Showcase Presents the Spectre volume 1


By Gardner F. Fox, Bob Haney, Mike Friedrich, Steve Skeates, Dennis J. O’Neil, Mark Hanerfeld, Michael L. Fleisher, Len Wein, Paul Kupperberg, Mike W. Barr, Murphy Anderson, Carmine Infantino, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Neal Adams, Jerry Grandenetti, Jack Sparling, Bernie Wrightson, Jim Aparo, Frank Thorne, Ernie Chan, Jim Starlin, Michael R. Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3417-1 (TPB)

Created by Jerry Siegel & Bernard Baily in 1940 and debuting via a 2-part origin epic in More Fun Comics #52 and 53, The Spectre is one of the oldest characters in DC’s vast character stable. Crucially, just like Siegel’s other iconic creation, he soon began to suffer from a basic design flaw: he was just too darn powerful.

Unlike Superman however, this relentless champion of justice was already dead, so he can’t really be logically or dramatically imperilled. Of course, in those far off early days that wasn’t nearly as important as sheer spectacle: forcibly grabbing the reader’s utter attention and keeping it stoked to a fantastic fever pitch.

Starting as a virtually omnipotent phantom, the Grim Ghost evolved, over various revivals, refits and reboots into a tormented mortal soul bonded inescapably to the actual embodiment of the biblical Wrath of God.

The story is a genuinely gruesome one: police detective Jim Corrigan is callously executed by gangsters before being called back to the land of the living. Commanded to fight crime and evil by a glowing light and disembodied voice, he was indisputably the most formidable hero of the Golden Age.

He has been revamped many times, and in the 1990s was revealed to be God’s own Spirit of Vengeance wedded to a human conscience. When Corrigan was finally laid to rest, Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan and murdered Gotham City cop Crispus Allen replaced him as the mitigating conscience of the unstoppable, easily irked force of Divine Retribution…

However, the true start of that radically revitalised career began in the superhero-saturated mid-1960s when, hot on the heels of feverish fan-interest in the alternate world of the Justice Society of America and Earth-2 (where all the WWII heroes retroactively resided), DC began trying out solo revivals of 1940’s characters, as a counterpoint to such wildly successful Silver Age reconfigurations as Flash, Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman

This sublime and colossal Showcase selection collects and documents the almighty Man of Darkness’ return in the Swinging Sixties, his landmark reinterpretation in the horror-soaked, brutalised 1970s and even finds room for some later appearances before the character was fully de-powered and retrofitted for the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe.

As such, this mammoth monochrome tome (624 peril-packed pages!) contains Showcase #60, 61 and 64; The Spectre #1-10; team-up tales from The Brave and the Bold #72, 75, 116, 180 & 199 and DC Comics Presents #29; the lead strips from Adventure Comics #431-440 and one last hurrah from horror-anthology Ghosts #97-99, cumulatively encompassing the end of 1965 to the middle of 1983.

DC had tried a number of Earth-2 team-iterations (Starman/Black Canary – with Wildcat – in The Brave and the Bold #61-62, whilst Showcase #55 & 56 spotlighted Doctor Fate & Hourman with a cameo from the original Green Lantern), but inspirational editor Julie Schwartz and scripter Gardner F. Fox only finally achieved their ambition to launch a Golden Age hero into his own title with the revival of the Ghostly Guardian in Showcase. It was hard going and perhaps ultimately benefited from a growing general public interest in supernatural stories…

After three full length appearances and many guest-shots, The Spectre won his own solo series at the end of 1967, just as the super-hero craze went into a steep decline, but arguably Showcase #60 (January/February 1966) anticipated the rise of supernatural comics by re-introducing Corrigan and his phantom passenger in ‘War That Shook the Universe’ by Earth-2 team supreme Fox & illustrator Murphy Anderson.

This spectacular saga reveals why the Heroic Haunt had vanished two decades previously, leaving the fundamentally human Corrigan to pursue his war against evil on merely mortal terms – until a chance encounter with a psychic investigator frees the spirit buried deep within him.

A diligent search reveals that, 20 years previously, a supernal astral invader broke into the Earth plane and possessed a mortal, but was so inimical to our laws of reality that both it and the Grim Ghost were locked into their meat shells – until now…

Thus began a truly spectre-acular (feel free to groan, but that’s what they called it back then) clash with the devilish Azmodus that spans all creation and blew the minds of us gobsmacked kids…

Issue #61 (March/April) upped the ante when the even-more satanic Shathan the Eternal subsequently insinuates himself into our realm from ‘Beyond the Sinister Barrier’, stealing mortal men’s shadows until he is powerful enough to conquer the physical universe. This time The Spectre treats us to an exploration of the universe’s creation before narrowly defeating the source of all evil…

The Sentinel Spirit re-manifested in Showcase #64 (September/October 1966) for a marginally more mundane but no less thrilling adventure when ‘The Ghost of Ace Chance’ takes up residence in Jim’s body. By this time, it was established that ghosts need a mortal anchor to recharge their ectoplasmic “batteries”, and this unscrupulous crooked gambler is determined to inhabit the best frame available…

The try-out run concluded, the editors sat back and waited for sales figures to dictate the next move. When they proved inconclusive Schwartz orchestrated a concerted publicity campaign to further promote Earth-2’s Ethereal Adventurer.

The Brave and the Bold #72 (June/July 1967) saw the Spectre clash with Earth-1’s Scarlet Speedster in ‘Phantom Flash, Cosmic Traitor’ (by Bob Haney, Carmine Infantino & Charles “Chuck” Cuidera). This sinister saga sees the mortal meteor arcanely transformed into a sinister spirit-force and power-focus for unquiet American aviator Luther Jarvis who returns from his death in 1918 to wreak vengeance on the survivors of his squadron – until the Spectre intervenes…

Due to the vagaries of comicbook scheduling, Brave and the Bold #75 (December 1967/January 1968) appeared at around the same time as The Spectre #1, although the latter had a cover-date of November/December 1967. In the Batman team-up tale – scripted by Haney and drawn by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito – Ghostly Guardian joins Dark Knight to free Gotham City’s Chinatown from ‘The Grasp of Shahn-Zi!’: an ancient oriental sorcerer determined to prolong his reign of terror at the expense of an entire community and through the sacrifice of an innocent child, after which the Astral Avenger finally, simultaneously, debuted in his own title…

The Spectre #1 featured ‘The Sinister Lives of Captain Skull’ by Fox & Anderson, divulging how the botched assassination of American Ambassador Joseph Clanton and an experimental surgical procedure allows one of the diplomat’s earlier incarnations to seize control of his body and, armed with mysterious eldritch energies, run amok on Earth.

These “megacyclic energy” abilities enable the revenant to harm and potentially destroy the Ghostly Guardian and compel the Spectre to pursue the piratical Skull through a line of previous lives until he can find their source and purge the peril from all time and space…

With issue #2 (January/February 1968) artistic iconoclast Neal Adams came aboard for the Fox-scripted mystery ‘Die Spectre – Again’ wherein crooked magician Dirk Rawley accidentally manifests his etheric self and severely tests both Corrigan and his phantom lodger as they seek to end the double-menace’s string of crimes, mundane and magical. At this time, the first inklings of a distinct separation and individual identities began. The two halves of the formerly sole soul of Corrigan were beginning to disagree and even squabble…

Neophyte scripter Mike Friedrich joined Adams for #3’s ‘Menace of the Mystic Mastermind’ wherein pugilistic paragon Wildcat faces the inevitable prospect of age and infirmity even as an inconceivable force from another universe possesses petty thug Sad Jack Dold, turning him into a nigh-unstoppable force of cosmic chaos…

‘Stop that Kid… Before He Wrecks the World’ was written & illustrated by Adams with a similar trans-universal malignity deliberately empowering a young boy as a prelude to its ultimate conquest, whilst #5’s ‘The Spectre Means Death?’ (all Adams again) appears to show the Ghostly Guardian transformed into a pariah and deadly menace to society, until Jim’s investigations uncover the emotion-controlling Psycho Pirate at the root of the Heroic Haunt’s problems…

Despite all the incredible talent and effort lavished upon it, The Spectre simply wasn’t finding a big enough audience. Adams left for straight superhero glory elsewhere and a hint of changing tastes came as veteran illustrator of horror comics Jerry Grandenetti came aboard.

