Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 1 


By Neal Adams with Bob Haney, Leo Dorfman, Cary Bates & various (DDC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0041-1 (HC): 978-1-4012-3537-6 (2003 PB) 978-1-4012-7782-6 (2018 TPB edition)   

I’m doing this far too frequently, these days, but here’s a swiftly modified reprinted review to mark the sudden passing of one of our industry and art form’s last true titans. Neal Adams died on the 28th of April. As well as a creator and innovator who changed the entire direction of comics and sequential narrative, he was a tireless activist and advocate whose efforts secured rights for workers and creators long victimised by an unfair, stacked, system. A fuller appreciation and more comprehensive review will follow as soon as I can sort it… 

Neal Adams was born on Governors Island, New York City, on June 15th 1941. His family were career military and he grew up on bases across the world. In the late 1950s he studied at the High School of Industrial Art in Manhattan, graduating in 1959. 

As the turbulent, revolutionary 1960s began, Adams was a young illustrator who had worked in advertising and ghosted some newspaper strips whilst trying to break into comics. As he pursued a career in advertising and “real art”, he did a few comics pages for Joe Simon at Archie Comics (The Fly and that red-headed kid too) before subsequently becoming one of the youngest artists to co-create and illustrate a major licensed newspaper strip – Ben Casey (based on a popular TV medical drama series). His first attempts to find work at DC were not successful… 

That comic book fascination never faded however, and as the decade progressed, Adams drifted back to National/DC doing a few covers as inker or penciller. After “breaking in” via anthological war comics he eventually found himself at the vanguard of a revolution in pictorial storytelling… 

He made such a mark that DC chose celebrate his contributions by reprinting every piece of work Adams ever did for them in a series of commemorative collections. We’re still waiting for a definitive collection of his horror comics stories and covers, but will probably never see his sterling efforts on licensed titles such as Hot Wheels, The Adventures of Bob Hope and The Adventures of Jerry Lewis. That’s a real shame too: the display a wry facility for gag staging and small drama… 

Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams was the first of 3 tomes available in  variety of formats and editions featuring the “Darknight Detective” – as he was dubbed back then – and featuring every cover, story and issue in original publication order. 

Here then, ‘From Me to You: An Introduction’ gives you the history of his early triumphs in the writer/artist’s own words, after which covers from Detective Comics #370 (December 1967, inking Carmine Infantino) and the all-Adams Brave and the Bold #75 (January 1968), Detective #372 (February), B&B #76 (February/March), Batman #200 and World’s Finest Comics #174 (both March) serve as tasters for the first full-length narrative… 

The iconoclastic penciller first started seriously making waves with a couple of enthralling Cape & Cowl capers beginning with World’s Finest Comics #175 (April 1968): ‘The Superman-Batman Revenge Squads!’ Scripted by Leo Dorfman and inked by long-term collaborator Dick Giordano, the story detailed how an annual – and friendly – battle of wits between the crimebusters is infiltrated by alien and Earthly criminal groups intent on killing their foes whilst they are off-guard… 

WFC #176 (June) featured a beguiling enigma in ‘The Superman-Batman Split!’ – written by fellow newcomer Cary Bates. Ostensibly just another alien mystery yarn, this twisty little gem conceals a surprise ending for all, plus guest stars Robin, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl and Batgirl, with Adams’ hyper-dynamic realism lending an aura of solid credibility to even the most fanciful situations. 

It also ushered in an era of gritty veracity to replace previously anodyne and frequently frivolous Costumed Dramas… 

More Dynamite Covers follow: Batman #203 (July/August) leads to Brave and the Bold #79 (August/September); heralding Adams’ assumption of interior art chores and launching a groundbreaking run that rewrote the rulebook for strip illustration… 

‘The Track of the Hook’ – written by Bob Haney and inked Giordano – paired the Gotham Guardian with justice-obsessed ghost Deadman: formerly trapeze artist Boston Brand who was hunting his own killer, and whose earthy, human tragedy elevated the series’ costume theatrics into deeper, more mature realms of drama and action. At this period Adams was writing and illustrating Brand’s solo stories in Strange Adventures…  

The B&B stories matured overnight, instantly became every discerning fan’s favourite read.  

Covers for World’s Finest Comics #178-180 (September through November) segue sweetly into Brave and the Bold #80 (October/November 1968) where ‘And Hellgrammite is his Name’ finds Batman and The Creeper clashing with a monstrous, insect-themed super-hitman, again courtesy of Haney, Adams & Giordano, whilst #81 saw The Flash aid Batman against an unbeatable thug in ‘But Bork Can Hurt You!’ (inked by Giordano & Vince Colletta) before Aquaman became ‘The Sleepwalker from the Sea’ in an eerie tale of mind-control and sibling rivalry. 

Interwoven through those thrillers are the covers for World’s Finest #182 (February 1969, inking Curt Swan’s pencils), #183 (March, inking over Infantino), Batman #210 and Detective #385 (both March and all Adams). 

B&B # 83 took a radical turn (and is the only story herein without a cover since that one was limned by Irv Novick) as The Teen Titans try to save Bruce Wayne’s latest foster-son from his own inner demons in ‘Punish Not my Evil Son!’ (Haney & Giordano) but the next team-up was one that got many fans in a real tizzy in 1969. 

First though comes the fabulous frontage for World’s Finest #185 (June 1969) after which ‘The Angel, the Rock and the Cowl’ recounts a World War II exploit where Batman and Sgt. Rock of Easy Company hunt Nazi gold together, only closing that case 25 years later. 

Try to ignore kvetching about relative ages and which Earth we’re on: you should really focus on the fact that this is a startlingly gripping tale of great intensity, beautifully realised, and one which has been criminally discounted for decades as “non-canonical”. 

Detective Comics #389 (July), and World’s Finest #186 (August and pencilled by Infantino) precede Brave and the Bold #85. Here, behind a stunning cover, is arguably the best of an incredible run of action adventures… 

‘The Senator’s Been Shot!’ unites Batman and Green Arrow in a superb multi-layered thriller of politics, corruption and cast-iron integrity, with Bruce Wayne being appointed as a stand-in for a law-maker whilst the Emerald Archer receives a radical make-over that turned him into a fiery liberal gadfly and champion of the relevancy generation: a remake that still informs his character today, both in funnybooks and on TV screens… 

Wrapping up this initial artistic extravaganza come covers for Detective Comics #391 and 392 (September & October 196), completing a delirious run of comics masterpieces no ardent art lover or fanatical Fights ‘n’ Tights aficionado can do without and confirming the unique and indisputable contribution Adams made to comics.s.
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 2003, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. 

The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold volume 2: Help Wanted


By Sholly Fisch, Rick Burchett, Dan Davis, Dario Brizuela, Ethen Beavers & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3524-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format reflecting the era’s filmic fascination with flamboyantly fanciful historical dramas. Devised and written by Bob Kanigher, #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, feudal mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was alternated with Robin Hood, but the adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like Showcase.

Used to premiere concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Hawkman and Strange Sports Stories as well as the epochal Justice League of America, the comic soldiered on until issue #50 when it found another innovative new direction which once again caught the public’s imagination. That issue paired two super heroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up. It was followed by more of the same: Aquaman with Hawkman in #51, WWII “Battle Stars” Sgt. Rock, Mme. Marie, Captain Cloud & The Haunted Tank in #52 and The Atom & Flash in #53.

The next instant union – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – evolved into The Teen Titans and after Metal Men/The Atom and FlashbMartian Manhunter appeared, a new hero debuted in #57-58: Metamorpho, the Element Man.

From then it was back to the increasingly popular power pairings with #59. Although no one realised it at the time, that particular conjunction – Batman with Green Lantern – would be particularly significant….

A return engagement for the Teen Titans, issues spotlighting Earth-Two stalwarts Starman and Black Canary and Earth-One’s Wonder Woman and Supergirl soon gave way to an indication of things to come when Batman returned to duel hero/villain Eclipso in #64: an early acknowledgement of the brewing TV-induced mania mere months away.

Within two issues (following Flash/Doom Patrol and Metamorpho/Metal Men), B&B #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and a lion’s share of team-ups. With the late exception of #72 and 73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom), it was thereafter where the Gotham Gangbuster invited the rest of DC’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

Decades later, Batman: The Animated Series – masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in the 1990s – revolutionised the Dark Knight and subsequently led to some of the absolute best comic book adventures in his 80-year publishing history. It also led to a spin-off print title…
With constant comics iterations and tie-ins to a succession of TV animation series, Batman has remained immensely popular and a sublime introducer of kids to the magical world of the printed page. One fun-filled incarnation was Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which gloriously celebrated the team-up in both its all-ages small-screen and comicbook spin-off.

Shamelessly and superbly plundering decades of continuity arcana in a profusion of alliances between the Dark Knight and DC’s lesser creations, the show was supplemented by a cool kid’s periodical full of fun, verve and swashbuckling dash, cunningly crafted to appeal as much to the parents and grandparents as those fresh-faced neophyte kids…

This stellar trade paperback and digital collection re-presents issues #7-12 of the second series – The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold – in an immensely entertaining all-ages ensemble suitable for newcomers, fans and aficionados of all ages originally seen between July and December 2011. Although absolutely unnecessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience as will knowledge of the bizarre minutiae of 1960s and 1970s DC lore…

Scripted throughout by Sholly Fisch, and following the TV format, each tale opens with a brief prequel adventure before telling a longer tale. TA-NB:TB&TB #7 opens with the Caped Crimebuster and aforementioned 1960s Teen Titans triumphing over the Time Trapper as prelude to main feature ‘’Shadows & Light’. Illustrated by Rich Burchett & Dan Davis, it reveals Batman’s earliest days and a momentous meeting with Gotham’s original guardian. Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott wanted to see what the new kid could do offered a teaching experience beside his JSA colleagues…

Aquaman leads off in ‘Under the Sea!’ but soon he and the Dark Knight are on a quest to liberate accursed ghost Captain Fear: battling mythological sea perils and sinister super bandit Black Manta.

‘3:10 to Thanagar’ co-stars Hawkman and begins with them and The Atom defeating shapeshifter Byth, with the majority of the yarn detailing how transporting him back to interplanetary jail is derailed by an armada of evil allies trying – and failing – to break him free.

