Adventures of Tintin: King Ottokar’s Sceptre

By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-619-8 (HB)                    : 978-0-31613-383-8 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

Originally published as a weekly monochrome strip Le Sceptre d’Ottokar ran from August 4th 1938 to August 10th 1939. The rousing Ruritanian saga of plot and counter-plot was designed as a satirical critique of Nazi Germany’s nefarious expansionist policies, but in a remarkably short course of time real life terrifyingly caught up with fictional hijinks. Another commercial winner, the tale was promptly released in collected book form upon conclusion and Herge’s team moved straight on to new serial Land of Black Gold. That tale was curtailed by the fall of Belgium in 1940 and the closure of Le Vingtiéme Siécle. We’ll talk more about that later…

When the war ended and Tintin led a resurgence of European comics, Le Sceptre d’Ottokar, was revived, reformatted, reconditioned and rereleased in a full-colour album. It was the first book to make the jump to English editions – in 1956 – and was adapted for the small screen by Belvision Studios. Twice in fact, as Canada’s Ellipse/Nelvana crafted their own animated version in 1991.

Older British readers might have another reason to recall this tale. Many of them had an early introduction to Tintin and his dog (then called Milou, as in the French editions) when fabled comic The Eagle began running King Ottokar’s Sceptre in translated instalments on their prestigious full-colour centre section in 1951.

During the Occupation, Hergé continued producing comic strips for Le Soir and in the period following Belgium’s liberation was accused of being a collaborator and even a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Resistance hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create the magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

The story itself is pure escapist magic as a chance encounter via a park bench leads our youthful hero on a mission of utmost diplomatic importance to the European kingdom of Syldavia. This picturesque principality stood for a number of countries such as Czechoslovakia that were in the process of being subverted by Nazi insurrectionists at time of writing.

Tintin becomes a surveillance target for enemy agents and, after a number of life-threatening near misses, flies to Syldavia with his new friend. The sigillographer Professor Alembick is an expert on Seals of Office and his research trip coincides with a sacred ceremony wherein the Ruler must annually display the fabled sceptre of King Ottokar to the populace or lose his throne.

When the sceptre is stolen it takes all of Tintin’s luck and cunning to prevent an insurrection and the overthrow of the country by enemy provocateurs…

Full of dash, as breathtaking as a rollercoaster ride and as compelling as any Bond movie, this is classic adventure story-telling to match the best of the cinema’s swashbucklers and as suspenseful as a Hitchcock thriller, balancing insane laughs with moments of genuine tension.

Clearly just as the world headed into a new Dark Age, Hergé was entering a Golden one…

These ripping yarns for all ages are an unparalleled highpoint in the history of graphic narrative. Their constant popularity proves them to be a worthy addition to the list of world classics of literature.
King Ottokar’s Sceptre: artwork © 1947, 1975 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1958 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Boneyard in Color, Volume 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Luv Halloween Volume 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase Presents The House of Secrets volume 1

By Mike Friedrich, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Steve Skeates, Robert Kanigher, Raymond Marais, Sam Glanzman, Jack Kirby, Mark Evanier, Jack Oleck, Mary Skrenes, Jerry Grandenetti, Bill Draut, Jack Sparling, Dick Dillin, Dick Giordano, Werner Roth, Neal Adams, Sid Greene, Alex Toth, Mike Royer, Mike Peppe, Don Heck, Wally Wood, Ralph Reese, John Costanza, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Gray Morrow, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Rich Buckler, Bernie Wrightson, Al Weiss, Tony DeZuñiga, Jim Aparo, Sergio Aragonés, Nestor Redondo, Jose Delbo, Adolfo Buylla & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1818-8

It’s the time for over-eating and spooky stories so let’s pay a visit to a much-neglected old favourite…

American comicbooks started slowly until the creation of superheroes unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and invented a new genre.

Implacably vested in the Second World War, the Overman swept all before him (and very occasionally her or it) until the troops came home and the more traditional genres resurfaced and eventually supplanted the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

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

As well as Westerns, War and Crime comics, celebrity tie-ins, madcap escapist comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent, but gradually another of the cyclical revivals of spiritualism and public fascination with the arcane led to them being outshone and outsold by a wave of increasingly impressive, evocative and shocking horror comics.

There had been grisly, gory and supernatural stars before, including a pantheon of ghosts, monsters and wizards draped in mystery-man garb and trappings (The Spectre, Mr. Justice, Sgt. Spook, Frankenstein, The Heap, Sargon the Sorcerer, Zatara, Monako, Zambini the Miracle Man, Kardak the Mystic, Dr. Fate and dozens of others), but these had been victims of circumstance: The Unknown as a power source for super-heroics.

Now the focus shifted to ordinary mortals thrown into a world beyond their ken with the intention of unsettling, not vicariously empowering, the reader.

