Adam Strange: Planet Heist


By Andy Diggle, Pasqual Ferry & Dave McCaig (DC Comics)
ISBN: 9787-1-4012-0727-4 (TPB/Digital)

As the Silver Age began in 1956 – reintroducing superheroes to markets overflowing with cops and cowboys and cosmic invaders – try-out vehicle Showcase #17 (cover-dated November/December 1958) launched a true hero for the space-age in a feature entitled ‘Adventures on Other Worlds’.

An instant success, it debuted as the lead in Mystery in Space #53, beguiling and enthralling a fresh generation of thrill-starved, starry-eyed  kids under the title Adam Strange.

Strange was an Terran archaeologist who, whilst fleeing from enraged tribesmen in Peru, jumped a 25ft chasm only to be hit by a stray teleport beam from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. He rematerialised on another world, filled with uncanny monsters and fabulous civilisations, and was rescued by a beautiful woman named Alanna.

Rann was a world of constant danger: non-stop peril for which brains, not brawn, were the best solution, but Strange was only able to stay on the atomic-war scarred planet for as long as it took the teleporting Zeta Beam radiation to dissipate, whence he would fade away to reappear on Earth until the next beam struck. He found true love with Alanna and unparalleled adventure, but the universe seemed determined to keep them apart.

After years of travail and turmoil Adam finally relocated permanently to Rann, but his new homeworld grew no less dangerous…

This smartly compelling rollercoaster ride (collecting an 8-issue miniseries acting as a prequel and introduction to the many story-strands forming the astoundingly ambitious Infinite Crisis crossover mega-event) finds the former academician on Earth to wrap up his affairs. However, when he is ready to depart, the Zeta beam fails to arrive…

After months of increasingly desperate research, his Justice League contacts reveal that Rann is gone: while he packed trinkets and underwear, a supernova wiped out everything he ever knew and loved…

Desolate and off the rails, Strange’s life goes swiftly downhill – until he is attacked by alien bounty hunters. In the wake of the resultant destruction, he knows something is not kosher, and the only logical conclusion must be that Rann still exists…

This is a breakneck-paced science fiction conspiracy-mystery that finally revives the rational, intellectual hero fans haven’t seen since the end of the Julie Schwartz days: an indomitable fighter who thinks things out as he roars through the universe, accused of destroying the very world he seeks, meeting – and usually pursued by – a legion of DC’s outer space icons such as Vril Dox, bellicose Thanagarians, the Omega Men and paramilitary space cops the Dark Stars, as well as an unexpected surprise über-villain…

Deducing a greater threat to all reality, avoiding the guns of a billion bloodthirsty foes and the machinations of many malignant masterminds, Adam Strange fights to regain his family and world and in so doing unravels a plot to shake the very stars…

Bombast and hyperbole aside, Planet Heist is a superb thriller (regrettably still not available in digital form) heavily draped in DC’s convoluted history and continuity, yet somehow still fresh and streamlined enough to entertain the most clueless neophyte and seasoned canon-feeder equally.

British writer Andy Diggle (Green Arrow: Year One, The Losers, Deadpool, Daredevil, Shadowland, James Bond 007, Star Wars) shines, blending astral wonderment with the gritty realism he’s famed for. The forceful illustration of Spain’s “Pascal” Ferry (Thor, Superman, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Tom Strong) – whose actual name Pasqual was apparently too tricky for English speakers – combines with colourist Dave McCaig’s lush, painterly hues to make even the most fantastic moments utterly authentic. This brilliant tale only falters on the last page, and that’s because the solution leads inexorably to another book…

Gripping and fun, this rocket-paced riot is well worth the time and attention of every fan of fantastic fiction, but be warned: for final resolutions you’ll need to read Rann-Thanagar War and Infinite Crisis… so you might as well line them all up as well as the other Infinite Crisis prequel series…
© 2004, 2005 DC Comics.  All Rights Reserved.

Super-Friends: Saturday Morning Comics volume 1


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Denny O’Neil, Ramona Fradon, Kurt Schaffenberger, Ric Estrada, Alex Toth, Joe Orlando, Bob Smith, Vince Colletta with Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9542-4 (HB/Digital edition)

Once upon a time comics were primarily created with kids in mind and, whilst I’d never advocate exclusively going back to those days, the modern industry has for the longest time sinned by not properly addressing the needs and tastes of younger fans these days. Happily, DC has latterly been rectifying the situation with a number of new and – most importantly for old geeks like me – remastered, repackaged age-appropriate gems from their vast back catalogue.

A superb case in point of all-ages comics done right is this massive (and frankly, rather expensive) tome. And don’t stress the title: it may celebrate the joys of past childhood shows but this book is definitely a great big Sunday “settle back and luxuriate” treat…

The Super Friends: Saturday Morning Comics volume 1 gathers the comic book tales which spun off from a popular Saturday Morning TV Cartoon show: one that, thanks to the canny craftsmanship and loving invention of lead scripter E. Nelson Bridwell, became an integral and unmissable component of the greater DC Universe.

It was also one of the most universally thrilling and satisfying superhero titles of the period for older fans: featuring the kind of smart and witty, straightforward adventures people my age grew up with, produced during a period when the entire industry was increasingly losing itself in colossal continued storylines and bombastic, convoluted, soap opera melodrama.

It’s something all creators should have tattooed on their foreheads: sometimes all you really want is a smart plot well illustrated, sinister villains well-smacked, a solid resolution and early bed…

The TV show Super Friends ran (under various iterations) from 1973 to 1986; starring primarily Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and a brace of studio-originated kids as student crimebusters, supplemented by occasional guest stars from the DCU on a case by case basis. The animated series made the transition to print as part of the publisher’s 1976 foray into “boutiqued” comics which saw titles with a television connection cross-marketed as “DC TV Comics”.

Child-friendly Golden Age comicbook revival Shazam!- the Original Captain Marvel had been adapted into a successful live action series and its Saturday Morning silver screen stablemate The Secrets of Isis consequently reversed the process by becoming a comic book.

With the additions of hit comedy show Welcome Back Kotter and animated blockbuster Super Friends four-colour format, DC had a neat little outreach imprimatur tailor-made to draw viewers into the magic word of funnybooks.

At least that was the plan: with the exception of Super Friends none of the titles lasted more than ten issues beyond their launch…

This massive mega-extravaganza (part 1 of 2) collects Super Friends #1-26 (spanning November 1976 to November 1979), includes promo comic Aquateers Meet the Super Friends and reprints material from Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-41 and C-46. It also opens with a lovely and moving introduction from illustrator Ramona Fradon (Aquaman; Metamorpho the Element Man; Brenda Starr, Reporter).

The fun begins a crafty two-part caper by the wondrous E. Nelson Bridwell and illustrators Ric Estrada, Vince Colletta & Joe Orlando. ‘The Fury of the Super Foes’ finds heroes-in-training Wendy and Marvin – and their incredibly  astute mutt Wonderdog – studying at the palatial Hall of Justice, even as elsewhere, a confederation of villains prove that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… if not outright intellectual theft.

Having auditioned a host of young criminals, The Penguin, Cheetah, Flying Fish, Poison Ivy and Toyman are creating a squad of sidekicks and protégés to follow in their felonious footsteps. At last Chick, Kitten, Sardine, Honeysuckle and Toyboy are all ready and willing to carry out their first caper…

When the giant “Troubalert” screen informs our heroes of a three-pronged attack on S.T.A.R. Labs’ latest inventions, the champion team split up to tackle the crises, but are thoroughly trounced until Wendy and Marvin break curfew to help them. As a result of the clash, Chick and Kitten are brought back to the Hall of Justice, but their talk of repentance is a rascally ruse and they secretly sabotage vital equipment…

Thankfully, Wonderdog has seen everything and quickly finds a way to inform the still-oblivious good guys in issue #2, but too late to prevent the Super Friends being briefly ‘Trapped by the Super Foes’…

Aided and abetted by inker Bob Smith, the incomparable Fradon became penciller with #3, as ‘The Cosmic Hit Man?’ sees 50 intergalactic super-villains murdered by infernal Dr. Ihdrom, who blends their harvested essences to create an apparently unbeatable hyper-horror and utterly overwhelm Earth’s heroic defenders. However, he falls victim to his own arrogance and Wendy and Marvin’s logical deductions…

‘Riddles and Rockets!’ sees the Super Friends overmatched by new ne’er-do-well Skyrocket whilst simultaneously trying to cope with a rash of crimes contrived by King of Conundra The Riddler. Soon a pattern emerges and a criminal connection is confirmed…

Author Bridwell (Secret Six; Inferior Five; Batman; Superman; The Flash; Legion of Super-Heroes; Captain Marvel/Shazam!) was justly famed as DC’s Keeper of Lore and Continuity Cop thanks to an astoundingly encyclopaedic knowledge of its publishing minutiae and ability to instantly recall every damn thing! ‘Telethon Treachery!’ gave him plenty of scope to display it with a host of near-forgotten guest-stars joining the heroes as they host a televised charity event whilst money-mad menace Greenback lurks in the wings, awaiting his moment to grab the loot and kidnap the wealthiest donors…

