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.

Hellboy Omnibus volume 3: The Wild Hunt


By Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo with Dave Stewart & Clem Robins (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-668-9 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-50670-689-4

Hellboy was first seen 25 years ago in the 1993 San Diego Comic Con programme. Many Happy Returns, Big Red.

After the establishment of the comicbook direct market system, there was a huge outburst of independent publishers in America and, as with all booms, a lot of them went bust. Some few, however, were more than flash-in-the-pans and grew to become major players in the new world order.

Arguably, the most successful was Dark Horse Comics who fully embraced the shocking new concept of creator ownership (amongst other radical ideas). This concept – and their professional outlook and attitude – drew a number of big-name creators to the new company and in 1994 Frank Miller & John Byrne formally instituted the sub-imprint Legend for those projects major creators wanted to produce their own way and at their own pace.

Over the next four years the brand counted Mike Mignola, Art Adams, Mike Allred, Paul Chadwick, Dave Gibbons and Geof Darrow amongst its ranks; generating a wealth of superbly entertaining and groundbreaking series and concepts.

Unquestionably the most impressive, popular and long-lived was Mignola’s supernatural thriller Hellboy.

As previously cited, the hulking monster-hunter debuted in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (August 1993) before formally launching in 4-issue miniseries Seed of Destruction (with Byrne scripting over Mignola’s plot and art). Colourist Mark Chiarello added layers of mood with his understated hues. Once the fans saw what was on offer there was no going back…

This new trade paperback – and digital – series re-presents the succession of long-form tales and miniseries which followed as omnibus volumes, accompanied by a companion series of tomes featuring all the short stories. I’ll get around to them too before much longer…

This third titanic terror tome collects Hellboy: Darkness Calls, Hellboy: The Wild Hunt and Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury as well as short story ‘The Mole’ from Hellboy: Free Comic Book Day 2008.

What You Need to Know: on December 23rd 1944 American Patriotic Superhero the Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers intercepted and almost foiled a satanic ceremony predicted by Allied parapsychologist Professors Trevor Bruttenholm and Malcolm Frost.

They were working in conjunction with influential medium Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones. Those stalwarts were waiting at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when a demon baby with a huge stone right hand appeared in a fireball. The startled soldiers took the infernal yet seemingly innocent waif into custody.

Far, far further north, off the Scottish Coast on Tarmagant Island, a cabal of Nazi Sorcerers roundly berated ancient wizard Grigori Rasputin whose Project Ragna Rok ritual seemed to have failed. The Russian was unfazed. Events were unfolding as he wished…

Five decades later, the baby had grown into a mighty warrior engaging in a never-ending secret war: the world’s most successful paranormal investigator. Bruttenholm spent years lovingly raising the weird foundling whilst forming an organisation to destroy unnatural threats and supernatural monsters – The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. “Hellboy” quickly became its lead agent.

Moreover, as the decades of his career unfolded, Hellboy gleaned tantalising snatches of his origins, hints that he was an infernal creature of dark portent: born a demonic messiah, somehow destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil. It is a fate he despises and utterly rejects, even though the universe keeps inexorably and relentlessly moving him towards it…

The comics cavalcade of chills and thrills commences with a whimsical dreamy vignette by Mignola & Duncan Fegredo from Free Comic Book Day 2008: Hellboy. As the B.P.R.D. top gun spends a little downtime in England with some old – and largely deceased – pals, he has a bit of an extended fright after one of them points out ‘The Mole’ growing on the arcane agent’s left hand…

Re-presenting 2007’s 6-issue miniseries Hellboy: Darkness Calls and including a brace of epilogues created especially for the first collected edition, this tale is especially noteworthy as creator Mignola surrendered visual autonomy over his legendary character to illustrator Duncan Fegredo – with evocative support as always from colourist Dave Stewart and letterer Clem Robins – whilst moving the years-in-the-making saga towards its long-awaited cataclysmic conclusion…

The drama opens beneath rural Italy as accursed wizard Igor Weldon Bromhead hastens the destruction of humanity by summoning and binding the malign witch-goddess Hecate. Bromhead wants revenge and doesn’t care if the world burns in his getting of it. In faraway England, the ripples of his acts alert the fey folk and other supernatural entities that the End Times are finally upon them…

Hellboy is still in Britain; visiting old friends and desperately seeking to sidestep the fate he seems incapable of escaping or thwarting. Restless, he wanders into the woods, seemingly oblivious to the strange signs and portents dogging his heels until he encounters a strange trio of sinister characters and is sucked into a living history lesson…

After also meeting the ghost of witchfinder Henry Hood, Hellboy is made painfully aware of a deadly rising of the covens, as congregated creatures of the night attack him in an abandoned church. After a climactic battle – and more painful revelations of his past and ordained future – the paranormal paragon is suddenly yanked away into the infernal arctic domain of terrifying nemesis Baba Yaga: the Russian witch-queen sworn to destroy him…

In England, witches continue to gather, urged on by minor demon Gruagach; another unclean creature with a grudge against Hellboy. He advocates waking a long-buried queen of the dark to lead their final assault on the world and will not be dissuaded…

Meanwhile in Baba Yaga’s land of eternal chill, Hellboy is holding his own against the sorceress’ legions but is about to meet his match against her greatest thrall: an indomitable, unstoppable warrior dubbed Koshchei the Deathless.

The captive is not without allies. Fallen god Perun, giant wolves and a rebellious Domovoi (house spirit) all offer what aid they can but it’s the ministrations of little dead girl Vasilisa that provide Hellboy with an opportunity to escape the endless war and return to the physical world.

