Popeye Classics volume 7: “Nothing” and More


By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-447-4 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-786-5

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1918, Segar married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, where Managing Editor William Curley foresaw a big future for Segar and promptly packed the newlyweds off to New York: HQ of the mighty King Features Syndicate. Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, (launching December 19th 1919) in the New York Journal: a smart pastiche of cinema and knock-off of movie-inspired features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies, with a repertory of stock players acting out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies for vast daily audiences. It didn’t stay that way for long…

The core cartoon cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl; their lanky, highly-strung daughter Olive; diminutive-but-pushy son Castor; and the homely ingenue’s plain and (very) simple occasional boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (latterly, just Ham Gravy). Thimble Theatre had successfully run for a decade when, on January 17th 1929, a brusque, vulgar “sailor man” shambled into the daily ongoing saga of hapless halfwits. Nobody dreamed the giddy heights that stubborn cantankerous walk-on would reach…

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

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

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

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

Young Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and in 1948 became exclusive writer and artist of Popeye’s comic book exploits. The series launched in February of that year in a regular title published by America’s unassailable king of periodical licensing, Dell Comics.

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

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

Collected in this superb full-colour hardback/digital edition are Popeye #30-34, crafted by irrepressible “Bud”: collectively spanning September/November 1954 to October/December 1955. Stunning, nigh stream-of-consciousness slapstick sagas are preceded by an effusively appreciative ‘Society of Sagendorks’ briefing by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe, offering a mirthful mission statement.

Augmenting that is another tantalising display of ephemera and merchandise in ‘A Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’ presenting Coca-Cola Company-funded comic strip themed postcards distributed to WWII servicemen; original art, tin toys; a Popeye Chalkboard; Get Well Soon and Birthday card art plus images on cups and mugs.

We rejoin the ceaseless parade of laughs, surreal imagination and thrills with quarterly comic book #30, opening with text tale ‘The Bigger They Are -’ detailing, across the inside front-&-back covers, the story of Throckmorton …biggest tomcat in the world!

Another wild ride in begins in ‘Desert Pirates (a story of Evil Haggery)’ as Popeye’s ruthless nemesis The Sea Hag uses witchcraft, seduction, brainwashing and principally hamburgers to turn Wimpy into her weapon against the old sea salt. Naturally, when the hero blunders into her arid ambush, the scurvy faithless traitor then betrays her to Popeye – it’s just his nature…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiably ravenous J. Wellington Wimpy debuted in the newspaper strip on May 3rd 1931: an unnamed, decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s pugilistic bouts.

Scurrilous, aggressively humble and scrupulously polite, the devious oaf struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Preternaturally hungry, ever-keen to solicit bribes and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases – such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and “Let’s you and him fight” – Wimpy was the perfect foil for our simple action hero and increasingly stole the entire show… and anything else unless it was very heavy or extremely well nailed down…

Follow-up yarn ‘Popeye An’ Swee’Pea in “Danger, Lunch!”’ resorts to tireless domestic themes as a quiet meal with Olive becomes an assault course after the anarchic and precocious “infink” gets bored and amuses himself with a hammer and chemistry set…

Smartly acknowledging a contemporary trend for sci fi fun, Sagendorf had introduced ‘Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco’ in #26: a robotic father and son indulging in wild romps on other worlds. Here they observe Earth television shows and the lads decides what his world needs is beanie hats, sidewalk refreshment stands and fun with dragons…

Cover-dated January/March 1955, #31 also opens and closes with a prose yarn adorning inside front and back. ‘Apple Vote!’ exposes the shocking behaviour of a retired racehorse with a sweet tooth after which ‘Thimble Theatre Presents Popeye An’ Swee’Pea in “Mud!”’ finds unconventional family unit Popeye, Swee’Pea and villainous reprobate Poopdeck Pappy deemed dysfunctional by Olive. Her eccentric efforts to save the kid and make him a gentleman are resisted by all involved with extreme vigour…

Just as the sailor man idly daydreams of being a monarch, the wacky ruler of Spinachovia returns in ‘Popeye and King Blozo in “Exile!” or “Bein’ King is Fer de Boids!!!”’ with the maritime marvel unwisely trading cap for crown  and learning a salutary lesson about people in general and being careful of what you wish for, after which ‘Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco’ sees the mechanical moppet pay a fraught and frightening visit to Earth…

The issue concludes with a back cover strip starring ‘Popeye and Swee’Pea’ inspired by baby pictures…

Popeye #32 (April/June) opens with epic thrill-fest ‘Alone! or Hey! Where is Everybody? or Peoples is All Gone!’ as humans are abducted from all over the coast, leading the sailor man into another ferocious battle with evil machines and his most persistent enemy, after which our stars swap sea-voyages for western climes in “a tale of gold and cactus” entitled ‘Lorst!’

Set some years previously, the story reveals how Popeye made his fortune prospecting – despite and ultimately because of a little trouble with his newly adopted kid…

Sagendorf was a smart guy in tune with popular trends and fashions as well as understanding how kids’ minds worked. His tales are timeless in approach and delivery. As television exponential expanded, cowboys were king, with westerns dominating both large and small screens and plenty of comics. Thus, many episodes saw Popeye as a horse-riding sagebrush wanderer who ran a desert railroad when he wasn’t prospecting or exploring. I don’t think he ever carried a gun though…

The changing times dictated a shift in back-up features and the final ‘Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco’ exploit saw their world in chaos after Cam tried to transplant the human fashion for lawns to his own planet. Text tale ‘Catfish! detailed a meeting between fish feline and mutt and a wordless desert inspired back cover strip starring ‘Popeye and Swee’Pea’ wrapped thigs up.

The next issue (#33 July/September) offered a monochrome ‘Popeye and Swee’Pea’ house-wrecking short before main feature ‘Trouble-Shooter’ sees the tireless “hoomanitarian” set up as a helping hand for folk with troubles. Sadly, the gesture attracts some real nuts like cowardly King Hinkle of Moola who needs a patsy to fight rival ruler the King of Boola…

Returning to western deserts, Popeye and Swee’Pea swap sea-voyages for arid plains in ‘Monskers!’ and encounter a gigantic dinosaur which is not what it seems…

The replacement back-up feature was actually a return of Segar-spawned old favourites. Sappo was now hapless landlord to world’s worst lodger Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle, who callously inflicts the brunt of his genius on the poor schmuck. In ‘I’m the Smartest Man in the World!’, the lunatic fringe scientist decides to end late payment harassment by uninventing money…

A prose vignette reveals the fate of cowboy pony George who has ‘A Long Tail!’, before the fun pauses with a back-cover baseball gag starring Popeye An’ Swee’Pea.

The year and this archive close with #34, starting with more ‘Popeye An’ Swee’Pea’ baseball exploits on the monochrome inside front cover before Thimble Theatre Presents sailor man, Olive, Wimpy and the kid who endure a nautical nightmare storm that leaves our cast castaway on an island of irascible, invisible folk in eponymous saga ‘Nothing!’

Next, Popeye An’ Swee’Pea revisit western deserts to dig in the dirt and face ‘Uprising! or The Red Man Strikes Back! or Birds of a Feather!’ as the kid contends with and eventually befriends Indian infant Big Chief Thunder Eagle Jr. Sadly their play war on the white man is misunderstood by Wimpy who calls in not the cavalry but the US Army…

The manic mirth multiplies exponentially when Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle proves his insane ingenuity and dangerous lack of perspective in ‘Stop Thief!! or Please Halt! or Burglarproof House!’ before the fun concludes with one last text treat in transformative tale ‘Fish Fly!’ and a back cover gag proving why adults like Popeye should listen to kids like Swee’Pea…

Outrageous and side-splitting, these all-ages yarns are evergreen examples of narrative cartooning at its most surreal and inspirational. Over the last nine decades Thimble Theatre’s most successful son has unfailingly delighted readers and viewers around the world. This book is simply one of many, but each is sure-fire, top-tier entertainment for all those who love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure. If that’s you, add this compendium of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 7 © 2015 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2015 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 8: I, Magneto (1981-1982)


By Chris Claremont, Jo Duffy, Bob Layton, Dace Cockrum, Michael Golden, Brent Anderson, Paul Smith, Jim Sherman, Bob McLeod, John Buscema, George Pérez & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2952-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

In 1963, The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington III and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: unique students of Professor Charles Xavier. Their 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 eight years of eccentrically amazing adventures, the mutant misfits almost disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just as in the 1940s, mystery men faded away whilst traditional genres – especially supernatural yarns – dominated entertainment fields. The title returned at year’s end as a reprint vehicle, and the missing mutants became perennial guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel Universe. The Beast was suitably refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories…

Everything changed again in 1975 when Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique via a brand-new team in Giant Size X-Men #1. Old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire joined one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine and original creations Kurt Wagner (a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler), African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe – AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin (who transformed 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 instant hit, with Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont assuming the writer’s role from the second story onwards. The Uncanny X-Men reclaimed their comic book with #94, which soon became the company’s most popular – and highest quality – title.

After Thunderbird became the team’s first fatality, the survivors slowly bonded, becoming an unparalleled fighting unit under the brusquely draconian supervision of Cyclops. Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster changed, the series scaled even greater heights, culminating in the landmark Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved, imaginative and powerful character.

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

This comprehensive compilation is an ideal jumping-on point, perfect for newbies, neophytes and old lags nervous over re-reading these splendid yarns on fragile, extremely valuable newsprint paper. It celebrates a changing of the guard as the mutants consolidated their unstoppable march to market dominance through high-quality storytelling Seen here are issues #144-153 of the (latterly re-renamed “Uncanny”) X-Men; X-Men Annual #5, Avengers Annual #10 and material from Bizarre Adventures #27 and Marvel Fanfare #1-4, spanning April 1981-September 1982.

Scripted by Claremont and illustrated by Brent Anderson & Joseph Rubenstein the drama resumes with X-Men #144 as ‘Even in Death…’ finds heartbroken wanderer Scott Summers (who quit after the death of Jean Grey) fetching up in coastal village Shark Bay before joining the crew of a fishing boat.

