Diabolo Volume 1


By Kei Kusunoki & Kaoru Ohashi (TokyoPop)
ISBN: 978-1595322326

This powerful and engrossing urban horror tale with classical supernatural overtones features the exploits of two mysterious young men, Ren and Rai, as they attempt to help ordinary people enmeshed in the sinister coils of the supernatural.

Years previously, two little boys were supposed to have killed a young girl in the apartment building where Chiaki lives. That’s why it’s half empty and the people that do live there are all weird.

Home is not her only problem. School is awful and her parents are acting strange and her boyfriend won’t talk to her and her period is really, really late…

When she meets Ren and Rai, she discovers a whole new and unsuspected world. The boys sold their souls to the demonic Diabolo – who specialises in buying the souls of children – but like all Devil’s Bargains they were cheated, and now they use the powers they’ve been granted to thwart the fiend’s schemes.

But there’s a deadline. All the devil’s clients become insane murderous monsters on their eighteenth birthdays. The boys have less than a year before they must kill each other…

And that’s just the introductory background: The two boys’ mission to save other victims from making their mistake is simply a vehicle to tell modern horror/adventure stories in a chilling urban setting with ordinary people as the stars, and it works very well indeed.

The action is finely balanced by an oppressive atmosphere not often present in Manga, but which superbly enhances the tension, allowing the beautiful clean drawing style to enhance rather than dilute the aura of fore-doomed intensity. This is a highly recommendable treat for supernatural thrill-fiends.
© 2001 Kei Kusunoki & Kaoru Ohashi. All Rights Reserved. English text © 2004 TOKYOPOP Inc.

Elseworlds Batman volume 2


By Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, John Beatty & Malcolm Jones III (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6982-1

During the 1990s DC regrouped and rebranded its frequent dalliances with alternate reality scenarios under the copious and broad umbrella of a separate imprint. The Elseworlds banner and credo declared that heroes would be taken out of their usual settings and put into strange places and times – some that have existed, or might have existed, and others that can’t, couldn’t or Shouldn’t exist…

Here a recent reissue (originally released in 2007 as Batman Vampire – Tales of the Multiverse) and now available in paperback and eBook editions collects a trilogy of unlikely Batman stories that began with a literary cross-pollination of the type publishers seem so in love with.

Crafted by Doug Moench, Kelley Jones and Malcolm Jones III, Batman and Dracula: Red Rain was and remains is a genuinely creepy adventure of heroism and sacrifice. Here the Lord of Vampires moves into Gotham City and turns the city into a hellscape unimaginable to behold.

Desperate to save his home, the Dark Knight is forced to ally himself with “good vampires” in an attempt to stop Dracula. It can’t be a spoiler to reveal that he also has to sacrifice his life and his humanity before the threat to his beloved city is ended…

This tale was a great success when it was first released in 1991; a minor gothic masterpiece, both philosophical and tension drenched, with the sleek, glossily distorted artwork of Jones & Jones III creating a powerful aura of foredoomed predestination. It alone is well worth the price of admission.

And that is a very good thing because the two sequels are a possibly unnecessary indulgence.

Batman: Bloodstorm (1994, with the somehow more visually hygienic John Beatty replacing Malcolm Jones III as inker) sees a devasted-but-still-hanging-on Gotham protected by a vampiric Batman.

The Dark Nosferatu now combines his crime-fighting mission with dispatching those bloodsuckers who escaped the cataclysmic events of Red Rain. Tragically, he is a tortured hero suffering the agonies of the damned, struggling perpetually with his unholy thirst, but is determined nonetheless never to drink human blood.

However, when the Joker assumes command of the remaining vampire packs and attempts to take control of Gotham, not even the hero’s greatest friends and a lycanthropic Cat-Woman can forestall Batman’s final fate…

And yet Batman’s eternal rest is thwarted and stolen from him after the heartsick Alfred Pennyworth and desperate Commissioner Jim Gordon recall the Batman from his tomb in Batman: Crimson Mist.

Moench, Jones & Beatty recount a bleak but predictable saga (originally released in 1999) of a beleaguered metropolis overrun by super-criminals since the caped Crusader went to his reward.

So, when his faithful manservant brings him back, the faithful retainer is horrified to find the now corrupted hero is just another malevolent, blood-hungry beast. One who plans to save Gotham by slaughtering every criminal still breathing in it…

Only a bizarre alliance of good men and monstrous villains can rectify this situation before humanity itself pays the awful price…

These stories take the concept of Batman as scary beast to logical extremes – and far beyond – but although well drawn and thoughtfully written, the sequels lack the depth and intensity of the initial tale and feel too much like most sequels – just an attempt to make some more money.

If you’re a superhero fan at least in this volume you have the real deal, so buy it and just treat the last two thirds as bonus material. If you’re a sucker for stylish bloodbaths and dramatic scarlet-drenched suspense, however, there’s plenty here for you to wade through and wallow in…
© 1991, 1994, 1999, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Hellboy Omnibus volume 2: Strange Places


By Mike Mignola with Richard Corben, Gary Gianni, Dave Stewart & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-667-2 (PB)                     eISBN: 978-1-50670-688-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Spooky, Sensational, Unmissable… 9/10

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 monstrous 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 that followed in 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 second stellar select starring the Scourge of Sheol collects Hellboy: Conqueror Worm, Hellboy: Strange Places, Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea plus ‘Right Hand of Doom’ and ‘Box Full of Evil’ from Hellboy: The Right Hand of Doom and the lead tale from companion volume BPRD: Being Human.

What You Need to Know: on December 23rd 1944 American Patriotic Superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers interrupted a satanic ritual 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…

Answers began seeping out in ‘The Right Hand of Doom’ (originally seen in in Dark Horse Presents Annual 1998 in macabre monochrome and coloured here by Dave Stewart) as the B.P.R.D. big gun meets a priest with a connection to his arrival on Earth during WWII.

Adrian Frost carries an ancient document depicting Hellboy’s arcane stone appendage and offers to trade it for the true story of his terrestrial nativity and subsequent career…

The cleric learns how a Lord of Hell and an earthly witch spawned a child of diabolical destiny and how the grand plan was derailed by destiny and a human-reared child who moved Heaven and Hell to live his own life…

That fascinating background was expanded in 2-part 1999 miniseries ‘Box Full of Evil’ when Hellboy and agent associate Abe Sapien return to modern-day Britain to assess a mystic burglary.

Old antagonist Igor Bromhead has used his magic to steal the ancient metal coffer Saint Dunstan used to imprison a devil, but by the time the occult operatives find him the vile plotter has opened the box and sold on its contents to debauched Satanists Count Guarino and Countess Bellona.

Their facile joy is short-lived as the dubious double-dealer takes possession of the cask’s true treasure. In return for paltry wealth and appalling knowledge, the liberated demon shares the secret name and true nature of Hellboy as well as his Abysmally-ordained destiny.

It even helps Igor ambush the investigator, usurping both Hellboy’s true power and ascribed role in the destruction of the universe…

With that misappropriated magical might, the demon starts to end Creation but has not reckoned on the incredible will and sheer bloody-mindedness of the paranormal troubleshooter, nor those other ancient powers of the Earth who have no intention of dying before their appointed times…

This astounding tale of hell-bent heroism and cosmic doom is then followed by a 4-page epilogue which offers dark portents of further trials for the monster who will always be his own man…

Written by Mignola & illustrated by comics legend Richard Corben, ‘Being Human’ comes from 2011 and details how Hellboy and former foe-turned-new-recruit Roger the Homunculus debate relative ethics and personal worth whilst calamitously battling a necromantic witch and her ghastly zombie slave…

A chronological reversion to earlier graphic terrors and grave wit unleashes the award-winning 4-issue miniseries ‘Hellboy: Conqueror Worm’ (originally seen from May to August 2001); featuring earth-shattering battles, cosmic revelations and a crucial turning point in the life of the world’s greatest supernatural superhero.

It begins on March 20th 1939 when Nazi stronghold Hunte Castle is invaded by a select force of American soldiers, intent on disrupting the plans of “Nazi Einstein” Ernst Oeming.

Deep within the Austrian alpine fortress, fanatical scientists and occultists are counting down to Earth’s first space shot when the crack unit – led by two-fisted mystery man Lobster Johnson – storm in with explosive repercussions…

Sixty-one years later the ruins are the scene of careful scrutiny by the B.P.R.D.

