Blade of the Immortal volume 1: Blood of a Thousand


By Hiroaki Samura translated by Dana Lewis & Toren Smith (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-239-9

Born in Chiba Prefecture in 1970, manga master Hiroaki Samura differs from many of his contemporary colleagues in that he actually pursued classical art training before abandoning oil paints and easels for the monochrome freedom and easy license of the “whimsical drawings” industry.

He was, however, plucked from college in the early 1990s before finishing his degree, to find huge success creating the astonishing fantasy saga Mugen no Jūnin (The Inhabitant of Infinity) for Seinen magazine Afternoon.

The series ran from June 25th 1993 to December 25th 2012, a total of 30 volumes which spectacularly blended ubiquitous Samurai comics themes and scenarios with vengeful supernatural plots, political intrigues, existential philosophy and punk-era nihilism. Its driven, murderously efficient antihero constantly deployed his outrageously eccentric arsenal of fanciful edged weapons, whilst pondering the merits of salvation and the meaning and point of living too long…

The series was picked by Dark Horse in 1996 and released as Blade of the Immortal, first as a monthly comicbook series (the first six issues of which comprise this monochrome masterpiece) and, from 2007 onwards, exclusively in collected graphic novel editions. These days you can take the creative anachronism one step beyond and enjoy the high-energy antics in digital fashion…

One note of caution for purists: the series’ dialogue is written in an updated, quirkily moderne literary style which strives for emotional veracity rather than (faux) period authenticity, so it might all be a little disconcerting at first…

Set in middle of the Tokugawa Shogunate (between 1600 and 1868 CE), this first sublimely engaging volume opens with ‘About the Translation’ – a prose section explaining the translation process and the symbology of the piece – before the graphic miracles begin with ‘Prologue: Criminal’; introducing debased and unsavoury ronin Manji: one-eyed outlaw and weary killer looking for peace and redemption in all the wrong places…

The “Slayer of 100 Good Men” – including his own peacekeeper brother-in-law – Manji is currently stalking Gyobutsu “Johnny”: a mass-murderer who kills his victims whilst disguised as a priest.

When a cunning trap goes wrong, the debased ronin manfully ignores a pistol shot through his brain to finish his sacrilegious quarry.

This ronin is no longer as other men. There are worms in his head, and as they knit his inexplicably non-fatal wound back together, Manji broods.

In his despicable past he was a cheap sell-sword who killed as he pleased. When his misdeeds brought him into conflict with his “cop” brother-in-law he simply butchered him. The shock drove his sister Machi mad.

She was the only thing Manji ever cared about…

Yaobikuni has no problem with living forever – she won’t die until she’s saved every soul in Japan – and when the unkillable reprobate again meets the 800-year old nun who inflicted on him the sacred Kessen-chu bloodworms which can heal any hurt, she draws him into the old pointless discussion about salvation.

Yaobikuni urges him to give up the sword, but all he wants to do is die….

Even if he could, it’s no longer an option now that he has to care for his grievously damaged sister Machi…

The problem is savagely solved when the vengeful brother and 20-strong gang of “Johnny” abduct her, determined to make her murderous brother pay emotionally and physically for the death of their leader.

Manji’s botched rescue attempt leaves him triumphant above a sea of corpses and utterly alone in the world…

Pushed too far, he finds Yaobikuni and offers her a deal: if he kills one thousand truly evil men, she must remove the Kessen-chu and let Manji rest at last.

Despite misgivings that he’s just found another way to keep on killing, the nun agrees…

‘Conquest’ debuts young Rin, whose father Asano was targeted for slaughter by a merciless gang of anarchist thugs calling themselves the Ittō-ryū.

Long ago, the grandfather of their leader Anotsu Kagehisa had been shamefully and unjustly expelled from Asano’s Mutenichi-ryū fencing dojo, and the grandson resolved to destroy all such schools and the socially stratified, arrogantly smug advocates of privilege who populate them.

Gathering an army of similarly aggrieved, like-minded rebels and outcasts, Anotsu murdered many Swords-masters: destroying their legacies and accumulating a powerful army before seeking his ultimate triumph over a despised ancestral enemy…

After ending Rin’s father, Anotsu gave her mother O-Toki to his men, but told them to leave the little girl alone.

Rin never saw her mother again and now, aged sixteen, the last sword of the Mutenichi- ryū School is in the metropolis of Edo looking for payback. What she finds is a jolly little nun who suggests she seek out a maimed-and-mangy, mean-looking ronin to act as her bodyguard…

They don’t hit it off. Manji is condescending and patronising and wants her to prove her contention that members of Ittō-ryū are genuinely evil before he subtracts them from his target tally of 1000 human monsters…

Reaching an agreement of sorts, the pair join forces, unaware that Rin has been followed by Anotsu’s macabre lieutenant Kuroi Sabato. The deranged psycho-poet has been sending taunting verses to the girl ever since that fateful night, whilst secretly treasuring his macabre keepsake of her mother O-Toki all these lonely years…

Now he’s ready for Rin to complete a ghastly set of horrific personalised trophies, but the satanic stalker has never met – or killed – anyone like Manji before…

The eerie epic closes here with ‘Genius’ wherein the decidedly odd couple seek aid and assistance from an old friend of Rin’s father. Retired samurai Sōri has dedicated his remaining years to becoming an artist, but still struggles to master the tricky discipline of “sword-painting”.

The uncouth Manji can barely contain his scornful taunts, especially as the artist seems unwilling to assist a lady in distress, apparently far more concerned with the trivial problem that he can never get the reds right in his compositions…

Of course, the revenant ronin has no idea that once Sōri was the Shogun’s Ninja …

More of Anotsu’s psycho-killer goons have followed Rin and Manji to the painter’s lodgings however, looking for the blade-wielding girl genius who killed the lethally adept Kuroi. When they attack the sleeping Rin, they soon discover to their everlasting regret the mettle of her new allies…

In the stillness after the slaughter, Rin and Manji move on to continue their vendetta against the Ittō-ryū, but Sōri regretfully remains behind to pursue his art. At least now he knows what pigments suit him best…

‘An Interview with Hiroaki Samura’ and a selection of cover illustrations from the comicbook iteration complete this viscerally brutal, staggeringly beguiling first volume of mythic martial mastery…

Although crafting other works such as the western Emerald, romantic comedies, erotic works and horror stories such as Night of the Succubus and Bradherley’s Coach, Blade of the Immortal is unquestionably Mr. Samura’s signature creation and a truly unparalleled delight for fans of not just manga but for all lovers of dark fantasy.
© 1996, 1997 Hiroaki Samura. All rights reserved. English translation rights arranged through Kodansha Ltd. New and adapted artwork & text © 1996, 1997 Studio Proteus and Dark Horse Comics Inc. All other material © 2000 Dark Horse Comics Inc. All rights reserved.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula


By Bram Stoker & Fernando Fernández (Catalan Communications/Del Rey Books)
DLB: 18118-1984 (Catalan) ISBN: 978-0-34548-312-6 (Del Rey)

Here a gloriously OTT example of Anglo-European collaboration long overdue for reconsideration and another go-round. I don’t mean anything by it; I’m just saying…

Multi-disciplinary Spanish artist Fernando Fernández began working to help support his family at age 13 whilst still at High School. He graduated in 1956 and immediately began working for British and French comics publishers.