Almost every publisher jumped on the increasingly popular bandwagon, with B & I (which became the magical one-man-band Richard E. Hughes’ American Comics Group) launching the first regularly published horror comic in the Autumn of 1948. Technically though Adventures Into the Unknown was actually pipped by Avon who had released an impressive single issue entitled Eerie in January 1947 before at last launching a regular series in 1951.

By this time worthy monolith Classics Illustrated had already long milked the literary end of the medium with adaptations of The Headless Horseman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both 1943), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1944) and Frankenstein (1945) among others.

If we’re keeping score this was also the period in which Joe Simon & Jack Kirby identified another “mature market” gap and invented the Romance comic (Young Romance #1, September 1947) but they too saw the sales potential for macabre mood material, resulting in the seminal anthologies Black Magic (launched in 1950) and boldly obscure psychological drama vehicle Strange World of Your Dreams (1952).

Around that time the company that would become DC Comics bowed to the inevitable and launched a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the December 1951/January 1952 launch of The House of Mystery.

When the hysterical censorship scandal which led to witch-hunting hearings (feel free to type Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, April-June 1954 into your search engine at any time… You can do that because it’s apparently a free country now) was curtailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of self-regulatory rules.

Horror titles produced under the aegis of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore but since the appetite for suspenseful short stories was still high, in 1956 National introduced sister title House of Secrets which debuted with a November/December cover-date.

Plots were dialled back into marvellously illustrated, rationalistic, fantasy-adventure vehicles which would dominate the market until the 1960s when superheroes (which had started to creep back in 1956 after Julius Schwartz began the Silver Age of comics by reintroducing the Flash in Showcase #4,) finally overtook them.

Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom and a slew of other costumed cavorters generated a gaudy global bubble of masked mavens which even forced the dedicated anthology suspense titles to transform into super-character split-books, with Martian Manhunter and Dial H for Hero monopolising House of Mystery whilst Mark Merlin – later Prince Ra-Man – sharing space with Eclipso in House of Secrets.

When caped crusader craziness peaked and popped, Secrets was one of the first casualties. The title folded with #80, the September/October 1966 issue.

However, nothing combats censorship better than falling profits and by the end of the 1960s the Silver Age superhero boom was over, with many titles gone and some of the industry’s most prestigious series circling the drain…

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

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

Thus, with absolutely no fanfare at all House of Secrets was resurrected with issue #81, cover-dated August/September 1969 – just as big sister The House of Mystery had done a year earlier.

Under a bold banner declaiming “There’s No Escape From… The House of Secrets”, writer Mike Friedrich, Jerry Grandenetti & George Roussos introduced a ramshackle, sentient old pile in ‘Don’t Move It!’ after which Bill Draut limned the introduction of bumbling caretaker Abel (with a guest-shot by his murderous older brother Cain from HoM) in ‘House of Secrets’.

The portly porter then kicked off his storytelling career with the Gerry Conway & Jack Sparling yarn ‘Aaron Philip’s Photo Finish!’ and the inaugural issue was put to bed with a Draut limned ‘Epilogue’

HoS #82 is a largely Conway scripted affair as Draut drew both ‘Welcome to the House of Secrets’ and the ‘Epilogue’, whilst cinema shocker ‘Realer Than Real’ was illustrated by Werner Roth & Vince Colletta.

Written by Marv Wolfman, ‘Sudden Madness’ was a short sci fi saga from the brush of Dick Giordano, whilst Conway regaled us with ‘The Little Old Winemaker’ (Sparling art): a salutary tale of murder and revenge. ‘The One and Only, Fully-Guaranteed, Super-Permanent, 100%’ is Wolfman again and realised by Dick Dillin & Neal Adams – a darkly comedic tale of domestic bliss and how to get it…

After Draut & Giordano’s ‘Welcome to the House of Secrets’ piece, superstar Alex Toth made his modern HoS debut with the Wolfman-written fantasy ‘The Stuff That Dreams are Made Of’, Mikes Royer & Peppe visualised the sinister love-story of ‘Bigger Than a Breadbox’ before Conway & Draut revived time-honoured gothic menace for a chilling fable ‘The House of Endless Years’.

Conway & Draut maintained the light-hearted bracketing of the stories as #84 began with ‘If I Had but World Enough and Time’ (Len Wein, Dillin & Peppe), a cautionary tale about too much television. The tension grows with Wolfman & Sid Greene’s warning against wagering in ‘Double or Nothing!’ and Steve Skeates, Sparling & Jack Abel’s utterly manic parable of greed ‘The Unbelievable! The Unexplained!’, before Wein & Sparling mess with our dreams in ‘If I Should Die before I Wake…

Cain and Abel acrimoniously open HoS #85 after which Wein & Don Heck disclose what happens to some ‘People Who Live in Glass Houses…’ whilst art-legend Ralph Reese illustrates Wein’s daftly ironic ‘Reggie Rabbit, Heathcliffe Hog, Archibald Aardvark, J. Benson Babboon and Bertram the Dancing Frog’

John Costanza contributed a comedy page entitled ‘House of Wacks’ and Conway, Gil Kane & Neal Adams herald the upcoming age of slick and seductive barbarian fantasy with the gloriously vivid and vital ‘Second Chance’.

