Marvel Masterworks: Ghost Rider volume 1

By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench, Len Wein, Mike Ploog, Tom Sutton, Jim Mooney, Herb Trimpe, Ross Andru & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302918170 (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 and 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 watch-world was fashion: what was hitting big outside comics was to be 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 yet barely tangible digital compendium collects those earliest flame-filled exploits: adventures from Marvel Spotlight #5-12, Ghost Rider #1-5 and a terror-tinged Marvel Team-Up (#15), spanning August 1972 to November 1973 and supplemented by an informative Introduction from then editorial head honcho Roy Thomas on how the series came to be. At the collection’s conclusion there’s also an effusive Afterword by Mike Ploog as he relates ‘My Ride with the Ghost Rider’

The comics thrills, spills and chills begin with that landmark first appearance introducing stunt biker Johnny Blaze, his fatally flawed father-figure Crash Simpson and Johnny’s devoted girlfriend: sweet innocent Roxanne Simpson.

Plotted by Thomas, scripted by Gary Friedrich and stunningly illustrated by Ploog, ‘Ghost Rider’ sees carnival cyclist Blaze sell his soul to the devil in an attempt to save his foster-father Crash from cancer. As is the way of such things, Satan follows the letter but not spirit of the contract and Simpson dies anyway, but when the Dark Lord later comes for Johnny his beloved virginal girlfriend Roxanne intervenes. 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…

Haunting the night and terrorising thugs and criminals at first, the traumatised biker soon leaves the Big City and heads for the solitary deserts where – in ‘Angels From Hell’ – the flaming-skulled fugitive joins a biker gang led by enigmatic Curly Samuels: a resurrected agent of Satan attempting to destroy the protective Roxanne and claim Blaze’s soul.

No prizes for guessing Curly’s true identity then, since the next chapter (inked by Frank Chiaramonte) is entitled ‘Die, Die, My Daughter!’

The origin epic concludes with a monumental battle against ‘…The Hordes of Hell!’ (offering a rather uncomfortable artistic collaboration by Ploog & Jim Mooney), resulting in a torturous Cold War détente between the still nightly-transforming Blaze and the Lord of Lies, as well as the introduction of a new eldritch enemy in Native American Witch Man Snake-Dance

With Marvel Spotlight #9 the tragically undervalued Tom Sutton takes over the pencilling – with inks by Chic Stone – for ‘The Snakes Crawl at Night…’ as Medicine Man magic and demonic devil-worship combined to torment Blaze just as Roxanne goes west to look for him. To further confound the accursed cyclist, Satan decrees that although he must feel the pain, no injury will end Johnny’s life until his soul resides in Hell… which comes in very handy when Roxanne is sacrificed by Snake-Dance and the Ghost Rider has to battle his entire deviant cult to rescue her…

In #10, ‘The Coming of… Witch-Woman!’ (Friedrich, Sutton & Mooney) opens with Blaze a fugitive from the police and rushing the dying Roxanne to hospital. Meanwhile, on the Reservation tensions remain high as Snake-Dance’s daughter Linda Littletrees reveals her own connection to Satan, culminating in a devastating eldritch assault on Blaze in #11’s ‘Season of the Witch-Woman!’ (inked by the incomparable Syd Shores).

That cataclysmic conflict continued into Ghost Rider #1 (September 1973), which further extends the escalating war between Blaze and the Devil whilst introducing a new horror-hero who would take over the biker’s vacant slot in Spotlight.

Linda Littletrees isn’t so much a Satan-worshipping witch as ‘A Woman Possessed!’, but when her father joins fiancé Sam Silvercloud in calling Boston-based exorcist Daimon Hellstrom for help, they are utterly unprepared for the kind of assistance the demonologist offers.

With Roxanne slowly recovering and Blaze still on the run, Ghost Rider #2 depicts the bedevilled biker dragged down to Hell in ‘Shake Hands With Satan!’ (Mooney & Shores) before the saga concludes in Marvel Spotlight #12 with the official debut of ‘The Son of Satan!’ by Friedrich, Herb Trimpe & Frank Chiaramonte, which reveals Daimon Hellstrom’s long-suppressed inner self to be a brutal scion of the Infernal Realm eternally at war with his fearsome father.

The liberated Prince of Hell swiftly rushes to Blaze’s aid – although more to spite his sire than succour the victim – and, with his own series off to a spectacular start, continues to take the pressure off the flaming-skulled hero. From Ghost Rider #3’s ‘Wheels on Fire’ (Friedrich, Mooney & John Tartaglione) a fresh direction is explored with more mundane menaces and contemporary antagonists such as the thuggish gang of biker Big Daddy Dawson – who has kidnapped the still frail Roxanne…

Blaze also learns to create a spectral motorcycle out of the Hellfire that perpetually burns through his body: a most useful trick considering the way he gets through conventional transport…

Eager to establish some kind of normal life, the wanted fugitive Blaze accepts a pardon by the State Attorney General in GR #4’s ‘Death Stalks the Demolition Derby’ (inked by Vince Colletta) in return for infiltrating a Las Vegas showman’s shady operation, leading to another supernatural encounter, this time against a demonic gambler dubbed Roulette in ‘And Vegas Writhes in Flame!’ by the transitional creative team of Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench, Mooney & Sal Trapani.

Closing up the show here – and slightly out of chronological order – is a yarn where Ghost Rider and Spider-Man battled a demented biker bad-guy. Marvel Team-Up #15 (November 1973 and by Len Wein, Ross Andru & Don Perlin) introduces lame-duck villain The Orb who had been maimed and disfigured years previously in a confrontation with Crash Simpson and now seeks belated revenge against his heirs in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee!’ He’d have been smarter to wait until Blaze’s roadshow was far away from superhero-stuffed New York City and its overly protective friendly neighbourhood webslinger…

Adding extra cachet following Ploog’s afterword are the August 1972 Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page announcing the debut of the Biker Ghost Rider and stunning selection of original art pages, cover and design sketches by Ploog, Chiaramonte, John Romita, Mooney & Shores, Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia and Andru & Perlin plus an eerie back-cover from FOOM #7 featuring early Ploog visualisations of the Blazing Biker.

In the 1990s The Original Ghost Rider reprinted these classic tales and the 13 covers by Mark Teixeira, Jimmy Palmiotti, Javier Saltares, Andy Kubert, Joe Quesada, Jan Anton Harps, Kevin Maguire, Brad Vancata, Mark Pacella, Jeff Johnson, Dan Panosian, Ploog, Klaus Janson, Michael Bair, Darick Robertson, Chris Bachalo, Kris Renkewitz & Andrew Pepoy suitably bring the fearsome fun to close for now…

One final note: backwriting and retcons notwithstanding, the Christian boycotts and moral crusades of 1980s and 1990s compelled the criticism-averse and commercially astute corporate Marvel to “translate” the biblical Satan of the early episodes into generic – and presumably more palatable or “acceptable” – demonic creatures such as Mephisto, Satanish, Marduk Kurios and other equally naff, low-rent downgrades.

However, the original intent and adventures of Johnny Blaze – and spin-offs Daimon Hellstrom and Satana (respectively the Son and Daughter of Satan), tapped into the late 1960’s global fascination with Satanism, Devil-worship and all things Spookily Supernatural which had begun with such epochal releases as Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski’s 1968 film more than Ira Levin’s novel), so please remember these aren’t your feeble bowdlerised “Hell-lite” horrors here. These tales are about the real-deal Infernal Realm and a good man struggling to save his soul from the baddest of all bargains – as much as the revised Comics Code would allow – so brace yourself, hold steady and accept no supernatural substitutes…
© 2019 MARVEL.

The James Bond Omnibus volume 001

By Ian Fleming adapted by Anthony Hern, Peter O’Donnell, Henry Gammidge & John McLusky (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-1-84856-364-3 (TPB)

It’s sad to admit but there are very few British newspaper strips to challenge the influence and impact of classic daily and Sunday “funnies” from America, especially in the field of adventure fiction.

The 1930’s and 1940’s were particularly rich in popular, not to say iconic, creations. You would be hard-pressed to come up with home-grown household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, let alone Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon, or the likes of Little Lulu, Blondie, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye and yes, I know I said him twice, but Elzie Segars’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good.

What strips can you recall to equal simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? The Perishers? Garth? Judge Dredd?

I’d like to hope so, but I doubt it. The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly very many wonderful strips being produced: well-written and beautifully drawn, but that stubborn British reserve plus a completely different editorial view of the marketplace (which just didn’t consider strips an infallible, readership-attracting magnet, as our American cousins did) never seemed to be in the business of creating household names… until the 1950’s.

Something happened in ‘50s Britain – but I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics (as well as all “mere” entertainment media from radio serials to paperback novels) got carried along on the wave. Just like television, periodicals such as The Eagle, the regenerated Dandy and Beano and girls’ comics in general all shifted into creative high gear …and so at last did newspapers.

And that means that I can happily extol the virtues of a graphic collection with proven crossover appeal for a change. The first 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and was subsequently serialised – after much dithering and nervousness on behalf of author Fleming – as a strip in the Daily Express from 1958. It was the start of a beguiling run of novel and short story adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence, a jobbing writer for American features (who had previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) came aboard on The Man With the Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the Fleming canon to strip format. Thereafter he was invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s demise in 1983.

The art on the feature was always of the highest standard. Initially John McLusky handled the illustration until 1966’s conclusion of You Only Live Twice and, although perhaps lacking in flash or verve, the workmanlike clarity of his drawing easily handled an astonishing variety of locales, technical set-ups and sheer immensity of cast members, whilst satisfying the then-novel directive of advancing a plot daily whilst ending each episode on a cliff-hanging “hook” every time.

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who debuted on Man with the Golden Gun, offering a looser, edgier style, at once more cinematic and with a closer attention to camera angle and frenzied action that seemed to typify the high-octane 1960’s. Horak illustrated 26 complete adventures until 1977 when The Daily Express axed the Bond feature (with a still-running adventure suddenly switching to The Sunday Express from January 30th until conclusion on May 22nd).