Issue #6 (September/October 1968) saw his eccentric, manic cartooning adding raw wildness to the returning Fox’s moody thriller ‘Pilgrims of Peril!’ Murphy Anderson also re-enlisted, applying a solid ink grounding to the story of a sinister quartet of phantom Puritans who invade the slums of Gateway City, driving out the poor and hopeless as they hunt long-lost arcane treasures. These would allow demon lord Nawor of Giempo access to Earth unless The Spectre can win his unlife or death duel with the trans-dimensional horror…

As the back of issue #7 was dedicated to a solo strip starring Hourman (not included in this collection), The Spectre saga here – by Fox, Grandenetti & Anderson – was a half-length tale which followed the drastic steps necessary to convince the soul of bank-robber Frankie Barron to move on. Since he was killed during a heist, the astral form of aversion therapy used to cure ‘The Ghost That Haunted Money!’ proves not only ectoplasmically effective but outrageously entertaining…

Issue #8 (January/February 1969) was scripted by Steve Skeates and began a last-ditch and obviously desperate attempt to turn The Spectre into something the new wave of anthology horror readers would buy.

As a twisted, time-lost apprentice wizard struggles to return to Earth after murdering his master and stealing cosmic might from the void, on our mundane plane an exhausted Ghostly Guardian neglects his duties and is taken to task by his celestial creator.

As a reminder of his error, the Penitent Phantasm is burdened by a fluctuating weakness – which would change without warning – to keep him honest and earnest. What a moment for the desperate disciple Narkran to return then; determined to secure his elevated god-like existence by securing ‘The Parchment of Power Perilous!’

The Spectre #9 completed the transition, opening with an untitled short from Friedrich (illustrated by Grandenetti & Bill Draut) which sees the Man of Darkness again overstep his bounds by executing a criminal. This prompts Corrigan to refuse the weary wraith the shelter of his reinvigorating form and when the Grim Ghost then assaults his own host form, the Heavenly Voice punishes the spirit by chaining him to the dreadful Journal of Judgment: demanding he atone by investigating the lives inscribed therein in a trial designed to teach him again the value of mercy…

The now anthologised issue continued with ‘Abraca-Doom’ (Dennis J. O’Neil & Bernie Wrightson) as The Spectre attempts to stop a greedy carnival conjurer signing a contract with the Devil, whilst ‘Shadow Show’ – by Mark Hanerfeld & Jack Sparling – details the fate of a cheap mugger who thinks he can outrun the consequences of a capital crime…

The next issue gave up the ghost. The Spectre folded with #10 (May/June 1969), but not before a quartet of tantalising tales by – writer or writers unknown – shows what might have been…

‘Footsteps of Disaster’ with art from Grandenetti & George Roussos, follows a man from cradle to early grave, revealing the true wages of sin, whilst ‘Hit and Run’ (probably drawn by Ralph Reese) proves again that the Spirit of Judgment is not infallible and even human scum might be redeemed…

‘How Much Can a Guy Take?’ (Sparling) offers salvation to a shoeshine boy pushed almost too far by an arrogant mobster before the series closed with a cunning murder mystery involving what appeared to be a killer ventriloquist’s doll in the Grandenetti & Roussos limned ‘Will the Real Killer Please Rise?’

With that the Astral Avenger returned to comicbook limbo for nearly half a decade until changing tastes and another liberalising of the Comics Code saw him arise as lead feature in Adventure Comics #431 (January/February 1974) for a shocking run of macabre, ultra-violent tales from Michael L. Fleisher & Jim Aparo.

‘The Wrath of… The Spectre’ offered a far more stark, unforgiving take on the Sentinel Spirit; reflecting the increasingly violent tone of the times. Here, a gang of murderous thieves slaughter the crew of a security truck and are tracked down by a harsh, uncompromising police lieutenant named Corrigan. When the bandits are exposed, the cop unleashes a horrific green and white apparition from his body which inflicts ghastly punishments that horrendously fit their crimes…

With art continuity (and no, I’m not sure what that means either) from Russell Carley, the draconian fables continue in #432 as in ‘The Anguish of… The Spectre’ assassins murder millionaire Adrian Sterling and Corrigan meets the victim’s daughter Gwen. Although the now-infallible Wrathful Wraith soon exposes and excised the culprits, the dead detective has to reveal his true nature to the grieving daughter. Moreover, Corrigan begins to feel the stirring of impossible, unattainable yearnings…

Adventure #433 exposed ‘The Swami and… The Spectre’ as Gwen seeks spiritual guidance from a ruthless charlatan who promptly pays an appalling price when he finally encounters an actual ghost, whilst in #434 ‘The Nightmare Dummies and… The Spectre’ (with additional pencils by the great Frank Thorne), a plague of department store mannequins run wild in a killing spree at the behest of a crazed artisan who believes in magic – but can’t imagine the cost of his dabbling…

Issue #435 introduces journalist Earl Crawford who tracks the ghastly fallout of the vengeful spirit’s anti-crime campaign as ‘The Man Who Stalked The Spectre!’ Of course, once he sees the ghost in grisly action, Crawford realises the impossibility of publishing this scoop…

Adventure #436 finds Crawford still trying to sell his story as ‘The Gasmen and… The Spectre’ sets the Spectral Slaughterman on the trail of a gang who kill everyone at a car show as a simple demonstration of intent before blackmailing the city. Their gorily inescapable fate only puts Crawford closer to exposing Corrigan, after which, in #437’s ‘The Human Bombs and… The Spectre’ (with pencils from Ernie Chan & Aparo inks) a kidnapper abducts prominent persons – including Gwen – to further a merciless mad scheme of amassing untold wealth… until the Astral Avenger ended the depredations forever…

In #438, ‘The Spectre Haunts the Museum of Fear’ (Chan & Aparo again) sees a crazed taxidermist turning people into unique dioramas until the Grim Ghost intervenes, but the end was in sight again for the Savage Shade. Issue #439’s ‘The Voice that Doomed… The Spectre’ (all Aparo) turns the wheel of death full circle, as the Heavenly Presence who created him allows Corrigan to fully live again so that he can marry Gwen. Sadly, it is only to have the joyous hero succumb to ‘The Second Death of The… Spectre’ (#440, July/August 1975) and tragically resume his never-ending mission…

This milestone serial set a stunning new tone and style for the Ghostly Guardian which has informed each iteration ever since…

From midway through that run, Brave and the Bold #116 provides another continuity-coshing supernatural team-up with Batman – a far less graphically violent struggle against the ‘Grasp of the Killer Cult’ (Haney & Aparo). When Kali-worshipping Thugs from India seemingly target survivors of a WWII American Army Engineer unit, Detective Corrigan and the Dark Knight clash on both the method and motives of the mysterious murderers…