In 1958 his family relocated to Argentina and whilst there he added strips for El Gorrión, Tótem and Puño Fuerte to his ongoing European and British assignments for Valentina, Roxy and Marilyn.

In 1959 he returned to Spain to begin a long association with Fleetway Publications in London, producing mostly war and girls’ romance stories.

During the mid-1960’s he began to experiment with painting: selling book covers and illustrations to a number of clients, before again taking up comics work in 1970, creating a variety of strips (many of which found their way into US horror magazine Vampirella), the successful comedy feature ‘Mosca’ for Diario de Barcelona and educational strips for the publishing house Afha.

Increasingly expressive and experimental as the decade passed, Fernández produced ‘Cuba, 1898’ and ‘Círculos’ before, in 1980 beginning his science fiction spectacular Zora y los Hibernautas for the Spanish iteration of fantasy magazine 1984. It eventually made it into English in Heavy Metal magazine as Zora and the Hibernauts.

He then adapted this moody, Hammer Films-influenced version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the Spanish iteration of Creepy, before (working with Carlos Trillo) moving on to mediaeval fantasy thriller La Leyenda de las Cuatro Sombras , after which he created Argón, el Salvaje and a number of adaptations of Isaac Asimov tales in Firmado por: Isaac Asimov and Lucky Starr – Los Océanos de Venus.

His last comics work was Zodíaco begun in 1989, but mounting heart problems soon curtailed the series and he returned to painting and illustration. He passed away in August 2010, aged 70.

For his interpretation of the gothic masterpiece under review here, Fernández sidelined the expansive, experimental layouts and lavish page design that worked so effectively in Zora and the Hibernauts for a moodily classical and oppressively claustrophobic, traditional page construction, trusting to his staggering mastery of colour and form to carry his luxuriously mesmeric message of mystery, seduction and terror.

The story is undoubtedly a familiar one and the set pieces are all executed with astounding skill and confident aplomb as, in May 1897, English lawyer Jonathan Harker is lured to the wilds of Transylvania and horror beyond imagining wherein an ancient bloodsucking horror prepares to move to the pulsing heart of the modern world.

Leaving Harker to the tender mercies of his vampiric harem, Dracula travels by schooner to England, slaughtering every seaman aboard the S.S. Demeter and unleashing a reign of terror on the sedate and complacent British countryside…

Meanwhile, in the seat of Empire, Harker’s fiancée Mina Murray finds her flighty friend Lucy Westenra fading from troublesome dreams and an uncanny lethargy which none of her determined suitors, Dr. Jack Seward, Texan Quincy P. Morris and Arthur Holmwood – the future Lord Godalming – seem capable of dispelling…

As Harker struggles to survive in the Carpathians, in Britain, Seward’s deranged but impotent patient Renfield claims horrifying visions and becomes greatly agitated…

Dracula, although only freshly arrived in England, is already causing chaos and disaster, as well as constantly returning to the rapidly declining Lucy. His bestial bloodletting prompts her three beaux to summon famed Dutch physician Abraham Van Helsing to save her life and cure her increasing mania.

Harker survived his Transylvanian ordeal, and when nuns summoned Mina she rushed to Romania where she married him in a hasty ceremony to save his health and wits….

In London, Dracula renews his assaults and Lucy dies, only to be reborn as a predatory child-killing monster. After dispatching her to eternal rest, Van Helsing, Holmwood, Seward and Morris – joined by recently returned and much-altered Harker and his new bride – resolve to hunt down and destroy the ancient evil in their midst, following a chance encounter in a London street between the newlyweds and the astoundingly rejuvenated Count…

Dracula, however, has incredible forces and centuries of experience on his side and having tainted Mina with his blood-drinking curse flees back to his ancestral lands. Frantically, the mortal champions give chase, battling the elements, Dracula’s enslaved gypsy army and the monster’s horrific eldritch power in a race against time lest Mina finally succumb forever to his unholy influence…

Although the translation to English in the Catalan version is a little slapdash in places – a fact happily addressed in the 2005 re-release from Del Rey – the original does have the subtly enhanced benefit of richer colours, sturdier paper stock and a slightly larger page size (285 x 219mm as opposed to 274 x 211mm) which somehow makes the 1984 edition feel more substantial. This would all be irrelevant if a digital edition were available…

This breathtaking oft-retold yarn delivers fast paced, action-packed, staggeringly beautiful and astoundingly exciting thrills and chills in a most beguiling manner. Being Spanish, however, there’s perhaps the slightest hint of brooding machismo, if not subverted sexism, on display and – of course – plenty of heaving, gauze-filtered female nudity which might challenge modern sensibilities.

Nevertheless, what predominates in this Dracula is an overwhelming impression of unstoppable evil and impending doom.

There’s no sympathy for the devil here – this is a monster from Hell that all good men must oppose to their last breath and final drop of blood and sweat…

With an emphatic introduction (‘Dracula Lives!’) from noted comics historian Maurice Horn, this is a sublime treatment by a master craftsman that all dark-fearing, red- blooded fans will want to track down and savour.
© 1984, 2005 Fernando Fernández. All rights reserved.

Batman: Hong Kong


By Doug Moench, & Tony Wong (DC Comics)
ISBN 978-1-4012-0057-2 (HB)                     978-1-4012-0101-2 (TPB)

This Batman outreach project is a surprisingly engaging piece of Hong Kong cinema in comic form by veteran scribe Doug Moench and the anonymous horde of illustrators used by Comics Supremo Tony Wong to churn out literally thousands of lavishly executed Kung Fu comics that have earned him the title “the Stan Lee of Hong Kong”.

The story itself is fairly unsurprising tosh. A serial killer who webcasts his murders as real-time snuff movies leads Batman to the former British colony and a civil war between a Triad leader and his brother: a cop determined to bring him to book.

Add to the mix a dashing young nephew who loves his family but thirsts for justice and you have all the elements for the next Johnny To, Kazuya Shiraishi or Park Hoon-jung blockbuster nerve-jangler.

Although a touch stiff in places and a little disorienting if you’re unused to the rapid art-style transitions of Hong Kong comics (artists and even forms of representation – paint, black line wash, crayon etc. can vary from panel to panel) this has a lot of pace and fairly rattles along. In this anniversary year, Batman: Hong Kong is still loads better and more accessible than many outings for the caped crusader of recent years and well worth the time and effort of any diehard Dark Knight aficionado in sech of a rarer flavour.
© 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Harvest Breed


By George Pratt & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-692-7 (HC)        978-1-84023-701-6 (Titan Books UK edition HC)

Sometimes even the best of intentions and greatest of artisans don’t quite produce the best result. Master illustrator George Pratt returned tangentially to the Vietnam War for the backstory of this memorable supernatural thriller starring the Dark Knight, but the overall results fall short of his superb par, as established with the landmark Enemy Ace: War Idyll. Even so…

Bruce Wayne is tortured by bloody nightmares of devils and sacrifices as a mysterious killer seeks to re-enact a murder-ritual based on the points of a cross.

