Lucky Luke: The Complete Collection volume 2


By Morris, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-455-7 (Album HB)

On the Continent, the populace has a mature relationship with comics: according them academic and scholarly standing as well as meritorious nostalgic value and the validation of acceptance as an art form. This hardback/digital compilation celebrates the formulative early triumphs of a fictional hero who is certainly a national treasure for both Belgium and France, whilst tracing the lost origins of a global phenomenon. It’s also timely in that the worldwide western wonder celebrates his 75th Anniversary this year…

As we know him now, Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy roaming the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his horse Jolly Jumper whilst interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures and icons.

His ongoing exploits have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (81 collected books and more than 300 million albums in at least 33 languages thus far), with all the usual spin-off toys, computer games, puzzles, animated cartoons, TV shows and live-action movies.

This wild and woolly delight – originally released in 2017 as L’Intégrale 2 – features a far more boisterous and raw hero in transition, who hits his stride and struts his stuff after a preliminary text feature fills us in on the tone of the times, Morris’ filmic and comics influences and an eventful US sojourn…

Lucky Luke was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”). For years we believed it was for Le Journal de Spirou Christmas Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947), before being launched into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880′ on December 7th 1946. However, the previous volume in this superb archival series (in hardback album and digital editions) revealed the strip actually debuted in the multinational weekly comic, but without a title banner and only in the edition released in France…

This second outing re-presents – in strict chronological order – strips created between October 1949 and December 1952 before being collected in albums Under a Western Sky (1952), Lucky Luke versus Poker Pat (1953) and Outlaws (1954). Here all the art and pages have been restored, rejiggled and remastered to achieve maximum contemporary authenticity with the original weekly serialisation.

The previous collection covered how the neophyte auteur became a dependable staple of the Euro-comics scene whilst toiling as a caricaturist for magazine Le Moustique and working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, where he met future comics superstars Franquin and Peyo. Morris was one of “la Bande des quatre” – The Gang of Four – comprising Jijé, Will and old comrade Franquin: leading proponents of a new, loosely free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Le Journal de Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists in Le Journal de Tintin.

In 1948 said Gang (excluding Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, meeting fellow traveller René Goscinny, scoring work at newly-formed EC sensation Mad and always making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West. Morris stayed for six years, an “American Period” seeing him chase an outsider’s American Dream while winning fame and acclaim in his own country. That glittering sojourn is carefully unpicked and shared by expert researchers Christelle & Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault.

Their heavily-illustrated essay covers his East-to-West trek, family life and quest to experience the wonderland of his fantasies. The in-depth treatise is packed with intimate photos and his published illustrations of the period, culled from Le Moustique, plus comics pages, film memorabilia (from the movies that so influenced his stories at that time) and also includes both art work from European and US publications by fellow expat and eventual collaborator Rene Goscinny. There’s even an in-depth analysis of how what Morris Saw became what Lucky Did closely referencing the comics stories that follow…

Working solo (with early script assistance from his brother Louis De Bevere) until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush parody and action before formally uniting with Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Le Journal de Spirou on August 25th 1955.

Before we get there though, there’s plenty of solo action to enjoy beginning with ‘The Return of Trigger Joe’ from LJdS #602-618 (October 27th 1949-February 16th 1950) and collected in 1952’s Sous le Ciel de l’ouest/Under a Western Sky) album. Here the lonesome wanderer meets another prairie nomad who’s his match in all cowboy disciplines, who becomes a rather ruthless competitor when they sign up for the Nugget Gulch horse race. Of course, “John Smith” believes he’s a shoo-in since he’s riding the stolen Jolly Jumper, but hasn’t counted on Luke’s close relationship with the wonder horse. Once that scheme fails – but not before extended slapstick shenanigans in the race scenes – Smith falls back on his old ways as bank robber Trigger Joe, but his pilfering the prize money only leads to disaster when Lucky trails him deep into the searing desert…

Next up chronologically and also from Under a Western Sky, ‘Round Up Days’ (LJdS #619-629; February 23rd – May 4th 1950) sees Lucky actually working as a cowboy, hiring on for a cattle round-up (lots of rodeo style comedy here!) before encountering rustlers and cleaning up cow town Bottleneck City…

Closing the first album, ‘The Big Fight’ (LJdS #630-646; May 11th – August 31st 1950) sees Luke briefly adopt a two-fisted simpleton with the strength of Hercules and school him in the arts of pugilism for a prize-fight against infamous Killer Kelly. Things are going well until bookmaker Slats “Slippery” Nelson tries to fix the outcome. Thankfully, Lucky is his match in cunning and a faster gun than the gambler’s hirelings…

The next album release was December 1953’s Contre Pat Poker/ Lucky Luke versus Pat Poker, but its contents – ‘Clean-up in Red City’ and ‘Rough and Tumble in Tumbleweed’ were reprinted out of chronological order so here the former (from LJdS #685-697; May 31st – August 23rd 1951) and detailing how Lucky becomes a sheriff after being embarrassingly robbed, and kicks out all the gamblers, shysters and crooked saloon owners led by sinister charlatan Pat Poker – is followed by the eponymous lead adventure from 1954 album Hors-la-loi/Outlaws: a highly significant action romp signalling the debut of Lucky’s greatest foes.

The strip ‘Outlaws’ originally ran in LJdS #701-731 from September 20th 1951 to April 17th 1952 with our hero hired by the railroad companies to end the depredations of Emmett Bill, Grat and Bob Dalton – real life badmen who plagued the region during the 1890s, imported into the strip and given a comedic, but still vicious spin. The cat & mouse chase across the west sees Luke constantly frustrated by close calls and narrow escapes in superbly gripping movie set-pieces until, inevitably, justice claims the killers.

Morris ended the gang forever, but they were insanely popular with fans and the ideal foils for Lucky, so eventually they returned in the form of their own cousins, but we’ll tell that tale another time and place…

Here it’s back to ‘Rough and Tumble in Tumbleweed’ (LJdS #735-754; May 15th – September 25th 1952) as sheep farmers are harassed and imperilled by cattlemen. Luke’s attempts to broker peace are swiftly derailed after escaped convict Pat Poker slips into town and uses his gift for cheating to take over the local saloon and hire shepherd-hating gunslinger Angelface to remove their mutual enemy. Sadly for them, even this alliance of evil is insufficient to tame the wily western wonder…

By now a certified Christmas must-have item, December 1954’s Lucky Luke album Outlaws also carried the ‘Return of the Dalton Brothers’ as first seen in LJdS #755-764 (October 2nd – December 4th 1952). Here, a fraud named Bill Bonney campaigns to become sheriff of a prosperous frontier town by claiming to be the killer of the infamous owlhoots, and seems unstoppable until Lucky orchestrates a brief and equally fraudulent resurrection of the bandit brothers…

Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus spin-off yarns of Rantanplan (“dumbest dog in the West” and a charming spoof of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin), with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac taking over the franchise, producing more tales of the immortal cowboy.

A treasure trove of vintage cartoon material, designs and sketches, contemporaneous extras, commentary, original art, creator biographies and more, this is a delight for older kids who have a gained a bit of perspective and historical understanding, although the action and slapstick situations are no more contentious than most Laurel and Hardy films (perfectly understandable as Morris was a devout fan of the bumbling duo).

These youthful forays of an indomitable hero offer grand joys in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Support Your Local Sheriff, superbly executed by a master storyteller: a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for modern kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of the Wild West that never was…

Bon anniversaire, Lucky!
© Morris/Dupuis, 1949 to 1954 for the first publications in Le Journal de Spirou.
© Morris/Dupuis 2017 for this volume of the collection. All other material © 2017 its respective creators/owners.