DC Comics Presents #29 (January 1981, by Len Wein, Jim Starlin & Romeo Tanghal) revealed what happened after Supergirl is knocked unconscious during a cataclysmic battle and sent hurtling through dimensions measureless to man. When her cousin tries to follow, the Ghostly Guardian is dispatched to stop the Metropolis Marvel from transgressing ‘Where No Superman Has Gone Before’

By the early 1980s, the horror boom had again exhausted itself and DC’s anthology comics were disappearing. As part of the effort to keep them alive, Ghosts featured a 3-part serial starring “Ghost-Breaker” and inveterate sceptic Dr. Terry 13 who at last encounters ‘The Spectre’ in issue #97 (February 1981, by Paul Kupperberg, Michael R. Adams & Tex Blaisdell), wherein terrorists invade a high society séance and are summarily dispatched by the inhuman poetic justice of the freshly-manifested Astral Avenger…

Now determined to destroy the monstrous revenant vigilante, Dr. 13 returns in #98 as ‘The Haunted House and The Spectre’ finds the Ghost-Breaker interviewing Earl Crawford and subsequently discovering the long-sought killer of his own father. Before 13 can act however, the Spectre appears and steals his justifiable retribution from the aggrieved psychic investigator…

The drama closed in Ghosts #99 as ‘Death… and The Spectre’ (inked by Tony DeZuñiga) sees scientist and spirit locked in one final furious confrontation.

This staggering compendium of supernatural thrillers concludes with two more team-up classics from Brave and the Bold, beginning with ‘The Scepter of the Dragon God’ by Fleisher & Aparo (from #180, November 1980). Although Chinese wizard Wa’an-Zen steals enough mystic artefacts to conquer Earth and destroy The Spectre, he gravely underestimates the skill and bravery of merely mortal Batman, whilst in #199 (June 1983) ‘The Body-napping of Jim Corrigan’ (Mike W. Barr, Andru & Rick Hoberg), finds the ethereal avenger baffled by the abduction and disappearance of his mortal host. Even though he cannot trace his own body, the Spectre knows where the World’s Greatest Detective hangs out…

Ranging from fabulously fantastical to darkly, violently enthralling, these comic masterpieces perfectly encapsulate the way superheroes changed over a brief 20-year span, but remain throughout some of the most beguiling and exciting tales of DC’s near-80 years of existence. If you love comicbooks you’d be crazy to ignore this one…
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1975, 1981, 1983, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament


By Arthur Ranson, Donald Rooum, Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore, Hunt Emerson, Neil Gaiman, Mike Matthews, Julie Hollings, Peter Rigg, Graham Higgins, Steve Gibson, Dave McKean, Kim Deitch, Carol Bennett, Brian Bolland & various (Knockabout)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-054-4

Although I couldn’t be happier with the state of the graphic novel market these days, I do miss the early days when production costs were high and canny pioneer publishers resorted to producing anthologies of short tales.

Knockabout Comics has been providing cutting edge and controversial cartoon triumphs since 1975 and although this cracking all-star oddment is actually out of print – like far too many of the graphic novels and collections I recommend – it remains one of their most potent and engaging releases.

However, if you’re a devout Christian you be best advised to just jump to the next review.

Originally released in 1987, it features a varied band of British creators adapting – with tongues firmly in cheeks – a selection of Biblical episodes, and the results are mordantly earnest, deeply bitter and darkly funny.

‘Creation’ is the preserve of supreme stylistic realist Arthur Ranson, whilst affable anarchist legend Donald Rooum explores Eden in ‘Gandalf’s Garden’ and Dave Gibbons puts some decidedly modernistic top-spin to the saga of ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’.

Alan Moore & Hunt Emerson examine ‘Leviticus’ (that would be the one with all those pesky Commandments) after which Neil Gaiman tackles ‘The Book of Judges’ accompanied by Mike Matthews (both the introduction and ‘The Tribe of Benjamin’); with Julie Hollings (for ‘Jael and Sisera’); Peter Rigg (‘Jephthah and His Daughter’); Graham Higgins (‘Samson’) and Steve Gibson (‘Journey to Bethlehem’). He even finds time to produce ‘The Prophet Who Came to Dinner’ (From the Book of Kings) with seminal long-time collaborator Dave McKean.

Closing the slim oversized (290 x204 mm) monochrome tome are underground cartooning icon Kim Deitch with ‘The Story of Job’, ‘Daddy Dear’ (from Ecclesiastes) adapted by Carol Bennett & Julie Hollings and the intensely uncompromising ‘A Miracle of Elisha’ (also from the Book of Kings) by the magnificent Brian Bolland.

Powerful and memorable, these interpretations won’t win any praise from Christian Fundamentalists, but they are fierce, subtle and scholarly examinations of the Old Testament realised by passionate creators with something to say and an unholy desire to instruct. As free-thinking adults you owe it to yourself to read these stories, but only in the spirit in which they were created.
© 1987 Knockabout Publications and the Artists and Writers. All Rights Reserved.

Addams and Evil


By Charles Addams Methuen)
ISBN: 978-0-413-55370-1

Charles Samuel Addams (1912 – 1988) was a cartoonist and distant descendant of two American Presidents (John Adams and John Quincy Adams) who made his real life as extraordinary as his dark, mordantly funny drawings.

Born into a successful family in Westfield, New Jersey, the precocious, prankish, constantly drawing child was educated at the town High School, Colgate University, the University of Pennsylvania, and New York City’s Grand Central School of Art, producing cartoons and illustrations for a raft of institutional publications.

In 1932 he became a designer for True Detective magazine – retouching photos of corpses – and soon after began selling drawings to The New Yorker. In 1937 he began creating the macabre ghoulish family portraits that become his signature creation. During WWII he served with Signal Corps Photographic Center, devising animated training films for the military.

Whether he artfully manufactured his biography to enhance his value to feature writers or was genuinely a warped and wickedly wacky individual is irrelevant (although it makes for great reading:- especially the stuff about his second wife – and, as always, the internet awaits the siren call of your search engine…).

What is important is that in all the years he drew and painted those creepily sardonic, gruesome gags and illustrations for The New Yorker, Colliers, TV Guide and others, he managed to enthral his audience with a devilish mind and a soft, gentle approach that made him a household name long before television turned his characters into a hit and generated a juvenile craze for monsters and grotesques that lasts to this day. That eminence was only magnified once the big screen iterations debuted…

This stunningly enticing volume is a reissue of his second collection of cartoons, first published in 1947, and semi-occasionally since then. It’s still readily available if you’ve a big bank book, but the time is ripe for a definitive collected edition, or better yet a reissue of his entire canon (eleven volumes of drawings and a biography) either in print or digitally.

Should you not be as familiar with his actual cartoons as with their big and small screen descendants you really owe it to yourself to see the uncensored brilliance of one of America’s greatest humourists. It’s dead funny…
© 1940-1947 the New Yorker Magazine, Inc. In Canada © 1947 Charles Addams.

Zombillenium volume 4: Royal Witchcraft


By Arthur de Pins, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112219-9- (HB)

Arthur de Pins is a British-born French filmmaker, commercial artist and Bande Dessinées creator whose strips – such as adult comedy Peccadilloes (AKA Cute Sins) and On the Crab – have appeared in Fluide Glacial and Max.

In recent years his superbly arch and beautifully illustrated supernatural horror-comedy Zombillénium has become his greatest success and lead to the overlong hiatus between the last translated volume and the cracking read under review today. The in-demand maestro was supervising and co-directing with Alexis Ducord a magnificent animated movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out your streaming service of choice…

The Bande dessinée it was based on is a truly addictive comics cult classic which began in 2009 (serialised in Le Journal de Spirou from #3698 on) and has now filled four albums released in English thanks to Canadian publisher NBM.