Such ritual has been attempted many times throughout history, but on this particular occasion the stakes seem much higher – and far more personal.

Only a girl named Luci Boudreaux, escapee and survivor of the Hell on Earth that was Viet Nam seems to have any answers to the dilemma…

Although painted with astounding passion and skill, and frequently offering unforgettable imagery, the story seems to have been sadly neglected and is – quite frankly – a bit of a mess, with war veterans, voodoo priests, faith-healers, demons and an uncomfortable misunderstanding of the relationship between Batman and Police Commissioner Jim Gordon muddying a rather tired old plot.

Even so, there are plenty of movie blockbusters that have got away with far less to great acclaim and for richer rewards.

If you love bleak and moody style over content, or can always find room for the blackest crannies infested by the darkest of knights, you might want to hunt this down and give it a shot.

So, even if you’re not a Bat-completist, in this anniversary year, there’s still a reason to step out of the light into forgotten realms with the world’s most popular superhero.
© 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Krampus: The Devil of Christmas


By various, edited by Monte Beauchamp (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-747-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Horrid Holiday Cheers… 8/10

When I lived in New York, the morning after Thanksgiving was when retailers committed Christmas. Staggering out into chilly morning air (I wonder if they still have that?) after a surfeit of everything, one’s eyes would boggle at a profusion of tinsel, glitter and lights with entire buildings done up like stockings or giant parcels.

These utterly mindboggling tributes to understatement would make any stolid Englander quail with disquiet and I still get tremors occasionally around postmen bearing packages… Another way to bring on Christmas chills is with a good book, and this delightfully engrossing hardback celebration from artist, historian and designer Monte Beauchamp (a welcome expansion on his 2004 book The Devil in Design) focuses on a long-lost aspect of the Season of Good Will that’s found renewed interest in recent times thanks to a film franchise and the general malaise affecting glum modern humans…

For decades Monte Beauchamp’s iconic, innovative narrative and graphic arts magazine Blab! highlighted the best and most groundbreaking trends and trendsetters in cartooning and other popular creative fields.

Initially published through the auspices of the much-missed Kitchen Sink Press it moved first to Fantagraphics and carried on as the snazzy hardback annual Blabworld from Last Gasp. Here however Beauchamp looks back not forward to revel in the lost exuberance and dark creativity of a host of anonymous artists whose seasonal imaginings spiced up the Winter Solstice for generations of guilty-until-proven-innocent nippers…

In Western Europe – especially the German-speaking countries but also as far afield as Northern Italy and the Balkans – St Nicholas used to travel out with gifts for good children, accompanied by a goat-headed, satanic servant. Fur-covered, furtive, chain-bedecked, sinister and all-knowing, the beast-man with a foot-long tongue and one cloven hoof wielded a birch switch to thrash the unruly and a copious sack to carry off disobedient kinder.

The Krampus was a fixture of winter life in Austria, Switzerland and the German Principalities, with his own special feast-day (December 5th – just before St. Nikolaus’ Day), parades, festivals and highly enjoyable (for parents, at least) ceremonial child-scaring events. Back then we really knew how to reward the naughty and the nice…

This compelling and enchanting hardback tome – still readily available but not yet as a digital delivery – celebrates the thrilling dark edge of the Christmas experience as depicted through the medium of the full-colour postcards that were a crucial facet of life in Europe from 1869 to the outbreak of World War I.

However, even with fascinating histories of the character and the art-form related in ‘Greetings From Krampus’, ‘Festival of the Krampus’ and ‘Postal Beginnings’, the true wide-eyed wonder and untrammelled joy of this compendium is the glorious cacophony of paintings, prints, drawings collages – and even a few primitive and experimental photographic forays – depicting the delicious dread scariness of the legendary deterrent as he (it?) terrifies boys and girls, explores the new-fangled temptations of airplanes and automobiles and regularly monitors the more mature wicked transgressions of courting couples…

A feast of imagination and tradition ranging from the wry, sardonic and archly-knowing to the outright disturbing and genuinely scary, this magical artbook is a treasure not just for Christmas but for life…

And it’s not nearly as environmentally harmful as coal…
© 2010 Monte Beauchamp. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Ghosts


By Leo Dorfman, Murray Boltinoff, John Broome, Jack Miller, Joe Samachson, George Kashdan, Bob Haney, Richard E. Hughes, Carl Wessler, Tony DeZuñiga, Jim Aparo, Sam Glanzman, Carmine Infantino, Sy Barry, Frank Giacoia, John Calnan, Bob Brown, George Tuska, Wally Wood, Curt Swan, Ruben Moreira, Irwin Hasen, Leonard Starr, Jerry Grandenetti, Nick Cardy, Ramona Fradon, Art Saaf, Michael William Kaluta, Jack Sparling, Win Mortimer, Ernie Chan, Buddy Gernale, Nestor, Quico & Frank Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Gerry Talaoc, Nestor Malgapo, E.R. Cruz, Rico Rival, Abe Ocampo, Ernesto Patricio & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-836-1

Boo! Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Perfect Serving of Sinister Comics Spookiness… 8/10

American comicbooks started rather slowly until the invention of superheroes unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and established a new entertainment genre. Implacably vested in World War Two, the superman swept all before him (occasional her or it) until the troops came home and the more traditional themes and heroes resurfaced, and eventually supplanted the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Whilst a new generation of kids began buying and collecting, many of the first fans also retained their four-colour habit but increasingly sought older themes in their reading matter. The war years had irrevocably altered the psychological landscape of the readership and, as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything, their chosen forms of entertainment (film and prose as well as comics) increasingly reflected this.

As well as Western, War and Crime comics, celebrity tie-ins, madcap escapist comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent. Gradually another cyclical revival of spiritualism and public fascination with the arcane led to a wave of impressive, evocative and shockingly more-ish horror comics. These spanned the range from EC and Simon & Kirby’s astoundingly mature and landmark scary fictions to grotesquely exploitative eerie episodes from pale imitators and even wholesome, family-friendly fear tales from the industry’s biggest players.

The company that would become DC Comics bowed to the inevitable and launched a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the (December 1951/January 1952) release of The House of Mystery, at the same time turning venerable anthology Sensation Comics (the magazine that had starred Wonder Woman since 1942) into a fantasy vehicle with square-jawed he-men such as Jonny Peril battling the encroaching unknown with issue #107.

That conversion was completed when the title became Sensation Mystery with #110 in July 1952.

Everything changed when a hysterical censorship scandal and governmental witch-hunt created a spectacular backlash (feel free to type Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, April- June 1954 into your search engine at any time… You can do that because it’s more-or-less still a free country).

The crisis was curtailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of self-regulatory rules. Horror titles produced under the aegis of the Comics Code Authority became sanitised, anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the appetite for suspense was still high. For example: in 1956 National introduced the sister title House of Secrets which debuted with a November/December cover-date and specialised in taut human-interest tales in a fantasy milieu.

Stories were dialled back into marvellously illustrated, rationalistic, fantasy-adventure vehicles which dominated the market until the 1960s when super-heroes (which had started to creep back after Julius Schwartz began the Silver Age of comics by reintroducing the Flash in Showcase #4, 1956) finally overtook them. When the cape-and-cowl craziness peaked and popped, sales began bottoming out for Costumed Dramas and comics faced another punishing sales downturn.

