Spirou & Fantasio volume 17 – The Marsupilamis’ Nest


By André Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-533-2 (Album PB)

Spirou (whose name translates as “squirrel”, “mischievous” and “lively kid” in the language of Walloons) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter – AKA Rob-Vel – for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis. The evergreen star was a response to the success of Hergé’s Tintin at rival outfit Casterman. At first, the character Spirou was a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (an in-joke reference to Dupuis’ premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with his pet squirrel Spip evolved into astounding and often surreal comedy dramas.

The other red-headed lad debuted on April 21st 1938 in an 8-page, French-language tabloid magazine that bears his name to this day. Fronting a roster of new and licensed foreign strips – Fernand Dineur’s Les Aventures de Tif (latterly Tif et Tondu) and US newspaper imports Red Ryder, Brick Bradford and Superman – the now-legendary anthology Le Journal de Spirou grew exponentially: adding Flemish edition Robbedoes on October 27th 1938, increasing page count and adding compelling action, fantasy and comedy features until it was an unassailable, unmissable necessity for Franco-Belgian kids.

Spirou and chums spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with many impressive creators building on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin, who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was aided by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943, when Dupuis purchased all rights to the feature, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took over.

In 1946, Jijé’s assistant André Franquin inherited the feature. Gradually, he retired traditional short gag-like vignettes in favour of longer adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars. He ultimately devised a phenomenally popular nigh-magical animal dubbed Marsupilami, who debuted in 1952’s Spirou et les héritiers.

Jean-Claude Fournier succeeded Franquin: overhauling the feature over nine stirring serial adventures between 1969-1979 which tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist with tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s, the series seemed stalled, with three different creative teams alternating on the serial: Raoul Cauvin & Nic Broca, Yves Chaland, and Philippe Vandevelde – writing as “Tome” & artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry.

These last reverently referenced the still-beloved Franquin era: reviving the feature’s fortunes in 14 wonderful albums between 1984-1998. After their departure the strip diversified into parallel strands: Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…

Efforts by Lewis Trondheim and the teams of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera and Fabien Vehlmann & Yoann brought the official album count to nearly 80 (if you include specials, spin-offs series and one-shots, official and otherwise), but there are still plenty of the older vintages uncollected, just waiting for another nostalgia wave to revive them (perhaps in Complete Collections as has been done with Lucky Luke and Valerian and Laureline…?)

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since October 2009, mostly concentrating on translating Tome & Janry’s superb pastiche/homages of Franquin, but for this manic marvel (available in paperback and digitally) we hark all the way back to 1960 for pure Franquin-formulated furore and fiasco.

The contents are actual two separate yarns, originally serialised in LJdS #699-991 (1956-1957) and #1034-1045 (1958) before being collected in 1960 as 12th European album Le nid des Marsupilamis. It’s brought to you as The Marsupilamis’ Nest

In 1952’s Spirou et les héritiers, intrepid heroes Spirou and Fantasio encountered an incredible elastic-tailed anthropoid in the jungles of Central American nation Palombia: ultimately bringing the fabulous, affable creature back to civilisation and a string of bizarre and absurd adventures.

Franquin had assumed all creative responsibilities for Dupuis’ flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée (LJdS #427, June 20th 1946). He ran wild and prospered for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons of the stories until the feature became purely his own.

As the Bellboy became a globe-trotting journalist, fans continuously met startling new characters such as comrade/rival reporter Fantasio; crackpot inventor Count of Champignac and inept colleague Gaston Lagaffe (known in Britain as Gomer Goof). Travelling to exotic places, they uncovered crimes, challenged the fantastic unknown and clashed with nefarious arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Zantafio. They also competed with one of the first strong female characters in European comics – rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine in the current English translation).

In this compilation, the eponymous lead story sees the enquiring lads lose out on a prestigious film-&-lecture gig to Cellophine, who has truly scooped them by penetrating the Palombian rain forest to create a compelling documentary of the language, mating habits and daily life of Marsupilamis…

Dramatic, action-packed, romantic, passionate and utterly hilarious, the tale depicts the earliest moments of the manic monkey’s adorable triplets and was apparently crafted by Franquin as his wife Liliane was carrying their first child…

The joys of the wilderness are counterbalanced by an enthralling graphic essay on civilisation and human nature as La foire aux gangsters AKA ‘The Gangster Fair’ sees Spirou and Fantasio – after some spectacular initial resistance – trained in the martial arts by innocuous-seeming Yudai Nao.

The aging oriental gentleman is the dutiful bodyguard of Yankee oil tycoon John P. Nutt, whose upcoming visit to Europe has afforded gangster Lucky Caspiano a chance to extract money and exact vengeance on a despised old enemy. Our heroes’ training is intended to create unsuspected back-up for the sentinel, but when the villains brutally remove Mr Nao and kidnap Nutt’s infant son, the likely lads find themselves on their own and painfully probing a sordid street fair for clues. Eventually their investigations centre on an all-comer’s boxing booth…

Happily, the reporters have unexpected allies – such as hapless office intern Gomer Goof and a thug with a conscience – but as the caper devolves into a manic, violent chase, Spirou deduces that they have been lied to, and that not every player in this game is on the side of the angels…

The Marsupilamis’ Nest offers the kind of lightly-barbed, comedy-thriller that delights readers fed up with a marketplace far too full of adults-only carnage, testosterone-fuelled breast-beating, teen-romance monsters or sickly-sweet fantasy.

Easily accessible to readers of all ages and rendered with the beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke, and Iznogoud so compelling, this is a delicious tale from a long line of superb exploits that cries out to be a household name as much as those series – and even that other kid with the white dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1960 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2020 © Cinebook Ltd.

Showcase Presents Aquaman volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Brought Me the Ocean


By Alex Sanchez, Julie Maroh & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9081-8 (TPB)

In recent years DC has opened up its shared superhero universe to generate Original Graphic Novels featuring its stars in stand-alone(ish) adventures for the demographic clumsily dubbed Young Adult. To date, results have been rather hit or miss, but when they’re good they are very good indeed…

An ideal example is You Brought Me the Ocean, which reinterprets the origin of modern day Aqualad, concentrating on the comic book character’s Gay credentials rather than his costumed career.