Later adventures had no UK presence at all, only appearing in syndication in European papers. This state of affairs continued until 1981 when British paper The Daily Star revived the feature with ‘Doomcrack’.

Titan Books re-assembled those scarce-seen tales – a heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death – into addictively accessible monochrome Omnibus Editions, (sadly not available digitally at the present) wherein a dedicated band of creators on top form prove how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe, shaken, stirred and thoroughly entertained…

In this premier no-nonsense paperback gem adapting 11 of Fleming’s best, the frantic derring-do and dark, deadly diplomacy commences with ‘Casino Royale’ as British operative Bond is ordered to gamble with and bankrupt Le Chiffre, a communist agent who has insanely embezzled away his Soviet masters’ operating capital.

The moodily compelling tale of tension that results depicts torture and violent death as well as oppressively suspenseful scenes of graphic gambling: heady stuff for newspaper readers of 1958, when it first ran.

Without pausing for breath or a fresh martini the Bond briefing segues straight into ‘Live and Let Die’ which sees 007 and US agent Felix Leiter tackle Mr. Big, another scurrilous commie agent, a devious genius who rules the Harlem underworld through superstition, voodoo and brutal force before, ‘Moonraker’ details the attempt by ex-Nazi officer Hugo Drax to drop a guided missile on London: a task made far simpler since the maniac has infiltrated the British aristocracy…

These newspaper strips come from a period when dependable John McLusky was developing a less formal approach, before going on to produce some of his best work. ‘Casino Royale; was the opening strip in a near 25-year run, and the somewhat muted artwork shows an artist still not completely comfortable with his task.

It was adapted and scripted by Anthony Hern, who had won the author’s approval after writing condensed prose versions of the novels for the Daily Express. Live and Let Die and Moonraker were both adapted by Henry Gammidge.

As McLusky settled in for the long haul, he warmed to the potentialities of the job with cracking tales of Cold-War intrigue and fast, dangerous living set in a multitude of exotic locales, providing here a welcome return to public gaze of some of the most influential – and exciting – comic strips in British history.

The adaptation of ‘Diamonds are Forever’ pits Bond against an insidious gang of diamond smuggling criminals, in an explosive if uncomplicated all-action romp before shifting into terse, low-key thriller ‘From Russia With Love’ (both courtesy of Gammidge & McLusky). The artist hit a creative peak with ‘Dr No’ perhaps because of the sparkling script from Peter O’Donnell (before he sloped off to create the amazing Modesty Blaise) with Bond returning to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of two operatives and stumbling upon a plot to sabotage the American rocketry program.

These stories come from an age at once less jaded but more worldly; a place and time where the readers lived daily with the very real threat of instant annihilation. As such, the easy approachability of the material is a credit to the creators.

‘Goldfinger’ faithfully adapts Fleming’s novel of the world’s most ambitious bullion robbery, so if you’re only familiar with the film version there will be a few things you’ve not seen before. The action fairly rockets along and the tense suspense is high throughout this signature tale.

Following that is ‘Risico’ as 007 is tasked with stopping a heroin smuggling gang whose motive is not profit but social destabilisation. Next is ‘From a View to a Kill’, a traditional and low-key Cold War thriller with Bond on the trail of a gang who have been stealing state secrets by ambushing military dispatch riders…

In the Roger Moore film incarnation Risico was folded into ‘For Your Eyes Only’ but here you get the real deal with a faithful adaptation of Fleming’s short story, wherein Bond is given a mission of revenge and assassination. Set in Jamaica with Nazi war-criminal Von Hammerstein as culprit and target for the man with a licence to kill, it is a solid piece of dramatic fiction that once again bears little similarity to the celluloid adventure.

The volume concludes with the then-controversial ‘Thunderball’ adaptation. That particular tale was savagely censored and curtailed at the behest of Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Express. Five days of continuity were excised but what remains is still pretty engrossing comic fare and at least some effort was made to wrap up the storyline before the strip ended. In case you can’t recall: When Bond is sent on enforced medical leave, he stumbles into a deadly plot to steal nuclear weapons by a new subversive organisation calling itself Spectre

These grand stories are a must for not only aficionados of Bond but for all thriller fans, as an example of truly gripping adventure uncluttered by superficial razzamatazz. Get back to basics, and remember that classic style is never out of fashion.

All strips are © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1987. James Bond and 007 are ™Danjaq LLC used under license from Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 4 1970-1975: It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn

By Steve Englehart, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Mike Friedrich, Tony Isabella, Chris Claremont, Sal Buscema, Tom Sutton, Herb Trimpe, Gil Kane, Don Heck, John Buscema, Bob Brown, Jim Starlin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302916039 (TPB)

X-Men was never one of young Marvel’s top titles but it did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek prettiness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of the college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

The core team consisted of tragic Scott Summers/Cyclops, telepath and mind-reader Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast in training with Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound (and temporarily deceased) telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the gradually emerging race of mutant Homo Superior. In latter days they had been joined by magnetic Polaris and cosmic ray fuelled Havoc…although they were usually referred to as Lorna Dane and Alex Summers.

However, by the time of this massive full-colour paperback and digital tome (collecting the covers from reprint issues X-Men #67-93 plus Annual #1-2, Amazing Adventures #11-17, Amazing Spider-Man #92, Incredible Hulk #150, 161, 172, 180-182, Marvel Team-Up #4, 23, Avengers #110-111, Captain America #172-175, Defenders #15-16 and Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4: spanning December 1970 through June 1975 and chronologically re-presenting every mutant appearance of the era) the outcasts had been reduced to reliving past glories and riding the guest star circuit. A one-shot entitled Giant-Sized X-Men #1 would soon change all that forever…

After nearly eight years of eccentrically spectacular adventures the mutant misfits virtually disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just as in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes once more dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although gone, the mutants were far from forgotten. The standard policy at that time to revive characters that had fallen was to pile on guest-shots and reprints. X-Men #67 (December 1970) saw them return in double-sized issues, re-presenting early classics beginning with the Juggernaut tale from #12-13. Although returned as a cheap but shelf-monopolising reprint vehicle, the missing Children of the Atom were reduced to bit-players throughout the ongoing Marvel universe, whilst the bludgeoning Beast was opportunistically transformed into a scary monster to cash in on the horror boom and ultimately a comedy foil in the Avengers.

Then, with sales of the spooky stuff subsequently waning in 1975, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas green-lighted a bold one-shot as part of the company’s line of Giant-Size specials and history was made…

A brace of covers – X-Men Annual #1 by Jack Kirby & Chic Stone and X-Men #67 by Marie Severin & Joe Sinnott – lead us to John Romita’s cover for Amazing Spider-Man #92 (January 1971) and a tale by Stan Lee, Gil Kane & Romita depicting ‘When Iceman Attacks’.

This actually concludes the Amazing Arachnid’s battle against corrupt political boss Sam Bullit, as the ambitious demagogue convinces the youngest X-Man that Spider-Man is a kidnapper. Despite being a closing chapter, this all-out action extravaganza efficiently recaps itself and is perfectly comprehensible to readers.

The covers to X-Men #68-74 (by Kirby, Dick Ayers, Sal Buscema, Werner Roth, Bill Everett & Kane) and King Size Annual #2 (Kane & Romita) further celebrate the individual and collective Merry Mutants comeback tour before the next story opens.

Alec Summers had left the X-Men, terrified of his uncontrollable cosmic power, to isolate himself in the deserts of New Mexico. When Lorna Dane goes looking for him in ‘Cry Hulk, Cry Havok!’ (Incredible Hulk #150 April 1972, Archie Goodwin, Herb Trimpe & John Severin) she encounters a menacing biker gang and an Emerald Giant violently protective of his privacy. Mercifully Havok proves a match for the rampaging titan…

The previous month Marvel had launched a reinvented X-Man in a solo series as a response to the world horror boom which shifted general comic book fare from bright shiny costumed heroes to dark and sinister monsters.

Premiering in Amazing Adventures #11 (March 1972), written by Gerry Conway and illustrated by the incredibly effective team of Tom Sutton & Syd Shores, ‘The Beast!’ reveals how brilliant Hank McCoy leaves Xavier’s school and takes a research position at the conglomerate Brand Corporation.

Using private sector resources to research the causes of genetic mutation, McCoy becomes embroiled in industrial skulduggery and – to hide his identity – uses his discoveries to “upgrade” his animalistic abilities – temporarily turning himself into a fearsome anthropoid creature with startling new abilities. At least it was supposed to be temporary…

Bracketed by Kane & Frank Giacoia’s covers for X-Men #75-76, Steve Englehart assumes the writing reins in AmazingAdventures #12 (May), and monster maestro Mike Ploog takes the inker’s chair for ‘Iron Man: D.O.A.’ as McCoy, trapped in a monstrous new shape, took extreme measures to appear human as he desperately strove to find a cure for his condition. Unfortunately, Brand is riddled with bad characters and when Tony Stark visits, it’s inevitable that the Beast and Iron Man clash…

Incomprehensibly that battle led to Iron Man’s death; or so McCoy thought. In fact, the monster has been mesmerized by villainous Mastermind in a scheme to force the outcast to join the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. ‘Evil is All in Your Mind!’(Englehart, Sutton & Giacoia) also reintroduces two characters from the wildest fringes of Early Marvel continuity who will both play major roles in months and years to come. Patsy Walker was an ideal girl-next-door whose wholesome teen-comedy exploits had delighted readers for decades since her debut in Miss America #2 (Nov. 1944).