Nothing combats censorship better than falling profits. As the end of the 1960s saw the superhero boom end with so many titles dead and some of the industry’s most prestigious series circling the drain too, the publishers took drastic action.

This real-world Crisis led to the surviving players in the field agreeing to loosen their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics. Nobody much cared about gangster titles but as the liberalisation coincided with another bump in public interest in all aspects of the Worlds Beyond, the resurrection of spooky stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.”

Even ultra-wholesome Archie Comics re-entered the field with their rather tasty line of Red Circle Chillers…

Thus, with absolutely no fanfare at all, spooky comics came back to quickly dominate the American funnybook market for more than half a decade. DC started by converting The House of Mystery and Tales of the Unexpected into mystery suspense mags in 1968 and followed by resurrecting House of Secrets (August-September 1969) which had been cancelled in 1966.

Soon supernatural mystery titles were the dominant force in the marketplace and DC began a steady stream of launches along narrowly differing thematic lines. There was gothic horror romance title Sinister House of Secret Love, a combat iteration in Weird War Tales and from late summer 1970 a bold new book which proudly boasted “True Tales of the Weird and Supernatural!” and challenged readers to read on if they dared…

This first monochrome encyclopaedia of the eerie and uncanny collects the first 18 issues of Ghosts, covering like a shroud September/October 1970 to September 1973 with lead scripter and supernatural enthusiast Leo Dorfman producing most of the series’ original material for a title he is generally credited with creating.

Dorfman was one of the most prolific scripters of the era (also working as David George and Geoff Brown) and a major scripter of comic horror stories for many DC and Gold Key titles.

The thrills and chills begin with a graphic ‘Introduction’ from Tony DeZuñiga – probably scripted by editor Murray Boltinoff – before ‘Death’s Bridegroom’ (Dorfman & Jim Aparo) told of a conniving bluebeard conman who finally picked the wrong girl to bilk and jilt. Sam Glanzman illustrated the fearsome tale of a shipbuilder slain while sabotaging a Nazi U-Boat who returned as a vengeful ‘Ghost in the Iron Coffin’, after which ‘The Tattooed Terror’, by John Broome, Carmine Infantino & Sy Barry, offers a slice of Golden Age anxiety from Sensation Mystery #112 (November 1952) when a career criminal is seemingly haunted by his betrayed partner.

Broome, Infantino & Frank Giacoia then relived ‘The Last Dream’ (Sensation Comics #107, December 1951-January 1952) when a 400-year old rivalry resulted in death for a 20th century sceptic, and this initial issue ends with a Western mystery in ‘The Spectral Coachman’ by Dorfman & DeZuñiga.

Issue #2 began with a predatory ghost-witch persecuting a Carpathian village in ‘No Grave can Hold Me’ by Dorfman, John Calnan & George Tuska, whilst ‘Mission Supernatural’ (art by Bob Brown & Wally Wood) revealed a WWII secret which perpetually plagued a modern English airport.

A brace of revered reprints begin with light-hearted romp ‘The Sorrow of the Spirits’ from House of Mystery #21 (December 1953, by Jack Miller, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley) wherein a plague of famous phantoms attempted to possess their descendents’ bodies whilst ‘Enter the Ghost’ (Joe Samachson & Ruben Moreira from House of Mystery #29, August 1954) found an actor endangered by a dead thespian jealous of anyone recreating his greatest role…

With Dorfman still writing the lion’s share of the new material, DeZuñiga illustrates the sorry fate of an unscrupulous diver seduced by the discovery of a ‘Galleon of Death’ whilst Miller & Irwin Hasen’s ‘Lantern in the Rain’ (originally from Sensation Mystery #113, January/February 1953) recounts an eerie railroad episode, and Dorfman & Glanzman reunite to tell an original tale of ‘The Ghost Battalions’ who still haunt the world’s battle sites from Gallipoli to Korea.

Dorfman & DeZuñiga visited 17th century Scotland for #3’s opening occult observation wherein a sea-born princess demanded her child back from a wicked Laird in ‘Death is my Mother’, after which ‘The Magician who Haunted Hollywood’ George Kashdan & Leonard Starr, from HoM #10, January 1953) reveals how actor Dick Mayhew might have been aided by a deceased escapologist when he played the starring role in the magician’s bio-pic…

‘The Dark Goddess of Doom’, drawn by Calnan, reveals how a statue of Kali deals with the ruthless collector who stole her, after which the anonymously authored ‘Station G.H.O.S.T.’ (limned by Moreira from HoM #17, August 1953) discloses how a man’s scheme to corruptly purchase a house haunted by his ancestor went weirdly awry.

Tuska draws the saga of a WWII pilot who crashes into a desert nightmare and fatefully meets a ‘Legion of the Dead’, whilst, after a reprinted fact-file on ‘Ghostly Miners’, Jerry Grandenetti depicts the story of a French landowner who unwisely disturbed a burial ground and met ‘The Screaming Skulls’

Ghosts #4 starts with a secret history of one of America’s most infamous killers in ‘The Crimson Claw’ (Tuska & cover artist Nick Cardy) before ‘The Ghostly Cities of Gold’ (Grandenetti) reveals the truth about fabled, haunted Cibola and the first reprint features ‘The Man Who Killed his Shadow’ (Miller, Swan & Burnley: HoM #16, July 1953) wherein a murdered photographer reaches from beyond the grave for justice.

Thereafter, Ernie Chan limns ‘The Fanged Spectres of Kinshoro’ with a Big Game hunter pitting 20th century rationality against an ancient Ju-Ju threat, whilst the superb team of Bob Haney, Ramona Fradon & Charles Paris shine again with ‘The Legend of the Black Swan’ (HoM #48, March 1956) wherein three sceptical American students in Spain have an eerie encounter with doomed 17th century sailors. This issue concludes on ‘The Threshold of Nightmare House’ with Calnan & Grandenetti illustrating the inevitable doom of a woman who was haunted by her own ghost…

During the invasion of China in 1939 a greedy Japanese warlord meets his fate – and the spirits of the Mongol warriors whose tomb he robbed. Issue #5’s lead tale ‘Death, the Pale Horseman’ (by Dorfman & Art Saaf) is followed by ‘The Hands from the Grave’ (Calnan) which somehow saves a young tourist from an early death, after which reprint ‘The Telltale Mirror’ (by an unknown author & Grandenetti from HoM #13, April 1953) shows the dread downside of owning a looking glass that reflects the future…

Original yarn ‘Caravan of Doom’ (Jack Sparling), tells of an uncanny African warrior aiding enslaved Tommies in WWI Tanganyika, and is balanced by uncredited reprint ‘The Phantom of the Fog’(illustrated by Moreira; HoM #123, June 1962) wherein valiant rebels overthrow a petty dictator with the apparent aid of an oceanic apparition, before Grandenetti’s ‘The Hearse Came at Midnight’ ends the issue with spoiled college frat boys learning an horrific lesson about hazing and initiation rites…

With Ghosts #6, the page count dropped from 52 to 32 pages and the reprints were curtailed in favour of all-new material. Proceedings begin with Dorfman & Saaf’s cautionary tale of an avaricious arcane apothecary when ‘A Specter Poured the Potion’ before ‘Ride with the Devil’ (Calnan) told of a most unexpected lift for an unwary hitchhiker whilst ‘Death Awaits Me’ (Grandenetti) exposes the eerie premonition that marked the bizarre death of dancer Isadora Duncan.