NASA telescopes have spotted a Nazi-emblazoned capsule rocketing back to Earth, clearly a result of that clandestine commando mission’s ultimate failure. With the fallen Reich’s past track record of supernatural surprises, Director Tom Manning wants Hellboy and Roger to see what lost secrets they can uncover.

Guiding them is a local girl with useful connections. Lisa Karnstein grew up near the ruins and now works for the Austrian Secret Police…

Before they finally embark, Hellboy endures a distasteful interview with his new boss. The B.P.R.D. bigwigs have placed explosives inside Roger – “just in case” – and require the crimson colossus to carry the detonator with him at all times…

Furious but committed, Hellboy storms off, but soon the cautious trio are nearing the summit and ominous ruins. Their way is briefly barred by an enigmatic figure begging them to turn back from the haunted site, but it quickly succumbs to Hellboy’s already short fuse and thundering fists.

Before long they are picking their way towards the entrance when shots are fired from ambush and Roger plunges off the side of the mountain…

Angrier than ever, Hellboy smashes into the derelict building to discover one of his oldest enemies in charge of a restored Nazi mission control suite.

Herman Von Klempt was there when Oeming took off for the stars in 1939 and in the years since has become a major menace to civilisation through his macabre transplant experiments and cybernetic killer-apes. The latest incarnation of the latter is what smashes Hellboy into unconsciousness…

When the investigator comes to he is trussed into a typically sadistic torture device. As he screams in agony his Nazi nemesis is smugly boasting of the fruition of decades of planning. He is also congratulating his devoted mole within the B.P.R.D. operation…

Elsewhere, the earthly remains of Lobster Johnson make contact with a presumed-lost B.P.R.D. agent and begins a desperate counterstrike which might be mankind’s only chance of survival, even as Von Klempt’s technicians guide the vintage space capsule to a safe descent…

With Hellboy free and liberally wreaking havoc amidst the mad scientist’s forces, a third faction then enters the fray, offering crucial intelligence into the demon-foundling’s true origins and early life.

Ignoring the many ghosts infesting the castle, he also reveals how the plan was never to send a living human into space, but to deliver a corpse which would be inhabited by an ancient, arcane monstrosity from antediluvian prehistory: a creature whose reign on Earth would signal the end and obliteration of humanity…

Before dying he finally offers a meagre weapon to oppose the beast, but it seems utterly inconsequential compared to the hideous transformative majesty of the chthonic horror Von Klempt calls the Conqueror Worm…

With all sides in play the supernatural action goes into Armageddon overdrive as Hellboy and his allies strive to destroy the creeping evil and its insane acolytes. Enemies fall and allegiances shift from moment to moment, but when the gift-weapon is shattered only the greatest sacrifice imaginable can halt the monster’s domination.

Most tellingly, even after Hellboy’s greatest, most important triumph, his anger at mankind’s madness and venality force him to make the most important decision of his unconventional life…

Wrapping up the spectral sideshow is an ominous Epilogue revealing how a convocation of the Weird Warrior’s most dangerous foes results in one less archenemy but more trouble in store…

‘The Third Wish’ was first released as a 2-issue micro-series between July and August 2002 and reveals how, at the bottom of the sea, three mermaid sisters implore the mighty Bog Roosh to grant their wishes.

Her acquiescence comes at a great cost however: the marine maidens must somehow hammer a mystic nail into the head of her great enemy…

Hellboy is currently in Africa, estranged from the B.P.R.D. but still encountering mystic menaces that need stopping. Eventually he stops to listen to the tales of witch-man Mohlomi and is soon under the spell of the tale-teller. Lapsing into a deep sleep, he dreams of lions who foretell his future…

Hellboy awakens to find they have somehow moved to the coast. When Mohlomi tells him the ocean is calling, the baffled but resigned parapsychologist enters the roaring surf and is promptly dragged under the waves, protected only by a bell-charm the sorcerer has given him…

Attacked by sea beasts and the three sisters, Hellboy is overcome as soon as he lets go of the jingling trinket and is helpless to prevent them driving in the damned nail…

Bound and helpless in the Bog Roosh’s power, Hellboy can only watch as the sisters are given their hearts’ desires and – in the usual manner of such things – suffer the cruel consequences of double-dealing demonry.

Wise in such matters, Hellboy tries to help the third mermaid avoid her fate but is powerless to prevent the sea-witch granting the last wish. His kind act touches the mermaid’s heart and – whilst the witch tries to dismember Hellboy and all the powers of The Pit stand helpless to prevent the end of all their hopes and dreams – she sneaks back and frees him.

Released to vent his considerable anger, Hellboy ends the Bog Roosh and decimates her power, but is ultimately unable to save his saviour…

‘The Island’ debuted in June and July 2005 and signalled the grand finale of the First Chapter in Hellboy’s life…

Hellboy wades ashore in a drear limbo of shattered ships and broken vessels. Anxious but resolved, he trudges on and joins a motley assemblage of mariners in a protracted boozing session, only later realising he has been drinking with dead men.

A further shock to his system is delivered by old enemy Hecate, who appears gloating and glad that the Bog Roosh failed to kill him. As long as Hellboy lives she can still corrupt or conquer him…

Shunning the Goddess of the Damned, Hellboy trudges on, entering a dilapidated castle where he is sucked into an ancient vision offering potential clues to his past and future. Now though, it only results in him battling ferociously with little success against yet another gargantuan monster…

He awakes an unknowable time later on a dry, dusty plain with Mohlomi who offers yet more occluded, oblique advice before a revived ghost joins the conversation with the tale of his mortality in ancient Tenochtitlan.

This story of life, death and resurrection coincidentally reveals the secret history of creation, the inevitable end of mankind, what will follow and – most terrifyingly – the truth about Hellboy’s stone hand and his intended role in the ghastly Grand Scheme of Cosmic Doom…

Wrapping up the spectral showcase is another ominous Epilogue as arcane and infernal powers confer over what the revelations mean to Hellboy. The Fated One is now armed with knowledge but is only drifting closer to his future, no matter how hard he struggles to turn away from it…

This second comics compilation concludes with the inclusion of 2017’s Original Graphic Novel ‘Into the Silent Sea’, co-written by Mignola & Gary Gianni, with the latter fully illustrating the tale in his usual lush classicist style.

Sailing through a Sargasso of wrecked ships, Hellboy is drawn into a bizarre time-bending miasma and is captured by the crew of an 18th century scientific exploration vessel. At least so it first seems…

Once he learns that the abusive Captain is merely the flunky of the mysterious Lady, whose obsessive search for deeper cosmic truths knows no bounds, Hellboy knows bad things are coming. Once Heca Emen Raa, the Serpent from the Beginning of the World answers her insane call, he realises it’s a case of every man for himself and the devil will most certainly take the hindmost…

And even after the thrashing surf settles, there’s one more horrifying shock in store…

Rounding out this apocalyptic 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 spectacle, 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™ Strange Places © 1993, 2018 Mike Mignola. Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and all other prominently featured characters are trademarks of Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.

Hunger House


By Loka Kanarp & C/M Edenborg, translated by C/M Edenborg & Martin Tistedt (Borderline Press)
ISBN: 978-0-99269-724-2

If you thought “Scandi-Crime” was an impressive tweak on an old genre, you should see what our northern cousins can do with horror…

This is an imported and translated classic of supernatural suspense that went largely unremarked when it was first released in English, but it’s still one of the most powerful phantom menace tales I’ve ever seen and is long overdue for rediscovery and greater renown.

Resurrecting and refining the classical ghost story with this seductive and compellingly lavish two-colour hardback tome, husband-&-wife team Carl-Michael Edenborg and Loka Kanarp concocted a sharp, sweet and sour compote of dark desire and chilling craving in this account of a slumbering supernatural force and its irresistibly appalling allure for two troubled and unhappy girls…

Deep in the woods, a ramshackle edifice stands and waits. Closer to selfish, facile, judgemental modern civilisation, young sisters Elsa and Fredrike grow increasingly uncomfortable with their new foster parents.

