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
© 2019 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Complete Peanuts volume 6: 1961-1962


By Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-672-1 (HB) 978-1-60699-949-3 (PB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal. Cartoonist Charles M Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical surreal epic for half a century: 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000. He died from the complications of cancer the day before his last strip was published…

At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since his departure. Attendant book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

None of that matters. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate forced upon him – changed the way comics strips were received and perceived: proving cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punchlines.

Following Diana Krall’s Foreword – discussing past times and secular humanism – the timeless times of play, peril and psychoanalysis resume as ever in marvellous monochrome, with more character introductions, plot advancements and the creation of even more traditions we all revere to this day…

As ever our focus is quintessential inspirational loser Charlie Brown who, with increasingly fanciful high-maintenance mutt Snoopy, remains at odds with a bombastic, mercurial supporting cast, all hanging out doing kid stuff.

As always, daily gags centre on playing, musical moments, pranks, and a seasonal selection of sports; teasing, making baffled observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. However, with this tome, the themes and tropes that define the series (especially in the wake of all those animated TV specials) become mantra-like and endlessly variable.

Mean girl Violet, prodigy Schroeder, self-taught psychoanalyst and world dictator-in-waiting Lucy, her off-kilter little brother Linus and dirt-magnet “Pig-Pen” are fixtures perfectly honed to generate joke-routines and gag-sequences around their own foibles, but now another clutch of new disruptive players join the mob.

Moreover, Charlie Brown’s existential responsibility for baby sister Sally expands crushingly as she grows and he assumes the mantle of dumber, yet protective, big brother…

Resigned – almost – to being an eternal loser singled out by fate, Charlie is helpless in the clutches of relentless Lucy who monetises her spiteful verve via a 5¢ walk-in psychoanalysis booth – ensuring that whether at play, in sports, flying his kite or just brooding, the round-headed kid truly endures the trials of the damned…

Perpetually sabotaged, and facing face-to-face abuse from all females in his life. Charlie Brown now endures a fresh hell in the form of smug attention-seeking Frieda who demands constant approval for her “naturally curly hair” and champions the cause of shallow good looks over substance. Even noble Snoopy is threatened, as the newcomer drags – literally – her boneless, functionally inert – but still essentially Feline – cat Faron into places where cats just don’t belong!

Other notable events include a sinister escalation in the Blanket war as Lucy sadistically seeks ways to decouple Linus from the fabric comforter that sustains him in the worst of times…

Moreover, when she isn’t stealing, slicing, mutilating, interring or otherwise assaulting the cloth, Snoopy is there to fight the tormented kid for it. And worst of all, Linus is afflicted with the compulsion to collect things and diagnosed with a need to wear eyeglasses. Oh, the humanity…!

The bizarre beagle increases his strange development in all ways. Other than his extended Cold War duel for possession of the cherished comfort blanket, the manic mutt must adapt to that darn cat, but still finds time to philosophise, eat, dance like a dervish, stand on his head, converse with falling leaves, play with sprinklers, befriend birds, eat more, brave the elements and coin a bucketload of new slogans like “Happiness is a piece of fudge caught on the first bounce”…

The Sunday page had debuted on January 6th 1952; a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than 4-panel dailies. Thwarted ambition, sporting failures, explosive frustration – much of it kite-related – and Snoopy’s inner life became the strip’s signature denouements as these weekend wonders afforded Schulz room to be at his most visually imaginative, whimsical and weird…

Particular moments to relish this time involve the increasingly defined and sharply-edged romantic triangle of Lucy, Schroeder and Beethoven; Sally’s extended performance anxiety over starting kindergarten; Linus discovering the magic of a library card; the satisfaction of shoelace-tying; more “pencil-pal” communications; snow-games, rain, hiccups, stargazing ruminations; cooking gaffes; television, and grandeur and weirdness of Autumn.