Crafted by Alex Sanchez (Rainbow Boys; So Hard to Say; The God Box; The Greatest Superpower) and Julie Maroh (Blue is the Warmest Color; Body Music) and available in paperback and eBook editions, this dreamily-rendered, salty sea tale details the graduating year of High School student Jake Hyde who lives in the driest part of New Mexico but dreams of deep-sea kingdoms and fantastic marine adventure.

His mother is a constant worrier: always telling him to eat properly, dress appropriately and stay hydrated. Ironically though, ever since his all-but-forgotten dad drowned years ago, she has never let him near large bodies of water… or even allowed him to swim…

Always a loner, Jake’s absolute best friend in the one-horse town of Truth or Consequences (formerly Hot Springs, NM) is Maria Mendez. She has already mapped out their future together and has no idea he yearns for the nautical life and has already applied to University of Miami to study Oceanography…

The Mendez’s are neighbours and a second family, and far more amenable to Jake’s aspirations of leaving New Mexico, whilst his own mother shuts down every attempt to discuss the issue. She’s far more concerned with why Jake and Maria haven’t started dating yet. Sadly, Jake has never – ever – thought of her that way and has resigned himself to going it alone if he wants to realise his ambitions…

One day, things change dramatically as Jake suddenly notices class rebel Kenny Liu. He’s known the strange, outspoken outsider since Middle School, but has stayed well away – painfully aware of the target the outsider’s actions made him. Now though, the bully-defying, openly-Gay swim team star-athlete seems irresistibly fascinating…

And apparently, the interest is mutual…

Life changes forever when Jake agrees to accompany Kenny on a hike into the desert. The far more mature misfit has plenty of solid advice – on Maria, leaving town and life choices – but all that is forgotten when a sudden flash-flood interrupts their first kiss and activates tattoo-like birthmarks all over Jake’s body. Suddenly, he starts to glow and project water-manipulating energies…

With Jake’s world suddenly shaken to flotsam and jetsam, shock follows shock and calamity arrives in its wake. Jake’s attempts to explore his sexuality bring heartbreak and chaos, but even that’s dwarfed when he comes out to his mom and learns the truth about his father and how he is connected to both superhero Aquaman and one of the most dangerous villains on Earth…

Moreover, in the throes of these astounding revelations and an irresistible attraction, it’s too easy to forget that not only metahuman maniacs respond with bigotry and mindless violence to what they deem “unnatural”…

A truly magical treatment exploring the processes of coming out and finding yourself, deftly cloaked in the shiny trappings of costumed heroics, the search for belonging and teen feelings of alienation, You Brought Me the Ocean is an intriguing tale to warm the heart and comes with a contact page detailing Resources available to those affected by the issues herein; personal messages from Sanchez and Maroh and an extensive section of designs and drawings from the illustrator’s Sketchbook.
© 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Y: The Last Man Book Four



By Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Goran Sudžuka, José Marzán Jr. & various (DC/Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2888-0 (HB) 978-1-4012-6168-9 (TPB)

Back in 2002, an old, venerable and cherished science fiction concept got a smart and satirical updating in Vertigo comic book series Y: The Last Man. These days it’s more relevant than ever as the premise explores the aftermath and consequences of a virulent global plague.

Fresh, pithy and wry, the Vertigo Comics version begins with a mystery plague destroying every male mammal on Earth, along with all the foetuses.

If it had a Y chromosome it croaked, except, somehow, for college-boy slacker and amateur escapologist Yorick Brown – and his pet monkey Ampersand. One night the guy goes to bed pining for his absent girlfriend Beth DeVille (an anthropology grad on a dig in Australia) and the next day Ampersand is the only male animal on Earth and he’s the last man alive…

Yorick’s mum, part of the new (for which read Still Standing after a failed power-grab by the assembled widows of Republican Congressmen) Presidential Cabinet, is by default a Leader of the Free World until the New President can get to Washington to take office.

Yorick made his way to her through a devastated urban landscape (the plague hit during rush-hour on the East Coast and we all know that chicks can’t even parallel park let alone wrestle the controls from the hands of a dead bus driver, subway steersman or airline pilot…) but had to escape from her half-hearted attempt to lock him in a bunker. Forthwith the lad immediately set off for the Land Down Under and his one true love.

Over three years, he made his peril-packed way from the East Coast overland to California, getting ever closer to his fiancée, who he assumed had been stranded in Oz since civilisation ended. Accompanying him on his westward trek were secret agent/bodyguard 355 and geneticist Dr. Allison Mann, who sought to solve his mysteriously continued existence whilst secretly suspecting she might have caused the plague by giving birth to the world’s first parthenogenetic human clone.

Also out to stake their claim and add to the general tension were a crack squad of Israeli commandos led by the steely-willed General Tse’Elon, equipped with the latest high-powered weapons and a hidden agenda, plus post-disaster cult Daughters of the Amazon who want to ensure there really are no more men left to mess up the planet.

To further complicate matters, for much of that journey Yorick’s occasionally insane sister, Hero, was stalking them across the ultra-feminised, ravaged and now generally dis-United States.

On finally arriving in San Francisco, Agent 355 and Dr. Mann discover the truth of Yorick’s immunity but before they can capitalise on it, Ampersand is snatched by a ninja. Apparently, all along the monkey had held the secret to the plague which killed all us mouth-breathing, unsanitary louts…

Following a violently revelatory time and lots of aggravation, this fourth grand compilation – available in hardcover, trade paperback and eBook formats – collects issues #37-48, spanning November 2005 to October 2006, and opens with a 3-parter by originators and co-creators Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra with additional pencils by Goran Sudžuka. In case you were wondering, the entire book is inked by José Marzán Jr, coloured by Zylonol and lettered by Clem Robbins.