A rare DC outing for mercurial comics genius Richard E. Hughes closed this slimline edition with ‘Ghost Cargo from the Sky’, illustrated by Sparling and exposing the incredible power of wishing to Pacific Islanders in the aftermath of WWII.

Michael William Kaluta stood in for Cardy as cover artist for #7 but Dorfman remained as writer, beginning with ‘Death’s Finger Points’ (Sparling art) as a bullying Australian sheep farmer falls foul of aborigines he’d abused, whilst President in waiting Lyndon B. Johnson becomes only the latest VIP to learn the cost of ignoring a Fakir’s warning in the Saaf-illustrated ‘Touch not my Tomb’.

Calnan then closed things out with ‘The Sweet Smile of Death’ in a doomed romance between a 20th century photographer and a flighty Regency phantom who refused to let this last admirer go…

‘The Cadaver in the Clock’ (art by Buddy Gernale) opened Ghosts #8, as a succession of heirs learned the downside of an inheritance which perforce included a mummified corpse inside a grand chronometer, but Glanzman’s ‘The Guns of the Dead’ shows a far more beneficial side to spectres as US marines are saved by their deceased yet unstoppable sergeant in 1944. ‘Hotline to the Supernatural’ – lovingly limned by the wonderful Nestor Redondo – recounts numerous cases of supernatural premonition, whilst ‘To Kill a Tyrant’ (Quico Redondo) implausibly links the incredible last hours of Rasputin to the so-necessary death of Stalin decades later…

Issue #9 begins with Calnan’s ‘The Curse of the Phantom Prophet’, as an Indian holy man continues his war against the insolent British and rapacious white men long after his death by firing squad, ‘The Last Ride of Rosie the Wrecker’ (gloriously illustrated by Alfredo Alcala) detailed the indomitable determination of a destroyed US tank that shouldn’t have been able to move at all, and Grandenetti’s ‘The Spectral Shepherd of Dartmoor’ showed how a long-dead repentant convict still aided the weak and imperilled in modern Britain. Events end on an eerie note when vacationers see horrific apparitions but discover that ‘The Phantom that Never Was’ has created a real ghost out of a hoax disaster in a genuine chiller drawn by Bob Brown & Frank McLaughlin.

Fact page ‘Experimenters Beyond the Grave’ – from Dorfman & Win Mortimer – details the attempts of Harry Houdini, Mackenzie King and Aldous Huxley to send messages from the vale of shades before storytelling resumes in #10 with the Gerry Talaoc/Redondo Studio illustrated tale of a Vietnamese Harbinger of Doom in ‘A Specter Stalks Saigon’.

Increasingly, a host of superb Filipino artists would take on the art chores for the ubiquitous Dorfman’s scripts such as ‘The Ghost of Wandsgate Gallows’ by Chan, detailing the inevitable fate of an English noble who hires and then betrays a contract killer.

Although naval savant Sam Glanzman could be the only choice for the US maritime mystery ‘Death Came at Dawn’, Nestor Malgapo artfully handles horrific saga ‘The Hell Beast of Berkeley Square’, which for decades slaughtered guilty and innocents alike in prosperous Mayfair…

Ghosts #11 opened with Eufronio Reyes (E.R.) Cruz’s contemporary thriller wherein Nazi war criminals recovering long-hidden loot finally pay for their foul crimes in ‘The Devil’s Lake’, before Chan delineates a subway journey where the ‘Next Stop is Nowhere’.

Graphic master Grandenetti visually captures ‘The Specter Who Stalked Cellblock 13’ (of San Quentin), and Bob Brown returns to illustrate the story of a church organ which killed anyone who played it in ‘The Instrument of Death’, after which Sparling charts the sinister coincidences of ‘The Death Circle’ which dictates that every US President elected in a year ending in zero dies in office.

Of course, not everyone today is happy that the myth has been debunked…

Ghosts #12 featured ‘The Macabre Mummy of Takhem-Ahtem’ (Calnan art): more a traditional monster-mash than purportedly true report, after which ‘Chimes for a Corpse’ (Grandenetti) saw a German watchmaker die for his malicious treatment of an apprentice before the always amazing Glanzman-limned ‘Beyond the Portal of the Unknown’ closed proceedings in magnificent style when French soldiers in 1915 uncover a terrible tomb and unleash a centuries old vendetta of vengeance…

Dorfman & Brown open issue #13 with ‘The Nightmare in the Sandbox’, detailing a war of voodoo practitioners carried out in Haitian garden, whilst ‘Voice of Vengeance’ (Calnan) depicted the macabre vengeance of marionettes on the embezzling official who silenced their maker. ‘Have Tomb, Will Travel’ (Talaoc) sees contract killers using a scrapyard to lose their latest corpse discover that their brand-new car comes with his unquiet spirit as an angry extra… Nestor Redondo then depicts the inexplicable experience of two lost GIs who spend a night in a castle that isn’t there and endure ‘Hell is One Mile High’

In #14, an heirloom wedding dress that comes with a curse doesn’t stop Diane Chapman from marrying her young man in Gernale’s ‘The Bride Wore a Shroud’, whilst ‘Death Weaves a Web’ (by George Kashdan & Chan) sees a bullying uncle live to regret destroying his little nephew’s spider collection – but not for long…

‘Phantom of the Iron Horseman’ (Talaoc) finds a young train driver and a host of passengers saved from disaster by the spirit of his disgraced grandfather before the issue ends with a catalogue of global portents warning of the appalling Aberfan tragedy in 1966 in Cruz’s ‘The Dark Dream of Death’.

Gernale opened #15 with ‘The Ghost that Wouldn’t Die’, another case of domestic gold-digging, ectoplasmic doppelgangers and living ghosts, whilst ‘A Phantom in the Alamo’ (Carl Wessler & Glanzman) revealed the ghastly fate of the American who sold out the valiant defenders to the Mexican invaders. Alcala lent his prodigious gifts to the Balkan tale of a corpse collector who abandoned morality and began profiteering from his sacred trust in ‘Who Dares Cheat the Dead?’ and Rico Rival delineated a gripping yarn wherein a corrupt surgeon was haunted by the hit-and-run victim he’d silenced in ‘Hand from the Grave’.

