Fifty Freakin’ Years with the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers


By Gilbert Shelton & various (Knockabout Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-261-6 (TPB)

Because you’re all decent, deity-fearing, upstanding citizens you’re probably utterly unaware of the extensive sub-culture which has grown up around the recreational abuse of narcotic pharmaceuticals – and so, of course, am I – but it must be said: those counter-culture chaps certainly know how to craft a comic tale.

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers first appeared in Texas local paper The Rag, shambling out of the gradually burgeoning Underground Commix counter-culture wave in 1968. They jumped to Berkeley Print Mint’s Feds ‘n’ Heads, and New York tabloid The East Village Other before creator Gilbert Shelton and a few friends moved to California and founded their own San Francisco based Rip Off Press in 1969.

This effective collective continued to maximise the madness as the hilarious antics of the “Freaks” (a contemporary term for lazy, dirty, drug-taking hippy folks) captured the imagination of the open-minded portions of America and the world.

In 1971, they published the first compilation: The Collected Adventures of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers – which has been in print all around the planet ever since – and soon assorted underground magazines and college papers were joined by the heady likes of Rip Off Comix, High Times and Playboy (as well as numerous foreign periodicals) in featuring the addictive adventures of Freewheelin’ Franklin, Phineas T. Freakears and Fat Freddy Freekowtski (and his cat): siblings in sybaritic self-indulgence.

Always written by Shelton and, from 1974 illustrated by Dave Sheridan (until his death in 1982) and latterly Paul Mavrides and others, the disjointed strips (sorry; drug-humour is just irresistible…) combined canny satirical cynicism, surreal situations, scatological sauciness and an astounding grasp of human nature in brilliantly comedic episodes that cannot fail to amuse anyone with a mature sense of humour.

All the strips have been collected in various formats (in Britain by the equally fine and fabulous folks of Knockabout Comics) and have been happily absorbed by vast generations of fans – most of whom wouldn’t read any other comic.

Despite the hippy-dippy antecedents and stoner presentiments, Shelton is irrefutably a consummate professional and born storymaker. His ideas are always enchantingly fresh yet deviously skewed, the dialogue is permanently spot-on and his pacing perfect. The stories, whether half-page fillers, short vignettes or full-blown sagas, start strong and relentlessly build to spectacular – and often wildly outrageous, hallucinogenic yet narrative-appropriate – climaxes.

And they’re so very, very funny.

Without Shelton and the Freaks, the whole sub-genre of slacker/stoner movies, from Cheech and Chong’s assorted escapades to Dude, Where’s My Car? and all the rest – good, bad or indifferent – wouldn’t exist. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you…

Freewheelin’ Franklin is the tough, street-savvy one who can pull the chicks best, Phineas T. is a wildly romantic, educated and dangerous (to himself) intellectual, whilst Fat Freddy is you and me; weak-willed, greedy, not so smart, vastly put upon by an uncaring universe but oddly charming (you wish…)

One last point: despite the vast panoply of drugs imbibed, both real and invented, the Freaks don’t ever do heroin – which should tell you something…

This commemorative paperback album – now also available digitally – celebrates the trio’s astounding popularity and longevity, opening with a little look back in astonishment via Shelton’s Introduction ‘Fifty Freakin’ Years’ which offers fascinating historical insights and context in an Authorised History that wonderfully shares and captures the tone of those times, augmented by commentary, sketches, posters and found art, candid photos and loads of wry reflections.

Combining classic tales with 28 pages of new material by Shelton, plus loving spoofs and parodies from select cartoonists, the parade of seditious smut and filth opens with full-colour fiasco ‘Phineas Becomes a Suicide Bomber’, wherein the sensitive soul seeks to impress a rabble-rousing feminist icon and accidentally disrupts a glitzy convocation of smug one-percenters…

A pin-up of ‘Flora & Fawna the Jailbait Twins’ (don’t fret; these drawings admit they’re actually over 18 and only look younger…) is followed by more uproarious mayhem when one of our heroes is mugged by kids. Not at all overreacting, ‘Franklin got his Gun!’ when he stumbles into a right wing (aren’t they all?) Gun Show and accidentally triggers a bloodbath…

Following a transcendental moment from 2013 when ‘Mr. Natural meets Fat Freddy’, eternal quester Freekowtski goes on an all-out quest for enlightenment in the hilariously blasphemous ‘Fat Freddy Gets Religion’ revealing the holy power of alcohol – specifically ‘Tall Toad’ beer…

First seen in 2009, ‘The Adventures of the Fabulous Fat Freddy’ combines his search for love and understanding with an unsuspected appreciation of great art before diverting to a beguiling illustrated prose anecdote about storytelling from Shelton.

A selection of homages spoof and parodies follow, beginning with ‘Geek Brothers!’ by Jay Lynch from Bijou Funnies, backed up in stark monochrome by ‘The Feminine Furry-Legged Freek! Sisters’ and its accompanying bottom strip ‘Fat Frieda’s Ass’; both courtesy of Willy Murphy & Ted Richards from The National Lampoon Book of Comical Funnies.

In living colour, the cover of Shelton tribute book Fabuleux Furieux! is followed by Hunt Emerson’s parody ‘Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers’ as seen within it, preceding original strip ‘Scotland Yardie vs the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers’ by Bobby Joseph & Joseph Samuels.

Unused art for a Flash animation, ‘The Fabulous Furry Freak Brother’s Strut March’ opens a selection of found art and commissioned works, including 2008 art by Shelton for the 40th Anniversary of comic phenomenon Lambiek; Freak Brothers bank notes; illustrations of Mort Walker’s Comic Strip Lexicon, an Amsterdam Street Scene, Armadillo Rodeo, Street Freaks, poster for a Paris music store and more.

Other stuff includes personalised birthday cards, posters, film festival graphics and covers, sticker art, excerpts from Shelton’s Motoring Tips series, a tribute page to the many artistic co-contributors who added to the grubby lustre of the Freaks over the First Fifty Years and much, much more.

Anarchically sardonic and splendidly ludicrous, the madcap slapstick of the Freak Brothers is always an irresistible and joyously innocent tonic for the blues and this book – available in paperback and digital editions – should be a compulsory experience for any fan of the comics medium. However, if you’re still worried about the content, which is definitely habit-forming, simply read but don’t inhale…
© 2017 Gilbert Shelton. All rights reserved.

Pocket Full of Rain and Other Stories


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiny Titans: The First Rule of Pet Club…


By Art Baltazar & Franco with Geoff Johns & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2892-7 (TPB)

DC’s Cartoon Network imprint was a potent and fun bastion of children’s comics in America and consolidated the link between TV and 2D fun and thrills with stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Ben 10, Scooby Doo, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory and others. The comics line also produced some truly exceptional material based on TV iterations of their proprietary characters such as Legion of Super Heroes, Batman: Brave and the Bold and Krypto the Super Dog as well as original material like Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! which was merely indistinguishable in tone and content.

Perhaps the imprint’s finest release was a series ostensibly aimed at early readers but which quickly became a firm favourite of older fans – and a multi-award winner too.

Superbly mirroring the magical wonderland inside a child’s head where everything is happily mixed up together, Tiny Titans became a sublime nostalgia-weaponised antidote to continuity cops and slavish fan-boy quibbling by reducing the vast cast of the Teen Titans animated series, the greater boutique of mainstream comicbooks and, eventually, the entire DC Universe to little kids and their parents/guardians in the wholesome kindergarten environment of Sidekick City Elementary School.

