Spider-Man: Secret Wars


By Paul Tobin, Patrick Scherberger, Clayton Henry & Terry Pallot, with Jim Shooter, Mike Zeck, John Beatty &various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4449-6 (digest TPB)

Presented in the manner of the company’s all-ages Marvel Adventures format, this inviting tale offers cosmic thrills, chills and light drama by in-filling on one the House of Ideas’ biggest successes. Assiduously revisiting the epic “maxi-series”, writer Paul Tobin, penciller Patrick Scherberger and inkers Clayton Henry & Terry Pallot cannily crafted an engagingly expanded selection of Spider-sagas faithful to the original whilst adding contemporary complexity and depth to the iconic wall-crawler.

This delightful digest-sized paperback (and eBook) collection collects a 4-issue miniseries from February-May 2010, and also re-presents the original Secret Wars #1 (May 1984): specifically its opening chapter by James Shooter, Mike Zeck & John Beatty.

The premise of the original 1980s blockbuster was that an all-powerful alien calling itself The Beyonder briefly abducted an army of Earth heroes and villains to a purpose-built alien Battleworld created as an arena in which to prove which was mightier – Good or Evil.

Whilst by no means a new plot, it gave the entire company a massive commercial boost and allowed a number of major series to radically retool at a time when comic book sales were in a dire downturn. This canny slice of infilling explores some of the saga’s untold moments in an engaging and appealing way, adding contemporary sensibilities and a lighter take to a classic but straightforward Fights ‘n’ Tights yarn.

I would strongly suggest, however, that if you’ve never seen the original epic, you track it down before tackling Spider-Man: Secret Wars – it’s not actually necessary, but you will get the most out of the new material that way…

The drama opens at a most critical moment, seconds after the almighty Molecule Man has dropped an entire mountain on top of the embattled heroes. With the Incredible Hulk holding up millions of tons of rock, the entombed good guys perforce take a few moments to chill and reminisce.

Top of Spider-Man’s list is the many gaffes he’s made since arriving, particularly the way he’s treated Captain America and the monstrous Green Goliath currently holding all their lives in his big green hands…

Thanks to heroic teamwork, all the buried brigade eventually emerge safely, but the wall-crawler has learned a hard lesson in a most harrowing manner…

The second chapter also focuses strongly on damaging mis- and pre-conceptions as the residents of Denver, Colorado – simultaneously shanghaied by the Beyonder and dumped on his remodelled planet as some kind of control group – is assaulted by a horde of marauding aliens, and the heroes form a living barricade with the valiant but all-too-human civilian defenders to lives and property.

They are surprisingly assisted by arch-nemesis and ultimate evil Doctor Doom, but try as he might Spider-Man cannot fathom the Iron Dictator’s true purpose…

At one critical juncture, the world-devouring cosmic god Galactus decided to end the contest early by eating Battleworld, prompting a desperate alliance by the transplanted heroes and villains to stop him. Here, portions of their combined assault are examined in detail as Spider-Man experiences bizarre reality-warping episodes – a natural side effect of proximity to the perilous planetivore – and flashes back and forward through his personal past and futures, experiencing happiness and the darkest of imagined terrors…

The original miniseries culminated with Doom stealing the Beyonder’s power to become omnipotent. In this modern re-visitation, that conditional triumph is examined as the web-spinner is granted a taste of paradise by the troubled new god who is finding it hard to hang on to lust for conquest – or even personal ambition – after achieving all-consuming divinity…

The cleverly introspective human adventure is capped off by a re-presentation of the original saga’s first issue from 1984, wherein ‘The War Begins’ with the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four; Magneto, the Hulk and an utterly out-of-his-depth Spider-Man all teleported into the deep unknown to see a galaxy destroyed and a world constructed purely so that a cosmic force can determine which of two philosophies is correct.

Arrayed against them were Doom, Galactus, Molecule Man, Ultron, the Lizard, Dr. Octopus, the Enchantress, Absorbing Man, Kang the Conqueror and the Wrecking Crew: all of whom have no problem with a disembodied voice telling them “Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours”…

Unceremoniously dumped on the brand new world, the sides split into factions and the War begins…

This blockbusting little box of delights also includes a full cover gallery by Scherberger, Christina Strain, Chris Sotomayor, Veronica Gandini, Jean-Francis Beaulieu, Zeck & Beatty as well as pages of Scherberger’s early character sketches.

Fast-paced and impressive, bright and breezy with lots of light-hearted action and some solid sly laughs, this book really sees the alternative web-spinner hitting his wall-crawling stride with the violence toned down and “cartooned-up” whilst the stories take great pains to keep the growing youth-oriented soap opera sub-plots pot-boiling on but as clear as possible.

In 2012 the Marvel Adventures line was superseded by specific titles tied to Disney XD TV shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”, and these days there’s an entire TV and movie based Marvel Action line to play in, but these collected stories are still an intriguing and perhaps more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born often two generations or more away from those far-distant 1960s originating events. However even though these Spidey super stories are extremely enjoyable yarns, parents should note that some of the themes and certainly the violence might not be what everybody considers “All-Ages Super Hero Action” and might perhaps better suit older kids…
© 2018 MARVEL.

Iznogoud the Infamous


ISBN: 978-1-84918-074-0 (Album PB)

For the greater part of his too-short lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of – if not the – most prolific and most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. He still is.

Among his most popular comic collaborations are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and, of course, Asterix the Gaul, but there were so many others, such as the dazzling, dark deeds of a dastardly usurper whose dreams of diabolical skulduggery perpetually proved to be ultimately no more than castles in the sand…

Scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to those hotly contested deserts when Goscinny teamed with sublimely gifted Swedish émigré Jean Tabary (1930-2011) – who numbered Richard et Charlie, Grabadu et Gabaliouchtou, Totoche, Corinne et Jeannot and Valentin le Vagabond amongst his other hit strips – to detail the innocuous history of imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah.

However, it was the strip’s villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud who stole the show – possibly the conniving little imp’s only successful coup…

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record; with the first episode appearing in the January 15th1962 issue. A minor hit, it jumped ship to Pilote – a comics magazine created and edited by Goscinny – where it was artfully refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little ratbag who had increasingly been hogging all the laughs and limelight.

Like all great storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: for youngsters it’s a comedic romp with adorably wicked baddies invariably hoisted on their own petards and coming a-cropper, whilst older, wiser heads can revel in pun-filled, witty satires and marvellously accessible episodic comic capers. Just like our Parliament today.

This same magic formula made its more famous cousin Asterix a monolithic global success and, just like the saga of the indomitable Gaul, the irresistibly addictive Arabian Nit was originally adapted into English by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who made those Roman Follies so very palatable to British tastes. As always the deliciously malicious whimsy is heavily dosed with manic absurdity, cleverly contemporary cultural critiques and brilliantly delivered creative anachronisms which serve to keep the assorted escapades bizarrely fresh and hilariously inventive.