Ghosts #16 told of a Spanish gypsy cursed to see ‘Death’s Grinning Face’ whenever someone was going to die in a stirring thriller from Rival, and Glanzman again displays his uncanny knack for capturing shipboard life – and death – when, after 25 years, a deserter finally joins his dead comrades in ‘The Mothball Ghost’. Talaoc then delineates Napoleon Bonaparte’s services to France after the Little Corporal dies and becomes ‘The Haunted Hero of St. Helena’

Issue #17 finds a phantom lady save flood-lost children in Dorfman & Alcala’s moving ‘Death Held the Lantern High’ after which editor Murray Boltinoff & Talaoc reveal ‘The Specters Were the Stars’ when a film company tries to capture the horror of the 1920 Ulster Uprising, before Kashdan & Calnan expose the seductive lure and inescapable power of traditional Romani using ‘The Devil’s Ouija’ to combat centuries of prejudice…

This first terrifying tome terminates with Ghosts #18 and Alcala’s account of a hateful Delaware medicine chief who still lures white men to his watery ‘Graveyard of Vengeance’, centuries after his death, whilst Abe Ocampo details the unlikely ‘Death of a Ghost’ at the hands of a very smug inventor who has just moved into a haunted mansion.

Frank Redondo describes how villagers in old Austria knew young Adolf would come to a bad end because the boy had ‘The Eye of Evil’ and the spookiness at last ceases with ‘Death Came Creeping’ – by Ernesto Patricio & Talaoc – when a visiting Egyptian merchant and his unique pet stop a sneak thief’s predations in an age-old manner…

These terror-tales captivated the reading public and critics alike when they first appeared and it’s almost certain that they saved DC during one of the toughest downturns in comics publishing history. Their blend of sinister mirth, classic horror scenarios and suspense set-pieces can most familiarly be seen in such children’s series as Goosebumps, Horrible Histories and their many imitators.

Everybody loves a good healthy scare – especially today or even on those dark Christmas nights to come – and this beautiful gathering of ethereal escapism (sadly, still only available in monochrome and paperback) is a treat fans of fear and fantastic art should readily take to their cold, dead hearts…
© 1971, 1972, 1973, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Sandman Mystery Theatre: Book One


By Matt Wagner, Guy Davis, John Watkiss, R.G. Taylor, David Hornung & John Costanza (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6327-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Eerie Mystery-Mood Masterpiece… 8/10

Created by Gardner Fox and first depicted by Bert Christman, The Sandman premiered in either Adventure Comics #40 July 1939 (two months after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27) or two weeks earlier in New York World’s Fair Comics 1939, depending on whether some rather spotty distribution records can be believed.

Head and face utterly obscured by a gasmask and slouch hat; caped, business-suited millionaire adventurer Wesley Dodds was cut from the iconic masked mystery-man mould that had made pulp fictioneers The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, The Shadow, Phantom Detective, Black Bat, The Spider and so many more such household names. Those dark red-handed heroes were also astonishing commercial successes in the early days of mass periodical publication…

Wielding a sleeping-gas gun and haunting the night to battle a string of killers, crooks and spies, he was accompanied in the earliest comicbooks by his plucky paramour Dian Belmont, before gradually losing the readers’ interest and slipping from cover-spot to last feature in Adventure Comics, just as the cloaked pulp-hero avengers he emulated slipped from popularity in favour of more flamboyant fictional fare.

Possessing a certain indefinable style and charm but definitely no especial pizzazz, the feature was on the verge of being dropped when the Sandman abruptly switched to a skin-tight yellow-&-purple costume and gained a boy-sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy (in Adventure Comics #69, December 1941, courtesy of Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris). All this, presumably to emulate the overwhelmingly successful Batman and Captain America models then reaping such big dividends on the newsstands.

It didn’t help much, but when Joe Simon & Jack Kirby came aboard with #72 that all spectacularly changed. A semi-supernatural element and fascination with the world of dreams (revisited by S&K a decade later in their short-lived experimental suspense series The Strange World of Your Dreams) added a moody conceptual punch to equal the kinetic fury of their art, as Sandman and Sandy became literally the stuff of nightmares to the bizarre bandits and murderous mugs they stalked…

For what happened next you can check out the superb Simon & Kirby Sandman hardback collection…

Time passed and in the late 1980s Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith & Mike Dringenberg took the property in a revolutionary new direction, eventually linking all the previous decades’ elements into an overarching connective continuity under DC’s new “sophisticated suspense” imprint Vertigo.

Within a few years the astounding success of the new Sandman prompted the editorial powers-that-be to revisit the stylishly retro original character and look at him through more mature eyes. Iconoclastic creator Matt Wagner (Mage, Grendel) teamed with artistic adept Guy Davis (Baker Street, B.P.R.D.) and colourist David Hornung to create a grittier, grimier, far more viscerally authentic 1930s, where the haunted mystery man pursued his lonely crusade with chilling verisimilitude.

The tone was darkly modernistic, with the crime-busting playing out in the dissolute dog-days of the Jazz Age and addressed controversial themes such as abuse, sexual depravity, corruption and racism; all confronted against the rising tide of fascism that was sweeping the world then.

This is a warning: Sandman Mystery Theatre is not for kids…

This compendium collections the redefining first three story-arcs from issues #1-12 (April 1993 to March 1994) and commences after an absorbing introduction from veteran journalist, critic and pop culture historian Dave Marsh.

Each chapter preceded by its original evocative faux pulp photo cover created by Gavin Wilson and Hornung, the dark drama opens with The Tarantula, taking us back to New York in 1938 where District Attorney Larry Belmont is having the Devil’s own time keeping his wild-child daughter out of trouble and out of the newspapers.

She’s gallivanting all over town every night with her spoiled rich friends; drinking, partying and associating with all the wrong sorts of people, but the prominent public servant has far larger problems too. One is a mysterious gas-masked figure he finds rifling his safe soon after Dian departs…

The intruder easily overpowers the DA with some kind of sleeping gas – which also makes you want to blurt every inconvenient truth – before disappearing, leaving Belmont to awake with a headache and wondering if it was all a dream…

Dian, after a rowdy night of carousing with scandalous BFF Catherine Van Der Meer and her latest (gangster) lover, awakes with a similar hangover but still agrees to attend one of her father’s dreary public functions that evening. The elder Belmont is particularly keen that she meet a studious young man named Wesley Dodds, recently returned from years in the Orient to take over his deceased dad’s many business interests.

Dodds seems genteel and effete, yet Dian finds there’s something oddly compelling about him. Moreover, he too seems to feel a connection…

The Gala breaks up early when the DA is informed of a sensational crime. Catherine Van Der Meer has been kidnapped by someone identifying himself as The Tarantula

Across town, mob boss Albert Goldman is meeting with fellow gangsters from the West Coast and, as usual, his useless son Roger and drunken wife Miriam embarrass him. Daughter Celia is the only one he can depend on these days, but even her unwavering devotion seems increasingly divided. After another stormy scene the conference ends early, and the visiting crime-lords are appalled to find their usually diligent bodyguards all soundly asleep in their limousines…

Even with Catherine kidnapped, Dian is determined to go out that night, but when Wesley arrives unexpectedly she changes her mind, much to her father’s relief. That feeling doesn’t last long however, after the police inform him that the Tarantula has taken another woman…

When a hideously mutilated body is found Dian inveigles herself into accompanying dear old Dad to Headquarters but is promptly excluded from the grisly “Man’s Business”. Left on her own, she begins snooping in the offices and encounters a bizarre gas-masked figure poring through files. Before she can react, he dashes past her and escapes, leaving her to explain to the assorted useless lawmen cluttering up the place.

