Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom Dark Horse Archives volume Four


By Dick Wood, Roger McKenzie, Don Glut, Al McWilliams, Ernie Colón, José Delbo, Dan Spiegle, Jesse Santos, George Wilson & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-825-6 (HB) 978-1-61655-512-2 (TPB)

Comics colossus Dell/Gold Key/Whitman had one of the most complicated publishing set-ups in history, but that didn’t matter one iota to kids of all ages who consumed their vastly varied product. Based in Racine, Wisconsin, Whitman had been a crucial component of the monolithic Western Publishing and Lithography Company since 1915: drawing upon commercial resources and industry connections that came with editorial offices on both coasts. They even boasted a subsidiary printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Another connection was with fellow Western subsidiary K.K. Publications (named for licensing legend Kay Kamen who facilitated extremely lucrative “license to print money” merchandising deals for Walt Disney Studios between 1933 and 1949).

From 1938, the affiliated companies’ comic book output was released under a partnership deal with a “pulps” periodical publisher under the umbrella imprint Dell Comics – and again those creative staff and commercial contacts fed into the line-up of the Big Little, Little Golden and Golden Press books for children. This partnership ended in 1962 and Western had to swiftly reinvent its comics division as Gold Key.

Western Publishing had been a major player since comics’ earliest days, blending a huge tranche of licensed titles including newspaper strips, TV tie-in and Disney titles (like Nancy and Sluggo, Tarzan, or The Lone Ranger) with in-house originations such as Turok, Son of Stone, Brain Boy, and Kona Monarch of Monster Isle.

Dell and Western split just as a comic book resurgence triggered a host of new titles and companies, and a superhero boom. Independent of Dell, new outfit Gold Key launched original adventure titles including Mighty Samson; Magnus – Robot Fighter; M.A.R.S. Patrol, Total War; Space Family Robinson and – in deference to the atomic obsession of the era – a cool, potently understated thermonuclear white knight…

The new company’s most recognisable and significant stab at a superhero bore the rather unwieldy codename of Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, who debuted in an eponymous title cover-dated October 1962 and thus on sale in the last days of June – Happy 60th Birthday Doc! – sporting a captivating painted cover by Richard M. Powers which made it feel like a grown up book rather than a simple comic.

With #3, George Wilson took over the iconic painted covers: a glorious feature that made the hero unique amongst his costumed contemporaries…

This fourth and final collection spans April 1968 via a 12-year hiatus – all the way to March 1982, encompassing a period when superheroes again faded from favour, whilst supernatural themes proliferated in comics books. Gold Key had their own stable of magical mystery titles: anthologies such as Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Grimm’s Ghost Stories and The Twilight Zone. They even ran a few character-driven titles including Dagar the Invincible, Tragg and the Sky Gods and The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor.

Included in this volume are the contents of Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #23-31, plus a guest cameo from The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor #14: a very mixed bag preceded by an Introduction from the late Batton Lash (Supernatural Law; Archie Meets the Punisher; Wolff and Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre).

The Supreme Science Hero was born when a campaign of sabotage at US research base Atom Valley culminated in the death of Dr. Bentley and accidental transmutation of his lab partner Doctor Solar into a (no longer quite) human atomic pile with incredible, impossible and apparently unlimited powers and abilities. Of course, his mere presence is lethal to all around him until scientific ingenuity devises – with dutiful confidantes girlfriend Gail Sanders and mentor Dr. Clarkson – a few brilliant work-arounds…

Solar was created by Paul S, Newman but the majority of later tales were written by Golden Age all-star Dick Wood (Sky Masters of the Space Force; Crime Does Not Pay; The Phantom; Mandrake the Magician; Flash Gordon and countless others). In this final volume a number of artists shared duties, beginning with Alden “Al” McWilliams (Danny Raven/Dateline: Danger; Star Trek, Flash Gordon; Twilight Zone; Buck Rogers; Justice Inc.; Star Wars and so much more) who drew the first tale here.

The atomic adventuring resumed with the latest ploy of evil mastermind Nuro: Solar’s nemesis and a madman who defeated death by implanting his personality inside a super-android. ‘King Cybernoid Strikes Part I & II’ (#23: cover-dated April 1968 by Wood & McWilliams) sees the malevolent man-machine escape his destroyed citadel of evil to replace a billionaire philanthropist, infiltrate Atom Valley and orchestrate his enemy’s demise by shutting down the nuclear reactors Solar needs to sustain his existence. The hero’s plan to survive seems like nuclear suicide but happily works out…

Ernie Colón was next to render the Atomic Ace beginning with #24’s (July 1968) Wood-written ‘The Deadly Trio Part I & II’.

Born in Puerto Rico on July 13th 1931, Ernie Colón Sierra was a multi-talented maestro of the American comics industry whose work delighted generations of readers. Whether as artist, writer, colourist or editor, his contributions affected the youngest of comics consumers (Monster in My Pocket, Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost at Harvey Comics and Marvel’s Star Comics imprint) to the most sophisticated connoisseur with strips.

His mature-reader material comprised newspaper sci fi classic Star Hawks, comic book graphic novels Ax, Manimal, The Medusa Chain and more, and comics as wide-ranging as Vampirella, Battlestar Galactica, Arak, Son of Thunder, Damage Control, Doom 2099, I… Vampire, Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld, and Airboy. He also drew the 1990s revival of Magnus: Robot Fighter for Valiant amongst so very many others.

Colón was master of many trades and served as an innovative editor, journalist, historian and commentator as well. Amongst his vast output were sophisticated experimental works and seminal genre graphic novels done in collaboration with Harvey Comics/Star Comics collaborator Sid Jacobson. These include The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, After 9/11: America’s War on Terror, Che: a Graphic Biography and Vlad the Impaler. In 2010 they released Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography and 2014’s The Warren Commission Report: A Graphic Investigation into the Kennedy Assassination with Gary Mishkin.

While diligently hard at work on newspaper strip SpyCat (Weekly World News 2005-2019) he sought other challenges, like historical works A Spy for General Washington and The Great American Documents: Volume 1, both collaborations with his author wife Ruth Ashby. He died on August 8th 2019…

Here he adds an edge of high-octane dramatic tension to Solar’s exploits as the fugitive King Cybernoid unleashes three deadly war machines, each the ultimate weapon in its preferred environment of earth, air and water and each a crucial component in a lethal booby trap…

‘The Lost Dimension Part I & II’ (#25, October) began a continued tale with Atom Valley’s teleportation experiments opening Earth to attacks from an evil parallel dimension. Impatient to solve the mystery of vanishing test subjects, Gail’s nephew and resident teen super-genius Hamilton Mansfield Lamont uses the apparatus on himself and is captured by mirror universe duplicates. When Solar follows he uncovers a plot to invade and conquer our universe and must use his intellect as well as atomic powers to resist the wicked facsimiles’ plans ‘When Dimensions Collide parts I & II’ (#26 January 1969).