‘Help Wanted’ offers a delightful and truly heartwarming deviation from standard form as a professional henchman details the tribulations of the gig economy as tenures with Toyman, Clock King and Ocean Master end early, thanks to Superman, Green Arrow, Aquaman and others. What the reformed family man will never know is how his own wife, son and Batman colluded to redeem him…

With art from Dario Brizuela, ‘Out of Time’ finds the Caped Crusader, Geo-Force and Cave Carson unearth an ancient earthquake machine under Gotham, compelling Batman to head back to 1879 to destroy it before it starts eating bedrock. The case brings him into partnership with bounty hunter Jonah Hex and into contention with immortal maniac Ra’s Al Ghul before the day and all those tomorrows are saved…

Wrapping up this jaunty journal of joint ventures, ‘Trick or Treat’ – with art by Ethen Beavers – offers a Halloween appetiser as Batman and Zatanna investigate a break-in at the House of Mystery. After freeing Cain & Abel, the heroes track clues and deal with Doctor Destiny and Mr. Mxyzptlk before deducing the only possible culprit and getting dragged into a colossal clash of mystic heroes and villains…

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV-addicted kids, these mini-sagas are also wonderful, traditional comics thrillers no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a fabulously full-on thrill-fest confirming the seamless link between animated features and comic books. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end; really unmissable entertainment…

What more do you need to know?
© 2011, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

DC’s Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains


By Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, William Woolfolk, Ed Herron, John Broome, Gardner F. Fox, Alfred Bester, Don Cameron, Joe Samachson, Mort Weisinger, Ken Fitch, David Vern Reed, Sheldon Moldoff, Jack Burnley, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Lee Elias, Mort Meskin, Joe Kubert, Howard Sherman, Pete Riss, Paul Reinman, Alex Kotzky, Bernard Baily, Jon Sikela, Harry G. Peter, Murphy Anderson, Nick Cardy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0173-8 (HB)

We talk of Gold and Silver Ages in comics and latterly for the sake of expediency have added other mineral markers like a Bronze Age, but no ever talks about the period between 1964 and 1977 as a specific and crucial time in funnybook history. But it was…

During that period, economic pressure compelled DC and Marvel to increasingly plunder their own archives and fill expensive pages in their primary product to maintain hard-won spaces on newsstands and magazine spinners. Some readers moaned about reprints. Some didn’t notice and most didn’t care. But for all those little proto-geeks like me, it was being given the keys to the greatest kingdom of all.

Once you grasped that the differently drawn stuff with clunkier buildings and cars – and more men in hats – was from the past, and not something happening “now”, it simply added to the scope and scale of what you were reading: hinting of a grand unknown past you were now party to. Moreover, the sheer quality of most twice-printed tales was astounding.

I wasn’t around for Lou Fine or Basil Wolverton or Jack Burnley the first time, but reprints made me a devotee. You young whippersnappers with your interwebs and archive collections don’t know how lucky you are.

Marvel especially made a service out of a necessity: keeping their older material in print via big packages like Marvel Collectors’ Items Classics and Marvel Tales to ensure reader awareness of their unfolding universe. Those and DC’s 80-Page Giant specials were true gateway series for comics junkies who wanted a peek at the past… particularly the mysterious and alluring “Golden Age” where all the really incredible stuff must have happened…

In 1968 DC started taking reprints seriously by creating a specific title. DC Special began a succession of themed and carefully curated issues at a time when superheroes had entered another decline. In its first run – from fall 1968 to November/December 1971 – it featured issues dedicated to the careers of Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert, horror stories, teen comedy, western, crime, and two issues featuring Strange Sports Stories, as well as an “all-girl” superhero volume, the Viking Prince and Plastic Man. Issues #8 (Summer1970) and #14 (September/October 1972) were both entitled Wanted! The World’s Most Dangerous Villains: an unrepentant, unashamed celebration of costumed good guys thrashing costumed bad guys…

This spiffy hardback and digital collection sadly excludes those try-out experiments but does collect all the subsequent contents of the spin-off title that followed – #1-9 spanning July/August 1972 to September 1973 – and adds a tenth issue just for thrills and giggles.

It kicks off with a gloriously outré debut as #1 reintroduced ‘The Signalman of Crime’ who used signs and symbols to baffle lawmen. He came – and went – in Batman #112 (December 1957) courtesy of Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris and is followed by a classy Green Arrow yarn from Ed Herron & Lee Elias. ‘The Crimes of the Clock King’ were first found and foiled in World’s Finest Comics (#111 July 1960). Rounding out the first sally is ‘Menace of the Giant Puppet’ by John Broome, Gil Kane & Joe Giella (Green Lantern volume 2 #1, August 1960) wherein the Emerald Gladiator faced the superscience-wielding Puppeteer.

Gold was struck in #2 as Batman #25 (October/November 1944) yielded Don Cameron, Jack Burnley & Jerry Robinson’s‘Knights of Knavery’: an epic clash which saw crime rivals The Penguin and Joker – temporarily – join forces against the Dynamic Duo, after which John Broome, Infantino & Giella detail how ‘The Trickster Strikes Back’. The air-walking felon plunders Central City until the Scarlet Speedster finally outwits him, as first seen in The Flash #121 (June 1961).

Wanted #3 provided exclusively Golden Age greatness, beginning with The Vigilante yarn from Action Comics #69 (February 1944). Devised by Joe Samachson, Mort Meskin & Joe Kubert, ‘The Little Men Who Were There!’ pitted the Prairie Troubadour against diabolical Napoleon of Crime The Dummy, after which warrior wizard Doctor Fate frustrated an invasion by ‘The Fish-Men of Nyarl-Amen’ (More Fun Comics #65 March 1941, by Gardner F. Fox & Howard Sherman) and Hawkman crushed ‘The Human Fly Bandits’ thanks to creators Broome & Kubert as seen in Flash Comics #100 (October 1948).

Original Green Lantern Alan Scott headlined in #4, replaying his epic first clash with Solomon Grundy from All-American Comics #61 (October 1944) as related by Alfred Bester & Paul Reinman in ‘Fighters Never Quit!’, whilst the follow-up featured Kid Eternity – who died before his time and was rewarded by Higher Powers with the power to summon figures from history, myth and literature to fight for justice. ‘Master Man’ came from Kid Eternity #15 (May 1949) wherein writer William Woolfolk and illustrator Pete Riss created the hero’s ultimate nemesis and set them duelling by proxy via resuurected heroes and villains…

Contemporary Green Gladiator Hal Jordan returned in #5, battling Doctor Light in Gardner F. Fox, Kane & Sid Greene’s ‘Wizard of the Light-Wave Weapons!’ (Green Lantern volume 2 #33, December 1964), before the original Tiny Titan faced ‘The Man in the Iron Mask!’ in an epic clash by Woolfolk & Alex Kotzky from Doll Man Quarterly #15 (Winter 1948).

Starman opened #6, in a grudge match against arch foe The Mist. Fox & Burnley’s ‘Finders Keepers!’ – from Adventure Comics #77, August 1942 – saw the see-through fiend use found treasure to mesmerise his victims, and is followed by a saga of Sargon the Sorcerer, battling Blue Lama as ‘The Man Who Met Himself’ (Sensation Comics #71, November 1947 by Broome & Reinman). The drama ends on a spectacular high in the Kubert-illustrated Wildcat thriller ‘The Wasp’s Nest!’ from (Sensation Comics #66, June 1947).

Wanted #7 exhumed more Gold, beginning with speedster Johnny Quick’s duel with satanic scientist Dr. Clever who gleans the secret of hyper-velocity in ‘The Adventure of the Human Streak’ (More Fun Comics #76 February 1942 and illustrated by Mort Weisinger & Mort Meskin) after which the 1940’s Hawkman battles spectral nemesis The Gentleman Ghost in Robert Kanigher & Kubert’s ‘The Crimes That Couldn’t Have Happened!’ (Flash Comics #90, December 1947) before Ken Fitch & Bernard Baily reveal how Hourman crushes ‘Dr. Glisten’s Submarine Pirates’ as originally seen inAdventure Comics #72, March 1942.

The Silver Age Flash faces ‘The Big Freeze!’ in Broome, Infantino & Murphy Anderson’s furious fight against Captain Cold (The Flash #114 August 1960) before Fox & Sherman pit a depowered Doctor Fate against transformative terror ‘Mr. Who’ in a stirring saga from More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941).

The original run concluded with #9, which opened with Jerry Siegel & Jon Sikela’s epic and absurdist Superman clash against the diabolical Prankster who claimed to be ‘Crime’s Comedy King!’ in Action Comics #57 (February 1943) after which the adventure peaked in a classic Jack Kirby & Joe Simon Sandman thriller. First found in World’s Finest Comics #6 (Summer 1942) ‘The Adventure of the Magic Forest!’ saw the Master of Dreams and Sandy the Golden Boy crush murderous, nefarious hijacker Nightshade…

The fun continues with a virtual 10th issue compiled in recent times and prompted by a letter from Wanted #9 requesting an all-female outing. It took long enough but the wish is finally granted in ‘A Modern Take: Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains #10!’ which begins with a Catwoman classic.

‘The Sleeping Beauties of Gotham City!’ debuted in Batman #84 (June 1954), scripted by David Vern Reed and limned by Sheldon Moldoff & Stan Kaye, wherein notorious Selina Kyle subverts a beauty contest, not for vanity but for glittering profit, after which Flash Comics #86 (August 1947) provides the first adventure of ‘The Black Canary’ in a swansong for bumbling hero Johnny Thunder by Kanigher, Infantino & Giella.