Originally published in #37-39, ‘Paper Dolls’ (pencilled by Guerra & Sudžuka) introduces hard-bitten reporter Paloma West, haunting Sydney docks, seeking to verify rumours that a living man has been sighted. Whilst 355 and Mann are insistent that they travel on to Japan where Ampersand has been spotted, all Yorick can think of is that after years of struggle he’s finally where he needs to be…

Technically under arrest themselves, the determined but well-intentioned custodians succumb to Yorick’s whining, granting him 24 hours to find Beth. It’s not much of a chance but love will find a way… Nobody, however, takes Paloma seriously, and that’s a big, big mistake…

With his existence about to be made globally public, Yorick learns a few tantalising secrets about enigmatic Agent 355 before they confront West. The bodyguard wants her dead, but the reporter claims to know where Yorick’s beloved is right now…

With Time Up, the last man and his minders follow Ampersand to Japan and the secret of the plague, even though Beth has left on an epic trek to Paris – the French one…

Meanwhile in Washington, Yorick’s mother and General Tse’Elon have a fatal confrontation before the scene shifts to the Midwest for ‘The Hour of Our Death’ (rendered by Sudžuka & Marzán Jr.). Here, Hero meets one of her brother’s past indiscretions and realises she’s about to become an aunt, just as a band of Vatican-despatched nuns arrive to grab what might be the last child ever born. Seems they’re in the market for a new Madonna and Child…

‘Buttons’ finally focuses on the tragic past of 355, exposing how she became an agent of the insidious Culper Ring, whilst our unhappy voyagers flee from savages in New Guinea. Craftily shifting scenes to follow that darn monkey, ‘1,000 Typewriters’ details exactly how the male-specific mass-extinction came about, just as the cast reach Japan and the dramatic last act is set to open…

With Pia Guerra back on pencils for #43-46, Yorick and his extremely tolerant minders reach Japan, following the ninja who stole his crucially important monkey. ‘Kimono Dragons’ finds the wanderers in Yokogata Port, joined by Rose, a ship’s captain who befriends them on their voyage. They soon split up though, when Ampersand’s tracking device starts working again: Yorick and 355 follow it to Tokyo, whilst Rose and Dr. Mann explore a different path.

Allison Mann is a brilliant scientist, but nowhere near as smart as her parents – both radical geneticists with major personal issues. Allison is convinced her mother had something to do with the plague and Ampersand’s abduction. She’s right too, but as she and Rose approach the elder Doctor’s rural laboratory, they have no idea the pesky little simian has already escaped and is loose somewhere in Tokyo. They are equally unaware the lethally ruthless ninja is also hunting the lost capuchin…

Meanwhile, heavily disguised Yorick and 355 roam Tokyo with relative ease. It is a city seemingly unchanged by the disaster, but appearances can be horrifyingly deceiving…

Back in Kansas though, Yorick’s sister finds a hidden enclave where she sees proof that he is no longer the last male alive (see Y: The Last Man Book Two)…

Ampersand’s trail draws Yorick and 355 into conflict with the now all-female Yakuza gangs. They find an ally in undercover cop You, but her plan doesn’t inspire much confidence…

…And when Allison’s mother – let’s capriciously call her Dr. Matsumori – finally appears, Rose and Allison are too slow to prevent a bloody assault. As the aging doctor works to save a life, she reveals the hidden agendas and reasons why American politicians, Israeli soldiers and greedy opportunists around the globe have been hunting Yorick and Ampersand for the last four years…

In Tokyo, the scheme to recover Ampersand has also gone brutally awry, but the big surprise is in Yokogata, where Allison learns who employed the Ninja and orchestrated the whole affair… and who designed and released the plague…

As renegade General Tse’Elon invades the Kansas enclave where Hero Brown is helping raise the last children born on Earth, ‘Tin Man’ (rendered by Sudžuka & Marzán Jr.) traces the convoluted history of Allison Mann as her parents shattered scientific barriers, ethical codes and each other’s hearts fighting over her affections. It also reveals implications of the broken family’s genetic meddling, before closing with ‘Gehenna’, an equally illuminating examination of Tse’Elon’s past: what fuelled her rise to power before the fall of man, and how far she’ll go to achieve her ends, ending the book on a chilling cliffhanger…

Before that close, however, devotees and wannabes can bask in behind-the-scenes revelations as ‘Y: The Script’ reprints Vaughn’s full script for #42’s ‘1,000 Typewriters’.

By crafting their slow-burning saga to highlight carefully sculpted, credible characters and probable situations, Vaughan & Guerra built an intellectually seductive soap-opera fantasy of telling power. As the impressive conclusion neared, this enchantingly-paced, dryly ironic, chilling, moving and clever tale blossomed into a very special epic to delight and beguile any fan of mature fiction. Bear down, the best is yet to come…
© 2006 Brian K Vaughan & Pia Guerra. All Rights Reserved.

Harley Quinn and the Gotham Girls


By Paul D. Storrie, Jennifer Graves & J. Bone with Brad Rader, Rick Burchett & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9971-2 (TPB)

Harley Quinn wasn’t supposed to be a star… or even an actual comics character. As soon became apparent, however, the manic minx always has her own astoundingly askew and off-kilter ideas on the matter… and any other topic you could name: ethics, friendship, ordnance, coffee…

Created by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. Ostensibly for kids, the breakthrough television cartoon revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and immediately began feeding back into the print iteration, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, reshaped the grim avenger and his extended team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only the most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to…

Harley was initially the Clown Prince of Crime’s slavishly adoring, extreme abuse-enduring assistant, as seen in Joker’s Favor (airing on September 11th 1992). She instantly captured the hearts and minds of millions of viewers and began popping up in the incredibly successful licensed comic book. Always stealing the show, she soon graduated into mainstream DC continuity. Along the circuitous way, Harley – AKA Dr. Harleen Quinzel – developed a support network of sorts in living bioweapon Poison Ivy and a bizarre love/hate relationship with some of Gotham’s other female felons…

After a brief period bopping around the DCU, she was re-imagined as part of the company’s vast post-Flashpoint major makeover: subsequently appearing all over comics as cornerstone of a new iteration of the Suicide Squad, in movies and her own adult-oriented animation series. At heart, however, she’s always been a cartoon glamour-puss, with big, bold, primal emotions and only the merest acknowledgement of how reality works…

Amongst the plethora of comic books generated by the original cartoon show was a smartly sassy romp featuring those aforementioned crime cuties as well as brace of mismatched and openly antithetical law enforcers. Crafted by Paul D. Storrie, Jennifer Graves & J. Bone, 5-issue miniseries Gotham Girls was released between October 2002 and February 2003: opening with ‘Cat’s Paw’ as super-thief Selena Kyle undertakes a commission to steal something nasty from agricultural conglomerate Zehn Chemicals.