Young Gods and Friends


By Barry Windsor Smith (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-491-8 (HB)

Barry Windsor Smith is a consummate creator whose work has moved millions and a principled artist who has always been poorly served by the mainstream publishing houses. Whether with his co-creation of Sword-and-Sorcery comics via Conan the Barbarian or his later work-for-hire material for The Thing (in Marvel Fanfare #15 – and utterly hilarious), Machine Man, Iron Man, X-Men, Weapon X or his tremendously addictive original run of Archer & Armstrong for Valiant Comics with Jim Shooter, BWS’ stunning visuals always entranced but never led to anything long-lived or substantial… and always the problem seems to be the clash between business ethics and creative freedom…

In 1995 Dark Horse, an outfit specialising in licensed and creator-owned properties, offered him a carte-blanche chance to do it his way in his own tabloid-sized anthology – Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller. The magazine carried three features written and drawn by the artist; The Paradoxman, The Freebooters and Young Gods. Although the work was simply stunning, it soon became apparent independent publishers could be cut from the same cloth as the mainstream…

It’s not my business to comment on that: I’ve been both freelancer and publisher so I know there are at least two sides to everything (and you can share Mr. Windsor Smith’s in this stunning collection from Fantagraphics available in oversized hardback and digital editions). The series ended acrimoniously in 1997 after nine issues with all the stories unfinished. This tome collected all the published material of one strip-strand, including chapters still in progress at the time of the split, some new and reformatted material and other extras that fans and lovers of whimsical fiction would be crazy to miss, backed-up by fascinating commentary and insights from the creator himself.

But it is still incomplete and that’s a true shame…

Created as a light-hearted and wittily arch tribute to Jack Kirby’s majestic pantheon of cosmic comic deities, Young Gods and Friends nominally stars foul-mouthed earthbound goddess Adastra, just getting by in contemporary times as a pizza-delivery person in New York City. However, it all slowly and hilariously builds, spreading into a mythico-graphic Waiting for Godot tribute as we trace her past, discover warring pantheons that decided arranged weddings were better than Ragnaroks and meet those bold and heroic nuptualists who would do and have done anything to avoid the arrangement: becoming delightfully diverted down a dozen different paths as the story oh-so-slowly builds.

As I’ve mentioned, the series came to an abrupt halt with the 9th episode, but there was a tenth ready and that is shimmied in here, as well as material and fragments that would have been supplemented the first dozen instalments – including deleted scenes, outtakes and reworked snippets.

On a purely artistic level of artistic appreciation, this collection and extrapolation is a sheer delight; with superb art, splendid writing and all sorts of added extras, but the hungry story-consumer in me can’t help but yearn for what might have been and how much has been lost.

Beautiful wry, witty and completely enchanting – and tragically disappointing because of that…

Enjoy it if you can…
™ & © 2003 Barry Windsor Smith. All Rights Reserved.

The Big Guy and Rusty, the Boy Robot (2nd Edition)


By Frank Miller, Geof Darrow & various (Dark Horse/Legend)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-853-6 (HB) eISBN 978-1-63008-645-9

Above all else, robots are an artefact of personal childhood mythology: a synthesis of comics and toys and cartoons absorbed without inhibition as your brain was laying out the blueprints of the mature (don’t snicker, it’s childish) person you became. They’re always going to taste of fear and wonder and uncomplicated joy. That doesn’t mean you can’t revisit them with adult eyes and sensibilities, only that the results might be a little… off-kilter.

The Big Guy and Rusty, the Boy Robot was an occasional but intense collaboration between Legendary creators Frank Miller & Geof Darrow (Hard Boiled): a gloriously madcap, stridently ironic tribute to 1950s/1960s B-movie madness and a post-modern love letter to the magic of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy.

The characters first popped up in Dark Horse Comics’ Legend Imprint title Mike Allred’s Madman Comics #6-7 before graduating to their own oversized 1995 miniseries, and elsewhere. Like Bosch or Brueghel, Darrow’s exuberant, meticulously extravagant manically-detailed tableaux churned with life and macabre animation whilst Miller played with revered plot tropes and movie memes and took measured swipes at contemporary American society.

It all begins with ‘Rusty Fights Alone!’ as a landmark genetics experiment in Japan opens a doorway to ancient supernal terror, releasing a demonic beast that rampages through Tokyo devouring and transforming the populace into monsters. With police and defence forces helpless, the authorities have only one hope: a plucky prototype android boy determined to do his best…

His best is nowhere near enough and with deep regret and trepidation Japan’s Prime Minister concedes to the pleas of his panicked Cabinet and accepts an offer of assistance from the Americans…

Concluding chapter ‘The Big Guy Kicks Butt!’ sees a blockbusting, armed -&-armoured mammoth mechanoid – programmed with the amiable personality of a salt-of-the-earth US GI and carrying the acme of American ordnance – deployed to save the city and the world. It’s a knock-down, drag-out no-holds barred battle that devastates everything, but ultimately true grit and American know-how win the day. In the aftermath, the battered warrior-bot is lauded by the survivors and awarded the rather annoying little robot as his eternal companion, sidekick and protégé…

Added extras include a hilarious spoof cover gallery by Darrow & colourist Dave Stewart plus an extra vignette of comics fun. ‘Terror Comes on the Fourth!!!!!!’ finds the mechanoid marvels battling a disgusting giant bug-beast menacing Moonsanto Beach with its genetic atrocities, just as vacationing patriots seek to celebrate the nation’s birthday. Not on the rowdy, righteous robots’ watch, no sirree!…

Topped off with a bevy of brillant pin-ups by Darrow & Stewart, and guest cameos from Todd McFarlane’s Spawn and Joe Quesada & Jimmy Palmiotti’s Ash, this is a bombastic, blustering action riot: a sly pastiche dipped in satire and a powerfully self-indulgent treat for unrepentant kids of all ages.
™ & © 1995, 1996, 2015 Frank Miller, Inc. and Geofrey Darrow. All rights reserved.

The Clockwork Girl


By Sean O’Reilly & Kevin Hanna, illustrated by Mike Thomas, Grant Bond, Karen Krinbrink, Mirana Reveier & others (Arcana Studio)
ISBN: 978-0-9809204-1-3 (TPB Arcana) 978-0-06208-039-4 (HB Harper Design) 978-0062091291 (PB film edition)

The literary concept of autonomous automatons has been with us a long time now: my first exposure was wind-up warrior Tik-Tok from L. Frank Baum’s Ozma of Oz in 1907 (that’s when the book was published, not when my parents read it to me), but even he wasn’t the first. You could try tracking down 1868’s “Huge Hunter” AKA The Steam Man of the Prairies (by Edward S. Ellis) or dip into mythology for Talos, the bronze construct who defended Europa in ancient Crete to see how wedded we are to the notion of constructed comrades and champions.