She starred in seven separate comic series until 1967. Here she joins the cast of the Beast as the tag-along wife of her boyhood sweetheart Buzz Baxter who had grown from an appealing goof to a rather daunting military martinet and Pentagon liaison. As McCoy is throwing off the defeated mesmerist’s psychic influence, Captain Baxter lays plans to capture the maligned mutate…

George Tuska & Vince Colletta’s cover for X-Men #77 precedes the next full story, proving the other X-Men were not forgotten. New Horror-Hero rising star Morbius, the Living Vampire was making things tough for Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #4 (September 1972) as the Human Torch temporarily bows out to be replaced by the mutant team. ‘And Then… the X-Men!’ is a terse, tense thriller written by Conway, inked by Steve Mitchell and illustrated by the magnificent Gil Kane at the top of his form detailing how the outsiders hunt the sanguine predator in search of a cure for as the ailing arachnoid…

Bloodsuckers literal and metaphorical are also the order of the day in Amazing Adventures #14. ‘The Vampire Machine’ (inked by Jim Mooney) sees Iron Man return as computerized killer and incipient AI assassin Quasimodo attacks Brand Corp. in an attempt to steal radical technology to build himself a body…

Kane & Giacoia’s cover for X-Men #78 precedes AA #15’s ‘Murder in Mid-Air!’ (rendered by Sutton, Giacoia & John Tartaglione) finding a gravely wounded Beast making an unexpected ally and confidante, before old comrade the Angel comes calling, encountering a hideous artificially mutated monster dubbed the Griffin en route. This tale reintroduced another old friend of Hank McCoy’s and should segue into another X-crossover (Incredible Hulk #161, March 1973), but not before the cover of X-Men #79 and 80 intermingle with AA #16 – wherein our hirsute hero battles an old foe in the Halloween thriller ‘…And the Juggernaut Will Get You… If You Don’t Watch Out!’ by Englehart, Bob Brown & Frank McLaughlin, with a horde of classic caricatures from cartoon legend Marie Severin.

It was the last time McCoy would be seen in a full tale until the bombastic Beast joined the Avengers. Amazing Adventures #17 featured a 2-page framing sequence by Englehart, Jim Starlin & Mike Esposito (included here) which bracketed an abridged reprint of the Beast origin back-ups from X-Men #49-53 (which are not).

At last that Hulk hiatus ends as ‘Beyond the Border Lurks Death!’ (Englehart, Trimpe & Sal Trapani) sees the Green Goliath and Bouncing Blue Beast as reluctant allies in a battle against old X-foe the Mimic, whose ability to absorb the attributes of others has gone tragically, catastrophically haywire…

X-Men #81’s cover leads to another titanic team-up – from Avengers #110-111 (April and May 1973) – as Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision and Black Panther investigate the disappearance of the mutant heroes and are thoroughly beaten by their oldest enemy sporting a new power.

‘… And Now Magneto!’ (Englehart, Don Heck, Giacoia & Esposito) ends with half the team brainwashed captives of the master villain with the remaining crusaders desperately searching for new allies.

Not included here is their journey to San Francisco to recruit Daredevil and the Black Widow so the saga resumes and concludes in Avengers #111 as, ‘With Two Beside Them!’ (Englehart, Heck & Esposito) the returned heroes and West Coast vigilantes successfully rescue the X-Men and Avengers enslaved by the malign Magneto…

With X-Men #82 (June), the covers generally reverted to recoloured and modified versions of the original releases: rendered by Dan Adkins, Ross Andru, Heck, Tuska & Giacoia, bringing us to February 1974 and Incredible Hulk #172.

A Roy Thomas plot and Tony Isabella script sees the Gamma Giant captured by US soldiers and hurled into another dimension, allowing the unstoppable mystic menace to inadvertently escape. ‘And Canst Thou Slay… The Juggernaut?’reveals that even his magically augmented might cannot resist our favourite antihero and features a telling, conclusive cameo by Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Professor X, after which the Tuska cover for X-Men #87 precedes a crucial episode in the lives of the mutant adventurers.

Englehart was at this time making history with an allegorical saga in Captain America and the Falcon mirroring the national scandal of President Nixon and Watergate. The Patriotic Paragon found himself framed for murder and smeared by a media disinformation campaign and forced to go on the run to clear himself.

Brought to you by Englehart, Sal Buscema & Vince Colletta, it begins in Captain America #172 as ‘Believe it or Not: The Banshee!’ finds Cap and the Falcon tracing a lead to Nashville, clashing with the eponymous fugitive mutant and stumbling into a clandestine pogrom on American soil…

For months mutants have been disappearing unnoticed, but now the last remaining – Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Charles Xavier – have tracked them down, only to discover that Captain America’s problems also stem from ‘The Sins of the Secret Empire!’ whose ultimate goal is the conquest of the USA…

Eluding capture by S.H.I.E.L.D., Steve and Sam infiltrate the evil Empire, only to be exposed and confined in ‘It’s Always Darkest!’ before abruptly turning the tables and saving the day in #175’s ‘…Before the Dawn!’ (interrupted only by the cover for X-Men #88) wherein the vile grand plan is revealed, the mutants liberated and the culprits captured. In a shocking final scene, the ultimate instigator is unmasked and horrifically dispatched within the White House itself…

Marvel Team-Up #23 (July 1974, by Len Wein, Kane & Esposito) offers a case of mistaken identity – and powers – before Human Torch Johnny Storm and Iceman fractiously unite to stop Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man on ‘The Night of the Frozen Inferno!’ after which Ed Hannigan & Giacoia’s cover for X-Men #89 carries us to Defenders #15 (September), which initiates a 2-part duel with Magneto who first institutes a ‘Panic Beneath the Earth!’ – courtesy of Wein, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson – leading telepath Charles Xavier to enlist the outcast heroes’ (Dr. Strange,Nighthawk, Valkyrie and Hulk) aid. The concluding clash involves the insidious Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and ‘Alpha, the Ultimate Mutant’ (inked by Esposito) as well as the apparent end of a true master of evil…

The same cover-month that X-Men #90 (by John Buscema) was released, a pivotal X-character made a rather inauspicious debut.

Incredible Hulk #180 (October 1974 by Wein, Trimpe & Jack Abel) declares ‘And the Wind Howls… Wendigo!’ as the Green Giant gallivants across the Canadian Border and encounters a witch attempting to cure her brother of a curse which has transformed him into a rampaging cannibalistic monster. Unfortunately, that cure means Hulk must become a Wendigoin his stead…

It is while the Great Green and Weird White monsters are fighting that mutant megastar Wolverine first appears – in the very last panel – leading to the savage fist, fang and claw fest that follows.

‘And Now… The Wolverine!’ captivatingly concludes the saga as the Maple nation’s top-secret super-agent is unleashed upon both the Emerald Goliath and man-eating Wendigo in an action-stuffed romp teeming with triumph, tragedy and lots of slashing and hitting. The rest is history…

The aftermath spilled over into #182’s ‘Between Hammer and Anvil!’ with Trimpe taking sole charge of the art chores for the two pages included here as Wolverine is called off by his Canadian spymasters…

John Buscema & Tuska’s cover for X-Men #91 then leads to the last story in this colossal compendium as in Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4 Wein, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Chic Stone & Joe Sinnott unite to introduce ‘Madrox the Multiple Man’: a young mutant who grew up on an isolated farm unaware of the incredible power he possesses.

When his parents pass away, the kid is inexplicably drawn to New York City, but the mysterious hi-tech suit he wears to contain his condition soon malfunctions and the boy devolves into a ambulatory fission device who can endlessly, lethally replicate himself…

Thankfully the FF are aided by mutant Moses Charles Xavier who dutifully takes young Jamie under his wing…

Concluding with the covers to X-Men #92 and 93 (by Ron Wilson & Giacoia and John B & Tuska), house ads and the wraparound October 1986 cover to one-shot The Incredible Hulk and Wolverine #1 – by John Byrne & Abel – this massive meander into Marvel mutant minutiae is a little scrappy and none too cohesive but is packed to the brim with wonderful comics sagas and groundbreaking mini-masterpieces which reshaped the way we tell stories to this day. This comprehensive collection is an unquestionable treasure no fan should be without.
© 2019 MARVEL.

Are you wake?

If you’re like any other guy between 25 and the grave you might want to pay attention. Do not wait for February 13th. Start looking for a St. Valentine’s Day gift for your significant other(s?) now. As I’m going to be reviewing romance-themed graphic novels sporadically between now and then you might think of them as a kind of ticking clock reminder.

PAY EVEN MORE ATTENTION. A graphic novel on its own – no matter how good – is not suitable as a romantic gesture. For Pete’s Sake buy something else – and more thoughtful, too.

Showcase Presents Green Arrow

By EdFrance” Herron, Jack Miller, Dave Wood, Robert Bernstein, Jerry Coleman, Bob Haney, Gardner Fox, John Broome, George Kashdan, Bill Finger, Jack Kirby, George Papp, Lee Elias, George Roussos, Mike Sekowsky, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)

ISBN: 978-1-4012-0785-4 (TPB)

DC Comics have, over their decades of existence, published an incalculable volume of absolutely wonderful comics tales in a variety of genres and addressing a wide variety of age ranges and tastes.

Sadly, unlike their rival Marvel, these days they seem content to let most of it languish beyond the reach of fans – both devout and vintage or fresh potential new adherents. As a new decade – possibly or last – unfolds I’ll be continuing my one-person campaign to remind them and inform you that – like The Truth – the Fiction is also Out There… even if only still available in older collections…

Green Arrow is one of DC’s Golden All-Stars: a fixture of the company’s landscape (in many instances for no discernible reason) more or less continually since his debut in 1941. He was originally created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp for More Fun Comics # 73 as an attempt to expand the company’s superhero portfolio, and in the early years proved quite successful. The bowman and boy partner Speedy were two of the few costumed heroes to survive the end of the Golden Age.

His blatantly opportunistic recombination of Batman and Robin Hood seemed to have very little going for itself but the Emerald Archer has somehow always managed to keep himself in vogue. He and sidekick Speedy were part of the 1940s Seven Soldiers of Victory, carried on adventuring in the back of other heroes’ comicbooks and joined the Justice League of America at the peak of their fame before evolving into the spokes-hero of the anti-establishment generation during the 1960’s “Relevancy Comics” trend, courtesy of Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams.

Under Mike Grell’s stewardship and thanks to breakthrough miniseries Green Arrow: the Longbow Hunters (DC’s second Prestige Format Limited Series after the groundbreaking success of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), the battling bowman at last became a headliner: an urban predator dealing with corporate thugs and serial killers rather than costumed goof-balls.