Wrapping up this sublime “Wants” list is a late clash between the Amazing Amazon and war god Mars by Kanigher & Harry G. Peter. ‘The Girl Who saved Paradise Island!’ comes from Wonder Woman #36, July/August 1949 and features interplanetary conflict and the truly terrifying warriors of Infanta, so be warned…

With covers by Murphy Anderson and Nick Cardy, this tome celebrates the primal simplicity of Superhero comics: no angst, no grey areas and no continued epics, just a whole bunch of done-in-one delights for fans of history and simplicity.
© 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1954, 1960, 1961, 1964, 1972, 1973, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow: Space Traveling Heroes


By Denny O’Neil, Frank McGinty, Elliot S! Maggin, Mike Grell, Alex Saviuk, Vince Colletta & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401295530 (HB)

After their hugely successful revival and reworking of The Flash, DC were keen to build on a resurgent superhero trend. Showcase #22 hit newsstands at the same time as the fourth issue of the new Flash comic book (#108) and once again the guiding lights were Editor Julie Schwartz and writer John Broome. Assigned as illustrator was action ace Gil Kane – usually inked by Joe Giella – and the issue revealed a Space Age reconfiguration of the Golden Age superhero with magic replaced by super-science.

Hal Jordan was a young test pilot in California when an alien policeman crashed his spaceship on Earth. Mortally wounded, Abin Sur commanded his power ring – a device for materialising thoughts – to seek out a replacement officer, honest and without fear.

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

Having established characters, scenario and narrative thrust of a series that would become the spine of all DC continuity, the editors were confident of their ground. Unlike the years-long, practically glacial debut of The Flash, the next two Showcase issues carried the new costumed champion to even greater exploits, and six months later Green Lantern #1 was released.

In this iteration the Emerald Gladiators are a universal police force (Jordan’s “beat” is Space Sector 2814), and over many traumatic years, he grew into one of the greatest members of the serried band of law-enforcers. The Green Lantern Corps has safeguarded the cosmos from all evil and disaster for billions of years, policing countless sentient beings under the severe but benevolent auspices of immortal super-beings who consider themselves the Guardians of the Universe.

These undying patrons of Order were one of the first races to evolve and dwelt in sublime, emotionless security and tranquillity on the world of Oa at the very centre of creation.

Green Lanterns are chosen for their capacity to overcome fear and are equipped with a ring that creates solid constructs out of emerald light. The miracle weapon is fuelled by the strength of the user’s willpower, making it – in the right hands – one of the mightiest tools imaginable…

For eons, a single individual from each of the 3600 sectors of known space was selected to patrol his, her or its own beat, but being cautious and meticulous masters, the Guardians laid contingency plans as appointing designated reserve officers.

The series a ran for a decade before changing tastes pushed it into radical territory as a soap box for social injustice and environmental issues. The “relevancy period” generated landmark groundbreaking tales from Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams that revolutionised the industry, whilst registering such poor sales that the book was cancelled and the twinned heroes (a cost-cutting concept had seen GL paired with liberal firebrand Green Arrow as a walking, rip-roaring conscious for the conservative ring-wielder) unceremoniously shipped into the back of another comic book – the marginally more successful Flash.

The Flash #217-246 saw the transition from Adams to new art sensation Mike Grell: a run that precipitated the viridian vigilantes back into their own title. With the emphasis shifting back to crime, adventure and space opera, Green Lantern was again popular enough for his own book and he naturally brought the boisterous bowman along for the ride….

Collecting Green Lantern #90-106 (August/September 1976-July 1978) this hardback and digital compendium sees them (mostly) return to the starry firmament for cosmic duties beginning with #90 (August/September 1976) as ‘Those who Worship Evil’s Might’ – by Denny O’Neil & Mike Grell – finds the Green Gladiators investigating a starship buried in the Las Vegas desert for countless years. When it disgorges an ancient evil the heroes also meet the freshly awakened officers of a force used by the Guardians of the Universe before green rings were invented…

Issue #91 depicts the return of arch-nemesis Sinestro who inflicts ‘The Revenge of the Renegade’ upon his foes after taking over a poverty-stricken third world monarchy. When the tables are turned, he flees into space and across dimensions, arriving with the green team on a primitive world in dire need of champions legendarily saved via ‘The Legend of the Green Arrow’ (inked by Robert “Bob” Smith).

Inked by Terry Austin, #93’s ‘War Against The World-Builders’ finds aliens abducting homeless people to build a colony world. As GL interrupts his Thanksgiving dinner to play saviour, however, his lover Carol Ferris, Black Canary and Green Arrow are ambushed by government spooks and the archer is abducted. Rogue agents need him to kill someone and believe they have the perfect inducement in #94’s ‘Lure for an Assassin’ (Austin & Dick Giordano inks) but didn’t count on his ingenuity and the return of substitute GL John Stewart, culminating in a political scandal barely averted in concluding chapter ‘Terminal for a Tragedy’ with Vince Colletta signing on as regular inker.

Bouncing back to the big black yonder, #96’s ‘How Can an Immortal Die?’ sees the reappearance of alien Lantern Katma Tui, crashing to Earth and bringing warning of a terrible threat that has infiltrated the Guardians. Rushing rashly to the rescue, Jordan battles his comrades and patrons to solve and defuse ‘The Mystery of the Mocker’ in a spectacular romp that marks the series’ restoration to monthly status.

The plan doesn’t end well and #98 finds the mind monster loose on Earth and tormenting Black Canary with visions of the dead in ‘Listen to the Mocking Bird’. Tracing the abominable mocker Ffa’rzz to an antediluvian and impossibly distant space station, Jordan Katma Tui, the Arrow and enigmatic space critter Itty infiltrate the monolith and face constant nightmare as they realise ‘We Are on the Edge of the Ultimate Ending!’ Thankfully, devious plotter Ollie Queen has a plan to save everything…

Double-sized Green Lantern/Green Arrow #100 carried a January 1978 cover-date and two tales, beginning with O’Neil, Alex Saviuk & Colletta’s ‘Rider of the Air Waves’ which expanded the Jordan family by introducing a distant cousin. Also called Hal Jordan, this kid had inherited his father Larry’s title as Air Wave (a Golden Age Great using the power of radio to crush crooks) but got trapped in energy form by debuting dastard Master-Tek. It didn’t take long to sort things out and find little Hal a tutor after which Elliot S! Maggin, Grell & Colletta took Ollie, the Canary and former sidekick Roy “Speedy” Harper back to Star City in ‘Beware the Blazing Inferno!’ the task of stopping a ring of bombers opened old wounds however, and the archer again opted to try fixing things from within by running for Mayor…

Frank McGinty, Saviuk & Colletta deconstructed ‘The Big Braintrust Boom’ in #101 as freewheeling trucker Hal – the elder – Jordan uncovers a mind-bending, potentially world-dominating cult run by old enemies Hector Hammond and Bill Baggett, before O’Neil, Saviuk & Colletta reveal a cunning alien plot to shanghai humans as batteries in ‘Sign Up… and See the Universe’ which intensifies into a full blown invasion in #103’s ‘Earth – Asylum for an Alien’ with David Hunt stepping in to ink. Happily our heroes are up to the challenge, but when a valued comrade suddenly dies the consequences are not just tragic but simply catastrophic in #104’s ‘Proof of the Peril’ by O’Neil, Saviuk, Colletta. Even this is not the end, however, as the bizarre events herald the vengeful assault of old enemy Sonar in follow-up yarn ‘Thunder Doom’leading to a close call with an all-consuming atrocity and revelatory conclusion  ‘Panic… in High Places and Low’ by O’Neil, Grell & Bruce Patterson in last inclusion #106.

Although still laced with satire and political barbs, this tome sees challenging tales of rebellion give way to plot-driven sagas of wit and courage, packed with a less shining, less optimistic sense of wonder albeit still bristling with high-octane action. Here are evergreen adventures that confirmed the end of the Silver Age of Comics and the birth of something new. Illustrated by some of the most revered names in the business, the exploits in this volume closed one chapter in the life of Green Lantern and opened the doors to today’s sleek and stellar sentinels of the stars.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Arrow: 80 Years of the Emerald Archer – The Deluxe Edition


By Mort Weisinger, Ed Herron, Denny O’Neil, Mike Grell, Chuck Dixon, Grant Morrison, Kevin Smith, Brad Meltzer, Judd Winick, Jeff Lemire, Marc Guggenheim, Benjamin Percy, George Papp, Lee Elias, Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, Rodolfo Damaggio, Oscar Jimenez, Phil Hester, Scott McDaniel, Cliff Chiang, Denys Cowan, Joe Bennett,Otto Schmidt & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0914-7 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Superb All-Ages Entertainment and Adventure… 9/10

Green Arrow is one of DC’s Golden All-Stars. He’s been a company fixture – in many instances for no discernible reason – more or less continually since his 1941 debut in More Fun Comics #73. Many Happy Returns, Emerald Archer!

In those distant heady days, origins weren’t as important as image or storytelling, so creators Mort Weisinger & George Papp never bothered. The first inkling of formative motivations came in More Fun Comics #89 (March 1943) wherein Joe Samachson & Cliff Young detailed ‘The Birth of the Battling Bowman’ (and a tip of the feathered hat to Scott McCullar for bringing the tale to my belated attention).

With the secret revealed, it was promptly ignored for years, leaving later workmen France “Ed” Herron, Jack Kirby and his wife Roz to fill in the blanks again with ‘The Green Arrow’s First Case’ at the start of the Silver Age superhero revival. It appeared in Adventure Comics #256, coved-dated January 1959. This time the story stuck, becoming – with numerous tweaks over successive years – the basis of the modern Amazing Archer on page and screen.

This hardback and digital celebration offers another quick survey of the Battling Bowman’s epic career, gathering material from More Fun Comics #73, Adventure Comics #246, 259, Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85-86, Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1, Green Arrow volume 2 #100-101, JLA ‘8-9, Green Arrow volume 3 #1, 17, 75, Green Arrow and Black Canary #4, Secret Origins volume 3 #4, Arrow Season 2.5 #1, Green Arrow: Rebirth #1 and opens with the first of a series of brief prose ruminations ad reminiscences. Former editor Mike Gold details the heritage and legacy of ‘The Octogenarian Green Arrow’ before we meet the stars in November 1941’s More Fun Comics#73 solving the ‘Case of the Namesake Murders’ (Weisinger & Papp). Skipping unchanged to March 1958 and Adventure Comics #246, Herron & Papp detail how a counterfeiter redesigns himself as toxophilist terrorist ‘The Rainbow Archer’ whilst issue #259 (April 1959 by an anonymous author and Lee Elias) introduces ‘The Green Arrow’s Mystery Pupil’: exposing ulterior and sinister motives for his studies…

The turbulent 1960s saw Oliver Queen utterly reinvented. Deprived of his fortune he became a strident advocate of liberal issues in a bold experiment which created a fad for socially relevant, ecologically aware, mature stories which spread throughout DC’s costumed hero comics and beyond; totally revolutionising the industry and nigh-radicalising many readers.