Rendered with beguiling style and sleek, easy confidence, the unfolding saga details the odd goings-on in a horror-themed amusement park staffed by actual monsters and operated and owned by a cabal of capitalistically-inclined infernal powers. They have big expansion plans that are only curtailed by the perpetually lethal jockeying for pole position on the diabolical Board of Directors…

Zombillenium is a truly magical entertainment experience celebrating every aspect of the spooky and supernatural, where (human) families can enjoy a happy day out rubbing shoulders with werewolves, witches and all breeds of bogeyman. Of course, those enthralled customers might not laugh so hard if they knew all the monsters were real, usually hungry and didn’t much like humans … except in a culinary fashion…

The inaugural volume introduced hard-working, exceedingly humane Park Director (and vampire) Francis Von Bloodt, newly-reborn Aurelian Zahner (a pathetically inept thief until he expired at the park and returned transformed into a demonic indentured employee of the business) and quirkily stroppy British Witch Gretchen: a young newcomer interning at the park whilst secretly advancing her own agenda.

As they individually toiled away at the vast entertainment enterprise its true nature was slowly revealed: for unwary, unlucky mortals the site is a conduit to the domain of the damned and its devilish overlord Behemoth: an intolerant horror ever-hungry for fresh souls…

The humans of the nearest town know the monsters are real (as work-shy absconders keep hiding from their bosses there) and undertake many schemes to evict or exorcise the inhabitants of the site. For the uncanny undead workers from the Park – who would rather be anywhere else – conditions of employment worsen every day: it is regarded as one of the least profitable holiday destinations on Earth and The Board are always threatening to make sweeping changes…

For most of its existence – despite the incredible bargaining power of the many monster Trade Unions – the only way out of a Zombillenium contract was the True Death and a final transition to Hell, but then a cascade of changes upset many apple-carts. Through it all, newcomer Aurelian was somehow always shouldering the blame for every new crisis.

Stuck between a rock and a hot place, Zahner gradually adapts to his new (un)life of constant sorrow whilst growing closer to Gretchen after she shared with him her own awful life-story; revealing what he has become whilst disclosing what her real mission is at the Park. The big boob has no idea how much she left out…

The saga moved into apocalyptic high gear in previous episode Control Freaks as Gretchen’s private plot gathered pace after she made contact with a loved one currently confined in Hell. The bold sorceress promised a seemingly impossible liberation before sneaking out, whilst in the mortal world a long-dreaded day dawns and all the arcane artisans and supernatural staff quailed at Big News…

Officially a consultant despatched to “observe” how the park was run, elite vampire Bohémond Jaggar de Rochambeau wanted to take the business by the throat and shake things up. He forces Von Bloodt, the revolting Shop-Stewards and all objectors to achieve his new business model at any cost…

One of the most unfortunate aspects of the fearsome funfair is that any human dying on Zombillenium property is instantly reborn a monster, owned by Behemoth and compelled to work eternally in the theme park until the master takes them below. Under Francis’ governance that had been wisely offset by a set of stringent rules, the first of which stated that no employee is ever allowed to attack a human. Jagger has other ideas: he impetuously killed a little girl, delivering in no uncertain terms the new working time directives to Francis and the astounded staff.

The Park was a pump designed to generate money for the shareholders and a steady supply of souls to Behemoth. Now Von Bloodt’s hands-off-humans policy was superseded by more robust policies demanding bigger returns on both sides of the investment…

The news was met with mixed feelings by the workforce: most were scared, appalled and resistant, but a significant proportion saw it as the opportunity they’ve long argued for and a chance to feed and feast and hunt all those obnoxious yet tasty human morsels…

The result of the mounting tensions was a cataclysmic battle of supernatural forces and revolt of the monsters, which triggered an evacuation of Zombillenium. Casualties were kept to a minimum but eventually, when the dust settled, Francis was out and Jaggar was in charge; actively encouraging the killing of unattached or unaccompanied humans, who now come in droves to the most exciting entertainment experience in the world…

This latest infernal escapade – released in Europe as La Fille de l’air and available in English in both oversized Hardback Album and eBook formats – opens some time later as the Board’s machinations result in the entire Park enterprise being offered as the prize in a demonic contest.

At the Park site, winter grips the land and Aurelian and Gretchen are running a dangerous side-game: smuggling monsters to freedom outside the infernal boundaries. That enterprise ends when the young witch is ambushed and defeated in a spectacular aerial duel with an even more powerful sorceress – Charlotte Hawkins – Monster Hunter!

The victor is Director Jagger’s latest attraction, but also hides a tragic and deadly secret that will shatter lives and post lives in Zombillenium. In the meantime, however, the rebels undertake a desperate scheme to oust Jaggar and replace him with Aurelian before the discorporate raider slaughters every breather in the vicinity. Sadly, it involves recruiting Lieutenant Leonie Tran: a human police officer still seething from the transformation spell Gretchen ruined her life with…

As always, nothing goes right and before long all-out magical war breaks out, with demons deviously vying for control of the site, humans screaming and running about in panic and Gretchen forced into a fatal rematch with Charlotte that leads to a most unlikely and unexpected denouement…

To Be Continued…

One of the most engaging candidates in a burgeoning category of seditiously mature and subversively ironic horror-comedies, this deliciously arch tale combines pop-cultural archetypes with smart and sassy contemporary insouciance and a solid reliance on the verities of Nature – Human or otherwise…

Sly, smart, sexy and scarily hilarious, Zombillenium masters that remarkable trick of marrying slapstick with satire in a manner reminiscent of Asterix or Cerebus the Aardvark, whilst deftly treading its own unforgettable and enticing path. You’ll curse yourself for missing out and if you don’t, there are things out there which will do it for and to you…
© Dupuis 2018 by De Pins. All rights reserved. © NBM 2019 for the English edition.

Bent


By Dave Cooper (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-378-1 (HB)

Every so often I tend to stray a little from my accustomed comfort zone and regulation hunting grounds: moving beyond narrative art into broader realms of imagination. In that vein, here’s a little item available in hardback and digital formats that promises all of that and more. Whilst not sequential art the enticing yet profoundly disturbing images contained herein are certainly full of technical craft and intense imagination; and moreover, the chillingly subversive pictures tell stories the way no thousand words ever could… by boring straight into your brain and making themselves uncomfortably at home.

Dave Cooper was born in November 1967 in Nova Scotia, before relocating – presumably with adult guardians of some sort – to Ottawa when he was nine. A few years later, he was swept up in the massive mid-1980s Independent comics Boom & Bust that generated great and wonderful series such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Puma Blues, Flaming Carrot and Silent Invasion, as well as lots of awful couldn’t die fast enough stuff. Young Cooper toiled for schlockmeister Barry Blair on numerous Aircel Comics titles and doesn’t like to talk about it much now…

Thoroughly “blooded”, his real career began in the 1990’s at Fantagraphics, creating challenging underground comix styled material like Suckle, Weasel and graphic novel Ripple amongst other strips. In 2007, as Hector Mumbly, he published his first kid’s book Bagel’s Lucky Hat.

By 2002 he had transformed into an acclaimed oil painter with international gallery shows and awards and ended the decade as a creator/designer of animated kids TV shows such as Pig Goat Banana Cricket (with Johnny Ryan for Nickelodeon) and The Bagel and Betty Show (Teletoon/BBC) as well as short film for adults The Absence of Eddy Table. He’s still painting and is now a Director of the Saw Gallery.