It’s a scenario spring-loaded with in-jokes, sight-gags and beloved yet gently mocked paraphernalia of generations of strip readers and screen-watchers….

Collecting issues #19-25 (spanning October 2009 – April 2010) of the magically madcap and infinitely addictive all-ages mini-masterpiece, this fourth volume begins on a romantic note with Deep in Like.

Art Baltazar and co-creator Franco (Aureliani) mastered a witty, bemusingly charming style of storytelling that just happily rolls along, with assorted characters getting by, trying to make sense of the great big world and just coincidentally having “Adventures in Awesomeness”. The method generally involves stringing together smaller incidents and moments into an overall themed portmanteau tale and it works astoundingly well.

After a handy and as-standard identifying roll-call page, ‘Imagine Me and You…’ finds scary blob Plasmus and tiny winged Bumblebee brighten up each other’s drab day, before a similar cupid moment affects the Brain and M’sieu Mallah even as diligent Robin (accompanied by faithful Bat-hound Ace) finds his earnest attempts to finish his homework disturbed by a succession of pesky young ladies including Starfire, Batgirl and Duella all caught up in a ‘Like Triangle’.

‘Dates’ sees Bumblebee and Plasmus inadvertently causing chaos during an afternoon movie monster mash – and even the ‘Intermission’ – after which a sly sight gag for us oldies highlights the company’s many Wonder Girls in ‘Jump Rope’.

The hallowed anthropoid obsession of DC is highlighted in ‘New Recruits’ when Beast Boy chairs a meeting of the Titans Ape Club before regular feature The Kroc Files depicts ultimate butler Alfred, roguish reptilian star Kroc and Plasmus each demonstrating ‘How to Enjoy a Lollipop’ in their own signature manner…

The issue closes with a word puzzle whilst the next promises to disclose The Hole Truth about Raven: beginning with a daybreak disaster at ‘Home with the Trigons’. Raven’s dad is an antlered, crimson trans-dimensional devil-lord – and a teacher at Sidekick Elementary – so when he oversleeps, his sorceress scion gets him to work on time by simply opening a few wormholes.

Of course, leaving those dimensional doors around is just asking for trouble…

Meanwhile it’s washday at Wayne Manor, but Alfred won’t let Robin, Beast Boy or Aqualad go down ‘To the Batcave’. Sadly, even the dapper domestic can’t withstand united pester-power and eventually gives in… and learns to regret it…

Following a perplexing maze game-page, the All Pet Club Issue! launches as Starfire and mean sister Blackfire write home for their beloved critters Silky and Poopu, so that they can go to the oh-so-secret social event, whilst can-do kid Cyborg actually builds himself a brace of chrome companions in ‘Pet-Tronics’

With ‘Club Hoppin’’, the entire school gathers with their uniquely compatible pets and interview some potential new members – specifically tongue-tied and thunderstruck Captain Marvel Junior and his fuzzy pal Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny. With so many members, the club then has to find roomier quarters, leading to a painful tryst for Beast Boy and Terra in ‘Meanwhile, on the Moon…’

There’s a brilliant vacuum-packed bonus pin-up of the Tiny Titans in space from Franco before Hot Dogs, Titans, & Stretchy Guys! finds the kids back on solid ground and wrapped up with the DCU’s many flexible fellows as ‘Offspring into Action’ introduces Plastic Man’s excitably boisterous bonny boy.

In ‘Just Playing and Bouncing’ Bumblebee spends some time with the diminutive Atoms Family but loses control of their Teeny-Weeny, Super Duper Bouncy Ball and accidentally gets Plastic Man, Offspring, Elongated Man and Elastic Lad all wound up before helplessly watching it bowl over Principal Slade and Coach Lobo in ‘Coffee Dog Latte’.

Thankfully, Robin has exactly the right gimmick in his utility belt to set things straight, but can’t stay since he’s en route to his Bird Scouts meeting. Here potential new members Hot Spot and Flamebird are trying out for Hawk, Dove, Raven and Talon. Distressingly, when shiny Golden Eagle turns up, the girls want to make him the new leader…

The semi-regular ‘Epilogue’ page often supplies one more punch-line to cap each themed issue and this one leads directly into a convoluted and confounding Elastic Four pin-up/cover which in turn precedes a spookily uproarious tale of Bats, Bunnies, and Penguins in the Batcave! Oh My!...

It all begins in ‘Ice to Meet Ya!’ when Wayne Manor’s extraordinarily large penguin population get into a turf war with the house rabbits, displacing the Batcave’s regular inhabitants in ‘Driving Me Batty’. The conflict escalates in ‘All in the Batman Family’ before Robin gets a rather stern admonition from his senior partner to put things right or else…

Happily, ever-so-cute and capable Batgirl is willing to lend a hand – but (unfortunately) so too are the kids she’s baby-sitting (Tim and Jason: you’ll either get that or you won’t, bat-fans) and impishly infuriating Batmite

With even Batcow helping out, things soon start calming down, but ‘Meanwhile, at the Titans’ Treehouse…’ not all of the fugitive Bat-bats have heard the good news…

Once your ribs have stopped hurting you can then enjoy a Tiny Titans Aw Yeah Pin-up by Franco before The All Small Issue! starts with assorted big kids accidentally drinking ‘Milk! Milk!’ from the Atoms’ fridge and shrinking away to nearly nothing.

Good thing the Atomic nippers think to call their dad, who’s with fellow dwindlers Ant, Molecule and substitute Atoms Adam and Ryan (another in-continuity howler targeting dedicated fans) for a Team Nucleus meeting…

That compressive cow-juice causes more trouble in the ‘Epilogue’ before a Blue Beetle puzzle clears the mind prior in advance of an outrageous ending in Superboy Returns! in a fairly cosmic crossover – with additional scripting by Geoff Johns.

When Conner Kent shows up, all the girls are really impressed and distracted, whilst across town Speedy is trading a lot of junk he shouldn’t be touching to Mr. Johns’ Sidekick City Pawn Shop and Bubblegum Emporium in ‘Brightest Day in the Afternoon!’

When Starfire and Stargirl then buy the seven different coloured “mood rings” from the shop, they and BFFs Duella, Batgirl, Wonder Girl, Terra and Shelly, are turned into Green, Red, Yellow, Orange, Blue, Violet and Indigo Lanterns!

Soon, the Tiny Titans are up in the air again and annoying the Guardians of the Universe and their Green Lantern Corps.

It all ends well though, first in an Emerald ‘Epilogue’ and a lavish pin-up of a passel of pistachio-painted interplanetary peace-keepers…

Available in trade paperback and digital formats and despite being ostensibly aimed at super-juniors and TV kids, these wonderful, wacky yarns – which marvellously marry the heart and spirit of such classic strips as Peanuts and The Perishers with something uniquely mired and marinated in pure comic-bookery – are deliciously hilarious tales no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, and wickedly intoxicating. Go mellow out with some kids’ stuff, now, okay?
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns


By Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson (Limerance/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-499-6 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-62010-500-9

Comic strips have long been acknowledged as an incredibly powerful tool to educate, rendering tricky or complex issues easily accessible. They also have an overwhelming ability to affect and change behaviour and have been used for centuries by politicians, religions, the military and commercial concerns to modify how we live our lives.