“Mechanical Men” are one of those rare confabulations that existed in people’s heads long before we actually discovered, built or confirmed them – just like teleportation, the Higgs Boson or equal pay for women. It’s a rare person who doesn’t have some inner conception of what a robot should be…

As such a chimeric concept, hand-made beings fit almost anywhere in storytelling, as seen here in this modern fairy tale, crafted with the intention of becoming a film classic for kids of all ages. The 5-issue miniseries came out in 2008 and was collected as a graphic novel the same year, with the movie finally released in 2014…

In the fantastic city of Harfang, a metropolis both ancient and futuristic, wise men and savants, enquiring minds and inventors enjoy lives of wondrous creativity and hold regular contests to determine who is the most brilliant and inspired among them. Here Dendrus the Grafter specialises in resurrections, radical surgery and biological blending whilst his old friend and greatest rival Wilhelm the Tinkerer has devoted his life to mastering physics, engineering and all mechanical disciplines…

One night, just before the Haraway Fair that would determine this year’s greatest intellectual achievement, the Tinkerer finally succeeds in creating true life from cold metal, cogs and springs. Unlike his soulless, lumbering previous attempt T-Bolt, this latest effort is a sublime creature of wonder and delight who will show the world what genius is…

Dendrus, meanwhile, is having problems with a previous triumph. Last year Huxley was a sensation: a masterpiece of biological cross-pollination and reconstructive surgery, but lately the lad has been living up to his daunting appearance and – undeserved – reputation, increasingly becoming an unruly handful and headache for his “father”…

Leaving the “monster boy” to check out the usual parade of insane experiments on display (by the usual scientific suspects), Dendrus is there when the Tinkerer unveils his metal marvel: a beautiful, beguiling Clockwork Girl who is truly alive. He proudly awards Wilhelm first prize, but is too distracted by the chaos of the Botanist’s exhibit escaping to notice the effect the gleaming gamin has on awestruck Huxley…

Utterly enraptured, the beast boy can talk of nothing else to best pal Maddox, and soon they are trailing the victor’s carriage back to the Tinkerer’s castle and risking their lives to get in and meet her. Persistence overcomes all odds and soon they are in her tower chamber, chatting with the charming innocent. Huxley is astonished to discover she has no name. At his insistence she christens herself, plucking the name “Tesla” out of thin air and her imagination…

Before they leave, Huxley agrees to meet with her again tomorrow, and show her the world her neglectful, fame-besotted father has brought her into…

Meanwhile, Wilhelm broods, remembering the fiasco of T-Bolt’s debut at last year’s fair; how Dendrus betrayed him and his abominable monster-boy denied him of his glorious due – a rather one-sided and inaccurate summation of what actually happened…

Next day, in the wilds around the castle, Huxley is amazed at Tesla’s joyous response to each new observation and experience, but wonder turns to terror as a sudden rain shower sparks pain and terror in the mechanical maid. Saving her day-old life through prompt action, he shares his unique origins with her as they shelter whilst she – literally – opens her heart to him, inadvertently proving how alike they truly are…

It’s an innocent moment presaging heartbreak, as when the kids return to their respective homes, their perpetually meddling parents forbid any further contact. It’s a recipe for disaster…

Unable to stay apart, the kids disobey and in the melee that follows, Maddox is grievously injured and Huxley driven off, with Tesla rushing out into the deadly rain to somehow make things right.

As Dendrus and Wilhelm recover their wits and finally reconcile, it may be too late to save the children that have brought them back together. Thankfully, science and cooperation will provide the solution…

An enchanting pastiche of Romeo and Juliet, The Clockwork Girl blends whimsy, humour and the drama of first love in a charming romp with a happy ending, and comes with a bonus section that includes ‘Origins’ of the project, ‘Story Concepts’ and sketches by Sean O’Reilly & Kevin Hanna, plus Pin-Ups from illustrators and guest artists Sean “Cheeks” Galloway, Mirana Reveier, Jose Lopez & Aron Lusen, Barnaby Ward, Paul Adam, Vincent Perea, Hanna, Javier Giangiacomo, Royden Lepp and Bengal.

A wonderful confection proving the power of diversity and confirming the rewards of inclusion, this is a timeless treat long overdue for a revisit and some serious acclaim.
© 2008 Arcana Studio, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mega Robo Bros: Power Up and Mega Robo Bros: Double Threat



By Neill Cameron with Abby Bulmer & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBNs: 978-1-78845-200-7 (Power Up PB) and 978-1-78845-232-8 (Double Threat PB)

Just like The Beano, Dandy and other perennial childhood treasures, weekly comic The Phoenix masterfully mixes hilarious comedy with enthralling adventure serials… sometimes in the same scintillating strip. Such I the case here, with the synthetic stars of these superbly remastered compilations: mega-magnificent sci fi frolics packed into full-colour volumes of high-octane comedy-action, with added activity pages to complete your entertainment experience. Everybody strapped in?

Plunging straight into the enchanting immersive experience, we open in a futuristic London on a Monday morning. Alexand his younger brother Freddie have missed the airbus for school and dad has to take them. It’s a uniquely Sharma-family catastrophe…

In most ways the boys are typical: boisterous, fractious kids, always arguing, but devoted to each other and not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s also no big deal to them that they were created by the mysterious Dr. Roboticus before he vanished and are considered by those in the know as the most powerful robots on Earth.

For now, it’s enough that Mum and Dad love them, even though the Robo Bros are a bit more of a handful than most kids. They live as normal a life as possible; going to school, making friends, putting up with bullies and hating homework: it’s all part of their Mega Robo routine…

This week, though, things are a bit different. On Wednesday the lads meet Baroness Farooq of covert agency R.A.I.D. (Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence) who – despite being initially unimpressed – changes her mind after seeing what the lads do to her platoon of Destroyer Mechs – all while between singing rude songs, reading comics and squabbling with each other.

Thursday is even better. As a treat, the entire family goes to Robo World where Freddy rescues a trio of malfunctioning exhibits. The baby triceratops with dog-programming is ok, but the French-speaking deranged ape and gloomily existentialist penguin might be a handful in days to come. …and all because Mum was trying to explain how her sons’ sentience makes them different from other mechanoids…

Friday wasn’t so good. Alex had another one of his nightmares, of the time before they came to live with the Sharmas…

With the scene exquisitely set, the drama kicks into overdrive when a school visit to the museum offers a hidden menace constantly watching the boys an opportunity to create chaos by hacking all the exhibits. Even though Freddy and Alex use all their super-powers to set things right, it takes all of the Baroness’ astounding influence to hush up the incident. They are supposed to be getting as normal a childhood as possible, with friends and family aware that they’re artificial and sentient, but not that they are unstoppable weapons systems. Now some malign force seems determined to “out” the Robo Bros for unspecified but undoubtedly sinister purposes…

Even greater cloaking measures are necessary when the hidden enemy causes a sky-train crash. The boys very publicly prevent a disaster, but even they are starting to realise something big is up. It also confirms that and Mum is a bit extraordinary herself, even before Freddy overhears some disturbing news about another one of Dr. Roboticus’ other creations…

The crisis erupts after Gran takes Alex and Freddy to a Royal Street Party outside Buckingham Palace. When the hidden enemy hacks the giant robot guards and sets them loose on the Queen and her family, the wonder-bots have to save them on live TV beamed around the world. The secret is out…

With the entire world camped outside their quiet little house, Mum has R.A.I.D. restore the Mega Robo Status Quo by building a super-secret tunnel system in the cellar. It’s a big day all around: Farooq is finally convinced that Alex is at last ready to join the agency… after school and on weekends, of course…

Freddy is extremely peeved that that he’s not invited. The Baroness still considers him too young and immature. He soon proves it when Alex becomes a Mega Robo Secret Agent, compelling Freddy to at last confide in dad the real reason he’s acting up. He then has opportunity to redeem himself and save the day when their nemesis makes his move and Alex finds himself completely out of his depth. Then only Freddy can save the day… if anyone can…

Crafted by Neill Cameron (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea), this is an astonishingly engaging tale that rockets along, blending outrageous comedy with warmth, wit and incredible verve. This volume also includes copious files on all the characters and activity features ‘How to Draw Alex’ and ‘How to Draw Freddy’ plus hilarious strip-within-a-strip ‘The World According to Freddy!’.

Alex and Freddy are utterly authentic boys, irrespective of their artificial origins, and their exploits strike exactly the right balance of future shock, family fun and bombastic superhero action to capture readers’ hearts and minds. With the right budget and producer what a movie this would make!