Insidious anti-hero Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to affable, easy-going Caliph of Ancient Baghdad Haroun Al Plassid, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or – as he is always declaiming – “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”…

The retooled series launched in Pilote in 1968, quickly growing into a massive European hit, with 31 albums to date (carried on by Tabary’s children Stéphane, Muriel and Nicolas), his own solo comic, a computer game, animated film, TV cartoon show and a live-action movie.

When Goscinny died in 1977, Tabary started scripting his own sublimely stylish tales (from the 13th album onwards), switching to book-length complete adventures, rather than the compilations of short, punchy vignettes which typified the collaborations.

Originally released in 1969, Iznogoud l’infâme was the fourth Dargaud collection, the second volume published by Methuen in 1977, and the seventh splendid Cinebook album; offering a wry and raucous quintet of short tales with the Vile Vizier on top form as he schemes to seize power from his oddly oblivious Lord and Master.

The eternal drama begins with ‘The Sinister Liquidator’, which finds Iznogoud and his bumbling, long-suffering henchman and strong-arm crony Wa’at Alahf making their way through a malodorous swamp in search of a Djinn with the power to reduce all he touches to unliving liquid. Enduring the evil Ifreet’s ghastly manners and painful punning, the devilish diplomat strikes a bargain which spells doom for the Caliph… but first he has to get the demon back to the palace.

Since the Djinn cannot completely leave his fetid fluid environment and glorious bustling Baghdad is beyond the Great Desert, Iznogoud and Wa’at Alahf must Djinngerly transport their secret weapon home. Moreover, as under no circumstances can they afford to be moistened by the monster themselves, a succession of buckets, bowls, bottles and vials inexorably diminish the watery wonder and the Vile Vizier’s chances of success until – as you’d expect – the inevitable occurs…

The pun-punctuated comedy of errors is followed by a sneaky dose of inspired iniquity dubbed ‘The Invisible Menace’wherein the dictator-in-waiting learns a magic spell which will banish his imperial impediment from the sight of man. Of course, he still has to find and keep his target still long enough for the magic to work…

Sheer broad slapstick-riddled farce is the secret ingredient of the next craftily convoluted saga. When Iznogoud deliberately accepts a cursed gem which brings catastrophic misfortune in the expectation that he can palm it off on his unsuspecting boss, he greatly underestimates the power of ‘The Unlucky Diamond’.

As soon the ghastly gem latches on to a truly deserving victim and unleashes a succession of punitive calamities, it determines to never let go…

A state visit by an African potentate allows the Vizier plenty of time to confer with his opposite number in ‘The Magic Doll’. Sadly, the bemused Witch Doctor has no idea that his numerous demonstrations of voodoo magic with a clay figurine are Iznogoud’s dry runs for a stab at the throne.

Of course, for the sorcery to work, the Vizier has to somehow obtain a lock of Haroun Al Plassid’s closely guarded and held-as-holy hair…

The manic mirth concludes by descending into sheer surreal absurdity (granting Tabary license to ascend to M.C. Escher-like heights of graphic invention) as an itinerant magician known as ‘The Mysterious Billposter’ crafts a magic advert which can transport people to an idealised paradisiacal holiday destination.

Iznogoud is far more interested in the fact that, once in, no-one can get out again…

Just for a change the plan succeeds perfectly and the blithely unaware Caliph is trapped in an inescapable, idealised extra-dimensional state. Then again – due to his extreme eagerness – so is his not-so-faithful Vizier…

Just such witty, fast-paced hi-jinks and craftily crafted comedy set pieces have made this addictive series a household name in France where “Iznogoud” is common term for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and frequently a little lacking in height.

When first released in Britain during the late 1970s (and again in 1996 as a periodical comicbook) these tales made little impression, but certainly now these snappy, wonderfully beguiling strips have found an appreciative audience among today’s more internationally aware, politically jaded comics-and-cartoon savvy Kids Of All Ages…

And Hansard…
Original edition © Dargaud Editeur Paris, 1969 by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved. This edition published 2011 by Cinebook Ltd.

Beano and Dandy Gift Book 2022- Arty Farty!


By Dudley D. Watkins, Allan Morley, Reg Carter, Davy Law, Bill Holroyd, Leo Baxendale, Ken Reid, Eric Roberts, James Crichton, Paddy Brennan, and many & various (DC Thomson & Co)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-856-3 (HB)

This splendidly oversized (225 x 300mm) 144 page hardback compilation rightly glories in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through the flimsy, colourful pages of The Beano and The Dandy during a particularly bleak and fraught period in British history… aren’t they all? Tragically, neither it nor its companion volumes are available digitally yet, but hope springs ever eternal…

Until it folded and was briefly reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third-longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

Premiering on December 4th 1937, The Dandy broke the mould of its traditional British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under sequential picture frames. A huge success, it was followed eight months – on July 30th 1938 – later by The Beano and together they utterly revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

Over decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted countless avid and devoted readers, and the unmissable end of year celebrations were graced with bumper bonanzas of the comics’ weekly stars in extended stories in magnificent hardback annuals.

This particularly tome is a collation of strips examining “Art” and a superb tribute to Celtic creativity, packed literally cover-to-cover with brilliant strips, with the mirth starting on the inside front with a rather psychedelic and fourth-wall rending confrontation between The Bash Street Kids and the ever-interventionist “Beano/Dandy artist” actually illustrated by David Sutherland, I suspect.

Sadly, as usual none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists, but I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions…

When not in monochrome or full colour, DC Thomson titles were always extremely inventive in using their two-colour printing plate format. Way back when, most annuals and many comics were jazzed up by a wonderful “half-colour” process British publishers used to keep costs down. This was done by printing sections (“Signatures”) of the books with only two plates, such as Cyan (Blue) and Magenta (Red) or Yellow and Black. The sheer versatility and colour range provided was simply astounding…

This book shows that pagination skill over and over again in strips that exploit the print process and deftly subordinate it to the narratives. What splendid fellows their printers must have been to go to all that extra effort…

Here and now though, the picture-in-picture gag cover of Dandy Annual 1971 – a Korky the Cat visual pun by James Crichton or possibly Richard Nixon – segues into a monochrome Big Eggo strip from Reg Carter before indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins shines in black, white and red with magical lad Peter Piper (from short-lived junior title The Magic Comic) animating pictures at an exhibition before Good King Coke (He’s Stoney Broke) seeks fame in a frame thanks to early art and orange tints from Eric Roberts.