Here’s a splendid example of the art form using its great powers for good…

Despite what the old adage might say, words are not only harmful, but also shape how people react to or regard… well, everything.

Semantic shading is prevalent in all aspects of human communication, and predisposes us to respond in certain manners; frequently in contradiction to all other data. I still have a scar on my finger from when I was nine and picked up a cute, cuddly, playfully welcoming kitten, clearly in a manner it found inappropriate and uncomfortable.

In the social contract we all live under, every person (and almost all of the animals and some complex machinery) should expect to be treated with courtesy and in terms they find comfortable and acceptable. I have used nine different pen-names in a long and undistinguished creative career and respond to them equally, as readily as my own name (no matter how badly mangled it might be by people I don’t expect to possess any facility or familiarity with the Eastern European pronunciation or syntax it stems from).

I don’t even care if people call me “madam” or late for dinner.

I’m somewhat less sanguine about rude or aggressive people using “oi, mate”, “baldy” or “hey you”. I have no patience at all for those who smugly tell me I’m saying my own name wrong…

At least I’m fortunate enough to fall into a broad category of cisgendered folk who unthinkingly share appropriately-gendered pronouns. That’s not a situation everybody enjoys, but is one that can and should be rectified. Misgendering (intentional or otherwise) is arrogant, lazy, impolite and selfish: It’s 2019 and we should all be accepted on our own terms by now.

All it takes is willingness and a little effort… and – if these concepts are new to you – this extremely engaging little paperback guide, crafted by two lifelong friends addressing the issue from the most different of positions.

Archie Bongiovanni is non-binary: identifying as a genderqueer artist who feels “Him” and “Her” are not pronouns that apply or are relevant. As part of a widely diverse and continually diversifying society, they (that was me doing the gender pronoun thing, there) feel those terms can – and should – be supplemented by other, neutral words: in this specific case “They” or “Them”.

Tristan Jimerson is a cisgendered man who works as a copywriter and runs a restaurant. As part of an inherited social majority he had no choice in originally defining, he is keen to adjust the way he refers to people so as be inclusive, polite and non-discriminatory.

The book they created together is inexpensive, informative, great fun and available in physical and digital editions (so you should get loads of copies and start giving them to everybody you know).

It also means the only terms you’re getting for free here are the aforementioned Non-Binary – meaning someone who does not identify as either male or female – and Cisgender – which translates as a person who agrees and accepts the gender they were assigned at birth. If you need clarification on terms like “gender” or “pronoun” that’s what books and search engines are for; and check back to what I just said about being lazy…

As well as simple, affable explanations, tips and hints, you’ll find here cartoon reference charts and lists clarifying what to say, to whom and when, with examples and suggestions for why you should rethink your viewpoint if you’re feeling reluctant, or recalcitrant. Readers will be gently introduced to concepts such as ‘YOLO’, ‘Why Pronouns Matter’ and ‘How to use They/Them pronouns in Everyday life: A Practical Guide!’ as well as profiting from sections ‘For Folks Identifying with Alternative Pronouns’ and much more…

A handy guide to simple courtesy and common human decency, this is a marvellous attempt to help us all get along a little more easily. Maybe we should find an equivalent publication dealing with climate change, commercial expediency and political short-termism…?
A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns ™ & © 2018 Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson. All rights reserved.

I Am Going to Be Small


By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-891830-86-0 (PB)

If you’re a fan of Jeffrey Brown’s cartoon exploits you might understandably admit to a small degree of confusion. In 2012 he scored his first global best-seller with a hilarious spin on the nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son, following up with equally charming and hilarious sequels such as Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars: Jedi Academy and others. He added contributions to the expanded Star Wars franchise’s dramatic comics canon and has directed music videos, created film posters, worked for public radio and co-written the feature film Save the Date.

Before that another Jeffrey Brown was the sharply sparkling wit who had crafted slyly satirical all-ages funny stuff for The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, Marvel’s Strange Tales, Incredible Change-Bots and similar visual venues. His current big thing is the Lucy & Andy Neanderthal series of books.

There is yet another Jeffrey Brown: instigator and frequent star and stooge of such quirkily irresistible autobiographical Indy comics classics as Bighead, Little Things, Funny, Misshapen Body, Undeleted Scenes and the 4-volume “Girlfriend Trilogy” comprising Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU and Every Girl is the End of the World for Me

Whichever Brown’s your preferred choice, he’s a cartoonist of rare insight and unflinching integrity who still makes you laugh out loud when not prompting you to offer a big consoling hug. That’s what this landscape landmark (available in paperback and eBook editions) is about – “a collection of gag and humour cartoons 1997-2006”…

Brown was raised in Michigan; relocating to Chicago in 2000 to attend the School of the Arts Institute and study painting. Before graduating he had switched to drawing comics and in 2002 Clumsy was released. A poignant and uncompromising dissection of a long-distance relationship, it quickly became a surprise hit with fans and critics alike. A little later – and in the same vein – he produced Unlikely (or How I Lost My Virginity) a True Love Story: “250+ pages of young love, sex, drugs, heartbreak & comedy” involving the long and agonisingly extended process of “becoming a Man”….

Here, those evergreen themes are constantly revisited and expanded upon: a succession of painful torments, frustrations and moments of unparalleled joy, but rubbing pimply shoulders with straight-up whimsy, surreal and gross-out gags, observational comedy and anything the swiftly-developing cartoonist deemed worthy of his brief attention. The result is painfully funny…

Here you will find uplifting homilies gone awry, college days captured in all their bleakness, sports – and sportsmen – dissected, movies reviewed and trashed, faux ads and products, the magic of boxes, religion, excess and guilt, god and Jesus, animal crackers, food, dining, unicorns, atrocious puns, the wonder of toys, war and the military, ex-girlfriends, babies, torture and mutilation and lots of observations on the dating arena.

There, at the rear end of the book, is a selection of anthropomorphic yet sophisticated mishaps featuring of a bunch of animals – Bunny, Bear, Bird and Cat – enduring the torment of interspecies attraction (and repulsion), all gathered together under the umbrella title ‘Cuticle’

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: brimming with shameful glee and subversive wit, this a fabulous voyage of graphic and comedic self-indulgence for everybody who has passed the raging hormones stage of existence and is happy to enjoy the plight of others still suffering…

It is to laugh…
© 2006 Jeffrey Brown.

Adventures of Tintin: Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon



By Hergé, Bob De Moors and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-815-4 (HB Destination) 978-1-40520-627-3 (TPB Destination)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-816-1 (HB Explorers) 978-1-40520-628-0 (TPB Explorers)
As Tintin’s Moon Adventure (Magnet/Methuen) ISBN: 978-0-41696-710-4 (TPB)
Forthcoming – Tintin on the Moon (Egmont) ISBN: 978-1405295901 (HB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created an incontrovertible masterpiece of graphic literature with his 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 other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he created 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.

On leaving school in 1925, he worked for the conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy-scout, a year later Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine, and by 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of the newspaper’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Wallez asked Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus appropriated and controlled by the Nazis).

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands and allowed the artist and his team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by and unwillingly added to ideologically shade the war time adventures as well as generally improving and updating great tales that were about to become a global phenomenon.