The Atom (Ray Palmer) plays a crucial role in stopping the depredations of an animal trainer using beasts as bandits in ‘The Menace of the Menagerie Man!’ before a huge cast change is unveiled in #7 (October 1977) with ‘The Warning of the Wondertwins’…

You know TV is very different from comics. When a new season of Super Friends aired, Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog were abruptly gone, replaced without explanation by aliens Zan and Jayna and elastic-tailed space monkey Gleek. With room to extrapolate – and in consideration of fans – Bridwell explained the sudden change via a battle to save Earth from annihilation whilst introducing the newest student heroes’ in memorable style…

At the Hall of Justice Wendy and Marvin spot a spaceship hurtling to Earth on the Troubalert monitor and dash off to intercept it. Aboard are two siblings from distant planet Exor: a girl able to transform into animals and a boy who can become any form of water from steam to ice. They have come carrying an urgent warning…

Superman’s alien enemy Grax has resolved to eradicate humanity and devised a dozen different super-bombs and attendant weird-science traps to ensure his victory. The weapons are scattered all over Earth and even the entire Justice League cannot stretch its resources to cover every angle and threat. To Wendy and Marvin the answer is obvious: call upon the help and knowledge of hyper-powered local heroes…

Soon Superman and Israel’s champion The Seraph are dismantling a black hole bomb whilst Elongated Man and titan-tressed Godiva perform similar service on a life-eradicator in England. Flash (Barry Allen) and mighty-leaping Impala dismantle uncatchable ordnance in South Africa. Hawkman and Hawkwoman join Native American avenger Owlwoman to crush darkness-breeding monsters in Oklahoma whilst from the Hall of Justice Wendy, Marvin and the Wonder Twins monitor the crisis with a modicum of mounting hope…

The cataclysmic epic continues in #8 with ‘The Mind Killers!’ as Atom and Rising Son tackle a device designed to decimate Japan, even as in Ireland Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Jack O’Lantern battle multi-hued monstrosities before switching off their technological terror.

In New Zealand, time-scanning Tuatara tips off Red Tornado to the position of a bomb cached in the distant past and Venezuela’s doom is diverted through a team-up between Batman and Robin and reptile-themed champion Bushmaster, whilst Taiwan benefits from a melding of sonic superpowers possessed by Black Canary and the astounding Thunderlord…

The saga soars to a classic climax with ‘Three Ways to Kill a World!’ in which the final phases of Grax’s scheme finally fail thanks to Green Arrow and Tasmanian Devil in Australia, Aquaman and Little Mermaid in the seas off Denmark and Wonder Woman and The Olympian in Greece.

Or at least, they would have if the Hellenic heroes had found the right foe. Sadly, their triumph against Wrong-Place, Right-Time terrorist Colonel Conquest almost upset everything. Thankfully, the quick thinking students send an army of defenders to Antarctica where Norwegian novice Icemaiden dismantles the final booby-trap bomb.

However, whilst the adult champions are thus engaged, Grax invades the Hall of Justice seeking revenge on the pesky whistleblowing Exorian kids. He is completely unprepared for and overwhelmed by Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog, who categorically prove they’re ready to graduate to the big leagues…

With Zan and Jayna enrolled as the latest heroes-in-training, Super Friends #10 details their adoption by Batman’s old associate – and eccentric time travel theoretician – Professor Carter Nichols, just before a legion of alien horrors arrive on Earth to teach the kids that appearances can be lethally deceiving in ‘The Monster Menace!’

‘Kingslayer’ then pits the heroes against criminal mastermind Overlord who has contracted the world’s greatest hitman to murder more than one hundred leaders at one sitting…

Another deep dive into DC’s past resurrected Golden Age titans T.N.T and Dan, the Dyna-Mite in ‘The Atomic Twosome!’ The 1940s mystery men had been under government wraps ever since their radioactive powers began to melt down, but when an underground catastrophe ruptures their individual lead-lined vaults, the Super Friends are called in to prevent potential nuclear nightmare…

The subterranean reason for the near tragedy is tracked to a monstrous mole creature, and leads to the introduction of eternal mystic Doctor Mist, who reveals the secret history of civilisation and begs help to halt ‘The Mindless Immortal!’, before its random burrowing shatters mankind’s cities. Bridwell built a fascinating new team concept that would come to support decades of future continuity…

Super Friends #14 opens with ‘Elementary!’; introducing four ordinary mortals forever changed when they are possessed by ancient sprits and tasked by Overlord with plundering the world. When the heroes scotch the scheme, Undine, Salamander, Sylph and Gnome retain their powers and become a crime-fighting team – The Elementals…

The issue also contains a short back-up illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger & Bob Smith. ‘The Origin of the Wondertwins’ at last reveals how the Exorian genetic throwbacks – despised outcasts on their homeworld – fled from a circus of freaks and uncovered Grax’s plot before taking that fateful voyage to Earth…

Big surprises come in ‘The Overlord Goes Under!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the Elementals begin battling evil by joining the Super Friends in crushing the crook. All the heroes are blithely unaware that they are merely clearing the way for a far more cunningly and subtle mastermind to take Overlord’s place…

‘The People Who Stole the Sky!’ in #16 is a grand, old-fashioned alien invasion yarn, foiled by the team and the increasingly adept Wonder Twins whilst ‘Trapped in Two Times!’ has Zan and Jayna used by the insidious Time Trapper (nee Time Master) to lure the adult heroes into deadly peril on planet Krypton in the days before it detonated, and future water world Neryla in the hours before it’s swallowed by its critically expanding red sun.

After rescuing the kids – thanks largely to Superman’s legendary lost love Lyla Ler-Rol – the Super Friends employ Tuatara’s chronal insight and Professor Nichol’s obscure chronal methodologies to hunt the Trapper in a riotous yet educational ‘Manhunt in Time!’ (art by Schaffenberger & Smith), by way of Atlantis before it sank, medieval Spain and Michigan in 1860CE, to thwart a triple-strength scheme to derail history and end Earth civilisation…

SF #19 sees the return of Menagerie Man in ‘The Mystery of the Missing Monkey!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the animal exploiter appropriates Gleek: intent on turning his elastic-tailed talents into a perfect pickpocketing tool, after which Denny O’Neil (writing as Sergius O’Shaugnessy) teams with Schaffenberger & Smith for a more jocular turn.

Chaos and comedy ensue when the team tackles vegetable monsters unleashed when self-obsessed shlock-movie director Frownin’ Fritz Frazzle uses Merlin’s actually magical Magic Lantern to make a “masterpiece” on the cheap in ‘Revenge of the Leafy Monsters!’…

Bridwell & Fradon return in #21 where ‘Battle Against the Super Fiends!’ has the heroes travelling to Exor to combat super-criminals who can duplicate their power-sets, after which ‘It’s Never Too Late!’ (#22, O’Shaugnessy, Fradon & Smith) reveals how time bandit Chronos subjects the Super Friends to a chronal-delay treatment rendering them perennially too late to stop him – until Batman and the Wonder Twins out-think him…

The Mirror Master divides and banishes teachers from students in #23 but is ultimately unable to prevent an ‘SOS from Nowhere!’ (Bridwell, Fradon & Smith) to the Flash. This episode also spends time fleshing out the Wonder Twins’ earthly secret identities as Gotham Central highschoolers John and Joanna Fleming…

With” O’Shaugnessy” scripting, ‘Past, Present and Danger!’ sees Zan and Jayna’s faces found engraved on a recently-unearthed Egyptian pyramid. Upon investigation inside the edifice, the heroes awaken two ancient exiles who resemble the kids, but who are in truth criminals who fled Exorian justice thousands of years previously. How lucky, then, that the kids are perfect doubles that the villains can send back with the robot cops surrounding the pyramid… once they’ve got rid of the Earthling heroes…

Enjoying promotion through treachery, the habitually harassed “Underling” has seized power at last in Bridwell’s ‘Puppets of the Overlord’, and uses forbidden technology to mind-control the adult and junior heroes. Happily, international champions Green Fury (later Fire), Wonder Woman’s sister Nubia, Tasmanian Devil and Seraph can join Green Lantern and Queen Mera of Atlantis in delivering a liberating solution, after which this splendid selection of super thrills pauses with #26 as Bridwell, Fradon & Smith bring back some old friends and enemies for ‘The Wondertwins’ Battle of Wits!’ as a scheming former Bat-foe enacts an infallibly murderous plot…

Rounding out the frenetic fun is a features section that includes the Alex Toth cover from Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-41,and new material from sequel C-46: a comic strip collaboration with Bridwell on introductory tale ‘Super Friends’ which was a star-studded framing sequence for a big reprint issue of Justice League classics.

The wonders are further augmented by Toth’s comprehensive pictorial essay on creating ‘TV Cartoons’ (with contributions from Bob Foster), plus his ‘The JLA on TV’ model sheets, and designs of The Hall of Justice’ by Terry Austin. Toth was the lead designer on the characters’ transition to TV animation.

The extras go on with mini-comic Aquateers Meet the Super Friends – a 1979 promotional giveaway included with every purchase of Super Friends Swim Goggles. An uncredited framing sequence (which looks like a Continuity Associates project that Dick Giordano & Frank McLoughlin had a hand in) segues into ‘The Greatest Show on Water’ – an Aquaman short originally published in Adventure Comics #219, December 1955.