After his long career and a few venue changes, by the late1950s and Julie Schwartz’s revivification of the Superhero genre, the Emerald Archer was a solid second feature in both Adventure and World’s Finest Comics. As part of the wave of retcons, reworkings and spruce-ups the company administered to all their remaining costumed old soldiers, he enjoyed a fresh start beginning in the summer of 1958…

This splendidly eclectic collection of the peripatetic champion’s perennial second-string exploits gathers pertinent material from Adventure Comics #250-269, World’s Finest Comics #95-140, Justice League of America #4 and his guest-shots in Brave and the Bold #50, 71 and 85; covering the period July 1958 to September 1969.

Part of that revival happily coincided with the first return to National Comics of Jack Kirby after the collapse of Mainline: the comics company he and partner Joe Simon had created as part of the Crestwood/Prize publishing combine (which foundered when the industry was hit by the Comics Code censorship controversy and a sales downturn that hit many creators very, very hard)…

Delivered in stark and  stunning monochrome, the on-target tales start with ‘The Green Arrows of the World’ (by scripter Dave Wood and Jack, with wife Roz Kirby inking) wherein heroic masked archers from many nations attended a conference in Star City, unaware that a fugitive criminal is lurking within their midst, whilst that same month George Papp illustrated the anonymously scripted ‘Green Arrow vs Red Dart’ in World’s Finest Comics #95: a dashing tale of the Ace Archer’s potential criminal counterpart and his inevitable downfall.

Adventure #251 took a welcome turn to fantastic science fiction as Ed Herron & the Kirbys resolved ‘The Case of the Super-Arrows’ wherein GA and Speedy take possession of high-tech trick shafts from 3000AD, whilst WFC #96 (writer unknown) reveals ‘Five Clues to Danger’ – a classic kidnap mystery made even more impressive by Kirby’s lean, raw illustration.

A rare continued case spanned Adventure’s #252 and 253 as Wood, Jack & Roz expose ‘The Mystery of the Giant Arrows’, before the Amazing Archers temporarily become ‘Prisoners of Dimension Zero’ – a spectacular riot of giant aliens and incredible exotic otherworlds. Back to Earth, it’s followed in WF #97 with a grand old-school crime-caper in Herron’s ‘The Mystery of the Mechanical Octopus’.

Kirby was going from strength to strength and Adventure #254’s ‘The Green Arrow’s Last Stand’, written by Wood, is a particularly fine example as the Bold Bowmen crash into a hidden valley where Sioux braves thrive unchanged since the time of Custer, before the next issue sees them battle a battalion of Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender their island bunker in ‘The War That Never Ended’ (also scripted by Wood).

World’s Finest #98 almost ended the heroes’ careers in Herron’s ‘The Unmasked Archers’, wherein a practical joke causes the pair to expose themselves to public scrutiny and deadly danger…

In those heady days, origins weren’t as important as imaginative situations, storytelling and just plain getting on with it, so co-creators Weisinger & Papp never bothered to provide one, leaving later workmen Herron, Jack & Roz (in Kirby’s penultimate tale before devoting all his energies to his fabulous but doomed newspaper strip Sky Masters) to fill in the blanks with ‘The Green Arrow’s First Case’ just as the Silver Age superhero revival hit its stride in Adventure Comics#256 (January 1959).

Here we learned how wealthy wastrel Oliver Queen was cast away on a deserted island and learned to use a hand-made bow simply to survive. When a band of scurvy mutineers fetched up on his desolate shores Queen used his newfound skills to defeat them and returned to civilisation with a new career and secret purpose…

Adventure #257’s ‘The Arrows That Failed’ finds a criminal mastermind tampering with the archer’s equipment in a low-key but intriguing yarn by an unknown scripter, most memorable for being the first artistic outing for Golden Age great Lee Elias. He would become the character’s sole illustrator until its demise following Kirby’s spectacular swan-song in WF #99. ‘Crimes Under Glass’ was written by Robert Bernstein and found GA and Speedy battling cunning criminals with a canny clutch of optical armaments.

Adventure Comics #258 (March 1959) offered a rare cover appearance for the Emerald Archer since he guest-starred in lead feature ‘Superboy Meets the Young Green Arrow’ (by Jerry Coleman & Papp), after which inspiring boyhood on-the-job training the mature bowman then schooled a lost patrol of soldiers in toxophily (that’s posh talk for archery, folks), desert survival and crime-busting in ‘The Arrow Platoon’: another anonymously scripted yarn limned by Elias.

The same month in WF #100 the Emerald Avenger faced light-hearted lampoonery and sinister larcenists in ‘The Case of the Green Error Clown’ by Herron and the now-firmly entrenched Elias, whilst Adventure #259 showed that ‘The Green Arrow’s Mystery Pupil’ had ulterior and sinister motives for his studies whilst #260 revealed ‘Green Arrow’s New Partner’ to be only a passing worry for Speedy in a clever drama by Bernstein.

World’s Finest #101 introduced a crook who bought or stole outlandish ideas for malevolent purposes in ‘The Battle of the Useless Inventions’ (Herron), whereas Adventure #261 and the uncredited fable ‘The Curse of the Wizard’s Arrow!’employs bad luck and spurious sorcery to test the Archers’ ingenuity.

WF #102 provided Herron’s snazzy crime-caper ‘The Case of the Camouflage King!’ whilst in Adventure #262 ‘The World’s Worst Archer!’ (Bernstein) finally gives Boy Bowman Speedy an origin of his own; detailing just how close part-Native American boy Roy Harper came to not being adopted by Oliver Queen. Next month #263 boasted ‘Have Arrow – Will Travel’ (Bernstein) showing the independent lad selling his skills to buy a boat… a solid lesson in enterprise, thrift and good parenting, if not reference-checking….

World’s Finest #103 offered Bob Haney mystery-thriller ‘Challenge of the Phantom Bandit’ after which an anonymous scripter finally bows to the obvious and dispatches the Emerald Archer to feudal Sherwood Forest in ‘The Green Arrow Robin Hood’ (Adventure #264, September 1959) before WF #104 sees GA undercover on a modern Native American Reservation in Herron & Elias’ ‘Alias Chief Magic Bow’.

‘The Amateur Arrows!’ (by Bernstein from Adventure #265) has the Battling Bowmen act as Summer Camp tutors on a perilously perfidious Dude Ranch for kids, #266 again sees their trick-shot kit malfunction in a clever conundrum with a surprise mystery guest-star in Bernstein’s ‘The Case of the Vanished Arrows!’ and WF #105 introduces deceptively deadly toy-making terror ‘The Mighty Mr. Miniature’ (Herron).

In Adventure Comics #267 the editors tried another novel experiment in closer continuity. At this time the title starred Superboy with two back-up features following. The first of these starred equally perennial B-list survivor Aquaman who in ‘The Manhunt on Land’ (not included) discovers villainous Shark Norton has traded territories with Green Arrow’s foe The Wizard. In a rare crossover, both parts of which were written by Bernstein, the heroes worked the same case with Aquaman fighting on dry land whilst the Emerald Archer pursued his enemy beneath the waves in his impressively innovative strip ‘The Underwater Archers’

‘The Crimes of the Pneumatic Man’ (Herron, WF #106) debuts a rather daft balloon-based bandit, whilst Adventure#268 covers another time-trip in ‘The Green Arrow in King Arthur’s Court!’ by Bernstein. He also scripted February 1960’s #269 wherein ‘The Comic Book Archer!’ sees the pair aid a cartoonist in need of inspiration and salvation.

That was the hero’s last appearance in Adventure. From then on the Amazing Archers’ only home was World’s Finest Comics, beginning a lengthy and enthralling run from Herron & Elias spanning #107-112 and  systematically defeating ‘The Menace of the Mole Men’ – who weren’t what they seemed – and ‘The Creature from the Crater’ – which also wasn’t – before becoming ‘Prisoners of the Giant Bubble’: a clever crime caper loaded with action.

WF #110 introduced photonic pillage ‘The Sinister Spectrum Man’ with a far more memorable menace challenging the heroes in ‘The Crimes of the Clock King’ before a lucky felon stumbles upon their hidden lair and becomes ‘The Spy in the Arrow-Cave’: a tale which starts weakly but ends on a powerfully poignant high note…

In WF #113 the painfully parochial and patronising tone of the times seeped into the saga of ‘The Amazing Miss Arrowette’ (scripted by Wood) as a hopeful, ambitious Ladies’ Archery competitor tries her very best to become Green Arrow’s main helpmeet. Moreover, in a series famed for absurd gimmick shafts, nothing ever came close to surpassing the Hair-Pin, Needle-and-Thread, Powder-Puff or Lotion Arrows in Bonnie King’s fetching and stylish little quiver…

The times were changing in other aspects however, and fantasy elements were again popular at the end of 1960, as evidenced by Herron’s teaser in WF #114. ‘Green Arrow’s Alien Ally’ neatly segued into ‘The Mighty Arrow Army’ as the Ace Archers battle a South American dictator and then encounter a sharp-shooting circus chimp in #116’s ‘The Ape Archer’.

A big jump to the majors occurred in Justice League of America #4 (April 1961) when Green Arrow is invited to join the world’s Greatest Super-Heroes just in time to save them all – and the Earth for good measure in Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs’ epic sci fi extravaganza ‘Doom of the Star Diamond’.

The Emerald Bowman returned to quirkiness and mere crime-crushing in WF #117’s‘The Cartoon Archer’ (Wood & Elias) wherein a kidnapped cartoonist uses caricature as a deadly weapon and desperate plea for help…

World’s Finest #118 featured ‘The Return of Miss Arrowette’ (Wood): far less cringeworthy than her debut but still managing to make the Bow Babe both competent and imbecilic at the same time, before Herron penned ‘The Man with the Magic Bow’ in #119, with an actual sorcerous antique falling into the greedy hands of a career criminal, after which Oliver Queen and Roy Harper become victims of ‘The Deadly Trophy Hunt’ in #120 and need a little Arrow action to save the day and their secret identities.