With World War II over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure.

In 1949 he returned to unfinished yarn Tintin au pays de l’or noir; abandoned when the Nazis invaded Belgium. The story had been commissioned by Le Vingtiéme Siécle, running from 28th September 1939 until 8th May 1940 when the paper was closed down. Set on the eve of a European war, the plot revolved around Tintin hunting seditionists and saboteurs sabotaging oil supplies in the Middle East. Before being convinced to update and complete the tale as Land of Black Gold, Hergé briefly toyed with the notion of taking his cast into space…

Collected albums Objectif Lune and On a marché sur la Lune were huge hits after the initial serialisation in Le Journal de Tintin from 30th March 1950 to 7th September 1950 and – after what must have been an intolerable wait for readers – from 29th October 1952 to 29th December 1953.

The tale was produced after discussions between Hergé and his friends Bernard Heuvelmans (scientist, author and father of pseudo-science Cryptozoology) and Jacques Van Melkebeke (AKA George Jacquet: strip scripter, painter, journalist and a frequent if unacknowledged contributor to the Tintin canon). The sci fi epic that became a 2-volume masterpiece first made the leap to English in 1959.

On a personal note: I first read Destination Moon in 1964, in a huge hardcover album edition (as they all were in the 1960s) and was blown completely away. I’m happy to say that except for the smaller pages – and there’s never a substitute for “Big-ness” – this taut thriller and its magnificent, mind-boggling sequel are still in a class of their own in the annals of science fiction comic strips…

Moreover, during the 1980s the entire tale was (repeatedly) released in a combined tome as Tintin’s Moon Adventure: an utterly inescapable piece of publishing common sense that is finally being repeated this summer in a new hardback album from Methuen…

Our tale begins with our indomitable boy reporter and Captain Haddock returning to ancestral pile Marlinspike Hall only to discover that brilliant but “difficult” savant Professor Cuthbert Calculus has disappeared. When an enigmatic telegram arrives, the puzzled pair are off once again to Syldavia (as seen in King Ottokar’s Sceptre) and a rendezvous with the missing boffin…

Although suspicious, Tintin soon finds that the secrecy is for sound reasons. In Syldavia, Calculus and an international team of researchers and technologists are completing a grand project to put a man on the Moon! In a turbulent race against time and amidst a huge and all-encompassing security clampdown, the scheme nears completion, but Tintin and Haddock’s arrival coincides with a worrying increase in espionage activity.

An enemy nation or agency is determined to steal the secrets of Calculus’s groundbreaking atomic motor at any cost, and it takes all Tintin’s ingenuity to keep ahead of the villains. The arrival of detectives Thompson and Thomson adds nothing to the aura of anxiety but their bumbling investigations and Calculus’ brief bout of concussion-induced amnesia do provide some of the funniest moments in comics history…

As devious incidents and occurrences of sabotage increase in intensity and frequency, it becomes clear that there may be a traitor inside the project itself, but at last the moment arrives and Tintin, Haddock, Calculus, technologist Dr. Frank Wolff – and Snowy – blast off for the Moon!

Cold, clinical and superbly underplayed, Destination Moon is completely unlike the flash-and-dazzle razzamatazz of British and American tales from that period – or since. It is as if the burgeoning Cold War mentality of the era has infected even Tintin’s bright clean world. Once again, the pressure of work and Hergé’s troubled private life resulted in a breakdown and a hiatus in the strip – but this time some of that darkness transferred to the material – although it only seems to have added to the overall effect of claustrophobia and paranoia. Even the comedy set-pieces are more manic and explosive: This is possibly the most mature of all Tintin’s exploits…

Presumably to offset the pressures of creation to weekly deadlines, the master founded Studio Hergé on 6th April 1950: a public company to produce the adventures of Tintin as well other features, with Bob De Moor enthroned as chief apprentice.

He became a vital component of Tintin’s gradual domination of the book market, frequently despatched on visual fact-finding missions. De Moor revised the backgrounds of The Black Island for a British edition, and repeated the task for the definitive 1971 release of Land of Black Gold. An invaluable and permanent addition to the production team, De Moor supervised while filling in backgrounds and, most notably, rendering the unforgettable eerie and magnificent Lunar landscapes that feature here.

If the first book is an exercise in tension and suspense, Explorers on the Moon is sheer bravura spectacle. En route to Luna the explorers discover that the idiot detectives have accidentally stowed away, and along with Captain Haddock’s illicit whisky and the effects of freefall, provide brilliant comedy routines to balance the eerie isolation and dramatic dangers of the journey.

Against all odds the lunanauts land and make astounding scientific discoveries, but must cut short their adventures due to the imminent threat of suffocation caused by the introduction of the extra passengers on the fantastic atomic moon rocket…

Moreover, lurking in the shadows, there is still the very real threat of a murderous traitor to be dealt with…

This so-modern yarn is a high point in the series, blending heroism and drama with genuine moments of irresistible emotion and side-splitting comedy. The absolute best of the bunch in my humble opinion, and still one of the most realistic and accurately depicted space comics ever produced. If you only ever read one Hergé saga it simply must be this translunar Adventure of Tintin.
Destination Moon: artwork © 1953, 1959, 1981 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved. Explorers on the Moon: artwork © 1954, 1959, 1982 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

A new combined compilation – Tintin on the Moon – will be released on June 27th 2019 and is available for pre-order now

Time Beavers (First Comics Graphic Novel #2)


By Timothy Truman, with Mark Acres, John K. Snyder, Ken Bruzenak & Linda Lessmann (First Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-9154-1901-2 (PB Album)

Sometimes there’s a feeling in the air that leads to similar concepts “spontaneously” occurring in different places – Swamp Thing and Man-Thing always spring to mind – and sometimes it’s just a bunch of in-tune creators jumping rapidly onto a bandwagon. The Germans (and that includes me on my mother’s side) have a word for it, as they do for so many tricky concepts: “Zeitgeist”.

Whatever the thinking, the phenomenon is real and probably the only bad thing I can even imply about this superb long-lost gem of a book from the ever-excellent Tim Truman, aided by co-creator, Mark Acres, co-designer John K. Snyder, letterer Ken Bruzenak and colourist Linda Lessmann.

That the 1984 debut of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in some part inspired this superb fantasy I have no doubt, but since it was months ahead of the deluge of cheap knock-offs that followed I suspect that creative appreciation rather than greedy speculation fuelled the tale. Moreover, as the tone and content more closely resemble the Bill Mantlo, Keith Giffen & Sal Buscema reimagining of throwaway character Rocket Racoon (who properly debuted in a form you’d recognise in The Incredible Hulk #271, May 1982 before Mike Mignola made him a seminal star in a quirky much-reprinted 4-issue miniseries), any charge of “cashing in” becomes largely irrelevant.

In a dark place beyond the universe the Great Dam of Time regulates the chronological structure of each and every dimension, maintained and defended by high-tech Beavers against sinister extra-cosmic Rats called the Radere. These scurrilous scalawags utilise vile magic and embrace Chaos in their wicked schemes…

Eternally at war since time began, the Rats have suddenly gained a deadly advantage over the Timeguard by removing three objects of power from the Dam itself, and fled to three separate eras on the key world known as Earth.