That’s followed by ‘ “Super Fans Letters” Letters Pages’ from Super Friends #1-3, offering potted histories of DC heroes and villains, ‘The Super Friends Subscription’ house ad from #26 and Alex Ross’ painted cover from 2001 book Super Friends!

With covers by Fradon, Smith, Schaffenberger, Colletta, Ernie Chan and more, this initial compendium is superbly entertaining, masterfully crafted and utterly engaging. It offers stories of pure comics gold to delight children and adults in equal proportion. Truly generational in appeal, they are probably the closest thing to an American answer to the magic of Tintin or Asterix and no family home should be without this tome.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2001, 2020 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Infinite Earths


By Marv Wolfman & George Pérez, with Jerry Ordway, Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo & various (DC Comics) 
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5841-2 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1-56389-750-4 (TPB) 

Once more I’m compelled to dash out another swiftly modified reprinted review to mark the passing of one of our industry and art form’s most prolific and irreplaceable master creators. George Pérez died on May 6th from the complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 67 years old.  

His triumphs as penciller, writer and an always in-demand inker made him a force to be reckoned with and earned a vast number of awards in a career spanning almost fifty years. Pérez worked for dozens of publishers large and small; self-published his own creations, redeemed and restored many moribund characters and features (like the (New) Teen Titans), Nightwing and Wonder Woman) and co-created many breakthrough characters such as The White Tiger (first Puerto Rican superhero), The Maestro, Deathstroke the Terminator, Terra, The Monitor and Anti-Monitor.  

He will be most warmly remembered for his incredible facility in portraying big teams and cataclysmic events. Pérez probably drew every DC and Marvel superhero of his era, with major runs on The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, The Justice League of America, Legion of Super-Heroes and numerous iterations of Teen Titans as well as stints on The Inhumans, X-Men, JSA, All-Star Squadron, Thunderbolts and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. He will be immortalised for the comic book series covered below. A fuller appreciation will follow as soon as I can sort it… 

In 1985 the Editorial Powers-That-Be at DC Comics were about to celebrate fifty years of publishing, and enjoying a creative upswing that had been a long time coming. A crucial part of the festivities, and purported attempt to simplify five decades of often conflicting stories, was a truly epic year-long saga that would impact every single DC title and reconstruct the entire landscape and history of the DC Universe, with an appearance – however brief – by every character the company had ever published. Easy-peasy, Huh? 

Additionally, this new start would seek to end an apparent confusion of multiple Earths with similarly named and themed heroes. This – it had been decided – was deterring (sic) new readers. Happily, since then (primarily thanks to movie rom-coms like Sliding Doors) we’ve all become well aware of string theory and parallel universes and can revel in the most basic TV show or kids cartoon proffering the concept of multiples incidences of me and you… 

Way back then, the result of those good intentions was a groundbreaking 12-part miniseries that spearheaded a vast crossover event: eventually culminating in a hefty graphic novel collection (plus latterly three companion volumes reprinting all the crossovers). 

The experiment was a huge success, both critically and commercially, and enabled the company to reinvigorate many of their most cherished properties: many of which had been in dire need or some regeneration and renewal. Many fans would argue that DC have been trying to change it back ever since… 

Plotted long in advance of launch, threads and portents appeared for months in DC’s regular titles, mostly regarding a mysterious arms-and-information broker known as The Monitor. With his beautiful assistant Lyla Michaels/Harbinger he had been gauging each and every being on Earths beyond counting with a view to saving all of Reality. At this juncture, that consisted of uncountable variations of universes existing “side-by-side”, each exhibiting differences varying from minor to monumental.  

Building on long-established continuity collaborators Marv Wolfman and George Pérez – aided and abetted by Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo and Jerry Ordway – began by tweaking things fans knew before taking them on a journey nobody anticipated… It transpired that at the very beginning of time an influence from the future caused Reality to fracture. Rogue Guardian of the Universe Krona obsessively sought to unravel the secret of creation and his probing cause a perfect singular universe to shatter into innumerable self-perpetuating cracked reflections of itself… 

Now, a wave of antimatter scythes through the Cosmic All, eradicating these separate universes. Before each Armageddon, a tormented immortal named Pariah materialises on an inhabited but doomed world of each Existence. As the story opens, he arrives on an Earth, as its closest dimensional neighbours are experiencing monumental geo-physical disruptions. It’s the end of the World, but The Monitor has a plan. It involves death on a mammoth scale, sacrifice beyond measure, a gathering of the best and worst beings of the surviving Earths and the remaking of time itself to deflect cosmic catastrophe and defeat the being that caused it… 

Action is tinged with tragedy as many major heroic figures – from the nondescript and forgotten to high, mighty and grand – perish valiantly, falling in apparently futile struggle to preserve some measure of life from the doomed multiverse. 

Full of plot twists and intrigue, this cosmic comicbook spectacle set the benchmark for all future crossover events, not just DC’s, and is still a qualitative high point seldom reached and never yet surpassed. As well as being a superb blockbuster in its own right and accessible to even the greenest neophyte reader, it is the foundation of all DC’s in-continuity stories since 1985, the basis of a TV phenomenon and absolutely vital reading.  

More than any other work in a truly stellar career, Crisis on Infinite Earths is the magnum opus George Pérez will be remembered for: It might not be fair, but it’s inescapably true… 
© 1985, 1986, 2001, 2008, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. 

Showcase Presents Adam Strange


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Carmine Infantino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1313-8 (TPB)

Oooh, look! Married With Jetpacks. It’s a glimpse of true heaven…

For many, the Silver Age of comics is the ideal era. Varnished by nostalgia (because that’s when most of us caught this crazy graphic bug), the clean-cut, uncomplicated optimism of the late 1950s and early 1960s produced captivating heroes and villains who were still far less terrifying than the Cold War baddies which troubled the grown-ups. Boy. look how much things have changed today…

The sheer talent and professionalism of the creators working in that spectacularly vivid world resulted in triumph after triumph which brightened young lives and still glow today with quality and achievement.

One of the most compelling stars of those days was an ordinary Earthling who commuted to another world for spectacular adventures, armed with nothing more than a ray-gun, a jetpack and his own ingenuity. His name was Adam Strange, and like so many of that era’s triumphs he was the brainchild of Julius Schwartz and his close team of creative stars.

Showcase was a try-out comic designed to launch new series and concepts with minimal commitment of publishing resources. If a new character sold well initially, a regular series would follow. The process had already worked with great success. Frogmen, The Flash, Challengers of the Unknown and Lois Lane had all won their own new titles or feature spots in established books, and Editorial Director Irwin Donenfeld now wanted his two Showcase editors to create science fiction heroes to capitalise on the twin zeitgeists of the Space Race and current popular fascination with movie monsters and aliens.

Jack Schiff came up with the future crimefighter Space Ranger (premiering in issues #15-16) and Schwartz went to Gardner F. Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs to craft the saga of a modern-day explorer in the most uncharted territory yet imagined.

Showcase #17 (cover-dated November/December 1958) launched ‘Adventures on Other Worlds’. It told of an archaeologist who, whilst fleeing from enraged villagers in Peru, jumps a 25 ft. chasm only to be hit by a stray teleport beam from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. He materialises in another world filled with giant plants and monsters, and is rescued by a beautiful woman named Alanna who teaches him her language.

‘Secret of the Eternal City!’ reveals that planet Rann is recovering from atomic war, and the beam was in fact a simple flare: one of many sent in an attempt to communicate with other races. In the four years since (speed of light, right? – Alpha Centauri is about 4.3 light years from Sol), the Zeta-Flare travelled through cosmic radiation, converting it into a teleportation beam. Until the radiation drains from his body Strange will be a very willing prisoner on a fantastic world.

And an incredibly unlucky one apparently, as no sooner has he started acclimatising than an alien race named The Eternals invade, seeking a mineral to grant them immortality. Adam’s courage and wits enable him to defeat the invaders only to have the radiation finally fade, drawing him home before the adoring Alanna can administer a hero’s reward. And thus was established the principles of a truly beguiling series. Adam would intercept a Zeta-beam hoping for some alone time with his alien sweetheart, only to be confronted with a planet-menacing crisis.

The very next of these, ‘The Planet and the Pendulum’ saw him obtain the crimson spacesuit and weaponry that became his trademarks in a tale of alien invaders also introducing the subplot of Rann’s rival city-states: all desperate to progress and all at different stages of recovery and development. This tale also appeared in Showcase #17.

The following issue featured the self-explanatory ‘Invaders from the Atom Universe’ and ‘The Dozen Dooms of Adam Strange’, wherein our hero must outwit the dictator of Dys who planned to invade Alanna’s city of Rannagar. With this story, Sachs was replaced by Joe Giella as inker, although he would return as soon as #19’s Gil Kane cover: the first to feature the title “Adam Strange” over the unwieldy “Adventures on Other Worlds”.