There’s also slow-maturing madness through the first converts to the cult of The Great Pumpkin and the dread power of romance manifests with the return of Linus’ unattainable schoolteacher/inamorata Miss Othmar

To wrap it all up, Gary Groth celebrates and deconstructs the man and his work in ‘Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000’whilst a copious ‘Index’ offers instant access to favourite scenes you’d like to see again….

Readily available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions, this volume ensures total enjoyment: comedy gold and social glue metamorphosing into an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery that still adds joy to billions of lives, and continues to make new fans and devotees long after its maker’s passing.
The Complete Peanuts: 1961-1962 (volume Six) © 2006, 2014 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. The Foreword is © 2006, Diana Krall. “Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000” © 2006 Gary Groth. All rights reserved.

Bunny vs Monkey and the League of Doom!


By Jaimie Smart, with Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-230-4 (TPB)

Bunny vs. Monkey has been a fixture of British comics phenomena The Phoenix since the very first issue in 2012: recounting a madcap vendetta gripping animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia masquerading as more-or-less mundane English woodlands.

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by cartoonist, comics artist and novelist Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Looshkin; Flember), his trend-setting, mind-bending yarns have recently been retooled as graphic albums available in remastered, double-length digest editions such as this one. In case you’re wondering, the fabulous fun found here originally inhabited volumes 5 & 6, then entitled Destructo and Apocalypse

All the tail-biting tension and animal argy-bargey began after an obnoxious little beast popped up in the wake of a disastrous British space shot. Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – scant miles from his launch site – lab animal Monkey believed himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite sustained efforts of reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative Bunny to dissuade him. For all his patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine just could not contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who was – and is – a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker…

The original collected volumes dispensed disaster-drenched doses of daftness in six-month courses of ill-treatment, but this new compilation covers Year Three from Winter to Winter as first enjoyed in Destructo and Other Ridiculous Stories! and Apocalypse and Other Surprising Stories!.

Here – with artistic assistance from Sammy Borras – the war of nerves and mega-weapons resumes and intensifies. The unruly assortment of odd critters littering and loitering around the bucolic paradise,p finally pick a side: shifting and twisting into bipartisan factionalism. They all seem to have forgotten that rapidly encroaching Hyoomanz are now well underway in building something called a “motorway” right through the sylvan glades and (apparently) unprotected parks…

It all resumes with tiny terror Monkey manifesting more mayhem and almost turning his own stomach inside out whilst attempting to weaponise some very nasty stuff he finds under his feet in ‘Gross!’

With snow on the ground Monkey finds a way to spoil the Great Sled-Off in ‘Tobog-Gone!’ and latterly sets back mammal-robot relations by picking on newcomer ‘Metal Steve 2!’, before a new menace manifests to worry the woodland folk in the dark guise of evil arch-villain ‘Destructo!’

When the weather clears up, Monkey’s Double-Barrelled Supercharged Snow-Cannon-Tank is suddenly deprived of ammo… until the pest repurposes his toy to fire chutney. Sadly, even this resultant chaos is insufficient to his comprehending ‘The Message!’

A brief and sudden return of evil genius ‘Skunky!’ only leads to disappointment, but his crazed influence remains to monsterize the ‘Pretty Flowers!’, whilst the debut of cyborg bounty hunter ‘Alan!’ (Armoured Locating Armadillo Network) threatens to destabilise the ongoing conflict until the big bully gets on the wrong side of gentle, peace-loving Pig’s ice cream…

Too much of the good life eventually slows down our friends so they convince eco-warrior Le Fox to help them ‘Get Fit!’just in time for the awful ape to celebrate (or desecrate) Easter by eating all ‘The Wrong Eggs!’

As Spring unfolds, the wee woodlanders face Skunky’s robotic Vulturaptors in ‘Terror from the Skies’, but when night falls, huge ‘Bobbles!’ from the sky spark fears of alien invasion…

The good guys then try to infiltrate ‘The Temple!’ (Skunky’s new high-tech citadel of evil), just in time for ‘The Audition!’ to join the musky mastermind’s new gang the League of Doom. Sadly, the only one making the grade is meek misfit Pig in his new gruesome guise of ‘Pigulus!’