Those smugly sanctimonious old poseurs are delighted with the idea and their new roles as guardians – and especially in the politely-stifled reactions of their equally shallow friends and neighbours – but really don’t seem that emotionally invested in the recently-bereft children now in their charge…

Unhappy to be the prize exhibit at a stuffy garden party, the girls soon sneak off and wander into the wilds on the edge of town. They’re heading for a strange place Elsa heard about at school. They really shouldn’t go in. All the kids say it’s haunted…

The deserted domicile is vast: a procession of bleak and empty rooms where the previous inhabitants seemingly disappeared in the middle of a smart soiree…

As the girls idly roam together, the bare boards suddenly break beneath them and Elsa falls into a darkness far deeper and longer than the mere gap between floors. The hole is bigger than the house itself and, even after climbing down on a rope, Fredrike cannot touch the bottom…

Dejectedly returning alone to her foster parents’ home she tries to explain what has happened but is cut short when calmly Elsa saunters in. The returnee is not the same as she was…

For one thing, she is cruel and mean and bullying, but the real kicker is at supper when a cutlery mishap proves the elder sister is no longer even human…

Of course, the pompous, self-opinionated adults notice nothing and later, as Fredrike cowers in bed looking at photos of happier times, the thing that looks like Elsa creeps in and offers to reveal secrets and surprises if she will return to the ruined house with her…

Author, publisher and editor Edenborg (My Cruel Fate) runs his own publishing house – Vertigo Forlag – and co-wrote Hungerhuset with graphic novelist Kanarp (another sterling alumnus of the Comics Art School of Malmö whose previous works include Pearls and Bullets and To My Friends and Enemies) to satisfy their own love of suspense-horror movies.

Their passion is our happy windfall as this sublimely seductive and truly beguiling mystery unfolds in ways both uneasily familiar and intensely original…

If being simultaneously unsettled and delightfully satiated is your particular meat, Hunger House is a dish you will never regret ordering. A disquieting terror tome worth every moment it takes to track down and acquire…
© 2014 Loka Kanarp & C/M Edenborg.

Jonah Hex: Shadows West


By Joe R. Lansdale, Timothy Truman, Sam Glanzman & various (DC/Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4715-7

As initially imagined by John Albano & Tony DeZuñiga, Jonah Hex is probably the most memorable western comic character ever created. He’s certainly the darkest and most grippingly realised, as is the brutal and uncompromising world he inhabits.

A ruthless demon with gun or knife or whatever is at hand, he hunts men for the price on their heads in the years following the American civil war, and the scars inside him are more shocking even than the ghastly ruin of his face.

DC – or National Periodicals as it then was – had run a notable stable of clean-cut gunslingers since the collapse of the super-hero genre in 1949, with such dashing – and immensely readable – luminaries as Johnny Thunder, The Trigger Twins, Nighthawk, Matt Savage and dozens of others in a marketplace that seemed limitless in its voracious hunger for chaps in chaps. However, all things end and comic tastes are notoriously fickle, and by the early sixties the sagebrush brigade had dwindled to a few venerable properties as an onslaught of costumed super-characters assaulted the newsstands and senses.

They too would temporarily pass…

As the 1960s closed, the thematic changes in the cinematic Cowboy filtered through to a comics industry suffering its second superhero retreat in twenty years. Although a critical success, the light-hearted Western series Bat Lash couldn’t garner a solid following, but DC, desperate for a genre that readers would warm to, retrenched and revived an old and revered title, gambling once again on heroes who were no longer simply boy scouts with six-guns.

the very model of the modern anti-hero, Jonah Hex, who first appeared in All-Star Comics #10: a vulgarly coarse and engagingly callous bounty hunter clad in a battered Confederate Grey tunic and hat.

With half his face lost to some hideous past injury, Hex was a brutal thug little better than the scum he hunted and certainly a man to avoid.

From the very start the series sought to redress some of the most unpalatable motifs of old-style cowboy literature and any fan of films like Soldier Blue and Little Big Man or Dee Brown’s iconoclastic book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee will feel a grim sense of vicarious satisfaction and redress at most of the stories here.

There’s also a huge degree of world-weary cynicism that wasn’t to be found in other comics until well past the Watergate Scandal, the first time when America as a whole lost its social and political innocence. Sadly, not the last, though…

It was that edgy dissimilarity to standard comicbook fare that first attracted esteemed author, occasional comics scripter and devout Robert E. Howard fan Joe R. Lansdale (Bubba Hotep, Edge of Dark Water, Dead Aim) to the series as a child.

As his Introduction details, it’s also a large part of what convinced him and fellow craftsmen Timothy Truman (Grimjack, Scout, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Conan) and Sam Glanzman (USS Stevens, Haunted Tank, A Sailor’s Story, The Lonely War of Willy Schultz) to revive and reimagine the grizzled veteran in what turned out to be a highly popular and painfully controversial trio of adulted-oriented miniseries for DC’s Vertigo Comics imprint.

Collecting Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo #1-5 (August-December 1993), Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #1-5 (March-July 1995) and Jonah Hex: Shadows West #1-3 (February-April 1999), this volume – available in trade paperback and digital editions – also references heaping helpings of Spaghetti Western tropes, raw-edged Texan lore and attitudes, supernatural weirdness and some of the broadest, crudest, daftest belly-laugh humour ever seen in street-level American comics…

It all kicks off with Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo as the bounty hunter is saved from lynching by the criminals he’s hunting. His saviour is nigh-decrepit aging manhunter Go Slow Smith. Together they despatch the outlaws who arranged the necktie party, but when the pecuniary lawmen try to claim the money on their latest gory prizes, they’re faced with bureaucratic obfuscation and delay.

That’s not too terrible as the town of Mud Creek has booze, beds and hot food, but when the sun goes down horror stalks Main Street and Smith is gunned down by a dead man…

Falsely accused of murder, Hex narrowly avoids another hanging and sets after traveling man Doc “Cross” Williams. When he tracks him down, however, the gunman realises the scientist has perfected a diabolical means of resurrecting the dead. It’s not so hard tackling the Doc’s bizarre coterie of ghastly freaks, but Hex has no chance against the wanderer’s star attraction, the undead but still lightning fast-draw Wild Bill Hickok.

The madman’s big mistake is trying to turn Hex into another zombie slave. After the hell-faced gunman gets way and regroups, Jonah undertakes a slow, relentless revenge that pulls Williams across the deadliest terrain in Texas and straight into the unforgiving sights of remorseless Apache renegades…

The result is a spectacular and breathtaking battle of wills you’ll never forget…

The creative band got back together for Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such: a truly inspired and deftly ridiculous spoof on western themes and attitudes with Hex cast as willing straight man in a yarn touching base with Robert E. Howard’s subterranean horror myths as viewed through Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles.

In the searing inhospitable desert scrub a rather quaint English émigré is trying to establish a cattle ranch. He’s got lots of other strange ideas too, based on a lecture he once saw by Oscar Wilde.

At the Wilde West Ranch and Culture Emporium, Mr. Graves pays good wages and provides every amenity. He is well respected, but in return expects his doughty cowpokes to write and recite poetry, perform skits and enthusiastically burst into song at every opportunity.

Sadly, they got the enthusiasm down pat, but exhibit no discernible talent or artistic ability to underpin it…

When the restless Hex and his brash young sidekick stumble upon the cultural bastion, they have just barely survived an horrific encounter with a subterranean monster that drags people and animals beneath the earth to suck out their innards via efficiently-sliced off heads.

It’s not long before the newcomers realise the Englishman and his prairie troubadours are having their own encounters with the vile beasts.

When the effusive Graves reveals that the ranch previously belonged to a luckless fool named Errol Autumn an incredible tale emerges…

Autumn had set up his spread on land that had been contested for millennia by the local Indians and an antediluvian subhuman race dubbed the Worms of the Earth. After the idiot white man accidentally destroyed the wards and charms the natives had used to keep the monsters safely below, something escaped and raped his wife.

The offspring were still wandering the region and now seem intent on reviving that age-old war on humanity…

After one particularly hungry horror busts through the floor of Graves’s compound, Hex and the cowboys decide to take the battle to them and embark on a brain-blasting, ultimately cataclysmic voyage to the heart of hell, with the hybrid worm-children dogging their heels.

At least the underground argonauts can keep up their spirits with a song or two…

The bawdy and absurdist humour remain for the final outing but Jonah Hex: Shadows West also offers plenty of trenchant things to say about the treatment of native cultures too.