She’s still determined to open a lion sanctuary with her fee and doesn’t appreciate when the supposedly simple caper is interrupted by juvenile do-gooder Batgirl. However, as they trade kicks, punches and quips, overworked, under-appreciated and overlooked GCPD detective Renee Montoya is taking a closer look at the supposed victims and sees something dirty…

Then, as Bat and Cat ferociously but inconclusively throw down all over town, the masterminds behind the theft make their move, and it becomes clear that there’s a lot going on that needs to be properly unearthed…

‘Ivy League’ exposes murderous eco-terrorist Pamela Lillian Isley as bankroller of the heist, claiming benevolent motives to reclaim her own property from unscrupulous, world-endangering corporate creeps. However, because her bestest pal Harley is as erratic and excitable as ever, a potential Bat/Cat/Plant-girl/Dingbat alliance is thwarted by mutual mistrust and excessive, utterly unnecessary violence.

Montoya, meanwhile, is diligently following clues, interviewing greedy biologists and uncovering something at rival agri-company Kayle Corporation…

The fast-moving melee ends in leafy Robinson Park, with Batgirl holding the stolen chemicals, until ‘Harlequinade’ sees manic, attention-starved Quinn pull a martial masterstroke, delivering the bio-booty to her disturbingly abusive gal-pal and a heavy defeat to Catwoman and Batgirl. Naturally, that’s just when solid police practice explosively brings Montoya to their secret lair for ‘I Carry a Badge!’

Brilliant deduction and a standard-issue firearm aren’t much use against super-villains and giant carnivorous vines though, so it’s a good thing Batgirl and Catwoman have both independently tracked Harley and Ivy. With action amped to maximum, good girls and bad girls clash yet again, and sides are finally drawn for the climactic conclusion, with frustrated cop and masked vigilante hero united at last and resolved to end the chaos in ‘Bat Attitude’.

Of course, that means not just Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are going to jail…

A superbly riotous rollercoaster ride for kids of all ages, each chapter also deftly explores the interior life, history and motivations of successive stars – offering canny character building and definition most mature-reading tales would be proud to deliver.

Coloured by Patricia Mulvihill, lettered by Phil Felix and with additional layouts by Rick Burchett and Brad Rader, this classy, classically cops ‘n’ robbers riot plays very much like a 1940s movie chapter-play – albeit with outrageous gags, biting dialogue and a blend of black humour and bombastic action. A frantic, frenetic hoot, this is an absolute delight, well worth the price of admission and an irresistible treasure to be enjoyed over and over again.
© 2002, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Ofelia – A Love and Rockets Book: 11


By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-806-9 (TPB)

Please pay attention: this book contains stories and images of an extremely adult nature – specifically designed for consumption by mature readers – as well as coarse vulgar language most kids are fluent in by the age of ten.

If reading about such things offends you, please stop now and go away. Tomorrow I’ll do something with violence and explosions, so come back then.

In addition to being part of the ongoing graphic literary revolution that is Love and Rockets (where his astonishingly compulsive tales of Palomar gained vast critical acclaim), Gilbert Hernandez has produced stand-alone tales such as Sloth, Girl Crazy, Julio’s Day and Hypnotwist: all distinguished by his bold, simplified line artwork and sensitive use of the literary techniques of Magical Realist writers Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez: techniques which he has added to and made his own.

Love and Rockets – by Gilbert and brothers Jaime and Mario – was/is an anthology comics publication featuring sleek, intriguing, sci-fi-ish larks, heart-warming, gut-wrenching soap-opera fantasies, terrifying manic monster stories and experimental comic narratives that pretty much defy classification. To this day, the Hernandez boys continue to captivate with incredible stories sampling a thousand influences conceptual and actual – everything from Archie Comics and alternative music to German Expressionism and masked wrestlers.

Originally conceived for extended serial Heartbreak Soup, Palomar was a conceptual playground and cultural toybox; an impoverished Latin-American village with a vibrant, funny and fantastically quotidian cast. Everything from life, death, adultery, alien infiltration, magic making, hauntings, serial-killing and especially gossip happened in its meta-fictional environs as Gilbert plundered his own post-punk influences – comics, music, drugs, comics, strong women, gangs, sex, family and comics – in a style informed by everything from Tarzan strips to Saturday morning cartoons and The Lucy Show.

Beto – as he signs himself – returns to Palomar constantly, usually with tales involving formidable matriarch Luba, who ran the village’s bath house and cinema; acted as Mayor and sometimes law enforcer – as well as adding regularly and copiously to the general population. Her children, brought up with no acknowledged fathers in sight, are Maricela, Guadalupe, Doralis, Casimira, Socorro, Joselito and Conchita.

Luba is a character who defies easy description and I don’t actually want to: As one of the most complex women in literature, let alone comics, she’s somebody you need to experience, not learn of second-hand. You will certainly notice that she has absolutely enormous breasts. Deal with it. These stories are casually, graphically, sexually explicit, and appalling violence is also never far from the players lives…

Luba’s story is about Life, and sex and death happen, casually and often, usually to and with the wrong people at the wrong time. If harsh language and cartoon nudity (male and female) are an insurmountable problem for you, don’t read these tales; but it is genuinely your loss.

Throughout all those eventful years, normally always in the background and frequently sidelined, was Luba’s cousin Ofelia: confidante, babysitter, surrogate mum, family conscience and keen – if not especially detached – observer…

After a run of spectacular stories (all of which have been collected in a variety of formats and editions which I really must get around to reviewing in their entirety), the first incarnation of Love and Rockets ended. Luba and her extended family graduated to a succession of mini-series which focussed on her relocation to the USA to reunite with her half-sisters Rosalba (“Fritz”) and Petra Martinez. The tone and content ranged from surreal to sad to funny to thrilling. The entire world can be found in those pages.

Although in an ideal world you would read that aforementioned older material first, there’s absolutely no need to. Reminiscence and the force of memory are as much a part of this potent passion-play as family feeling, music, infidelity, survival, punk rock philosophy, and laughter – lots and lots of laughter.

Brilliantly illustrated, these are human tales as earthy any as any Chaucer’s Pilgrims could tell, as varied and appetising as any of Boccaccio’s Decameron and as universally human as the best of that bloke Shakespeare…

This particular monochrome family album – available in paperback and digital editions -compiles assorted material first seen in Luba #3-9; Luba’s Comics and Stories #2-5 and Measles #3 and sees so-often sidelined “sister” Ofelia notionally promoted to headliner. Following a pictorial reintroduction to ‘Luba’s Family’, the ever-unfolding saga resumes with ‘Remember Me’ as the youngest kids swap tales of the fathers they have never known.