Also from The Magic Comic comes Dolly Dimple – Not So Simple: a monochrome romp by Allan Morley that leads to an Orange section starting with Julius Sneezer the Sneezing Caesar (Morley); Lord Snooty, by the incredibly prolific Watkins, detailing an art heist from an early annual, after which Morley renders more magic with Sammy’s Super Rubberand posh poseur Swanky Lanky Liz – by Charles Holt – makes more enemies with a school painting competition…

Morley’s Old Ma Murphy the Strong-Arm School-Ma’rm gets away with what we’d deem child abuse in her art class before three Dennis the Menace strips from David Law prove that chaos is an art. They’re followed by a drawing lesson with Minnie the Minx (by Jim Petrie?) and a Law full colour Beryl the Peril strip he did for a Topper Annual with the girly menace trying her hand at photography before we enjoy some black, white and red poetry-appreciation piece from a Beano Book The Bash Street Kids extended episode by Sutherland. It precedes a classic Desperate Dan diversion where he paints the town – guess what hue? – and Korky’s Catty Dictionary by Robert Nixon.

A red-toned double bill of Roger the Dodger japes by Ken Reid neatly diverts to fantastic crime as an extended (orange-flavoured) Captain Woosh caper sees the wily jetpack bandit again outwitted by good-hearted errand boy Terry Ball in a stunning Dandy Annual exploit from Charles Grigg, after which Sutherland triumphs in a pan-toned (black, red, yellow and white) classic starring The Bash Steet Kids and Teacher

Following colourful puzzle pages ‘Blank Looks’ and ‘You Can Draw Me!’, Law’s Dennis the Menace plays ‘Pranks with Paint!’ and shares ‘Drawings by Dennis’ before we all go green with Watkins’ Desperate Dan and enjoy ‘Arty-Crafty!’and ‘Crafty Arty!’ hijinks with perilous Beryl…

Winker Watson gets a fresh look – courtesy of Terry Bave, I believe – as the wily waif interrupts a school painting chore before Ken H. Harrison’s blue period sees Harry and his Hippo get the snapping bug before the Bash Street Dogs of Pup Parade (Nigel Parkinson?) get their portraits done and Bill Holroyd’s robot rascal Brassneck saves the school play – from surly teacher Mr. Snodgrass

Minnie the Minx endures a multi-coloured assault from a mischievous Beano artist (Tom Paterson?) before Dennis regrets ‘Making his Mark’ as a prelude to more full colour fun from Bill Ritchie’s Baby Crockett and Gordon Bell’s Colonel Blink, before Pup Parade with the Bash Street Dogs resorts to orange tints for a kennel painting prank…

Advancing print technology finally catches up and the remainder of the collection is all full-colour, beginning with Neighbourhood Witch as a little sorceress gets too interested in the family tree, after which Ritchie’s love-starved Smittengoes to extraordinary lengths to find a girlfriend…

Harrison’s Lord Snooty makes no friends when he voluntarily takes up the trumpet, whilst Paterson’s Little Larry truly turns heads (away) with his candid snaps before Bully Beef and Chips (Wayne Thompson?) clash over painted portraits whilst Dennis decrees ‘It’s a Draw’ and The Bash Street Kids romp in extended mayhem looking for cash rewards in ‘A Load of Junk’

Robot toy manipulator General Jumbo then gets some highly specialised new units to win a painting competition, before activity page ‘Be a Dandy Artist’ segues into a Korky curated museum visit before ‘Quick on the Draw with Ivy the Terrible’ (by Lew Stringer?) ends the tour with a far more accessible lesson learned.

As you leave the volume please be sure to enjoy Sutherland’s classic Beano Book 1971 cover and denouement of the frontispiece saga that opened this extravaganza, and don’t forget to tip your reviewer…

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this collection is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents that have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out to run amok once again.
© DCT Consumer Products (UK) 2021 Ltd.

Bunny vs Monkey and the Supersonic Aye-Aye


By Jaimie Smart, with Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-243-4 (TPB)

Bunny vs. Monkey has been a fixture of British comics phenomenon 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 been wisely retooled as graphic albums available in remastered, double-length digest editions such as this one. In this case, however, here we’ve caught up and the fabulous recycled fun of The Floating Cow Catastrophe is plumped up with new stuff…

All the tail-biting tension and animal argy-bargy began yonks ago 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 all efforts from reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative forest resident 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 loutish troublemaker…

Problems are exacerbated by the other unconventional Crinkle creatures, particularly a skunk called Skunky who has a mad scientist’s attitude to life and a propensity to build very dangerous robots and super-weapons…

Here – with artistic assistance from Sammy Borras – the war of nerves and mega-ordnances resumes and intensifies. The unruly assortment of odd critters littering and loitering around the bucolic paradise have finally picked a side (sort of): 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… but they are quite interested in new resident Ai – the supersonic Ai-Ai – and where her allegiances fall…

It all resumes with ‘Insomnia!’ as new girl Ai proves to (a) nocturnal, (b) excitable and (c) a bit of a party animal just as Bunny seeks an early night, after which Monkey makes the mistake of stamping on her new house in his modular ‘Mega Mecha!’ and doesn’t get away with all his mechanical body parts intact and ‘Take to the Skies!’ finds Weenie squirrel and Pig optimistically building an aircraft, despite a blessed lack of knowledge and requisite skills. That doesn’t explain why Monkey insists on being the first to test pilot it…

A rare moment of tranquillity in ‘Time to Get Along!’ finds all the woodland weirdoes sharing a natural hot spring, until acrimony returns when somebody makes a whirlpool and someone else activates a robot shark…

‘Spring’ comes round again, finding the forest full of greenery-gobbling ‘Worms!’ until Monkey accidentally saves the day, before ‘A Great Big Snotty Cold!’ afflicts everyone. The cure is too weaponize the germs into a giant bogie-beast… but it doesn’t end there…

Skunky’s latest “greatest invention” generates ‘Bubble Trouble!’ before he builds his snarky simian sidekick’s dream device – an enormous ‘Metal Monkey!’ – that bears no relationship to the enigmatic and apparently unattended ‘Giant Egg!’ Ai and Bunny stumble across. Was that the reason for her throwing a dinner party for all her new friends and urgently urge them to ‘Eat Up!’ while revealing some culinary secrets nobody wanted to know?

‘Spaaaace!’ finds Skunky trying – but failing – to send Monkey back where he came from, after which ‘Storytime!’ shows Bunny’s literary leanings whilst Weenie and Pig enjoy ‘Mud, Glorious Mud!’ and aliens are erroneously blamed for all the fuss on ‘The Night They Floated Our Cows Away!’

Everyone’s recovered by time soapbox cart fever intoxicates the little critters, resulting in a shock ending for the ‘Screwball 4000!’, after which a different – Ai-sponsored – comic reality results in baffling grudge-match ‘Weenie vs Monkey’ before she races off, oblivious to the attentions of brain-battered, bewildered and besotted former stuntmanAction Beaver in ‘♥’

Skunky’s ploy of creating robot duplicates of his opponents goes just like you’d expect in ‘Double Trouble!’, leaving a certain robot in a tizzy safeguarding rare floral gem ‘The Purple Popplewhatsit!’, just as we ease effortlessly into the middle of the year, with ‘Summer’ heralding the first sighting of Skunky’s latest giant sensation ‘The Walrus!’