Now. as the Rat forces mass to finally destroy the critically-weakened dam, only grizzled Captain Slapper, old Doc, faithful Mac and raw recruit Shiner can be spared to follow the Radere to those locations and retrieve the objects before it’s too late…

Even though there are laughs aplenty, this deliciously dark fantasy far exceeds its broadly comedic roots, as the hairy heroes save young D’Artagnan and the Queen of France in 17th Century Paris, foil Abraham Lincoln’s assassins at Gettysburg in 1863 and retrieve the Nagasaki Atom Bomb from Hitler’s bunker in the hours before his suicide in 1945.

Despite cosmic catastrophe, sneaky plot-twists and insidious treachery, the Beavers naturally save the day (and years and centuries), but not without suffering tragedy and heartbreak…

Time Beavers is a grand old romp, with strong characterisation and sharp dialogue that elevate this gritty fantasy far beyond its “funny-animal” antecedents, practically into the realm of “Straight” science fiction, and it’s all captivatingly illustrated with Truman’s trademark graphic intensity. Still readily available, it’s a book that all fans of comics, science fiction and especially science fiction comics should know.
© 1985 First Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1941-1942: “A Ragout of Raspberries”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 978-1-56097-887-9

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the strip Krazy Kat is – for most cartoon cognoscenti – the pinnacle of pictorial narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and elevated itself to the level of a treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which must be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – simultaneously visual and verbal – whilst exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody. Baffled millions, perhaps, but offended… no.

It did go over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few, but Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people: those who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex, multi-layered verbal and cartoon whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been noodling about at the edges of his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and overpowering direct influence and interference – gradually and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and Jack Kerouac) all adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the populace-beguiling comics section.

Eventually the feature found its true home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s doctrinaire patronage and enhanced with the cachet of enticing colour, Kat & Ko. flourished unharmed by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The saga’s basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a truly, proudly unreconstructed male and early forerunner of the men’s rights movement: drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly.

Moreover, by the time of these tales it’s not even a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse spends all his time, energy and ingenuity in heaving missiles at the mild moggy’s bonce. He can’t help himself, and Krazy’s day is bleak and unfulfilled if the hoped-for assault doesn’t happen, but at least in this volume, the brick is supplemented by other projectiles for the sake of variety…

The smitten kitten always misidentifies (or does he?) these gritty gifts as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

The final crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp: completely besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections. Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dolorous dilemma…

Secondarily populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; unsavoury huckster Don Kiyoti, hobo Bum Bill Bee, social climbing busybody Pauline Parrot, portal-packing Door Mouse, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and the increasingly ubiquitous sagacious fowl Mrs. Kwakk Wakk, plus a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language. This last is particularly effective in these later tales: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force and delicious whimsy (“…stomms an’ momsooms, gales an’ tie fooms…” or “octo pusses an’ pinkwins”).

Yet for all that high-fallutin’ intellectualism, these comic adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Kids of any age will delight in them as much as any pompous old git like me and you…

Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a supremely entertaining silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This delirious tome covers all the strips from 1937-1938 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a madly mystical digital edition.

Preceded by candid photos, original art and examples of some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), the splendid pictorial carnival is bolstered by Jeet Heer’s superb analysis of the unique voice of the strip as cited above. This comes in his erudite Introduction ‘Kat Got Your Tongue: Where George Herriman’s Language Came From’ after which the jocularity resumes with January 15th 1941 – with the hues provided by professional separators rather than Herriman.

Within this jubilant journal of passions thwarted, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, but with emphasis shifting more to the varied minor cast members. The usual parade of hucksters and conmen return, but the eternally triangular clashes and confusions – although still a constant – are not the satisfying punchlines they used to be, but rather provide a comforting continuity as the world subtly changes and the Second World War begins to slowly shade the strip and affect the characters…

As well as his semi-permanent incarcerations, Ignatz endures numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions and the plague of travelling conjurors, unemployed magicians and shady clairvoyants still make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary and the gullible fools they target…

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based acquisition and delivery gags but has widened his scope to encompass munition of materials other than clay and shapes more aerodynamic and enticing than bulky rectangles. Perhaps because of Herriman’s own vintage, many characters share a greater appreciation of infirmity and loss of focus, reflected in the reduction of Krazy to a bit player in many of the strips.

Pupp suffers from double vision on occasion and repeatedly tests labour-saving new policing appliances – such as stilts and periscopes – while Colin Kelly moves away from artisanal brick-baking to conveyor-belt mass production. Ignatz tries to bolster his fading energies through unlikely herbal additives – such as spinach – and the entire township (including buildings) suffer protracted bouts of polka-dottedness after the arrival of a dalmatian “koach kanine”. Joe Stork starts using robot planes to deliver his dread bundles of natal joy and responsibility, Ignatz’s much abused wife Magnesia starts her long-delayed resistance and emancipation, and everybody in town can’t seem to get enough sleep…

The ever-changing skies remain a source of wonder and bewilderment with oddly-shaped stellar phenomena abounding, and the Prof from Coconino’s Museum of Palaeontology, Archaeology and Such unearths primeval precursors to our cartoon cast, while modern times are acknowledged through myriad permutations and adaptations to Ignatz’s home-from-home the county jail.

Aged busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk expands her role of wise old crone and sarcastic Greek Chorus; upping her status from bit-player to full-on supporting cast. She has a mean and spiteful beak on her too, whilst laconic vagabond Bum Bill Bee shares his regal origins (a whole bunch of them, in fact) with the hoi polloi in town…

The town barber stokes the flames of passion and reshapes the grizzled heads of many ardent swains seeking to curry the favours of vivacious, exotic new schoolteacher Miss Mimi who is, as everybody is painfully aware, French…

A different form of double vision taxes the Kat’s composure in doses of mirror madness and episodes of powdered katnip overindulgence offer a nosy edge of conspiracy to proceedings, but doesn’t too much curtail Krazy’s efforts in horticulture, nourishing korn and other useful vegetable crops…

The tone of the strips subtly changes from October 1941 with the introduction of Pupp’s mechanised Listening Post. Spying was always a major interest for all citizens, as was stargazing and gossip. Now however, with war clouds forming in the real world, an edge of gloomy but absurdist satire could be detected in many strips, such as when Kelly cuts off the mouse’s brick supply due to clay – like paper, rubber and gasoline – being officially afforded new status as a Military Priority Material…

There’s a marked increasing in winking around town, although those in the know codify the practice as “nictating” and some citizens – such as the pelicans and Mr. Kenga Roo – are subjected to increased stop-&-search indignities too: what with them being born to conceal bricks and brick-tossers…

At least, the traditional fishing, water sports, driving and parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene remain hot topics too…

And, welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora (including a mass ingress of elephants, snakes and worms) for humorous inspiration, while all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity.

This penultimate collection is again supplied with an erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a stupendous and joyous monument to gleeful whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips which have inspired comics creators and auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst fulfilling its basic function: engendering delight and delectation in generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.
© 2008, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Bill Parker, Otto Binder, Elliot S. Maggin, Denny O’Neil, E. Nelson Bridwell, Roy Thomas, Paul Kupperberg, Alan Grant, Jerry Ordway, Joe Kelly, David Goyer, Geoff Johns, Jeff Smith, C.C. Beck, Marc Swayze, Mac Raboy, Pete Costanza, Chad Grothkopf, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Don Newton, Rich Buckler, Barry Kitson, Peter Krause, Duncan Rouleau, Leonard Kirk, Gary Frank & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5538-1 (HB)

At their most impressive, superhero comics combine the gravitas of mythology with all the sheer child-like fun and exuberance of a first rollercoaster ride. A perfect example of this is the original happy-go-lucky hero we can’t call Captain Marvel anymore.