A sequence of Cooper’s darker, violently sinister and most sexually surreal paintings is assembled in this pictorially grotesque catalogue of forbidden delights, preceded by effusive Introduction ‘Bent and Free’ from Guillermo del Toro.

The illustrative technique is sheer, Impressionistic welcoming seduction, but the content is deranged, deformed and disturbingly gelid: all soft contours, glossy surfaces and childhood dreams, offering human forms distorted and reformed by Lovecraftian physics and biology. It’s a uniquely horrid beauty and one that, once seen, is so very hard to forget…

As well as fully-realised paintings, the book also features pencil & pen sketches and working drawings offering a glimpse into the mind and process of a one-of-a-kind talent.

If you crave images that push every envelope, track down this macabre tome…
© 2010 Dave Cooper. All rights reserved.

The City


By James Herbert & Ian Miller (Pan Books)
ISBN13: 978-0-33032-471-7 (PB Album)

In the early 1990s, a number of British publishers – fired up by the massive mainstream sales of breakthrough sequential narratives such as Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and Maus – dipped their corporate toes in the waters of graphic novel publication, with varying degrees of commercial and aesthetic success.

Macmillan, through its Pan Books imprint, was one that took it all very seriously and it’s a crying shame that they were not better rewarded for their bold efforts. Still and all, with the way the country and the world are going at present, a timely reissue couldn’t be more relevant…

This particular slim, apocalyptic tome built upon an already popular property. Horror author James Herbert began his extensive writing career with The Rats (1974) following up with sequels Lair in 1979 and Domain in 1984. Those three novels told of a post-Holocaust Britain where mutated giant Black Rats have risen as humanity declined. In The City (technically Herbert’s 17th book) – and more of an episode than a narrative – an armoured figure known as The Traveller fights his way into the devastated ruins of London.

The decimated Capital is now the undisputed kingdom of the rats and their truly monstrous queen, but the lone human is set irrevocably on a mission of murder, and he has a secret, personal purpose for going into the hellish ruins…

Dark, simplistic and terrifying, the story is elevated to nightmare heights and depths by the astonishing, grotesquely beautiful art of sculptor, painter, film-designer and illustrator Ian Miller (Ratspike, The Luck in the Head, Green Dog Trumpet, Magic: The Gathering). Armageddon has never been better realised, the skies have never looked uglier and the shabby remains and detritus of civilisations never more familiar. His mutants are appalling to see and his intense line-work and domineering colours will haunt you.

Horror is tough to write and nearly impossible to illustrate. This book manages to tell no real story and make it scarier every time you return to it. Let’s hope some sagacious publisher does so before it’s too late for us all…
©1994 James Herbert. Illustrations ©1994 Ian Miller. All Rights Reserved.

How to Be Happy


By Eleanor Davis (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-740-6 (HB)

Do acts of creation make one happy? They certainly do for me. but sometimes so do acts of wanton destruction. I’m sharing, not judging…

Eleanor Davis is one of those rare sparks that just can’t help making great comics. Born in 1983, and growing up in Tucson, Arizona, she was blessed with parents who reared her on classic strips such as Little Nemo, Little Lulu and Krazy Kat. Following unconventional schooling and teen years spent making minicomics, she studied at Georgia’s wonderful Savannah College of Art and Design, where she now teaches. Her innovative works have appeared in diverse places such as Mome, Nobrow and Lucky Peach.

A life of glittering prizes began after her award-winning easy reader book Stinky was released in 2008. Davis has since followed up with gems such as The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook (with her husband Drew Weing), You & a Bike & a Road and Why Art?

In 2014, Fantagraphics released her themed collection of epigrammatic tales, crafted in a mesmerising variety of styles and riffing on the concept of joy and contentment: causes, failings, and what to do with them when and if they happen. These are enigmatic variations on the most ephemeral of emotions and one you only really notice when it’s gone, but the individual episodes here are truly joyous to share.

How to Be Happy is NOT a self-help book – at least not in any traditional sense, but it did make me feel very good when I first read it and only increases my sense of fulfilment every time I pick it up, whether in its comforting reassuring hardback edition or my ever-present anxiety-reducing digital edition…

These observational short stories were created, it seems, for the sheer innocent joy of making them, and examine many aspects of life through self-contained yarns ranging from cautionary tales to excoriating self-diagnosis to flights of sardonic fancy. Some are titled like proper narratives whilst others just happen like life does. Those I’ve identified by first lines if no title is obvious…

Packed with evocative, stand-alone imagery, the episodes commence with line art pictorial pep talk ‘Write a Story’ before switching to lush colour for ‘In Our Eden’, wherein a primitive life of pastoral toil starts to grate on Adam and Eve. They are, unsurprisingly, not all they seem…

Further monochrome line art interventionism manifests in ‘First We Take Off Our Clothes’ after which a short hop into full-colour and a longer one into a fraught future examines family life on Tomorrow’s sub-continent when ‘Nita Goes Home’

Separation and rural isolation underpin black-&-white monologue ‘We Come Down on Clear Days’ before the restricted colour palette of ‘Stick and String’ offers a hard look at relationships and agency in the tale of a wandering minstrel and the captivating power of momentary fascination…

Relations are further tested in monochrome as ‘Darling I’ve Realized I Don’t Love You’ provides unwise solutions to ancient problems before a truly disquieting incident of mutual grooming in ‘Snip’ segues into a chilling visit to ‘The Emotion Room’.

Colour is employed to potent effect in ‘He turned a grey-green and thought he might pass out’ whilst ‘Seven Sacks’ addresses grisly problems in a fresh fable Aesop or the Brothers Grimm would be proud to pen.

Two colours and self-delusion tinge ‘Did you want to see the statue?’, whilst B&W lines detail the rewards of heroic vitality in ‘Make Yourself Strong’, after which young love blossoms in living colour in ‘Summer Snakes’

The pure exultation and imagination of childhood is exposed through stark monochrome in ‘Thomas the Leader’ before a brief Vox-pop moment in ‘I used to be so unhappy but then I got on Prozac’ is built upon in further untitled moments of self-realisation before a strong admonition to ‘Pray’

Observation, tribulation and revelation all come to the author in ‘In 2006 I took a Greyhound from Georgia to Los Angeles’ before a descent into dark moments and extreme actions in ‘The fox must have been hit pretty recently…’ is balanced by intimate sharing in ‘The woman feels sadness’.

Colour adds depth in an extended moment of group therapy release in ‘No Tears, No Sorrow’, after which the wandering introspection of ‘9/26’ leads to a conclusion of sorts in a cab ride to ‘25 Washington Street, Please’

A superb example of the range and versatility of image and text happily combined, this a true joy for all fans of unbridled expression no one could fail to enjoy.
© Eleanor Davis 2014. All rights reserved.

Pocket Full of Rain and Other Stories


By Jason, edited and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-934-0 (TPB)

John Arne Sæterøy works under the pen-name Jason. He was born in Molde, Norway in 1965, and exploded onto the international cartoonists scene at age 30 with a series of short – often autobiographical – strips and graphic novels. His anthological first book, Lomma Full av Regn won the Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize) and forms the meat of this review. This is it translated into English and you can read it in paperback or digital editions.

He followed up with the series Mjau Mjau (winning another Sproing in 2001) and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. He is now an international icon, basking in fame and critical status, winning seven major awards as far afield as France, Slovakia and the USA and all areas in-between.