A new year saw a fresh illustrative hand. Argentinian illustrator José Delbo (Billy the Kid; Mighty Samson; Yellow Submarine; The Monkees; Wonder Woman; Superman; Batman; Turok, Son of Stone; Transformers,) had been a prolific US comics illustrator since 1965, and was a valued contributor to Gold Key’s licensed titles. He took on the Atomic Ace in a 2-issue run that spanned 12 years, beginning with Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #27.

Cover-dated April 1969, the done-in-one yarn written by Wood saw the titanic troubleshooter clashing again with cyborg Nuro. It began at a British radio telescope as the hero sought to prevent marauding energy beings using the installation to invade Earth via ‘The Ladder to Mars’. After solving ‘The Mystery Message’, Solar triumphs in an outer space ‘Battle of the Electronic Fighters’.

This was the last appearance for quite a while, as the taste for men in tights waned. A guest shot from the genre-experimental 1970s was a rare treat, before a superhero resurgence saw Solar’s return in what I’m assuming was an inventory tale that had sat in a drawer since cancellation. In the meantime, Gold Key had undergone a few changes and was now using the publishing umbrella of “Whitman”.

Cover-dated April 1981, Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #28 featured Wood & Delbo’s ‘The Dome of Mystery’: a traditional 2-chapter saga that saw Nuro use a deadly force field dome to destroy his enemies. Although initially helpless against ‘The Movable Fortress’, Solar’s persistence and ingenuity eventually triumphs in ‘The Dome of Mystery: An Army of Molecules’. Also included was an informational strip by Al McWilliams ‘A Day at the Man of the Atom’s Secret Training Grounds’.

The next issue was cover-dated October 1981, with writer Roger McKenzie (Captain America; Daredevil; Next Man; Battlestar Galactica; Men of War: Gravedigger) joined by veteran artist Dan Spiegle. Criminally unsung, his career was two-pronged and incredibly long. Born in 1920, Spiegle wanted to be a traditional illustrator but instead fell – after military service in the Navy – into comics at the end of the 1940s. He was equally adept at dramatic narrative art and humorous cartooning, and his impossibly large and varied portfolio includes impeccable work on Hopalong Cassidy; Rawhide; Sea Hunt; Space Family Robinson; Blackhawk and Nemesis for DC; Crossfire; Scooby Doo; Who Framed Roger Rabbit?; Indiana Jones; the entire Hanna-Barbera stable and so much more.

In high energy action mode here, he limns the Atomic Ace’s close encounter with extradimensional energy vampire ‘Li’Rae’ and her subsequent attempt to colonise and consume Earth. The hero’s penultimate exploit was cover-dated February 1982, with McKenzie & Spiegle resurrecting the Man of the Atom’s greatest foe. When international Man of Mystery Mr. Dante gathers the world’s greatest scientist on his artificial paradise of New Atlantis, Solar soon uncovers his real identity and deadly scheme, but not before the villain unleashes a geothermal ‘Inferno’…

One month later the heroic exploits concluded with #31 and an assault by an misguided admirer of Gail’s. When actor Ron Barris gains incalculable power in a special effects accident, he targets “rival” Solar in his TV superhero role ‘When Strikes the Sentinel!’ in his deranged scheme to make her his own, but his new powers are no match for the Atomic Avenger…

The mid-70s cameo appearance previously mentioned closes this archive. It comes from The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor #14 (June 1975): a series starring a troubled mystic and supernatural troubleshooter in the classic vein. ‘The Night Lakota Died’ is by Don Glut & Jesse Santos (who also painted the cover) and finds famed ghostbuster Dr. Adam Spektor accused of murdering his assistant and lover. On the run, the magician uncovers a plot by archenemy Kareena to entrap the mage and seduce him to the side of her Dark Gods.

Her plan revolves around keeping a certain atomic superhero under her mesmeric spell, but once again the witch underestimates the resolve of the forces of light…

Enticingly restrained and understated, these Atom Age action comics offered a compelling counterpoint to the hyperbole of DC and Marvel and remain some of the most readable thrillers of the era. These tales are lost gems from a time when fun was paramount and entertainment a mandatory requirement. This is comics the way they were and really should be again…
DOCTOR SOLAR®, MAN OF THE ATOM ARCHIVES Volume 4 ® and © 1968, 1969, 1975, 1981, 1982, 2015 Random House, Inc. Under license to Classic Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost


By Keezy Young (The Lion Forge/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-941302-46-0 (Lion Forge PB/Digital edition) ‎978-1-63715-073-3 (Oni Press PB/Digital edition)

I’m ending our meagre contributions to this year’s Pride Month with a heads up/timely reminder for a superb, upbeat love story in the sincere hope that one day we won’t need a specially appointed time and space for queer people, or women, or black and asian ones or in fact any person not white and “naturally” hetero-male.

It’s all just stories, folks. Why can’t we just share them out fairly?

Back in 2017, queer, non-binary artist, author and storyteller Keezy Young (Never Heroes, Hello Sunshine) created a supernatural romance that garnered lots of critical attention, accolades and awards. Young resides in Seattle and has used art to tell tales since able to hold a crayon in a fist, so it’s no surprise how good they are at it now. They specialise in creating YA comics and stories about being young, adventurous and LGBTQIA.

Rendered in bright pastel colours and big, welcoming images, Taproot is the story of Hamal; a gentle young man who loves plants and growing things. He always has time to chat and offer advice on plant care, even though his boss at the flower store is a bit of a tartar about unnecessary customer service.

Mr Takashi would be even more surly if he realised that many of the people Hamal talks to are dead. Unable to understand or explain his gift, Hamal is not afraid: gathering a small band of ghostly regulars who spend much of their time with him. There’s moody teen April, effervescent grade schooler Joey and Blue. a good looking older teen who spends too much time trying to fix up Hamal’s love-life. If Blue knows who Hamal really pines for, he’s good at covering it up…

They’ve been close for a year now. The aimless revenant just followed Hamal one day and was astounded when the living doll stared into his invisible face and asked him why. No longer isolated and cut off from existence, Blue stuck around and other wandering spirits gradually tagged along.