History horrifically repeats itself when another crashed space capsule ejects an even more destructive newcomer in ‘The Evil Monkey!’ – which only incites the previous incumbent to up his aggravating game…

When the genteel inhabitants of the wood start enjoying ‘Picnics!’, they have no conception the day will end in chaos after Skunky’s escaped Grasshopalong induces the mechanic maverick to attempt recapture with his giant Tarsier…

Occasional ally Le Fox cultivates an air of mystery, but when the League of Doom unleashes a deadly custard assault his annoying old ‘Uncle Fox!’ soon proves to be the real superspy deal, just as Monkey’s latest property deal lands Bunny with an obnoxious ‘Bad Neighbour!’ in the form of musician Bert Warthog.

…But not for long…

When Skunky unleashes his devastating colossal De-Forester 9000, the unthinkable occurs as Bunny and Monkey declare ‘The Truce!’, leading to the mega-machine’s demise, but by the time brain-battered, bewildered former stuntman Action Beaver becomes ‘The Messenger!’ for the skunk’s poison letters, all bets are off again and it’s every critter for himself…

More mad science sees the launch of a weather station and an unseasonal snow barrage, but Skunky’s malignant fun is ruined after Weenie Squirrel demonstrates astounding piste pizazz in ‘Ski-Daddle!’, before a lost little skunk destabilises the wicked stinker. Thomas is unmoved by monster robots like the rampaging Octobosh and truly gets to the emotional soft side of his newfound ‘Uncle Skunky!’

Perhaps that episode is what prompts his invention of ‘The Truthometer!’, but when Skunky hears what the woodlanders actually think about him, he regrets ever thinking of it…

His Quantum Bibble Fobbulator also goes wrong, tearing ‘Wormholes!’ in the forest fabric, but the rustic residents make the best of the situation, whilst the skunk’s size-changing ray only makes his victims too tall to tackle in ‘The Embiggening!’

The rural riot the escalates with a frankly disturbing insight into the simian star’s softer side as he administers first aid to ailing Bunny and subsequently descends into megalomania as the truly terrifying ‘Nurse Monkey!’

Easing effortlessly into the middle of the year, ‘The Importance of Being Monkey’ layers on the intrigue as the human scientists who originally rocketed the simian sod – and his evil successor – into paradise come looking for their property – accidentally revealing a deeper plot and properly mad doctor in charge. At least, Monkey has finally been allowed to join the League of Doom…

The deployment of ‘Poop!’ bins outrages and baffles the woods-folk, leading to a disastrous attempt to excise the humans’ daft innovations, after which human child Elouise reclaims her old toy Metal Steve, unaware that Skunky’s “improvements” will soon lead to them all needing ‘A New Home’…

Careless and catastrophic piloting of cetacean construct ‘Wahey-Ell’ reveals Monkey’s astigmatism whilst a new sinister faction targets Bunny in ‘The Order of the Woods’ but events take a deeply disturbing turn when Skunky’s new submersible uncovers a fantastic sunken kingdom ‘Beneath the Waves’ and affable nutter ‘Super Action Beaver’ gets a handy superhero makeover, but nothing prepares the woodlanders for Monkey’s weaponisation of concrete in ‘Stone Cold’…

A beloved hero embraces his evil side in ‘The Crimson Gobbler!’ while Skunky initiates Monkey into the secrets of ‘The Destroy-o-torium’, but wickedness is not restricted to the League as Terence the evil Anti-Bunny cruelly meddles with his good twin’s downtime in ‘Bunny TV’. Having said that, there’s no substitute for the real thing as seen when ‘Monkey with a Flame Thrower’ depicts what happens when the meddler gats access to Skunky’s Cannon Barrel…

The truth behind the chaos and super-science mayhem is revealed in ‘An Important Message’, but as Le Fox leaves it with Weenie and Pig, it’s as good as lost before he’s finished speaking, leaving Skunky and Robot Steve to slice, dice and splice animal DNA and make mockery of nature in ‘Mixey-matosis’