‘Challenge of the Star-Hunter’ and ‘Mystery of the Mental Menace’ are classic puzzle tales wherein Strange must outwit a shape-changing alien and an all-powerful energy-being. These were the last in Showcase (cover-dated March/April1959) as, with the August issue the former archaeologist took over the lead spot and cover of the anthological Mystery in Space.

As well as a new home, the series also found a new artist. Carmine Infantino, who had worked such magic with The Flash, applied his clean, classical line and superb design sense to create a starkly pristine, sleekly beautiful universe that was spellbinding in its cool but deeply humanistic manner, and genuinely thrilling in its imaginative wonders.

MIS #53 began an immaculate run of exotic high adventures with ‘Menace of the Robot Raiders!’ by Fox, Infantino & Sachs, followed in glorious succession by ‘Invaders of the Underground World’ and ‘The Beast from the Runaway World!’

With #56 Murphy Anderson became a semi-regular inker, and his precision brush-&-penwork made the art something of unparalleled beauty. ‘The Menace of the Super-Atom’ and ‘Mystery of the Giant Footprints’ are sheer visual poetry, but even ‘Chariot in the Sky’, ‘The Duel of the Two Adam Stranges’ (MIS #58 and #59, inked by Giella) and ‘The Attack of the Tentacle World’, ‘Threat of the Tornado Tyrant’ and ‘Beast with the Sizzling Blue Eyes’ (MIS #60-62, inked by Sachs) were – and remain – light years ahead of the competition in terms of thrills, spectacle and imagination.

Anderson returned with #63, debuting more recurring foes who employed ‘The Weapon That Swallowed Men!’ before #64’s chilling ‘The Radio-active Menace!’ and, ‘The Mechanical Masters of Rann’ both afford splendid thrills to feed young readers’ every sense – especially that burgeoning sense of wonder.

The far-flung fantasy and cosmic romance continued with ‘Space Island of Peril’ by Fox, Infantino & Giella: a duel with an alien super-being planning to throw Rann into its suns, followed in #67 by the sly ‘Challenge of the Giant Fireflies’, with Adam’s adopted home menaced by thrill-seeking creatures who live on the surface of our sun.

Murphy Anderson returned as inker-in-residence with ‘The Fadeaway Doom’, wherein Rannian General Kaskor made a unique attempt to seize power by co-opting the Zeta Beam itself. ‘Menace of the Aqua-ray Weapon!’ had a race from Rann’s primeval past revive to take possession of their old world, whilst #70 saw ‘The Vengeance of the Dust Devil’threaten not just Rann, but also Earth…

Inked by Giella, ‘The Challenge of the Crystal Conquerors’ was a sharp game of bluff and double-bluff with the planet at stake, but #72 was a radical departure from the tried-&-true formula. ‘The Multiple Menace Weapon’ found Adam diverted to the year 101,961AD to save his Rannian descendants before dealing with the threat to his own time and place. This was followed by the action-packed mystery thriller ‘The Invisible Raiders of Rann!’

The puzzles continued with #74’s complex thriller ‘The Spaceman who Fought Himself!’ – inked by Anderson, and leading to Mystery in Space #75’s legendary team-up with the freshly-minted Justice League of America against despicable Kanjar Ro. ‘Planet That Came to a Standstill’ is indisputably one of the best tales of DC’s Silver Age and a key moment in the development of cross-series continuity.

After that 25-page extravaganza it was back to 14 pages for #76’s ‘Challenge of the Rival Starman!’ as Adam becomes involuntary tutor and stalking-horse for an alien hero. ‘Ray-Gun in the Sky!’ is an invasion mystery inviting readers to solve the puzzle before our hero does, whilst ‘Shadow People of the Eclipse’ pits the interplanetary activist against a bored alien thrill-seeker. In #79’s ‘The Metal Conqueror of Rann’ Adam fights a more personal battle to bring adored Alanna back from the brink of death, and ‘The Deadly Shadows of Adam Strange’ sees an old foe return to wreak a bizarre personal revenge on the Champion of Rann.

MIS #81 tested our hero to his limits as the lost dictator who caused Rann’s nuclear armageddon returns after a thousand years to threaten both of Adam’s home-planets in ‘The Cloud-Creature that Menaced Two Worlds’, whilst a terrestrial criminal’s scheme to conquer Earth is thwarted as a result of Adam stopping ‘World War on Earth and Rann!’.

Issue #83’s penultimate peril pits him against the desperate ‘Emotion Master of Space!’ and this volume concludes with the return of relentless Jakarta the Dust-Devil who shrugs off ‘The Powerless Weapons of Adam Strange!’…

For me, Adam Strange, more than any other character, epitomises the Silver Age of Comics. Witty, sophisticated, gloriously illustrated and fantastically imaginative, and always fighting beside him, bold, capable, intelligent, beautiful and – for the pre-pubescent oiks comprising the majority readership – unattainable Alanna. The happy-ever-after was always just in reach, but only after one last adventure…

These thrillers from a distant time still hold great appeal and power for the wide-eyed and far-seeing. This tome carries a universe of wonder and excitement: by far and away some of the best written and drawn science fiction comics ever produced. Whether for nostalgia’s sake, for your own entertainment or even to get your own impressionable ones properly indoctrinated, you really need to go on his voyage of discovery.
© 1958-1963, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

DC Universe Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 1


By Neal Adams with Dennis O’Neil, Gardner F. Fox, Robert Kanigher, Howard Liss, Hank Chapman, Len Wein, Bob Haney, Mark Evanier, Sergio Aragonés, Joe Kubert & various (DDC Comics)
No ISBN: digital only edition

As the 1960s began Neal Adams was a young illustrator who had worked in advertising and ghosted some newspaper strips whilst trying to break into comics. Whilst pursuing a career in advertising and “real art” he did a few comics pages for Archie Comics and subsequently became one of the youngest artists to co-create and illustrate major licensed newspaper strip Ben Casey (based on a popular TV medical drama series).

That comics fascination never faded, however, and Adams drifted back to National/DC, doing a few covers as inker or penciller before eventually finding himself at the vanguard of a revolution in pictorial storytelling…

He made such a mark that DC have regularly curated and reissued his work in a series of commemorative collections. This is the first of a proposed series of eBook tomes extracted from heftier physical artefacts covering the artists’ minor efforts (those not starring Batman, Deadman or “Hard-Travelling Heroes” Green Lantern/Green Arrow) in themed original publication order.

Revisiting Teen Titans #20-22 and gatherings material from Detective Comics #369; Superman #254; Justice League of America #94; Our Army At War #182, 183, 186, 240; Star Spangled War Stories #134, 144; Fanboy #5 and Amazing World of DC Comics Special Edition #1 it cumulatively embraces November 1969 through July 1999.

Following a contextualising Foreword by Paul Levitz and Adams’ thoughts in his own ‘Superheroes Foreword’ the comic dramas commence with a tale of slinky sleuth The Elongated Man who solves a bizarre theft connected to the ‘Legend of the Lovers’ Lantern’ (scripted by Gardner F. Fox from Detective Comics #369, November 1969).

We then encounter a bold triptych from Teen Titans #20-22 (March/April to June/July 1969), written by Adams and pencilled by him and Sal Amendola with inks by brush-maestro Nick Cardy – one of the all-out prettiest illustration jobs of that decade.

Completing s a long-running plot-thread of extra-dimensional invaders by endowing everything with a counterculture twist, ‘Titans Fit the Battle of Jericho’ is a spectacular rollercoaster romp deftly blending teen revolt, organised crime, anti-capitalist activism, bug-eyed monsters and cunning extraterrestrial conquerors…

Symbolic super-teens Hawk and Dove briefly join the proceedings for #21’s ‘Citadel of Fear’ (Adams & Cardy): chasing smugglers, facing evil ETs and ramping up the surly teen angst quotient whilst moving the invaders story-arc towards stunning conclusion ‘Halfway to Holocaust’ wherein the abduction of Kid Flash and Robin leads to a cross-planar climax as Wonder Girl, Speedy and a radical new ally quash the invaders forever…

Excerpts from Justice League of America #94’s ‘Where Strikes Demonfang’ – specifically pages 1, 5, 20 and 22 – tie up loose ends from the Deadman saga seen elsewhere (in Strange Adventures of the Adams Deadman collections) before a modern pin-up of ‘Ra’s al Ghul’ brings us to a delightful treat scripted by Len Wein taken from The Private Life of Clark Kent backup series.

‘The Baby Who Walked Through Walls’ comes from Superman #254 (July 1972): scripted by Len Wein and deliciously detailing how even the mighty Man of Tomorrow is no match for a toddler determined to dodge her babysitter and go exploring…

Unpublished Superman pages and thumbnails culled from ‘Amazing World of DC Comics Special Edition #1’ (February 1976) segue into a selection of public service messages starring the Caped Kryptonian – specifically ‘Justice for All Includes Children 1, 2, 6 and 7’ – and are followed by a monochrome and a full-colour v ‘9/11 Tribute’…

Self-parody changes the tone as an excerpt from Fanboy #5 (July 1999) finds Mark Evanier & Sergio Aragonés joining the master of moody in an unlikely iteration of the Daft Knight…

A ‘Batman Sketchbook’ offers preliminary doodles for Robin’s new costume, Batman roughs and Joker redesigns, culminating in finished pin-ups of all before the tone twists back to hyper-realism and a ‘War Stories Foreword’ by Neal Adams begins a chronological excursion through the artist’s combat contributions to DC canon.