Undaunted, the black-&-white bounder almost incinerates the woods with a homemade star making ‘Sun Kinda Trouble!’before building colossal fantasy constructs in ‘The Midnight Dragon’ and spoiling a party whilst the stroppy simian is trapped in a timeloop in ‘Monkeyfloop!’

Catastrophic rivalry erupts as alternate evil genius Maniacal Badger competes with Skunky for a science prize and the title of ‘The Most Brilliant Animal in the Woods!’ whilst a blow to the bonce creates ‘Evil Bunny!’ and Weenie consults the Skunk to achieve the dream of being ‘The Bravest Squirrel in the Woods!’

Monkey triggers road rage by building a motorway around Bunny’s cottage in ‘Beep! Beep!’, yet still find time to completely miss the united animals war against a human invader in ‘Persuasion!’ whilst Weenie’s awesome weaponization of sugary treats in ‘Doughnuts!’ brings us stickily to the ‘Autumn’ segment where ‘A Moment of Solace!’for Skunky still ends in chaos and carnage.

Laziness exacerbates the shameful antics and utter rout of the ‘Monkey Army!’, which leads the valiantly victorious Bunny team to pursue supernatural phenomena in ‘Will-o-de-Wisp!’ Strangely, the glowing phantasm that scarily greets them bears a disturbing resemblance to long-gone local legend Fantastic Le Fox

‘What a Brave Little Squirrel (Part One)!’ begins a strange excursion to a subterranean realm with terror and abandonment on the cards for Weenie, but hope and escape materialise in ‘What a Brave Little Squirrel (Part Two)!’before being driven away again by the secret power source of Skunky’s new hover board in ‘The Flipping Point!’

That so-familiar spectre returns prophesying ‘Grave Danger!’ and in the resultant ‘Panic!’ Bunny becomes a maddened doomsday-prepper, but Weenie is more concerned with culinary success and new kitchen gadget the Multi-Kitchen Buddy in ‘The Other Side!’

At last the doom arrives, but declaring ‘Battle Stations!’ and gathering everybody together and marshalling extraordinary defences amount to nothing and soon distracted Randolph the Raccoon and Ai are pointlessly competing in ‘Runnnn!’ …with Action Beaver and the timestream itself regretting their actions…

‘The Worst Idea You’ve Ever Had!’ finds Monkey yet again ruining Skunky’s plans as the boffin attempts to imprison a ghost before the madness pauses – for now – with ‘The Woodland Devil!’ as the dreaded, doom-laden grave danger arrives and all the animals are caught napping!

The animal anarchy is augmented here with detailed instructions on How to Draw Ai’ and ‘How to Draw Weenie’ 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 eccentrically excellent package: providing jubilant 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 2022. All rights reserved.

Bunny vs Monkey and the Supersonic Aye-Aye is published on January 6th 2022 and is available for pre-order now.

Yakari volume 19: The Devil in the Woods


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-037-1 (Album PB)

Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo, working on The Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators.

Many of Derib’s stunning works feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes, with Yakari considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom. Debuting in 1969, it details the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains: set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The content and set-up are both stunningly simple and effectively timeless, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of required familiarity or foreknowledge. The series – which has generated two separate animated TV series and a movie release last year – has achieved 40 albums thus far: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain assumed the writer’s role in 2016.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, young Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis. Generally they are resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave and can – thanks to a boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle – chat with all animals. This time, however, the conclusion is far from cheery or cosy and presages dark times ahead for some…

It begins in the depths of winter, with deep snow covering the plains and provender scarce for all. As the youngsters Rainbow, Buffalo Seed and Yakari amuse themselves with his pony Little Thunder, the talkative boy’s father Bold Gazeand hunter Taut Bow urgently seek food. Luck turns their way when a large hehaka (wapiti) rushes right into their arrows. By nightfall the entire tribe has eaten well and the leftovers are preserved and dressed to provide more food in the days to come.

The adults cannot shake the impression that their welcome repast was fleeing from something worse than their arrows, and that apprehension is confirmed in the morning when the tribe discover all the remaining food has gone. The fresh snow carries no trace of the thief…

Ever-inquisitive Yakari wants an explanation and sets out to ask his animal pals, eventually finding strange tracks that might belong to some sort of bear. Incautiously following, he sees the footprints peter out just as beaver chieftain Double-Tooth pops up.

The jolly rodent is disturbed by the news and helps in searching, but as Yakari and Double-Tooth follow tracks that constantly seem to vanish into thin air, Bold Gaze and Taut Bow are trailing the thief with the camp dogs. It’s  a horrific mistake as something unseen kills and eats the valiant hounds!

Dread haunts the humans huddled in their tents that night, but in the morning Yakari and Little Thunder check out and eliminate all the local bears – even the notoriously grumpy and insomniac Grizzly who’s having difficulty hibernating – from the suspect list, unaware that something sinister and malign is tracking them…

Baffled and scared that one of their ursine pals has gone mad, Yakari and the beaver clan build a wonderful trap to catch the mysterious thief, but again the stalker outwits them all: even diverting their suspicions to the most unlikely culprit whilst retaliating by destroying the beavers’ precious dam and home…

With all creatures equally endangered by the “devil”, Yakari and his allies convince the mighty and increasingly irate Grizzly to help them hunt, and before long the arrogant quarry rises to the challenge. It confronts its pursuers but the resultant battle is swift, terrible and sadly inconclusive as their brutal clash triggers an avalanche…

In the eerie aftermath, the Great Eagle arrives and shares some disturbing thoughts that may have terrible implications in days to come…

Originally released in 1994, Le diable des bois was the 20th European album, and although its suspenseful, ominous tone feels like a dark departure from the cheery norm, there’s still plenty of humour and slapstick hijinks to balance the grim proceedings, and – in deference to the younger readers – everything is carried out with sensitivity and wit.

As ever, Derib & Job display astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity in this glorious graphic tour de force highlighting the appealing courage of our diminutive heroes, in a visually stunning, seductively smart saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strips ever conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and The Moomins.

Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s. a.) 2000. All rights reserved. English translation 2021 © Cinebook Ltd.

Marvel Presents The X-Men Collector’s Edition (1982 Annual)


By Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, Tom Palmer & various (Grandreams/Marvel Comics International)
ISBN: 0-86227-038-3 (HB Annual)

When Stan Lee stormed the American comic-book industry in the early 1960s, his greatest weapon wasn’t the compact and brilliant talent pool available nor even the proverbial idea whose time had come, but rather his canny hucksterism and grasp of marketing and promotion. DC, Dell/Gold Key and Charlton all had limited overseas licenses (usually in black-and-white reprint anthologies) but Lee went further, reselling Marvel’s revolutionary early efforts all over the world.

In Britain, the material appeared in Class Comics and reformatted in weeklies like Pow!, Wham!, Smash! and even the venerable Eagle. There were also two almost wholly Marvel-ised papers, Fantastic and Terrific, which ran from 1967 to 1968 with only one UK originated strip in each. These slick format comics mimicked Marvel’s US “split-books” and originally featured three key Marvel properties in each. However, appearing every seven days quickly exhausted the company’s back catalogue.