While he has been gone, however, events have moved on. The hags and weird folk have succeeded in freeing the one who will lead them in the final clash with humanity, and the benign spirits who have sheltered Man for so long see that their own long, long lives are finally done…

Offering astounding supernatural spectacle, amazing arcane action, mounting mystical tension and the imminent end of decades of slowly unfolding wonderment, this is merely the beginning of the End…

Climactic 8-issue miniseries Hellboy: The Wild Hunt from 2008-2009 draws together many subtly scattered clues disseminated throughout his innumerable tempestuous exploits and at last provides a conclusion to more than 15 years of slowly boiling magical suspense… as well as the incredible answers to the enigma of the horrific hero’s doom-drenched double destiny…

Mignola & Fegredo resume the fateful tale as the fey folk and other creatures of ancient mythology and legend are fading into non-existence in the face of a bloody rising of witches. The malevolent hags have a new queen who promises blood and slaughter and domination of the world by her kind whilst the only being who might stop her inexorable ascendance is missing…

In rural Italy, Hellboy receives a letter from a most ancient and august society. The paranormal paragon has been hiding; avoiding having to deal with the hard-wired cosmic fate which will not let him go…

Nevertheless, on reading the missive, Hellboy returns to England and meets the oldest members of the aristocratic secret society known as the Wild Hunt. They have been clandestinely defending the Sceptr’d Isles from mystic assault for centuries and – more aware of Hellboy’s destiny-drenched antecedents than the hero himself – urge him to join them in exterminating a band of primordial giants set to ravage the Realm…

The entire affair is a trap, but the mortal warriors are no match for Hellboy who defeats his duplicitous opponents before also despatching the giants in an uncontrollable burst of berserker madness…

In a faraway place, ensorcelled goblin Gruagach of Lough Leane reflects on a long-ago slight inflicted upon him by Hellboy. This has been the cause and trigger of all the carnage and world-shattering destruction about to unfold as soon as the new Queen of Witches is ready. Perhaps he repents it all, just a shade…

The subject of his hate is currently in Ireland, renewing the acquaintance of Alice whom he saved from being abducted as a baby by the Little People. The decades have been uncannily kind, as if some elfin magic rubbed off on her…

As the Red Queen cruelly consolidates her power in England, Hellboy and Alice are visited by former pixie potentate Queen Mab who reveals another missing part of a decades-long puzzle and hints that there might be way to thwart this oppressive, inescapable destiny.

However, when another supposed ally betrays them and Alice is wounded unto death, Hellboy is approached by re-embodied myth Morgan Le Fay who offers to trade for the mortal girl’s life.

Le Fay reveals that although the hell-born hero is certainly the son of the devil. his human mother could trace her own line back to Arthur Pendragon. Hellboy is the doom of mankind but also the True King of England, and she is his many-times removed grandmother…

If he wants to save humanity from an army of darkness, he has his own to call upon – one comprising millennia of Britain’s noble dead. All Morgan’s heir has to do is take up the Sword in the Stone.

It should be easy. His new occult opponent – now calling herself the Mor-Rioghain – also wants to awaken the dragons from the beginning of time and wipe out humanity: the fore-ordained role Hellboy has sworn never to enact…

With horror Hellboy realises he has not been running from one unwanted Destiny, but two…

With fate closing in all around him, Hellboy is uncharacteristically nonplussed, but an ethereal visitation prompts him to ferocious action and as he confronts his own inherently evil nature to finally throw off all the sly influences attempting to sway him and once again choose his own path…

The opportunity came via twinned 3-issue miniseries, entitled Hellboy: The Storm and Hellboy: the Fury and opens in England as the police investigate bizarre grave desecrations: ancient church crypts and stone sarcophagi all lacking the knights and nobles who once lay in them…

The constabulary are grateful for the assistance of noted parapsychologist Hellboy, but he’s not saying much…

As Hellboy and Alice review the situation they are again attacked by elements of Britain’s mythical past sworn to the new Witch Queen even as, elsewhere, Gruagach is confronted by the land’s greatest mage who reveals the shocking truth of the red-handed harridan. The petty-minded cause of humanity’s last war is given one last chance to repent and redeem himself, but with carnage and malevolence mounting in every realm, it might be too late…

As Hellboy and Alice catch their breath in the strangest tavern in the benighted kingdoms, the duties of his office and the risen army of nobles assemble and await his decision to accept or reject his twin destinies: King of Britain and all Mankind or Lord of Hell…

And as he struggles with his decision, Hellboy’s oldest enemies gather to confront him one last time and as he reels with the force of the choices the primal forces of Ragna Rok are finally awakened to Fight the Last Battle: the Champion of Man against the Great Dragon…

All that is left now is the killing and the final judgement… or is there still a chance to save the world and evade damnation?

Offering astounding supernatural spectacle, amazing arcane action, and unfolding with the pace of a mythic saga, the majestic mystery of Hellboy is a true landmark of comics storytelling and one every comics fan and fantasy aficionado should read.

Rounding out this occult endeavour is a stunning Hellboy Sketchbook Section which includes behind-the-scenes insights, author commentary, character designs, breathtaking drawings and roughs detailing the development and visual evolution of the beasties and bad guys populating the stories to sweeten the pot for every lover of great comics art.

Baroque, grandiose, alternating suspenseful slow-boiling tension with explosive catharsis, Hellboy mixes apocalyptic revelation with astounding adventure to enthral horror addicts and action junkies alike. This is another cataclysmic compendium of dark delights you simply must have.
Hellboy™ The Wild Hunt © 1993, 2018 Mike Mignola. Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and all other prominently featured characters are trademarks of Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.

Blade of the Immortal volume 1: Blood of a Thousand


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was the only thing Manji ever cared about…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bram Stoker’s Dracula


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batman: Hong Kong


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

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

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

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

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

Batman: Harvest Breed


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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