All recoloured in Adam’s lush modern manner, the lean sparse sagas commence with ‘It’s My Turn to Die’ from Our Army At War #182 (July 1967), with Howard Liss scripting the tale of an officer who’s reached his emotional limit, whilst ‘Invisible Sniper’ (Liss again from OAAW #183, August 1967) tracks an embattled GI hunting an infallible enemy with a killer gimmick…

‘The Killing Ground’ (Star Spangled War Stories #134, August -September 1967) is a Robert Kanigher moment from The War That Time Forgot, with PT Boat survivors striving against a succession of seaborne antediluvian atrocities, after which ‘My Life for a Medal’Our Army At War #186 (November 1967, by veteran scribe Hank Chapman) – holds a shocking lesson for a glory-hungry go-getter.

A visual triumph, Joe Kubert inked hot new penciller Adams on Kanigher’s ‘Death Takes No Holiday!’ (SSWS #144, April-May 1969) as another macabre death-dealing French aviator – dressed as a skeleton – terrorised and butchered Jagdstaffel pilots at will, forcing the Kaiser’s Enemy Ace Hans von Hammer into insane action to inspire his men and cure a young flier of fear-induced madness…

War takes a weird – and socially relevant – turn as we visit the future for our concluding clash in Bob Haney’s ‘Another Time Another Place’ (Our Army At War #240, January 1972) as an elite squad meet the enemy and get a sobering surprise…

Sadly short of Adams incredible canon of covers, we wrap up with only full ‘Biographies’ as a bonus, but this beautiful book still offers a look at less often seen gems that were in many ways more informative than all the big-banner achievements of a major force in comics. Now, if only DC would sort out his horror stories and truly lost gems like Jerry Lewis, we’d all be happy…
© 1967, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1976, 1999, 2008 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.

Justice Society of America: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Gardner Fox, Robert Kanigher, John Broome, Denny O’Neil, Paul Levitz, Roy Thomas, Len Strazewski, James Robinson, David Goyer, Geoff Johns, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin, Joe Staton, Rich Buckler, Jerry Ordway, Arvell Jones, Mike Parobeck, William Rosado, Stephen Sadowski, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5531-2 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Stunning Super Sagas Whatever the Season… 8/10

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – via the Action Comics debut of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in our industry’s history was the combination of individual stars into a like-minded group. Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: consumers couldn’t get enough of garishly-hued mystery men, and combining a multitude of characters inevitably increases readership. Plus, of course, a mob of superheroes is just so much cooler than one…or one-and-a-half if there’s a sidekick involved…

The creation of the Justice Society of America in 1941 utterly changed the shape of the budding industry.

Following the runaway success of Superman and Batman, both National Comics and its separate-but-equal publishing partner All American Comics went looking for the next big thing in funnybooks whilst frantically concentrating on getting anthology packages into the hands of a hungry readership. Thus All Star Comics: conceived as a joint venture affording characters already in their respective stables an extra push towards winning elusive but lucrative solo titles.

Technically, All Star Comics #3 (cover-dated Winter 1940-1941 and released in December 1940) was the kick-off, but the mystery men merely had dinner and recounted recent cases and didn’t actually go on a mission together until #4, which had an April 1941 cover-date.

This superb hardcover and/or eBook commemoration comes from five years ago, gathering significant adventures of the pioneering paragons: specifically All Star Comics #4, 37, 55; Justice League of America #21, 22, 30, 47, 82, 83, 193; Adventure Comics #466; All-Star Squadron #67; Justice Society of America #10; JSA Returns: AllStar Comics #2; JSA #25; Justice Society of America vol. 2 #10 and Earth 2 #6, and – like all these generational tomes – follows a fixed pattern by dividing into chapters curated by contextual essays.

Here Roy Thomas’s history-packed treatise describes how leading characters from National-DC’s Adventure Comics and More Fun Comics and All-Star Publishing’s Flash Comics and All-American Comics were first bundled together in an anthological quarterly. Back then ‘A Message from the Editors’ asked readers to vote on the most popular…

The merits of the marketing project would never be proved: rather than a runaway favourite graduating to their own starring vehicle as a result of the poll, something radically different evolved. For the third issue, prolific scribe Gardner Fox apparently had the bright idea of linking all the solo stories through a framing sequence with the heroes gathering to chat about their latest exploits. With that simple notion that mighty mystery men hung out together, history was made and it wasn’t long before they started working together…

The anniversary amazement opens with Part I 1941-1950: For America and Democracy which hones in on those early moments, as All Star #4 eventually unites the costumed community ‘For America and Democracy’ with Fox and illustrators EE Hibbard, Martin Nodell, Bernard Baily, Howard Sherman, Chad Grothkopf, Sheldon Moldoff & Ben Flinton detailing individual cases for The Flash, Green Lantern, The Spectre, Hourman, Doctor Fate, The Sandman, Hawkman, The Atom and Johnny Thunder which coincide and result in a concerted attack on Nazi espionage master Fritz Klaver…

Pattern set, the heroes marched on against all foes from petty criminals to social injustice; aliens, mobsters and magical invaders until post-war tastes began shifting the formula…

All Star Comics #37 (1947) introduced ‘The Injustice Society of the World’ (November 1947) in a yarn by Robert Kanigher, Irwin Hasen, Joe Kubert, Alex Toth, Carmine Infantino & John Belfi. This sinister saga sees America almost entirely conquered by a coalition of super-villains before the on-the-ropes mystery men counterattack and ultimately triumph.

As superheroes plunged in popularity, genre themes predominated and it was a stripped-down team (Flash, GL, Wonder Woman, Black Canary, Hawkman, Atom and Dr. Mid-Nite) who faced a flying saucer scare in #55 and scoured outer space for ‘The Man Who Conquered the Solar System!’ (October/November 1955 by John Broome, Frank Giacoia, Arthur F. Peddy & Bernard Sachs).

Thomas returns for another educational chat as Part II 1963-1970: The Silver Age of Crisis focuses on the era that changed comics forever.

As I’ve frequently stated, I was one of the lucky “Baby Boomer” crowd who grew up with Julie Schwartz, Fox & Broome’s tantalisingly slow reintroduction of Golden Age superheroes during the halcyon, eternally summery days of the early 1960s. To me those fascinating counterpart crusaders from Earth-Two weren’t vague and distant memories rubber-stamped by parents or older brothers – they were cool, beguiling and enigmatically new.

…And for some reason the “proper” heroes of Earth-One held them in high regard and treated them with obvious deference…

It all began, naturally enough, in The Flash; pioneering trendsetter of the Silver Age Revolution. After successfully ushering in the return of the superheroes, the Scarlet Speedster – with Fox & Broome at the writing reins – set an unbelievably high standard for costumed adventure in sharp, witty tales of science and imagination, illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

The epochal epic that literally changed the scope of American comics forever was Fox’s ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961 and not included here), establishing the existence of Infinite alternate Earths, multiple versions of costumed crusaders, and – by extension – the multiversal structure of the DCU. Every succeeding, cosmos-shaking annual summer “Crisis” saga grew from it.

Fan pressure almost instantly agitated for the return of more “Golden Age Greats” but Editorial bigwigs were hesitant, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet, put readers off. If they could see us now…

These innovative crossover yarns generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so inevitably these trans-dimensional tests led to the ultimate team-up in the summer of 1963.

A gloriously enthralling string of JLA/JSA convocations and  stunning superhero wonderments begin with landmark opening salvoes ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (Justice League of America #21-22, August to September). In combination they comprise one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most crucial tales in American comics.

Written by Fox and compellingly illustrated by Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs, the yarn sees a team of villains from each Earth plundering at will; meeting and defeating the mighty Justice League before imprisoning them in their own secret mountain HQ.

Temporarily helpless “our” heroes contrive a desperate plan to combine forces with the champions of another Earth to save the world – both of them – and the result is pure comic book majesty. It’s impossible for me to be totally objective about this saga. I was a drooling kid in short trousers when I first read it and the thrills haven’t diminished with this umpty-first re-reading.

This is what superhero comics are all about!

The second team-up is only represented by the concluding chapter ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ Justice League of America #30 (September 1964) reprised the team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society, after (evil) versions of our heroic champions-beings from third alternate Earth discover the secret of trans-universal travel.

Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring come from a world without heroes and see the crimebusting JLA and JSA as living practice dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon. With this cracking thriller the annual summer get-together became solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless entertainment for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

The fourth annual event was a touch different: flavoured by self-indulgent humour as a TV show drove the wider world bats. Veteran inker Bernard Sachs retired before the fourth team-up, leaving the amazing Sid Greene to embellish a gloriously whacky saga that sprang out of the global “Batmania” craze engendered by the twice-weekly Batman series…

A wise-cracking campy tone was fully in play, acknowledging the changing audience profile and this time the stakes were raised to encompass the destruction of both planets in ‘Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two’ (not reprinted here) and ‘The Bridge Between Earths’ (Justice League of America #47, September 1966), wherein a bold but rash continuum-warping experiment drags two Earths towards an inexorable hyper-space collision. Meanwhile, making matters worse, an awesome anti-matter being uses the opportunity to break into and explore our positive matter universe whilst the heroes of two worlds are distracted by destructive rampages of monster-men Blockbuster and Solomon Grundy.