 

With additional colouring by Abby Bulmer & Lisa Murphy, second volume Mega Robo Bros: Double Threat sees the marvellous metal (and plastic) paladins return to share more of their awesome adventures and growing pains!

It’s still the Future!

In a London much cooler than ours, boisterous, fractious, argumentative, more-or-less typical kids Alex and Freddie are still devoted to each other and not much bothered that they’re adopted, recently became super-secret agents and that almost the entire world knows…

When occasion demands, they undertake missions for Baroness Farooq. They think it’s because they are infinitely smarter and more powerful than the Destroyer Mechs and other man-made minions she employs…

Moreover, Dad might be just be an average old guy, but Mum is a bit extraordinary too…

Life in the Sharma household is pretty normal. Freddie is insufferably exuberant and over-confident whilst Alex is approaching the age when self-doubt and anxiety start kicking in, but mostly it’s their parents’ other robot rescues that are a bit of a trial.

Baby triceratops Trikey with his dog-programming is ok, but French-speaking loony ape Monsieur Gorilla can be mighty confusing. Gloomily annoying, existentialist aquatic fowl Stupid Philosophy Penguin constantly quotes dead philosophers and makes people rapidly consider self-harm or manic mayhem …

Alex is getting a hard time from classmates Mira and Taia. They used to be best friends, but with all his extra-curricular activities, the girls are feeling neglected. Alex’s guilt turns to something far worse on Monday after a heated football match leads bully Jamal to make a startling accusation. But actually, how do we know if Alex is a Boy or a Girl…?

Deeply shaken, the startled hero naturally asks Mum and she’s never been more grateful for a sudden sneaky Surprise Giant Robot Attack that interrupts her answer…

Alex and Freddie are then called in by the Baroness, before jetting over to Aldgate Tube Station to battle a colossal driller-droid. Further investigation leads the lads and a R.A.I.D. science team deep, deep, deep into the abandoned transport tunnels beneath the city….

Here they encounter an army of rejected, rebuilt robots undertaking the bizarre agenda of a crazy bag-lady calling herself The Caretaker. When she abruptly loses control of her precious charges, all Hell breaks loose. During a massive fight, she escapes to an even more secret lair: an ongoing repair project with hidden ramifications that will have dire consequences for the bombastic boys and the entire world…

Freddie experiences Mum’s stern side when she takes him – kicking and screaming – clothes shopping, after which shameful incident, further mortification and emotional distress arrives as the price of fame is fully paid when Prettiest Girl in School Jamila finally notices Alex.

With his shiny head all turned around, he’s in no mood for Freddie’s jealous response: candid home videos posted on VuTube. The elder sibling’s even less chuffed when those postings go mega-viral, drawing some cruel comfort when Freddie’s celebrity bubble inevitably implodes in a most unfortunate manner…

Wrapping up with a spectacular big finish, the kids – and their surprisingly famous mum – are star guests at the massive London Robo Expo. After taking down obnoxious, fame-craving mech-makers Team Robotix in a gladiatorial contest, the lads understandably think the action portion of the entertainment has ended, only to see the Caretaker’s darkest secret burst in with mass-murder in mind…

The huge rampaging robot quickly reinforces all humanity’s fears and anxieties about sentient mechanicals, but as the Mega Robo Bros drive the belligerent Wolfram off, Alex realises with alarm that Mum knows far more about the rogue – and her own “sons” – than she’s ever let on…

Augmented by more character info-files on the players involved; activity features (an extended) ‘How to Draw Freddy’and ‘How to Draw Stupid Philosophy Penguin’ plus even-more outrageous ‘The World According to Freddy!’ strips, this is another exceedingly engaging romp which rockets along like an anti-gravity rollercoaster, blending mirth with warmth, wit and incredible verve. These books offer unmissable excitement for kids of all ages and vintage, and are true “must-have” items.
Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2021. All rights reserved.

Both Mega Robo Bros collections will be released on August 5th 2021 and are available for pre-order now.

Plastic Man Archives volume 7


By Jack Cole, with Joe Millard, Gwen Hansen, John Spranger, Alex Kotzky & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0413-6 (HB)

Jack Cole was one of the most uniquely gifted talents of American comics’ Golden Age. Before moving into mature magazine and gag markets, he originated landmark tales in horror, true crime, war, adventure and especially superhero comicbooks, and his incredible humour-hero Plastic Man remains an unsurpassed benchmark of screwball costumed hi-jinks: frequently copied but never equalled. It was a glittering career of distinction which Cole was clearly embarrassed by and unhappy with.

In 1954 Cole quit comics for the lucrative and prestigious field of magazine cartooning, swiftly becoming a household name when his brilliant watercolour gags and stunningly saucy pictures began regularly running in Playboy from the fifth issue.

Cole eventually moved into the lofty realms of newspaper strips and, in May 1958, achieved his life-long ambition by launching a syndicated newspaper strip, the domestic comedy Betsy and Me.

On August 13th 1958, at the peak of his greatest success, he took his own life. The reasons remain unknown.

Without doubt – and despite his other triumphal comicbook innovations such as Silver Streak, Daredevil, The Claw, Death Patrol, Midnight, Quicksilver, The Barker, The Comet and a uniquely twisted and phenomenally popular take on the crime and horror genres – Cole’s greatest creation and contribution was the zany Malleable Marvel who quickly grew from a minor back-up character into one of the most memorable and popular heroes of the era.

Plastic Man debuted at the back of Police Comics #1 (August 1941) as a slight, comedy filler feature amongst the more serious Cops ‘n’ Robbers fare but “Plas” was the wondrously perfect fantastic embodiment of the sheer energy, verve and creativity of an era when anything went and comics-makers were prepared to try out every outlandish idea…

Eel O’Brian is a brilliant career criminal wounded during a factory robbery, soaked by a vat of spilled acid and callously abandoned by his thieving buddies. Left for dead, he is saved by a monk who nurses him back to health and proves to the hardened thug that the world is not filled with brutes and vicious chisellers after a fast buck.

His entire outlook altered and now blessed with incredible elasticity, Eel resolves to put his new powers to good use: cleaning up the scum he used to run with. Creating a costumed alter ego, he starts a stormy association with the New York City cops before being recruited as a most special agent of the FBI…

He soon reluctantly adopts the most unforgettable comedy sidekick in comics history. Woozy Winks is a dopey, indolent slob and utterly amoral pickpocket who once – accidentally – saved a wizard’s life. He was blessed in return with a gift of invulnerability: all the forces of nature will henceforth protect him from injury or death – if said forces feel like it…

After utterly failing to halt the unlikely untouchable’s subsequent crime spree, Plas appeals to the scoundrel’s sentimentality and, once Woozy tearfully repents, is compelled to keep him around in case he ever strays again. The oaf is slavishly loyal but perpetually back-sliding into pernicious old habits…

Equal parts Artful Dodger and Mr Micawber, with the verbal skills and intellect of Lou Costello’s screen persona or the over-filled potato sack he resembles, Winks is the perfect foil for Plastic Man: a lazy, greedy, morally bankrupt reprobate with perennially sticky fingers who gets all the best lines, possessing an inexplicable charm and habit of finding trouble. It was always the ideal marriage of inconvenience…

Despite being a fan favourite for decades and regularly reinvented for both comics and television Plas, is woefully underrepresented in the archival reprint realm. These long out-of-print Archive editions are the only seriously curated collections of his outlandish adventures, but hope springs eternal for new editions or – at the very least – a digital collection someday…