First seen in the February 1940 issue of Whiz Comics (#2 – there was no #1) and cashing in on the comicbook sales phenomenon of Superman, the big red riot eventually won his name after narrowly missing being Captain Flash and Captain Thunder. He was the brainchild of Bill Parker and Charles Clarence Beck. Originally dispensing the same sort of summary rough justice as his contemporaries, the character soon distanced himself from the pack – Man of Steel included – by an increasingly light, surreal and comedic touch, which made him the best-selling comics character in America.

Billy’s alter ego could beat everybody but copyright lawyers; during his years of enforced inactivity the trademarked name passed to a number of other publishers before settling at Marvel Comics and they are never, never, never letting go. You can check out and compare their cinematic blockbuster version with the DC Extended Universe’s Shazam! flick too…

Publishing house Fawcett had first gained prominence through an immensely well-received magazine for WWI veterans entitled Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang, before branching out into books and general interest magazines. Their most successful publication – at least until the Good Captain hit his stride – was the ubiquitous boy’s building bible Mechanix Illustrated and, as the comicbook decade unfolded, the scientific and engineering discipline and “can-do” demeanour underpinning MI suffused and informed both the art and plots of the Marvel Family titles.

As previously stated, the big guy was created by writer/editor Bill Parker and brilliant young artist Charles Clarence Beck who, with his assistant Pete Costanza, handled most of the art on the series throughout its stellar run. Other writers included William Woolfolk, Rod Reed, Ed “France” Herron, Joe Simon, Joe Millard, Manley Wade Wellman and the wonderfully prolific Otto Binder.

Before eventually evolving his own affable personality, the Captain was a serious, bluff and rather characterless powerhouse whilst his junior alter ego was the true star: a Horatio Alger archetype of impoverished, boldly self-reliant and resourceful youth overcoming impossible odds through gumption, grit and sheer determination…

Collecting in a big bold hardback trade paperback (and assorted digital formats) Whiz Comics #2, 21, Captain Marvel Adventures #18, 38, 39, 137, 148, Captain Marvel Jr. #12, Marvel Family #1, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny #6, Shazam! #1, 29, Superman #176, World’s Finest Comics #275, DC Comics Presents #49, L.E.G.I.O.N. ‘91 #31, The Power of Shazam! #1, 2, 33, Action Comics #768, JSA #48, Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil #2, Justice League #21 and The Multiversity: Thunderworld #1 this is a magnificent primer of key moments and triumphs for a hero to whom change is everything…

The action opens in the Golden Age as Part I 1940-1953: The Big Red Cheese offers an abridged version of writer and historian Richard A. Lupoff’s 1992 Introduction to the Shazam Archives volume #1: a context-setting appreciation and appraisal covering the facts of his creation and his impact, after which Whiz Comics #2, (February 1940) provides our glimpse of the boy hero…

Drawn in a style reminiscent of early Hergé, ‘Introducing Captain Marvel’ sees homeless orphan Billy Batson lured into an abandoned subway tunnel to a meeting with millennia-old wizard Shazam. At the end of a long, long life fighting evil, the white-bearded figure grants the lad the power of six gods and heroes (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury) and urges him to carry on the good fight. In thirteen delightfully clean and simple pages crafted by Bill Parker & C.C. Beck, Billy gets his powers, has his secret origin revealed (he’s heir to a fortune embezzled by his crooked uncle Ebenezer), wins a job as a roaming radio reporter for Amalgamated Broadcasting on Station WHIZ, and defeats the mad scheme of Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana who is holding the airwaves of America hostage. Defeating the demonic mad scientist sets a pattern that would captivate readers for the next 14 years…

Next, from Whiz Comics #21 ‘The Vengeful Four’ (September 5th 1941 – fortnightly, remember?) is an uncredited script limned by Beck wherein Sivana gathers three other villains to attack the hero in his youthful identity. What luck then that three other kids named Billy Batson are in town and that the magic of Shazam apparently extends to them…

Fat Billy, Tall Billy and Hill Billy took to trouncing thugs in a trice and, as the Three Lieutenant Marvels, would become frequent guest stars in years to come…

Billy soon found a companion in peril when Fascist überman Captain Nazi almost murders newsboy Freddie Freeman. Guilt-plagued Billy brings the dying lad to Shazam’s mystic citadel where the old wizard saves his life by granting him access to the power of the ancient gods and heroes. Physically cured – except for a permanently maimed leg – there is a secondary effect: whenever he utters the phrase “Captain Marvel” Freeman transforms into a super-powered, invulnerable version of his mortal self…

That origin isn’t included here but does lead into the debut of Billy’s long-lost twin sister. Cover-dated December 11th 1942, Captain Marvel Adventures #18 cover features ‘Captain Marvel Introduces Mary Marvel’ (by Otto Binder, Marc Swayze & Mac Raboy) as radio contest competitor Mary Bromfield – a wealthy (adopted) heiress – is kidnapped. While saving her, Billy and Freddie uncover the family connection and Mary discovers that shouting “Shazam!” has a remarkable effect upon her too…

While the adult Captain Marvel was having increasingly light-hearted adventures, Freddie’s adventures in Master Comics and Captain Marvel Jr. were dark and dramatic: illustrated with potent, dynamic verve and grace by one of the most gifted draughtsmen of the era. A typical magnificent example features here as Captain Marvel Jr. #12, (October 1943, by Binder & Mac Raboy) provides the boy hero with a brutal arctic rematch against Captain Nazi in ‘Baffin Land’

Fawcett in full bloom was a true publishing innovator and marketing dynamo – now regarded as the inventor of many established comicbook sales-tactics, and storytelling innovations we all take for granted today were invented by their creative folk. Fawcett was responsible for creating crossover-events and also devised a truly unforgettable villain as part of a two-year long continued story!

The “Monster Society of Evil” began in March 1943’s Captain Marvel Adventures #22, and blazed away until ending with issue #46 (May 1945). The alien tyrant in charge was a malevolent worm from Venus dubbed Mr. Mind. Included here are two chapters – #17 and 18 from Captain Marvel Adventures #38 & 39 September and October 1944. Crafted by Binder & Beck, ‘Mr. Mind’s Movie Madness’ and ‘Peril Behind the Camera’ pits Billy and his older self against the utterly vile ubi vermis (that’s Latin for worm, science fans) during the making of the world’s worst monster movie…

‘The Mighty Marvels Join Forces’ (December 1945 by Binder, Beck & Pete Costanza) finds Billy, Mary and Freddie battling the depraved and corrupted Black Adam, who was old Shazam’s first gods-empowered champion 5000 years ago in the lead tale from team-title Marvel Family #1 (December 1945).