After years of guesting in other publications, Marvel secured their own UK Annuals at the end of the 1960s through the publishing arm of World Distributors and – after launching their own British-based subsidiary – began a line of hardback premium reprints which made Christmas a special treat for growing Marvelites across the Kingdom and the House of Ideas a mainstay of the Yuletide season…

This particular oddment stems from 1982: a slim, sleekly repackaged but brutally trimmed down tome abridging a classic but somewhat tale from the end of the Silver Age: specifically, X-Men volume 1, #56-59, courtesy of Roy Thomas, Neal Adams & Tom Palmer.

It begins by asking ‘What is… the Power?’ and reveals an uncanny connection between the villainous Living Pharaoh and emergent mutant Alex Summers younger brother of team leader Cyclops.

By imprisoning Alex the Egyptian mastermind transforms into a colossal Living Monolith, but when he breaks free the terrified boy’s mutant energies are unleashed with catastrophic results. Savagely edited together with issue #57 the story jumps to reveal the team’s most relentless adversaries have returned and a public witch-hunt prompts the mutant-hunting Sentinels to capture X-Men and other Homo superior across the globe.

Chapter 2, ‘Mission: Murder!’ ramps up the tension as the toll of fallen mutants increases, with Iceman, the Pharaoh, Angel and Mesmero all falling to the murderous mechanoids, but when their human controller discovers an unsuspected secret the automatons strike out on their own…

With most mutants in the Marvel universe captured, Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Beast are reduced to a suicidal frontal assault, pulling off a spectacular victory, but only at great cost…

Gone are the text stories, quizzes and game pages which traditionally padded out most British Christmas books, replaced with cover-to-cover superhero action produced by the House of Ideas at the very peak of its creativity. Moreover, it’s in full colour throughout – an almost unheard-of largesse at the time.

More a sign of changing attitudes than a celebration of good old days, this is still a quirky nostalgic treat for all concerned.
© MARVEL COMICS INTERNATIONAL LTD. All rights reserved

Mighty Warriors Annual 1979


By Paul S. Newman, Don Glut, Dick Wood, José Delbo, Jesse Santos, Paul Norris & various (Stafford Pemberton Publishing)
ISBN: 0 86030 140 0(HB) ASIN: B001E37D7U

The comics colossus identified by fans as Dell/Gold Key/Whitman had one of the most complicated publishing set-ups in history but that didn’t matter to the kids of all ages who consumed their vastly varied product. Based in Racine, Wisconsin, Whitman was a crucial part of the monolithic Western Publishing and Lithography Company since 1915, and drew on the commercial resources and industry connections that came with editorial offices on both coasts (and even a subsidiary printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York).

Another useful connection was with fellow Western subsidiary K.K. Publications (named for licensing legend Kay Kamen who facilitated extremely lucrative “license to print money” merchandising deals for Walt Disney Studios between 1933 and 1949).

From 1938 on, Western’s comic book output was released through a partnership deal with a “pulps” periodical publisher under the umbrella imprint Dell Comics – and again those creative staff and commercial contacts fed into the line-up of the Big Little, Little Golden and Golden Press books for children that featured in thousands of stores and newsstands. When the partnership ended in 1962 Western swiftly reinvented its comics division as Gold Key.

As previously cited, Western Publishing was a major player since comics’ earliest days, blending a huge tranche of licensed material including newspaper strips, TV and Disney titles (such as Nancy and Sluggo, Tarzan, or The Lone Ranger) with home-grown hits like Turok, Son of Stone and Space Family Robinson.

In the 1960s, during the camp/superhero boom these original adventure titles expanded to include Brain Boy, Nukla, M.A.R.S. Patrol, Total War (created by Wally Wood), Russ Manning’s Magnus, Robot Fighter and much more. There were even heroic classic monsters Dracula, Frankenstein and Werewolf which were utterly irresistible. The sheer off-the-wall lunacy of features like Neutro or Dr. Spektor I shall save for a future occasion…

Such output was a perfect source of material for British publishers whose regular audiences were profoundly addicted to TV and movie properties. For decades, Western’s comics from Frankenstein Jr. to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Yogi Bear and the Beverly Hillbillies to Land of the Giants and Star Trek filled out Christmas Annuals, and along the way also slipped in a few original character concepts.

Despite supremely high quality material and passionate fan-bases, Western never really captured the media spotlight of DC or Marvel’s costumed cut-ups, and in 1984 – having lost or ceded their licenses to DC, Marvel and Charlton – closed the comics division.

crime-fighting iterations of classic movie

The company’s most recognisable stab at a superhero was an understated nuclear era star with the rather unwieldy codename Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom who debuted in an eponymous title dated October 1962, sporting a captivating painted cover by Richard M. Powers that made the whole deal feel like a grown up book rather than a mere comic.

Crafted by writers Paul S. Newman & Matt Murphy with art by Bob Fujitani, the 2-part origin detailed how a campaign of sabotage at research base Atom Valley culminated in the accidental transmutation of a scientist into a (no longer) human atomic pile with incredible, impossible and apparently unlimited powers and abilities. Of course, his very presence is lethal to all around him…

Here – sans any such useful background – the now well-established atomic troubleshooter battles his old cyborg enemy Nuro to prevent marauding energy beings using ‘The Ladder to Mars’ to invade Earth and solves ‘The Mystery Message’ before winning an outer space ‘Battle of the Electronic Fighters’. The done-in-one yarn originally appeared in Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #27 (April 1969) crafted by Dick Wood & José Delbo.

During its lifetime the parent company was keenly attuned to trends, and when comic book Sword & Sorcery bloomed they had their own offering: a darkly toned barbarian blockbuster dubbed Dagar the Invincible. Reprinting the first issue origin of an orphan who became a vengeance-seeking mercenary ‘The Sword of Dagar’ is by Don Glut & Jesse Santos, providing motivating backstory, an epic quest and tragic doomed loves story culminating at the ‘Castle of the Skull’ as first witnessed in October 1972’s Tales of Sword and Sorcery – Dagar the Invincible #1.

Ending the outré adventure is a tale of Magnus Robot Fighter 4000 AD which comes from issue #25 (February 1969) of his US comic. The mighty mech masher was first seen in the UK as part of a Gold Key comic strip package deal comprising Tarzan, The Green Hornet, Lone Ranger, Phantom and Flash Gordon for weekly TV Tornado and here battles ‘The Micro-Giants’ – size-shifting alien automatons – and a nefarious human entrepreneur in a classy action-romp by an unidentified author and artists Paul Norris & Mike Royer.

Superb quality and a beguilingly off-beat feel makes these stories and this book a truly enticing prospect. Why don’t you give it a shot?
© MCMLXXVIII by Western Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved throughout the world.