Later stories utilise a small repertory cast of anthropomorphic animal characters (as well as occasional movie and pop culture monsters), delivered in highly formal page layouts telling dark, wry and sardonically bleak tales – often pastiches, if not outright parodies – rendered in a coldly austere and Spartan manner. This seemingly oppressive format somehow allows a simply vast range of emotionally telling tales on a wide spectrum of themes and genres to hit home like rockets whether the author’s intention was to make readers smile or cry like a baby.

Drawing in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, Jason’s work bores right into the reader’s core, but here fans and students can see the development of that unique vision in a series of pictorial tales – many clearly experimental in nature from – taken from Mjau Mjau, Forresten, Fidus, TEGN, Lomma Full av Regn and Humorparaden as the young artist grasps his muse but still hunts for a style vehicle to carry his thoughts…

An Introduction by novelist and educator James Sturm is preceded by an observational encounter with a human derelict and followed by short absurdist slice-of-life moments including an unpleasant confrontation in the desert and a manhunt across the world and beyond it that evolves into an examination of love.

The experimental procession is followed by edgy cartoon hijinks and therapeutic café discourses in anthropomorphic yarn ‘Carl Cat in What Time is It?’, after which an age-old masculine dilemma is covered in ‘What Shall I Do When I Lose My Hair?’

Autobiographical introspection informs single pagers ‘Film’, ‘Night’ and an untitled gag about playing solitaire, before ‘Bus’ and croquet-playing nuns give way to the tragic tale of ‘Edwin!’ whilst ‘Two Yrs’ deals with isolation and meagre youthful aspirations and ‘Invasion of the Giant Snails’ offers an early mash-up of genre movie scenes before we see that the Truth is not necessarily Out anywhere in spoof strip ‘XPilt’.

‘Corto Meowtese’ provides a loving salutation to classic European strips before ‘Space Cat’ offers similar tribute to Basil Wolverton’s legendary Space Hawk, whilst echoes of Samuel Beckett shade a tense situation involving Earnest Hemingway in ‘Papa’. Mordant laughs trace ‘My Life as a Zombie’ and penal absurdity triumphs in extended act of whimsy ‘10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …Lift Off!’ before relationship woes and human interaction are scrutinised in ‘Falling’.

Nightmarish surrealism underpins vignettes ‘Kill the Cat’, school shocker ‘Chalk’, home invasion chiller ‘Glass’ and police drama ‘the thief’ to conclude the narrative efforts but there’s still plenty to enjoy. The tales thus far have been monochrome strips interspersed with pin-up style images and found art and they are now supplemented with a wealth of multihued material including Colour covers for Mjau Mjau (#2, 4, 5), hilariously irreverent strip ‘Playing Trivial Pursuit with God’, Sleppefest and so much more.

A full Table of Contents then lists the origins of each offering with publishing information and author’s commentary.

Jason’s comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes, exploring love, loss, life, death and all aspects of relationship politics without ever descending into mawkishness or simple, easy buffoonery.

He is a taste instantly acquired and a creator any true fan of the medium should move to the top of their “Must-Have” list.
All characters, stories, and artwork © 2008 Jason. Lomma Full av Regn and Mitt Liv Som Zombie published in Norway by Jippi Forlag. All right reserved.

Swamp Thing: The Bronze Age Volume One


By Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson, Nestor Redondo; with Michael Wm. Kaluta & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8440-4 (TPB)

The first fan-sensation of the modern age – now officially enshrined as the Bronze Age – of American comicbooks – Swamp Thing has powerful popular fiction antecedents and in 1972 was seemingly a concept whose time had come again. Prime evidence was the fact that Marvel were also working on a man-into-mucky, muddy mess character at the very same time.

Both Swampy and the Man-Thing were thematic revisions of Theodore Sturgeon’s classic novella It and bore strong resemblances to an immensely popular Hillman Comics character dubbed The Heap. He/it slurped through the back of Airboy Comics (née Air Fighters Comics) from1943. My fan-boy radar suspects Roy Thomas’ marsh-monster the Glob (debuting in Incredible Hulk #121 from November 1969 and promptly returning in #129, June 1970) either inspired both DC and Marvel’s creative teams, or was part of that same zeitgeist. It should also be remembered that Skywald (a very minor player with big aspirations) released a black-&-white magazine in their Warren Comics knock-off line entitled The Heap in the Autumn of 1971.

For whatever reason, by the end of the 1960s superhero comics had started another steep sales decline, once again succumbing to a genre boom and horror/mystery resurgence: a sea-change augmented by a swift rewriting of the specific terms of the Comics Code Authority. At DC, With EC veteran Joe Orlando as editor, House of Mystery and sister title House of Secrets returned to short story anthology formats and gothic mystery scenarios, taking a lead from such TV successes as Twilight Zone and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.

Referencing the sardonic narrator/storyteller format of EC horror titles, Orlando created Cain and Abel to shepherd readers through brief, sting-in-the-tail yarns produced by the best creators, new and old, that the company could hire. Artists Neal Adams, Mike Kaluta, and especially Bernie Wrightson produced their best work for these titles, and the vast range of successors the horror boom generated at DC.

The twelfth anthology issue of the resurrected House of Secrets cemented the genre into place as the industry leader. There writer Len Wein & Wrightson produced a throwaway gothic thriller set at the turn of the 19th century, wherein gentleman scientist Alex Olsen is murdered by his best friend and his body dumped in a swamp. Years later, his beloved bride – now the unsuspecting wife of the murderer – is stalked by a shambling, disgusting beast that seems to be composed of mud and muck…

This epic trade paperback and digital compilation gathers material from House of Secrets #92, and the contents of Swamp Thing #1-13 (cumulatively covering June/July 1971 to November/December 1974) and perfectly encapsulates the changing face and taste of the times, opening here with that so-pivotal gothic vignette…

‘Swamp Thing’ cover-featured in HoS #92 (June-July 1971), and struck an immediate chord with the buying public. The issue was the best-selling DC comic of that month, and reader response was fervent and persistent.

By all accounts, the only reason there wasn’t an immediate sequel or spin-off was that the creative team didn’t want to produce one. Eventually however, bowing to interminable pressure, and with the sensible idea of transplanting the concept to contemporary America, the first issue of Swamp Thing appeared on newsstands in the Spring of 1972. It was an unqualified hit and an instant classic.

Wein and Wrightson produced ten issues together, crafting an extended, multi-chaptered tale of justice/vengeance and a quest for answers that was at once philosophically typical of the time and a prototype for the story-arc and mini-series formats that dominate today’s comics production. They also used each issue/chapter to pay tribute to a specific sub-genre of timeless horror story whilst advancing the major plot…

Here, the saga resumes with a fresh origin as ‘Dark Genesis’ finds Alec and Linda Holland deep in the Louisiana Bayou, working on a bio-restorative formula that will revolutionise global farming. Working in isolation, they are protected by Secret Service agent Matt Cable, when representatives of an organisation called the Conclave demand that they sell their research to them – or else.

Obviously, the patriotic pair refuse, and the die is cast. The lab is bombed and Linda dies instantly but Alec, showered with his own formula and blazing like a torch, hurtles to a watery grave in the swamp. He does not die…

Transformed by the formula (and remember, please, that this is prior to Alan Moore’s landmark re-imagining of the character) Holland is transformed into a gigantic man-shaped monster, immensely strong, unable to speak, and seemingly composed of living plant matter. Holland’s brain still functions however, and he vacillates between finding his wife’s killers and curing his own monstrous condition. Cable, misinterpreting the evidence, also wants revenge, but he thinks that the monster is the cause of death of his two charges…

Over the next nine issues, Swamp Thing travelled the world, encountering the darkest outbreaks of classic supernature and the insatiable greed of human monsters.