Master scribe John Broome provides a tautly impressive tale of despair and redemption in #121 with ‘The Cop Who Lost his Nerve’ and WF #122 sees ‘The Booby-Trap Bandits’ (Haney) almost destroy our heroes in a tense suspense thriller, whilst Wood wrote one of his very best GA yarns in #123’s ‘The Man Who Foretold Disaster’.

Herron rose to the challenge in WF #124-125 with a brace of bold and grittily terse mini-epics beginning with breathtaking gang-busting yarn ‘The Case of the Crime Specialists’; following up with tense human drama ‘The Man Who Defied Death’ as a doting dad puts his life on the line to pay his son’s medical bills…

‘Dupe of the Decoy Bandits’ by Wood in #126 is another sharp game of cops-&-robbers and George Kashdan reveals the heart-warming identity of ‘Green Arrow’s Secret Partner’ in #127 after which Wood successfully tries his hand at human-scaled melodrama with a retiring cop proving himself ‘The Too-Old Hero’ in #128.

Oddly – perhaps typically – just as the quality of Green Arrow’s adventures steadily improved, his days as a solo star were finally ending. Herron scripted all but one of the remaining year’s World’s Finest exploits, beginning with #129’s robotic renegade ‘The Iron Archer’, after which an author unknown contributed ‘The Human Sharks’ as the heroes returned to battling crime beneath the seas.

A despondent boy is boosted out of a dire depression by joining his idols in #131’s ‘A Cure for Billy Jones’ whilst ‘The Green Arrow Dummy’ is an identity-saver and unexpected crook catcher in its own right.

Subterranean thugs accidentally invade and become ‘The Thing in the Arrowcave’ in #133, before ‘The Mystery of the Missing Inventors’ sees a final appearance and decent treatment of Arrowette, but the writing was on the wall. Green Arrow became an alternating feature and didn’t work again until WF #136 and the exotic mystery of ‘The Magician Boss of the Incas’ (September 1963).

A month later Brave and the Bold #50 saw the Ace Archer team-up in a book-length romp with the Martian Manhunter. ‘Wanted – the Capsule Master!’ pits the newly-minted Green Team in a furious foray against marauding extraterrestrial menace Vulkor; a fast-paced thriller by Haney & George Roussos followed by WF #138’s ‘The Secret Face of Funny-Arrow!’ wherein a formerly positive and good natured spoof-performer takes a sudden turn into darker and nastier “jokes” whilst World’s Finest #140 (March 1964) aptly presents ‘The Land of No Return’ by Bill Finger, with the Battling Bowmen falling into a time-locked limbo where heroes from history perpetually strive against deadly beasts and monsters…

The decades-long careers ended there and they became nothing more than bit-players in JLA and Teen Titans exploits until Brave and the Bold #71 (April-May 1967, by Haney and drawn by his Golden Age co-creator George Papp), wherein Green Arrow helps Batman survive ‘The Wrath of the Thunderbird!’: crushing a criminal entrepreneur determined to take over the wealth and resources of the Kijowa Indian Nation.

This volume ends with the first cathartic and thoroughly modern re-imagining of the character, paving the way for the rebellious, riotous, passionately socially-aware avenger of modern times.

Brave and the Bold #85 is arguably the best of an incredible run of team-ups in that title’s prestigious history and certainly the best yarn in this collection. ‘The Senator’s Been Shot!’ reunites Batman and Green Arrow in a superb multi-layered thriller of politics, corruption and cast-iron integrity, wherein Bruce Wayne becomes a stand-in for a law-maker and the Emerald Archer gets a radical make-over, making him a fiery liberal gadfly champion of the relevancy generation – and every one since.

Ranging from calamitously repetitive and formulaic – but in a very good and entertaining way – to moments of sublime wonder and excitement, this is genuine mixed bag of Fights ‘n’ Tights swashbuckling with something for everyone and certainly bound to annoy as much as delight. All ages superhero action that’s unmissable. Even if you won’t love it all you’ll hate yourself for missing this spot-on selection.
© 1958-1964, 1967, 1969, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Lantern: A Celebration of 75 Years

By Martin Nodell, Bill Finger, Alfred Bester, Robert Kanigher, John Broome, Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Ron Marz, Judd Winick, Geoff Johns, Paul Reinman, Alex Toth, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Mike Grell, Joe Staton, Kevin Maguire, Darryl Banks, Randy Green, Ethan Van Sciver, Darwyn Cooke, Doug Mahnke & various (DC Comics
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5819-1 (HB)

Now a cornerstone of the DC Universe the many heroes called Green Lantern have waxed and waned over the decades and now feels much more Concept than Character.

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts – is available in hardback and digital formats and offers an all-too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of snapshots detailing how assorted Emerald Gladiators have battled evil and injustice whilst entertaining millions and generations.

Collecting material from All-American Comics #16, Comic Cavalcade #6, Green Lantern volume 1 #30, Showcase #22, Green Lantern volume 2 #7, 11, 16, 40, 59, 76, 87, 188, The Flash #237-238, 240, Justice League #1, Green Lantern volume 3 #50, 51, Green Lantern /Green Lantern #1, Green Lantern: Rebirth #1, Green Lantern Secret Files and Origins 2005, #1 and Green Lantern #0 (cumulatively covering July 1940 to November 2012), the groundbreaking appearances selected are all preceded by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in his/their development, beginning with Part I: The Green Flame Ignites 1940-1950

The first Emerald Avenger debuted in the 16th issue (July 1940) of the company’s flagship title All-American Comics, just as superheroes started to take hold, supplanting newspaper strip reprints and stock genre characters in the still primarily-anthologised comicbooks.

Crafted by Bill Finger & Martin Nodell ‘Introducing Green Lantern’ reveals how ambitious young engineer Alan Scottonly survives the sabotage and destruction of a passenger-packed train due to the intervention of a battered old railway lantern. Bathed in its eerie emerald light, he is regaled by a mysterious green voice with the legend of how a meteor fell in ancient China and spoke to the people: predicting Death, Life and Power.

The star-stone’s viridian glow brought doom to the savant who reshaped it into a lamp, sanity to a madman centuries later and now promises incredible might to bring justice to the innocent and afflicted…

Instructing Scott to fashion a ring from its metal and draw a charge of power from the lantern every 24 hours, the ancient artefact urges the engineer to use his formidable willpower to end all evil: a mission Scott eagerly takes up by promptly crushing corrupt industrialist Dekker who callously caused wholesale death just to secure a lucrative rail contract.

The ring renders Scott immune to all minerals and metals, enabling him to fly and pass through solid objects but, as he battles Dekker’s thugs, the grim avenger painfully discovers that living – perhaps organic – materials such as wood or rubber can penetrate his jade defences and cause mortal harm…

The saboteurs punished, Scott resolves to carry on the fight and devises a “bizarre costume” to disguise his identity and strike fear and awe into wrongdoers…

The arcane avenger gained his own solo-starring title little more than a year after his premiere and also appeared in anthologies such as Comics Cavalcade, All Star Comics and others for just over a decade. From those hectic heydays (and specifically Comic Cavalcade #6, Spring 1944) ‘They Are Invincible’ sees the hero and his comedy sidekick Doiby Dickles tracking thieves in fog and slip into a metaphorical quandary as their writer Alfred Bester (but not & illustrator Paul Reinman) becomes a reality-warping part of the adventure…

Like most first-generation superheroes, the masked marvel faded away in the early1950s, having first suffered the humiliating fate of being edged out of his own strip and comicbook by his pet Streak the Wonder Dog

Green Lantern volume 1 #30, cover-dated February/March 1948 cover-featured ‘The Saga of Streak’ by Robert Kanigher & Alex Toth as a noble, valiant canine (some very important people call them “Daw-uhgs”) tracks his missing owner/companion to the big city only to be gunned down by criminals. Saved by Green Lantern, they jointly rescue US intelligence agent Captain Sara Dale from deranged Dr. Malgoro and the grateful spy asks him to look after Streak until she returns from her next assignment. Within two issues the mutt was the lead feature, proving beyond doubt that the readers were losing interest in masked mystery men… at least for the moment…

A potted history of that interregnum follows in Part II: The Emerald Crusader 1959-1969 before a flash of green light heralded a bold new venture. After their hugely successful revival and reworking of The Flash, DC (or National Comics as they were) were keen to build on the resurgent superhero trend. Showcase #22 hit the stands at the same time as the fourth issue of the new Flash comicbook – #108 – and once again the guiding lights were Editor Julie Schwartz and writer John Broome. Assigned as illustrator was action ace Gil Kane, generally inked by Joe Giella, and the issue reveals how a Space Age reconfiguration of the Golden-Age superhero with a magic ring replaced mysticism with super-science.

Hal Jordan is a young test pilot in California when an alien policeman crashes his spaceship on Earth. Mortally wounded, Abin Sur commands his ring – a device which can materialise thoughts – to seek out a replacement officer, honest and without fear.

Scanning the planet, it selects Jordan and brings him to the crash-site. The dying alien bequeaths his ring, lantern-shaped Battery of Power and his professional vocation to the astonished Earthman.

In six pages ‘S.O.S Green Lantern’ establishes characters, scenario and narrative thrust of a series that would increasingly become the spine of DC continuity, leaving room for another two adventures in that premiere issue. Unlike the debut of The Flash, the editors were now confident of their ground. The next two issues of Showcase carried the new hero into even greater exploits, and six months later Green Lantern #1 was released.

In this new iteration Emerald gladiators are a universal police force (Jordan’s “beat” is Space Sector 2814), and having shown us other GLs, Broome surpassed himself with ‘The Day 100,000 People Vanished!’ (Green Lantern #7, August 1961) bringing the Guardians of the Universe into the open to warn of their greatest error: a renegade Green Lantern named Sinestro who, in league with evil Qwardians from an antimatter universe, had become a threat to our entire reality. This tense shocker introduced one of the most charismatic and intriguing villains in the DCU

Readers were constantly clamouring for more on the alien Corps Jordan had joined and ‘The Strange Trial of Green Lantern’ (#11, March 1962) introduces another half-dozen or so simply to court-martial Hal for dereliction of duty in a saga of cataclysmic proportions, after which issue #16 of Green Lantern volume 2 (October 1962) takes Jordan’s romantic triangle with his boss Carol Ferris and his own masked alter ego to a new level as ‘The Secret Life of Star Sapphire!’ introduces the star-roving alien women of Zamaron.