Tapping relatively youthful superstars-in-waiting Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams to produce the revolutionary fare, editor Julie Schwartz watched in fascinated disbelief as the resultant thirteen groundbreaking, landmark issues captured the tone of the times, garnering critical praise, awards and valuable publicity from the outside world, whilst simultaneously registering such poor sales that the series was cancelled anyway: the heroes unceremoniously packed off to the back of marginally less-endangered comic book The Flash.

America at his time was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation. Everyone and everything were challenged on principle, and O’Neil & Adams utterly redefined super-heroism with “Issues”-driven stories transforming complacent establishment masked boy-scouts into uncertain, questioning champions and strident explorers of the enigma of America.

Probably the most notably of the run was 2-part saga ‘Snowbirds Don’t Fly’ and ‘They Say It’ll Kill Me…But They Won’t Say When!’ in Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85-86 (September – November 1972???)

Depiction of drug abuse had been strictly proscribed in comic books since the advent of the Comics Code Authority, but by 1971 the elephant in the room was too big to ignore and both Marvel and DC addressed the issue in startlingly powerful tales that opened Pandora’s dirty box forever. When the Green Gladiators are drawn into conflict with a vicious heroin-smuggling gang, Oliver Queen is horrified to discover his own sidekick had become an addict…

This sordid, nasty tale did more than merely preach or condemn, but actively sought to explain why young people turned to drugs, just what the consequences could be and even hinted at solutions older people and parents might not want to consider. It might all seem a little naïve now, but the earnest drive to do something and the sheer dark power and visual elan of the story still deliver a stunning punch…

Following Mike Grell writing about ‘My Favorite Hero’ comes the first chapter of the tale he crafted to radically reinvent the Archer for the post-Vietnam generation: setting out a new path that would quickly lead to the hero becoming a major player at long last and, ultimately, a 21st century TV sensation.

Green Arrow is one of the very few superheroes to be continuously published (more or less) since the Golden Age. On first look, the combination of Batman and Robin Hood seems to have very little going for him, but he has always managed to keep himself in vogue and in sight.

Probably the most telling of his many, many makeovers came in 1987, when – hot on the heels of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns – Grell was given the green light to make the Emerald Archer the star of DC’s second Prestige Format Mini-Series.

Grell was considered a major creator at the time, having practically saved the company with his Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired fantasy series Warlord. He had illustrated many of GA’s most recent tales (in Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Action Comics and elsewhere), and was a firm fan-favourite after well-received runs on Legion of Super-Heroes, Aquaman, Phantom Stranger, Batman and others. During the early 1980s, he had also worked on the prestigious Tarzan newspaper strip and created successful genre series Starslayer and Jon Sable, Freelance for pioneering indie publisher First Comics.

By the middle of the grim ‘n’ gritty Eighties, it was certainly time for another overhaul. Exploding arrows yes, maybe even net or rope arrows, but arrows with boxing gloves on them just don’t work (trust me – I know this from experience!). Moreover, for his 1960s makeover, the hero had evolved into a tempestuous, social reformer using his gifts to battle for the little guy. Now, in a new era of corrupt government, drug cartels and serial killers, this emerald survivor adapted again and thrived once more.

The plot was brilliantly logical and controversial, concerning the superhero’s mid-life crisis. Weary and aging, Oliver Queen relocates to Seattle, struggling to come to terms with the fact that since his former sidekick Speedy is now a dad, he is technically a grandfather. With long-time ‘significant other’ Dinah Lance/Black Canary, he starts simplifying his life, but the drive to fight injustice hasn’t dimmed for either of them.

As she goes undercover to stamp out a pervasive drug ring, the Arrow hunts the hunt for a psycho-killer dubbed “The Seattle Slasher”. Tracking a prolific beast slaughtering prostitutes, he learns of a second, cross-country slayer murdering people with arrows – the “Robin-Hood Killer”…

Eschewing his gaudy costume and gimmicks, Queen is an urban hunter stalking unglamorous hidden monsters, but stumbles into a complex mystery leading back to WWII, involving the Yakuza, CIA, corporate America and even Viet Nam war secrets that eventually change the course of the Archer’s life…

Intricate and effortless, the plot weaves around the destabilized champion, Dinah and new character Shado: exploring and echoing themes of vengeance and family in a subtle blending of three stories that are in fact one, delivering a shocking punch even now. This yarn, its narrative quality and sophistication, is arguably the first truly mature superhero yarn in the DCU.

Grell produced a gripping, mystery adventure pushing all the right buttons, conveyed by artwork – in collaboration with Lurene Haynes & Julia Lacquement – that was and remains a revelation. Beautifully demure yet edgily sharp when required, these painterly visuals and watercolour tones perfectly complement a terse, sparse script, and compelling ride.

It’s shame you’ll need another book to see the body and end of this snapping dragon…

The miniseries led to a lengthy and noteworthy run but – as ever – fashions changed and Oliver’s run apparently ended forever in Green Arrow volume 2 #100-101 (September & October 1995).

‘The Trap’ and ‘Run of the Arrow’ – by Chuck Dixon, Jim Aparo, Rodolfo DaMaggio, Gerry Fernandez & Robert Campanella  saw a weary, radicalised aging hero make the ultimate sacrifice to save Metropolis from eco-terrorist Hyraxwhilst his new-found, ashram-trained son Connor Hawke reluctantly assumed his legacy. The Buddhist-trained martial artist reluctantly took up his estranged father’s role and mission and was impressive enough to be summoned to the moon for a try-out in the  reinvented Justice League.

Grant Morrison, Oscar Jimenez, Chip Wallace, Hanibal Rodriguez supervised the secret son’s invitation to join the bright and shiny, no-nonsense team in August and September 1997’s JLA #8-9, with Jimenez & Wallace rendering ‘Imaginary Stories’ as mind-bending villain The Key attempts to conquer the universe by trapping individual Leaguers in perfect dreams, before the art was augmented by Anibal Rodriguez for the tense conclusion ‘Elseworlds’ This sees the Zen Archer saving the day in his own unique style…

Recent scribe Anne Nocenti describes ‘Hitting the Ground Running’ about her tenure on the Emerald Archer before we cover the return of the irascible original Oliver Queen as seen in Green Arrow volume 3 #1 from April 2001. This revival, by unconventional Kevin Smith (yes, Silent Bob!) and the wonderful art-team of Phil Hester & Ande Parks, brings him back from Heaven in the most refreshing manner I’ve seen in nearly five decades of comic reading. . ‘Quiver: Chapter One: The Queen is Dead (Long Live the Queen)’ starts a gloriously enjoyable refining of Green Arrow embracing the fundamental daftness of superhero comics to revitalise them. Replete with guest-stars, jam-packed with action and intrigue and wallowing in fun thanks to the sly, snappy dialogue of Smith, this is a costume-drama in a thousand and I’m certainly not going to spoil your fun by giving away any details. Just revel in the smart combination of the old and the new to create the best yet…

The renewed energy and impetus caried on building as Green Arrow volume 3 #17, November 2002 – ‘The Archer’s Tale: Chapter Two: Grays of Shade’ by Brad Meltzer, Hester & Parks – highlighted a long-overdue reconciliation between the Arrow and Speedy, triggered by the mistimed activation of a contingency plan to hide all their secrets in the event of the hero’s death, after which Green Arrow volume 3 #75 (August 2007) sees ‘Jericho, Conclusion: And the Walls Came Tumbling Down’ by Judd Winick, Scott McDaniel Andy Owens. Here the now-much extended Arrow family unite to save Star City from Deathstroke the Terminator’s deranged vengeance scheme and witness a marriage proposal everybody knew was inevitable…

Writer, Producer and Director Greg Berlanti discusses ‘Arrow: Origins’ before Green Arrow and Black Canary #4 (March 2008) depicts Judd Winick & Cliff Chiang’s ‘Dead Again, Conclusion: Please Play Where Daddy Can See You.’Detailing the loss of a beloved “team-arrow” member, it as powerful downbeat tale about duty and repercussions that segues neatly into a new motivational start for Oliver, created as part of the New 52 company-wide reboot.

For Secret Origins volume 3 #4 (September 2014) Jeff Lemire, Denys Cowan & Bill Sienkiewicz detailed what makes a hero in ‘Secret Origins: Green Arrow’ whilst essay ‘I’m Not Batman, Dammit’ by Oliver Queen (as told to Mark Guggenheim)’ uses a faux interview to tell some real truths before we enjoy the fruits of the hero’s TV success.

Like any proper comics to screen venture, the show generated a comic book extending the on-screen adventures and here Arrow Season 2.5 #1 (December 2014) sees Guggenheim, Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson & Craig Yeung craft a tense, terse thriller in ‘Blood: Descent’ with the Arrow vigilante’s team save their city from airborne death and settle in for the fight against a new Brother Blood after which the on-point action ends with a return to basics and the end of the New 52 experiment in ‘Rebirth’ by Benjamin Percy & Otto Schmidt. Returning to Seattle, middle age and liberal crusading, the one-shot Green Arrow: Rebirth #1 (August 2016) details a first meeting with Black Canary and the hunt for urban predators “the Underground Men” abducting and selling the city’s poor into slavery…

Capped off with ‘Cover Highlights’ from the Golden, Silver, Bronze, Dark and Modern Ages, pencil art by Jim Lee and full ‘Biographies’ of the army of creators crafting green dreams over 8 decades, this is a striking reminder of the tenacity of the heroic principle and an uncomplicated core concept. Ideal Fights ‘n’ Tights fun for all…
© 1941, 1958, 1959, 1971, 1987, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2008, 2014, 2016, 2021 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Jack Kirby Omnibus Volume One: Green Arrow and others


By Jack Kirby, with Joe Simon, France E. Herron, Dave Wood, Bill Finger, Robert Bernstein, Frank Giacoia, Roz Kirby & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3107-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Action and Moody Mystery for All Seasons… 9/10

Green Arrow is one of DC’s Golden All-Stars. He’s been a fixture of the company – in many instances for no discernible reason – more or less continually since his 1941 debut in More Fun Comics #73. Many Happy Returns, Emerald Archer!