The first was black sorcerer Anton Arcane and his artificial homunculi The Un-Men (eventually the grotesque stars of their own Vertigo series), in ‘The Man Who Wanted Forever.’ The wizard transported Holland to his Balkan castle and sought to mystically trade places with the stupendous swamp beast. The temptation proved too great, but when the restored scientist realised the cost, he violently recanted…

The next issue introduced Abigail Arcane and her tragic Frankenstein-influenced father ‘The Patchwork Man’ in a classic case of monster misunderstanding, which results in her joining free agent Cable in stalking the mossy misanthrope. As Holland makes his torturous way back to the USA, hunters and hunted are waylaid and encounter a Scottish werewolf in ‘Monster on the Moors!’ before at last returning to America and finding ‘The Last of the Ravenwind Witches!’ as well as even more mob-handed human intolerance…

In the wilds of Vermont, he encounters Paradise on Earth, courtesy of an old clockmaker but when the idyll is turned into ‘A Clockwork Horror’ by the voracious Conclave, his torment is transformed into sheer rage, leading to one of the most evocative and revered team-ups of the 1970s.

Swamp Thing #7’s ‘Night of the Bat’ featured the final showdown with the remorseless robber-barons of The Conclave in their Gotham City HQ: a landmark collaboration with the resurgent Batman, himself finally recovering from the hyper-exploitation of the “Campy” TV show era.

Wrightson’s rendering of the superhero through the lens of a horror artist inspired a whole generation of aspiring comics professionals and firmly set the Caped Crusader to rest, replaced with a grim and moody Dark Knight.

Somewhat at a loss after the end of his quest (Swamp Thing came out bi-monthly, so the tale had taken well over a year to tell – unprecedented at a time when most comics still had two or more complete stories per issue), the Moss Monster shambled aimlessly through America’s hinterlands encountering a Lovecraftian horror in the New England town of Perdition. ‘The Lurker in Tunnel 13!’ After dealing with eldritch cancer god M’Naagalah, Holland (as well as Abigail and Cable) were drawn into a US military cover-up involving a marooned and benevolent alien in ‘The Stalker from Beyond!’ which benefitted from supplemental inking by Michael Kaluta before the classic run concluded with #10’s ‘The Man Who Would Not Die!’: a tale of ghostly retribution amidst the graves of unquiet plantation slaves with unliving atrocity Anton Arcane making his first of many demonic returns…

The issue was plotted by Wrightson and marked his swansong on the title: the next chapter in the Swamp Thing saga was still dictated by Wein but the miraculously gifted hands of Nestor Redondo: possible the only artist who could have matched the visual intensity of the feature’s visual originator.

Nestor Redondo was born in 1928 at Candon, Ilocas Sur in the American Territory of the Philippines. Like so many others he was influenced by US comic-strips such as Tarzan, Superman, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon which were immensely popular in the entertainment-starved Pacific Archipelago.

Drawing from an early age Nestor emulated his brother Virgilio – who already worked as a comics artist for the cheap magazines of the young country. The Philippines became a commonwealth in 1935, and achieved full-independence from the USA in 1946, but maintained close cultural links to America.

His parents pushed him into architecture but within a year Nestor had returned to comics. A superb artist, he far outshone Virgilio – and everybody else – in the cottage industry. His brother switched to writing and the brothers teamed up to produce some of the best strips the Islands had ever seen, the most notable and best regarded being Mars Ravelo’s ‘Darna’.

Capable of astounding quality at an incredible rate of speed, by the early 1950s Nestor was drawing for many comics simultaneously. Titles such as Pilipino Komiks, Tagalog Klasiks, Hiwaga Komiks and Espesial Komiks were fortnightly and he usually worked on two or three series simultaneously, pencils and inks. He also produced many of the covers.

In 1953 he crafted an adaptation of MGM film Quo Vadis for Ace Publications’ Tagalong Klasiks #91-92. Written by Clodualdo Del Mundo, it was serialized to promote the movie in country, but MGM were so impressed by the art-job they offered 24-year old Nestor a US job and residency. He declined, thinking himself too young to leave home yet.

If you’re interested, you can see the surviving artwork by Googling “Nestor Redondo’s Quo Vadis”, and you should because it’s frankly incredible.

Ace was the country’s biggest comics publisher, but by the early 1960s they were in dire financial straits. In 1963 Nestor, Tony Caravana, Alfredo Alcala, Jim Fernandez, Amado Castrillo and brother Virgilio set up their own company CRAF Publications, Inc., but the times were against them (and publishers everywhere). About this time, America came calling again, but in the form of DC and Marvel Comics. By 1972, US based Tony DeZuñiga had introduced a wave of Filipino artists to US editors, and Nestor produced short horror tales for House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Phantom Stranger, Secrets of Sinister House, Witching Hour, The Unexpected, Weird War Tales, fill-ins for Marvel’s Man-Thing, an astonishingly beautiful run on Rima the Jungle Girl (a loose adaptation of W H Hudson’s seminal 1904 novel Green Mansions) before being tapped to take over as illustrator on Swamp Thing. He also worked on Lois Lane and Tarzan and in 1973 produced adaptations including Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for Vincent Fago’s Pendulum Press Illustrated Classics: later reprinted as Marvel Classics Comics.

In later years he moved to Marvel where he inked and eventually fully illustrated Savage Sword of Conan.

During that DC period he was tapped to draw an adaptation of King Arthur which DC killed before it was completed (once again some pages survive and the internet is your friend if you want to see them) and illustrated issue C-36 of the tabloid sized Limited Collectors’ Edition: The Bible. (please link)

Sporting a Luis Dominguez cover, Swamp Thing #11 was cover-dated July/August 1974 and sees the monster back at last in his Bayou home, with Cable and Abigail close on his root-riddled heels. When mutant beasts and ‘The Conqueror Worms!’ attack his human pursuers, Holland rushes to the rescue and the relationship between hunters and prey alters forever…

The carnivorous Worms have suborned crazed survivalist Professor Zachary Nail and taken captives and when their secret plans are exposed war breaks out for possession of Earth…

In the aftermath, Swamp Thing is sucked into an arcane time-loop locked on constantly-killed and perpetually-resurrecting Milo Mobius …until Holland finds a way to break the circle of ‘The Eternity Man’

This initial collection then concludes with Cable, Abigail and new recruit Bolt instigating ‘The Leviathan Conspiracy’ to liberate the Federally imprisoned Swamp Thing and put him beyond the reach of government scientists forever…

A genuine landmark of the art form, these stories are also superb examples of old-fashioned comics wonderment, from a less cynical and sophisticated age, but with a passion and intensity that cannot be matched. And, ooh, that artwork…

If you love comics you must have his buried treasure.
© 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Abe Sapien: The Drowning and Other Stories


By Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Scott Allie, Jason Shawn Alexander, Guy Davis, Patric Reynolds, Michael Avon Oeming, Santiago Caruso, Peter Snejbjerg, James Harren, Kevin Nowlan, Mark Nelson, Juan Ferreyra, Alise Gluškova & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-488-3 (HB)

Hellboy is a creature of vast depth and innate mystery; a demonic baby summoned to Earth by Nazi occultists at the end of World War II but subsequently raised, educated and trained by democracy-loving parapsychologist Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm to destroy unnatural threats and supernatural monsters as the chief agent for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

This book is not about him, but one of his equally engaging co-stars, whose occult and occluded back-story has been gradually and tantalising unfolding for more than 25 years in the potently cohesive and compelling universe built by Mike Mignola and his creative collaborators…

A brilliant intellect in a piscine (more likely piscoid?) body, he was discovered in a glass tank by B.P.R.D. agents in 1978: a bizarre fish-human hybrid with no memory of his past languishing in a secret chamber of St. Trinian’s Hospital in Washington D.C. He narrowly escaped being dissected before gradually emerging as a top investigator – in the Enhanced Talents Task Force – and scientific research asset, using the name Abraham Sapien.