Issue #86 featured the eerily seductive ‘Strain’ with art by George Tuska, a powerful prose puzzler ‘The Golden Tower of the Sun’ written by Conway with illustrations from Gray Morrow, after which the writer and Draut tug heartstrings and stun senses in the moving, moody madness of ‘The Ballad of Little Joe’

The issue ends with an episode of the peripatetic, post-apocalyptic, ironic occasional series ‘The Day after Doomsday’ courtesy of Wein & Sparling.

The chatty introductions and interludes with Abel were gradually diminishing to make way for longer stories and experimental episodes such as #87’s ‘And in the Darkness… Light’; sub-divided into ‘Death Has Marble Lips!’, a sculptural shocker from Robert Kanigher, Dillin & Giordano; sinister sci fi scenario ‘The Man’ from Wolfman, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito and excellent weird pulps pastiche ‘The Coming of Ghaglan’ by Raymond Marais & talented newcomer Michael Wm. Kaluta.

Much the same was #88’s dread duo ‘The Morning Ghost’ by Wolfman, Dillin & Frank Giacoia and ‘Eyesore!’ by Conway & Draut.

Most of the covers were the magnificent work of Neal Adams but HoS #89 sports a rare and surprisingly effective tonal image by Irv Novick (although attributed here to Gray Morrow): a gothic romance special with period thrillers ‘Where Dead Men Walk!’ – drawn by Morrow – and ‘A Taste of Dark Fire!’ from Conway & Heck.

This latter tale debuted Victorian devil-busting duo Father John Christian and Rabbi Samuel Shulman who appeared far too infrequently in succeeding years (see also Showcase Presents the Phantom Stranger volume 2).

Tuska illustrated Skeates’ futuristic thriller ‘The Distant Dome’ in #90, whilst Wolfman, Rich Buckler & Adams described the short, sharp lives of ‘The Symbionts’, after which Mike Friedrich & Morrow end this SF extravaganza with the perplexing tale of ‘Jedediah!’

Issue #91 was almost entirely Conway scripted and led with a South American revolutionary rollercoaster ‘The Eagle’s Talon!’ illustrated by Grandenetti & Wally Wood. Sparling limned faux-factual feature ‘Realm of the Mystics’, after which writer/artist Sam Glanzman produced a potent parable of alienation in ‘Please, Don’t Cry Johnny!’ and Murphy Anderson wrapped up the wonderment with Conway’s deadly doppelganger drama ‘There are Two of Me… and One Must Die!’

Issue #92 was one of those rare moments in comics when all the factors are in perfect alignment for a major breakthrough. Cover-dated June/July 1971, the 12th anthological issue of House of Secrets cemented the genre into place as the industry leader as Len Wein & artist Bernie Wrightson produced a throwaway thriller set at the turn of the 19th century. Here 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…

‘Swamp Thing’ was cover-featured – also eerily illustrated by Wrightson – striking an instant and sustained chord with the buying public. It was the bestselling 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 instant hit and an immortal classic.

The remaining pages in that groundbreaking HoS issue aren’t bad either, with Jack Kirby & Mark Evanier scripting the psychodrama ‘After I Die’ for old Prize/Crestwood Comics stable-mate Bill Draut to illustrate, whilst ‘It’s Better to Give…’ by Virgil North (AKA Mary Skrenes) provided an early chance for Al Weiss & Tony DeZuñiga to strut their superbly engaging artistic stuff.

The issue ends with a sudden shocker by Conway & Dillin entitled ‘Trick or Treat’

House of Secrets #93 (August/September 1971) saw the title expand from 32 to 52 pages – as did all DC’s titles for the next couple of years, opening the doors for a magnificent period of new material married to the best of the company’s prodigious archives for an appreciative, impressionable audience.

Jim Aparo made his HoS debut in the Skeates scripted spook-fest ‘Lonely in Death’ and so did macabre cartoonist Sergio Aragonés in ‘Abel’s Fables’, after which the reprint bonanza began with ‘The Curse of the Cat’s Cradle’ (originally from My Greatest Adventure #85) stupendously depicted by Alex Toth.

Jack Abel’s ‘Nightmare’ was followed by golden oldie ‘The Beast from the Box’; courtesy of Nick Cardy and House of Mystery #24, after which Lore (Shoberg) contributed a page of ‘Abel’s Fables’ before the entertainment ended with the chilling ‘Never Kill a Witch’s Son!’ by John Albano & DeZuñiga, rounding out the fearsome fun in period style…

Issue #94 began by revealing ‘The Man with My Face’ (art by Sparling) and ‘Hyde… and Go Seek!’ by Wein & DeZuñiga, whilst ‘The Day Nobody Died’ (George Roussos; Tales of the Unexpected #9) and ‘Track of the Invisible Beast!’ (Toth from House of Mystery #109) provided vintage voltage before another Aragonés ‘Abel’s Fables’ and ‘A Bottle of Incense… a Whiff of the Past!’ by Francis (Gerry Conway) Bushmaster, Weiss & Wrightson closed proceedings in devilishly high style…

Albano & Heck showed domesticity wasn’t pretty in ‘Creature…’, everybody got a nasty case of chills in ‘And Thing That Go Bump in the Night!’ (credited to Sparling but probably Tuska & Win Mortimer) before ‘The Last Sorcerer’ (Bernard Baily from HoM #69) and ‘The Phantom of the Flames!’ – a rare DC illustration job for the great Joe Maneely from HoM #71.