Superboy Annual 1967


By Jerry Siegel, Otto Binder, Robert Bernstein, Dave Wood, Henry Boltinoff, John Broome, George Papp, Curt Swan, John Sikela, Carmine Infantino, Irwin Hasen & various (Atlas Publishing/K.G. Murray)
No ISBN:

Before 1959, when DC Comics and other American publishers began exporting directly into the UK, our exposure to their unique brand of fantasy fun came from licensed reprints. British publishers/printers like Len Miller, Alan Class and bought material from the USA – and occasionally, Canada – to fill 68-page monochrome anthologies – many of which recycled the same stories for decades.

Less common were (strangely) coloured pamphlets produced by Australian outfit K.G. Murray and exported here in a rather sporadic manner. The company also produced sturdy and substantial Christmas Annuals which had a huge impact on my earliest years (I strongly suspect my adoration of black-&-white artwork stems from seeing supreme stylists like Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Al Plastino, Wayne Boring, Gil Kane or Murphy Anderson uncluttered by flat, limited colour palettes).

This particular tome of was one of the last licensed DC comics compilations before the Batman TV show turned the entire planet Camp-Crazed and Bat-Manic, and therefore offers a delightfully eclectic mix of material far more in keeping with the traditionally perceived interests of British boys than the suited-&-booted masked madness that was soon to follow in the Caped Crusader’s scalloped wake.

Thankfully, this collection was still produced in the cheap and quirky mix of monochrome, dual-hued and weirdly full-coloured pages which made Christmas books such a bizarrely beloved treat.

Sturdily stiff-backed, the sublime suspense and joyous adventuring begins with ‘The Secret of Fort Smallville!’ by Otto Binder & John Sikela and first seen in Superboy Comics #56 (April 1957). When a celebratory historical re-enactment is highjacked by an unscrupulous  rogue and poses a tough test for the Boy of Steel, he needs the aid of native American classmate Swift Deer to crack the case. Despite being produced in a far less understanding era, this yarn displays degrees of taste and cultural sensitivity practically unheard of in mass entertainment of the time…

Cartoonist Henry Boltinoff was a prolific and nigh-permanent fixture of DC titles in this period, providing a variety of 2, 1, and ½ page gag strips to cleanse visual palates and satisfy byzantine US legal directives that allowed comics publishers to sustain cheaper postal shipping rates. He’s here in strength, as his gentle humour jibes perfectly with British tastes, opening with Homer who leans a big lesson while fishing at sea after which ‘Superboy’s Best Friend!’ (by Robert Bernstein & George Papp from Superboy #77, December 1959) tugs at heartstrings by playing on a favoured theme: that of the Boy of Steel’s isolation from kids his own age.

Here that manifests as a doomed friendship with new kid Freddy Shaw, who briefly shares all Clark Kent’s secrets, but inadvertently shares the biggest one with his criminal older brother. Cue tragedy and cover-up…

Boltinoff’s Peter Puptent, Explorer deals with arctic antics prior to the first outing of seminal comics lunacy in the hirsute form of Detective Chimp: a Florida-based stalwart who was an assistant sheriff. ‘The Riddle of the Riverside Raceway!’by John Broome, Irwin Hasen & Joe Giella (from Rex the Wonder Dog #11, September/October 1953) sees a mystery cracked as impressionable Bobo befriends a prize steed and stymies gangsters set on fixing a race, after which Binder, Curt Swan & John Forte revisit the theme of loneliness as a modern teen freshly arrived on Earth travels back in time to meet her cousin as a kid in ‘Superboy Meets Supergirl!’ (Superboy Comics #80, April 1960). There’s fun aplenty, but it can’t last…

Bobo is back as Detective Chimp solves ‘The Case of the Suspicious Signature!’ (Broome & Carmine Infantino from Rex the Wonder Dog #11, September/October 1954) when his new passion for autograph collecting accidentally inserts him into a Hollywood star’s kidnapping.

Jerry Siegel & Papp then reveal how baby Kal-El inadvertently thwarted ‘The Invasion of Krypton! (Superboy #83, September 1960) and Boltinoff’s Doctor Rocket makes merry at an atomic eatery before by Broome, Hasen & Bernard Sachs share their passion for sports when Detective Chimp rescues his favourite baseball star from kidnappers in ‘Crime Runs the Bases’ (Rex the Wonder Dog #9, May/June 1953).

Superboy #84, October 1960, provides a brace of tales by Siegel & Papp beginning with ‘The Rainbow Raider!’ as a mystery thief seemingly enslaves the Boy of Steel, after which the self-explanatory ‘Superboy Meets William Tell!’reveals how the time-travelling hero gives the Swiss legend a few pointers on battling injustice.

Broome & Infantino the transform Detective Chimp into ‘The Scientific Crook-Catcher!’ (Rex the Wonder Dog #29, September/October 1956) when the savvy simian sneaks into a symposium of savants and the old world charm and drama conclude with another western themed tale. Although now an incredibly inappropriate title, ‘The Super-Injun of Smallville!’ (by Dave Wood & Papp and again from Superboy #84) offers a heart-warming tale of redemption when a bully in a store-bought Superboy costume abuses the other kids on the nearby Corobee Reservation, until an undercover Clark Kent teaches him the error of his ways…

Gently thrilling and absorbingly uplifting, these yarns of yesteryear are timeless delights for properly supervised kids of all ages. If that’s not a good thing, what is?
© National Periodical Publications, Inc. Published by arrangement with the K.G. Murray Publishing Company, Pty. Ltd., Sydney.

The Dandy Book 1970


By Many & various (D.C. Thomson & Co.)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-008-5 (HB)

For generations of British fans Christmas means The Beano Book, The Broons, Oor Wullie and making every December 25th magical. There used to be many more DC Thomson titles, but the years have gradually winnowed them away. Thankfully, time means nothing here, so this year I’m concentrating on a another Thomson Christmas cracker that made me the man wot I am. As usual my knowledge of the creators involved is woefully inadequate but I’m going to hazard a few guesses anyway, in the hope that someone with better knowledge will correct me when I err.

The Dandy comic predated The Beano by eight months, utterly revolutionising the way children’s publications looked and – most importantly – how they were read. Over decades it produced a bevy of household names that delighted millions of households, with end of year celebrations being bumper bonanzas of the weekly stars in magnificent bumper hardback annuals.

Premiering on December 4th December 1937, The Dandy broke the mould of its hidebound British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under the sequential picture frames. A colossal success, it was followed on July 30th 1938 by The Beano and together they completely changed children’s publications. Dandy was the third longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

Over the decades the “terrible twins” spawned countless cartoon stars of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted generations of avid and devoted readers…

The fun-filled action begins on the inside front cover as seasoned star Korky the Cat (by Charles Grigg?) set the ball rolling as he dodges the rozzers after a spot of illicit angling. As was traditional at this time, he also performed similar service at the far end – there falling foul of his own meagre engineering skills after building a triple decker “cartie” (think of the Red Bull Soapbox Challenge but sans the manic testosterone overload…)

These annuals were traditionally produced in the wonderful “half-colour” that many British publishers used to keep costs down whilst bringing a little spark into our drab and gloomy young lives. This was done by printing sections of the books with two plates, such as blue/Cyan and red/Magenta. The versatility and palette range provided was astounding. Even now this technique screams “Holidays” to me and my contemporaries, and this volume uses the technique to stunning effect.