Covering May to October 1947, this sublimely sturdy seventh full-colour hardback exposes more eccentrically exaggerated exploits of the elastic eidolon from Plastic Man #7 and 8 and his regular monthly beat in Police Comics #66-71. Before the hilarious action kicks off, Bud Plant offers a historical assessment of Cole and his collaborators in the Foreword after which the power-packed contents of Plastic Man #7 (Spring 1947) commence with ‘The Evil Doctor Volt’by scripter Joe Millard and Cole, wherein an elite criminal genius’ plans are continually scuppered by common uneducated crooks and the world’s dumbest hero sidekick, after which Woozy’s eagerness to do good deeds lands him on a treasure-hunter’s ship after he’s ratcheted by a sinister seductress pressganging innocent men into a ‘One-Way Voyage of Villainy’ (by Cole with Millard & Alex Kotzky)…

Woozy had his own regular solo feature in Plastic Man, and here the Stalwart Simpleton seek to improve his deductive abilities and crimebusting skills at ‘Professor Rudge’s Mind-Training School’ (Gwen Hansen & Cole), Perhaps, he should have asked where teacher got all his knowledge and experience from…

Prose science fiction tale ‘The Glass Planet’ leads back to comical comics as Millard & Cole reveal ‘The Billboard’s Tale’, closing the issue with a skyscraper ad display detailing a war between marketing companies that endangered the entire city and made the signage feel really special again…

Cole expended most of his creative energies and multitalented attentions on the monthly Police Comics and in #66, depicts Plas trying to get the goods on ruthless construction cheat Naughty Nikko as he skimps on a new West River Tunnel. Everybody would be far better served watching stylish concubine ‘Beauteous Bessie’. Woozy sure is…

For #67, our heroes are put through the wringer by jolly joker ‘The Gag Man’ whose love of kids extends to their worth as police diversions and human shields after which Plastic Man #8 opens with ‘The Hot Rod’ (Hansen & Cole) wherein a contract killer successfully eludes all efforts to catch him until injected by one victim with a serum that turns him into a human firebrand before ‘Concerto for Murder’ (Hansen & Cole) sees Woozy join an orchestra just in time to see the conductor murdered in full view of everyone. Happily, supportive Plas is on hand…

Winks’ solo strip – by Hansen & John Spranger – sees the affable goon befriend a crazy artist who can instantly change the appearance of everything by covering it with ‘The Mystery Paint’, whilst anonymous prose vignette ‘Doomsby’s Doom’explodes a monster myth threatening a plantation crop, after which the comic concludes with the tragedy of deranged criminal Mr. Uglee who offers a huge pay-out to the person who can turn himself into ‘The Homeliest Man in the World’(Millard & Spranger)…

Police Comics #68 (July 1947) follows the FBI star – and Woozy – as he trails an escaped criminal mastermind to California and is sucked into showbiz inPlas Goes to Hollywood’ before returning home to meet his match in #69’s ‘Stretcho, the India Rubber Man’: a murderous performer who frames the hero at the behest of vengeful convicts.

Spies frantically, lethally hunting a hidden secret shade #70’s ‘It’s an Ill Wind that Blows the Hat’, with Woozy sporting a string of chapeaus likely to lose him his head before the manic mayhem pauses once more with a case in cowboy country as ‘East is East and West is West’ finds FBI tenderfeet Plas and Woozy hunting rustlers and stamp-stealers and finding an East Coast bigshot who’s gone native…

Augmented by all the astoundingly ingenious gag-packed covers, this is a true masterclass of funnybook virtuosity: still exciting, breathtakingly original, thrilling, witty, scary, visually outrageous and pictorially intoxicating eight decades after Jack Cole first put pen to paper.

Plastic Man is a unique creation and this is a magical experience comics fans should take every opportunity to enjoy, so let’s pray someone at DC is paying attention…

© 1946, 1947, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

 

29th Plas 7 (Comedy/DC Superhero/Humour/Plastic Man)

Plastic Man Archives volume 7

By Jack Cole, with Joe Millard, Gwen Hansen, John Spranger, Alex Kotzky & various (DC Comics)

ISBN: 978-1-4012-0413-6 (HB)

Jack Cole was one of the most uniquely gifted talents of American comics’ Golden Age. Before moving into mature magazine and gag markets, he originated landmark tales in horror, true crime, war, adventure and especially superhero comicbooks, and his incredible humour-hero Plastic Man remains an unsurpassed benchmark of screwball costumed hi-jinks: frequently copied but never equalled. It was a glittering career of distinction which Cole was clearly embarrassed by and unhappy with.

In 1954 Cole quit comics for the lucrative and prestigious field of magazine cartooning, swiftly becoming a household name when his brilliant watercolour gags and stunningly saucy pictures began regularly running in Playboy from the fifth issue.

Cole eventually moved into the lofty realms of newspaper strips and, in May 1958, achieved his life-long ambition by launching a syndicated newspaper strip, the domestic comedy Betsy and Me.

On August 13th 1958, at the peak of his greatest success, he took his own life. The reasons remain unknown.

Without doubt – and despite his other triumphal comicbook innovations such as Silver Streak, Daredevil, The Claw, Death Patrol, Midnight, Quicksilver, The Barker, The Comet and a uniquely twisted and phenomenally popular take on the crime and horror genres – Cole’s greatest creation and contribution was the zany Malleable Marvel who quickly grew from a minor back-up character into one of the most memorable and popular heroes of the era.

Plastic Man debuted at the back of Police Comics #1 (August 1941) as a slight, comedy filler feature amongst the more serious Cops ‘n’ Robbers fare but “Plas” was the wondrously perfect fantastic embodiment of the sheer energy, verve and creativity of an era when anything went and comics-makers were prepared to try out every outlandish idea…

Eel O’Brian is a brilliant career criminal wounded during a factory robbery, soaked by a vat of spilled acid and callously abandoned by his thieving buddies. Left for dead, he is saved by a monk who nurses him back to health and proves to the hardened thug that the world is not filled with brutes and vicious chisellers after a fast buck.

His entire outlook altered and now blessed with incredible elasticity, Eel resolves to put his new powers to good use: cleaning up the scum he used to run with. Creating a costumed alter ego, he starts a stormy association with the New York City cops before being recruited as a most special agent of the FBI…

He soon reluctantly adopts the most unforgettable comedy sidekick in comics history. Woozy Winks is a dopey, indolent slob and utterly amoral pickpocket who once – accidentally – saved a wizard’s life. He was blessed in return with a gift of invulnerability: all the forces of nature will henceforth protect him from injury or death – if said forces feel like it…

After utterly failing to halt the unlikely untouchable’s subsequent crime spree, Plas appeals to the scoundrel’s sentimentality and, once Woozy tearfully repents, is compelled to keep him around in case he ever strays again. The oaf is slavishly loyal but perpetually back-sliding into pernicious old habits…

Equal parts Artful Dodger and Mr Micawber, with the verbal skills and intellect of Lou Costello’s screen persona or the over-filled potato sack he resembles, Winks is the perfect foil for Plastic Man: a lazy, greedy, morally bankrupt reprobate with perennially sticky fingers who gets all the best lines, possessing an inexplicable charm and habit of finding trouble. It was always the ideal marriage of inconvenience…

Despite being a fan favourite for decades and regularly reinvented for both comics and television Plas, is woefully underrepresented in the archival reprint realm. These long out-of-print Archive editions are the only seriously curated collections of his outlandish adventures, but hope springs eternal for new editions or – at the very least – a digital collection someday…