The dark dramas close with Jack Oleck and Nestor Redondo’s ‘The Bride of Death’. Issue #95 also included a couple of Lore’s ‘Abel’s Fables’, a Sparling ‘Realm of the Mystics’ and a Wein & Sparling ‘Day after Doomsday’.

‘World for a Witch’ by Oleck & Draut opened the next peril-packed issue, followed by a high-tension, high-tech Toth reprint ‘The Great Dimensional Brain Swap’ (HoS #48) and Wein, Dillin & Jack Abel’s ‘Be it Ever So Humble…’ whilst Oleck & Wood’s ‘The Monster’ describes a different kind of horror.

‘The Indestructible Man’ (by unsung master-draughtsman Bill Ely, and originally seen in Tales of the Unexpected #12) closes the show. Also lurking within this issue is another agonisingly funny Aragonés ‘Abel’s Fables’ contribution…

The penultimate issue in this sparkling collection – incomprehensibly still the only way to access these chilling classics – led with classical creep-show ‘The Curse of Morby Castle’ by Sparling after which Skeates & Aparo return to ‘Divide and Murder’ and Aragonés strikes again in ‘Abel’s Fables’.

Blasts from the past ‘The Tomb of Ramfis’ (HoM #59, by the fabulous John Prentice) and ‘Dead Man’s Diary’ (drawn by Ralph Mayo for HoM #46) are demarcated by another trenchant Wein & Sparling ‘Day after Doomsday’, before Jose Delbo delineates a manic monster-fest entitled ‘Domain of the Damned’.

The last issue in this magnificent monochrome compendium opens with a glorious intro page from Mark Hanerfeld & Kaluta, after which the artist entrancingly illustrates Albano’s tough-as-nails-thriller ‘Born Losers’ and Toth illuminates the ‘Secret Hero of Center City’ (originally seen in HoM #120).

After one more Aragonés ‘Abel’s Fables’ Wein, Mikes Roy & Peppe reveal why ‘The Night Train Doesn’t Stop Here anymore!’ and another John Prentice treat is served up in ‘The Fatal Superstition’ (HoM #35) before the great Adolfo Buylla celebrates the end of the affair in grisly fashion with ‘Happy Birthday, Herman!’

These terror-tales captivated the reading public and critics alike when they first appeared and it’s no stretch to posit that they probably saved the company during one of the toughest downturns in comics publishing history. Now their blend of sinister mirth, classic horror scenarios and suspense set-pieces can most familiarly be seen in such children’s series as Goosebumps, Horrible Histories and their many latterday imitators.

If you crave beautifully realised, tastefully splatter-free sagas of mystery and imagination, not to mention a huge supply of bad-taste, kid-friendly cartoon chills, book your stay at the House of Secrets as soon as you possibly can…
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Funniest Book Ever! (Proven with Science!)

By Jaimie Smart, James Turner, Laura Ellen Anderson, Jess Bradley, Gary Northfield, James Stayte & various (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-013-3

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

Nearly Christmas Again! Soon the kids will be on holiday and perpetually underfoot. Moreover, parents and extended family will be looking for presents they can afford and actually comprehend.

What about a book? A really, Really Funny Book?

Very much in the manner of classic Christmas Annuals, The Funniest Book Ever! is another wonderful compendium of captivating comics from the fabulous weekly Phoenix, designed to incapacitate your unruly young ’uns with cartoon japery and adventure. Moreover, as it proudly boasts on the cover it’s all done with SCIENCE! So, it’s even scholastically advantageous.

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of fun and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

Jam-packed within these glossy, full-colour pages are more exploits culled from the periodical pages, starring a pantheon of firm favourites, all curated by a team of junior boffins endeavouring to ascertain and confirm their theory that the universe is held together by fundamental forces best described as “The Seven Laughs”…

Acting as a proof of each are seven of the magazine’s most memorable features, as the highly technical treatise begins with Belly Rumble, an argument defined here by more arcadian action from twin stars locked in a spiralling orbit of mutually assured distraction as the execute an ongoing vendetta between implacable woodland warriors…

Concocted with feverishly glee by Jamie Smart, Bunny vs. Monkey has been a Phoenix fixture from the first issue: recounting a madcap war of nerves and ideologies between animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia which masquerades as a more-or-less mundane English Wood.