Readers of contemporary comics will be aware of their awesome heritage but for the sake of this review and new readers let’s keep that to ourselves. These questing females select Carol as their new queen and give her a gem as versatile and formidable as a power ring, and a brainwash make-over too.

Programmed to destroy the man she loves, Star Sapphire would become another recurring foe, but one with a telling advantage.

As the DCU expanded, the past glories of its Golden Age were cunningly incorporated into the tapestry as another dimensional plane was discovered: a parallel universe where older superheroes existed. Alan Scott and his mystery-men comrades still thrived on the controversially named Earth-2.

Although getting in late to the Counterpart Collaborations game, the inevitable first teaming of Hal Jordan and Alan Scott as Green Lanterns is one of the best and arguably second-most important story of the entire era. ‘Secret Origin of the Guardians!’ by John Broome, Gil Kane & Sid Greene (Green Lantern #40, October 1965) introduces the renegade Guardian Krona, reveals the origin of the multiverse, shows how evil entered our universe and describes how and why the immortal Oans took up their self-appointed task of policing the cosmos. It also shows Gil Kane’s paramount ability to stage a superhero fight like no other. This pure comicbook perfection should be considered a prologue to the landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths

In Green Lantern volume 2 #59 (March 1968) Broome introduced ‘Earth’s Other Green Lantern!’ in a rip-roaring cosmic epic of what-might-have-been. When dying GL Abin Sur had ordered his ring to select a worthy successor Hal Jordan hadn’t been the only candidate, but the closest of two. What if the ring had chosen his alternative Guy Gardnerinstead…?

Following that portentous tragedy-in-the-making, changing times and tastes saw a radical diversion in the hero’s fortunes, as described in the essay and tales comprising Part III: In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night 1970-1985

In 1969, after nearly a decade of earthly crime-busting, interstellar intrigue and spectacular science fiction shenanigans, the Silver Age Green Lantern was swiftly becoming one of the earliest big-name casualties of the downturn in superhero sales. Editor Julie Schwartz knew something extraordinary was needed to save the series and the result was a bold experiment that created a fad for socially relevant, ecologically aware, more mature stories which spread throughout costumed hero comics that totally revolutionised the industry and nigh-radicalised the readers.

Tapping relatively youthful superstars-in-waiting Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams to produce the revolutionary fare, Schwartz watched in fascinated disbelief as 13 groundbreaking tales captured and encapsulated the tone of the times, garnering critical praise and awards within the industry and desperately valuable publicity from the real world outside. Sadly, the stories simultaneously registered such poor sales that the series was finally cancelled anyway, with the heroes unceremoniously packed off to the back of marginally less endangered comic title The Flash.

When these stories first appeared, DC was a company in transition – just like America itself – with new ideas (which, in comic-book terms meant “young writers and artists”) being given much leeway: a veritable wave of fresh, raw talent akin to the very start of the industry, when excitable young creators ran wild with imagination. Their cause wasn’t hurt by the industry’s swingeing commercial decline: costs were up and the kids just weren’t buying funnybooks in the quantities they used to…

O’ Neil, in tight collaboration with hyper-realistic artist Adams, assaulted all the traditional monoliths of contemporary costumed dramas with tightly targeted, protest-driven stories. The comicbook was re-titled Green Lantern/Green Arrowwith the Emerald Archer constantly mouthing off as a hot-headed, liberal sounding-board and platform for a generation-in-crisis, whilst staid, conservative, quasi-reactionary Hal Jordan played the part of the oblivious but well-meaning old guard.

America was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation. Everything was challenged and with issue #76 (April 1970 and the first issue of the new decade), O’Neil and comics iconoclast Adams utterly redefined superhero strips with their relevancy-driven stories; transforming complacent establishment masked boy-scouts into uncertain, questioning champions and strident explorers of the revolution.

‘No Evil Shall Escape My Sight!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) broke the mould of the medium, utterly re-positioning the very concept of the costumed crusader as newly-minted ardent liberal Emerald Archer Oliver Queen challenges GL’s cosy worldview when the lofty space-cop painfully discovers real villains wear business suits, operate expense accounts, hurt people just because of skin colour and can happily poison their own nests for short-term gain…

Of course, that the story is a magnificently illustrated brilliant crime-thriller with science-fiction overtones doesn’t hurt either…

O’ Neil became sole scripter with this story and, in tight collaboration with ultra-realistic art-genius Adams, instantly overturned contemporary costumed dramas with their societally-targeted protest-stories. Two years later, the creators shattered another shibboleth with ‘Beware My Power’ (Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87, December 1971/January 1972) O’Neil, Adams & Giordano, histrionically introducing a new player to the DCU. John Stewart is an unemployed architect and full-time radical activist. He is the archetypal angry black man always spoiling for a fight and prepared to take guff from no-one.

Jordan is convinced the Guardians had grievously erred when selecting impatient, impetuous Stewart as Sector 2814’s official Green Lantern stand-in, but after seeing how his proposed pinch-hitter handles a white supremacist US presidential candidate trying to foment a race war, the Emerald Gladiator is happy to change his tune…

Although the heroes provided temporary solutions and put away viciously human criminals, these tales were remarkably blunt in exposing bigger ills and issues that couldn’t be fixed with a wave of a Green Ring; invoking an aura of helplessness that was metaphorically emphasised when Hal was summarily stripped of much of his power for no longer being the willing, unquestioning stooge of his officious, high-and-mighty alien masters…

For all the critical acclaim and innovative work done, sales of Green Lantern/Green Arrow were in a critical nosedive and nothing seemed able to stop the rot. Although the groundbreaking series folded, the heroics resumed a few months later in the back of The Flash #217 (August-September 1972), beginning a run of short episodes which eventually led to Green Lantern regaining his own solo series. O’Neil, remained as chief writer but soon Adams & Giordano moved on…

With Flash #237-238 and 240-243 new art sensation Mike Grell came aboard for a 6-part saga that precipitated Green Lantern back into his own title. Beginning with ‘Let There Be Darkness!’ (inked by Bill Draut) the watchword was “cosmic” as the extra-galactic Ravagers of Olys undertook a sextet of destructive, unholy tasks in Sector 2814. Represented here by the first, second and third chapters, the schemes begin by occluding the sun over planet Zerbon to eradicate the photosynthetic inhabitants. Next our hero picks up a semi-sentient starfish sidekick in ‘The Day of the Falling Sky!’(Blaisdell inks) whilst preventing the artificial world of Vivarium from collapsing in upon itself after which ‘The Floods Will Come!’ brings the Olys to planet Archos, where they attempt to submerge all the landmasses and drown the stone-age dwellers thriving there…

The buzz of the O’Neil/Grell epic assured Green Lantern of his own series once more, and with science fiction a popular mass genre in mainstream media, the Emerald Crusader soldiered on for nearly a decade before the next big change…

As that time progressed, John Stewart popped up occasionally even as the Guardians’ motives and ineffability increasingly came into question by many of their once-devoted operatives and peacekeepers. All too frequently, the grunts began seeing their formerly infallible little blue gods exposed as venal, ruthless, doctrinaire and even capricious…

As his reputation grew, headstrong Hal suffered an extremely tempestuous relationship with his bosses which eventually resulted in them accusing him of neglecting his space sector to concentrate on Earth’s problems and criminals. When he can no longer reconcile his love for Carol Ferris and duty to the Corps, Jordan quits and the Guardians offer Stewart the position…

‘Decent Exposure’ (Green Lantern volume 2 #188, May 1985) heralds a changing of the guard as writer Steve Englehart and illustrators Joe Staton & Bruce Patterson sign on, with TV reporter Tawny Young outing Stewart on national TV, and he – after some early anger and frustration – decides “so what?” whilst dealing with genuine problems such as psychotic madman the Predator on the prowl and Modoran ultra-nationalist Sonar intent on to destroying the new Green Lantern to prove the superiority of his postage-stamp principality Modora…

Part IV: Twilight of a Hero 1986-2003

In the mid-1980s, DC’s editorial hierarchy felt their then-vast 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 resulted in such spectacular commercial success, those movers-&shakers must have 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 America was 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: playing them for laughs…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7 (November). The new super-team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up DC crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate, and Mr. Miracle with heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men. Added to the mix was the marmite-tinted Guy Gardner Green Lantern: a “hero” who readers loved or hated in equal amounts since his revival in the dying days of The Crisis.

As the frequently-silly saga unfolds the squad is introduced to charismatic, filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who uses wealth and influence to recreate the initial super-team in a dangerous stunt that starts their march to glory by defeating a bunch of rather inept terrorist bombers in initial outingBorn Again’ (Justice League #1 1987, by Giffen, DeMatteis, Maguire & Terry Austin)

Ultimately, Jordan regained his ring and became an elder-statesmen of superheroes but his elevated status – and sanity – was shattered after his hometown Coast City was destroyed by alien overlord Mongul.

In an apocalyptic triptych of tales culminating in ‘Emerald Twilight Part Three: The Future’ (Green Lantern volume 3 #50, March 1994) Ron Marz, Darryl Banks & Romeo Tanghal detail how his war against the Guardians who failed him results in Jordan becoming cosmic-level menace Parallax and destroying the entire Green Lantern Corps.