Covering May to October 1947, this sublimely sturdy seventh full-colour hardback exposes more eccentrically exaggerated exploits of the elastic eidolon from Plastic Man #7 and 8 and his regular monthly beat in Police Comics#66-71. Before the hilarious action kicks off, Bud Plant offers a historical assessment of Cole and his collaborators in the Foreword after which the power-packed contents of Plastic Man #7 (Spring 1947) commence with ‘The Evil Doctor Volt’by scripter Joe Millard and Cole, wherein an elite criminal genius’ plans are continually scuppered by common uneducated crooks and the world’s dumbest hero sidekick, after which Woozy’s eagerness to do good deeds lands him on a treasure-hunter’s ship after he’s ratcheted by a sinister seductress pressganging innocent men into a ‘One-Way Voyage of Villainy’ (by Cole with Millard & Alex Kotzky)…

Woozy had his own regular solo feature in Plastic Man, and here the Stalwart Simpleton seek to improve his deductive abilities and crimebusting skills at ‘Professor Rudge’s Mind-Training School’ (Gwen Hansen & Cole), Perhaps, he should have asked where teacher got all his knowledge and experience from…

Prose science fiction tale ‘The Glass Planet’ leads back to comical comics as Millard & Cole reveal ‘The Billboard’s Tale’, closing the issue with a skyscraper ad display detailing a war between marketing companies that endangered the entire city and made the signage feel really special again…

Cole expended most of his creative energies and multitalented attentions on the monthly Police Comics and in #66, depicts Plas trying to get the goods on ruthless construction cheat Naughty Nikko as he skimps on a new West River Tunnel. Everybody would be far better served watching stylish concubine ‘Beauteous Bessie’. Woozy sure is…

For #67, our heroes are put through the wringer by jolly joker ‘The Gag Man’ whose love of kids extends to their worth as police diversions and human shields after which Plastic Man #8 opens with ‘The Hot Rod’ (Hansen & Cole) wherein a contract killer successfully eludes all efforts to catch him until injected by one victim with a serum that turns him into a human firebrand before ‘Concerto for Murder’ (Hansen & Cole) sees Woozy join an orchestra just in time to see the conductor murdered in full view of everyone. Happily, supportive Plas is on hand…

Winks’ solo strip – by Hansen & John Spranger – sees the affable goon befriend a crazy artist who can instantly change the appearance of everything by covering it with ‘The Mystery Paint’, whilst anonymous prose vignette ‘Doomsby’s Doom’explodes a monster myth threatening a plantation crop, after which the comic concludes with the tragedy of deranged criminal Mr. Uglee who offers a huge pay-out to the person who can turn himself into ‘The Homeliest Man in the World’(Millard & Spranger)…

Police Comics #68 (July 1947) follows the FBI star – and Woozy – as he trails an escaped criminal mastermind to California and is sucked into showbiz inPlas Goes to Hollywood’ before returning home to meet his match in #69’s ‘Stretcho, the India Rubber Man’: a murderous performer who frames the hero at the behest of vengeful convicts.

Spies frantically, lethally hunting a hidden secret shade #70’s ‘It’s an Ill Wind that Blows the Hat’, with Woozy sporting a string of chapeaus likely to lose him his head before the manic mayhem pauses once more with a case in cowboy country as ‘East is East and West is West’ finds FBI tenderfeet Plas and Woozy hunting rustlers and stamp-stealers and finding an East Coast bigshot who’s gone native…

Augmented by all the astoundingly ingenious gag-packed covers, this is a true masterclass of funnybook virtuosity: still exciting, breathtakingly original, thrilling, witty, scary, visually outrageous and pictorially intoxicating eight decades after Jack Cole first put pen to paper.

Plastic Man is a unique creation and this is a magical experience comics fans should take every opportunity to enjoy, so let’s pray someone at DC is paying attention…
© 1946, 1947, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Malinky Robot – Collected Stories and Other Bits


By Sonny Liew & various (Image)
ISBN: 978-1-60706-406-0 (TPB)

The concept of man-made servants and their subsequent moral and spiritual plight has been with us for centuries, long before Czech playwright Karel Čapek coined the term “robot” in his drama R.U.R. (Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti). Automata, clockwork toys and mechanoids have fascinated humans both for their connotations of childlike innocence and the terrifying potential they harbour. For many, robots also insights into what it means to be human…

Sonny Liew (The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye; Godshaper; Wonderland; Liquid City; Marvel Adventures Spider-Man; Re-Gifters; Flight and more) was born in Malaysia, educated in Singapore and at Clare College, Cambridge where he took Philosophy. In 2001, he studied illustration under David Mazzucchelli at Rhode Island School of Design, but had already been a comics pro since 1995: crafting the strip Frankie and Poo for Singapore’s The New Paper. From Rhode Island he moved to DC’s Vertigo imprint working with Mike Carey & Marc Hempel on My Faith in Frankie. Since then, he’s become a celebrated, award-winning global force of comics wonder.

In 2011, he released this selection of charm-drenched tales featuring tough street kids just getting by. As revealed in the author’s Introduction, the lads and their world had been around for a decade or so, popping up in various publications and al over Europe before finally settling in here in a fancy trade paperback/digital edition…

Very much a love letter to bustling, vibrant Southeast Asian urban life, the tales are set in San’ya city: a sprawling, semi-derelict, intensely inhabited – if not overpopulated – metropolis of the future with shabby survivors Oliver and Atariintroducing themselves and their lives as in ‘Stinky Fish Blues’ as the city is suddenly saturated with an odour that cannot be ignored.

A little investigation reveals a crucial part of the waste-processing infrastructure has gone extinct – except perhaps for the singular specimen of Foetidus Piscis the boys have lucked into… and are keen to sell…

Another day and another fresh hope dawns as Atari and Oliver “borrow” a ‘Bicycle’ or two and voyage all the way to Sanreo to see old pal Misha. As well as lethal traffic and noxious fumes, they find a world of placid wonder and green joy which expands as Misha buys them lunch and shares a kaleidoscope of miracles from the Sunday Funnies section of the newspaper and Oliver dreams of a career in cartooning…

This delicious pastiche features a welter of parodies to delight – or maybe outrage – fans of Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side and many others. Sadly, the consequences of their earlier velocipede liberations are drawing closer…

The gritty, Dickensian whimsy continues with ‘Karakuri’ as the cheery chancers help old Mr. Nabisco move to a new apartment. While carting boxes they strike up a relationship with his battered old, home-made robot, sparking a furious discussion of just what makes a real mechanoid…

Liew’s superb imagination is highlighted in a wealth of ‘Sketches’, including Mr. Bon Bon, Atari, Dakota & Friends, the Bums of San’ya and lots more, after which the strip fun resumes with bittersweet vignette ‘New Year’s Day’ as Nabisco’s makeshift metal man makes his desolate and lonely way home after being left in a bar. Thankfully, people are mostly kind with directions and fuel top-ups…

‘Dead Soul’s Day Out’ – with fonts by Blambot.com – flashes back to the day the boys were begging and found beaucoup bucks – a large denomination bill! – in a junk pile. It was the day Misha left town for Sanreo and their splurge of excesses was tinged with sadness and joy…

Wrapping up proceedings is a glorious and evocative ‘Guest Gallery’, with delightful contributions from Gene Yang, Roger Langridge, Koh Hong Teng, Nancy Zhang, Aaron McConnell, Bannister, Evan Larson, Skottie Young, F.S.C., Tony Sandoval, Mike Allred, Gary Choo, Nick Jainschigg and Robb Mommaerts.

Witty, moving, contemplative and beguiling, these tales of kids surviving the “hard-knocks life” are a lovely counterpoint to colossal combat, sexualised terror and weaponized angst: a true discourse on folks – artificial or otherwise – becoming heroes by just getting by and being friends.

Go. Do. Enjoy!
™ & © 2011 Sonny Liew. All rights reserved.