After another painful brush with ever-encroaching white civilisation and the stupidity of the law, Hex is induced by diminutive sharpshooter ‘Long Tom’ to join the shamefully low-rent Wild West Show of failed dentist and inveterate chancer Buffalo Will.

It’s an uncomfortable fit despite the huge salary and a reunion with old friend Spotted Balls. Will is an unrepentant shyster and charlatan and his white performers brutally and continually abuse the native hires.

After seeing how the men treat a squaw, Hex decides to quit and is astonished when she and Spotted Balls elect to come with him. The woman has an ulterior motive: her young son is the spawn of a spirit and looks it. He’s half bear, half human, talks and is the proposed means Buffalo Will plans to become stinking rich…

Happy to frustrate the evil impresario, Hex and his charges ride out in search of the spirit folk under ‘Gathering Shadows’ with Long Tom and a posse of killers in hot pursuit and a deadly race and mobile war of attrition ensues.

By the time the fugitives reach their destination, leaving bodies on both sides, ‘Final Shadows’ are falling and all hope seems lost. But even Hex’s cynical disbelief in mystic mumbo-jumbo takes a pounding when the child is reunited with the chief of the Bear Folk…

Raucous, excessively violent and bitingly funny, these irreverent yarns capture the spirit of the original Hex series whilst adding a modicum of unnatural unworldliness and outrageously lampooning the beloved cinema standbys of a bygone era.

If you love dry wit, trenchant absurdity and a non-stop bombardment of high-octane action, you must get this book.
© 1993, 1995, 1999, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Werewolf by Night – the Complete Collection volume 2


By Gerry Conway, Mike Friedrich, Tony Isabella, Doug Moench, Mike Ploog, Don Perlin, Pat Broderick, Vigilio Redondo, Yong Montaño & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-30290-

As Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in 1970, in the wake of losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators – Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby – they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties.

The only real exception to this was a mass release of horror titles rapidly devised in response to an industry-wide down-turn in superhero sales. The move was handily expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

Almost overnight nasty monsters (plus narcotics and bent coppers – but that’s another story) became acceptable fare within four-colour pages and whilst a parade of 1950s pre-code reprints made sound business sense (so they repackaged a bunch of those too) the creative aspect of the contemporary fascination in supernatural themes was catered to by adapting popular cultural icons before risking whole new concepts on an untested public.

As always, the watch-word was fashion: what was hitting big outside comics was to be incorporated into the mix as soon as possible.

When proto-monster Morbius, the Living Vampire debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #101 (October 1971) and the sky failed to fall in, Marvel moved ahead with a line of scary superstars – beginning with a werewolf and traditional vampire – before chancing something new via a haunted biker who could tap into both Easy Rider’s freewheeling motorcycling chic and the supernatural zeitgeist.

With its title cribbed from a classic short thriller from pre-Code horror anthology Marvel Tales #116 (July 1953), Werewolf By Night debuted in Marvel Spotlight #2. It had been preceded by masked western hero Red Wolf in #1 and followed by the afore-hinted Ghost Rider, but this hairy hero was destined to stick around for a while.

Marvel had a long-time tradition of using old (and presumably already copyrighted) names and titles when creating new series and characters. Hulk, Thor, Magneto, Doctor Strange and many others all got notional starts as throwaways before being re-imagined as major characters…

This copious trade paperback and eBook compendium compiles more moody misadventures of a good-hearted young West Coast lycanthrope who briefly shone as an unlikely star for the entire length of a trading trend, Werewolf By Night volume 1 #16-30, Giant-Size Creatures #1, Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #2-4, and a melange of monochrome material from Monsters Unleashed #6-7: all collectively spanning April 1974 to June 1975.

Jack Russell is a teenager with a thankfully rare but very disturbing condition. On her deathbed, his mother revealed unsuspected Transylvanian origins to her beloved boy: relating a family curse which would turn him into a raging beast on every night with a full moon… as soon as he reached his 18th birthday.

And so it began…

After many months of misunderstanding as Jack tried to cope alone with his periodic wild side, Jack’s stepfather Philip Russell expanded the story, revealing how the Russoff line was cursed by the taint of Lycanthropy: every child doomed to become a wolf-thing under the full-moon from the moment they reached eighteen.

Moreover, the feral blight would do the same to his little sister Lissa when she reached her own majority…

As Jack tried and repeatedly failed to balance a normal life with his monthly cycle of uncontrollable ferocity, he met his eventual mentor and confidante Buck Cowan, an aging writer who became Jack’s best friend after the pair began to jointly investigate the wolf-boy’s history. Their incessant search for a cure was made more urgent by little Lissa’s ever-encroaching birthday.

In the course of their researches they crossed swords with many monsters – human and otherwise – including off-the-rails cop Lou Hackett, who had been going increasingly crazy in his hunt for a werewolf nobody believed in, and fellow lycanthrope Raymond Coker who had found a shocking remedy to their condition…

For one werewolf to lift his curse he/she had to kill another one…

Following an Introduction from former Marvel editor Ralph Macchio, the suspense resumes with Jack in Paris. Seeking a cure in his Balkan homeland, but instead clashing with vampire lord Dracula, Jack and his new girlfriend Topaz (a powerful, mystically-attuned psychic and psionic) were enduring a tiresome – and crucially untimely – forced stopover in the City of Lights…

This leads to an impromptu clash with a modern-day incarnation of the Hunchback of Notre Dame (he doesn’t sing and he’s not very gentle here) and ‘Death in the Cathedral!’. Scripted by Mike Friedrich and inked by Frank Chiaramonte, this bombastic battle was co-originator Mike Ploog’s farewell performance as artist in residence.

WBN #17 was by Friedrich & Don Perlin, with Jack and Topaz escaping Paris only to fall into the Committee’s latest scheme as the blustering Baron Thunder and his favourite monster ‘The Behemoth!’ tried to make the werewolf their plaything again.

The Committee were a long-term adversary: a cabal of crazy capitalists who wanted to own the werewolf because he could scare the public, allowing them to create a panic-crazed sales boom…

The tale concluded in ‘Murder by Moonlight!’ as the secret of Jack’s mystery neighbour is exposed when Thunder attacks again, aided by witch-queen Ma Mayhem. However, it was all a feint for the Committee to kidnap Lissa who would, one day soon, become a werewolf too…

Whilst searching for her, Jack then falls foul of two undead film-stars haunting the Hollywood backlots in #19’s ‘Vampires on the Moon’ after which Giant-Size Creatures #1 moodily re-imagines a failed costumed crusader to introduce a new creepy champion in ‘Tigra the Were-Woman!’ (by Tony Isabella, Perlin & Vince Colletta).

Here Greer Nelson, one-time feminist avenger The Cat, is “assassinated” by Hydra agents, revived by ancient hidden race the Cat-People and becomes an unwilling object of temporary affection to the feral and frisky moonwalker Jack Russell…

Following ‘Waiter, there’s a Werewolf in my Soup!’ a text piece also from Giant-Size Creatures that explains the genesis of Marvel’s horror line, WBN #20 debuts writer Doug Moench to wrap up all the disparate plot threads in ‘Eye of the Wolf!’: a rushed but satisfactory conclusion featuring a whole pack of werewolves, Thunder, Ma Mayhem and lots and lots of action.

With the decks cleared, Moench began to make the series uniquely his own, beginning with #21’s ‘One Wolf’s Cure… Another’s Poison!’ wherein he starts playing up the ever-encroaching 18th birthday of little Lissa before deftly engineering the final reckoning with off-the-rails cop Lou Hackett, who had been going increasingly crazy in his obsessive hunt for the werewolf…

With the stage set for some truly outrageous yarn-spinning we abruptly divert to a brace of sidebar shorts taken from Monsters Unleashed #6 and 7.

Here Gerry Conway wrote prose yarn ‘Panic by Moonlight’ and concluding instalment ‘Madness Under a Mid-Summer Moon’ (with spot illustrations by Ploog and Pat Broderick & Klaus Janson) detailing how a gang of bikers picked the wrong night to home-invade the flashy singles complex Jack Russell lived in…

The tantalising diversion is bracketed by the painted covers of the monochrome magazines and Gil Kane’s cover for earlier collection Essential Werewolf By Night volume 2.