‘Luba and the Little Ones’ finds the ferocious matron calming down her very excitable progeny, beforeSocorro…’details that girl’s educational problems. Apparently, she is too smart and her teachers want her transferred to a special school…

‘The Book of Ofelia Part One’ sees Luba and her mute, maimed and possibly former gangster husband Khamo reeling from the news that their faithful major domo is considering writing a book based on her cousin’s drama-drenched life. With friction mounting, the frustrated author and perennial babysitter casts her mind back to Palomar, where she sacrificed her relationship with lover Rico (“call me Ooli”) to raise a wild toddler called Luba.

Back in the now, wise-beyond-her-years Casimira knows her quiet guardian is in contact with an old flame on the internet…

‘The Book of Ofelia Part Two’ expands on the theme as the prospective writer recalls years of fighting with her wilful, almost elemental charge, whilst pondering a too-long deferred decision…

‘Spot Marks the Ex’ then exposes more family scandals as entrepreneurial Pipo tries to get rid of her former husband Gatoand deal with the ongoing problems caused by Luba’s daughter Doralis.

Much to the sponsors’ horror the teen star of Pipo’s popular Spanish-language kid’s show plans to come out as a lesbian, someone at the studio is giving the newspapers salacious scandals for their holier-than-thou gossip pages and her beloved son Sergio Jimenez (a soccer superstar and celebrity bad boy) is having an affair with Fritz Martinez – the very woman Pipo cannot get out of her own libidinously supercharged mind…

Fritz is a terrifyingly complex creature: psychiatrist, therapist, B-Movie actress, belly dancer, amorous drunk, gun-fetishist, sexually aggressive and a manipulative serial spouse. Beautiful, enticingly emotionally damaged, her “high soft lisp” more likely an affectation than genuine speech impediment, she sashays from crisis to triumph and back again, and (almost) everybody who wants hers can apparently have her – except increasingly impatient Pipo…

Moreover, as strident accountant Boots signs on to save Pipo’s company, the stressed and busy businesswoman begins to suspect Sergio and his stepfather Gato have some strange connection and are up to no good…

‘El Show Super Duper Sensacional Fantastico de Doralis’ reveals the controversial gay star’s story of the irresistibly beguiling merfolk who live in secret amongst us, after which ‘Snail Trail’ introduces well-meaning young Hector who rescues Socorro and Joselito after they steal and crash a car.

He sees and is instantly enchanted by their Tia (that’s Aunt in Spanish, hombre) Fritz in ‘Bromear’ and in ‘Meeting Cute, Fucking Cuter’ falls hopelessly for the sexual predator: so much so, in fact, that he agrees to her request to date her quirky, buff, bodybuilding older sister Petra, thus leaving Fritz free for a sordid secret affair with toyboy acquaintance Sergio…

Sadly, whipped Hector finds he has more in common with Petra’s little daughter Venus. They both love the same comicbooks, movies and music and she doesn’t make him do things he’d rather not…

A garden party bids ‘Buen Viaje, Socorro’ and sees the smart girl’s last family fun before heading off to smart kid boarding school, after which ‘Luba One’ finds the downhearted mum dragged to a fetish party by Fritz and Pipo where she finds blonde sex god Fortunato: a man no woman can resist and a perfect lover who derives no joy from his conquests…

Boots, mindful of the merman legend, speculates on his origins in ‘The Fortunato Files’ after which ‘The Goddess and the Goof’ finds Hector finally capitulating to pressure and taking gloriously gorgeous, Amazonian Petra out only to discover she is every inch as bewitching and satisfying as her sister. Conflicted by a surfeit of physical riches he ponders a big decision…

After a little dance madness in ‘El Biale’, Venus and Doralis share a moment with one of the fallen star’s fans in ‘The Glamorous Life’ whilst ‘Boots Takes the Case’ has the tenacious little accountant assume a larger role. With Gato exposed as the source of the leaks and sorrowfully reaping his reward in ‘And So…’, Boots proceeds to pry out more secrets in ‘Kisses for Pipo’; appraising key moments since the entrepreneur entered America as a teen, disclosing her past interactions with Sergio, Gato (and his current wife Guadalupe), Fortunato and Pipo’s latest fling Igor

‘In Bed with Pipo’ targets her bizarrely twisted relationship with gun-obsessed Fritz, the men they occasionally share and a terrifying past experience when both were stranded in a country in the midst of an anti-Christian genocide…

Revelations include the horrific tale of how High-School junior Rosalba fell into an abusive relationship with a middle-aged cop, offering telling insights for her modern personas…

‘Luba Two’ delves deep into Khamo’s off-kilter arrangements with both cops and drug dealers whilst – after surreal sight-gag ‘Uno Dos Tres’‘The New Adventures of Venus’ proves the latest generation can be just as determined and violently forceful. When the little comics lover discovers her best friend is a potential romantic rival, Venus takes excessive punitive action on the soccer field…

With the entire world on tenterhooks as a colossal meteor hurtles towards Earth, Fritz’s exploitative ex-husband Scott gets up to his old tricks in ‘The Beloved and the Damned’. He couldn’t have expected the savage beating a mysterious stranger delivers after ripping off kickboxing Petra’s baby sister though.

Unfortunately, the Avenger in question gets a taste for vigilantism and begins looking for other jerks in need of straightening out…

Khamo’s underworld connections then lead to a disquieting abduction and ‘Luba’s Science Lesson’ before ever-more conflicted Hector returns, still unable to choose between Petra and Fritz but currently distracted by his ex-girlfriend taking him to court as part of a whacko ploy to get him back in ‘And Justice for Some’.