The tail-biting tension and rural war of wits and wonder-weapons began when an obnoxious simian intruder popped up after a disastrous space shot went awry. Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – a scant few miles from his blast-off site – Monkey believes himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite the continual efforts of sensibly reasonable Bunny to convince him otherwise.

For all his patience, propriety and poise, the laid-back long-ears simply cannot contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who is a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker. Things soon escalated once the simian interloper teamed up with an utterly mad scientist skunk who is master of many malign sciences and technologies…

In this tranche of turbulent tiny terrors Monkey manifests mayhem and endures great pain after declaring ‘Down with Spring’ before weaponizing Angling in a ‘Fish Off’ with Bunny and abusing history with a wooden Trojan trap in ‘There’s a Moose Loose!’

‘Leaf it Alone!’ finds the hyperactive simian turning simple garden chores into a mini-apocalypse whilst his on-going partnership with the skunk leads to an invisible bovine in the snows. However, their ‘Ca-Moo-Flaaj’ is as nothing compared to Bunny’s natural advantages…

After perverting a simple carrot with chemistry, Skunky anticipates ‘The Biggest, Mostest Enormousest Explosion in the World!’ but has not reckoned on sometime guinea pig Action Beaver’s unique appetites. A true contender for that honour arrives when Humanz chase astoundingly gifted birds into the woods and barely escape ‘The Kakapo Poo Kaboom!’ with their lives…

Even so, the nosy bipedal interlopers stick around causing problems until the critters unite to remove them using ‘A Bear Bum!’

A hunt for ‘Worms!’ then leads to a cacophonous din after which a dragon incursion leads to a need for knight service in ‘Arise, Lord Wuffywuff!’

The abrupt menacing return of ‘Skunky!’ only provides disappointment and confusion, but his crazed influence remains once he unleashes his devastating, colossal De-Forester 9000, resulting in the unthinkable as Bunny and Monkey declare ‘The Truce!’ that leads to the mega-munching machine’s demise.

By the time Action Beaver becomes ‘The Messenger!’ for Skunky’s poison letters, all bets are off again and it’s every critter for himself, leading to a doomed summit meeting at a hot spring in ‘Time to Get Along!’

The sinister scientist then proves you can have too much of a good thing after his Multiplyer accidentally creates a tidal wave of ‘Doughnuts!’ before a special event proclaims ‘An Exclusive Bunny Vs Monkey Detective Story: The Curious Case of the Pig in the Night Time’ with our entire outré cast going through their Sherlock Holmesian motions…

‘The Order of the Moose!’ is a secret woodland society sworn to protect nature at all costs and after we see them spectacularly underperform this section concludes with Monkey and Skunky testing their nine-megaton ‘Explosive Sweets!’

The next component of the larger debate is the Cosmic Chuckle and that means a heaping helping of Star Cat: one of the wildest rides in the wondrous weekly anthology as crafted by the astoundingly clever James Turner (Super Animal Adventure Squad, The Unfeasible Adventures of Beaver and Steve).

The strip began in issue #0 and has been synchronising orbits irregularly ever since…

The premise is timeless and instantly engaging, revealing the far-out endeavours of a bunch of spacefaring nincompoops in the classic mock-heroic manner. There’s so very far-from-dauntless Captain Spaceington, extremely dim amoeboid Science Officer Plixx, inarticulate and barely housebroken beastie The Pilot and Robot One, who quite arrogantly and erroneously believes himself one of the smartest thinkers in the cosmos.

The colossal, formidable void-busting vessel they traverse the universe in looks like a gigantic ginger tom because that is what it is: half-cat, half-spaceship. What more do you need to know?

Hypothesised here are a brace of extended exploits beginning with ‘Just Deserts’ as the intrepid band crash on to super Saharan sand world and suffer the agonies of the damned – sort of – before ‘Computational Capers’ finds them back in space and battling a tyrannical computer with ideas above his (work) station…

Evil Cackle cites Evil Emperor Penguin as proof of concept. The strip was conceived and created by children’s book illustrator/author Laura Ellen Anderson (Kittens, Snow Babies) and stars a bad – brilliant but Bad – bird who lurks in a colossal fortress beneath the Antarctic, where he strives tirelessly towards his stated goal of absolute global domination.

His only assistance – if you can call it that – comes in the form of an army of hench-minions: most notably stylish, erudite administrative lackey Number 8 and cute, diminutive, fuzzy, loyal, utterly inventive abominable snowman clone Eugene.

Evil Emperor Penguin had originally whipped up a batch of 250, but none of the others are anything like Eugene…

EEP then appointed the fluffy, bizarrely inventive tyke his Top Minion but somehow never managed to instil within him the proper degree of ruthless evilness. The hairy halfwit is, however, a dab-hand with engineering, building stuff and cooking spaghetti hoops, so it’s not a total loss…

The polar pirate starts this particular campaign of terror by attempting to crash a sporty party for the world’s top brass in ‘Human Nature’ parts I & 2. To assist his gatecrashing the Annual World Leader Olympics, the bad bird has to wear a human-shaped robot suit and that’s never a good thing, is it?