Peppered with wisecracking “hip” dialogue, it’s sometimes difficult to discern what a superb yarn this actually is, but if you can forgive or swallow the dated patter, this is one of the best plotted and illustrated stories in the entire canon.

Furthermore, the vastly talented Greene’s expressive subtlety, beguiling texture and whimsical humour added unheard-of depth to Sekowsky’s pencils and the light and frothy comedic scripts of Gardner Fox.

This exercise in fantastic nostalgia continues with both chapters of a saga wherein alien property speculators seek to simultaneously raze Earths One and Two in ‘Peril of the Paired Planets’ (#82 August 1970 by O’Neil, Dillin & Joe Giella) and only the ultimate sacrifice by a true hero can avert trans-dimensional disaster in ‘Where Valor Fails… Will Magic Triumph?’ (#83 September)

Part III: Bronze Age and Beyond 1971-1986 returns to independent status and stories as – following another pertinent briefing from Thomas – we next focus on a time when the team was on its second career after decades in retirement.

Set on parallel world Earth-2, the veterans were leavened with teen heroes combined into a contentious, generation-gap fuelled “Super Squad”. Those youngsters included a grown up Robin, Sylvester Pemberton, the Star-Spangled Kid (a 1940s teen superhero who had been lost in time for decades) and a busty young thing who quickly became the feisty favourite of a generation of growing boys: Kara Zor-L – AKA Power Girl.

It starts with a little history lesson as Paul Levitz & Joe Staton reveal how and why the JSA went away. In ‘The Defeat of the Justice Society’ (Adventure Comics #466 December, 1979) they expose the reason why the team vanished at the beginning of the 1950s as the American Government cravenly betrays its greatest champions during the McCarthy witch-hunts: provoking the mystery men into voluntarily withdrawing from public, heroic life for over a decade – until the costumed stalwarts of Earth-One started the whole Fights ‘n’ Tights scene all over again…

When Roy Thomas left Marvel for DC, he made a lifetime dream come true by writing his dream team… sort of. Justice League of America #193 (August 1981) featured a “Prevue” insert mini-comic featuring the ‘All-Star Squadron’. Thomas, Rich Buckler & Jerry Ordway  launched a series of new stories set in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, told in real time and integrating published tales from the Golden Age into an overarching continuity. Here the JSA were augmented by contemporaries from other companies acquired by DC over the years – such as Plastic Man, Firebrand and Uncle Sam – and minor DC stalwarts like Liberty Belle, Johnny Quick and Robot Man. This prequel tells of December 6th 1941 and how the JSA heroes are attacked by villains from their own future as a mastermind seeks to alter history, leaving President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to issue a clarion call to all of Democracy’s other champions…

After an impressive and entertaining 5 year run that skilfully negotiated the rewriting of continuity during Crisis on Infinite Earths, the series ended with All-Star Squadron #67 (March 1987) as Thomas, Arvell Jones & Tony DeZuñiga recondition ‘The First Case of the Justice Society of America’ from All Star #4 and reveal how Nazi Fritz Klaver met justice…

Industry insider Ivan Cohen then reveals how things changed after the Crisis as a taster for Part IV: The JSA Returns 1992-2007 which opens with the last issue of Justice Society of America volume 1 (#10, May 1993). The series had concentrated on adventures of the aging heroes in modern times and ‘J.S.A. No More?’ by Len Strazewski, Mike Parobeck & Mike Machlan closed a superb and joyously fun run with the geriatric wonders polishing off ancient wizard Kulak and saving humanity from an army of unquiet ghosts and zombies…

The heroes were again rebooted six years later via a series of one-shots bracketed by a 2 issue miniseries and here James Robinson, David Goyer, William Rosado, John Dell & Ray Kryssing conclude the WWII-set battle against mystic marauder Stalker with ‘The JSA Returns, Conclusion: Time’s Arrow’ in JSA Returns: All-Star Comics #2 (Late May 1999).

All that attention led to a spectacular new series, which gained new fans for the old soldiers by turning the team into a mentoring service for new heroes. It must have been hard to select a sample from that era but the editors here went for ‘The Return of Hawkman: Seven Devils’ (JSA #25, August  2001 by Goyer, Geoff Johns, Stephen Sadowski, Michael Bair, Dave Meikis, Paul Neary & Rob Leigh).

But first, a slight digression…

Hawkman is one of the oldest and most revered heroes of all time, premiering in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940). Although created by Gardner Fox & Dennis Neville, the most celebrated artists to have drawn the Winged Wonder are Sheldon Moldoff and Joe Kubert, whilst a young Robert Kanigher was justly proud of his later run as writer.

Carter Hall was a playboy archaeologist until he uncovered a crystal knife that unlocked his memories. He realised that once he was Prince Khufu of ancient Egypt, and that he and his lover Shiera had been murdered by High Priest Hath-Set. Moreover, with his returned memories came the knowledge that his love and his killer were also nearby.

Using his past life knowledge, he fashioned a costume and flying harness, hunting his killer as the Hawkman. Once his aim was achieved he and Shiera maintained their “Mystery-Man” roles to fight modern crime and tyranny with weapons of the past.

Disappearing as the Golden Age ended, they were revived by Julie Schwartz’s crack creative team in the 1960s, but after a long career involving numerous revamps and retcons, the Pinioned Paladin “died” during the Zero Hour crisis.

The interconnection between all those iterations is resolved after time-lost Jay The Flash Garrick awakens in ancient Egypt, and learns from that era’s superheroes – Nabu, the Lord of Order who created Doctor Fate, Black Adam and Khufu himself – the true origins of Hawkman whilst in the 21st century, the modern Hawkgirl discovers his connection to alien cop Katar Hol, the Hawkworld Thanagar and true power of empowering Nth Metal.

When Hawkgirl is abducted to the aforementioned Thanagar by its last survivors, desperate to thwart the schemes of the insane death-demon Onimar Synn, the JSA frantically follow and Carter Hall makes his dramatic return from beyond to save the day in typical fashion before leading the team to magnificent victory in this concluding chapter…

There have been many attempts to formally revive the team’s fortunes but it wasn’t until 1999, on the back of both the highly successful rebooting of the JLA by Grant Morrison & Howard Porter and the seminal but critically favoured modern Starman by James Robinson, that the multi-generational team found a new mission and fan-base big enough to support them. As the century ended the original super-team returned and have been with us in one form or another ever since.

Called to order after Infinite Crisis and Identity Crisis, this JSA saw the surviving heroes from WWII as teachers for the latest generation of young champions and metahuman “legacy-heroes”: a large, cumbersome but nevertheless captivating assembly of raw talent, uneasy exuberance and weary hard-earned experience.

Taken from truly epic storyline ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Ruy Jose & Drew Geraci’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ comes from Justice Society of America vol. 2 #10 (November 2007): expanding, clarifying and building on heroes introduced in the landmark 1996 Mark Waid & Alex Ross miniseries Kingdom Come, and its belated sequel The Kingdom.

The elder Kal-El from that tragic future dystopia has crossed time and dimensions to stop his world ever forming and not even awakened god Gog or his new allies will stop him. ‘What a Wonderful World’ sees Tomorrow’s Man of Steel disclose how the heroes and their successors almost destroyed the planet (with flashback sequences painted by Alex Ross) before (another) Starman explains his own connection to all the realms of the multiverse. Initially suspicious, the JLA come to accept the elder Man of Steel, but elsewhere, a deadly predator begins to eradicate demi-gods and pretenders to divinity throughout the globe…

Having grown too large and unwieldy again, DC’s continuity was again pruned and repatterned in 2011, leading to a New 52 as sampled here in concluding segment Part IV: Revamp 2012. Accompanied by another Cohen text briefing, ‘End Times’ by Robinson, Nicola Scott & Trevor Scott comes from Earth 2 #6 (January 2012) with a recreated JSA operating on a restored alternate Earth, but one where an attack from Apokolips has created a living hell for the survivors of humanity, and a small group of metahumans such as Flash, Hawkgirl and Green Lantern struggles to keep humanity alive and free…

With covers by Hibbard, Irwin Hasen, Arthur F. Peddy & Bernard Sachs, Sekowsky, Murphy Anderson, Joe Giella, Neal Adams, Dick Dillin, George Pérez, Tom Grindberg & Tony DeZuñiga, Mike Parobeck, Dave Johnson, Andrew Robinson, Alex Ross, Ivan Reis & Joe Prado, this magnificent celebration of the premiere super-team is a glorious march down memory lane no fan can be without. Whether in sturdy hardback or approachable electronic format, this titanic tome must be yours…
© 1941, 1947, 1950, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1970, 1979, 1981, 1986, 1992, 1999, 2001, 2007, 2012, 2015, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice


By David S. Goyer, Geoff Johns, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-937-9 (HB) 978-1-4012-0040-4 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Pristine Perfection for all Superhero Connoisseurs… 9/10

After the actual invention of the superhero – in the June 1938 Action Comics #1 debut of Superman – the most significant event in comic book history was the combination of individual sales-points into a group.

Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: consumers couldn’t get enough of garishly-hued mystery men, so combining a multitude of characters must inevitably increase readership. Plus, of course, a mob of superheroes is just so much cooler than one…or one-and-a-half if there’s a sidekick involved…

It cannot be understated: the creation of the Justice Society of America (in All Star Comics #3, cover-dated Winter 1940-1941) utterly changed the shape of the budding industry. Happy 80th Anniversary, chaps!

From the JSA stem all the multifarious thrills and wonders associated with panel-packed pages stuffed with dozens of heroes pounding the stuffings out of each other. …And then again, there are tales like this one…

Some books you can talk about, but with others it’s simply a waste of time. This is one of the latter. Please be aware that here the JSA was and is Earth’s premiere super-team: formed to crush oppression and injustice while raising morale during World War II. They are now an organisation regularly saving the world whilst mentoring the next generation of superheroes.

Their inspired successors, the Justice League of America are currently the World’s Greatest Superheroes – and have all the characters who’ve appeared on TV and in movies. You now have all the background you need to read this wonderful example of costumed hero fiction which remains inexplicably out of print both physically or digitally.

As they have done for years, the JLA and JSA have gotten together to celebrate Thanksgiving when suddenly alien conqueror Despero attacks them and the entire world by releasing the Seven Deadly Sins. These deadly demons promptly possess Batman, Power Girl, Mr. Terrific, Dr. Fate, Green Lantern, Plastic Man and Captain Marvel (as Shazam was called back then)…

Can the remaining heroes defeat the Sins without killing their friends, and save humanity from total destruction?

Of course they can, that’s the point. But seldom have they done it in such a spectacularly, well written and beautifully illustrated manner.

This is a piece of pure, iconic genre Fights ‘n’ Tights narrative that hits every target and pushes every button it should. If you love superhero comics you should own and treasure this lovely tale.
© 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Aquaman: Deadly Waters – The Deluxe Edition


By Steve Skeates, Jim Aparo, Neal Adams, Nick Cardy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1779502940 (HB)

Aquaman is one of a handful of costumed champions to survive the superhero collapse at the end of the Golden Age. For most of that time he was a rather nondescript and genial guy who – when not rescuing fish and people from sub-sea disasters – solved maritime crimes and mysteries.

The Sea King was created by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris, debuting in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941) in the wake of and in response to Timely Comics’ antihero Namor the Sub-Mariner. Strictly a second stringer for most of his career, Aquaman nevertheless continued on beyond many stronger features; illustrated by Norris, Louis Cazaneuve, Charles Paris, and latterly Ramona Fradon who drew almost every adventure from 1951 to 1961.

When Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s taste for costumed crimefighters with the advent of a new Flash in 1956, National/DC updated its small band of superhero survivors, especially Green Arrow and Aquaman.

As the sixties opened, Aquaman was appearing as a back-up feature in Detective and World’s Finest Comics. Following a team up with Hawkman in Brave and the Bold # 51 and a try-out run in Showcase #30-33, Aquaman made his big leap. After two decades of continuous nautical service, the marine marvel finally got his own comic book (cover-dated January/February 1962).

Now with his own title and soon to be featured in groundbreaking must-see cartoon show the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, our Finned Fury seemed destined for super-stardom, but despite increasingly bold and innovative tales presented with stunning art, his title was cancelled just after the decade closed. Towards the end, outrageously outlandish crime and sci fi yarns gave way to grittily hard-edged epics steered by revolutionary editor Dick Giordano and hot new talents Steve Skeates & Jim Aparo that might arguably be the first sallies of comic books’ landmark socially conscious “relevancy” period…

This compelling compilation – collecting Aquaman volume 1 #49-56 (February 1970 to April 1971) – is available in hardback and digital formats, offering potent dramas that changed perceptions of the amiable aquatic avenger forever as well as concluding his first foray as solo headliner…

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

A few years later new scripter Steve Skeates and equally fresh-faced illustrator Jim Aparo began an epic extended tale wherein the Sea Lord abandoned all regal responsibilities to hunt for his beloved after she was abducted from his very arms.

After rescuing Mera (in an extended epic collected in a previous volume) Aquaman moved back to Atlantis just in time to become embroiled in one of the earliest incidences of righteous eco-advocacy in American comics. Issue #49 stylishly blends a trip to Alaska, industrial waste dumping, greedy factory owners and an old ally acting as judge, jury and executioner while blowing up chemical plants in terse, potent thriller ‘As the Seas Die’.

With Aquaman and young partner Aqualad reeling from indecision over genuinely momentous issues, the tone abruptly switches for #50 as ‘Can This Be Death?’ sees Aparo stretch his creative muscles and enter the realms of psychodelia when the sea king is ambushed by aliens and banished to an incomprehensible otherworld.

The plot is ostensibly triggered by vengeful archenemy Ocean Master, but Skeates provides plenty of twists and surprises for Neal Adams to cover in his back-up slot ‘Deadman Rides Again!’

A complex braided crossover unfolds over the next three issues with Aquaman surviving bizarre threats and incomprehensible rituals in his exile realm, while the ghost of Boston Brand acts invisibly and intangibly to save the Sea King and prevent an alien invasion plot.

‘The Big Pull’ in #51 sees Aquaman assisted by a mute, nameless companion as he searches for a way home, whilst ‘The World Cannot Wait for a Deadman’ finds the spirit flitting between dimensions with shapeshifting enigma Tatsinda, before the parallel plots converge and complete in #52’s ‘The Traders Trap’ – with Aquaman accidentally abandoning his faithful companion to slavers and returning to face fresh hellion Black Manta before ‘Never Underestimate a Deadman’ sees the extraterrestrial invaders sent packing by the ghost and his new pal…

An element of wry satire underpins ‘Is California Sinking? in #53, as agents of O.G.R.E. dupe a wealthy conservative to buy a nuke and bomb Atlantis in the deranged conviction that his actions will prevent the Golden State from being submerged by tectonic forces. This all happens – and fails – without Aquaman’s interference since he’s still dealing with Black Manta…

It’s back to the surface and a return outing for the gangster who orchestrated Mera’s kidnap in #54 as ‘Crime Wave!’ in a chilling psychodrama which sees ordinary citizens engulfed in mind-controlled malevolence after being “killed” by “Thanatos”. Strangely, a brush with humanity’s death-urge doesn’t do much to stop Aquaman…

Seeking to clear up a loose end, Aquaman seeks to liberate his former otherworldly companion in #55’s ‘Return of the Alien!’ but gets a big shock when he confronts the slavers after which short sharp salutary vignette ‘Computer Trap!’ offers a never-untimely parable warning of the perils of mechanisation, dangers of conformity and benefits of youthful rebellion.

Despite producing some of the most avant-garde, intriguing, exciting and simply beautiful adventures of Aquaman’s entire career, Skeates & Aparo signed off with the next issue, more victims of the industry shift from Super Hero to supernatural themes. Aquaman #56 saw the series cancelled but the creators went out with a typically multi-layered bang as ‘The Creature that Devoured Detroit!’ saw the Sea King battling a mammoth unstoppable fungal bloom inundating Motor City, thanks to perpetual sunlight caused by a satellite designed by a vigilante to cut crime by abolishing night and shadows…

The madcap, trenchant and action-packed yarn is counterbalanced by a short Aquagirl yarn warning of ‘The Cave of Death!’

Augmented by a brace of Skeates-scribed ‘The Story Behind the Story’ text pages from Aquaman #52 and #54; creator biographies and a truly stunning gallery of eye-catching experimental covers by Nick Cardy, this collection is a treasure of lost wonders, worthy of far more attention than they’ve received. Time to balance those scales, adventure fans…
© 1970, 1971, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Black Canary: Bird of Prey


By Bob Kanigher, Gardner Fox, Denny O’Neil, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson, Alex Toth & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0908-6 (TPB)

Black Canary was one of the first of relatively few female heroes to hold a star spot in the DC universe, following Wonder Woman, Liberty Belle and Red Tornado (who actually masqueraded as a man to comedically crush crime – with a couple of kids in tow, too!). The Canary predated Merry, the Gimmick Girl – remember her? No, you don’t – and disappeared with most the majority of costumed crusaders at the end of the Golden Age: a situation that was not remedied util her revival with the Justice Society of America in 1963.

She was created by Bob Kanigher & Carmine Infantino in 1947, echoing the worldly, dangerous women cropping up in a burgeoning wave of crime novels and on the silver screen in Film Noir tales better suited to the wiser, more cynical Americans who had just endured a World War and were even then gearing up for a paranoiac Cold one…

Clad in a revealing bolero jacket, shorts, fishnet stockings and high-heeled pirate boots, the devastating shady lady who looked like Veronica Lake even began life as a thief…

This superb collection capitalises on the character’s recent screen incarnations, gathering her admittedly short run of tales from Flash Comics (#86-104, August 1947-February 1949), Comics Cavalcade #25 (February/March 1948), plus two adventures that went unused when the comicbook folded: one of the earliest casualties in the wave of changing tastes which decimated the superhero genre until the late 1950s. Those last only resurfaced at the end of the Second Great Superhero Winnowing and were subsequently published in DC Special #3 and Adventure Comics #399 (June 1969 & November 1970 respectively).