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. Recently, something dark and strange has begun slowly unfolding. The plants aren’t thriving, and increasingly the spooks are being sucked into a ghastly spectral forest realm of doom and decay. It would be really frightening if they weren’t already dead…

It all comes to a head after Blue is drawn to the forest and confronts a monster who knows what’s really going on in creation. Terrifying and predatory, it recognises what Hamal really is and has plans for both the living and the dead. Worst of all, it has a way to fulfil Blue’s most heartfelt desire… if the ghost boy will play along…

Thankfully, that’s just the beginning of a whole new life for the would-be lovers and a novel existence for Hamal, as the story takes on fresh life via some captivating plot twists that every romantic who loves happy endings can see just by tapping this…
© 2017 Keezy Young. All Rights Reserved. English text © 2007 NetComics.

Lonesome volume 1: The Preacher’s Trail


By Yves Swolfs, coloured by Julie Swolfs; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-000-5 (Album PB/Digital edition)

In comics, Western skies are at their most moody and iconic when seen through European eyes.

On the Continent, the populace has a mature relationship with comics. They collectively recognise what too many here still dismiss as “kids’ stuff” as having academic and scholarly standing, as well as meritorious nostalgic value and the validation of acceptance as a true art form.

Myths and legends of the American Old West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of stagecoaches and gunfighters. Hergé and Moebius were passionate devotees of cowboy culture and stand at the forefront of the wealth of stand-out Continental comics series. These range from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry, Comanche and Lucky Luke, and tangentially even children’s classics like Yakari or colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s superbly evocative Indian Summer.

Lonesome: La piste du prêcheur debuted in 2018, the first volume of a gritty, historically-grounded drama with supernatural overtones, similar in tone and mood to Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.

It is crafted by veteran Belgian taleteller Yves Swolfs, who was born in April 1955 and – like most kids of that generation and geographical location – probably grew up surrounded by imported and home-generated cowboy culture.

He studied Literature and Journalism at Brussels’ Saint-Luc Institute before joining Claude Renard’s Atelier R comics studio, in 1978. His first stories were published in the studio’s own Le Neuvième Rêve magazine before stepping out into the field of commercial design and illustration. His first success was a western: Durango was published by Éditions des Archers in 1980 and ran for four decades, under various publishers. The feature was inspired by cinematic spaghetti westerns of the 1970s and served as  a staple source of income as Swolfs experimented with other genres: French Revolution-set historical drama Dampierre (1987); horror fantasy Le Prince de la Nuit (1991); dystopian sci fi thriller Vlad (2000) and contemporary thriller James Healer (2002).

Always busy, in 1999 Swolfs scripted western Black Hills 1890 for illustrator Marc-Renier and in 2003 wrote and drew medieval fantasy saga Légendes, amongst a host of other comics projects. He relaxes by playing in a rock band.

The Preacher’s Trail opens in 1861, with a solitary rider trekking through snow-enveloped wastes in the savage period of mounting tensions leading to the American Civil War. Newly-created territories Nebraska and Kansas have been a proxy battleground for the North and South since 1854, with slave-owners’ agents and radical Abolitionists clashing and stirring up the citizens for religious, political and commercial reasons. Blood has been spilled by anti-slavery “Jayhawkers” and Missouri’s “Border Ruffians” indiscriminately and the entire region is a powder keg waiting to explode.

Into this disaster-in-waiting rides the determined searcher. He’s hunting a proselytizing preacher, and easily overcomes the murderous bushwhackers Abolitionist Reverend Markham stationed in an isolated saloon to deter his enemies. However, before the last gunman dies, the stranger touches him and is granted a vision of where his target is heading…

In nearby township Holton City, the Reverend – surrounded by an army of gunslingers – stridently entreats the people to join his crusade against the abomination of slavery. Many are not roused or fooled, but all are keenly aware that the holy man care nothing for their lives…

The town banker/Mayor Harper may be throwing his support behind the rabblerouser, but local newspaper publisher Marcus has been doing some research and has reached a dangerous conclusion…

As the rider beds down for the night, his thoughts go back to the Indian medicine man who raised him after his family were murdered and he ponders his eerie gift. At that moment elsewhere, farming family the Colsons are being butchered by the Preacher’s acolytes. Markham has judged them to be immoral sinners, but the atrocities he personally inflicts upon the woman prove it’s no God driving his campaign of terror…

Next morning the rider stumbles across the massacre. By now, he’s fully conversant with the Preacher’s methods and ignores the faked “evidence” of South-supporting Border Ruffians, but is astounded and delighted to discover a survivor…

Taking the child to Holton, the stranger is unsurprised to see his accounts of the crime and description of the perpetrators ignored. He knows Markham always finds influential supporters like bankers and local politicians. The townsfolk are shaken though. First the newspaper office burns down and Marcus vanishes, and now a massacre…

After ignoring an unsubtle warning to mind his own business from Harper’s hired gun Clayton, the rider’s breakfast is interrupted by Sheriff Abel. He’s more inclined to believe stories about the Preacher, but knows who runs things, if not why…

When the rider leaves town in the morning, it’s with new knowledge gained through his strange gift and furtive conversations with bargirl Lucy, an ally of Marcus. Well versed in the brutal whims of men like Harper and Markham. Unfortunately, her allegiance is uncovered and she pays a heavy price after the stranger leaves…

On the trail, the stalker meets fugitive Marcus and hears what the idealistic journalist has uncovered of an international plutocratic plot to instigate war, but his sole concern is catching the Preacher. Debate distracts them and almost costs their lives when Clayton’s gang ambushes them after they stop at a friend’s cabin. The shootout leaves the stranger with Marcus’ notebook and the psychometrically derived knowledge of what Harper and Clayton did to Lucy, as well as a fierce determination to fix things in Holton before resuming his pursuit of Markham… and this time, the rider will be the one dictating how and where the final clash takes place…

Dark, uncompromisingly gritty, diabolically clever and lavishly limned in a style reminiscent of Jean Giraud’s Blueberry, this is as much conspiracy drama as revenge western with an enigmatic figure slowly discovering himself whilst derailing a plot to change the world. Here the inescapable war that’s looming is not due to a crusade of opposing beliefs but a devious scheme by commercial interests to foment war for profit and their own gain.

Before publication by Cinebook, Lonesome was initially released in digital-only English translation by Europe Comics, so if you don’t want to wait for later Cinebook editions, you can satisfy your impatience that way. Regardless, this is a superb example of a genre standard done right and if you like your west wild and wicked you won’t be sorry…
© Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) 2018 by Yves Swolfs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2020 Cinebook Ltd.

If You Steal


By Jason (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-854-0 (HB/Digital edition)

Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay regn (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize). He won another Sproing in 2001 for series Mjau Mjau and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels.