Trouble is never far from Cyclops, however, and when captain Aletys Forester introduces him to her dad, Scott must draw upon all his inner reserves – and instinctive assistance of macabre swamp guardian Man-Thing – to repel crushing, soul-consuming psychic assaults from pernicious demon D’spayre, who has made the region his personal torture garden…

Cockrum returned to the team he co-created in #145, joining Claremont & Rubinstein in an extended clash of cultures as ‘Kidnapped!’ sees the X-Men targeted by Doctor Doom, thanks to the machinations of deranged assassin Arcade.

With 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 killer-for-hire’s mechanised ‘Murderworld!’ to rescue family and friends of the heroes, all previously kidnapped by Arcade. In the interim, Doom has defeated the invading X-Men of his castle, but his cruel act of entrapping claustrophobe Ororo has backfired, triggering a ‘Rogue Storm!’ that could erase the USA from the globe…

Issue #148 opens with Scott and Aletys shipwrecked on a recently reemergent island holding the remnants of a lost civilisation, but the main event is a trip to Manhattan for 13-year-old X-Man Kitty Pryde, accompanied by Storm, Spider-Woman Jessica Drew and Dazzler Alison Blair. That’s lucky, since nomadic mutant empath Caliban calamitously attempts to abduct the child in ‘Cry, Mutant!’ by Claremont, Cockrum & Rubinstein…

A major menace resurfaces in #149 to threaten the shipwrecked couple, but the active X-Men are too busy to notice, dealing with resurrected demi-god Garokk and an erupting volcano in ‘And the Dead Shall Bury the Living!’ before all the varied plots converge in #150 (October 1981). Before that, though, there’s a crucial diversion that will affect and reshape the X-Men for years to come.

Crafted by Claremont, Michael Golden & Armando Gil, ‘By Friends… Betrayed!’  comes from Avengers Annual #10: seemingly closing the superhero career of Carol Danvers AKA Ms. Marvel. Powerless and stripped of her memories, Danvers is rescued from drowning by Spider-Woman, even as mutant shapeshifter Mystique launches an attack on the World’s Mightiest Superheroes to free her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from jail.

It’s revealed that Danvers’ mind and abilities have been permanently stolen by a power-leaching teenager dubbed Rogue and in the aftermath of the assembled heroes defeating Mystique, the Avengers learn a horrific truth: how they had inadvertently surrendered their comrade Carol into the grip of a manipulative villain acting as the perfect husband…

Returning to the X-Men, the anniversary issue delivers extended epic ‘I, Magneto’ seeing 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 the tortured villain’s long-suppressed humanity…

Claremont, Anderson & Bob McLeod then craft riotous intergalactic wonderment in X-Men Annual #5’s ‘Ou, La La…Badoon!’ When the Fantastic Four help an alien fugitive stranded in Manhattan they are in turn targeted by unsavoury, invisible lizard-men. Only Susan Richards escapes, fighting her way to Westchester to enlist the aid of the X-Men: combat veterans well acquainted with battling aliens.

The rescue mission starts with a stopover in the extradimensional realm of Arkon the Magnificent where the Badoon have already triumphed and where, amid much mayhem, the liberators overthrow the invaders and provide salvation for three worlds…

Chronologically adrift but sacrificed to a cohesive reading order, the contents of Marvel Fanfare #1-4 follow. Published between March and September 1982, the astounding saga was an elite yarn designed to launch a prestige format showcase of Marvel characters and talent. The new title featured slick paper stock, superior printing (all standard today) and a rolling brief to promote innovation and bold new directions.

Under Al Milgrom’s editorial guidance, numerous notable tales from exceptional creators were published, but cynical me – and not just me – soon noticed that many of those creators were ones who had problems with periodical publishing and couldn’t make fixed deadlines…

These day’s that’s nothing to shout over: comics come out when they do and editors have no real power to decree otherwise, but in the 1980s it was big deal, because printers booked a project for a pre-specified date, and charged punitive fees if publishers didn’t get product in on time. That’s why inventory tales were created: fill-ins that sat in a drawer until a writer blew it or an artist had his work eaten by the dog. Sometimes the US Mail simply lost completed stuff in transit…

Scripted by Claremont, and also including Milgrom’s humorous ‘Editor-Al’ intro pages, Savage Land was collected in 1987 and again in 2002: uniting Spider-Man, Ka-Zar and a grab bag of X-Men in a spectacular return to that primordial paradise: an antediluvian repository beneath the South Pole where fantastic civilisations and dinosaurs fretfully co-exist.

Illustrated and coloured by Golden, it begins with a ‘Fast Descent into Hell!’ when distraught Tanya Anderssen tries to find her missing lover, last seen in that lost world. Disturbingly, the missing man is Karl Lykos, a troubled soul addicted to feeding on mutants and likely to become ghastly humanoid pteranosaur Sauron. Tanya’s only hope of saving him was via Warren Worthington III – publicly infamous as former/occasional X-Man The Angel.

The billionaire’s reluctant expedition to the Savage Land ultimately includes an embedded news team from the Daily Bugle, including photographer/trouble magnet Peter Parker, who quickly stumbles across a band of native evil mutants planning to conquer the outer world by creating mutant hybrids from human victims – like Spider-Man

Second chapter ‘To Sacrifice my Soul…’ has Spidey and local hero Ka-Zar, the Jungle Lord, join forces to crush the mutation plot, inadvertently unleashing Sauron on the sub-polar world.

Golden’s stylish easy grace gave way to the slick, accomplished method of Dave Cockrum, & Bob McLeod for ‘Into the Land of Death…’ as X-Men Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Storm join Angel to thwart the diabolical dinosaur man and his malign mutant allies, before legend-in-training Paul Smith – assisted by inker Terry Austin – stepped in to finish the epic in grand style and climactic action in ‘Lost Souls!’

We then pop back to November 1981 for X-Men #151 wherein Jim Sherman, McLeod & Rubinstein welcome back Cyclops and wave Kitty goodbye in ‘X-Men Minus One!’

Due to the manipulations of White Queen Emma Frost, the teenager’s parents withdraw their daughter from Xavier’s school to enrol her in the Massachusetts Academy which covertly operates as the Hellfire Club’s training camp for young recruits. However, the sinister scheme is even deeper than the X-Men fear, as telepath Frost switches bodies with Storm to further her plan to eradicate the mutant heroes.

What nobody seems to realise is that although Frost has gained Ororo’s weather powers, her victim now has her appearance, loyal henchmen and psionic powers. Despite the deployment of terrifying robotic Sentinels, the plot spectacularly fails in closing instalment ‘The Hellfire Gambit’, illustrated by McLeod & Rubinstein…

Cockrum was back for #153, adding layers of whimsy to the usual angst and melodrama as ‘Kitty’s Fairy Tale’ sees the X-Mansion under reconstruction and the teen back where she belongs. As repairs continue, she tells bedtime stories to Colossus’ baby sister Illyana: using her teammates as inspiration, she spins a beguiling yarn of fantastic space pirates…

The action closes with the contents of monochrome “mature-reader” magazine Bizarre Adventures #27 (July 1981) sharing untold tales under the umbrella heading of ‘Secret Lives of the X-Men’

Preceded by editorial ‘Listen, I Knew the X-Men When…’ and ‘X-Men Data Log’ pages by illustrated by Cockrum, these are offbeat solo tales of our idiosyncratic stars, opening with Phoenix in ‘The Brides of Attuma’ by Claremont, John Buscema & Klaus Janson. Here the dear departed mutant’s sister Sara Grey recalls a past moment when they were abducted by an undersea barbarian and even then Jean proved to be more than any mortal could handle…

That’s followed by Iceman vignette ‘Winter Carnival’ by Mary Jo Duffy, Pérez & Alfredo Alcala, wherein Bobby Drake is embroiled in a college heist with potentially catastrophic consequences, before ‘Show me the way to go home…’ (Bob Layton, Duffy, Cockrum & Ricardo Villamonte) pits Nightcrawler against villainous teleporter the Vanisher in a light-hearted trans-dimensional romp involving warrior women, threats to the very nature of reality and gratuitous (male) nudity…

Extras include original art pages by Cockrum, Rubinstein, Anderson & McLeod; Cockrum’s cover to fanzine The X-Men Chronicles; Byrne & Austin’s cover for the X-men parody issue of Crazy (#82, January 1982) and John Buscema’s 1987 Savage Land collection.

For many fans these tales comprise a definitive high point for the X-Men. Rightly ranking amongst the greatest stories Marvel ever published, they remain supremely satisfying, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating: an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 2021 MARVEL.

The All-New Atom volume 2: Future/Past


By Gail Simone, Mike Norton, Eddy Barrows & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1568-2 (TPB)

Gail Simone (Wonder Woman; Batgirl; Secret Six; Red Sonja) is one of the best scripters of superhero stories in the business. She handles High Concept attention grabbers, gripping fight scenes and compelling pathos with elegant ease, but where she is truly unsurpassed is in the rounded depth of her characterisations. Combined with solid plotting, bravura whimsy and the sharpest, funniest dialogue money can buy, everything she touches becomes a thoroughly delightful “must-read” item.

That was never more ably demonstrated than in her run on the All-New Atom (most volumes of which remain stubbornly out of print and inexplicably unavailable in digital collections). In second volume Future/Past she continued deftly  detailing the trials and tribulations of a new incarnation of one of the Silver Age’s most enduring heroic brands, in the further adventures of neophyte college professor and scientific adventurer Ryan Choi.

After the tragic, horrific events of crossover epic Identity Crisis size-shifting physics professor Ray Palmer disappeared, leaving this world behind him. However, life – and academia – goes on, and his teaching chair at Ivy University was offered to a young prodigy who just happened to be Palmer’s pen-friend and close confidante: privy to his predecessor’s secrets ever since he was a child in Hong Kong.

Ivy Town has seen better days, however, and continues to go downhill. This collection – reprinting from March-July 2007 issues #7-11 of the much-missed comic book – returns to Ivy Town: a place that has seen better days. Everything continues to go downhill, and the college paradise is no longer the sedate place Palmer always made it sound. Neophyte hero Choi continues to expose a city plagued by temporal anomalies, warring tribes and supernatural freaks and to make matters even worse, the new Dean is an unctuous toad (and possibly a criminal), whilst Choi’s fellow science professors are a bizarre and unconventional band of truly brilliant loons…

The teeny-weenie thrills and chills resume here with a 2-parter illustrated by Mike Norton and Andy Owens. ‘The Man who Swallowed Eternity – The Energy of the Universe is Constant’ and concluding chapter ‘The Entropy of the Universe Tends to a Maximum’ reveal how the recurring time-hiccups that pepper Ivy Town go into overdrive, necessitating an unwelcome intervention from the Temporal police known as Linear Men. Choi’s reluctant attempts to solve the problem soon uncover a tragic secret that draws him uncomfortably closer to his missing mentor.