In those distant heady days, origins weren’t as important as image and storytelling, so creators Mort Weisinger & George Papp never bothered. The first inkling of formative motivations came in More Fun Comics # 89 (March 1943) wherein Joe Samachson & Cliff Young detailed ‘The Birth of the Battling Bowman’ (and a tip of the feathered hat to Scott McCullar for bringing that tale to my belated attention).

With the secret revealed, it was promptly ignored for years, leaving later workmen France Herron, Jack Kirby and his wife Roz to fill in the blanks again…

Jack Kirby was – and remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are millions of words written – such as those here by former Kirby assistant Mark Evanier in the revelatory and myth-busting Introduction to this gloriously enthralling full-colour hardback compilation – about what the King has done and meant, and you should read those too, if you are at all interested in our medium.

Tragically this particular tome is not available digitally yet, but that will just make it an even more impressive gift this year…

For those of us who grew up with his work, his are the images which furnish and clutter our interior mindsets. Close your eyes and think “robot” and the first thing that pops up is a Kirby creation. Every fantastic, futuristic city in our heads is crammed with his chunky, towering spires. Because of Jack we all know what the bodies beneath those stony-head statues on Easter Island look like, and we are all viscerally aware that you can never trust great big aliens parading around in their underpants…

When comic books began, in a remarkably short time Kirby and his creative partner Joe Simon became the wonder-kid dream-team of the new-born industry. After generating a year’s worth of the influential monthly Blue Bolt, and dashing off Captain Marvel Adventures (#1) for Fawcett, Martin Goodman appointed Simon editor at Timely, where “S&K” created a host of iconic stars like Red Raven, the first Marvel Boy, Hurricane, The Vision, The Young Allies, immortal villain The Red Skull and of course million-selling mega-hit Captain America (and Bucky AKA today’s Winter Soldier).

When Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations, Simon & Kirby were snapped up by National DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a fat chequebook. Bursting with ideas the staid company were never really comfortable with, the pair were initially an uneasy fit, and were given two moribund strips to play with until they found their creative feet: Sandman and Manhunter.

They turned both around virtually overnight and, once established and left to their own devices, switched to the “Kid Gang” genre they had pioneered at Timely. Joe & Jack created wartime sales sensation The Boy Commandos and Homefront iteration the Newsboy Legion before being called up to serve in the war they had been fighting on comicbook pages since 1940.

When they returned it was to a very different funnybook business, and soon they left National to create their own little empire.

Simon & Kirby heralded and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not just by inventing the Romance genre, but with all manner of challenging modern material about real people in extraordinary situations. They saw it all disappear again in less than eight years. Their small stable of magazines – generated for an association of interlinked companies known as Prize/Crestwood/Pines/Essenkay/Mainline Comics – blossomed and as quickly wilted when the industry abruptly contracted throughout the 1950s. After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby had finally established their own publishing house, producing comics for a far more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by an anti-comicbook pogrom.

Hysterical censorship-fever spearheaded by US Senator Estes Kefauver and opportunistic pop psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham led to witch-hunting Senate hearings. Caving in, publishers adopted a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulation. Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high. Crime comics vanished and mature themes challenging society’s status quo were suppressed…

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Kirby soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if less daring, companies. As the panic subsided, Kirby returned briefly to DC where he worked on mystery tales and Green Arrow (a back-up strip in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics) whilst concentrating on his long-dreamed-of newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

During that period, he also re-packaged a super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and Joe had closed their innovative, ill-timed ventures. At the end of 1956, Showcase #6 (a try-out title that launched many DC mainstays) premiered the Challengers of the Unknown. After 3 more test issues they won their own title, with Kirby in command for the first 8. Then a legal dispute with Editor Jack Schiff kicked off and the King was gone…

During that brief 3-year period (cover-dated 1957-1959), Kirby also crafted a plethora of short comics yarns which this fabulous tome re-presents – in originally-published order. It comprises superhero, mystery and science fiction shorts from Tales of the Unexpected #12, 13, 15-18, 21- 24; House of Mystery #61, 63, 65, 66, 70, 72, 76, 84, 85; House of Secrets#3, 4, 8, 12; My Greatest Adventure #15- 18, 20, 21, 28; Adventure Comics #250-256 and World’s Finest Comics # 96-99: a lost gem from All-Star Western #99 plus 3 quirky vignettes by Simon & Kirby from 1946-1947 for Real Fact Comics #1, 2 and 6.

Records are sparse and scanty from those days when no creator was allowed a by-line, so many of these stories carry no writer’s credit (and besides, Kirby was notorious for rewriting scripts he was unhappy with drawing) but Group Editor Schiff’s regular stable of authors included Dave Wood, Bill Finger, Ed Herron, Joe Samachson, George Kashdan, Jack Miller and Otto Binder, so feel free to play the “whodunit” game…

National DC Comics was relatively slow in joining the post-war mystery comics boom, but as 1951 closed they at last launched a gore-free, comparatively straight-laced anthology which nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles: The House of Mystery (cover-dated December 1951/January 1952). Its success inevitably led to a raft of similar creature-filled fantasy anthologies such as Sensation Mystery, My Greatest Adventure, House of Secrets and Tales of the Unexpected.

With the Comics Code in full effect, plot options for mystery and suspense stories were savagely curtailed: limited to ambiguous, anodyne magical artefacts, wholesomely education mythological themes, science-based miracles and criminal chicanery. Although marvellously illustrated, stories were rationalistic, fantasy-adventure vehicles which dominated until the early 1960s when superheroes (reinvigorated after Julius Schwartz reintroduced the Flash in Showcase #4, October 1956) usurped them…

In this volume, following that aforementioned Introduction – describing Kirby’s 3 tours of duty with DC in very different decades – the vintage wonderment commences with another example of the ingenious versatility of Jack & Joe.

Originating in the wholesome and self-explanatory Real Fact Comics, ‘The Rocket-Lanes of Tomorrow’ (#1, March/April 1946) and ‘A World of Thinking Robots’ from #2 (May/June 1946) are forward-looking, retro-fabulous graphic prognostications of the “World that’s Coming”. A longer piece from #6 (July/August 1947) details the history and achievements of ‘Backseat Driver’ and road-safety campaigner Mildred McKay.

These were amongst the very last strips the duo produced for National before moving to Crestwood/Pines, so we skip ahead a decade and more for Jack’s return in House of Secrets #3 (March/April 1957) where ‘The Three Prophecies’reveals an eerie tale of a spiritualist conman being fleeced by an even more skilful grifter… until Fate takes a hand…

Mythological mysticism informs the strange tale of ‘The Thing in the Box’ (House of Mystery #61, April 1957) wherein a salvage diver is obsessed with a deadly casket his captain is all too eager to dump into the ocean.

From the same month, Tales of the Unexpected #12 focuses on ‘The All-Seeing Eye’ as a journalist responsible for many impossible scoops realises the potential dangers of the ancient artefact he employs far outweigh its benefits …

In House of Secrets #4 (May/June 1957) the ‘Master of the Unknown’ seems destined to take the big cash prize on a TV quiz show until the producer deduces his uncanny secret, after which ‘I Found the City under the City’ (My Greatest Adventure #15, from the same month) details how fishermen recover the last testament of a lost oceanographer and read of how he intended to foil an impending invasion by aquatic aliens…

From May 1957, France E. Herron & Kirby investigated ‘The Face Behind the Mask’ (Tales of the Unexpected #13): a gripping crime-caper in involving gullible men, a vibrant femme fatale and the quest for eternal youth. There was no fakery to ‘Riddle of the Red Roc’ (House of Mystery #63, June) as a venal explorer hatches and trains the invulnerable bird of legend, creating an unstoppable thief before succumbing to his own greed, after which My Greatest Adventure #16 (July/August) features a truly eerie threat as an explorer is sucked into a deadly association creating death and destruction to learn ‘I Died a Thousand Times’…

That month, Unexpected #15 offered ‘Three Wishes to Doom’: a crafty thriller proving that even with a genie’s lamp, crime does not pay, after which weird science transforms a rash scientist into ‘The Human Dragon’ (HoM #65 August, with George Roussos inking his old pal Jack), although his time to repent is brief as a criminal mastermind capitalises on his misfortune…

There’s an understandable frisson of foreshadowing to ‘The Magic Hammer’ (Tales of the Unexpected #16 August) as it relates how a prospector finds a magical mallet capable of creating storms and goes into the rainmaking business… until the original owner turns up…

A smart gimmick underscores a tantalising tale of plagiarism and possible telepathy in ‘The Thief of Thoughts’ (HoM #66 September) whilst straight Sci Fi tropes inform the tale of a hotel detective and a most unusual guest in ‘Who is Mr. Ashtar?’ (Tales of the Unexpected #17, September) before My Greatest Adventure #17 September/October 1957) reveals how aliens intent on invasion brainwash a millionaire scientist to eradicate humanity in ‘I Doomed the World’.Happily one glaring error was made…

In Tales of the Unexpected #18 (October), Kirby shows how an astute astronomer saves us all by outwitting an energy being with big appetites in ‘The Man Who Collected Planets’, after which MGA #18 (November/December 1957) ushers in the comic book Atomic Age with ‘I Tracked the Nuclear Creature’ detailing how a hunter sets out to destroy a macabre mineral monster created by uncontrolled fission…

A new year dawned with Roussos inking ‘The Creatures from Nowhere!’ (HoM #70, January 1958) as escaped alien beasts rampage through a quiet town, and HoS #8 (January/February) finds greed, betrayal, murder and supernatural suspense are the watchwords when a killer tries to silence ‘The Cats who Knew Too Much!’

Tales of the Unexpected #21 (also January) sees a smart investor proving too much for apparent extraterrestrial ‘The Mysterious Mr. Vince’, whilst a month later Unexpected #22 sees an ‘Invasion of the Volcano Men’ start in fiery fury and panicked confrontations before resolving into an alliance against uncontrolled forces of nature.