That plan goes badly wrong after a stranger beats her to a pulp in the parking lot of the strip club she works at…

Boot’s ongoing investigations resurface as she explains ‘The Tao of Doralis’ before a very stoned ‘Hector’ rescues non-English-speaking Luba from a bar, leading into flashbacks of ‘Khamo’ and her early days. That long, weird walk home also delivers more revelations about the enigmatic Fortunato before Luba and her taciturn husband at last reconcile in ‘Lovers and Hector’

Events then take a dark turn in ‘Sergio Rocks’ as the wild child is targeted by gangster gamblers, even as belly-dancing novice ‘Guadalupe’ strives to escape the overwhelming influence of her charismatic Tia Fritz…

Receding Ofelia resurfaces in ‘Luba Again’ as the cousins bitterly and violently argue over the proposed warts-and-all book and, after visual aside ‘Click!’, the determined author visits Socorro in ‘La Luba’ whilst long ostracised Maricela has a rather one-sided chat with step-dad Khamo in ‘Burning for You’

‘Pipo’s Burden’ revisits her still-growing obsession with Fritz whilst ‘Of Two Minds’ highlights Hector’s suspicions when he attends one of Petra’s boxing bouts and Fortunato works his magic on schoolteacher Guadalupe and Ofelia in ‘But the Little Girls Understand’ after which ‘Luba Three’ ushers in the beginning of the end of this family’s affairs…

‘Fritz and Pipo, Sittin’ in a Tree’ sees Sergio growing aggressively intolerant of his mother’s dilemma whilst still making casual use of Fritz himself. Soon the still-active vigilante has hospitalised the entrepreneur, and more tragedy strikes when Ofelia has a heart attack in ‘God Willing’

Once the violence begins it seems impossible to stop and in ‘Luba Four’ the so-dysfunctional family splinters even further when an abduction and punishment beating goes too far…

I’m certainly more obtuse – just plain dense or blinkered – than most, but for years I thought this stuff was all about the force of Family Ties, but it’s not: at least not fundamentally. Palomar is about love. Not the sappy one-sided happy-ever-after stuff in chick-flicks, but LOVE, that mighty, hungry beast that makes you instinctively protect the child that betrays you, that has you look for a better partner whilst you’re in the arms of your one true love, and hate the place you wanted to live in all your life. The love of cars and hair-cuts and biscuits and paper-cuts and stray cats that bite you: selfish, self-sacrificing, dutiful, urgent, patient, uncomprehending, a feeling beyond words. A Love that can hurt and even kill…

A bit like the love of a great comic…

Funny, deeply moving, compelling and deftly capable of delivering shock after breathtaking shock, Ofelia is remarkable and unmissable: no true fan of the medium can afford to forego this treat.

All contents © 2015 Gilbert Hernandez. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Epic Collection volume 5: Who Will Judge the Hulk? 1971-1972


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Gary Friedrich, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Archie Goodwin, Herb Trimpe, Sam Grainger, Sal Buscema, Dick Ayers, John Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2206-1 (TPB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist caught in a gamma bomb detonation of his own devising. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the gamma-irradiated gargantuan finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, The Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour, until a new home was found for him in “split-book” Tales to Astonish: sharing space with fellow misunderstood misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner, who proved an ideal thematic companion from his induction in #70.

As the 1970s opened the Incredible Hulk had settled into a comfortable – if excessively and spectacularly destructive – niche. The globe-trotting formula saw tragic, haunted Banner hiding and seeking cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains.

Herb Trimpe had made the character his own, displaying a penchant for explosive action and an unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance, vehicles and robots. Scripter Roy Thomas – unofficial custodian of Marvel’s burgeoning shared-universe continuity – played the afflicted Jekyll/Hyde card for maximum angst and ironic heartbreak even as he continually injected the Jade Juggernaut into the lives of other stalwarts of Marvel’s growing pantheon…

This chronologically-curated trade paperback and digital compendium re-presents issues #139-156 plus a crossover tale from Avengers #88, encompassing cover-dates April 1971 to October 1972, and opens without delaying preamble as the Hulk – returned to Earth after an epic outer space excursion – encounters an old enemy in ‘…Sincerely, the Sandman!’(Thomas, Trimpe & Sam Grainger) wherein the vicious villain turns Banner’s true love Betty Ross to brittle, fragile glass, after which #139’s ‘Many Foes Has the Hulk!’ looks in on archfoe The Leader’s latest attempt to kill his brutish nemesis: employing illusion and exhaustion, as seemingly hundreds of old villains attack the man-monster all at once…

A landmark crossover follows as Harlan Ellison, Thomas, Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney craft ‘The Summons of Psyklop!’for Avengers #88 (May 1971) wherein an insectoid servant of the Elder Gods abducts the Hulk to fuel their resurrection…

This leads directly into Incredible Hulk #140 and ‘The Brute that Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom’ (pencilled & inked by Grainger over Trimpe’s layouts). Trapped on a sub-atomic world, Banner’s intellect and the Hulk’s body are reconciled, and he becomes a barbarian hero to an appreciative populace, and lover of perfect princess Jarella, only to be snatched away by Psyklop at the moment of his greatest happiness.

The sudden return to full-sized savagery is the insectoid’s undoing and the Hulk resumes his ghastly existence… at least until #141 when an experimental psychologist provides a means to drain the Hulk’s gamma-energy and utilise it to restore crystalline, petrified Betty. He even uses the remaining gamma force to turn himself into a superhero in ‘His Name is … Samson!’ (with wonderful John Severin inking).

Next is a satirical poke at the “Radical Chic” movement through the return of “feminist” villain Valkyrie, with the Hulk made a media cause celebre by Manhattan’s effete elite in the wryly charming ‘They Shoot Hulks, Don’t They?’ Don’t fret, there’s plenty of monumental mayhem as well…

Picking up the pace comes an inevitable but long-delayed clash as the Green Goliath battles Doctor Doom in a 2-part epic begun by Thomas, Dick Ayers & Severin wherein fugitive Banner finds ‘Sanctuary!’ in New York City’s Latverian Embassy. The deal is a bad one, however, since the Iron Dictator enslaves the Gamma scientist for his bomb-making knowledge, in an attempt to make his awesome alter ego into an unstoppable war machine…

The scheme goes awry in ‘The Monster and the Madman!’ (scripted by Gary Friedrich over Thomas’ plot), as brainwashed Banner shucks his mind-warped conditioning – thanks to Doom’s conflicted consort Valeria – just in time for the Hulk to deliver a salutary lesson in mayhem throughout the dictator’s domain.

Incredible Hulk #145 is a double-length package finding the man-monster invading a film-set in Egypt and accidentally awakening a prehistoric alien war-weapon in ‘Godspawn’. Crafted by Thomas, Len Wein, Trimpe & Severin, it offers plenty of joyfully mindless Hulk Smash action and a portion of pathos, even as, back in the USA, the military – in the form of Ross and Major Glenn Talbot – open dedicated anti-Hulk base “Project Greenskin”…

Gerry Conway scripted Thomas’ plot for ‘And the Measure of a Man is… Death!’, wherein the Jade Juggernaut faces sandstorms, bitter memories and the Israeli army in the deserts of Northern Egypt, even as in America the Hulk-buster base has already been infiltrated by android facsimiles constructed by the Hulk’s greatest foe.