What’s follows is a gratifying change of pace and tone as the young professor returns to Hong Kong to rescue his sometime true love in ‘Jia.’ Limned by Eddy Barrows & Trevor Scott, the saga kicks off with ‘Her Name Meant Beauty’ as we learn some unpleasant truths about Ryan’s childhood…

‘Unwanted Advances’ show Choi that being a superhero can’t compensate for the girl he loves marrying the bully who made his life hell, and it’s even worse when said brute becomes a vengeful ghost trying to kill them both. Mercifully in ‘The Border Between’, ancient wisdom and unwelcome truths assist the hero in overcoming the supernatural odds…

The utterly enchanting (pre-The New 52) career of Ryan Choi was simultaneously funny, charming, stirring and incredibly addictive: moreover, his gently beguiling, so-skilfully orchestrated hero’s journey to the West was riddled with cunningly planted clues and hints which only made sense once the final volume ended – and Simone had the nerve and confidence to treat the entire venture as a fair-play mystery. The fun just never let up…

Even at this late stage, it is worth whatever effort it takes to follow the All-New Atom, matching wits with the writer and having huge amounts of fun along the way. What are you waiting for?
© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Ms. Marvel volume 1: No Normal


By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, VC’s Joe Caramagna & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9021-9 (TPB/Digital edition)

In a comic book title, the soubriquet “Marvel” carries a lot of baggage and clout, and has been attached to a wide number of vastly differing characters over many decades. In 2014, it was inherited by comics’ first mainstream first rank Muslim superhero, albeit employing the third iteration of pre-existing designation Ms. Marvel.

Career soldier, former spy and occasional journalist Carol Danvers – who rivals Henry Pym in number of secret identities, having been Binary, Warbird, Ms. Marvel again and ultimately Captain Marvel – originated the role when her Kree-based abilities first manifested. She experienced a turbulent superhero career and was lost in space when Sharon Ventura became the second, unrelated Ms. Marvel. She gained her powers from the villainous Power Broker, and after briefly joining the Fantastic Four, was mutated by cosmic ray exposure into a She-Thing

Debuting in a sly cameo in Captain Marvel (volume 7 #14, September 2013) and bolstered by a subsequent teaser in #17, Kamala Khan was the third to use the codename. She properly launched in full fight mode in a tantalising short episode (All-New MarvelNow! Point One #1) chronologically set just after her origin and opening exploit.

That aforementioned origin saga unfolded in #1-5 of Ms. Marvel (volume 3), and forms the majority of this first collection of light-hearted all-ages adventure originally published between cover-dates April-August 2014.

Collaboratively conceived by editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, the character was realised by writer and journalist G. Willow Wilson, (Mystic: The Tenth Apprentice, Cairo, Air, The Butterfly Mosque, Alif the Unseen) and illustrator Alphonse Alphona (Uncanny X-Force, Captain Britain and MI13, Runaways) with additional design input from Jamie McKelvie (Suburban Glamour, Long Hot Summer, Young Avengers, The Wicked + the Divine, Phonogram, Rue Britannia), who jointly recast the classic origin and setting of Spider-Man for a new age. The entire epic was coloured by Ian Herring and lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna.

Kamala Khan is a teenager living in Jersey City. Just across the Hudson river lies Manhattan, and the superhero geek frequently enjoys a distant ringside seat to the constant wonders that occur there.

As a Pakistani American growing up Muslim she has her share of daily dramas at Coles Academic High School and elsewhere, but life is generally pretty good. She has good friends like Bruno and Kiki (Nakia), petty annoyances like golden girl Zoe Zimmer and jock Josh or even her loving family. They don’t really understand her obsession with computers, social media and especially with making superhero fan fiction – especially as Kamala is getting older now and needs to start thinking seriously about her future…

Miss Khan’s stolid suppressed status quo abruptly changes in ‘Meta Morphosis’ on the night she breaks a parental embargo and sneaks out to attend a party. Any potential enjoyment is marred by guilt, apprehension and Zoe and Josh, but the real shock comes on the way home when the city is enveloped in a strange fog that causes Kamala to collapse.

During earlier mega-crossover blockbuster Infinity, mad Titan Thanos invaded Earth and clashed with the Inhumans and battled their King Black Bolt to a standstill. As a last resort the embattled sovereign crashed sky-floating city Attilan onto New York and into the Hudson, releasing the Hidden People’s mutagenic Terrigen Mist into the atmosphere.

As it traversed the globe, the gas cloud triggered mutation in millions, proving that Human and Inhuman were not different species and that dormant Inhuman genes reposed everywhere, unsuspected by humankind. All those susceptible to the contaminant either died or metamorphosed into new beings via body-altering cocoons…

Attilan’s crash happened mere hours before and now Kamala is unconscious on a Jersey City street, wracked by bizarre hallucinations of the Avengers and particularly her absolute favourite hero Carol Danvers…

On awakening, she has to smash her way out of a strange shell. When the mists and dust clear Khan is astounded to see she is no longer a “little brown girl” but big, blonde, busty and white. In fact, she looks exactly like the original Ms. Marvel…

In ‘All Mankind’ while experimenting – and puking – Kamala realises she is constantly shapeshifting and body-morphing, but her shock and terror recede after seeing Zoe in danger. Without thinking, Kamala responds to save the Mean Girl, albeit in a manner everybody thinks pretty gross…

Fed up with adventure, Kamala heads home, and is relieved to somehow revert to normal while climbing in her bedroom window. Sadly, ultra-conservative older brother Aamir and her parents are waiting…

‘Side Entrance’ sees Zoe milking her celebrity moment as the media descend on Jersey and Kamala frantically researches her powers – with disastrous results. Desperate to find some way to control them she is spiralling until Bruno comes to her rescue by being held up at his afterschool job. Once again leaping into action as “Carol Danvers”, Kamala learns it’s not that easy a career, after being shot and reverting to her natural form in ‘Past Curfew’

With a certified genius like Bruno on board, Kamala finally understands what she can do and devises her own costume and alter ego, just as the city is targeted by a genuine – but so weird – supervillain, leading the new Ms. Marvel into the wilds to hunt down an exploitative mastermind running troubled teens as his soldiers.

Brimming with confidence, the neophyte hero is unprepared for the deadly mechanical monsters of The Inventor, a brutal showdown with that invisible crook’s gang or the even worse trial of keeping secrets from her increasingly concerned and bewildered family in closing chapter ‘Urban Legend’

The initial story arc won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story – the first of many glittering critical acknowledgements – and is followed here by that aforementioned teaser tale from All-New MarvelNow! Point One #1.

Crafted by Wilson, Aphona, Herring & Caramagna, ‘Garden State of Mind’ finds the hero diverted by a marauding trash monster-bot and late for a major family social gathering…

And thus began a meteoric rise for the new hero. Kamala Khan would steal hearts and minds, become a shining example and become a major player in monumental publishing events such as Last Days, Secret Wars, Secret Empire, Civil War II, Generations and Outlawed, whilst joining or leading teams like the All-New All-Different  Avengers, Champions, and Secret Warriors and inheriting the lead role in a revived Marvel Team-Up title.

Her role as positive role model cannot be overstated – how many female or Muslim superheroes can you think of, or have ever had their own American TV series?

That success is completely due to the comics stories which perfectly marry action and drama to powerfully engaging view of home life, stuffed to the brim with humour and happy moments, rather than the relentless bleakness of so many superhero sagas.

Colour plays a powerful part in telling these tales, subtly supplementing the ostensibly cartoonish art of Adrian Alphona into suitably tense dramatic fare without ever losing the vivacity and charm of the comedic undertones, so especial kudos to Ian Herring for his impressive and sensitive efforts here…

Similar congratulations to letterer Joe Caramagna for handling a rather dialogue-heavy script (absolutely necessary to capture the brilliant interplay and byplay of the teens and parental generation packing G. Willow Wilson’s extremely engaging and beguiling script).

Wrapping up this volume is a covers & variant gallery by Sara Pichelli & Justin Ponsor, McKelvie & Matthew Wilson, Salvador Larocca & Laura Martin, Arthur Adams & Peter Steigerwald, Jorge Molina, Annie Wu and a fascinating look at Alphona’s ‘Sketchbook’ of character designs and ‘inks to color process’.

Still fresh, funny, thrill-drenched and utterly absorbing, the saga of this Ms. Marvel is something you need to see over and over again.
© 2017 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Savage Hulk: The Man Within


By Alan Davis, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Mark Farmer, Sam Grainger & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9043-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Incredible Hulk is the perfect guest star: both staunch ally and ultimate enemy to any hero or team and always a figure of tragedy and barely suppressed terror. Here’s a very entertaining proof of the dictum…

In 1969, after six years of quirky, deliciously off-kilter adventures, The X-Men comic book folded: a relatively early casualty of the latest periodic, cyclic changing-of-reading-tastes, which saw the buying public again shun superhero stories in favour of traditional genres like war, westerns and, most especially, supernatural horror yarns…

Of course, once the fantasy fad receded again, the team emerged resurgent and unstoppable in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1 to become an unshakable fixture of contemporary comics, TV animation and cinema culture. Nevertheless, when they first folded, a goodly number of us diehard funnybook fans couldn’t believe the loss of such outré and irreplaceable characters.

Despite their reappearance in recycled reprints, a certain magic had gone from the world back then and this mostly modern confection from Alan Davis seeks to redress that loss, albeit more than four decades later…

That final 1960s X-Men exploit was one of those weird quasi-team-ups and, as it pivotally informs the all-original 4-part tale by Davis, inker Mark Farmer & colourist Matt Hollingsworth which comprises the majority of this scintillating chronicle, the editors at Marvel have thoughtfully included it – in all its raw glory – at the back of the book.