Kirby never officially worked for National’s large Westerns division, but apparently his old friend and neighbour Frank Giacoia did, and occasionally needed Jack’s legendary pencilling speed to meet deadlines. ‘The Ambush at Smoke Canyon!’ features long-running cavalry hero Foley of the Fighting 5th single-handedly stalking Pawnee renegades in a somewhat standard sagebrush saga scripted by Herron and inked by Giacoia from All-Star Western #99 (February/March 1958).

Meanwhile in House of Mystery #72 (March) a shameless B-Movie Producer seemingly becomes ‘The Man who Betrayed Earth’ whilst in MGA #20 (March/April), interplanetary bonds of friendship are forged when space pirates kidnap assorted sentients and a canny Earthling saves the day in ‘I Was Big-Game on Neptune’…

Inadvertent cosmic catastrophe is narrowly averted in Tales of the Unexpected #23 (March) when one man realises how to make contact with ‘The Giants from Outer Space’, after which issue #24 (April) slips into wild whimsy as ‘The Two-Dimensional Man!’ strives desperately to correct his incredible condition before being literally blown away…

When an early space-shot brings back an all-consuming horror in MGA #21 (May/June 1958), a brace of boffins realise‘We Were Doomed by the Metal-Eating Monster’ before ‘The Artificial Twin’ (HoM #76, July) combines mad doctor super-science with fraud and deception and House of Secrets #12 (September) sees one frantic man struggling to close ‘The Hole in the Sky’ before invading aliens use it to conquer mankind…

Also scattered throughout this extraordinary compendium of the bizarre is a stunning and bombastic Baker’s Dozen of Kirby’s fantastic covers from the period, but for most modern fans the real meat is the short, sharp sequence of superhero shockers that follow…

On his debut, Green Arrow proved quite successful. With boy partner Speedy, he was one of precious few masked stalwarts to survive beyond the Golden Age. His blatant blend of Batman and Robin Hood seemed to have very little going for itself, but the Emerald Archer always managed to keep himself in vogue. He carried on adventuring in the back of other heroes’ comic books, joined the Justice League of America just as their star was rising and later became – courtesy of Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams – the spokes-hero of the anti-establishment generation, during the 1960-70’s “Relevancy Comics” trend.

Later, under Mike Grell’s stewardship and thanks to epic miniseries Green Arrow: the Longbow Hunters, he at last became a headliner: re-imagined as an urban predator dealing with corporate thugs and serial killers rather than costumed goof-balls. This version, more than any other, informs and underpins the TV incarnation seen in Arrow.

After his long career and numerous venue changes, by the time of Schwartz’s resurrection of the Superhero genre the Battling Bowman was a solid second feature in Adventure and World’s Finest Comics where, as part of the wave of retcons, reworkings and spruce-ups DC administered to their remaining costumed old soldiers, a fresh start began in the summer of 1958.

Part of that revival happily coincided with Kirby’s return to National Comics.

As revealed in Evanier’s Introduction, after working on anthological stories for Schiff, the King was asked to revise the idling archer and responded by beefing up the science fictional aspects. When supervising editor – and creator – Weisinger objected, changes were toned down and Kirby saw the writing was on the wall. He lost interest and began quietly looking elsewhere for work…

What resulted was a tantalisingly short run of 11 astounding action-packed, fantasy-filled swashbucklers, the first of which was scripted by Bill Finger as ‘The Green Arrows of the World’ (Adventure Comics #251, July 1958) sees costumed archers from many nations attending a conference in Star City. They are blithely unaware that a fugitive criminal with murder in his heart is hiding within their masked midst…

August’s #251 takes a welcome turn to astounding science fiction as Kirby scripted and resolved ‘The Case of the Super-Arrows’ wherein the Amazing Archers take possession of high-tech trick shafts sent from 3000 AD. World’s Finest Comics #96 (writer unknown) then reveals, ‘Five Clues to Danger’ – a classic kidnap mystery made even more impressive by Kirby’s lean, raw illustration and wife Roz’s sharp inking.

A practically unheard-of continued case spanned Adventure #252 and 253 as Dave Wood, Jack & Roz posed ‘The Mystery of the Giant Arrows’ before GA and Speedy briefly became ‘Prisoners of Dimension Zero’ – a spectacular riot of giant aliens and incredible exotic other worlds, followed in WFC #97 (October 1958) with a grand old-school crime-caper in Herron’s ‘The Mystery of the Mechanical Octopus’.

Kirby was having fun and going from strength to strength. Adventure #254 featured ‘The Green Arrow’s Last Stand’ (by Wood): a particularly fine example with the Bold Bowmen crashing into a hidden valley where Sioux braves thrive unchanged since the time of Custer. The next issue saw the heroes battling a battalion of Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender their island bunker in ‘The War That Never Ended!’ (also by Wood).

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

As previous stated, in the heady early days origins weren’t as important as just plain getting on with it. The definitive version was left to later workmen Herron, Jack & Roz (in Kirby’s penultimate tale), filling in the blanks with ‘The Green Arrow’s First Case’ as the superhero revival hit its stride. It appeared in Adventure Comics #256, cover-dated January 1959 and this time the story stuck, becoming – with numerous tweaking over successive years – the basis of the modern Amazing Archer of page and screen.

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

Kirby’s spectacular swan-song came in WFC #99 (January 1959) with ‘Crimes under Glass’. Written by Robert Bernstein, it sees GA and Speedy confronting crafty criminals with a canny clutch of optical armaments, before the Archer steadfastly slid back into the sedate, gimmick-heavy rut of pre-Kirby times…

The King had moved on to other enterprises – Archie Comics with Joe Simon and a little outfit which would soon be calling itself Marvel Comics – but his rapid rate of creation had left a number of completed tales in DC’s inventory pile which slowly emerged for months thereafter and neatly wrap up this comprehensive compendium of the uncanny.

From My Greatest Adventure #28 (February 1959) ‘We Battled the Microscopic Menace!’ pits brave boffins against a ravening devourer their meddling with unknown forces had unleashed, whilst a month later HoM #84 depicted a terrifying struggle against ‘The Negative Man’ as an embattled researcher fought his own unleashed energy doppelganger.

It all ends in an unforgettable spectacular as House of Mystery #85 (April 1959) awakens ‘The Stone Sentinels of Giant Island’, who rampage across a lost Pacific island and threaten the brave crew of a scientific survey vessel… until one wise man deduces their incredible secret…

Jack Kirby was and is unique and uncompromising: his words and pictures are an unparalleled, hearts-and-minds grabbing delight no comics lover could resist. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind.

That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the American comics scene and the entire comics planet: affecting billions of readers and thousands of creators in every arena of artistic endeavour for generations. He still wins new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep and simultaneously mythic and human.

This collection from his transformative middle period exults in sheer escapist wonderment, and no one should miss the graphic exploits of these perfect adventures in that ideal setting of not-so-long-ago in a simpler, better time and place than ours.
© 1946, 1947, 1957, 1958, 1959, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Arrow: Year One – The Deluxe Edition


By Andy Diggle & Jock & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-77950-114-1 (HB)

Green Arrow is one of DC’s Golden All-Stars. He’s been a fixture of the company’s landscape – in many instances for no discernible reason – more or less continually since his 1941 debut in More Fun Comics #73. Many Happy Returns, Emerald Archer!

In those distant heady days, origins weren’t as important as image and storytelling, so creators Mort Weisinger and George Papp never bothered. The first inkling of formative motivations came in More Fun Comics # 89 (March 1943) wherein Joe Samachson & Cliff Young detailed ‘The Birth of the Battling Bowman’ (and a tip of the feathered hat to Scott McCullar for bringing the tale to my belated attention). With the secret revealed, it was promptly ignored for years, leaving later workmen France Herron, Jack Kirby and his wife Roz to fill in the blanks again with ‘The Green Arrow’s First Case’ at the start of the Silver Age superhero revival. It appeared in Adventure Comics #256, coved-dated January 1959.

This time the story stuck, becoming – with numerous tweakings over successive years – the basis of the modern Amazing Archer on page and screen.

The most impressive recalibration came in 2006 courtesy of Brit-packers Andy Diggle & Jock (better unknown to all as Mark Simpson, ably assisted by colourist David Baron and letterer Jared K. Fletcher) which massaged with spectacular visuals and jaded, post-modern cynicism the well-worn tale of a wealthy wastrel who finds purpose after being marooned on a desert island. The result was a comfortably modern, unsettlingly bleak, dark and violent contemporary classic.

Adrenaline junkie and trust-fund millionaire Oliver Queen makes a public fool of himself at a society bash and is compelled by shame to join his bodyguard Hackett on a boating trip to the Pacific. On board, Ollie discovers that the man he regularly trusts his life with has stolen all his money and intends to kill him now to get away with it…

When the murder-attempt goes awry, Queen somehow washes up on a desolate volcanic island. His early days of privation and thirst only worsen when he discovers the place is a criminal venture: a vast drug factory complete with slave workers and a sadistic crime queen called China White.

After being wounded by gun-toting thugs, a drug-slave secretly ministers to his wounds, and once Ollie learns Hackett is also involved in these atrocities, long submerged feelings and ethics resurface. He built a bow to catch fish, but now that he has a new reason to live, can he use it to stay alive and save others too?

This modern retelling is sharp and edgy as you’d expect from such extremely talented creators: rocket paced, potently suspenseful and peppered with spectacular action set pieces. This modern spin actually benefits and improves the character of Queen/Green Arrow, elevating a fan favourite to the first rank of Super Heroes. An excellent addition to the legend of one of DC’s most enduring, endearing characters.

This deluxe hardback edition (available in digital formats) also offers an Introduction by Brian K. Vaughn, and a Survival Guide section which includes Script excerpts and a wealth of preliminary artwork.
© 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Aquaman volume 1


By Robert Bernstein, Jack Miller, George Kashdan, Bob Haney, Ramona Fradon, Nick Cardy, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1223-0 (TPB)

Big year for comics anniversaries, and we can’t let this guy go unmentioned. Sadly, most of his back catalogue is still unavailable unless you track down aging compendia like this bulky gem. Although unavailable in digital formats, one of the greatest advantages of these monochrome tomes is the opportunity they provide whilst chronologically collecting a character’s adventures to include crossovers and guest spots from other titles. When the star is as long-lived and incredibly peripatetic as DC’s King of the Seven Seas that’s an awful lot of extra appearances for a fan to find…

One of the few superheroes to survive the collapse at the end of the Golden Age was a rather nondescript and generally bland looking chap who solved maritime crimes, rescuing fish and people from sub-sea disaster. Aquaman was created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris in the wake of Timely Comics’ Sub-Mariner: debuting in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941) with fellow born survivor Green Arrow.