Drawn instinctively homeward, the Gamma Goliath reaches the base just as said infiltration threatens the US President himself, leading to a catastrophic clash between the brute and The Leader in ‘The End of Doc Samson!’. The issue (#147) also includes a moving and powerful vignette ‘Heaven is a Very Small Place!’ wherein Thomas, Trimpe & Severin take the tormented titan to the very edge of paradise before horrifying reality again reasserts itself…

Archie Goodwin debuted as scripter – with a little plotting assistance from a very junior Chris Claremont – in ‘But Tomorrow… the Sun Shall Die!’ as lost love Jarella voyages to Earth and a longed-for reunion, just as Banner is apparently cured of his curse by radical solar-energy experimentation. Sadly, the princess from the micro-verse accidentally brings with her a super-assassin determined to end her life at all costs and the double voyage somehow sparks the sun into going nova…

Forced to become the monster once again to save his beloved, the Hulk is captured by Ross’s forces only to escape when an ancient threat crashes back to Earth in #149, hungry for radiation to survive in ‘… And Who Shall Claim This Earth His Own? The Inheritor!’

After dispatching that creepy crawler, the Gamma Goliath wanders into the wilderness where he encounters on-sabbatical X-Man Alec Summers. He had banished himself – with girlfriend Lorna Dane visiting at just the wrong moment – to the deserts of New Mexico, terrified of his uncontrollable cosmic power in #150’s ‘Cry Hulk, Cry Havok!’ When Lorna clashes with a menacing biker gang and an Emerald Giant violently protective of his privacy, Summers finally proves himself against the rampaging but easily distracted titan…

‘When Monsters Meet!’ then pits the Hulk against a flesh-consuming radioactive horror resulting from a disastrous cancer cure derived from Banner’s blood, before Friedrich, Dick Ayers & Frank Giacoia ask ‘But Who Will Judge the Hulk?’, as helpless, freshly captured Banner is sent to trial for the destruction wrought by his emerald alter ego. The guest-star-studded 2-parter concludes in suitable calamity and chaos in #153’s ‘My World, My Jury!’, which includes additional art by Trimpe & Severin.

After explosively escaping the kangaroo court, the fugitive fury discovers ‘Hell is a Very Small Hulk!’ (Goodwin, Trimpe & Severin) when he swallows a defective shrinking formula. The serum was created and discarded by the Astonishing Ant-Man, but any risk is acceptable in Hulk’s forlorn attempts to rejoin Jarella in her subatomic world.

Snatched up by the face-shifting Chameleon and assembled hordes of Hydra, the diminished brute still manages to quash their treasonous schemes – at the apparent cost of his life.

In actuality, the Hulk is shrinking in sporadic bursts, propelled into a succession of micro-worlds, including an impossible “Earth” where Nazis seemingly won WWII. ‘Destination: Nightmare!’ reveals the incredible truth: meddling by a cosmic entity named Shaper of Worlds who tempts the Green Gargantuan with an empty paradise, before another shrinking spasm happily deposits Hulk on Jarella’s world in time for ‘Holocaust at the Heart of the Atom!’ (inked by Sal Trapani): pitting the monster against his worst nightmare – himself – before once again losing his true love to the vicissitudes of cruel fate and cosmic chance…

To Be Continued…

Wrapping up the smashing fun are the covers to reprint collections Incredible Hulk Annual #3 and 4; original artwork and covers by Trimpe & Grainger, Ayers & Severin, Trimpe & Severin and a fascinating glimpse into editorial thinking in creating a cover…

The Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, TV shows and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t beat these evergreen classics.
© MARVEL 2021

Positive


By Tom Bouden, translated by Yves Cogneau with Charles “Zan” Christensen (Northwest Press)
ISBN: 978-0-98459409-2 (PB)

Here’s something short, sweet and utterly, comfortingly satisfying. Please enjoy.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a Lentivirus that attacks the jbody’s immune system. If untreated, the infection usually leads to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome – commonly known as AIDS. For the longest time, the condition was a killer, but can be controlled quite successfully now through a variety of medications, treatments and lifestyle modification.

At its height, the disease ravaged the world, and has killed approximately 38 million people and completely changed global society.

Sadly, how those testing positive for HIV were treated also revealed a lot about the people around them…

This powerful but truly uplifting graphic tome was created in 2008 by Belgian cartoonist Tom Bouden (Max and Sven; The Importance of Being Earnest; In Bed with David & Jonathan; Queerville): a means of exploding idiotic myths and explaining how a positive diagnosis actually changes the life of a someone with the disease and affects those around them.

Subtitled “A Graphic Novelette of Life with Aids”, the charming tale is rendered in a traditional and welcoming Ligne Claire (like Tintin or Blake and Mortimer) style, and laced with plenty of warm humour to balance the tension, fear and pain, and begins eight years ago as young marrieds Sarah and Tim’s latest row is interrupted by a visit from their doctor…

He has results that explain Sarah’s recent bout of assorted maladies, but needs her to take a second, confirmatory test…

And so begins a methodical discourse as the couple carefully share her diagnosis with friends, family and past intimates, delivered with compassion and sensitivity and braced with actual facts throughout. Navigating various treatments, dealing with work issues and living as normal as life as feasible, Sarah and Tim build support networks, while moving ever onward, embracing bucket lists and pill packs, discarding despair and fostering hope until they reach the stage where they can consider the next positive step… having a child…

Fronted by an emphatically positive Introduction from activist and Gay League executive Joe Palmer, this is a lovely, sensible and above all straightforward examination of HIV in the real world, but parents might want to police these pages if young children are around, as it contains forthright depictions of nudity and lovemaking.
© 2013 Tom Bouden. All rights reserved.

Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Constantine, Hellblazer volume 3: The Fear Machine (New Edition)


By Jamie Delano, Richard Piers Rayner, Mike Hoffman, Mark Buckingham, Alfredo Alcala & various (Vertigo/DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3519-2 (TPB)

You’ve either heard of John Constantine by now or you haven’t, so I’ll be as brief as I can. Created by Alan Moore during the early days of his groundbreaking run on Swamp Thing, John Constantine is a mercurial modern wizard, a dissolute chancer who plays like an addict with magic on his own terms for his own ends. He is not a hero. He is not a nice person. Sometimes though, he’s all there is between us and the void…

Given his own series by popular demand, he premiered in the dying days of Reaganite Atrocity in the US but at the height of Thatcherite Barbarism in England, so as we’re singing the same song now – but with second-rate Britain’s Got Talent cover-artist wannabes as leaders – I thought I’d cover a few old gems that might be regaining relevance in the days ahead…

In 1987 Creative Arts and Liberal attitudes were dirty words in many quarters and the readership of Vertigo was pretty easy to profile. Jamie Delano began the series with relatively safe horror plots, introducing us to Constantine’s unpleasant nature, chequered history and odd acquaintances but even then, discriminating fans were aware of a joyously anti-establishment political line and wildly metaphorical underpinnings.

Skinheads, racism, Darwinian politics, gender fluidity, plague, famine, gruesome supernature and more abound in the dark dystopian present of John Constantine – a world of cutting edge mysticism, Cyber-shamanism and political soul-stealing. In Delano’s world the edges between science and magic aren’t blurred – they simply don’t exist.

Some terrors are eternal and some seem inextricably tied to a specific time and place. The Fear Machine (available in paperback and digital formats and collecting issues #14-22 spanning December 1988-September 1989) is an engrossing extended epic which begins in ‘Touching the Earth’ (by Delano, Richard Piers Rayner & Mark Buckingham) as the wizard goes on the run thanks to the tabloid press pillorying him as a sex-crazed Satanist serial killer.

Forced to flee his London comfort-zone, Constantine is adopted by neo-pagan Travellers and journeys through the heartland of Britain. Apparently, these dangerous non-conformists are responsible for all the ills plaguing society of the 1980s and 1990s, just like fat people, the poor and immigrants are today…

Going native amongst the drop-outs, druggies, bath-dodgers and social misfits, Constantine buddies up with an immensely powerful psychic girl named Mercury and her extremely engaging mum, Marj, but even amidst these freewheeling folks he can feel something nasty and unnatural building. The first inkling occurs in ‘Shepherd’s Warning’when Mercury discovers an ancient stone circle has been fenced off by a quasi-governmental company named Geotroniks. It seems someone is trying to shackle Mother Earth’s circulatory system of Ley lines.

Meanwhile elsewhere, people are compelled to kill and mutilate themselves while Geotroniks boffins watch and take notes…

Mercury is abducted when police raid the Travellers’ campsite in ‘Rough Justice’. Imprisoned in a secret complex where the mind’s limits and the Earth’s hidden forces are being radically tested, she witnesses horrors beyond imagining and cutting-edge science. If only the subjects and observing scientists can be persuaded to stop committing suicide…

Mike Hoffman illustrates fourth chapter, ‘Fellow Travellers’ wherein Constantine heads back to London for help in finding Mercury and uncovering Geotroniks’ secrets. He gains one horrific insight when the train he’s on is devastated by a psychic assault which forces the passengers to destroy themselves…

With Buckingham & Alfredo Alcala assuming the art duties, ‘Hate Mail & Love Letters’ begins two months later. Marj and the travellers are hiding in the Scottish Highlands with a fringe group called the Pagan Nation, led by the mysterious Zed – an old friend of the wily trickster. Constantine keeps digging, but across the country, suicide and self-harm are increasing. Society itself seems diseased, but at least the Satanist witch hunt has been forgotten as the bloody pack of Press vultures rage on to their next sanctimonious cause celebre

Touching base with his precious few police contacts and pet journalists, the metropolitan mage soon stumbles into a fresh aspect of mystery when a Masonic hitman begins removing anyone who might further his enquiries in ‘The Broken Man’. Constantine saves journalist Simon Hughes from assassination in a particularly exotic manner guaranteed to divert attention from his politically-damaging investigations, and discovers new clues. It all points the psychic horror and social unrest being orchestrated by reactionary factions of the government employing a sinister and all-pervasive “Old Boy network”…

And somewhere dark and hidden, Mercury’s captors are opening doors to places mortals were never meant to go…

As the Pagan Nation’s priestesses work subtle magics to find the missing girl and save humanity’s soul, a disgusting, conglomerate beast-thing is maturing, made from fear and pain, greed, suffering and deep black despair: provoking a response from and guest-appearance by Morpheus, the Sandman, which prompts Constantine, Hughes and possibly the last decent copper in London to go hunting…

After picking up another recruit in the form of KGB scientist Sergei in ‘Betrayal’, events spiral ever faster as the Freemasons – or at least their “Magi Caecus” elite – are revealed as organisers of the plot to combine Cold War paranormal research, economic imperialism, divisive Thatcherite self-gratification and the Order’s own quasi-mystical arcana to create a situation in which their guiding principles will dominate society and the physical world. It’s nothing more than a greedy, sleazy power-grab using blood and horror to fuel the engines of change…

All pretence of scientific research at Geotroniks is abandoned in ‘The God of All Gods’ as Masonic hitman Mr. Webstergoes off the deep end, ignoring his own Lodge Grandmaster’s orders to abort the project amidst an escalating national atmosphere of mania. He is determined to free the fearful thing they’ve created and unmake the modern world at all costs. Constantine’s allies are all taken and the wizard is left to fight on alone.

Knee deep in intrigue, conspiracy and spilled guts, humanity is doomed unless Constantine’s band of unhappy brothers and a bunch of Highland witch-women can pull the biggest, bloodiest rabbit out of the mother of all hats in spectacular conclusion ‘Balance’

The heady blend of authoritarian intransigence, counterculture optimism, espionage action, murder-mystery, conspiracy theories and ancient sex-magic mix perfectly to create an oppressive tract of inexorable terror and shattered hope before an astounding climax forestalls – if not saves – the day of doom, in this extremely impressive dark chronicle which still resonates with the bleak and cheerless zeitgeist of the time.

This is a superb example of true horror fiction, inextricably linking politics, religion, human nature and sheer bloody-mindedness as root cause of all ills. That our best chance of survival is a truly reprehensible, exploitative monomaniac seems a perfect metaphor for the world we’re locked into…

Clever, subversive and painfully prophetic, even at its most outlandish, this tale jabs at the subconscious with its scratchy edginess and jangles the nerves from beginning to end. An unmissable feast for fear fans, humanists and political mavericks everywhere…
© 1989, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.