I’m reviewing it first because that’s just the way I am…

Crafted by Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema & Sam Grainger ‘The Mutants and the Monster!’ (X-Men volume 1, #66, cover-dated March 1970), was actually the epilogue to an epic clash between the mutants and voracious alien invaders. The campaign had shockingly brought back long-believed dead Professor Charles Xavier, who then nearly killed himself for real by uniting every mind on Earth in a psychic thrust of unparalleled force to repel the already repellent Z’Nox.

The tragic aftermath was seen here: a debilitating coma caused by psychic exertion left the telepath near death, able only to convey a feeble psionic message which sent the team hunting for Bruce Banner in Nevada. Apparently, the two cerebral heavyweights had previously and secretly collaborated on a gamma-powered device which might now save and restore the fallen Xavier…

However, the harried young heroes, in their hasty attempt to save their mentor, forgot one crucial fact: when you hunt Banner what you usually end up with is an immensely irate Incredible Hulk

The resulting destructive debacle wrecked a lot of landscape but throughout the extended brouhaha, the Hulk seemed to be subconsciously leading the titanic teens to his hidden desert lab where the prototype Gamma Stimulator was stashed.

Despite colossal carnage and inevitable US Army interference, the gadget was recovered and the Professor saved…

Flipping now to the front of the book, the main event reveals a previously undisclosed follow-up encounter published as Savage Hulk #1-4 (August-November 2014). ‘The Man Within’ opens with TV coverage of the Nevada battle being carefully scrutinised by Gamma-spawned evil super-genius The Leader. The sinister savant soon gleans a connection between the mutant warriors and their previously unsuspected boss Charles Xavier…

The Hulk meanwhile, is fending off another furious attack by the military even as – back in Westchester County – the recuperating Xavier examines the life-saving device and realises Banner had completed it to cure himself of his emerald alter ego. The benevolent mentor quickly discovers why it didn’t work on the tragic titanic transformer. It needed a telepathic trigger…

Convinced he can return the favour and finally cure Banner, guilty, grateful Professor X accompanies Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Havok and magnetic warrior Lorna Dane to Nevada and Banner’s clandestine lab. They are all blithely unaware that The Leader has already staked the place out…

Elsewhere, the frenzied fugitive at the heart of the matter has been found by a well-meaning elderly couple whose offer of assistance leads to unbridled terror as the timid down-and-out suddenly shapeshifts into a mountain of angry green muscle…

Nearby the X-Men are ambushed by the murderous, monstrous Abomination – also hunting for the Hulk – and their titanic tussle soon intrudes on the Jade Giant’s agonised antics. The 3-way war immediately escalates as the army close in, all guns blazing, but the merely human military are swiftly driven back by the mutants, leaving Hulk to trash his gamma-powered nemesis single handed.

In the quiet aftermath, Marvel Girl uses her own still-developing telepathy to quell the victorious Hulk’s rage and manifest deeply-traumatised Bruce. Soon, the physicist confers with Xavier and prepares to be rid of his ominous other for all time, but as their salvation device is set in motion none are aware another deadly threat is nearby, awaiting the perfect moment to strike…

Shock follows shock as the procedure goes awry with the Hulk’s gamma-energy migrating to Marvel Girl, creating a bellicose female green giantess reeling with incomprehensible psionic power.

…And that’s when The Leader makes his move at the head of an army of mechanoids and a legion of the Hulk’s old foes…

Only Xavier is aware things are not entirely what they seem, and is capable of combating the true source of the threat, aided by the Hulk’s most incredible gamma transformation yet…

Also included in this splendid and explosively entertaining epistle are the original covers by Davis, Farmer, Val Staples, Matt Hollingsworth & Brad Andersen, plus Marie Severin & Grainger’s 1969 classic image.

Cleverly crafted, beautifully illustrated, riotously action-packed and stunningly suspenseful, this tale of triumph and tragedy is pure vintage Marvel Mastery, ably augmented by the original inspirational yarn ending a unique era. It offers readers young and old a magnificent chance to re-experience the glory days of the House of Ideas and must not be missed.
© 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Moon Knight Epic Collection volume 1: Bad Moon Rising (1975-1981)


By Doug Moench, David Anthony Kraft, Bill Mantlo, Steven Grant, Roger Slifer, John Warner, Don Perlin, Bill Sienkiewicz, Keith Giffen, Mike Zeck, Jim Mooney, Jim Craig, Gene Colan, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2092-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

Moon Knight is probably the most complex and convoluted hero(es) in comics. There’s also a lot of eminently readable strip evidence to support the contention that he’s a certifiable loon.

The mercurial champion first appeared during the 1970s horror boom: a mercenary Batman knockoff hired by corporate villains to capture a monster. Sparking reader attention, the mercenary spun off into a brace of solo trial issues in Marvel Spotlight and welter of guest shots before securing an exceedingly sophisticated back-up slot in the TV inspired Hulk Magazine before graduating to the first of many solo series.

His convoluted origin eventually revealed how multiple-personality-suffering CIA spook-turned-mercenary Marc Spector was murdered by his boss and apparently resurrected by an Egyptian god…

This first epic compilation re-presents Werewolf by Night #32-33; Marvel Spotlight #28-29; Defenders #47-50, Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #22-23; Marvel Two-In-One #52; material from Hulk Magazine #11-15, 17-18 & 20; Marvel Preview #21 and Moon Knight #1-4, spanning 1975 to 1981.

It all began in Werewolf by Night #32 (August 1975) and another stage in a long-running plot thread. Accursed lycanthrope Jack Russell and his sister Lyssa had been targets of criminal capitalists the Corporation for months. The plutocratic cabal believed that by terrorising the public, they could induce them to spend more…

Here Doug Moench & Don Perlin (with assistance from little Howie Perlin) introduced mercenary Marc Spector: a rough and ready modern warrior hired by plutocratic plunderers and equipped with a silver-armoured costume and weapons to capture Russell or his animal other as ‘…The Stalker Called Moon Knight’.

The bombastic battle and its ferocious sequel ‘Wolf-Beast vs. Moon Knight’ received an unprecedented response and rapidly propelled the lunar avenger to prominence as Marvel’s edgy answer to Batman: especially after the mercurial merc rejected his latest loathsome employers’ entreaties and let the wolf, as well as collateral hostages Lissa and Topaz, run free…

Within a year the spectral sentinel had returned for a two-part solo mission that fleshed out his characters (yes, plural!) and hinted at a hidden history behind the simple mercenary façade. Cover-dated June & August 1976, Marvel Spotlight #28-29 ‘The Crushing Conquer-Lord!’ and concluding chapter ‘The Deadly Gambit of Conquer-Lord!’ reveal the mercenary to be a well-established clandestine crimebuster with vast financial resources, a dedicated team of assistants including pilot “Frenchy” and secretary Marlene as well as wide-ranging network of street informants, a mansion/secret HQ, a ton of cool gadgets and at least four separate identities.

This latter aspect would inform Moon Knight’s entire career as various creators explored where playacting ended and Multiple Personality Disorder – if not outright supernatural possession – began…

Thanks to his brush with the werewolf, the masked vigilante had also gained a partial superpower. As the moon waxed and waned, his physical strength speed, stamina and resilience also doubled and diminished.

Here, billionaire Steven Grant, New York cabbie/information gatherer Jake Lockley, repentant gun-for-hire Marc Spector and the mysterious Moon Knight discovered he had been targeted by ruthless mastermind Mr. Quinn, who sought to eliminate a potential impediment in his plane to become a supervillain and rule Manhattan. The cunning criminal had placed a spy in Steven Grant’s inner circle and subsequent research revealed how Spector – a former CIA unarmed combat and weapons expert – had infiltrated the Corporation, gained powers, created alternate identities and, for unknown reasons, declared war on crime…

Sadly, despite this devious scheme and deploying plenty of his own wonder weapons and henchmen, the Conquer-Lord proves no match for the hidden hero in a gripping thriller by Moench & Perlin.

Following a quartet of previous collection covers by Gil Kane & Tom Smith, Perlin & Matt Milla, Bill Sienkiewicz & John Kalisz, and Sienkiewicz, Klaus Janson & Thomas Mason, the spectral sentinel’s next appearance was as a guest in a long running super-team saga.

Beginning with ‘Night Moves!’ in Defenders #47 (May 1977 and running through #50 and beyond), John Warner, David Anthony Kraft, Roger Slifer, Keith Giffen – in full Kirby mimic mode – with inkers Janson & Mike Royer disclose how putative loner Moon Knight is drawn into a war between a supervillain suffering a despondent mid-life crisis and the heroic “non-team” of Nighthawk, Valkyrie, Hellcat and The Hulk.

It begins in New Jersey, as the late-patrolling vigilante stumbles upon an abduction. When S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Nick Fury “arrests” Valkyrie’s former husband Jack Norriss in a most unorthodox manner, Moon Knight rescues Jack, taking him to Doctor Strange. Before long, MK’s somehow fighting Avenger Wonder Man, and thereafter catapulted into an aging Bad Guy’s existential crisis in #48’s ‘Who Remembers Scorpio? Part 1: Sinister Savior’

Certainly not Jack, now a captive audience to Fury’s supposedly dead brother, who bemoans his lot in life while waiting for his new Zodiac team to mature and leave the Life Model Decoy machine currently constructing them…

When the Knight finds them, he’s caught in a deadly death trap, as Nighthawk is captured and added to the whining villain’s unwilling audience. Moon Knight’s escape and dash for reinforcements coincides with Hulk’s latest ‘Rampage’ through Manhattan in #49, allowing MK to lead him back to the Zodiac base, with Hellcat and Valkyrie close behind them.

Everyone meets up just as the artificial Zodiac is prematurely born, with double-length Defenders #50 hosting massive, manic free-for-all ‘Who Remembers Scorpio? Part 3: Scorpio Must Die!’

The clash ends in tragedy and Moon Knight’s departure, but not before an extract from #51’s ‘A Round with the Ringer!’ reveals the shocking secret of Fury’s involvement and exactly how the Knight in White escaped that aforementioned death trap…

You’re not really a Marvel Superhero until you meet the wondrous webslinger, and that initial introduction came in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #22-23 (September & October 1978) as Bill Mantlo, Mike Zeck & Bruce D. Patterson detail an underworld plot to destroy the mysterious vigilante ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon Knight!’