One month later ‘Changing the Guard’ (Green Lantern volume 3 #51 April 1994) saw the introduction of young Kyle Rayner as the universe’s last and only Emerald Crusader, fighting a one-man war against intergalactic evil…

Revived and refreshed, the franchise expanded again as Rayner rebuilt the Corps with new candidates and rescued old favourites. From Green Lantern and Green Lantern #1 (October 2000 by Judd Winnick, Randy Green & Wayne Faucher and part of the ‘Circle of Fire’ event), ‘Against the Dying of the Light’ sees Rayner and new recruit Alexandra DeWitt hunting down apocalyptic terror Oblivion: a task made harder and more distracting as his new ally is the extradimensional doppelganger of his murdered girlfriend…

After descending into madness and evil, Hal Jordan/Parallax sacrificed his life to save Earth and was divinely rewarded, rebuked and chastised by being linked to ghostly force The Spectre. After serving his penance he was revived for a new generation.

Part IV: Rebirths 2004-Present opens as ‘Blackest Night’ (Green Lantern: Rebirth #1, December 2004, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver) sees Jordan alive again, no longer merged with the Spectre, and determined to destroy the immortal entity that was responsible for turning him evil and ultimately for his death in the first place. First though, he must convince his old friends in the Justice League and GLC that he’s not still evil…

Next up is a delightful peek into Jordan’s childhood courtesy of Johns & Darwyn Cooke from Green Lantern Secret Files and Origins 2005 #1: an evocative rite-of-passage yarn as Jordan shares with neophyte Kyle Rayner the true meaning of ‘Flight’

Since the 1970s, the Green Lantern concept has been about challenging heroic stereotypes. The Guardians’ stipulations that their agents be honest and without fear has provided plenty of scope to explore prejudice and preconception amongst the readership, and none more so than in the aliens’ selection of latest earthly recruit Muslim Simon Baz as part of the company-wide New 52! reboot of 2011.

‘The New Normal’ (Green Lantern #0, November 2012 by Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne & Mark Irwin) details the consequences – personal and global – of the dispassionate Power Ring choosing as its wearer a man deemed by his peers to be a thief and potential anti-American terrorist…

Adding immeasurably to the wonder is a superb collection of covers by Sheldon Moldoff, Reinman, Alex Toth, Gil Kane, Murphy Anderson, Neal Adams, Staton & Patterson, Maguire & Austin, Banks & Tanghal, Rodolfo Damaggio & Kevin Nowlan, Ethan Van Sciver, Carlos Pacheco & Jesús Merino and Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy.

Green Lantern has a long, proud history of shaking things up and providing dynamic provocative, drama delivered with quality artwork. This compelling assortment of snapshots is staggeringly entertaining and a monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a strong core concept matured over decades of innovation.
© 1940, 1944, 1948, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1976, 1985, 1987, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2012, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The X-Men and the Avengers: Gamma Quest – a Marvel Omnibus

By Greg Cox (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1789093339 (PB) eISBN: 978-1789093346

After a few half-hearted and ultimately abortive attempts in the 1960s and a more strategic – but no less enduring – attempt at the close of the 1970’s, Marvel finally secured a regular presence on prose bookshelves in the 1990s with a select series of hardback novels. Since then, those fans who want to supply their own pictures to gripping MU exploits have enjoyed a successive string of text thrills in all formats…

In recent times, British publisher Titan Books have been repackaging and rereleasing many of those powerhouse prose publications. Latest on the list in their Novels of the Marvel Universe line is this hefty paperback representing a trilogy first released in 1999.

Written by adaptions and licensed properties specialist Greg Cox (all iterations of Star Trek; Buffy The Vampire Slayer; Batman: The Court of Owls; Daredevil; Iron Man, Fantastic Four; Underworld; Warehouse 13; The Librariansand many more) this Titanic tome bundles linked novels Gamma Quest: Lost and Found, Search and Rescue and Friend or Foe? into a vast, action-packed thrill ride.

Although newcomers and casual fans won’t notice, all three books comprising Gamma Quest are deeply embedded in the minutiae of Marvel’s comic book continuity, and relate how mutant sorceress Wanda Maximoff AKA the Scarlet Witch, power parasite Rogue and immortal berserker Wolverine are abducted by a deranged super-scientific megalomaniac and his secret ally, eager to master the genetic anomalies that fuel their incredible powers.

With such prominent members of the world-famous Avengers and outlaw heroes the X-Men, missing it’s not long before their comrades and allies are on the trail.

Tragically, thanks to deviously-planted false clues, both teams are soon erroneously hunting the Gamma-generated gargantuan know as the Incredible Hulk whilst battling each other…

The issue is further complicated when S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury is forced to admit that top secret, illegally-constructed mutant hunting Sentinels have been stolen from his helicarrier…

Starring Iron Man, Captain America, The Vision, The Beast, Cyclops, Storm, Iceman and a wealth of guest stars, this riotous page-turner offers tons of twists, stacks of suspense and an abundance of action as both squads first battle then unite to hunt their true enemies, visiting the most outlandish locations both on and off Earth before everything concludes in the kind of cataclysmic clash Marvel fans and movie buffs expect…

Strong, accurate characterisation, fast-paced, non-stop super-powered conflict and ever-ratchetting tension make this impossible to put down, but picture lovers might be disappointed that there’s no room for interior illustrations this time out…
© 2019 Marvel.

The X-Men and the Avengers: Gamma Quest – a Marvel Omnibus will be released on 21st January 2020 and is available for pre-order now.

Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 6

By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Brent Anderson, Bob McLeod, Dave Cockrum, Terry Austin, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3013-0 (HB)

In the autumn of 1963, The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier.

The teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After nearly eight years of eccentrically spectacular adventures the mutant misfits virtually disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just like in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes once more dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although the title was revived at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe and the Beast was refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories until Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique with a brand-new team in Giant Size X-Men #1 in 1975.

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire was added one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine, and all-original creations Kurt Wagner, a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler, African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin, who transformed at will into a living steel Colossus and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The revision was an instantaneous and unstoppable hit, with Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont writing the series from the second story onwards. The Uncanny X-Men reclaimed their own comicbook with #94 and it quickly became the company’s most popular – and high quality – title.

Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster shifted and changed the series rose to even greater heights, culminating in the landmark Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character.

In the aftermath team leader Cyclops left but the epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the epochal working relationship of Claremont and Byrne. Within months of publication they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with the mutants whilst Byrne moved on to establish his own reputation as a writer on series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionised and freshly-groundbreaking Fantastic Four

This sixth superb compilation (available in luxurious hardcover, trade paperback and eBook editions) is perfect for newbies, neophytes and even old lags nervous about reading such splendid yarns on fragile but extremely valuable newsprint paper.

Gathering Uncanny X-Men #141-150 – spanning January to October 1981 – the action opens without preamble or hesitation as an evocative and extended subplot opens which would dictate the shape of mutant history for years to come. ‘Days of Future Past’ depicts an imminently approaching dystopian apocalypse wherein almost all mutants, paranormals and superheroes have been eradicated by Federally-controlled Sentinel robots.

The mechanoids rule over a shattered world on the edge of utter annihilation. New York is a charnel pit with most surviving superhumans kept in concentration camps and only a precious few free to fight a losing war of resistance.

Middle-aged Kitty Pryde is the lynchpin of a desperate plan to unmake history. With the aid of telepath named Rachel(eventually to escape that time-line and become the new Phoenix) Pryde swaps consciousness with her younger self in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the pivotal event which created the bleak, black tomorrow where all her remaining friends and comrades are being pitilessly exterminated one by resolute one…

‘Mind Out of Time’ sees the mature Pryde in our era, inhabiting her own 13-year-old body and leading her disbelieving team-mates on a frantic mission to foil the assassination of US senator David Kelly on prime-time TV by a sinister new iteration of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – super-powered terrorists determined to make a very public example of the human politician attacking the cause of Mutant Rights…

Fast-paced, action-packed, spectacularly multi-layered, bitterly tragic and agonisingly inconclusive – as all such time-travel tales should be – this cunning, compact yarn is indubitably one of the best individual tales of the Claremont/Byrne era and set the mood, tone and agenda for the next two decades of mutant mayhem…

With the timeline restored and tragedy averted, things slow down at the X-Mansion as John Byrne left for pastures new. His swan song in #143 was a bombastic romp which finds lonely, homesick Kitty home alone at Christmas… except for a lone N’garai ‘Demon’ determined to eat her. Her solo trial decimates the X-Men citadel and proves once and for all that she has what it takes…

The changing of the guard in X-Men #144 was marked by ‘Even in Death…’, scripted by Claremont and illustrated by Brent Anderson & Joseph Rubenstein wherein heartbroken Scott Summers (who quit the team after the death of Jean Grey AKA the Phoenix) fetches up in coastal village Shark Bay and joins the crew of Aleytys Forester’s fishing boat.

Trouble is never far from the man called Cyclops, however, and when she introduces him to her dad, the hero must draw upon all his inner reserves – and uncomprehending help of the macabre swamp guardian Man-Thing – to repel the crushing, soul-consuming assaults of pernicious petty devil D’spayre

Dave Cockrum returned to the team he co-created in #145, joining Claremont & Rubinstein in an extended clash of cultures as ‘Kidnapped!’ sees the team targeted by Doctor Doom thanks to the machinations of deranged assassin Arcade. With half of the team – Storm, Colossus, Angel, Wolverine and Nightcrawler – invading the Diabolical Dictator’s castle, a substitute-squad consisting of Iceman, Polaris, Banshee and Havoc are despatched to the maniac’s mechanised ‘Murderworld!’ to rescue a kidnapped coterie of innocent family and friends…

Sadly, in the interim Doom has triumphed over the invaders to his castle, but his act of entrapping claustrophobe Ororo has backfired, triggering a ‘Rogue Storm!’ that might erase the USA from the globe…

Issue #148 opens with Scott and Aletys shipwrecked on a mysterious island holding the remnants of a lost civilisation but the main event is a trip to Manhattan for Kitty, accompanied by Storm, Spider-Woman Jessica Drew and Dazzler Alison Blair. That’s a good thing as wandering mutant empath Caliban calamitously attempts to abduct the child in ‘Cry, Mutant!’ by Claremont, Cockrum & Rubinstein…

A major menace resurfaces in #149 to threaten Scott and Aletys, but the X-Men are too busy dealing with resurrected demi-god Garokk and an erupting volcano in ‘And the Dead Shall Bury the Living!’ before all the varied plots combine and coalesce in anniversary issue #150 (October 1981).