Furious and humiliated, Dian then insists that she officially identifies Catherine and nobody can dissuade her.

Shockingly, the savagely ruined body is not her best friend but yet another victim…

Somewhere dark and hidden, Van Der Meer is being tortured but the perpetrator has far more than macabre gratification in mind…

In the Goldman house Celia is daily extending her control over darling devoted daddy. They still share a very special secret, but these days she’s the one dictating where and when they indulge themselves…

With all the trauma in her life Dian increasingly finds Wesley a comforting rock, but perhaps that view would change if she knew how he spends his nights. Dodds is plagued and tormented by bad dreams. Not his own nightmares, but rather the somnolent screams of nameless victims and their cruel oppressors haunt his troubled sleep. Worst of all these dreams are somehow prophetic and unrelenting. What else could a decent man do then, but act to end such suffering?

In a seedy dive, uncompromising Police Lieutenant Burke comes off worst when he discovers the gas-mask lunatic grilling a suspect in “his” kidnapping case and again later when this “Sandman” is found at a factory where the vehicle used to transport victims is hidden.

Even so, the net is inexorably tightening on both Tarantula and the insane vigilante interfering in the investigation but Burke doesn’t know who he most wants in a nice, dark interrogation room…

As the labyrinthine web of mystery and monstrosity slowly unravels, tension mounts and the death toll climbs, but can The Sandman stop the torrent of depraved terror before the determined Dian finds herself swept up in all the blood and death?

Of course, he does but not without appalling consequences…

Scene and scenario suitably set, John Watkiss steps in to illuminate second saga The Face (issues #5-8). Attention switches to Chinatown in February of 1938, where Dian and her gal-pals scandalously dine and dish dirt until Miss Belmont meets again an old lover.

Jimmy Shan once worked in her father’s office but now serves as lawyer and fixer for his own people amongst the teeming restaurants, gambling dens and bordellos of the oriental district…

Dian would be horrified to see Jimmy – or Zhang Chai Lao as his Tong masters know him – consorting with unsavoury criminals, and would certainly not be considering reviving her scandalous out-of-hours relationship with him. All frivolous thoughts vanish, however, when the diners vacate the restaurant and stumble upon a severed head: a warning that the ruling factions are about to go to war again in Chinatown. As usual, white police are utterly ineffectual against the closed ranks of the enclave…

Later at a swanky charity soiree to raise money for a school, Dian meets Jimmy again and agrees to a later meeting. At the same shindig she later sees Wesley, and in the course of their small talk, Dodds reveals that he recognises Shan from somewhere…

And in Chinatown, another beheading leads to greater tension between the Lee Feng and Hou Yibai Societies. When an enigmatic gas-masked stranger starts asking unavoidable questions, he finds that both Tongs deny all knowledge of the killings…

As the grisly murder-toll mounts, The Sandman’s investigations lead to one inescapable conclusion: a third party is responsible. But who, and why…

Before the drama closes, Dian will learn more hard truths about the world and the money-men who secretly run it…

Issues #9-12 (December 1993-March 1994) are illustrated by R.G. Taylor and plumb the darkest depths of human depravity in the tale of ‘The Brute’.

The friendship of Dian and Wesley slowly deepens and life seems less fraught in the city, but that soon ends as hulking degenerate stalks the back-alleys, killing and brutalising prostitutes and their clients…

Dodds is also on the mind of boxing promoter and businessman Arthur Reisling who’s looking for a fresh financial partner in his global exploitations. The effete-seeming scholar is hard to convince, though, unlike Eddie Ramsey. He’s a poverty-stricken pugilist and single parent desperate to make enough money to pay for his daughter Emily’s TB medicine. Riesling’s offer to him is just as scurrilous but the broken-down pug doesn’t have the luxury of saying “no”…

Eventually, with Dian in tow, Wesley accepts a party invitation from the speculator and meets his dynasty of worthless, over-privileged children. None of them seem right or well-adjusted…

Later, when Eddie tries to come clean by informing the authorities of Riesling’s illegal fight events, he’s attacked by the promoter’s thugs and saved by the Sandman – at least until the colossal mystery killer attacks them both and they’re forced to flee for their lives…

As Dodds returns home to recuperate, the punishing dreams escalate to mind-rending intensity.

Eddie, meanwhile, is left with no safe option and takes to the streets with Emily. His decision will lead to revolting horror, total tragedy and utter heartbreak…

The Sandman returns to his covert surveillance, silently unearthing the depths of Reisling’s underworld activities and coincidentally exposing a turbulent and dysfunctional atmosphere in the magnate’s home life to match his criminal activities. In this house corruption of every type runs deep and wide, and the masked avenger decides it’s time to bring his findings to Dian’s father. This time, District Attorney Belmont is prepared to listen and to act…

And as the murders mount and Dodds’ dreams escalate in intensity, the strands of a bloody tapestry begin to knot together and the appalling secret of the bestial killer’s connection to Reisling is exposed, only a detonation of expiating violence can restore order…

Stark, compelling and ferociously absorbing, the bleak thrillers depict a cruel but incisive assessment of good and evil no devotee of dark drama should miss, and the period perils come accompanied by a gallery of the series’ original, groundbreaking comicbook photo-covers and posters by Gavin Wilson plus later collection covers and related art from Matt Wagner, Alex Toth and Kent Wilson
© 1993, 1994, 1995, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Black Max volume 1


By Frank S. Pepper, Ken Mennell, Eric Bradbury, Alfonso Font & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-655-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Astounding Air Ace Action… 9/10

It’s time for another sortie down memory lane for us oldsters and, hopefully a new, untrodden path for fans of the fantastic in search of a typically quirky British comics experience.

This stunning paperback (and eBook) package is another stunning nostalgia-punch from Rebellion’s superb and ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics, collecting all episodes of seminal shocker Black Max.

The strip debuted in the first issue of Thunder and ran the distance – spanning October 17th 1970 – 13th March 1971. It then survived cancelation and merger, continuing in Lion & Thunder until that magazine finally died.

This book carries those stories, beginning with March 20th up to May 8th 1971 and the period perils are rounded out with a brace of longer yarns taken from Lion & Thunder Holiday Special 1971 and Thunder Annual 1972. These eerie enthralments are preceded by a warmly reminiscent Introduction from Font that adds a very human dimension to the freaky flying thrills.

The series is typical of the manner in which weekly periodicals functioned back then: devised by screenwriter, veteran Editor and ubiquitous scripter Ken Mennell (Cursitor Doom, Steel Claw, The Spider and so many more) with the first episode limned by the company’s star turn for mood and mystery Eric Bradbury (Invasion, The Black Crow, Cursitor Doom, Hookjaw, House of Dolman and dozens more). Then the whole kit and kaboodle was handed off to another team to sink or swim with, which they did until 1974: a most respectable run for a British comic

The attrition rate of British comic strips bore remarkable similarities to casualty figures…

This particular serial was well-starred: the developing writer was the legendary Frank S. Pepper. He’d begun his professional comics career in 1926 and by 1970 had clocked up a few major successes such as Dan Dare, Rockfist Rogan, Captain Condor, Jet-Ace Logan and Roy of the Rovers to name but a very, very few.