When an informant is gunned down warning the Maggia have ferreted out one of his secret identities, Moon Knight learns the lethal legacy of Conquer-Lord’s files have made targets of his other assets, including diner owner Gena and homeless derelict Crawley. Lockley seeks to save them from assassination as Spider-Man is just passing, and the webslinger intervenes to save lives and keep his neighbourhood friendly…

After the traditional misunderstanding Meet-&-Beat-Up, Spidey and Moon Knight unite just in time to battle the Maggia’s top super-enforcer… French speedster Cyclone!

The saga concludes courtesy of artists Jim Mooney & Mike Esposito as the wallcrawler enviously scopes out MK HQ before joining a punitive counterstrike on the crime combine in ‘Guess Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb!’

Cover-dated June 1979, one last guest shot preceded MK’s transition to a solo series. In Marvel Two-In-One #52, Steven Grant – the real one Spector’s alter ego is teasingly based on – and artist Jim Craig & Pablo Marcos had the mysterious Moon Knight ally with The Thing to stop CIA Psy-Ops master Crossfire from brainwashing the city’s superheroes into killing each other…

Superhero credentials suitably established, Moon Knight began carving out his uniquely twisted corner of the Marvel Universe in a psychologically-themed vehicle aimed at an older, more general audience.

Originally released as newsprint monochrome magazine The Rampaging Hulk, the advent of the company’s “Marvelcolor” process and a hugely successful TV show starring the Green Goliath saw the periodical upgraded to slicker paper stock and obliquely continuity-adjacent storylines to address the needs of casual readers/television converts.

Supposedly a more sophisticated product, the book offered a home to Moon Knight, who moved in for a series of dark modern tales also outside standard superhero parameters. Before those begin here, Hulk Magazine #11 (October 1978) provides Bob Larkin’s wraparound painted cover, a house ad from #10 and a text introduction extolling the virtues of artistic debutante Bill Sienkiewicz from #13…

A new era dawned with ‘Graven Image of Death’ (#11, by Moench, Gene Colan & Tony DeZuñiga) as the hooded hunter stumbles into a murderous war between rival antiquities collectors Joel Luxor and Anton Varro: millionaires vying for possession of a statuette of Egyptian god Horus. As bodies stack up, Moon Knight despatches Grant’s assistant/paramour Marlene to question museum curator Fenton Crane and is barely in time to stop her joining the body count in #12’s ‘Embassy of Fear!’ (Moench, Keith Pollard, Frank Giacoia & Esposito).

On learning the entire affair is simply smoke and mirrors for a larger scheme, with the statue simply moneymaking collateral in an international terrorism plot, Moon Knight buys in as shady millionaire Grant to work undercover. He is unaware that another mastermind has obtained Conquer-Lord’s files and it’s all a trap.

Hulk Magazine #13 (February 1979) was Sienkiewicz’s moment. On ‘The Big Blackmail’ his sleek imitation of classic Neal Adams hyperrealism (and Batman swipe files) combined with Steve Oliff’s advanced colour techniques, were breathtaking as enigmatic Machiavelli Lupinar observed the hero’s friends and allies at dangerously close quarters. Orchestrating nuclear armageddon with Moon Knight as his unwitting dupe, legendary operative Marc Spector was his true target…

After wading through layers of murderous multinational intermediaries, Moon Knight finally confronts his bestial hidden enemy in #14’s ‘Countdown to Dark’ (Bob McLeod inks) in a furious fight to the death as a nuclear clock inexorably counts down…

A smart crossover follows after a gallery of Hulk covers – #12-15 by Joe Jusko, Earl Norem, Larkin & Peter Ledger before June 1980’s #15 hosted a single encounter told from two perspectives. Moench, Sienkiewicz & McLeod explored ‘An Eclipse, Waning’ with Grant indulging a neglected passion for astronomy by visiting an old pal in the countryside on the night of a total lunar occultation.

The event brings brutal burglars out of the woodwork and Moon Knight is required to stop them, but, bizarrely, at the height of the eclipse, during the moment of utter darkness, the Lunar Avenger encounters something huge, monstrous and unbeatable, barely escaping with his life.

Answers come in ‘An Eclipse Waxing’ as on that same night , fugitive Bruce Banner meets burglars breaking into an isolated house and helplessly transforms into the Hulk again. Just as total night falls, the monster briefly encounters an unseen foe of far greater capabilities…

Norem, Larkin and Jusko covers for #17, 18 and 20 precede some longed-awaited revelations of the White Knight’s troubled past, emerging when as regular Moon Knight feature resumed in #17. In a chilling, disturbing sequence inked by Klaus Janson, ‘Nights Born Ten Years Gone Part I-III’ finds Manhattan terrorised by a mad axeman stalking nightshift nurses.

Wearing pyjama bottoms and a clown mask, the “Hatchet-Man” has racked up nine kills before Moon Night’s street agents present evidence indicating a close historical connection to Spector. Always cautious, the Man of Many Parts is parsimonious in sharing knowledge and Marlene convinces him that she can safely act as bait…

The ploy goes appallingly wrong and she is severely injured by both the police and the axe-man, leading to the incensed lunar vigilante going wild amidst the ‘Shadows in the Heart of the City’ as the frustrated maniac spirals out of control

However, although the killer is stopped, the guilt-wracked hero tirelessly works a night of minor life-saving exploits and endures anxious terrors before Marlene is safe in ‘A Long Way to Dawn’

That euphoric fable appeared in Hulk Magazine #20 (April 1980) and was Moon Knight’s swan song there, but he resurfaced in a complex conspiracy mystery in monochrome magazine Marvel Preview (#21, Spring 1980).

Behind the Sienkiewicz, Larkin, Janson & Oliff cover here and preceded by the penciller’s B&W frontispiece ‘The Mind Thieves’ and concluding chapter ‘Vipers’ come from a later colourised reprint, but retain all the sinister paranoic confusion of the Moench, Sienkiewicz, Tom Palmer & Dan Greene original.

When a corpse is delivered to Grant’s mansion, it reactivates Spector’s CIA career and sets Moon Knight on the trail of unfinished business in a “Company” mind control lab supposedly decommissioned years previously…

Following a trail of dead men, dirty secrets, and programable super-killers, MK, Marlene and Frenchy escape barely death in Montreal and Paris while exposing a vicious vengeance plot behind the dirty tricks campaign. It almost costs them everything…

Appended by Ralph Macchio’s editorial ‘Full Phase’, the story closes one chapter in the character’s life and leads into the far mor complex and conflicted career of a man seeking atonement as the November cover-dated premier solo title exposes the secrets of ‘The Macabre Moon Knight!’

Here Moench, Sienkiewicz & Frank Springer reveal how world-weary, burned-out mercenary Spector was working for murderous marauder Raul Bushman but reclaimed his moral compass after his ruthless boss murdered archaeologist Peter Alraune for the contents of a recently excavated Sudanese tomb. The scientist’s daughter Marlene escaped, as did equally disgusted comrade Frenchy, but when Spector attempted to stop Bushman executing witnesses he was beaten and left to die in the desert.

Dying by degrees, Spector crawled for miles and died just as he enters the tomb of Pharoah Seti, where Marlene and her workers were hiding. Dumped at the feet of a statue of Khonshu – god of the Moon and Taker of Vengeance – he inexplicably revived. Clearly deranged, he draped the statue’s white mantle around himself, before going out into the night. By dawn, Bushman’s band are dead and the monster fled…

Skipping forward to now and hinting at a long eventful road to the life of a multi-identity superhero, the origin ends with a fateful showdown with the returned Bushman in his New York lair…

Barely pausing, #2 focuses on pitiful peeping pawn Crawley in a powerful human interest tale. The city reels under the bloody shadow of a butcher hunting bums and indigents. With corpses no one cares about mounting, Moon Knight soon learns ‘The Slasher’ is seeking one specific homeless man, and will not stop until he finds him…

Cover-dated January 1981, #3 sees Sienkiewicz ink himself as ‘Midnight Means Murder’ with the Knight of the Moon facing ruthless thief Anton Mogart/The Midnight Man, before the saga pauses with #4 and the Janson-inked action thriller ‘A Committee of 5’. Here, the Lunar Avenger is hunted by and hunts in return a quintet of specialist assassins. Happily, fortune augments ability and Khonshu’s chosen is more than a match for the killer elite…

Accompanied throughout by covers from Gil Kane, Al Milgrom, Klaus Janson, Perlin, Jack Kirby, Ed Hannigan, Joe Sinnott, Dave Cockrum, Joe Rubinstein, Keith Pollard, George Pérez, Sienkiewicz and others, the extras are supplemented by Sienkiewicz’s wrapround covers from Moon Knight Special Edition #1-3 and the 6-plate character portfolio contained therein, plus Jim Shooter’s introduction.

Also on show are contemporary house ads; printed trivia; previous collection covers; the painted cover to fanzine Amazing Heroes #6 and 11 pages of original art and covers by Milgrom, Cockrum, Rubinstein, Sienkiewicz, McLeod, Springer & Janson.

Moody, dark, thematically off-kilter and savagely entertaining this first volume sees a Batman knock-off evolve into a unique example of the line between hero and villain and sinner and saint all wrapped up in pure electric entertainment for testosterone junkies and
© 2019 MARVEL.

The Archangels of Vinea: Yoko Tsuno volume 14


By Roger Leloup, coloured by Studio Leonardo, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-438-0 (Album PB)

In 1970, indomitable intellectual adventurer and “electronics engineer” Yoko Tsuno began her career in Le Journal de Spirou. She is still delighting readers and making new fans to this day in astounding, all-action, excessively accessible adventures which are amongst the most intoxicating, absorbing and broad-ranging comics thrillers ever created.

The globe-girdling, space-&-time-spanning episodic epics starring the Japanese investigator were devised by monumentally multi-talented Belgian maestro Roger Leloup, who began his own solo career after working as a studio assistant and technical artist on Herge’s timeless Adventures of Tintin.

Compellingly told, superbly imaginative and – no matter how implausible the premise of any individual yarn may appear – always firmly grounded in hyper-realistic settings underpinned by authentic, unshakably believable technology and scientific principles, Leloup’s illustrated escapades were at the vanguard of a wave of strips revolutionising European comics.