As Autumn falls, Action Beaver’s inner monologue is explored in ‘Noises’ before Bunny learns never ever to go ‘Camping’ with Pig and Squirrel even as Skunky’s brilliance in stealing all Earth’s colours with ‘The Mono-Chromatron!’ founders on the rocks of sheer idiocy…

The grand design of sinister humans running MeanieCorp Laboratories, the origins of ultimate destroyer the Moshoggothand the truth about Monkey are then systematically exposed in a time-bending extended epic beginning with ‘The Last Broadcast’. The daft drama is expanded upon in ‘To Destinyyy’ and ‘Find the Monkey’ before a valiant defender risks everything to save the Woods, the world and all reality, beginning with ‘Sabotage’; navigating the alternate timeline terrors of ‘Monkey in Charge’ and closing in Winter as the sinister schemes and cosmic carnage affect the memories of those who barely survived in ‘Onwards to Skunky’…

It’s not all safe and fine yet, however, and a final sacrifice is called for as ‘The Monstrous Below’ liberates the Moshoggoth and activates a Reality Discombobulator. Thankfully,
‘Fantastic Le Fox’ is on hand and ensures there’s enough of creation left to carry on by ‘Remembering Friends’

Adding lustre and fun, this superb treat includes detailed instructions on How to Draw Action Beaver’ and ‘How to Draw Le Fox’, so, as well as beguiling your young ’uns with stories, you can use this book to teach them a trade…

The absolute acme of absurdist adventure, Bunny vs Monkey is weird wit, brilliant invention, potent sentiment and superb cartooning all in one eccentric package: providing irresistible joy for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids. This is the kind of comic parents beg kids to read to them. Is that you yet?
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2021. All rights reserved.

My Pretty Vampire


By Katie Skelly (Fantagraphics Books, Inc.)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-020-1 (HB) 978-1-68396-194-9 (PB)

Illustrator Katie Skelly hails from Brooklyn by way of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and caught the comics bug early, thanks to her newsstand owner dad. Her Barbarella-inspired series Nurse, Nurse began after graduating from Syracuse University with a BA in Art History and becoming a postgrad at City College of New York.

Thanks to her inquisitive insights, striking art style and potent narrative voice, Skelly has been the subject of many gallery shows and is a star on the global lecture circuit.

My Pretty Vampire was her first graphic novel. Released in 2017 it is a psychedelia-tinged, torrid terror tome – again inspired by Jean-Claude Forrest but also horror-meister director Dario Argento – and followed by Operation Margarine, The Agency and 2020’s historical reappraisal of an infamous murder-pact Maids.

All her works ask uncomfortable questions about the role and permitted position of women in society, as seen through exploitation genres of mass entertainment, and that’s never been more effectively seen than in this “semi-autobiographical” tome (available in present-worthy luxury hardback and accessible eBook formats) recounting the story of Clover, who was a spoiled rich brat until she was turned by a vampire. It did nothing for her disposition and four years later she is a prisoner in a gilded cage, forced to subsist on ox blood as her controlling brother Marcel keeps her “safe”.

Clover has other ideas: most significantly, feeding on what vampires are supposed to…

Finally, she makes her move, escaping up into the grimy sordid world of daylight, downtown sleaze and booze, drugs and debauched walking snacks. Innocently slaughtering her way across town, Clover is pursued by a canny mortal cop, who fixes all of Marcel’s mortal world problems, but his dogged pursuit is methodical and far too slow…

As the naively innocent killer luxuriates in her freedom, the world inexorably closes in and she realises she needs to change…

Amusingly raunchy, stunningly psychedelic and deviously asking very pointed questions about personal liberty and the constricting power of love as a tool of control, My Pretty Vampire is a vivid splash of vibrant, gory fun every contemplative connoisseur of sexual politics and social inequity will adore.
© 2017 Katie Skelly. This edition © 2017 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.