Even the series illustrator Alfonso Font – a relative newcomer – was a ten-year veteran, albeit mostly for European publications. Based in Spain, he worked not just for Odhams/Fleetway but on strips for US outfits Warren and Skywald and on continental classics such as Historias Negras (Dark Stories), Jon Rohner, Carmen Bond, Bri D’Alban, Tex Willer, Dylan Dog and more…

Because of the episodic nature of the material, generally delivered in sharp, spartan 3-page bursts, I’m foregoing my usual self-indulgent and laborious waffle and leaving you with a précis of the theme… and what a cracker it is…

In 1917 the Great War is slowly being lost by Germany and her allies and in the Bavarian schloss of Baron Maximilien von Klorr, the grotesque but brilliant scientist and fighter ace has devised a horrific way to tip the scales back in favour of his homeland…

His ancient family have long had an affinity with bats and the mad man has bred a giant version that will fly beside him to terrify and slaughter the hated English…

The only problem is that his beloved monsters are vulnerable to gunfire so he must keep that as a most secret weapon…

That scheme is imperilled on a weekly basis by thoroughly decent young Brit Tim Wilson. A former performer in a peacetime flying circus, the doughty lad is possibly the best acrobatic flyer on the Western Front and narrowly escapes his encounter with the colossal chiropteran…

Of course, he cannot convince his superiors of the fearsome bio-weapon’s existence, but the Baron knows he’s out there and devotes an astonishing amount of time and effort to killing the lad – when not butchering Allied fliers and ground troops in vast numbers.

As the cat-&-mouse game escalates, both men suffer losses and achieve victories but the odds seem to shift after von Klorr finally manages to mass-produce his monsters, supplemented by ever more incredible inventions like his flying castle…

Most strikingly, some of Tim’s most fervent support comes from the ordinary German soldiers enslaved to the Baron’s vile program…

As previously stated, this initial collection also includes two longer, complete stories from seasonal specials. The first comes from Lion & Thunder Holiday Special 1971: an extra-sized summer treat which revealed how crashed English aviator Captain Johnny Craig experienced a night of extreme terror in the bio-horror filled home of Black Max, whilst Thunder Annual 1972 revealed how Captain Rick Newland of the Royal Flying Corps sought bloody revenge for the brutal bat-winged butchery of his comrades…

These strip shockers are amongst the most memorable and enjoyable exploits in British comics: smart, scary and beautifully rendered. This a superb example of war horror that deserves to be revived and revered.
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 & 2018 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. Black Max and all related characters, their distinctive likenesses and related elements are ™ Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Boneyard in Color, Volume 1


By Richard Moore (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-427-9

Happy Día de Muertos to all of you who celebrate the occasion. Here’s something that might appeal to you today…

Boneyard was an award-winning comicbook that ran 28 issues between 2001 and 2009. It was subsequently collected as a series of monochrome albums and eventually seven full-colour collections between 2005-and 2010. Most volumes are still readily available online.

It’s been on hiatus since 2010 and I, for one, miss it something fierce. Surely it’s time for a re-issue and even some new stories, yes?

Young Paris – don’t call him Michael, he hates it – may finally have had a turn of good luck. Not only has he inherited some property from his reclusive grandfather, but the residents of picturesque little hamlet Raven Hollow are desperate to buy it from him, sight unseen. Nonetheless he makes his shambolic way there and finds that it’s not all so cut and dried.

The property in question is a cemetery named The Boneyard and not everything within its walls is content to play dead…

There’s Abby, a beautiful vampire chick, a foul-mouthed skeleton, a demon with delusions of grandeur, a werewolf who thinks he’s a cross between James Dean and the Fonz, a witch, a hulking Frankenstein-type monster and even talking gargoyles over the gate.

Most worrying of all: There’s even a voluptuous (married) amphibian who adds worlds of meaning – and assorted shades of grey – to the phrase “predatory man-eater.”

The place is a veritable refuge for the restless dead and every sort of Halloween horror, but somehow the residents all seem far more human in attitude and friendly in manner than the increasingly off-kilter townsfolk whose desperate measures to make Paris sell up prove that not all monsters haunt graveyards.

Reprinting issues #1-4 of the independent comic book in full-process colour, this is a charming, sly, funny and irresistibly addictive book, a warm-hearted comedy of terrors that is one the best humour series to come out of the States since Charles Addams first started reporting from that spooky old house in the 1940s.

This is a must-have for Horrorists, Humorists and especially Romantics with an open mind, which can even be read by younger teenagers. Get hunting, amigos…
© 2002, 2005 Richard Moore. All Rights Reserved.

I Luv Halloween Volume 1


By Keith Giffen & Benjamin Roman (TokyoPop)
ISBN: 978-1-59532-831-1

Are you sick? Are you depraved, demented or just plain ‘not right’?

If So, it’s not necessary – but it won’t hurt either – if you pick up this darkly wicked little tome to reaffirm your skewed view of reality.

First seen in 2005, it spawned two further paperback volumes, a hardback Ultimate Edition in full-colour and, latterly, eBook editions (similarly converted from moody monochrome to gaudy sunset shades and blood-spatter hues thanks to the tender ministrations of Michael Kelleher and Glasshouse Graphics…

This holiday is primarily one where kids of varying ages go mooching about begging for sweets and threating mayhem. It used to be about predatory monsters roaming the land, terrorising the citizenry and making mischief. Here, those worlds collide and collude…

Every Halloween, Finch, Moochie, Pig Pig, Bubbles and Squeek, Li’l Bith, Mush and the rest of the kids get together for their annual sugar-coated loot-fest.

But this year it’s all botched up from the get-go ‘cause the very first old lady they accost just gives them fruit, and everyone knows if you don’t get candy right from the start it’s nothing but rubbish all evening.

Drastic steps have to be taken, or else this Halloween is ruined…

You don’t know drastic until you see what this band of masked reprobates get up to. These are not your average trick-or-treaters…

Along the way you’ll also meet that friendly old policeman, the vicious, bullying older kids and that really stacked chick who lives next door as well as her doofus boyfriend. See their ultimate fates and give thanks it’s just a comic!

And as the night unfolds – with each kid given his/her/its own chapter to play in – we’ll see that theirs is a very bleak and nasty kind of fun with a vicious undercurrent to the shenanigans. You might even call it tragic…

Comics veteran Keith Giffen flexes his comedy – and bad taste – muscles in an irresistible confection that would win nodding approval from Charles Addams and the producers of any self-respecting splatter movie. The jovial malice is uniquely captured by the totally enchanting art of Benjamin Roman, whose inexplicably charming grotesques are the stuff of any animation studio’s dreams. If you don’t believe me just check out the stupefying Sketchbook section and frankly alarming Creator Bio feature…

Toys based on these sick puppies will sell and sell and sell – if you can bear to liberate them from any stout packaging or go to sleep in the same room as them…

If you have no fear of the dark, if you love a gross joke, have a soft side that can be hit by a brilliantly sad twist or two and especially if you don’t care what your immediate family or the clergy think of you, then you really want to read this book. Over and over and over and over again. Amen…
© 2005 Keith Giffen & Benjamin Roman. All Rights Reserved.