A global star among cartoon cognoscenti, he has received major awards from all over the planet. Jason’s work always jumps directly into a reader’s brain and heart, utilising the beastly and unnatural to gently pose eternal questions about basic human needs in a softly relentless quest for answers. That you don’t ever notice the deep stuff because of the clever gags and safe, familiar “funny-animal” characters should indicate just how good a cartoonist he is…

The stylised artwork is delivered in formalised page layouts rendered in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style: solid blacks, thick outlines and settings of seductive simplicity; augmented by a deft and subtle use of flat colour which enhances his hard, moody, suspenseful and utterly engrossing Cinema-inspired world.

The superbly understated art acts in concert with his dead-on, deadpan pastiche repertoire of scenarios which dredge deep from our shared experience of old film noir classics, horror and sci fi B-movies and other visual motifs which transcend time and culture, and the result is narrative dynamite.

This compilation collects eleven short yarns and opens with the eponymous and eerie ‘If You Steal’, wherein cheap thug Paul perpetually risks everything – including the one person who keeps him feeling alive – in search of quick cash: only to lose it all in the end, after which ‘Karma Chameleon’ sees a small desert community dealing with the discovery of a giant, carnivorous and extremely predatory lizard which nobody seems able to see. Good thing masturbation-obsessed boffin Dr. Howard Jones and his long-suffering daughter Julia are in town…

The deliciously wry and whimsically absurdist Samuel Beckett spoof ‘Waiting for Bardot’ then segues neatly into a dashing mystery of masked derring-do as ‘Lorena Velazquez’ eventually tires of waiting for her ideal man to finish off a necessarily interminable and horrific army of villains prior to doling out a maiden’s traditional rewards, before a fugitive murderer narrates his own paranoia-fuelled downfall after his ‘New Face’ briefly tempts him with love and the never-to-be-achieved promise of peace and safety…

A series of six faux horror comics covers combines to relate the trials of chilling romances in ‘Moondance’. The classic fear theme extends into a rip-roaring battle against the undead in ‘Night of the Vampire Hunter’ and ‘Polly Wants a Cracker’ follows the other unique career path of artistic legend/assassin-for-hire Frida Kahlo.

A junkie musician pushes his luck against some very bad guys because ‘The Thrill is Gone’ after which ‘Ask Not’ takes a trawl through history from Stonehenge in 2583 BC to Salon de Provence in 1554 AD (courtesy of Nostradamus) to 1960s Cuba, revealing the truth behind the assassination of JFK and Abraham Lincoln and what parts Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby actually played in that millennial plot: a parallel worlds yarn like no other…

The book ends with a stunning, deeply moving graphic examination of dementia which is both chilling and oddly-heart-warming as aging Emma deals with the scary creatures who keep taking away the names of things in ‘Nothing’: proving once more that behind innocuous-seeming cartoons and contemporary fairy tale trappings Jason’s work is loaded with potent questions…

If You Steal resonates with Jason’s favourite themes and shines with his visual dexterity and skewed sensibilities. disclosing a decidedly different slant on secrets and obsessions. Primal art supplemented by sparse and spartan “hardboiled Private Eye” dialogue, enhanced to a macabre degree by solid drawing and skilled use of silence and moment, all utilised with devastating economy, affords the same quality of cold, bleak yet perfectly harnessed stillness which makes Scandinavian TV dramas such compelling, addictive fare.

These comic tales are strictly for adults, yet allow us all to look at the world through wide-open young eyes. They never, however, sugar-coat what’s there to see…
If You Steal is © 2015 Jason. All rights reserved.

Jonah Hex volume 4: Only the Good Die Young


By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Phil Noto, Jordi Bernet, David Michael Beck & various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-786-0 (TPB/Digital edition)

Confident enough to apply fantasy concepts to this grittiest of human heroes, the assembled creators working on the last successful incarnation of Jonah Hex blended a darkly ironic streak of wit with a sanguine view of morality and justice to produce some of the most accessible and enjoyable comics fiction ever seen.

This collection, reprinting issues #19-24 of that series, served up six discrete tales revealing how the ravaged and dissolute bounty hunter will takes everything the universe can throw at him with the same irascible aplomb and give back double…

‘Texas Money’, ‘Unfinished Business’ and ‘The Current War’ are all illustrated by Phil Noto; compelling vignettes which well display the thread of black humour that runs through these stories. The first sees Hex hire out to notorious saloon boss Wiley Park for a rescue mission, only to become distracted by the West’s Most Inhospitable Brothel Madam.

The second sees Hex paying for a little jest he had at Park’s expense: a truly iconic tribute to a classic Conan the Barbarian scene, before reuniting with an old stooge to settle all accounts with the shifty saloon owner.

Jordi Bernet handled interlude issue ‘Devil’s Paw’: a seemingly more traditional yarn of deserts and mesas, galloping posses and awful “injuns”, but this dark tale of outrage and revenge is conceptually the most adult and brutal in the book, showing the inner core of righteousness that drives Hex, whatever his aspect and actions might hint to the contrary – and no one concerned about derogatory depictions of minorities should have anything to worry about…

‘The Current War’ offers an elegiac flavour of the Doomed Wild West and Hex gets an unsettling glimpse of things to come when he is hired to retrieve a prototype robot stolen from an inventor by Thomas Edison. Once more, and as always, the wryly cynical authorial voices of Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti make this dark prophecy work in what should be an uncomfortable milieu.

Bernet returns to illustrate a superbly chilling tale of US Cavalry atrocity in ‘Who Lives and Who Dies’, which to my mind is the perfect modern Western tale and this volume concludes with a no-holds-barred supernatural thriller painted by David Michael Beck: ‘All Hallows Eve’.

Called to a haunted saloon where ghostly spirit of Justice and sometime ally El Diablo seeks his aid against the bloodthirsty Prairie Witch, Hex plus – in a delightful comic turn – cowboy vagabond Bat Lash must defeat the harridan’s plot to bloodily sacrifice the entire town of Coffin Creek. In tone, quite similar to a contemporary teen horror flick, this too works perfectly as a vehicle for the best Western Anti-hero ever created.

Dark, bloody and wickedly funny, this sly blend of action and social commentary is an unmissable treat for readers of an adult temperament and a mind open to genre-bending.
© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

2120


By George Wylesol (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-65-3 (TPB)

Baltimore-based George Wylesol (Internet Crusader; Ghosts, Etc.) is a cartoonist with lots to say and intriguing ways of doing so. Past works have channelled his avowed fascinations – old computer kit/livery; anxiety; iconography; the nostalgic power of commercial branding and signage and a general interest in plebian Days Gone By – into chilling affirmations of his faith in the narrative power of milieu and environment as opposed to characters.

