly acceptable violence…

Oi Kids! Get these!

Take it Away, Tommy! by Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)

A Portrait in Poems by Evie Robillard & Rachel Katstaller (Kids Can Press)

Bigby Bear: The Explorer by Philippe Coudray (BiG-Humanoids/Simon Icke)

Elvis Puffs Out by Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)

Bluebeard: A Feminist Fairy Tale by Metaphrog (Papercutz)

Conan the Barbarian Epic Collection by Roy Thomas & Barry Windsor-Smith (Marvel)

Brina the Cat by Giorgio Salati & Christian Cornia, with Erika Turbati, (Papercutz)

The Flood That Did Come by Patrick Wray (Avery Hill)

Beano and Dandy: A Celebration of Dudley D Watkins (DCT)