With Moench at the helm and almost exclusively pencilled for rest of the run by the criminally underrated Don Perlin, the midnight comics mysteries resume the Vince Colletta inked Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #2 as ‘The Frankenstein Monster Meets Werewolf By Night’.

Roaming the streets of New York in ‘Prisoners of Flesh!’, the recently resurrected massive mute monster hops a freight train west after overhearing of a mystic named Danton Valya who can transplant souls into new bodies…

He arrives in Los Angeles just as Jack Russell discovers Lissa has been abducted by Valya’s Satanist cult ‘To Host the Beast’ before cataclysmically clashing with the monster who has only to let the diabolists sacrifice the werewolf and Lissa to gain his heart’s desire…

Tragically the noble artificial man has more compassion than the cultists and prefers his own sorry existence to benefiting from ‘The Flesh of Satan’s Hate!’

Werewolf By Night #22 (Moench, Perlin & Colletta) then introduces crazed murder-maniac Atlas, who stalks and slays many of Buck’s movie friends. Moreover, when Russell’s hairy Other encounters the ‘Face of the Fiend!’, Atlas beats the beast unconscious and in the morning light bleary Jack is subsequently arrested for the latest murder…

Lieutenant Vic Northrup was a good friend of deceased former Hackett and knows Russell is hiding something, but eventually has to release him for lack of evidence. Picking Jack up from the station, Buck reveals he has gleaned the inside story of Atlas and his own historical involvement in the story, just in time to become the next target…

Fortuitously, the werewolf is on hand when Atlas attacks and the battle explodes into LA’s streets where disbelieving cops have to admit that ‘The Murderer is a Maniac!’

In #24 Buck introduces Jack to fringe scientist Winston Redditch who claims to have chemically isolated the constituents of the human psyche and thus might be able to suppress Jack’s periodic bestial outbursts. Sadly, the boffin accidentally ingests the serum himself and unleashes ‘The Dark Side of Evil!’

The remorseless sadistic thug he becomes calls himself DePrayve and fights the werewolf to a standstill, giving Northrup an opportunity to capture the hirsute “urban legend” which has stalked the city and drove Hackett crazy…

From WBN #25 the art took a quantum leap in quality as Perlin – already co-plotting the stories – began inking his own pencils. When the beast busts out of custody ‘An Eclipse of Evil’ sees Redditch turning his warped attention to the lycanthrope as a potential guinea pig for further experimentation, only for both the feral fury and dastardly DePrayve to be targeted by a deranged vigilante and “protector of purity” calling himself The Hangman

The horrific three-way clash results in ‘A Crusade of Murder’, with Redditch hospitalised, the vicious vigilante in custody and battered, bloody-yet-unbowed Jack still free and still cursed…

Eschewing chronological order for the sake of unbroken continuity-clarity, January’s Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #3 pops up here and reveals a ‘Castle Curse!’ (inked by Sal Trapani) in which Jack returns to Transylvania after receiving a monster-infested vision of former love interest – and psionic powerhouse – Topaz in ‘Spawned in Dream… Slain in Nightmare!’

Jack drags Buck and Lissa ‘Home to Slay!’ in the Balkans, finding the old family home under siege by pitchfork-wielding villagers who have all their worst fears confirmed when he goes hairy and gets hungry, before finally tracking down Topaz in the care – and custody – of a gypsy matriarch with an arcane agenda of her own.

The blood-crazed old witch has a tragic connection to the Russoff line and is exploiting Topaz’s restored powers to enact a grisly ‘Vengeance in Death!’ upon the villagers by raising an army of zombies.

The chain of events she set in motion can only end in slaughter…

Werewolf By Night #27 (March 1975) began a chilling and fantastic extended eldritch epic with the introduction of ‘The Amazing Doctor Glitternight’. Back in the USA, Jack’s feral alter ego runs loose on the isolated Californian coast and is drawn to a cave where a bizarre wizard makes monsters from what appears to be fragments of Topaz’s soul…

The eerie mage is actually hunting for Topaz’s dead stepfather Taboo and will not be gainsaid, even after Jack’s uncontrollable were-beast slaughters his monstrous masterpiece…

The wizard intensifies his campaign in ‘The Darkness from Glitternight’, heaping horrors upon Jack and friends before capturing Lissa on her birthday and using dark magic to turn her from simple werewolf into ‘A Sister of Hell’

The spectral re-emergence of Taboo proves a turning point as wolf battles hellbeast and everybody clashes with Glitternight before a ‘Red Slash Across Midnight’ seemingly results in a cure for one of the tortured Russell clan…

April’s Giant-Size Werewolf By Night #4 offers a long-delayed and anticipated clash with living vampire Morbius: beginning with ‘A Meeting of Blood’ (Moench & Virgil Redondo) with the former biologist tracking his old girlfriend Martine and discovering a possible cure for his own exsanguinary condition.

Unfortunately, the chase brings him into savage and inconclusive combat with a certain hairy hellion and the solution is forever lost…

Also included in that double-sized issue is Moench & Yong Montaño’s ‘When the Moon Dripped Blood!’, wherein Jack and Buck stumble across a group of rustic loons all-too-successfully summoning a ghastly elder god. Although great at consuming and converting human offerings and acolytes, the appalling atrocity is seemingly no match for a ravening ball of furious fangs and claws…

This second sinister compendium concludes with a bonanza of bonus features: Arthur Adams & Jason Keith’s Werewolf By Night Omnibus cover, original art pages by Ploog & Chiaramonte, Perlin & Colletta and all-Perlin, plus werewolf art by Perlin & Joe Rubinstein and Paul Ryan & Rubinstein taken from various iterations of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

This moody masterpiece of macabre menace and all-out animal action covers some of the most under-appreciated magic moments in Marvel history; tense, suspenseful and solidly compelling. If you feel the urge to indulge in a mixed bag of lycanthropes, bloodsuckers and moody young misses – this is a far more entertaining mix than many modern movies, books or miscellaneous matter…
© 1972, 1974, 1975, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

House


By Josh Simmons (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-855-8

A young man walks through the woods, until he sees a ramshackle old house. Outside the derelict property he meets two young women and they strike up a conversation. Filled with high spirits, they decide to explore the dilapidated old mansion.

The place is a wreck. As they cautiously move deeper into the vast manse, the boy and the blonde girl begin to feel a mutual attraction…

When they discover that the back of the house has collapsed and is under water, forming an inviting pool, all three explorers all dive in and play in the rippling pool.

In a submerged room boy and blonde share a kiss. The dark girl knows something has happened, that all the relationships have shifted. With a new tension gripping them, they continue to explore, but nothing feels innocent now. And then the staircase collapses…

Josh Simmons set himself a daunting task with his early foray into the weirdscape of modern American Gothic. This entire tale is told without words. Settings, scenario and character are established and the narrative undertaken purely by making pictures and by manipulating light and dark, panel and space.

The manner in which an idyll becomes a terrifying, crushing, tragic nightmare is powerful, seductive and truly overwhelming in its delivery. Simmons – who went on to beguile and enthral in later works such Jessica Farm, The Furry Trap and Black River – succeeds here in crafting a true graphic narrative, a thrilling story in a manner and with a force that no other medium could.

Silent, compelling, wonderful: This is a book – available in hardback and in digital editions – no serious reader should ignore and no budding creator should miss.
© 2007 Josh Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents The War that Time Forgot


By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Russ Heath, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1253-7

The War That Time Forgot debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90 and ran until #137 (May 1968) skipping only three issues: #91, 93 and #126 (the last of which starred the United States Marine Corps simian Sergeant Gorilla – look it up: I’m neither kidding nor being metaphorical…).

At present this stunningly bizarre black-&-white compendium is the only comprehensive collection: gathering together all the monstrously madcap material from SSWS #90, 92, 94-125 and 127-128 spanning April-May 1960 to August 1966.

Simply too good a concept to leave alone, this seamless, shameless blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caprona stories (known alternatively as the Caspak Trilogy or “The Land That Time Forgot”) provided everything baby-boomer boys – and probably girls too, if truth be told – could dream of: giant lizards, humongous insects, fantastic adventures and two-fisted heroes with lots of guns…

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature War comics, Horror stories, Romance, superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman and other genres too numerous to cover here.

He scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen AKA the Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the World in 1956.