That remains the case in his latest retro-modernist extravaganza… a canny revival of a brief fad stillborn on the way to today’s computer game world; explored through a salutary experience befalling a rather bland service engineer…

Once upon a time (way back in the 1980s) books and graphic novels experimented with an interactive approach: constructing stories where readers could opt to proceed in a linear manner, whilst being encouraged to jump ahead or back, by following suggestions at certain decision points of the narrative. Depending on which one a reader followed, the story could travel in numerous directions and outcomes were many and varied…

The fad faded as technology surpassed physical print restrictions and now most games offer even more variety and immersion, but the process was and still is a powerful device for storytelling and point-making, if you know the trick of it.

Wylesol does, and in 2120 skillfully manipulates the form to create a chilling and potent suspense saga. The set-up is simple. Forty-something computer repairman Wade Duffy is booked to service a machine at 2120 Macmillan Drive: an isolated building in a vacant lot.

The place seems deserted and decommissioned, but after gaining entry, Wade dutifully proceeds through countless empty rooms and corridors – far more than seems possible for a facility of its size. The place seems to go down too many levels, and as he seeks endlessly for the broken computer he is determined to repair, his responsible work attitude gradually erodes under tidal waves of suspicion, uncertainty and nervous tension.

The place is just not right…

Too many rooms, odd sights and sounds, bizarre detritus, scraps and remnants indicating rapid abandonment… and his solitary, endless examinations and futile explorations only tip further into paranoia once he finally finds other occupants and his mind starts doubting him…

I first read the book without making any choices. I’m not saying you should, but if you do, let your mind build a story of its own then reread as often as you want, using the page directions to reshape the events and outcomes and see how that changes the momentous “Big Reveal” hidden within.

Genuinely disturbing in the manner of the best psychological dramas, with plenty of scary moments and distressingly eerie characters, the coldly diagrammatical illustration and workplace bright colour palette adds immensely to the overall aura of unease.

A compelling and compulsive experience, seamlessly wedding sensory evocation to carefully neutralised visual input, like the subject matter itself, this book is not what it seems and should not be missed.
© George Wylesol 2019. All rights reserved.

Morbius: Preludes and Nightmares


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Mike Friedrich, Joe Keatinge, Dan Slott, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Paul Gulacy, Valentine DiLandro, Marco Checchetto & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2592-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

The transition of Marvel’s print canon to whatever passes for celluloid this century seems unstoppable and with their pioneering hero/villain Michael Morbius now a big screen presence, the company fast-tracked a few archival collections to anticipate/support the release. The most useful for casual readers is undoubtedly this slim, sleek tome: an introductory primer perfect for film fans hunting up a little comic book context. It re-presents Amazing Spider-Man #101-102 and 699.1; Marvel Team-Up #3-4; (Adventure into) Fear #20, and fact-packed excerpts from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #7, spanning October 1971 to February 2013, mixing the origin and earliest 1970s appearances with a relatively latter-day reappraisal.

A fuller archival treatment of his scattered career can be found in a brace of Epic Collections, and I’ll get around to them in the fullness of time.

It begins with The Amazing Spider-Man #101, the second chapter in an anniversary trilogy tale begun by Stan Lee, Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia which saw the wallcrawler accidentally mutate himself, gaining four extra arms…

Now Roy Thomas takes over with ‘A Monster Called… Morbius!’ as the 8-limbed hero desperately seeks a way to reverse his condition. Whilst hiding in Dr. Curt Connors’ Long Island home/lab, he stumbles across a murderous costumed horror who drinks human blood. The newcomer has just reached shore, from a ship that he left a charnel house…

Making matters even worse is Connors’ sudden arrival in the scaly savage form of The Lizard. Suddenly surprised and always enraged, the saurian attacks, set on killing all intruders…

Amongst the many things banned by the Comics Code Authority in 1954 were horror staples zombies, werewolves and vampires, but changing tastes and rising costs of the early 1970s were seeing superhero titles dropping like flies in a blizzard.

With interest in suspense and the supernatural growing globally, all comics publishers were pushing to re-establish scary comics again, and the covert introduction of a “Living Vampire” in superhero staple Spider-Man led to another challenge to the CCA, the eventually revision of the Code’s horror section and a resurgent rise of supernatural heroes and titles.

For one month Marvel also experimented with double-sized comicbooks (DC’s switch back to 52-page issues lasted almost a year – August 1971-June 1972 cover-dates). Thus, Amazing Spider-Man #102 featured an immense 3-chapter blockbuster brawl beginning with ‘Vampire at Large!’ wherein the octo-webspinner and anthropoid reptile joined forces to hunt a science-spawned bloodsucker after discovering a factor in the bitey brute’s saliva could cure both part-time monsters’ respective conditions.

‘The Way it Began’ abruptly diverges from the main narrative to present the tragic secret origin of Nobel Prize winning biologist Michael Morbius and how be turned himself into a haunted night-horror in hopes of curing a fatal blood disease, before ‘The Curse and the Cure!’ brought the tale to a blistering conclusion and restored the status quo and requisite appendage-count.

Gerry Conway assumed the writer’s role for the third appearance of the living (not dead; never ever dead but living), breathing humanoid predator who drank blood to live, as Marvel Team-Up # 3 (July 1972, illustrated by Rossa Andru & Giacoia) found Spidey and Human Torch Johnny Storm hunting the resurgent Morbius after he attacks student Jefferson Bolt and passes on his plague of thirst. The conflicted scientist still seeks a cure and tracks old colleague Hans Jorgenson to Peter Parker’s college, but his now-vampiric servant Bolt wants just what all true bloodsuckers want in ‘The Power to Purge!’…

The new horror-star was still acting the villain in MTU #4 as the Torch was replaced by most of Marvel’s sole mutant team (The Beast having gone all hairy – and solo – in another science-based workaround to publish comic book monsters who were anything but supernatural) in ‘And Then… the X-Men!’

This enthralling thriller was illustrated by magnificent Gil Kane at the top of his form and inked by Steve Mitchell with the webslinger and X-Men at odds while both hunting the missing Jorgenson. After the unavoidable butting of heads, the heroes united to overcome Morbius and left him for Professor Charles Xavier to contain or cure…

As superheroes continued to decline and horror bloomed, Morbius established himself in Marvel’s black-&-white magazine title Vampire Tales, but returned to four-colour publishing with (Adventure into) Fear #20 (cover-dated February 1973). The title had previously hosted the macabre Man-Thing, and his/its promotion to a solo title gave Morbius opportunity to spread his own wings.