Everybody loves cute kittens, which is what Debra is counting on when she uses soppy Eugene to infiltrate the fortress and steal all the Spaghetti Hoops in ‘What’s New Pussy Cat’. She’s the cousin of Evil Cat (EEP’s insidious rival in the Word Domination stakes) and with the team – and even Evil Cat – helplessly trapped, they must all surrender all pride and dignity and call on jolly unicorn Keith to save them in ‘Rainbows to the Rescue’

The nefarious nonsense recommences with 2-part thriller-chiller ‘I Will Crèche You’ wherein EEP’s incredible De-Agefying Youth Juice causes havoc after Evil Cat breaks into the citadel and everybody gets a rejuvenating soaking…

The ice escapades conclude with ‘Eugene’s Day Off’: an unremitting stream of great experiences for the faithful servitor, but, for the Penguin Potentate – having to make do with substandard substitute Neill – a string of catastrophic, humiliating and painful disasters…

Wild Card calculation Squid Fits leads us inexorably to Jess Bradley’s diverting digressions Squid Bits! A proof of Laugh #4: that features gags, absurd Things To Do and odd innovations ranging from Monster Fashion to Red Panda’s Insult Guide and Cut ‘n’ Keep Characters to Official Words for Everyday Sounds!

These Fishy fascinations precede the arrival of next stellar party particle star turn as Critter Titter invites a closer inspection of Gary’s Garden.

This marvellous minibeast comedy-adventure is crafted by Gary Northfield (Beano’s Derek the Sheep, The Terrible Tales of the Teeytinysaurs) and explores human nature through the fauna and flora unnoticed at our feet.

Human laggard Gary, like most of us, doesn’t do as much as he should in his back yard – and the assorted birds, beasts and bugs despise him for it – but at least it means they can all live their lives in relative peace and quiet…

The occasional series began in The Phoenix #2, and this seditious sampling opens with an army of brassed-off birds raiding the lazy lump’s kitchen cupboards, after which nocturnal raiders reveal the basics of bin-raiding whilst at the treeline an ambitious bug steals a golden acorn and dissolves into ego mania as a six-limbed Sith lord…

As Larry Ladybird hunts for his beloved Elaine and dreads her elopement with Dracula, in the pond a tadpole is daydreaming with amazing consequences and an art class is being disrupted by a most intransigent slug.

When Stunt Slug’s attention-grabbing scheme goes awry, a motley band of beasts, birds and bugs occupy themselves by entering the Great Garden Bake Off – in a festive extra-long episode before the examples end with the debut of a chitinous band of merrie “men” and a new Ladybird Robin Hood…

Barbarian Celebrity Chef Gorebrah! crushes evil whilst concocting outrageous recipes and tasty treats so he’s the ideal exemplar of the Gastronomic Guffaw: offering a selection of dishes and disasters including prehistoric demonic biscuits embedded in glacial ice, princess-flavoured milkshakes, monopolised by cloud-dwelling giants, smoky sausage bats and a duel with a rival gustatory wild man.

Later mirth -&-mayhem packed menus include the gnomish origins of pasta salad and the creepiest dish in the world, saved from an alien invader deep inside an Antarctic culinary school…

Th scientific arguments crash to a halt with the Uncontrollable Giggle as Looshkin – the Adventures of the Maddest Cat in the World!! – seals the thesis with a sleek sheen of feline frenzy and surreal Shock and Awe.

Devised by Jamie Smart (yeah, the guy who invented Bunny vs. Monkey, Corporate Skull and bunches of other brilliant strips for Beano, Dandy and others) this is a brilliantly bonkers addition to the vast feline pantheon of truly horrifying hairballs infesting the graphic universe.

This anarchic kitty is just like yours: cute, innocently malign and able to twist the bounds of credibility and laws of physics whenever the whim takes him…

Quite naturally, the epic begins with an origin of sorts as Mrs Alice Johnson brings home a kitten from the pet shop. Not one of the adorable little beauties at the front of the store, though, but the odd, creepy, lonely little fuzzy hidden at the back of the store…

The Johnsons are not your average family. Firstborn son Edwin watches too many horror films and keeps a book of spells in his room whilst Dad is a brilliant inventor who needs peace and quiet to complete his fart-powered jet-pack or potato-powered tractor. It’s not long before those days are gone for good…

The sweet little daughter isn’t all she seems either: when kitten Looshkin is subjected to an innocent tea party in the garden, her toys all secretly warn the cat of the horrors in store. All too soon teddy bear Bear is subjected to a hideous cake-arson assault.

Surprisingly, Looshkin takes it all in stride and even escalates the carnage and chaos whenever and however he can. It seems he has found his natural home… or is it all in his be-whiskered little head?