Over the intervening decades he learned that once he was human. Early cryptozoologist and psychical researcher Dr. Langdon Everett Caul was a minor light in social and scientific circles who vanished after falling in with a group of like-minded men fascinated with arcane secrets. In 1859 certain events regarding this Oannes Society led to his transformation…

This omnibus collection relates through chronologically arranged comics tales (not necessarily publishing release date) the history of the fabulous fishman, supplemented by clarifying and contextualising Introduction and Interstitial Notes from editor and sometime writer Scott Allie.

The aquatic archive launches with neophyte Abe’s first official solo exploit: originally released as a 5-part miniseries from February to June, 2008.

Scripted by creative head honcho Mignola and moodily realised by Jason Shawn Alexander (who liberally contributes to a fabulous and informative Abe Sapien Sketchbook at the back of this full-colour walk – or is that swim? – on the weird and wild side), The Drowning is lettered by Clem Robins with benefits from the magical colours of Dave Stewart.

The action opens with a glimpse into demonic deeds of the past as, in 1884, occult detective Edward Grey boldly and bombastically defeats mighty warlock Epke Vrooman before sinking his hellish ship 60 miles off the French coast near the former leper-colony of Isle Saint-Sébastien.

In 1981 Hellboy is gone from the B.P.R.D. and Chief Bruttenholm pushes reticent trainee Abe into leading a milk-run mission to retrieve the fabulous, lore-laden Lipu Dagger Queen Victoria’s Most Special Agent used to end the malevolent mage almost a century before.

With experienced operatives already in place, all the merman has to do is dive deep and fetch back the prize artefact. Sadly, with the supernatural, nothing is ever easy…

As the on-site proceedings get underway none of the B.P.R.D. team are aware that unquiet spirits are already undertaking their own recovery mission and whilst horrific monsters intercept Abe at the sunken wreck, back on land an ancient crone puts into motion the ceremony she has waited her entire life to complete…

By the time the battered aquatic investigator struggles ashore almost everyone on Saint-Sébastien is dead and a pack of wizened devils are attempting to resurrect their diabolical master. Cut off from the outside world and unable to pass this mess on to somebody more qualified, Abe is flailing until the old woman takes charge, instructing him in some deeper truths about the Isle, the replacement god the benighted inhabitants chose to worship and what truly moved and motivated Vrooman on the last night of his former life…

Armed with appalling information and the knowledge that there’s no one to save the day, the reluctant troubleshooter turns to face his greatest challenge and worst nightmares…

‘B.P.R.D.: Casualties’ comes from the Dark Horse Digital Retailer Exclusive program and saw general release in the trade paperback B.P.R.D.: Being Human. Written by Mignola & Allie with art by Guy Davis, the vignette is set in the aftermath of The Drowning as Abe and pyrokinetic Liz Sherman investigate werewolf sightings in Minnesota. When Sapien makes a rookie mistake that endangers his team, all his self-doubt comes flooding back…

Mignola, John Arcudi & Patric Reynolds produce ‘The Haunted Boy’ as an Abe Sapien one-shot in 2009, detailing the submersible star’s investigation of a child drowning and ghostly phenomena in Vermont. On investigating the “simple” case, the cautious agent discovers a terrifying truth far worse than any expectation…

A master planner, Mignola has orchestrated a magnificent interconnected saga in his assorted tales and spin-off sagas. Another one shot (from 2013) ‘The Land of the Dead’ cowritten by Allie and illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming references stories from his Hellboy in Mexico sequence as in January 1983 Abe travels south of the border to Campeche in search of lost cave divers and discovers the basis for Mayan Hell Xibalba as well as a bizarre variant vampire…

‘Witchcraft & Demonology’ – by Mignola, Allie & Santiago Caruso – comes from Abe Sapien #30 (January 2016) and provides a potted history of Western Satanism and magic as Abe in full-research mode encounters arcane heavy-hitter Gustav Strobl: another man who cannot stay dead, but really should…

Set in 1984 and courtesy of Mignola, Arcudi & Peter Snejbjerg, ‘The Abyssal Plain’ was originally a 2-issue miniseries released in June and July 2010 detailing how ancient magic, Nazi experimentation and Cold War tensions collide. Here Abe and a team of agents are required to salvage a magical artefact in a Russian sub at the bottom of the Norwegian Atlantic. Everybody wants the magical helmet looted from the Vatican during WWII: the Soviets have sent a destroyer, the Americans have the B.P.R.D. and the unquiet dead have the fearsomely mutated zombie who has guarded Melchiorre’s Burgonet since the vessel went down with all hands in 1948…

‘The Devil Does Not Jest’ was another Mignola & Arcudi 2-issue miniseries; this time from September and October 2011. Eerily illustrated by James Harren, it reveals how in 1985 Sapien accompanies the descendant of a celebrated demonologist to the family manse in Maine, uncovering generational secrets and incalculable terror and tragedy…

A one-shot from 2015, ‘The Ogopogo’ is by Mignola, Allie & Kevin Nowlan, beguilingly recounting the far more professional fishman’s off-kilter 1992 encounter with a mythical beast venerated by the First Nations tribes of British Columbia. As he and Hellboy soon discover, it’s not always the monster who’s the bad guy…

‘Subconscious’ by Mignola, Arcudi & Mark Nelson originated in Dark Horse Presents #11 (June 2015) and is set in the aftermath of Professor Bruttenholm’s death with Abe revealing a bizarre and overwhelming dream encounter with subsea ghosts, after which ‘Lost Lives’ (Mignola, Allie & Juan Ferreyra from Abe Sapien #25, August 2015) jumps to 2005 where senior Agent Sapien squabbles with fellow specialist Roger the Homunculus. Abe is still reeling from the revelation that he used to be human when a recently-impounded artefact starts to possess him…

The drama-drenched suspense concludes with flashback tale ‘Icthyo Sapien’ (Mignola, Allie & Alise Gluškova, from Abe Sapien #27, October 2015) as, mourning the death of so many of his friends and comrades, Abe relives his time as Langdon Everett Caul, the Oannes Society’s war with rival sect the Heliopic Brotherhood and his fall from grace with all he previously believed in…

Closing out this mammoth maritime log is the aforementioned ‘Sketchbook’, with commentary and visual contributions from Mignola, Jason Shawn Alexander, Patric Reynolds, Peter Snejbjerg, James Harren, Michael Avon Oeming, Santiago Caruso, Kevin Nowlan, Juan Ferreyra & Alise Gluškova, a full cover gallery by Max & Sebastián Fiumara, Dave Johnson, Francesco Franca villa and others plus bonus story The Calm before the Storm: a Caul flashback story originally created by Alise Gluškova as a piece of fan fiction.

Mignola has an incredible knack for creating powerfully welcoming mythologies and this colossal hardback (or digital) compilation successfully salvages Abe Sapien from the overwhelming shadow of satanic superstar Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. to set him on his way as a celebrated solo star.

Potent, powerful and utterly sodden with uncanny atmosphere, this terrific tome is an irresistible siren calling to haunt your dreams.
ABE SAPIEN © 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 Mike Mignola. All key and prominently featured characters ™ Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.