Spawned by scripter Mike Friedrich and artist Paul Gulacy, Jack Abel & George Roussos, ‘Morbius the Living Vampire!’ revealed how he escaped the X-Men and fled to Los Angeles and lived (whenever possible) off victims who deserved his voracious bite. The initial tale also set up a bizarre relationship with Rabbi Krause and Reverend Daemon who sought to cure him, before one was exposed as a human devil, catapulting Morbius into intergalactic conflict that had shaped humanity over millennia. That saga also is fully detailed in the Epic Collections, but frustratingly not here…

Brushing past decades of history and character development, there’s a huge jump to the twenteens and a more nuanced revision of the origin to close this book’s story section, as The Amazing Spider-Man # 699.1 (February 2013, by Joe Keatinge, Dan Slott, Valentine DiLandro & Marco Checchetto) finds Morbius in supermax penitentiary The Raft, ruminating on his childhood in Greece, living with an imminently fatal but unpredictable blood condition, but still finding love, friendship and adventure.

Sadly, as we already know, his Nobel Prize winning research only led to the death of his greatest friend and colleague, the abandonment of his true love and an unlife sentence as a rampaging killer…

Rounding out the red reading, fact-filled picture-packed pages from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #7, offering dry history and statistics from those intervening years.

A compelling and beguiling bunch of beginnings well told and superbly illustrated, this treat is superficially entertaining but won’t satisfy those with a deep thirst for true knowledge…
© 2021 MARVEL

The Eldritch Kid™ volume 2: Bone War 


By Christian D. Read, Paul Mason, Justin Randall & Wolfgang Bylsma (Gestalt Publishing) 
ISBN: 978-1-922023-92-6 (TPB/Digital edition) 

Felt like a scary western today. Dug this one up… 

There was a time, not so very long ago, when all of popular fiction was bloated and engorged with tales of Cowboys and Indians. As always happens with such periodic populist phenomena – such as the Swinging Sixties’ Super-Spy Boom, the Vampire Boyfriend or recent Misunderstood Teens vs Corrupt Adult Dystopias trends – there was a goodly amount of momentary merit, lots of utter dross and a few spectacular gems. 

Most importantly, once such surges peter out, there’s also always a small cadre of frustrated devotees who mourn the passing and resolve to do something to venerate or even revive their lost and faded favourite fad… 

After World War II, the American family entertainment market – for which read comics, radio and the rapidly burgeoning television industry – were comprehensively enamoured of the clear-cut, simplistic sensibilities and easy, escapist solutions offered by Tales of the Old West: at that time already a firmly established standby of paperback publishing, movie serials cinematic blockbusters and low-budget B-feature films. 

I’ve often ruminated on how and why, simultaneously, the dark, bleakly nigh-nihilistic and left-leaning Film Noir genre quietly blossomed alongside that wholesome rip-snorting range-&-rodeo revolution, seemingly only for a cynical minority of entertainment intellectuals who somehow knew that the returned veterans still hadn’t found a Land Fit for Heroes… but perhaps that’s a thought for another time and a different review. 

Even though comics encompassed Western heroes from the get-go (there were cowboy strips in the premier issues of both New Fun and Action Comics and even Marvel Comics), the post-war boom years saw a vast outpouring of titles with gun-toting heroes ousting the rapidly-dwindling supply of costumed Mystery Men. True to formula, most of these pioneers ranged from transiently mediocre to outright appalling… 

Despite minor re-flowerings in the early 1970s and mid-1990s, Western strips have largely vanished from funny book pages: apparently unable to command enough mainstream support to survive the crushing competition of garish wonder-men and furiously seductive futures. 

Europe and Britain also embraced the Sagebrush zeitgeist, producing some extremely impressive work, before France, Belgium and Italy made the genre emphatically their own by the end of the 1960s. They still make the best straight Western strips in the world for an avid audience unashamedly nurturing an appetite for them… 

Fantasy and Horror stories, on the other hand, have never really gone away and this utterly outrageous and supremely entertaining sequel sagebrush saga from Australian raconteur Christian Read his latest visualiser Paul Mason (with colourist Justin Randall and letterer/editor Wolfgang Bylsma) superbly blends time-honoured tropes of the wild west with sinister sorcerous sensibilities to create a bewitching alternate reality where dark bloody deeds are matched by dire demonic forces and decent guys called upon to combat them have to dabble in the diabolical too… 

Once upon a time in the west, the world changed and magic – although always real and rare – became part and parcel of everyday life… 

Without preamble the adventuresome action opens with a gunfight against an extremely unpleasant and grudge-bearing witch…  

Our narrator is an urbane and erudite Oxford-educated shaman detailing his life following his return to the land of his birth. His recollections began in the previous volume and began in Spring 1877: the great Indian Wars were over. Custer was dead but so was Crazy Horse. The Whites were greedily covering the entire country and an educated man with the wrong skin tones was reduced to playing scout for a bunch of barely literate morons wagon-trekking across the plains to California. They need him but regard their supremely capable guide with suspicion, disdain and barely-disguised disgust… 

Wicasa Waken, outcast Shaman of the Oglala Lakota – AKA Ten Shoes Dancing of the mighty Sioux and lately graduated Master of Arts and Literature, Oxford, England (1875) – always knew devil magic when he smelled it, but – since his teachers taught him to treasure human life – he remained faithful to their training and always sought to do good. That got a lot harder after saving a strange white from five-headed snakes and zombies … 

Once recovered, the “victim” eagerly joined the fight: his accursed guns making short work of the ravening Heyokas and Ten Shoes Dancing realised he had made the rather prickly acquaintance of a modern Western Legend and celebrated dime novel hero – The Eldritch Kid. 

Sadly like most heroes finally-met, he’s a surly, taciturn, creepy freak. basking in hero-worship, hot vittles and wanton female attention… 

It’s not just this becoming-nation America that is awash with blood and wickedness. The entire world is swamped with boggles, spectres and far worse, but since the War Between the States, the Kid had achieved a certain notoriety for dealing harshly and permanently with all things supernatural and predatory. 

Nevertheless, he’s a mean, mercenary bastard and a tough man to like for the philosophically inclined, poetry-loving Ten Shoes, but circumstances keep them together. Faced with daily mystic mayhem, the mismatched heroes bond even after the Lakotan learned his personal patron god Lord Hnaska was deeply troubled by the cold, dark deity sponsoring the magic-guns toting Kid. Of course, the Great Spirit was far more concerned with the crawling things that hungered for human morsels, and allowed a loveless alliance to be forged. Eventually, the Kid finally opened up enough to share the history that made him the most feared gunhawk in the West. 