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He scripted the Golden Age iterations of Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary, Dr. Pat and Lady Cop, plus memorable villainesses Harlequin and Rose and Thorn. This last he reconstructed, during the relevancy era of the early 1970s, into a schizophrenic crime-busting super-heroine.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Amy at War.

He launched Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

Among his many epochal war series were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, the Haunted Tank and The Losers as well as the visually addictive, irresistibly astonishing “Dogfaces and Dinosaurs” dramas depicted here.

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and I suspect that he used this uncanny but formulaic adventure arena as a personal try-out venue for his many series concepts. The Flying Boots, G.I. Robot, Suicide Squad and many other teams and characters first appeared in this lush Pacific hellhole with wall-to-wall danger. Indisputably the big beasts were the stars, but occasionally ordinary G.I. Joes made enough of an impression to secure return engagements, too…

The wonderment commenced in Star Spangled War Stories #90 as paratroopers and tanks of “Question Mark Patrol” are dropped on Mystery Island from whence no American soldiers have ever returned. The crack warriors discover why when the operation is plagued by Pterosaurs, Tyrannosaurs and worse on the ‘Island of Armoured Giants!’, all superbly rendered by veteran art team Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.

Larry and Charlie, the sole survivors of that first foray, returned to the lost world in #92’s ‘Last Battle of the Dinosaur Age!’ when aquatic beasts attacked their rescue submarine forcing them back to the lethal landmass…

‘The Frogman and the Dinosaur!’ take up most of SSWS #94 as a squad of second-rate Underwater Demolitions Team divers are trapped on the island, encountering the usual bevy of blockbuster brutes and a colossal crab as well.

What starts out as Paratroopers versus Pterodactyls in #95 turns into a deadly turf-war in ‘Guinea Pig Patrol!’ whilst ‘Mission X!’ introduces the Task Force X/Suicide Squad in a terse infiltration story with the increasing eager US military striving to set up a base on the strategically crucial monster island.

The Navy took the lead in #97’s ‘The Sub-Crusher!’ with equally dire results as a giant gorilla joins the regular roster of horrors, after which a frustrated palaeontologist is blown off course and into his wildest nightmare in ‘The Island of Thunder’. The rest of his airborne platoon aren’t nearly as excited at the discovery…

The Flying Franks were a trapeze family before the war, but as “The Flying Boots” Henny, Tommy and Steve won fame as paratroopers. In #99’s ‘The Circus of Monsters!’ they face the greatest challenge of their lives after washing up on Mystery Island and narrowly escape death by dinosaur. They aren’t too happy on being sent back next issue to track down a Japanese secret weapon in ‘The Volcano of Monsters!’

‘The Robot and the Dinosaur!’ in #101 ramped up the fantasy quotient as reluctant Ranger Mac is dispatched to the monstrous preserve to field-test the Army’s latest weapon: a fully automatic, artificial G.I. Joe, who promptly saves the day and returned to fight a ‘Punchboard War!’ in the next issue; tackling immense killer fish, assorted saurians and a giant Japanese war-robot that even dwarfs the dinosaurs.

The mecha-epic carried over and concluded in #103’s ‘Doom at Dinosaur Island!’, after which the Flying Boots returned in Star Spangled #104’s ‘The Tree of Terror!’ when a far-ranging pterodactyl drags the brothers back to the isle of no return for another explosive engagement.

‘The War on Dinosaur Island!’ sees the circus boys leading a small-scale invasion, but even tanks and the latest ordnance prove little use against the pernicious and eternally hungry reptiles, after which ‘The Nightmare War!’ reveals a dino-phobic museum janitor trapped in his worst nightmare. At least he has his best buddies and a goodly supply of bullets and bombs with him…

The action shifts to the oceans surrounding the island for sub-sea shocker ‘Battle of the Dinosaur Aquarium!’ with plesiosaurs, titanic turtles, colossal crabs and crocodilians on the menu, before hitting the beaches in #108 for ‘Dinosaur D-Day!’ as the monsters take up residence in the Navy’s landing craft.

‘The Last Soldiers’ pits determined tank-men against a string of scaly perils on land, sea and air, after which a new Suicide Squad debut in #110 to investigate a ‘Tunnel of Terror’ into the lost land of giant monsters: this time though, the giant gorilla is on their side…

That huge hairy beast is the star of ‘Return of the Dinosaur Killer!’ as the harried Squad leader and a wily boffin (visually based on Kanigher’s office associate Julie Schwartz) struggle to survive on the tropically reptilian atoll, whilst ‘Dinosaur Sub-Catcher!’ shifts the locale to freezing ice floes as a pack of lost sea dinosaurs attack a polar submarine and US weather station.

Star Spangled War Stories #113 returned to the blue Pacific for ‘Dinosaur Bait!’ and a pilot tasked with hunting down the cause for so many lost subs after which ‘Doom Came at Noon!’ once more returns to snowy climes as dinosaurs inexplicably rampage through alpine territory, making temporary allies out of old enemies dispatched to destroy hidden Nazi submarine pens.

Issue #115’s ‘Battle Dinner for Dinosaurs!’ has a helicopter pilot marooned on Mystery Island and drawn into a spectacular aerial dogfight, after which a duo of dedicated soldiers faced ice-bound beasts in ‘The Suicide Squad!’

The big difference being that here Morgan and Mace are more determined to kill each other than accomplish their mission…

‘Medal for a Dinosaur!’ bowed to the inevitable and introduced a (relatively) friendly baby pterodactyl to balance out Mace and Morgan’s scarcely-suppressed animosity, whilst ‘The Plane-Eater!’ finds the army odd couple adrift in the Pacific and in deep danger until the leather-winged little guy turns up once more…

The Suicide Squad were getting equal billing by the time of #119’s ‘Gun Duel on Dinosaur Hill!’, as yet another group of men-without-hope battle saurian horrors and each other to the death, after which the apparently un-killable Morgan and Mace return with Dino, the flying baby dinosaur.

They make a new ally and companion in handy hominid Caveboy before the whole unlikely ensemble struggle to survive against increasingly outlandish creatures in ‘The Tank Eater!’

Issue #121 presented another diving drama as a UDT frogman gains his Suicide Squad berth and proves to be a formidable fighter and ultimately, ‘The Killer of Dinosaur Alley!’

Increasingly now, G.I. hardware and ordnance began to gain the upper hand over bulk, fang and claw…

Much-missed representational maestro Russ Heath added an edge of hyper-realism to ‘The Divers of Death’ in Star Spangled War Stories #122 wherein two Frogman brothers battle incredible underwater insect monsters but are still unable to gain the respect of their land-lubber older siblings, whilst Gene Colan illustrated the aquatic adventure of ‘The Dinosaur who Ate Torpedoes!’ before Andru & Esposito returned to depict ‘Terror in a Bottle!’. This was the second short saurian saga to grace issue #123 and another outing for that giant ape who loved to pummel pterosaurs and larrup lizards.

Undisputed master of gritty fantasy art Joe Kubert added his pencil-and-brush magic to a tense and manic thriller ‘My Buddy the Dinosaur!’ in #124 and stuck around to illumine the return of the G.I. Robot in the stunning battle bonanza ‘Titbit For a Tyrannosaurus!’ in #125, after which Andru & Esposito covered another Suicide Squad sea saga ‘The Monster Who Sank a Navy!’ in #127.

The last tale in this volume (#128) then sees Colan resurface to illuminate a masterfully moving human drama which is actually improved by the inclusion of ravening reptiles in ‘The Million Dollar Medal!’.

Throughout this eclectic collection of dark dilemmas, light-hearted romps and spectacular battle blockbusters the emphasis is always on human fallibility; with soldiers unable to put aside long-held grudges, swallow pride or forgive trespasses even amidst the strangest and most terrifying moments of their lives, and this edgy humanity informs and elevates even the daftest of these wonderfully imaginative adventure yarns.

Classy, intense, insanely addictive and Just Plain Fun, The War that Time Forgot is a deliciously guilty pleasure and I for one hope the remaining stories from Star Spangled War Stories, Weird War Tales, G. I. Combat and especially the magnificent Tim Truman Guns of the Dragon miniseries all end up in sequel compilations before too much more time has passed.