Steel Commando: Full Metal Warfare


By Frank S. Pepper, Alex Henderson, Vince Wernham & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-681-0 (Digest PB)

UK comics readers have always loved robots. A veritable battalion of bronzed (ironed, steeled, coppered, etc.) Brit-built battlebots and Caledonian comedic constructions have graced our strips since the earliest of times. Surely, every old kid fondly remembers amazing artificial all-stars such as Brassneck, the Juggernaut from Planet Z, Rebbel Robot, Klanky, Robot Archie, the Iron Teacher, the Smasher, the Iron Major, Mr. Syrius Thrice or any of the host of mechanoid marvels populating the pages of 2000AD.

Our fascination remains strong and entices all ages, as recently seen in new junior star Freddy from the Phoenix’s Mega Robo Bros – 21st century Britain’s response to the mighty Astro Boy

This dinky, mostly monochrome paperback and digital digest collects strips from Thunder (specifically, 17th October 1970 to 27th February 1971); Lion & Thunder (20th March 1970-16th December 1972); Valiant & Lion (25th May- 22ndJune 1974) and further fun material from Thunder Annual 1972, 1973 and 1974, reviving classic comedy combat capers in a beloved favourite theme: war robots who aren’t what they’re cracked up to be…

In 1970 grand marshal of English comics Frank S. Pepper (Rockfist Rogan; Roy of the Rovers; Captain Condor; Dan Dare; Jet-Ace Logan; The Spellbinder and countless others) first mixed slapstick humour, war stories and fantasy in the cheekily wry exploits of a WWII British secret weapon with a mind of his own and a handy habit of crushing enemy schemes…

During WWII, shiftless slacker ErnieExcused BootsBates is accorded the dubious accolade of “the laziest soldier in the British Army”, but as seen in the first episode from Pepper and illustrators Alex Henderson, becomes the most important individual ever to be called up…

While the slob is stuck spud-bashing on a secret British base, he encounters a hulking metal monster called the Mark 1 Indestructible Robot. The super-strong, humanoid tank is fully expected to win the war, but nobody can make it work…

However, when it blunders into the kitchens, Ernie orders it to stop and it happily – and quite chattily – complies. It’s a feat no one else can copy. Still unable to find the programming fault, the top brass negotiates and compels the slacker into become the war machine’s handler. Unluckily and all too soon and for newly promoted Lance-Corporal Bates, that means a few extra treats, but also personally visiting every battle hot-spot the military can think of, such as a French coastal radar base where the Steel Commando strikes terror into the hearts of the horrified Hun…

The tone of the times was frequently appallingly racist by today’s standards – but no more so than such still-popular TV shows like Dad’s Army – and over the weeks to come, dodgy Ernie and his mighty metal mate faced countless ill-prepared enemies and the bonkers bureaucracy of the British Army in short complete and satisfying episodes. Channelling the post-Sixties era of working-class whimsical irony, and discontented but laconic world-weariness, this strip places an unstoppable force for change in the hands of an Andy Capp style shirker who can’t even be bothered to exploit the power he has beyond securing permission to don comfortable footwear (plimsolls and flipflops)…

Illustrated by Henderson and Vince Wernham, the unlikely duo perpetually faced enemy action in Europe, Africa and the Pacific, whilst failing to dodge unwelcome duties (like playing on the base football team or PT exercises) with stoic reluctance and applied anarchy. All the while though – and despite recurring brain glitches – the odd couple always triumphed: destroying enemy bases, sinking ships, learning (almost) to fly, wrecking trains and whatever else the boffins and generals could think of to test their terrible toy. They even outsmarted German scientists who captured the Commando to jump-start their own Nazi robot project and a truly daft Allied enterprise to create a superior, officer-class British droid – the appalling “Metal Major”…

As weeks passed, however, Ernie began to gel as the archetypal “little man” at war with authority. Always agitating for his pal to be treated as human, he made the boffins teach their creation to read, and even successfully won regular home leave for the Steel Commando. It didn’t go well when they got back to Blighty, but at least they got what all soldiers deserved…

Many episodes see the heroes dealing with temporary malfunctions such as robotic deafness, becoming super-magnetic, falling in love (with a railway station weighing machine) or parenthood (don’t ask, just read!) and even Ernie losing his voice to toffee, but always emphasising the burdens of the lowly, charming absurdity and excessive cartoon action.

However, tastes change quickly in weekly comics and even the perennial guilty pleasures of manic situation, comedy accents and mass carnage ultimately palled. Thus, following 29 complete weekly episodes is a truly deranged sequence of five team-ups between ‘Captain Hurricane and Steel Commando’ which finds the disturbingly “outspoken” (you can say culturally dismissive and jingoistic if you want) super-strong Marine commando a not-so-friendly rival of the mechanical marvel.

These come from Valiant & Lion (25th May-22nd June 1974) and find hyper-aggressive Hurricane frantically attempting to outmatch the Steel Substitute as they are despatched against a German army in retreat. …

Filling out the collection are three longer tales from assorted Annuals, beginning with a rescue mission to an Italian town where “our boys” are battling German soldiers and their own haughtily useless commanding officer.

Next up is a sly tale wherein an upgrade accidentally infests and afflicts the Commando with a Nazi boffin’s pre-recorded personality before everything winds up with a full-colour romp seeing old Ironsides getting soused on super-fuel and drunkenly attacking Nazi super-tanks well out of his league…

The colour section also includes the multihued covers for Thunder Annual 1973, Lion Holiday Special 1974, and Lion Annual 1977: a wondrous window onto simpler times that still offer fascinating fun for the cautiously prepared reader. Why not sign up for a few classic encounters?
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 2019 Rebellion Publishing Ltd.

Freddy and the New Kid (The Awesome Robot Chronicles volume 2)


By Neill Cameron (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-164-2 (PB)

Neill Cameron (Bulldog Empire; Judge Dredd Megazine; Henry V; The DFC) knows how to charm and enthral kids of all ages, particularly with his work in the picture-perfect pages of wonderful weekly The Phoenix: strips like Tamsin of the Deep; How to Make Awesome Comics and Pirates of Pangea.

To my mind, the best of the proud bunch is Mega-Robo Brothers, set in a futuristic London (at least 3 months from now, but with flying buses…) with a pair of marvellous metal-&-plastic paladins who are not like other schoolkids – no matter how much they try…

Cameron became a stalwart of proper literature after migrating the younger of his artificial wonders to the prose pages of proper books in the grand manner of Just William or Billy Bunter – albeit heavily illustrated, cartoon stuffed ones – with Freddy Vs. School. Here he cracks on with a splendid sequel…

Welcome to the Future!

In a London much cooler than ours Alex Sharma and younger brother Freddy are (mostly) typical kids: boisterous, fractious, argumentative but devoted to each other… and not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s no big deal for them that they were originally built by mysterious Dr. Roboticus before he vanished, or that they are considered by those in the know as the most powerful robots on Earth.

That includes Mum and Dad. Mr Sharma may be just your average working guy, but Mum is actually a bit extraordinary herself. A renowned boffin, Dr. Nita Sharma carries some surprising secrets of her own, and occasionally allows her boys to be super-secret agents for R.A.I.D. (Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence).

It’s enough for the digital duo that they’re loved, even though they are more of a handful than most kids. They try to live as normal a life as possible; going to school, making friends, putting up with bullies and hating homework: it’s all part of Mega Robo Routine to blend boring lessons, fun with friends, games-playing, TV-watching and training in covert combat caverns under R.A.I.D. HQ…

When occasion demands, the lads undertake missions, but mostly it’s just home, games, homework and School. At least that’s how it seems to Freddy: a typical 10-year-old (well, except for the built-in super-powers).