The selection opens with ‘How to Make Friends and Annoy Bears’ as the cat’s nocturnal pranks result in cacophonous calamity after which ‘ThbthbtThhhhhhhhhhhHonk!’ reveals the lengths some folk will go to in executing the perfect raspberry…

‘Danger Sausage’ might not be everyone’s ideal superhero but Looshkin thinks he’s the business, after which a frog glove-puppet claims ‘I’m Not to Blame’ when a bulldozer destroys the garden…

‘Wooooooo – cough – oooooooh!!’ proves that even ghosts know when they’re outclassed in the scaring stakes after which ‘Meanwhile in Croydon’ finds the frenetic feline getting a job in marketing and ‘Nee-Naw! Nee-Naw! Nee-Naw! Neeeee-Nawww!’ sees the transition to a nursing career after almost fatally injuring Mr. Johnson.

Science then goes Boink! and reality gets temporarily inverted with the mind-bending ‘Big Silly Blue Cat Who Are You and What are you Doing in my House? before consistency, if not normality, are restored in ‘With Great Power Comes Giant Lasers’ as a certain cat becomes US president and leader of the Free World. Don’t scoff; stranger things have happened…

‘Due to an Incident involving Angry Clowns There Now Follows a Change in our Usual Programming’ see the madcap mouser drawn into the mesmerising power of old sitcoms whilst ‘Doorbell Ding Dong!!’ opens a war of postal one-upmanship between cat and Bear…

The brain-blasting advent of the cat’s mercurial Great Uncle Olaf begins with ‘Loooshkin! Oh Looshkin, Where Are You? You’ve Been Missing for Ages’ but is soon sidelined when Edwin’s magical library is used to call up something dreadful by ‘The Lump Whisperer’

When Looshkin indulges in some prognostication the outcome is never in doubt especially for ‘Pig!’, but the cat is back on terrifying form in ‘Ooooh!! I’m Bustin’!’ when an outbreak of gastric unhappiness coincides with the sudden sabotage of every toilet in town…

There’s a big surprise for all concerned when Looshkin invents a vicious new game in ‘A New Challenger Appears!’ before everything wraps up in seasonal spirit with a bizarre trip to the twilight zone of yule tide with ‘A Christmas Special!!’

Arguments thus presented, (see what I did there?) this bonanza tome – packed with fun, thrills and the type of bizarre, nonsensical wonderment kids love but can’t explain to anyone over 21 – leaves it to you to judge the veracity of the science. That’s best done by reading and rereading The Funniest Book Ever: a superb package of British-style children’s humour and adventure any parent should be proud to own. Christmas is Saved!
Text and illustrations © 2018 Jaimie Smart, James Turner, Laura Ellen Anderson, Jess Bradley, Gary Northfield, James Stayte as appropriate. All rights reserved.


By Steven Weissman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-866-4

Steven Weissman was born in California in 1968 and grew up to be an exceptionally fine and imaginative cartoonist. He’s worked for Alternative Comics, Last Gasp, Dark Horse, Marvel, DC, Vice and Nickelodeon Magazine among others, and his artistic sensibilities have been influenced and shaped by such disparate forces as Super-Deformed manga, “Our Gang” comedies, Abbott and Costello, Dan Clowes, Mike Allred and Peanuts – the strip, not the versatile if sometimes potentially fatal foodstuff.

Much of his groundbreaking, award-winning early work, dating from the mid-1990s, offered a post-modern, skewed and alternative view of friendship, childhood, world weirdness and people’s meanness and can all be enjoyed over and over again in such stunning compilations as Tykes, Lemon Kids, Don’t Call Me Stupid, White Flower Day, Chocolate Cheeks and others. The French and Japanese – who really know quality comics – love him lots and have done so for years.

In 2012 Weissman literally went back to the drawing board, un-and-re-creating himself and his aesthetic methodology for a and unbelievably enchanting hardcover weekly online strip entitled Barack Hussein Obama which has since been collected into a series of stunning cartoon books about the unsuspected nature of modern America. Gosh, I miss those days…

Today though in the spirit of the season we’re revisiting some of his earlier material…

If there is such a thing as ‘Dark and Comforting’ then Weissman’s weird and wicked early cartooning is a perfect example. Following the success of Chewing Gum in Church and Kid Firechief, Fantagraphics promptly compiled earlier works from his self-published Yikes!; amply supplemented with other rare and even unpublished strips to create a lovely insight into the development of a truly unique graphic vision.

These 32 tales, (still available in paperback and digital editions) were all created between 1993 and 2002, and feature his cast of deeply peculiar children in a macabre tribute to Charles Schulz’s signature strip, but they are also literal embodiments of the phrase “little monsters”.

In simple childhood romps such as ‘The See-Thru Boy’, ‘The Loneliest Girl in Town’, ‘Inevitable Time-Travel Story’, ‘No Kiss!’ and many others, the bizarre cast of Li’l Bloody (a child vampire), Kid Medusa, Pullapart Boy and X-Ray Spence live an idyllically suburban 1950’s existence of school, fishing, skateboards, white picket fences, aliens, wheelchair jousting, marbles and weird science.

Weissman’s seductive cast all have huge round heads and ancient bodies like graphic progeria-sufferers, but the drawing is lavish, seductive and utterly convincing.