D.C. Thomson were also extremely adept at combining anarchic, clownish comedy with solid fantasy adventure tales such as opening comedy thriller ‘King of the Sawdust Ring’ (limned by Paddy Brennan) wherein circus boy Billy King has to recapture an escaped lion and save his pet deer when a parade through town goes badly wrong…

As seen here, these picture thrillers usually came in the old-fashioned captioned format, with blocks of typeset text rather than lettered word balloons. Drama gives way to daft destruction as cowboy superman Desperate Dan (by Dudley D. Watkins) gets lost in fog, whilst another Korky the Cat short wreaks havoc in an ironmonger’s shop before his picture puzzle ‘Twig the Twins!’ – by the always-magnificent Eric Roberts – tests mind and eye.

The Smasher was a lad cut from the same mould as Dennis the Menace and in the episodes here (by Hugh Morren) he carves a characteristic swathe of anarchic destruction, even if his first encounter proves he’s not the toughest lad in town…

Drawn by Ron Spencer, pint-sized Dinah Mite proves she has no need of martial arts training after which hard-pressed squaddie Corporal Clott (by Dennis the Menace originator Davy Law or possibly his successor David Sutherland) disrupts the Army Camp sports day and accidentally and painfully boosts surly Colonel Grumbly to undreamed of heights.

Drawn by Jimmy Hughes, Bully Beef and Chips invariably proved that a weedy underdog’s brain always trumped brutal brawn, as here where little Chips orchestrates a well-deserved water-pistol drubbing…

Eric Roberts does triple-duty this year with puzzles, schoolboy grifter Winker Watson and perennial bath-dodger Dirty Dick who here plays chalk-based pranks on the police, after which Winker Watson’s Dandy Doodles baffle and bemuse before crafty Korky is outsmarted by a peg-legged sailor…

Another package of light-hearted drama then ensues courtesy of schoolboy Charley Brand and his robotic pal ‘Brassneck’– by the fabulous Bill Holroyd – who are largely innocent spectators as Christmas Day devolves into a toy and snowball brawl for all the adults in the street, after which Desperate Dan learns the cost of his well-meaning but excessive generosity and Dinah Mite discovers another benefit to small size and big muscles at a football match…

Bully Beef and Chips then clash whilst fishing which segues into a tale of The Island of Monsters (drawn by Q-Bikes artist Andrew Hutton?): a thrilling castaway series with two boys marooned on a tropical paradise where all the animals are incredibly enlarged. This time, the lads witness the results of human pirates underestimating the power and ferocity of giant gulls, beetles, bees and grasshoppers…

Next ‘Dirty Dick’s Picture Puzzle’ tests our brains before Korky’s superstitious nature pays off in a fish supper and our little Dick pops back, finally meeting his match in an escaped zoo chimp in a grubby but great strip by (perhaps) Tom Williams.

Whilst a great deal of material was based on school as seen by pupils, George Martin’s ‘Greedy Pigg’ featured a voracious teacher always attempting to confiscate and scoff his pupils’ snacks. Here he abandons kids’ tuck boxes to extend his appetite to encompass the pantries and larders of adults and even a wandering tramp gets what he deserves…

Dinah Mite then returns to train her new gang to the peak of punishing fitness, after which Desperate Dan’s heavy-footed antics wreck the skating pond and The Smasher takes three pages to ponder his job when he grows up.

Korky’s parrot declares war on the cat but comes to regret allying with the mice, whilst Corporal Clott successfully spoils target practice and Dirty Dick cleans up as golf caddy.

Jimmy Hughes’ geriatric delinquent Smarty Gran’pa mentors little kids in scrumping, pranking and dodging coppers whilst Corporal Clott wrecks record-keeping and penmanship before we return to drama as ‘Ricky’s Racer’ (probably by Brennan) sees a poor but proud kid master a found sledge: tearing up the icy landscape, making friends with a rich toff’s son and even foiling a burglary in a ripping yarn only DC Thomson could pull off…

A brutal training regime pays off in scoff for The Smasher’s new gang, before Bully Beef and Chips escalate a darts match into armoured warfare heralding classic comedy japes in a posh private school…

Winker Watson was always a triumph for artistic legend Eric Roberts, who here turns a visiting TV documentary crew into the spur for another string of victories against boarding school tyranny. Our devious mastermind easily humiliates the masters and treats his chums to a “slap-up feed” of the kind ‘Greedy Pigg’ constantly contrived to steal.

In a neat segue, George Martin’s voracious pie predator is led to his “just desserts” by toffee apples stuck on arrows before Robert returns with picture teaser ‘Winker Watson’s Class for Clever Dicks’ – combining comedy with brain testing scenarios before Dirty Dick encounters a military mascot and learns how the army deal with dust and disarray…

Korky’s flying lessons soon bring him into dispute with squadrons of geese, after which family favourite ‘Spunky and his Spider’ offers another delightfully rustic tale of an affable, truanting kid and his devoted, amiable apple-loving, giant antediluvian arachnid as limned by the fabulous Bill Holroyd. This time the eight-legged wonder helps school kids beat bullies trying to snatch the cash made from carol-singing…

Greedy Pigg’s appetite and lack of scruples scupper him again just as Desperate Dan’s snow balls make him lots of enemies whilst Bodger the Bookworm (by Shamus O’Doherty) uses some novel notions to retrieve a confiscated ball before the fun climaxes with the saga of Barefoot Bill (Hutton again?): a schoolboy whose gigantic feet and love of soccer forced him to learn to play sans footwear…

With Puzzle Answers and the aforementioned Korky endpapers wrapping up proceedings, let’s celebrate another tremendously fun book, with so much merriment on offer I can’t believe this book is over half a century old and still available through second hand outlets.

The only thing better would by curated archive reissues and digital editions…
© 1968 D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. All rights reserved.

The DANDY is a trademark of and © D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. 2006. Associated characters, text and artwork © D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. 2006. All rights reserved.

Hurricane Annual 1968


By Many & various (Fleetway)
No ISBN:

From the late 1950s and increasingly through the 1960s, Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtook their London-based competition – primarily monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press. Founded by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century, AP sought to regain lost ground, and the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed as countermeasures offered incredible vistas in adventure and – thanks to the defection of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid to the enemy – eventually found a wealth of anarchic comedy material to challenge the likes of the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and their unruly kin.

During the latter end of that period the Batman TV show sent the entire world superhero-crazy. Amalgamated had almost finished absorbing all its local rivals – such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press – to form Fleetway/Odhams/IPC and were about to incorporate American-styled superheroes into their heady brew of weekly thrills.