Superheroes began to fall from popularity as WWII ended and every publisher began searching other genres. Fawcett had already applied their winning formula to the all-ages cartoon critters market with Fawcett’s Funny Animals #1 (December 1942), which featured a lop-eared costumed crusader. Hoppy the Marvel Bunny (by Chad Grothkopf) got his own title as hostilities died down, and from #6 (November1946) comes ‘Phantom of the Forest’ as the mighty rabbit exposes supposed ghosts terrorising woodland folk…

The post-war years were simply magical times, with the creative crew at the top of their game. Captain Marvel Adventures #137 (October 1952) provides ‘King Kull and the Seven Sins’ by Binder, Beck wherein a beast-king from a pre-human civilisation frees the embodiments of Man’s greatest enemies from Shazam’s custody to plague the planet. These are wholesome tales for the entire family, however, so don’t worry – “Lust” has become “Injustice” and “Wrath” is “Hatred”, here…

The last yarn is from the Good Captain’s final year of Golden Age publication: a year that generated some of the best tales in the entire run, represented here by the wonderfully surreal ‘Captain Marvel Battles the World’ from Captain Marvel Adventures #148 (September 1952, by Binder and Beck) wherein Earth decides it has had enough of humanity mistreating it and tries to wipe out life and start again…

DC, in their original identity of National Periodical Publications, had filed suit against Fawcett for copyright infringement as soon as Whiz Comics #2 was released, and the companies had slugged it out ever since. In 1953, with sales of superhero comics decimated by changing tastes, Captain Marvel’s publishers decided to capitulate. They settled and the “Big Red Cheese” vanished – like so many other superheroes – becoming no more than a fond memory for older fans…

In Britain, where an English reprint line had run for many years, creator/publisher Mick Anglo had an avid audience and no product, and so swiftly transformed Captain Marvel into the atomic age hero Marvelman, continuing to thrill readers into the early 1960s.

DC eventually acquired all rights, titles and properties to the Captain Marvel characters. Beck returned to commercial and magazine illustration, while Binder & Schaffenberger joined the victorious opposition, becoming key Superman creators of the next few decades….

At the height of his popularity Captain Marvel was an international franchise across the world. However, tastes and the decade changed, and the mighty marvel faded away. Time passed, other companies and heroes were created and also failed, as America lived through another superhero boom-and-bust. We call it the Silver Age now…

The Bronze Age of the 1970s dawned with a shrinking industry and a wide variety of comics genres servicing a base that was increasingly founded on collector/fans and not casual or impulse buys. We rejoin our hero with the new decade fully founded as Part II 1973-1993: Cancellation and Revival sees his glorious return…

National Periodicals – rebranded as DC Comics – needed sales and were prepared to look for them in unusual places. After 1953’s settlement with Fawcett, they had secured the rights to Captain Marvel and Family, and even though the name itself had been taken up by Marvel Comics (via a circuitous and quirky robotic character published by Carl Burgos and M.F. Publications in 1967), DC decided to tap into that discriminating older fanbase.

In 1973, DC turned to the Good Captain to see if his unique charm could work another sales miracle during one of comics’ periodic downturns. Riding a wave of mass-media and movie nostalgia, they revived the entire beloved Captain Marvel cast in their own kinder, weirder universe.

To circumvent the intellectual property clash, they entitled the new comic book Shazam! (‘With One Magic Word…’) the trigger phrase used by the majority of Marvels to transform to and from mortal form and a word that had already entered the American language due to the success of the franchise the first time around.

Recruiting the top talent available, the company tapped editor Julie Schwartz – who had a few notable successes with hero revivals – to steer the project. He teamed top scripter Denny O’Neil with original artist C.C. Beck for the initial story…

All this is succinctly covered in E. Nelson Bridwell’s essay (originally published in 1978’s All-New Collectors Edition #C-58) which leads off this eclectic second section…

Strangely positioned before that debut, however, comes Superman #176 (June 1974): Elliot S. Maggin, Curt Swan & Bob Oksner’s ‘Make Way for Captain Thunder!’ The sales and fan rivalry between fans of the Man of Steel and Big Red Cheese (Sivana’s pet name for his stout-hearted nemesis) had endured for decades, and Schwartz took full advantage by having the two finally – if notionally – meet, courtesy of magical trans-dimensional jiggery-pokery in a titanic tussle to delight 10-year-olds of all ages.

You will recall, I’m sure, that Captain Thunder was one of the options considered in 1940 before Fawcett went with the Marvel name…

Finally, then comes Shazam! #1 (February 1973)… ‘In the Beginning’ recounts, in grand old self-referential style, the classic origin whilst ‘The World’s Wickedest Plan’ relates how the Captain, his super-powered family and all the supporting cast (there’s a very useful seating chart-cum-biography page provided for your perusal) had been trapped in a timeless state for 20 years by the invidious Sivana Family who had subsequently been trapped in their own Suspendium device too.

Two decades later, they are all freed, baddies included, to restart their lives and resume their feuds.

Beck was profoundly unhappy with the quality of stories he was given to draw and soon left the series. One of his assistants and stable-mates from the Fawcett days had been a Superman Family mainstay for decades and smoothly fitted into the vacated lead-artist position. Kurt Schaffenberger was delighted to again be drawing one of his all-time favourite assignments again, and his shining run is represented here by Shazam! #29 (June 1977), as ‘Ibac meets Aunt Minerva’ (Bridwell, Schaffenberger & Vince Colletta. Set in Buffalo, New York and at Niagara Falls, it features a comedic battle of the sexes that was heavy on the hitting. Although the series was not a soaring success, it had spawned a hit kids TV show, introducing the Big Red Cheese to a new generation of viewers…

When the title was cancelled, the Shazam Family began appearing in anthology titles such as World’s Finest Comics with the scent gradually shifting from whimsy to harder-edged contemporary superhero stories. Here WF #275 (January 1982) supplies ‘The Snatching of Billy Batson’ by Bridwell, Don Newton & Dan Adkins; a stirring crime thriller mystery with Freddie taking the lead role…

Team-up title DC Comics Presents #49 (September 1982) then features ‘Superman and Shazam’ (Roy Thomas, Paul Kupperberg, Rich Buckler & John Calnan) which sees the immortal wizard enlist the Action Ace’s assistance to create a Captain Marvel for Earth-1. It does not go well after Black Adam interferes…

Now fully part of the DC universe, Captain Marvel popped up everywhere. He was even a long-suffering straight man in Justice League International for a while, and here (from L.E.G.I.O.N. ‘91 #31, September 1991) Alan Grant & Barry Kitson concoct a wickedly funny slugfest as the big red boy scout tries to reason with drunk and hostile super-lout Lobo in ‘Where Dreams End’

After a number of ill-received reinventions of the Shazam! concept and franchise – revised over and over again to seem relevant to a far darker, more hopeless and uncompromising world and readership – in 1994 a fresh new treatment by Jerry Ordway revitalised the heroic legend; offering a thoroughly modern but spiritually pure reboot that finally held the interest of modern readers.

Following Ordway’s introduction to Part III 1994-2010: The World’s Mightiest Mortal, a too-brief selection of those tales begins with ‘Things Change’ and ‘The Arson Fiend’ (by scripter Ordway, Peter Krause & Mike Manley from The Power of Shazam! #1 & 2, March and April 1995).