In 1865 Camp Elmira, New Jersey held Confederate prisoners.. The detention centre was a hellhole even by human standards, but when a demon began taking inmates, one of the terrified, beaten, sitting duck captives was offered a deal by an ancient northern god. Odin, grim King of Death, was unhappy with beasts and night things increasingly infesting Earth and offered a trade: power for service… 

After a suitably painful and gory “offering” the prisoner was given just enough of a supernatural advantage to kill the monsters – human and otherwise – and escape. Wielding a brace of Rune-Pistols, he’s been doing his Lord’s work ever since… 

That mission continues here as the Diabolist Duo inconclusively clash with bounty hunting old enemy Jacinta Gun-Gunn, and in the aftermath are recruited by former palaeontologist Mr. Othniel. He wants them to steal back his greatest discovery, the full and bejewelled skeleton of a lost prince of a civilisation that perished millions of years previously.  

The astounding artefact was swiped by his rival “Doc” Drinker, but theirs is not a regular scientific dispute. Othniel is a necromancer who survived his own decapitation and now resides a head in a jar, and Madam Drinker travels with a coterie of witches and unruly women. Both parties clearly have secret agendas but Ten Shoes Dancing and the Eldritch provisionally accept the generous commission because of the most pertinent fact: the skeleton has come back to arcane unlife and recalled revenant subjects from its long-fallen, mystically malign dinosaur empire of Tzenshaitchan to raise fresh Hell across the Badlands… 

Thanks to timely assistance from the Lakotan’s Frog-God patron, our heroes are made aware of the true situation and switch sides when  a better offer is made, but they are still bushwacked by Drinker’s presumed ally the Ani Kutani Witch Tsintah who has her own sinister scheme in play and even nastier masters to answer to… 

With dinosaur skeletons tearing the countryside up, the gunslingers are kept too busy to stop Othniel building himself a newer and more deadly body and the witch summoning the almighty horror called the Priest King and restoring an even earlier age of bloody sacrifice and life-extending butchery… 

And as the battle intensifies and all the arcane ages of terror converge to create a charnel ground of warfare, humanity’s deity Odin arrives… 

Ragnarok, anyone? 

The tantalising conclusion is supplemented by a cover/chapter break gallery by Nichola Scott, Douglas Holgate, Emily K. Smith & James Brouwer; original art pages from Mason and Read’s original script pages.  

Rowdy, rousing, purely bonkers and spectacularly action-packed, The Bone War is a sharp, satisfying and mordantly funny yarn to delight lovers of genre fiction and witty mash-ups. Black hats, white hats, lost worlds, haunts and horrors, stunning visuals and macabre twists – what more could you possibly ask for? 

Apparently, another sequel, so hopefully I’ll be getting to that too in the fullness of time… 
© 2017-2019 Christian Read, Paul Masan & Gestalt Publishing Pty Ltd. All rights reserved. 

A1 – The World’s Greatest Comics 


By various (Atomeka/Titan Comics) 
ISBN: 987-1-78276-016-0 (HB) 

We were saddened to learn of the sudden death of Garry Leach on March 26th. An extremely talented artist best known for Illustrating Marvelman/Miracleman, Dan Dare, and The V.C.’s, he was also a dedicated mover and shaker behind the scenes; quietly helping many other creators on the way to their own fame and glory. Our condolences go out to his friends and family, and here’s a review of one his most important and significant ventures… 

A1 began in 1988 as an anthology showcase dedicated to comics creativity. Freed from the usual strictures of mainstream publishers, the project consequently attracted many of the world’s top writers and artists to produce work at once personal and experimental, comfortingly familiar and, on occasion, deucedly odd. 

Editors Garry Leach & Dave Elliott periodically returned to their baby and in 2013 the title and concept were resurrected under the aegis of Titan Comics to provide more of the same. 

Similarly committed to past excellence and future triumphs – and following the grandest tradition of British comics – this classic compendium offered the same eclectic mix of material old and new… 

After a colossal 2-page dedication/thank you to everyone from Frank Bellamy to Face Ache in ‘The Dream Days are Back: The One’s Especially For You…’ the cartoon carnival commences with a truly “Golden Oldie” as Joe Simon & Jack Kirby (and inked by Al Williamson) provide science fiction classic ‘Island in the Sky’ – which first surfaced in Harvey Comic’s Race for the Moon #2 September, 1958. Here an expired astronaut returns from death thanks to something he picked up on Jupiter… 

Each tale here is accompanied by fulsome creator biographies and linked by factual snippets about most artists’ “drug of choice”. These photographic examples of coffee barista self-expression (with all ‘Latte Art’ courtesy of Coffee Labs Roasters) are followed by illustrator Alex Sheikman & scripter Norman Felchle’s invitation to the baroque, terpsichorean delights of the ‘Odd Ball’. 

The fantastic gothic revisionism resumes after another coffee-break as the sublime Sandy Plunkett details in captivating monochrome the picaresque perils of life in a sprawling urban underworld with his ‘Tales of Old Fennario’. 

‘Odyssey: A Question of Priorities’ by Elliot, Toby Cypress & Sakti Yuwono is a thoroughly up-to-date interpretation of pastiche patriotic avenger Old Glory, who now prowls modern values-challenged America, regretting choices he’s made and the timbre of his current superhero comrades… 

‘Image Duplicator’ by Rian Hughes & Dave Gibbons is, for me, the most fascinating feature included here, detailing and displaying comics creator’s admirable responses to the appropriation and rapine of comic book images by “Pop” artist Roy Lichtenstein. 

In a move to belatedly honour the honest jobbing creators simultaneously ripped off and denigrated by the “recontextualisation” and transformation to High Art, Hughes & Gibbons approached a number of professionals from all sectors of the commercial arts and asked them to re-appropriate Lichtenstein’s efforts. 

The results were displayed in the exhibition Image Duplicator with all subsequent proceeds donated to the charity Hero Initiative which benefits comic creators who have fallen on hard times. 

In this feature are the results of the comic book fightback with contributions from Hughes, Gibbons, FuFu Frauenwahl, Carl Flint, Howard Chaykin, Salgood Sam, Mark Blamire, Steve Cook, Garry Leach, Dean Motter, Jason Atomic, David Leach, Shaky Kane, Mark Stafford, Graeme Ross, Kate Willaert & Mitch O’Connell. 