That long-overdue sea-change heralded the rise of competent, clever, brave and formidably capable female protagonists taking their rightful places as heroic ideals; elevating Continental comics in the process. Unsurprisingly, these endeavours are as engaging and empowering now as they ever were, and none more so than the trials and tribulations of Miss Tsuno.

Her very first outings (the still unavailable Hold-up en hi-fi, La belle et la bête and Cap 351) were mere introductory vignettes before the superbly competent wanderer and her valiant but less able male comrades Pol Paris and Vic Van Steen properly hit their stride with premier full-length saga Le trio de l’étrange in 1971 with Le Journal de Spirou’s May 13th edition…

Yoko’s journeys include explosive exploits in exotic corners of our world, time-travelling jaunts and sinister deep-space sagas – like this one – where our terrestrial trouble-shooters toil beside the disaster-prone alien colonists of planet Vinea. Their chief contact and most trusted ally is Khany: a competent, commanding single mother who combines parenting her toddler Poky with saving worlds, leading her people and averting continual cosmic catastrophe…

There are 29 European albums to date (with #30 due for release in September) but only 16 translated into English thus far. Today’s tale debuted in 1983 as Les archanges de Vinéa, chronologically Tsuno’s thirteenth exploit and sixth co-starring the Vineans: a thrilling tale of discovery and ancient undying tyranny and evil…

In their first outing, Yoko, Vic and frivolous Pol discovered a pocket of long-dormant aliens hibernating for eons in the depths of the Earth. After freeing them from robotic subjugation, the valiant humans occasionally helped the alien refugees (who had fled their own planet two million years previously) rebuild their lost sciences. Ultimately, the humans accompanied the Vineans as they returned to their own star system and presumed-dead homeworld. As the migrants gradually rebuilt their decadent and much-debased former civilisation and culture, the trio became regular guests…

On this excursion, the humans are again exploring another reclaimed region of the recovering planet. In the millions of years the Vineans slept in the depths of Earth, their primary civilisation collapsed, and the planet they have reclaimed is much-changed with isolated pockets of the former changed beyond recognition… and usually lethally hostile to their returned descendents…

We open as Yoko and little Poky accompany Khany to a desolate island and interview a strange old hermit who has been sheltering a child from the past. Khany’s cautious efforts reveal a young boy in a hibernation pod for countless ages, and that the entre rig has been until very recently, underwater…

As they further question the crazed old woman who lives in constant dread of The God’s wrath, an atmospheric disturbance occurs, leading them to a fantastic machine thunderously drawing air down into the depths of the sea. When they fly over to investigate further, Kany is lost…

By the time Yoko and Poky land, primitive raiders have boarded the edifice as it starts to sink. From nowhere, a serene and calmly confidant Vinean Adonis appears, saving Yoko from being blasted by the barbaric raiders. As he and Poky are arrested he joins the group but does not interfere.

The newcomers are equipped with makeshift breathing gear and share it with the captives, dropping into the depths just as the edifice was. The sea-dwellers also use huge turtle-like sea-beasts and her enigmatic saviour – easily keeping pace with the raiders – appears to be equally amphibious…

Unwelcome but unmolested, the stranger keeps pace as the war party passes a shattered sunken city, and encounters fierce marine monsters that have been tamed by electronic devices clamped to their heads. It is a technology clearly far beyond the understanding of Yoko’s captors, and gradually she learns of a bizarre truth: these sea-Vineans are low caste workers in a lost subterranean city of evil that has survived submerged for millennia, ruled by a capricious, cruel immortal Queen. Hegora has the powers of a god and is just as implacable…

However, her diffident saviour and guardian is one of twenty undying supermen: “Archangels” set apart from and uncaring of the plight of ordinary beings. As Yoko soon discovers, her acquaintance has a ruthless, timeless agenda of his own…

Her life constantly imperilled as she seeks hostage Khany, Yoko learns the horrific secret of the subsea City of the Abyss, and why the Archangels have battled Hegora for so long: possession and control of thousands of hibernating children. The endless struggle ends as Yoko tips a delicate balance, uncovering the incredible secrets of the City’s past and before long, a cold war resolves into a battle of wills and vastly opposing moralities. In the end it’s Yoko who triumphs to impose a new regime on the sunken citadel…

Gripping and visually spectacular, The Archangels of Vinea combines hard science with tense drama and a soupcon of social criticism: delivering another terse, action-packed, sci fi thriller, once again magnified into magnificence by the astonishingly compelling and staggeringly detailed draughtsmanship and storytelling of Leloup and the indomitable integrity of Yoko Tsuno.
Original edition © Dupuis, 1983 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2019 © Cinebook Ltd.

The Mighty Thor Epic Collection volume 7: Ulik Unchained 1973-1975


By Gerry Conway, Bill Mantlo, Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema, Arvell Jones & Keith Pollard, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2949-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

Disabled doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to stumble into an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, he found an ancient walking stick which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder! Within moments he was defending the weak and smiting the wicked.

Months swiftly passed with the Lord of Storms tackling rapacious extraterrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs, but these soon gave way to a vast kaleidoscope of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces, usually tackled with an ever-changing cast of stalwart immortal warriors at his side…

As this bombastic compendium (reprinting Mighty Thor #217-241 and Marvel Premier #26 – spanning November 1973 through November 1975) opens, our cosmic cast returns to long-abandoned Asgard after interstellar escapades and bravely endured exile.

Thor #217 sees the triumphant return of Thor with recently rescued from alien enslavement All-Father Odin. He and his fellow heroes Sif, Fandral, Volstagg, Hogun, Hildegarde (plus Rigellian Tana Nile and planetary exile Silas Grant) discover a mysteriously rebuilt Eternal Realm filled with their fellow Asgardians who brandish ‘All Swords Against Them!’

Scripted by Gerry Conway with art by John & Sal Buscema, the saga sees them confronting impossible doppelgangers of Odin, Thor and the rest, all offering murderous hostility…

Whilst the Thunderer furiously struggles to unravel this latest mystery and defeat the invading fakes, in another sector of the universe the all-conquering Colonizers of Rigel are put to flight; abandoning their worlds to an all-consuming force of sheer destruction…

Issue #218 proves there’s no rest for the weary as the again-victorious true Asgardians once more take ship to the stars to prevent the Rigellians’ doom affecting Earth. ‘Where Pass the Black Stars There Also Passes… Death!’ (illustrated by J. Buscema & Jim Mooney) finds the hard-travelling heroes facing a nomadic race of colossal, decadent starfarers who fuel their unending flight by converting thriving civilisations into food and power.

In distant Asgard, war woman Hildegarde’s young sister Krista is slowly falling under the sway of sinister seductive evil, even as her hereditary protectors are a cosmos away, daringly infiltrating one of the Black Stars’ cosmic scoops and encountering a race of mechanical slaves in ‘A Galaxy Consumed!’ (Mike Esposito inks) before they and their charismatic messiah Avalon are at last freed – and untold galaxies subsequently saved – from callous consumption in ‘Behold! The Land of Doom!’

With scripter Conway firmly in the driving seat and legendary illustrator John Buscema (aided by inker Esposito) delivering the art, the mythic mayhem intensifies with ‘Hercules Enraged!’ as Thor savagely attacks Olympus, in search of the Grecian Prince of Power.

After Asgardian maiden’s Krista abduction, the All-Father had a vision of her chained in Hades with the Thunder God’s trusted ally gloating over her beside vile Grecian netherlord Pluto

By the time lordly Zeus stops the shattering clash that follows, half of the celestial city is in ruins, but in that breathing space he proves Hercules innocent of the atrocious act and the abashed comrades duly turn their attentions to the true culprit…

Inked by Joe Sinnott, Thor #222 finds the earnest comrades in search of Hercules’ insidious impersonator and taking advice from a scary sorceress even as war-god Ares receives an eldritch summons to meet his co-conspirator ‘Before the Gates of Hell!’

Sadly for him, the war god is intercepted by our heroes before he gets there and receives the sound thrashing he deserves prior to the enraged companions storming the netherworld itself. At the moment of their triumph, however, Pluto snatches up his hostage and vanishes. The infernal trail leads straight to Earth where one final confrontation results in ‘Hellfire Across the World!’ (Esposito inks) leaving kidnapped Krista wounded unto death…

After a lengthy hiatus, #224 finds Thor resuming his mortal alter ego as surgeon Don Blake is needed to operate on the dying Asgardian, even as elsewhere in Manhattan, a rash scientist accidentally reactivates Odin’s unstoppable battle construct and discovers ‘No One Can Stop… the Destroyer!’

With Krista saved, Thor joins sorely-pressed Hercules and – although outmatched by the Asgardian killing machine – devises a way to stop its human power source, only to then face ‘The Coming of Firelord!’ (inked by Sinnott). The tempestuous, short-tempered herald of planet-consuming Galactus has been sent to fetch Thor and will brook no refusals…

Issue #226 sees the voracious space god on Earth again, personally beseeching the Thunder God’s aid in ‘The Battle Beyond!’ (Esposito) against living planet Ego, who has seemingly gone mad and now poses a threat to the entire universe…

Deftly channelling Jack Kirby, penciller Rich Buckler (aided by his pals Arvell Jones & Keith Pollard) joined Conway & Sinnott in #227 as the Storm Lord, Hercules and Firelord go ‘In Search of… Ego!’

Penetrating deep within the sentient-but-raving planet and defeating incredible biological horrors acting as planetary antibodies, the trio reach his malfunctioning brain and experience the incredible origin of the “bioverse” in ‘Ego: Beginning and End!’, before contriving an earth-shaking solution to the wild world’s rampages. In a final act of unlikely diplomacy, the Thunderer then finds a replacement herald and secures Firelord’s freedom from Galactus…

Joined by veteran inker Chic Stone, Buckler depicts the godly prince safely back on Earth and facing a new kind of terror in Thor #229 as ‘Where Darkness Dwells, Dwell I!’ finds fellow Avenger Hercules investigating an uncanny string of suicides amongst the mortals of Manhattan. After consulting the Storm Lord and recently returned Sif, the Prince of Power is ambushed by a shadowy figure and himself succumbs to dark despondency…

Plucked from psychological catatonia by Iron Man and recuperating Krista, the severely shaken Hercules recovers enough to lead Thor deep beneath the city where they jointly confront and conquer a horrific lord of fear in #230’s climactic ‘The Sky Above… the Pits Below!’ (inked by Sinnott).