Once the biggest player in children’s comics, Amalgamated had stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad: keeping their material contemporary, if not strictly fresh. The all-consuming company began reprinting early Marvel Comics successes for a few years: feeding on the growing fashion for US style adventure which had largely supplanted the rather tired True-Blue Brit style of Dan Dare or DC Thompson’s Wolf of Kabul.

Even though sales of all British comics were generally – and in some cases, drastically -declining, the 1960s were a period of intense and impressive innovation with publishers embracing new sensibilities; constantly trying new types of character and tales. At this time Valiant and its stable-mate Lion were the Boys’ Adventure big guns (although nothing could touch DC Thomson’s Beano and Dandy in the comedy arena).

Hurricane was an impressive-looking upgrade that began during that period of expansion and counterattack, apparently conceived in response to DCT’s action weekly Hornet. It launched the week of February 29th 1964 and ran for 63 issues, but was revamped three times during that period before ultimately being merged into companion paper Tiger.

It carried a superbly varied roster of features in that time, including two (and a half) stars who survived its extinction. Racing driver Skid Solo and comedy superman Typhoon Tracy as well as Sgt Rock – Paratrooper… but not for so long for him…

There was heavy dependence on European and South American artists initially, among them Mario Capaldi, Nevio Zeccara, Georgio Trevisan, Renato Polese and Lino Landolfi, some of whom lasted into the Annuals. As with so many titles, although the comics might quickly fade, Christmas Annuals maintained a presence for years after and Hurricane seasonal specials were produced for every year from 1965 to 1974…

Following a tried-&-true formula, this book – published in 1967 – offers comics adventures, prose stories, fact-features, funnies and puzzles and kicks off with stunning full-colour fact feature strip ‘Lawmen and Badmen of the Wild West’.

Looking  like they’re painted by Reg Bunn or Tony Weare, these comics outline the lives and times of Wyatt Earp, Tom Smith, Black Bart, Sam Bass, Billy the Kid and Bat Masterson, before fully fictional western star Drago teaches a headstrong young cavalry officer the meaning of command in monochrome thriller ‘He Rides Alone’ – possibly illustrated by Polese.

Regular prose feature ‘The Worst Boy in the School’ (illustrated by Geoffrey Whittam?) follows a page of medical gags entitled ‘Take a dose of Chuckles!’ The long-running boarding school saga was enlivened by its star Duffy coming from Circus stock. Here the comedy, chaos and espionage excitement stems from a New Boy who’s convinced enemies of his father – a South American president – are trying to kidnap him. He’s not wrong…

Returning to monochrome strips, ‘Sgt. Rock – Special Air Service’ ferrets out Nazi infiltrators masquerading as American GIs before we switch back to fact for a photo-feature offering capacious coverage of modern British military might in ‘The Army Marches on its Wheels!’ whilst the comedy capers of ‘Rod the Odd Mod and ‘is old pal Percy Vere’ literally bring the house down when he gets the Hi Fi bug.

‘Casey and the Champ’ stars a veteran railroad man and his steam engine who here reveal in strip form the unlikely salvation of a played-out mining town as prelude to photo feature ‘Why Not Go by Balloon?’ before heading to 1804 where Regency prize-fighter Jim Trim stumbles upon a Napoleonic plot to conquer England in ‘Two Fists Against the World!’ (perhaps illustrated by Carlos Roume)…

Prose yarn ‘Carlos of the Wild Horses’ details the story of conquistadores imperilled by rebellious Aztecs and saved by the bond between the governor’s young son and a herd of mustangs and is followed by text fact-features ‘War Dogs’ – commemorating canines in combat – and ‘Atlantic Greyhounds’ explaining why the glory days of cruise liners had passed and why they could be built no bigger. Ah, the joys of schadenfreude and hindsight in action…

Next is a prose-&-photo precis current of movie release ‘The Train’(starring Burt Lancaster, but I’d never heard of it): a tale of Nazi collaboration and pursuit of transport of stolen art, followed by photo feature ‘When Nature Turns Nasty!’ before the incontestable star of Hurricane thunders in on a wave of colour illustration. ‘The Juggernaut from Planet Z’ is again despatched to aid his Earth chum Dr. Dan Morgan only to be overridden – and temporarily enslaved – by crazed would-be dictator General Zeb.

Sport next as ‘Hurry of the Hammers’ finds the football star in black-&-white and almost deprived of club and grounds by an unscrupulous new owner more interested in profit than the beautiful game. Historical factual strip ‘They Climbed… the Matterhorn’ then leads to a prose outing for the worst ship in the WWII navy. One again confounding the British Admiralty and escaping being broken up for parts in ‘HMS Outcast – Pride of the Fleet’ sees Geoff Campion’s unruly mob save the Pacific flotilla from destruction by the Japanese using ping pong balls and tomato sauce…

‘Typhoon Tracy’s Lucky Strike!’ finds the mighty moron in Alaska, battling bears, triggering a gold rush and helping an old friend stave off poverty, after which Giovanni Ticci employs duo-colour to limn a superbly light-hearted ‘Sword for Hire’ romp starring Cavalier soldier-of-fortune Hugo Dinwiddie who saves a fugitive king’s agent from capture even while acting as an unwilling substitute for a duellist.

Reverting to prose, ‘The Terrible Revenge of Dr. Parvo’ stars atomic accident survivors Ace Sutton and Flash Casey who use their journalistic skills and ability to walk through walls to stop a madman weaponizing weather, after which strip ‘Danger at Manakee Deep’ details a futuristic undersea habitat and resource factory endangered by greed and treachery.

‘Rodeo!’ traces the history of the sport with photos front the Calgary Stampede whilst monochrome strip ‘The Ragged Racer’ offers early environmental activism from its Wildman hero as he thwarts a circus’ scheme to destroy his mountainous animal preserve and gag page ‘It’s a Dog’s Laugh!’ brings us the text cover feature ‘R.A.F. to the Rescue’ outlining the history and activities of the coastal guardians.

The prose perseveres with adventure yarn ‘The Fiery Furnaces’ as two roving sportsmen accidentally dethrone a South American tyrant with delusions of grandeur (with illustrations by either Nevio Zaccara or Alfredo Giolitti) before ‘Rod the Odd Mod and ‘is old pal Percy Vere’ endure a calamitous bath night…

Sport was a major fascination of publishers at this time and ‘Soccer Special by The Ref’ opens an extended section of pictorial mini-features comprising ‘Famous Captains before they were Famous’, ‘Soccer Trophies Worth Winning’ and ‘Strange Things Happen in Soccer’ before we all ride off into the sunset, ending with comic strip masked cowboy ‘The Black Avenger’ who chases and then saves a “white magician” stirring up Indian tribes.

Eclectic, wide-ranging and always of majestically high quality, this blend of fact, fiction, fun and thrills is a splendid evocation of lost days of joy and wonder. We may not be making books like this anymore but at least they’re still relatively easy to track down. Of course, what’s really needed is for some sagacious publisher to start re-issuing them…
© Fleetway Publications Ltd., 1967