These are great comics about kids (but perhaps regarded as Best Not For Kids) that are a treat, a revelation and most definitely darkly comforting.
MEAN © 2007 Fantagraphics Books. All content © 2007 Steven Weissman. All Rights Reserved.

Guide to Groot – a Sound Book

By Matthew K. Manning & Nicholas Rix (Becker & Mayer! books/Quarto)
ISBN: 978-0-7603-6217-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sheer Delight for Youngsters of Any Age… 9/10

Technically speaking, Groot is one of Marvel’s oldest characters, having debuted as a woody alien invader in Tales to Astonish #13 (cover-dated November 1960), a good year before Fantastic Four #1.

Crafted by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, ‘I Challenged Groot! The Monster from Planet X’ revealed how a studious biologist saved humanity from a rapacious rampaging tree intent on stealing Earth cities and shipping them back to his distant world. That tale’s not in this tome, because in the intervening decades the deciduous despot cleaned up his act, pruned off the bad wood and now resides firmly on the side of the good guys…

As a beloved star of print and screen, the leafy legend has profoundly planted himself in the hearts of kids everywhere and this nifty marriage of sound and vision allows readers to enjoy a succession of cool narrative image scenarios by Nicholas Rix whilst Rocket Raccoon (in his identity of author Matthew K. Manning) clarifies the intricacies of Groot’s seemingly limited vocabulary in text. And all while Groot emotes right in your ears!

This is all achieved via a selection of 10 pushbutton activated sound files, each revealing the utterance nuances of the titanic timber-man’s 3-word vocalisations.

Following Rocket’s Introduction, the lessons commence with “I Am Groot” which of course means ‘Hello’ whereas the second spoken “I Am Groot” reveals just how the super sapling says ‘Did You Mean This?’

You get the picture – and they’re all beautifully rendered illustrations of key moments featuring Star-Lord, Gamora, Mantis, Drax, Rocket and other old favourites – as they are followed in close order by ‘I Gotcha’, ‘Nope. Not Gonna Happen’, ‘Geez. Leave Me Alone, Already’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Trust Me. I Got This’, ‘I Want That!’, ‘Face My Wrath, Chumps!’ and ‘I Love You’

This is a marvellously accessible addition to any fan’s library or toybox so it’s a shame that Guide to Groot is not available in the UK yet. Still, as I’m sure you know the internet is your friend in situations like these…

I am Groot I am Groot I am Groot, I am Groot I am Groot I Am Groot I am Groot-I am Groot I am Groot I am…
© 2018 Marvel. MARVEL and all characters, names and distinct likenesses thereof ™ & © 2018 Marvel characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Black Island

By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-806-2 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-61-1 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi accomplished 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

Originally published as monochrome strip Le Mystère De L’Avion Gris (The Mystery of the Grey Plane) from April 15th to November 16th 1937, the stirring saga was rerun in French Catholic newspaper Coeurs Vallaint from April 17th 1938. Its doom-laden atmosphere of espionage, criminality and darkly gathering storms settling upon the Continent clearly caught the public imagination…

Later that year Éditions Casterman released the entire epic as L’Île noire in a hardback volume that Hergé hated. It was eventually re-released in 1943, reformatted, extensively redrawn and in full colour and was greeted with rapturous success and acclaim.

Further revisions came after Tintin crossed the channel into British bookstores. The Black Island required a number of alterations to suit British publisher Methuen, leading to Herge’s assistant Bob De Moor travelling to England in 1961 for an extensive and extremely productive fact-finding mission which resulted in a new revised and updated edition that appeared not only here but was again serialised in Europe.

One evening as Tintin and Snowy are enjoying a walk in the country, a small plane experiences engine trouble and ditches in a field. When the helpful reporter offers assistance, he is shot…

Visited in hospital by bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson, the patient discovers they’re off to England to investigate the crash of an unregistered plane. Putting the meagre facts together Tintin discharges himself, and with Snowy in tow, catches the boat-train to Dover.

The young gallant is utterly unaware that he’s been targeted by sinister figures. Before journey’s end they have framed him for an assault and had him arrested. All too soon the wonder boy has escaped and is hounded across the countryside as a fugitive.

Despite the frantic pursuit, he makes it safely to England, having temporarily eluded the authorities, but is still being pursued by the murderous thugs who set him up…

He is eventually captured by the gangsters – actually German spies – and uncovers a forgery plot that circuitously leads him to the wilds of Scotland and a (visually stunning) “haunted” castle on an island in a Loch.

Undaunted, the bonny boy reporter goes undercover to investigate and discovers the gang’s base. He also finds out to his peril that the old place is guarded by a monstrous ape…

And that’s when the action really takes off…

This superb adventure, powerfully reminiscent of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, guarantees the cherished notion that, as always, virtue, daring and a huge helping of comedic good luck inevitably leads to a spectacular and thrilling denouement…

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, now is the time series to rectify that sorry situation.

The Black Island: artwork © 1956, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1966 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

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

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.