Strictly a second stringer for most of his career, Aquaman nevertheless continued on far beyond many stronger features. He was primarily illustrated by Norris, Louis Cazeneuve and Charles Paris, until young Ramona Fradon took over the art chores in 1954, by which time the Sea King had settled into a regular back-up slot in Adventure Comics. Fradon was to draw every single adventure until 1960 and indelibly stamp the hero with her unique blend of charm and sleek competence.

In 1956, Showcase #4 finally rekindled the public’s imagination and zest for costumed crime-fighters. As well as re-imagining Golden Age stalwarts, DC undertook to update and remake its hoary survivors. Records are incomplete, sadly, so often we don’t know who wrote what, but the initial revamp ‘How Aquaman Got His Powers!’ (Adventure Comics #260, May 1959) was the work of Robert Bernstein who wrote the majority of the subsea capers at this time.

From that tale on the hero had a new origin – offspring of a lighthouse keeper and a refugee from the undersea city of Atlantis – and eventually all the trappings of the modern superhero followed: Themed hideout, sidekick and even super-villains! Moreover, greater attention was paid to continuity and the concept of a shared universe.

The 49 adventures gathered here encompass that early period of renewal, taking him from wandering back-up bit-player to stardom and his own comic book. Writers from those years included the aforementioned Bernstein, Jack Miller, George Kashdan, Bob Haney and perhaps other DC regulars, but the art was always by Fradon, whose captivatingly clean economical line always made the pictures something special.

The initial stories are pretty undemanding fare, ranging from simply charming to simply bewildering examples of all-ages action to rank alongside the best the company offered at the time. ‘Aquaman Duels the Animal Master’, ‘The Undersea Hospital’, ‘The Great Ocean Election’, ‘Aquaman and his Sea-Police’ and ‘The Secret of the Super Safe’ kept the hero in soggy isolation, but via an early crossover, Aquaman made his full entrance into the DC universe.

DC supported the popular 1950s Adventures of Superman TV show with a number of successful spin-off titles. Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #12 (October 1959) featured ‘The Mermaid of Metropolis’ wherein the plucky news hen (and isn’t that a term that’s outlived its sell-by date?) suffers crippling injuries in a scuba-diving accident. On hand to save her is Aquaman and a surgeon who turns her into a mermaid so she can live a worthwhile life without legs beneath the waves.

I know, I know: but just accepting the adage “Simpler Times” often helps me at times like this. In all seriousness, this silly story – by Bernstein – is a key moment in the development of one-universe continuity. The fact that it’s drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger – one of the most accomplished artists ever to work in American comics – makes it even more adorable, for all its silliness; and you can’t make me change my mind…

‘Aquaman Meets Aquagirl’ (Adventure Comics #266, by Bernstein & Fradon) gave a little more information about lost Atlantis whilst testing the waters (sorry!) for a possible sidekick. Remember, in those days the Sea King spent most of his time expositorially dialoguing with an octopus so with Adventure Comic #267 the editors tried a novel experiment.

At this time the title starred Superboy and featured two back-up features. Aquaman tale ‘The Manhunt on Land’ saw villainous Shark Norton trade territories with Green Arrow’s foe The Wizard and, in a rare crossover – both parts of which were written by Bernstein – the two heroes worked the same case with Aquaman fighting on dry land whilst the Emerald Archer pursued his enemy beneath the waves in his own strip ‘The Underwater Archers’, illustrated by the great Lee Elias.

In the next issue ‘The Adventures of Aquaboy!’ we got a look at the early years of the Sea King, and following that permanent sidekick Aqualad was introduced in ‘The Kid from Atlantis!’ In quick succession came ‘The Menace of Aqualad’, ‘The Second Deluge!’, ‘The Human Flying Fish!’, ‘Around the World in 80 Hours’, ‘Aqua-Queen’ and intriguing mystery ‘The Interplanetary Mission’.

Originally seen in Adventure Comics #275 – a few months after the debut of the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold #28 – this story concerned a plot to secure Kryptonite from the sea-floor. Although Superman did not appear, nets of shared continuity were being gradually interwoven. Heroes would no longer work in assured solitude. It was back to business as usual for ‘The Aqua-thief of the Seven Seas’, ‘The Underwater Olympics’, ‘Aqualad Goes to School’, ‘Silly Sailors of the Sea’ and ‘The Lost Ocean’: a typical mixed bag which served to set the scene for a really Big Event.

In Showcase #30 (January-February 1961) Jack Miller & Fradon expanded the origin of Aquaman in full-length epic ‘The Creatures from Atlantis’, wherein extra-dimensional creatures conquer the sunken civilisation. From this point on fanciful whimsy would be downplayed in favour of character-driven drama. The saga was followed by tense thriller ‘One Hour to Doom’ in Adventure Comics #282. Inked by Charles Paris, this was Fradon’s last art job for nearly a year and a half, whilst a second Showcase issue by Miller saw the first Aquaman job for comics veteran Nick Cardy who would visually make Aquaman his own for the next half-decade.

‘The Sea Beasts from One Million B.C.’ (Showcase #31, March/April 1961) is a wild romp of fabulous creatures, dotty scientists and evolution rays presaging a new path for the King of the Seas. Jim Mooney drew ‘The Charge of Aquaman’s Sea Soldiers’ for Adventure #284, before the series shifted to a new home, replaced by Tales of the Bizarro World.

Before that, however, there was another Showcase spectacular. Miller & Cardy pulled out all the stops for ‘The Creature King of the Sea’: an action-packed duel against a monstrous villain with murder in mind. The hind end of Detective Comics #293 (July 1961) then welcomed Aquaman & Aqualad, who took only six pages to solve the mystery of ‘The Sensational Sea Scoops’. All this time Cardy – who had initially altered his drawing style to mirror Fradon – had been gradually reverting to his natural, humanistic mode. By the time of fourth Showcase outing, ‘Prisoners of the Aqua-Planet’ (#33) appeared, the Sea King was a rugged, burly He-Man, and his world – no matter how fantastic – had an added edge of realism to it.

Detective #294’s ‘The Fantastic Fish that Defeated Aquaman’ coincided with a guest-spot in a second Superman Family title. Drawn by Al Plastino, ‘The Monster that Loved Aqua-Jimmy’ (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #55) is another child of its time that hasn’t weathered well, but the big kid in me still regards it fondly and I hope that others will afford it the same courtesy. Meanwhile, back at Detective Comics #295, our heroes defied ‘The Curse of the Sea Hermit’ (scripted by George Kashdan), before next month exposed ‘The Mystery of Demon Island!’

To accompany the more realistic art, and perhaps in honour of their new home, the stories became – briefly – less fantasy oriented. ‘Aqualad, Stand-In for a Star’ (Miller & Batman stalwart Sheldon Moldoff) was a standard hero-in-Hollywood crime caper, after which Cardy drew both ‘The Secret Sentry of the Sea’ (#298) and ‘Aquaman’s Secret Teacher’ (#299): a brace of yarns encompassing security duty at a secret international treaty signing and the Sea scions teaching an old blowhard a lesson in tall-tale telling…

The next month saw another milestone. After two decades of continuous adventuring the Sea King finally got a comic book of his own. Aquaman #1 (January/February 1962) was a 25-page fantasy thriller introducing one of the most controversial supporting characters in comics lore. Pixie-like Water-Sprite Quisp was part of a strange trend for cute imps and elves who attached themselves to far too many heroes of the time, but his contributions in ‘The Invasion of the Fire-Trolls’ and succeeding issues were numerous and obviously carefully calculated and considered…

‘The Mystery of the Undersea Safari!’ (Detective Comics #300) was the last Aqua caper before he moved again, this time to World’s Finest Comics. However, prior to that residency commencing, his own second issue appeared. ‘Captain Sykes’ Deadly Missions’ is a lovely-looking thriller with fabulous monsters and a flamboyant pirate blackmailing the Sea King into retrieving deadly mystical artefacts.

The World’s Finest run started in fine style with #125’s ‘Aquaman’s Super-Sidekick’ (Miller & Cardy) and Aquaman #3 provided full-length thrills and more exposure for the lost city in ‘The Aquaman from Atlantis’: a tale of traitors and time-travel. WF #126 then saw the heroes foil thieves with ‘Aquaman’s Super Sea Circus’ as – for better or worse – Quisp returned in #4’s ‘Menace of the Alien Island’.

A more welcome returnee was Ramona Fradon who took over the World’s Finest strip with #127’s ‘Aquaman’s Finny Commandos’ before the next issue saw ‘The Trial of Aquaman’ close in his favour just in time to endure ‘The Haunted Sea’ in his own fifth issue, and encountering ‘The Menace of the Alien Fish’ in WF #129.

This bumper volume concludes with Aquaman #6 and ‘Too Many Quisps’: a case of painfully mistaken identity and a sentiment difficult to disagree with… but still beautifully illustrated by Mr. Cardy.

DC has a long and comforting history of gentle, innocuous yarn-spinning with quality artwork. Fradon’s Aquaman is one of the most neglected runs of such universally-accessible material, and it’s a sheer pleasure to discover just how readable they still are. When the opportunity arises to compare her astounding work to the best of a stellar talent like as Nick Cardy, this book becomes a true fan’s must-have item and even more so when the stories are still suitable for kids of all ages. Why not treat the entire family to a seaside spectacle of timelessly inviting adventure?
© 1959-1962, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters


By Mike Grell, with Lurene Haynes & Julia Lacquement (DC Comics)
ISBN: ‎ 978-1-4012-3862-9 (TPB)

It’s another big year for major comic book anniversaries. Here’s one now…

First appearing in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941, Green Arrow is one of the very few superheroes to be continuously published (more or less) since the Golden Age of American comic books. On first look, the combination of Batman and Robin Hood seems to have very little going for him, but he has always managed to keep himself in vogue and in sight.