Also intriguingly included are two stellar appearances from Brave and the Bold #61-62 (September & November 1965), teamed up with JSA team-mate Starman as part of a concerted yet ultimately vain editorial effort by Julius Schwartz to revive the Golden Age squad of champions then comfortably situated on parallel world Earth-2.

Best of all is the re-presentation of a 2-part thriller from Adventure Comics #418-419 (April-May 1972) following her migration to “our” world to replace Wonder Woman in the Justice League of America.

After years languishing in a hard-to-find or afford Archive edition, these treasures have thankfully migrated to the paperback and digital forms found here. I trust you are suitably grateful and will purchase and peruse accordingly…

In the heady, desperate days of post-war uncertainty, continuity was meagre and nobody cared much about origins. All that mattered was pace, plot, action and spectacle. As we’ll see, even when the Black Bird got her own strip, where she came from was never as important as who she faced…

Flash Comics #86 was just another superhero anthology publication, suffering a slow sales decline wherein perennial B-feature Johnny Thunder had long since passed his sell-by date. Although a member of the Justice Society of America, Johnny was an old-fashioned comedy idiot; a genuine simpleton who just happened to control a genie-like Thunderbolt.

His affable, good-hearted bumbling had carried him through the war, but changing fashions had no room for a hapless (adult) hero anymore. When he encountered a seductively masked female Robin Hood who stole from crooks, the writing was on the wall. In this introductory yarn, ‘The Black Canary’ tricks him and T-Bolt into acquiring an invitation to a crime-lord’s party, lifts the ill-gotten loot and leaves Johnny to mop up the hoods. It was lust at first sight…

Nothing much was expected from these complete-in-one-episode filler strips. Hawkman and The Flash still hogged all the covers and glory, and although young artists Infantino & Joe Giella gave it their all as they learned their craft on the job, writer/editor Kanigher was often clearly making it up as he went along…

The next Johnny Thunder instalment in #87 featured ‘The Black Canary Returns’ with the Blonde Bombshell again making the big goof her patsy by leaving a perilous package in his inept hands. When mobsters retrieve the purloined parcel and secret documents it contains, Johnny follows and, more by luck than design, rescues the Canary from a deadly trap.

She returned in #88 – sans domino-mask – using trained (black) canaries to deliver messages as again landing in over her head. Once more forced to use the big sap and his magic pal to extricate herself, she nevertheless retrieves ‘The Map that Wasn’t There’ from a pack of human jackals.

Flash Comics #89 held the last Johnny Thunder solo tale – so it’s not included here – but she returned in full force for #90 as Johnny Thunder and the Black Canary officially team up to thwart a photographic frame-up and blackmail plot in ‘Triple Exposure!’

The partnership evolves in #91 as gangsters use rockets and ‘The Tumbling Trees!’ in their efforts to trap the svelte nemesis of evil – and just to be clear: that’s her, not Johnny…

The strip became Black Canary with the next issue. She even got to appear on the Lee Elias cover with Flash and Hawkman. Johnny simply vanished without trace or mention and his name was peremptorily applied elsewhere to a new cowboy hero as the rise of traditional genre material such as westerns relentlessly rolled on…

In ‘The Huntress of the Highway!’ however, feisty florist Dinah Drake is being pestered by arrogant, obnoxious but so-very-manly private eye Larry Lance, only to realise the wreath she’s working on is for him. Doffing her dowdy duds to investigate, she is just in time to save him from a wily gang of truck hijackers.

And that’s all the set-up we got. The new status quo was established and a pattern for fast-paced but inconsequential rollercoaster action romps took off…

To celebrate her arrival, the Canary also appeared in catch-all anthology Comics Cavalcade – specifically #25 (February/March 1948) where she flamboyantly finishes a ‘Tune of Terror!’ inflicted on a rural hick trying to claim an inheritance, but encountering nothing but music-themed menace…

A word of warning: Kanigher was a superbly gifted and wildly imaginative writer, but he never let sense or logic come between him and a memorable visual. The manic Deus ex Machina moment where a carpet of black canaries snatches the eponymous avenger and victim out of a death-plunge is, indeed, utter idiocy, but in those days, anything went…

Back in a more rational milieu and mood for Flash Comics #93, the ‘Mystery of the Crimson Crystal!’ sees the Canary tracking down a conman who bamboozled gullible women into parting with their fortunes for spurious immortality. On the home front, the utterly oblivious Larry has pressured shy Dinah into letting him use her shop as his detective office. Of course, the oaf has no idea his mousy landlady is the lethal object of his crime-busting desires…

The rather pedestrian ‘Corsage of Death!’ in #94 sees them save a scientist’s ultimate weapon from canny crooks, whilst ‘An Orchid for the Deceased!’ finds her framed for murder in an extremely classy Noir murder mystery before #96 combines equestrian robbery with aerial combat as gem thieves risk innocent lives to solve ‘The Riddle of the Topaz Brooch!’

Finally finding a formula that worked, Kanigher had Larry and the Canary investigate textile thieving thugs involved in ‘The Mystery of the Stolen Cloth!’ and murdering stamp-stealers in #98’s ‘The Byzantine Black’, as Infantino’s illustration grew ever more efficient and boldly effective.

‘Time Runs Out!’ in #99 ups the drama as ruthless radium-stealing gangsters trap the duo in a giant hourglass, before #100 again utilises baroque props and plots as they track a model-making gang of burglars and are unexpectedly caught in ‘The Circle of Terror!’

Just as the stories were building momentum and finding a unique voice, the curtains were beginning to draw closed. ‘The Day that Wouldn’t End!’ in #101 sees Canary and gumshoe uncover a sinister scheme to drive a rich man mad; Dinah’s shop becomes an unsuspected tool of crafty crooks in ‘The Riddle of the Roses!’ and ‘Mystery on Ice!’ finds the capable crime-crushers suckered by a pack of thieves determined to steal a formula vital to America’s security.

Flash Comics closed with #104, making way for new titles and less fantastic thrills. ‘Crime on Her Hands!’ ended the Canary’s crusade on a high, however, with an absorbing murder-mystery involving a college class of criminologists. She wouldn’t be seen again until the return of the Justice Society as part of the Silver Age revival of costumed mystery men, when awestruck readers learned that there were infinite Earths and untold wonders to see…

Nevertheless, the sudden cancellation meant two months’ worth of material was in various stages of preparation when the axe fell. The “All-Girl Issue” (yes, I know, but it was actually progress for the times, so please just go with it if you can) of reprint series DC Special (#3) subsequently printed one of the Canary yarns in April 1969. Bernard Sachs inked Infantino as ‘Special Delivery Death!’ finds Lance framed for murder and both Dinah and Black Canary using their particular gifts to clear him. Adventure Comics #399 (November 1970) printed the last story as ‘Television Told the Tale!’, revealing how a live broadcast tips off the Blonde Bombshell to crime in the making…

Once the Silver Age revival took hold, superheroes were everywhere and response to Earth-2 appearances prompted DC to try-out a number of impressive permutations designed to bring back the World’s first team of costumed adventurers.

Try-out comic The Brave and the Bold #61 (August-September 1965) offered a brace of truly titanic tales by Gardner Fox & Murphy Anderson, pairing the Canary with Ted Knight, the Sentinel of Super-Science called Starman. The deliriously delights began with ‘Mastermind of Menaces’, as vile techno-wizard The Mist returned, using doctored flowers to hypnotise his victims into voluntarily surrendering their wealth. When he utilised Dinah’s flower shop to source his souped-up blooms, she, husband Larry and visiting pal Ted were soon on the villain’s trail…

Mystery and intrigue gave way to all-out action in #62’s ‘The Great Superhero Hunt!’ as husband-and-wife criminals Sportsmaster and Huntress stalked superheroes for kicks and profit. By the time Feline Fury Wildcat became their first victim, Ted and Dinah were on the case and ready for anything…

These latter classic tales alone are worth the price of purchase, but this splendid tome still has the very best to come as Adventure Comics #418 & 419 provide a scintillating 2-part graphic extravaganza by Dennis O’Neil & the legendary Alex Toth.

Originally an Earth-2 crime-fighter, Dinah was transplanted to our world by the wonders of trans-dimensional vibration after husband Larry was killed (see Justice League of America #73-75 and assorted JLA compilations).

Beginning a possibly rebound romance with Green Arrow, Dinah struggled to find her feet on a strangely different yet eerily familiar world. In ‘Circle of Doom Parts 1 & 2’ she accepts a job teaching self-defence to women. The bereaved troubleshooter has no idea her pupils are hirelings of vicious criminal Catwoman and the martial arts moves she shares will lead to her death and the liberation of a deadly menace…

Augmented by detailed biographies of the many people who worked on the character, this admittedly erratic collection starts slow but builds in quality until it ranks amongst the very best examples of Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy. Why not see for yourself?

© 1947, 1948, 1949, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1972, 2021 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.