Of greater moment is the revelation in hallowed Asgard that almighty Odin is mysteriously missing again…

John Buscema returned in #231, inked by Dick Giordano to limn ‘A Spectre from the Past!’, wherein Thor learns that former true love Jane Foster is dying: another victim of the recently defeated fear lord. Whilst doting current paramour Sif fruitlessly returns to Asgard seeking a cure, the grieving Thunderer is momentarily distracted when Hercules is attacked by an unbelievably powerful anthropoidal throwback. Disembodied spirit Armak the First Man has somehow possessed the body of an unwary séance attendee and now runs savagely amok in the streets…

Since gaining his liberty, former herald Firelord had been aimlessly travelling the globe. Lured by Asgardian magic he now becomes wicked Loki’s vassal in ‘Lo, the Raging Battle!’…

Heartsick Thor will not leave Jane’s hospital bedside, prompting Sif and Hercules to travel alone to the ends of the universe to retrieve the mystic and fabled Runestaff of Kamo Tharnn. No sooner do they depart than ensorcelled Firelord attacks and whilst incensed, impatient Thor is knocking sense back into him, his evil half-brother leads an Asgardian army in a sneak attack on America…

With ‘Midgard Aflame’ (J. Buscema & Stone) Thor furiously leads the human resistance and learns for the first time that his father is missing. Odin’s faithful vizier reveals the All-Father has deliberately divested himself of his memory and chosen to reside somewhere on Earth as a hapless mortal, the better to learn humility…

With humanity preparing to unleash their atomic arsenal against the occupying Asgardians, the invasion abruptly ends after a savage duel between Thor and Loki in ‘O, Bitter Victory!’ (inked by Sinnott) after which the Thunderer returns to Jane’s side, unaware that he is being stalked by a merciless old enemy. Simultaneously but far, far away Sif and Hercules have clashed with the one ‘Who Lurks Beyond the Labyrinth!’ and secured a remedy for Thor’s mortal beloved…

Thor #236 opens as the Thunder God revels in furious combat with The Absorbing Man. Unknown to the blockbusting battlers, at that very moment Sif is expressing her own love for her wayward prince by using the Runestaff to fix Jane in ‘One Life to Give!’

…And somewhere in California, an imposing old man called Orrin ponders his strangely selective amnesia and wonders how he can possibly possess such incredible strength and vitality…

With combat concluded, Thor hastens back to Jane and finds her completely cured. His joy is short-lived, however, as he realises that Sif is gone, seemingly forever…

Issue #237 finds reunited lovers Don Blake and Jane Foster cautiously getting reacquainted and pondering Sif’s incredible sacrifice when an army of Asgardian Trolls led by ‘Ulik Unchained’ attack New York. Before long, they have made off with Jane under cover of the blockbusting melee that inevitably ensues…

Conway concluded his tenure with Thor #238 as the Thunderer capitulates to his hostage-taking foe and is taken below the worlds of Earth and Asgard on the ‘Night of the Troll!’ Ulik wants to overthrow his king Geirrodur and is confident his hold over his mighty archenemy will accomplish the act for him. He is utterly unprepared for the new martial spirit which now infuses his formerly frail mortal hostage…

…And in California old man Orrin decides to use his power to help the poor, arousing the ire of big business, brutal strike-breakers and the local authorities…

Writer/Editor Roy Thomas and artist Sal Buscema join Sinnott in Thor #239 as the Thunder God brutally ends his association with the trolls even as Orrin’s rabble-rousing civil unrest is cut short when a colossal pyramid containing Egyptian gods erupts from the Californian ground in ‘Time-Quake!’

Thor knows nothing of the latest upheaval. He has returned to Asgard, uncovering a mysterious force draining his people of power and vitality. Warned by duplicitous seer Mimir, the anguished godling rushes back to Earth to clash with puissant Horus ‘When the Gods Make War!’ (Thomas, Bill Mantlo, Sal B & Klaus Janson).

The depleted Egyptian pantheon have desperate need of an All-Father and have conditioned Odin/Orrin to believe that he is their long-lost patron Atum-Re

Go-getting, proactively take-charge Jane is already waiting in California when Thor arrives and is present when the elder deity devastatingly assaults his astounded son. Happily, her cool head prevails and soon the warring deities are talking. An uneasy alliance forms and the truth comes out. Horus, Isis and Osiris are at war with vile Death God Seth and need the power of a supreme over-god to assure victory for the forces of Life. Sadly, that energy is being siphoned from Asgard…

The cosmic conflict concludes in #241 as ‘The Death-Ship Sails the Stars!’ (Mantlo, John B & Sinnott) with ghastly Seth and his demonic servants ultimately repulsed and Jane again playing a major role: even triumphally shaking Odin out of his compliant, mind-wiped state…

To Be Continued…

Adding lustre next is the cover to all-reprint Giant-Size Thor #1, followed by a compelling contemporaneous solo tale of Hercules (November 1975), taken from Marvel Premiere #26. Used to set up his major role in forthcoming team title The Champions, it was crafted by Mantlo, George Tuska & Vince Colletta. Sporting a new Kirby cover, ‘The Game of Raging Gods’ has the legendary hero relocate to California on the college lecture circuit and targeted by old enemies Typhon the Titan and spurned priestess Cylla the Witch of Delphos

With covers by John Romita, Buckler, Sinnott, John Buscema, Gil Kane, Esposito, Frank Giacoia, Marie Severin, Tom Palmer, Giordano, Dan Adkins, Klaus Janson and Jack Kirby & Vince Colletta, this collection also includes assorted House ads; covers created by Romita, a John Buscema double page pin-up of the Asgardian cast and a frontispiece by Marie Severin from the Thor-starring reprint edition Marvel Treasury Edition #3.

Thor is one of modern comics’ greatest attractions and a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. Always a high-point in graphic fantasy, his longevity is all the more impressive for the sheer imagination and timeless readability of the tales crafted by an army of creators. This chronicle is an absolute must for all fans of the medium and far-flung fantasy thrills.
© 2021 MARVEL

Batman: The Scottish Connection


By Alan Grant & Frank Quitely (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-5638-9372-8 (TPB)

Once again we’ve lost another comics great, another uniquely brilliant and imaginative voice. Alan Grant died yesterday, July 21st 2022.

Born on February 9th 1949, in Bristol, Alan Grant grew up as a true Scot in the heart of Midlothian. He was a bit wayward and anarchic and – after trying regular life a couple of times –  began his comics career in 1967 as an editor for DC Thomson. Soon he was writing scripts – many with life-long collaborator John Wagner – and inventing characters, first for British companies but eventually all over the world.

His triumphs include Tarzan, Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Batman, Lobo, L.E.G.I.O.N., Judge Anderson, The Bogie Man, Channel Evil, Kidnapped, The Demon, Anarky, Robo-Hunter, The Loxleys and the War of 1812 and countless more.

Alan contributed to amateur fanzines, constantly encouraging and supporting new talent; adapted classic literature to comics form for major art festivals; worked in animation; organized his own comic conventions in home village of Moniaive; self-published and ran his own publishing house Berserker Comics. He was tirelessly inquisitive, deeply philosophical and instinctively socially philanthropic. In 2020, he led a community outreach project to inform about CoVID-19 via a comic book.

Alan Grant was funny, and friendly and amazing. Here’s one of his best books remembered. A fuller tribute will follow shortly: probably one of his more controversial (for which read scandalous and hilarious) efforts, because that would have pleased him greatly…

Way, way back in 1953, Detective Comics #198 cover featured ‘Lord of Bat-Manor’, written by Leigh Brackett & Edmond Hamilton and drawn by the legendary Dick Sprang. In it, Batman inherited a Scottish Castle and it was later established that Bruce Wayne’s ancestors came from Scotland.

Don’t ask me why that bit of ephemera remains when so very much else has been rewritten over the years but it has, and decades later, canny, proud and professional Scots Alan Grant & Frank Quitely parlayed that trivia titbit into this slim yet gripping Caledonian conundrum.

On a visit to the Auld Country, Bruce Wayne stumbles onto a quasi-Masonic plot to locate the lost treasure of the Knights Templar, but that’s simply the tip of the iceberg in a revenge scheme centuries in the making: one involving beautiful tragic women, deadly plagues, ancient super-weapons, crazed claymore-waving maniacs and good old-fashioned Heid-cases and Barm-pots all a-bother…

Beautifully illustrated, seditiously scripted and brilliantly dancing on the line between classic comedy and chilling thriller, this is pure adventurous escapism from two consummate professionals. Go and get it, bonny lads and lassies and all you others…
© 1998 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

DC’s Greatest Detective Stories Ever Told


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Gardner F. Fox, Mindy Newell, Mike W. Barr, Denny O’Neil, Andy Helfer, Rusty Wells, Creig Flessell, Carmine Infantino, Alan Davis, Paul Neary, Terry Beatty & Dick Giordano, Al Vey, E.R. Cruz, Denys Cowan & Rick Magyar, Mark Badger, Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0594-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

Fundamental and definitive aspects of “detective stories” have been attributed to the Bible, ancient Greek dramas, One Thousand and One Nights and similarly compelling classical texts from China, India and other places, but the true genre of crime and mystery fiction really began with cheap printing and the rise of mass entertainment culture.

Detective stories are a subgenre wherein an investigation – by amateur or professional (active or retired) – into a legal felony or moral/social injustice. Like exploration/adventuring, fantasy, horror and science fiction, Detective Stories blossomed in white western societies in the mid-19th century: spreading from prose books and magazines to other entertainment media like plays and films, with early stars including C. Auguste Dupin, Sherlock Holmes, Jules Maigret, Father Brown, Lord Peter Wimsey, Sexton Blake and Hercule Poirot. Tales aimed at youngsters generated their own sleuthing stars: Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and more

As comic strips developed, they also spawned detective champions like Hawkshaw, Dick Tracy, Charlie Chan, Kerry Drake ad infinitum: all contributing to a tidal wave of pulp fiction crimebusters that inspired true literary legends – Philip Marlow, Sam Spade, Simon Templar, Mike Hammer and so on…

Detective Comics #1 had a March 1937 cover-date and was the third and final anthology title devised by luckless pioneer Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. In 1935, the entrepreneur had seen the potential in Max Gaines’ new invention – the comic book – and reacted quickly, conceiving and releasing packages of all-new strips in New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine and its follow-up New Fun/New Adventure (which ultimately became Adventure Comics) under the banner of National Allied Publications.