Now Read This book and you will too…
© 1960-1966, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Goon volume 1: Nothin’ But Misery


By Eric Powell (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-624-4

Before Dark Horse picked up The Goon, Eric Powell self-published a number of issues of this splendidly eccentric, side-splitting retro-feature, and these are presented here (mostly) in colour for the first time.

Lord knows how long he’d been working on the thing prior to publication because this is one of those rare Athenaic occasions when the creation springs forth fully formed without the usual noodging and twiddling that customarily occurs as a strip progresses until it settles into a stride.

This initial collection – available in paperback and digital formats – gathers and resurrects The Goon #1-4 and the Goon Color Special, (originally published by Albatross Exploding Funny Books in 2002) plus a short story from the last issue of anthology title Dark Horse Presents.

It opens with engaging Introduction ‘Down at the End of Lonely Street’ courtesy of comix and illustration legend William Stout, citing the series’ apparent antecedents and themes before the full colour, thirties-style pulp fun begins with that Dark Horse Presents outing…

Just in case you were wondering: Operating in the milieu of bootlegging American gangsterism and oozing Weird Tales style ambience, The Goon is a hulking, two-fisted brawler just getting along as best he can in the seamy underbelly of the city.

He and his pal Franky do jobs for reclusive gang-boss Labrazio, work their own scams when they can and look after their friends. They also hate zombies and know the true secret of the never-seen crime overlord…

This makes for a pretty eventful life since Labrazio’s biggest rival is The Nameless Man, an immortal witch-priest whose army of the undead keeps trying to escape from their rightful ghetto bastion on Lonely Street to take over the whole city or at least its rackets….

‘Die, Fish, Die!’ recapitulates all that in a darkly hilarious clash between The Goon and Franky on one side and a monstrous piscine leg-breaker and his scaly minions on the other…

The saga properly begins with the pals hunting a big score of legendary size and infamy.

The astounding Matheson Collection is the unholy grail of lost loot and our un-Made Men want it, but they never reckoned on the hellish house and the coterie of traumatised child phantoms that haunt it…

The second issue pitted the feisty felons against The Nameless Man’s demonic sponsor Evets and a reanimated marsh monster before Goon and Franky find a new and gruesome ally in their war against zombie mobsters. ‘Buzzard! The Creature that Feeds on the Flesh of the Dead!’ is a walking tragedy with an even bigger grudge against the necromancer of Lonely Street…

Add travesty to mawkish sentiment and the result is ‘The Goon: A Christmas Story’ as our guys and helpful werewolf Merle go hunting for abducted kids. When they find the nippers have been consumed by Santa’s carnivorous helpers, the boys need the help of an extra-special ally…

Then, when ever-ambitious Franky is targeted by deviant magician The Moonlight Firefly, the crusty sidekick is subjected to the lewd attentions of relentless, shameless tormenting harpies until his big buddy steps up and steps in, after which the narrative tomfoolery concludes with violent vignette ‘The Goon in… Attack of the One-Eyed Scumbag from Outer Space’.

When you’re as big and mean and handy with your fists as out leading man, the action is over before you know it…

Adding to the surreal cavalcade is a sprinkling of outrageous faux adds for such must-have items as the Billy Lobotomy Kit, Mega Body Pill, Psychic Seal Hotline and much more whilst wrapping up the macabre mirth is a Gallery of The Goon: a flurry of fan art by like-minded pros Michael Avon Oeming, Guy Davis, Mike Hawthorne, Kyle Hotz and Christophe Quet…

This spectacular pop-culture spoof and anthemic tribute to the gory glory days of EC comics offers thrill-a-minute craziness as these not-so-Wise (but extremely tough) Guys tackle flesh-eaters, Cthuluistic hell-shamblers, twisted ghosts, space horrors and every type of thug and monster, armed with nothing more than fists, gats, dirty vests and attitude, all in the name of an easy life.

Powell is a sharp, economical writer with a great ear for period dialogue and a truly surreal sense of humour. This is supplemented by the ability to draw like a cross between Jack Kirby and Wally Wood. Wonderful, wonderful stuff. How have you missed this?
™ & © 2011 Eric Powell. All Rights Reserved.

Hellboy Omnibus volume 1: Seed of Destruction


By Mike Mignola, with John Byrne, Mark Chiarello, Matt Hollingsworth, James Sinclair, Dave Stewart, Pat Brosseau & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-666-5                  eISBN: 978-1-50670-687-0

Hellboy was first seen 25 years ago in the 1993 San Diego Comic Con programme. Happy Birthday, 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 monstrous 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.

That story and the string of sequels that followed are re- presented here in a new trade paperback offering earliest longform triumphs of the Scourge of Sheol – The Wolves of Saint August; The Chained Coffin; Wake the Devil and Almost Colossus – in the first of an omnibus sequence to be accompanied by a companion series of tomes featuring all the short stories.

Crafted by Mignola, scripter John Byrne and colourist Mark Chiarello, the incredible story begins with a review of secret files. On December 23rd 1944 American Patriotic Superhero The Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers interrupted a satanic ritual predicted by Allied parapsychologist Professors Trevor Bruttenholm and Malcolm Frost.

They were working in conjunction with influential medium Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones. They were all 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 has grown into a mighty warrior engaging in a never-ending secret war: the world’s most successful paranormal investigator. Bruttenholm has spent the 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” is now its lead agent…

Today, the recently-returned, painfully aged professor summons his surrogate son and warns him of impending peril wrapped in obscured reminiscences of his own last mission. The Cavendish Expedition uncovered an ancient temple submerged in arctic ice, but what occurred next has been somehow stricken from Bruttenholm’s memory. Before he can say more the mentor is killed by a rampaging plague of frogs and enraged Hellboy is battling for his life against a demonic giant amphibian…

Following fact-files about Project Ragna Rok and ‘An African Myth about a Frog’ Chapter Two opens at eerie Cavendish Hall, set on a foetid lake in America’s Heartland. Matriarch Emma Cavendish welcomes Hellboy and fellow BPRD investigators Elizabeth Sherman and Dr. Abraham Sapien but is not particularly forthcoming about her family’s obsession.

Nine generations of Cavendish have sought for and sponsored the search for the Temple at the Top of the World. Three of her own sons were lost on the latest foray, from which only Bruttenholm returned, but her story of how founding patriarch Elihu Cavendish’s obsession infected every male heir for hundreds of years imparts no fresh insights.

She also says she knows nothing about frogs, but she’s lying and the agents know it…

As they retire for the night, Hellboy’s companions prepare for battle. Liz is a psychic firestarter but is still taken unawares when the frogs attack and the Dauntless Demon fares little better against another titanic toad-monster.

Of Abe there is no sign: the BPRD’s own amphibian has taken to the dank waters of the lake in search of long-buried answers…

And then a bald Russian guy claiming to know the truth of Hellboy’s origins appears and monstrous tentacles drag the hero through the floor…

Chapter Three opens in a vast hidden cellar where Rasputin explains he is the agent for undying and infinite antediluvian evil: seven-sided serpent Ogdru-Jahad who sleeps and waits to be reawakened. Hellboy was summoned from the pit to be the control interface between the great beast and the wizard as he oversaw the fall of mankind, but when the BPRD agent refuses his destiny – in his own obtuse, obnoxious manner – Rasputin goes crazy…

Overwhelmed by the Russian’s frog servants, Hellboy is forced to listen to the story of Rasputin’s alliance with Himmler and Hitler and how they sponsored a mystic Nazi think-tank to conquer the Earth. Of how the mage manipulated the fanatics, found the Temple at the Top of the World and communed with The Serpent and of how the last Cavendish Expedition awoke him. Of how he used them to trace the crucial tool he had summoned from Hell half a century ago…

And then the raving Russian reveals how his infernal sponsor Sadu-Hem – intermediary of The Serpent – has grown strong on human victims but will become unstoppable after feasting on Liz’s pyrokinetic energies…

With all hell literally breaking loose, the final chapter finds Rasputin exultantly calling upon each of the seven aspects as Hellboy attempts a desperate, doomed diversion and the long-missing Abe Sapien finally makes his move, aided by a hidden faction Rasputin had not anticipated…

The breathtaking conclusion sees the supernal forces spectacularly laid to rest, but the defeat of Sadu-Hem and his Russian puppet only opens the door for other arcane adversaries to emerge…

Bombastic, moody, laconically paced, suspenseful and explosively action-packed, Seed of Destruction manages the masterful magic trick of introducing a whole new world and making it seem like we’ve always lived there.