The monthly series had resulted from an original graphic novel (which I’ll be covering imminently as it’s not here) which transplanted Billy to Fawcett City in the DC Universe and enticingly added all the old plot points the readership loved: abandoned street kid, lost sister, talking tigers, and manic villains such as Sivana and Black Adam…

In the initial yarn Billy confronts his evil, embezzling uncle Ebenezer just as a lethal supernatural pyromaniac sets the Batson mansion ablaze. To make things worse, old Shazam has just cut off his rebellious protégé from the wellspring of his superpowers…

The series balanced superb Fights ‘n’ Tights clashes with potent emotional tension, and issue #33 (December 1997, by Ordway, Krause & Dick Giordano) offers a remarkable human-interest tale with ‘Yeah – This is a Face Only a Mother Could Love’: a powerful, poignant yet ultimately uplifting treatment of intolerance and the collateral damage of superhero encounters where Billy tries to help a school-friend hideously scarred by the Arson Fiend. It’s possibly the best-executed and least known story in the book…

Superman and Captain meet again in Action Comics #768, (August 2000 by Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau & Jaimie Mendoza) as ‘O Captain, My Captain’ sees a goddess-controlled Marvel Family attack the Man of Tomorrow in a fun-filled romp after which JSA #48 (July 2003) provides ‘Enlightenment’ courtesy of David Goyer, Geoff Johns, Leonard Kirk & Keith Champagne.

Extracted from extended epic ‘Princes of Darkness’, this sidebar yarn finds Billy deprived of his adult alter ego, and battling to survive beside teen hero Star Girl as mystic night closes over Earth.

A true return to greatness came in 2007 when Jeff Smith rebooted the magic in Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil. You can find the entire saga recently reviewed here, represented in this titanic tome by issues #2’s ‘NZIB GZPVH GSV XZPV! [Mary Takes the Cake!]’

Bringing us almost up to date, final chapter Part IV 2011 and Beyond: The New 52 focuses on the latest reboot which grew out of a new Justice League configuration.

Set as a series-within-a-series (in issues #7-11, #0 and #14-17) and again turning to a far harder-edged street kid persona ‘Shazam!’ was reimagined by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank and in Justice League #21 (August 2013) where the confused kid finds his Marvel Family and earns his hero stripes in final battle with murderous Black Adam…

Rounded out with stunning covers by Beck, Costanza, Mac Raboy, Chad Grothkopf, Nick Cardy, Murphy Anderson, Schaffenberger, Rich Buckler & Dick Giordano, Dan Brereton, Jerry Ordway, Duncan Rouleau & Lary Stucker, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino, Jeff Smith & Gary Frank, this is a glorious tribute to a truly mercurial comics champion.

The original Captain Marvel is a genuine icon of American comics history and a brilliantly conceived superhero for all ages. This stunning flag-of-convenience collection only scratches the surface of the canon of delights produced over the years, but is still a perfect introduction to the world of those ever-changing comics charm and one that will appeal to readers of any age and temperament, especially after a few hours in a darkened movie theatre…
© 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1952, 1973, 1974, 1977, 1982, 1991, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2013, 2014, 2015, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Deadpool Classic volume 1


By Fabien Nicieza, Rob Liefeld, Mark Waid, Joe Kelly, Joe Madureira, Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks, Ken Lashley, Ed McGuiness & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3124-3 (TPB)

Bloodthirsty killers and stylish mercenaries have long made for popular protagonists. Here’s one we prepared earlier. Deadpool is Wade Wilson: a survivor of genetics experiments that have left him a scarred, grotesque bundle of scabs and physical unpleasantries – but practically invulnerable and capable of regenerating from literally any wound.

In his modern incarnation he’s also either one of the few beings able to perceive the true nature of reality or a total gibbering loon…

Collecting – in paperback and digital editions – his early outrages from New Mutants #98, Deadpool: The Circle Chase, Deadpool: Sins of the Past and Deadpool #1 (spanning February 1991 to January1997), this tome is the first in a series archiving his ever more outlandish escapades…

The wisecracking high-tech “merc with a mouth” was created by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza and first appeared in the aforementioned New Mutants #98 in ‘The Beginning of the End’. A throwaway killer in a convoluted saga of mutant mayhem with little else to recommend it, he was another product of the Canadian “Weapon X” project that created Wolverine and so many other second-string mutant and cyborg super-doers. Here he fails to kill future warrior Cable and his teen acolytes (imminently rebranded as X-Force)…

His first shot at stardom came with 4-issue miniseries The Circle Chase from August to November 1993 and by Nicieza, Joe Madureira & Mark Farmer. A fast-paced if cluttered thriller sees Wade pursuing an ultimate weapon as one of a large crowd of mutants and variously enhanced ne’er-do-wells trying to secure the fabled legacy of arms dealer and fugitive from the future Mr. Tolliver.

Among the other worthies after the boodle in ‘Ducks in a Row’, ‘Rabbit Season, Duck Season’, ‘…And Quacks Like a Duck…’ and ‘Duck Soup’ are Black Tom and the Juggernaut, the then-latest iteration of Weapon X, shape-shifter Copycat and a host of disposable yet fashionable cyborg loons with odd names like Commcast and Slayback.

If you can swallow any nausea associated with the dreadful trappings of this low point in Marvel’s tempestuous history, there is a sharp and entertaining little thriller underneath…

The second miniseries (from August to November 1994) revolves around Black Tom and Juggernaut.

Collaboratively contrived by writer Mark Waid, pencillers Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks, Ken Lashley and inkers Jason Minor, Bob McLeod, Bub LaRosa, Tom Wegryzn, Philip Moy & W.C. Carani, ‘If Looks Could Kill!’, ‘Luck of the Irish’, ‘Deadpool, Sandwich’ and ‘Mano a Mano’ offer a hyperkinetic race against time heavy on explosive action.

During the previous yarn it was revealed that Irish arch-villain Black Tom was slowly turning into a tree. Desperate to save his life the bad guy and his best bud Juggernaut manipulate Wade by exploiting the mercenary’s relationship with Siryn (a sonic mutant and Tom’s niece).

Believing Deadpool’s regenerating factor holds a cure, the villains cause a bucket-load of carnage at a time when Wilson is at his lowest ebb. Packed with mutant guest stars, this is a shallow but immensely readable piece of eye-candy.

Closing this debut Classic collection is the first fun-&-fury filled issue of Deadpool by Joe Kelly, Ed McGuiness, Nathan Massengill & Norman Lee. Opting for devious, daring, near-the knuckle comedy to balance the manic action, it is the true beginning of the killer clown we all know and love…

Extra-sized spectacular ‘Hey, It’s Deadpool!’ reintroduces the mouthy malcontent, and depicts his “office” and “co-workers” at the Hellhouse where he picks up his contracts. We are also afforded a glimpse at Wade’s private life in San Francisco where he has a house and keeps an old, blind lady as a permanent hostage. This was never your regular run-of-the-mill hero comic…

The insane action part of the tale comes from the South Pole where the Canadian government has a super-secret gamma weapon project going, guarded by the Alpha Flight strongman Sasquatch. Somebody is paying good money to have it destroyed so cue merc, mouthiness, and mayhem…

Featuring a frenetic blend of light-hearted, surreal, fighting frolics and incisive, poignant relationship drama that is absolutely compulsive reading for dyed-in-the-wool superhero fans who might be feeling just a little jaded with four-colour overload, this is the real deal and promises more and better to come…
© 1993, 1994, 1996, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.