These publications differed from similar prototype comics magazines which simply reprinted edited collations of established newspaper strips. However, these vanguard titles were as varied and undirected in content as any newspaper funnies page.

Detective Comics was different. Specialising solely in tales of crime and crimebusters, the initial roster included (amongst others) adventurer Speed Saunders, Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise, Gumshoe Gus and two series by a couple of kids from Cleveland named Siegel & Shuster: espionage agent Bart Regan and two-fisted shamus Slam Bradley

Within two years the commercially unseasoned Wheeler-Nicholson had been forced out by his more adept business partners, and eventually his company grew into monolithic DC (for Detective Comics) Comics. Surviving a myriad of changes and temporary shifts of identity and aims, it’s still with us – albeit primarily as a vehicle for the breakthrough character who debuted in #27 (May 1939)…

Celebrating that quintessential connection and affiliation to the form, this slim tome gathers an unconventional array of sleuths and problem solvers, many not native to the parent title, but all offering a heady taste of what made the title great. Re-presenting material from Adventure Comics #51; Batman #441; Detective Comics #2, 329 & 572; Lois Lane #1-2; Secret Origins #40 and The Question #8 it spans August 1937 to November 1989: an epic package chronologically sampling the company’s connection and debt to the genre that truly started their ball rolling…’’

Sans preamble, we dive straight into action with early star Slam Bradley in his second ever case. ‘Skyscrapers of Death’ originated in the April 1937 cover-dated Detective Comics #2, (by Jerry – back when he still called himself “Jerome” – Siegel & Joe Shuster). It reveals how the abrasive, two-fisted gumshoe is framed for murder by a crooked Union boss. Slam and his assistant Shorty were a big draw in those early days: revelling in all the raw action and spectacle that would fire up his younger cousin Superman. The Bradley strip ran until October 1949, finally closing shop in Detective Comics #152.

Next up is quintessential pulp sleuth The Sandman who premiered in either Adventure Comics #40 July 1939 (two months after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27) or two weeks earlier than that in New York World’s Fair Comics 1939, depending on which distribution records you choose to believe.

He was created and originally illustrated and scripted by multi-talented all-rounder Bert Christman, with assistance from Gardner F. Fox. Head utterly obscured by a gas-mask and slouch hat; caped, business-suited millionaire adventurer Wesley Dodds is a rugged playboy scientist cut from the radio drama/prose periodical mystery-men mould of The Shadow, Phantom Detective, Green Hornet, Lone Ranger, Spider, Avenger and so many more: all household names of early mass-entertainment.

Wielding a sleeping-gas gun and haunting the night hunting killers, thieves and spies, he was soon joined by plucky paramour Dian Belmont, before gradually losing readers’ interest and slipping from cover-spot to last feature in Adventure, just as the shadowy, morally ambiguous avengers he emulated also slipped from popularity in favour of gaudily clad glory-boys…

Alternately titled ‘The Pawn Broker’ in previous reprints, ‘The Van Leew Emeralds’ comes from Adventure Comics #51 (June 1940 by Fox & Creig Flessel): a fascinating mystery romp for the romantically-inclined crimebusters to solve in fine style and double-quick time…

In 1963 Julius Schwartz took editorial control of Batman and Detective Comics and finally found a home for a character who had been lying mostly fallow ever since his debut as a walk-on in The Flash #112 (April/May 1960). The Elongated Man was Ralph Dibny: a circus-performer who discovered an additive in soft drink Gingold which granted certain people increased muscular flexibility. Intrigued, he refined the chemical until he had a serum bestowing ability to stretch, bend and compress his body to an incredible degree. Then Ralph had to decide how to use his new powers…

Designed as a modern take on Jack Cole’s immensely popular Golden Age star Plastic Man, Dibny became a regular guest star/colleague for the Scarlet Speedster. He married vivacious debutante Sue Dibny and joined Flash’s battles against aliens and supervillains, but when the back-up spot opened in Detective Comics (previously held by Martian Manhunter since 1955 and only vacated because J’onn J’onzz was promoted to lead position in House of Mystery) Schwartz had Dibny slightly reconfigured as a flamboyant, fame-hungry, attention-seeking, brilliantly canny globe-trotting private eye solving mysteries for the sheer fun of it.

Aided by his equally smart but thoroughly grounded wife, the short tales were patterned on classic Thin Man filmic adventures of Nick and Norah Charles: blending clever, apparently impossible crimes and events with slick sleuthing, all garnished with the outré permutations and frantic physical antics first perfected by Cole…

Drenched in fanciful charm and sly dry wit, the complex yet uncomplicated sorties began in Detective #327 (May 1964) running until #371 (cover-dated January 1968). Crafted by Fox & Infantino – who inked himself in early episodes – this third outing has them heading for cowboy country to unravel the ‘Puzzle of the Purple Pony!’ (Detective Comics #329) by inadvertently playing cupid for a young couple hunting a gold mine before capturing a gang of murderous bandits with money and murder in mind.

Next up is a rare, completely serious outing for the oldest female lead in superhero comics. Although her role varied from patsy to comedy stooge, from jester to romantic ideal to eye-candy as the situation warranted, Lois Lane was always an investigative whirlwind.

Here in the dying moments of the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity, scripter Mindy Newell & artist Gray Morrow found their 4-issue miniseries scrunched into two double-length issues (August-September 1986,with that notorious “Superman’s Girl Friend…” strap line thankfully dropped) as Lois Lane #1-2, scrupulously, meticulously, obsessively, and ultimately unsuccessfully tried to bring a national crisis in missing children to the public’s attention in ‘When it Rains, God is Crying’.

Devoid of superhero involvement, the regular Superman cast are drawn into a polemical story exposing the extent of child abduction, the repercussions of recovering victims – dead or otherwise – and official responses in ‘Ignorance Was Bliss’, ‘Dark Realities’, ‘Quicksand’ and ‘Bless the Child’ after Lois becomes increasingly driven to solve the mystery of an unidentified child found dead in Metropolis. Refusing to accept the horrific toll of disappearances she uncovers, the traumatised reporter puts her life and career on the line to find answers nobody seems willing to hear…

From painful reality we fold back into fantastic fantasy as anniversary issue Detective Comics #572 (March 1987) unites Batman, second Robin Jason Todd, Elongated Man, Slam Bradley and Sherlock Holmes in a hunt for ‘The Doomsday Book’, courtesy of scripter by Mike W, Barr, Alan Davis & Paul Neary, Terry Beatty & Dick Giordano, Infantino & Al Vey & ER Cruz.

The story begins with the descendent of infamous Professor Moriarty enacting a century old scheme, countered by each hero in a solo turn before all leads connect them to a certain British castle and a manic climactic confrontation…

In the gritty post-Crisis reality, Denny O’Neil, Denys Cowan & Rick Magyar retooled Steve Ditko’s ultimate lone agent of justice into a philosophical force of nature, relentless in his pursuit of answers.

An ordinary man pushed to the edge by his obsessions, Vic Sage used his fists and a mask that makes him look faceless to secure truth and justice whenever normal journalistic methods failed. Here the remorseless Question prowls Hub City hunting the ‘Mikado’ (The Question #8, September 1987): a good man driven by the daily horrors of the city to take action, against villains and hypocrites, making his punishments fit the crime…

In the years when superheroes were in retreat and considered too foolish for readers. DC launched Rex the Wonder Dog, who solved crimes, fought dinosaurs and saved the world. In issue 4 (July/August 1952), a back-up feature launched. Written by John Broome, Bobo was Detective Chimp: a Florida-based stalwart who was assistant and deputy to the local sheriff. He cracked many cases and was extremely popular among certain types of fan. He remains so and in Secret Origins #40 (May 1989) finally enjoyed ‘The Origin of Detective Chimp’ thanks to Mark Badger Andy Helfer & Rusty Wells. Madcap and hilarious, it’s a wild ride but has been superseded in later years by other, more quasi rational tales. Nevertheless, an ape solving crimes is a sure-fire winner as many other hirsute DC gumshoes could attest…

This eclectic selection closes with the middle chapter of a landmark crossover tale. Crafted by Marv Wolfman, Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo, ‘Parallel Line’ comes from Batman #441 (November 1989) the third chapter of the Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying arc introducing third Robin Tim Drake.

After original Robin Dick Grayson’s departure, the Dark Knight worked solo until he caught a streetwise urchin stealing the Batmobile’s tires. This lost boy was Jason Todd, whose short but stellar career as the Boy Wonder was fatally tainted by his impetuosity, tragic links to one of the hero’s most unpredictable foes and shocking death. The trauma of losing his comrade forced Batman to re-examine his own origins and methods, becoming darker still..

After a period of increasingly undisciplined encounters Batman was on the edge of losing not just his focus but also his ethics and life: seemingly suicidal on frequent forays into the night. Interventions from his few friends and associates had proved ineffectual. Something drastic had to happen if the Dark Knight was to be salvaged.

Luckily there was an opening for a sidekick…

The crossover tale originally appeared in Batman #440-442 and New Teen Titans #60-61 (all plotted by Wolfman & George Pérez) and a new character entered the lives of the extended Batman Family; a remarkable child who would reshape the DC Universe.

‘Parallel Lines’ unravels the enigma of Tim Drake, who as a toddler was in the audience the night the Flying Graysons were murdered. Tim was an infant prodigy, and when, some months later he saw new hero Robin perform the same acrobatic stunts as Dick Grayson, he instantly deduced who the Boy Wonder was – and by extrapolation, the identity of Batman.

A passionate fan, Drake followed the Dynamic Duo’s exploits for a decade: noting every case and detail. He knew when Jason became Robin and was moved to act when his death triggered Batman’s increasing instability. Taking it upon himself to fix his broken heroes, Tim tried to convince the “retired” Grayson to became Robin once more – but fate had other plans…

Eccentrically engaging, these tales are the merest hint of the wonders locked in DC’s vaults of fun and wonder. Hopefully, it’s also simply the start of a long and vibrant caseload of recovered mysteries
© 1937, 1940, 1964, 1986, 1987, 1989, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.