Probably the most telling of his many, many makeovers came in 1987, when – hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Returns – Mike Grell was given the green light to make the Emerald Archer the star of DC’s second Prestige Format Mini-Series.

Grell was considered a major creator at the time, having practically saved the company with his Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired fantasy series Warlord. He had also been the illustrator of many of GA’s most recent tales (in Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Action Comics and elsewhere, and was a firm fan-favourite after well-received runs on Legion of Super-Heroes, Aquaman, Phantom Stranger, Batman and others. During the early 1980s, he had worked on the prestigious Tarzan newspaper strip and created successful genre series such as Starslayer and Jon Sable, Freelance for pioneering indie publisher First Comics.

By the middle of the grim ‘n’ gritty Eighties, it was certainly time for an overhaul of the Battling Bowman. Exploding arrows yes, maybe even net or rope arrows, but arrows with boxing gloves on them just don’t work (trust me – I know this from experience!). Moreover, for his 1960s makeover, the hero had evolved into a tempestuous, social reformer using his gifts to battle for the little guy. Now, in a new era of corrupt government, drug cartels and serial killers, this emerald survivor adapted again and thrived once more.

Following a trenchant and outrageously entertaining Introduction from Mike Gold, the action unfolds, setting out a new path that would quickly lead to the hero becoming a major player at long last and, ultimately, a TV sensation.

The plot was brilliantly logical and controversial, concerning the superhero’s mid-life crisis. Weary and aging, Oliver Queen relocates to Seattle, struggling to come to terms with the fact that since his former sidekick, Speedy, is now a dad, he is technically a grandfather. With long-time ‘significant other’ Dinah Lance/Black Canary, he begins to simplify his life, but the drive to fight injustice hasn’t dimmed for either of them.

As she goes undercover to stamp out a pervasive drug ring, the Arrow becomes embroiled in the hunt for a psycho-killer dubbed “The Seattle Slasher”. As he tracks a prolific beast slaughtering prostitutes, he becomes aware of a second – cross-country – slayer who has been murdering people with arrows – but only after the “Robin-Hood Killer” murders a grave-digger in his new city…

Eschewing his gaudy costume and gimmicks, Queen reinvents himself as an urban hunter to stop these unglamorous hidden monsters, and stumbles into a complex mystery leading back to World War II which involves the Yakuza, the CIA, corporate America and even Viet Nam war secrets that would eventually change the course of the Archer’s life…

The intricate plot effortlessly weaves around the destabilized champion and his love, while introducing new character Shado: exploring and echoing themes of vengeance and family in a subtle blending of three stories that are in fact one, and still delivers a shocking punch even now, through its disturbingly explicit examination of torture. These issues won the miniseries much undeserved negative press when first published. Although possibly tame to modern eyes this was eye-opening stuff at the time, which is a shame, since it diverted attention from the real achievement. That was narrative quality and sophistication, as this tale is arguably the first truly mature superhero yarn in the DCU.

Grell here produced a gripping, mystery adventure that pushes all the right buttons, conveyed by artwork – in collaboration with Lurene Haynes & Julia Lacquement – that was and remains a revelation. Beautifully demure yet edgily sharp when required, these painterly visuals and watercolour tones perfectly complement a terse, sparse script, and compelling ride any thriller writer would be proud of, and – controversy notwithstanding – this comicbook retooling quickly spawned a monthly series that evolved into one of the best reads of the 1990s.

It all starts here, and so should you.
© 1987, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

World’s Finest: Guardians of Earth


By Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, Steve Skeates, Len Wein, Elliot S! Maggin, Dick Dillin, Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0178-3 (HB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest team”. The affable stalwarts were best buddies as well as mutually respectful colleagues, and their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could happily cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in the early 1940s, whilst in comics the pair had only briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure in All-Star Comics #36 (August-September 1947) – and perhaps even there they missed each other in the gaudy hubbub…

Of course, they had shared covers on World’s Finest Comics from the outset, but never crossed paths inside; sticking firmly to their specified solo adventures within. In fact, they never shared an official comic book case. However, once that Rubicon was crossed in Superman #76 (May 1952), the partnership solidified thanks to spiralling costs and dwindling page-counts. As 52-page titles dwindled to the 32, WFC permanently sealed the new deal and the industry never looked back…

The Cape and Cowl Crusaders were partners and allies from #71 onwards (July 1954), working together until the title was cancelled in the build-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986. All that is, except for a brief period when the Man of Steel was paired with other stars of DC’s firmament.

This mighty compelling compendium re-presents those cataclysmic collaborations from the turbulent 1970’s (World’s Finest Comics #198-214, spanning November 1970 to October- November 1972), as radical shifts in America’s tastes and cultural landscape fostered a hunger for more mature, socially relevant stories. That drive even affected the Dark Knight and Action Ace – so much so, in fact, that their partnership was temporarily suspended: paused so Superman could guest-star with other DC icons.

After three years, another bold experiment reunited them as parents of The Super-Sons before the regular relationship was revitalised and renewed. With the World’s Finest Heroes fully restored, their bizarrely apt pre-eminence endured another lengthy run until the title’s demise.

Without preamble the action kicks off here by returning to a thorny topic which had bedevilled fans for years…

The comic book experience is littered with eternal, unanswerable questions. The most common and most passionately asked always begin “who would win if…” or “who’s strongest/smartest/fastest…”

Here, crafted by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, ‘Race to Save the Universe!’ and the concluding ‘Race to Save Time’ (WFC #198-199; November and December 1970) upped the stakes on two previous competitions as the high-speed heroes are conscripted by the Guardians of the Universe to circumnavigate the entire cosmos at their greatest velocities to reverse the rampage of the mysterious Anachronids: faster-than-light creatures whose pell-mell course throughout the galaxies is actually unwinding time itself and unravelling the fabric of creation. Little does anybody suspect that Superman’s oldest enemies were behind the entire appalling scheme…

Anniversary issue #200 was crafted by regular Robin, the Teen Wonder scripter Mike Friedrich, with Dillin & Giella doing the drawing – as they did for this entire book. ‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ (February 1971) focusses on college-student brothers on opposite sides of the Vietnam War debate abducted along with youth icon Robin and “Mr. Establishment” Superman to a distant planet where undying vampiric aliens wage eternal war on each other.

Green Lantern pops in for #201, contesting ‘A Prize of Peril!’ (O’Neil, Dillin & Giella) which would grant either Emerald Gladiator or Man of Steel sole jurisdiction of Earth’s skies. Sadly, all is not as it seems…

Batman returned for a limited engagement in #202 as the O’Neil-penned ‘Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!’ sees archaeologists unearth something horrific in Egypt, just before Superman seemingly goes mad and attacks his greatest friends and allies. A superb ecological scare-story, this tale changed the Man of Tomorrow’s life for decades to come…

Current Aquaman writer Steve Skeates waded in for #203 as ‘Who’s Minding the Earth?’ pits Metropolis Marvel and King of Atlantis against parthenogenetic mutant dolphins attempting to terraform the polluted world into something more welcoming to their kind…

More ecological terror underpins O’Neil’s bleak warning in #204 as ‘Journey to the End of Hope!’ finds powerless former Wonder Woman Diana Prince and Superman summoned to a barren lifeless Earth. Here a dying computer warns that a butterfly effect will inevitably lead to this future unless they prevent a certain person dying in a college campus riot. Only time will tell if they succeed as the clash does indeed cost a life despite all their efforts…

Racism, sexism and the oppression of reactionary conservative values then get a well-deserved pasting in #205’s ‘The Computer that Captured a Town!’

Here Skeates deviously layers a Teen Titans tale with a wealth of eye-opening commentary after the team are locked into a mid-Victorian parochial paradise enforced by a dead man and alien tech, until the Man of Tomorrow wades in to set things straight…

WFC #206 (October-November 1971) was an all-reprint giant, represented here by its rousing Dick Giordano cover, after which #207 again reunites the true World’s Finest team as Batman returns to solve a murder mystery in the making and save the Man of Tomorrow in ‘A Matter of Light and Death!’, after which Earth-2 sorcerer hero Doctor Fate aids the Action Ace in thwarting the extraterrestrial ‘Peril of the Planet-Smashers!’ – both courtesy of Len Wein, Dillin & Giella.

Supernatural menaces were increasingly popular as a global horror boom reshaped readers’ tastes, informing (#209) Friedrich’s ‘Meet the Tempter – and Die!’ wherein Hawkman and Superman are seduced into evil by an eternal demon, whilst Elliot S! Maggin’s ‘World of Faceless Slaves!’ in #210 catapults the Caped Kryptonian and Green Arrow into a primordial magic kingdom to liberate the vassals of diabolical sorcerer supreme Effron…

The Darknight Detective returns again in #211, as O’Neil, Dillin & Giella devise a global manhunt for a ‘Fugitive from the Stars!’ Their target is a political refugee whose arrest is demanded by warriors who are a physical match for Superman, but happily, not Batman’s intellectual equals…

‘…And So My World Begins!’ in #212 is O’Neil’s thematic sequel to Justice League of America #71, which saw Mars devasted by race war and its survivors flee to the stars in search of a new homeworld. Here, Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz seeks Superman’s aid to rescue the last survivors from life-leeching mechanoids, unaware that a traitor has sold them all out to predatory aliens…

Maggin drills deep into super science for #213 as ‘Peril in a Very Small Place!’ finds the greater universe endangered by a microscopic and insatiable Genesis molecule, demanding a fantastic voyage into the Microverse inside a phone line for the Atom and Superman before this compilation concludes with wild west weirdness from by Skeates, O’Neil, Dillin & Giella. Here Golden Age troubleshooter The Vigilante delivers the silver bullet necessary to save Superman when ‘A Beast Stalks the Badlands!’

With covers by Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Nick Cardy and Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson, this book is a gloriously uncomplicated treasure trove of adventures which still have the power and punch to enthral even today’s jaded seen it-all audiences.

The contents of this titanic team-up tome are a veritable feast of witty, pretty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have. Utterly entrancing adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.