Master of all funnybook trades, Bambos Georgiou offers his 2011 tribute to DC’s splendidly silly Silver Age in the Curt Swan inspired ‘Weird’s Finest – Zuberman & Batguy in One Adventure Together!’ and Dominic Regan crafts a stunning Technicolor tornado of intriguing illumination as Doctor Arachnid has to deal with cyber Psychedelia and a divinely outraged ‘Little Star’… 

Bill Sienkiewicz’s ‘Emily Almost’  first appeared in the original A1 #4; a bleak paean to rejection seen here in muted moody colour, after which Scott Hampton revisits the biblical tale of ‘Daniel’ and Jim Steranko re-presents his groundbreaking, experimental multi-approach silent story ‘Frogs!’ before following up with ‘Steranko: Frogs!’ – his own treatise on the history and intent behind creating the piece 40 years ago… 

‘Boston Metaphysical Society’ is a prose vignette of mystic Steampunk Victoriana written by Madeleine Holly-Rosing from her webcomic, ably illustrated by Emily Hu, whilst ‘Mr. Monster’ by Alan Moore & Michael T. Gilbert (with inks from Bill Messner-Loebs) is a reprint of ‘The Riddle of the Recalcitrant Refuse!’ first found in #3 (1985) of the horror hunter’s own series. It recounts how a dead bag-lady turns the city upside out when her mania for sorting junk transcends both death and our hero’s best efforts… 

‘The Weirding Willows: Origins of Evil’ by Elliot, Barnaby Bagenda & Jessica Kholinne is one of the fantasy features from the later A1 iteration – a dark reinterpretation of beloved childhood characters like Alice, Ratty, Toad and Mole, which fans of Bill Willingham’s Fables should certainly appreciate… 

‘Devil’s Whisper’ by James Robinson & D’Israeli also came from A1 #4, and features Matt Wagner’s signature creation Grendel …or does it? 

Stechgnotic then waxes lyrical about Barista art in ‘The Artful Latte’ after which ‘Melting Pot – In the Beginning’ by Kevin Eastman, Eric Talbot & Simon Bisley ends the affair; revisiting the ghastly hellworld where the gods spawned an ultimate survivor through the judicious and repeated application of outrageous bloody violence. 

Of course it’s a trifle arrogant and rather daft to claim any collection as “The World’s Greatest Comics” and – to be honest – these weren’t. There’s no such thing and never can be… 

However, this absorbing, inspiring oversized collection does contain plenty of extremely good, wonderfully entertaining material by some of the best and most individualistic creators to have graced our art form. 

What more can you possibly need? 
A1 Annual © 2013 Atomeka Press, all contents copyright their respective creators. ATOMEKA © 2013 Dave Elliott & Garry Leach. 

Gothic Tales of Haunted Futures


By Trina Robbins, Anne Timmons & Scott A. Ford; Letty Wilson; Luz Bianca & Kaylee Rowena; Mikaela Lucido & Jade Zhang; Leizl Buenaventura & Saida Temofonte; Cameron Lucente; Jamie Isfeld; Cait Zellers; Sztehlo; Leonie O’Moore & Skylar Partridge; Arlo Everett, B. Sparks & Paul Coy; Allison Pang & Irma ‘Aimo’ Ahmed; Matt McGrath & V. Gagnon; Joyce Chau; Skylar Kardon; Merissa Mayhew & Lyndon Radchenka: edited by S.M. Beiko (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-989754-03-0 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-989754-04-7 (digital)

Sometimes, it’s all about enthusiasm and the urge to create and collaborate. Here, I suspect someone said “there’s not enough romance comics” and someone else said “I like scary stories” and another person chipped in “what about science fiction?” and the next thing you know, there’s an entire anthology of spooky, futuristic love stories all mashed-up for discerning comics tastes, just waiting to be kick-starter-ed…

The result is utterly wonderful…

Following an inspirational Foreword by editor S.M. Beiko, we take off for the future with veteran cartoonist Trina Robbins in collaboration with Anne Timmons, Scott A. Ford & Lyndon Radchenka, who reveal a patient devotion that outlasts the grave on the ‘Ghost Planet’, after which a moody illustration from Mika segues into Letty Wilson’s ‘Glasshouse’, which finds an unexpected bountiful blessing from a passing stranger delivered to a strange community in dire need of renewal…

Luz Bianca & Kaylee Rowena recount a fateful chance encounter ‘In the Shadow of the Moon’, before Mikaela Lucido & Jade Zhang update the old chestnut of party kids and dangerous dares in ‘Bloody Mary and the Smart Mirror’, after which Leizl Buenaventura & Saida Temofonte detail how a doomed astronaut finds a spectral reason to live after a visitor helps him go ‘Home’..

‘Under the Bed’ depicts a grim battle between life and death by Cameron Lucente, and following a moody spot illo from Katie Fleming, an unexpected down side to social media relationships is highlighted by Jamie Isfeld’s ‘@LissaTruLuv’…

Alaire Racocot’s monochromatic night illustration leads to Cait Zeller’s colourful tale of ‘The Lichtenberg Lady’ lighting up the lonely nights of a solitary lightning strike survivor, after which a lonely soul rediscovers past passion through musical recordings in ‘Ghosting’ (by Sztehlo) whilst – following a chaotic clinch courtesy of Kielamel Sibal – Leonie O’Moore, Skylar Partridge & Lyndon Radchenka find love for an ancient creature at the bottom of the sea in ‘Sunken Scream’…

A hard science veneer burnishes quasi-spiritual romp ‘Slow Orbit’ by Arlo Everett, B. Sparks & Paul Coy, as an aging computer exorcist looks for an exit strategy that will keep her breathing in deep space and finds love is the answer, before more potent pictorial moments of madness – by Caeles and Seren Krakens – convey us to ‘A Certain Tea House’ where Allison Pang & Irma ‘Aimo’ Ahmed reveal the regrets, ruminations and revenge of an aged spaceport courtesan who repays an old debt with her last breaths…

Matt McGrath, V. Gagnon & Lyndon Radchenka then detail the First Contact repercussions of ancient civilisation ‘The Crowned Ones’ as they impinge on the life of a lost human explorer, after which Joyce Chau reveals how a certain ‘Gap’is closed when a space scavenger awakens a long-depowered and rather clingy automaton, and Skylar Kardon & Lyndon Radchenka’s ‘New Blood’ details how even in Tomorrow’s City of Lights, the erotic allure of a vampire is more than some mortals can withstand…

Merissa Mayhew ends the emotional narratives with a story of hope sustained and finally fulfilled in ‘Until One Day’ as frustrated Josephine endures constant death and rebirth to finally be with the woman of her dreams…

Topped off with a brace of (possibly cover?) illustrations from Nicholai Avigdor Melamed and Cameron Lucente; full ‘Creators’ biographies, and list of ‘Backers’ who contributed to this book’s publication, Gothic Tales of Haunted Futures is a delicious compote of dark passions, sinister fancies and sardonic experiences, perfect for stirring passions and pleasing the eyes.

Gothic Tales of Haunted Futures © 2020 S.M. Beiko. Individual © belongs to each creator in this book. All rights reserved.