‘The Wolves of Saint August’ originally ran in Dark Horse Presents #88-91 during 1994, before being reworked a year later for the Hellboy one-shot of the same name. Mignola handles art and script with James Sinclair on colours and Pat Brosseau making it all legible and intelligible.

Set contemporarily, the moody piece sees the red redeemer working with BPRD colleague Kate Corrigan to investigate the death of Hellboy’s old friend Father Kelly in the Balkan village of Griart. It’s not long before they realise the sleepy hamlet is a covert den of great antiquity where a pack of mankind’s most infamous and iniquitous predators still thrive…

Mignola has a sublime gift for setting tone and building tension with great economy. It always means that the inevitable confrontation between Good and Evil has plenty of room to unfold with capacious visceral intensity. This clash between unfrocked demon and alpha lycanthrope is one of the most unforgettable battle blockbusters ever seen…

In 1995 Dark Horse Presents 100 #2 debuted ‘The Chained Coffin’. Here Hellboy returns to the English church where he first arrived on Earth in 1943. Fifty years of mystery and adventure have passed, but as the demon-hunter observes ghostly events replay before his eyes he learns the truth of his origins. All too soon, Hellboy devoutly wishes he had never come back…

Wake the Devil offered a decidedly different take on the undying attraction of vampires when a past case suddenly became active again. Hellboy and fellow outré BPRD agents Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien were still reeling from losing their aged mentor whilst uncovering mad monk Rasputin’s hellish scheme to rouse sleeping Elder Gods he served.

Moreover, the apparently undying wizard – agent for antediluvian infinitely evil seven-sided serpent Ogdru-Jahad who-sleeps-and-waits-to-be-reawakened – was responsible for initially summoning Hellboy to Earth as part of the Nazi’s Ragna Rok Project …

Now the Russian’s clandestine alliance with Himmler, Hitler and their mystic Nazi think-tank is further explored, as somewhere deep inside Norway’s Arctic Circle region, a driven millionaire visits a hidden castle.

He is seeking the arcane Aryans long-closeted within, eager to deliver a message from “The Master”. In return the oligarch wants sanctuary from the imminent end of civilisation…

In New York City a bloody robbery occurs in a tawdry mystic museum and the BPRD are soon being briefed on legendary Napoleonic soldier Vladimir Giurescu. It now appears that the enigmatic warrior wasn’t particularly wedded to any side in that conflict and was probably much older than reports indicated…

More important is the re-examined folklore which suggests Giurescu was mortally wounded many times but, after retreating to a certain castle in his homeland, would always reappear: renewed, refreshed and deadlier than ever.

In 1882 he was in England and clashed with Queen Victoria’s personal ghost-breaker Sir Edward Grey, who was the first to officially identify him as a “Vampire”. In 1944 Hitler met with Vladimir to convince the creature to join him, but something went wrong and Himmler’s envoy Ilsa Haupstein was ordered to arrest Giurescu and his “family”.

The creatures were despatched in the traditional manner and sealed in boxes… one of which has now been stolen from that museum. Moreover, the murdered owner was once part of the Nazi group responsible for Ragna Rok…

The BPRD always consider worst-case scenarios, and if that box actually contained vampire remains…

The location of the bloodsucker’s fabled castle is unknown, but with three prospects in Romania and only six agents available, three compact strike-teams are deployed with Hellboy in solo mode headed for the most likely prospect…

Although not an active agent, Dr. Kate Corrigan wants Hellboy to take especial care. All the indications are that this vampire might be the Big One, even though nobody wants to use the “D” word…

In Romania, somehow still youthful Ilsa Haupstein is talking to a wooden box, whilst in Norway her slyly observing colleagues Kurtz and Kroenen are concerned. Once the most ardent of believers, Ilsa may have been turned from the path of Nazi resurgence and bloody vengeance…

Her former companions are no longer so enamoured of the Fuehrer’s old dream of a vampire army either. Leopold especially places more faith in the creatures he has been building and growing…

Over Romania, Hellboy leaps out of the plane and engages his experimental jet-pack, wishing he was going with one of the other teams… and even more so after it flames out and dies…

At least he has the limited satisfaction of crashing into the very fortress Ilsa is occupying…

The battle with the witch-woman’s grotesque servants is short and savage and as the ancient edifice crumbles, Chapter Two reveals how on the night Hellboy was born, Rasputin suborned Ilsa and her companions…

He made them his devout disciples for the forthcoming awakening of Ogdru-Jahad, saving them from Germany’s ignominious collapse. Now the Russian’s ghost appears to her and offers another prophecy and a great transformation…

Deep in the vaults, Hellboy comes to and meets a most garrulous dead man, unaware that in the village below the Keep the natives are recognising old signs and making all the traditional preparations again…

Hellboy’s conversation provides lots of useful background information but lulls him into a false sense of security, allowing the revenant to brutally attack and set him up for a confrontation with the ferocious forces actually responsible for the vampire’s power…

Battling for his life, Hellboy is a stunned witness to Giurescu’s resurrection and ultimate cause of his latest demise, whilst far above, Rasputin shares his own origins with acolyte Ilsa, revealing the night he met the infamous witch Baba Yaga

Nearly three hundred miles away, Liz and her team are scouring the ruins of Castle Czege. There’s no sign of vampires but they do uncover a hidden alchemy lab with an incredible artefact in it…a stony homunculus.

Idly touching the artificial man Liz is horrified when her pyrokinetic energies surge uncontrollably into the creature and it goes on a destructive rampage…

With the situation escalating at Castle Giurescu, Hellboy decides to detonate a vast cache of explosives with the faint hope that he will be airlifted out before they go off but is distracted by a most fetching monster who calls him by a name he doesn’t recognise before trying to kill him.

If she doesn’t, the catastrophic detonation might…

As the dust settles and civil war breaks out amongst the Norway Nazis, in Romania Ilsa makes a horrific transition and Hellboy awakes to face Rasputin, even as the BPRD rush to the rescue.

Tragically Abe Sapien and his squad won’t make it before the revived and resplendent Giurescu takes his shot and the world’s most successful paranormal investigator is confronted and seduced by uncanny aspects of his long-hidden infernal ancestry…

With all hell breaking loose, the displaced devil must make a decision which will not only affect his life but dictate the course of humanity’s existence…

The breathtakingly explosive ending also resets the game for Rasputin’s next scheme, but the weird wonderment rolls on in a potent epilogue wherein the mad monk visits his macabre patron Baba Yaga for advice…

 

The story-portion of this magnificent terror-tome concludes with 1997’s 2-part miniseries ‘Almost Colossus’ wherein traumatised pyrokinetic Liz awaits test results.

During her mission to Castle Czege the artificial man she discovered inadvertently drained Liz’s infernal energies, bringing it to life and causing hers to gradually slip away. Now, Hellboy and Corrigan are back in that legend-drenched region, watching a graveyard from which 68 bodies have been stolen…

Elsewhere, the fiery homunculus is undergoing a strange experience: he has been abducted by his older “brother” who seeks, through purloined flesh, blackest magic and forbidden crafts to perfect their centuries-dead creator’s animation techniques.

Before the curtain falls, Hellboy, aided by the ghosts of repentant monks and the younger homunculus, is forced to battle a metal giant determined to crown itself the God of Science, saving the world if he can and Liz because he must…

Wrapping up the show are a wealth of arty extras, beginning with the 1991 convention illustration he created because he wanted to draw a monster. From tiny acorns…

Following on – with author’s commentary – is a horror hero group shot that is Hellboy’s second ever appearance and a brace of early promo posters, and the full colour Convention book premiere appearance as ‘Hellboy – World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator’ battles a giant demon dog, courtesy of Mignola & Byrne.

Hellboy Sketchbook then shares a treasure trove of drawings, designs and roughs from the early stories again, fully annotated to round out the eerie celebratory experience.

Available in paperback and digital formats, this bombastic, moody, suspenseful and explosively action-packed tome is a superb scary romp to delight one and all, celebrating the verve, imagination and, now, longevity of the greatest Outsider Hero of All: a supernatural thriller no comics fan should be without.
Hellboy™ Seed of Destruction © 1993, 2018 Mike Mignola. Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and all other prominently featured characters are trademarks of Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.