Alex is at the age when self-doubt and anxiety take hold and counters the anxiety by trying to fit in, but Freddy is still insufferably exuberant and over-confident. It leads to frequent confrontations with unreasonable, unliked Deputy Head Mr. Javid and resulted in a specific set of school rules that apply only to the robot boy: a draconian Code of Conduct forbidding any students from using super-strength, booster rockets or lasers on school property…

Even when Freddy sticks to the rules, trouble just seems to go looking for him. He’s wilful and easily led, especially by best friend Fernando who also hates boring learning and loves excitement. Dr. Sharma calls him an “instigator”, but believes the influence of sporty Anisha, quiet swot Riyad and even (mostly) reformed bully Henrik can modify Freddy’s inability to do what he’s told…

Sadly, that was before ultra-competitive new girl Aoife arrived. She’s good at all subjects, a superstar on the sports field and quite likable, but for some reason hates and despises robots. All too soon, she and Freddy are arch enemies, engaged in a duel to prove whether humans or machines are best. The contest divides the school, separates Freddy from his friends and leads to a destructive plague of betting in the school…

Cash-strapped and cost obsessed, Mr Javid exacerbates the situation by systematically laying off human teachers and replacing them with low grade robots. It starts in the sports department but gradually the cheap mechanoids encroach on actual lessons, and all too soon Aoife has taught the students how to modify and reprogram them…

As the rivals strive to prove their point of view, chaos descends on the school. Lessons are affected; relationships shift; the remaining staff revolt and the robot replacements go berserk. Soon it’s time for lasers and rockets and maybe even some necessary explosions…

Somehow amidst all the madness, Freddy and Aoife start to see each other’s point of view, tone down their aggression and even properly get on. Now all they have to do is calm down the rioting kids, turn off the rebellious techno-teaching assistants, safely dismantle the gambling cabal and get their former friends to talk to them again…

Stuffed with monochrome cartoons and bouncy graphics, this is unmissable entertainment for all ages and vintages: a splendidly traditional potent school days comedy romp, amped up on sci fi and superhero riffs and carrying a powerful message that competition has a downside. Freddy and the New Kid is another amazing adventure for younger readers that you’ll adore too.
Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2021. All rights reserved.

Archie: 1941


By Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, Peter Krause, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Jack Morelli & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68255-823-2 (TPB)

Since his debut in Pep Comics #22 (cover-dated December 1941) Archie Andrews has epitomised good, safe, wholesome cartoon fun, but the company that now bears his name has always been a deviously subversive one. Family-friendly iterations of superheroes, spooky chills, sci fi thrills, licensed properties and genre yarns of every stripe have always been as much a part of the publisher’s varied portfolio as the romantic comedy capers of America’s clean-cut teens.

As initially realised by John L. Goldwater and Bob Montana, the first escapade set the scene and ground rules for decades to come Archie has spent his entire existence chasing both the gloriously attainable Betty Cooper and wildly out-of-his-league debutante Veronica Lodge, whilst best friend Jughead Jones alternately mocked and abetted his romantic endeavours and class rival Reggie Mantle sought to scuttle every move…

Crafted over time by a veritable legion of writers and artists who’ve skilfully created the stories of teenage antics in and around the idyllic, utopian small town of Riverdale, these timeless tales of decent, upstanding, fun-loving kids have captivated successive generations of readers and entertained millions worldwide both on comic pages and in other media such as film, television, radio, newspaper strips, music and even fast food.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the company has always looked to modern trends with which to expand upon their archetypal storytelling brief. In times past they cross-fertilised their stable of stars through such unlikely team-ups as Archie Meets the Punisher or Archie Meets Kiss, whilst every type of fashion fad and youth culture sensation has invariably been accommodated into and explored within the pages of the regular titles. The gang has been reinvented and remodelled numerous times, even stepping outside the parameters of broad comedy to offer dramatic – albeit light-hearted – “real-world” iterations of the immortal cast of characters and clowns…

With a major Anniversary in sight, in 2019 the publishers took an extraordinarily bold step and recast the characters in memorable “What If?” scenario and took the gang back to the origin days in a way never seen before…

Devised by comics superstars Brian Augustyn (Gotham by Gaslight; Crimson; Black Mask; Flash) & Mark Waid (pretty much everything, but especially Flash; Daredevil; JLA; X-Men; Kingdom Come; Captain America; Empire; Incorruptible; Impact Comics; Archie) and illustrated by Peter Krause (Star Trek; Irredeemable; Superman; Power of Shazam; Birds of Prey) with moody colours from Kelly Fitzpatrick and letters by veteran Jack Morelli, Archie: 1941 takes a disturbingly hard look at what that year would have meant to real teenagers…

It begins in May as graduating seniors Archibald Andrews and Forsythe Pendleton “Jughead” Jones join their classmates in celebrating and frittering away ‘The Last Summer’. However, generally happy-go-lucky Arch is increasingly sullen and withdrawn, fixated on news and newsreels of the “European Conflict”…

His dad is angry: concerned that the kid is frittering away his time, but Pop Tate at the Diner which was the school kids’ hangout fears the war news means another generation will be lost…

Even the lifelong rivalry with Reggie Mantle has taken on a more serious, violent overtone, especially since rich kid Veronica Lodge returned to Riverdale. She had been in Paris where her millionaire dad was making deals in preparation for future bad times…

Even Betty cannot shake Archie’s despondent mood, which proves prescient as passing, wasted days lead to shocking events on December 7th and ‘It’s War!’

In the aftermath, a surprising number of young and old Riverdale residents seek to enlist – many with shocking results and consequences – but ultimately ‘Home & Away’ finds Archie at boot camp in Speck, Alabama in May 1942, still sparring with his nemesis and fellow soldier Reggie, while those left behind due to infirmity or family pressure discover how the crisis has brought out the very worst in their fellow citizens – and even civic leaders such as Hiram Lodge who turn profiteer as rationing bites hard…

Wit tensions rising everywhere, ‘Into the Fire’ sees the Riverdale boys deployed to North Africa in November 1942 even as tensions boil over in the old home town. Unable to face her father’s actions, Ronnie makes a defiant move. She and Betty are cruelly unaware just how much Archie is missing them or the changes his new life have wrought. Unable to join them, Jughead learns all about war from Pop Tate and makes a decision to change his own path.

And, far, far away, Archie’s unit enters history at Kasserine Pass…

Final chapter ‘The Lost’ begins in Riverdale after the telegrams have been opened and funerals arranged. The place has forever changed and the gang are preparing to part forever, but then something quite miraculous happens. Be warned though, it’s not a happy ending for everyone…

Packed with delicious in-jokes for the cognoscenti (like the gang’s opinions on Mickey Rooney as teen archetype Andy Hardy), searing tension when appropriate, and all the warmth and heart of contemporary melodramas like Best Years of Our Lives or trauma-tinged fantasies such as A Matter of Life and Death and It’s a Wonderful Life, this moving extrapolation captures perfectly what life must have felt like in those distant, doom-laden days.

The novel experience is further enhanced by Special Features including a scene-setting Introduction; cover concept sketches by Krause and a full covers-&-variants gallery by him, Rosario “Tito” Peña, Sanya Anwar, Francesco Francavilla, Dave Johnson, Aaron Lopresti, Dan Parent, Audrey Mok, Marguerite Sauvage, Derek Charm, Ray Anthony Height, Jon Lam, Cory Smith, Tula Lotay and Jerry Ordway & Glenn Whitmore. There’s also character designs, alternate logo concepts and a fascinating interview with the entire creative team, who also plug the inescapable Rock n’ roll follow-up Archie! ’55
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