Extended epic ‘I, Magneto…’ sees the merciless, malevolent master of magnetism threaten all humanity. with Xavier’s team helpless to stop him… until a critical moment triggers an emotional crisis and awakening of his long-suppressed humanity…

These are some of the greatest X-stories Marvel ever published; entertaining, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating, offering an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 1980, 1981, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Gotham Central Book 3: On the Freak Beat

By Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, Stephen Gaudiano, Jason Alexander & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2754-8 (HB) 978-1-4012-3232-0 (TPB)

One of the great joys of long-lasting, legendary comics characters is their potential for innovation and reinterpretation. There always seems to be another facet or corner to develop. Such a case was Gotham Central, wherein contemporary television sensibilities cannily combined with the deadly drudgery of the long-suffering boys in blue in the world’s most famous four-colour city.

Owing as much to shows such as Homicide: Life on the Streets and Law & Order as it did to the baroque continuity of Batman, the series mixed gritty, authentic police action with a soft-underbelly peek at what the merely mortal guardians and peacekeepers had to put up with in a world of psychotic clowns, flying aliens and scumbag hairballs who just won’t stay dead.

This compilation – available in hardback, soft cover and eBook editions – collects Gotham Central #23-31 (spanning November 2004-July 2005) and opens with a handy double-page feature re-introducing the hardworking stiffs of First Shift, Second Shift and the Police Support Team of the ‘Gotham City Police Department, Major Crimes Unit’ before the dramas start to unfold.

Gotham City is a bad place to be a cop – even a crooked one. If you’re a straight arrow it’s even worse because then both sides of the street want you dead. When Detectives Crispus Allen and Renee Montoya turn their attention to corrupt Crime Scene Investigator Jim Corrigan it sets them both on a path steeped in tragedy and loss… and bloody betrayal. ‘Corrigan’(originally published in issues #23-24) is by regular team Greg Rucka, Michael Lark & Stephen Gaudiano.

The same team bring us ‘Lights Out’ (issue #25) as, in the aftermath of the War Games debacle and resultant bloodbath (see Batman: War Drums; War Games: Outbreak, Tides, Endgame and War Crimes), new police commissioner Akins severs all official ties to the Batman and has the Bat-Signal removed from Police Headquarters roof.

Ed Brubaker & Jason Alexander take us ‘On the Freak Beat’ (#26-27) as Detectives Marcus Driver and (secretly psychic) Josie MacDonald investigate the murder of a televangelist. Despite all the leads and evidence pointing to Catwoman as the killer, their dedicated efforts take them into a sordid world of hypocrisy, S&M, lies and real estate chicanery before the truth comes out and the real culprit is brought to justice…

“Keystone Cops” (issues #28-31) is another superb blend of the procedural and the outlandish as beat cop Andy Kelly is horrifically mutated by a super-criminal’s booby-trap whilst rescuing kids from a fire. Montoya and Allen must cross jurisdictional boundaries and moral landmarks to obtain the assistance of deranged Flash villain Doctor Alchemy if there’s any hope of curing their comrade…

With the most chilling exploration of a super-villain’s motivation in many a year and a generous tip of the hat to The Silence of the Lambs, this is a moody masterpiece with an unsuspected kick in the tail. Rucka writes and Gaudiano graduates from inks to pencils with the embellishment falling to the capable Kano & Gary Amaro to conclude this stunning deep dive into urban atrocity in unforgettable style.
© 2004, 2005, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Knight and Squire

By Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton with Staz Johnson (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3071-5 (TPB)

British Dynamic Duo Knight and Squire first appeared in the cheerfully anodyne, all-ages 1950s – specifically in a throwaway story from Batman #62 (December 1950/January 1951) – as ‘The Batman of England!’

Earl Percy Sheldrake and his son Cyril returned a few years later as part of seminal assemblage ‘The Batmen of All Nations!’ (Detective Comics #215 January 1955): a tale retrieved from the ranks of funnybook limbo in recent times and included in Batman: Black Casebook, with sequel ‘The Club of Heroes’ appearing in World’s Finest Comics #89, July-August 1957. That one’s most recently reprinted in Batman & Superman in World’s Finest Comics: The Silver Age volume 1.

The bold Brits had languished in virtual obscurity for decades before fully entering modern continuity as part of Grant Morrison’s build-up to the Death of Batman and Batman Incorporated retro-fittings of the ever-ongoing legend of the Dark Knight dynasty…

They floated around the brave New World for a while with guest shots in places like Morrison’s JLA reboot and Battle For the Cowl before finally getting their own 6-issue miniseries (December 2010 – May 2011), courtesy of scripter Paul Cornell and artist Jimmy Broxton (with some layout assistance from Staz Johnson).

In all honesty, they rather bit the hand that fed them by producing a far-from-serious but captivating quirky and quintessentially English frolicsome fantasy masterpiece.

It all begins, as most things boldly British do, down the pub. However, The Time in a Bottle is no ordinary boozer, but in fact the favourite hostelry for the United Kingdom’s entire superhuman community: the worthy and the wicked…

Hero and villain alike can kick back here, taking a load off and enjoying a mellow moment’s peace thanks to a pre-agreed truce on utterly neutral ground, all mystically enforced by magics and wards dating back to the time of Merlin…

As the half-dozen chapters of ‘For Six’ open, it’s the regular first Thursday of the month – and that’s an in-joke for Britain’s comics creator community – and the inn is abuzz with costumed crusaders and crazies, all manically determined to have a good time.

Cyril Sheldrake, current Earl of Wordenshire and second hero to wear the helm and mantle of The Knight, sends his trusty sidekick Beryl Hutchinson – AKA The Squire – to head off a potential problem as established exotics Salt of the Earth, The Milkman, Coalface, The Professional Scotsman and the Black and White Minstrels all tease nervous newcomer The Shrike.

The aristocratic avenger would do it himself but he’s all tied up chatting with Jarvis Poker, the British Joker

The place is packed tonight in honour of visiting yank celebrity Wildcat, and a host of strange, outrageous and even deadly patrons all bustle about as Beryl natters with the formerly cocky kid who’s also getting a bit of grief because he hasn’t quite decided if he’s a hero or villain yet…

She’s giving him a potted history of the place when the customary bar fight breaks out, and things take an unconventionally dark turn as an actual attempted murder occurs. It would appear that two of these new gritty modern heroes have conspired to circumvent Merlin’s pacifying protections…

Each original issue was supplemented with a hilarious text page which here act as chapter breaks, so after ‘What You Missed If You’re A Non-Brit’ (a glossary of national terms, traits, terminology and concepts adorned with delightful faux small ads), the tale continues as Beryl and Cyril spend a little down-time in rural Wordenshire where the local civilians tackle the insidious threat of The Organ Grinder and his Monkey so as not to bother the off-duty Defenders.

However, the pair do rouse themselves to scotch the far more sinister schemes of inter-dimensional invader Major Morris and the deadly Morris Men

That’s supplemented by the far-from-serious text feature ‘What Morris Men are Like’

The saga then kicks into top gear with the third instalment as Britain’s Council for Organised Research announces its latest breakthrough. C.O.R.’s obsessively romantic Yorkist Professor Merryweather had no idea that her DNA-reclamation project would lead to a constitutional crisis after she reconstituted Richard III, but it seems history and Shakespeare hadn’t slandered the Plantagenet at all. The wicked monarch is soon fomenting rebellion, using his benefactor’s technology to resurrect equally troublesome tyrants Edward I, Charles I, William II and the ever-appalling King John… even giving them very modern superpowers…

Of course, Knight, Squire and her now besotted not-boyfriend Shrike are at the vanguard of the British (heroic) Legion mustered to fight for Queen and Country and repel the concerted criminal uprising…

Following a history lesson on ‘Cabbages and Kings’, Beryl invites the Shrike back to the Castle for tea, teasing and some secret origins, but things go typically wrong when Cyril’s high-tech armour rebels, going rogue and attacking them all.

The text piece deals with ‘Butlers and Batmen’ before it all goes very dark after lovable celebrity rogue Jarvis Poker gets some very bad news from his doctor and a terrifying follow-up visit from the real Joker.

The Camp Criminal is desperately concerned about his national legacy but Gotham City’s Harlequin of Hate is just keen on increasing his ghastly – and frankly already astronomical – body-count. First on the list is that annoying Shrike kid, but the American psycho-killer has big, bold, bizarre plans to make the UK a completely good-guy-free zone…

Broken up with a two-part ‘The Knight and Squire Character List’, it all culminates and climaxes with a spectacular and breathtaking showdown after the malevolent Mountebank of Mirth goes on a horrendously imaginative hero-killing spree that decimates the Costumed Champions of Albion: a campaign so shocking that even Britain’s bad-guys end up helping to catch the crazed culprit…

Rewarding us all for putting up with decades of “Gor, blimey guv’nor” nonsense in American comics whilst simultaneously paying the Yanks back for all those badly researched foggy, cobbled-rooftops-of-London five minutes from Stonehenge stories which littered every aspect of our image in the USA, this witty, self-deprecating, action-packed and deucedly dashing outing perfectly encapsulates all the truly daft things we noble Scions of Empire Commonwealth love and cherish about ourselves.

Stuffed with surreal, outrageous humour, double entendres, quirky characters, catchphrases and the comedy accents beloved by us Brits – Oh, I say, Innit Blud? – and rife with astonishingly cheeky pokes at our frankly indefensible cultural quirks and foibles, this is the perfect book for anyone who loves grand adventure in the inimitable manner of Benny Hill, Monty Python, Carry On Films and the Beano.

Also included are covers and variants from Yanick Paquette & Michel Lacombe and Billy Tucci & HiFi, plus a wealth of working art, character designs and sketches by Jimmy Broxton and an unpublished spoof cover in tribute to the immortal Jarvis Poker…

Whether you opt for the paperback or digital edition, Buy This Book. It’s really rather good. Oh, go on, do: you know you want to…
© 2011, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.